Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Roland Burris, the man Blago has tried to appoint to Obama's Senate seat, is not the only Chicago politician who erects monuments to himself. It's what they do here. Every public work you see has a sign in front of it, listing the politicians who "brought" it to you.
Of course, it was our tax money that brought it to us, just like it brought us all those expensive, though useless, signs with the politicians' names painted on them.
There's no indication (yet) that the taxpayers paid for this. Just the same, wouldn't you be embarrassed to build something like this to yourself? There's something very sad about it. Yet it's what they do in Chicago.
The rise of the television punditocracy, combined with the right-wing radio idiotocracy, shares some of the blame for the state we're in. They're not serious about anything except entertaining people, so their shows are more reminiscent of televised wrestling than anything else: primping, posturing, and Flying Turkeyman Slams.
There are exceptions, of course, but most of what we get is just bloviating with index cards. And you know I am an expert on bloviation.
And with that introduction, be prepared to see Joe Scarborough put in his place by somebody who actually knows something.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I began writing the post below at 7:35 a.m. local time, and probably finished it around 8 a.m. The word "Vietnamese" was mentioned in it. According to Feedjit, at 10:12 a.m. the site was visited by a reader in Ho Chi Minh City.
I wonder what would happen if I mentioned Tienanmen Square in China.
Just for the record, Vietnamese and Chinese readers are very welcome here. I hope you will join in any discussion that interests you, and correct me where I am wrong on anything.
The reference to the Khmer Rouge in the previous post sent me on a trip down memory lane that I'd like to get down on "paper," so to speak.
As most readers will know, 10 years ago I was manager of a Social Security office on the north side of a large American city. One of my employees was a young Vietnamese fellow who, through intelligence and long hours, was on his way up in the organization. If you remember the scene of helicopters on top of the American Embassy in Saigon (and everybody who was alive then must surely remember that), then you would have seen him as an 8-year-old, climbing up a ladder to the helicopter on the roof. His father had been an officer in the South Vietnamese Army, but was killed in action. He and his mother spent some time in a refuge camp outside the United States (I think it was in Thailand), but were eventually admitted to a "boat people" camp in the South, and he spent the rest of his years until high school graduation in that Southern state. So he spoke English with a decidedly Southern accent, which was hilarious to hear coming out of a Vietnamese mouth.
This fellow, who I'll call George, was for a while my entrée to the huge Asian community in my office's service area, since he was very active and well known there. Once, when I had an opportunity to hire a new employee (which didn't happen often) I asked him to help me interview applicants. Of course, George had put out word in the Asian community that I was hiring, and I received applications from many immigrants who had become United States citizens.
One applicant, referred by George, was an older Cambodian man. George told me ahead of time the man had been a professor at a university in Phnom Penh, but became a marked man when the Khmer Rouge took over. He fled into the jungle, and lived there for two years, hiding. When the Khmer Rouge fell, he was able to emigrate to the United States, but could find employment only in an auto repair shop. He arrived for the interview in his work clothes, with dirt under his fingernails. I think he had come directly from changing someone's tires. I respected the man's history, though, and someone fluent in Cambodian would have been a great addition to my office.
But he could barely speak English. I found myself having to repeat questions, searching for words he could understand, and asking him to repeat his answers so I could pick out words that I understood. Of course, I could not hire him for the interviewing position I was trying to fill.
After the interview, George and I talked about the man. Looking to help him save face after referring an obviously unqualified person, I said, "Well, he was probably nervous about the job interview."
But George would have none of that. "Bob," he said, "this guy lived in the jungle for two years, hiding from the Khmer Rouge. He's not going to get nervous about a job interview!"
And I guess George would know.
Does anyone else have a sense that what's happening between Israel and Hamas right now is happening because a) officials in the Bush Administration checked out a long time ago, and b) people on both sides have wanted to take advantage of that fact?
Bob Herbert takes a stab at Adding Up the Damage of the Bush Administration, but there's just not enough column space to do it. And Nicholas Kristoff finds a chilling reminder of that in the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in Cambodia.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Should New York's Governor David Paterson appoint Caroline Kennedy to complete Hillary Clinton's term in the Senate?
I may be projecting here, but I guess most people my age feel a special kindness towards Caroline. We remember her in the White House and at her father's funeral. In her deportment she reminds us of her mother, Jacqueline. And unlike many Kennedys, she has managed to live her life without public scandal. There's a nostalgic side of us that would be delighted to see Caroline become a U.S. Senator.
But then there's the other side. Her main public activity has been money-raising for worthy causes, principally New York public schools. She's a board member of this and that, an honorary board member of that and this, and -- as Wikipedia puts it --
has represented her family at the funeral services of former Presidents Ronald Reagan in 2004 and Gerald Ford in 2007, and at the funeral service of former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson in 2007. She also represented her family at the dedication of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas in November 2004.
These are not things to be scoffed at, but is there any reason she is being seriously considered for this position other than her family name? Of course not. And family names just aren't how we should do things.
Steve Clemons at The Washington Note has what I think is a better idea: make her an ambassador. Specifically: appoint her to the Court of St. James. Steve's reasoning is here.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
This is Sting and Cheb Mami singing Desert Rose. That should be good enough. But instead of the usual music video, you get to look at some of the amazing images created by my favorite photographer, Steve McCurry.
Did I say they are amazing? They're amazing.
