Friday, September 28, 2007

Two-headed turtle goes on display in Pa.

Store manager Jay Jacoby displays a two-headed red slider turtle at Big Al's Aquarium Supercenter in East Norriton Pa., Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007. The rare turtle is on display at the store. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

This is a rather interesting story through Yahoo News:

NORRISTOWN, Pa. - A pet store has bought a two-headed turtle from a collector and plans to keep it on display, the store manager said. The 2-month-old turtle, actually conjoined red-eared slider twins, fits on a silver dollar.

It has two heads sticking out from opposite ends of its shell, along with a pair of front feet on each side. But there is just one set of back feet and one tail.

The turtle is apparently healthy, and the species can live 15 to 20 years, said Jay Jacoby, manager of Big Al's Aquarium Supercenter in East Norriton. The turtle has not yet been named.

The store would not disclose how much it paid.

The same exotic-turtle collector sold another Big Al's store a conjoined-twin turtle about 20 years ago, Jacoby said. The man lives in Florida, but he declined to identify him.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

STOP THE PRESSES--Greenspan sees threat of '70s-style inflation

This graph shows the changes in the annual inflation rate from 1965 to 2005, and how the prices compare between the two years. Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan fears a gradual return of the 1970s inflation that crippled the U.S. economy.

I seriously wonder if Americans are either gullible, or ignorant. I found this story on McClatchy:

WASHINGTON —An important point in Alan Greenspan's much-hyped memoir has gone largely unnoticed: He acknowledges that global economic forces, more than Federal Reserve policy, kept inflation low and manageable for two decades.

By global forces he means free trade, the rise of emerging, cheap-labor economies led by China and India and the benefits from information technology and the Internet.

He warns that these forces — "globalization," in shorthand — are weakening as they mature. He fears that could mean a gradual return to persistent 1970s-style inflation over the next 20 years or so. And he worries that could cripple a U.S. economy that's already facing strains from the graying of the population over the same period.

Not everyone agrees.

"I do think he's overly pessimistic. Which is not to say things he's pointing to aren't real or potentially real," said Alan Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman and Princeton University economist who thinks that U.S. and European policymakers are unlikely to let inflation get out of hand because they learned hard lessons in the '70s.

Inflation measures the rise of prices across the economy over time. It's relatively stable at the moment: Consumer prices rose only 2 percent over the 12 months through August. But oil prices are high — more than $80 a barrel — commodities from corn to gold are flirting with records and Americans are increasingly fearful that free trade is hurting wages and workers at home, and may restrain it.

All those factors threaten to boost inflation.

It roared out of control from the late 1960s through 1981. Prices rose so quickly that they eroded the purchasing power of a dollar. In 1979, $100 on Jan. 1 was worth $87 by Dec. 31.

Well, our famous economic seer of the 1980s, Alan Greenspan, is now worried that the U.S. is returning to the 1970s inflation-style U.S. economy. And he writes about it in his memoir. The first question I have to ask is how long did Greenspan either know, or suspected, that the U.S. is heading towards this 1970s economic predicament? I know that, as an economist, Greenspan will talk on both sides of his mouth about economic conditions in the United States--well, we think that the U.S. economy could be heading in this direction, but it is also possible that the U.S. economy is heading in that direction. But does Greenspan even look into past economic history, and look for past economic and historical patterns that are comparable to current events in the United States?

The problem I have with Greenspan here is that he is too intent on looking at the weakening of globalization as the culprit for the rising U.S. inflation. According to McClatchy:

Greenspan, the leading economic seer of the roaring 1990s, fears that the table's being set for it all to happen again.

The biggest reason is that "having largely bestowed its benefits, globalization will slow its pace," he wrote.

For several decades, the benefits of globalization — primarily abundant foreign-made goods produced for low wages and purchased for low prices &mash; helped hold down U.S. inflation. But that's changing.

China, for example, the biggest source of U.S. imported goods, has a growing inflation problem. Its inflation rate hit an 11-year high of 6.5 percent in August.

Wages in China grew 13.5 percent last year. As Chinese workers demand higher pay to cover rising prices, production costs rise. Eventually, the price of Chinese-made goods purchased by Americans will rise as well.

Just as inexpensive imports helped hold down inflation here the past two decades, inflation here will rise with import prices. How much, how fast? While U.S. inflation rates varied greatly over the years, on average from 1939 through 1989 consumer prices rose by 4.5 percent per year.

"That's probably not a bad first approximation of what we will face," Greenspan warns in his book "The Age of Turbulence." An annual inflation rate of 4.5 percent would reduce the purchasing power of $10,000 to $6,439 in one decade, according to the Tax Policy Center, run by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Greenspan says the threat of rising inflation is already here. He told CBS's "60 Minutes" that his successor, Ben S. Bernanke, faces a different economic chessboard from the one he had in the '90s.

"We were dealing with an environment back there where inflation was easing. We could have acted without the fear of stoking inflationary pressures. You can't do that anymore," Greenspan said.

Now I can understand the argument that a weakening of globalization could have an effect on the U.S. economy, but is it going to be so bad as to cause a return of the 1970s inflation? I'm not sure. But I do know that Greenspan is ignoring two huge variables here--the U.S. war in Iraq, and the Bush administration's funding this war with both tax cuts to the rich and the printing of more U.S. debt. And here is where history comes in. I wrote two blog posts on this subject. The first post I wrote was on May 11, 2006, titled Inflation worries, oil surge slam stocks:

It is President Bush's Anti-Great Society Program--destroy the social safety net of the federal government by cutting social programs' budgets, and then give out huge tax breaks to big corporations and rich elites, all while fighting two wars overseas. Oh, and pay for it, not by raising taxes, but by turning on the government's printing presses and just print dollars until the sun doesn't shine. George Bush is following the same playbook as Lyndon Johnson was in providing guns and butter during the 1960s with Vietnam and Johnson's Great Society anti-poverty programs. The only difference here is that Johnson was using the government to try to end poverty and create a social safety net for Americans, while also fighting his war in Vietnam. President Bush is using the federal government to not just destroy the Great Society safety net of President Johnson, but also to create a government-paid safety net for big corporations and rich elites. And Bush has got two wars to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a third war on the way in Iran, to Lyndon Johnson's one war in Vietnam.

However you spin this, it is going to spell disaster for the American economy. Lyndon Johnson turned on the printing presses to pay for his guns and butter. Bush has had the printing presses going full blast for the past five years--and another three years to go for his administration. Inflation is going to kick in soon, with higher prices that will hit businesses, consumers, and investors. Look at what has happened today--inflation worries and energy prices have slammed the Dow down by 141 points, the Nasdaq is down 48 points. Interest rates are rising--and the Feds are signaling that rates could still rise even further. Oil and gas prices can still go up, especially if investors are nervous about an upcoming American attack against Iran. If inflation pressures start forcing prices to rise, American consumers are going to cut back on their spending. The Feds are going to continue raising interest rates as a means to combat inflation, forcing businesses to cut back on investment in new factors of production. We're going to see the worst of both worlds--stagflation, where you could have a deep economic recession in the U.S., and rising prices due to inflation. It happened from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s.

But I fear that this will be much worst than what we've seen in the 70s.

The second post that I wrote was on August 28, 2006, titled Real wages failed to match a rise in productivity:

Think about this for a moment. The stagnating wages have been offset by the rising value of benefits, such as health insurance. But the problem with health insurance is that the price of health insurance has also been increasing, thus adding to companies labor costs. Instead of absorbing the costs of health insurance, companies have started passing those costs towards the workers in terms of higher health insurance premiums deducted from workers' paychecks. At the same time, wage increases have certainly gone to the top income brackets--including those of the CEOs. Thus, the inequality gap between the rich and poor has continued to increase. It is interesting how UBS investment bank has called this period as the “the golden era of profitability," and how corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960s. Lyndon Johnson had started both his Great Society program, and entered into the Vietnam War. And even Johnson's Great Society economic stimulus was added to John Kennedy's New Frontier's stimulus, which included tax cuts, economic reforms, wage, housing and medical regulations. There was a lot of economic stimulus in the 1960s, with Americans happily spending on consumer goods, and companies happily producing those consumer goods for profits. The danger of the 1960s economy was that the U.S. government was funding both this economic expansion and the Vietnam War by printing dollar bills--and not by raising taxes to pay for everything. We see the same thing happening now with Bush's tax cut stimulus and war in Iraq. And the economic benefits of globalization and productivity today have been going towards corporate profits, rather than wage increases.

