Wednesday, October 07, 2009

New Address

News! Three Wise Men is up and running at our new location, Well, sort of...we're still putting our house in order at the new location, but that doesn't mean you aren't welcome to stop by. Eventually a visit here will redirect you automatically to our new site, but in the meantime be sure to update your bookmarks and feed readers. And click on the link to check out the new site!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Legislative Update XXVI

Instead of passing health care, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to block money for the Obama administration to transfer Gitmo detainees to the U.S. The chamber also voted to spend more money on water-energy projects, sanction companies that sell gas to Iran, give more aid to Pakistan, create a registry for convicted arsonists, and, uh, keep the government from shutting down.

The Senate Finance Committee shot down the public option twice in their health care bill.

Great week, guys.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kagan: Still Wrong about Iran

The circumstances change, but the advice remains the same from Robert Kagan. Whatever an American administration is doing about Iran, it's not doing it forcefully enough:

The past two weeks have been a big success for the rulers in Tehran, despite what many in the United States and Europe may think. The Obama administration, the Europeans and the media have been obsessively focused on Iranian missile launches and secret enrichment facilities, on Russia's body language, and on the likely success or failure of Thursday's talks in Geneva. What the world has not focused on is the one thing Iran's rulers care about: their own survival.


The regime's overriding goal since the election...has been to buy time and try to reestablish and consolidate control without any foreign interference in its internal affairs. In this Tehran has succeeded admirably.

But it has also had help. The Obama administration has, perhaps unwittingly, been a most cooperative partner. It has refused to make the question of regime survival part of its strategy. Indeed, it doesn't even treat Iran as if it were in the throes of a political crisis. President Obama seems to regard the ongoing turmoil as a distraction from the main business of stopping Iran's nuclear program. And this is exactly what the rulers in Tehran want him to do: focus on the nukes and ignore the regime's instability.

It would be better if the administration focused on the regime's instability and ignored the nukes.

This ought to be the goal of the "crippling" sanctions the Obama administration has threatened. Sanctions will not persuade the present Iranian government to give up its nuclear weapons program. Ahmadinejad and Khamenei see the nuclear program and their own survival as intimately linked. But the right kinds of sanctions could help the Iranian opposition topple these still-vulnerable rulers.


Americans have a fundamental strategic interest in seeing a change of leadership in Iran. There is good reason to believe that a democratic Iran might forgo a nuclear weapon -- just as a democratizing Russia abandoned long-standing Soviet foreign and defense strategies -- or at least be more amenable to serious negotiations. Even if it is not, we have much less to fear from a nuclear weapon in the hands of a democratic Iran integrated into the liberal democratic world than from a weapon in the hands of Ahmadinejad.

So in short, we should ignore the "lesser" goal of persuading Iran to drop it's nuclear ambitions, and pursue regime change instead. This is silly for several reasons. First, Kagan completely ignores the fact that the Iranian regime's crackdown on the opposition movement has made it more difficult for Iran to avoid sanctions aimed at the nuclear program. The reason we've made any progress on that front is largely thanks to the the Iran government's repressive treatment of its own people, as well as revelations that it continues to build secret nuclear facilities (that it argues are for peaceful purposes, to be fair.) Kagan acts as if pursuing sanctions against the nuclear program is completely out of context, when in fact its a direct result of the government's own bad behavior in two regards.

Second, nowhere does Kagan explain exactly how a program of crippling sanctions is supposed to aid the opposition in overthrowing the government. I challenge Kagan to provide one recent example of sanctions fostering regime change. He will struggle to find one. Sanctions were employed against Saddam Hussein for over a decade to no effect. Iran is more complicated politically; the regime itself is divided over the crackdown and it's brutality has yet to match Saddam's in scope or scale. And Kagan is also probably right that the Iranian people are not going to rally around a hated government even in the face of outside condemnation. But again, how does any of that aid the opposition in toppling the regime? In what concrete, specific manner, does a program of damaging Iran's economy aid the opposition politically? Can you imagine a scenario in which Iran's government uses the threat of sanctions and outside influence or intervention to justify even more repression? To make it even more difficult for the people to express their dissent, to oppose the government? I can, because that's what they did after the fraudulent elections. It's what repressive regimes do the world over when faced with threats to their survival, especially when those threats come from outside the country. Foreign enemies are quite useful for propaganda purposes.

And even if the regime were changed, would Iran's nuclear ambitionsm merely evaporate as we hope? This bit about a democratic Iran foregoing nuclear weapons is just plain nonsense. On what basis does Kagan make this absurd claim? On Indian's foregoing of nukes? France's? Our own? Political systems come and go; national interests remain the same. A "democratic" Iran would be regarded with only moderately less suspicion by the Arab world than a dictatorial one is, because Iran's national interests remain the same. The idea that Iran pursues nuclear weapons only because it's dictatorial leaders desire more despotic power, is fallacy of the highest order. Iran's democratic leaders may choose to justify a nuclear weapons program in the same manner that it's present leaders do, and they would not be wrong to do so.

And like Iran's national interests, other things do not change: Kagan is wrong about Iran, has always been wrong about Iran, and if today's column is any evidence, will always be wrong about Iran.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Betsy McCaughey: Big Tobacco Flack

Last month I wrote this about critics of health care reform:

But thanks to lying liars like Krauthammer and McCaughey, progress on this front has probably been set back a good ten or twenty years, all because defeating health care reform justifies any lie, no matter how pernicious or no matter the effect it has on actual, real people. I'm not a Christian, and even if I was I doubt I'd believe in Hell. But if there is one, it is my most sincere and fondest wish that there is a special circle reserved for the likes of Krauthammer and McCaughey, and all those who lie without regard to the impact their lies have on the lives and deaths of real people.

But if this is at all true, one hack in particular is guilty of so much worset:

I have deliberately laid off the Betsy McCaughey theme for the past month-plus. I had my say; she continues to have hers; people can make up their minds.

But revelations late last week by Tim Dickinson, of Rolling Stone, are at face value so important that they deserve to be underscored. It's worth reading Dickinson's whole dispatch and studying the on-line scans of the documents he has found. But to me the real news is the evidence that tobacco lobbyists secretly worked with McCaughey to prepare her infamous 1994 New Republic article "No Exit."

In case that's blurry, here is what Dickinson says:

"What has not been reported until now is that McCaughey's writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton's health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company's strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to "work on the development of favorable pieces" with "friendly contacts in the media." The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:

' "Worked off-the-record with Manhattan and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan." '

"McCaughey did not respond to Rolling Stone's request for an interview."

Maybe there is another side to this story, but if unrebutted it is damning.

Oh, if only those words could become literally true. One would think that upon this revelation, Betsy McCaughey would be utterly disgraced, and too ashamed to show her face in the media. But that would imply that McCaughey has any decency or grace to be dispossessed of. Since it is not presently illegal to sell your soul to companies who profit off of the deaths of people, we shall have to merely wait and hope that divine justice is presented to her most directly upon her death.

Texas Progressive Alliance Round-Up 9/28

As early voting for the November elections looms on the horizon, the Texas Progressive Alliance says good-bye to September and hello to another weekly blog roundup.

BREAKING NEWS: Natural Gas Development Brings "amazing and very high" Levels of Carcinogens and Neurotoxins to Barnett Shale area! Take a deep breath before you read this study because the findings will take your breath away! TXsharon at Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS broke this story and the study evaluation by MacAuthur (Genius) Award winner, Wilma Subra.

This week Left of College Station, Teddy reports on why the anti-choice movement is not about abortion but about the oppression of women. Also, guest blogger Litia writes about asking non-tradition questions about Texas A&M traditions; Litia writes a weekly guest blog for College Station about a liberal teaching in Aggieland. Left of College Station also coves the week in headlines.