Via Kevin Drum, this bit of a Wall Street Journal article:
Corporate-turnaround experts and bankruptcy lawyers are predicting a wave of retailer bankruptcies early next year, after being contacted by big and small retailers either preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or scrambling to avoid that fate.
....AlixPartners LLP, a Michigan-based turnaround consulting firm, estimates that 25.8% of 182 large retailers it tracks are at significant risk of filing for bankruptcy or facing financial distress in 2009 or 2010....Recent changes in the bankruptcy code make it more difficult for retailers to emerge from bankruptcy reorganization....Lawrence Gottlieb, a New York bankruptcy attorney at Cooley Godward Kronish LLP says that only two retailers have successfully emerged from bankruptcy proceedings since the amendments to the code were passed.
One quarter of 182 large retailers. You might not want to buy stock in any shopping malls anytime soon.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Can massive government spending on infrastructure strengthen the country more than the debt weakens it?
If the New Deal is any indication, the answer is yes. The San Francisco Examiner has the story of how the New Deal transformed that city.
Just in case you needed to be reminded, in this season of good will, that the Republican Party is what happened to village idiots, here ya go:
The former campaign manager for "Mr. Holier-than-Thou", Mike Huckabee, is campaigning to be head of the Republican National Committee. To endear himself to committee members, he sent them a Christmas CD that includes everybody's all-time favorite, "Barack the Magic Negro."
I guess the reason the GOP appeals only to white people is because people of color just don't understand good satire. The story here, with a hat tip to Talking Points Memo.
Happy Day After Christmas, everybody. Our lives have not been our own for the past couple of days, but should be slowing down a little bit now. We hope you had a great Christmas.
Krugman is worth reading today (almost always is).
I've been taking a lot of pictures in the past few days, and will share some here. First, a fresh snowfall makes everything look better -- for a while.
Below are Advent candles. Advent has four weeks. One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, then it and an additional candle are lit each week, with the center candle lit on Christmas. What's supposed to happen is that by Christmas you have four candles of different heights; but the person lighting the candles one Sunday lit the wrong candle. It makes a nice picture, but it can't be used for anything, because people who would want a picture like that would recognize something is wrong.
There's a lot about the holiday services that's just cute. Like acolytes.
And once the lights go down, you understand why so many people like to come to midnight mass (which has been new and improved, now being at 10 p.m.).
One reason the past week has been so hectic is that Suellen creates the service leaflets for all the services. There are three Christmas services -- one for children at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the "midnight" service, and the actual Christmas Day service (which hardly anybody ever goes to, anymore). Each service is totally different, with different music, different readers, etc. So each bulletin is created from scratch, then photocopied. This year we got a new photocopier that folds and staples. Heaven.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
If, perchance, you should find yourself walking in a snowstorm; and if you should find yourself in various reveries along the line of "This is lovely! This is nature at its most beautiful! I should knock on everyone's door and tell them, 'You must come out and enjoy this!'"
Then be aware that you are walking in the snowstorm with the wind at your back, and that every step you take whilst engaging in such foolish musings is a step you must take with the wind and snow full in your face.
And when (if!) you make it back to your own door, you will begin reminding your wife of how nice it was in Florida that December, or in San Diego that January. But she will ignore you, and complain about the puddles of melting snow you are leaving wherever you stand.
You will remember, of course, the remarkable Supreme Court decision, Bush v. Gore, which ruled that efforts to ensure every vote in the 2000 Presidential election was properly counted should stop, and effectively awarded the election to George W. Bush. This month we observe the eighth anniversary of the decision, which handed us a disaster called the Bush Administration. Thank you, Antonin Scalia, William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Clarence Thomas, and William Kennedy.
In future years, the Court majority's decision will be studied with the same head-shaking disbelief that is today limited to Plessy v Ferguson and Dred Scott v Sandford.
In Bush v Gore, the Supreme Court consciously and blatantly took action to ensure a political result to their own liking, using any legal argument they could find. The evidence of this is found in a bizarre sentence of the decision:
Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.
Never in the history of the Supreme Court, until Bush v Gore, had a decision been made in which the Court attempted to limit the precedent value of its decision. Even they didn't think much of their legal reasoning in this case, and didn't want it applied elsewhere. They just knew they wanted the Republican to win.
Well, the joke is on them.
Today's NY Times reports that, eight years later, Bush v Gore is being cited as precedent in state courts around the country.
In a recent Circuit Court decision,
The dissenting judge on the three-judge panel criticized his colleagues for relying on “the Supreme Court’s murky decision in Bush v. Gore” in a case about the use of punch-card ballots in Ohio. The judge, Ronald Lee Gilman, pointed to the one-ride-only language and what he called the Supreme Court majority’s ideological inconsistency and lack of intellectual seriousness.
The judges in the majority were having none of that. “Murky, transparent, illegitimate, right, wrong, big, tall, short or small,” they wrote, “regardless of the adjective one might use to describe the decision, the proper noun that precedes it — ‘Supreme Court’ — carries more weight with us.”
“Whatever else Bush v. Gore may be,” Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. wrote for the majority, “it is first and foremost a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States and we are bound to adhere to it.”
And I guess the joke has been, and continues to be, on us, too.
Monday, December 22, 2008
The garage door is broken (in the down position), the car is in the garage, and I'm supposed to photograph a wedding rehearsal this afternoon and a wedding on Tuesday.
