Friday, April 30, 2010

Another Of Life's Mysteries

This I Can Has Cheezburger comic reminds me of one of the great unanswered questions about feline behavior:

funny pictures of cats with captions
Image credit:Lolcats

As I mentioned before, cats will sometimes go to great lengths to avoid vomiting on portions of the floor that are easy to clean, like linoleum. They prefer the carpet. Yet, when it comes to choosing a place to sit, they often prefer to plunk down on the smoothest, coldest surface available, even when it's surrounded by a nice, comfy carpet. I have no idea why this is.

The only theory I've come up with is that it's because cats are evil's way of moving itself from place to place, and tormenting us along the way.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yes, And The Type's About A Millimeter High

You can tell this guy hasn't hit his forties yet:

Caption: Toshiba SPD93S DVD Player (see NOTE)

There was a time when I would have thought watching a movie on one of these:

would have been a fine idea. Nowadays, I'd have to adjust it pretty carefully to be able to see it. Trying to watch a movie or TV show on a cell phone doesn't strike me as a serious option in today's world.

On the other hand, as I explained a couple of years ago, more definition is of only limited use in big screen TVs. Unless you want to display large topographic map images, magazine layouts, or something similarly detailed, 1080 lines is probably plenty.

So, yes, maybe it's not all that impressive, but it's about right for the job.

UPDATE: Oops, forgot the NOTE: This picture came from the Fry's website. It does not represent an endorsement of this article by Fry's, nor Toshiba. It also does not represent an endorsement of this product (or Fry's) by me. It's just nicely representative of a technology, and kinda stylish, too.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Living Will Of Sorts

I had two reactions to reading this article:

Jose Tomas received a transfusion of 17 pints of blood after being gored Saturday by a beast named Navegante in the Mexican city of Aguascalientes.

The bull's horn penetrated 4 inches into Tomas' groin and punctured a vein and an artery, manager Salvador Boix told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser from Aguascalientes.

Tomas, one of Spain's most popular matadors, has a relatively rare blood type – A negative – and bled so profusely that bullring officials appealed over the arena loudspeakers for compatible donors to come forward for transfusions, Boix said.

Top matador loses 17 pints of blood following bull goring

The first was to wonder just how much blood a human body has. Turns out that's a popular question. Ask Yahoo states:

The results were much more promising and we spotted several useful sites, including a page from the PBS show NOVA titled "Electric Heart" and an entry on blood from the InfoPlease Almanac.

Both sites claim that the human body contains approximately 6 quarts (or 5.6 liters) of blood.

How much blood does the human body contain?

Six quarts is twelve pints. So, the guy must have been empty before the donors showed up.

My other reaction was to ask this of my friends and family: If I ever lose a gallon of blood because I was torturing a cow, please let me die.

Sunday Photo(s)

Since in some sense it's Earth Day today, let's continue on with the theme of beautiful, unspoiled places. This is Denny Creek, in Western Washington:
Image credit: Cujo359

It was taken last summer, in late August. By then most of the streams in our area are starting to run dry. Right now, I suspect most of those rocks are covered with water, thanks to glacial runoff and the rain we normally see in Spring.

Walk far enough along that creek and you'll end up here:
Image credit: Cujo359

It's Franklin Falls. As you can see, it's a popular spot in the summer. It's near a highway overpass, but you still have to hike a bit of a ways to get there. Even so, it feels isolated enough that you can enjoy time away from the city. It's one of those places worth preserving.

As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge them. Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Has Anything Interesting Happened?

Image credit: St. Bernard Rescue Foundation, Inc.

Yes, I haven't been writing much lately. You'd think I would, what with the showdown with Wall Street that's looming, if you believe what you read in the press these days. Then there's all that stuff going on in Afghanistan.

The truth is, I just don't see much point. The Democrats are pretending they're going to reform the finance industry. The Republicans are pretending that what the Democrats want to do will destroy our civilization for reasons that have nothing to do with why it will actually destroy it. The press, often as not, will breathlessly report the press releases and quotes of the major players, none of whom gives a shit about the rest of us.

It's a replay of the health care "reform" effort, and it will probably play out the same way, or worse. The end result is that nothing will really be changed, but lots of people who ought to know better will claim that they feel better already. On that front, Murray Waas wrote yesterday about how the insurance companies are continuing to do the same things they were doing. Ian Welsh explained yesterday how that will likely continue. Too bad I didn't see that coming. Oh wait, I did see it. Too bad no one wanted to believe it.

As for Afghanistan, it's costing so much that California could balance its budget if it were allowed to keep that money. Nothing of any use will happen there for all the money we're spending.

The common thread in all this, of course, is the complete unreality that pervades the process. The reason was summed up nicely by The Nation's Chris Hayes in this video interview with Lawrence O'Donnell:

Like the man said, DC is so corrupt that it can't help but do the wrong thing. The only truly extraordinary thing about Hayes' observation is that it was made on a television news show. Glenn Greenwald adds:

Beltway denizens play various assigned roles -- this one reads from the Journalist script, that one poses as a legislator, this one's a Democrat and that one's a Republican, the one over there is a regulator, this one is a lobbyist, etc. -- but they all feed from the same trough, and their sole allegiance is to their decadent, insular, endlessly nepotistic, and deservedly dying pseudo-aristocratic culture, and to one another.

Various Matters
To which I'd add the supposed progressive organizations that continue to send me ridiculous e-mails like this one from Blue America yesterday:

I can't think of a better House Speaker in my lifetime than Nancy Pelosi. It would be a real tragedy to see all her efforts to move the country in a more progressive direction, and to move the government in a more transparent and ethical direction, go down the drain in November. And it could happen. If the Republicans win enough House seats Nancy will lose her Speaker's chair and the country will be saddled with the most reactionary and corrupt Speaker in contemporary history, John Boehner.
Nancy Pelosi has been fairly effective at moving legislation through the House. The trouble is that it's been largely legislation that isn't doing us any damn good. The health care bill the House passed died in committee. The other legislation is mostly going to die, or already has, to be replaced by even more useless and corrupt versions that the Senate has concocted. She refused to consider impeaching George W. Bush, and thus gave him and Barack Obama carte blanche to do whatever they want in office, no matter how many laws or Constitutional principles they violate.

In short, she peformed the functions of her office very well, but never stood for anything that would make her country a better place. That's Washington in a nutshell these days, because that's as good as it seems to get.

How much worse would John Boehner be?

The progressive organizations, for the most part, are no use either. They've debased themselves so thoroughly now that no one with any sense will trust them, at least until they've managed to do something useful.

All I can do right now is just stand back and watch the spectacle of people getting worked up over all this nonsense. It's clear that whichever party is in power right now, there won't be any progress. The people who are there are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable now. They have made themselves a profit center for the finance industry, the defense industry, and the megachurches.

Poke me in the ribs when something useful happens. Meanwhile, I'll be playing with this stick.