Neil at Texas Liberal writes that Socialist candidate for Mayor of Houston Amanda Ulman should run a serious campaign or not run at all. There once was a solid base of socialist voters in Texas and the U.S. Who says that cannot someday happen again?

McBlogger takes aim at people who think that adjusting to climate change is just something that will unfairly hurt the poor.

Off the Kuff contemplates the possible entry of Farouk Shami into the Governor's race.

The old Easter Lemming has a useful post on voting for the Constitutional Amendments in his area.

The Texas Cloverleaf looks at the 22 year high TX unemployment rate. What recession? We're in one?

Agriculture commissioner Todd Staples opened his mouth and out fell a big wad of stupid. Stupid so ignorant that it topped anything Rick Perry or John Cornyn or even Glenn Beck could manage this week. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs has it -- if you can stand it.

WhosPlayin followed up on an open records request for internal emails related to Lewisville ISD's decision to ban President Obama's speech to children. The emails, including a racially charged email from a board member to the superintendant, do not paint a pretty picture..

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on money, energy, and the economy in the Texas governor's race, Perry's cap and trade photo op.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes Rick Perry does his best George Bush cowboy imitation with Ranger Recon.

Over at TexasKaos, boadicea, Warrior Queen, is seeking a pulse, any pulse over at the Tom Schieffer campaign, as she opines that Tom Schieffer Needs Something Original to Offer. It seems that lifting policy ideas from Hank Gilbert is the best he can do right now. Read the rest at TexasKaos.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What Indeed?

The only proper response to this is for somebody to put an arrow in Limbaugh's fat ass:

Legislative Update XXV

The House of Representatives voted to extend unemployment benefits, stop Medicare premium hikes, and keep the goverment running through October. That is all.

TWM is on Facebook!

We all are in our individual capacities, but now the blog collective has planted a flag in Facebook country. I don't entirely know what to do with it yet but it appears to be the thing all the cool kids are doing, so go be our fan here.

Wrong Again

Glenn Greenwald condemns David Brooks most recent idiocy in far great detail and with far greater passion than I can summon, but there is one small point of fact that I'd like to point out regarding Brooks' column. This, from Brooks' column:

Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon’s Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armored convoys to kill bad guys.

There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.

The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.

To put it concretely, this is a doctrine in which small groups of American men and women are outside the wire in dangerous places in remote valleys, providing security, gathering intelligence, helping to establish courts and building schools and roads.

Yeah, about that Mr. Brooks:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military officer in Afghanistan, has told his commanders to pull forces out of sparsely populated areas where U.S. troops have fought bloody battles with the Taliban for several years and focus them on protecting major Afghan population centers.

But the changes, which amount to a retreat from some areas, have already begun to draw resistance from senior Afghan officials who worry that any pullback from Taliban-held territory will make the weak Afghan government appear even more powerless in the eyes of its people.

Senior U.S. officials said the moves were driven by the realization that some remote regions of Afghanistan, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountains that range through the northeast, were not going to be brought under government control anytime soon. "Personally, I think I am being realistic about this," said Maj. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. "I have more combat power than my predecessors did, but I won't be as spread out. . . . This is all about freeing up some forces so I can get them out more among the people."

The changes are in line with McChrystal's confidential assessment of the war, which urges U.S. and NATO forces to "initially focus on critical high-population areas that are contested or controlled by insurgents."

I'm not actually just going to type "gotcha!" with a smirk on my face to conclude this post. McChrystal has certainly not abandoned COIN and yes, protecting the population is obviously the key behind this move. But to write a column suggesting that the only appropriate strategy is to deploy American forces to sparsely populated ares and "remote valleys" only days after the U.S. senior military commander in Afghanistan has announced his intent to pull forces from such places, is just sheer idiocy. Nonetheless, I do not expect Brooks' next column to acknowledge this change in events, or more absurdly, call out McChrystal for not understanding the importance of deploying American soldiers to remote places where they both fail to protect Afghan civilians and are more easily killed.

The Real Deal

Unlike with our local misfit Hosan Smadi, it appears the FBI got their hands on a guy who had both the ability and the means to carry out a terrorist attack, after evidence was collected in a series of raids in New York last week:

Documents filed in Brooklyn against the driver, Najibullah Zazi, contend he bought chemicals needed to build a bomb — hydrogen peroxide, acetone and hydrochloric acid — and in doing so, Mr. Zazi took a critical step made by few other terrorism suspects.

If government allegations are to be believed, Mr. Zazi, a legal immigrant from Afghanistan, had carefully prepared for a terrorist attack. He attended a Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, received training in explosives and stored in his laptop computer nine pages of instructions for making bombs from the same kind of chemicals he had bought.

While many important facts remain unknown, those allegations alone would distinguish Mr. Zazi from nearly all the other defendants in United States terrorism cases in recent years. More often than not the earlier suspects emerged as angry young men, inflamed by the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden or his associates. Some were serious in intent. More than a few seemed to be malcontents without the organization, technical skills and financing to be much of a threat. In some cases, the subjects appeared to be influenced by informants or undercover agents who pledged to provide the weapons or even do some of the planning.

In two cases unrelated to Mr. Zazi in which charges were announced on Thursday, in fact, the subjects dealt extensively with undercover agents.

The Zazi case “actually looks like the case the government kept claiming it had but never did,” said Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University law school.

Neither does this plot involve a misfit acting alone, though authorities are not yet sure to what extent anyone else was involved in the conspiracy. So far the only other arrests are of Zazi's father and a Brookleyn Imam who warned Zazi he was under scrutiny, both of whom are charged with lying to authorities.

Iran's Nuclear Facility Discovered

Impressive work by U.S. intelligence agencies:

President Obama and the leaders of Britain and France will accuse Iran Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years, according to senior administration officials.

The revelation, which the three leaders will make before the opening of the Group of 20 economic summit here, appears bound to add urgency to the diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its suspected ambitions to build a nuclear weapons capacity. Mr. Obama, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, will demand that Iran allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an immediate inspection of the facility, which is said to be 100 miles southwest of Tehran.

American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.


American officials, citing the sensitivity of their intelligence gathering on Iran, declined to say what kind of intelligence break — human spies, computer or telephone intercepts or overhead photography — led to their discovery. But parts of the computer networks belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard were pierced in 2007, leading to the intelligence finding that that Iranian engineers, working under Mohsen Fakrizadeh, had tried to design a nuclear weapon before the effort ended in 2003. Israel and some European intelligence agencies argue that the work resumed later.

The enrichment program appears to run on a separate track from the weapons design program, in part because the Iranians claim the enrichment is solely for the purpose of producing fuel for nuclear power plants. To construct centrifuges, Iran has had to buy specialty parts abroad, and at times in the past, American, German and Israeli intelligence agencies have intercepted shipments, in one case diverting crucial parts to American weapons labs before sending them on to Iran. It is very possible that infiltration of the supply network contributed to the discovery in Qum.

Of course it has been long suspected that the Iranians did not give up entirely upon their nuclear program after the discovery of the facility at Nantaz. But until this discovery, there was little clue as to where the program might be hidden or what it might be capable of. Apparently this facility was not yet complete, though it appears certainly to exist for the purpose of creating enough fissile material for a bomb. Also, another nugget from the article regarding Russia:

Mr. Obama had, by that point, made a giant step toward getting Russia more amenable to the idea of sanctions against Iran — something Moscow does not like — by announcing last week that he was replacing President George W. Bush’s missile defense with a version less threatening to Moscow. That issue, one administration official said, completely changed the dynamic during Mr. Obama’s meeting with Mr. Medvedev.

While it is unclear whether Mr. Obama briefed Mr. Medvedev about the Qum facility during that meeting at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the two leaders nonetheless emerged with Mr. Medvedev promising, for the first time publicly, that Russia would be amenable to tougher sanctions.

