Thursday, July 31, 2008


From The Oil Drum:

An important Dutch energy institute, the Clingendael International Energy Program (CIEP), recently published a report that confirms most of the conclusions about the oil market reached over the years at the oildrum. That the floor price of oil is now 110 dollars per barrel, that supply will not rise beyond 100-105 million b/d in the coming decades, that there will be an oil supply constraint for most of the next decade, that there are insufficient quantities of alternative fuels available and that thus demand destruction is inevitable. CIEP is especially important because it is endorsed by amongst others BP, Shell Netherlands, Total E&P Netherlands, three Dutch Ministries, Wintershall, Vopak Oil Europe Middle East and several Dutch energy companies.

If you still haven't seen T. Boone Pickens' short video proposing a national effort to reduce imported oil, you owe it to yourself to watch it now. Here is the four-minute version.

I am highly, repeat highly, suspicious of anything T. Boone Pickens has his hands in. T. Boone is not interested in my welfare, he's interested in his own welfare, and his own only. But I will give him credit - he is moving the discussion past the irrelevant (except to oil companies) question of whether we should drill off-shore, and looking at the big picture.

This morning on the Marketplace public radio program, a "scholar" from the Cato Institute attacked the Pickens plan and defended sending $700 billion a year overseas for oil. This is what the market demands, and the market is God. If the Cato Institute is against Pickens, that's a good indication that there's something good there.

But healthy skepticism is still warranted.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Indulgences Are Back!

You may have missed it, but Pope John Paul II revived the granting of indulgences, and there are some "specials" now being offered. This article in a Canadian newspaper gives the story.

Catholic theologians explain the thinking behind indulgences like this:

Our souls suffer eternally when we sin, but we suffer temporally too, in that we hurt other people, and ourselves when we do evil.

If we repent, God forgives us, but we must still pay the price. Like a child who has stolen a candy bar and confesses to a parent, we are back in the good books, but we still must pay the shopkeeper. Similarly, we pay for the damage we do through sin, either on earth or in Purgatory.

In an indulgence, God allows the pope to draw on the goodness of the Jesus and the saints, paying the "shopkeeper" in our stead and letting us off the hook for the suffering.

I'm sorry -- who is the shopkeeper we're paying here? This is very interesting theology.

From Kevin Drum:

McCain was hardly the first guy to work hard on his public persona, and, ideological disputes aside, he always struck me as a basically decent person. A little too self-righteous for my taste, but decent.

But now I'm watching him in 2008, his desperation for the presidency driving him to conduct a campaign that's carefully but relentlessly testing ever more contemptible depths of squalor in its attacks on Barack Obama ("he made time to go to the gym but cancelled a visit with wounded troops" is just the latest), and I wonder how he's going to feel when it's all over. Not only will he lose the election, but he's going to wake up one morning and realize that he abandoned his dignity in the process. That's obviously something that's important to him, and even for someone who was never much of a fan, it's kind of sad to watch him give it up so readily.


It's amazing how many presidential polls are taken these days, and you really can pick and choose whichever you want to make the point you want to make.

Last night I caught the political news segments on ABC News and NBC News. One of them pointed to an unnamed poll (which I know was the Gallup poll) to show that Obama was opening his lead on McCain. The other used polls in a few "toss-up" states to show that McCain was making gains on Obama.

The Gallup poll is a national, daily tracking poll, so it's up-to-date; but elections are won on a state-by-state basis, so it's trend-line is valid, but that's about all you can say for it. The other poll was several days old (pre-Obama visit) and it only covered a few states, so it was interesting but not as complete a picture.

Pick your poll. I've added a feature in the upper left-hand corner that links to the latest poll results, and updates the projected electoral votes and Senate and House seats. Click on it to go to the site for more information.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

For McCain is an Honorable Man ...

Take a look at John McCain's latest:

That business about canceling his visit to wounded soldiers because there wouldn't be cameras present was -- a lie. Anybody still think McCain is an "honorable man"? (You'd never guess his new campaign manager is a Karl Rove groupie, would you?)

I especially like that "Country First" slogan at the end.

QUOTATION: Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
ATTRIBUTION: SAMUEL JOHNSON.—James Boswell, Life of Johnson, entry for Friday, April 7, 1775, p. 615 (1970).

“In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I beg to submit that it is the first.”—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, at entry for patriotism, The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce, p. 323 (1946, reprinted 1973).

How Low They Go

Remember the scurrilous list of people that made its rounds in the Clinton Administration? The list of Clinton associates, headed by Vince Foster, who died "mysteriously"?

They're (reportedly) at it again. My favorite is:

DARSANO RAHARDJO - Childhood classmate of Barack Obama when he attended a madrassa in Indonesia. Was found with his head cut off in a Jakarta alley way in 1970. Many children at the school attributed Rahardjo’s murder to the young Barack Obama. It was likely done as an initiation ritual, since Islam demands that a boy spill another’s blood before the age of ten to prove their loyalty to Allah.

P.S. I love the first reader's comment after the article!

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Must-Read Letter from the World

Michael Bérubé writes at Talking Points Memo. Ya gotta read it.

The Depression Was Not Without Its Good Points

One very fine thing the government did during the Great Depression was try to find work for photographers, artists, and writers in a program called the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

And one of the many fine results of the WPA was a collection of guide books to the different states, called the American Guide Series, or, more commonly, "WPA Guides," whose writers gave startlingly frank and interesting descriptions of the places they visited.

