Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Great news about the real estate market!

Housing prices drop more than 6%.
I know it's hard for business journalists to believe, but for a lot of us, news of plummeting housing prices is fantastic news.

Reports of falling prices are always accompanied by words like grim, dire, anxiety, woe and meltdown (and it's unquestionably Bad News). In this fantasy world, everybody who's anybody already owns a house and that house is supposed to be their ticket to riches.

Take this article for instance:
Until recently, Seattle-area homeowners could bask in the knowledge that their houses would appreciate handsomely. Median home prices rose 16 percent in 2005 and 21 percent in 2006, a Seattle Times analysis found.

When this year's final numbers are tallied, the median annual increase will probably be more like 2 or 3 percent, Seattle real-estate economist Matthew Gardner says. That puts Seattle ahead of many cities; still, it's the lowest appreciation rate in roughly a decade.
So a person who bought a house in Seattle at the start of 2005 saw his home's "value" increase by over 40% in 2 years and can look forward to only another 2-3% increase this year. The title of that article? Real-estate anxiety: What's next in '08?

Keep that in mind that when you hear that home prices could fall 30% - in that nightmare scenario that Seattle homeowner would simply break even.

Still, it's true, the half of the market that are looking to buy want to buy low - or at least buy something affordable. This may seem greedy to people who expected double-digit markups year after year - but anybody who thought that prices could climb several times faster than wages forever needs a lesson in basic economics.

Which brings me to a comment from this article:
Housing Optimism - Why the year in real estate wasn't all bad news

[I]t's always wise to treat broker happy-talk skeptically, and that includes the NAR's prediction of a housing market rebound in 2008. But amid their blarney, the realtors do make some valid points about how much is right with the economics that support the buying and selling of homes. Unemployment remains low. Interest rates remain very attractive by historic standards. It may be a less-than-stellar time to sell a house, due to extraordinarily high inventory levels, but it sure is a great time to buy one. Since many homes are bought by first-timers, who needn't worry about selling a current house before they buy one, there is a pool of buyers who should stand ready to make offers.
It will be a great time to buy a house when the monthly mortgage is well under half your monthly income and it isn't cheaper to simply rent it. That time hasn't arrived - and no, getting an interest-only or adjustable rate mortgage doesn't cut it. Those contrivances are what helped drive up housing prices in the first place and are a big reason people are facing foreclosure today.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Everybody hates Ron Paul

At least all the partisans do.

It wasn't too surprising to see FOX news question Ron Paul's Republican credentials during the debates and later suggest he's taking orders from al Qaeda . Nor was it surprising to see any mention of him banned from the rightwing Redstate blog. Ron Paul is, after all, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, of torture, of suspension of habeas corpus and expansion of presidential powers. In today's Republican party, that's pretty much heresy. The only thing that keeps John McCain out of the doghouse is his unwavering support for expanding the current war.

Ron Paul's supporters are regularly described as trolls, shills, Ronbots, and dysfunctional hacks who live in their mothers basements (regardless of the evidence that they exist in large numbers - and have jobs.)

It's more surprising to see the sheer vitriol leveled at Paul from the left. He and his supporters are generally regarded as a fringe extremists, and those are the nicer descriptions.

Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald took fire from the left after Andrew endorsed Paul for the Republican nomination and Glenn defended his record as a conservative defender of civil liberties:
In a speech last month, [Naomi] Wolf cited Paul's sponsorship of The American Freedom Agenda Act of 2007 -- which would restore habeas corpus, prohibit torture and rendition, bar warrantless surveillance, protect journalists from prosecution for reporting on classifed matters, outlaw the use of secret evidence, and compel Congress to sue to challenge the validity of signing statements -- as a measure necessary to "stabilize democracy long enough to take a breath."
Glenn was responding to Dana Goldstein's assault on Andrew. She claimed that Ron Paul's anti-abortion stance proved he was a hypocrite when it comes to civil liberties.
What is "freedom and toleration" without a woman's right to control her reproductive destiny? What is an "ability to grasp that not all human problems are soluble" without the acknowledgment that unplanned pregnancy, and the havoc it brings, are features of human life that can not be eradicated? What candidate who stands against "Christian meddling" would strengthen the theocratic movement by allowing states, in the name of religion, to repeal women's rights over their own bodies? Sure, Paul's assessment of the Iraq war is correct. But his libertarianism is in name only when it comes to half of the population. That isn't so principled, and it isn't so exciting. Paul doesn't deserve the endorsement of any thinking person committed to individual rights.
But Paul doesn't become a hypocrite for failing to live up to a progressive caricature of libertarianism. He believes that human life starts at conception and to him arguing that a woman has a right to terminate a fetus is like arguing that a mother has the right to smother her newborn child. Disagreeing with Dana doesn't make him an unprincipled misogynist.

