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This is the archive for March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of course we've known that for a long time:

The Daily Show, November 2005, throwing his words back at him

What a sorry embarrassment for America is the persistence of the lies of former Vice President Richard B. Cheney. For example, in a March 15 interview with John King on CNN, Cheney was asked to comment on Bush-era Terror War measures President Obama has begun to roll back:
King: I'd like to just simply ask you, yes or no, by taking those steps, do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?

Cheney: I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that's a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.

President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.
But a number of recent articles and reports cast strong doubts about these Cheney assertions of "success" in actions "done legally." Harry Shearer writes today at Huffington Post an excellent summary of these items, with reference to the case of Abu Zubaydah, supposedly the "feared number 3 of Al-Qaeda."
Shearer: Sunday's Washington Post article, ... Along with the outing of the International Red Cross report, which clearly and unequivocally called "enhanced interrogation" what it is--torture, the Post piece and Dan Froomkin's accompanying blog post make the case a slam dunk that our previous administration committed war crimes.
What was done to Zubaydah was useless on its own merits, not "essential" as Cheney asserts. His treatment and the false imprisonment of many others have stained our country. But Cheney can't admit that. Cheney is a shameful presence. He should be investigated vigorously for these potential war crimes so that his lies may be unraveled and that it can be demonstrated that America takes seriously its ideals.

Here is my word for President Obama: Investigating Cheney and others for their crimes while in office would not be "looking backward." It would have the purpose of deterring high officials from committing like crimes in the future.
He strikes the proper tone

I'm not sure if New York Times columnist Paul Krugman will be able to save America from itself (and Timothy Geithner). But I am glad he is trying:

Financial Policy Despair
Published: March 22, 2009
Krugman: Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, has persuaded President Obama to recycle Bush administration policy ? specifically, the "cash for trash" plan proposed, then abandoned, six months ago by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair.
America the Tarnished
Published: March 29, 2009
Krugman: Far more important is the extent to which our claims of financial soundness ? claims often invoked as we lectured other countries on the need to change their ways ? have proved hollow.

Indeed, these days America is looking like the Bernie Madoff of economies: for many years it was held in respect, even awe, but it turns out to have been a fraud all along.
On the reported loss of perhaps tens of billions of dollars from the government-controlled Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (the outfit that guarantees private-sector defined-benefit pension plans) due to extremely ill-timed investment decisions, Krugman just blogged about the underlying causes of such recklessness. It is likely
the reason [for the bad decisions] was that the Bush administration, like many conservatives, was under the spell of the following pseudo-syllogism:
  1. The stock market captures the essential spirit of capitalism.
  2. Capitalism roolz!
  3. Therefore, stocks will go up.
Will the Obama Administration crack under the strain of its herculean attempts to maintain the fantasies Krugman correctly decries with every breath these days? Or will they read Krugman seriously and come to their sense. Only time will tell.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is this true? I don't think so.

This Week' Transcript: Timothy Geithner
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"
GEITHNER: George, we came into this crisis as a country without the tools necessary to contain the damage of a financial crisis like this. In a case of a large, complex institution like AIG, the government has no ability, had no meaningful ability to come in early to help contain the fire, contain the damage, prevent the spread of that fire. Restructure the firm, change contracts where necessary, and helped make sure that the financial system gets through this...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it would have been the right thing to do, right?

GEITHNER: If we had the legal authority, that's what we would have done. But without that legal authority, we had no good choices. We were caught between these terrible choices of letting Lehman fail -- and you saw the catastrophic damage that caused to the financial system -- or coming in and putting huge amounts of taxpayer dollars at risk, like we did at AIG, to keep the thing going, unwind it slowly at less damage to the ultimate economy and taxpayer.
Huh? They got TARP from Congress in about two weeks. Any authority they wanted could have been enacted in that bill. They chose to enact a massive privatization of control of government regulatory and financial authority--what Matt Taibbi calls "The Big Takeover" in his recent Rolling Stone piece--rather than the other way around where the public would take over and resolve bankrupt private entities.