When Suellen and I learned we were moving to Ironton, Ohio, 30+ years ago, one of the first things we did was go to the library and consult the WPA Guide to Ohio. Besides admiring some black and white Ben Shahn photographs included, we learned that during the Civil War Ironton was a sort of No Man's Land between the North and the South, where the major activity was smuggling guns and other contraband one way or the other. It painted a bleak portrait of the town then, and suggested things had not changed much in the intervening years. They were right.

[The picture above is why you should always have a polarizing filter with you, Exhibit A]

It turns out there is a revival of interest in the WPA Guides going on, and the NY Times is running a series of amusing articles as their writers revisit towns the writers did. Here's a sample.

Next time you're in a book store, pick up a WPA Guide for a state you're interested in. I think you'll have trouble putting it down.

A Genuine Horse's Patoot

The following example of deep thinking from Byron York at The National Review has been quoted extensively across the blogosphere, so there's really no reason to bring it up here. But it's been eating at me for 12 hours now, so I need to purge and move on.

Here's the quote. He was talking about what griped him about Obama's recent speech:

It’s a small passage from Obama’s Berlin speech, but this formulation, common in some circles, grates on some ears, like mine: “The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil.”

Yes, the victims were from all over the globe — places like Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and Manhattan, and Queens, and Staten Island, and New Jersey — all over. And most were Americans, weren’t they?

This is it. This is the perfect encapsulation of the conservative "mind". They can read and write and do arithmetic, but somehow they missed out on common decency. Only American lives are important. It's just a variant of the same disgusting formulation you hear wherever idiots roam. Only Shiite lives are important. Only Palestinian lives are important. Only Israeli lives are important. Only Serbian lives are important. And on and on ad nauseum.

Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community has this to add:

When George W. Bush addressed Congress in the wake of 9/11, and left conservatives fainting in the aisles with man-crushes, he emphasized:

"Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own: dozens of Pakistanis; more than 130 Israelis; more than 250 citizens of India; men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico and Japan; and hundreds of British citizens."

But that was back in the days when American foreign policy still acknowledged that your life had value even if you weren't an American. As it turns out, the policy was on its last legs. It would be nice to see it make a come-back.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Everybody knows that Obama is the media darling. John McCain, who once called news people his "base," says so.

So get a load of this video blog from McCain's daughter:

There was once a time when news people did not socialize with politicians. We had a professional press then.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Issue of Pardons

Speculation is beginning about GWB's use of pardons at the end of his term. Numerous members of the adminis- tration, past and present and himself included, are in serious legal jeopardy once the Torture Party is out of office.

Will Bush issue pardons? It's hard to imagine he wouldn't.

But to whom?

My guess is there are some scoundrels who will demand preemptive pardons. Cheney, Addington, and Rove will clearly be in this group. They'll have no compunctions about it, feel no shame. They'll see it as a necessity brought on by the curse of living in the same world as lesser beings. They'll see themselves as Ollie North martyrs.

There are some who will beg for pardons. Alberto Gonzalez, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, and Doug Feith would fit in this category. They're out of power now, and don't have the access they once had.

Pardons seem likely for both of the above categories.

But there might be another category. Suppose there were actually members of the Bush Administration whose moral compasses didn't point downward. Suppose there were people who thought, "Oh, my God. These people are lunatics, what should I do?" And suppose they decided, "I need to stay right where I am, because if I leave, I'll surely be replaced by someone with no character at all."

And by staying on, they made themselves vulnerable to prosecution, as well. Powell? Ashcroft? Rice? It would take a mind reader to know for sure.

The same character that caused the best to make themselves vulnerable might keep them from requesting, or accepting, a pardon. How's that for bitter irony?

Finally, where do you stop? At what level of the bureaucracy? At what level of malfeasance? And how do you keep the next level -- the first unpardoned level -- from going before the Senate investigating committees and singing their songs?

It's a dilemma.

Commander in Chief

Give this column a read. It's spot-on, as the Brits would say.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Department of High-Class McCain

The grin at the end is especially revealing. He finally found out what Republicans like: Slander.

Update: Joe Klein noticed it too.

Whither Goest the GOP?

The Alan Keyes watch continues.

It's a Long Time to November ...

... but it sure is fun right now!

NBC's political reporter Chuck Todd on Meet the Press says the McCain crowd is worried:

MR. TODD: Republicans are panicked about this trip because they think that this is going to be a home run. And arguably, you’ve got some Obama folks who actually think he ought to come home right now. It’s never going to get as good as it’s gotten in the last 48 hours. You’ve got McCain suddenly in the White House parroting what Obama has been saying in Afghanistan. The McCain folks will say, “Hey, we’re not parroting. We’ve been there before.” But they clearly caught McCain flat-footed there. And then what Maliki did, even in the backtrack statement that the spokes–the government spokesperson over there said, he threw in the word “timetable.”

Video at Crook & Liars.

The Sky's the Limit

Ranking blogs by their number of hits, Technorati puts Sempringham at 4,485,324th.

Actually, that's an improvement!

Aptly Put

I loved this at The Reality-Based Community:

So--let me get this straight.

Ryan Lizza writes, if not a hatchet job, a distinctly unflattering piece on Obama in the New Yorker.