The biggest pattern that I have been seeing is that in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson financed both his Great Society programs and the Vietnam War by turning on the Treasury printing presses. Johnson did not raise taxes to pay for either the war or the Great Society programs. And in the 1970s, we started paying for this debt with inflation. Fast forward to today. We've got President George Bush paying for his tax cuts to the rich and the Iraq war by, again, turning on the Treasury printing presses. I will admit that when I wrote those posts, I was expecting a recession to hit the U.S. in 2007. What I didn't realize was that the housing bubble was expanding in 2006, offsetting the inflation worries, rising oil prices, and stagnating wages. Americans were happy because the value of their homes kept going up due to the housing bubble.

That bubble has crashed. Consumer sentiment has become worried about a combination of the housing crash, increased oil prices, and inflation worries. All of this could cause consumers to cut back spending. Businesses may continue their own investment and produce products for U.S. export, but business exports are not going to keep the U.S. out of a recession if consumers decide to cut back on spending. In the 1970s, we saw the results of Lyndon Johnson's policies of financing his war and Great Society programs through the printing of more money. What we currently have now is President Bush financing his Iraq war with printing even more money. And Bush still refuses to repeal the Bush tax cuts to the rich. Because of President Bush's disastrous economic policies and the war, we may end up heading towards a 1970s-style stagflation of increased inflation and an economic recession.

But there could be another reason here about Greenspan's insistence on blaming a potential 1970s-style inflation on globalization. And this stems not because of economic conditions, but rather political conditions. Greenspan supported both President Bush's tax cuts, and the Social Security privatization plan. But when the Iraq war started, Greenspan shifted his tune, saying that making the Bush tax cuts permanent in 2003, while the U.S. was at war with Iraq, would cause huge budget deficits, and fiscal discipline was needed. In other words, Greenspan performed a political CYA once the Bush administration started pushing their permanent tax cuts at the same time the U.S. was at war with Iraq. Greenspan also kept completely quiet on the link between oil and the Bush administration's war in Iraq, only to finally acknowledge it after he retired and wrote his memoir. He never publicly criticized the the link between oil and the Iraq war while he was the Fed chairman. I seriously wonder if Greenspan's admission in his memoir is another CYA attempt to protect his legacy. Greenspan kept interest rates low, creating the housing bubble that took place between 2001 to 2006. What was Greenspan's reason for allowing the housing bubble to continue growing, even though he knew it would collapse? Was Greenspan motivated to keep the housing bubble growing because in the last two years, it was also contributing to the U.S. economic growth while the country was at war? I can't answer those questions. But what I do suspect is that Greenspan has been performing some major political CYA here to protect his legacy. And this story about Greenspan predicting that the weakening globalization would cause a 1970s inflation in the U.S. may be another political attempt to protect his legacy. I don't recall ever hearing Greenspan presenting harsh criticism against both the Bush economic policies and the Iraq war--again, he spoke between both sides of his mouth on everything. Does Greenspan believe that he will be harshly viewed by history for his support of the Bush war in Iraq, even if that war could cause increased inflation, or even stagflation in the U.S. over the next ten years? Is this another Greenspan CYA attempt at shifting the potential causes for a 1970s-style inflation away from the Bush war and tax cuts and towards this weakening globalization, perhaps even cementing Greenspan's reputation as an economic seer beyond his term as Fed chairman?

It is interesting speculation here.

McClatchy: Blackwater guards killed 16 as U.S. touted progress

All I'm going to say is that this McClatchy story is just sickening. I'm posting the entire article here:

BAGHDAD — On Sept. 9, the day before Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Congress that things were getting better, Batoul Mohammed Ali Hussein came to Baghdad for the day.

A clerk in the Iraqi customs office in Diyala province, she was in the capital to drop off and pick up paperwork at the central office near busy al Khilani Square, not far from the fortified Green Zone, where top U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work. U.S. officials often pass through the square in heavily guarded convoys on their way to other parts of Baghdad.

As Hussein walked out of the customs building, an embassy convoy of sport-utility vehicles drove through the intersection. Blackwater security guards, charged with protecting the diplomats, yelled at construction workers at an unfinished building to move back. Instead, the workers threw rocks. The guards, witnesses said, responded with gunfire, spraying the intersection with bullets.

Hussein, who was on the opposite side of the street from the construction site, fell to the ground, shot in the leg. As she struggled to her feet and took a step, eyewitnesses said, a Blackwater security guard trained his weapon on her and shot her multiple times. She died on the spot, and the customs documents she'd held in her arms fluttered down the street.

Before the shooting stopped, four other people were killed in what would be the beginning of eight days of violence that Iraqi officials say bolster their argument that Blackwater should be banned from working in Iraq.

During the ensuing week, as Crocker and Petraeus told Congress that the surge of more U.S. troops to Iraq was beginning to work and President Bush gave a televised address in which he said "ordinary life was beginning to return" to Baghdad, Blackwater security guards shot at least 43 people on crowded Baghdad streets. At least 16 of those people died.

Two Blackwater guards died in one of the incidents, which was triggered when a roadside bomb struck a Blackwater vehicle.

Still, it was an astounding amount of violence attributed to Blackwater. In the same eight-day period, according to statistics compiled by McClatchy Newspapers, other acts of violence across the embattled capital claimed the lives of 32 people and left 87 injured, not including unidentified bodies found dumped on Baghdad's streets.

The best known of that week's incidents took place the following Sunday, Sept. 16, when Blackwater guards killed 11 and wounded 12 at the busy al Nisour traffic circle in central Baghdad.

Iraqi officials said the guards were unprovoked when they opened fire on a white car carrying three people, including a baby. All died. The security guards then fired at other nearby vehicles, including a minibus loaded with passengers, killing a mother of eight. An Iraqi soldier also died.

In Blackwater's only statement regarding the Sept. 16 incident, Anne Tyrell, the company's spokeswoman, denied that the dead were civilians. "The 'civilians' reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies," she said in an e-mail, "and Blackwater personnel returned defensive fire."

A joint commission of five U.S. State Department officials, three U.S. military officials and eight Iraqis has been formed to investigate the incident, though almost two weeks later, the commission has yet to meet. A U.S. Embassy statement on Thursday, the first official written comment from the embassy since the al Nisour shooting, said that the group was "preparing" to meet.

Blackwater and the U.S. Embassy didn't respond to requests for information about the other incidents.

But interviews with eyewitnesses and survivors of each incident describe similar circumstances in which Blackwater guards took aggressive action against civilians who seemed to pose no threat.

"They killed her in cold blood," Hussein Jumaa Hassan, 30, a parking lot attendant, said of Hussein.

Hassan pointed to the bullet-pocked concrete column behind him. He'd hidden behind it.

"I was boiling with anger, and I wished that I had a weapon in my hands in those minutes," he said. "They wanted to kill us all."

Anyone who moved was shot until the convoy left the square, witnesses said. Also among the dead was Kadhim Gayes, a city hall guard.

It took two days for Hussein's family to retrieve her body from the morgue. Before they could, her sister signed a sheet acknowledging the contents of her purse, which had been collected by security guards at the Baghdad city hall — a Samsung cell phone, a change purse with six keys and 37,000 Iraqi dinars ($30), gold bracelets, a notebook, pens, and photos of her and her children.

Three days later, Blackwater guards were back in al Khilani Square, Iraqi government officials said. This time, there was no shooting, witnesses said. Instead, the Blackwater guards hurled frozen bottles of water into store windows and windshields, breaking the glass.

Ibrahim Rubaie, the deputy security director at a nearby Baghdad city government office building, said it's common for Blackwater guards to shoot as they drive through the square. He said Blackwater guards also shot and wounded people in the square on June 21, though there are no official reports of such an incident.

On Sept. 13 — the same day Bush gave his "ordinary life" speech — Blackwater guards were escorting State Department officials down Palestine Street near the Shiite enclave of Sadr City when a roadside bomb detonated, ripping through one of the Blackwater vehicles.

