Saturday, January 31, 2009

Change In Which I Can Believe - Iraqi Style

In truth, real change would be getting the hell out of Iraq completely, not just pulling the worst of the private mercenaries because the Iraqis ordered them out of their country.

But I'll take it.

U.S. Scraps Blackwater's Iraq Deal

The State Department will not renew Blackwater Worldwide's contract to protect American diplomats in Iraq when it expires in May, a senior US official has said.

The official said the private security firm's contract will expire because of the Iraqi government's decision to deny Blackwater a licence to operate.

The Iraqis informed the US last week of the cancellation, which was made amid lingering outrage over a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square which left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

The official - who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has yet to be formally announced - said that renewing the contract was "basically a moot point because they were not going to be allowed to operate in Iraq anyway".

The State Department said it was still considering options on how to protect US diplomats in the wake of Iraq's denial of Blackwater's operating licence.

One possibility would be to replace Blackwater with one or a combination of guards from DynCorp and Triple Canopy, two other US-based security contractors working for the State Department in Iraq. Both have licences to operate in Iraq.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined to comment on the status of the contract, but confirmed executives were due to meet State Department officials "to discuss the situation".

She stressed the firm had always known its services in Iraq would be temporary.

Blackwater executives claim the company could leave Iraq within 72 hours of being told to do so, but warn such a move would cause more harm to the diplomats it protects than the firm itself.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince said he had not received any indication that the company would be ordered to evacuate in light of the licence denial.

Two new wars on the immediate horizon: Mexico and Korea

This is not a criticism of the Obama administration, but an observation on world affairs: given that the situation in Gaza was raging and the Iraq/Afghanistan/Iran wars and controversies were on the US plate as he tied his tie for the inaugural, the new President intentionally jump-started his foreign policy to concentrate on the Middle East from day one.

[I do not agree with a lot he's done or intends to do, but I give him full marks for starting on day one.]

Which is why he has to be scratching his head in the very warm Oval Office, saying, "Mexico? Korea? Wait a damn minute!"

The US has now admitted that it is seriously studying potential military intervention into Mexico's war with the drug cartels:

The Dallas Morning News, citing anonymous sources, reported that if the bloodbath escalates, U.S. officials are contemplating the possibility of an enhanced U.S. role in battling Mexican drug cartels, including joint operations with Mexican forces and the involvement of U.S. contractors, military and intelligence personnel.

Be sure you understand this: contractors = Blackwater or similar outfits.

Meanwhile, North Korea is dumping its non-aggression pact with the South Korea:

North Korea’s state-run new agency quoted top officials today as saying the nation was “on the brink of war” with neighboring South Korea, and the government has also announced that it will be abandoning the nonagression pact between the two nations.

[I guess it's time here to give a shout-out to my buddies in the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Warrior along the DMZ--better known as our expendables on the old Cold War tripwire.]

Not to suggest that the Bush administration did anything but make most situations it touched worse, the grim reality is that the post-Cold War world has been destabilizing for two decades. That leads to my consistent point that neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to get, that what the new administration should be doing is not setting out to conduct foreign policy better, but to conduct foreign policy differently.

During the Cold War, it required the resources of two major nuclear superpowers (US and USSR), plus those of Great Britian, France, and China to keep the world cowed enough to be more or less stabilized.

[Note the Paul Krugman and Robert Reich: anybody who thinks WW2 and the Cold War were primarily important as jobs programs and economic stimulus programs is not just an idiot, he's a dangerous idiot if he's in a position to advise a President.]

Today, however, with the USSR gone, China intent on hegemony and economic development rather than regional stability, Great Britain becoming more isolationist by the day, and France actively encouraging regional de-stabilization in the Indian subcontinent and South America, the US has neither the resources nor the mandate to continue an interventionist foreign policy.

Want to fix the Mexican drug war? Deny the cartels their inflated profits with decriminalization and legalization in the US.

Want to help the Koreas reconcile? Pull out US troops and let South Korea, which has the 4th largest economy in Asia and the 13th largest in the entire freaking world, defend itself.

That's about the only thing that will give the South a strong reason to pursue new strategies in reconciling with the increasingly desperate North.

If the North invades? Provide the South a guarantee of retaliation if nukes are used, but otherwise--let them defend themselves: their armed forces are large enough to do the job.

Would war be bloody and probably involve significant destruction of Seoul, South Korea? You betcha. But I didn't notice South Korea jumping up to pay for the reconstruction of a city we built in the middle of a river delta (New Orleans), and I don't think 37,000+ Americans should be the tripwire because the South built its largest urban area within artillery range of its border with an unfriendly power.

Of course, none of this is going to happen, because the defense industry is a Congressionally-supported jobs program, and Barack Obama's foreign policy is being designed and conducted by active interventionists.

Even the Obama Family Not Spared Drug War Lunacy

This is just sad, especially for George Obama. I have hope President Obama takes this to heart and brings us real change by rejecting the failed prohibitionist policies of the past, crafting a way out of the drug war morass in which this country is mired, dragging so many other nations with us.

President's relative arrested in Kenya after alleged marijuana seizure

8:38 a.m. ET,
Sat., Jan. 31, 2009

NAIROBI, Kenya - The half-brother of President Barack Obama has been arrested for alleged possession of marijuana, Kenyan police said Saturday.

Area police chief Joshua Omokulongolo said George Obama was picked up Saturday and was being held at the Huruma police post in the capital.

Omokulongolo said officers found one joint of marijuana on him.

Obama reportedly denied the allegations.

"I don't know why they are charging me," CNN quoted Obama as saying from jail.

George Obama and the president had the same father but are not believed to have a close relationship.

Considering the Obama administration just a week ago raided a marijuana dispensary operating legally under California law in South Lake Tahoe, I am not inspired by Obama's continued silent acquiescence to the outrageous and failed federal drug policies of the last 37+ years.

Aside from the ostensible failures of these policies, how can President Obama ignore the statistical reality that the drug war has been largely a war by proxy against minorities, especially poor African-Americans? One of Obama's own hometown newspapers tells this sad story.

Stop the madness, President Obama. Americans (and now, your brother) are suffering enough without being criminalized for marijuana or for operating a state-sanctioned above-board business dispensing marijuana. These people have the right to earn a living too and shouldn't have it snatched away by authoritarian thugs.

Show us you truly value freedom and free enterprise for all us lesser mortals, rather than wasting our national resources on the continued folly of a rogue federal law enforcement agency that arbitrarily and capriciously enforces antiquated prohibition laws.

Aside from the billions wasted on this "war" of attrition, it also comes at the life-crushing expense of otherwise peaceable, productive, law-abiding citizens.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The teachers' dilemma

Pandora raised this issue from a parental perspective at Delawareliberal:

Last night over dinner my 11 year old daughter announced that her science teacher doesn’t like Joe Biden. After exchanging a look with my husband I asked, “Why would you think that?” She then proceeded to explain…

“When we were watching the Inauguration in class Mr. XXXX said that finally Delaware is rid of him.”

Now this isn’t the first time this science teacher has brought politics into the classroom, and I ignored his previous antics since I wasn’t sure what he said about this email - but I could guess. But now I’m angry. I’m also in a dilemma.

My daughter is a typical 11 year old, which means fitting in is important to her. She also really likes this teacher, which means I must take into account pre-teen mortification in whatever I decide to do. My other concern is, if I decide to speak with the teacher, altering the friendly relationship my daughter shares with Mr. XXXX. And yes, I know teachers aren’t supposed to treat children differently, but this post is based in reality - and teachers are human.

Teachers--at least the good ones--deal with this issue daily. For most the appropriate answer is, Keep your personal political views out of the classroom, and that's OK--except....

What if you are a social studies [or history] teacher and a large part of your responsibility is teaching about the political process and handling subjects like immigration, or modern history?

I spend 45-60 days a year traveling around the country working with history teachers, and it is a real issue with them. Many districts even have specific policies prohibiting the insertion of personal political views into the classroom.

But the very real problem is that your own political, social, and cultural beliefs always inform your teaching, and it takes a lot of conscious effort not to create lessons that are essentially designed to bring students around to your (obviously correct) way of thinking about an issue.

