Sunday, June 29, 2008

Philosophical Musings

That which we seek is also seeking us. If we stay quiet, it will find us.
I had reason recently to recall this ancient philosophy. In many ways it is similar to the more familiar "When the Student is ready, the Teacher will appear."

Both are tenets of Eastern philosophy. They posit the notion that there are invisible connects beyond what Western Rationalism can see. Call it God, the Goddess, the Divine, Nature, or even the Force. The Student and the Teacher are bonded long before they ever meet. The Seeker and the Sought are destined. The way to achieve what we desire is by not desiring it. To Rationalists, like me mostly, these are inane notions. Yet, there is something to this. In the quiet of meditation I have sensed some of these connecting threads.

It may be impossible to use language to explain this, language being an exercise in rational order. Even the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti was swimming against the current in trying to explain what he could intuit. Some things just are or, at least, they just appear to be.
Truth is a pathless land and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever. ~ J. Krishnamurti

Saturday, June 28, 2008

McCain Lacks the Skills to be President

One of the simple ways by which to judge the executive ability of a presidential candidate is how well he manages his own life. That's why I judge the fact McCain is in tax default on his California property harshly.

McCain supporters might claim that his affairs are too complex to be able to keep track of all the details like paying his property taxes for the past four years. Tommyrot. If he doesn't understand his personal property how can he possible comprehend the multi-trillion dollar budget of the United States Government?

McCain supporters might try to blame Cindy McCain. But if McCain doesn't even lead in his own household how can he possible lead an entire nation?

McCain supporter will certainly claim it is a small, meaningless thing. I know that the State of California would not consider it meaningless if I stiffed them out of their taxes for four straight years.

As a politician he should know enough to avoid doing embarrassing things. It is hugely embarrassing for a politician to neglect to pay his taxes. Yet McCain lacked the simple wisdom to do the small things to avoid being embarrassed. How much more embarrassing will he be as President?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Obama and FISA

I once worked for a politician, a liberal on a traditionally conservative city council. Her favorite question to me whenever I advocated a favorite position was, "Can you count to five?" Meaning, where would I find a five vote majority on the nine member council for that position? We might agree on the policy but she was not going to fall on her sword fighting a hopeless battle.

I hate the FISA bill that is before the Senate. I strongly support Feingold, Dodd, and the other Senators who are fighting it. I am immense proud that my Senator, Barbara Boxer, is one of the fighters and bitterly disappointed that my other Senator, Diane Feinstein, has caved. I am upset that Barack Obama is not one of the fighters, but I understand why.

With Republicans united and enough Blue Dog Democrats to ensure an easy victory for FISA, it is an impossible fight. As my old boss and friend would tell me, there are important battles ahead, it is irrational to waste energy and credibility fighting one we can't win.

I am upset and disappointed in Barack but I understand his political calculation.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Father of the Bush Torture Policy

War Criminal John Yoo is testifying before the House Subcommittee of the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. It is time to remember what a cockroach Yoo is. His full March 2003 memo is here in pdf (part 1) and (part 2). In his memo Yoo declared:
  • Neither the Constitution nor the Geneva Conventions apply should the President as Commander-in-Chief declare them invalid. ("First, the Fifth Amendment was not designed to restrict the unique war powers of the President as Commander in Chief." and "[The Geneva Convention] therefore would not apply to the interrogations of unlawful belligerents such as al Qaeda or Taliban members." )
  • No laws govern the President's conduct. ("It is also a canon of construction that laws of general applicability are not read to apply to the sovereign." and "the President may decide to override customary international law at his discretion.")
  • And when it comes to war absolutely no laws govern the President. ("In light of the President's complete authority over the conduct of war...we will not read a criminal statute as infringing on the President's ultimate authority in these areas.")
  • Even the War Crimes Act does not apply to the President. ("We conclude that the War Crimes Act does not apply to the interrogation of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees.")
  • Prohibitions against torture do not apply to Guantanamo specifically because it is controlled by the United States. This one is particularly elegant in its construction. According to Yoo, since the War Crimes Act prohibits US personnel from using torture anywhere outside of United States jurisdiction, torture is therefore permitted on US property. ("The criminal prohibition against torture therefore would not apply to their conduct of interrogations at U.S. military bases located in a foreign state.")
  • Torturers are absolved from criminal intent as long as they say "maybe he'll like it" before the torture. Another elegant construct. It is torture only if you specifically intended to commit torture. If you are just generally trying to hurt the guy it is perfectly legal. Specific intent bad, general intent good. ("If the defendant acted knowing that severe pain or suffering was reasonably likely to result from his actions, but no more, he would have acted only with general intent." and "Thus, even if the defendant knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite intent.")
  • Yoo's classic redefinition of torture as ("death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions.")
  • When all else fails, reject the letter of the law. The UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) states clearly "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." Yoo gets around that by invoking self-defense as a justification of torture. ("We do not believe, however, that a treaty may eliminate the United States' right, under international law, to use necessary measures for its self-defense.")
  • But the CAT ultimately doesn't matter because Bush can ignore any law or treaty. ("if the President ordered that conduct, such an order would amount to a suspension or termination of the Convention.")
John Yoo is war criminal, little different than another lawyer, William Frick, in that Yoo wrote the enabling text that permitted a regime of torture by the United States.