This constitutes a hosing of the public. The last person on Earth who needs even more authority is Timothy Geithner.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Food AND Medicine held media event in Brewer Saturday morning


U.S. Representative Mike Michaud holds his copy of "Where Are They Now?" Saturday in Brewer; please click above for an excellent teevee news story from Ch. 2 (Flash video)

Please click below to download the report: Where Are They Now?
Click to open FAM report released 3-28-2009
PDF, about 1.5 MB

The report "tells the stories of 107 workers who lost jobs over this eight-year period, 96 of whom worked in the wood products industry. These workers have three major experiences in common: life working in a union in Maine, the devastation of a layoff, and the challenges of working non-union and not always receiving a fair wage. Together, their stories reveal much about jobs, about our government policies, and about who benefits and who is hurt by our economy at the personal, community, and macroeconomic levels." (from p. 7)

Mike Michaud also made a little news (not mentioned in the teevee story) when he said his opinion was that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) could not pass in the U.S. Senate this year, as currently written. Also, and I'm paraphrasing, Mike does not feel like President Obama will spend any "political capital" to help EFCA pass. But Mike will be in a meeting with the President early next week. We urged him to press Obama on the issue.
Bye snow, 3-28-2009
4:00 am, thirty years ago today

The Progressive June 1979 cover
Early sample of alternative media from the Maine Owl library

In March 1979 I was a student in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. I was working a co-op job in the electric utility industry programming big mainframe computers to display information on and control power grids. I loved wires and currents. I hated the industry.

Then Three Mile Island happened. It soured my taste for what I was doing there. Later, I would end up in Maine working on a graduate degree in physics while sniffing around the countryside for extremely low-level environmental radioactivity. (There is extremely low-level human-produced radioactivity present almost everywhere, along with much stronger natural radioactivity.)

I still object to the use of nuclear power. This is not because I think reactor meltdowns are likely or widely-distributed low-level radioactivity is super dangerous. It is not, at least not compared to a lot of other things. It's rather because of the un-democratic exercise of unaccountable government and corporate power and dominating wealth that the nuclear industry represents.

The story of what happened in Harrisburg, PA thirty years ago gives us important lessons about our over-reliance on arrogant scientific/technical decision-making processes that still harms our society. This comment is not made while failing to place risk in perspective. I'm not saying nuclear power plants cannot be operated somewhat safely. I'm just saying that we should not allow is trusting the vested corporate power structure to make all of our energy decisions. Inevitably if we do, they'll be bad ones.

Dr. Arjun Makhijani of ieer.org has the perspective that I prefer: we can have a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy system in fifty years if we start making the right decisions now. (Dr. Makhijani spoke in Maine in 2007, see HERE.) He's been posting recently that some of these bad decisions to resume building nukes are today on the table, ending the de facto thirty-year post-TMI moratorium.
Dr. Arjun Makhijani: Eight new nuclear reactors are being proposed in Texas alone. The two near Amarillo, in the panhandle, will consume 60 million gallons of water every day?more than what the entire city uses. The company proposing the plant has said there is a lake there in an unidentified location that will supply the water. In Idaho, the CEO of Alternate Energy Holdings, which wants to build a power plant there, implies that nuclear power will cost only 1 to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, because capital cost is borne by the investors, as if Wall Street were a kind of charity for electricity consumers.
Despite government attempts to grease the skids on these things, Dr. Makhijani writes that some localities are finding it "unwise and imprudent" to pursue nukes "because of insufficient time to examine the paperwork and the risk of cost overruns and delays." That's hopeful.

The main lesson of Three Mile Island is that depending technical systems is very unwise when the risk of failure is so catastrophic. There are many parallels for our own time. Below I reproduce many illustrative details of those events of so long ago from one of the best accessible articles ever written on the subject. These authors captured my young conscience at the time. It's worth looking back at an extended excerpt...

Corporate Meltdown
The Lessons of Three Mile Island
by Bill Keisling and Ed Perrone | The Progressive, June 1979
... At four o'clock in the morning on March 28, 1979, the loud whistle of highly pressurized steam escaped the confines of Three Mile Island's Unit 2 nuclear power plant. The noise gushed into the darkness. Some nearby residents would later tell reporters that the sound had been loud enough to wake them from sleep. But others, less noted by the press, said they heard nothing, continued to sleep, unaware of the drama that was about to engulf them.

The men in the control room of Unit 2, working Three Mile Island's graveyard shift, heard the sudden escape of steam. They knew what it meant. The plant's generating turbine had for some reason shut down. This caused the shutdown of the secondary feedwater system, which carries heat away from the radioactive primary cooling system by way of two large steam generators. Within seconds, the nuclear core's primary cooling system overheated. Responding to the resulting sudden pressure increase, a relief valve on the pressurizer of the reactor?s primary cooling system opened, venting the excess steam, relieving the pressure. This was the sound some people heard in the night.

At the same time, the computer monitoring Unit 2's operations automatically directed the reactor's control rods to descend around the cylinders of uranium pellets, halting nuclear fission, shutting off the reactor.