And on Thursday, in Pittsburgh, Mr. Medvedev reiterated his stance. “When all instruments have been used and failed, one can use international legal sanctions,” Mr. Medvedev told students at the University of Pittsburgh. “I think we should continue to promote positive incentives for Iran and at the same time push it to make all its programs transparent and open. Should we fail in that case, we’ll consider other options.”

Certainly, the recent crackdown on Iranian dissidents in the wake of fraudulent elections hasn't helped the Iranian regime's standing in the world either. With Russia on the board, the possibility of much tougher sanctions appears very much more certain now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Honduras Update

The situation in Honduras has been at a bit of a standstill for the last couple of months. Or at least it was, until exiled President Manuel Zelaya somehow managed to sneak back into the country and dramatically appear holed up inside the Brazilian embassy on Monday:

"I'm here unarmed and ready to engage in dialogue," Zelaya said by telephone with Venezuela's Telesur television network. "I'm the president legitimately elected by the Honduran people."

Zelaya's surprise move, nearly three months after the military whisked him out of the country, threw Honduras into confusion and seemed certain to escalate an already tense standoff.

The de facto government of President Roberto Micheletti had promised to jail Zelaya if he returned and try him on 18 charges of corruption and violating the constitution.

Micheletti had no public response to Zelaya's return but imposed a curfew beginning late Monday afternoon aimed at getting Zelaya's supporters off the streets. It was supposed to end at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

The supporters, who'd been demonstrating daily for Zelaya's return, rushed to the gates outside the embassy as word spread. They treated Zelaya as a conquering hero — "Yes we can!" they shouted repeatedly — and created a human shield to keep away the police and armed forces.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States in Washington, called on Micheletti's government to ensure Zelaya's security within the Brazilian Embassy.

That shouldn't be necessary. International law prevents Honduran forces from trying to arrest Zelaya at a foreign embassy. The grounds are considered Brazilian territory.

The demonstrators weren't there for long, as riot police swept in the next day and sent them packing. Honduran authorities initially cut off power to the embassy but have since restored it, and widespread civil disorder has permeated the capital in the wake of Zelaya's return. No one seems to know exactly how Zelaya got back into the country; he claims to have been aided by Honduran citizens, though of course he's refusing to name anyone specifically. His return has certainly amped up the tension between Zelaya, his supporters, and the government of Roberto Micheletti, who took Zelaya's place. Micheletti says that Zelaya will not be removed from the embassy (an act forbidden by international law regardless) and Zelaya says he isn't going anywhere. I would say this greatly increases pressure to adopt a plan supported by other South American nations and the U.S. to permit Zelaya to serve out his term, but I can also imagine that Micheletti's government is considerably disinclined to be provoked into accepting such a plan by Zelaya.

In aside, the political tension may necessitate the moving of the World Cup qualifying match scheduled to take place between the U.S. and Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Oct. 10th. This would be a most unfortunate and unfair result for the Honduran national team, who are undefeated in San Pedro Sula and who would really like to get a win and so avoid a playoff against any of the powerful South American clubs that may be chomping at the bit to roll over a CONCACAF club to secure the last South/North American berth in the World Cup.

Plot to Blow Up Dallas Skyscraper Foiled

Not cool dude. Not cool at all:

Federal authorities arrested a 19-year-old Jordanian citizen whom they said placed an inactive car bomb today at Fountain Place, a 60-story skyscraper in downtown Dallas.


Authorities said that Smadi was under continuous FBI surveillance. Federal agents posed as members of an al-Qa’ida sleeper cell. Smadi, who was in the U.S. illegally, allegedly told them that he came to the country specifically to commit “Jihad for the sake of God.”

And indeed he was, as the criminal complaint filed against him makes clear. It appears that Smadi was acting entirely on his own, with only the aid of the FBI informants who were aware of his every act. Regardless, Smadi will now be in no position to network with authentic terrorists (or more serious amateurs at least) as he is likely to spend quite a bit of time in prison.

Steve Davis Torches FC Dallas

If you're a close follower of this blog, you know that I occasionally blog about soccer, both domestic and otherwise. That includes blogging about FC Dallas, our local Major League Soccer squad. If you pay very close attention to this blog, you may realize I haven't had much to say about FC Dallas as of late. That's because, unless you're a soccer-specific blogger, there isn't much to say about near-constant suckitude. That is unless you're Steve Davis, former soccer reporter for the Dallas Morning News, and you've saved up all your grievances for one gigantic broadside against the club (via 3rd Degree.) Steve Davis hated the re-branding, among other things. Some choice excerpts:

Yep. Five years ago in August the Dallas Burn became FC Dallas. A year after that, they moved into a dandy little stadium, where tens of hundreds of people now show up 16-18 times a year to watch a poor product while frequently taking a beating in customer service and then putting the cherry on the bad experience sundae by getting stuck in traffic on the way home. (OK, the club has done something about the wacky traffic congestion. By stinkin’ up the joint pretty much everywhere else they have largely eliminated all traffic entanglements. Well done, kids.)

Oh, he's just warming up. Why didn't the re-branding work?

First, Pizza Hut Park is just too far. I have ultimate respect for the late Lamar Hunt – a truly wonderful human being -- for all his dogged and impassioned efforts at building this sport. But the fact is that there is a learning curve on this critical MLS stadium initiative. Somebody had the really push the limit and built one WAY out (23 miles from the city center in this case) to start locating the balance between "cheap land" and "too freakin’ far." Unfortunately, Hunt built a swell little stadium too far away, too far from the 20- and 30-something urbanites who are making such cool waves at Toronto, Seattle, etc.

But the stadium is built, it’s got a 30-year shelf life and there you are. So FC Dallas should have recognized quickly that it would have to be the consummate "try harder" property. That is, they could win loyalty and fans by being the team that tries harder. Better concessions. Better prices. Better customer service. A better product, not just a proxy product for making money off concerts.

They fell short, and how. They fell show the way Plaxico Burress fell short in gun safety, the way Marilyn Manson fell short on normalcy, the way Britney Spears fell short on general life train wreck avoidance.


Look, I could go on and on about bad print ads, nonsensical media buying strategies, ridiculously failed DP bids, money wasted on ballyhooed partnerships with foreign clubs, about running out of pizza countless times at Pizza Hut Park, about out-dated marketing strategies, about the long-term scourge of artificially inflated attendance numbers, about the mindless pursuit of the suburban family dollar, etc.

Bottom line, people figure it out. You are what you are, and you had better find a way to work with it.

As for the re-branding five years ago from Dallas Burn to FC Dallas, all they did back then was thoughtlessly erase history. Was the "Burn" name kinda goofy? You bet it was. But fans embraced it. They grew fond of it and felt protective of it, the way your little brother or sister bothers the crap out of you – but you’ll beat the holy hell out of someone who "effs" with them cause’ that’s just the way it is.

Man. Ouch. Now, I was against the re-branding too, especially when I figured out that the trend in MLS was to thoughtlessly copy the Euro-style of generic names for clubs (Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, etc., etc.) First off, that's not an American tradition so it defies the idea that MLS is presenting a uniquely "American" brand of soccer. Second, attaching "Real" or "FC" anything to something like a club that plays in fourth-tier soccer league in Salt Lake City or Dallas of all places, is so beyond pretentious that it's just absurd and completely open to ridicule. It's doubly absurd if, upon doing so, you go on to become one of the most underachieving teams in the entire league (as both FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake have done.)

I was also completely opposed, and remain opposed, to the idea that a team called FC Dallas should be playing in Frisco, almost 25 miles north of downtown Dallas. I understand that team officials didn't have a ton of choice in where they were going to have a stadium built, but their fascination with the suburban (and white) soccer fan was betrayed by the moving of the team to Southlake for a season. By moving to Frisco, the team instantly alienated the team's most passionate fan base, Hispanics, in favor of fans whose loyalty to soccer is questionable at best, and whose motivations for showing up the game frequently involve being given free tickets, or needing an outing for their kid's u-9 soccer squad.

