moldybluecheesecurds 2

Monday, September 29, 2008

Take your pick: high gas prices or none at all

Hurricane Ike shut down a lot of refining capacity in the South, and the result is gasoline shortages and gas stations running out of gas.

One culprit: "gas gouging" legislation. Stations don't want to raise prices to reduce demand, so they run out of fuel instead.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Foreign policy: can experience temper belligerence?

Times columnists Nicholas Kristof frequently writes on international issues and rarely on politics, but he breaks from that tradition to warn how Sen. McCain may be a return to the foreign policy of the first Bush term.
Although he is frantically trying to distance himself from President Bush, Mr. McCain, by his own accounting, would be more Bushian in foreign policy than even Mr. Bush is now.
Let's start with Iran, with its theocratic regime, hatred of Israel, and interest in nuclear armaments. 
Iran seems determined to continue its uranium enrichment and will be vexing for any president. But Mr. Bush, under the influence of Bob Gates and Condoleezza Rice, has realized that the best hope is diplomacy and negotiation. In contrast, Mr. McCain denounces Barack Obama’s call for direct talks with Iranian leaders and speaks openly about the possibility of bombing Iranian nuclear sites. 

“There’s only one thing worse than military action against Iran, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran,” Mr. McCain has told me and others, repeating the line regularly. That’s a nice sound bite, but it suggests that if Iran continues to enrich uranium he would feel obliged to launch airstrikes...

So if Iran continues its policies as most expect, we might well find ourselves under a McCain presidency headed toward our third war with a Muslim country.

And then there's the newly belligerent Russia.
Russia underscores Mr. McCain’s penchant for risk-taking, theatrics and fulmination. Most striking, he wants to kick Russia out of the Group of 8.

Mr. McCain’s lead-with-the-chin approach to Russia reflects the same pugnacity that resulted in obscenity-laced dust-ups with fellow Republican senators, but it’s less endearing when the risk is nuclear war. Do we really want to risk an exchange of nuclear warheads over Abkhazia or South Ossetia? The Spanish prime minister, José Zapatero, told me a few days ago that what he fears most under a McCain administration is a revival of the cold war with Russia.
Anyone recall the ad, Daisy?

Palin: ready to lead

A great debate

If you missed it, you can still catch the first presidential campaign debate here.  The best?  Plenty of time for the candidates to go back and forth, to challenge inaccuracies and to provide point-counterpoint.  It was a DEBATE.

I hope the other two live up to this.

Oh, and if you haven't, always follow up your debate watch with a visit to  Get the truth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bernanke: pass this bailout or a recession is coming

Top story:
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke bluntly warned reluctant lawmakers Tuesday they risk a recession with higher unemployment and increased home foreclosures if they fail to pass the Bush administration's $700 billion plan to bail out the financial industry.
Hmm.  The administration comes up with a plan that is getting a lot of skepticism, wants it passed in a hurry and with little guarantee that it can solve the crisis.   Sound familiar?  Let's flash back to 2002:
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney accused Saddam of moving aggressively to develop nuclear weapons over the past 14 months to add to his stockpile of chemical and biological arms.

...[Condoleezza] Rice acknowledged that "there will always be some uncertainty" in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but said, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
That kind of talk lying led to six years in Iraq with no clear strategy and a multi hundred billion dollar price tag.  Ready to bring our Iraq strategy home?

Grape Juice as Good as Wine

Need a non-alcoholic life-extender?  Grape juice has nearly all the same benefits as wine.

Comparing presidential tax plans

Which do you prefer, tax cuts with debt or tax cuts that are paid for?  That's your choice in the tax plans of the campaign.  McCain's plans skews to the rich (in percent of income and absolute dollars) and will increase the deficit.  Obama's plan offers tax cuts skewed toward the middle class and pays for it with an income tax surcharge on the very rich.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Obama: bailout Main Street not just Wall Street

Obama's response to the bailout proposal:

Why this bailout is not the right one

Taxpayers are about to ante up $700 billion to save the financial giants.  But what do we get in return?

Paul Krugman analyzes the bailout and his comments can be summarized as this:
  • It's not clear that the bailout can actually accomplish its goal.
  • Even if it does, it may do so by over-paying for bad mortgages and leaving taxpayers with nothing in return.
  • We'd be a lot better off with a plan that involves injecting capital into failing firms in exchange for stock, rather than buying up their worthless assets.   In this plan, if the financial giants recover (the whole point), taxpayers get something in return.
Here's the full story:
What is this bailout supposed to do? Will it actually serve the purpose? What should we be doing instead? Let’s talk.

First, a capsule analysis of the crisis.