The next week, Lizza — along with the majority of other reporters — does not get a seat on Obama's plane during his Middle East tour.

And suddenly every reporter and his brother-in-law are shocked — shocked — that maybe Obama would be engaging in payback.

"This is not the change we have been waiting for," sniffs Jeff Goldberg.

Rachel Sklar wrings her hands and calls it a "worrisome signal."

Joe Gandelman lectures, "If this was [sic (sniff)] mere happenstance, then it’s an example of poor and short-sighted staffing."

Give. Me. A. Break.

First, it's not clear that there was any payback here, but please: the press got this from the Bush Administration every day for eight years, and only now it's getting the vapors? Please.

And no, it's no good to say, as Gandelman does, "Some partisans will invariably say: 'Well, this happens under Bush.' And then talk about change."

I realize that this will come as news to the privileged reporters of the Beltway elite, but: change is not about you.

Change is about the nation's priorities. It is about policy. It is about whether the President cares about the thin slice of the super-rich, or about the broad American working class. It is about whether we will face up to the upcoming climate crisis, or ignore science in the face of the energy industry's agenda. It is about whether we look at facts in foreign policy, or pretend that what we want is what exists.

It is not about whether elite reporters get their favorite donut flavors aboard Air Force One.


See the whole article here.

McCain in Louisiana

The Washington Post's politics blog, The Fix, cites reports that McCain will announce his VP choice by the end of the week. If true, it's a clear attempt to take some of the spotlight off Obama's trip to Europe.

The same article suggests the choice could be Bobby Jindal, 1-year governor of Louisiana. Jindal's an interesting guy, but he's got baggage. I'm not sure how his experience with exorcism with play outside of the Catholic church -- or inside it, for that matter.


Tee-hee, tee-hee.

Obama in Iraq

Huffington Post has pictures and video of Obama's trip to Afghanistan and Iraq here.

The video of his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Malaki is particularly interesting ... not the substance of it, which is photo op all the way, but the seating arrangements. Obama is traveling with two other senators, Reed and Hagel, who are technically his seniors in the Senate. Yet, when they sit down with Malaki, Obama takes one of the two center chairs while Reed and Hagel sit along the wall.

The image: Presidential.

McCain should be kicking himself every day for encouraging Obama to go to Iraq. Do you think Hagel has a real shot at being Obama's VP candidate?

P.S. On the same page linked to above is a Department of Defense video of Obama shooting hoops in Kuwait. We could have a President who can swish a 3-pointer!

Update: MSNBC's First Read had this reality test for a Hagel VP candidacy:

Hagel as Obama’s VP? Consider that in what little Obama has said on the process, the Illinois senator said governance matters. Aside from Iraq, Obama and Hagel disagree on virtually everything -- abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage, energy (he's to the right of McCain -- he's for drilling in ANWR), taxes, education, and so on.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wisconsin Dreamin'

Sorry for the hiatus, but we were guests for the past 4 days (not sorry about that!) at a gorgeous place in Wisconsin called Mill Pond, getting to spend time with family. Mill Pond is in southern Wisconsin, it has seen a LOT of rain this year, and the pond's water level was very high. If you look carefully under the bench in this picture, you might be able to see that part of the dock is actually under water.

The temperature was high, and the humidity was higher. Outside, the mosquitoes were sharpening their prosboscises. The young, brave, and adventurous had fun building sand castles, playing tennis, fishing, canoeing, and bouncing on a trampoline. Luckily, the house we stayed in had wi-fi, so inside we managed to keep ourselves engaged between games of Scrabble, Go Fish, and Chinese Checkers.

Four computers: no waiting. (Three Macs; one Dell.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Here Comes the Sun (do-do-do-do)

Okay, so I've been crabby about everything lately, and nasty to Republicans (they'll get over it). But suddenly there's maybe a reason to be hopeful. On tonight's ABC News there was this ad:

Woo-hoo! At last somebody is talking seriously about the oil mess. We need to be careful, because this is T. Boone Pickens, the guy who bankrolled the repulsive Swift Boat ads 4 years ago, so he's already done big damage to the country. And we need to be aware that he is investing heavily in a big wind farm in Texas.

But in this ad, at least, he's telling the truth: We're in a hole, and we can't drill our way out of it. At $100 a barrel, we're sending $600 billion out of the country every year. At $150 a barrel, we would be sending $900 billion out of the country every year. In 10 years, that's $9 trillion! We can't afford this. So we need to start talking seriously about what we're going to do.

Food Pantry

I was emcee again today. The temperature was in the 90's, the place has only old fashioned air conditioning (windows and fans), and it was standing room only for about 2 hours. A total of 124 families, if I remember right. We had to stay open an extra half hour to take care of everybody.

We had a lot of new families, who had never been to a food pantry before. They are sooooo grateful. Of course, George Will would call them crybabies, and Phil Gramm would call them whiners. How can any decent human being be a Republican?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Still Mad at GM

I was sitting here wondering why GM stockholders allow the Doofus Rick Wagoner to lead them down the drain, when I remembered this column by Tom Friedman back at the end of May. And then I remembered this one.

Our Wonderful Governor

Suellen and I were having dinner with friends at a little restaurant called Jury's last night. It's in a Chicago neighborhood called Lincoln Square that is becoming more and more upscale. Where once there were empty stores, now there are restaurants. But Jury's was there long before. If you visit us in Chicago, make sure we take you to Jury's.