Afterword: In a poignant example of the incompetence of progressive organizations these days, the unsubscribe link to Blue America consists of a single line:

String index out of range: -1
Kinda says it all, doesn't it? These guys haven't managed to elect an effective congressman yet, at least, if "effective" means having a positive influence on government policy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Advanced Product Testing?

So, how's that new iPad working out for you? This person lets his cat play with his:

That can't be a good sign.

Sunday Photo, Earth Day Edition

Is it Earth Day today? I'm still not sure. The Sierra Club's website says it is. The Earth Day site doesn't say jack. The big announcement there is for a rally in DC this Sunday.

I guess we'll call this Earth Day. So here's a special edition of the Sunday Photo, on Thursday, which may or may not be Earth Day.

This is a picture of the Olallie State Park, near North Bend in the state of Washington. It's yet another example of what makes our planet a special place:
Image credit: Cujo359

If you want to read something Earth Day themed, check out George's article.

Click on the image to enlarge. Have a good Earth Day, whenever it turns out to be.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Freedom's Just Another Word ...

Caption: Click on Janis for a musical accompaniment.

Eli seems troubled by this revelation about Glenn Beck by After Downing Street's David Swanson:

I don't think Glenn Beck has much between his ears. I don't think he has a coherent principled view of anything, and I expect he would throw his own grandmother under a bus for a buck. His opposition to war is driven by the most disgusting priorities, lacks logic or coherence, and manages to co-exist with a certain strain of fascism for dummies. He thinks he can put the military in charge of Congress AND defund the military. Yet it may just be that his is the best antiwar voice on network or cable television. The bar is that low.

Is the Best Antiwar Voice on TV Glenn Beck?

I assume, without bothering to check, that Beck really did say these things, and sounded like he meant them. I'm not shocked that he would, at least not completely. The reason - both that I'm not shocked and that I didn't bother to check the video - is that Beck, among television commentators, is uniquely gifted with this pair of traits:

  • He's crazy

  • He has nothing to lose

At least, he has nothing to lose when it comes to sponsors. Among all the people gracing us with their presence on the screen, Beck has the fewest worries about honking someone else off. He's free to say whatever he wants, as long as a substantial portion of his television audience will believe him, which I suspect is seldom a problem.

Most commentators, working for most networks, like this one, have to worry about what the defense contractors that either own the network or advertise on it will think of such behavior. Beck can operate without these restraints. They might or might not be crazy, or otherwise unaware of what's going on in the world around them, but those talking heads know where their bread is buttered. Beck's is buttered in an entirely different place.

So on those occasions when Beck happens to feel like saying something that's true, he's quite likely to say it. Every once in a while, perhaps despite himself, Glenn Beck is going to be right about something. And it really is perfectly obvious, even to people like me who have worked in the business, that the defense establishment is far too large, and used far too often, for our good as a country. You almost have to want to not see that to be unaware.

There's really nothing more to it than that.

Kris Kristofferson said it best.

Man Bites Man

Caption: New Zealand native Been with two of his adopted children.

Image credit: Colin Smith/Nelson Mail

While reading Naked Capitalism yesterday, this old quote of Mark Twain's came to mind:

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

Mark Twain Quotations

I encountered this quote about Been, the dog from New Zealand who survived being left for dead, amongst all the stories of malfeasance by Goldman Sachs, and the governments that are trying to recover from what Goldman Sachs and others have done to the world's economy:

A dog who survived being shot in the head three times has fully recovered, and now spends much of his time playing doting dad to a litter of kittens.

When Been was found, he was 10 kilograms [more than 20 pounds] underweight, but now the mongrel weighs a healthy 27kg [60 lbs.] and enjoys tending to four kittens who are being bottle-fed after being rejected by their mother.

After the three-week-old kittens are fed, Been licks them clean. If they are not locked up at night, he picks them up and puts them in his basket.

Gentle Been Pays It Forward

Dogs are social creatures who have, through millenia of selective breeding, partly lost their instinct to fear and hunt other species. They are among the most generous creatures on the planet. You could say that animals like Been are generous to other creatures because their social instinct is to bond with and protect each other. That is probably true, but the fact remains that it's a rare dog who makes himself important by destroying the lives of others. In that regard, dogs are way ahead of these humans:

A lawsuit filed against investment bank Goldman Sachs by a shareholder alleges that the company spent more money on corporate bonuses than it earned in 2008.

Shareholder Ken Brown's lawsuit is one of two suits filed against the company this week over its controversial decision to hand out billions of dollars in bonuses even after it was accused of playing a central role in the financial collapse of 2008 and receiving $10 billion in direct aid from the US government.

Lawsuit: Goldman Sachs Bonuses Bigger Than Its Earnings

Don't forget that TARP is just the tip of the financial iceberg. U.S. taxpayers are still on the hook for trillions of dollars in financial guarantees that were designed to keep banks and large financial firms like GS from failing.

Not only did these people ransack their own company, they ruined our economy, and then screwed up Europe's. If I understand this story correctly, they screwed their own customers, too. The White House seems to have no interest in punishing this behavior, perhaps because they've hired GS executives as economic advisers. The Securities and Exchange Commission's too little, too late response has been played up by the press, who spent much of the last decade largely ignoring this malfeasance. Both houses of Congress seem equally uninterested in preventing future repeats of the 2008 disaster that these people caused. The Other Guys are even less interested in regulating this out-of-control industry. Neither party is willing to part with the kind of money these people can pour into their campaigns.

I'm sure these people are all pleased with themselves. GS and its competitors are awash in cash they didn't earn. The White House and the Congress are clearly happy to let this state of affairs continue, since being the ones that the financial lobby panders to allows them to convince themselves that they are in charge. At the risk of bursting a bubble that would dwarf our housing prices, I have news for them.

There's a dog in New Zealand who's worth more than all of them put together.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

It's been several weeks now since the cherry trees bloomed here. A couple of weeks later, these trees were blooming. I don't know what they are, but they're all over the place here. These were at a mini-mall on 4th Ave. SW:
Image credit: All images by Cujo359

These were at the Weyerhauser Center:

These are along 330th SW near 1st:

As were these:

They're all within a couple of miles of each other, and there are lots more I didn't take a picture of.

Click on the images to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

UPDATE: Corrected the location of the third image.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rep. Andre Carson: Another Symptom of Democratic Cluelessness

Rep. Andre Carson (IN-07) wrote this in a political spam e-mail the other day:

Do you have high cholesterol?
Do you have diabetes?
Do you have high blood pressure?

Congratulations dear friend, this historic healthcare legislation will guarantee that you will not be denied coverage due to your pre-existing condition! I am happy to say that this law will also expand coverage to over 32 million Americans; nearly 95% of our population!

Casting my vote to pass health care reform is just one of the many items we’ve been tackling in Washington to help Hoosiers and American alike. But I couldn’t be in Congress without your support.

To which I replied:

"this historic healthcare legislation will guarantee that you will not be denied coverage due to your pre-existing condition!"

This is patently absurd. The Congress and President deliberately made sure that there was no means of enforcing this provision in the HC"R" bill. For all the good it will do, they could have been legislating an end to rainy days.

