Archive for July 17th, 2009
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it’s time for Congress, the defense industry, and even parts of his own Pentagon to end the way they’ve done business for decades – and start by completing the controversial F-22 Raptor stealth fighter program.
"Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity – whether for more F-22s or anything else – is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable," he said in a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago Thursday.
Mr. Gates – with President Obama at his back – has taken a hard line on the F-22 program as a symbol of reckless defense spending. He has also hatcheted other programs, such as a presidential helicopter with a galley for cooking during nuclear attack, in his bid to reform a Pentagon and defense industrial complex intent on the status quo.
The stealth fighter has been billed as the crown jewel of American air superiority in an air-to-air fight with a "near peer" enemy such as China.
But to Gates, the plane fills a highly specialized niche the Pentagon cannot afford to buy more of, and he wants to cap the program at 187 planes.
Congress has other ideas, and both the House and Senate are attempting to amend the $534 billion budget to include $1.7 billion in funding to build seven more planes. The Senate is debating the issue this week, but on Wednesday senators set aside a vote on the amendment adding the additional funding.
Mr. Obama says he will veto the bill, crossing swords with members of his own party in whose states components of the plane are assembled, including Sens. John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, both Democrats from Massachusetts.
Most experts believe that the issue is not over seven planes – which can cost as much as $350 million a piece – but keeping the production lines open in more than 40 states to allow the program to continue indefinitely. One estimate suggests that ending the program will cost 95,000 jobs nationwide and leave the Pentagon with too few planes… [This couldn't be the GOP talking: they firmly believe that government spending never creates jobs, so cutting government spending should not cost any jobs. Or maybe they were just lying. It's always hard to know whether they're ignorant, stupid, or lying (or all three). – LG]
From Simply Recipes, which has a dynamite photo.
Mom’s Macaroni Salad Recipe
This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
- 2 cups (about 1/2 lb) dry macaroni pasta (use rice pasta for gluten-free version)
- 1 hard boiled egg, chopped
- 1 roasted red bell pepper*, chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped spring onion or green onion
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
- A generous amount of mayonnaise (1/3 to 1/2 cup)
- Several pinches of paprika
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
* Trader Joes carries a good product, jarred roasted red bell peppers packed in oil and vinegar. We usually use these in recipes calling for roasted bell peppers. Alternatively, you can roast a fresh bell pepper by blackening it over an open flame on a gas range or broiling until the skin blisters on all sides. Remove from heat source, place in paper bag, after a few minutes remove from bag and scrape off the blackened bits. Discard seeds and stem.
For the method, see the recipe at the link.
Because their tax rates have been declining steadily—too much, in fact. Here are the tax rates for the top 1% of households in terms of wealth:
You can read more about this in Kevin Drum’s post, whence I took the chart.
Note that the chart is somewhat misleading: the x-axis is placed at 28% instead of at 0%.
You can read more about The Family in Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. And Rachel Maddow has a good introduction:
Interesting story by Lee Fang at ThinkProgress:
Last night on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow reported the story that former Rep. Chip Pickering’s (R-MS) wife has filed a lawsuit against Pickering’s mistress Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd, exposing a long-running affair. Pickering, now a lobbyist for Capitol Resources LLC, campaigned on a platform of promising to bring family values to Washington. Pickering tried to force his own views on marriage upon the country by pushing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and using marriage as a cudgel to demand that President Bill Clinton resign:
– While engaged in the affair with Creekmore Byrd, Pickering said of President Bill Clinton: “I think for the good of the country and the good of his own family it would be better for him to resign. When someone puts himself forward for public office, then his personal conduct does become relevant.” [Washington Times, 8/20/98]
– Pickering explained his support of a constitutional gay marriage ban, stating: “Marriage as an institution between one man and one woman promotes the best interest of the husband and wife, and the best interests of children.” [Mississippi Link, 7/20/06]
The suit filed by Pickering’s wife also alleges that Pickering pursued the affair while living in the “C Street Complex,” the boarding house for the secretive right-wing Christian group known as “the Fellowship.” Pickering’s former colleagues embroiled in similar scandals, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) and Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), were also members of the Fellowship.