All quotes are John Yoo's own words from John Yoo's memo.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Found: the Reason for High Oil Prices

Congress is looking for a culprit, a reason for high oil prices. It painfully simple, really.
Take America's obsession with wasteful automotive showboats like the Hummer and every Ford pickup truck ever made.
Add in the total absence of even a joke of a public transportation system and urban planning that requires people to live as far as possible from anywhere they might actually go. Thus leaving Americans to their own, personal, gas guzzlers to get from wherever they are to wherever they have to be.
Top it off with a throw away society that uses plastic everythings just once before we toss them as trash with less thought than we use blowing our noses.

If Americans used as much oil per capita as, say, France, there would be plenty of the black ooze to last for centuries.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Collapse of Confidence

The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index fell in June to 50.4. It has been free-falling for the past year. Only four times in history (since 1967) has it been this low. Previous lows have been in February 1992 (47.3 during the recession of George Bush the First) and May 1980 (50.1 during Jimmy Carter's last year).

Worst still is the Expectations Index which isolated the questions in the survey that look forward six months. The Expectations Index reached an all-time low in June of 41.0. That is below the level reached in December 1973 because of the OPEC oil embargo and Richard Nixon. Not only is the economy in bad shape but people expect it to get a lot worse before it gets better.

As for Bush's fabled stimulus package...pfssssst.

Other sources: Bloomberg, Business Week

Monday, June 23, 2008

God Hates Iowa

Thank you Jesus' General. Here I was despairing I would never again find humor in Republican doochebaggery. Then I found out about dear Jason Werner.

Jason has discovered that Cedar Rapids is Gomorrah to New Orleans Sodom. Such a den of wickedness is Cedar Rapids that God has decided to flood the Missouri and Mississippi River systems, inundate millions of acres, drive thousands of people from their homes, and kill scores just because Cedar Rapids didn't stone, burn at the stake, or whatever it is dear Jason wants Iowans to do to the handful of gay people quietly living in America's heartland.

Jason, beloved of God, ran for Congress in Ohio and lost, getting some 5,000 votes. It's an odd thing about the God of Jason Werner. He'll kill innocent people to make some obscure point without the faintest hint of compassion. But, He can't get his Chosen One the 15,000 votes he needs to have the Republican nomination for Congress in Cleveland. It seems to me that the God of Jason Werner is not only a pathetic screwup but probably also a psychopath.

Frankly My Dear, I Just Don't Give a Damn

Maybe it's the lingering effects of the brutal heat in California. Like most living creatures in the state I has spend the past several days hunkered down just trying to survive.

Maybe it's that the news is not so much outrageous as depressing. Republicans are planning racist ads. Zimbabwe's dull, flickering ember of freedom is being viciously snuffed out. One of the few actually funny comics on earth has died. The news media has grown bored with the same old carnage, day in and day out, in Iraq so they have decided to just ignore the whole mess and pretend the war no longer exists.

I just can't seem to get worked up this morning as I wait for the temperature to soar and I wonder if today will be the day when the mercury pops out of the top of the thermometer like a old Loony Toons short.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Economic Crash - It Has Only Just Begun

By the time a new President is inaugurated on January 20, 2009 our economic mess will have people looking back nostalgically at the Good Ol' Days of the Summer of '08.

The collapse of the banking industry in the early 1930's was the principal engine that drove the Great Depression. We are seeing a repeat of that disease today.

