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Wedding Passages for Chelsea and Marc

Today, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky are celebrating their wedding in Rhinebeck, NY, just up the road apiece from where my eldest daughter got her culinary arts degree from the CIA.  Anyone who has ever visited the Hudson Valley can attest to its natural beauty and wonderful cuisine.

Anyway, I’d like to wish Chelsea and Marc good wishes, and anyone else who is getting married on this absolutely beautiful day in the Northeast.  Chelsea and Marc have been childhood friends and both have survived a sort of trial by fire.  We’ve all heard the familiar passages read at wedding.  First Corinthians 13 and all that.  But I’d like to invite Conflucians to find other inspiring passages for weddings.  I’ll start.

Here is my selection from Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.  Many of Hardy’s marriages were complicated, to say the least.  But the one between Gabriel Oak and Bathsheeba Everdeen stands out for me because it is based on friendship and respect even though both partners have shortcomings.  Here is my passage:

He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her the details of his forthcoming tenure of the other farm. They spoke very little of their mutual feeling; pretty phrases and warm expressions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends. Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality. This good-fellowship — camaraderie — usually occurring through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in their labours, but in their pleasures merely. Where, however, happy circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love which is strong as death — that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.

May Chelsea be as fortunate as her parents to find such camaraderie.  Congratulations and Mazel Tov to Chelsea and Marc.

If Barack Obama was in charge things would be different.


The Medium Lobster sums it up:

We know that Barack Obama, in his heart of hearts, truly wants Real Change. We can tell this by examining the furrows of his brow as he squints meaningfully into the middle distance, by carefully measuring the sincerity-per-pixel count of his campaign posters, by reflecting on the inspirational Martin Luther King quotes he delicately intones before carpet-bombing an Afghan village. But we also know that despite his best efforts, Barack Obama can’t achieve Real Change, confounded as he is by such institutional barriers as Congress and the Pentagon and Barack Obama. We know, for example, that Barack Obama wants nothing less than a sweeping overhaul of America’s health care system, but has been hopelessly blocked at every turn by conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman and Barack Obama. And we know that Barack Obama did everything he could to oppose a trillion-dollar no-strings-attached bailout of a corrupt finance industry, but was helpless to stop it, boosted as it was by notorious corporate whore Barack Obama. And we know that Nobel Laureate Barack Obama is a devout lover of peace, but has been powerless to prevent the American military’s rampant bloodletting throughout the Muslim world, as the nation’s armed forces remain in the hands of that bloodthirsty warmonger Barack Obama.

And we know that although Barack Obama is an idealist, representing the very best and brightest of American Liberalism, he’s also a hard-nosed pragmatist, willing to compromise between extremes of Left and Right, between black and white, between war and more war. That’s why when the Left wanted to close Guantanamo and the Right wanted to double Guantanamo, Obama doubled Bagram instead. That’s why when the Left wanted to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 350 parts per million and the Right claimed global warming was an international Masonic conspiracy, Obama bombed a village in Pakistan. And that’s why when the Left wanted universal health care and the Right wanted hundreds of billions of dollars for Wall Street, a capital gains tax cut and a domestic spending freeze, Obama gave them hundreds of billions of dollars for Wall Street, a capital gains tax cut and a domestic spending freeze.

There’s more, but I didn’t want to steal the whole thing so go to Fafblog and read the rest.

BTW – You know Simon Barsinister has to be a Republican, right? But don’t worry, Sweet Polly Purebread was not a member of Journolist.

(h/t Lambert)

The Nutroots Are Nuts


Ian Welsh violates the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” rule with an eyewitness report from Netroots Nation:

I had a good time in Vegas, so I didn’t spend a huge amount of time at NN, but I did spend enough time to take in the mood, and it was schizophrenic. About half the people there are some combination of angry, disappointed and bitter with Democrats in general and Obama in particular. This group sees him as not a heck of a lot better than George Bush, and in fact the Democrat who extended some of Bush’s worst policies, especially in civil liberties. This includes a lot of feminists (angry at what they see as betrayals on abortion), many Hispanics angry at the continued harsh enforcement of immigration laws, gays who feel Obama has betrayed clear promises on gay rights, anti-war activists saddened by escalation in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and a mishmash of folks who think health care reform was a dog’s breakfast and that the general way the economy and financial reform has been handled is a disgrace.

Then there are the folks who would characterize themselves, in general, as hard nosed pragmatists and “realists”. These range from the “Obama is the greatest liberal president since FDR” types, who think that the Obama is just wonderful and those progressives and liberals who don’t agree are simply delusional to those who feel that a lot of what he’s done has been watered down pap in general but that it’s certainly better than nothing and that those who are disappointed are unrealistic idealists who simply don’t understand the constraints Obama and Congressional Democrats are working under.

Apparently those of us in the “we told you so” contingent didn’t receive our invitations. Or maybe we threw them out with the spam we still get from the DNC, MoveOn and all the other crooks and sell-outs.