1. It all starts with the bursting of the housing bubble. This has led to sharply increased rates of default and foreclosure, which has led to large losses on mortgage-backed securities.

2. The losses in MBS, in turn, have left the financial system undercapitalized — doubly so, because levels of leverage that were previously considered acceptable are no longer OK.

3. The financial system, in its efforts to deleverage, is contracting credit, placing everyone who depends on credit under strain.

4. There’s also, to some extent, a vicious circle of deleveraging: as financial firms try to contract their balance sheets, they drive down the prices of assets, further reducing capital and forcing more deleveraging.

So where in this process does the Temporary Asset Relief Plan offer any, well, relief? The answer is that it possibly offers some respite in stage 4: the Treasury steps in to buy assets that the financial system is trying to sell, thereby hopefully mitigating the downward spiral of asset prices.

But the more I think about this, the more skeptical I get about the extent to which it’s a solution. Problems:

(a) Although the problem starts with mortgage-backed securities, the range of assets whose prices are being driven down by deleveraging is much broader than MBS. So this only cuts off, at most, part of the vicious circle.

(b) Anyway, the vicious circle aspect is only part of the larger problem, and arguably not the most important part. Even without panic asset selling, the financial system would be seriously undercapitalized, causing a credit crunch — and this plan does nothing to address that.

Or I should say, the plan does nothing to address the lack of capital unless the Treasury overpays for assets. And if that’s the real plan, Congress has every right to balk.

So what should be done? Well, let’s think about how, until Paulson hit the panic button, the private sector was supposed to work this out: financial firms were supposed to recapitalize, bringing in outside investors to bulk up their capital base. That is, the private sector was supposed to cut off the problem at stage 2.

It now appears that isn’t happening, and public intervention is needed. But in that case, shouldn’t the public intervention also be at stage 2 — that is, shouldn’t it take the form of public injections of capital, in return for a stake in the upside?

Let’s not be railroaded into accepting an enormously expensive plan that doesn’t seem to address the real problem.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

But the red sauce was my ticket to the cockpit!

Bruce Schneier is, frankly, a genius when it comes to security issues.  Unlike the TSA and so many government agencies, he notes HOW rules and regulations make use more secure.  His latest treatise is the liquids ban from plane flights.
There are two classes of contraband at airport security checkpoints: the class that will get you in trouble if you try to bring it on an airplane, and the class that will cheerily be taken away from you if you try to bring it on an airplane. This difference is important: Making security screeners confiscate anything from that second class is a waste of time. All it does is harm innocents; it doesn't stop terrorists at all.  
Why doesn't it work?  Because for items that are caught and carry a consequence,  the potential consequence has a deterrent effect.  Bring a gun to a airport and you'll be meeting with police for a while.  If items are confiscated with no consequence (liquids), then it means that screeners must catch every single person, because there's never a deterrent to trying to bring a liquid explosive on board.
If some copycat terrorists try to bring their liquid bomb through airport security and the screeners catch them -- like they caught me with my bottle of pasta sauce -- the terrorists can simply try again. They can try again and again. They can keep trying until they succeed. Because there are no consequences to trying and failing, the screeners have to be 100 percent effective. Even if they slip up one in a hundred times, the plot can succeed.
In other words, skip the liquids ban or start giving folks a hard time for it.  Otherwise, it's just an empty gesture.

2008 Campaign: Some media are aware of the lies

A stunning piece in TIME Magazine looks at the persistence of lying the presidential campaign, singling out Senator McCain for:
a ceaseless assault on his opponent's character and policies, featuring a consistent—and witting—disdain for the truth.
It's not as though the Democratic campaign and Senator Obama are innocent of the typical political monkeying with truth, but McCain has taken the lying to a new level by unreproachfully repeating falsehoods even when confronted with truth. 
John McCain has raised serious questions about whether he has the character to lead the nation. He has defaced his beloved military code of honor. He has run a dirty campaign.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What do you call...

Seen on Slashdot:
What do you call a hockey mom who preaches abstinence only?

A grandma

McCain - sounding a lot like Herbert Hoover

Responding to the collapse of several major investment banks this week, John McCain reassured us, "I think still -- the fundamentals of our economy are strong." That move comes from an old playbook: On Oct. 25, 1929, Herbert Hoover declared, "The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."
McCain's fault is not just a lack of perspective on the economy, but also a willful support of deregulation that caused much of today's financial crisis.
What [McCain] doesn't talk much about is how deregulation happened. It was the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act and thus eliminated the depression-era walls between between banking, investment, and insurance that made this crisis possible. Glass-Stegall erected walls between banking, investment management, and insurance, so problems in one sector could not spill over into the others, which is precisely what is happening now. The primary author of that legislation was none other than his economic advisor, former senator Phil Gramm (who thinks the country is in a "mental recession"). McCain fully supported the bill and has a decades-long track record of opposing government regulation of the financial industry. His new-found conversion to being a fan of regulation is going to be a tough sell as Obama is already pointing out that McCain got what he wanted (deregulation) and this is the consequence.

