30 January 2009
This is just too much. There is absolutely no precedent for a white house assistant to flat out refuse to even appear before Congress. (Except for Bolten and Meiers, but that's really just the same instance). I'd call that contempt per se. I certainly hope the Obama administration makes clear to Luskin that when the contempt citations are issued, the new Main Justice will comply with the law and present them to the grand jury. Whereupon, Karl, Josh and Harriett will be arrested and jailed. Unless they wise up and appear, that is.
Two articles worth reading on Economic Prospects (and a hopefully farfetched analogy with Climate Change)
This article (from NYT Magazine) is on a more journalistic level, and not (quite) as pessimistic, but also worth the read. (More focused on U.S.)
Note that even the pessimistic view seems to acknowledge that at least in broad outlines what the Obama Administration is trying to do is more or less the right thing to do. Obviously, they think that the starkness of our situation hasn't really sunk in yet, but personally I have more confidence in the people on Obama's team, and the president himself, to recognize reality and do what needs to be done than I ever had under any of the last four previous administrations, at least.
This may seem wildly tangential, but what went through my mind when reading the Seeking Alpha piece was how analogous this global economic crisis is to the likely coming global climate crisis and the planetary energy economy. Effects cascade, and multiply, in a feedback spiral. The credit collapse was a tipping point, comparable to the looming loss of Arctic sea ice, which panicked climate scientists now fear could happen as soon as 2015-2020. When (OK, if) that happens, the almost immediate consequences will be extremely unpleasant. Severe disruption of the entire northern hemisphere climate, as the Arctic Ocean goes from 90% reflective shield to 90% absorber of the Sun's heat energy. (One likely consequence: the release of a trillion tonnes of methane from Arctic permafrost. Methane is 20x as efficient as a greenhouse gas as CO2, and, what's more, when it does degrade, it degrades into: CO2 [‼] (and water)).
The consensus today is that we need to avoid a global temperature rise of anything over 2ºC over 1990 levels, at almost any cost. This scenario could mean a rise of well over that, and in less than fifteen years. Pray that doesn't happen. Energy may seem a minor problem when we're figthing wars over the drastically reduced food and water supplies, then just plain insufficient to feed a population of 6+ billion.
We are definitely living in the Chinese Curse of interesting times.
H/T SGH (1) and RHB (2).
29 January 2009
Rove is a devious, deceitful, and immoral person, who is likely facing prosecution for his conduct in the Siegelman case. He is virtually singlehandedly resonsible for the most shameless politicization of the former administration's executive functions imaginable. How he has the sheer gall to advise the Obama administration on any subject whatsoever is just beyond amazing.
I get that there's a need to set a high bar to avoid the tendency to criminalize politics, and to set the stage for recrimination and counter-recrimination each time power shifts peacefully in the playing out of the democratic process under the Constitution. But the conduct of some members of the just-exited administration, thought by many to be the very worst example in our nation's history, goes beyond the pale: some people belong in jail. And Karl Rove is one of them.
From blurb for part II:
Global warming is moving much more quickly than scientists thought it would. Even if the biggest current and prospective emitters - the United States, China and India - were to slam on the brakes today, the earth would continue to heat up for decades. At best, we may be able to slow things down and deal with the consequences, without social and political breakdown. Gwynne Dyer examines several radical short- and medium-term measures now being considered—all of them controversial.
I will post more on this subject later.
The Times has a story in tomorrow's paper gaming out where the administration seems to be going on a comprehensive bank rescue plan. The gist seems to be that we're heading toward some version of the 'bad bank' plan; but they're moving cautiously so as to avoid the ridiculousness of the Paulson days, coming up with a new plan every week or so.
The message they're clearly sending is: we're not going to 'nationalize' the banks.
What I wonder, though, is whether or not we're running into a semantic dead end that is obscuring some more pertinent questions.
The core problem is that many, perhaps most of our major financial institutions are insolvent. They have more liabilities than assets. A functioning financial system requires solvent banks. And only the government has the resources to manage the massive recapitalization to get the key institutions back on their feet. At that level of generality, the issue assumes a degree of clarity.