Within thirty seconds, the computer's logic circuits turned on the auxiliary feed-water system to cool the steam generators, since the main feedwater system had shut down with the turbines. What the computer didn't know was that the auxiliary feedwater system had been shut off at valves between the auxiliary pumps and the steam generators. One emergency cooling system was useless. The computer, programmed to assume the valves were open, began to lose control of the nuclear power plant. ...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Active Community Teach-in was held March 21 in Bangor



Audio only from March 21 Teach-in


This program features Joseph Gerson, Director of Programs and Director of the Peace and Economic Security Program for the American Friends Service Committee in New England. Joseph Gerson was the keynote speaker for our Active Community Teach-in on "New Strategies for Organizing in the Obama Era" held this past Saturday, March 21, 2009, in Bangor at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Park Street.

This post includes the full-length talk by Joseph Gerson, about 68 minutes. Joseph Gerson is introduced first by Ilze Pertersons of the Peace and Justice Center, then by Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. (See also Bruce Gagnon's blog)

Please visit peacecast.us for download, RSS, and itunes links.

A version of this program will air on WERU Community Radio (89.9 FM Blue Hill) on Saturday April 4, 3-4 pm.

Here are some highlights of important upcoming Actions and Events discussed by workshop participants.

LABOR

SATURDAY MARCH 28, 8:00 am to 11:00 am (THIS MORNING)
Breakfast and release of "Where are They Now?", a report containing the testimonials of laid-off workers, at the Labor Center, 20 Ivers Street, Brewer. Information HERE.

MONDAY APRIL 6, 2009, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Activist author Barbara Ehrenreich to Speak at FAM's Symposium on the Employee Free Choice Act and worker rights, at the University of Maine, Orono, in the Donal P. Corbett Building; organized by Food AND
Medicine in conjunction with the Wildcat Student Labor Action, the Eastern Maine Labor Council, the Bureau of Labor Education, and the Maine Christian Association. Information HERE.

Continues below the fold, along with some notes from the Active Community Teach-in panels...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Derivative Dangers" highly recommended:

Fresh Air from WHYY, March 25, 2009
Years before the current economic crisis, law professor and former Wall Street trader Frank Partnoy was warning about the dangers of risky financial practices.

In his 1997 book FIASCO: Blood in the Water on Wall Street, Partnoy detailed how derivatives ? financial instruments whose value is determined by another security ? were being used and abused by big financial firms. ...
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) saw it coming (ten years ago!):

Only this time they get to use taxpayers' money to play a new version of the old mortgage security speculation game.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Not a fucking game?

Here is John Stewart of The Daily Show upbraiding the excitable Jim Cramer of CNBC:



Now watch this from The Today Show on Tuesday:


You can all feel better now, folks. Buy! Buy! Buy! Cramer can see the light of the bulls roaring again right at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Gail's hand came up dripping with black, sickening goo."
H/T to Harry Shearer for item on March 22 edition of Le Show

Now it can be told Harry Shearer mentioned this March 20 story from the Guardian:

Intelligence made it clear Saddam was not a threat, diplomat tells MPs
Government left 'paper trail' in build-up to war
More facts still to come to light, says former envoy
David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 20 March 2009
A former diplomat at the centre of events in the run-up to the Iraq war revealed yesterday that the government has a "paper trail" that could reveal new information about the legality of the invasion.

Carne Ross, who was a first secretary at the United Nations in New York for the Foreign Office until 2004, told MPs: "A lot of facts about the run-up to this war have yet to come to light which should come to light and which the public deserves to know." ... He told the inquiry that the intelligence made it "very clear" that Saddam Hussein did not pose a significant threat to the UK, as was being claimed at the time by ministers ...
This reminds me of a go-round I had with John C. McAdams, associate professor of political science at Marquette University a few years ago. McAdams had castigated people who claimed "Bush lied" in the Iraq war run-up on a Wisconsin Public Radio phone-in program:
McAdams: People who, who, who use the "Bush lied" argument, it seems to me, are, are just completely heedless of any standards of, of, of telling the truth or making a plausible argument? um, you know, Let?s make a list of those who believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction: Russian intelligence, French intelligence, British intelligence, Tony Blair, the CIA, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, John Kerry. And somehow we?re supposed to believe?
This was a popular conservative tactic that McAdams used here: assert that "everybody agreed" Saddam had WMD and follow that with an impressive list of countries whose intelligence services said he did.