Anyway, we're sitting there having a nice conversation, when all of a sudden who should walk in but Rod Blagojevich, currently governor of the Great State of Illinois.

Illinois has seen its share of governors head to prison in the past few decades, and we're bound to see more. Blago was "Public Official A" in the famous Tony Rezko trial that concluded last month, with Rezko going to prison. Obama was not implicated in anything Rezko did, but Public Official A was. And since the U.S. Attorney here is an upright guy named Patrick J. Fitzgerald, many people expect to see Blago do a perp walk eventually.

When we left the restaurant we couldn't help but giggle. Public Official A had three black SUV's parked outside (one in front of a fire hydrant), with what passes in Chicago as Secret Service agents (you can imagine) standing outside them, speaking into their wrists.

Chicago is a wonderful town.

GM Death Watch

GM had a press conference today. According to the New York Times:

DETROIT — General Motors said Tuesday that it would reduce labor costs for salaried workers by 20 percent, eliminate its quarterly dividend and further reduce truck production to ensure that it has enough cash to finance its turnaround for at least two more years.

The moves, which include selling at least $2 billion in assets and borrowing as much as $3 billion, are expected to raise about $15 billion by the end of 2009, the chief executive Rick Wagoner said.

Mr. Wagoner said the automaker would stop providing health care coverage to salaried retirees at age 65, offer buyout and early retirement packages to reduce its salaried work force and freeze base pay for salaried employees through 2009.

In addition, G.M. executives will no longer receive discretionary cash bonuses.

“These are tough but necessary actions,” Mr. Wagoner said ....

No word about whether they're going to produce less oil-dependent vehicles. Maybe it hasn't occurred to him yet?

I guess after the "two more years" they'll open a bicycle repair shop.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Now THAT's Funny!

Somebody took Kevin Drum's suggestion [see "What Were They Thinking?", below] seriously and re-did the New Yorker cover so it's funny. You'll need to click on it to get a good view.

Credit goes to Mary Hodder at Napsterization.

Now I have to say that one of my first reactions upon seeing it in full size was, "Four dollars and fifty cents!" We have New Yorkers in our basement that cost $1.25.

More Sobering Information

The market capitalization of General Motors is now less than The Gap, Hershey Chocolate, or Starbucks. Not all three combined, but any one of the three.

And yet, according to a June article from the Associated Press:

Rick Wagoner, chief executive of General Motors Corp., announced earlier this month the company had to close four plants that make trucks and SUVs because of lagging demand as fuel prices soar. That followed the posting a $39 billion loss in 2007, a year when its stock price fell by about 19 percent, without adjusting for dividends.

And Wagoner? His pay rose 64 percent, to $15.7 million.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Crybabies of the Western World

George Will's doing pretty well, thank you, and thinks everybody else should just stop their blubbering.

The face of evil.

What Were They Thinking?

I'm speechless. This is the latest New Yorker cover:

If your vision is going the same way mine is, let me describe what we have here: Barack Obama dressed as a Muslim, his wife dressed as a black revolutionary; they're standing in the Oval Office, with the American flag burning in the fireplace and a picture of Osama bin Laden hanging on the wall. I'm sure it's supposed to be mocking the wing-nut image of Obama, but I find it offensive, even so.

I have a subscription to this magazine! I LIKED this magazine!

Update: I really liked Kevin Drum's comment on this:

I had two reactions, myself. To be honest, my first one was that it was kinda funny, a clever way of mocking all the conservative BS that's been circulating about the Obamas.

But at the risk of seeming humorless, that reaction didn't last too long. Maybe it's because this kind of satire just doesn't work, no matter how well it's done. But mostly it's because a few minutes thought convinced me it was gutless. If artist Barry Blitt had some real cojones, he would have drawn the same cover but shown it as a gigantic word bubble coming out of John McCain's mouth — implying, you see, that this is how McCain wants the world to view Obama. But he didn't. Because that would have been unfair. And McCain would have complained about it. And for some reason, the risk that a failed satire would unfairly defame McCain is somehow seen as worse than the risk that a failed satire would unfairly defame Obama.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Would That It Were So

Our President ended a private meeting of the G8 leaders with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter." Ha, ha, ha. The story here.

Can we make it through the next 191 days? I'm not sure. Not because of President George W. Rickles, but because of the Italy/Berluconi insult and what it says about what's happening in the White House.

Here's what I think is happening. The rats have left the ship -- if not physically, at least mentally. The interns are doing all the work, they're 21 years old, and they're unsupervised. This was the G8 summit, folks.


I've been reading too much over at Chris Martenson's web site. He's a real Henny Penny.

His advice: buy non-paper based assets (gold and silver) and foreign currencies. I remember back in the late 70's/early 80's that a lot of people lost a lot of money buying gold. And since I'm thinking about it, isn't that all the proof you need that the market has already driven the price of gold up far beyond what it could ever actually be worth? I know every mountain looks highest when you're standing right in front of it. But is there any way we can get out of this mess without hyperinflation?

Our President doesn't seem engaged in this at all, which is probably the good news. He's basically lost interest.

Friday, July 11, 2008

In the City in Spain

Two of my favorite nephews have a band called Chromatics which is getting more and more successful. In fact, this month they're playing at a music festival in Spain that is being headlined by my all-time favorite, the one, the only, Leonard Cohen. You can't get more successful than that.