All the different fix permutations are just different ways of accounting for the transfer of cash. You can take the banks over and assume their debts. Or just give them tons of money to make them whole. Or you can buy their bad investments at the price the banks wish they were worth and thus get the banks out of under the consequences of the financial collapse they helped create.
It's not clear to me why the dollar amounts spent would really be different in the various permutations. It's all a question of who owns what when it's all said and done and who runs the institutions. According to a brief aside in yesterday's article in the Post, both Geithner and Summers are against having the government run the banks for a transitional period and against wiping out the shareholders of the banks that are in fact insolvent.
What that sounds like is that we'll nationalize most of the banks because we have no choice. But we'll allow the current management to run the nationalized banks and the current shareholders to own the nationalized banks.
What am I missing?
What I'm hoping Josh is missing is that Pres. Obama has promised the American people that we won't incur huge debt (let's face it, the government is insolvent too, so that's what we're talking about, public debt), and not get anything in return for it. So, in effect, we will nationalize the banks, mostly wiping out the shareholders, because the government will end up with equity. But the mistake that's apparently going to be made is that the management that created this mess will be kept in place. I think the condition for rescue should be, out with top management, and in with bank examiner-appointed new management. But I'm reasonably sure that isn't going to happen.
28 January 2009
Look, folks. Jonathan Turley is absolutely right. Former President Bush and Former V.P. Cheney both acknowledged that they explicitly authorized, among other things, waterboarding. Holder has stated waterboarding is torture. This is undeniably the only possible interpretation of international law to which the U.S. is signatory. Therefore, Cheney and Bush themselves, by their own admissions, are war criminals, because authorizing torture is a war crime. (So, too, no doubt, are quite a few others in the former administration). Authorizing or conducting torture is also a felony under U.S. statutes, according to Prof. Turley.
This isn't subtle. There's just no way around it. Prosecutions are necessary and should be seen as inevitable, although I don't imagine they will be the highest priority of the new administration. But, ultimately, ignoring major violations of law makes a mockery of the concept that our government adheres to the rule of law.
UPDATE: (29·1) Later reports clarify that Holder, through aides, denies he gave Bond any such assurances. Which I don't doubt; Bond is a prevaricator, like most politicians.
2 Quips from his current article in HuffPo:
As long as we continue to allow our economy to remain shackled to the OPEC rollercoaster of rising and falling oil prices, our jobs and our way of life will remain at risk.
We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change.
27 January 2009
26 January 2009
He replied that sure enough, he disagreed with virtually all of it:
i typically cringe when some believe that somehow public policy is the solution to our ills...obviously, most of the time it's the cause. we have plenty of laws against crime, yet crime is a part of our society and more laws create more criminals (bad analogy i know)
for the past several months i have been watching c-span during the day while i am trading. listening to our elected officials, one can only come away believing that they are total ignorant of the fundamentals that govern our economic system. while listening to them "question" Geithner it became quite clear to me that NONE of these people have a clue about the complexities of modern economics. they spent most of the time during the hearing making speeches, prepared by their staffs for the benefit of prime time newsbytes, and had absolutely nothing relevant to ask or say. you could see it in Geithner's face as he prepared to "answer" their questions. and these are the people that we expect to be able to understand the policy implications of their "solutions"? how would you ever believe that, as a group, they are SMART ENOUGH to propose or analyze the effects of the economic legislation before them.
the problems we are facing now have simple solutions. sure, we need to modify existing regulations BUT WE DO NOT NEED AN
OVERHAUL at this point in time.
i could go on.
To which I replied:
... just because elected officials are clueless about how financial systems work (which they certainly are, no argument there), doesn't mean we don't need to overhaul those systems. That's a logical disconnect. I look at it from the point of view that Adam Smith used as a subtitle: A Moral Philosophy.
18th Century moral philosophy was primitive in some of the same ways that 18th century understanding of the evolution and physiochemical principles of life was primitive. A moral philosophy informed by modern history compels the view that a proper role of government is very much to ensure that economic activity is regulated toward the common good, with checks and balances to allow reasonable freedom of (and reward for) enterprise, while ensuring production is favored over speculation, and promoting fairness in taxation, some degree of coherence and social benefit in development, and minimization of impact on the environment, together with a social contract to ensure that everyone in society is afforded an opportunity to achieve a reasonable share in the fruits of production and receives basic services like medical care and protection from extreme poverty. We already have all these things, with cracks, lacunae, and failings, but they are disjointed, weak and ineffective. Major reforms are needed to make them work much better.
