Saturday, January 24, 2009

Changing the 'GWOT' mindset

Getting Rid of the "War on Terror" Mindset

Matthew Yglesias

January 22, 2009 |


[Key excerpts:]


British Foreign Secretary David Miliband [said] that [the term "war on terror"] should never have been adopted since it "gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda" when "the reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate."


From the beginning, the idea of a "war on terror" was fatally compromised by the obvious analogy to purely metaphorical wars such as the war on drugs or the war on poverty. Our acclimatization to such metaphorical wars lets the use of the term slip past our censors without real scrutiny of the implications. But efforts against terrorism have, unlike anti-poverty policy, real resemblance to wars. Meaning that the "war on terror" isn't a metaphorical war at all; it's a real one. Yet at the same time, not a real one against a defined enemy and featuring defined objectives. And therein lies the problem.


Just as we don't afford terrorists the wartime exemption from prosecution, however, we must observe restraint in going after terrorists. If the FBI has reason to believe a terrorist is holed up in an apartment somewhere in Philadelphia, we don't bomb the building -- we arrest the terrorist. The same thing is generally true abroad -- we need to work with friendly law enforcement to unravel plots against targets in Europe and Canada and other Western nations. But we don't fire mortars or drop bombs in friendly cities -- we seek cooperation with local governments.

Taibbi: Friedman's zany take on English, world affairs

To fully, uh, appreciate Taibbi's Friedman-esque charts & graphs you have to follow the link to the article. 

Someone Take Away Thomas Friedman's Computer Before He Types Another Sentence

By Matt Taibbi

January 22, 2009 |


When some time ago a friend of mine told me that Thomas Friedman's new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, was going to be a kind of environmentalist clarion call against American consumerism, I almost died laughing.


Beautiful, I thought. Just when you begin to lose faith in America's ability to fall for absolutely anything -- just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts -- along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-'stached resident of a positively obscene 11,400-square-foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.


Where does a man, who needs his own offshore drilling platform just to keep the east wing of his house heated, get the balls to write a book chiding America for driving energy-inefficient automobiles? Where does a guy whose family bulldozed 2.1 million square feet of pristine Hawaiian wilderness to put a Gap, an Old Navy, a Sears, an Abercrombie and even a motherfucking Foot Locker in paradise get off preaching to the rest of us about the need for a "Green Revolution"? Well, he'll explain it all to you in 438 crisply written pages for just $27.95, $30.95 if you have the misfortune to be Canadian.


I've been unhealthily obsessed with Friedman for more than a decade now. For most of that time, I just thought he was funny. And admittedly, what I thought was funniest about him was the kind of stuff that only another writer would really care about -- in particular his tortured use of the English language. Like George W. Bush with his Bushisms, Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn't make them up even if you were trying -- and when you tried to actually picture the "illustrative" figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.


Remember Friedman's take on Bush's Iraq policy? "It's OK to throw out your steering wheel," he wrote, "as long as you remember you're driving without one." Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman's analysis of America's foreign policy outlook last May: "The first rule of holes is when you're in one, stop digging. When you're in three, bring a lot of shovels."


First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about?  If you're supposed to stop digging when you're in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It's stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.


Even better was this gem from one of Friedman's latest columns: "The fighting, death and destruction in Gaza is painful to watch. But it's all too familiar. It's the latest version of the longest-running play in the modern Middle East, which, if I were to give it a title, would be called: 'Who owns this hotel? Can the Jews have a room? And shouldn't we blow up the bar and replace it with a mosque?' "


There are many serious questions one could ask about this passage, but the one that leaped out at me was this: In the "title" of that long-running play, is it supposed to be the same person asking all three of those questions? If so, does that person suffer from multiple-personality disorder? Because in the first question, he is a neutral/ignorant observer of the Mideast drama; in the second, he sympathizes with the Jews; in the third, he's a radical Muslim. Moreover, after you blow up the bar and replace it with a mosque, is the surrounding hotel still there? Why would anyone build a mosque in a half-blown-up hotel?