There’s a lot more at Ian’s blog, and don’t skip the comment thread. (Obama’s Troll Army has been recalled to duty)

Story of the Week: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Releases Afghanistan War Logs

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

The biggest story in the news today is the massive leak of government documents to three major newspapers: The UK Guardian, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel in Germany by Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

He has been called “The Robin Hood of Hacking.” As the founder and public face of WikiLeaks, which posts secretive documents and information in the public domain, Julian Assange believes total transparency is in the good of the people. But Assange — who reportedly lives an itinerant existence, traveling the world with a back-pack and a computer — is himself a shadowy figure. Little is known about his life: he has refused to confirm his age in interviews or give a fixed address. But on July 26, mathematically-trained Australian changed the media landscape — and possibly the course of history — by releasing around 90,000 classified U.S. military records from the war in Afghanistan.

In 2006, Assange decided to found WikiLeaks in the belief that the free exchange of information would put an end to illegitimate governance. The website publishes material from sources, and houses its main server in Sweden, which has strong laws protecting whistleblowers. Assange and others at WikiLeaks also occasionally hack into secure systems to find documents to expose. In December, the website published its first document — a decision by the Somali Islamic Courts Union that called for the execution of government officials. WikiLeaks published a disclaimer that the document may not be authentic and “may be a clever smear by U.S. intelligence.”

The website went on to get several prominent scoops, including the release in April of a secret video taken in 2007 of a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a dozen civilians, including two unarmed Reuters journalists. Assange helped post the video from a safe-house in Iceland that he and the other WikiLeaks administrators called “the bunker.”

From The NYT yesterday: View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan

The secret documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, are a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year….

The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001.

As the new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, tries to reverse the lagging war effort, the documents sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.

Here is the NYT “War Logs” page that collects the related stories.

From today’s Der Spiegel article: The Afghanistan Protocol: Explosive Leaks Provide Image of War from Those Fighting It

The documents’ release comes at a time when calls for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan are growing — even in America. Last week, representatives from more than 70 nations and organizations met in Kabul for the Afghanistan conference. They assured President Hamid Karzai that his country would be in a position by 2014 to guarantee security using its own soldiers and police.

But such shows of optimism seem cynical in light of the descriptions of the situation in Afghanistan provided in the classified documents. Nearly nine years after the start of the war, they paint a gloomy picture. They portray Afghan security forces as the hapless victims of Taliban attacks. They also offer a conflicting impression of the deployment of drones, noting that America’s miracle weapons are also entirely vulnerable.

And they show that the war in northern Afghanistan, where German troops are stationed, is becoming increasingly perilous. The number of warnings about possible Taliban attacks in the region — fuelled [sic] by support from Pakistan — has increased dramatically in the past year.

The documents offer a window into the war in the Hindu Kush — one which promises to change the way we think about the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. They will also be indispensible for anyone seeking to inform themselves about the war in the future.

Here is the UK Guardian page on the war logs with many stories based on the leaked information.

The Guardian has a video of Julian Assange: Julian Assange on the Afghanistan war logs: ‘They show the true nature of this war’

The Guardian has also prepared an interactive map with their selections of the most significant incidents covered in the war logs.

A good summary of the information in the logs at the Wired blog, Threat Level The story quotes the official Obama administration response to the leaks from the NYT:

“The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security,” said White House national security advisory General James Jones, in a statement Sunday. “Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents — the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted.”

At the New Yorker, Amy Davidson highlights one shocking incident:

…an incident report dated November 22, 2009, submitted by a unit called Task Force Pegasus. It describes how a convoy was stopped on a road in southern Afghanistan at an illegal checkpoint manned by what appeared to be a hundred insurgents, “middle-age males with approx 75 x AK-47’s and 15 x PKM’s.” What could be scarier than that?

Maybe what the soldiers found out next: these weren’t “insurgents” at all, at least not in the die-hard jihadi sense that the American public might understand the term. The gunmen were quite willing to let the convoy through, if the soldiers just forked over a two- or three-thousand-dollar bribe; and they were in the pay of a local warlord, Matiullah Khan, who was himself in the pay, ultimately, of the American public. According to a Times report this June (six months after the incident with Task Force Pegasus), Matiullah earns millions of dollars from NATO, supposedly to keep that road clear for convoys and help with American special-forces missions. Matiullah is also suspected of (and has denied) earning money “facilitating the movement of drugs along the highway.”

…..The Obama Administration has already expressed dismay that WikiLeaks publicized the documents, but a leak informing us that our tax dollars may be being used as seed money for a protection racket associated with a narcotics-trafficking enterprise is a good leak to have. And the checkpoint incident is, again, only one report, from one day.

Glenn Greenwald also has a post on the leaks.

Greenwald tweeted a little while ago that if Julian Assange got the Nobel Peace Prize he would be much more deserving than the last guy who won it.

This story is huge! This is the modern-day “Pentagon papers” that could bring down the wars pushed by Obama’s “best and brightest.” It’s terrific that the story came out on a Sunday; this should be fodder for cable news all week. Let’s hope they have the guts to cover it.

Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who released the original Pentagon papers and was targeted by a “White House hit squad” in 1972, fears for the life of Julian Assange. He told The Daily Beast last month

Do you think Assange is in danger?

I happen to have been the target of a White House hit squad myself. On May 3, 1972, a dozen CIA assets from the Bay of Pigs, Cuban émigrés were brought up from Miami with orders to “incapacitate me totally.” I said to the prosecutor, “What does that mean? Kill me.” He said, “It means to incapacitate you totally. But you have to understand these guys never use the word ‘kill.’”