They still don't get it. Given what Steve Benen was willing to write on the Democrats' behalf yesterday, I continue to doubt they will anytime soon:

It seemed like a good strategy at the time. With Robert Wexler (D) giving up his U.S. House seat in South Florida, a special election would offer conservatives a chance to create a "referendum" on the Obama presidency. After all, the election, held yesterday, would be the first since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, and Republicans could ride the wave of voter anger to an upset.

Indeed, the Republican candidate, Ed Lynch, ran on a strictly anti-Obama platform, vowing to repeal the new health care law and railing against the recovery efforts that rescued the economy. Lynch sought to position himself as the "next Scott Brown."

So, how'd that referendum turn out? The backlash against Democrats and the president propelled Lynch to a 26-point defeat.

'Referendum' Falls Far Short In Special Election

What Benen fails to mention, of course, is that the FL-19 district is rated by Cook Report as being a D+15 district, meaning that Democratic candidates do 15 percent better in this district than average. Wexler, the incumbent, has never won by a percentage of less than 66. The candidates also had a considerable disparity in fundraising:

Lynch is running against Democrat Ted Deutch, who represents Palm Beach County in the state Senate and is heavily favored to retain the seat left vacant by the retirement of Democrat Robert Wexler. Through March 24, Deutch had spent nearly $1.2 million, more than 14 times as much as Lynch's $83,000.

April 13, 2010: Dem Favored In First Election Since Health Care Vote

The Democrats should have won here. They may take a bit of comfort in the fact that it wasn't a nail-biter, but that's about the only good news for the Democratic Party I see coming out of this.

The bad news is that the Democrats will continue to view the health care "reform" bill as some sort of plus for them, and there are plenty of folks willing to abet them in that delusion.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Caption: A demonstration by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in New York City in 1914. It's hard to believe, but sometime in the future, we may look back on this as the good old days.

Image credit: Library Of Congress/Wikimedia

At his blog, Robert Reich wrote an economic forecast yesterday that certainly bears reading. In contrast to previous efforts, I think he largely gets this one right, which is discouraging:

The likelihood, therefore, is that as the economy struggles to recover and today’s jobless begin to find work, the median wage will continue to fall—as it did between 2001 and 2007, during the last so-called recovery.

More Americans will be working, but for pay they consider inadequate. The approaching recovery will be tepid because so many people will lack the money needed to buy all the goods and services the economy can produce.

Americans will once again be employed, but they will also be back on the downward escalator of declining pay they rode before the Great Recession.

The Future Of American Jobs

This is our near future. What lies beyond will depend on whether Americans finally get off their asses and learn what's going on in their world and their own government, instead of just shouting like frightened idiots.

At the moment, I'm not optimistic that the long term looks any better.

One Less Fantasy

In the increasingly desparate race to figure out if there's any reason left for progressives to support Barack Obama, one of the few ideas that occur to most people is that he will undoubtedly nominate several Supreme Court justices. Surely, Obama would nominate progressives to replace the progressives who will soon retire. For a long time, I've wondered just what it was they thought they were seeing that I wasn't in this regard. Today, Glenn Greenwald wrote something that should puncture this last fantasy:

The prospect that [Supreme Court Justice John Paul] Stevens will be replaced by Elena Kagan has led to the growing perception that Barack Obama will actually take a Supreme Court dominated by Justices Scalia (Reagan), Thomas (Bush 41), Roberts (Bush 43), Alito (Bush 43) and Kennedy (Reagan) and move it further to the Right. Joe Lieberman went on Fox News this weekend to celebrate the prospect that "President Obama may nominate someone in fact who makes the Court slightly less liberal," while The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus predicted: "The court that convenes on the first Monday in October is apt to be more conservative than the one we have now." Last Friday, I made the same argument: that replacing Stevens with Kagan risks moving the Court to the Right, perhaps substantially to the Right (by "the Right," I mean: closer to the Bush/Cheney vision of Government and the Thomas/Scalia approach to executive power and law).

The case against Elena Kagan

Sonia Sotomayor has generally voted with the conservatives. She will continue to do so, at least on anything having to do with workers' rights and other issues where corporations are involved. She was happy to ignore decades of precedent to vote with the Bushies in the Citizens United case. (see UPDATE) I'm pretty sure she hasn't missed any opportunity to screw the little guy since she took office.

Kagan has been Obama's Solicitor General. That's the person at the Department of Justice who is responsible for representing the government's case in lawsuits, etc., before the courts. In that capacity, Kagan has been responsible for supporting the lawless behavior of the Obama Administration regarding wiretaps, indefinite detention, and excusing torture.

Why anyone who thought an Adminstration that would do something like this would ever nominate a progressive, or even someone who takes the Constitution seriously to the Supreme Court is beyond me. These guys have been about excusing the transgressions of the affluent and powerful from the moment they assumed office. They weren't going to nominate any Justices who would fail to support such behavior.

Is there anything left? Are Obama supporters, the ones who aren't on his payroll at least, tired of being played yet? Anyone? Bueller?

UPDATE: Oops. As Boukman70 pointed out in comments, Sotomayor voted with the minority in the Citizens United case. Don't know how I got that wrong, but I did. Thanks for the correction.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dawn Johnsen: No Longer A Football

Caption: Dawn Johnsen. If there's anything good to say about the Obama Administration's treatment of her nomination, it's that Charlie Brown never got a chance to kick her.

Image credit: Indiana University

This is another depressing topic that I've avoided the last few days, but thankfully, bmaz is on the case. Discussing the anonymously-sourced bleatings in the DC press about how President Obama didn't have the stomach for a fight on Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), he wrote:

This is a bunch of bunk. I have previously written extensively on why there were at least 60 votes for Johnson’s confirmation for the entire second half of last year after Al Franken was sworn in, and why there still were 60 votes for her confirmation this year upon Obama’s renomination, even after the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts. If you have any question, please click through and refer to those articles; for now though, I want to revisit the false light being painted on Ben Nelson and Arlen Specter on the nomination’s failure.

Obama Killed The Johnsen Nomination, Not Ben Nelson Nor The GOP

As with so much we read these days from this source, bmaz is correct. This is just the story that the Senate "leadership" and the Administration want to tell us, but don't have the honesty to just say on the record. In short, it's a lie, and the DC press is happy to let people with power lie anonymously.

Why is this a lie? Maybe the most telling reason is this under-reported story:

Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill [American citizen Anwar] al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield. I wrote at length about the extreme dangers and lawlessness of allowing the Executive Branch the power to murder U.S. citizens far away from a battlefield (i.e., while they're sleeping, at home, with their children, etc.) and with no due process of any kind.

Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen

You read that right - the Obama Administration is now claiming that it has the right to kill an American citizen if the national intelligence establishment is willing to say that he's a terrorist. As we saw in the last Administration, it's pretty clear that this is not a process that will be free of political consideration, or error.