Perhaps Friedman should have written the passage like this: "It's the latest version of the longest-running play in the modern Middle East, which, if I were to give it a title, would be called: 'Who owns this hotel? And why did a person suffering from multiple-personality disorder build a mosque inside it after blowing up the bar and asking if there was a room for the Jews? Why? Because his editor's been drinking rubbing alcohol!' "


OK, so maybe all of this is unfair. There are a lot of people out there who think Friedman has not been treated fairly by critics like me, that focusing on his literary struggles is a snobbish, below-the-belt tactic -- a cheap shot that belies the strength of his overall "arguments." Who cares, these people say, if Friedman's book The World is Flat should probably have been titled Thief. He had wanted the book's title to match its "point" about living in an age of increased global interconnectedness?


And who cares if it doesn't quite make sense when Friedman says that Iraq is like a "vase we broke in order to get rid of the rancid water inside?" Who cares that you can just pour water out of a vase, that only a fucking lunatic breaks a perfectly good vase just to empty it of water? You're missing the point, folks say, and the point is all in Friedman's highly nuanced ideas about world politics and the economy -- if you could just get past his well-meaning attempts to explain himself, you'd see that, and maybe you'd even learn something.


My initial answer to that is that Friedman's language choices over the years have been highly revealing: When a man who thinks you need to break a vase to get the water out of it starts arguing that you need to invade a country in order to change the minds of its people, you might want to start paying attention to how his approach to the vase problem worked out. Thomas Friedman is not a president, a pope, a general on the field of battle or any other kind of man of action. He doesn't actually do anything apart from talk about shit in a newspaper. So in my mind it's highly relevant if his manner of speaking is fucked.


But whatever, let's concede the point, forget about the crazy metaphors for a moment and look at the actual content of Hot, Flat and Crowded. Many people have rightly seen this new greenish, pseudo-progressive tract as an ideological departure from Friedman's previous works, which were all virtually identical exercises in bald greed worship and capitalist tent-pitching. Approach- and rhetoric-wise, however, it's the same old Friedman -- a tireless social scientist whose research methods mainly include lunching, reading road signs and watching people board airplanes.


Like The World is Flat, a book borne of Friedman's stirring experience of seeing an IBM sign in the distance while golfing in Bangalore, Hot, Flat and Crowded is a book whose great insights come when Friedman golfs (on global warming allowing him more winter golf days: "I will still take advantage of it -- but I no longer think of it as something I got for free."), looks at Burger King signs (upon seeing a "nightmarish neon blur" of KFC, BK and McDonald's signs in Texas, he realizes: "We're on a fool's errand."), and reads bumper stickers (the "Osama Loves your SUV" sticker he read turns into the thesis of his "Fill 'er up with Dictators" chapter). This is Friedman's life: He flies around the world, eats pricey lunches with other rich people and draws conclusions about the future of humanity by looking out his hotel window and counting the Applebee's signs.


Friedman frequently uses a rhetorical technique that goes something like this: "I was in Dubai with the general counsel of BP last year, watching 500 Balinese textile workers get on a train, when suddenly I said to myself, 'We need better headlights for our tri-plane.' " And off he goes. You the reader end up spending so much time wondering what Dubai, BP and all those Balinese workers have to do with the rest of the story that you don't notice that tri-planes don't have headlights. And by the time you get all that sorted out, your well-lit tri-plane is flying from chapter to chapter delivering a million geo-green pizzas to a million Noahs on a million Arks. And you give up. There's so much shit flying around the book's atmosphere that you don't notice the only action is Friedman talking to himself.


In The World is Flat, the key action scene of the book comes when Friedman experiences his pseudo-epiphany about the Flat world while talking with himself in front of InfoSys CEO Nandan Nilekani. In Hot, Flat and Crowded, the money shot comes when Friedman starts doodling on a napkin over lunch with Moisés Naím, editor of Foreign Policy magazine. The pre-lunching Friedman starts drawing, and the wisdom just comes pouring out:


I laid out my napkin and drew a graph showing how there seemed to be a rough correlation between the price of oil, between 1975 and 2005, and the pace of freedom in oil-producing states during those same years.


Friedman then draws his napkin-graph, and much to the pundit's surprise, it turns out that there is almost an exact correlation between high oil prices and "unfreedom"! The graph contains two lines, one showing a rising-and-then-descending slope of "freedom," and one showing a descending-and-then-rising course of oil prices.