This is a video of their song, In the City. Beats me why it's call that. Enjoy.

They're Praying for Lower Gas Prices

According to a story on the right-wing Christian news web site, OneNewsNow:

The "Pray at the Pump" movement is spreading around the country, showing up in St. Louis this week after visits to Washington, DC, Toledo, and San Francisco.

Maryland resident Rocky Twyman launched the movement, taking groups to gas station pumps and praying for lower prices. Even foreign media, including television reporters from Iran and Saudi Arabia, have covered it. "First of all, they say the story is so very American because they say only Americans would put God into a political issue like this," he relates.

"It's really fun, you know -- it's a fun event," Twyman continues. "I mean, we have had some incidences where...the management has thrown us out, but we just shake off the dust on our feet and go to another station."

I'll bet the Saudis and Iranians love to see that on their TV's.

I wish they'd pray for a hydrogen breakthrough, though.

Shanghai Envy

While we are pouring our money down a hole in Iraq, or sending it to Saudi Arabia for oil, the rest of the world is leaving us behind.

Steve Clemons has it in a nutshell at The Washington Note.

His conclusion: Our social objectives should be higher than they are.

The Alan Keyes Watch

Over at HuffPo, Max Bergmann writes about "The Week That Should Have Ended McCain's Presidential Hopes."

My advice to Obama (worth every penny) is: jump all over that "Americans are whiners" remark from McCain's campaign co-chair and top economic adviser. Jump and jump and jump. Day after day, until Gramm is on a slow boat to (land-locked) Belarus. This was a glorious gift to Obama. Open it.

Leadership, George W. Bush Style

From today's Washington Post, the best encapsulation of the "Conservative Movement" I have ever seen.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce today that it will seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming to human health and welfare -- a matter that federal climate experts and international scientists have repeatedly said should be urgently addressed.

The Supreme Court, in a decision 15 months ago that startled the government, ordered the EPA to decide whether human health and welfare are being harmed by greenhouse gas pollution from cars, power plants and other sources, or to provide a good explanation for not doing so. But the administration has opted to postpone action instead, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

To defer compliance with the Supreme Court's demand, the White House has walked a tortured policy path, editing its officials' congressional testimony, refusing to read documents prepared by career employees and approved by top appointees, requesting changes in computer models to lower estimates of the benefits of curbing carbon dioxide, and pushing narrowly drafted legislation on fuel-economy standards that officials said was meant to sap public interest in wider regulatory action.

The decision to solicit further comment overrides the EPA's written recommendation from December. Officials said a few senior White House officials were unwilling to allow the EPA to state officially that global warming harms human welfare. Doing so would legally trigger sweeping regulatory requirements under the 45-year-old Clean Air Act, one of the pillars of U.S. environmental protection, and would cost utilities, automakers and others billions of dollars while also bringing economic benefits, EPA's analyses found.

"They argued that this increase in regulation should be on the next president's record," not Bush's, said a participant in the lengthy interagency debate, referring principally to officials in the office of Vice President Cheney, on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, on the National Economic Council and in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

In religion, it is expressed as, "The Bible said it. I believe it. That settles it." Don't confuse me with silly things like science or facts.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama's On His Game

Thanks to Talking Points Memo, as usual:

Investing Myths

The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch has a list of Ten Investing Rules to Throw Away. Number one:

Rule #1: You can safely trust the stock market to outperform over a decade.
Reality: Anyone who invested in Wall Street in the summer of 1998 and held on has earned just 9%. That's the total return on the Standard & Poor's 500 index, and includes reinvested dividends. And that's before inflation. Bonds, and savings accounts, did far better. If you held your cash in an account earning an average of just 3%, for example, today you'd be up 34%.


A Crash Course in Economics

Andrew Tobias pointed me to this online "Crash Course" in economics. It's a series of narrated PowerPoint presentations, essentially, that describes what's going on with the economy from the point of view of a person named Chris Martenson. I have no idea who he is, or whether he has ever done prison time, but he gives a good PowerPoint. I recommend it.

Oh, one warning: it's not cheerful. I would be very interested in hearing corrective information.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Liberal Bloggers Accuse Obama of Trying to Win the Election

All the details are here.

Jesse Jackson Apologizes for Obama Remarks

According to the New York Times' political blog, The Caucus:

The Rev. Jesse Jackson apologized Wednesday for critical comments he made about Senator Barack Obama that were picked up by a Fox News Channel microphone.

According to various reports, Mr. Jackson made disparaging remarks, apparently including a crude reference, about how Mr. Obama was talking to black people.

The rest of the article is here. Unfortunately, the blog apparently doesn't know precisely what Jackson said; it will be broadcast on Faux tonight.

Without actually knowing what he said, I can't imagine that Jackson's remarks won't actually help Obama.

Update: At least one person agrees with me.

Update 2: So does this one.


This is a great ad. Love the music, too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Doesn't Look Good

I can't embed this video from the Financial Times, but it's short, and it's not very cheerful if you own stock.

Sobering Information

From Gallup, again:

PRINCETON, NJ -- In 9 of the past 15 U.S. presidential elections, the candidate who was leading in Gallup polling roughly four months before the election ultimately won the popular vote for president. However, narrowing the set of races to the nine that were competitive, the early polling proved prescient in only three of those.