Suellen still has to photocopy some of the leaflets for the Christmas service, and that gets done at the same church, which is a mile away from our house.
We could walk, but it's below zero right now, with what are euphemistically called wind chill "advisories" on the radio. ("It's freaking cold out!")
And there's a snowstorm due here tomorrow.
Other than that, everything's just fine.
There's something about extreme weather that can be really scary, if you think about it too much. I remember, back in the 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed 600+ people, how everybody (including myself) seemed to be just on the edge of going mad.
Extreme cold is scary in another way. A week ago I heard someone on the radio talk about living in a town north of Churchill, Manitoba (A above), where the local radio station gave the temperature not in degrees, but in "seconds until frostbite." In hot weather you go mad. In cold weather you have less time to think about it.
Update: The current (10:43 a.m.) temperature is zero, but the dewpoint is -8. Looks like we're not going to get any dew today. Whew!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Juan Cole has an excellent post about the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. If you're feeling uneasy about the selection of Warren, please read it. He's far from the worst thing in the world.
The temperature in Chicago as I type this is -5 ºF. The wind is gusting to at least 23 mph, which gives us a wind chill of about 30 below. That's cold enough, thank you.
It's almost noon and the above picture, taken within the hour, illustrates that the sun is pretty low on the horizon. Must be the first day of winter.
It snowed last night, and more snow will be here Tuesday.
And did I mention, it's freaking cold!
The easiest post to make is one that just points you to other things to read. And since most of my readers read the NY Times, it seems kind of pointless to point to the Times. But don't let these three elude you.
Frank Rich will help you maintain a high level of righteous indignation about the economic mess. Just about everybody makes an appearance, from Bernard Madoff to Charles Dickens, from Elie Wiesel to Mel Brooks, from Golddiggers of 1933 to Bollywood.
Tom Friedman draws a picture of the Chinese/American economic relationship that lasted until this year. You've heard it all before, but building the new paradigm requires repeating things. His conclusion:
China is not going to rescue us or the world economy. We’re going to have to get out of this crisis the old-fashioned way: by digging inside ourselves and getting back to basics — improving U.S. productivity, saving more, studying harder and inventing more stuff to export. The days of phony prosperity — I borrow cheap money from China to build a house and then borrow on that house to buy cheap paintings from China to decorate my walls and everybody is a winner — are over.
Finally, Nicholas Kristoff shames liberals in his column, Bleeding Heart Tightwads. There's a lot of food for thought, even for arguing with him, when he claims that "Democrats, who speak passionately about the hungry and homeless, personally fork over less money to charity than Republicans — the ones who try to cut health insurance for children." One insight grabbed my attention, particularly:
...some research suggests that donations to education actually increase inequality because they go mostly to elite institutions attended by the wealthy.That makes sense.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
You saw it coming, didn't you? Bloomberg reports that the company that makes the shoe model that was thrown at GWB in Iraq has ramped up production due to increased demand. And there's a company in the USA that has ordered 4,000 pairs!
Shoe Hurled at Bush Flies Off Turkish Maker’s Shelves
By Mark Bentley
Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The shoe hurled at President George W. Bush has sent sales soaring at the Turkish maker as orders pour in from Iraq, the U.S. and Iran.
The brown, thick-soled “Model 271” may soon be renamed “The Bush Shoe” or “Bye-Bye Bush,” Ramazan Baydan, who owns the Istanbul-based producer Baydan Ayakkabicilik San. & Tic., said in a telephone interview today.
“We’ve been selling these shoes for years but, thanks to Bush, orders are flying in like crazy,” he said. “We’ve even hired an agency to look at television advertising.”
Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi hurled a pair at Bush at a news conference in Baghdad on Dec. 14. Both shoes missed the president after he ducked. The journalist was jailed and is seeking a pardon from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Baydan has received orders for 300,000 pairs of the shoes since the attack, more than four times the number his company sold each year since the model was introduced in 1999. The company plans to employ 100 more staff to meet demand, he said.
“Model 271” is exported to markets including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Egypt. Customers in Iraq ordered 120,000 pairs this week and some Iraqis offered to set up distribution companies for the shoe, Baydan said.
Baydan has received a request for 4,000 pairs from a company called Davidson, based in Maryland. He declined to provide further details.
Conspiracy theorists have had a heyday for years about the lunar landings. The landings weren't genuine, went their theory, and had been staged in a photo studio. Of course, "reasonable" people (like myself) have spent no time at all examining their evidence, because we believe NASA to be above that sort of thing.
Well, it's time to think again.
Unsettling evidence has been furnished by NASA itself, in its "Image of the Day" feature. A new image strongly suggests that their remarkable photographs of extraterrestrial geography are, in reality, phony.
The damning proof was a photograph described as being of a supernova:
More than four centuries after the brilliant star explosion witnessed by Tycho Brahe and other astronomers of the era, NASA's Spitzer and Chandra space observatories and the Calar Alto observatory in Spain captured this image of the supernova remnant. This composite image combines infrared and X-ray observations.
The explosion left a blazing hot cloud of expanding debris (green and yellow). The location of the blast's outer shock wave can be seen as a blue sphere of ultra-energetic electrons. Newly synthesized dust in the ejected material and heated pre-existing dust from the area around the supernova radiate at infrared wavelengths of 24 microns (red). Foreground and background stars in the image are white.
