Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From "Inside Iraq"

"Inside Iraq" is a blog updated by Iraqi journalists working for McClatchy Newspapers. They are based in Baghdad and outlying provinces. The posts are firsthand accounts of their experiences. Their complete names are withheld for security purposes.

Dear politicians

Words can never describe how grateful we are because our great heroes the Iraqi national soccer team made a miracle by winning Asia Championship. Maybe only the prayers of the widows and orphans of Iraq whom you brought joy to their hearts, maybe their prayers that Allah keeps you safe and blessed can give you your rights, its not the financial rewards of the Prime Minister or the President that give you your rights.

The most important thing our national team did is giving you an important lesson about the most important subject in the school of life. The lesson was (how to be A Real Iraqi). They worked together. We didn’t have 11 players in the field, we had only one player but with 11 bodies. This great player fought like a real lion and like real eagle. He controlled the ground and the sky and captured happiness in spite of his wounds. It was hard job but the Iraqi brave knight accomplished the mission successfully because this knight carries deep in his pure heart the tears of all the widows and all the orphans, the grief of all the old men and more than that, this honest knight carries the hopes of all the honest real Iraqis. This is the lesson I talk about and I hope that you (our politicians) who watched the match and rewarded the knight, I hope you understand the lesson very well and try to pass the exams you have. The political crisis is not more than an exam and you are failures until this moment. I hope you study the lesson of the Iraqi national team again and try hard to pass this final exam.


My only comment, Wow. And I wish I could write like this,

We didn’t have 11 players in the field, we had only one player but with 11 bodies. This great player fought like a real lion and like real eagle. He controlled the ground and the sky and captured happiness in spite of his wounds.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Real Estate Puzzle

Here’s a shocker, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, 17% of all resale homes in the month of June in San Diego County closed at a selling price lower than the price at which they were purchased. That’s almost one out of every five. The average depreciation (yes, that’s depreciation of real estate) was $61,000. Mortgage defaults are up 150% over the same month of last year.

This is going to get ugly.

Before I go further, my wife and I own a home in San Diego. We have a thirty-year fixed-rate mortgage and quite a lot of equity because we’ve had the home and the mortgage for quite a lot of years. I would certainly like to keep that equity, but I do not believe that our leadership should take action based on my personal wellbeing. I believe our leaders should act in the best interests of the society as a whole, whether that works well for me or not.

Back to the issue of homes being sold at prices below the purchase price. Like many things in the news, we risk over-simplifying the issue. On the face of it, and much of what is being opined, is that people bought homes that they could not afford because easy money was being thrown in their faces that not only allowed but encouraged them to do so. That being the case government should keep those people from losing their homes, and prevent real estate values and equities from dropping, by instituting some sort of support or refinance program.

It sounds heartless, but I’m not so sure I support that approach. If the situation was as stated above I certainly would, but I have too much evidence that the situation is not as simple as it seems. I read papers, and I talk with people who are in the banking and real estate businesses.

Not all of those homes being defaulted are new purchases. Some are the result of refinancing, sometimes multiple refinancings, and lines of credit to take out equity for the maintenance of a lifestyle that the homeowner could not afford; to purchase cars, boats and big screen televisions. What portion? I don’t know, but I suspect it is significant. Banks and mortgage brokers have been selling those product lines hard for several years.

Should the government save people from the consequences of those decisions?

Of those which are new purchases, how many are truly innocent victims? Once again, I don’t know, but I suspect the number is actually quite small. Many of the loans were what are called “liar loans” where the buyer is told that information will not be verified. Those are loans where the buyer and broker were conspiring to defraud the lender.

Should the government step in to protect the fruits of dishonesty?

In other new purchases the buyer was intending to refinance (or “flip”) the home before the increased payments kicked in, and found out that he was less clever than he imagined he was. Or the buyer knew that the payments were going to increase, but assumed (or merely hoped) that something would intervene to accommodate or prevent the increase. (“Maybe interest rates won’t actually go up.”) Maybe, perhaps even frequently, the buyer was given bad advice and often given that advice by the real estate agent selling him the home.

I have some sympathy for this buyer, but buying a home is the biggest financial decision that the average person will ever make, and to make it without due diligence… To make a decision involving hundreds of thousands of dollars one’s money based on the advice of the person to whom one is giving that money when he is telling you precisely what you want to hear?

In the world I live in you need to accept responsibility for your decisions, and you need to be aware of that responsibility before you make big decisions.

If the government instigates a program to refinance or support real estate values, who picks up the tab for that? It’s going to cost money, and a lot of money. Where is that money going to come from? Right, you and me. Why should people who don’t own homes, and people who did not make bad decisions on the homes that they do own, pay for the bad decisions of others, no matter how well intentioned? And bear in mind that a portion of those intentions, a portion which I believe to be significant, were not well intentioned at all.

Real estate values in San Diego are utterly absurd. If they are kept propped up then people will continue to buy homes they cannot afford simply because there are no homes in this county that anyone other than the “idle wealthy” can afford. Either people who can’t afford them buy these homes or they will remain unsold. If values drop, then (aha!) people will be able to buy homes that they can afford.

There is an even bigger reason, though, that I oppose “saving” these bad loans.

The American economy is living in a dream world, in an economy that is an illusion propped up by debt.

In 1975, average US household debt was 62% of disposable income. By 2005, that number had jumped to an unsustainable 127%. Savings rates are in negative numbers. Incomes are stagnant, debt increasing, savings negative and yet retail sales are high enough that they are “fueling the economy.”