With Barack Obama leading John McCain by no more than six percentage points in Gallup's early July polling, the 2008 race currently fits best into the "competitive" category. Given that assumption, Gallup's election trends from a comparable point in previous presidential election years offer no strong indication of whether Obama or McCain is headed for victory in November.

(In 1976, Jimmy Carter, who won that election, was ahead by 33 points in mid-July, but the race narrowed significantly by Election Day and he won by only two points. Thus, for the purposes of this analysis, the 1976 race is classified as competitive.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Oh, Boy. Is the GOP Ever in Trouble!

"Hello. Is Alan Keyes home?"

Compliments of Talking Points Memo.

Where is the Front in the War on Terror?

A good look at the approaches of the two campaigns here.

Department of Meaningless Polls

Gallup is usually a pretty bright bunch, so when I saw this poll I tried to fight my initial reaction (i.e., "This is a stupid poll!") and understand how this could have any meaning at all. I was unsuccessful in that endeavor.

When given a choice about how government should address the numerous economic difficulties facing today's consumer, Americans overwhelmingly -- by 84% to 13% -- prefer that the government focus on improving overall economic conditions and the jobs situation in the United States as opposed to taking steps to distribute wealth more evenly among Americans.

I suspect the first reaction of most people, if asked if the government should take steps "to distribute wealth more evenly among Americans," is "Not MY money!" Yet, when it gets down to particulars, like progressive income tax or Social Security, the tune changes.

If the "conservative movement" has been successful at anything, it is in establishing a conventional wisdom that says, "the government is bad, and oppresses people like me." People on the right don't even think about it -- to them it is a tenet of their faith. And they're even more sure of it as they breathe cleaner air, drink safe water, drive on public roads, buy wholesome food in restaurants and at the supermarket, send their children to school, attend movie theaters with fire exits, drive through intersections where cross-traffic has stopped at a red light, buy stock in companies that follow standard accounting practices, go camping at Yellowstone, cash their Social Security checks, and live without fear of foreign invasion.

I suppose I should add that I have absolutely nothing against "improving overall economic conditions and the jobs situation in the United States." In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say I'm absolutely in favor of it. I'm also in favor of rain in drought-stricken areas. I'm sorry, but somebody has to take a stand.

Stupid poll.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

He's Still Got His Head on His Shoulders

If you read the NY Times editorial and the Arianna Huffington column I pointed to earlier, you may have joined the crowd that's getting worried about whether Obama is changing his position on everything. I think the following, from the L.A. Times, is a good indication that he's still with us:

Asked at a town hall-style meeting in Fargo, N.D., about any decorating plans for the Lincoln Bedroom, Obama described a visit to the White House after he became a U.S. senator.

"You have all these mementos of Abraham Lincoln, but you have this flat-screen TV in there," Obama told the crowd at the outdoor event.

"I thought to myself, 'Now, who stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and watches [ESPN's] 'Sports Center'? You've got your clicker. . . . That didn't seem to me to be appropriate. So I might take out the TV, I don't know.

"You should read when you're in the Lincoln Bedroom! Reread the Gettysburg Address. Don't watch TV."

Damn right.


Today we got five pieces of mail:

2 envelopes from Blue Cross/Blue Shield
1 envelope from Northwestern Medical Group
1 envelope from AARP
1 envelope from Suellen's undergraduate college, asking for money.

But I'm not complaining.

Mystery Solved

The reason nobody was shooting off fireworks on July 3 was because only the Chicago Parks Department thought the right time to celebrate July 4 was July 3. When it became clear that celebrating was being done in earnest last night I grabbed my camera and headed for the nearest park.

Unfortunately, this year I chose the wrong park. There were some Roman candles, and some idiots throwing firecrackers at people's feet. But no good sky rockets.

Here's some of the audience (such as it was):

And this one I call "Oops!":

The park ends where those cars are. Those are houses over there. Click on it for a clearer view.

If You're in a Reading Mood

Here are two. Probably best read in the order given.

The New York Times

Arianna Huffington

Pigs at the Trough

The Bush Administration's last 200 days are going to be hard ones. You've seen the stories about how the man himself has become irrelevant (I think he spends his time judging beautiful baby contests and raising money for Satan now), but the sleaze-balls he's appointed to head the various agencies will be spending their last months in office trying to make big scores for their future employers. The Washington Post gives us an example this morning:

MISSOULA, Mont. -- The Bush administration is preparing to ease the way for the nation's largest private landowner to convert hundreds of thousands of acres of mountain forestland to residential subdivisions.

The deal was struck behind closed doors between Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and Plum Creek Timber Co., a former logging company turned real estate investment trust that is building homes. Plum Creek owns more than 8 million acres nationwide, including 1.2 million acres in the mountains of western Montana, where local officials were stunned and outraged at the deal.

"We have 40 years of Forest Service history that has been reversed in the last three months," said Pat O'Herren, an official in Missoula County, which is threatening to sue the Forest Service for forgoing environmental assessments and other procedures that would have given the public a voice in the matter.

Read the first paragraph of that story again. Not thousands of acres; hundreds of thousands of acres.

Kudos to the Post for running this story. It's anybody's guess how much of this is going on that we won't even hear about until after the election.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Good Reality Testing

Can common sense prevail in the Bush Administration? I didn't think so.