And this is the photo they gave us:
Well, you can fool some of the people all of the time, I guess, but you can put Sempringham down as nobody's fool. I know Photoshop when I see it.
There's no question that this is where that photo began:
In a bowl of Trix! Barack Obama has got his work cut out for him.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Two things happened yesterday that bode well for America.
First, Paul Weyrich died. Paul Weyrich was a founder of the Heritage Foundation (which offers employment to wacko white people). He was also a principal engineer of the disgusting state to which American politics has descended in the past 30 years or so -- the era of the Culture War. He is the man credited with the expression, Moral Majority; he did not mean it ironically, either. The Culture War distracted enough people to allow Republicans to rape the landscape, squander the next generation's heritage, and help themselves to the spoils.
Second, in another blow to the Culture War, a move that has been very controversial on the left and right: Barack Obama invited Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.
Some samples of the uproar this has caused:
I keep thinking about all those attacks during the campaign on Obama's "associations." We defended him every single time. But, now, Obama has decided to pal around with a leading homophobe. Reaching out to gay haters is how Obama is showing us he's different and willing to reach out. You know, I wouldn't pal around with a racist or an anti-semite or any kind of hater. Those kinds of people offend my morals and I don't want toxic haters around me.
Politically, this is a bad decision by Obama and one that will be hard for some of his supporters to forgive or forget. Warren has made many statements that are deeply offensive to women and homosexuals.Then there's the other side of the coin. Here's a couple from the "Christian" Broadcasting Network:
It is one thing to try foster bipartisanship, but another to select a person, for a symbolic role, who symbolizes so many positions that have been hostile to large portions of the population. In the wake of recent decisions in California over gay marriage, this announcement was painful for many people who worked hard for Obama’s campaign. Obama’s campaign was about the promise to move beyond some of the social barriers that have separated Americans for too long. Letting Warren have this role is seen, by many Democrats, as a betrayal of this promise.
I just lost a lot of respect for Rick Warren. How can someone who professes to be a Christian, put himself into a situation where other Christians would question him? Rick has done some good work however he just lost my respect.and
I have had about all I can stand of Rick Warren's double standards. WHOSE side is he really on anyway? I'm beginning to think all he cares about are his questionable political connections. When I saw your article announcing his participation in "that one's" so called inauguration ceremony it absolutely sickened me. It isn't enough Obama is so full of himself that he "thinks" he's God. - Apparently now Rick Warren believes he is too. This is a complete mockery of all things sacred.There's a third way of looking at this, though. It can be looked at as Barack Obama doing precisely what he said he was going to do. On election night, we heard him say,
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends... though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.This guy is taking that seriously.
Update: Frank Schaeffer says it much better than I did.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
From the Anchorage Daily News (I just can't stop!):
Jury weighs whether machete slaying was intentionalHope he's got a good lawyer.
A jury this afternoon is deciding whether 29-year-old Christopher "Erin" Rogers Jr. meant to kill his father and his father's fiancee when he took a machete to them as they slept in their Palmer home.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Sorry so many posts have been so personal. Things will hopefully get better after Christmas or New Year's.
Saw this port-o-potty on the way to the Food Pantry this morning, and thought the name of the company was brilliant. (It might require clicking on the picture to be readable. If you do, hit your back arrow to return.)
Today was the last food pantry until January 7. People are allowed to come twice in December, once either the first or the second week and then today. Luckily we had a lot of once-a-year volunteers to help out, including a group from Allstate Insurance. They were nice folks.
Before I got started, I dropped by the toy room, where parents can pick up a free toy for each of their children. I took a few pictures, then went to find out what my work station would be today.
Things are organized differently on special days, like today. Instead of having just one place where groceries are picked up, different work stations are set up around the room. If you live by yourself, you go Table 1. Two people in the family, and you go to Table 2. Three to four people, Table 3. I was assigned to Table 4, which is supposed to be for families of five to eight people, but since there is no Table 5, it's also for families larger than eight.
At some point during the morning, I pulled out my camera and took a picture of Tables 1 thru 3 at work.
What you see here are just volunteers. The people who are here for food are to the left of the picture frame.
When the "clients" checked in, they got a specially stamped, colored slip of paper, indicating which table they should go to. Our slips of paper were blue, and I collected 97 of them.
The worst part about the day, from a selfish perspective, was that somebody had donated about a thousand pounds of cut up frozen chicken. It had been thrown (literally, I think) into plastic bags weighing 10-15 pounds, then frozen. But the bags were not sealed, and some of the chicken was defrosting. It was a sloppy mess, and I had to give a bag of the slop to each family. A good deal of it wound up on me.
I hope they cook it thoroughly.
We know people, who thought they were economically secure, who have lost their jobs. Thank God the Republicans kept government off the backs of business. I think Bernard Madoff said that.
Yesterday Andrew Tobias' column included a question from one of his readers:
Lynn H.: “How About Some Financial Advice? Every day I read your blog hoping you have the magic answers for us, but you don’t say a word about investing. My husband and I are retirement age though he still works and we did all the so-called ‘right things’ over the years. So we have the house paid off and we have no debt and we have savings, but we lost a lot when the market crashed as we were a bit heavy in stock. Where do we put money now? My broker sure doesn’t know and wherever I turn, I see no good advice. My bonds, both corporate and muni, are down in value along with my stocks. Treasury stuff earns zilch and we need income. The only advice I see is for young people or for those in debt. I know we who have money are the lucky ones, but we're scared too. Reading about Madoff is enough to give anyone the willies, isn’t it?”To which he replied:
It is. Let me try to answer this tomorrow.Well, Lynn H. wasn't the only person interested in the answer to that question. Right now it seems you're doing great if you're just managing to hold on to your savings. How in the world do you actually make money in this market?
