Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

More on the Sociology of the Financial Crisis

An article in the NY Times, a typical fluff piece, discussed women in NYC whose boyfriends are investment bankers and such, and how this financial crisis is affecting them. Now, there is this whole troglodyte 1950s scene going on in this article. These women do not appear to have desires beyond getting a big house in the Hamptons, a "rock" for their finger, and so forth, even though we've all seen the movie and know that he ends up divorcing her and marrying his secretary. Having obviously not watched enough TV, they turn to young, hip, rich bankers for thsi fantasy. The girlfriends seem oddly surprised by the attitudes they display. I could go on and blather for a while, but I just want to first observe how very un-modern this modern financial system has been. From the two-earner yuppie couple to back to the trophy housewife - that was something of the trek of the 1990s and 2000s.

The real reason I mention this article is this comment by one of the girlfriends at the end, "“It’s not even about a $200 dinner,” Ms. Petrus told The Times. “It’s that he’s an alpha male, he’s aggressive, he’s a go-getter, he doesn’t take no for an answer, he’s confident, people respect him and that creates the whole mystique of who he is.”

I choked a bit on my latte. Are you shi*ting me? When did bankers become alpha males? Bankers were always in popular lore buttoned-down milquetoast types who wouldn't loan you five bucks for a sandwich unless you proved you already had a ten in your pocket. The kind who would give you a $20 savings bond for your 10th birthday, or weigh bananas at the store before buying them. But of course, alpha male is what happened to the banking industry. A friend in NYC (a lawyer) reported that he used to listen to 25 year olds deriding him for doing "women's work" (preparing the legal paper for their deals). In my world, that talk would get you fired, not get you a bonus.

These same "alpha male" attitudes probably explain the big bonuses we are seeing being paid to wall street folks even as they take taxpayer money to cover for their massive collective screwups.

Attitudes will have to change to recover from this financial crisis, not just institutional rules. We need the return of Mr. Milquetoast. The 25-year-old who wants his porsche and daily dinners at Morton's will have to return to the traditional method: crime.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Pope Just Does Not Get It

I am mystified at what is going on in the Roman Catholic church right now. The Pope un-excommunicated four bishops who rejected Vatican II reforms. To that much, I say "what-ever." It's all inside baseball. And the whole idea of excommunication seems weird to me. But one of these bishops is a jerk who publicly denies that the Nazi holocaust ever happened. Hello? That is about as anti-semitic a position as one can take these days. It is incredibly hurtful to deny the survivors the reality of their suffering. So what does the Pope do? Nothing. He issues more statements saying that Catholics are in solidarity with Jews blah blah blah. Yet this pinhead keeps spouting this hateful garbage while wearing a miter and causing pain, all over again, to any survivors who hear it. It is also offensive to truth and reason.

Now, if this bishop said "Women should be ordained" or "Being gay is not a sin" he would be disciplined in some fashion. But does the Pope discipline for these statments about Jews? No. What is that all about?? Why is standing up for women's rights in the RC church going to get you disciplined or excommunicated, but there are no consequences to spewing hate against Jews (never mind covering up sexual abuse of children by priests)? This all shows two things. First, the Pope's priorities are so screwed up as to defy comprehenshion. Second, the occasional politically correct public statements from the Vatican on various issues are just lipservice. At what point to American Catholics finally say "Enough!"? I just don't know anymore.


Looming Bloodbath in Higher Education

So the economic downturn is having its effect on higher education in the US.  Private and public universities are both getting hit.  Both have seen their endowments shrink with the stock market decline.  Public universities have the additional problem of being targeted by state legislatures looking for ways to balance state budgets without raising the taxes they cut so enthusiastically in the previous decade or cutting funding to their favored programs - like prisons.  The worst stories are coming from Florida and Arizona, two states with large elderly populations (who don't care about education for fairly rational reasons) and Republican majorities (who actively oppose education because their right wing populist ideology has a profoundly anti-intellectual component).  But there are rumors of entire departments and programs being shut down wholesale.  