This isn't a case of trying to arrest someone at all costs, or of killing someone in order to prevent an imminent attack or to defend someone's life - it's a policy that was coldly discussed for months. No trial, nor even a warrant is required. The implications of this are staggering. I can't imagine Dawn Johnsen, or any other principled professional lawyer, going along with this.

To that, let's add this quote from Glenn Greenwald on the subject, which I copied from bmaz's article:

virtually everything that Dawn Johnsen said about executive power, secrecy, the rule of law and accountability for past crimes made her an excellent fit for what Candidate Obama said he would do, but an awful fit for what President Obama has done. To see how true that is, one can see the post I wrote last January detailing and praising her past writings, but all one really has to do is to read the last paragraph of her March, 2008 Slate article — entitled “Restoring Our Nation’s Honor” — in which she outlines what the next President must do in the wake of Bush lawlessness:

The question how we restore our nation’s honor takes on new urgency and promise as we approach the end of this administration. We must resist Bush administration efforts to hide evidence of its wrongdoing through demands for retroactive immunity, assertions of state privilege, and implausible claims that openness will empower terrorists. . . .

Here is a partial answer to my own question of how should we behave, directed especially to the next president and members of his or her administration but also to all of use who will be relieved by the change: We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation’s past transgressions and reject Bush’s corruption of our American ideals. Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation’s honor be restored without full disclosure.

What Johnsen insists must not be done reads like a manual of what Barack Obama ended up doing and continues to do — from supporting retroactive immunity to terminate FISA litigations to endless assertions of “state secrecy” in order to block courts from adjudicating Bush crimes to suppressing torture photos on the ground that “[openness] will empower terrorists” to the overarching Obama dictate that we “simply move on.” Could she have described any more perfectly what Obama would end up doing when she wrote, in March, 2008, what the next President “must not do”?

I find it virtually impossible to imagine Dawn Johnsen opining that the President has the legal authority to order American citizens assassinated with no due process or to detain people indefinitely with no charges. I find it hard to believe that the Dawn Johnsen who wrote in 2008 that “we must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly and devises bogus constitutional arguments for outlandishly expansive presidential power” would stand by quietly and watch the Obama administration adopt the core Bush/Cheney approach to civil liberties and Terrorism. I find it impossible to envision her sanctioning the ongoing refusal of the DOJ to withdraw the January, 2006 Bush/Cheney White Paper that justified illegal surveillance with obscenely broad theories of executive power. I don’t know why her nomination was left to die, but I do know that her beliefs are quite antithetical to what this administration is doing.

The Death Of Dawn Johnsen's Nomination

It's at least theoretically possible that when the Obama Administration first announced Johnsen's candidacy for OLC they were genuinely interested in having her work there. It was pretty clear, though, even before Obama took office, that they were more interested in retaining many of the powers that the Bush Administration had claimed while in office. They have actively sought, on numerous occasions, to continue using those powers, or cover up for the Bush Administration's misuse of them.

It's hard to believe that Dawn Johnsen would have approved any of this, regardless of the justifications. Assassinating an American citizen is such an extraordinary step that even the Bush Administration didn't take it. Given that, it's hard to believe that the Obama Administration wanted her around. They're undoubtedly much more comfortable with the leftovers from the previous administration, who clearly had no problem with an all-powerful executive.

The only real question is why the Obama Administration chose to renominate Johnsen back in January. I think there are two possible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive. The first is that they kept her nomination in play so that Johnsen would not feel free to criticize Obama's policies. Doing that would have placed her in a very uncomfortable position.

The second possibility is that they kept her on as cover from progressives. Anyone who really looked at what's going on, of course, would have realized that the Johnsen nomination was at odds with the Administration's behavior, as I did. As bmaz realized, but I didn't, it was also clear that the Obama Administration had no intention of following through. In retrospect, as bmaz explains, they could have gotten the nomination through the Senate if they had wanted to:

There is no evidence whatsoever [Democratic Senator Ben] Nelson would have voted against allowing the nominee of Barack Obama, the sitting President of his own party, to have an up or down vote. None. How Nelson would have voted on the up or down floor vote is irrelevant as there were far more than the 51 votes for confirmation in an up or down vote. Ben Nelson was not the problem.

Arlen Specter was not the problem either. Specter’s office directly confirmed to me that he was, and has been, willing to allow cloture on the up or down floor vote for Johnsen, and likely willing to support her in said up or down vote, ever since his second face to face meeting with Johnsen on May 12, 2009 and Specter confirmed the same to Marcy Wheeler in late February. The failure of the Johnsen nomination cannot be laid at the feet of Arlen Specter.

Obama Killed The Johnsen Nomination, Not Ben Nelson Nor The GOP

Both Senators who have been named as the ones who tried to obstruct this nomination, were going to allow a vote, which means that they would not have obstructed Johnsen's nomination. As bmaz writes, this is in keeping with past tradition on this issue. There is no reason to assume that either Nelson or Specter, particularly the latter, who is facing a tough re-election fight complete with a legitimate primary challenge, would have obstructed this nomination if Obama had wanted it. Anyone who thinks that was asleep during the health care debacle.

Speaking of the health care "reform", given the largely slavish coverage of that issue by the so-called progressive organizations, it shouldn't be surprising that they've been largely silent on both this issue, and on the assassination of American citizens. They didn't bother to work out the implications of the health care bill, something that supposedly is a central issue. Why would we expect any courage now?

The Johnsen nomination is done. That much is certain. Why it was put forward in the first place is the only interesting question. The implications of that question are enormous, and disturbing.

Sunday Photo(s)

Sometimes during spring in the Pacific Northwest, it stops raining. On these occasions, young people emerge from their homes and spend the evening trying to make a cylindrical object make a spherical object someone's thrown at them go in a useful direction. It's baseball in the Northwest:
Image credit: Cujo359

This is one of the Federal Way Little League baseball fields that I was referring to in this post about Panther Lake. In winter and early spring, it's part of the flood control strategy. The rest of the spring and summer, they play ball there.
Image credit: Cujo359

Click on the photos to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Democrats, There's A Big Defeat In Your Future

Things are getting clearer.

Image credit: Mostlyrecords/Wikimedia

It's official. At least, it's as official as it gets. If nothing substantial changes between now and November, the Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives. Here's what Nate Silver had to say the other day:

In my piece a couple of weeks ago, I wrote that there was only a 1 in 10 chance that Democrats would lose more than 55 seats in November. Having now looked at this issue in somewhat more detail, that clearly seems to be a lowball estimate. While there is other statistical and anecdotal evidence that one can point toward that is relatively more favorable to Democrats, and while there are other techniques, like a district-by-district analysis, that could be applied to this problem instead -- if you could get 9:1 odds (a 1-in-10 chance) on the Democrats losing more than 55 seats in the House, that would be a good bet.

And what if, for example, the Rasmussen case comes into being? Rasmussen has the Democrats losing the generic ballot by 9 points (and has had similar numbers for awhile). A 9-point loss in the House popular vote would translate into a projected 65-seat loss for Democrats. Or, if we adjust the Rasmussen poll to account for the fact that the Democrats' performance in the popular vote tends to lag the generic ballot, it works out to a 12.4-point loss in the popular vote, which implies a loss of 79 seats!