Hopefully, Lynn saw the humor in Tobias' answer this morning:
Hmmmm. Still thinking.That was the entire column.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Things kittens just don't understand:
1) Just because you can jump into something, doesn't mean you want to jump into it.
2) Just because you can push open doors by standing on your hind legs and leaning against them, doesn't mean the person on the other side of the door will appreciate having it opened.
3) I do not need your assistance pulling dental floss through my molars. Thank you just the same.
We're having some snow this evening, and it's really got the rush hour traffic snarled. When I heard on the radio it was 3 hours and 20 minutes from the Loop to O'Hare (about 40 minutes when traffic is good), I had to grab my little Canon G9 and take some pictures. If you fire the flash, you get the local snowflakes.
If you don't fire the flash, you get a better look at things a half mile away.
This is the kind of traffic that makes people who take the "L" feel very superior. Unless they have to catch a bus when they get off the train.
Because, by golly, it's snowing on the local streets, too.
As you can see, it doesn't take much snow to cause a lot of trouble in Chicago. The traffic on the Eisenhower from the Loop to Illinois Route 53 - usually less than an hour - is 5 hours right now. I think we'll just cuddle up with a movie and hope our neighbor is feeling magnanimous with his new snow blower.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
My nominee for this year's Pulitzer Prize for Photography is John White, a photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times. While the rest of the press was staked out in front of Governor Rod Blagojevich's house, White suspected the guy would try to sneak out the back way.
It's taking a chance, because you can't be in both places at one time, but he was right. And White had already decided what angle he wanted to take the shot from.
That yellow sign on the telephone pole says,
Sorry I can't make it larger. It's one of thousands of similar signs found in Chicago alleys, as a warning that poison bait has been placed there. You're supposed to keep pets and children away from it. But not governors and punks.
Friday, December 12, 2008
From Kevin Drum:
This whole thing just gets stranger and stranger. Bush sent a handpicked squad of West Wing bigfeet to Capitol Hill a couple of days ago to press Republicans to pass the bill, and they failed miserably. In one sense, of course, this is just more of the same: Bush is a lame duck, even his own party sneers at him these days, and this is yet another demonstration that they couldn't care less about what he does or doesn't want.
Fine. But did he tell the reluctant Republicans that the Senate bill was their best chance for genuine industry restructuring? That if they didn't pass it, he'd be forced to use TARP funds and both the UAW and the car companies would probably end up getting a better deal? And then they'd get a way better deal next month after Democrats took over?
If he didn't tell them that, why not? And if he did, did the Senate Republicans really decide they didn't care that they were giving up what little leverage they had? That they just wanted to make their point, and reality be damned? Are they really that nuts?
I guess so. I wonder if their constituents will ever figure this out?
Josh Marshall has it mostly right:
Not surprisingly, with this morning's news, we're getting more than a few emails arguing that the Democrats, in their new position of strength, should weaken or entirely do away with the filibuster -- i.e., invoking the nuclear option that Republicans repeatedly threatened through the earlier part of the decade. Despite the extremity of the moment, though, I just can't agree with that. It is just bad practice -- especially in the face of the last eight years -- for numerical majorities not only to use the power of their numbers in straight up votes but to change the rules of the game itself. Notwithstanding the fact that filibuster has been increasingly abused, it was wrong in 2005 and it would be wrong now.
What I do think makes sense is for the majority to actually require the minority to filibuster -- as in talk and talk and talk. We've arrived at a point in which it's become standard, even in the most contentious of cases, for the minority to be allowed merely to signal the intention to filibuster rather than doing the actual thing itself. Filibustering is a tool of obstruction. It's a critical right of the minority in the senate. But it is, by definition, obstruction. So it makes sense to put the obstructionists to their task, make them do it publicly. I don't know why the Democrats are not doing that in this case.
Finally, this issue now goes well beyond the fate of the American automakers. Senate Republicans are following this course for three key reasons -- first is payback against a major industrial union; second is payback against states like Michigan and Ohio who have been moving away from the GOP; third is the desire to advantage Japanese auto manufacturers who disproportionately do business in their southern states.
What even the White House can see at this point is that having one or more of these companies go under right now will rapidly accelerate the economic crisis, and in unpredictable ways.
I believe there is a fourth reason the Senate Republicans are "following this course," and that is because it is (conveniently) consistent with their "philosophy," discredited though it is. There are still some of those guys who wouldn't understand if you pounded it into them with a two by four.
Update: There I go again, giving the Republicans too much credit. Their own internal stragegy memo calls their stance on the Big Three Bailout "their first shot against organized labor."
More of the same on Wednesday, but for this:
I wrote earlier about how having one of those two-wheeled grocery carts is such a boon. I was passing out the groceries Wednesday when a woman showed up with her 12-ish-year-old son.
"I kept him out of school today to come with me," she said.
She probably noticed my head jerk back when she said that, and defended herself, "Well, I HAD to! I don't have a car, and I have to carry these bags one and a half miles!"
So the Republicans think it's more important to hurt the unions than to save America's manufacturing base. Ah, values.