Now, I sympathize with people who have lost their jobs in downsizing who might say, "good, you egg heads need to suffer with the rest of us."  But from a policy perspective, savaging the universities will have negative ripple effects for years to come.  Universities produce highly skilled workers for an economy increasingly dependent on the service sector.  Using them as a kind of budgetary piggy bank will degrade the future productivity of the workforce.  The kinds of businesses that hire people with little or no education (or a poor quality one) do not generate as much tax revenue as they might otherwise.  

I'm curious what our friends overseas have heard about budgetary problems for higher education abroad.  


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Anonymity in a crowd?

Well, I guess there is no more anonymity in a crowd!

Check THIS out. It's a 1,474
megapixel photo of the inaguration.

You can zoom in on individual faces. Clarence Thomas is asleep . . . or is he only resting his eyes?


The Obama Administration is Tested

Vice President Biden was right that the Obama Administration would be tested soon after taking office, but as many of us feared, it turns out his immediate adversaries are not foreign terrorists but domestic obstructionists. Obama's appeal for bipartisanship has, not surprisingly, for the most part fallen on deaf ears on the losing side of the aisle.

The Republican party wants desperately to wipe the shine off President Obama. After their historic defeat in the 2008 elections, Republicans likely lack the votes to block Obama's legislation outright--but they can at least try to paint him as just another partisan politician. So as things stand now, Obama may well be forced to push the stimulus package through Congress on a nearly party-line vote.

But Obama did not get to be President just by playing the same old games. With his sky-high approval ratings and an American public hungry for meaningful action to help the economy, Obama might be able to turn the tables on the Republican party. Instead of begging and pleading with the entrenched Republican leadership--instead of compromising away key values just to purchase a thin veneer of bipartisanship--the Obama Administration may be able to cut enough deals with individual Republicans to bypass the Republican leadership altogether.

The Republican leadership apparently failed to get the message that Americans want change. They are peddling the same old tax cuts for the wealthy as a panacea for everything. Against the wishes of the Democratic leadership, Obama offered Republicans a huge package of tax cuts as part of the economic stimulus--but it was not big enough to satisfy their leadership--so perhaps Obama will have better luck with the rank and file Republicans. At his meeting with Republican congressmen in the Capitol today, apparently the representatives were more interested in getting their pictures taken with him than anything else.

Perhaps that is something he can trade on.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson

Forgive me for repeating here a segment that's been all over the blogs, but it was too funny. In case you missed it, Bishop Gene Robinson was interviewed on The Daily Show on Jan. 20 2009, and he had the wittiest comeback.

STEWART: Washington was so crowded today. There were so many people. You as a bishop were sort of doubly handicapped in that situation only being allowed to move diagonally. How is that negotiating the crowds...

ROBINSON: John--John, you have to understand there was a queen on the board as well.

It is so wonderful to have a little honest humor injected into what can be such a deadly serious discussion. In an interview from November 2008, Bishop Robinson expressed that Christians, especially clergy, have a special responsibility to confront homophobia in society:
I chaired a group of conversation for twelve to twenty-one year old kids who were questioning their sexuality. Not one of them was a person of faith. But every single one of them could quote me Leviticus and that God thought they were an abomination.

They couldn't have found Leviticus in a Bible if their lives had depended on it. But they knew that word and they thought they knew what God thought of them. And the Church is responsible for that... We are responsible for that. And it's going to take religious voices to undo the hatred that comes from those words.

Incidentally, Obama sought out Bishop Robinson for three private meetings in late Spring, 2008. Apparently they spoke of many things, including what it was like to be "first" and how to deal with death threats--and they discussed the intersection of religion and politics as well. In a subsequent interview, Robinson said of Obama,
He and I would agree about the rightful place of religion vis-à-vis the secular state. That is to say, we don't impose our religious values on the secular state because God said so. Our faith informs our own values and then we take those values into the civil market place, the civil discourse, and then you argue for them based on the Constitution.

You don't say to someone, you must believe this because this is what God believes. I think God gives us our values and then we argue for those on the basis of the Constitution and care of our neighbor.

Nicely put. And nice to know Obama feels similarly.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Did anyone notice?

We didn't end up invading Iran.