Doug Coe, the group’s spiritual leader, once preached that the willingness to behead one’s own mother was a “covenant” tantamount to what “Jesus said.” The organization “Youth with a Mission” owns the C Street boarding house, which is registered tax-exempt as a church, advocates seizing the “mountain of government” as part of an evangelical crusade to advance the “kingdom of God.” Coe, who holds misogynist beliefs, once counseled a lawmaker that his wife — who complained of not being sexually satisfied — might be possessed by demons.
Speaking with Maddow about the influence of the Fellowship, author Jeff Sharlet noted that the complex operates as a “fundamentalist frat house” where “if you’re part of God’s chosen…morality, ethics, these things don’t apply to them.” He also noted Steve Largent, a former Oklahoma congressman and former resident of the C Street house, now president of a telecom trade group, arranged lobbyist-funded trips for other members in the group, including both Pickering and Ensign. Sharlet questioned the lawmaker-to-lobbyist “revolving door” that “seems to be facilitated by the family.” Watch it:
And Josh Marshall notes the same oddity in this post.
by Kenneth Grahame
A review by Michael Sims
Kenneth Grahame‘s revered children’s book The Wind in the Willows is celebrating two anniversaries. Last year was the centennial of its publication, and 2009 is the sesquicentennial of its author’s birth. As a consequence, we find ourselves with two annotated editions — both oversize, both beautifully designed and illustrated.
Seth Lerer is a renowned scholar, author most recently of a magisterial history of children’s literature. Annie Gauger’s Willows is her first book. She says it occupied 10 years of research, which raises the question: How much annotation does a text require? It’s a nerdy sport, this collecting of footnotes, and not for everyone. But I’ll cite my own childhood as evidence that annotated volumes do have worth beyond academia. William S. Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which I received for Christmas when I was 14, showed me how a cosmos of history and biography lies fossilized in every work of literature. Victorian England unfolded out of those pages like a pop-up book and later blossomed into my love for Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens and Thomas Macaulay.
Gauger’s and Lerer’s books perform the same magic. They demonstrate how much of a writer’s life can wind up distilled in a stack of paper — in this case, how Kenneth Grahame’s daydreams, fears, heartbreak, upbringing, era and locale all sneaked into a fanciful children’s book about talking animals. In what other book can you find slapstick auto theft, a dirge for lost arcadia and a numinous encounter with that pagan refugee and mascot of the Edwardian neo-romantics, the great god Pan?
Apparently Grahame turned to animals, after writing largely about children, because he feared and barely understood much of the adult world. He found safety and romance in animal characters — not real creatures, but hybrid beasts cavorting in a mythic habitat where they are neither Us nor Them. "I love these little people," Grahame confessed to illustrator Ernest Shepard; "be kind to them."
Each of these editions has its advantages and defects. The introduction to Gauger’s volume, by Brian Jacques, author of the popular children’s fantasy series, Redwall, wastes eight pages on nostalgic twaddle recalling his youth and nominating various pieces of music as soundtrack for scenes in Willows. Lerer’s preface, in contrast, is a thoughtful and elegant survey of the biographical and literary context for this beloved book.
But when it comes to the main text — unpacking the allusive, lushly textured story of poetical Rat and proletarian Mole, of manic Toad and Mr. Badger, that solemn lord of the manor whose burrow twines among Roman ruins — Gauger has unpacked more, dug further, worked longer and harder.
For example, …
I don’t want to overstate my case. I am not suggesting that Sen. Ron Wyden’s Free Choice Act is the difference between a health-care reform bill passing the Senate and dying in committee. But I am arguing that it might be the difference between a bill that delivers on its promise of reforming the health-care system and a bill that merely expands health insurance coverage.