The blast killed two Blackwater guards. As other guards went to retrieve the dead, they fired wildly in several directions, witnesses said.

Mohammed Mazin was at home when he heard the bang, which shattered one of his windows.

Then he heard gunfire, and he and his son, Laith, went to the roof to see what was going on.

What they saw were security contractors shooting in different directions as a helicopter hovered overhead. Bullets flew through his home's windows, he said.

No civilians were killed that day, but five were wounded, according to Iraq's Interior Ministry.

The following Sunday, Blackwater guards opened fire as the State Department convoy they were escorting crossed in front of stopped traffic at the al Nisour traffic circle.

While U.S. officials have offered no explanation of what occurred that day, witnesses and Iraqi investigators agree that the guards' first target was a white car that either hadn't quite stopped or was trying to nudge its way to the front of traffic.

In the car were a man whose name is uncertain; Mahasin Muhsin, a mother and doctor; and Muhsin's young son. The guards first shot the man, who was driving. As Muhsin screamed, a Blackwater guard shot her. The car exploded, and Muhsin and the child burned, witnesses said.

Afrah Sattar, 27, was on a bus approaching the square when she saw the guards fire on the white car. She and her mother, Ghania Hussein, were headed to the Certificate of Identification Office in Baghdad to pick up proof of Sattar's Iraqi citizenship for an upcoming trip to a religious shrine in Iran.

When she saw the gunmen turn toward the bus, Sattar looked at her mother in fear. "They're going to shoot at us, Mama," she said. Her mother hugged her close. Moments later, a bullet pierced her mother's skull and another struck her shoulder, Sattar recalled.

As her mother's body went limp, blood dripped onto Sattar's head, still cradled in her mother's arms.

"Mother, mother," she called out. No answer. She hugged her mother's body and kissed her lips and began to pray, "We belong to God and we return to God." The bus emptied, and Sattar sat alone at the back, with her mother's bleeding body.

"I'm lost now, I'm lost," she said days later in her simple two-bedroom home. Ten people lived there; now there are nine.

"They are killers," she said of the Blackwater guards. "I swear to God, not one bullet was shot at them. Why did they shoot us? My mother didn't carry a weapon."

Downstairs, her father, Sattar Ghafil Slom al Kaabi, 67, sat beneath a smiling picture of his wife and recalled their 40-year love story and how they raised eight children together. On the way to the holy city of Najaf to bury her, he'd stopped his car, with her coffin strapped to the top. He got out and stood beside the coffin. He wanted to be with her a little longer.

"I loved her more than anything," he said, his voice wavering. "Now that she is dead, I love her more."

(Special correspondents Mohammed al Dulaimy, Hussein Kadhim and Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report.)

It is time to outlaw Blackwater as a corporation in the United States. Cancel every frickin' government contract with Blackwater, and force this company to move its operations outside of the United States. We need to get rid of this stinking mercenary army now.

And there are even more McClatchy stories of Blackwater atrocities:

Partial list of the dead in Blackwater incidents

Blackwater blamed for deaths of reporter, 3 guards

Incident Reports Fault Blackwater in Fallujah Ambush

Report: Blackwater skimped on security before Fallujah ambush

New home sales fall to a 7-year low

This is off The Washington Post:

WASHINGTON -- New-homes sales tumbled in August to the lowest level in seven years, a stark sign that the credit crunch is aggravating an already painful housing slump.

Sales of new homes dropped 8.3 percent in August from July, the Commerce Department reported Thursday, driving down sales to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 795,000. That was the lowest level since June 2000.

"This is just hideous," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at High Frequency Economics.

The home sales report came on the same day that the government reported a relatively brisk business growth rate in revised figures for the second quarter. But the 3.8 percent pace was less than previously estimated and it occurred before the credit crisis and its repercussions across the broad spectrum of the economy had taken hold.

Home prices tanked.

The median sales price in August fell by 7.5 percent from a year earlier to $225,700. That was the biggest drop in percentage terms in nearly 37 years. The median price is the middle point at which half sell for more and half for less. The average sales price dropped by 8 percent in August from a year earlier to $292,000. That was the biggest decline in 17 years.

There is not much more to say here, except that the housing mess is starting to take its toll on the U.S. economy. This huge drop in new home sales is forcing home construction companies to cut back on their own construction projects, while prices are dropping due to the 10-month glut of unsold homes on the market. And prices are dropping because of this huge supply of unsold homes on the market. This housing mess is going to stay with us for the next couple of years.

McCain claims he is the better GOP candidate for president since he doesn't need on-the-job training

I usually don't link to Yahoo News stories, since Yahoo always pulls their stories off the web after a period of time. But this one Yahoo story on Senator John McCain is too good:

NEW YORK - John McCain argued Thursday that the United States would be safer with him as president than if his leading Republican rivals were commander in chief as he seized on newfound opportunities to revive his weakened candidacy.

Once left for dead politically, McCain is sharply drawing distinctions between himself and his top GOP opponents as he seeks to capitalize on polls showing an extremely fluid race and a campaign flush enough to run ads in early voting New Hampshire.

"We don't have time or opportunity for on-the-job training, and the other candidates for president I don't believe have the qualifications that I do to hit the ground running and immediately address these serious challenges," the four-term Arizona senator and Vietnam veteran told reporters following a speech on the military.

"The country would be safer with me as its leader," McCain added. He said that while he respects his opponents, "this is all about who is best equipped to take on the challenge of radical Islamic extremism."

So John McCain will be a better war president than the other Republican challengers because of...what? That McCain is more pro-war than either Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, or Fred Thompson? Because McCain will not need the on-the-job training, and the other GOP candidates will need it even more?

Let's continue further into this Yahoo story:

Linked to Iraq and the troop increase strategy, McCain spent September aggressively trying to sell support for the unpopular war — and his candidacy — in a push that spoke to the central argument of his White House bid. McCain's contention: His depth of experience on foreign policy and the military makes him the most qualified of any hopeful, Republican or Democrat, to lead a country at war.

In that vein, he laid out his foreign policy vision in a speech to the conservative Hudson Institute on Thursday as his campaign rolled out ads that highlight his war-hero biography and decades-long military experience.

One ad sums up his pitch, saying: "Americans lost trust in their government. They're looking for leadership. A leader with the judgment and experience to keep us safe. The courage to change Washington. Fix our toughest problems and restore our trust. The character to put America's interests before his own."

The ads show various images of McCain — as a wounded Navy pilot answering questions from his prison bed in Vietnam, walking through the White House portico with President Reagan, returning to the U.S. after his years as a Vietnam POW.

In the speech, McCain renewed his call for boosting the ranks of the military without reinstituting the draft. He painted an optimistic picture of progress in Iraq but also warned of a long slog ahead. He criticized the Democratic candidates' national security policies. And, he distanced himself from President Bush, saying: "We are in a long war, a war I am afraid the U.S. government is not adequately prepared to fight."

While he did not name his GOP rivals outright, some of his remarks were clearly aimed at them

Okay, so John McCain will be the better GOP candidate for president since he won't need any on-the-job training for fighting against Islamic terrorism that Guiliani, Romney, and Thompson would need, because John McCain knows all about fighting Islamic terrorism since McCain was fighting against them in the Vietnam War. Wait a minute, were there Islamic terrorists fighting against McCain in the Vietnam War? There were godless North Vietnamese communists fighting against McCain in the Vietnam War--does that count?

All joking aside Senator McCain, fighting in Hanoi Hilton of Vietnam doesn't qualify you for being president, nor does it excuse you from on-the-job training. What this story does show is just how far to the pro-war right you have gone, Senator, in order to court the 30 percent right-wingnut base for the GOP nomination. In reality, Senator, your Vietnam War experience doesn't mean diddly-squat in terms of how to effectively fight against both Islamic terrorism, or even how to resolve this war in Iraq--just as Giuiliani's constant invocation of being "The 9/11 Mayor" gives him the experience of fighting Islamic terrorism, or Mitt Romney's dog story gives him the crisis management experience for fighting Islamic terrorists, or even Fred Thompson's Law and Order acting experience gives Thompson the presidential experience for imposing law and order in Iraq. Once you get into the Oval Office, all the experience and training in the world is meaningless because you are in one of the most stressful, publicly visible, highly powerful, 24-hour-a-day job for the next four years. You become the face for the entire United States--you are the United States of America for both good and bad. There is no previous work experience that can prepare you for that job--when you get into the White House, you are doing your own on-the-job training.