NSA Whistle Blower

The truth is beginning to seep out. On Keith Olberman last night, a former NSA analyst, Russell Tice, revealed that the NSA collected ALL communications (Phones,computer,Fax, etc.) from some media outlets and journalists under the Bush Administration! But what is worse is how it was done. Initially, according to Tice, the NSA told him to monitor organizations to make sure their communications weren't targets for further examination, i.e. to weed out non-suspect organizations. Non-suspect were those not involved with terrorists. Then Tice discovered that the "discard pile" was really a "keeper pile" that was under 24/7/365 surveillance. Furthermore, the NSA built a cover up story in order to hide the facts from Contress. None of this is surprising, but to hear it coming out is a good thing!

See it here!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And the World's Biggest Republican Tool Award is...

A Tie!  Jim DeMint (R - South Carolina) and David Vitter (R - Lousiana) were the only two votes in the Senate against confirming Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State.  You may remember Vitter as being the family values conservative who is pro-life, pro-gun and pro-prostitution.  Jim DeMint is against gay marriage because, as he said in a radio interview, "the prevalence of certain diseases in the gay community."  


Fantastic News: Neal Katyal

Neal Katyal has been appointed Deputy Solicitor General. He's a professor at Georgetown (or GW, I forget) who argued the Hamdan cases in the Supreme Court. He has also been on PBS excoriating Bush for his lack of understanding of the rule of law. His appointment is a sure guarantee that the Bush system of secret detention and kangaroo trials is coming to an end.


Summing up

I think this clip from Colbert sums up the Bush years perfectly!

Edited 9:30pm
You can also watch here!

It's in the first segment!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The most worthless blog post ever

Just saw this on and thought it was funny:

If he had sworn in with a monster dunk, it would have been even more awesome than it actually was. Oh well.



Chief Justice Roberts could barely get the words out, but Barack Obama stood there, looking outwardly patient but inwardly furious, then said the words and became President Obama. I was thinking Don Cheadle of in Ocean's Eleven saying, "You wanker. You had one f***ing job to."

This is probably the most-watched event around the world since the moon landing 40 years ago. All the jubilation does masquerade also over a fair bit of rage too. Healing will take time. It always does. I watched this with my little girl this morning. This is all about hope. Tens of millions of Americans fervently hope that we really can turn this economy. And there is a chance we might. I was stuck by a passage from Obama's speech that, to me, seemed deliberately evocative of FDR's address in 1932 to Oglethorpe University:

"You have been struck, I know, by the tragic irony of our economic situation today. We have not been brought to our present state by any natural calamity--by drought or floods or earthquakes or by the destruction of our productive machine or our man power. Indeed, we have a superabundance of raw materials, a more than ample supply of equipment for manufacturing these materials into the goods which we need, and transportation and commercial facilities for making them available to all who need them. But raw materials stand unused, factories stand idle, railroad traffic continues to dwindle, merchants sell less and less, while millions of able-bodied men and women, in dire need, are clamoring for the opportunity to work. This is the awful paradox with which we are confronted, a stinging rebuke that challenges our power to operate the economic machine which we have created."

President Obama said, "We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."


Monday, January 19, 2009

Unite and Support Obama

During much of the Bush Administration, liberals were an angry and divided lot. But now, at last, we have a real leader in Barack Obama. Now that we actually have a chance to accomplish something, we can no longer afford petty bickering over priorities. We must unite behind the Obama Administration and keep our eyes on the prize: a better America for us all.

Health care for everyone. Labor and business regulations geared to help the little guy. Immigration policies that work. Environmental protection. A serious commitment to fight global warming. A foreign policy that favors diplomacy and soft power over go-it-alone militarism. Respect for all human rights... The list is so very long and every item is so critical.

So no more griping and whining about the little things. No more getting caught up in the weekly tempest-in-a-teapot; no more picking over the distractions coughed up by cable news like so many dead fish on the beach (e.g. Rick Warren, Senator Burris). It is time for liberals to get organized, work together, maybe swallow a little pride, and learn to follow a leader. We are asking the world of Obama. We owe him a little loyalty.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

99 White Senators

(Relevant portion starts 4 minutes in)

Isn't it patently untrue that we have 99 white senators? For one thing, we have at most 98 until we get a junior senator for Minnesota.