Friedman plots exactly four points on the graph over the course of those 30 years. In 1989, as oil prices are falling, Friedman writes, "Berlin Wall Torn Down." In 1993, again as oil prices are low, he writes, "Nigeria Privatizes First Oil Field." 1997, oil prices still low, "Iran Calls for Dialogue of Civilizations." Then, finally, 2005, a year of high oil prices: "Iran Calls for Israel's destruction."


Take a look for yourself: I looked at this and thought: "Gosh, what a neat trick!" Then I sat down and drew up my own graph, called "Size of Valerie Bertinelli's Ass, 1985-2008 Versus Happiness." It turns out that there is an almost exact correlation! Note the four points on the graph:



That was so much fun, I drew another one! This one is called "American Pork Belly Prices Versus What Midgets Think About Australia 1972-2002."



Or how about this one, called "Number of One-Eyed Retarded Flies in the State of North Carolina Versus Likelihood of Nuclear Combat on Indian Subcontinent."



Obviously this sounds like a flippant analysis, but that's more or less exactly what Friedman is up to here. If you're going to draw a line that measures the level of "freedom" across the entire world and on that line plot just four randomly selected points in time over the course of 30 years -- and one of your top four "freedom points" in a 30-year period of human history is the privatization of a Nigerian oil field -- well, what the fuck? What can't you argue, if that's how you're going to make your point?


He could have graphed a line in the opposite direction by replacing Berlin with Tiananmen Square, substituting Iraqi elections for Iran's call for Israel's destruction (incidentally, when in the last half-century or so have Islamic extremists not called for Israel's destruction?), junking Iran's 1997 call for dialogue for the U.S. sanctions against Iran in '95, and so on. It's crazy, a game of Scrabble where the words don't have to connect on the board, or a mathematician coming up with the equation AB-3X = Swedish girls like chocolate.


Getting to the "ideas" in the book: Its basic premise is that America's decades-long habit of gluttonous energy consumption has adversely affected humanity because: a) while the earth could support America's indulgence, it can't sustain 2 billion endlessly copulating Chinese should they all choose to live in American-style excess, and b) the exploding global demand for oil artificially subsidizes repressive Middle Eastern dictatorships that would otherwise have to rely on tax revenue (read: listen to their people) in order to survive, and this subsidy leads to terrorism and a spread of "unfreedom."


Regarding the first point, Friedman writes:


Because if the spread of freedom and free markets is not accompanied by a new approach to how we produce energy and treat the environment … then Mother Nature and planet Earth will impose their own constraints and limits on our way of life -- constraints that will be worse than communism.


Three observations about this touching and seemingly remarkable development, i.e. onetime, unrepentant free-market icon Thomas Friedman suddenly coming out huge for the environment and against the evils of gross consumerism:


1. The need for massive investment in green energy is an idea so obvious and inoffensive that even presidential candidates from both parties could be seen fighting over who's for it more in nationally televised debates last fall;


2. I wish I had the balls to first spend six long years madly cheering on an Iraq war that not only reintroduced Shariah law to the streets of Baghdad, but radicalized the entire Islamic world against American influence -- and then write a book blaming the spread of fundamentalist Islam on the ignorant consumers of the Middle American heartland, who bought too many Hummers and spent too much time shopping for iPods in my wife's giganto-malls.


3. To review quickly, the "Long Bomb" Iraq war plan Friedman supported as a means of transforming the Middle East blew up in his and everyone else's face; the "Electronic Herd" of highly volatile international capital markets he once touted as an economic cure-all not only didn't pan out, but led the world into a terrifying chasm of seemingly irreversible economic catastrophe; his beloved "Golden Straitjacket" of American-style global development (forced on the world by the "hidden fist" of American military power) turned out to be the vehicle for the very energy/ecological crisis Friedman himself warns about in his new book; and, most humorously, the "Flat World" consumer economics Friedman marveled at so voluminously turned out to be grounded in such total unreality that even his wife's once-mighty shopping mall empire, General Growth Properties, has lost 99 percent of its value in this year alone.


So, yes, Friedman is suddenly an environmentalist of sorts.