Think about it this way. You're discussing immigration--possibly as an offshoot of a lecture on 19th Century immigration and as the result of a student comparison. How do you refer to the people entering the United States without benefit of papers--without telegraphing to your students what you think about the issue?

If you refer to them as illegals, you've told them one thing.

If you refer to them as undocumented workers, you've told them another.

Is there a politically neutral term to use? Not really. So what do you do?

What I tell teachers is to explain to students that people who use illegals tend to view these folks as a threat, and see the need to control our borders, and that people who use undocumented workers tend to view these folks as people looking for a better life, and see the need to work at helping them integrate into our society.

Inevitably, students ask which one you believe personally.

What I do then is challenge them to figure out what I think, and very consciously alternate equally between using the two terms during lectures and discussions. And I tell them that their real job is to determine which term they will choose to use after we finish our lesson, or whether they should reject both terms and come up with something different.

It is very hard to do this, because you cannot afford to present information that clashes with your own political beliefs as straw man examples; you have to do your best to make the best possible arguments from both sides.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't, you approach it as honestly as possible, and tell students that your role is not to make them think like you do, but to make them think.

Sometimes you cannot dodge the issue, so you let the students know about your position up front, and ask them to help keep you honest.

[A college example: about ten years ago when gay marriage first became a real issue in Massachusetts, my students wanted to discuss it. I told them OK, and pointed out that every poll taken to that time indicated that 75-85% of the American people disapproved of gay marriage, and that truth in teaching required me to tell them that I was part of the 15% that didn't care if two men or two women got married. What happened then is that my students, who had never actually met somebody who approved of gay marriage, wanted to interrogate me. How did I explain gay marriage to my twins? How did I justify it while considering myself a Christian? Why didn't I think it would end western civilization? What was really interesting is that by allowing them to interview me about my own beliefs--rather than expressing those beliefs myself--the students were in control of the situation and didn't feel at all pressured to adopt my beliefs.]

Point being: as a parent, one of the things you really want to keep in mind is that--even when the teacher is trying really hard to do things right--it's not always going to work.

Your liberal kids are going to be exposed to conservatives.

Your conservative kids are going to meet liberals (if they aren't home-schooled).

And--occasionally--your liberal and conservative kids are going to fall afoul of a libertarian. Deal with it.

Why all those lobbyists matter

So we've got Deputy SecDef and Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn in charge of the Pentagon, right?

It's probably just coincidence that the defense industry waited until the week after his confirmation as an exception to the Obama administration's no-lobbyists-but-the-ones-who-we-decide-are-OK-and-not-exceptions-to-our-no-lobbyist-rule policy, to launch--guess what?--a lobbying campaign for more defense spending as a jobs program:

From AP:

Faced with a national economic crisis and a new president, the defense industry is itself playing defense. Its latest lobbying message: Weapons systems aren't just instruments of national security, they're vital jobs programs.

One big new ad features a boldly soaring bald eagle and declares, "Of course America's economy can take off again. It already has a strong pair of wings."

The ad, recently run in Washington-area newspapers and journals, is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, whose members include the country's top makers of aircraft and their components. And its message is one that many lobbyists and other defense-industry representatives are now emphasizing: Don't even think of cutting our programs — and workers' jobs.

With Barack Obama intent on winding down the Iraq war and eventually rolling back federal deficits, the industry is worried about bearing the brunt of budget cuts. Just Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the Pentagon won't be able to "do everything, buy everything" in more austere times. And the White House Web site warns the administration plans a review of major defense programs "in light of current needs."

"There's so much uncertainty in the defense industry with what will happen with the new administration," said Pete Steffes, vice president for government policy with the National Defense Industrial Association, which represents large and small defense firms....

And aside from picking up a key lobbyist in the administration, the effort has also picked up substantial bipartisan support in Congress:

Among those relying heavily on the jobs argument are defenders of Lockheed-Martin Corp.'s F-22, who want to influence an imminent Obama administration decision on whether to buy more of the stealth fighter jets.

In recent days, 44 senators and 191 House members signed letters to Obama urging him to continue F-22 production. While both letters cited the aircraft's importance to national security, they also said more than 25,000 people work for the program's suppliers in 44 states.

"As we face one of the most trying economic times in recent history, it is critical to preserve existing high-paying, specialized jobs that are critical to our nation's defense," the Senate letter said.

To buttress that message, an ad sponsored by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and Lockheed-Martin has run on Washington-area radio, arguing, "Keeping the F-22 running strong supports economic stability and national security."

In a similar effort, members of Congress wrote Obama last month asking him to start adding 12 Navy ships a year, double the recent rate. Though the letters discussed national security, they also said the U.S. shipbuilding industry employs more than 400,000 people in 47 states and added, "Thousands of jobs would be created in the United States with a renewed commitment to shipbuilding."

Jobs. Defense. Wars. Afghanistan. Iraq. Arms sales abroad. Lobbyists.

Business as usual.

If you doubt, recall that economic guru Paul Krugman considers World War Two primarily being important as a jobs program that dwarfed everything that preceded it in the New Deal:

The fiscal stimulus provided by the WPA and all that was relatively small — and pulled back in 1937, with disastrous results. But when Dr. New Deal turned into Dr. Win the War, the economy got some serious stimulus.

Krugman also sees the first couple of decades of the Cold War in the same light:

Government spending: the big thing here was the Cold War, which meant that the United States persistently spent 8-10% of GDP on defense. It paid for this with taxes, but old-fashioned Keynesianism tells us that there's a "balanced budget multiplier" because some of taxes comes out of saving, not spending. Bob Reich, if I understand him, is saying that to sustain demand we need the moral -- or at least fiscal -- equivalent of a new Cold War.

So gee whiz, Dr. Libertarian, there really isn't any reason for the Obama administration to cut defense spending, the world-wide empire of American military bases, the massive industry exporting weapons to fuel the rest of the world's wars, or to get out of either Iraq or Afghanistan any time soon, is there?

So much for those high standards on lobbyists....

Once is happenstance. [Deputy SecDef in charge of the Pentagon; Raytheon lobbyist]

Twice is coincidence. [Undersecretary at HHS; non-profit lobbyist]

Third time is rank hypocrisy.

Oh, sorry: the number is now thirteen lobbyists nominated or appointed by the Obama administration [see below]

From HuffPo [and, strangely, not being picked up by liberal/progressive blogs around the country]:

Daschle Chief of Staff violates new lobbyist rule

The new chief of staff to health reform czar Tom Daschle was a lobbyist through late last year and will have to recuse himself from issues he worked to influence, an administration aide said Thursday.

Daschle adviser Mark B. Childress is the second lobbyist to land in the top ranks of the Health and Human Services Department and joins at least 12 others who have found jobs in the administration -- despite the president's repeated pledges during the campaign to stamp out their influence in Washington.

I can't wait for the rationalizations.

NATO policy in Afghanistan: Kill 'em all, let Allah sort them out

The NATO Commander-in-Chief is, well, pissed, about the leaking (pissed, leaking, get it?) of his operational directives to NATO commanders in the field to kill Afghan drug dealers, pretty much on sight:

Yesterday we reported on the “guidance” of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe General John Craddock, which ordered NATO soldiers in Afghanistan to kill anyone involved in the drug industry, even if there was no evidence they were insurgents.

The story has caused no shortage of outrage since the German magazine Der Spiegel initially broke it. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is riled up too, but not in the way you’d figure. He’s not so much upset at the general for ordering troops which are already losing ground to the insurgency to waste their time killing random opium dealers: he’s mad at whoever leaked the report.

“The secretary-general considers it is unacceptable that confidential documents have been leaked,” according to spokesman James Appathurai, “he is calling for an immediate investigation into the matter, which will be pursued vigorously.”

I'm waiting for the Obama administration reaction to a directive to kill anyone involved in the drug industry, even if there was no evidence they were insurgents.

This, unfortunately, is what happens when you engage in imperialism cloaked in the disguises of a war on terror or nation-building.