But even ignoring that minor point, don't we have two senators who no one would call white? Including one who was put in an internment camp because of his non-whiteness? (Edit: this appears to not be true)

Sorry, but I hear this all the time and it drives me nuts. Not picking on Stephen Colbert especially.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Pardon me

I was watching some of Arlen Specter's and Jeff Sessions' questioning of Holder and pious statements about pardons. This is a wondeful day for these hearings. Because we know that, as we speak, Bush is preparing to release his own list of secret eleventh hour pardons. These will probably be even more sweeping pardons, perhaps for all the torturers in his government. Certainly they will be slimier. Can't wait for crow to be served in the Senate.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

[redacted text]

Barack Obama has done a terrible thing. He has filled me with hope. Among the things I hope is that he will put an end to secret government. Today, the Foreign Intelligent Surveillance Review Court (the FISA Court) issued a special public opinion basically rubberstamping the activities of the Bush years. It will surprise no one to read that the author and chief judge is a conservative who was selected for this court by Rehnquist. It was important to issue the ruling now, I imagine, so that it will exonerate Bush of everything, but not provide help to the Obama administration in its counterterrorism efforts. In other words, the same ruling six months from now might have implicitly exonerated some of the new Obama administration.

The ruling is pure travesty, at least what we can read of it. So much is redacted, including the name of the petitioner, that it is very hard to make heads or tails out of it. The citations are to sealed cases. The facts are all removed. What is left is bare legal conclusion, without a disclosed basis in fact or law. That violates the traditions of our law. It violates the rule of law.

Even all the redactions cannot conceal just how much secret government there is these days. This all needs to be exposed and finished. Please, Barack Obama, don't give in to those on your staff who tell you that you will look weak on terrorism and defense unless you continue Bush's policies. Eric Holder's clear opposition to torture is a start. However, you must avoid the temptation to let the terms "bipartisan" and "forward-looking" foreclose inquiry into the past. Terrible things fester in the dark. Secrecy needs to be limited to the handful of facts that would be damaging in ongoing investigations. But the process of government must be open. And the past must be opened. Sunlight, as Justice Brandeis wrote, is the best of disinfectants. Seriously, take a look at this opinion. It's just frightening.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What is Next for America in Iraq?

To look at the almost nonexistent news coverage, one would think that the Iraq war was over, except for the (near-daily) car bombings and suicide bombings. It seems that we know a very few things. First, the number of US casualties is now at a sustained level that is around 10-20 per month, significantly down from much of the past five years of grinding engagement. Second, the level of US troops in Iraq is at or near peak levels, and cannot be sustained at those levels, although lower levels could be sustained. Third, the incoming Obama administration has announced an intention to complete withdrawal over the next 16 months, which more or less matches the "Status of Forces" agreement signed with Iraq. The era of US occupation is coming to a close.

It seems to me that while the situation is calm by the standards of the past five years, the level of violence is, in fact, unacceptably violent to permit economic revival or promote politcal stability. The exit of US forces will remove one irritant in the situation, true, but not all. The country remains very divided politically, and the US mostly achieved the lower casualty rates by (re-)arming a huge number of Sunni young men, a number in excess of 100,000 that can pose a significant risk to the poorly trained and largely Shi'ite army. Also, the level of economic development remains poor. Electricity is still not available 24 hours per day. Oil production remains very low. It is very hard to imagine an influx of foreign investment under the current conditions.

In other words, we may have achieved a temporary reduction in the fighting - at least in the eyes of the world - that will allow us to leave Iraq with some sense of honor, but we have not really "won" the war the way conservatives claim we have.
It seems highly unlikely that we will be able, in the next decade, to point to much in the way of accomplishment in Iraq. The Shi'ite-dominated government will probably do the obvious: turn from US military support to Iranian military support. Our best hope may be that Iran finds Iraq to be a worse investment than we did.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Voinovich to Retire

Another Senate Republican is set to retire, Ohio Senator George Voinovich. His seat was going to be difficult to retain with incumbency advantage - now it is more depressing news for the GOP. Also announcing 2010 retirement are Mel Martinez (R-FL), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Kit Bond (R-MO). Missouri, Florida, and Ohio are all swing states. What is interesting to me is that Voinovich, by announcing right now that he will retire, liberates himself from threats to his re-election. In otherwords, he becomes harder for his own party to control.