The Dow Jones shot from $13,000 to $14,000 in just three months. The companies represented in that list did not increase their capital in those three months, they built no new factories or buildings and they gained no real value. Their stock gained $1000 multiplied by the number of shares, and stock is a liability, a debt.

Pundits refer to the “housing bubble” but it’s not, it is just part of a larger problem for our economy which is the “debt bubble.” Homeowners are borrowing money, pledging the equity in their homes, to buy big screen televisions made in China and companies are borrowing money to buy other companies for more than their actual value. Money in the hands of the super rich increases, United States dollars in China increases, and everywhere else debt increases.

Wiser heads than mine will have to propose specific solutions. I suspect they lie in returning manufacturing and production to this country, finding ways to “insource” meaningful jobs that “Americans do want to do.” I suspect it’s not going to be easy, that it will require reductions in the large profits that corporations are enjoying right now, and that taxes might have to increase.

But I don’t think part of solution is increasing government debt load, nor do I think is protecting individual citizens from bad debt decisions.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Views on Diplomacy, Part 3

Hilzoy wrote a post at Obsidian Wings on Saturday regarding the dustup between Clinton and Obama over a YouTuber’s question on conduct of diplomacy. It’s a lengthy and extremely insightful post and I urge you to read it. I’m not really going to quote from it here, except to highlight some thoughts that I have related to the subject.

Reporters and pundits on both sides seemed to think that Clinton was right, but the American people disagree.

(A commenter added that polls actually show 42% agree with Obama, 35% with Clinton, and 24% are uncertain.)

Hilzoy, I think, understates. “Seemed” is pretty mild in terms of what I am reading and hearing. Pundits and reporters and raving about what a horrible mistake Obama made, and how Clinton “brilliantly displayed her superiority in experience.”

I find this rather disturbing. One of the commenters opined that in due course the public’s opinion will fall into line with that of the pundits and reporters, and I find that extremely disturbing. It suggests to me that the election will be decided, not by the people or by the candidates, but by the pundits and reporters. What is particularly disturbing about this feeling is that I rather suspect that it may be correct.

As to setting limitations on meetings, and conditions on who we will meet with, hilzoy writes,

…the peculiar view that negotiating with someone confers some sort of legitimacy on that person. This is a view that we can make true if we want. If we go around saying that we will only negotiate with people we think are absolutely wonderful, or that negotiations with us should be thought of as a certification of quality, like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, then it will be true that a lot can be read into our decision to negotiate.

To me, that's a very good reason not to say things like that.

That is so nicely said that I’m not even going to comment further.

Hilzoy then goes on to Obama turning the discussion to the Congressional voting record on the war in Iraq, quoting Obama,

And there's no getting around it: the Iraq vote is central here. It was the biggest foreign policy mistake of my lifetime, and possibly in our history. And whether because of opportunism, a misplaced trust in George W. Bush, a failure to foresee the likely consequences, or whatever, Clinton and Edwards both voted the wrong way. Moreover, in Clinton's case, it's not at all clear to me what, if anything, she has learned from that mistake.

Hilzoy doesn’t really comment on this issue, but the whole dustup is about foreign policy experience, is it not? And what he says here is very much to the point. Mistakes do get made, and when one does not admit error one cannot possibly learn from that error. Clinton made a huge error by voting as she did, and she steadfastly refuses to admit that error. What does that say about her ability to conduct foreign policy?

In any event, I think that this was a controversy that Hillary Clinton devised, and that while there didn't have to be any disagreement between the two of them as far as their actual answers in the debate went, she mischaracterized what he said and created one.

Because this is what Hillary Clinton does. This is who Hillary Clinton is. This is what Hillary Clinton is made of. Not real leadership, not real issues, not honesty, but political calculation, adversarial confrontation, manipulation, and abuse of process. When listening to a questioner, she is not thinking how she can answer the questioner, she is thinking how she can use the opportunity.

I have read one Hillary Clinton supporter after another say that I am against her because of the “right wing smear machine.” No, my opinions of her have been formed by the words that I have heard her say live and in context, and by the votes that she has cast on the floor of the United States Senate.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Views on Diplomacy, Part 2

Quote, in part, from Senator Hillary Clinton,

"But I don’t want to see the power and prestige of the United States President put at risk by rushing into meetings with the likes of Chavez,
and Castro, and Ahmadinejad.”

1. Somebody please explain to me how, by meeting with anybody, the "power and prestige" of the President can be damaged.

2. We presently have a president who is obsessed with power. If we elect Hillary we will have another power-obsessed president.


Food Blogging: Jambalaya

I haven't posted a recipe in a while, nor have I made Jambalaya. I did the latter a couple of days ago, so I'll do the former today.

Jambalaya is sort of a "quick meal" of Southern cooking, as it doesn't require any roux or long time at the stove. It uses rice in an unusual role, as usually the meal is served over a "bed" of rice cooked separately, while in Jambalaya the rice is cooked in and absorbs flavors as it cooks. You can vary this recipe quite a bit, and it would still be Jambalaya.

This is a Creole edition of the dish, and is my own recipe. I'm sure that it's based on something I read or that was passed down to me, but the source has been lost in antiquity. There's a Cajun version that's a bit different. If you beg me enough I might post that version at some date, but I seldom cook it, as I like this version better.