The second problem I have, Senator, is your insistence that your previous combat experience in Vietnam makes you the most qualified candidate for fighting against Islamic extremism. Senator, your vision is to increase the U.S. war in Iraq, even though a clear majority of Americans want the U.S. to start pulling troops out of Iraq. You are presenting a vision that a majority of the American public opposes. And so, Senator, go right ahead and sell your insane vision of a pro-war president to 30-percent hard-core conservative base. I doubt that you will get the GOP nomination. And even if you do, you are going to have a hard time explaining your pro-war image to moderates and independents who are opposed to the war.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Consumer confidence punges to a two-year low

This is from CBS Marketwatch:

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. consumer confidence declined to its lowest level in nearly two years in September as a weaker job market and uncertain business conditions increased concern about the outlook, the Conference Board said Tuesday.

The consumer confidence index fell to 99.8 in September from a revised 105.6 in August, the research group reported. This is the lowest level since November 2005.

The drop was larger than expected. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had been expecting the index to fall to 103.8 from the initial estimate of 105.0 in August. See Economic Calendar.

Confidence was at a 6-year high in July, but has plunged since. This is the biggest two-month drop since Katrina.


Economists were surprised by the decline in confidence in part because other measures of consumer confidence had held fairly stable early this month.

They noted that confidence remains 20 points above recession levels, but said the drop in confidence does point to slower spending in the fourth quarter.

Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's consumer research center, said "looking ahead, little economic improvement is expected, and with the holiday season around the corner, this is not welcome news."

You can bet that it is not welcome news here. American consumers are looking at this home mortgage mess, the weakened job market, and perhaps even the worsening political conditions and even the war in Iraq, and they are getting worried. And when consumers are getting worried at the bevy of bad news that has been coming out in this country, they may just start to cut their spending on goods and services. Of course, the economists in this CBS Marketwatch story are saying that the consumer confidence levels "remains 20 points above recession levels," but they fail to neglect that confidence has taken a serious plunge here. It may continue to plunge 20 points into the recessionary levels if economic and political conditions continue to deteriorate. Continuing into this CBS Marketwatch story;

A separate survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers and UBS Securities said chain-store sales for the week ended Sept. 22 fell 1% on a week-over-week basis.

"The industry continues to struggle on a weekly basis as performance was uneven by retailer with some market share shifting between retailers," said Michael Niemira, chief economist for the ICSC.

"We often say that it is more important to watch what consumers do than what they say. But gloomy reports from Target and Lowe's this week suggest that consumers have become more cautious. So in this case the signal from sentiment looks accurate," said Nigel Gault, U.S. economist at Global Insight in a note to clients.

Target cut its September same-store sales forecast to a growth range of 1.5% to 2.5%, down from its prior forecast of 4% to 6%, citing weaker than expected traffic and sales softness in the northeast and Florida. Lowe's shares fell more than 5% in morning action after the home-improvement retailer tempered its forecast for the year.

Consumers are starting to get worried about the conditions now, and they are starting to cut back on spending. The big question now is how much further will consumer confidence, and consumer spending, will drop?

Housing market woes

I think it is time now to get into the housing market woes. What I'm going to do here is list some of the main stories I'm seeing here on the housing market.

Credit rating agencies defend track record: MSNBC News has a complete front page in their business section that is devoted to the real estate market. It is a decent source for keeping track on the housing mess. This MSNBC News story reports on the Senate hearing into the credit rating agencies conflicts of interest that may have contributed to the mortgage industry's turmoil. According to MSNBC News;

WASHINGTON - Executives from major credit rating agencies on Wednesday were accused by senators of being hampered by conflicts of interest that may have contributed to the mortgage market turmoil rattling investors worldwide.

The biggest rating agencies —Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings — are under fire from critics who say they failed to give investors adequate warning of the risks associated with mortgage-backed securities. Those securities are now plummeting in value as home-loan defaults soar, particularly among borrowers with weak, or subprime, credit histories.

Several members of the Senate Banking Committee questioned rating agency executives about whether they provided advice to investment banks that issue complex mortgage securities tied to subprime home loans.

“It seems to me that credit rating agencies are playing both coach and referee,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D.-N.J.

The rating agencies’ seal of approval effectively concealed the true risks of those investments, lawmakers said. Several senators compared the agencies’ lack of foresight about the risks inherent in the subprime mortgage market with their failure to anticipate the collapse of Enron Corp. and WorldCom.

Democratic and Republican senators said they were particularly concerned with a key aspect of the agencies’ business models: they get paid by the companies whose bonds they rate. That’s like a film production company paying a critic to review a movie, and then using that review in its advertising, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said.

Executives from S&P and Moody’s said their methodology for monitoring the risk of mortgage-backed bonds was sound.

It is only now, after the wreckage, that Congress is finally conducting hearings on the credit rating industry. Of course, I doubt that anything constructive will come through from this.

Home sales, prices continue to fall: This MSNBC News story reports that sales of existing family home prices have fallen by 4.3 percent in August from July. It has been the sixth straight month that existing home sales have fallen, with the nationwide decline in home prices, in July, posting its steepest drop in 16 years. Sales of single-family homes have dropped to a seasonally adjusted rate 5.5 million units a year. See the graph below;

Sales of existing homes fell for a sixth straight month in August. From MSNBC News.

The scary thing about this graph is you can see just how the bubble started in 1995, then dropped slightly in the 2000 recession, before going on a steep rise until around the end of 2005. After that, the graph just plummets straight down, almost equaling the low point of -5 percent as seen in 1990. I don't think we've bottomed out yet.

Mortgage rates edge up after four-month low: Getting into this MSNBC story;

WASHINGTON - Rates on 30-year mortgages, after dropping to their lowest point in four months, edged up this week.

Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reported Thursday that 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.34 percent this week, up slightly from last week’s 6.31 percent, which had been the lowest level since May 17. This week’s 6.34 percent rate is the second-lowest since mid-May.

All mortgage products surveyed by Freddie Mac showed slight increases this week even though the Federal Reserve on Tuesday announced a bigger-than-expected half-point cut in the federal funds rate, the first reduction in this key interest rate in more than four years.

Freddie Mac raised mortgage interest rates up to 6.34 percent. MSNBC News.

What really interests me about this MSNBC story is the contradiction between Freddie Mac's raising the mortgage rates on family homes, while the Federal Reserve has cut its federal funds rate by a half-percentage point. Is this a one-time event, or a part of a trend? Will we see banks starting to raise their interest rates on business loans and commercial paper in order to offset whatever losses they may have endured because of the housing crash?

Housing construction falls to 12-year low: Another statistic from MSNBC News;

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that construction of new homes fell by 2.6 percent in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.331 million units.

The housing industry is experiencing its steepest downturn in 16 years with analysts forecasting weak prices and further declines in sales for months to come, given rising mortgage defaults which are dumping even more homes on an already glutted market.

There is not much I can add to this except that we've got a glut of homes sitting on the market and construction companies are cutting back on building new homes in order to reduce this huge supply. According to The New York Times, "Inventories of unsold homes rose 0.4 percent in August, to 4.58 million, a 10-month supply at the current sales rate. That compared with a 9.5-month supply in July." There is a 10-month supply of homes on the market in August. The last thing construction companies want to do is to add even more homes in this glut.

U.S. home foreclosures soared in August: Some more MSNBC News statistics to chew on;

LOS ANGELES - The number of foreclosure filings reported in the U.S. last month more than doubled versus August 2006 and jumped 36 percent from July, a trend that signals many homeowners are increasingly unable to make timely payments on their mortgages or sell their homes amid a national housing slump.

A total of 243,947 foreclosure filings were reported in August, up 115 percent from 113,300 in the same month a year ago, Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac Inc. said Tuesday.

There were 179,599 foreclosure filings reported in July.

The filings include default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. Some properties might have received more than one notice if the owners have multiple mortgages.