Is the Obama White House anymore enlightened than Nixon’s?

We’ve now been told by Dennis Blair, the late head of intelligence here, that President Obama has authorized the killing of American citizens overseas, who are suspected of involvement in terrorism. Assange is not American, so he doesn’t even have that constraint. I would think that he is in some danger. Granted, I would think that his notoriety now would provide him some degree of protection. You would think that would protect him, but you could have said the same thing about me. I was the number one defendant. I was on trail but they brought up people to beat me up.

You believe he is in danger of bodily harm, then?

Absolutely. On the same basis, I was….Obama is now proclaiming rights of life and death, being judge, jury, and executioner of Americans without due process. No president has ever claimed that and possibly no one since John the First.

What advice would you give Assange?

Stay out of the U.S. Otherwise, keep doing what he is doing. It’s pretty valuable…He is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country.

Thank you Julian Assange! And thank you to Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is the probable source for the leaks to Assange and is now under arrest. Free Bradley Manning!!

Conflucians, as you work your way through this material, please post anything you think is important for us to know. This story must be pushed hard!

UPDATE: Here is the data that is posted at the WikiLeaks site. Each of the newspapers made their own choices about what information to reveal and what to hold back. The NYT negotiated with the WH in making their decisions. It will be interesting to see if they left out some material that the foreign papers include. The also claim they asked Assange not to post material that would be harmful to troops in the field, although that probably wasn’t necessary.

The “creative class” – today’s “best and brightest”

You're not worthy


(RalphB found this little gem and I decided to frontpage it)


From Neal Gabler at The Boston Globe:

WHEN AUTHOR David Halberstam wrote his account of what got this nation into Vietnam, he didn’t find that the architects of the war were obtuse or illogical or commie-obsessed or infatuated with American might. Instead, in Halberstam’s now iconic term that became the title of his best-selling book, they were “the best and the brightest’’ — a superior governing class that was the product of America’s best families, its most prestigious prep schools and universities, and most august law firms and investment banks. The irony is that these geniuses turned out to be so dangerously wrong that the very term “best and the brightest’’ became a sarcastic euphemism for a hubris that leads to disaster.

One might have thought, then, that the “best and the brightest’’ would have been eternally discredited like the war they promulgated. But Barack Obama has such a strange, almost reverential faith in the very sorts of folks Halberstam flayed that the president threatens to lead his administration and the country down the same hubristic path.

[…]

The difference between 1.0 and 2.0 is that 2.0 are not all Protestant, white males sprung full-blown from the Establishment as 1.0’s fathers and their fathers’ fathers were. Like Obama himself, they are by and large onetime middle-class overachievers who made their way into the Ivy League and then catapulted to the top levels of class and power by being . . . well, the best and the brightest. But in elitism as in religion, no one is more devout than a convert, and these people, again like Obama, all having been blessed by the Ivy League, also embrace Ivy League arrogance and condescension. On this, the Republican critics are right: The administration exudes a sense of superiority.

So what difference does it make if our policy-makers think they are above criticism? As Halberstam shows in “The Best and the Brightest,’’ people who are concerned not with the fundamental rightness of something but with its execution, because the rightness is assumed; people who see what they want to see rather than what is; people who see things in terms of preconceptions rather than of human conduct; people who are incapable of admitting error; people who lack skepticism and the capacity to grow beyond their certainties are the sorts of people who are likely to get us in trouble — whether it is an ever-lengthening war in Afghanistan or ever-deepening economic distress here at home. After all, we’ve been there once before.

Gabler is talking about Obama and the people working in his administration, but I think he has nailed the typical “creative class” Obama supporter that Poetry Major Chris Bowers talked so glowingly about over at BadPrognostication.com:

Cultural Shift: Out with Bubbas, up with Creatives: There should be a major cultural shift in the party, where the southern Dems and Liebercrat elite will be largely replaced by rising creative class types. Obama has all the markers of a creative class background, from his community organizing, to his Unitarianism, to being an academic, to living in Hyde Park to shopping at Whole Foods and drinking PBR. These will be the type of people running the Democratic Party now, and it will be a big cultural shift from the white working class focus of earlier decades. Given the demographics of the blogosphere, in all likelihood, this is a socioeconomic and cultural demographic into which you fit. Culturally, the Democratic Party will feel pretty normal to netroots types. It will consistently send out cultural signals designed to appeal primarily to the creative class instead of rich donors and the white working class.

Anyone who has ever argued with an Obot will recognize that part about arrogance, condescension and exuding a sense of superiority. They “know” they are right and you are wrong. They are very open about the fact that they are smarter, better informed and better looking than us and everyone else. Not only are we always wrong, but they are better people than us morally and spiritually.

Remember when Obama said this?:

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Do you remember the shock and dismay in the “progressive” blogosphere at those words? If you do you’re hallucinating, because the creative class reaction was “So what? It’s true.” Their main concern was that Obama got exposed by Mayhill Fowler for saying it.

According to the Obot creative class types, Hillary supporters are middle-age and older white women (the “dry p*ssy demographic”) who were not politically aware or active until one of their own ran for President. They also believe that in addition to being “low information” voters Hillary supporters were racists who didn’t want a black man to win.