What the fuck else is he going to be?  All the other ideas he spent the last 10 years humping have been blown to hell.  Color me unimpressed that he scrounged one more thing to sell out of the smoldering, discredited wreck that should be his career; that he had the good sense to quickly reinvent himself before angry gods remembered to dash his brains out with a lightning bolt. But better late than never, I suppose.


Or as Friedman might say, "Better two cell phones than a fish in your zipper."

Friday, January 23, 2009

WSJ: Obama and G'itmo

This WSJ editorial burns me up.  "Isn't responsibility fun?" WSJ asks snidely.  No, Obama never said he was in this for s--ts and giggles.  And no, taking responsibility for your predecessor's messes, after he failed to do it himself, is no fun at all.  Not in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Guantanamo Bay. 


The creation of "G'itmo" is a mirror image of Bush's disastrous Iraq policy: act quickly and decisively, giving yourself no back door or parachute, and then worry about the consequences later.  Apparently, Rumsfeld, Rove, Cheney, and Bush didn't stop to think for one minute what they were going to do with these hundreds of inmates.  What, eventually have them all shot?  Keep them locked up for life without charges or trials, and not suffer a single outside inquiry from concerned family, friends, or home governments? 

The shrug-of-the-shoulders irresponsibility of Bush's thoughtless decision to build a place like G'itmo in the first place is astounding and infuriating.  You'd expect school children to come up with such a naïve, undeveloped idea: "Hey, let's build a jail on the moon, or deep under the ocean, and send all the terror suspects there!"  Hey, let's send every Muslim with a beard we find in Afghanistan to some God-forsaken corner of Cuba, where U.S. laws and human rights don't apply!  Um, not so fast. 


The WSJ will prove itself to be infinitely snarky and immature if its attitude toward Obama every time he tries to clean up on one of Dubya's doo-doo piles is to snap, "See, it's not so easy now, is it, Mr. Messiah?" 


Thanks to Bush's handling of G'itmo, Iraq, the economy, etc., I'd say a good metaphor for Obama's first term is going to be Andy Dufresne's escape in the movie The Shawshank Redemption: crawling on his belly through 500 yards of the worst slime and filth you can imagine, before finally emerging to sweet freedom.



Obama and Guantanamo

Fighting terrorism is simpler when you're a candidate.

January 22, 2009  |


Campaign promises are so much easier to adhere to when they're strictly hypothetical, as Barack Obama is discovering. The then-President-elect said 10 days ago on ABC that while he still plans to close Guantanamo, "it is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize" and that "many" of the enemy combatants are "very dangerous."


Merely for gesturing at this reality, Mr. Obama suffered the blunt-force trauma of his left-wing allies, and the panicked transition leaked new details on the Administration's intentions last week. On Tuesday the Pentagon halted military commissions at Guantanamo for 120 days, and reports as we went to press yesterday said Mr. Obama would sign an executive order today that the base be closed within a year. This was after he told the Washington Post that closure might take even longer. Isn't responsibility fun?


The first practical question is where to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 245 or so other remaining G'itmo prisoners. Dangerous enemy combatants can't simply be released into the streets. The Obama camp says that after reviewing the classified files, it will try to repatriate as many as safely possible. But 60 already cleared for release remain because they may be persecuted by their home countries. And even Mr. Obama's vaunted diplomacy is unlikely to convince rights-protecting countries to resettle people he believes are too dangerous to release in the U.S. -- and the more willing Mr. Obama is to release prisoners, the more difficult this problem will become.


One suggestion is moving the remaining prisoners to Kansas's Fort Leavenworth, but state politicians are already sounding a red alert. The military base is integrated into the community and, lacking Guantanamo's isolation and defense capacities, would instantly become a potential terror target. Expect similar protests from other states that are involuntarily entered in this sweepstakes.


[This is a terrible idea.  Thank goodness Obama didn't give it a thought. – J]


In any event, this option merely relocates Guantanamo to American soil under another name. The core challenge is not a matter of geography but ensuring a stable legal framework for detaining and punishing fighters engaged in unconventional warfare against the U.S.


In the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the Bush Administration and Congress painstakingly set thresholds for who can be detained and under what rules. Mr. Obama argues that work was flawed and that the trials should not continue in their present form. But he also said in his ABC sitdown that he wants to create "a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo-American legal system, but doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up."