1 ea red bell pepper, diced
1 ea medium yellow onion, diced
3-4 ea stalks celery, diced
2 ea chicken bouillon cubes, dissolved in 2 cups water
1 can petite cut diced tomatoes
2 lg boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ lb sausage (see below), cut into bite-sized pieces
½ lb small shrimp
½ cup frozen peas
1-5/8 cup long grain white rice, uncooked
2 tsp Oregano
2-3 cloves Garlic peeled and crushed
5 tsp Creole seasoning see note below

Put tomatoes with juice in a mearuring cup and add water to make two cups. Put that into a large pot and add the two cups of prepared bouillon. Start the heat and bring that to a nice simmer while you are dicing the vegetables.

Cook the peppers, celery and onion in a skillet with some olive oil until they are just starting to wilt. Add them to the pot along with the garlic, oregano and Creole seasoning. If you want a little more “bang” for the taste buds, add a dash of Tobasco, and/or maybe just a little more Creole seasoning.

Brown the chicken lightly in the skillet and add it to the pot. Add the rice, stir it all up and put the cover on. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and let it cook, covered and without stirring, for about thirty minutes.

The rice should by now have absorbed all of the liquid. So we’re ready to add the sausage. If you put it in too early it will overwhelm the chicken. We’ll add the shrimp and peas now too, so that they don’t overcook.

Real jambalaya would call for andouille sausage, but people not raised on it may find something like that a bit highly seasoned for their taste. Any sausage will work fine, as the basic recipe is pretty highly seasoned. My wife likes it best with smoked beef sausage.

Brown the sausage in the skillet, cook it through and through if it's not precooked, and add it along with the shrimp and peas. Stir it all together and put the cover back on. Let it cook long enough, still on simmer, for the shrimp to be done, about ten minutes.

For the Creole seasoning, Zatarain’s brand is the “gold standard,” but I actually like McCormick’s a little better. If you want to make your own, combine 2 parts each onion powder, garlic powder, oregano & basil, 1 part each thyme, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, & celery seed and 5 parts paprika.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Views on Diplomacy

Dick Pohlman had a merciless evaluation of Obama’s Bambi problem
on his American Debate blog today. He may be (probably is) right, but I disagree with the underlying basis of the issue.

I think Obama’s answer was the correct one, that the “preconditions” the questioner had in mind and which Obama based his reply upon, were such things as stopping uranium enrichment and not a simple discussion of the meeting agenda. Hillary’s reply was, to me, only slightly less arrogant than the position that Bush has held for six years.

“Yes,” Hillary is saying. “I’ll meet with you, but only on my terms and the agenda will include only those items that I am willing to discuss.”

That she might be “held hostage to propaganda purposes” if a topic arises that is not on her agenda sounds really good as a sound bite in a farcial campaign presentation labeled as a debate, but it is factually absurd.

Part of the sadness that I hold regarding my country is that we walk in the community of nations with so much arrogance that we engender ill will and hatred. This really is a great nation and we need a leader who will represent that greatness with more of the dignity of being one in a community of equals, and not with the chest thumping and braying of a gorilla ruling his patch of jungle.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oh boy, football season

Oh boy, oh boy… This is the time of year when my wife starts rolling her eyes a lot. The Chargers opened training camp today. All our draft picks are signed, all of last years starters are back… Well, the starters that really matter are back except one.

I hate to see Donny Edwards gone. He was a really good guy and our leading tackler, but most of his tackles were on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. Wilhelm is, I think, going to do a fine job of filling his shoes so we still have (imho) the best corps of linebackers there is.

New head coach, and I’m a Norv Turner fan. There is no question he can run an offense, so we just have to see if he can run a team. With this pool of talent I think he can. I’m excited about our prospects this year.

Except, of course, that Quentin Jammer is still with us. If he could defend against opposing receivers with his mouth he would be as good as he thinks he is, but unfortunately he’ll still be out there committing penalties, blowing coverages, and tripping over his own feet.

Less than three weeks until the first preseason game. Pant, pant, pant.

Income Inequality

Updated below
An article in The Guardian on Sunday illustrated the division between rich and not-rich in the United States,

In a speech last month Buffett - the third richest man in the world - pointed out that his tax rate was 17.7 per cent of his income while his secretary was taxed at 30 per cent. 'Many of the new super-rich are looking long term at the world and they see a collapsing US education system and health-care system and the disappearance of the middle class and they realize: this is bad for everybody,' said Frank. (Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank)

Defenders of low tax for the very rich point to the theory of trickledown economics - the spending power of the rich benefiting the poor. But while the super-rich have boomed, the earning power of the average and poor citizen has not nearly matched the performance of the elite. In 2005 the top one per cent of earners in the US gained 14 per cent in income in real terms, while the rest of the country gained less than one per cent. The situation is especially bad for the severely poor - those living at half the poverty level - whose numbers are at a 32-year high. (Emphasis added.)

We certainly need to be sure the inheritance tax goes away, don’t we? And make sure that the tax cuts for the wealthy don’t get eliminated in 2010?

But there are deeper forces at work here than taxes.

Circuit City, not long ago, laid off all of its senior workers merely because they were senior and because their wages were higher than the wages of workers who had been there less time. They even brazenly offered to hire those same people back as “new hires” at a beginner’s wage. All of this to improve their profit. They were not losing money at the time, they just wanted to make a higher profit. I don’t know the amounts of their management staff salaries at the time, but no mention was made of those salaries being reduced or positions cut.

The corporate role of making a decent return for the stockholder investment while being a responsible citizen of the community is no longer viable for today’s financial market. The “dot com” craze was, I suspect, the culprit, but something turned Corporate America on to obscene profits and outrageous value gains and now nothing less will do.

So instead of increased productivity being shared between financier and worker in the form of greater profit and higher wages, the worker’s wages are actually reduced and the financier is rewarded with the doubled profitability of higher productivity and workers' reduced income.