Generic Ballot Points Toward Possible 50+ Seat Loss for Democrats

As Nate goes on to emphasize, these are not the most likely scenarios, but anything more than a 40 seat loss will mean the House reverts to Republican control. That's very likely, given the news from Gallup today:

Americans' favorable rating of the Democratic Party dropped to 41% in a late March USA Today/Gallup poll, the lowest point in the 18-year history of this measure. Favorable impressions of the Republican Party are now at 42%, thus closing the gap between the two parties' images that has prevailed for the past four years.

Democratic Party Image Drops to Record Low

Just two weeks ago, Gallup rated the generic Congressional ballot as being a virtual tie. Like the Republicans before them, all the Democrats needed to do was to be in power for a while to show how ineptly they'd handle that responsibility.

I could go into a long explanation about how congressional races are inevitably conservative, as in things don't tend to change much, because people tend to like their own congressman, but not anyone else's. This makes no rational sense, of course, but we're talking about American voters here. It doesn't matter. There's enough apathy on the progressive side, and enough anger and hostility on the conservative side, that this will probably be an even more Republican turnout than usual in a mid-year election. Plus, as the Gallup poll indicates, Democrats are losing popularity among independent voters.
Image credit: Gallup Poll

For reasons I've explained already, this is going to be a bad year for Democrats.

If it hadn't been for the recent health care debacle, I might see a silver lining in all this, which is that many of the seats the Democrats will lose will be Blue Dogs and DLCers. That would make the numbers more favorable for progressives to influence House Democratic policy. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to change things very much. What the House Progressive Caucus did by capitulating to the conservative Democrats during the health care bill campaign was tell its constituency to go screw itself. That's not going to go over well. In essence, they've sold out to the conservatives and the lobbyists. It's no more likely that they'll be inclined to work for progressive causes in the future than it is that the rank and file progressives will be inclined to forgive them for selling out so thoroughly. Sure, the limousine liberals will support them, but most liberals don't ride in limousines. Those who do will just have to content themselves with calling the rest of us stupid for not seeing the light. These days, that's about all they're good for.

So, the Democrats will lose the House, and they won't learn anything from it if nothing else changes. Of course, that also means that Nancy Pelosi will lose her job as the leader of House Democrats. That, too, could be seen as a good thing, but somehow I'm not thinking it will be. Steny Hoyer is the next in line, and the logical successor. I don't see any reason to prefer him over Pelosi. He's less progressive, and more blatantly partisan than Pelosi. Neither attribute strikes me as an improvement. The leadership of the House Progressive Caucus, as I've already mentioned, will not be a factor. They're too weak to matter, no matter how numerous they become.

It's not a pleasant future, but that's the one we're in for. I suppose the only question is what we can, or should, do about it.

Nothing To See Here

It's my sister's birthday, and as usual, I forgot to send a card, so here's one. Sort of. It's based on recent events.

iz mah birfday

Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

It's a silly place.

No, I'm not going to explain that. Nothing to see here. Go back to your homes. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Maybe You Can Fight The System

Post-dated from June 8, 2008, 1:30 PM. This expresses my mood today as much as when I wrote it. There's a new afterword, but the rest is as it was.

[Even confined to his chair, Sheridan manages to overshadow his interrogator. Image credit: Screenshots by Cujo359. (See NOTE)]

One of my favorite science fiction television episodes is the Babylon 5 episode "Intersections In Real Time". In that episode, John Sheridan, a war hero who has led a rebellion against Earth's corrupt and sadistic government, has been captured. He is now being held in secret in a prison facility that apparently is used mostly for the purpose of handling political prisoners.

The show is basically what its writer, J. Michael Straczynski, refers to as "two people in a room". It is about the interplay between Sheridan and his interrogator, who never actually reveals his name. The interrogator is a fascinating character - he swears to Sheridan that he will only tell him the truth, a promise that he actually does keep through the show. Yet he is as duplicitous as the worst liar you've ever met. He cannot be trusted to do anything except fulfil the role his superiors have given him. As he tells Sheridan, he has no interest in the truth, or justice, or fairness. All he wants is a signed and sealed confession.

How he tries to obtain that confession is a mixture of threats and attempts to gain Sheridan's confidence by, as he puts it, being the only one who is on Sheridan's side. He disavows any responsibility for what he is doing to his prisoner, blaming it on his superiors, or on Sheridan. While it's true that he is ultimately responsible for his own actions, odds are he actually believes what he is saying. He can probably be summed up in this line, which he says to Sheridan about two thirds of the way through the episode after Sheridan says they'll just kill him after he confesses:

If anything, they'll encourage you to travel, so that more people can see you as a symbol of the preeminent truth of our time - that you cannot beat the system. I'm telling you the truth. Sign and speak and you can leave here. It's really that simple.

He is, in short, a company man, someone who is only loyal to those above him.

If you haven't seen Babylon 5, I heartily recommend that you rent or borrow the DVDs, starting with Season One. This episode is from Season Four, and while it can be appreciated on its own, it probably will make more sense if you know Sheridan's background and the history of the show. B5 was a complete work, with some elements introduced in the first season not explained until the last. It is a unique thing in television, and I think it's well worth the time even if you're not big on science fiction.

There are what could be considered mild spoilers below, so if you haven't seen the show yet, be warned.

Toward the end of the show, Sheridan and the interrogator have this exchange, which starts with the interrogator storming into the room and waking Sheridan up. Sheridan is, as he has been for much of the episode, confined to a chair:

Interrogator: Right. Now, listen to me. Wake up. There's something you have to understand. Focus. Focus on me! Do you know why they're doing this to you? It's because you're a war hero, one of the few to come out of the Minbari War. They've invested a considerable amount of time and effort making you a hero in the public's eye. The problem is, when a war hero starts believing certain things and saying certain things, the public listens. They figure maybe there's something to it. Your credibility has become a threat to their credibility.

So one of them has to go. The best way out for everyone is for you to confess and lay the blame for what's happened on the alien government. Whether it's true or not doesn't matter. Truth is immaterial. They can sell it. And they will let you live.

Note, I said it is the best way. I did not say it was the only way.

The other way, Captain, is a posthumous confession. Your signature is not a problem. They have your image on file. They can create you reading the confession. That's not as good as having you where people can see you so they know it's true that even you can be broken, you cannot resist. With a video record there will always be doubt. It's not the same as breaking you, but I'm told that as of this morning, .. it is an acceptable option.

I can save your life. Right now. If you'll let me.

Sheridan: You know, it's funny, I was thinking about what you said. That the pre-eminent truth of our age is that you cannot fight the system. But if, as you say, the truth is fluid, that the truth is subjective, then maybe you can fight the system. As long as just one person refuses to be broken, refuses to bow down.

Interrogator: But can you win?