The problem is, it's just an exercise in naming countries. The supposition that "intelligence" in these countries really "agreed" with Bush on Iraq is a canard.

At the time, HERE, I noted that German intelligence believed no such thing with regard to the fabricator Curveball, upon whose vaporous assertions Colin Powell's February 5, 2003 U.N. presentation was based. Now we have even more evidence that what the real intelligence high-level British officials kept secret in fact showed Saddam did not have WMD pointed at the U.K., contrary to the popular notion of a "45-minute" threat promoted by Prime Minister Blair and reiterated by President Bush during late 2002 and early 2003.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"It seems fair to say these executives could be described, without hyperbole, to be about as bright as the back of a cave during a solar eclipse."

H/T to Counterpunch.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ms. Owl: When you live up here, you earn spring.

Slate-colored Junco
Slate-colored Junco below the feeder--yep, still some snow lying around

Equinox came today at 11:44UT with a breath (not a blast) of arctic air. We barely got to 2C today after about 11C yesterday. It felt cold, but not that bad. What is really impressive is how dry it's gotten all of a sudden. No precipitation in sight. The snow piles still are out there, but they're shrinking and turning into remnant stage.
Anti-war rally in Augusta, March 20, 2004


Click above for links to more anti-war history photos.

Five years ago today we were protesting one year of killing, maiming, destruction, and looting in Iraq. The worst was yet to come.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Teach-in to be held Saturday March 21 1-5pm at the UU Church, 120 Park Street, Bangor

Here is the full 18-minute sixth anniversary press event at the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine:


All teevee stations covered this event.

There were brief statements on the significance of the anniversary from five of the sixteen organizations co-sponsoring the "New Organizing Strategies for the Obama Era" teach-in on Saturday, March 21st from 1-5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 120 Park Street in Bangor. Come and show your support for continuing to build the movement for peace, justice and a sustainable environment.

In order of appearance in the video: Ilze Petersons, Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine; Mary Ellen Quinn, Pax Christi; Ryan Tipping-Spitz, Maine People's Alliance; Lee Davis, Orono Peace Group; and Al Larson, Veterans for Peace.

Two days after the 6th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, sixteen Maine organizations are co-sponsoring a teach-in entitled "New Organizing Strategies for the Obama Era" on Saturday, March 21st from 1-5 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bangor. The teach-in is free and open to the public but pre-registration is suggested. Click below for more information:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In the wake of the AIG bonus scandal, I reiterate what I wrote HERE. Via Atrios, Jane Hamsher has more on Treasury Department/AIG contempt for American taxpayers HERE.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Get your Solidarity News everywhere now

Solidarity News published by Food AND Medicine
Published by Food AND Medicine: The current issue (Spring 2009) contains a large special section on the EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT (EFCA)

A pro-EFCA rally was held Wednesday at the Worker Center in Brewer. The Bangor Daily News ran a "balanced" story yesterday:
A group of about 20 held a rally Wednesday morning at Food AND Medicine in Brewer, an organization that formed in 2002 to assist laid-off workers with food, medicine and other necessities. Jack McKay, director of Food AND Medicine and the Eastern Maine Labor Council, called the event a success if for no other reason than it keeps the debate going.

"We're committed to workers' rights, and we think this idea has significant support in Washington," he said.

Supporters claim that the EFCA would, among other things, allow workers to choose a union without fear of employer coercion or intimidation. U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced the bill this week as a means to make it easier for workers to bargain with their employers for better wages and health care. If passed, the law would make the most substantive changes to U.S. labor laws since 1935.
That last paragraph could have been written a lot better. Supporters don't just "claim" the Act would do things to help labor organizing, it would do such things, including force employers to bargain in good faith.

EFCA not just about "secret ballot"
A succinct explanation of how this revision of labor law would help the economy was offered by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich on the public radio Marketplace program this week:
Reich: ... employees who want to form unions are threatened by their employers. And if they don't heed the warnings, they're fired, even though that's illegal. I saw this behavior when I was secretary of Labor over a decade ago. We tried to penalize employers that broke the law, but the fines are minuscule. Too many employers consider them a cost of doing business. The most important feature of the Employee Free Choice Act toughens penalties against companies that violate their workers' rights.
Judging by comments under the BDN story above, I'm afraid to say that there are a lot of people running around out there with deep misconceptions about unions, no understanding of barriers to organizing in law that mercilessly are used by management against them, and the actual content of EFCA itself. There is a lot of work left to do by Labor if we want to generate enough pressure to get EFCA passed.