The corporation needs government’s help today to be sure that it is not overtaxed, that it does not have to overpay its workers, that it is able to maximize the selling prices of its products, that it is able to obtain raw materials from public lands without paying royalties, and that it does not have to waste money in protecting the environment in which it functions. And it gets that help in abundance.

And things get worse.

The biggest incomes today are made by people who spend their time selling financial instruments. That’s right. The way to become immensely wealthy is to make your living selling money to people who have lots of money. And people who have lots of money don’t make more money by manufacturing anything, building anything, or selling any tangible product; they increase their wealth by manipulating money.

All of the manufacturing, building and tangible product work is done by the semi-rich who hope to become rich enough that they can divorce themselves from the mundane manufacturing, building and tangible product work and engage full time in “finance.” The manufacturing, building and tangible product work is increasingly being done by people overseas who do not have the “ambition” that wealthy Americans have.

Bear in mind that if your income derives from manufacturing, building or providing a tangible product or service it is taxed as income at 30% or more. If it is derived from manipulating money for people with filthy amounts of money it is “capital gains” and is taxed at 15% to help you become one of those people with filthy amounts of money.

Although this is really more of a societal problem than a political one, are any of the presidential candidates talking about ways to address this?

Update: 7/25/07

See JRB at The Democratic Strategist of July 21st. Yes, Obama and Edwards both are, but of course the media isn't covering it. Note also that both of them seem to be addressing the issue of core poverty, but not the growth of the extreme upper class at the expense of the middle class.

My post, Grocery Workers, reflects a step in the right direction though.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Grocery Workers

The atmosphere was really cheerful and upbeat at the grocery store today. After negotiating for six months, at times with considerable rancor, the Groceryworkers Union and the big three (Ralph’s, Vons and Albertson’s) agreed on a new contract yesterday. No strike. Whew.

My hat is off to the rank and file workers at the Vons where I shop. Throughout the entire six months they have been cheerful and pleasant to the customers, and have provided outstanding service. Whenever I have stopped to look for something a worker has asked if they could help me. The check-out person has always smiled and thanked me by name for my business, and I have always been asked if I would like any help getting my purchase to my car.

Ralph’s, where I used to shop, was a different story. Their people were always pleasant until the negotiations began to drag out, and then their attitude became indifferent at best and often quite surly. It was that which caused me to take my business to Vons. It seems to me that Ralph’s has a bit of a management problem, and they certainly have a people problem.

Ralph’s people may be more friendly now that they have a contract, but I’m going to keep my business at Vons. Those folks have been a credit to their store and to their union and they have earned my continuing business.

The Obligation of Congress

The Huffington Post is one of the places on the internet that I go quite regularly. I’ve never figured out why marrying someone with a lot of money makes one a political savant, and I do not consider her to be such, but I like the turnover of articles; new posts appear with great frequency, although that is diminishing recently and the link may not stay where it is on my list if that continues. There are some really thoughtful items there, and there is some real fluff, so one has to pick and choose.

This post yesterday by Mark Kleiman, to me, fell in the fluff category.

“Why Impeach Bush and Cheney...” it reads, “... when you can cripple them (politically) instead?”

No, I’m not quoting from the article, that is the article. Actually the words “cripple them” are a link to a post of his in another publication which has a lot more words but says pretty much the same thing. It refers to defunding their offices and “cleverly” suggests that without money they wouldn’t be able to do much harm. It refers this as plan B and finishes,

Can anyone think of an advantage — either substantive or political — of impeachment over Plan B? I can't.

I’m hoping that this guy is joking, but I fear he might not be. There is far too much commentary going around about how “inconvenient” impeachment proceedings would be, and how politically risky it would be for Democrats to begin that process. There is too little talk about the risk to our nation and to our form of government if impeachment is not undertaken.

The arrogation of power to the office of President that has occurred in past six years, and the obvious damage to role of oversight by Congress is outrageous and it is not magically going to disappear on Jan 20, 2009.

Have you heard one presidential candidate, of either party, discuss restoring the power of congressional oversight? Have you heard any one of them promise, if elected, to restore the balance of powers that the founding fathers designed into our government?

There has been abuse of power. That abuse must be called to account and punished. Clever gameplaying with peripheral funding does not do that, and the prevention of further abuse is not the point. The point is that Congress must step up and fulfill the role set for it by the writers of the Constitution of The United States of America, and they are not doing that.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Duplicitous Delusion

Full disclosure: a significant purpose of this post is merely to be able to use the title.

Bush is fulminating furiously over Congress shelving the Defense Authorization Bill. It contains a pay raise for the military so them shelving
it will deny a much needed raise to his much beloved troops. Before they shelved it, however, he said he was going to veto it. Why was he going to veto it? You got it; because the military pay raise was too much.

So when Congress wanted the bill to pass he was going to veto it. Now that the aren't passing it, same bill, he's castigating them for not passing it.

And we are supposed to listen to this boob?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Close Racing

I used to be a big fan of stock car racing. Well, I still am, but there isn’t any stock car racing to be found any more. What used to be NASCAR Grand National became the Winston Cup, which actually made it better for a while. Then it went downhill, became less and less stock cars and less and less racing, and finally it became the Nextel Cup and I have no idea what it is now. But it certainly doesn’t use stock cars, and it certainly isn’t racing.

Marty Smith at ESPN.COM disagrees with me. In an article today he claims racing is better than ever. The gist of his theory is that in the past races were won by large margins, often one or more full laps, and now the margins are fractions of seconds.