I gather you think that amounts to socialism, which we're now virtually conditioned to condemn as wrongheaded per se. To an extent, of course, you're right: some of the principles of 19th century socialists like William Morris [...] are indeed still alive and well in progressive thought. I don't believe in unregulated laissez-faire, and never have, but what's at stake here isn't socialism, but rather a mixed system that recognizes that free enterprise, while indispensable, cannot be the sole engine of control and direction of economic activity if we are to have the kind of society we want.
My main point is that there is and always has been an undercurrent, or better, countercurrent, of thought, which has it that economic policy must be part of the social contract. Whether you agree with this thinking or not, it is just possible with as many people pissed off and disillusioned by what's happened in the last year, the time may be ripe for some relatively fundamental changes in public policy. Those who basically agree with Ronald Reagan's "government off our backs" thinking have had their day, and the majority public impression right now is that that political philosophy failed, and it's time to try something different. Since I never agreed with that thinking in the first place, of course I'm glad to see this potential develop.
The reason I say "may" not "is likely to be" is that I do agree with you that the caliber of most (fortunately, not quite all) of the (especially congressional) elected officials in Washington is pretty dreadful, and expecting these people to do anything that makes any sense is probably futile.
Sorry, but cringe away. Because the only hope for a just and equitable society is major public policy change. If justice and equity are not your goals, OK: they should be; that's what's meant by moral philosophy; but that's your right. For myself, I am totally on board with these purposes and that simple premise.
Turning to another incoherent and fatuous right-winger, I rarely comment on Rush Limbaugh, because he is so ridiculous that it's not worth the breath. But his raving that he wants President Obama to fail, criticized even by the likes of Bill Bennett, is so out and out evil that somebody in La-la Conservative Land needs to point out that by their own lights, this kind of comment is downright unpatriotic. It amounts to wishing our country ill. We have a First Amendment: such comments are legal, but that doesn't mean they aren't despicable.
I would love to see a groundswell of protest, demanding that this guy be fired.
1. January 20: The Next American System
2. January 21: An Economic Bill of Rights for Americans
3. January 22: No More Wars of Choice
20 January 2009
Pete Seeger included the rarely heard verses:
In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office, I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there askin'
Is this land made for you and me?
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
A sign was painted, it said 'private property;'
But on the back side it didn't say nothin';
That side was made for you and me.
Nobody livin' can ever stop me,
As I go walkin' that freedom highway;
Nobody livin' can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
19 January 2009
15 January 2009
I can tell you what the policy was; I can tell you that we had all the legal authorization to do it, including the sign-off of the Justice Department. I can tell you it produced phenomenal results for us, and that a great many Americans are alive today because we did all that. And I think those are the important considerations.
This is total crap, as anyone knows who's read anything about what the interrogators themselves (such as Matthew Alexander [pseud.]), or reliable investigative journalists such as Jane Mayer (The Dark Side), have said and shown. For example, it is now established beyond any reasonable dispute that virtually everything obtained from torturing the infamous Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was totally useless and false. (That's what you always get from torture, as any reasonable human being with a smattering of historical education knows). And just this week we learn that many if not almost all of the trials of actual terrorists held at Guantanamo are so compromised that convictions will likely be impossible; these people will have to be released eventually. And why? Because the Bush administration fucked it up so badly. That's why. There's no other reason.
The self-justification of these incompetent fools is literally sickening.
14 January 2009
13 January 2009
For too much of the world at large the names of the dead and wounded in Gaza might as well be John Doe too. They are the casualties and victims of Israel's decision to silence the rockets from Hamas terrorists by waging war on an entire population. Yes, every nation has the right to defend its people. Israel is no exception, all the more so because Hamas would like to see every Jew in Israel dead.