August’s total represents the highest number of foreclosure filings reported in a single month since the company began tracking monthly filings two years ago.

The national foreclosure rate last month was one filing for every 510 households, the company said.

Foreclosure filings in the U.S. jumped 36 percent from July. From MSNBC News.

And this part of the MSNBC News story is particularly devastating;

The mortgage industry has been rocked by a surge in defaults, particularly among borrowers with subprime loans and adjustable rate mortgages that initially had attractive “teaser” interest rates but then can adjust upward, resulting in a payment shock.

Many of the loans, some of which adjust in as little as two years, were issued in 2005 and 2006 during the height of the housing boom.


The number of bank repossessions jumped to 42,789 in August, compared with 20,116 a year earlier, the RealtyTrac said. In July, there were 26,842 bank repossessions.

It all goes back to the predatory lending, the subprime loans, and the adjustable rate mortgages that companies were pushing on American consumers. The new interest rates on those adjustable rate mortgages are now coming due, and American consumers who bought their homes using these adjustable rate mortgages are now finding that they can't pay the higher interest rate on their loans. This is causing the banks to repossess these homes and putting them up on the market, where there is a 10-month supply of homes just waiting to be sold. It just goes around. And what is worst, I think that this is just the start of the subprime mess, where American consumers who took out their adjustable rate mortgages in 2005 are now losing their homes due to the interest rate sticker shock. If home mortgage rates continue to increase over the next year, we're going to see more home foreclosures being filed as Americans who bought their homes on adjustable rate mortgages in 2006 start losing their homes.

Durable goods orders plummet

This is off MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Demand for big-ticket manufactured goods plunged in August by the largest amount in seven months, with widespread weakness signaling a slowdown in the United States' industrial sector.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that orders for durable goods, everything from commercial jetliners to home appliances, fell by 4.9 percent in August, the biggest decline since a 6.1 percent fall in January.

It was far larger than the 3.5 percent drop that economists had been expecting and resulted from across-the-board decreases in a number of categories. The concern is that the steep downturn in housing and turbulence in financial markets could start to affect the economy more broadly, raising the risks of a full-blown recession.


Of particular concern, orders in the category considered a proxy for business investment plans edged down by 0.7 percent in August, the second decline in the past three months. Business equipment spending has been one of the bright spots for the economy this year.

I think we're seeing the second leg of this weakened U.S. economy starting to get knocked down. The first leg, of course, was the U.S. housing bubble, where everyone were jumping into over-priced houses using EZ-financing deals and dreaming that their home values would continue to increase by double-digits. It is this leg that we saw the worst of predatory lending, the increased use of adjustable rate mortgages, no money down lending, free credit, and the madness of Wall Street pushing these high-risk loans into supposedly safe mortgage-backed securities on investors. The housing bubble collapsed, resulting in a slowdown of new home construction to a 12-year low, home foreclosures soaring, home sales and prices falling, and fears that the housing mess could push the U.S. into a recession. Consumers could not afford to pay the rapidly increasing home prices with stagnating incomes. So it was only a matter of time before this bubble would collapse. And I'm thinking that this housing mess will start to hit consumer spending. Consumer confidence has fallen to a two-year low of 99.8 in September, down from 1.5.6 in August. If consumer confidence has fallen this far, will consumer spending be next?

So what does all this have to do with durable goods and a recession? The housing bubble may have been the first leg this U.S. economy has been standing on, but after the housing crash, it has been business spending and investment that has been keeping this economy afloat for the year. But with the bad new continuing to come out on the housing mess, are businesses starting to realize just how bad this is, and are cutting back on their spending and investment in anticipation of a recession? According to the MSNBC story:

Many analysts believe the overall economy, after racing ahead at a 4 percent annual rate in the spring, slowed in the summer to growth in the gross domestic product of around 2.5 percent with the continued troubles in housing and the spreading credit crunch lowering growth estimates to 2 percent or less in the final three months of the year. Some economists are putting the chances of a recession as high as 50-50.

I've been wondering when the recession was going to hit the U.S., mainly as a result of the accumulated U.S. debt, and the Bush administration's insistence of both continued spending on the Iraq war and the tax cuts to the rich. But with the housing market crash and the durable goods orders plummeting to add to the Bush war, tax cuts to the rich, and the huge U.S. debt, I'm thinking that the recession will finally hit the U.S. in the beginning of 2008. And I fear it is going to be a very deep recession.

Man finds human leg in smoker

Okay, this story certainly should be categorized in the Weird Recipes of the Month. From MSNBC News:

MAIDEN, N.C. - A man who bought a smoker Tuesday at an auction of abandoned items might have thought twice had he looked inside first.

Maiden police said the man opened up the smoker and saw what he thought was a piece of driftwood wrapped in paper. When he unwrapped it, he found a human leg, cut off 2 to 3 inches above the knee.

The smoker had been sold at an auction of items left behind at a storage facility, so investigators contacted the mother and son who had rented the space where the smoker was found.

The mother, Peg Steele, explained her son had his leg amputated after a plane crash and kept the leg following the surgery “for religious reasons” she doesn’t know much about.

“The rest of the family was very much against it,” Steele said.

Steele said her son, John Wood, plans to drive to Maiden, about 35 miles northwest of Charlotte, to reclaim his amputated leg, police said.

I'm surprised he didn't brush some barbecue sauce on that leg and serve it for a Labor Day supper. From

North Carolina Barbecue Sauce

1 cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients over medium heat.
Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened, stirring constantly.
Serve warm.

NOTE: This is a super sauce that's good for basting or as a warm dipping sauce.

Yields: about 1 2/3 cups

Daily Headliners--GM/UAW make deal, House approves S-CHIP, McCain's "No Surrender," Craig refusing to resign

Here is today's Daily Headliners.

UAW reaches tentative agreement with GM: The nationwide UAW strike appears to be over now that both General Motors and the United Auto Workers have reached a tentative agreement for a new contract. According to MSNBC News, a trust fund will be created, of which GM will fund and the UAW will administer, to pay for retiree health care benefits. This deal shifts the $51 billion unfunded retiree health care obligation that is currently on the GM books to this new trust fund, and allowing the fund to take over the health care responsibility for 340,000 GM hourly retirees and spouses. It is a short-term fix here. GM gets to take off the $51 billion health care costs off its books, allowing the company to compete against the Japanese automakers. The UAW will administer a GM-funded trust fund to help pay for the health care of its retirees, providing that the UAW doesn't bankrupt the fund in making bad investment decisions. You can expect Ford and Chrysler to negotiate similar deals with the UAW in order to shift their own retiree health care obligations off their balance sheets.

House Passes Children's Health Bill: I've been watching this story for a while, but really have yet to comment on it. The Washington Post reports that the House of Representatives has approved a a $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) by a bipartisan vote of 265 to 159. According to the WaPost;

The compromise package would expand the $5 billion-a-year children's health insurance program by an average of $7 billion a year over the next five years, for total funding of $60 billion over the period. That would be enough to boost the program's enrollment to 10 million, up from 6.6 million, and dramatically reduce the ranks of America's 9 million uninsured children, supporters said.

Chart shows allotments under the State Children's Health Insurance Program from 2002-2012. From The Associated Press.

"What we're hoping to do is to galvanize the support of the American people behind this legislation," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "The president will find himself alone."

Indeed, the compromise worked out between the House and the Senate has garnered the support of the health insurance industry, AARP, the American Medical Association, governors from both parties and a platoon of children's health advocates.

But Bush and GOP leaders said the measure would push children already covered by private health insurance into publicly financed health care, while creating an "entitlement" whose costs would ultimately outstrip the money raised by the bill's 61-cent increase in the federal tobacco tax.

"The current bill goes too far toward federalizing health care and turns a program meant to help low-income children into one that covers children in some households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year," asserted the White House yesterday, continuing to push Bush's far more modest $5 billion expansion.

Backers of the congressional bill, including conservative Republican Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), have said repeatedly that Bush is dead wrong about the $83,000 figure. Only New York has sought to cover children from families with incomes that high, and the administration turned down the request.