So races are best when all of the cars are identical and all of them are moving at precisely the same speed? That sounds like a high speed parade to me, not a race. A race is when some cars are faster than others and when one car goes faster than another and passes it.

Perhaps he was not excited by those early days races, but I was. I found them highly exciting. Watching one guy blowing the doors off of all the other cars on the track was, in fact, quite a kick.

Actually, his picture makes him look a bit on the youthful side and in his article he says “I hear from my Dad…” so I wonder if he was ever actually at one of those races that he decries. (Did I just suggest he might not know what he’s talking about?)

The large margins might have gotten boring if it was the same guy every time but, guess what, it never was. In fact, the guy that won by three laps may have been two laps down at one point during that same race. Marty fails to mention that.

I recall a race at Talledega when Bill Elliott had a oil line problem and got two laps behind the rest of the field. He got his car fixed and drove really fast, passing cars right and left, made up the two laps and took the lead without the benefit of a caution. The crowd went crazy. He was just incredibly faster than anybody else, and it was exciting as all get out.

Now NASCAR has introduced the “Car of Tomorrow” (some call it the
“Crap of Today”) which looks nothing like any car made by any manufacturer in this or any other country. It has a wing on the back, drives like a dump truck and it has, to me, pretty much completed the divorcement of NASCAR from stock car racing.

NANCAR: National Association for Not-stock Counterfeit Auto Racing

Uncommon Valor, Every Day

Where do we find these guys? (Warning, this is hard to watch.)

There just no words for me to express my admiration for these young men.

These guys do not want to be there. They are pissed off as hell at the “people in Washington with the mentality of a two year old that don’t know what the hell they are doing.” But they signed up to do a job; they are soldiers, and when the order comes to mount up, they mount up.

Uncommon valor is common there, heroism the order of the day.

Listen to these guys, Congressman, Senator. They signed up to serve a nation, a way of life, and they will serve it. They will give their lives for it. They did not sign up for you to get re-elected. They don’t give a rat’s ass about your re-election. They care about their nation. It’s time, past the time, that your nation started being what you care about.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


A number of bloggers have expressed distaste for the term "Homeland." Let me add my voice to that chorus. Whenever I hear that word I hear a German dictator of the 1930's. The word is pure demagoguery.

I was reminded in a post I read that “W” promised in his first campaign to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. He presented himself as environmentally friendly, which most of us knew he most certainly was not, and specifically said that if he was elected his administration would regulate the emission of carbon dioxide. Six years later it required an order of the Supreme Court to hold him to that promise. To the best of my knowledge he is at present ignoring that Supreme Court order.

My “issue” with the Democrats is not that they have failed to stop the war in (make that “end the occupation of”) Iraq. Nor is it that they have not begun impeachment proceedings. It is that the oversight proceedings are being conducted with such timidity. They seem quite content to let Bush “run out the clock” on his term and just win the upcoming election for themselves. If they do that they do not deserve to win the upcoming election.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cooperative Cat (updated)

Just back from the vet: Molly's ear infection is all cleared up and, while having the vet poke in her ears really pissed her off, Molly behaved like a perfect lady.

The vet recommended a new kind of cat food and I had all kind of visions of horror. Cats hate having their food changed, but I trust this doctor implicitly so... I put the new food in Molly's dish and held my breath. Molly gobbled it like this is just what she had been waiting for. Whew.

Update: answers for Barbara

The ear infection was a yeast infection in both ears. Much head shaking, scratching with back foots, and black gunk. Injections of medication twice daily were required, with periodic douches for cleaning which Molly most emphatically did not appreciate. We have no clue how she got it, since she has been strictly an indoor kitty for more than two years.

New food is Innova Evo, and she is still chomping happily on it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Tree of Freedom

I’ve been looking for support for this theory of mine, but I try not to my post thoughts without at least some small amount of supporting evidence. Well, Talking Points Memo has provided me with just that in a post today. You can read the whole thing for yourself, and I could not agree more with what is stated there.

I absolutely do not believe that the American people will not support a “just war” merely because losses of American lives are involved. This country has always been able to “refresh the tree of freedom” and will always be able to do so.

I have maintained and will continue to maintain that the lack of support for what is happening in Iraq is not the loss of life, but rather that the American people have woken up to the fact that this is not a war of national defense but is a brutal occupation of a country that we conquered by a war of aggression.

Read the post. It sums it up thusly, citing continuous support for WW2,

…The death toll in the Second World War dwarfs the numbers of those killed in Iraq.

The reason the war is unpopular is because people don't think we are accomplishing anything that promotes our security or national interests -- indeed, quite the contrary. Not because we're not doing it right or not doing it well but because the whole concept is flawed. People can see that we're digging a hole into the Earth and a lot of them want to stop and climb out even though it will be messy.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bush 43 redux?

Inadvertently said on a microphone not known still to be open:

Mr. John Edwards: “We should try to have a more serious … smaller group.”

Mrs Hillary Clinton: “We’ve got to cut the number…I think there was an effort by our campaigns to do that … it got somehow detoured. We’ve got to get back to it. Our guys should talk.”

When Mrs. Clinton was asked about that conversation later, here’s her reply, “I think he has some ideas about what he’d like to do.”

I don’t know that any comment is really required, but comment is the purpose of this blog so I’m going to blaze away.

First, I tend to agree that the “debate” format is a joke; enough so that I do not waste my time watching them. To expect a candidate to describe a political position in the thirty-second time limit that is prescribed is absurd, but with a dozen or so participating a real debate is probably not feasible. But to have two candidates conspiring to shut others out of the process is not acceptable and that is what that conversation appeared to be about.