It was obvious to them that Obama was the superior candidate and anyone who disagreed had to be:

a) stupid
b) racist
c) not a Democrat
d) all of the above

Who cares if the majority of the Democratic voters chose Hillary? They’re mostly working class (i.e. the lowest common denominator) and the creative class will replace them.

So what if the caucuses got gamed, the rules got manipulated and delegates got pressured? Obama got the nomination and that’s what really mattered. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Ironically the Obot creative class/best and brightest don’t have the courage of their convictions. They don’t try to sell their progressive ideology, they either try to trick or bully people into voting for it.

Obama’s 11th-dimensional chess thingie that the Obots jizz in their pants over? It’s just a fancy way of saying manipulation. But saying “Obama really excels at manipulating people” doesn’t sound as cool. Not to mention they might start to figure out who he really manipulated back in 2008.

“Barack Obama had a gift, and he knew it. He had a way of making very smart, very accomplished people feel virtuous just by wanting to help Barack Obama.”Newsweek

Over in Obotia there are two main schools of thought these days. One group thinks Obama is the most wonderful Democrat since uh, well . . . ever. The other, somewhat larger group is trying to figure out how to make help Obama become the progressive messiah they know he *really* wants to be.

That’s the funny thing about hubris – it almost never leads people to the right decisions and good outcomes. If President Obama was even 10% of the advertised product that was Candidate Obama we would be cheering not jeering. But he’s not.

The “historic candidate” is an epic failure. Once again the hubris of the “best and brightest” has led us to disaster.

Once again they are smugly confident it’s not their fault.


Mad Men Season 4 Starts Tonight: Another Ibsen Play?

So, I’ve waited since last November for Mad Men to start again.  Withdrawal symptoms have been severe.  I saved some old episodes on my DVR and watch them whenever there’s nothing good on.  And, let’s face it, compared to Mad Men, nothing on TV actually comes close.  You can watch a Mad Men scene a zillion times and never see it the same way twice.  They’re densely packed with deep, chewy introspective goodness and symbolism.  Tonight is the beginning of season four and I am in Harrisburg visiting my Mom.

“Oooo, mum, Mad Men starts tonight!”

“Oh, I don’t get AMC with my cable package.”

pause

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

I had the foresight to set my DVR at home but I may get the shakes before tomorrow.  Luckily, episodes will be available from iTunes.  Am I willing to spring a couple bucks to satisfy my fix?  You bethcha.

For those of you not hooked yet, Mad Men is the works of Henrik Ibsen set in the Manhattan advertisement business of the 60’s  and features significant angst in the suburban enclave of Ossining- er, or wherever Betty moved to.

The relationships to the Ibsen masterpieces are pretty clear.  Don Draper is a Peer Gynt who is trying to find himself.  Betty Draper is Nora Tesman of Doll’s House, a deeply unhappy child-woman who is trying to break free of cultural norms for her sex, and failing miserably.  She also shares the role of Hedda Gabler with Joan Harris, a smart, accomplished woman who married a surgeon she doesn’t love because she thought she was getting to be an old maid.  She doesn’t get the dream all the magazines promised her.  Joan is also the Christina to Roger Sterling’s Eylert Lovborg, a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, a talent for charming the clients and the inability to say no to any impulse.  Then there’s Peggy, Don’s gifted protege who breaks with convention and becomes a career woman.  Is she a female Peer Gynt?  One of Ibsen’s poorer and lonelier, working-girl heroines?  Or did Mad Men’s creator Matt Weiner throw in August Strindberg’s Miss Julie in reverse as the theme for Peggy and Pete’s bad romance?

Many of these stories hit a critical point in last season’s finale: Betty learned Don’s secret, his real identity, and left him for Henry Francis, a Republican political operative.  Joan Harris smacked her loser husband in the head with a vase, parked him in the military and went back to work.  Don, Roger, Pete, Peggy, Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper fired themselves from the old firm and started a new one from scratch in a hotel suite.  Don headed off to a new bachelor pad and freedom from Ice Princess Betty.

So, what happens next?   Will Betty leave her Doll’s House behind or has she traded one Barbie Dreamhouse for another?  Will Don find a new woman in green?  Will Roger and Joan be able to work together without combusting?  What about Peggy and Pete?  And how will the events of 1964 affect the characters?  Will Don’s morning cough develop into something more serious?  Anyone care to speculate?

Get your Mad on.

Sunday Bake Off

Good Day Conflucians!! In my corner of the Blue Ridge foothills we had a heat index of 105 yesterday, and we’re getting there today. There’s a heat index of 107 over in Richmond with heat related fires already happening. I’m starting to feel like the Salvador Dali’s Melting Clocks painting above. My weather radio just blasted out a heat advisory just before it melted. I’m thinking of trying the old egg on the sidewalk test. But first, let’s check some news.

The war in Afghanistan is expected to worsen:

More NATO troops will die in Afghanistan as violence mounts over the summer, but Washington’s goal of turning the tide against the insurgency by year’s end is within reach, the top U.S. military officer said on Sunday.

The remarks by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on a visit to the country, came as the Taliban said they were holding captive one of two U.S. servicemen who strayed into insurgent territory, and that the other had been killed.

