Tuesday, March 31, 2009


One of the scariest (yet funny) anecdotes about Dick Cheney i've ever read:
In his book It Doesn't Take a Hero, retired U.S. Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf describes the evolution of the plans he and his staff made following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait... Following one White House meeting at which he'd asked for more time and more troops, Stormin' Norman reports, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell called to warn the Desert Storm commander that he was being loudly compared, by a top administration official, to George McClellan. "My God," the official supposedly complained. "He's got all the force he needs. Why won't he just attack?" Schwarzkopf notes that the unnamed official who'd made the comment "was a civilian who knew next to nothing about military affairs, but he'd been watching the Civil War documentary on public television and was now an expert."

And then, twenty pages later, Schwarzkopf casually drops the information that he got an inspirational gift from Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney right before the air war finally got under way. Cheney was presenting a gift to a military man, and he chose something with an appropriate theme: "(A) complete set of videotapes of Ken Burns's PBS series, The Civil War."

But that wasn't the only gift that Dick Cheney had for Norman Schwarzkopf. Having figured out that the general was being too cautious with his fourth combat command in three decades of soldiering, Cheney got his staff busy and began presenting Schwarzkopf with his own ideas about how to fight the Iraqis: What if we parachute the 82nd Airborne into the far western part of Iraq, hundreds of miles from Kuwait and totally cut off from any kind of support, and seize a couple of missile sites, then line up along the highway and drive for Baghdad? Schwarzkopf charitably describes the plan as being "as bad as it could possibly be... But despite our criticism, the western excursion wouldn't die: three times in that week alone Powell called with new variations from Cheney's staff. The most bizarre involved capturing a town in western Iraq and offering it to Saddam in exchange for Kuwait."
Really sums him up.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Knives Out 

John Cole presents the best response to those on the right(or left) who compare Obama's "firing" of Wagoner, to something Hugo Chavez would do:
My reliably conservative relative called me last night and asked me if I was not upset about this, and then got mad at me and told me I was just blinded by love for Obama when I said I couldn’t care less. Why would I? Few on the right have any problem telling welfare recipients what to do. I doubt Andrew has ever seen a welfare reform bill he didn’t like. Other than Josh Trevino, I don’t remember any opposition from the right about the Bankruptcy Bill and all the draconian demands placed on individuals.

This isn’t the government going to Microsoft and telling Bill gates what to do. This isn’t the government coming to your profitable small business and telling you who to hire and fire. Hell, this isn’t even the government telling GM what to do in the daily operation of their business. These are companies who have made decades of bad decisions coming to the government for yet another bailout, and as a requirement, the Obama team is demanding some leadership shake-up. Not only does it make sense to get rid of the guy who has been there for the last ten years as things went down the drain, but it would be politically impossible to bail these guys out unless some changes were made.


Parting of the Sensory 

David Owen had an interesting piece in the March 30th New Yorker about how the current economic mess, and our attempt to recover from it, will effect the environment. Key section:
The popular answer—switch to hybrids—leaves the fundamental problem unaddressed. Increasing the fuel efficiency of a car is mathematically indistinguishable from lowering the price of its fuel; it’s just fiddling with the other side of the equation. If doubling the cost of gas gives drivers an environmentally valuable incentive to drive less—the recent oil-price spike pushed down consumption and vehicle miles travelled, stimulated investment in renewable energy, increased public transit ridership, and killed the Hummer—then doubling the efficiency of cars makes that incentive disappear. Getting more miles to the gallon is of no benefit to the environment if it leads to an increase in driving—and the response of drivers to decreases in the cost of driving is to drive more. Increases in fuel efficiency could be bad for the environment unless they’re accompanied by powerful disincentives that force drivers to find alternatives to hundred-mile commutes. And a national carbon policy, if it’s to have a real impact, will almost certainly need to bring American fuel prices back to at least where they were at their peak in the summer of 2008. Electric cars are not the panacea they are sometimes claimed to be, not only because the electricity they run on has to be generated somewhere but also because making driving less expensive does nothing to discourage people from sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful.
I can honestly say that I never really considered the fact that increased fuel efficiency standards isn't necessarily the greatest answer b/c it will just lead to more driving. As someone who lives in a Metro area and commutes by public transportation, I was never really bothered by the high gas prices last summer. Maybe the answer is keeping the prices high. Compared to other countries, we've always had it good here.