The sin of symmetry

An interesting piece from the Washington Post that notes the media's penchant for symmetry (instead of being objective, truth seekers) and how it's allowing the McCain campaign to run roughshod over the truth.

The most outrageous of McCain's distortions involve Obama on taxes. He asserts that Obama's new taxes could "break your family budget," and that an Obama presidency would inflict "painful tax increases on working American families." Hardly. Obama would lower taxes for most households, and lower them more than McCain would. The only "painful tax increases on working American families" would be on working families making more than $250,000.

Likewise, the McCain campaign has its story about Sarah Palin, and it's sticking with it -- facts be damned. She said "thanks but no thanks" to that "Bridge to Nowhere," except that she didn't: She backed the bridge until it was unpopular, then scooped up the money and used it for other projects. More than a year after McCain began railing against the bridge, Palin, then a gubernatorial candidate, said the state should build it "now -- while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist." 
 Obama's not innocent of stretching the truth, but he's also got enough of a conscience to stop lying when he's caught.  McCain, on the other hand, is "playing to win."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

White privilege and this election

From Tim Wise, an excellent writer and thinker on racism in America:
For those who still can't grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.
  • White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
  • White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin' redneck," like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fuckin' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.
  • White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.
  • White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don't all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you're "untested."
  • White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn't added until the 1950s--while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.
  • White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you. White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.
  • White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you're being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college--you're somehow being mean, or even sexist.
  • White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."
  • White privilege is being able to fire people who didn't support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.
  • White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church-going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.
  • White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O'Reilly means you're dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.
  • White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a "light" burden.
  • And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren't sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it's just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem. 

Tim Wise is the author of White Like Me (Soft Skull, 2005, revised 2008), and of Speaking Treason Fluently, publishing this month, also by Soft Skull. For review copies or interview requests, please reply to

Monday, September 15, 2008

Your health news lacks good journalism

Tip of the hat to Minnpost for its story on health news journalism and a new website that helps rank health stories based on their willingness to engage some healthy skepticism of their sources.  Many of the doctors that provide quotes and opinions for medical stories are given a lot of money by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. 

Check your sources!

The presidential debate schedule

This is where a lot of Americans end up making their voting decision - the debates.  A chance to see candidates speaking unfiltered by the media and unvarnished by advertising polish.  Mark your calendars!

First presidential debate:
Friday, September 26
University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS
Vice presidential debate:
Thursday, October 2
Washington University in St. Louis, MO
Second presidential debate:
Tuesday, October 7
Belmont University, Nashville, TN
Third presidential debate:
Wednesday, October 15
Hofstra University, Hempstead, N

What is price gouging?

Gas is up to $5 a gallon in areas affected by Hurricane Ike, prompting a lot of people to complain of price gouging.  But what is price gouging?  Robert Rapier writes about the issue, and feels that it's a question of intent - are prices rising because...
  • inventories are short?
  • or, because folks get greedy?
We're better off having $10 a gallon gas if it means there's still some in the tanks, than $4 a gallon gas with empty tanks.

My idea would be that the state government should institute an emergency gas tax of at least $2 a gallon during these kinds of natural disasters.  The increased price would help reduce supply shortages and the revenue can be given back as a per capita tax rebate or used for disaster relief. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cleaning Blog House - #3

It's at times like these I think "I have a list of useful things I could be doing." Thus, I am blogging.

This evening, an essay on the reasons soldiers sign up for the military - the non-patriotic ones. Some interesting anecdotes, and not a comprehensive or scientific study. A sample:

Among the first I approached was Jason Thomas Adams, a slender young man dressed in a cook's white uniform. A twenty-five-year-old private from Brooklyn, Adams had joined the Army only nine months earlier. He had never really expected to, he told me—he'd wanted to be a police officer. After graduating from high school, he had enrolled in the John Jay School of Criminal Justice. To help pay the tuition, he worked at two jobs—Paragon Sports and a restaurant on Second Avenue—but quickly went into debt.

Meanwhile, he got married, his wife got pregnant, and he had no health care. From a brother in the military, he had learned of the Army's many benefits, and, visiting a recruiter, he heard about Tricare, the military's generous health plan. He also learned that the Army would repay his education loans. And so he signed up. When I asked about September 11 and service to the country, he said flatly that it had had nothing to do with his decision.