Bishop Robinson

Barack Obama invited the nation's only openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, to speak at an inaugural event at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. This, to me, wipes out the problem with inviting Rick Warren to speak at the inaugural. You can't get more inclusive than that in a religious context. I hope this sets the tone for the Obama administration's approach to gay and lesbian issues generally. The African-American community could use this kind of leadership.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Great Flood of 2008 Update

About 6 to 7 months ago, the worst flood to hit the midwest since European settlement hit the state of Iowa.  The Great Flood of 2008 had every river in the state of Iowa flooding for weeks.  The scope of the flood was enormous.  In the city of Cedar Rapids (not Cedar Falls as frequently reported by the national media), 25,000 people were displaced from their homes out of a population of about 200,000.  Most of the counties in the state were declared Presidential disaster areas.  Billions of dollars of damage were done in Iowa.   Homes, businesses and crops were destroyed.  Bridges were washed out or damaged.  These are the same bridges that had been neglected by declining spending on infrastructure by the federal government for a decade or more.  Iowa's infrastructure suffered a major blow.  At the time of the flood I bloged about it and expressed by despair that there would be any follow through by the federal government in actually helping in the recovery.  

So where are we now?  The national economy has gone into a steep decline.  Unemployment is up.  The specter of deflation is looming over the world economy.  The national budget deficit is projected to be about 8% of GDP and expectations are that with all the stimulus packages Obama is talking about, next year's deficit will be even larger.  Here in Iowa, the dependence on agricultural commodities has cushioned the local economy somewhat.  But while the rest of the country is talking about cutting taxes and doing stimulus spending, Iowa's states and counties are being forced to raise taxes to pay for flood recovery.  Why?  Because the feds have yet to send any money our way.  I heard recently that the University of Iowa has been informed that the FEMA relief that was supposed to cover 90% of the uninsured damage to the campus will actually come up $30 million short of the mark.  Cedar Rapids has not seen anything more than a trickle of money from the Feds.  I hear in the news that that city is raising taxes so they can meet payroll and keep the streets clear of snow and ice.  There is no word on when federal money will be forthcoming. 

The economic situation in the state is exacerbated by the national and global economic downturn.  The state has cut the budget of the state universities, including U. of Iowa, by about 2 to 3%.  The papers are reporting that U. of Iowa will raise tuition, freeze salaries and - of course - delay flood reconstruction.  Several departments are still housed in what amounts to an abandoned warehouse.  Iowa State and University of Northern Iowa were not damaged by the flood and the budget cuts that are hitting them are provoking more conventional responses.

The biggest problems in flood recovery are still in Cedar Rapids though.  I recently drove over there to watch a minor league hockey game and there are still entire residential neighborhoods of abandoned houses.  Flood debris still pokes out from under the snow.  The down town looked pretty sad before the flood and it looks even sadder now.  A friend of mine in a small town near Cedar Rapids that is on high ground said that her condo building was half empty before the flood and is now full.  She thinks most of the new comers are displaced people from Cedar Rapids.  

The good news for home owners near the flooded areas is that with so many homes destroyed in Cedar Rapids, there is less of a glut of houses on the market around here.  Indeed, I've heard that Des Moines is one of the few major real estate markets in the country in which home prices have continued to rise.  Of course in the context of the flood damage etc, steady but small rises in home values is rather cold comfort.  


Friday, January 09, 2009

114 to 1

So, Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois House on a vote of 114 to 1. This must scare Blago, since he now realizes he has no support in any quarter. A trial by the Illinois Senate will follow, and he will be out of a job if he is convicted. Given that the trial is political and Blago has no friends, this shows you he should just resign. He will be removed from office. It is a done deal.

This, by the way, is what impeachment looks like. Not the hyperpartisan farce of going after Bill Clinton for an affair with an intern.

Of course, a 114-1 vote begs the question: who was the one?

That was apparently a representative from the South side of Chicago named Milton Patterson. According to the Chicago Tribune, "After the vote, he said he didn't feel it was his job to vote to impeach the governor. He declined comment on whether he approved of the job Blagojevich is doing." As someone in my office just said, Representative Patterson could not be reached for further comment as his flight for Tahiti was leaving shortly and he was still trying to figure out how to stuff a large money sack he recently found into the overhead compartment.