There are two major problems with the proposals being considered in Congress. The first is that they do not do enough to cut costs, because they do not do enough to change the fundamental nature of the employer-based health-care system. Earlier this morning, Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf told the Senate Finance Committee that health-care reform will not save us money. If the problem is that our health-care system is too expensive, and reform does not change the structure of our health-care system, then it is unlikely to mitigate the expense. The flip side of trying to avoid changing what people have is that you don’t change what’s not working.
The second is that the bill does not offer obvious benefits to an insured worker. You can argue that it changes the system around them: There are subsidies if they lose their job and regulations to protect them from the excesses of private insurers. But though the health-care system might be different, it will not, for most people, feel different. And that has made it hard to explain to people why this is something they should pay for. You can tell the insured worker what he gets if his circumstances change. You cannot tell him what he gets if his circumstances do not change.
Enter Wyden. The Free Choice Act is not a health-care-reform bill. It is best understood as a reform of the health-care-reform bill. In particular, it reforms the nature of the Health Insurance Exchange. Under the bills being considered right now, the exchange will be limited to the uninsured, the self-employed and small businesses. Maybe it will be expanded over time. Maybe not. In addition, it is barricaded by what’s called a "firewall." The firewall essentially bars individuals from entering the exchange so long as their employers offer them a basic level of health-care coverage.
The Free Choice Act starts by setting the rules for the exchange: Within five years the exchange is open to all employers. More importantly, it’s open to all people. The firewall is extinguished. But as the late, great, Billy Mays would say, that’s not all!
The key component of the Free Choice Act is …
From the Center for American Progress:
In a major speech Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described her vision of American diplomacy and how it fits into the Obama administration’s approach to the use and maintenance of American power abroad. Clinton described the international agenda as "unforgiving," but said that "the same forces that compound our problems — economic interdependence, open borders, and the speedy movement of information, capital, goods, services and people — are also part of the solution." Reviewing the speech, The New Republic’s Peter Scoblic wrote that "the difference between this approach and the previous administration’s is stark. … The secretary seemed to be saying that, despite the grave dangers we face — indeed, because of the very character of those threats — the emphasis in U.S. foreign policy today must be on cooperation rather than conflict."
The way we prepare our troops for war, or the way we fight our wars, are ruining the lives of many of those who fight. We need to find a better approach—ideally, avoiding combat in favor of diplomacy, but if we must fight, we should find ways to fight that do not harm our own troops. Note this, from the Center for American Progress:
The New York Times reports that a new study by researchers at the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), "found that more than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who enrolled in the veterans health system after 2001 were diagnosed with a mental health problem, the most common being post-traumatic stress disorder and depression." The study also found that that these mental health problems became more likely the longer they were out of the service. The study’s lead author, Dr. Karen Seal, cautioned that the results can’t be "extrapolated to the roughly 1.6 million veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan because about 60 percent of them were not receiving health care through the veterans system."
As the Center for American Progress noted this past Memorial Day, only 53 percent of those suffering from PTSD or major depression have seen a physician. Active-duty soldiers are also facing difficulties. Earlier this year, the Army reported the highest number of suicides among its soldiers since it began tracking the rate 28 years ago. In fact, this past May, more soldiers killed themselves than died in combat and twice as many active-duty soldiers committed suicide in May than in April.
The new VA/UCSF study comes out two months after President Obama acknowledged in a weekly address that "we, as a nation, have failed to live up" to "the responsibility" of serving America’s veterans "as well as they serve all of us." During his Senate confirmation hearings, Secretary of Veteran Affairs Gen. Eric Shinseki (ret.) promised to make the VA a "21st-century organization" that meets the needs of a growing population of wounded veterans. Obama’s 2010 budget for the VA emphasizes a Veteran-centric commitment by expanding services by 15.5 percent over 2009, the largest percentage increase for the VA requested by a president in more than 30 years.
This seems very cheesy and low-rent to me. Reported by Mike Allen in Politico:
The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.