The Truth About The Democrats' Bushian Crisis-Mode Stimulus Steamroll

The more the truth comes out about the massive one-party pork pie, aka the (Economic) Patriot Act of 2009, the more people oppose it, especially independents (e.g. unaffiliateds).

Public Support for Economic Recovery Plan Slips to 42%

"Public support for the economic recovery plan crafted by President Obama and congressional Democrats has slipped a bit over the past week. At the same time, expectations that the plan will quickly become law have increased.

Forty-two percent (42%) of the nation’s likely voters now support the president’s plan, roughly one-third of which is tax cuts with the rest new government spending. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 39% are opposed to it and 19% are undecided. Liberal voters overwhelmingly support the plan while conservatives are strongly opposed.

Last week, support for the President’s plan was at 45% and opposition at 34%.

As they consider the size and scope of the $800-billion-plus economic recovery plan, 46% are worried that the government will end up doing too much while 42% worry that it will do too little (see trends)."

This is why the screaching and squealing is at a fever pitch from those who demagogue and demonize anyone who dares oppose their disaster socialism and pork-barrel opportunism.

It is positively Bushian how stimulus proponents are trying to jam this astronomically-inconceivable amount of excess government piggery down the country's throat without real debate or scrutiny, save partisan sniping and retributive nastiness.

Their window of opportunism is closing fast, and they know it. The more people learn of this deficit-exploding fiscal nightmare, the more support slips away....not that it ever had anything close to convincing support of any majority of Americans except the Democrat Congressional majority and our newly-minted Chief Executive Stimulator.

This is nothing of the "change" that so many independent and swing voters thought they were buying with Obama. Had Obama been honest during the 2008 campaign that dizzying federal "stimulus" spending would be his primary agenda I suspect he would have lost significant support from so many whom he bamboozled into thinking he would truly be different.

Turns out Obama is only different in being perhaps the slickest ever salesman for the same old leviathan master government snake oil that brought us to this present brink.

The Democrat hyper-partisans learned the lessons of Bush alright. They learned just how to fear-monger and bully aside anyone in their way on the (2005 Bush) phony pretext of having "political capital" to spend (code for : raw power exercised however the hell we want).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

...But They Can Turn Around The Economy!

The US Postal Service is going out of business.

Like most organizations going out of business, it's cutting back. This time, it wants to eliminate Saturday delivery, pointing out that that will reduce its expenditure quickly.

The government cannot operate a 6-day-per-week mail monopoly, in the world's largest economy, at a profit... but we're supposed to believe it can nationalize, manage, and restore the debt-choked US economy?

Uh, OK.

Reality Hasn't Sunk In Yet

America needs a giant bitchslap to wake up to reality.

Might as well be me.

Stop talking about what Obama will do to "help you retire." Most of you will never retire. If you're like the average consumer, you didn't save, you overconsumed, you spent it all, and an unlucky few of you got taken in by the bank and investment con-men. You don't have the savings to retire, and the remainder of people who will be working don't have the income to support you.

Social Security is bankrupt and will go away. It's unsustainable. It's a government version of Bernard Madoff's "investment plan."

Medicare is bankrupt and will go away. It's another federalized Madoff plan.

Prescription drug payments are bankrupt and they will go away. Ditto.

Government can inflate the currency to cover the "payments," but in that case, inflation in prices will more than make up for the government checks. Government can only raise taxes on the smaller Gen X and Gen Y so high before people stop working or go underground.

We're in The Great Liquidation. Big government cannot survive -- it has finally hit the credit limit. It's not going to pay your way anymore -- your generation's borrow-n-spend ways were bound to be halted one way or another, and it looks like the laws of physics and economics will be doing the stopping rather than a collective burst of sanity by those in power.

Stop fantasizing about "when the economy comes back." It will never "come back" the way you knew it.

That Lexus you're driving? You can't afford it. Did you put down 20% and finance it over four years, with the price of the car being no more than 1/3 your annual income? Of course not. Better keep it well maintained, you're going to be driving it for a long time -- if you can keep up on the payments.

And damn, those parts are going to be expensive when the transmission goes or you need a new axle. Suddenly that American-manufactured four-cylinder car you were making fun of doesn't look so bad, does it? D'oh!

The expensive vacations and fancy toys and HELOCs are all gone. Forever. Or at least until you're well into your 80s.

You're going to be working longer hours, for less money, for cash that is depreciated, and at higher tax rates. And you're going to smile and be happy you even HAVE a job -- even though it's paying you 40% less or even worse. It sucks, we should be angry about it, and perhaps we'll even do something about it. Maybe.

Obama is not going to save you. Obama has no meaningful work experience. Obama has never made a payroll, never developed a business plan, never allocated dollars for marketing, never had to scramble to make ends meet in a bad quarter, never made a profit doing anything in the private sector. His experience with the business cycle is nil.

Ditto all the "leaders" in Congress, who developed the lovely regulatory and policy architectures that they now decry as "inadequate" and "allowing this situation to develop." They're not just dumb -- they're dumber than most of us.

We wanted a life without pain, easy money, toys without sacrifice. We wanted "free drugs," "free health care," "free housing." We wanted zoning laws to "keep our property values up." We clamored for it, and the government gave it to us on credit.

Now the bill's due, we can't pay, and it's all going to go away. Forever.

There's no going back. Stop pretending a magical law or another trillion dollars in borrowed money advanced to us by China will wipe away reality.

It's time to face the music.

And while we're at it, let's break a few treaties and have a trade war

The House pork bill passed yesterday, and now some of our allies are ... a little apprehensive:

The House-approved plan's "Buy American" provision generally prohibits the purchase of foreign iron and steel for any infrastructure project in the bill.

The European Union's trade commissioner, Catherine Ashton, pre-emptively voiced concern about the US measure.
"We are looking into the situation. ... Before we have the final text ... it would be premature to take a stance on it," Ashton's spokesman, Peter Power, said in Brussels.

"However, the one thing we can be absolutely certain about, is if a bill is passed which prohibits the sale or purchase of European goods on American territory, that is something we will not stand idly by and ignore," he said.

Canada's government said it is concerned about US protectionism in the economic stimulus and its diplomats were lobbying US makers against the "Buy American" drive.

"We're always concerned when there are protectionist pressures in the United States," Industry Minister Tony Clement told public broadcaster CBC.

"At the same time the United States has treaty obligations," he said, citing US membership in the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

"And we expect the United States to live up to its treaty obligations of open and fair trade."

About 40 percent of Canadian steel is sold in the United States and Canada imports steel from its southern neighbor.

Of course, threatening Canada (and then quietly wimping out on those threats) is nothing new for President Obama. Let's go back to last June:

He gave Hillary Clinton quite a dressing down during the primaries in the Rust Belt for having once supported NAFTA, a treaty Barack called "devastating." Obama said he'd use the threat of withdrawal from the treaty as a "hammer" to wring concessions out of Canada and Mexico. And sure, his top economics aide told a Canadian consulate official on the QT that Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric was "more about political posturing than a clear articulation of policy plans."

So maybe a giant does of protectionism goes well with $825 billion in Pork.

[h/t Kids Prefer Cheese]

Dennis Kucinich More-Or-Less Hits It

I remember remarking to ravening Ron Paul supporters, who were generously ignoring Paul's far-right-fringe views on social issues, that Dennis Kucinich is at least as Libertarian as Ron Paul.

Such an observation was heresy, and I was pilloried by the usual "radical" Libertarians with endless abuse because of it.

However, as usual, I've been vindicated (though a bit late). Here's Kucinich's response to the banking crisis:

Why, that position, with a tweak or two, could have been pulled straight from the Libertarian Party platform, before it was Republicanized...

The Problem With Patents

Way back in 2002, a company called Handspring completely transformed the way you and I view cell phones, by releasing the first real smartphone.

The company, a spin-off of PDA pioneer Palm Computing, developed the Treo smartphone. And it was revolutionary.

Unlike the BlackBerries of the time (which were glorified pagers), the Treos had a real OS -- the Palm OS. They were little portable computers that you could carry around in your pocket, and which had full access to the cellular networks of the era.