Updates on California Crap

I didn't get a chance to comment on RBR's post because my internet has been screwed up. But I was infuriated this morning on the most recent reports. Because California's state legislature and its governor are unable to act like the "leaders" they are supposed to be, they now want to hold a special election in April to ask the voters what to do with the budget.

This is absolutely maddening. It looks to me like our state government has totally abdicated its constitutional duties. And this is a misuse and abuse of the initiative system. Impeach them all, I say.

I agree with both RBR and LTG. I was totally against the recall of Davis, and as a result, I have refused to sign all petitions since. 1) The signature gathering under the Davis recall was corrupt at best. 2) not EVERYTHING deserves to be on the ballot.

The last special election in this state cost the tax payers some $70 million dollars. Can we really afford to hold another one? We are BROKE! What part of that doesn't the governor get? We can't keep taking out loans. What do we pay the legislators for? And voters cannot be expected to understand all the ins and outs of a budget, state borrowing, and the like. Further more, if they load up a special elections ballot with all sorts of technical stuff, voters will just vote "no" or they will pass some parts of it and not others. You cannot possibly get a comprehensive budget solution in this manner.

It's bad government. It's irresponsible. We in California deserve so much better! So I encourage people to boycott the special election. I will not work as a poll worker on this election. I will not vote in it.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Problem with Military Outsourcing

It turns out that the Army sent letters to the families of 7,000 fallen soldiers addressed simply as "Dear John Doe." It wasa printing error, they said. Mentioned just once in this article is the fact that this "error" was done by "a contractor." Somebody was hired to do this, and nobody ever looked at the letters, apparently, before they went out. Or nobody who looked at them was paid to have a clue. This would never have happened if the military had retained control of this function, I don't think. Even the worst military bureaucrats still "get it" when it comes to dealing with the honored dead, more or less. It's time for the military to start recapturing functions for dedicated civil (or military) servants rather than outsourcing them to contractors for the cheapest rates.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

California Dreamin

Or rather nightmare...

This story in the LA Times today says that Governor Muscles has vetoed the latest budget - that by some miracle of political compromise - has actually passed the state assembly.  The story also says that because of the resulting fiscal crisis, tax payers in California will not get their state tax refunds on time.  Instead, they'll get "IOUs."

OK, we have talked about the problems that Prop 13 have caused for the California state budget.  The 2/3 requirement for budgetary bills is asinine and has prevented decisive responses to economic problems that would otherwise be possible because of the solid Democratic majority in the assembly.  But this is a case of the personal idiocy of a single politician.  A politician elected to the highest office in the biggest state in the country because he looks good on screen holding a toy machine gun.

I was opposed to recall of Gray Davis (although some on this blog were in favor of it if I remember). This is why. There are worse things than a boring and uninspiring governor with his finger in the air.  Say what we will about Gray Davis (perhaps the most aptly named politician in history) this move by Schwarzenegger shows that he is worse than Davis ever was!

I don't dislike California.  If I made a half a million bucks a year or so I'd love living in California.  I'd shrug this kind of thing as part of the price of living in an exciting city with a nearly perfect climate.  But I don't and most people in California don't even if you count every wage earner in the household.  I'm not poor but when I don't get a tax refund on time I change how I live for a while (just a month or so but it matters).  When I was a poor guy (and it wasn't that long ago), missing a tax refund could mean forcing me to make choices between paying rent and buying clothes nice enough to go to work in.  At my current salary, missing a tax refund would be an annoyance and I don't live in the high cost of living area I used to.

So to you Citizens who still live in those high cost of living areas, you have my sympathies. I'm pretty sure none of you voted for this bozo in Sacramento - certainly not for reelection anyway.  You didn't ask for this.  But it's being dumped in your lap all the same.

"All the leaves are brown...and the sky is gray..."