But for the grownups, The Washington Monthly has a run-down on what could happen next:
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?.... OK, so Senate Republicans appear to have killed the rescue package for the automotive industry. What's the next move? There are a few possibilities.
* Try again in the new year: The Wall Street Journal reports that Harry Reid believes the bailout can be brought back in January. GM and Chrysler have said they won't last that long, but it's unclear whether that's true or not.
* Try again sooner: The Asian markets fell quickly in response to the news from Capitol Hill, and U.S. markets are likely to do the same. What's more, one or two of the U.S. auto manufacturers really may start the bankruptcy process, making the prospect of economic damage more tangible. The WSJ notes that there's at least some chance that Congress "will act sooner if one of the companies totters on the brink."
* Suspend operations in Detroit: GM is shutting down operations for two weeks over Christmas, and USA Today reports that GM and Chrysler could save money by just shutting down completely until Obama takes office on Jan. 20. The move is exceedingly risky: "The automakers would have no revenue during that time even if cars sell, because they book revenue when vehicles are shipped to dealers. Shutting operations that long also could devastate suppliers. Because they supply domestic and foreign-owned plants, the impact would ripple through the industry."
* Treasury intervenes: The NYT notes that Democrats are looking to the administration to "use the Treasury's bigger financial system stabilization fund," but there may not be enough money left. "About $15 billion remains of the initial $350 billion disbursed by Congress and Treasury officials have said that money is needed as a backstop for existing programs."
* The Fed intervenes: The NYT also reports, "So far, the Federal Reserve also has shown no willingness to step in to aid the auto industry, but Democrats have argued that it has the authority to do so and some said the central bank may have no choice but to prevent the automakers from bankruptcy proceedings that could have ruinous ripple effects."
We'll see what happens.
I was paying a visit to U.S. History dot com, and noticed their list of most-viewed pages:
1. The Progressive Movement
2. Eastern Woodland Culture
3. First Continental Congress
4. Roaring Twenties
5. Quartering Act
6. Historical Eras
7. Stamp Act
8. Proclamation of 1763
9. Jacques Cartier
10. The Temperance Movement
I have no complaint about any of these, but what a strange mix. There are things going on that we don't know about.
My own opinion is that, by refusing to support the American automobile industry -- on which some 2 million jobs depend -- the Torture Party has pretty much made the Second Great Depression, for which they've been working so hard for decades, a certainty.
But that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun. Make sure you read David Brooks today, for a very clever defense of the Republican position.
Update: Uh-oh. Dick Cheney apparently agrees with me:
Bush personally lobbied recalcitrant Senate Republicans after Vice President Dick Cheney failed to round up support Wednesday during a contentious two-hour meeting.
"If we don't do this, we will be known as the party of Herbert Hoover forever," Cheney told them, according to a Senate Republican aide, evoking the president whose inaction is widely blamed for helping trigger the Great Depression in the early 1930s.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
From the NY Times:
Investors were so desperate to put their cash into government notes that they were willing to pay a penalty for the privilege: three-month notes traded at a negative yield, meaning that investors will receive about 99 cents on the dollar in return after the note matures. The news sends a sobering signal: in this environment, losing only a small amount of money on an investment is tantamount to coming out ahead.
Four-week Treasury bills, considered one of the safest possible short-term investments, traded at zero percent yields, and investors snapped up $30 billion worth. It was the lowest yield since the Treasury began issuing the notes in 2001.
As was suggested here before, the whole world has known for more than a year that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald -- he whose name strikes fear into the hearts of miscreants everywhere -- has had his sights on Governor Rod Blogojevich (Bluh-goy'-a-vich). So it was with a sense of great satisfaction that Illinois awoke this morning to learn that federal officials had arrested Blogojevich (above, in his California surfin' days) at his home early today.
But satisfaction turned to jaw-dropping amazement when we learned the immediate charge:
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.Can you imagine? The newspapers have been full of corruption allegations about this guy for years, and he thinks it's safe to continue business as usual?
Blagojevich and Harris were accused of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy that included Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama in exchange for financial benefits for the governor and his wife. The governor was also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for other official actions.
I met Blagojevich once, when he was a Congressman and I worked at a Social Security Office in his district. We were both giving speeches at a senior citizens' center, and his staff person (who I had a great working relationship with) introduced us. Blogo looked at me, nodded, and looked away. My feelings were not hurt. I had already suspected he was a dummy, and this confirmed it. I was manager of the federal office with the biggest financial impact on his constituents, and was so irrelevant to him that he couldn't shake hands. I guess he looked at mine and didn't see any cash in them.
But I'm not bitter.
Update: The BBC has corrected my pronunciation: It's Bleh-goy'-a-vich. Everybody in Chicago says Bluh-goy'-a-vich, but I trust the BBC's pronunciation over the Governor's own.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Last night we had "Lessons and Carols" at our little church, a picture of which is below. I have a better picture of it in snowy weather, which is what we've got right now, but darned if I can find it. I need to improve my photo organization.
If you're not a church-goer, but still like Christmas in a Charles Dickens sort of way, you'd probably enjoy going to a Lessons and Carols service at a local Episcopal church (although I read here that Lutherans and Catholics have them now, too). It's basically an alternation of readings (usually from the Bible) and songs. I say "usually" because we do Lessons and Carols a little earlier than most, to correspond with the church's anniversary and St. Nicholas Day, and our readings last night included a couple of nice things about the history of the church.