First was the fall of Bear Stearns. Now Lehman Brothers is coming unraveled. The raw numbers for Lehman are bad ($2.9 billion loss in one quarter) but the more sophisticated metrics are even worse. The Enterprise Value of a company is its value on the open market, simply what it is worth if you were to buy the company outright. Lehman Brothers Enterprise Value is a negative $205 billion. Lehman Brothers, one of the biggest investment banks on the planet, is less than worthless. Way less.

The Federal Reserve is pumping cash into banks as fast as it can and that money is disappearing down a rat hole even faster. The banking industry is teetering on the edge of an abyss.

By November the economy will head the list of voters top ten concerns. It will also be two, three, six, eight, nine, and ten on that list. By November 4 people will just be praying the country can survive until January 20.

Great Depression Timeline

Friday, June 20, 2008

Global Warming? Pshaw!

The average high temperature in El Cajon, California for this day in June is a balmy 77 degrees F (24 degrees C). Today the temperature is 106 F (41 C), beating the previous record of 94 F (34 C). But, that's okay because Global Warming is just a pagan myth, dontcha know?

Art is Heat Wave by Steven Burnham.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

McCain's Transcendentalism

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. ~ Mark Twain
John McCain has taken to calling the Republican crusade against Islam a "transcendental challenge." Transcendental describes something that is extravagant, often in an abstract or supernatural way. Baby Boomers will remember the Transcendental Meditation that was all the rage on college campuses in the 1970's. A transcendental challenge is using the force to levitate your X-Wing fighter.

I suspect McCain means to use the word transcendent, meaning exceeding normality. Using the wrong word like this is a common error of a lazy speaker, someone who chooses big words he doesn't understand because he thinks it will make him sound intelligent.

See also Stephen Colbert.

McCain's Dimming Wit

Those of us who have followed politics for the past couple of decades have noticed the sharp decline in John McCain's mental faculties in recent years. His robotic performance on June 3 was just a sample. While the following two videos were designed to display McCain's insecure grasp of facts and wandering philosophies they also show the difference between the well spoken McCain of 2000 and the stuttering mess he has become in 2008.

To say that John McCain has aged these past eight years understates the problem. He hasn't just gotten older, he has grown senile. His sharp wit is gone. He has developed a tendency towards inappropriate giggling. He has lost the ability to focus and express clear, cogent thoughts. One final video from Ron Paul compares, accurately, McCain's incoherent babbling about the economy to that quintessential dumb blond, Miss Teen South Carolina 2007.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Anti-Marriage League

There is a cadre of radicals who hate the thought of two people getting married. With a religious fanaticism these weirdos are actually showing up at people's weddings to protest the marriage. They are even trying to get a constitutional amendment passed in California making marriage illegal for some people.

What sort of perverts seethe in hatred when two people fall in love? What kind of twisted mind does it take to block a marriage when two people have forged a lifelong commitment to each other? Who are these radical Anti-Marriage freaks?

They are the hatemongers at Focus on Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Republican Party.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Final Thoughts on the US Open

Before I go back to the world of political trash talk please indulge a few lingering thoughts from my week walking the cliffs of Torrey Pines watching golf.
  • Logistical Geniuses - The Army could learn a thing or two about troop movements from the US Golf Association. They managed to transport over 40,000 people a day, 300,000 people for the week, the twenty miles from the parking lot to the golf course. And they did it with smooth efficiency. Even on Sunday when all 40,000 wanted to leave at once the operation was astonishingly well orchestrated. The Pentagon says it would take months to disengage from Iraq; the USGA could pull it off in a week and pay for it by selling souvenir hats to the departing troops.
  • Wimps and a Hero - Tiger Woods wins while limping around the course on a bum knee that, judging from his occasional reactions hurt like someone stabbing a knife in his leg. Three other golfers withdrew with various ouchies. Mark Calcavecchia wins the award for biggest wuss. He played just nine holes of wretched golf (eight over par) before claiming a mystery injury and departing. Ian Poulter made it until Friday when, at risk of embarrassing himself by shooting an 80, he said goodbye and just walked away late in the round. Luke Donald made the cut and suffered a legitimate injury. Tiger showed the cojones of an athlete.
  • Speed Racer - The most dangerous part of Torrey Pines last week was anywhere NBC went. They were zipping around the course in golf carts like it was a Go-Kart track. I witnessed a head-on collision and scores of near misses. Wherever there was trouble NBC was there causing it.
  • The Fans - On Sunday, the grandstands at the key holes filled up quickly. People were reluctant to leave even for necessary beer or restroom runs. (The former made the latter necessary.) After eight hours of sun and muscle cramps a fellowship develops in the grandstands. As the leaders approached a different sort appeared. Pasty-faced outsiders started coming up the steps trying to claim that "someone" stole their seats. We who had been their since the misty dawn knew our neighbors like brothers. We rejected these strangers, these interlopers, these pansies who were unwilling to pay for those seats with the purest form of sweat equity.
All in all, a fun week but now I have a backlog of political issues that have been begging for me to bloviate on.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Joys and Sorrows of San Diego Weather