On Sprint's voice and data network, Treo really came to life. Now, e-mail and web browsing was something you could have on the go. And Palm so clearly saw the potential of the technology that it brought Handspring back in-house.

The result was one of the greatest innovations of the last decade -- the high-powered modern smartphone. The Palm Treo had (and has) everything that defines a smartphone today:

1) Applications installed from online stores (like Handango);
2) A touch-screen interface (with easily the best mini-keyboard ever made below it);
3) E-mail on the go;
4) Synchronization with a PC via a data-cable and sync software;
5) Replacing media players with its own media playing and music software;
6) A robust developer community;
7) The famous "Palm ringer switch" that allowed you to switch it to vibrate mode without using software;
8) Web browsing on the go.

In 2007, five years later, Apple released its iPhone.

iPhone was a very good copy of the Treo, with some new innovations. However, the basic iPhone model was an iteration of the Treo design. Apple replaced the hardware keyboard with a (difficult) software keyboard, added in some eye candy, and made the screen bigger and in glass, but the most striking thing about iPhone was how similar to Palm it worked.

The Apple device's applications menu was a prettier version of the "classic" Treo's. It served as a media player, could check e-mail, and browse the web. It synchronized with the PC via a USB cable and sync software. Just like Palm's original Treo, it presented text message conversations in a "threaded" chat-style manner, rather than in the common non-linear model of every other phone on the market. And it had a dead ringer (ha ha) for the ringer switch that Palm invented on the Treo. Later, Apple copied Handango and added a (much more restrictive) Application Store feature.

Palm's reaction was not to sue Apple, but rather, rush to compete. It released the Centro, which was a consumer version of the Treo that cost around $50 but offered all the same power in a smaller form factor.

It released the Treo Pro, a new Windows Mobile phone that is slick.

And it announced, at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the completely new Pre smartphone.

Pre includes an improved version of Palm's touchscreen, a newer, more comfortable keyboard and also includes a totally new OS, dubbed WebOS, that connects your corporate and personal information together into a single interface using a slick paradigm Palm invented called "Synergy." It allows you to run multiple applications at the same time using Palm's new "card" interface. It updates over the air, so there's no need to use USB connections to plug it into your PC anymore. It even charges wirelessly via a charger called the Touchstone.

In short, Pre is so far beyond anything on the market, including Apple's now aging iPhone, that it makes the iPhone appear a bit stale (much like the iPhone did to the Palm Treo in 2007).

Apparently, Apple is worried about maintaining its existing lead with the iPhone. But rather than prepare with a blockbuster knockout product of its own, Apple has rumbled about suing Palm over patents it holds for touchscreens.

So small but nimble Palm, which invented the touch-screen smartphone category (and most of the user interface conventions Apple borrowed for the iPhone) did nothing when Apple showed up on the scene. But now that Palm is offering a phone with significantly more features and innovation than Apple's present product, out come the patent threats. And given Palm's diminutive size compared to Apple, Apple's threats could undermine Palm's viability and prevent Palm's competitor from ever coming to market.

Someone explain to me, again, how the government monopoly that is a patent "protects innovation?"

The amazing paradox of "public" service at the highest levels...

.... is that our Democratic and Republican friends refuse to acknowledge (or act upon) the incestuous relationship between corporate and governmental America.

When they find it, they are like Louie in Casablanca, astonished to discover that gambling is occurring at Rick's Place.

Just this week, Delawareliberal's ever-passionate creative speller donviti discovered the revolving door at Bank of America, wherein--among others in a tight-knit circle of acquaintances--Charles Rosetti was added to the board. Rosetti came over from Merril Lynch, and had been Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service under the Clinton administration.

Of course, not only Delaware Liberals but pretty much all Democrats across the nation have completely ignored the fact that the Obama administration violated its own rules against lobbyists to appoint Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn as Deputy SecDef to run the Pentagon.

But maybe that's because there are so many other interesting targets to choose from in the current round of appointments that they're reserving their fire.

Like Timothy Geitner, who doesn't interest me so much for his tax problems as for his career at the Council on Foreign Relations, which is remarkable for both its influence on American foreign policy and its funding by dozens of corporate giants like AIG, Citibank, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, Ford, Haliburton, Merrill Lynch....

Like Eric Holder, whose opposition to the right to bear arms is more noticed than his time at Covington & Burlington representing Merck, the National Football League, and Chiquita....

Like Lawrence Summers, who whiled away the hours after Harvard dumped him at hedge fund giant D. E. Shaw....

This is not to say that the Obama administration is particularly chummy with corporate America as presidential administrations go--in fact, just the opposite: it's pretty much par for the course.

Folks at the cabinet and sub-cabinet level--at least those who aren't career politicians--move back and forth between public positions and government posts with great regularity, especially in years when the party controlling the White House changes. So this year the former Commissioner of the IRS sits on Bank of America's board, and that will have absolutely no impact on how he deals with the IRS and Treasury, or how they deal with BoA....

Because it's amazing what our Liberal and Conservative friends believe about the transition of America's ruling managerial elites between the public and private sectors.

The Conservatives subscribe to the old Hamiltonian/Georgian England theory that it's OK to make a fortune because of your connections with the government so long as what you're doing advances the interests of the country. Dick Cheney ... Halliburton ...

The Liberals subscribe to the belief that once having been appointed to the government, Democrats who previously held corporate office will immediately become high-minded public servants, willing to step in and crush any devious practices they may find, while minding the public treasury with zealous concern only for keeping costs down....

In other words, the Obama administration is placing into office the same breed of corporate leaders against whom their fauxliberal supporters spent the last eight years railing against.

Why? Because the American ruling class has become a seamless melding of the corporate and government elite.

Recall something I wrote two months ago:

This reality is best exemplified by the easy and regular transition of wealthy individuals between senior Corporate and senior State positions. Having achieved Corporate prominence is usually considered qualification to manage a large State organization, and vice versa. While the skill set for successfully managing large organizations are quite similar whether the organization is State or Corporate, the important outcome of this constant exchange is to blur the line between the State and private enterprise at the highest levels.

Point being: it becomes a bit tiring to keep reading the posts of our liberal Democratic friends decrying the evils of bad corporate behavior with ultra-expensive private jets and redecorated bathrooms while throwing their own party convention with $17 million in public tax money and paying for Nancy Pelosi to dart around the country in her own private, government plane.

[An aside: I rarely agreed with a single thing Tom Foley did when he was Speaker of the House in the early 1990s. I got the chance--twice--to tell him so when I ended up sitting beside him on commercial flights. He wanted to talk, and said he believed that one of the reasons for standing in line and checking his own baggage was that he didn't want to lose touch with real life.]

Prediction number eleven for the first two years of the Obama administration: within 6-8 months we will have investigative reporters telling us about how corporations have found ways to billions of dollars of stimulus pork, completely ignoring all the former corporate elites sitting in government offices handing them the money....

Want a fable to explain how this all works? Remember the outcry over Halliburton and Blackwater in Iraq? How many of you ever actually learned that it was the Clinton administration that set the precedent of outsourcing military contracts to private military companies like MPRI, Vining, and Airscan? Some day when you've got a spare couple of hours (because a lot of this material is from the very early days of the Web and more easily accessible at real dead tree government depository libraries), check out the connections of the names between senior MPRI advisors/board members with Defense and DEA posts in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations and the overlap of these names with the boards of Halliburton and Blackwater.

Then again, you probably don't want to know.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wonder who wrote this? Paul Krugman would suggest the author is an insincere racist

"There is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help jumpstart the economy."
--President Barack Obama

With all due respect Mr.President, that is not true.

Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians and that we all support a big increase in the burden of government, we the undersigned do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance. More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. More government spending did not solve Japan’s “lost decade” in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today. To improve the economy, policymakers should focus on reforms that remove impediments to work, saving, investment and production. Lower tax rates and a reduction in the burden of government are the best ways of using fiscal policy to boost growth.

According to Paul Krugman, just the fact that that whoever wrote this opposes government activism and a new New Deal, makes them suspect as arguing in bad faith, and possibly even a racist.