For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”
The conservative group’s remarkable demand — black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as “pay for play” — was contained in a private letter to FedEx , which was provided to POLITICO.
The letter exposes the practice by some political interest groups of taking stands not for reasons of pure principle, as their members and supporters might assume, but also in part because a sponsor is paying big money.
In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. After FedEx says it rejected the offer, Keene signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS. Keene did not return a message left on his cell phone.
Maury Lane, FedEx’s director of corporate communications, said: “Clearly, the ACU shopped their beliefs and UPS bought.”
ACU’s executive vice president, Dennis Whitfield, said that neither the group nor David Keene, the chairman, took any money from UPS. Whitfield said the group has never received a response to its original proposal to FedEx. He said Keene endorsed the second letter as an individual, even though the letter bore the logo of ACU…
1. James Inhofe (I could name others, but he’s certainly a candidate for bottom of the barrel)
2. The filibuster
3. Being able to place holds indefinitely on anything for any reason (or no reason). Recent example: Sen. McCain trying to extort mining permissions from the Obama Administration in return for his releasing a hold on an appointment.
4. This one is difficult, but the vastly disproportionate representation in the Senate, so that 24% of the US elects 60 Senators, a filibuster-proof majority, should be fixed. It’s is a terrible flaw to fair representation.
The way Congress continues to support the F-22 is shameful. Their price tags are showing, as it were. The NY Times has an editorial that slams their actions:
An unlikely alliance of senators — led by Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and including Edward Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut — is backing an indefensible defense budget boondoggle: the wasting of $1.75 billion on seven additional F-22 fighter jets that the Pentagon says it neither wants nor needs.
The plane, the most expensive jet fighter ever built, was designed for cold war aerial combat. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has repeatedly argued that the Pentagon needs to phase out such high-cost, outdated programs so it can buy the kinds of weapons that American troops desperately need to complete their mission in Iraq and defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The F-22 has not been used in either war. Buying more would only make it harder for the Air Force to shift money into aircraft like unmanned intelligence drones and the more adaptable, cheaper-to-fly F-35 fighter, which is set to begin production in 2012.
The F-22’s main contractor, Lockheed Martin, and its multiple subcontracting suppliers, have spread its 25,000 jobs across 44 states. And a majority of the members of the Armed Services Committee proved unable to resist that lure. Senator Chambliss, whose state is home to Lockheed Martin’s primary manufacturing plant for the F-22, sponsored the committee amendment adding the seven planes, which was approved by a 13-to-11 vote. Senator Kerry, who is not on the committee, has since said that he also supports the purchase.
President Obama is right to stand up for the nation’s military priorities and sound fiscal discipline in threatening to veto next year’s military spending bill if the extra F-22s remain. He has the full support of the Armed Services Committee chairman, Carl Levin, and its ranking Republican, John McCain, who plan to offer an amendment to remove the seven F-22s.
Providing for America’s real defense needs is expensive enough without making the military budget double as a make-work jobs program. Capping the F-22 program at 187, as the Pentagon wants, would keep production lines intact for years to come, well beyond the immediate need for stimulus-related job creation.
The full Senate will have a chance to put the nation’s security needs ahead of a bogus job program when the Levin-McCain amendment comes up for a vote in the next few days. If not, Mr. Obama should use his veto pen.
Interesting development, reported in ProPublica by Abraham Lustgarten:
They were tough words for the natural gas industry to hear. In a blunt speech before the Colorado Oil and Gas Association last week, Timothy Wirth, a former Colorado Democratic senator and Under Secretary of State for global affairs in the Clinton administration, warned industry leaders that they need to pay attention to the environmental and climate concerns that are shaping national policy, or risk being left behind.
Wirth took the industry to task for not engaging in the climate legislation being debated in Congress — a bill he said every other energy industry was deeply involved in — and for fighting the changes taking place in energy policy rather than participating and seeking fresh opportunities.