Fourth of July Trivia

Everybody knows that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826 -- the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Adams' last words were, "Thomas Jefferson still survives." Unfortunately, Jefferson had died earlier that day.

But can you tell me what famous American composer was born on the very same day?

I'll insert the answer into another post today.

Happy Fourth!

Things were unusually quiet last night. Suellen and I both noticed it. Normally, the week leading up to the Fourth is full of firecrackers, cherry bombs, and the occasional M-80 to set off all the car alarms.

In prior years unauthorized fireworks displays could be found in nearly every Chicago neighborhood. If you could see over the housetops, you would see Roman candles and sky rockets exploding in concentrated areas, usually parks, and the police took a hands-off attitude toward it. They have bigger fish to fry than people blowing their fingers off.

A couple of years ago some guys set up a 5-hour fireworks display in the parking lot of a nearby factory. They had two vans, each filled to the roof with the kind of fireworks you usually see only at city-sanctioned displays. It was fun, but it was scary. All night long the guys smoked and drank beer, and as the evening wore on they got kind of wobbly. I took some pictures, but the whole time I was thinking about what I would dive behind or under if somebody dropped his cigarette.

But last night: almost nothing. A few firecrackers. No cherry bombs. Makes me wonder if the fireworks budget was eaten up by gasoline.

Take a look at the Countdown Clock above and you'll see one reason I'm smiling anyway: We've passed a milestone -- less than 200 days until he's gone.

The Smell of Brimstone in the Morning

Paul Krugman is starting to come around. Dreams of Hillary are fading, and he sees the Forces of Darkness gathering in McCain's campaign. Obama is beginning to look pretty good to him.

Krugman talks about the recent dust-up concerning Wesley Clark's remarks, and says "... my sense, though it’s hard to prove, is that the press is feeling a bit ashamed about the way it piled on General Clark. If so, news organizations may think twice before buying into the next fake scandal."

Alas, it was not to be. Witness: yesterday's excitement about Obama saying he would "refine" his plans for ending the Iraq War. Josh Marshall is best on this:

The McCain camp seems to have a lot of reporters eating out of its hands since many journalists don't appear to grasp the basic distinction between strategy and tactics. I've even had normally sensible journalist colleagues forwarding me RNC press releases like they're passing on the revealed truth. McCain's campaign actually put out a statement claiming that Obama "has now adopted John McCain's position that we cannot risk the progress we have made in Iraq by beginning to withdraw our troops immediately without concern for conditions on the ground."

I've watched this campaign unfold pretty closely. And I've listened to Obama's position on Iraq. He's been very clear through this year and last on the distinction between strategy and tactics. Presidents set the strategy -- which in this context means the goal or the policy. And if the policy is a military one, a President will consult closely with his military advisers on the tactics used to execute the policy.

This is an elementary distinction the current occupant in the White House has continually tried to confuse by claiming that his policies are driven and constrained by the advice he's given by his commanders on the ground. There's nothing odd or contradictory about Obama saying that he'll change the policy to one of withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq with a specific timetable but that he will consult with his military advisers about how best to execute that policy.

For the McCain campaign to put out a memo to reporters claiming that Obama has adopted McCain's policy only shows that his advisers believe that a sizable percentage of the political press is made up of incorrigible morons. And it's hard to disagree with the judgment.

Maybe it's the 24/7 news cycle that has done this to us. Maybe it's a press corps made up of "communication" majors. Maybe it's Stephen Foster's fault. I don't know. But really, they're just awful.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Gaper Delays Ahead

Okay, so "Gaper" and "Shipwreck" are mixed metaphors. But have you ever tried to find a picture of "Gaper"?

Anyway, you read it here first. And really, I'm so far out in front of the news that you could win bar bets about what's gonna happen next, just based on what you read here.

Last month I had a couple of posts about what a poor campaign McCain is running, and speculated that the Republicans would want to replace him before their convention (it's still TWO months off!). Today we learn that McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, is being bumped upstairs to think about deep, long-term things, while a guy named Steve Schmidt will be taking over the helm.

According to Josh Marshall:

They are reportedly also scrap [sic] their system of 11 largely autonomous regional managers to run the campaign, an approach to running a national campaign that I do not believe has ever been tried before.

That sounds a lot like they're scraping [sic] the whole operation and starting again from square one, thus squandering the huge advantage they got by sealing up the nomination months in advance of the Democrats.

No doubt, they're talk [sic] about retooling and logical evolutions. But this sounds much more like scrapping the whole org chart and starting from scratch.

In other words, the campaign organization is in absolute turmoil.

Which just might be the answer to a question I've been pondering all day:

Can anybody tell me what the heck McCain is doing in Columbia? Did he want to be out of the country when all this was coming down, or what? [Update: Surely this can't be the reason, can it?]

And while we're on the subject of my uncanny ability to foresee the future, take a look at this story about how the GOP is getting nervous about Obama's overseas trip. They're afraid he will remind people of what it was like when the American President acted ... Presidential! Something we haven't seen for 8 years.

Talkin' Food Pantry

I was emcee at the food pantry again today. It was the first one of the month, so it was busy (something like 115 families), and it's held in the un-air-conditioned basement of a Methodist church, so today's 85 degree temperature added a special element.