See also FMI: Turn Maine Blue has many excellent items on EFCA.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It was bound to happen


Jack McKay and Steve Husson of Food AND Medicine warn against FairPoint in September 2007

The clip above reminds us that strong warnings were issued by labor leaders prior to the tax-avoidance-inspired* sale to FairPoint by Verizon of northern New England's land-line telephone system. The issue was that FairPoint would struggle to accomplish system modernization and extension of broadband to electronic deserts in rural areas while trying to service an enormous $2 billion debt load.

A major crack has appeared in the apparent ability of FairPoint to live up to its obligations and promises. According to an Associated Press story in the Bangor Daily News today, FairPoint wants to "delay a scheduled $11.25 million debt payment" due this month until June.

My question is, is FairPoint's "pledge" to resume regular payments after things "stabilize" in the summer worth anything given that it wants to break its promise to make this payment? Obviously, there is trouble with the post-sale stability of the company. Will FairPoint be able to keep its promises? The alternative? Is another public bailout on the horizon? Only time will tell.

Update: Another AP story in the Friday BDN points out that FairPoint has been shedding customers like fur off a collie, and has what fairly recently was a stock price of $11 now is worth "between 38 and 42 cents a share," to an insider (according to an SEC filing). The switchover from Verizon turned into a boondoggle. This was a very stupid idea from the get-go.

Update 2: Jeff Inglis at The Phoenix has more in a piece this week:
The company has asked regulators in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont for permission to miss a March 31 $11.25 million quarterly payment to creditors, saying that while the states' public-utilities commissions had required the payment as a condition of the Verizon purchase, FairPoint's actual lenders don't require any money until the end of June.

"FairPoint is essentially reneging on the agreement," says Wayne Jortner, senior counsel in Maine's Office of the Maine Public Advocate, a state agency charged with defending customers' interests in utilities regulation.

The company is promising to make up the payment by the end of the year, to meet its state-mandated obligation of paying $45 million annually to reduce the heavily leveraged company's debt load. And Jeff Nevins, FairPoint's Maine spokesman, says the request will allow "more financial flexibility." But that flexibility may not help it keep that promise, based on the company's March 4 filing with federal securities regulators.
Thanks, Jeff. Please stay on this.

*For some explanation of the "Reverse Morris Trust," see the Maine Owl post HERE. (Vermont relented and allowed the sale to proceed in early 2008.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Example of the size of these things:

Wind turbine transportation
Wind machine parts on the move in Minnesota last summer

Multiple loads of giant wind machine parts for Maine projects will be taken off of ocean transport at Mack Point in Searsport and then trucked to Kibby Mountain in western Maine after a difficult route through Belfast. A Republican Journal story today says the "Wind turbines may pass Belfast by night." Details are given on how the loads will be transported.

My question: If Mack Point is good enough for giant loads of wind machine parts, why disrupt Sears Island with a port boondoggle? (Related item HERE.)
Hungry


Breeding soon

They're trying to speed up the pace. They need just a little encouragement from better weather and a good food supply.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Susan Collins's old senate BFF is an election expense hypocrite

I grew up in Minnesota and last lived there from 1996-2002. When Norm Coleman was mayor of St. Paul and a gubernatorial candidate during that time, I despised the man. The 2002 election that sent this jerk to the U.S. Senate immediately following the death of Paul Wellstone was one of the most heartbreaking stories of modern politics.

Coleman for some weeks has been suggesting a full, statewide election re-do in Minnesota after he lost the recount of the November 2008 vote by a razor-thin margin to Democratic challenger Al Franken. The cost estimate of such a hypothetical re-do came in today: $3.5-5 million. The hypocrisy is rich, as this TPM ITEM today by Eric Kleefeld, "Flashback: Coleman Said To Spare State Cost Of Recount -- But Is Now Angling For Multi-Million Dollar Election," points out.

When Coleman in November just after the election counseled Franken to step aside to spare expense (with Coleman appearing to be ahead), the estimated cost of the recount was under $100,000. After the recount put Franken ahead, Coleman suddenly became eager to have the taxpayers spend $5 million for his do-over. Oy...

I have a few old Norm Coleman posts. THIS ONE from 2004 analyzes the sorry distraction perpetrated by Coleman and his senate Republican colleague Susan Collins in attacking former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan over the Iraq Oil-for-Food program.