Sheridan: Nods Every time I say "no".

This dialogue encapsulates much of the madness of our own time. Sheridan, a war hero who managed to survive a suicidal war, is considered by those in power to be someone they made. They blame their actions on the circumstances they find themselves in, refusing to acknowledge that they had a choice of actions, if not an entire universe of possible alternatives. They deliberately chose a path that they must have known would lead to having to victimize people like Sheridan in order for them to escape the consequences of their actions.

On days like this, after losing a desperate battle to save our country from the lunatics who run it, I feel as though we Americans are the ones stuck in that chair, with the collection of cowards, fools, and opportunists who are running our government as the interrogators. They already are bleating about having to do this thing, even congratulating themselves for having reached a compromise, when the only thing that's really compromised is the truth. Most will never admit the truth about the shameful act they committed yesterday.

Anyone who understands the swiftboating of John Kerry or the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson knows that these people don't give a crap about heroes who don't play ball.

It took John Kerry more than four three years to admit that his vote for the Iraq War was pathetically mistaken. As I noted long ago, if anyone should have known better it would have been he. Yet he's spent so long in the bubble that is our nation's capitol, surrounded by his wealthy colleagues and the news agencies their supporters have bought and paid for, it's easy to forget what reality is outside the beltway.

So, we have to be the ones who say "no". We have to do it again, and again, because the people who run things will never admit they are wrong. As long as we keep saying no, they won't have broken us.

Maybe we can even beat the system someday.

NOTE: Babylon 5 is a copyrighted work of Time Warner, Inc. Neither they, nor the producers of the show or anyone else connected with it has endorsed, supported, or even become aware of this article.

Afterword (Apr. 6, 2010): This article was written just after losing the fight to keep the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act from being gutted by the Democrats in Congress back in June, 2008. Since this was written, of course, the Democrats won the White House and large majorities in Congress. Nothing else has changed, as near as I can tell. We're still in those ruinous wars, the government has done nothing to roll back the human rights abuses and grabs for extraordinary power of the last decade, and they clearly don't intend to. The economy has finally taken the dive many folks suspected it was headed for. Then they sold us out to the insurance and drug industries.

I feel just as strapped to that chair as I felt two years ago. Except that now there are even fewer of us still fighting.

This is one of those articles that people have consistently found over the years. I think it appeals to both Babylon 5 fans, and people who need a reminder that nothing that's worth doing is easy. At least, I hope there are some of the latter.

Still, all we can do is keep saying no. As long as we do that, we win, at least a little.

(What follows are the original updates to this article. They aren't quite as topical now as they were at the time. That's why this afterword appears ahead of them. The second update is somewhat prophetic, in that it foreshadows all the later betrayals of progressives by the Democrats in Congress.)

UPDATE (3:16PM) Finally corrected all the spelling and grammatical mistakes. I think.

UPDATE 2: Christy Hardin Smith quotes Jonathan Turley:

OLBERMANN: Have the Democrats blinked or Mr. Feingold and Mr. Leahy are going to kill this in the Senate?

TURLEY: Well, this is more like a one-man staring contest. I mean, the Democrats never really were engaged in this. In fact, they repeatedly tried to cave in to the White House, only be stopped by civil libertarians and bloggers. And each time they would put it on the shelf, wait a few months, they did this before, reintroduced it with Jay Rockefeller‘s support, and then there was another great, you know, dustup and they pulled it back.

I think they‘re simply waiting to see if the public‘s interest will wane and we‘ll see that tomorrow, because this bill has, quite literally, no public value for citizens or civil liberties. It is reverse engineering, though the type of thing that the Bush administration is famous for, and now the Democrats are doing—that is to change the law to conform to past conduct.

It‘s what any criminal would love to do. You rob a bank, go to the legislature, and change the law to say that robbing banks is lawful.

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, June 19

[emphasis mine]

I disagree that it has no value, but that's beside the point. It makes OK what is not OK, and that is the problem. It looks like even Turley's in the bubble. But the fact that the Democrats hope that this will just go away, and that the only reason they haven't is that we citizens keep raising a ruckus is at least encouraging.

This thing goes to the Senate, and it's not over yet.

UPDATE 3 (Jun. 22): Thanks to Beachmom's comments, I've amended my statement about how long it took John Kerry to publicly recant his vote on the AUMF. Here's a speech he gave three years after the AUMF was passed. See the comments for further explanation. It's too bad he hadn't given that speech a year earlier. He'd probably be President Kerry right now if he had.

I appreciate the correction.

A "So What?" Story

This is one of those "so what?" stories, as far as I'm concerned:

With Republicans poised for a strong showing in the November midterms, the Republican National Committee is reeling from a spending scandal that has now led to the resignation of top figures in the party and threatens to squander the political wind Republicans have at their backs.

Many of the details are inside baseball, but they add up a serious crisis in the leadership of the national GOP. Steele's 14-month tenure at the RNC was already defined by an ongoing series of gaffes and damaging press stories, including about Steele's questionable book and a controversial leaked RNC fundraising presentation.

Problem Spending And Mass Resignations Threaten To Implode RNC

I think of it as no big deal, I suppose, because it was only a little more than a year ago that they elected Steele to head the RNC. At the time, he seemed like the best choice available, even if one didn't consider the obvious problem Republicans have with appealing to black voters. The others seemed even more corrupt and crazy than he was.

That's what I take away from this - these guys still have no ability to run anything, even their own party. As bad as the Democrats have been lately, they still manage to look good next to these guys.

As things stand right now, the only thing standing between the Republicans and control of the House this fall is themeselves.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Big Thought For The Day

Anyone who tells me that the Ten Commandments should be plastered on public buildings is going to have to name them. This test will be closed-book, by the way. You'll also have to know what the first book of the bible is, and you'll have to be able to explain the significance of the Sermon On The Mount, and why it was different from its parent religious philosophy. And you'll have to know which testament (old or new) Romans appears in. There's extra credit for knowing who wrote it.

This test will also be required of anyone who thinks that organized prayer should be allowed in public schools, or that "In God We Trust" is a dandy motto for a country that has a law stating that the government will not make any laws establishing a religion.

Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359 (Complete explanation here.)

Here are a couple of our proctors, and as you can see, they're well armed. Forming your own militia will not help you here. Number two pencils will not be provided. They're sharp objects, and unlike some churches, we have liability concerns.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Trying To Blog Against Theocracy

Image credit: Original image by Tengrain. Modified by Cujo359. (Anyone else wanting to use this image, be my guest.)

Many years ago, Monty Python put the idea of theocracy and ritualism in its place:

King Arthur: I am your king.
Woman: Well I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Woman: Well how'd you become king then?
[Angelic music plays... ]
King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.
Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Oh, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.
Oh but if I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away.

IMDB Quotes: Monty Python And The Holy Grail

It's Blog Against Theocracy week, and it's really hard to think of something to write that I haven't already. That's because one of the rules is that you're not supposed to insult religion.

Yet that is sometimes rather hard to avoid.