I'm spending the week attending the US Open golf tournament. If nothing else, it is tremendous example of the weirdness that is San Diego weather. On Friday the sun shown brightly most of the day on the coast where Torrey Pines Golf Course rests. It was a beautifully warm, almost too warm, day.

The very next day, Saturday, the coastal clouds rolled in thick and stayed. There was a brisk, icy cold wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean. While Friday was a day for shorts and a half-gallon of sunscreen, Saturday required a parka.

Such is the nature of San Diego.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

All Golf All the Time

I'm spending the week in the cool gloom of the San Diego coast watching the U. S. Open golf tournament so I won't be blogging much this week. Still, I can't help marveling at the mind-boggling stupidity of the McCain presidential campaign.

It seems in a time of endless war and economic collapse they think all of their voters are golfers. And, apparently, judging from the comments, they are not. Preserving for posterity (in the event the McCain camp gets a fucking clue), here are all of the comments on McCain's own campaign website for the $50 McCain souvenir golf ball bag.

Must'a been a mixup June 11, 2008
Reviewer: George Orwell from Washington, DC United States
The description clearly says golf balls but all I got was a bag of steel bearings

50 bucks? June 11, 2008
Reviewer: Dude Lebowski from Dudeville, CA United States
Fifty bucks for a few balls, a towel, and what appears to be a ball sack? Are they serious? Is this some way to get around campaign finance reform laws by selling cheap stuff for a lot of money?

Divot tools June 11, 2008
Reviewer: Gen. Patreaus from Pancakes, AL United States
Divot tools are just what I need to repair the blast dents in my unarmored humvee. Thanks Mr. McCain, don't know what I'd do without this.

I love these balls! June 11, 2008
Reviewer: Rush L. from Millwood, WA United States
Although, to be perfectly fair, I enjoy darker colored balls from the Dominican more.

Cong-ratulations, John, on a fantastic product! June 11, 2008
Reviewer: Ho Chi Minh from Ho Chi Minh City, Formerly Saigon (Suck it, USA!)
My only complaint would be the excessive weight of the balls. Once you land in a sand trap, the ball sinks so deep it's almost impossible to wedge out. This is obviously the work of someone who has no idea what it's like to be hopelessly trapped somewhere for a long period of time.
Via DKos here are some earlier comments. Now gone but hopefully not forgotten.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thoughts on Victory and Defeat

Hillary's concession speech Saturday was noble and gracious, traits I had begun to think she was not capable of.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts and presents aren't promises, and you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead, with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child. ~ Veronica Shoffstall

The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.
~ Robert Ingersoll
For Barack Obama, he has shown himself to be magnanimous in victory. But this is only the beginning. This is only the beginning of a never ending struggle.
The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else. ~ Martina Navratilova

The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult.
~ Winston Churchill
He must remember that the battle is done and won and it is now time to bury the hatchet with Hillary.
Vengeance is not the point; change is. But the trouble is that in most [people's] minds the thought of victory and the thought of punishing the enemy coincide. ~ Barbara Deming

Friday, June 06, 2008

Krauthammer Supports Increased Taxes

Satan must be shopping for a winter parka. When one of the great advocates of "No New Taxes" argues for a $2 increase in gasoline taxes then snow drifts must surely be piling up against Hell's Gate.

In today's WashPost, Charles Krauthammer recommends a massive tax increase on gas. He's right (God, I hate saying that). Tax policy is the simplest, most direct way to promote conservation and fuel efficiency. When it costs $10,000 a year to drive a Hummer even the most simple-minded NASCAR gearhead will think twice about buying a hybrid.