Sounds great. But this "balance" is difficult to strike because many of the Guantanamo prisoners haven't committed crimes per se but are dedicated American enemies and too dangerous to let go. Other cases involve evidence that is insufficient for trial but still sufficient to determine that release is an unacceptable security risk.


[They are guilty because they are guilty.  Their guilt is assumed.  The problem is how to display their guilt in a court and guarantee a guilty verdict.  This is the point of view of all G'itmo defenders. Mao or Stalin would have recognized such legal reasoning. – J]


The stock anti-antiterror position is that detainees should be charged with crimes, either through military courts-martial or (preferably) the ordinary criminal justice system. Anyone who can't be indicted should be set free. But such trials are unworkable even for the 70 or 80 detainees that prosecutors had planned to try with military commissions, let alone prisoners who are too dangerous to release but for which there isn't sufficient evidence for a tribunal, much less civilian courts. Critics like to point to aggressive interrogations as somehow tainting these cases, but the real problems are far more prosaic. For instance, any evidence probably can't be admitted in civilian courts because terrorists aren't read their Miranda rights when picked up in combat zones. 


[I like the way the WSJ acknowledges the anti-torture argument without actually addressing it.  You don't have to be a lawyer to understand that a confession elicited under torture can't be considered admissible in a court of law.  Otherwise, you must be prepared to explain why hundreds of thousands of innocents who were tortured and sent to Soviet gulags or executed were not guilty. – J]


An alternative to military commissions that is gaining political traction is the idea of a national security court, composed of Article III judges to supervise detentions and administer trials. There are real risks here. Politically, it will cost time and capital that Mr. Obama probably prefers to spend elsewhere. Practically, any new system is likely to face the same legal challenges from the white-shoe lawyers at Shearman and Sterling and anti-antiterror activists that for years tied down military commissions.


But legal experts across the political spectrum including Harvard's Jack Goldsmith, the Brookings Institution's Ben Wittes and Georgetown's Neal Katyal advance this option as a way to restore "credibility" to the detainee process. The national security court would operate under rules of evidence and classification that would allow the military to avoid compromising intelligence sources and methods, as well as admit intelligence gathered under battlefield conditions.


[Harvard, Brookings, Georgetown: Part of the neocon axis in U.S. think tanks and academe. WSJ is right, a national security court is also a stupid idea. – J]


Then again, such rules would be almost identical to those now used in . . . George Bush's military commissions. On wiretaps, interrogations and now G'itmo, the new Administration is discovering that the left-wing attack lines against Bush policies are mostly simplistic illusions. Now those critics are Mr. Obama's problem.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Got freedom? Come to Ukraine!

John Stossel needs to love America or leave it.  He would be much happier here in Ukraine, where it's perfectly OK to advertise in the newspaper for a "young, attractive female secretary who is able to entertain important clients, willing to work late and accompany the Director on business trips" (wink-wink).  In job interviews it's standard practice, even at subsidiaries of Western companies, to ask women about their marital status, how many kids they have, and what age.  They want to know what a mother will do if her child gets sick: will she have to skip work?  And, "What will you do if you get pregnant?" is a very common question asked of young, married ladies in the job market.  The correct answer is understood: "Get an abortion." 

Here in Ukraine it's perfectly fine to make racial and sexual comments in the office.  Well, actually, it's not OK.  Here they euphemistically call the scourge of political correctness "good manners" -- but you won't be fired or punished for being impolite.

Here the minimum monthly salary, 605 UAH (less than $100), is so low that nobody can live on it, and no employer minds paying it.  Stossel could hire all the teenaged and elderly employees he wanted and pay them nothing.

Here in Ukraine, you're not limited to buying human organs -- you can buy a whole human: kids, women, slave laborer, you name it.  Stossel would love the smorgasbord of human trafficking on offer. 

Here school kids are not indoctrinated with sex ed. and given condoms like lollipops.  They are blissfully ignorant.  They're left to discover sex the free and natural way -- through television, trial and error, and pregnancy and STDs. 