Unfortunately for Dr. Krugman, the signatories of this statement include over 200 well-regarded, published, academic economists at some of the most prestigious universities in the country (not to mention three from the University of Delaware).

Oh, I also forgot to mention that three of these economists are--like Krugman himself--Nobel Laureates.

Damn. Who knew that the Economics Departments of Rutgers, the University of Virginia, University of Michigan (Flint), Ball State, Duke, Indiana, Auburn, Chicago, New Haven, Kent State, and dozens of others were filled with people of bad faith who might be racists.

Oh, just in case you are tempted to write this off, it is important to remember that about 125 of these economists (including all three Nobel Laureates) sent a petition to Congress back during September, pointing out that the original bail-out package was ill-considered and would not deliver what was promised. So they asked:

For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

But we had to act instantly, or the world would end--even though four months later we don't know precisely what happened to the first half of the money and we haven't yet spent the second half.

I'd say to beware of people who tell you that we don't have time to investigate the implications of all the money we're about to spend (or borrow from the Chinese)...

... but it's too late for that.

The Pork-out passed the House today.

[h/t Disloyal Opposition]

More Inspiring Quotes

"Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before." Rahm Emanuel - November 2008

Translation : Disaster Socialism Is Us

"I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views." Barack Obama - Audacity of Hope

Translation : I am everything to everyone. I stand for nothing but whatever the transient expediency of others tends to make me.

Another Hopeful Development in Producing Hydrogen - The Fuel of the Future

"Scientists at Penn State University and the Virginia Commonwealth University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen by exposing selected clusters of aluminum atoms to water...The team's findings will be published in the 23 January 2009 issue of the journal Science.

"Our previous research suggested that electronic properties govern everything about these aluminum clusters, but this new study shows that it is the arrangement of atoms within the clusters that allows them to split water," said A. Welford Castleman Jr., Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science and Evan Pugh Professor in the Penn State Departments of Chemistry and Physics. "Generally, this knowledge might allow us to design new nanoscale catalysts by changing the arrangements of atoms in a cluster. The results could open up a new area of research, not only related to splitting water, but also to breaking the bonds of other molecules, as well."


The team found that the aluminum clusters react differently when exposed to water, depending on the sizes of the clusters and their unique geometric structures. Three of the aluminum clusters produced hydrogen from water at room temperature. "The ability to produce hydrogen at room temperature is significant because it means that we did not use any heat or energy to trigger the reaction," said Khanna.

"Traditional techniques for splitting water to produce hydrogen generally require a lot of energy at the time the hydrogen is generated. But our method allows us to produce hydrogen without supplying heat, connecting to a battery, or adding electricity. Once the aluminum clusters are synthesized, they can generate hydrogen on demand without the need to store it."

Khanna hopes that the team's findings will pave the way toward investigating how the aluminum clusters can be recycled for continual usage and how the conditions for the release of hydrogen can be controlled. "It looks as though we might be able to come up with ways to remove the hydroxyl group (OH-) that remains attached to the aluminum clusters after they generate hydrogen so that we can reuse the aluminum clusters again and again," he said.

The team plans to continue their research with a goal of refining their new method. This research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

More and more breakthroughs like this, involving non-electricity-derived hydrogen extraction by refining nanotechnologies, bode wonderfully for a clean hydrogen future. Especially promising are any developments in the ability to produce hydrogen for use on demand, versus use from stored hydrogen.

Whether it comes on-demand or from continuously-replenished storage, hydrogen will be the cleanest, cheapest, most adaptable and widely-applicable fuel for a stable energy future.

Hydrogen can be used as fuel for internal combustion engines and any other combustion-derived energy, namely heat. It is also used in fuel cells to produce electricity. In all instances the only by-product is pure water, whether vapor or liquid.

With these novel new methods of producing hydrogen from water, users will be able to produce their own 'source' fuel at their point of use rather than, for example, plugging into the traditional electricity grid or fueling-up at a station.

Hydrogen for combustion and for use in fuel cells will provide a far more realistic answer to our energy demands because hydrogen is fuel itself. Proposed 'solutions' like electric cars (EV's) only shift the burden to a still fossil-fuel-driven electricity grid in the short-term and renewable energy resources in the long term.

Electric cars obviously rely on electricity being produced from somewhere. Their fuel is not the electricity that charges them but whatever is used to produce that electricity, whether coal-burning, nuclear, natural gas, solar, wind etc.

Maximizing renewable energy technologies is the only permanently-sustainable energy future. Someday the oil and gas will all be gone. For better or worse, the renewables we will have to use are pretty much a zero sum proposition. We simply can't, at will, expand the base supply of source fuel, at least for the most prevalent renewables : sun and wind energy.

1000's of electric cars coming online, while we are still producing our electricity largely with fossil fuels like coal, may shift us from petroleum use, but would certainly no better for the environment and presents an entirely new and growing strain on a slowly-developing clean energy grid.

As electricity is increasingly produced by and demanded of renewable energy technologies, which are inherently-intermittent resources, the need for electricity 'conservation' or more conservative use will become more profound.

A mass proliferation of electric cars will only serve to drain capacity away from renewable resources more needed and better used for the electricity demands of dwellings and businesses instead of cars.

Of course, there are also the problems of travel range and remote re-fueling with EV's. The notion that we can just plug these cars into any available electricity source involves a whole mess of problems as to how EV owners will access and pay for electricity coming from a source other than their own home or business.

Ideally, a future smart grid may solve such issues but the solutions will be far more complicated and long-in-coming than may be worth a major up-front investment, when hydrogen can be so much more readily produced and used, pretty much the same way gasoline and petroleum-based fuels are, and without involving the technical novelties and challenges of EV's.

People being what they are (often irresponsible) I can only imagine the issues that will come to our roads when people routinely run their electric cars down while out driving, whether out of oversight or neglect or inaccessibility to electricity 0r just being stuck in traffic for too long, just as people run out of gasoline every day. With electric cars, though, you can't coax the car along on fumes or, when finally empty, just grab a little gas can, pour it in, and drive to the nearest fueling station.

We would be smart to look past the rather self-defeating designs to convert to more electricity usage for vehicles, especially on the bogus pretext that this is somehow freeing us from fossil fuel use. Just because EV's may be novel and futuristic hardly makes them desirable or optimal. That is, unless long-term clean, renewable, sustainable energy resourcing is not in fact the 1st priority of those pushing them. EV proponents may not like it, but the bottom line is that in the foreseeable future EV's will only make Delmarva Power and their like that much happier with their bottom lines.

Now, despite the above-mentioned issues there is still a substantial place for EV's in the future transportation mix, especially hybrid EV's in the short term.
But right now we have reliable and ubiquitous (99+% of all vehicles) combustion engine technology capable of being fitted or retro-fitted to run on hydrogen. Such conversions are a far more realistic and less costly solution than looking to produce brand new electric cars by the millions.

Notably, this hydrogen research was funded by the Air Force. It is an example of worthwhile public investment that will hasten a clean energy revolution and bring energy independence not just to nations but to individuals the world over.

We can immediately begin moving to total conversion from fossil and dirty energy resources to clean hydrogen, as fuel both for mobility and electricity production. Hydrogen technology research and developments are well worth "stimulating", given our emerging era of unfettered "stimulus" spending by a massive national government.

We can only hope such stimulus spending gets it right on clean energy, embracing technologies based on scientific merit and optimal results rather than
on politics and pork.

Statist Idiot Quote of the Day

Warning : Contains incendiary naming of names, not for the government-friendly and government careerist teat-suckers of faint heart.

A telling quote today comes from a lobbyist whore for 57 different governments across Delaware (yes, now even government itself has sleazy hired gun lobbyists...and, yes, Delaware appears to have 57 different governments below state them entrenched useless duplicative patronage machines, if you will).

The individual also, unsurprisingly, is a lickspittle for Wilmington Mayor James Baker and a Democrat party hack.

The issue giving rise to the absurd statement was the passage of a property rights protection bill in the Delaware Senate yesterday, defeating the fascist Wilmington government and the greedy developers with whom it is in bed.