I recently attended a fundraiser for a GOP Senator (had to b/c of job) who said Norm Coleman has spent $26 million on his Senate race/recount effort and, as of now, doesn't plan on taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite this.

$26 million sounds more like a California or New York Senate race. Amazing.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mr. Plumber 

Why are they keeping him around?
Joe the Plumber is hitting the campaign trail again! He’s been pressed into service to do a series of events throughout Pennsylvania rallying opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, the organizer of the events confirms.

Mr. Plumber will speak at rallies against the measure in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia on March 30th and 31st, according to a spokesperson for the anti-EFCA group Americans for Prosperity.

“The public loves Joe the Plumber,” the spokesperson, Mary Ellen Burke, claimed to me. “They see him as a role model.”

Asked whether Joe the Plumber had any particular knowledge or expertise about EFCA that might explain the decision to enlist him, Burke said that he was being enlisted to provide a “grassroots perspective” and “the working perspective” on the measure.

Pressed on whether Joe the Plumber has any particular claim to being a spokesperson on the issue, Burke replied that “he represents the American worker.”
For the life of me, I don't understand why the Republicans haven't cast Joe the Plumber aside yet. I'm guessing it is just another example of the GOP being out of touch. Remember, he's the same guy they had talk policy with Hill staffers.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Burning Down the House 

Overheard during a fundraiser today at lunch: The head of a prominent Hedge fund did the math and it would be cheaper for the Government to buy all foreclosed homes and burn them down, then deal with the "toxic assets" they way they currently are. Of course, that could add to the greenhouse gas issue...


Monday, March 23, 2009


Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn't control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don't follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today.


Declassifying Torture 

Good news:
Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against "high value" Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said the memos were "ugly" and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a "truth commission" on torture.


Spitzer Recovery Program 

I think i'm ready for Eliot Spitzer's second act:
Actually, there was one guy who took on the financial firms at the height of their prestige and power when the country, the media and Washington were gushing with admiration.

That man was Eliot Spitzer.

And he is my guest today, for his first interview since resigning as governor of New York.

You remember him as the governor of New York who resigned after a scandal involving prostitution. But think back before then. He was the attorney general of New York who went after Merrill Lynch, prosecuted AIG and several other institutions for practices he argued were corrupt, fraudulent and illegal. Those prosecutions were deeply controversial, and Spitzer made most of Wall Street his enemy.
Yes, he made a BIG mistake, but with the current economic crisis, I want smart people trying to solve it. And with all the openings at Treasury, there's gotta be a spot for him. Call it the Spitzer Recovery Program.


Friday, March 20, 2009


It's been lite posting the last few days b/c of work getting in the way.

But, while i'm here, I should comment on the ongoing AIG crisis. It's a disaster for the Administration, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in particular. My guess is he will not last the next month or so. Even though it is hard to tell if his ideas are working or not, he's been a disaster in PR and behind the scenes. He's too close to Wall Street(who isn't in that world?) to deal with the current crisis fairly. Obama's going to need a sacrificial lamb, and he's the easy one. You might want to take your house off the market, Tim, you're going to need it.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Colin Powell's deputy, Lawrence Wilkerson talks about Gitmo. Read the whole post. It has more nuggets like this eye-opener:

Moreover, the fact that among the detainees was a 13 year-old boy and a man over 90, did not seem to faze either man, initially at least.

What an embarrassment. More like: what a war crime.


Monday, March 16, 2009

What Torture Leads To 

False information. Khaled Shaik Mohammed in his own words:
I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop.... I'm sure that the false information I was forced to invent...wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US.