It also comes less than a week since a major international conference in Kabul agreed that the Afghan government should aim to take responsibility for security in all parts of the country by 2014.

Mullen, who called the troops’ disappearance an “unusual circumstance”, said there would be more violent incidents to come, but the U.S. military was doing everything possible to find the missing men.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest of the 9-year war as thousands of extra U.S. troops, dispatched by President Barack Obama in December, step up their campaign to drive insurgents out of their traditional heartland in the south.

Last month was the deadliest for foreign troops since 2001, with more than 100 killed, and civilian deaths have also risen as ordinary Afghans are increasingly caught in the crossfire.

“As we continue our force levels and our operations over the summer … we will likely see further tough casualties and levels of violence,” Mullen told a news conference in Kabul.

We’ve heard rumors of this before, and the PR for it is obvious, so more news of BP’s CEO Tony Hayward stepping down comes as no surprise:

Tony Hayward’s departure from his job as BP’s chief executive will be at the center of the agenda when the company’s board of directors meets Monday night, according to a source close to the company.

The board is meeting in advance of Tuesday’s release of quarterly results, and the directors will weigh how best to confront or defuse criticism as the company unveils its best estimates of massive losses arising from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hayward, a geologist who has spent his entire career at BP, recognizes that he has become “a liability going forward” and is ready to step down, the source close to the company said. The source asked for anonymity because the company has not yet announced its intentions.

Your hippy dippy propaganda arm of the WH has an update on the gulf oil spill. Everything is grand of course, big concerts, all cleaned up, it’s all good. Here’s a bit I particularly liked:

As chief executive officer of America, Barack Obama has walked the factory floor when it comes to managing the federal response to the Gulf oil spill, going directly to front-line workers. He’s used wiles respected in the boardroom in wringing a $20 billion commitment from BP. But what was that talk about kicking butt? That’s so assembly line Ford Motor Co., circa 1930. And why on Earth did it take him so long to talk to BP’s chief? A real CEO would have had Tony Hayward on the phone in a New York minute. The president is not, of course, the head of a company. He’s accountable to the public in ways a chief executive is not to shareholders. Governance and politics differ from effective corporate management while sharing certain qualities.

The other, other most evil politician in the universe, Newt of course, will decide about running after the mid terms:

Republican former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that he will decide after November’s congressional elections whether to run for the White House in 2012.

Gingrich has openly explored entering the battle for the 2012 Republican nomination to challenge President Barack Obama, making recent visits to early battleground states Iowa and New Hampshire. Gingrich said he had been to 10 states in the last two weeks.

“I think that’s a decision we’ll make in February or March,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday” of a presidential run. “This is a very hard family decision because it’s such a deep commitment, and it is so absorbing.”

What a piece of work. OK, that’s being kind. I think the Republican machine has already decided on Romney like the Dem machine decided on Reagan Bush Obama. But then again perhaps it’s still early.

European Banks went through the old stress test:

More than 100 banks in the US have now collapsed so far this year after another seven were taken over by regulators late on Friday – the same day that seven European banks failed a financial health check.

With rising bad debts tied to commercial and residential mortgages, the number of US bank failures this year is expected to exceed last year’s figure of 140. The largest of the seven US banks just seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – which acts as a receiver and protects depositors – was Crescent Bank and Trust Company in Georgia, with more than $1bn in assets. In all, the seven failed banks had total assets of $2bn.

In Europe, investors will have a first real chance tomorrow to react to the results of banking stress tests designed to ease concerns about institutions’ financial strength and exposure to debt-laden countries such as Greece.

Regulators assessed how banks would stand up to a double dip recession and a sovereign debt crisis. But several analysts questioned whether the tests were tough enough, since, for example, banks were only required to simulate losses on sovereign debt held for trading purposes and not on bonds they might hold to maturity.

Five of the seven institutions that failed the tests were Spanish cajas, or regional savings banks, with Greece’s ATE and Germany’s Hypo Real Estate being the other two.

And of course in other good news, Iran is putting some threats out there because the EU gave them more sanctions:

Iran has told the EU it will “regret” imposing its toughest economic sanctions yet to force Tehran to halt uranium enrichment and return to negotiations about its nuclear programme.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, promised today that the Islamic republic would “respond strongly to any threat” hours before EU foreign ministers were to meet in Brussels to approve the sanctions. EU officials and independent analysts have described the sanctions as the “toughest ever” against any country, going beyond what was agreed by the UN security council last month.

The measure that will alarm Iran is the EU’s ban on new investment, technical assistance and technology transfers to its gas and oil industry, particularly for refining and liquefied natural gas. Iran is the world’s fourth largest producer of crude oil but imports 40% of its fuel because it lacks sufficient refining capacity.

“Anyone who adopts a measure against the Iranian nation … should know that Iran will react swiftly,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Press TV, Iran’s English-language TV channel. “Experience shows such a reaction by the Iranian nation will cause you to regret it.”

Thomas Friedman who I normally disagree with, has an interesting article on the Dems (and everyone’s) failure to pass some sort of cap and trade bill:

We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts. As the environmentalist Rob Watson likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000,” says Watson. Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we’re doing.

Since I don’t have anything else to say, I will just fill out this column with a few news stories and e-mails that came across my desk in the past few days:

Just as the U.S. Senate was abandoning plans for a U.S. cap-and-trade system, this article ran in The China Daily: “BEIJING — The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission … Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said.”