So we've got a bipartisan Congress that has voted to expand a popular children's health insurance program, and how does the President Bush respond? He wants to veto the program, declaring that Congress is turning it into socialized medicine. Of course, the real irony here is that while President Bush is threatening to veto this 60 billion children's health insurance program, he's asking Congress to approve nearly $190 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guess we know where President Bush's priorities are.

McCain's new campaign slogan--No Surrender: This is just hilarious. From MSNBC News;

WATERLOO, Iowa - Senator John McCain’s famous “Straight Talk Express” was gone, replaced by a bus emblazoned with a sign that read “No Surrender.”

Mr. McCain and a group of veterans — including former prisoners of war who were held with him in Vietnam, and newly minted Iraq veterans — piled into the bus and drove across Iowa, stopping in V.F.W. posts and American Legion halls to argue that the current strategy in Iraq is working, and that Democrats and wavering Republicans who want to withdraw the troops now are making a terrible mistake.

“If we leave, there will be chaos and genocide in the region, and we will be back,” Mr. McCain said Wednesday at V.F.W. Post 737 in Council Bluffs, vowing to lead the debate on the Senate floor for keeping the troops in Iraq and warning that Iran would step into the void if the United States pulls out. The veterans in the packed hall, who wore blue “No Surrender” stickers, cheered.

Of course, the phrase “No Surrender,” could be applied to the McCain campaign as well. It was practically written off over the summer when it nearly ran out of money, forcing it to reduce its staff sharply and scale back its operations in all but three states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In a trip here just last month, Mr. McCain was asked by local reporters at nearly every stop of the way if he was dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

No one asked if he was dropping out this week. And the McCain campaign, buoyed by good reviews Mr. McCain received last week at a debate in New Hampshire and by the prospect of his taking on a high-profile role in the Senate debate over Iraq, is very much hoping that it is beginning a comeback.

Is it me, or did reporter Michael Cooper have an ironic sense of humor in dispatching this story from Waterloo, Iowa? Just when you think John McCain is out of the presidential race, he revamps his entire campaign with a strong military theme of "No Surrender," and surrounds himself with former Vietnam era POWs and Iraq war veterans. It is almost like McCain is trying to present himself as the most pro-war Republican presidential candidate. If we leave, there will be chaos and genocide in the region, and we will be back McCain's campaign stops are mainly at V.F.W. posts and American Legion halls--campaign stops that have a very strong military presence which allows McCain to express this "No Surrender" theme of continuing the Iraq war. I'd say that the money problems that the McCain campaign has experienced has forced John McCain to contract his campaign towards courting the hard-lined conservative and pro-war military vote with this one campaign theme of supporting the war. This is the means by which John McCain is planning his comeback, to hammer into the GOP base that he is the president who will continue fighting the war and fighting against the terrorists. It is rather ironic, when you consider how former Rudy Giuliani has positioned himself to be the 9/11 president where Giuliani courting the base that he will continue fighting against the terrorists, and support the Iraq war. The ultimate goal here is to court the GOP base by showing just how pro-war you are. And that is what McCain will be doing until January 2008.

Craig coy on resignation: I found this story through TPM Election Central, with the source story coming from The Hill;

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig declined to say Tuesday whether he would resign his seat as planned if his guilty plea stemming from a Minneapolis bathroom sex sting is not overturned this week.

“We are waiting for the legal determinations and I have nothing more to say,” Craig told reporters Tuesday.

The senator would not comment on what he would do if the court case were not decided by Sunday, the original date of his planned resignation from the Senate.


A county judge will hear Craig’s case Wednesday morning in Edina, Minn., though it is unclear whether the court will make a final ruling on the senator’s request. Craig said he had been advised not to attend the hearing.

Most of Craig’s Senate GOP colleagues, led by leaders determined to avoid entanglement in the scandal, have nudged him towards resignation this month. Asked for comment on Craig’s decision to put off filing an official resignation with Idaho’s Republican governor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared visibly unnerved.

“I really don’t have anything to add on that issue to what I said a couple of weeks ago,” McConnell said.

Seems to me like Senator Craig is refusing to resign his seat, even though Craig promised to resign if his conviction was not overturned. This is certainly going to throw a monkey wrench into the GOP scandal-ridden control spin.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Daily Headliners--Hunter vows to cut funds for Columbia U, Violent crime up, Giuliani $9.11 fundraising party, Ahmadinejad declares no gays in Iran

We've got some fun Daily Headliners for today.

Hunter vows to "Cut off funds to Columbia University" because of Ahmadinejad speech: The right wing-nuts are just whipping themselves up in an insane frenzy here. It is bad enough that we've had to endure two weeks of Republican blather over the ad, but now they've latched on to a new hot-button non-issue--the speech made at Columbia University by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to ThinkProgress;

[Yesterday] Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said in a statement that if Columbia University President Lee Bollinger “follows through with this hosting of the leader of Iran, I will move in Congress to cut off every single type of Federal Funding to Columbia University.”


Appearing on Fox News’ Your World with Neil Cavuto after the speech, Hunter said that he plans to follow through on his threat and will now “initiate legislation, and try to get as many people as can see it my way, to cut off funds to Columbia University.”

ThinkProgress has the Fox News video of Hunter's declaration. In addition, the New York Sun is reporting that New York city and state lawmakers are also making noise about cutting funds off from Columbia University. I'm just amazed at how the Republican wing-nuts are going bonkers over Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia University. It is really a non-issue here--if the students and faculty want the Iranian head of state Ahmadinejad to speak at their school, then let them. Ahmadinejad may be just as much of a crackpot as Duncan Hunter, but Hunter gets to speak at numerous colleges, and town squares, and political rallies to spew his own crackpot ideology. And Hunter wants to punish Columbia U for allowing Ahmadinejad to speak. It is just complete madness.

Violent Crime, a Sticky Issue for White House, Shows Steeper Rise: This is off The Washington Post;

Violent crime in the United States rose more than previously believed in 2006, continuing the most significant increase in more than a decade, according to an FBI report released yesterday.

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program found that robberies surged by 7.2 percent and homicides rose 1.8 percent from 2005 to 2006. Violent crime overall rose 1.9 percent, substantially more than an increase of 1.3 percent estimated in a preliminary FBI report in June.

The jump was the second in two years, following a 2.3 percent rise in 2005. Taken together, the two years represent the first steady increase in violent crime since 1993, FBI records show.

The uptick presents a significant political challenge for the Bush administration, which has faced growing criticism from congressional Democrats, big-city mayors and police chiefs for presiding over cuts in federal assistance to local law enforcement agencies over the past six years.


Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, which studies crime trends, said the FBI report shows "a significant departure from the previous 10 years of fairly flat or declining crime numbers."

"What it underscores is what a number of communities have been seeing firsthand, and that is a spike in street-level violent crime," Wexler said. "For some cities, crime is back as a significant issue."

Don't you just feel so much safer now? Of course, we're fighting the terrorists over there in Iraq, so we don't have to fight them here. Then again, we don't have to worry about fighting terrorists here when we've got plenty of happy criminals running loose on the streets here, and we don't have the money or manpower to fight them here because we spent all the money there in Iraq to fight the terrorists.

Giuliani party seeks $9.11 per person: All I can say about this Yahoo News story is that is goes beyond the level of tacky here;

WASHINGTON - A supporter of Rudy Giuliani's is throwing a party that aims to raise $9.11 per person for the Republican's presidential campaign.

Abraham Sofaer is having a fundraiser at his Palo Alto, Calif., home on Wednesday, when Giuliani backers across the country are participating in the campaign's national house party night.

But Sofaer said he had nothing to do with the "$9.11 for Rudy" theme.

"There are some young people who came up with it," Sofaer said when reached by telephone Monday evening. He referred other questions to Giuliani's campaign.

"I'm just providing support for him. He's an old friend of mine," Sofaer said of Giuliani.

Sofaer was a State Department adviser under President Reagan and is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution

Giuliani's campaign had no immediate comment.

According to the invitation, "$9.11 for Rudy" is an "independent, non-denominational grass-roots campaign to raise $10,000 in small increments to show how many individual, everyday Americans support `America's Mayor.'"

Giuliani was mayor of New York during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

You can't even make this stuff up. Hat tip to Shakesville.