Here in Ukraine, you have expensive, properly tested and FDA- or EMEA-approved drugs for sale, and you don't need a prescription. You also have Ukrainian, Indian, and other drugs not manufactured according to good practices.  Stossel would love the freedom here to choose cheap, risky, inneffective drugs over safe, expensive ones.

Here in Ukraine, you can park or drive anywhere you want, including sidewalks -- as long as your car is expensive enough.  Here market logic is followed: those who paid several thousand dollars on a car have more right to the road than pedestrians who pay nothing.  So, pedestrians always yield to the black Mercedes/Hummer/BMW/Porsche/Rolls Royce/Audi.

Here in Ukraine we don't have an SPCA, Bob Barker, or an animal control office telling us how many dogs and cats we can have.  Here animals practice natural, un-contracepted sex.  Just this morning, I passed a pack of seven free, shivering, hungry dogs -- all of them libertarians -- outside my office.

And here you can legally drink alcohol on the street, or in front of a kindergarten, and smoke just about anyplace.  Not to mention buy powerful fireworks and set them off anywhere you want, including public parks and apartment courtyards, on week nights.

John Stossel is living in the wrong country.  He needs to move to liberal Ukraine, where people are free.  Not happy, safe, or prosperous, but free.

Anything That's Peaceful

By John Stossel


This week the Left arrived in Washington, excited about the wonderful things it will do to us — I mean, for us. They always do it for us.


Liberals say that they, unlike those reactionaries who've held power for too long, want to give us more choices. Abortion-rights advocates want women to have the "right to choose." Gay-rights advocates want the choice of marrying someone of the same sex and serving in the military.


Choice is good. As a libertarian, I'm all over choice. But strangely, today, liberals are mostly about what Americans should not be allowed to choose.


AFL-CIO boss John Sweeney says, "[O]ur top priority is passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that will restore workers' freedom to bargain for a better life".


That sounds nice. But it really means that workers will no longer have the privacy and safety of a secret ballot when voting on a union. If a union can round up signatures from more than half the employees at a plant, other workers will be forced to unionize, too.


Unorganized labor — better known as most of us, or free people making our own way — won't be helped by this coercive limiting of choice.


Parents have little choice when they send their children to school. Government forces everyone to pay into a system that locks most kids into a unionized monopoly.


If low-income parents were allowed $11,000 vouchers (that's about how much government spends per student), that would give poor parents a choice. But liberals don't want that.


If you take risks with your own money to build a business, liberals want to limit your choice as to what you can say, how much you pay, and whom you can hire or fire. Freedom of association? Fugeddabout it. You cannot choose to offer newcomers on-the-job training at less than $7.25 per hour. You can't choose to pay older people or pregnant women less because their medical costs may be higher. So newcomers, older people and pregnant women can't choose those jobs. Liberals don't want to liberalize that.


In a job interview, you better not ask about age, citizenship status, disability, or whether the person goes by "Mr." "Mrs." "Miss" or "Ms." Those questions are forbidden.


Liberal litigators have essentially outlawed racial and sexual comments in schools and workplaces.


A cashier at the Senate coffee shop was threatened with firing for addressing customers as "honey" and "baby" because one man complained it was "sexual harassment."


Liberal senators like Dick Durbin, John Kerry and Charles Schumer want speech limited further by the "fairness doctrine." Fairness here means depriving people of the choice of all-conservative radio.


And what's more liberal than voluntary exchange between consenting adults? Free trade lets everyone in the world find the best buys, no matter where they are. It gives us more things for less money. Even Paul Krugman supports free trade. But liberals don't want to allow buyers and sellers to make their own choices. Liberals want trade curtailed.


Even life-saving trade: 95,000 Americans are waiting for organ transplants. Thousands die while waiting. Legalizing the sale of organs would give people the choice of life, while allowing sellers to choose cash over an extra kidney.


But liberals don't want to let willing buyers and sellers have that choice.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decides what you may put in your own body. A truly liberal FDA would acknowledge that adults own their bodies and can decide for themselves what risks are appropriate. That would give consumers more choice. But liberals want the FDA to be tougher.


Liberals don't want you to have the choice of owning a handgun, a big car or keeping your own money so you can use it as you see fit. Liberals want to restrict our choices.


I'm a classical liberal. I believe people should have the freedom to do anything that is peaceful. That's truly liberal.