The bill, SB 7, restricts eminent domain powers, halting Delaware government(s) from snatching private property by force and on the cheap, in service to private developers and speculative tax revenues.

Rhett D. Ruggerio, a lobbyist for the Delaware League of Local Governments -- an association of 57 towns and cities, including Wilmington -- said the group opposes the bill.

"It's very simple -- we will not support any legislation that takes away the rights of local government," he said.

Simple, indeed.

It truly takes a dangerous statist of the highest order to believe government has "rights" (versus duties and powers).

Let's hope the Delaware House and Governor Markell follow the Senate's lead and reject such twisted exhortations as above.

A modest proposal: ending the Afghan War for only $82.5 billion

It works like this: value lives in Afghanistan the same way the US military has been authorized to do by our government.

Here's what happens when we kill civilians:

On the back of an Afghan army truck, U.S. officials paid $40,000 in Afghan currency to representatives of the 15 people killed — $2,500 for each death plus $500 for two wounded men and $1,500 for village repairs.

Lt. Col. Steven Weir, a military lawyer who helped oversee the payments, said the payments were not an admission by the U.S. that innocents were killed.

"It's a condolence payment," he said. "The villagers said none of them were in the Taliban, just peaceful individuals from the village. So by this payment they will understand it's not our goal to kill innocent people. This may help them understand we're here to build a safer and more secure Afghanistan."

When asked if the U.S. was paying money to relatives of people that the U.S. had wanted to kill or capture, Weir said: "If we did accidentally shoot someone, we want to make that right, and if we have to pay money to someone who didn't deserve it ... it's kind of like it's better to let nine guilty people go free than to jail one innocent person."

Let's see, there are roughly 32.7 million people in Afghanistan. Round that up to 33 million in order to allow for Al Qaeda foreigners, stray goats, and anybody we want to kill in nearby Waziristan as part of the package. At $2,500/head that would only be $82.5 Billion in blood money and we could go home.

Victory would be ours.

Skeptics have asked, If we kill them all, who will get the money?

A little reflection provides several possible answers. We could either

1) Seek out Afghans living in the US (insuring that they are also unemployed former union members) and pay them for the cost of exterminating their relatives.

2) Put the money against the Afghan government's debt to the US and NATO for intervening in their country--in other words, pay it back to ourselves.

3) Provide it as a settlement incentive to anybody willing to move into Afghanistan and take over the opium trade while finishing the natural gas pipeline project for us.

Meanwhile, in a related development, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells Pakistan and the US Congress that the Obama administration policy has exactly the same policy on cross-border incursions as the Bush administration:

"Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al-Qaida wherever al-Qaida is, and we will continue to pursue them," Gates said.

"Has that decision been transmitted to the Pakistan government?" the panel's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked.

"Yes, sir," Gates responded.

Funny, that's exactly what Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque says of Obama's nuanced statements on Israel and Gaza:

Now we can see why Obama kept silent on Gaza while Bush was still in the White House: because he held precisely the same views as Bush on the subject. There is nothing in Obama's statement that could not have been said -- or was not actually said -- by Bush. You couldn't slide a piece of onion-skin paper between the stances of the two men on Gaza.

Whch is cool, since there are only 1.5 million Palestinians, which means we could throw them into the Afghanistan Endlosung for the relatively modest price of $3.75 Billion. Given the current rate of sending Israel over $2.5 Billion per year in aid, that would get us [and them] out of the whole mess for two years' worth of blood money (assuming we used the rest to bulldoze the bodies and the buildings).

I nominate Jonathan Swift to succeed Bob Gates as SecDef.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ron Paul Meets MSNBC's Stuck on Stupid Do-Something-itis Panel

Seems it took no less than a barrage of four MSNBC puffed heads to grill Congressman Ron Paul about stimulus spending.

Unfortunately, Paul has been cut off so many times in the past I think he has gotten into the habit of rushing what he is saying, to try to get his ideas out as extensively as possible before they cut his mic.

Nevertheless, the head-scratching stupidity and (barely-disguised disdain) of some of these inflated talking heads is stunning.

"I just don't understand", "I can't grasp", "but what does this mean we do??".

Jesus, the man couldn't have been more clear :


Either some of these panel questioners are pathetically-stupid (Barnicle) or just being consciously-ignorant (the pompous blowhard who ends by praising Obama for "moving forward).

I suspect it's a mixture, with the common denominator that they are all quite busy selling the stimulus bonanza and Obama's action-packed big government agenda.

Barnicle's half-assed line of questions was especially pathetic...'But I am just a shlub, this is all over my head.' (No shit, Mike.) 'What are you saying we should do??"

Sometimes moving "forward" isn't the answer when you are on a precipice.

Paul Krugman's intellectually dishonest bait and switch

It becomes almost humorous (or would, if billions of dollars and the entire US economy weren't on the line), to watch the posturing the current economic gurus like Larry Summers, Robert Reich, and Paul Krugman as they pimp for the economic stimulus plan. Krugman's most recent NYT editorial is a perfect example.

Take his opening premise:

As the debate over President Obama’s economic stimulus plan gets under way, one thing is certain: many of the plan’s opponents aren’t arguing in good faith. Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending.

This is cute. Krugman moves the definition of bad faith to be anyone who disagrees with a new New Deal and government activism. As long-time readers of Krugman will know, this is codespeak for labeling opponents of massive government interventionism as racist. In Krugman's view--a view apparently shared by many Bail-out supporters--the only legitimate argument left is over how to divide the spoils, not whether the government should print money it cannot back.

Leaving that aside, however, my favorite Krugman ("There is no God but Keynes, and I am His Prophet") piece of intellectual dishonesty comes here:

Next, write off anyone who asserts that it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.

Here’s how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets — and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats. If that would mean lots of midair collisions, hey, stuff happens.

The point is that nobody really believes that a dollar of tax cuts is always better than a dollar of public spending. Meanwhile, it’s clear that when it comes to economic stimulus, public spending provides much more bang for the buck than tax cuts — and therefore costs less per job created (see the previous fraudulent argument) — because a large fraction of any tax cut will simply be saved.

This suggests that public spending rather than tax cuts should be the core of any stimulus plan. But rather than accept that implication, conservatives take refuge in a nonsensical argument against public spending in general.

First, Krugman creates an obvious straw man by lampooning those who disagree as always preferring tax cuts to government spending. Given the record of the past eight years it would be hard--outside the Libertarian movement--to find any legislator, Democrat or Republican, who has consistently objected to government spending. NCLB? Medicaid Prescription Drugs? Homeland Security Grants?

Then Krugman does a neat bait-and-switch argument by equating anyone who wants tax cuts to also be advocating the elimination of, say, the air traffic control system. Really? Silly me, I thought the argument was about the effectiveness of economic stimulus, not the effectiveness of regulatory organizations. Does anyone else note here that Krugman is not merely comparing apples and oranges, but apples and screwdrivers? Unless Krugman would like to explain how increased funding for, say, the FDA would result in economic stimulus. Safer food? Possibly. But not economic stimulus. Certain functions (we can debate which ones later)are either best performed by government or are traditionally performed by government (unless you are one of my anarcho-capitalist readers), and that has (wait for it) absolutely nothing to do with the effectivess of government spending as economic stimulus.

[There is an argument to be made for government spending, a very Keynesian argument that suggests that you get $1.50 in economic stimulus for every government $1.00 spent. This argument is, however, so shopworn and fraught with variables it does not take into account that even most Keynesian economists approach it very diffidently.]

Krugman knows his argument here is pure bullshit, which is what makes him intellectually dishonest. He knows that Statists across the country will only quote his initial paragraph as holy writ, while failing to engage the non-supporting mess to follow. Krugman's advocacy is no longer about the conscience of a liberal, but about his personal ability to go down in history like Keynes or Friedman as the intellectual who reshaped the America economic scene. Unfortunately, unlike both Keynes and Friedman, Krugman stoops with great regularity to the demonization of anyone who disagrees with him, and has subordinated substantive thought to the creation of red meat talking points.

Heck, he could have worked for the last administration.

Neoconservative Sleaze Bill Kristol Comes Clean - Act II

Irving Kristol, father to Bill Kristol and godfather of so-called neoconservatism, famously said, "A neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality."