In a December 2004 letter demanding that Annan resign over Oil-for-Food corruption, Coleman included this gem,
Since it was never likely that the U.N. Security Council, some of whose permanent members were awash in Saddam's favors, would ever call for Saddam's removal, the U.S. and its coalition partners were forced to put troops in harm's way to oust him by force. Today, money swindled from Oil-for-Food may be funding the insurgency against coalition troops in Iraq and other terrorist activities against U.S. interests. Simply put, the troops would probably not have been placed in such danger if the U.N. had done its job in administering sanctions and Oil-for-Food.
Alas! A completely novel explanation for the Iraq War! The U.S. simply had to root out the corruption that all the other compromised U.N. member states never would. So it's the fault of the U.N. and Kofi Annan that U.S. troops had to die in Iraq. The unwritten corollary here is that President Bush and his Iraq team did nothing except react properly to the circumstances.

Coleman (and Collins) were BLIND at the time to the U.S.-run cleptocracy in Iraq called the Coalition Provisional Authority.

There is a lot more to say about Coleman's senate performance, surely one of the worst six-year stints in senate history. A follow-up Oil-for-Food episode included a Coleman attack on UK politician George Galloway, see HERE,
Coleman: If in fact he lied to this committee, there will have to be consequences.
Wow, Norm, some threat! How'd that turn out?

The post cited, from May 2005, blogs a response on his old radio show from none other than, Al Franken!
I like to blame Geithner now, but I think THIS basically is the situation. There is no clue what to do next. We have impasse between too big to fail and too big to save. It explains why Geithner and the Obama Administration seem lost and unforthcoming concerning the banking crisis.
Marshall: "What it all amounts to is that the bondholders have a gun to the head of the world economy. But it's a real gun. And it may be loaded."
The problem is, at some point the hammer is going to fall. Will the time of reckoning be when energy prices return to an upward climb as demand again exceeds supply, as described near the end of a Matt Simmons presentation HERE?

Monday, March 09, 2009

I find it curious that almost without exception mainstream reporting on Mexico is exclusively a drug war story and never about the generally collapsing Mexican economy along with its oil resources. It's like they haven't even noticed the oil angle. It's all about militarizing the border. For example, THIS is just out,

In Mexico's drug wars, fears of a U.S. front
Violence that has killed thousands is beginning to cross border, officials say
By Alex Johnson
Reporter | msnbc.com | updated 1 hour, 30 minutes ago
With U.S. forces fighting two wars abroad, the nation's top military officer made an important visit last week to forestall a third. He went to Mexico. ...
Excellent commentary and analysis that fills in some of the gaps may be found in a new post at The Oil Drum:

Mexico: A Collapse Update
Posted by jeffvail on March 8, 2009 - 11:59am
It's been difficult to read a paper or watch the news recently without hearing about the growing troubles in Mexico. The US military?s Joint Forces Command issued their Joint Operating Environment 2008 report recently that listed Mexico and Pakistan as the most likely states to collapse in the immediate future (PDF, see p.35 for analysis of Mexico). Even 60 minutes ran a segment about the rising drug violence.

Of course, readers are probably already aware that a root cause of the problems in Mexico is the precipitous decline of Mexican oil production and an even faster decline in the level of oil exports. Add to that declining remittance incomes being sent home by migrant workers in America, declining tourist revenues, and lower revenue per barrel of oil exported, and the Mexican state is experiencing a severe financial crunch. ...
Which is more violent?

Philip Jenkins of Penn State covered the basics of violent scripture in the Sunday Boston Globe:

Dark passages
Does the harsh language in the Koran explain Islamic violence? Don't answer till you've taken a look inside the Bible
By Philip Jenkins | March 8, 2009
WE HAVE A good idea what was passing through the minds of the Sept. 11 hijackers as they made their way to the airports.

Their Al Qaeda handlers had instructed them to meditate on al-Tawba and Anfal, two lengthy suras from the Koran, the holy scripture of Islam. The passages make for harrowing reading. God promises to "cast terror into the hearts of those who are bent on denying the truth; strike, then, their necks!" (Koran 8.12). God instructs his Muslim followers to kill unbelievers, to capture them, to ambush them (Koran 9.5). Everything contributes to advancing the holy goal: "Strike terror into God's enemies, and your enemies" (Koran 8.60). Perhaps in their final moments, the hijackers took refuge in these words, in which God lauds acts of terror and massacre.
But have you met the Christian Bible?
The richest harvest of gore comes from the books that tell the story of the Children of Israel after their escape from Egypt, as they take over their new land in Canaan. ... the full orgy of militarism, enslavement, and race war [is] in the Books of Joshua and Judges. Moses himself reputedly authorized this campaign when he told his followers that, once they reached Canaan, they must annihilate all the peoples they find in the cities specially reserved for them (Deut. 20: 16-18).