As we East Coasters know, it’s been extremely hot here this summer, with records broken. But, hey, you could be living in Russia, where ABC News recently reported that a “heat wave, which has lasted for weeks, has Russia suffering its worst drought in 130 years. In some parts of the country, temperatures have reached 105 degrees.” Moscow’s high the other day was 93 degrees. The average temperature in July for the city is 76 degrees. The BBC reported that to keep cool “at lakes and rivers around Moscow, groups of revelers can be seen knocking back vodka and then plunging into the water. The result is predictable — 233 people have drowned in the last week alone.”

A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the C.E.O. of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. “If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years,” said Hay. (Say goodbye to that.)

There’s a lot more there.

Crazy Dowd has the results of her latest drinking binge, that is just too good to pass up. She’s saying the Obama WH is too white:

The Obama White House is too white.

It has Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran.

But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand “the slave thing,” as a top black Democrat dryly puts it.

The first black president should expand beyond his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him — a long political tradition underscored by Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 when she complained about the “smart-ass white boys” from Walter Mondale’s campaign who tried to boss her around.

Otherwise, this administration will keep tripping over race rather than inspiring on race.

I’ll have what she’s drinking.

OK, there are a few items. I’d collect more but I’m starting to melt. Pile it on with what you’re finding along with your thoughts.

Revising History – Koolaid Edition


I got my BA in History. For a subject many consider boring (I don’t) it can get quite controversial when someone publishes material that casts new light on some of our old heroes. The story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is a good example.

But it’s one thing when new information expands what we know, it’s another when someone pushes propaganda in an attempt to change what we believe. A case in point is Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton is an imperfect human being. It is well established that he was unfaithful to Hillary on at least one occasion. He advocated some policies that were less than ideal. But when you look at his two terms in context and in whole, he did a damn good job.

Eight years of peace and prosperity. The largest peacetime economic expansion in our history, with the gap between rich and poor shrinking. Unlike those fiscal puritans Ronnie Raygun and the Bush twins, Clinton gave us surpluses instead of deficits.

Now it’s easy to understand why those on the right hate the Big Dawg. They despised him before he was even sworn in, and during his two terms as POTUS he battled them and won, over and over.

You would think that (especially considering who replaced him in the Oval Office) lefties would give at least a B+ to the only successful two-term Democrat since FDR. But no, instead many of them despise Bill Clinton for not being liberal enough. But in order to justify their hate they engage in some historical revisionism.

They blame him for the GOP taking control of Congress in 1994. But they ignore the conduct of the Congressional Democrats and the rise of movement conservatism. Those pesky voters had something to do with it too.

Our trade deficit with China has nothing to do with NAFTA, and the 1992-94 Democratically-controlled Congress rejected Hillarycare and refused to support allowing gays in the military. The Congressional Democrats avoided Clinton like the plague, so how can you blame him if he got reelected and they didn’t?

But even if the CDS lefties were 100% correct about Bill Clinton, all of this new liberal orthodoxy would make more sense if they weren’t supporting a conservative DINO who openly shows contempt for liberals and progressives.

Not only are we seeing statements like this one:

Some observers say no president and Congress have accomplished more since FDR.

but we’re starting to see Franklin Roosevelt recast as a (guess what) racist Republican! FDR is the closest thing we have to a saint in liberal ideology, and now the Kool-aid swilling Obots want to sully his name too.

Like Bill Clinton, we know why the right hates FDR, but to see alleged members of the political left excoriating him for being less than perfect makes no sense whatsoever. No, he didn’t single-handedly end Jim Crow segregation, but he did raise the standard of living for all Americans.

What makes even less sense is debating whether liberal economic policies (as exemplified by New Deal programs like Social Security) work or not. What’s next, revisiting the social and economic benefits of slavery?

While we were out chasing phantom racists…

Pic courtesy of The Daily Show

…like magpies drawn to some shiny object, the fabulous banker boyz were deep sixing Elizabeth Warren for head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

(One of our commenters said that ‘racism has been weaponized’. Pretty much.)

I’m not surprised that they hate Warren’s guts.  The consumer finance industry is juicy with rent type devices.  Here’s a good example:  I tried to convert some dollars into euros for my daughter’s upcoming trip to France.  Went to my bank to do the deal.  No can do.  I would have had to order the euros 3 days in advance.  They don’t keep euros laying around, you silly customer of 22 years.  I didn’t have time for that so the bank directed me to a money changer in the mall.  So, I went there and found that they weren’t offering the current exchange rate.  No, their exchange rate was much higher.  Fees, you say.  Nope, worse than that.  The cashier said that the currency operator negotiated its own exchange rate for euros and then charged a fee on top of it.  The fee was waived if you exchanged more than $500.  But even if I had it, who in their right  mind sends a teenager abroad with more than $500 in cash?

The final rate for the exchange on July 6, 2010 at the ubiquitous ripoff currency exchanger was going to be $151.00 for 100€.  Needless to say, I passed, bought her a Visa with some emergency money on it and put her on the plane with her US cash, instructing her to get her host family to make the conversion at the French end, which they did for the correct exchange rate.