Wirth, who today is president of Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation, is no enemy of the oil and gas industry. He described clean-burning natural gas as the single most important component of a new energy supply chain that can help cut greenhouse gas emissions, and he said the use of nation’s bountiful natural gas reserves is essential to curbing climate change. But he also said the industry is preoccupied with the wrong priorities and is off message.
"The time has come for the natural gas industry to get organized, take the gloves off, and get thoroughly engaged in helping our country advance rapidly toward a low-carbon economy," Wirth said…
I just received some spam advertising a Costco gift card—just normal spam. But at the bottom:
17 La donna, poi che fu partito il duca, rimase in gran travaglio de la mente; che non sa come a Montalban conduca l'armatura e il destrier del suo parente; però che 'l cuor le cuoce e le manuca l'ingorda voglia e il desiderio ardente di riveder Ruggier, che, se non prima, a Vallombrosa ritrovar lo stima. 18 Stando quivi suspesa, per ventura si vede inanzi giungere un villano, dal qual fa rassettar quella armatura, come si puote, e por su Rabicano; poi di menarsi dietro gli diè cura i duo cavalli, un carco e l'altro a mano: ella n'avea duo prima; ch'avea quello sopra il qual levò l'altro a Pinabello. 19 Di Vallombrosa pensò far la strada, che trovar quivi il suo Ruggier ha speme; ma qual più breve o qual miglior vi vada, poco discerne, e d'ire errando teme. Il villan non avea de la contrada pratica molta; ed erreranno insieme. Pur andare a ventura ella si messe, dove pensò che 'l loco esser dovesse. 20 Di qua di là si volse, né persona incontrò mai da domandar la via. Si trovò uscir del bosco in su la nona ..
Obviously, Italian poetry. But what? and why?
Received last night from Marijuana Policy Project:
Tonight, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that, once enacted, will remove a decade-old provision that has prevented Washington, D.C., from implementing the medical marijuana law passed by 69% of voters in 1998.
Known as the Barr amendment, the provision has forbidden the city from implementing a voter-approved ballot initiative that protected medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail.
Repealing this democracy-unfriendly amendment has been a primary focus of MPP’s federal lobbying efforts for many years. In 2007, we even hired former Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.) — the original author of the amendment — to lobby to overturn it.
Tonight’s vote represents a victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all Americans, who have the right to determine their own policies without federal meddling. Ten years ago, D.C. residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, finally, suffering Washingtonians will be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest.
I want to thank MPP’s 27,000 dues-paying members, whose support helped to make this win possible. If you’d like to see more of these kinds of successes, I hope you’ll donate to MPP’s federal lobbying efforts. We’re turning supporters’ donations into results, and we can’t do it without you.
In addition to making money via its own trades, Goldman profits by advising clients about deals. Some of that advice has proved quite savvy.
As we reported last year , one of Goldman’s money-making strategies was to encourage some clients to bet on declines of the creditworthiness of a range of states — including California, New Jersey, New York and Florida. Goldman advised hedge funds to take the bets by buying credit default swaps, the insurance-like financial instruments that have been blamed for contributing to the financial meltdown last fall .
The strategy angered California Treasurer Bill Lockyer  because his state was paying Goldman millions to help market the same bonds that Goldman was advising other clients to bet against.
This week’s announcement of huge profits — and the likelihood of near-record bonuses  — at Goldman led us to wonder how much investors could have earned by following Goldman’s controversial advice.
Basically, if you had bought swaps against $10 million in California bonds in July 2008, it would have cost just under $80,000. Today, you could theoretically sell those swaps for $350,000 — making a 338 percent profit.
TOBS Lavender is a very nice soap and witih the Kent BK4 I got a very fine lather. The red-tipped Super Speed with a UK Wilkinson Sword blade delivered a smooth, efficient shave, which I finished with GFT Spanish Leather aftershave, a favorite. Excellent shave!
Other boar brushes are on their way to me. That experiment shall continue.