I want the word back.


John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News' "20/20" and the author of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity."

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be bankers

We just gifted Merrill Lynch executives $3-4 Billion in bonuses in December, directly from TARP.  These guys are shameless, dirty pigs.  They ought to be sent to the gulag, seriously.  They can't stop enriching themselves, even though their uncontrollable, pathological greed caused our current financial crisis. 

Do we need any more proof who should get the lion's share of the blame for this crisis?  "Greedy" homeowners are paying the price, "greedy" unions are paying the price, just about everybody is hurting during this recession and credit freeze -- except the Wall Street SOBs who caused it.

Merrill delivered bonuses before BofA deal

By Greg Farrell and Julie MacIntosh 

January 21, 2009  |


Merrill Lynch took the unusual step of accelerating bonus payments by a month last year, doling out billions of dollars to employees just three days before the closing of its sale to Bank of America.


The timing is notable because the money was paid as Merrill's losses were mounting and Ken Lewis, BofA's chief executive, was seeking additional funds from the government's troubled asset recovery programme to help close the deal.


Merrill and BofA shareholders voted to approve the takeover on December 5. Three days later, Merrill's compensation committee approved the bonuses, which were paid on December 29. In past years, Merrill had paid bonuses later – usually late January or early February, according to company officials.


Within days of the compensation committee meeting, BofA officials said they became aware that Merrill's fourth-quarter losses would be greater than expected and began talks with the US Treasury on securing additional Tarp money.


Last week, BofA said it would be receiving $20bn in Tarp money, in addition to the $25bn that had been earmarked for it and Merrill last year. It was then revealed that Merrill had suffered a $21.5bn operating loss in the fourth quarter.


Despite the magnitude of the losses, Merrill had set aside $15bn for 2008 compensation, a sum that was only 6 per cent lower than the total in 2007, when the investment bank's losses were smaller

[Wall Street's prime directive: Get while the gettin' is good!  - J]


The bulk of $15bn in compensation was paid out as salary and benefits throughout the course of the year. A person familiar with the matter estimated that about $3bn to $4bn was paid out in bonuses in December.


Nancy Bush, an analyst with NAB Research, described the size of the 2008 Merrill bonus payments as "ridiculous".


BofA said: "Merrill Lynch was an independent company until January 1 2009. John Thain (Merrill's chief executive) decided to pay year-end incentives in December as opposed to their normal date in January. BofA was informed of his decision."


BofA declined to specify when Mr Thain informed the bank of his decision.


A source familiar with the matter says Mr Thain, in the weeks leading up to the December 8 compensation committee meeting, had been weighing the possibility of requesting a bonus of at least $10m for himself before ultimately deciding against such a move.

[Wow, what restraint that must have required for him not to reward himself with a $10 million bonus.  A true humanitarian. - J]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration: Excess or exuberance?

I'm of two minds about Obama's $170 million inaugural.  On the one hand, I think we should celebrate Obama's historic election – and 2 million people in DC today agree with me.  On the other hand, we're in a bad recession, and many people are hurting, not popping champagne and dancing. 


But if authorities in DC, Virginia, and Maryland did not spend money to accommodate these unprecedented crowds, and chaos and trouble ensued, would that be a good exercise in fiscal austerity?


I dunno, you decide.


What Recession? The $170 Million Inauguration

By Scott Mayerowitz

January 19, 2009 |  ABC NEWS Business Unit


Obama capped donations at $50,000 per person, which is still more than 10 times what individuals could give to his campaign, but a lot less than the $250,000 cap President Bush had at his last inauguration. Contributions from corporations, labor unions, political action committees and registered lobbyists are not being accepted by Obama.


The inauguration team is also posting all donations of $200 or more on the Internet almost as quickly as they are coming in. The law only requires it to disclose the information 90 days after the actual swearing-in.


Turnout by the general public for the swearing-in ceremony alone is likely to exceed 2 million. Transportation officials estimate that roughly 10,000 charter buses will enter the District with approximately 500,000 riders alone, a number which nearly matches the city's population."


The emergency managers for the three jurisdictions said they expect this to be the most complex and challenging inaugural in history.