But wait!  There’s more.  We got to the airport and at the very last minute, got charged an additional $100 unaccompanied minor fee.  This fee pays for a flight attendant to take your kid’s passport, put it in an envelope, and escort the kid to the waiting family at the arrival gate.  $100 buckaroos.  Pay up or the kid never leaves Kennedy, which is a fate worse than death.  I mean, have you *been* to Kennedy?  Was there any mention of this fee at the time the (ridiculously expensive) ticket was purchased online where the kid’s age was clearly entered in the age field of the ticket form?  No, there was not.  The same thing happened to the host family on the French end resulting in a $100 last minute fee for their kid too.  Surprise!  Surprise!  (Should I mention the airline?  Ok, it was Delta)

See, with an Elizabeth Warren type, I’m thinking that abuses like this would happen with less frequency.  And the only reason they’re happening now is because there is no one watching the store.  Put in a less competent or committed individual and it will be one little rip off after another.  My little example from my “overprivileged” lifestyle is just the tip of the iceberg.  Consider all the ATM fees, the wireless fees that are *supposed* to go towards building better networks but don’t, the teaser rate mortgages, the financial services fees from people who are managing your 401K but don’t seem to think they owe you a decent return on your investment.  Stuff like that.  A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon we’re talking about real money.  *YOUR* real money.  Maybe the wealthy don’t think these fees are a big deal but the rest of us can’t afford to keep shelling out hidden costs and surprise last minute fees and astronomical interest rates.

Anyway, that’s what was going on while you were distracted by the unfortunate saga of Ms. Shirley Sherrod, may she live long and prosper at an agency that will appreciate her dedication and enlightened attitude.

More on what the new Financial Reform bill and what it will do, or NOT do, can be found in this Fresh Air interview with Benjamin Applebaum of the NYTimes.

Update: ABCNews reports that Warren will be “actively involved” in the Consumer Finance Protection Agency that she helped to create.  Oooo!, isn’t that special.  Maybe they’ll let her pick out an agency logo or choose the colors for the offices.  My leg is all tingly.  Actually, this news is depressing.  But don’t despair.  There’s probably another racism story in the works to take our minds off of it.

Wednesday News

Good Day Conflucians!!

I’m definitely getting a late start today. Let’s grab a few headlines to get the ball rolling.

In some good news, the Senate unanimously passed the Leahy-Sessions bill that protects US citizens from foreign libel suits:

The US Senate on Monday passed a bill to shield US journalists, authors, and publishers from “libel tourists” who file suit in countries where they expect to get the most favorable ruling.

The popular legislation headed to the House of Representatives, which was expected to approve it and send the measure to US President Barack Obama to sign into law despite misgivings from key US allies.

Backers of the bill have cited England, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore as places where weak libel safeguards attract lawsuits that unfairly harm US journalists, writers and publishers.

The Senate approved the measure in a “unanimous consent” voice vote.

The bill’s supporters have said that “libel tourism” undermines free speech rights under the US Constitution’s cherished first amendment, and so erode accountability of powerful figures in a healthy democracy.

The measure would prevent US federal courts from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the first amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

It would bar foreign parties in such cases from targeting the US assets of an American author, journalist, or publisher as part of any damages.

Astronomers have discovered a star that shatters all previous records for size:

Astronomers have discovered the most massive stars known, including one at more than 300 times the mass of our sun – double the size that scientists thought heavyweight stars could reach.

These colossal stars are millions of times brighter than the sun and shed mass through very powerful winds.

The stellar discovery, which represents the first time that these hulking stars were individually identified, could help astronomers understand the behavior of massive stars, and how large they can be at birth.

In a fascinating article over at the Oil Drum, our favorite go to place for analysis of the oil gusher in the gulf, one of the guest writers dives into the topic of a new direction for nuclear power plants, namely going smaller:

Pick up almost any book about nuclear energy and you will find that the prevailing wisdom is that nuclear plants must be very large in order to be competitive. This assumption is widely accepted, but, if its roots are understood, it can be effectively challenged.

Recently, however, a growing body of plant designers, utility companies, government agencies and financial players are recognizing that smaller plants can take advantage of greater opportunities to apply lessons learned, take advantage of the engineering and tooling savings possible with higher numbers of units and better meet customer needs in terms of capacity additions and financing. The resulting systems are a welcome addition to the nuclear power plant menu, which has previously been limited to one size – extra large.

It is possible for engineers to make incredibly complex calculations without a single math error that still come up with a wrong answer if they use a model based on incorrect assumptions. That appears to be the case with the “bigger is better” model used by nuclear plant designers and marketers.

Though the “economy of scale” did not work for the first nuclear age, there is some evidence that a different economic rule did apply. That rule is what is often referred to as the experience curve. According to several detailed studies, it appears that when similar plants were built by the same organization, the follow-on plants cost less to build. According to a RAND Corporation study, “a doubling in the number of reactors [built by an architect-engineer] results in a 5 percent reduction in both construction time and capital cost.”

This idea is significant. It tells us that nuclear power is no different conceptually than hundreds of other new technologies.

Read more for a fascinating analysis and very good arguments for this new approach.

In the world of publishing, a major milestone has been reached. Amazon now sells more e-books than hardback books:

Amazon.com Inc. said it reached a milestone, selling more e-books than hardbacks over the past three months.