When confronted about it, Edwards at least tried to clean it up as being about some better form of campaign process. I don’t think I believe him, but at least he admitted that he was “in the room” when it happened. Clinton tried to pretend that she had no part in it, that it was all Edwards.

I have heard some pretty sleazy things coming out of Mrs. Clinton’s mouth, but this may about the most despicable yet. From her comment overheard as “We’ve got to get back to it” she goes to “he has some ideas.”

This woman is a snake. Cold, shrewd, calculating and ruthlessly willing to do whatever it takes to reach her goal of obtaining for herself the power of the presidency.

We already have one president who has never made a mistake in his life. Do we really want to elect another to succeed him?

From Leonard Doyle in The Independent on July 15, 2007

…equipped only with a tin ear, when it came to working with people on her own side, Hillary managed to alienate some of the most powerful Democrats, starting with the New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who urged patience in reforming health care.

When Bill Bradley, then a senator, suggested changes to her plan he was dismissed. Forget about it, she said, threatening to "demonise" anyone who stood in her way.

As Bradley recounted later to the author Carl Bernstein: "It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. The assumption that people with questions are enemies. The disdain. The hypocrisy."

There is no way I ever vote for Hillary Clinton in a presidential election. We do not need a repeat of George W. Bush. If she is the Democratic nominee then I will write in the name of Al Gore in 2008.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Purpose of Oversight

Keith Olbermann asked a really good question on Countdown last night. He sort of tossed it off as part of a discussion on a larger issue, but I think it’s a really good point and an important question.

To what degree, he asked, is George Bush merely cashing a blank check handed to him by Nancy Pelosi when she took impeachment off the table?

Oversight is an important function of Congress, and for six long years a Republican Congress failed utterly in that responsibility. Impeachment, or the threat of impeachment is part of the functionality of oversight, and to the degree to which that is true the new Democratic Congress is failing its responsibility as well. Nancy Pelosi announced in advance, in fact, that the Democratic Congress would not perform that part of its responsibility. It’s called “abdication” and that abdication is without question part of the reason for the strength of George Bush’s intransigence today.

I do not necessarily believe that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings; perhaps they should, perhaps not. Personally, I would like to see this whole executive branch impeached, but wiser heads than mine need to make that decision. What I do know is that the threat of impeachment should have remained in place, for without it the executive branch has run amok. Nancy Pelosi has proven that she is not, as apparently she thinks she is, wiser today than our founding fathers were when they framed our government.

We have a constitutional crisis today, we need to correct the problem now, and it requires Congressional oversight and Congressional action to do so. Congress is still failing in its responsibilities. With only 18 months left in the Bush White House they appear unwilling to take assertive action.

We cannot merely wait and let Bush “run the clock out” on these issues, for they will not go away.

Congress needs to investigate; not merely engage in political posturing and grandstanding as they are doing today, but actually investigate. Instead of senators and congressmen asking a list of preplanned political questions and not listening to the answers, they need hearings with real lawyers doing cross examination of hostile witnesses, drilling down to get real answers and facts. They need to be issuing subpoenas and dragging people away in handcuffs when they refuse to appear.

Oversight does not mean merely watching and finding wrongdoing. It means taking doers of wrong out of a position where they can do further harm.

When the answers given by witness reveal misdeeds Congress need to be issuing arrest warrants and filing charges for the corruption and malfeasance that is uncovered. Where those guilty of corruption and malfeasance can be fired, they must be fired. Where they cannot, they must be impeached.

Oversight does not mean merely finding wrongdoing and removing the doers, it means putting into place corrective measures to prevent a repeat of the abuses that have been discovered. Oversight means assuring that offenses against our government, against the people of this nation, are not repeated.

The next government will almost certainly be a Democratic executive and a Democratic Congress. How much oversight do you think will be going on? If we hand over to the next president all of the same powers than have been usurped by this one, do we really believe that no further abuses will occur?

Closing Gitmo will do no good if the statute that permits indefinite detention without charges and torture of political prisoners is allowed to stand.

A new President and newly appointed Attorney General will not restore the confidence of the legal community in what has become a corrupt Department of Justice. How can the public be sure that politics within that department is not continuing?

A new FBI head does not assure the public that they are not being illegally being spied upon, that they are “secure in their persons,” unless the abuses of the Patriot Act are brought to light, the lawbreakers held to account, and the Patriot Act itself revised or revoked.

The list goes on. We all know what the issues are.

When Congressional oversight revealed the degree to which Americans were being spied upon and wiretapped, Congress passed something known as FISA. When a president overstepped his war-making authority, Congress passed the War Powers Act. This Congress has watched abuse after abuse by this president and so far has made no effort to put in place any method to stop this or any future president from continuing to abuse the office.

Therein lies the mere 24% approval of Congress.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Delusional Dishonesty, Part 2

Subtitled, “Are You *#@%$*&^*$* Kidding Me?”

Michael Chertoff, Director of the nation’s Department of Homeland Security, our country’s highest official regarding national security matters, announced in Chicago yesterday that he believes this country is in for an al Qaeda attack this summer.

His evidence: absolutely none.

He is making this announcement based on his “gut feeling” and on the assertion that “summer is when these people seem to like to be active.”

September 11th is precisely in the middle of summer, right?

There’s more. ABC News released from “Senior U.S. intelligence officials” that an al Qaeda cell is on its way to the United States, or may already be here. The threat is so dire that a meeting has been called to discuss what may be done. Not just any meeting, but a meeting in the Situation Room in the White House.