"The mass of attendees expected will challenge fire, law enforcement, emergency medical and mass transit capabilities," the governors and mayor wrote. "Moreover, the high volume of buses/traffic, weather factor and other threats will create additional demands."

FOX's petulance on inaugural

Yes, it's an AP story, but for FOX to choose this particular article from dozens on the AP wire for its LEAD STORY on its web site today was just plain silly.  You gotta laugh at such childish petulance.

We get it, FOX.  Republicans don't like Obama, and neither do you.  But thanks for making it really clear, again, for the umpteenth time. 

Obama's Inauguration Is a 'Day at the Beach' For Many Republicans


Having absorbed a drubbing in the November elections, GOP loyalists fled Washington for beaches, golf courses and ski slopes, happy to leave the cold and crowded National Mall to the winners.


January 20, 2009  |  Associated Press

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Scott McClellan on Bush-Cheney legacy tour

Jeez, what does it tell you that Bush's ex-press secretary voted for Obama?  Let McClellan's comments serve as my epitaph for Dubya & Cheney's 8 years.  I don't have the strength to review all their mistakes.  I'm not angry anymore, just tired, so tired, of knowing they are actually in the White House.


McClellan: Bush, Cheney 'deceiving themselves' on legacy 'tour'

David Edwards and Muriel Kane

January 15, 2009 |


President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been devoting their final days in office to an attempt to shore up their own legacy. However, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan insists that "nothing's really changed" and that the two men are "deceiving themselves" if they hope to convince people their administration was a success.


"What's really missing in this whole tour -- or legacy project -- is candor," McClellan told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Wednesday. "Candor about substance and about policy mistakes that the president is not acknowledging."


"There's a disconnect there between the public's view of his presidency and his own view -- and the vice president's view -- of this presidency," continued McClellan. "And the only way you can begin to close that disconnect is to openly and candidly acknowledge the substantive mistakes that were made. ... All we're seeing now is a calculated effort to engage in a political marketing campaign."


McClellan, who left the White House in 2006, issued a stunning memoir last spring, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, in which he charged that the administration had used propaganda to sell the Iraq War and that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby "had at best misled" him about their role in the outing of Valerie Plame. He announced in October that he would be voting for Barack Obama.


"Do the president and the vice president actually think that they didn't make any significant mistakes?" Olbermann asked.


"I think to some extent, they're trapped in this state of denial about their own shortcomings and how this administration went off course," McClellan replied. "If they would go out there and acknowledge some of those mistakes, then I think they could go back and talk about some of the successes. ... But right now, people are just tuning things out, and the only thing they're doing at this point is really deceiving themselves."


Olbermann then suggested that "being Dick Cheney means never having to say you're sorry."


"I think that with the vice president there's no reflecting, there's no second-guessing, there's no looking back," McClellan agreed. "And I think that's one of the things with the president, too. He's not inclined to engage in self-examination or any genuine reflection about things. They view this legacy project as just another way to spin things for the better."


This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Jan. 14, 2009.

WaPo: Growing foreclosure crisis

Some key snippets from this article:


·         "In October, for the first time, the number of prime mortgages in delinquency exceeded the subprime loans in danger of default..."


·         "One of every five mortgage holders now has a home worth less than the mortgage on it, according to First American CoreLogic, a firm that tracks mortgages."


·         "For a brief time in 2005, the housing market showed signs of cooling nationwide and interest rates edged up. Lenders reacted by reaching out to even riskier borrowers with more subprime and other exotic loans to keep the home-buying frenzy going, said Howard Shapiro, an analyst at investment bank Fox-Pitt Kelton."


·         "The turnout [at federal informational events for borrowers] underscores a common complaint from lenders, who say many struggling borrowers do not respond to outreach efforts and when they do, they come with inflated notions about what can be done.


"Already, 24 percent of option ARMs were at least two months late in September, up from 5 percent a year ago, said Mahesh Swaminathan, a Credit Suisse mortgage strategist."


·         "We're seeing delinquencies rise even before the recast date has hit," Swaminathan said. "After the recasts, the weakness will increase. In 2010 and 2011, the recasts will peak."


The Growing Foreclosure Crisis

By Dina El Boghdady and Sarah Cohen

January 17, 2008 | Washington Post