But publishers said it is still too early to gauge for the entire industry whether the growth of e-books is cannibalizing sales of paperback books, a huge and crucial market.

In a statement Monday, Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, also countered the perception that sales of the company’s Kindle e-reading device had suffered due to competition from other devices, such as Apple Inc.’s iPad.

He said the growth rate of Kindle device sales had “reached a tipping point,” having tripled since the company lowered its price to $189 from $259 last month, following a similar move by competitor Barnes & Noble Inc. to cut the price on its Nook e-reader.

Just like with digital downloads of music vs. CD’s, I supposed the same is inevitable with books and movies. I for one still like to have the real thing in hand for the things I want to keep long term. But I love having those things on my iPad and iPhone for reading, watching, or listening at a moments notice. One place where they still aren’t competing is paperbacks. I love going through cheap paperbacks that I then sell or trade at the book swap. That 1 or 2 or 3 dollar book is hard to beat. Both in terms of price and usability. But I’m sure they’re working on that.

Obama signs the financial overhaul bill:

Declaring that “the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” President Obama on Wednesday signed landmark legislation providing the most sweeping overhaul of financial rules since the Great Depression.

The new law reverses decades of deregulation, aiming to provide greater government protection for consumers and reduce risky practices at financial institutions to prevent a repeat of the financial crisis.

Its controversial centerpiece is a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which will have broad authority to write new rules for mortgages, credit cards, payday loans and other consumer products and make sure firms are adhering to them.

The White House is now asking for a review of yesterday’s firing:

The White House intervened late Tuesday night in a racially-tinged dispute that prompted Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to fire a black civil servant, and Mr. Vilsack is now reconsidering his decision.

“I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner,” Mr. Vilsack said in an e-mail statement sent at about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

A White House official confirmed that advisers to President Obama spoke to officials at the Department of Agriculture “and we agreed that the issue should be reviewed.” The official, speaking anonymously to reveal internal discussions, said Mr. Vilsack was amenable.

“There was a convergence there, but we did initiate the conversation,” the official said.

Apparently there is drama with Obama.

SoS Clinton announces sanctions for North Korea:

Top US policy-makers did a diplomatic dance with their South Korean counterparts on Wednesday in a display of solidarity intended to calm South Korean concerns about the American commitment.

In the highlight of highly publicized visit to Seoul by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary Clinton announced what she said were new US North Korea sanctions. The sanctions, she said would “increase our ability” to halt North Korea’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction along with other “illicit activities that helped fund their weapons programs.”

Oakland, CA OK’s pot factories:

Reporting from Oakland — Oakland’s City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance that could make it the first city in the state to permit industrial marijuana production, a path-breaking decision that could spur the commercialization of a crop largely grown in hidden gardens.

The plan would authorize four potentially enormous pot factories, but makes no provision for the hundreds of growers who now supply Oakland’s four dispensaries, which sold $28 million in marijuana last year. The council, however, promised it would develop a plan for these growers before permits are awarded next year for the four large-scale marijuana operations.

“This is a monumental step forward,” said Dale Gieringer, an Oakland resident and the longtime head of California NORML, which backs the legalization of marijuana. “It really means moving into the era of industrial-scale operations and Oakland means to do it big.”

And just when you thought it was safe to be poor and unemployed again, Repubs delay the jobless benefits:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday delayed action to restore U.S. unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work the longest, prolonging a partisan standoff even though the measure is certain to pass.

Some 2.5 million jobless Americans have seen their benefits lapse since the end of May as the Senate has deadlocked over how to cover the $34 billion cost of extending them through November.

Congress is all but certain to restore those benefits by the end of the week after Democrats broke a Republican procedural hurdle on Tuesday afternoon. But Republicans appeared to be running out the legislative clock, delaying a final vote until as late as 9 p.m. on Wednesday (0100 GMT Thursday).

“Perhaps the overwhelming majority of Republicans think that since they’ve turned their backs on the unemployed for so many months, what’s another few days?” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said. “Perhaps they think that when unemployment goes up, their poll numbers do too.”

And finally, a plurality of Americans now say that McCain would have been better than Obama. Warning, this is from John Fund, but it’s based on a Quinnipiac poll:

Democrats will be gulping this morning at the Quinnipiac Poll’s latest results. For the first time in the survey’s history, Americans believe by a 48% to 40% margin that President Obama doesn’t deserve re-election. Almost as stinging, a plurality believe the country would have been better off if John McCain had beaten Mr. Obama in 2008.

The Quinnipiac Poll is pored over by political observers because it has a good predictive record and because its large sample size of nearly 2200 people implies a much smaller margin of error than most surveys — around 2 percentage points.

Mr. Obama’s approval rating continues to slide, and is dragging his party down. While last July Mr. Obama had a 57% positive rating, Quinnipiac now pegs him at just 44% approval — a number below President Bill Clinton’s approval rating just before his party lost control of Congress in 1994. When asked which party they plan to vote for this November, likely voters in the Quinnipiac survey picked Republicans by 43% to 38%. This was despite an expressed lack of confidence in the ability of Republican leaders in Congress to tackle the nation’s problems.

That’s a bit of what’s out there. Chime in with updates and new things you’re finding.