A lot of our patrons have no transportation other than their own feet, so folks bring all sorts of things to help them get their groceries home. There's the popular 2-wheeled shopping cart, of course, and I'd guess about 10 per cent bring wheeled luggage with them. If you have to haul this stuff 2 miles back to an apartment, finding an old wheeled suitcase out in the alley can improve your day.

But today was something out of the ordinary. A woman about my age showed up in front of me when her number was called. "How're ya doin' today?" I asked in my cheerful, Social Security voice. "I'm doing fine," she answered, "I got the pins taken out of my leg." I congratulated her on that, then noticed that her joy was two-fold. She had brought her wheel chair with her to take her groceries home.

Staged Indignation

It's clear from this that the reason the "McCain getting shot down is not a good reason to make him President" story is still alive is because the McCain camp wants it to be. And the press is happy to comply.

But are the McCain people doing the smart thing? Taken on its own merits, Clark's comment is obviously true, whether it pertains to McCain or Joe Smith. By calling attention to the criticism, which would have gone unheard otherwise, they're making a bet they can get more people indignant about McCain's military service being (supposedly) dissed than people saying, "Well, yeah, I guess being a former POW doesn't automatically make you President material." But if those people can read, they'll see his service was not being dissed. And then they'll look at McCain and say, "What's with you?"

My guess is we'll see nothing in the polls to indicate this has been worth McCain's time and money. Let's see.

Update: Maureen Dowd is interesting on this today. Her concluding paragraphs:

When McCain zoomed in the New Hampshire polls in 2000, W.’s supporters insinuated that McCain’s years in Vietcong dungeons, including two suicide attempts, left him with snakes in his head.

Now McCain is trying to magnify the words of Obama surrogates on Vietnam to tarnish his self-styled postpartisan rival as partisan. On the way to Colombia, he talked about Clark and said it was time for Obama to “cut him loose.”

Yet McCain himself has joked: “It doesn’t take a lot of talent to get shot down. I was able to intercept a surface-to-air missile with my own airplane.”

Maybe instead of refighting the Vietnam War while we’re still fighting the Iraq war, the candidates can figure out how to feed the world, find enough fuel for everyone and oh, yeah, catch that bin Laden fiend who’s running around free.

In McCain's defense, it could be his experience with GWB in 2000 that makes McCain squawk so loudly about this now. If that's the case, it's understandable. But it doesn't make it smart.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Braggin' on my Bro

My brother, Chip, is a fantastic nature photographer. For a few years he has been compiling a photographic record of the flora and fauna found near their vacation home, Mill Pond, in Wisconsin. Take a look. I think you'll be amazed. Make sure you read the captions.

Unfortunately for other photographers, he also takes pictures elsewhere.

Let the record show that it was I who convinced Chip to buy his first DSLR. I have always been a patron of genius, gently guiding my protégés in the right direction.

What Wesley Clark Said

If ever there was an "I Know What I Think, Don't Confuse Me with the Facts!" moment, it is the current brouhaha on idiot TV channels about what Wesley Clark said concerning John McCain's military service. Talking Points Memo has a wonderful collage:

My favorite was Laura Ingraham almost holding her hands over her ears to keep from hearing any point of view that wasn't her own. It's amazing. Why on earth would anyone want to hear her opinions about anything? They're purposely uninformed.

TPM also offers the tape of what Clark really said:

and quoting Josh Marshall:

As you can see, Schieffer says 'getting shot down' as one of McCain's qualifications and Clark says he doesn't think that's a qualification for being president.

Now, do I think this analysis of what was actually said is going to change the popular impression of what happened at this point? Not really. The conventional wisdom has already congealed. But as long as we're on the durable and ascertainable ground of what was actually said, I don't think there's really any question. Clark's point was unassailable. And to say he was attacking McCain's service -- as opposed to saying it didn't necessarily make him the better candidate for president -- is clearly not the case.

To call this "Swiftboating" is to misunderstand what "Swiftboating" was all about. "Swiftboating" was telling lies about someone's service. Most generously, it was accusing someone, who had apparently served with honor and bravery, of telling lies about his service. Of course, on idiot TV we can't expect anybody to have a memory that goes back four whole years.

It's not a bad idea to remember that Wesley Clark was carried out of Vietnam on a stretcher, too.

And finally, I would like to once again quote my brother Mike, who I went to for a military perspective on McCain's record a couple of weeks ago -- before this all started:

If what [Huffington Post columnist] Klein says about his marginal record (he crashed a damn lot of aircraft) is true, it would have taken more than his dad and granddad's stars to get him promoted to admiral (ask Randy "Duke" Cunningham) and believe it or not, being a POW is not considered by the Navy to be "career enhancing". It might boost your rank by one grade (gratitude of a thankful nation, etc.) but making flag rank would be bulldozing, not pushing, the envelope.

So John McCain served bravely and with honor, and I honor his service. So does Wesley Clark.

Addendum: Despite idiot TV's valiant efforts on behalf of Senator McCain, for some reason real people don't seem to give a rat's behind. Current polling shows Obama leading in Florida. Florida is a must-win state for McCain, and I don't remember anyone seriously suggesting it would be contested. I guess I should thank Talking Points Memo for all the stuff I stole from them today.

Now You Know

Most of the photovoltaic cells currently in use are in Europe.

Hat tip to The Reality-Based Community.