Bill Kristol might restate it : "A liberal is a neoconservative who can't comprehend reality."

Tossed over the side by the New York Times, Kristol's parting words (chock full of sentimentalist war-reverence and trite pseudo-patriotism) make it clear his "neoconservatism" is little more than hyper-militaristic global liberalism.

Ideologically, nothing really distinguishes a neoconservative from the big government, big scheme collectivism we have seen through decades of rehashed cookie-cutter liberal dogma.

The neoconservatives' messianism simply has a much wider scope. Neoconservatives are liberals who think big and play deep.

So, it is absolutely no surprise that the Beltway-recognition-obsessed Kristol now gushes platitudes for the promise(s) of Obama. Kristol never met a powerful, grandiose, messianic chief executive he didn't like. If he was goo-goo for Bush, well he's just ga-ga for Obama.

I am sure Kristol cheered the recent Obama administration strikes into Pakistan. Even Kristol knows the Iraq war horse has been ridden flat (he really should know) so it is time to move on to the next round of aggressive interventionism around the middle east....and beyond.

Any false attachment Kristol (and his erstwhile "liberal" critics) may invest in himself with Ronald Reagan is little more than Kristol's (and their) twisted revisionism. This is merely Kristol continuing his quest to hijack Reagan's identity.

After all, he and his fellow neoconservative parasites hijacked the Republican Party over the last 20 years, beginning as second-tier proteges to Bush 41's "wise" men....who in retrospect were wiser, by miles, than Bush 43's Kristol-led wrecking crew.

As far as Kristol's penchant for revisionism, he recently tried similar legerdemain on the Contract with America.

National Interest editor, Jacob Heilbrunn wrote some revealing comments, from an anti-conservative position (Hey, Jake, feel free to have Bill Kristol. Demagogues deserve each other) :

"Instead of frothing at the mouth about Obama's perfidy, Kristol essentially acknowledges that he's the real thing. He even likens him to neocon hero Ronald Reagan. According to Kristol, "Still, there will be trying times during Obama's presidency, and liberty will need staunch defenders. Can Obama reshape liberalism to be, as it was under F.D.R., a fighting faith, unapologetically patriotic and strong in the defense of liberty? That would be a service to our country."

This is a huge concession, at least for Kristol. It suggests, indeed, that, like David Brooks, Kristol is coming around to the view that Obama's election may even be a good thing.


For now, the comments of Kristol and David Frum, who has been highly critical of the Republican leadership, indicate that there is movement inside the GOP's cadre of thinkers.

No doubt many will celebrate Kristol's exit. But after decades on the right, the neocons are returning to their liberal origins. Isn't it interesting that Kristol's most interesting op-ed came at the end and could have been titled "In Defense of Liberalism"

Kristol, Brooks, and Frum : the "GOP's cadre of thinkers". Oh how laughably rich. Hell, why not just throw George W Bush into that equation?

Even more rich is Kristol's sudden concern for liberty. I am sure he has his own definition, far more in line with what he and similar national statists think is appropriate. I would venture it hardly jibes with what any conscientious American citizen thinks is liberty, or at least one with the slightest cognizance of the stain and strain Kristol and his fellow travelers brought to our constitutional republic.

If I didn't know any better I would think that all along Bill Kristol was a power-mongering demagogic ideologue out to kill the GOP, conservatism, Reagan's essential message, and limited constitutional governance, all in one fell swoop...throwing a match behind him as he travels back home to the collectivist left.

Oh, but he's no liberal...

California's Cluster**** Is A View Into America's Future Under Obama

California is a microcosm of the federal state under the policies of Barack Obama.

When economic turmoil hit the tech and tourism economy in 2001 and 2002, California's answer was to increase spending and borrowing to "stimulate the economy." Government payrolls surged, new departments sprang up like weeds, regulations and tax increases choked commerce, and California became a pariah for the productive -- with the highest level of net outmigration of middle class workers of any state in the country (including basket cases like Michigan).

California, like Obama, believed that government could create "green jobs" with borrowed money.

California, like Obama, borrowed cash to spend on lavish public works projects.

California, like Obama, created "free" health care for everyone.

California, like Obama, made college "free" for most residents.

California, like Obama, increased taxes on "the rich," implemented environmental taxes on different classes of cars, penalized driving, and cranked up fares on public transit in the Bay Area once that became a monopoly form of transit for many commuters.

Fast forward to today -- California is bankrupt.

I received a letter from the state informing me that my estimated $2,000 tax refund will be delayed and effectively, I'll be getting an IOU from the state for the money.

State contractors, companies and individuals owed money by the state, and state employees will also be receiving IOUs -- many in lieu of paychecks.

Try as the Governator might, he cannot convince banks to take California IOUs as "same as cash" instruments. And nobody is lending money to California because, well, it's broke and unlikely to pay the money back.

California will probably demand, and receive, a large bailout from the rest of the country. It will probably blow through that and be back in crisis in a year or two, as the massive growth of the state's government continues to crush its poor citizens. It will likely persist in its deadbeat status for a long time.

But when America as a country reaches the same point, who will provide IT with a bailout?

You cannot continue spending trillions of dollars that you don't have and not eventually go broke. California is illustrative of that.

If Obama wants "change," he should start by changing his policies, which as implemented in California have led to the ruin of that once-dynamic economy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

For Waldo, and any Trek geeks who might stumble by

I really didn't intend to write this post. When Waldo posted The Geek Closet, about the Star Trek franchise's reluctance to take on gay characters, I wrote one truly geek note about the two direct lesbian scenes/references [one in Deep Space Nine and one in The Next Generation], which he took--at least partly--as me evading his point.

So then I wrote another five paragraph response ... that the blogspot comment editor promptly ate.

I hate it when that happens. So I thought I would sort of semi-replicate it here, with a few addenda.

First note: I am not an incredible fan of Star Trek novels [although the ones by Peter David are generally readable], but I have polished off a few in airports or hotel lounges when there was nothing better available. From that random sampling I know that on at least a couple occasions LGBT characters have also made it into the franchise via print. But again that doesn't serve to answer Waldo's question about why no gay characters on Star Trek.

It has to do, I think, with the difference between actual science fiction and science fiction television.

Real SF--you know, in books--has been dealing critically with issues of human sexuality for a long time. I think back immediately to Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, which won all the big SF awards, both Hugo and Nebula, in 1969-1970--making it a close contemporary of Star Trek. I bookend that with Michael Flynn's 1990 novel In the Country of the Blind in which one (actually, two, but the second half of the pair has a much smaller role) of the supporting characters just happens to be gay. He's gay like other characters in the book are left-handed, or eat pizza--just there as part of the entourage. It suggests to me an important sort of advance in a book where the central theme is not using SF to explore human sexuality, that there just happen to be gay characters walking around doing normal things. Real life context.

In between, I think of Spider Robinson, who redid a lot of old Robert Heinlein themes, sometimes with gay characters [Heinlein himself repeatedly dabbled with sexuality, but you always got the feeling his lesbian or bisexual women were just there to make male readers salivate]. I also think of David Drake, one of whose best pre-Hammer's Slammers SF military novels [The Forlorn Hope], which includes two gay couples (one male, one female) as main characters. You not only like them by the end [if you can handle all the gore], but the other characters either like them or hate them without the slightest inkling that their sexuality makes a difference to whether or not they are liked. [OK: truth in advertising: one lieutenant does fantasize about getting it on with two lesbians.]

In short, it does not surprise me when I pick up an SF to have main, characters, supporting characters, or just plain walk-ons turn out to be LGBT--kind of like real life. What surprises me is the rare occasion when I find an author who seems to think that he or she is the first to discover that you can write gays into a plot and then obsesses about it. I don't tend to reread them very much. Except maybe for some of Samuel R. Delaney's work; or John Varley's....

I think that the reason SF TV (and major market SF movies) never caught up the real SF in books is that there aren't enough of us to make any movie a success. So the movie or TV series has to draw in the cartoon fans, the graphic novel and comic book fans, the computer nerds who always hoped the blonde with big tits would fall for them, and people who just like exploding aliens.