Now, both of these moves could have worked. In the end, what matters the most is the product that gets put on the field. You can get away with ditching a name and tradition that fans had just begun to get attached to, and ditching a substantial portion of your fan base, and all the other legion of problem that Davis recounts, if you put a winning team on the field. Especially if you put a team on the field that manages to get into MLS championships being hosted at your own stadium (something FC Dallas had an opportunity to do two years in a row.) What you cannot do is lose. Then you find that people like me, who were once utterly devoted to the club, will refuse to drive 35 miles or more to see inferior soccer, to not be able to get a pizza, to get stuck in traffic, to watch designated players under-perform, etc., etc., etc.

Is anybody up top getting the message? I don't know. Check back with me in two years, and I'll let you know.

Amazing Science News

Scientists have discovered that there is water literally everywhere on the Moon. Incredible:

Three different space probes have gathered evidence that the top layer of the moon's surface contains hidden stores of water.

The moon is generally thought to be a dry place, although scientists have long suspected that ice might be trapped in cold, permanently shadowed craters. A NASA mission will test that theory next month, by smashing a spent rocket part into a dark crater near the moon's south pole and creating a big debris cloud that will be searched for water.

But surprisingly, researchers have now found that there's water on the sunlit surface of the moon, where no one expected it to be.

Molecules of water as well as hydroxyl — that's just one atom of hydrogen with an oxygen atom, instead of the two hydrogen atoms normally found in water — are all over the lunar surface, in the very top layer of dust, according to new reports published online by the journal Science.

What does this mean? Well:

Check out the signals; there's water everywhere, even in areas constantly bathed in sunlight. This could be a huge boon to establishing a Moon base, as with water (or even hydroxyl ions) on the surface, we could possibly generate our own liquid water and breathable O2 gas!

That's right peeps. That moon base that sci-fi enthusiasts have written about for decades, is a distinct possibility now. That's something to get excited about.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I don't know what the hell is up with the Twitter feed gadget, but I'm taking it down until they fix it. If you want to see my tweets first hand, follow me here.

Wednesday Morning News of Note

Some things you should be reading on this Wednesday, the first full day of Fall:

1. You may have heard recently that the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, issued a dire report indicating that the security situation in Afghanistan is certain to deteriorate without the infusion of thousands more U.S. and NATO troops. The report makes clear how much the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated already (conditions which have prompted McChrystal to consolidate American forces in more populous areas) and that, combined with the sagging legitimacy of the Karzai government in the wake of fraudulent elections, apparently has the Obama administration considering a widespread shift in strategy:

Mr. Obama met in the Situation Room with his top advisers on Sept. 13 to begin chewing over the problem, said officials involved in the debate. Among those on hand were Mr. Biden; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; James L. Jones, the national security adviser; and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

They reached no consensus, so three or four more such meetings are being scheduled. “There are a lot of competing views,” said one official who, like others in this article, requested anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.

Among the alternatives being presented to Mr. Obama is Mr. Biden’s suggestion to revamp the strategy altogether. Instead of increasing troops, officials said, Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence. Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.

The Americans would accelerate training of Afghan forces and provide support as they took the lead against the Taliban. But the emphasis would shift to Pakistan. Mr. Biden has often said that the United States spends something like $30 in Afghanistan for every $1 in Pakistan, even though in his view the main threat to American national security interests is in Pakistan.

Of course we've been wondering since earlier this year if a shift in Afghanistan is warranted, though liberals remain divided on the issue (the opinion of conservatives is typical, thoughtless and so pointless to examine.) Is such a shift around the corner? We'll see.

2. The Obama administration is considering limiting use of the State Secrets privilege:

The new policy, which could be announced as early as Wednesday, would require approval by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. if military or espionage agencies wanted to assert the privilege to withhold classified evidence sought in court or to ask a judge to dismiss a lawsuit at its onset.

“The department is adopting these policies and procedures to strengthen public confidence that the U.S. government will invoke the privilege in court only when genuine and significant harm to national defense or foreign relations is at stake and only to the extent necessary to safeguard those interests,” says a draft of a memorandum from Mr. Holder laying out the policy and obtained by The New York Times.


Leading Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have filed bills that would restrict how the privilege could be used. The Obama administration has not taken a position on those bills, but the new policy, which is intended to rein in use of the privilege by erecting greater internal checks and balances against abuse, could blunt momentum in Congress to pass legislation.

The bills would encourage courts to find a way for lawsuits to continue, even if particular documents or information must be withheld. They would also require judges to take a more searching look at executive branch claims that certain evidence cannot be used in court because its disclosure would result in a “significant harm” to national security.

That requirement would be tougher than the current legal standard, which comes from a 1953 Supreme Court decision approving the withholding of information whenever there is “reasonable danger” of exposing information that should not be divulged for national security reasons.

The real problem of course is that since that 1953 decision, courts have held that it's the government, not a federal judge, who decides whether there exists a "reasonable danger" of exposing delicate national security information. This new policy doesn't change that, so I'm not entirely sure how useful it will be. Glenn Greenwald has hammered the Obama administration on this and other national security policies; I expect him to have quite a bit to say about this announcement.

3. And look who's coming around now:

Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, two of the nation’s biggest banks, announced plans on Tuesday to drastically overhaul their debit card programs by lowering or eliminating fees, changing the way they credit transactions and allowing customers to opt out of overdraft protection.

The moves come as lawmakers and regulators in Washington push proposals to reform what critics say are excessive charges of which consumers are unaware. The penalties, known as overdraft fees, bring the banking industry tens of billions of dollars in revenue annually.

Bank of America said it would allow current customers to turn off the ability to spend when their account hits zero, starting Oct. 19. Next June, the bank plans to limit the number of times each year that current customers can overdraw their accounts when using a debit card at a store. It will let new customers choose whether they want overdraft protection when they are opening their account.

Chase plans to eliminate by the first quarter of next year a common industry practice that enraged many consumers. Instead of lumping a day’s worth of debit card and A.T.M. transactions together and then processing the highest amounts first — a practice that has caused large numbers of consumers to overdraw more quickly and pay more fees — it will credit the transactions chronologically. Chase also plans to allow customers to opt out of overdraft coverage.

I'm sure this has absolutely nothing to do with the extremely bad press these banks have gotten as of late, or the fact that Congress is chomping at the bit to regulate them. In all seriousness though, I'm sure lobbyists for the banks are right now pointing out to members of Congress how legislation is now completely unnecessary because the Banks are taking steps to regulate themselves. To which I say, screw that, pass the legislation.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Texas Progressive Alliance Round-Up 9/21

Fall is upon us, and so the Texas Progressive Alliance closes out another summer with some more hot blogging.

Halliburton was fracking for Cabot and...Oh Oops! We Spilled Some! TWICE! Deadly Hydraulic Fracture Fluid! Ironically, industry just released part of their $80 million propaganda campaign asking people to submit "Eureka" moments. From TXsharon at Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

Congressman "Deer in the headlights" Pete Olson (R-TX) gets called out at his town hall meeting and the police are called in!

The Texas Cloverleaf wonders when police departments will enter the 21st Century. A San Antonio lesbian couple sues in federal court over blatant harassment in their own home.

This week at McBlogger, Mayor McSleaze took the time out of his life to educate you people on some things going on around the country.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes Rick Perry won't admit execution might have been a mistake. To be a Republican is never to say you're sorry.

At Texas Vox, nuclear energy and economic experts explain just how much is at stake with the South Texas Nuclear Project expansion -- the entire San Antonio economy.