Monday, January 05, 2009

Burris and Franken

Republicans will try to filibuster administering the oath to Franken if Coleman files a lawsuit. It is unfortunate that they may get all 41 votes to do so. I am a bit surprised that this can work. If only 41 votes are needed to block seating a senator, the Democrats should be able to block seating lots of Republicans. No reason is needed for a filibuster. And why are Democrats fretting about Burris, if a simple parliamentary trick can deny a person a seat? I am hoping that because Franken has no credentials to present in the ordinary course, the issue is that he must be seated by some kind of parliamentary motion.

The next question is... are 41 votes available to the Republicans? Will they all join together to prevent seating Franken in a hyperpartisan maneuver when they know that there just aren't enough votes out there for Coleman to win? He's contesting 650 votes. If he wins 2/3 of them, it's still not enough to win the race.

Unfortunately, Blago and Burris are messing everything up. The cynicism of Burris to try to play on old civil rights fears and rhetoric is unbelievable. He couldn't win elections in Illinois anymore, it seemed, so he made some sort of devil's pact with Blagojevich to get the seat even after it was clear that it would provoke a crisis and undermine his party. Democrats can't easily fight for Franken when the media spotlight is on the corrupt old black politician claiming he is being lynched.

Obama obviously does not want to spend political capital on this, because he has tried hard to avoid angering old "black leaders" too much. When they do get mad - like Jesse Jackson saying he would cut Obama's nuts off - it is so beneficial to him among the white community that it's embarrassing. He risks Uncle Tom syndrome. It's just too easy for white Democrats to stand against Burris' tactics when they're new black President is also with them. It's not just white America that has to move past racist politics; it's black America. And this will take a while.

Contrast Burris with Richardson. Richardson immediately stepped aside when his name got caught up in something. This won't even last one news cycle. Obama and his team can remain focused on the economic stimulus and the First Hundred Days. But Burris is turning the new Congressional assembly from a moment of hope to a circus. It is ironic that it is Burris, not the comedian Franken, who is doing this.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

No Bill for Commerce

Bill Richardson has been un-nominated for Secretary of Commerce. Apparently there is a grand jury investigating Richardson for improper dealings with a construction company. This now re-opens a plum spot in the upcoming Obama administration. I wonder who Obama will ask?


Friday, January 02, 2009

Security for Whom in Iraq?

The Bush Administration has been talking about an "improved" security situation in Iraq since the "Surge". Really? Secure for whom? The Washington Post has been doing a series on the treatment of women in conflict zones. It is heart breaking.

In Iraq, the U.S. military has been supporting local tribal chieftains in an attempt to increase security. One of the negative results of this has been a huge upsurge in honor killings. For those readers who don't know, "honor killing" is the murder of a woman by the male members of her family for supposedly besmirching their honor in some way. Common methods are burning, stabling, and beating, drowning. A simple shot to the head would be too humane.

In Irbil (Kurdish ruled Iraq), the morgue sees at least 10 honor killings a week. (see Iraqi Women, Fighting for a Voice, Washington Post)

To be clear, honor killing is a tribal custom, not an Islamic one. However, Mohammed, for whom Islam was a civilizing force in tribal lands, had started to loose the battle with tribal chieftains in the years before his death. Islam as a religous faith was constantly compromising with tribal custom and this has not changed. It has become very hard to separate the two.

The problem o fhonor killings is becoming widespread across Iraq. These same tribal chiefs are objecting to the education of women, women working, appearing in public uncovered, and all of the other typical things their ilk object to. Acid is often thrown in the faces of those who are uncovered.

What you see in all places where there are honor killings is a pattern of legislation that forbids such acts, a lack of enforcement of this legislation, or lightly punishing those who commit such acts. In Turkey's Kurdish dominated Eastern Anatolian region, authorities have a hard time gathering evidence for trial because no one talks and those who do claim the death was accidental or a suicide.

At a conference two years ago, I attended a session on honor killings in Turkey. There, they said that there were only 30 women's shelters in the entire country and the largest shelters could only handle 25 women at a time. So women seeking to escape had little chance. They often leave children behind. If they can even get to a shelter, they cannot stay indefinitely. They have no money, and no place to go. They often have to return to their villages where they are eventually abused or killed. The lucky ones manage to resettle in the cities. But this is rare.

The same thing is going on in Iraq now. And the Bushies thought they could bring democracy to such a place? I hate to say it, but in some instances, a dictator may be the best bet.