One of the Bible readings was:
Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. ... But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. ... The assembly declares their wisdom, and the congregation proclaims their praise.That's from Ecclesiasticus. If you know me, you're beginning to see why I like this service so much.
The songs are often obscure but Christmasy, and sung mostly by the choir (whether intended or not), except for the last one, which will be a familiar Christmas carol that everybody sings together.
One of my favorites this year was "In the Bleak Midwinter," which you've heard, but probably don't know (unless you're our friend, Kris). The first verse is:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,Here's a recording of Gloucester Cathedral Choir singing it. When you hear the tune you'll say, "Oh, yeah, that one. That's nice." And if you care that "snow on snow, snow on snow" happens rarely enough in England, never in Bethlehem, you're just not getting into the spirit of this thing.
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is the traditional last song, I think, and that's what we sang last night. It gets you in the Christmas mood. I noticed one or two Village Atheists in the congregation last night (we make them wear signs around their necks), singing heartily. (I was going to say "lustily," but that didn't sound right.) And there was no collection!
The nice thing about going to a small church is that everybody gets into the act. If you've ever seen the Anthony Hopkins film, Shadowlands, you might remember how the clergy and academics all get robed up and march around for Lessons and Carols. And since Suellen still has the hood she got for her Master's Degree, she was enlisted to be one of those marching around (it's actually called "processing," with the accent on the second syllable). It's Make Believe We're English Day! and it's really formal, beautiful, and fun. Here's Suellen looking her solemn best:
The church has recently "gone green" in a quite literal sense: they've changed as many light bulbs as possible to the new long-life, low-energy florescent type, which the camera sees as green light. But there are still some incandescent bulbs, which the camera sees as orange light. And the ceiling is dark wood, which sucks up all the light in the place, anyway. And I need a faster lens. All of which is to explain to my brother, Chip, why these pictures are no good. He is likely to add another reason, but that's what you'd expect from a Vikings fan.
The small choir (about 20 people, so they made up 1/4 of the people present) is getting better all the time, and were excellent last night.
Yes, that's the back of Suellen's head. Like any Anglican Communion church worthy of the name (ahem, ahem), we have some seats in the "quire" configuration -- i.e., with the pews facing each other.
Okay, it doesn't look like there's 60 people here, but they were all crowded over in the part of the church that was out of the camera's view.
After the service, we all go down to the undercroft for dinner. The place is crawling with children and families, and it's just fun. Good luck finding a place to sit, though -- Suellen and I shared the piano bench.
After we eat, the kids get a visit from St. Nicholas. There's a genuine English guy at the church named Richard, who -- and you can plainly see why -- has no competition for this role of a lifetime.
We had fun.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
According to Talking Points Memo, Obama has asked a fellow Hawaiian, retired General Eric Shinseki, to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Shinseki has agreed.
You will remember Gen. Shinseki as the man who testified before Congress that winning a war with the Iraqi Army would not be the end of the story -- that controlling the country afterward would be the hard part. And he went the way of most honest people in the Bush Administration: OUT.
What the VA needs right now is a respected leader who will be an effective advocate. He's got respect. Let's hope he's effective.
Via Andy Tobias, here's an easy way to send encouragement to an American in service in Afghanistan or Iraq. Just go to LetsSayThanks and, depending on how long it takes you to make your postcard and message selections, you can send off a note in just a minute or two. They print it and send it by snail mail.
Don't waste time debating whether this is really an effective thing unless you've got a better plan already in place.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Where have all the Bill-Clinton-murdered-Vince-Foster wackos gone? To the Supreme Court! Via Politico:
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide Friday whether to take up a case over president-elect Barack Obama’s citizenship — one of a few around the country seeking to nullify his election, but this one has an interesting lineage. It was referred to the high court by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s only African-American justice.Sigh.
Maybe Thomas is just returning the favor — putting through a case that questions whether Obama should be president, after Obama said he wouldn't have picked Thomas for the high court.
Yesterday Paul Krugman told us what to worry about:
I’ve been ruminating over economic prospects for next year, and I’m getting scared.This morning we got the really bad news:
1. The economy is falling fast. We’ll see what tomorrow’s employment report says, but we could well be losing jobs at a rate of 450,000 or 500,000 a month.
2. Infrastructure spending will take time to get going — a new Goldman Sachs report suggests that projects that are “shovel-ready” are probably only a few tens of billions worth, and that a larger effort would take much of a year to get going. Meanwhile, it’s very questionable how much effect tax rebates will have on consumer demand. So it may be hard for stimulus to get much traction until late 2009 — and that’s even if Congress goes along, which may be a problem given all the bad analysis and disinformation out there.
So here’s what I’m wondering: will it, in fact, even be possible to pull the economy out of its nosedive before unemployment goes into double digits? I’m starting to wonder.
With the economy deteriorating rapidly, the nation’s employers shed 533,000 jobs in November, the 11th consecutive monthly decline, the government reported Friday morning, and the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent.All of which reminds me of an idiotic remark made by Washington Post columnist George Will last week:
The decline, the largest one-month loss since December 1974, was fresh evidence that the economic contraction accelerated in November, promising to make the current recession, already 12 months old, the longest since the Great Depression. The previous record was 16 months, in the severe recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s.