Ahmadinejad declares there are no gays in Iran: I found this story off Americablog, and it just goes to show just how much of a crackpot Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is. Watch the YouTube video:

And GOP presidential candidate Duncan Hunter wants to cut funding from Columbia University for allowing Ahmadinejad to speak there?

You just can't make this stuff up.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gingrich seeks donors for GOP bid

This is just too good to pass up. From The Washington Times:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will begin next week to seek financial commitments from donors for a presidential-nomination bid, the Georgia Republican told The Washington Times yesterday.

If he can get pledges for $30 million over the next three weeks, he will join the Republican presidential-nomination race — a prospect he had been downplaying until yesterday.

But the prospect of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York winning the Democratic nomination and the presidency is moving more voters to seek him out, he told The Times.

"As people have grown more worried about the Clinton machine and the prospect of a second Clinton presidency, more and more people have been approaching me about running," Mr. Gingrich said.

"Next Monday, Randy Evans, my friend and adviser since 1976, will hold a press briefing and explain how he intends to review whether it is realistic for me to consider running," Mr. Gingrich said.

"I am happy to compete in the world of ideas, but to compete in modern campaigns you have to have at least a threshold of donations," he said. "We believe that threshold is about $30 million."

"If Randy reports back in the next three weeks that there are that many people who want a strong advocate to debate Senator Clinton and present new solutions and new approaches, then Callista and I would have a real duty as citizens," he said, referring to his wife.

Can you say The Oral Roberts Fundraising Strategy? If Newt doesn't raise his $30 million, will God call him home? Will Ronald Reagan call him home? Are Republican voters this gullible to where they will respond to this crass Gingrich pitch of "Give money to my campaign, or else?" This disturbing sales pitch has been done before with television evangelist Oral Roberts, asking his audience to give $8 million, or God will "call him home," which is a euphemism for death. So Gingrich has decided to revive this idiotic sales pitch, asking his GOP voters to give his presidential campaign $30 million up front, or else Hillary Clinton will become president. Or maybe it is not idiotic, but rather selfish on Newt Gingrich's part. Newt Gingrich may want to become president, but he didn't want to spend the time and effort campaigning for the GOP nomination as the other candidates have done. But when you had a July 17, 2007 AP-Ipsos poll showing Republican candidates picking "None of the Above" over the top-tier candidates, it is no wonder that Newt Gingrich is licking his chops now for jumping into the race as the latest GOP "white knight." The problem for Gingrich is that he doesn't have a campaign staff or money to finance a campaign this late (or early?) before the Iowa caucus in January. So Gingrich is demanding a huge infusion of campaign cash from Republican voters before he would even consider entering the race. And if the GOP voters don't pony up the $30 million needed for Gingrich to enter the presidential race, well Gingrich scares the voters with some "Or else Hillary Clinton will become president" statements. I don't think I've seen anyone express such blatantly crass presidential ambitions than I've seen with Newt Gingrich here--not even John McCain, who certainly has some blatant presidential ambitions, has stooped as low as Gingrich has in practically demanding that the GOP voters hand him the nomination on a silver platter.

Daily Headliners--UAW strike against GM, Obama has "intellectual laziness," Condi Rice dropped from Sunday talk shows, U.S snipers luring insurgents

Here are today's Daily Headliners.

UAW Members Strike Against GM: This is the big story taking place today, as the Washington Post reports that the United Auto Workers have called a national strike against General Motors, with thousands of workers walking off their jobs today as both sides continue to negotiate a new contract. According to the WaPost, "The talks have been hung up on a path-breaking deal to allow GM to shed more than $50 billion in future health-care obligations for retirees." It all goes back to health care, and the rising costs that employers are trying to shove down their employee's throats. GM wants to reduce their health care costs so that they can compete against the Japanese automakers. Currently, the only way for GM to reduce those health care costs is to shift them to their employees and retirees, which the employees and retirees are now refusing to concede now. And there is no government-sponsored universal health care program for all Americans. Kos and Digby have more on the UAW strike and universal Health care.

Bush administration accuses Obama of "intellectual laziness:" I've seen this story popping up on Mahablog, Carpetbagger Report, and Shakesville. The original source stories are both The San Francisco Examiner, and

This just in from the Irony-Free Department: A "senior official" in the White House of George W. Bush tells journalist Bill Sammon why Barack Obama won't be the next president of the United States: Obama is intellectually "capable" of the job, the official says, but he relies too much on easy charm. "It's sort of like, 'That's all I need to get by,' which bespeaks sort of a condescending attitude towards the voters ... and a laziness, an intellectual laziness."

The only comment I would have to this insanely stupid quote is this:

Hat tip to Dependable Renegade for the image.

Rice turned down for CBS and NBC Sunday talk shows: I found this story through ThinkProgress, which sources The Washington Post:

The secretary of state has always been considered a prize catch for the Sunday talk shows. But when the White House offered Condoleezza Rice for appearances eight days ago, after a week focused on Iraq, two programs took the unusual step of turning her down.

Executives at CBS and NBC say Rice no longer seems to be a key player on the war and that her cautious style makes her a frustrating guest.

"I expected we'd just get a repetition of the administration's talking points, which had already been well circulated," says Bob Schieffer, host of CBS's "Face the Nation," who questioned two senators instead. "We'd had a whole week of that with General Petraeus and President Bush. I thought it was more important to get a sense of where the Senate Republicans were."


None of the five shows turned down Hillary Clinton yesterday, although there was grumbling about the lack of exclusivity.

I guess the Sunday talk shows are getting tired of airing the same, regurgitated crap this Bush White House has been trying to shove down our throats. ThinkProgress has even more interesting details of Rice's wanning influence in the Bush White House. A few months ago, Rice wrote an op-ed story about how public/private partnerships could be used to help rebuild Lebanon after last summer's war. But every single newspaper turned down the article. Price Floyd, who recently was the State Department's director of media affairs, told that Rice's opinion piece was "littered with glowing references to President Bush's wise leadership," and that it read "like a campaign document." And there may be other signs of Rice's wanning influence in the Bush White House. According to this June 7, 2007 Newsweek article, Rice's Iran strategy has been challenged by Vice President Dick Cheney's national-security team in the recent months. Cheney's national-security team "have been openly dismissive of the nuclear negotiations in think-tank meetings with Middle East analysts in Washington," and seemed "eager to build a case that Iran is targeting Americans not just in Iraq but along the border of its other neighbor, Afghanistan." It seems to me that the Cheney hard-liners are trying to marginalize Rice so they could increase their own influence to convince Bush to launch a military strike against Iran. Condi Rice's dropping off the Sunday talk shows could strengthen Cheney's influence on Bush, if she continues to be marginalized from public or media appearances to present not just the Bush talking points, but also her own perspective on these points. I wonder if we're going to see an even more hard-lined Bush administration stance on Iran, even to the point of issuing ultimatums against Iran that will be backed up by military force.

U.S. snipers luring insurgents with "bait:" This Washington Post story is just sickening:

A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of "bait," such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.

The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.

"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. "Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces."

In documents obtained by The Washington Post from family members of the accused soldiers, Didier said members of the U.S. military's Asymmetric Warfare Group visited his unit in January and later passed along ammunition boxes filled with the "drop items" to be used "to disrupt the AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces] attempts at harming Coalition Forces and give us the upper hand in a fight."

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said such a baiting program should be examined "quite meticulously" because it raises troubling possibilities, such as what happens when civilians pick up the items.

"In a country that is awash in armaments and magazines and implements of war, if every time somebody picked up something that was potentially useful as a weapon, you might as well ask every Iraqi to walk around with a target on his back," Fidell said.

I have a question for the Pentagon here--how can the snipers be certain that an Iraqi who picks up these "baited" items are actually insurgents? You can't. All you know is that someone has picked up your "baited" military equipment in a country that is awash in military equipment. It doesn't mean that the particular individual is an insurgent, and will use that "baited" military equipment specifically against the U.S. military. It is indiscriminate murder, committed by U.S. soldiers, and sanctified by the Pentagon.


Which is cuter--Canadian kittens or American kittens?

If you ever wanted to know the difference between Canadian kittens and American kittens, just check out this YouTube video from Cute with Chris:

So which is cuter--Canadian kittens or American kittens?