But brute force can turn self-defense into state terrorism. It's what the U.S. did in Vietnam, with B-52s and napalm, and again in Iraq, with shock and awe. By killing indiscriminately - the elderly, kids, entire families by destroying schools and hospitals -- Israel did exactly what terrorists do and exactly what Hamas wanted. It spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution.
Hardly had Israeli tank fire killed and injured scores at a UN school in Gaza than a senior Hamas leader went on television to announce, "The Zionists have legitimized the killing of their children by killing our children." Already attacks on Jews in Europe are escalating -- a burning car crashes into a synagogue in Southern France, a fiery object is hurled through a window in Sweden, venomous anti-Semitic graffiti appears across the continent, and arsonists strike in London.
What we are seeing in Gaza is the latest battle in the oldest family quarrel on record. Open your Bible: the sons of the patriarch Abraham become Arab and Jew. Go to the Book of Deuteronomy. When the ancient Israelites entered Canaan their leaders urged violence against its inhabitants. The very Moses who had brought down the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" now proclaimed, "You must destroy completely all the places where the nations have served their gods. You must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, cut down their sacred poles, set fire to the carved images of their gods, and wipe out their name from that place."
So God-soaked violence became genetically coded. A radical stream of Islam now seeks to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. Israel misses no opportunity to humiliate the Palestinians with checkpoints, concrete walls, routine insults, and the onslaught in Gaza. As if boasting of their might, Israel defense forces even put up video of the explosions on YouTube for all the world to see. A Norwegian doctor there tells CBS, "It's like Dante's Inferno. They are bombing one and a half million people in a cage."
America has officially chosen sides. We supply Israel with money, F-16s, winks and tacit signals. Our Christian right links arms with the religious extremists there who claim divine sanctions for Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Our political elites show neither independence nor courage by challenging the consensus that Israel can do no wrong. Although one recent poll found Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive by a 24-point margin, Democratic Party leaders in Congress nonetheless march in lockstep to the hardliners in Israel and the White House. Rarely does our mainstream media depart from the monotonous monologue of the party line. Many American Jews know, as Aaron David Miller writes in the current "Newsweek", that the destruction in Gaza won't do much to address Israel's longer-term needs.
But those who raise questions are accused by a prominent reform rabbi of being "morally deficient." One Jewish American activist told me this week that never in 30 years has he seen such blind and binding conformity in his community. "You'd never know," he said, "that it is the Gazans who are doing most of the suffering."
We are in a terrible bind -- Israel, the Palestinians, the United States. Each greases the cycle of violence, as one man's terrorism becomes another's resistance to oppression. Is it possible to turn this mindless tragedy toward peace? For starters, read Aaron David Miller's article in the current "Newsweek". Get his book, "The Much Too Promised Land". And pay no attention to those Washington pundits cheering the fighting in Gaza as they did the bloodletting in Iraq. Killing is cheap and war is a sport in a city where life and death become abstractions of policy. Here are the people who pay the price.
12 January 2009
However, since the universe (as opposed to the observable universe) is, while not infinite, very very large, it stands to reason that there are many, many worlds, some perhaps a lot like Earth, all over the place, that are outside the time horizon of our current location in space and time. In other words, they are not and can never be causally connected to anything happening here.
If this isn't clear, think about this. The universe is no more than 13-14 billion years old, but there are regions of space much further than 13 billion light years distant, due to the expansion of space. A star in such regions isn't even theoretically visible from here, and it never will be. In fact, no form of communication whatsoever with such regions, which are by far most of the universe, will ever be possible. Unless...
If space is, as some believe, all twisted and interconnected with trapdoors and wormholes, maybe there are ways to connect more or less instantly, say across some kind of 'gateway', with places (timespace locations) which are vastly far away from here; so vastly that they cannot see us and we cannot see them, effectively, ever, in normal space and time.
Might it be at least conceivable that there could be a permanent or at least stable connection between two locales, vastly separated in normal spacetime but immediately proximate in twisty spacetime, so that you could routinely travel between them with no concern for violating either the energy considerations of FTL travel or the problems of timetravel paradoxes which normally arise when FTL is being considered? Travel of signals between such places in normal spacetime is impossible, so there's no way either could causally effect the other in normal spacetime. So the issue of timetravel paradoxes which would otherwise arise from any travel from one such location to another will never arise.