Off the Kuff takes note of some hot judge-on-prosecutor action going on at the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Neil at Texas Liberal ran a one-minute video this week, filmed in front of hurricane remembrances in Galveston, Texas, in which he made a plea for folks to be aware of the past.

Kay Bailey has two purse boys, and Rick Perry is unaware there is a recession. Sometimes the cluelessness and utter hypocrisy of Texas Republicans still amazes the cynical PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

WhosPlayin had video of parents handing all kinds of hell to Lewisville ISD board and administration over banning the Obama pep talk. Perhaps the bigger story though is that like many other school districts in the state, the financial situation looks bleak for the coming year.

Over at TexascKaos, Bulldog reminds us that health care , like national defense is NOT about profit, but about the security of the American people. She tells her story and does it well in Health Care Rambling.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Legislative Update XXIV

Congress is actually passing stuff again! Though still not health care.

The House of Representatives voted for the biggest overhaul of federal student loan programs since their creation; the measure ends subsidies for private lenders, boosts Pell Grants for needy students and creates grant programs to improve community colleges and college graduation rates. The House also passed a resolution of disapproval for Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst during President Obama's speech to Congress.

The Senate passed a big boost in spending for housing and transportation projects, and to allow guns on Amtrak.

And, yeah, both houses voted to defund ACORN to appease paranoid conservatives.

Things That Piss Me Off

There's a couple of them this morning. First, this:

ACORN offices across Texas are temporarily halting the bulk of their work, following the lead of other chapters nationwide, as they retrain workers and make sure proper policies and procedures are in place to avoid any improper activity.

The Fort Worth office is at least temporarily closed, as the state chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now studies whether to fund reopening the local office, a choice not likely to be made easier by Congress’ move Thursday to halt even more funding for the group.

"We have an obligation to make sure that we take all the precautionary steps to make sure our staff is doing the job right," said Ginny Goldman, statewide head organizer for the Texas ACORN. "Outside consultants who are experts are working to make sure all of our staff is up to par.

"We’re proud of the work that we’ve done, and we will continue the work," she said. "We have no secrets. We are open for business."

That's thanks to a couple of douchebags dressed like clowns who decided it would be their mission in life to catch an ACORN employee doing something stupid, and our typically cowardly Democrats in Congress who are so eager to punish themselves before the Republicans get around to doing it that they might as well be wearing latex suits. From Wikipedia, here's a short description of exactly what ACORN does:

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is a community-based organization in the USA that advocates for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues.

As you probably know ACORN was the source of endless attacks by right-wingers during the campaign last year. They saw "voter registration" and "community organizing" and figured both were a handy way to get to Obama, so they had a field day with it. Of course given it's purpose, ACORN works with a lot of minorities, and giving minorities a hand is something that's just plain unacceptable to the right-wing. Fred Clark at Slacktivist has his own opinion about this attitude:

Rep. Wilson attends the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and every time he goes there with his family he has to recite those words: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." How can he possibly reconcile that with his rabid anti-immigrant views? Having those views, how does he even manage to speak the very first word of this prayer?

Think of Wilson and the rest of the "take back America" crowd praying this prayer in tens of thousands of nominally Christian churches across the country. Think of them praying this prayer on behalf of "their" country: "Forgive America its trespasses as America forgives those who trespass against it."

If those are the conditions -- and they are -- then we're screwed. Our own words, our own prayers, condemn us.

Wilson and the tea-baggers have to realize this. They have to hear this every week, to listen to themselves saying it, listen to their own voices inviting and invoking their own damnation. Praying this prayer must be for them like those monks in Monty Python's Holy Grail who carry wooden planks and smack themselves in the face after every phrase of every chanted prayer.

Maybe that explains why these people are so miserably unhappy, why they're so disproportionately angry, so wrong-headedly certain that they deserve to be jealous of those luck-ducky illegal immigrants like Miriam in the story above. Those desperately poor immigrants may have no access to care they can hope to afford, but at least they can hope to be forgiven. Wilson and the tea-baggers know that they, due to their own prayers, never can be.

I'm not much for psychoanalyzing other people's idiotic beliefs and motivations, but Clark may be onto something. Or at least, I can think of no better explanation for why anybody on Earth would be jealous of the poor and downtrodden for all unfair handouts they get from the government.

Also, yesterday the Texas State Board of Education solicited testimony in regards to the planned revision of standards for textbooks that Texas children use in schools:

Neil Armstrong, Daniel Boone, the state capitals – and even Christmas. All are going back into the state curriculum standards for social studies, State Board of Education members decided Thursday.

Meeting with several writing teams for social studies in all grade levels, the board asked for several revisions in the first drafts laying out the new standards for history, government and other social studies courses in Texas schools.

Many of the requested changes were for historical figures who were deleted from the standards by the writing teams because they were no longer considered as relevant or to make room for individuals who were added.

When some board members questioned why former Secretary of State and four-star Gen. Colin Powell was being dropped from the standards for elementary grades, they were told that former President Ronald Reagan was being substituted for Powell. That ended the questions.

Marci Deal, social studies coordinator in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district, quickly cooled off one controversy that erupted when the writing team for sixth grade initially recommended that Christmas be dropped from a list of holidays of the major religions in a world cultures and geography course.

"My mother called and asked me, 'What happened to Christmas?' " Deal told the board, referring to the negative reaction to the writing team's proposal.

Indeed, what happened to Christmas? Children only spend about a month each year learning about it in great detail. Peter Marshall, the right-wing hack installed as one of the "expert reviewers" who we've written about before, got his licks in yesterday as well:

He got things started with a rousing 10-minute tour through a Christian-centric version of US history.

"It is obvious beyond contradiction that [the founders] structured American government on the natural rights of mankind, which they firmly believe were the gift of God," he said.

Asked by an African-American board member about his objection to the inclusion of Thurgood Marshall in the textbook standards -- Rev. Marshall called the jurist not "a strong enough example" -- Rev. Marshall responded: "He's known primarily for that one very important Supreme Court decision."

And he seemed to draw a hard distinction between historical figures who are minorities and historical figures who are sufficiently accomplished for inclusion.

"My plea simply is again, with the hundreds of historical American people, I think it's very important to emphasize to children character," he said.

"I'm concerned about the modern trend of just identifying people as members of groups -- whether minority groups or whatever," Marshall said.

Well specifically, minority groups. Because it's axiomatic that the great historical figures are all white. Never mind that that's entirely the result of the fact that until recently, whites wrote the history of our nation. As I'm sure you're aware, none of this is about a "fair" reading of history, of accomplishments and people that are interesting and informative to the kids of all races who attend schools in Texas (many of whom are minorities.) It's about right-wingers shoving the traditions they value down the throats of everybody else's kids, while whining about how the great white men of American history are "maligned" by not being studied in enough detail. Nevermind that those great white men include Rush Limbaugh, or Newt Gingrich. No, it's not about politics at all.

The board won't approve of new recommendations until sometime next year. So, we have that long to slap some sense into them.

As an antidote to all this extreme stupidity, here's the very smart Daniel Larison. I don't always agree with him, but when I do there's little I enjoy more than watching him methodically pick apart atrocious right-wing arguments. Bonus win for Larison, for shooting down a particularly ridiculous sports analogy:

In an otherwise unremarkable column about the instant morality of sports, Henninger made the following preposterous claim:

Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to let a prosecutor investigate CIA interrogations that were ruled inbounds years ago is like a baseball commissioner reversing a hotly disputed World Series home run. Fans everywhere would burn down the stadium.

This is bizarre in a number of ways. Henninger isn’t even using the correct sports analogy. In this case, the analogy would have to be some kind of action that had once been illegal but was permitted under a looser interpretation of the rules. You would then have to have some regulating authority declare later on that the new interpretation of the rules was basically invalid and that the old rules had always applied, opening the door to some kind of retroactive penalties. The closest comparison I can think of is when the NCAA voids the wins of coaches involved in recruiting violations, which is an appropriate disciplinary action for cheating college programs and exactly the kind of strict enforcement of rules that Henninger is implicitly rejecting in his criticism of Holder.