Take, for instance this sign, and others like it that are being put up on billboards and buses at different times in different parts of the country:

This particular version was put up in late summer of last year on some buses in Des Moines, Iowa. It's nothing more than a declaration that there are people who don't believe in a god. It's not an insult in any sense that I can imagine. Yet the governor, who calls himself a progressive, and numerous others felt that this was a grievous insult. The local bus agency removed the ads while it considered the gravity of this declaration. One woman was so upset by this billboard that she risked her job rather than drive a bus that displayed one.

That's crazy. You would think that no one in his right mind would do more than chuckle or shrug his shoulders at such an ad, assuming he disagreed with it. Yet this sort of thing happens everywhere that ad appears. Here's what someone had to say when they appeared last year in Dallas, according to a local television station:

The Fort Worth billboard will be located within sight of Calvary Cathedral International church.

"They have a right to believe what they want to; this is America," said Michelle Cavero, who rejoined the church Sunday. "But why put it here and discourage others from their beliefs?"

Don't Believe in God? You're Not Alone

How does this discourage someone's belief? All it does is affirm someone else's.

Most religions require their adherents to believe some crazy things. Christians are supposed to believe that their religion's founder was tortured and killed in one of the worst ways imaginable, given the technology and medical knowledge of the time, so they could be forgiven for their sins. Huh? This makes absolutely no sense, no matter how you spin it. What makes sense, given what we know of the situation, is that Christ was crucified because people found him annoying and their leaders thought he was a troublemaker.

No doubt, he was insulting the religious beliefs of the time by declaring that he had his own.

All the major religions of America require belief in the idea that after you die you go to some other place. This is a place that no one can get to while they're alive, and no one can locate. You can only go there when you're dead, and thus, can't report back on what you've found. Yet there are millions of Americans who will tell you firmly that this place exists, and that you're a fool not to believe it.

That's crazy. People are comforted by the idea that they can go someplace after they die. No one likes to contemplate the end of his existence, and for some people this existence really is a lousy one. It's full of pain, disappointment, and loneliness. It would be nice if all that suffering were leading up to something. So people believe in something that their own experience, and any real learning they might have encountered along the way, should tell them is impossible. If that were the end of it, though, it wouldn't be so bad.

The problem is that people want to believe this so much that they'll believe any other mumbo-jumbo that goes along with it. They'll believe that utter nonsense like the Trinity is profound. They'll believe that the end times will be great for them, but not for you. They'll believe that the guy who runs their church is infallible. They'll believe it even though they should know better, and if they do know better, they'll pretend not to.

If I were to declare that Richard Dawkins was infallible, you'd say I was nuts. You'd be right, too. The difference between the Pope and Prof. Dawkins in this particular instance is that Dawkins would agree with you. This quote that I've published before illustrates that point fairly well:

Rivers of Medieval ink, not to mention blood, have been squandered over the 'mystery' of the Trinity, and in suppressing such heresies as the Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e., of the same substance or essence) of God. What on Earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very little' seems the only reasonable reply. Yet the controversy split Christendom down the middle for more than a century, Emperor Constantine order that all copies of Arius' book should be burned. Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs, such has been the way of theology.

The God Delusion - pg. 33

No one who is sane would kill someone else over something like this. Scientists, not to mention engineers, lawyers, politicians, and business people, have far more substantive disagreements daily, yet the most they'll usually do is not speak to each other for a while. Yet people will gladly kill others for their own shot at Heaven.

That's why people think you insult their religions because you have a different belief - you're making them question their own. The crazy lady from Dallas was right - it's cruel to make people like her think for themselves on this issue. Any hint of a rational discussion of their beliefs might lead them to question what they've been doing all their lives, and what might happen when their lives end. That this is a frightening thing should be obvious, particularly when you consider that the most popular question among people I've told I'm an atheist is "You mean, you think when you die, that's it?"

Which is why theocracy is so dangerous. People will believe all manner of nonsense if their religion calls for it. Calling out that nonsense, or believing in your own, is a dangerous thing to do. Making it a part of the country's laws would be disastrous.

I'm not a big student of religion. I never was. Yet, I know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible, which is more than half of America's Christians do. I can recite the Ten Commandments, which probably would put me in the 95th percentile among American Christians. In fact, I know that four of them, including the first, are about how the adherents of that group of religions are supposed to practice their religions. If you believe these Christians, however, we're supposed to plaster these commandments all over our public buildings to remind us what the foundation of our civilization is. Never mind that the foundation of our civilization's beliefs in the rights of man and freedom were first developed by the pagans of Greece and Rome, and that they were later expanded on by many non-believers during the Enlightenment. Their knowledge of history is a match for their knowledge of their own religions.

Leaving people in charge who believe that faith in whatever superstitions they happen to believe in is more important than knowledge and experience is no basis for a system of government.

If that insults your religious beliefs, tough.

UPDATE: I almost forgot - Happy Easter, or happy first Sunday after the first full moon in Spring, whichever applies.

Sunday Photo(s)

As with last week's photos, these are more seascapes from the vicinity of White Center and Fauntleroy, on the Puget Sound. This one is in the same vicinity as last week's, and it's toward the west. Once again, there are some sailboats clearly visible on the Sound:
Image credit: Cujo359

This view is toward the south:
Image credit: Cujo359

On the left is the shoreline of Seahurst, with Three Tree Point jutting out into the Sound.

Click on the images to enlarge them. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

RIP, Patches

Updated April 4

This is a friend of George's named Patches, and George's wife Diane. Patches died awhile back, and George memorialized his friend today at Decrepit Old Fool:

Go say hi if you're a regular visitor.

UPDATE (Apr. 4): I'll just add this thought, which is a perhaps more coherent version of what I wrote at George's place.

Cats really are our friends. They choose to be with us, or not. They either like us or they don't, and if they don't like us they won't hang around much, even if we're the ones who feed them. Assuming they like us, they hang out with us when they have the time. That's what friends do.

It's nice to be liked, and it's nice to feel needed on some emotional level. Cats can provide that feeling, which is one of the reasons we miss them when they're gone.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Quote of the day goes to Steve Clemons, via Talking Points Memo:

The White House is working hard to secure deals that yield fluffy, feel good commentary about the Obama White House. One American White House reporter used colorful terms to describe the arrangement. The reporter said, "They want 'blow jobs' first [in the press sense]. Then you have to be on good behavior for a bit or be willing to deal, and then you get access."

"Axe" and "Gibbs" know who needs access to get their books pushed forward. They know who will pay for play -- and are taking notes on who has been naughty and nice in their reporting.

Communications Corruption at the White House

If you've wondered why supposedly progressive reporters have been giving President Obama a pass on his regressive policies, I suggest you read this article. It provides an example, which is that there are reporters perfectly willing to fudge stories in exchange for the inside access necessary to write a successful book about Obama. Right now, books about Obama are in demand. Politics being what it is, that could change fairly quickly, so the time to sell out is right now.