Anyway, an odd consequence of this is that it might be possible to immediately, or at least relatively quickly, travel to extremely remote locations in the universe, while it remains effectively impossible to travel quickly to even the very nearest stars, or anywhere in our own Galaxy, for example.
UPDATE (Nov. 2011):
Here is a more recent exposition of this same speculation. One problem that came to my attention after this, is created by relativity, whereby simultaneity is effectively nonexistent. The spacetime angle created by even small relative motion between very widely separated points in "normal space" might make synchonous travel through such points of contact effectively impossible even if they did exist. But it remains an intriguing idea, at least to me:
This is my idea, and it's how I think it's just possible that the universe actually is.
Accept, if you will, the following premise (I can explain why this is almost certainly so, if you like, but for now please just take it as a premise):
Faster than light travel by massive particles (and anything made out of them, including us and our spaceships, now and in the future, as well as those of any other creatures and their spaceships, now, and in the past and the future)....is impossible. For reasons of General Relativity, and because FTL is actually the mathematical equivalent of backwards time travel, which creates the possibility of violation of causality. For FTL to be possible, the many-worlds hypothesis of Quantum reality is necessarily true, and branching would have to occur both forwards and backwards; once you travel faster than light, you effectively break the connection with the universe you came from and you can never get back to it, although you could seemingly return to a world that resembled the one you left. Anyway, for purposes of my idea, please assume that this is not the case, that FTL is not now and never will be possible.
Now, accept, if you will, just as a thought experiment, the following:
The universe is so structured that places that are too far apart to be causally connected to each other (because light could never reach from one point to the other in the entire history since the Big Bang; rest assured that most locales in the universe are separated from almost all other locales in the universe in just this way)... nevertheless can be immediately adjacent to each other in the additional dimensions through which the normal space we live in is curved and re-curved. Picture three dimensional space projected like a map onto twisted spaghetti: locations distant along the threads might touch each other from one thread to another, or even one thread to another part of the same thread.
Then accept the following additional thought experiments:
There are points of contact, where it is possible to cross over from one part of space to another. The distance from A to B through this transit contact point is negligible, even though the distance between the same two points in normal space would typically be tens of billions of light years.
Such points of contact are relatively common (say, several, but not a huge number, accessible from any given place), and are possible, albeit technologically difficult, to detect.
Such points of contact are gravitationally associated with largish masses, like stars, but are typically found well outside the main mass of star systems, where planets and such are found, so that travel to them from such planetary systems is feasible, but not trivially easy. This makes them stable over time, and associated for long periods of time with particular stars and their planets.
A technological civilization arising anywhere in the universe could use these points of trans-spatial contact to create a whole network of accessible worlds, which were located some few tens to hundreds of billions of kilometers through normal space and a limited number of "link jumps" through the extra dimensions, without ever traveling faster than light and without violating causality. None of these linked worlds would be even theoretically visible from any of the others, and would be located literally all over the universe in "real space." (Yes, incidentally, the universe really is plenty large enough for this to be actually possible). Thus, a Trans-Galactic "Empire," even while travel to even the nearest stars remains effectively impracticable.
James Fallows, quoted by David Kurtz in TPM, wrote of it:
I think even people who oppose the Bush Administration's policies would find it somewhat harder to dislike him viscerally after this performance -- rather than getting angrier the more they see him, as with most of his appearances over these last eight years.
Kurtz said he didn't agree with this, and I don't entirely either, but there was something valedictory, or perhaps better to say elegiac, in Bush's last gasp. Like Cheney, he was more clueless and incapable of comprehension of the whole picture than truly malicious, perhaps. And, as Fallows said just before this concluding remark, he does seem to grasp on some level that he has been a failure. (Not that he says so in so many words, but there are signs). Hatred towards Bush has always been just wasted energy, but now even righteous anger seems spent: it's more a sense of very deep disappointment and resignation at the damage he's done.
And with the news that the Bush administration last year did deflect an Israeli request for refueling planes and bunker buster bombs so they could launch an attack on Iran, we can breathe a small sigh of relief, and give some slight credit, that it could indeed have been worse.