Sources: not named. Evidence: absolutely none.

The Administration weakened its fearmongering slightly in that the news release implied that the upcoming attack by the al Qaeda cell that’s on its way (or here) is believed to be aimed at a government building. They give no reason for that. Perhaps the government is simply more fearful for itself than it wants us to be. In any case, they are going to scare government workers the most, since the rest of us can simply stay the hell out of government buildings.

I’m trying to decide which is more corrupt: the government that promulgates this bullshit, or the media that promotes it.

Delusional Thinking, Part 2

There was a mortar attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad yesterday, with 20 or so rounds landing by one account and more than 30 by another. Apparently that’s a pretty much daily occurrence, but this attack caused some deaths which is not normal.

Statements like this from our leadership, though, utterly blow my mind,

A US Embassy spokesman said that he could not confirm whether the embassy was a target and that the frequent attacks on the Green Zone are not a barometer of the security situation in the capital. "There's fire into the Green Zone virtually every day, so I can't draw any conclusions about the security situation based on that," he said.

It astounds me that anyone can actually say that with a straight face. It reminds me of a elderly street person I was talking to in the ER who was in for eating Sterno. I asked him if he’d thought about Alcoholics Anonymous and he replied, “No, that’s for people who can’t control their drinking.”

If bombs were landing on the White House “virtually every day” would the spokesman say that we had Washington under control? Oh, wait, bombs are landing on the White House almost every day, but the explosions are of the non-bang type, the Administration has its eyes shut and its ear plugs in, and it does think it has Washington under control.

Anyway, back to Baghdad. If you “can’t draw any conclusions” from the fact that they are dropping mortars on your head on a daily basis, what exactly do you need upon which to base conclusions? I would think that having things going “BOOM” and shrapnel flying past your head are pretty good indications that all is not well.

Thinking that depends, though, on where your paycheck comes from.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Delusional Thinking

Meteor Blades at the Daily Kos made the following observation about Bush supporters in a blog post on June 30th,

The 26% didn't flinch about lying the nation into war, authorizing torture, wrecking the environment, wiretapping illegally, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands, handing billions over to war profiteering cronies, dumping the Geneva Conventions, suppressing the vote, tainting good will toward America internationally, turning modest budget surpluses into monstrous deficits, trying to undermine Social Security, rewriting scientific studies and politicizing every single governmental agency.

It’s typical of many of us non-Bush people, in that Meteor Blades can’t figure out why anyone still supports the current administration. Listen up, I know you will balk at this, but I’m pretty sure it is true.

The 26% doesn’t believe he did those things.

There are wmd’s (we just haven’t found them yet) and Saddam Hussein did perpetrate 9/11, what we are doing is not torture, we are benefiting the oil/gas industry, the wiretaps are not illegal because we are only listening to terrorists, the dead Iraquis were all killed by other Iraquis, the companies profiting in Iraq saved our government a lot of money (and the administration had nothing to do with it), the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to terrorists, we only took the vote away from people who don’t deserve it, everybody in the world loves us, tax cuts stimulated the economy, Congress prevented the administration from fixing Social Security, and on those last two points, “What the hell are you talking about?”

When someone makes a claim which is based on facts or on evidence, you can then engage in discussion by presenting other facts or other evidence. But when someone makes a claim which is based purely on that person’s belief system then discussion is pretty much ruled out, because facts and evidence are not an issue.

True Bush Believers are Bush Believers because of a belief system, not because of facts or evidence. They will hold to that belief and simply do not care about facts or evidence. They will admit into their realm of knowledge only those facts and such evidence which support their belief system; all other facts and any contradictory knowledge is barred at the gate. So Bush Believers are not okay with him lying us into an unjust war.

They admire him for leading us into a holy war against the forces of evil.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

On Patriotism

In many of my posts on this blog I have been critical of some of the actions of this country and it’s leadership, and I want to set one thing straight. I have had a deep and abiding love affair with the United States of America since I was a small child, and that love affair is ongoing to this day. I grew up as the son of a serving Air Force officer, and even as a kid I loved being a part of this nation’s defense. I volunteered for service in the Navy, not for any kind of adventure, but because serving my country was an obligation that was as necessary to me as breathing. If I were physically able I would be serving in national defense today.

I believe that in its present incarnation this country is the best in the world for its people and to its people. It is still the bastion of freedom and rights of man. It is still the best hope that the world has, and is what other countries should hope to become.

That being said, there are things this country has done, things it is doing, that I am not proud of. Such is the nature of countries. Parts of this nation’s people are proud of those very same things. That’s as it should be; such is the nature of democracy.

I don’t know who said this, probably many, but it’s one of those great small quotes of all times, “I hate what you say, sir. I despise every word from your mouth. But I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.”

I count myself a patriot. A patriot does not stand silent when he sees his country making error. He speaks out in the cause of correcting error. He campaigns for representative government that will correct the course of the ship of state.

The man that remains silent for fear of opprobrium is no patriot. The man that remains silent because demagogues have hounded him down in the name of patriotism is no patriot. The silent man diminishes democracy.

I speak out because I love my country too dearly to remain silent.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Weather Blogging

If you watched ABC News this evening you know that the West is in the grip of a terrible heat wave. Well, the highest the temperature got on my back porch today was 69 degrees. Yep, Farenheit. The Pacific Ocean is a wonderful air conditioner. We are about ten miles inland but are in Mission Valley, which sort of funnels the sea breeze to us.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday America

I have always been proud of my country and, while not proud of some of those who serve her today, I am still proud of these United States of America and the ideals upon which she was founded and for which her people still stand. And make no mistake; I have no doubt that, as a people, we do. It is our leadership, executive and legislative leadership, that is failing this proud nation, not its people.