In practice, there are rarely dangerous actions in any sport that were once banned but are now permitted. In American football, the trend has been towards tighter and tighter restrictions on what defensive players can do to receivers and quarterbacks. There really is nothing in the sports world that directly compares to investigating the torture regime, because there is no professional organization that started allowing routine violent abuses during games. You have never heard NFL officials claim that there need to be more crippling tackles on defenseless players to preserve the game of football. Of course, contests premised on fairness cannot reasonably be compared to practices that are by their nature gross injustices against human dignity, but that doesn’t bother Henninger. The very thing that Henninger finds attractive and worthwhile in the instant and mostly reliable morality of sports (which apparently does not apply to teams from Massachusetts) is what he plainly does not want to have applied when it comes to national security, and what is most striking is that he isn’t even aware of the contradiction.

All of which is basically a very articulate way of saying "shove that in your pipe and smoke it."

Thursday, September 17, 2009


An unmitigated failure. The Bush administration was a disaster for our nation...unless you were the beneficiary of those massive tax cuts:

Thursday's annual Census Bureau report on income, poverty and access to health care-the Bureau's principal report card on the well-being of average Americans-closes the books on the economic record of George W. Bush.

It's not a record many Republicans are likely to point to with pride.

On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush's two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country's condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton's two terms, often substantially.


So the summary page on the economic experience of average Americans under the past two presidents would look like this:
Under Clinton, the median income increased 14 per cent. Under Bush it declined 4.2 per cent.

Under Clinton the total number of Americans in poverty declined 16.9 per cent; under Bush it increased 26.1 per cent.

Under Clinton the number of children in poverty declined 24.2 per cent; under Bush it increased by 21.4 per cent.

Under Clinton, the number of Americans without health insurance, remained essentially even (down six-tenths of one per cent); under Bush it increased by 20.6 per cent.
Adding Ronald Reagan's record to the comparison fills in the picture from another angle.

Under Reagan, the median income grew, in contrast to both Bush the younger and Bush the elder. (The median income declined 3.2 per cent during the elder Bush's single term.) When Reagan was done, the median income stood at $47, 614 (again in constant 2008 dollars), 8.1 per cent higher than when Jimmy Carter left office in 1980.

Such is the result of a deliberate effort to shift money away from social spending and give it back to the already wealthy, combined with a general inattention to and disinterest in the well-being of our nation (beyond torturing terrorists and launching wars of aggression.) There should be retribution for such awful stewardship, but the only punishment being meted out is to you and me.


Yes. Just...yes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rich people are setting themselves up

Because even in America, we can only tolerate such idiocy for so long (via Xanthippas, via Boing Boing):

In Medina, a new sign bears this warning: "You Are Entering a 24 Hour Video Surveillance Area."

Cameras have recently been installed at intersections to monitor every vehicle coming into the city.

Under the "automatic license plate recognition" project, once a car enters Medina, a camera captures its license-plate number. Within seconds, the number is run through a database.

Just hearing that much, my first thought is: police state. Do you ever want to live in a place where people are watching your every move? And then of course to add insult to stupidity:

All captured information is stored for 60 days — even if nothing negative turns up, he said. That allows police to mine data if a crime occurs later, Chen said.

Doug Honig, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said such a system smacks of privacy violations.

"Government shouldn't be keeping records of people's comings and goings when they haven't done anything wrong," he said. "By actions like this, we're moving closer and closer to a surveillance society."

Medina City Councilmember Lucius Biglow said crime prevention "outweighs concern over privacy."

"Privacy is considerably less nowadays than it was, say, 50 years ago," he said. "I think most of us are pretty well-documented by the federal government ... simply because of the Internet and credit cards."

Uh, look, there's a difference between people being able to see your credit score and watch you at all times. Admittedly not a enough, but still. I think we've fallen away from the vision of our Founding Fathers. I think what Ben Franklin said is relevant to this situation: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

I really hope somebody challenges this in court.

Good news?

Talking Points Memo has a post about about a new PPP poll showing that one-third of New Jersey conservatives believe President Obama definitely is or might be the anti-Christ. This is sure to enrage and shock many of those in this country who are still sane, but I'm no longer surprised at such results.

However, what does surprise me is why there would still be such heavy opposition from conservatives for President Obama? Presumably, many, if not all, of these conservatives are fundamentalists Christians. If so, they should be rejoicing at the news that the anti-Christ may have arrived. This would mean that the prophecies in Revelations are coming true and that the Second Coming is just around the corner! Jesus is about to come take them to heaven and send all us abortion-loving gay liberals to hell! I mean, if I were a conservative, I would think this even better than that time Sarah Palin winked at me during the Vice Presidential debate.

All kidding aside, these people are seriously nuts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Things You Should Be Reading

Three things you should be reading:

Two of them are from Daniel Larison. The first is this denouncement of the broad exception that Israel gets regarding international law and wars of aggression. I would advise Israeli hawks to listen to people like Drezner; we Americans know a thing or two about wars of aggression inspired by hyperbolic fears. I agree with his central assertion whole-heartedly though, and have made it somewhere on my blog before; essentially, that we should not concede to the hawks and neocons that the only argument is about the effectiveness of an invasion or assault. We should also be arguing about whether it's right or wrong to go to war. Old-fashioned notions I know.

Speaking of old-fashioned, perhaps you missed the revelation that former British Prime Minister Margeret Thatcher was secretly opposed to German re-unification. This is what Andrew Sullivan refers to as "staggering news", though as Drezner points out it made perfect sense at the time for British realists to be, if not opposed, then at least leery of German reunification. As Drezner explains, Britain had been opposed to the formation of a single strong continental power for centuries, and none of us had any reason to believe in 1989 (or 1991) that things would turn out as peaceful as they have. Of course now we associate Germany with economic progress and stability, but Margeret Thatcher was thinking of World War II. For my part, I was somewhat relieved to read about a nation's leader behaving in a manner that reflect caution and traditional interests. That sort of thing is passe around here these days.

Lastly, there's Glenn Greenwald on Bagram, the new "black hole" for terrorist detainees the world over:

No wonder they want to close Guantanamo: who wants to be bothered with irritating habeas reviews -- 28 out of 33 have resulted in judicial findings that insufficient evidence exists to justify the detention -- when you can just ship them off to the Black Hole of Bagram and imprison them for as long as you want with no court interference? Apparently, what the Bush administration did that was so terrible, the heinous "shredding of the Constitution" they perpetrated, wasn't about the fact that they imprisoned people indefinitely with no charges -- but that they did it in Cuba rather than somewhere else. Who knew that such grave Constitutional transgressions -- such severe denial of fundamental rights -- could be fixed so easily with a little change of scenery?

If I have written about the Obama administration's gradually worsening record on civil liberties and the "war on terror" (you thought it was over, didn't you?) it's only because of a blogging ennui in general, not because I'm giving the Obama administration a pass. As excited as I was about the Obama candidacy, not for one single instant did I believe that the Obama administration would easily surrender powers claimed by the Bush administration. To believe they would do so requires a willful ignorance of Presidential history. No President has ever surrendedered such power without a fight, and so the fight continues.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Some Thoughts

A few weeks back, reflecting upon the upcoming anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I stumbled across this article in USA Today. The article was an attempt to catalog the number of people who fell to their deaths from the towers before the towers collapsed, and it is accompanied by perhaps the most iconic photograph of a day cursed and blessed with iconic photography, of a man falling head down from the towers. Of the various and countless tragedies that accompanied that day, the stories and pictures of people falling to their deaths, either by choice or by accident, are certainly the most gripping and horrific. I'm sure this is because most of horrified by the idea of falling, of the long, lingering seconds between the jump and fall and the instant death that follows. And we are stunned into silence by the stories of so many people who died this way, and the photograph of a man who-by the accident of a snapshot-seemed to be choosing to face his death head on. In fact the man, like all who fell that day, tumbled through the air out of control. But the image, though misleading, manages to convey a deeper truth to us, which is that on that day there were certainly people who chose to jump rather than face their deaths from smoke or fire.