Of course, all this is also colored by the hope for, and sense that we simply must give the benefit of all doubt to, the incoming administration. Our country's problems, internal and external, are so serious that any feeling of anger towards Bush seems irrelevant and inappropriate. Personally, I wish him well in retirement. I don't really care if in reflection he comes to see his role in history differently; it's unlikely he will. I am very, very glad to see him go, but I also take him at his word that he wishes Obama well, because we do need to pull together as a nation and try our very hardest to deal positively with the challenges that face us. It appears to me that even George Bush appreciates this.
Update: Both Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow had very much more negative takes on Bush's presser than I did. I think this may be because I was listening to, not watching, most of it. When I saw all those smirks and moues in the clips, it was pretty annoying.
09 January 2009
From AP News (Deb Reichmann) [via TPM Media]:
Vice President Dick Cheney says he sees no reason for President George W. Bush to pre-emptively pardon anyone who authorized or was involved in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists.
Cheney also said during an interview Thursday with The Associated Press that he has no qualms about the reliability of intelligence obtained from terrorism suspects through waterboarding, a technique simulating drowning. The vice president said waterboarding has been used with "great discrimination by people who know what they're doing" and produced much valuable information.
He also said he doesn't think anyone at the CIA did anything illegal during interrogations. He says they followed the administration's legal opinions.
I'm sure I got it because I contributed more than some minimum amount to the campaign.
08 January 2009
I've not been a fan of Pelosi, for a variety of reasons, but in this she's clearly right.
07 January 2009
06 January 2009
«Feinstein seemed to acknowledge the Obama team's desire to find a CIA director who would signal an end to the abusive interrogation tactics of the Bush years. "We all want a break with the past," she told the reporters milling around her in the Senate. "I was the one who went into the conference committee" ...between the House and the Senate last year... "with an amendment that would use the Army Field Manual as the universal standard for detainee interrogations," she added.
«"I understand the administration's desire to cut clean and open a new chapter and I support that. Whether those changes can be made" with Panetta at the helm, she added, "remains to be seen.»
I loved one of the commenters' remark:
«No, it remains to be seen whether those changes can be made with the likes of YOU as Intelligence chair, Senator.
«God, that woman makes me want to hurl.»
Me, too, although I might have put it a bit more delicately.
Or, another commenter:
«Yeah, we are all so impressed that you dug up a copy of the Army Field Manual and did some grandstanding with it....how'd that stunt end up? Oh yeah, it changed NOTHING.»Frankly, if the Obama team really did snub Dianne Feinstein, I say, good. She very, very richly deserves it and needs to find out that things have changed in Washington.
Links: alternet ; maxblumenthal.com
Max also talked with Ian Masters on Live from the Left Coast [kpfk.org, (audio archives)--scroll down and download Background Briefing for Sunday, 4 January, mp3 format]. He mentioned that Warren supports the most hideous policies in places like Uganda and Rwanda, such as prison sentences for homosexuality, repression of condom and birth control programs which have resulted in increased AIDs incidence, etc.
Earth to President-elect Obama: this guy's bad news and you're betraying your base, that worked their butts off for you, letting him crash your party. (Especially after he set you up, lied to you about the infamous "coin toss" and "cone of silence", and handed John McCain an early propaganda victory last Summer in the so-called debate at his megachurch--didn't that piss you off just a bit?) Anyway, maybe you should've looked a little closer at just what purpose he's driving his life towards.
05 January 2009
"Few things could reflect better on Panetta's selection than the fact that [Dianne] Feinstein [D-CA] and [Jay] Rockefeller [D-WV] -- two of the most Bush-enabling Senators -- are unhappy with it."
It was from OLC that the outrageous perversion of law to justify torture and illegal wiretapping emerged in the Bush years. Johnsen makes clear that she clearly understands that it is OLC's job to avoid secret law, to tell the president no when his chosen policies are illegal, and to preserve and protect the constitution, not the president's agenda. How incredibly refreshing.
02 January 2009
Worth taking a look at Better Place, which he mentions. Their idea of a swappable battery solves the range problem of electric vehicles quite neatly, it would seem.