That we have so many men and women who wear the uniform and go in harm’s way in defense of this nation, not drafted but as volunteers, is sufficient evidence that this nation is unchanged at its core. Men and women do not put their lives on the line for their leaders, they do that for principles and for the people of their nation, and I will forever be grateful to those in service today and those who have gone before them.

America has been battered from without and from within many times and has always emerged as a bastion of freedom, of strength, and of the individual.

Happy Birthday America.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Libby, America's Cup Final

Bush commuting Libby’s sentence is so expected and so much consistent with the corruption that is typical of this administration that I’m not even going to comment on it. Well, okay, I just did.    …comment further on it.

I’ll just go back to commenting on the America’s Cup.

I was right, Team New Zealand got toasted today, but it was exciting; there was a different leader at each and every mark and that is by no means typical of America’s Cup racing. Some of it was good racing and some was errors, mostly unforced errors. At least there was a nice breeze today, 17 knots, so the boats were sailing well.

The first windward leg was just plain good sailing by both teams. The Swiss boat had the right side of the course and the starboard tack advantage, and New Zealand did not manage to push them past the right-hand lay line so the Swiss led at the first mark.

Going downwind New Zealand was very close astern and the Swiss chose to gibe away before the lay line. Why they would do that simply baffles me, as it opened a door that the Kiwis sailed through and New Zealand was leading around the second mark.

Then things got really stupid.

On the first cross New Zealand had room to cross and chose not to do so, giving the Swiss an opportunity to start a tacking duel. The Kiwis have lost those every time, and they lost this one as well. Approaching the left-hand lay line they were in a position of disadvantage. They could have simply accepted the pass and followed around the mark, and then worked to pass downwind where the trailing boat has the advantage, but instead they chose an ill-advised attacking move, executed it poorly and drew a penalty.

A freak wind change gave New Zealand an opportunity, since they had already dropped their spinnaker to execute the penalty turn and the Swiss were caught aback and unready to change headsails. Anyone who has raced more than one or two regattas knows you make the penalty turn right at the line, but the Kiwis made the turn several seconds too soon and, even with the penalty turn, crossed the line two seconds behind the Swiss.

Error upon error, compounded by error.

So much has been focused on technology, $100 Million spent on building the boats, and that’s on each team not overall, that the emphasis on the art of sailing seems to have been lost. They seem to have forgotten that no matter how sophisticated the sailboat is, you still need a master sailor at the helm.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Embarked on Eternal Patrol

Admiral Eugene Fluckey commanded U.S.S. Barb during WW2 and I am humbled and priveledged to have served, long after and in a far colder war, in the same Navy as this great man.

He was more than a courageous fighter, he was a great leader during and after the war. He was in the finest tradition of the Naval Officer and the standards set by John Paul Jones for our service. He died, at age 93, on June 28th and will rest at the U.S. Naval Academy.

I an indebted to Outside the Beltway for posting here on his death.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Not-so-Supreme Court

I thought things were bad when the Supreme Court issued a decision that interfered with doctors’ ability to practice medicine in accordance with their years of education, training, experience and judgement; to follow their Hippocratic oath in accordance with their beliefs instead of the narrow beliefs of the Bush Administration; and to serve their patients in accordance with their patients’ needs, beliefs and wishes.

That decision set a pattern of overturning precedent, placing ideology ahead of logic and legal rationality, and slavish subservience to the administration that nominated the current bench.

And that pattern has continued, to the detriment of the individual and to the benefit of government and moneyed interests, which have increasingly become one and the same.

Subsequent rulings have allowed manufacturers to set minimum retail sales pricing for products: blatantly favoring big business and harming the consumer. This court tells us that employers can discriminate against minorities in pay and benefits; all they have to do is successfully hide it long enough. This court tells us that a citizen cannot challenge an executive branch order in court; not ruling that the order was proper, ruling that a citizen cannot challenge its government. Business and special interest groups are allowed to have unlimited influence in the electoral process, as the court continues to increase the role that is played by money in selecting our supposedly representative government.

And now the court tells us that our cities must return to the dark days of segregated classrooms in our schools.

Segregation, whether by race or any other criteria, is evil. It is the antithesis of everything that I believe this nation stands for. I lived through the sixties. I listened to Dr. Martin Luther King, and I wept when he was killed. I supported laws which prohibited discrimination based on race and I supported affirmative action, and I continue both stands to this day. And yet I know that neither of those is the solution to racial bigotry.

To create a society where a person “is judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character” requires not laws but a fundamental change within our social fabric, and that starts with our children. An inclusive society is created by putting our children in an inclusive environment so that they may learn that such is the natural order.

Racial bigotry does not come naturally to children. They learn it by living in a segregated society and it can be avoided in a new generation and erased from our society by creating an inclusive environment in which our children grow up. It is up to us to create that inclusiveness, not just by law but out of a desire to put our nation and its society into balance with nature. Until that balance can be established within our social fabric, we need laws that will maintain it.

And we need a Supreme Court that will support those laws.

America's Cup update

I think the New Zealand team is toast.

They were leading Friday and engaged in a major Chinese Fire Drill when a spinnaker blew out. Then yesterday they were leading and got outsailed on an upwind beat by the Swiss. They have been outsailed, outsmarted, have had equipment failures, and have just plain stubbed their toe. Trailing in the series 4-2, they have to win three straight to come back and if they do I will buy the Brooklyn Bridge from you.