Joshua, Moses's successor, proves an apt pupil. When he conquers the city of Ai, God commands that he take away the livestock and the loot, while altogether exterminating the inhabitants, and he duly does this (Joshua 8). When he defeats and captures five kings, he murders his prisoners of war, either by hanging or crucifixion. (Joshua 10). Nor is there any suggestion that the Canaanites and their kin were targeted for destruction because they were uniquely evil or treacherous: They happened to be on the wrong land at the wrong time. And Joshua himself was by no means alone. In Judges again, other stories tell of the complete extermination of tribes with the deliberate goal of ending their genetic lines.

In modern times, we would call this genocide...
After reading this, I poked around some of the plethora of anti-Islam sites. You can find these on your own. Sure, they have an answer for why Islam really is more violent today. If a commentator does understand the violent passages of the Old Testament, the argument usually goes that Christianity has evolved from these specific events of the past, while the Koran places violence at the core of Islam for all time.

We can argue about what the words mean for today, but personally, I can't see the distinction. Jenkins wants us keep perspective.
Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions . . . all are in the Bible, and occur with a far greater frequency than in the Koran. At every stage, we can argue what the passages in question mean, and certainly whether they should have any relevance for later ages. But the fact remains that the words are there, and their inclusion in the scripture means that they are, literally, canonized, no less than in the Muslim scripture.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Or is it a myth?

Myth of spring 3-7-2009
Bulbs activating

This time of year, these require just a little encouragement on the sunny side of the house. Our outdoor thermometer is just about to break 10C (50F).
Beware in Bangor City Forest!

Attack owls are
lurking!

All they're doing is protecting their nests. Steven Colbert needs NOT to do a story.

"Lisa J. Kane, natural sciences editor for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, says great horned owls (above) tend to be aggressive in March because they are Maine's earliest nesting birds." -- From the Bangor Daily News 3/7/09
I've always considered the notion that the U.S. could maintain it's current oil use intensity thirty-eight plus years past domestic peak yet one day soon achieve independence from foreign oil completely nonsensical. But every politician from Bush to Kerry to Obama declares the intention to do just that. The notion is as crazy as it is politically appealing. See archive posts HERE and HERE.

Last year Mother Jones magazine covered this ground in a provocative article by Paul Roberts. Highly recommended.

"Two years on, anyone who's been to a gas station or a grocery store knows the prince had very little to worry about. Despite supposedly bold initiatives such as last year's Energy Independence and Security Act, America is no freer from foreign oil: Since 2006, imports have remained steady at about 13 million barrels every day ..." --Paul Roberts

Friday, March 06, 2009

Senator Dodd: "It's not clear who we're rescuing."

I probably don't use enough curse words given the incessant bailouts where taxpayers helplessly are being skewered over the coals. So here goes. The details of how the private banking/insurance system for a year now voraciously has been barbecuing public cash are fucking amazing! The shorter version: the Fed and the Treasury have used a conduit known as Maiden Lane to transfer bailout funds from the taxpayer to secret institutional counterparties who have big-time losses in the credit default swap trade.

Wednesday I listened to this program on the Diane Rehm Show: Too Big to Fail? Guests Douglas Elliott, a fellow, Brookings Institution, former investment banker, and president and principal researcher for the Center on Federal Financial Institutions and Peter Van Doren, editor of Regulation magazine and senior fellow at the CATO Institute discussed primarily discussed the $100 billion+ bailout of insurance giant AIG.

It was an hour program, but the upshot was that we've "dug a very deep hole" and the bailout was the "right thing to do," although the CATO fellow wanted to consider bankruptcy.

Now, here's what really struck me: "counterparty risk" or "counterparty contagion." The concern is that entities who have done business with AIG may be hurt in a systemic way. But who are the counterparties? It's a big fucking secret! A guy who called in to Diane Rehm Wednesday asked exactly the right question. And Diane Rehm also asked the right questions, but ones that should be directed towards Congress, the president, and Treasury Department officials instead. Rehm's guests were of little help, but these posts at TPM (see below) are much more so--describing the taxpayer money chimney known as Maiden Lane.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Domtar shutting down: "BAILEYVILLE, Maine ? Domtar Corp. is closing an eastern Maine pulp mill indefinitely because of the poor global economy, putting about 300 people out of work."