Such is the power of images, a phenomenon which of course has already been explored at length given that so much of 9/11 was photographed and recorded on video. An entire novel was inspired by that image. I don't have much to add to that. But I was struck by two passages in the USA Today article:

"It took three or four to realize: They were people," says James Logozzo, who had gathered with co-workers in a Morgan Stanley boardroom on the 72nd floor of the south tower, just 120 feet away from the north tower. "Then this one woman fell."

She fell closer to the south tower, he recalls. Logozzo saw her face. She had dark hair and olive skin, a white blouse and black skirt. She fell with her back to the ground, flat, staring up.

"The look on her face was shock. She wasn't screaming. It was slow motion."

Eric Thompson, who worked on the 77th floor of the south tower, went to a conference room window after the first jet hit. He was shocked when a man came to a north tower window and leapt from a few floors above the fire. Thompson looked the man in the face. He saw his tie flapping in the wind.

What is it like to look into the face of someone who will die only moments later? Who knows that they will die? What is it like to look upon them when you yourself are safe, and cannot know their agony? I think these are the questions that are forced upon us, if at some remove, when we look upon the images of those who fell from the towers that day, and particularly the photograph of the falling man.

I don't know what it's supposed to feel like to look at those pictures. I don't know what it can possibly be like to look at the face of someone plummeting to their death. Can anyone make sense of such a thing? Of being the last person to look upon someone before they die, before even their body will be destroyed?

I do think that these images come the closest to conveying to us what we lost that day. When we look upon the images of those who fell, we become aware of the vast, yawning chasm between ourselves and the dead, a chasm that can never be breached. We look upon those who only hours before were going to work just like you and I do every single day, and we look upon them again in the instant before they die, after their entire world has been turned upside down but before it is destroyed entirely. How can such a thing even be explained? It cannot be of course, and 9/11 made many of us intimately aware of such an imponderable for the first time. On that day, for many of us, questions were asked that can never be answered to anyone's satisfaction. On that day, people who were healthy and whole one minute are dead only moments later, and are now eight years gone even though they are also frozen in time for us. Who can ever hope to make any sense of that?

John Stossel gets what he deserves

Via that always great site Balloon Juice:

This is what should happen to John Stossel pretty much every day. His journalism pretty much amounts to him making an ass of himself while going around "proving" that things are fake such as homelessness, poverty, horrific injuries caused by corporate malfeasance, etc.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

J Street

Haven't heard of J Street yet? Well, get yourself up to speed with this excellent explainer from the NYT Magazine.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

US v. Trinidad & Tobago

Today the United States takes on Trinidad and Tobago in Round 4 of the CONCACAF 2010 World Cup qualification. A victory against El Salvador on Saturday has the US tied with Honduras at the top of the standings, though qualification for the World Cup can't come under any combination of wins and losses until a match in October against Honduras at the earliest. As a side note, twenty years ago the United States qualified for the 1990 World Cup with a 1-0 victory in Trinidad and Tobago, the first World Cup for the United States since 1950. It's not overstating the case to say that victory, combined with the United States hosting of the 1994 World Cup, has resulted in the consistent success US soccer has enjoyed both at home and abroad.

Anyway, enjoy today's game. Next summer can't get here fast enough, in my humble opinion.

Campaign Finance Reform...Not

Via Glenn Greenwald, Marc Ambinder has a pretty good explainer of the background to the Citizens United v. FEC campaign finance case that's currently before the Supreme Court. Ambinder is right that campaign finance "reform" has largely resulted only in a confusing patchwork of regulations that fail to moderate the influence money has in politics. The problem of course is the underlying reasoning at work in Buckley v. Valeo, where the Supreme Court held that money is the equivalent of speech and thus entitled to First Amendment protections. It's frankly impossible to overstate the corrosive influence this reasoning has had on politics in our country, but Ambinder is right that this precedent isn't about to be overturned anytime soon. Things will have to get much, much worse before they get any better.


This is not really a new story, given that banks have been charging usurious overdraft fees for the better part of a decade now, but I suppose the climate has changed in the wake of the credit crisis, collapsing banks, and regulatory reform:

When Peter Means returned to graduate school after a career as a civil servant, he turned to a debit card to help him spend his money more carefully.

So he was stunned when his bank charged him seven $34 fees to cover seven purchases when there was not enough cash in his account, notifying him only afterward. He paid $4.14 for a coffee at Starbucks — and a $34 fee. He got the $6.50 student discount at the movie theater — but no discount on the $34 fee. He paid $6.76 at Lowe’s for screws — and yet another $34 fee. All told, he owed $238 in extra charges for just a day’s worth of activity.

Mr. Means, who is 59 and lives in Colorado, figured employees at his bank, Wells Fargo, would show some mercy since each purchase was less than $12. In addition, a deposit from a few days earlier would have covered everything had it not taken days to clear. But they would not budge.

If you've paid one of these fees one time, you've probably paid them multiple times; according to the article, the FDIC found that ninety-three percent of fees come from a mere fourteen percent of bank customers, many of whom are low income. This makes sense of course; the less money you have in your account, the more likely you are to brush up against your account balance and get some fees sent your way. You can probably imagine why banks are so eager to charge these fees. According to the article, they rake in about $27 billion in profits a year charging fees upwards of $30 every time a bank customer overdraws their account, even for transactions of less than a dollar. Of course, banks defend this conduct as something that customers want:

Bankers say they are merely charging a fee for a convenience that protects consumers from embarrassment, like having a debit card rejected on a dinner date. Ultimately, they add, consumers have responsibility for their own finances.

“Everyone should know how much they have in their account and manage their funds well to avoid those fees,” said Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist at the Financial Services Roundtable, an advocacy group for large financial institutions.

Banks are so confident that you will want this service that some-like Bank of America-won't even let you opt out of it without forcing you to squabble with customer service.

When the brother, who has a mental illness that she says requires her to assist with his finances, started falling behind on rent, Ms. Holton-Hodson found he had racked up more than $300 in debit card overdraft fees in three months, including a $35 one for exceeding his balance by 79 cents.

Ms. Holton-Hodson said she spent two years asking bank employees if her brother could get a card that would not allow him to spend more than he had. Though Bank of America does not typically allow customers to opt out of overdraft protection, it finally granted an exemption.

“I’ve been angered and outraged for many years,” she said. “When there is no money in his account, he shouldn’t be able to pay.”

Anne Pace, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, said the case was “complicated issue without any simple solutions,” but declined to elaborate, citing privacy concerns. She added the bank allowed customers to opt out of overdraft services on a “case-by-case basis.”

And of course, the banks fought regulation that would require them to get your permission to sign you up for these programs, or disclose what the program actually costs you (the equivalent of an annual interest rate in the thousands.)

Banks will also do you the favor of structuring your debit transactions so that the largest are taken out of your account first. This means of course that a relatively large transaction can drain your account, leaving you subject to a fee for every little transaction that follows. They defend that practice as well:

Mr. Talbott, of the Financial Services Roundtable, said some banks reordered purchases based on surveys showing that consumers want their most vital bills, like rent and car payments, which tend to be for larger amounts, paid before items like a $3 coffee.

Right. Except, as we've already established, they will generally let all of these transactions go through. So why do they need to be in any particular order at all? Unless that is, the bank makes more money by gaming the system against you.