Hat tip to Crook and Liars.

Bush: "Strong Asset" for Republican candidates?

I found this YouTube video off Americablog, and I just had to smile at it. It is fascinating how the Republican presidential candidates have so distanced themselves away from President Bush that they even refuse to mention President Bush's name in their stump speeches. According to this article:

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- Republican presidential candidates can't be any more clear: President Bush isn't welcome on the campaign trail.

Competing to succeed him, top GOP candidates Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and John McCain barely utter Bush's name. They essentially ignore the lame-duck president, or give him only passing credit, as they rail against the status quo and promise to fix problems he hasn't solved.


The candidates are walking a fine line. They are trying to tap into the deep discontent those voters feel about the state of the country without alienating any who hold Bush in high regard. At the same time, they have to counter the Democrats' powerful arguments for a new direction.

How candidates handle the 800-pound elephant in the room now could have implications beyond the primary. Privately, Republican strategists agree their nominee will lose next fall if the general election is a referendum on Bush. They say GOP candidates are wise to distance themselves from the president now, given his unpopularity among the public at large.

The Republicans presidential candidates are in a no-win situation here. In order to get the GOP nomination, they have to court the 28 percent conservative base that still approves of Bush's job performance by tactfully praising Bush. However, if they go too far in courting the base, they risk alienating the moderates and independents who oppose the Bush administration--especially the Bush war in Iraq. So the GOP candidates are trying to walk this fine line of criticizing President Bush without specifically naming him, that they can show the way for the Republican Party to become "the party of change," even as these candidates quietly support the Bush administration's policies, and the Bush war in Iraq. It is a fascinating type of campaign spin here.

President Bush, of course, thinks otherwise. From YouTube:

Monday Schoolhouse Rocks--My Hero Zero still have one more digit to count! Who can save us in our counting?

My Hero Zero!

If you think about it for a moment, zero is such a fascinating number. Zero can represent both nothing and an infinity of numbers, counting to number 10, 20, 300, 4,000, 50,000, 600,000, 7,000,000, and so forth until you finally end up falling asleep, exhausted from all that counting. And that is exactly what our latest Monday Schoolhouse Rocks video teaches you--My Hero Zero. Music, lyrics and performance is by Bob Dorough. From YouTube:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Guided Muscle

For today's Saturday Morning Cartoons, how about a little "Beep Beep?" It is the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in Warner Brother's Guided Muscle. Chuck Jones created an incredible masterpiece of animation with the Road Runner cartoons. The premise of these cartoons are very simple--the Coyote chases the Road Runner on a deserted highway in the American Southwest. The Coyote fails to catch the Road Runner. The Coyote creates elaborate schemes to catch the Road Runner, which ultimately fail. The Road Runner does not harm, or antagonize the Coyote, with the exception of sticking his tongue out and exclaiming "Beep Beep!" And finally, there is no dialog in the film. What is so brilliant about the series is that the audience's sympathies are drawn towards the Coyote--we want the Coyote to catch the Road Runner, even though we know he will ultimately fail. I'd get up on Saturday mornings and, with my younger brother and sister, we would watch Road Runner cartoons while eating Dad's famous pancakes.

So here's Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner in Guided Muscle. From YouTube:

Beep Beep!

Friday Night Music--Kiss From a Rose by Seal

I found this wonderful Batman Forever music video of Seal's Kiss From a Rose, created by YouTube user Elderpredator. It is actually better than the original Batman Forever music video. The witching hour sounds like a great time to play this video. From YouTube:

Great video for such a wonderfully haunting song.

How dare you

I'm posting this Time Magazine editorial from Michael Kinsley regarding the ad controversy in its entirety. It is just incredible:

Goodness gracious. oh, my paws and whiskers. Some of the meanest, most ornery hombres around are suddenly feeling faint. Notorious tough guys are swooning with the vapors. The biggest beasts in the barnyard are all aflutter over something they read in the New York Times. It's that ad from — the one that calls General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, general betray us. All across the radio spectrum, right-wing shock jocks are themselves shocked. How could anybody say such a thing? It's horrifying. It's outrageous. It's disgraceful. It's just beyond the pale ... It's ... oh, my heavens ... say, is it a bit stuffy in here? ... I think I'm going to ... Could I have a glass of ... oh, dear [thud].

Welcome to the wonderful world of umbrage, the new language of American politics. You would not have thought that the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly would be so sensitive. Sticks and stones and so on. Yet they all seem to have taken one look at that ad and fainted dead away. And when they came round, they demanded — as if with one voice (or at least as if with one list of talking points) — that every Democratic presidential candidate must "condemn" this shocking, shocking document.

The ad is pretty tough, and the pun on the general's name is pretty witless. You could argue that since the verb betray and the noun traitor have the same root, the ad is accusing the head of American forces in Iraq of treason. The ad can also be interpreted — more plausibly if you consider the rest of the text — merely as questioning the general's honesty, not his patriotism. But whatever your interpretation of the ad, all the gasping for air and waving of scented handkerchiefs among the war's most enthusiastic supporters is pretty comical.

It's all phony, of course. The war's backers are obviously delighted to have this ad from which they can make an issue. They wouldn't trade it for a week in Anbar province (a formerly troubled area of Iraq that is now, thanks to us, an Eden of peace and tranquillity where barely a car bomb disturbs the perfumed silence — or so they say). These days, mock outrage is used by every side of every dispute. It's fair enough to criticize something your opponent said while secretly thanking your lucky stars that he said it. The fuss over this ad is something else: it is the result of a desperate scavenging for umbrage material. When so many people are clamoring for a chance to swoon that they each have to take a number and when the landscape is so littered with folks lying prostrate and pretending to be dead that it starts to look like the end of a Civil War battle re-enactment, this isn't spontaneous mass outrage. This is choreography.

The constant calls for political candidates to prove their bona fides by condemning or denouncing something somebody else said or to renounce a person's support or to return her tainted money are a tiresome new tic in American politics. They're turning politics into a game of "Mother, May I?" Did you say "Here is my plan for health-care reform"? Uh-oh, you were supposed to say "I condemn's comments on General Petraeus, and here is my plan for health-care reform."

All this drawing of uncrossable lines and issuing of fatuous fatwas is supposed to be a bad habit of the left. When right-wingers are attacking this habit rather than practicing it, they call it political correctness. The problem with political correctness is that it turns discussions of substance into arguments over etiquette. The last thing that supporters of the war want to talk about at this point is the war. They'd far rather talk about this insult to General Petraeus. It just isn't done in polite society, it seems, to criticize a general in the middle of a war. (Although, when else?)

The Republican front runner, Rudy Giuliani, is another tough guy who has seized the opportunity to reveal his easily bruised soft side. He is running TV commercials saying Hillary Clinton "stood by silently" while ran its despicable ad. Another way of saying this would be that she had nothing to do with the ad. But Rudy accuses her of "joining with" and "attacking" General Petraeus, although the only evidence he can muster for this accusation is a clip from Clinton telling the general at a hearing that his reports of progress in the war "really require the willing suspension of disbelief." For this, Giuliani demands an "apology," not just to the general but to all American troops in Iraq. He accuses her of "turning her back" on America's brave soldiers "just when our troops need all our support to finish the job."

When we try to untangle this web of accusation and innuendo, Giuliani appears to be suggesting that it is unacceptable for a Senator to express skepticism about anything said by a general in uniform. If he believes that, he does not understand democracy. I am shocked by this. In fact, if Giuliani doesn't apologize, and if the other Republican candidates don't condemn this commercial, I think I'm going to faint.

Kinsley nails it here. It is all about mock GOP hype of attacking the ad itself, and Democrats for supposedly supporting the ad, rather than debating the substance within the ad. It is the only thing the Republicans have left for debating the Iraq war--a disastrous war which the GOP happily supports with the Bush administration, even in the face of an overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose the war and want the U.S. to pull out of Iraq. The Republicans refuse to debate the issues that the MoveOn ad raises, because the Republicans probably know that their arguments and talking points will be defeated in a real debate. The only way the GOP can defend their pro-war position is through baseless attacks, mock outrage, and fear-mongering. You can expect to see even more of this crap coming from the GOP as the November 2008 election gets closer.