Anyone familiar with Robert Woodward's books about George W. Bush will recognize this phenomenon. Woodward's books were initially overly respectful, one might even say "fawning", of Bush. The later ones, after Bush was re-elected and his poll numbers were in the toilet, were more critical.

Clemons' use of the word "corruption" in the title is apt. This is corruption, and since we depend on reporters for an understanding of what's going on in the White House, it's a particularly dangerous form.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Change, Baby, Change

Caption: Areas proposed to be opened to offshore oil drilling by the Obama Administration as part of the new energy bill.

Image credit: found it here

No one who actually understands what went on during the health care reform fiasco should be in the least bit surprised by any of this:

In proposing a major expansion of offshore oil and gas development, President Obama set out to fashion a carefully balanced plan that would attract bipartisan support for climate and energy legislation while increasing production of domestic oil.

Risk Is Clear in Drilling; Payoff Isn’t

By "domestic production", this New York Times article mostly means offshore oil drilling:

The American Petroleum Institute, using the high end of government estimates, hopes that the opening of the areas on the Atlantic and eastern gulf alone would make available more than four billion barrels of oil and more than 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to fuel more than 2.4 million cars and heat eight million households for 60 years.

Risk Is Clear in Drilling; Payoff Isn’t

According to the CIA World Factbook entry on the United States, we use roughly 19.5 million barrels of oil a day. Just multiplying that number by 365 shows that we use about 7.1 billion barrels a year. Subtracting our domestic oil production from that total, we import roughly 4 billion barrels a year. Everything they hope to find in the areas Obama is proposing to open up is about seven month's worth of consumption, or a year's worth of imports. For this, we will risk turning valuable beaches and fisheries into oil slicks.

Speaking of oil slicks, where they might occur if this new legislation is enacted should be no surprise, either:

Mr. Obama’s plan, delicately pieced together by the Interior Department with White House input, carved out a large coastal buffer zone in the eastern gulf to mollify Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, an opponent of drilling there. It also included continued access to the oil fields off the North Slope of Alaska to win the support of Alaska Senators Mark Begich, a Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican.

Most New England officials, including Maine’s two Republican Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are considered swing votes on energy legislation. They strongly oppose offshore drilling, and the North Atlantic was exempted. And because there is almost no support for drilling and there is little recoverable oil off the Pacific Coast, the whole area was declared off limits, said Ken Salazar, the interior secretary.

But by opening the mid-Atlantic region, from Delaware south to Central Florida, for oil exploration, Mr. Obama angered New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, who have been generally supportive of Mr. Obama’s push for climate legislation.

Risk Is Clear in Drilling; Payoff Isn’t

Lautenberg and Menendez didn't present a problem for Obama during the health care "reform" campaign, so I'm pretty sure they'll be pushed out of the way here, too. Nelson, Snowe, and Collins are people who matter, so you can bet there won't be oil washing up on their shoreline.

It gets better, of course. "Clean coal", that magical substance that only exists in the fevered imaginations of politicians from coal-producing states, is another big part of the upcoming bill:

He also announced a new task force to forge a plan for rolling out affordable carbon capture and storage technology in 10 years, including having 10 commercial demonstration projects up and running by 2016.

Carbon capture and storage is meant to capture the emissions from carbon-polluting coal plants and bury them underground rather than spewing them into the atmosphere but the technology is still being researched.

Obama Eyes Biofuels, Clean Coal In New Climate Push

Caption: A coal slurry pond in Martin County, KY from around the year 2000.

Image credit: Mine Safety and Health Administration/Red, Green, and Blue

Coal isn't clean. The detritus that remains after it's burned is among the most toxic substances on the planet. Using coal to generate electricity guarantees that there will be vast pools of toxic sludge like the one that broke not too long ago in Tennessee.

On December 22, 2008, the containment pond at the TVA Kingston plant collapsed, spilling more than 4.1 million cubic meters of ash into the surrounding environment.

In the weeks following the spill, the Duke [University] team analyzed toxic elements – including radium, arsenic and mercury – in ash, sediment and water samples they collected from standing water in a tributary of the Emory River in Tennessee that had been dammed by the sludge spill, and from multiple locations downstream and upstream on the Emory and Clinch rivers.


Their analysis of ash samples revealed that the spilled sludge contained high levels of toxic metals and radioactivity, including 75 parts per million of arsenic, 150 parts per billion of mercury, and eight picocuries of per gram of total radium. A picocurie is a standard measure of radioactivity.

Toxic Coal Ash Threatens Health And Environment

To its credit, the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency has begun looking at new regulations for this waste, but that process is a long way from satisfactory completion. To its discredit, the real power in this area appears to belong to Cass Sunstein, who is infamous among environmentalists for weakening restrictions on toxic chemicals released by the coal industry. As is this Administration's penchant, the reformers are left to flail about, while the people who make things worse are getting a pass.

I think it's also a safe bet that no Senators who matter live near one of those sludge ponds.

This is all on top of the Administration's proposal that nuclear energy be part of our energy strategy, to the tune of $8 billion in loan guarantees. There is something absolutely crazy about proposing that we build more plants whose waste products we cannot find a home for.

Somehow, mention of nuclear power, offshore oil drilling, and more coal plants never made it into the Obama campaign's "fact sheet" on their energy and environment plans. Curiously, that document mentions that energy conservation will be an important part of their plan, along with a general cap and trade policy. Both, if implemented wisely, would be effective in reducing environmental hazards and making us more independent of foreign oil. Yet one hardly ever reads about these things, except in the negative.

Go figure. NOTE: The UPDATE below has a slight correction to this statement.

Kevin Drum sums up the political ramifications pretty well:

I guess this makes me a bad environmentalist, but I've never really had a big problem with opening up these offshore tracts as long as (a) the affected states are OK with it and (b) oil companies don't get sweetheart deals. But here's what I don't get. When it comes to energy, conservatives are crazy about two things: nuclear power and offshore drilling. Now Obama has agreed to both. But does he seriously think this will "help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation"? Wouldn't he be better off holding this stuff in reserve and negotiating it away in return for actual support, not just hoped-for support? What am I missing here?

Obama Opens Up The Coast

As was true in the health care non-reform effort, compromising with Republicans is not the point. The point is keeping oil, utility, and coal dollars from migrating to GOP campaign funds.

Once again, the Obama Administration will propose legislation that will not actually solve the problem it is supposedly meant to address, but will make some of their supporters rich. The ultimate expression of the policy will have little or nothing to do with what candidate Obama promised. Most of the progressives who have been extolling the health care bill will be telling us how it's important to compromise, and to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

When did "something that actually does more good than harm" become "perfect"? Probably about the time this country was predominately populated by idiots who never bother to understand what they're talking about.

UPDATE: The Obama campaign also released a "fact sheet" on energy. It does mention nuclear energy, but states that it should only be considered once safety and other issues are addressed. It does not mention offshore drilling, though it does float the possibility of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Perhaps that should have been our clue. They don’t mention expanding the use of coal, but do mention that it should be made "cleaner". I suppose that was a clue, as well.