Which partly explains why Arnold Schwarzenegger movies make it, and brilliant offerings like Blade Runner become cult classics but don't make anywhere near hundreds of bazillions of dollars.

Note two: if SF movie-goers really knew what kind of stuff Philip K. Dick wrote [his stories provided the very loosely interpreted background for films like Blade Runner and Total Recall] they'd probably run screaming from the building. If you really want to experience literary brilliance in an SF mode, go find a copy of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, or Ubik.

Note three: It has always perplexed me, however, that for TV and movie SF the prospect of homosexuality was more daunting than the idea of having sex outside your species. Hell, the Star Trek franchise started with Captain Kirk getting it on with green alien women, and in The Next Generation characters routinely marry and/or get pregnant with partly alien babies. But queers? No, not gonna do queers.

Note four: It was also an unhappy experience to discover that one of my formerly favorite SF writers--Orson Scott Card--shares a pretty blatant case of homophobia with his Mormon brethren and cistern. This was particularly disturbing as Card writes some of the very best narratives including dysfunctional families that I have ever read, and I realized later that I had always been waiting for him to deal with an LGBT character in such a situation. Not gonna happen.

Note five [have you noticed yet that these notes are taking over?]: I had the good fortune to meet mega-hit military SF author David Weber a few years back. While we were discussing his massively best-selling Honor Harrington series, he said in an offhand way about one of the supporting characters, "Oh yeah, he's gay, and I'll get around to mentioning it in one of the novels. But nobody in my universe obsesses about it, and it wasn't germane to any of the scenes he's already appeared in."

Point being [and if I reach really diligently I am sure I'll be able to lay hands on one]: SF TV and movies, as a mass market entertainment vehicle are often racy, but rarely radical. I have to say that I was not surprised at all that Brokeback Mountain appeared in the Western genre long before any producer even considered Brokeback Starship Troopers.

A Question for Single Payer Advocates:

Are you against monopolies? I suspect the answer is yes. You're clearly a fiscal liberal. Monopolies are bad. Prices are too high, quality of output and innovation suffers, etc. Then why do you support monopoly in the health care industry? How is it any different from monopoly in telcom, in oil, in air travel?

Awaiting your responses.

Down memory lane (again)

In 2002 I was working on contract for the Office for Domestic Preparedness, teaching grant administrators the political origins, tactics, and logistics of international terrorism. During that time I met the executive assistant for homeland security to the Governor of South Carolina (he was role-playing a cabinet-level officer in a simulation at the time).

What he said then has echoed in my memory for years and years--it keeps coming back to me. And as politics move on, his comments keep takig on new meaning....

We had just finished a discussion on how real homeland security could be achieved for far less than the billions and billions of dollars being appropriated when he said: "Don't worry, it'll never happen that way. Homeland Security is the new revenue sharing. Because there is an emergency situation, the politicians in DC don't have to worry about paying for anything. They can just print the money. And nobody in the States is going to scream about it because they're passing out cash by the truckload to governments and contractors. Every backwoods sheriff in my State is scaring up some old, retired KKK guy they can call a terrorist so they can get some new guns or a new police cruiser. For the Republicans it's beautiful, because they pass out the dough to all the people they like--especially law enforcement, defense contractors and big corporations--and stiff the unions and everybody else they don't like. It's the new gravy train."

So now let's paraphrase my friend's observations for today: "Bail-money is the new revenue sharing. Because there is an emergency situation, the politicians in DC don't have to worry about paying for anything. They can just print the money. And nobody in the States is going to scream about it because they are passing out cash by the truckload to governments and unions. Every small-town mayor is looking for some project he can call 'shovel ready' so they can pave some sidewalks or throw up a few solar panels. For the Democrats it's beautiful, because they can pass out the dough to all the people they like--especially public works, labor unions, and the teachers' unions--and stiff law enforcement, big corporations, and everybody else they don't like. It's the new gravy train."

The Worm Ouroboros.

What we're apparently ready to shovel is ... more pork and earmarks

Kids Prefer Cheese sent me to, where I find the best assessment yet of the oxymoron of funding only shovel-ready projects in the pending Bail-out bill.

What exactly constitutes shovel-ready? Just ask Chris Dodd, who knows what's in, and what's out, and how to work the margins to get more dough for the home team:

Norwich - A group of the region's leaders told U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd Friday afternoon that they are skeptical of and confused by key aspects of a potential economic stimulus package Congress hopes to pass by the middle of next month.
The projected $800 billion-plus bill is being promoted as a means to stimulate the economy primarily by putting people to work on “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects.

However, the definition of “shovel-ready” has proved elusive and, some say, counterintuitive.

Dodd provided a local example: the $34 million middle school expansion and renovation in Griswold, which broke ground in December, would not qualify because it is already under way.

”If you have a shovel in place, then it is not shovel-ready,” Dodd cracked....

Dodd said Friday he is working to move up the timeline of the Shore Line East expansion to New London so it qualifies as a “shovel-ready” project. The expansion wouldn't currently qualify because it has been delayed until at least 2010.

Of course, local officials in Connecticut aren't quite convinced:

Others are also concerned about a provision that sends funding directly to governors, allowing them to choose the projects.

The arrangement, according to Dodd and some in attendance, renders any boast of “no earmarks” in the package disingenuous, instead passing it from the federal to the state level.

”We need to get this money as close to the ground floor as possible,” East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica said, echoing comments of other leaders at the meeting.

[Mark] Oefinger {town manager, Groton CT], like others, expressed concern that the stimulus will not provide long-term benefits or jobs.

”I think it's going to be dumping a lot of money down the rat hole and not have a lot to show for it,” he said.

Yeah, but if you happen to raise questions about whether or not this hastily conceived exercise in dispersing $825 Billion in newly printed money will actually work, according to one of our local liberal bloggers with delusions of adequacy, you want nothing more than to f**k the country for another two years by being obstructionist and hope that the country blames the ass-raping on Democrats when the mid-term elections roll around.

Leaving wiggle room on torture

Remember Dubya: We do not torture!

Now, it seems, there is more continuity than change in the Obama administration approach to enhanced interrogation techniques. First, we had the Director of National Intelligence nominee refusing to acknowledge waterboarding as torture and Attorney-General-designate Eric Holder calling the Army Interrogation Manual a good start for detailing interrogation techniques.

The problem is that a good start implies using that manual only as a foundation, beyond which CIA and other intelligence agencies intend to go with certain classified methods.

Here's what Jeffrey Kaye notes is being left out of coverage of this issue:

Not long ago, I wrote about what was included in Appendix M, which purports to introduce the single technique of "separation." In fact, the Appendix M includes instructions regarding solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and, in combination with other procedures included in the Army Field Manual, amounted to a re-introduction of the psychological torture techniques practiced at Guantanamo, and taught by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE psychologists and other personnel at the Cuban base and elsewhere.

The rewrite of the Army Field Manual included other seemingly minor changes. It introduced dubious procedures, such as the "False Flag" technique, wherein interrogators could pretend they were from another country. It also redefined the meaning of "Fear Up," a procedure meant to exploit a prisoner's existing fears under imprisonment. Now, interrogators could create "new" fears. The AFM rewrite was a masterpiece of subterfuge and double talk, which could only have been issued from the offices of Rumsfeld and Cambone.

Speaking in a 2006 interview, a Pentagon spokesman provided (probably) unintended insight into how both the military and intelligence communities intend to interpret any regulations. Asked a technical question about the distinction between complete sensory deprivation and depriving prisoners of light for prolonged terms, the General said:

It does not make it prohibited. And it would have to be weighed in the context of the overall environment.

In other words: Anything not explicitly prohibited can be considered to be permitted.

Aside from the fact that torture is a stain on our honor, as one friend of mine recently put it, virtually all the research in the field shows again and again that torture does not work in terms of consistently acquiring useful intelligence.

So the Obama administration needs to make--as Dana Garrett might say--a distinction with a difference from the policies of the Bush administration.

And President Obama's supporters need to hold his feet to the fire. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.