The former Spencer Press of Wells, Maine in the southern part of the state, now a division of global mega printer RR Donnelley, will shut its doors: "Printer to close; job toll is 374; WELLS ? RR Donnelley plans to close its printing plant here in June because of the economic downturn, putting 374 people out of work, company officials announced Wednesday."

The second sad announcement is interesting to me. At one time the company for which I used to work in Portland printed its catalogs there.
Clare Short: "There was no Cabinet debate in run-up to war"

The first 19 days of March 2003 were a period of historic breakdown of international law under the insistence of U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. There is still a strong reluctance of officials in successor administrations to discuss the realities of that period.

According to a Sunday story at the U.K. Mail Online,

REVEALED: 'There was no Cabinet debate in run-up to war,' says Short as Government refuses to release minutes
The Government is refusing to release minutes of Cabinet meetings before the Iraq War because they would reveal there was no discussion on the issue.

Details surrounding two crucial meetings on the eve of the conflict were laid bare for the first time yesterday when former Cabinet Minister Clare Short, who was present at both, gave a full account of what happened. ... Former Cabinet Minister Clare Short says there was NO cabinet debate in the run up to war. ...

At the last Cabinet meeting, no debate on the legality of the war was allowed and Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, said brusquely: 'That's it.'
A major issue before the U.K. Cabinet in March 2003 was Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's advice on the legality of the war. The original advice (not later watered-down versions) was released during the Spring 2005 Blair re-election campaign.

The original advice is a profoundly interesting document. It contains strong doubts about the legality under international law of invading Iraq, and a hinky theory of how it might be considered to be legal. It is no wonder that Blair wished to pass right over this uncomfortable discussion because he would have had to explain why the underlayment of international law was to be removed.

Essentially this thin strand of legality depended upon weapons of mass destruction being found after the fact and the action being precisely limited to eliminating an extant threat from such weapons. This territory has been covered in previous posts HERE and HERE.

Of course, no such weapons existed (as was believed by the leaders, even at the time). So the entire foundation of the war is vapor and it's perpetrators are criminals under any possible reading of the Nuremberg Principles. Yet no one seems concerned about any implications this may have for current policy, or about punishment of those responsible.

After all these years, it seems that every possible obstruction to public knowledge about this important history remains in place. For the U.S. part, the Obama Administration has no interest in even mentioning illegality of the war in the first place let alone what consequences for current policy that illegality should inform.

I'm reading and re-reading President Obama's Friday speech right now. I can't see that the invasion has been framed by the president as anything other than a "precious opportunity to the people of Iraq" and a fight "against tyranny and disorder" where the "United States pursues no claim" on Iraqi "territory or ... resources."

This is downright Orwellian, completely in concert with Colin Powell's perfidy in suggesting that Iraq's resources would be "held in trust for the Iraqi people" while U.S. planners envisioned "rapid privatization," and an army of American thieves arrived to plunder the Iraqi treasury and the U.S. taxpayer alike.

The history of the true underlying nature of the invasion--which was and remains the taking of Iraq for the purpose of powerful interests centered in the U.S. and U.K.--rapidly is being buried with a backhoe. The most profound and supreme associated crime of the destruction of the Iraqi society and people over six years continues to be nearly unmentionable, except in the most appallingly detached terms.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

State to spend $100,000 on "marketing" to "find" somebody to develop and run a container port

Mack Point sunset, Searsport, Maine
Mack Point: Already-industrial site not good enough?

I've never understood why the development-minded authorities in Maine government have insisted that Sears Island is just the place for a nuclear power plant / coal power plant / liquefied natural gas terminal / container port.

The last item is the current plan, heavily promoted and in the process of being greased by Governor Baldacci and a variety of officials. There are serious legal questions about how they are operating, raised by activist Ron Huber in a lawsuit described HERE.

Here are my observations on the subject, for what they're worth.
  • The port would be a boondoggle that no one will be interested in without being "sold" through this crazy taxpayer-funded marketing campaign, my guess designed to dangle all sorts of taxpayer-funded enticements before potential developers.
  • As a large, undeveloped island--a very rare thing to have right along the coast, the highest and best use of the entirety of Sears Island is a park preserved in its natural state.
  • The state could use the conserved site to help promote the incredible tourism opportunities and the small businesses that serve visitors.
  • The state should focus its port efforts on cleaning up and developing the perfectly good facilities at Mack Point. The port potential there almost certainly encompasses the maximum possible for the area.

I'm sure someone has a reason why Mack Point sucks as a port. Go ahead, talk me down...