Obama’s “rescue plan for the middle class” includes a tax credit for businesses “for each new employee they hire” in America over the next two years. The assumption is that businesses will create jobs that would not have been created without the subsidy. If so, the subsidy will suffuse the economy with inefficiencies — labor costs not justified by value added.Will is certainly in no danger of getting the Old Fezziwig Award this year.
My God, we're heading into the Second Great Depression, and the fool is worried about "labor costs not justified by value added." Is it any wonder conservativism failed so miserably? They just can't let go of their "philosophy". It's all they've got.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Via Talking Points Memo, the inimitable Barney Frank (above) tells it like it is:
[Obama's] going to have to be more assertive than he's been. At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time. I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He's got to remedy that situation.Maybe we could make Bush some kind of an offer?
I've got to start updating my picture files.
I've never been a fan of either the Chicago Sun-Times or the Chicago Tribune, but am saddened to read this, anyway:
CHICAGO Newspaper and newspaper groups are likely to default on their debt and go out of business next year -- leaving "several cities" with no daily newspaper at all, Fitch Ratings says in a report on media released Wednesday.
"Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010," the Chicago-based credit ratings firm said in a report on the outlook for U.S. media and entertainment.
Fitch is generally pessimistic across the board, assigning negative outlets to nearly all sectors from Yellow Pages to radio and TV and theme parks. But the newspaper industry is the most at risk of defaulting, it says.
Fitch rates the debt of two newspaper companies, The McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co. as junk, with serious possibilities of default. It also assigns a negative outlook to both the companies and the newspaper sector, meaning their credit ratings are likely to deteriorate further.
How will we know how corrupt our county government is without newspapers to point it out? I'm serious. Is it at all possible to build a Chicago-focused web news site, on the model of Talking Points Memo?
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
The NY Times had one of those juxtapositions this morning that serves to emphasize the absurdity of this world.
Towards the bottom of the front page, we have a video called "A Refugee Crisis in Afghanistan: The Poorest Afghans Brace for Winter."
At the other end of the selections we have "Asparagus & Prosciutto Roll-up Appetizer: Mark Bittman makes the perfect quick party snack that's easy for guests to eat."
I guess it depends on your mood.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
I generally like Dana Milbank's column. But, unfortunately, sometimes if somebody is paying you to come up with a column, you have to come up with a column, whether you've got anything worth saying or not.
That's the only explanation I could come up with for today's silliness, which admiringly recited NY Times reporter Peter Baker's question at yesterday's Obama press conference.
When Barack Obama stood on the stage in Chicago yesterday with his "dear friend" Hillary Clinton ... Peter Baker of the New York Times pointed out to Obama that he once held a different view of his nominee to be secretary of state. "You belittled her travels around the world, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders," Baker recalled. "And your new White House counsel said that her résumé was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering whether you can talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring."Exactly what was Mr. Baker expecting Obama to answer to that? Yet Dana spends all his column space reciting every example his researcher could find of Barack and Hillary dissing each other during -- as though that made the question, which Obama appropriately dismissed with a chuckle, some kind of masterstroke. (I thank Dana for not using the phrase, "speaking truth to power," even though I suspect it was in his first draft.)
If I had an opportunity as a reporter to ask Obama a question, I might try to think of one that might result in an answer. One that would result in new information being shared. Important information. I don't think I'd ask a question that made me look like a rube. Not intentionally, anyway.
Joe Klein at Time has it right:
Watching the Obama rollout of his national security team from overseas--I'm in Europe, on my way to Afghanistan--I was struck by the inanity of most of the questions from my colleagues. Granted, these are political reporters, not national security or foreign policy specialists [emphasis added], but what sort of journalist expects the President-elect to tell the "inside story" of how he selected Hillary Clinton? (Those sorts of stories, if told at all, are wrenched from aides on background--and reported only after consulting multiple sources.) And what's the point of raising the nasty things Obama and Clinton said about each other during the primaries? Did the reporter expect Obama to say, "Well, I still believe her resume is overblown, that's why I appointed her...oh, and by the way, she still thinks it's dumb to talk to the Iranians without preconditions."Yes, there is a glaring difference between what Obama and Clinton were saying about each other during the campaign, and what they're saying now. But Dana, is this your first election? Is this really a surprise to you? Is this the best question we can be asking right now?
The temptation will be great, once Bush is gone, to take the whole torture thing and sweep it under the carpet. And maybe that's the best thing to do.
There's a good "bloggingheads" video (about 5 minutes long) here that lays out Obama's principal options for dealing with the use of torture by the Bush Administration. The correct choice is not obvious.
Maybe there's nothing we should do on a political level. It would be very satisfying to see Dick Cheney and David Addington in prison, but the effort expended getting them there could distract us from more important business, and come at a political cost that's just not worth paying. People who are disgusted that America has become a nation that tortures, but otherwise backed Bush, might feel obligated to defend him even on this.
But even if we do nothing at a political level, I really feel a need to do something on a national level -- something that says, "We are not those people."
I therefore propose a National Weekend of Cleansing, to be celebrated in America's churches, synagogues, and mosques, on January 24-25, 2009, the first weekend after Inauguration Day. Or celebrate it in your home. The purpose of the day would be to ask forgiveness for the sins we have allowed to be committed in our name, and to dedicate ourselves to returning our government to the values that guided it for 211 of the last 219 years.
How do you ask forgiveness? That's up to you.
What a bad dream this has been.