Friday, March 13, 2009

Gravity Rides Everything 

I'm finally getting to see one of my favorite bands-Modest Mouse-tonight. My big concert-related mistake was to buy a ticket, only to sell it, to their show at the Black Cat Club in 2001(?). What the hell was I thinking?

UPDATE (3/16 11:115AM): Great show all around. Modest Mouse review and setlist here. I really enjoyed the opening act "Kinky"-Rage Against the Machine meets the Talking Heads meets Moby meets an accordion. I downloaded some of their stuff immediately after the show.


No Appraisals? 

What's with the reliance on unregulated broker-price-opinions in the Administration's loan modification proposal? I would think that in this market, an objective, independent appraisal would be absolutely necessary. Who is lobbying the Admin on BPOs?

UPDATE (3/16 1:20PM)New York Post with the scoop over the weekend:
Another aspect of Geithner's plan that is being questioned by lawmakers involves the house-appraisal mechanism the White House proposed using to modify existing troubled loans.

In the run-up to creating the subprime nightmare, the unregulated assessment process used the Broker Price Opinions (BPO), which uses comparable sales but has built-in biases. Among those, appraisals tend to be high because brokers don't earn a commission if a mortgage is unfunded because of a low assessment.

Also, the Automated Value Model (AVM), which relies on comparable sales, uses a computer algorithm to come up with a final assessment.

"Appraisal independence is of great importance to all homebuyers and homeowners who own or want to own a home. I have therefore fought to improve appraisal independence for many years and I am continuing to do so. Next week, the Housing Subcommittee will hold a hearing to address mortgage modifications, and I expect that home valuations will be discussed," said Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), a ranking member on the Finance Committee.

According to mortgage industry sources, the Obama administration is planning to rely on these two models to rescue homeowners from foreclosure.

According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings in the US climbed 30 percent in February.

"Going forward, reforming the appraisal process to prevent inflated pricing will be critical to ensure we don't repeat the mistakes of the past," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney.

"These two models were instrumental in creating the housing bubble," says James Amorin, president of the Appraisal Institute.

According to a report sent to finance committee members, using these assessment tools could cost Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac $500 billion in potential losses in inflated valuations based on 4 million reworked loans.

In the case of loan servicers, using the AVM or BPO models to reset the existing troubled loans could add a staggering $3 trillion in potential losses to Uncle Sam's coffers based on the existing 20 million troubled loans, according to the report.


Does Santelli Think They're Losers? 

As always, Atrios say it best:
Deep Thought

If only Bernie Madoff hadn't tricked all those minorities into taking out subprime loans.


Foreign Policy is High School? 

I'm not naive to think that just because Obama may engage in direct talks with our enemies they'll suddenly become our friends, but to not engage them directly b/c it may hurt an allies' feelings is ridiculous.
What made Turkey such a valuable mediator between Israel and Syria was in part the fact that Israel and Syria refused to negotiate directly and in part Turkey's perceived (at the time) non-partiality. But it was also in large part due to the fact that the U.S. refused to engage in direct discussions with Syria, and therefore was unavailable to chaperone the talks.

The same goes even more for Turkey's potential to play a mediator role between the U.S. and Iran.

Now that the American administration has no a priori objections to direct discussions with Syria and Iran, Turkey is no longer necessary as an intermediary. So far, as Yigal Schleifer details, there's a lot of speculation and conflicting interpretations about Turkey's role, mainly coming out of Ankara. But the signs seem to be pointing to a 10th Avenue Freeze-Out.


On Fire While Biking 

Sad story, but a reason not to smoke while biking:
BETHPAGE, N.Y. - An 87-year-old man has died in suburban New York after his clothes caught fire while he was riding his bicycle.

Authorities say Joseph Rusin was likely smoking a cigarette before he became engulfed in flames while cycling down Burkhardt Avenue in Bethpage


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday Quick Hits 

"Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

"Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

"It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.



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