Taxing gasoline is a better way to accomplish the goal of fuel economy than the hopelessly complex and deliberately ineffective CAFE standards. If the tax money is used to decrease payroll taxes and improve public transit it will have an overall positive effect on the nation.

Of course, if we had done this 25 years ago like the Europeans we wouldn't be in the shitpile we are now. If George Bush the Elder, Newt Gingrich, and George Bush the Lesser had ever advocated an intelligent tax policy the nation would be far better off. And I'd wager a full tank of gas that if President Obama suggests taxing gas in 2009 Krauthammer will throw a conniption fit. Still, good idea, Chuck, hope you remember it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hillary Is Not a Bitch

I agree with Hillary's supporters that sexist language is contemptible and has no place in a political discussion.

Hillary Clinton is, however, an asshole. She is approaching the question of now becoming Vice-President with the same aura of arrogant entitlement that helped sink her presidential ambitions. Her advisers are hinting she will behave like a spoiled brat if she is not given whatever she wants. This is not a gender issue, Bill shares in the assholery.

The question that begs answering is, has the Democratic Party grown up enough to put aside the Clintons childishness behavior?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"This Is the Great War of Our Time"

So says George Bush. What sort of half-ass superpower are we if the Iraq War is the Great War of our Time?

Iraq (excluding Kurdistan) is smaller than Texas and one-third the population of Germany at the start of World War II. The Great United States Military is not fighting a well armed, well trained army but a ragtag collection of citizen militias. Their best weapons are homemade bombs while the US possesses conventional firepower that can, and has, reduced whole villages to rubble in a matter of minutes. Yet Iraq's citizen soldiers have fought the US to a stalemate.

"It's going to take forty years." The United States defeated Germany (plus Japan) in four years. Yet it will take two generations of fighting to quell Iraq.

If this pathetic, pissant war is what passes for greatness in the US nowadays then I am deeply, deeply ashamed of my country.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hillary for Veep - Yes? No?

Before writing about possible Vice-Presidential candidates I have to discuss the hippopotamus at the tea party, Hillary Clinton.

The Case In Favor
  1. She will heal the Party. The Democratic Party right now is split down the middle. There is a lot more healing that usually needs to be done following a primary season. True, Hillary is responsible for most of that rift but that is why she is the only one who can mend it.
  2. They can run as a team. Youth plus experience. Like the 1960 Kennedy-Johnson ticket. It can be a strong team when the youth is at the top of the ticket.
  3. She has a huge political following. Excepting for a few feminists who are disgusted by the thought of any Democratic nominee with a penis, Hillary's supporters will not turn their backs on her if she is #2 on the ticket.
  4. She has an existing campaign network. She has deep connections with the old-line party hacks who feel left out by the Obama Revolution.
  5. It can't hurt. Racist misogynists don't vote Democratic anyhow.
  6. It's only politics. There is a general impression that Barack and Hillary hate each other. Fortunately this is politics, one of the few professions where that doesn't matter.
The Case Against
  1. Poor life insurance. As I wrote before, if Hillary Clinton is Obama's vice-president the Manchurian Candidate scenario becomes a real possibility. Some Hillbot equal of Charles Guiteau may decide to do whatever is necessary to make Hillary President. It doesn't take much reading at Taylor Marsh or TalkLeft to realize that there are many Hillary supporters sufficiently fanatical.
  2. Big Bill. The only thing looser than Bill Clinton's zipper is his mouth. Bill has not aged well, he is now a screwup waiting to happen. He will be an even bigger burden for President Obama than he has been for Senator Clinton. Bill has taken money from a lot of curious people in the Middle East and South America these past eight years. My gut tells me the Republicans are sitting on a juicy Bill Clinton scandal just waiting for the right time to use it.
  3. The Joe Lieberman Effect. Many of us believe Lieberman deliberately sabotaged Al Gore's 2000 campaign. Hillary is a Democratic Neo-Con a la Tail-gunner Joe. On things that matter to neo-conservatives (wars of conquest against oil producing nations and dismantling the Constitution) Hillary has been a consistent vote for them in the Senate. Like Lieberman, Hillary might throw the campaign to her close friend, John McCain.
A purely political judgment says that Hillary should be the Vice-Presidential nominee. Human wisdom suggests no. This may be one of those rare occasions where the potential risks outweigh the certain benefits.