And they warn of doom and gloom in the event of any reforms:

Michael Moebs, an economist who advises banks and credit unions, said Ms. Maloney’s legislation would effectively kill overdraft services, causing an estimated 1,000 banks and 2,000 credit unions to fold within two years. That is because 45 percent of the nation’s banks and credit unions collect more from overdraft services than they make in profits, he said.

“Will they be able to replace it with another fee?” Mr. Moebs said. “Not immediately and not soon enough.”

To which any sane person would say, if a bank can only make money by charging usurious fees in an underhanded manner, then perhaps we do not need as many banks.

What banks do is actually worse than this article makes it appear. If your account is overdrawn by even a tiny amount, you can quickly find yourself owing hundreds in overdraft fees. Now of course you can refuse to pay them...if you don't mind closing your account, cancelling your direct deposit and automatic bill pay, and then either taking your money elsewhere to open a new account or paying smaller fees to have your checks cashed by a check-cashing service, and then being harangued by debt collectors for the money you owe to the bank in fees. So your money is essentially held hostage by the bank. And unless you move to a credit union or community bank that doesn't regard their customers as prey, you will simply encounter the same treatment.

Banks don't provide this "service" to you because they don't want you to be embarrassed at the checkout lane. The institute it, whether you want it or not, because it's billions in free and easy money that most people are going to pay, whether they want to or not. They can get away with it because they've lobbied the Federal Reserve and Congress to stay away from the issue, and because consumers mostly don't have a choice but to accept such fees or hunt down the minority of banks and credit unions that don't charge them. Fortunately there are members of Congress who are taking action on this issue, though you can expect a hell of a fight from the banking industry on it (twenty-seven billion dollars is a lot of free money.)

(Also, see Fred Clark for more on this issue.)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Soccer weekend!

My thoughts on the USA - El Salvador game are summed up by this Soccer Experts blog post title:

U.S. must kick sand in the face of CONCACAF weaklings

Couldn't agree more. My thoughts on the FC Dallas - DC United game tonight are summed up by this gentleman's comments:

Here is my lineup predictions.......

........aww who really gives a fukc

Ha. Oh well. Maybe next season?

Friday, September 04, 2009

"Dark Rise to Power"

Do you remember the 1999 Russian apartment bombings, bombings that helped to bring Vladimir Puting to power and for which theories of Russian government involvement have abounded for a decade now? Journalist Scott Anderson has a piece in this month's GQ that casts even further suspicion on the Russian government's claim of Islamic terrorist's involvement, but GQ's owner Conde Nast is determined to bury the story, presumably for fear of offending the Russian government and risking retaliation against their publishing operations in Russia. The story isn't even available online, but for their part, Gawker is attempting to translate the story into Russian, and has posted scans of the magazine article. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but I most certainly will make the time.


Glenn Greenwald, at his mocking finest:

But at least we paid lip service to (even while often violating) the notion that wars should be waged only when absolutely imperative to defending the nation against imminent threats. We largely don't even bother to do that any more. Consider today's defense of the war in Afghanistan from the war-loving Washington Post Editorial Page. Here's their argument for why we should continue to wage war there:

Yet if Mr. Obama provides adequate military and civilian resources, there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate, as it did in Iraq.

Does that sound like a stirring appeal to urgent national security interests? Why should we continue to kill both Afghan civilians and our own troops and pour billions of dollars into that country indefinitely? Because "there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate." One can almost hear the yawning as the Post Editors call for more war.

Ouch. Of course, he's right. This exactly the sort of open-ended language of commitment that plagues our discourse regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate" is a notch above "we can't afford to lose" rhetorically, but it's at the same level logically. What chance is "reasonable"? Eighty percent? Thirty? Any? What "something" is "better than a stalemate"? The Taliban controlling half of Afghanistan? A quarter? Pakistan only? And if you think officials in the Obama administration are talking in more concrete terms than this, then you my friend are naive. This is how we've been fighting wars since Korea; the "pure" 1991 Gulf War was the exception, not the rule.

And as has become depressingly common, an airstrike in Afghanistan has killed at least eighty civilians, all to achieve the dubious military goal of blowing up a couple of stolen fuel trucks. Spencer Ackerman is wondering if we even know how to achieve specific goals in Afghanistan such as not turning Afghans against us:

McChrystal has already restricted airstrikes in Afghanistan. This one still happened. And it caused a civilian death count that, if history is any guide, will be revised upward. After each of these airstrikes, there are lots of promises to fix what went wrong, and still this one happened. Any military commander will say that he or she can’t completely rule out the tool of airstrikes. But if avoiding civilian casualties and protecting the population from violence really is the preeminent goal of the Afghanistan war, and if McChrystal believes that Afghan sentiment really is strategically decisive, then as absurd as it may seem, the logic of counterinsurgency really does point to ruling them out. There is no reset button to be hit on an eight-year war. The legacy of years of U.S. and NATO airstrikes and the civilian casualties they have caused hovers like a shadow over today’s Kunduz attack.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not out on the war...yet. But I am out on the sort of counterinsurgency "strategy" that relies on airstrikes to achieve minor military victories, and I'm definitely out on editors and pundits encouraging us to remain committed to Afghanistan because there's some chance that something might still go right in the end. Soldiers should be made to die for less fuzzy goals.

Monday, August 31, 2009

"I have been persecuted for twelve years for something I did not do."

Last week I linked to a Chicago Tribune piece, which detailed the results of investigation conducted by a fire scientist hired by the Texas Forensic Science Commission who concluded that Cameron Todd Willingham was almost certainly executed for a crime he did not commit. For more detail about Willingham's case, and the shoddy science and quack psychiatry that led to his death, I strongly suggest reading this New Yorker piece, "Trial By Fire." You can only hang your head in despair at the thought that Willingham is certainly not the only person sent to death by pseudo-science in the last several decades.

Texas Progressive Alliance Round-Up 8/31

It's the week before Labor Day, and the Texas Progressive Alliance is hard at work bringing you the best of the Texas blogosphere. Here are this week's highlights.

The Texas Cloverleaf wonders why only one person showed up to a budget meeting where taxes are being increased in Denton County. No tea bags left?

Neil at Texas Liberal offered the fullest extension of the back of his hand to opponent's of Houston's Ashby High Rise.

TXsharon wonders what Governor Perry is thinking to appoint a global warming denier as the highest environmental official in Texas at a time when polling shows Americans support Obama on reducing greenhouse emissions and when the EPA has just confirmed water contaminated with hydraulic fracture fluid. Maybe the question should be: Does Perry think?

South Texas Chisme wants you to know that Medicare is a PUBLIC heath care option. Ciro, stand up. Henry, wise up.

Bay Area Houston has video of Republican Pete Olson punking himself punked at his own town hall meeting while trying to use a sick kid for political gain.

Lightseeker over at TexasKaos insists that we not hold health care reform hostage to solving the Abortion Wars. See this and more in his posting, Abortion Wars, Health care and Private Enterprise.

Off the Kuff analyzed some policy papers from Houston's leading Mayoral candidates, examining Gene Locke's crimefighting plan, Annise Parker's education plan, and Peter Brown's energy plan.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts about The good news health care reform would bring to TX-31 and Williamson County.

Setting a date for the eventual US Senate special election is all about the MoFo, according to PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

This week, McBlogger asked a very good question... Why do we even care about Joe Lieberman?

At Texas Vox, Citizen Sarah reports on Houston Mayor and Senate Hopeful Bill White's Energy Security Policy, per his panel at Netroots Nation. Video included.

Teddy at Left of College Station covers the Chet Edwards town hall on health reform live from the Brazos Center, and then shares his thoughts on the town hall, and why a vocal minority is against health care reform. Left of College Station also covers the week in headlines: remembering Senator Ted Kennedy.