Cleaning Blog House - #2

I started this in July and clearly hold my career in too high a regard to prioritize a reduction in my "I should blog this" bookmark folder. Well, here's the second post. At this rate I'll be done in 2023.

So now the administration knows that it can make unsubstantiated claims, without paying a price when those claims prove false, and that saber rattling gains it votes and silences opposition. Maybe it will honorably refuse to act on this dangerous knowledge. But I can't help worrying that in domestic politics, as in foreign policy, this war will turn out to have been the shape of things to come.

Paul Krugman, writing in 2003 about the domestic impact of the Bush Administration's success with lying into Iraq.

Things you probably (don't) know

It's a new era in presidential campaigns: lie until you get caught...then lie some more. What might you believe if they stopped lying?
  • Gov. Palin did support the bridge to nowhere, before the feds cut the funds.
  • Barack Obama's economic plan will cut taxes for 95% of Americans. If you read are reading this blog, that's you.
  • McCain's economic plan will not take money from public schools.
  • McCain no longer says the economy is sound.
This takes me back to a story I meant to blog about ages ago: when we hear lies about the candidates, they tend to stick, even after they've been debunked. Not only that, we may even attribute the falsehood to the debunker (e.g. I heard that on!). Crazy.

Palin - unfiltered

Prepare yourself for a "blizzard of words."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick on a pig

I'll let Obama respond to this latest example of "phony outrage":

Online gamers use science to win

When kids want to win in online games, they do two things:
1) Create a hypothesis
2) Gather data to test it (in a spreadsheet, of course).

A fascinating look at the way kids unknowingly bring the scientific method to their online, free-time pursuits.  In her survey of chat rooms for these online role playing games, the author found:

A majority [of posts] -- 86 percent -- were aimed specifically at analyzing the hidden ruleset of games.  More than half the gamers used "systems-based reasoning" -- analyzing the game as a complex, dynamic system. And one-tenth actually constructed specific models to explain the behavior of a monster or situation; they would often use their model to generate predictions. Meanwhile, one-quarter of the commentors would build on someone else's previous argument, and another quarter would issue rebuttals of previous arguments and models.

These are all hallmarks of scientific thought. Indeed, the conversations often had the precise flow of a scientific salon, or even a journal series: Someone would pose a question -- like what sort of potions a high-class priest ought to carry around, or how to defeat a particular monster -- and another would post a reply, offering data and facts gathered from their own observations. Others would jump into the fray, disputing the theory, refining it, offering other facts. Eventually, once everyone was convinced the theory was supported by the data, the discussion would peter out.
Too bad your average science class isn't so interesting (sorry, SPH).

Replying to fan mail in the pre-computer era

A clever checklist of frequently desired answers.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Yes/no weather report

If it's accurate, it's a nice way to plan for your commute: Umbrella Today?

Government privatization undone - by Bush

Formerly government-owned, then government-back private mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have returned to the federal fold.

For a more detailed story, check out this coverage from non-profit news source, MinnPost.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Defeat is Victory - health care measure pulled

In Ohio, petitioners just gave in to pressure and withdrew their ballot measure mandating paid sick leave for all Ohio workers. The Ohio House speaker (a Republican) responded with this:
“This is a victory for all Ohioans. This proposal would have hurt Ohio businesses and driven jobs out of our state. It was poorly crafted, confused voters and would have placed Ohio at a significant disadvantage to compete with other states, much less in the global economy,”
No guarantee of staying home for a day without losing pay, whether you have a cold or cancer.  Some victory.

Hypocrisy 101: the "gender card"

Nine months ago, conservative commentators and candidates said Hillary shouldn't be a whiner when she talked about sexism in American politics.  Where are they now that they have a female vice presidential candidate?  Let's check with the Daily Show (hat tip to Shadoweyes for the idea that I should post this):

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Marital discord has a genetic component in men

Men are more likely to be devoted and loyal husbands when they lack a particular variant of a gene that influences brain activity...which is present in two of every five men...[it] also appears to predict whether women involved with these men are likely to say their partners are emotionally close and available, or distant and disagreeable. The presence of the gene variant, or allele, also seems predictive of whether men get married or live with women without getting married. 
Obviously, it's not just genes that determine marital fidelity and harmony, but it's fascinating to see how science continues to discover the role of nature in complex relationships.

Is rebuilding New Orleans smart?

A very thoughtful piece on whether it's the smartest idea to try and rebuild a seaside town, below sea-level, with the water rising and the land sinking.

Other towns faced with recurring disaster threats have decided to move.