Greenwald's defense of Ron Paul earned him a rebuttal by Goldstein, in which she essentially claimed that Ron Paul's base was made up of little more than anti-semitic skinheads. Ezra Klein, Jeff Feck, and the Sideshow piled on, slamming Greenwald for his comments.

Here's Ezra's case against Paul:
[L]et's be clear: Paul wants to destroy the minimum wage, dissolve Medicare, end the Constitutional right to choice, prevent gay adoptions, preserve "Don't Ask/Don't Tell," undermine Social Security, dismantle public education, etc, etc.
Good point. You've just described the entire Republican field.

In fact all the attacks on Paul could easily be leveled at any of the Republicans running. Why Rudy Giuliani is typically described as a pro-choice social moderate after insisting that he'll nominate judges who'll abolish abortion rights is beyond me.

This goes double for Romney - declared by many of these same bloggers to be the least bad Republican despite his intention to push for constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and abortion and to wage war on Iran (not to mention his support for torture, suspension of civil liberties and his own regressive tax proposals). The belief apparently is that he couldn't possibly be serious.

Ron Paul is simply the only Republican in the race who agrees with progressives on anything. And for that he and his supporters are branded anti-semitic, misogynistic, racist wackos - by the very people who should be relieved that there are still some conservatives who believe in fundamental human rights.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good luck with that, guys.

Senior Senate Republicans finessing their election-year message are emphasizing that their conference will need to take a more prominent role on healthcare to win sorely needed independent voters in their uphill bid to retake the majority in 2008.
This is the same group of Republicans that twice upheld the president's veto of children's health insurance and specifically attacked two children whose families lobbied for the bill.

Republicans were worried that too many middle class kids might get covered.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chris Dodd: man of the hour

The 4th amendment. Image originally uploaded by wemeantdemocracy.

At least one of the Democrats running for president remembers that he already has a platform to fight back against President Bush's power grab.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) -- a presidential candidate who returned from Iowa Sunday night to fight the measure -- quickly claimed victory after the bill's withdrawal, and he again vowed to "utilize all the tools available" to block passage once Reid calls it up in January.
Reid, unfortunately, has done all he could to undermine his fellow Democrat and Dodd got little support from his colleagues. Only 10 Senators joined him in voting against moving the FISA bill forward. 35 of his fellow Democrats voted against him (those who think we simply need more Democrats in the Senate should keep that in mind).

Dodd took a significant risk against long odds in what has been one of the few victories against George Bush's assault on the rule of law.
Dodd has been an outspoken opponent of any measure that would offer retroactive immunity to telecom companies that participated with the Bush Administration in violating the civil liberties of millions of American. He announced in October he would put a hold on any bill that included retroactive immunity language. Although his hold was disregarded, he has remained a strong opponent to the bill. Dodd was prepared to offer an amendment that would strip the retroactive immunity provision of the bill and announced he would filibuster the bill if his amendment failed.
I consider it very strange that none of the other Democratic Senators running for president have taken advantage of their positions to prove their ability to lead on controversial issues. Bush's claims of presidential power cannot be defeated by the next president from within the White House. If Congress continues to capitulate to his whims, they no longer are a co-equal branch of government.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

You're kidding right?

President Thompson discusses the Indian problem with Senator McConnell.

The previous great Republican hope takes on the new one.
We apologize for telling reporters that a BA in Biblical Studies from Ouachita Baptist University doesn’t, in fact, make Huckabee more qualified to fight the war on terror than say…Fred Thompson.
After all Fred is the only candidate who has been a Major General and an Admiral and director of the CIA. (He even has executive experience).

h/t James Joyner

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Nice timing Pinnochio

Arlen Specter (right) has a chance encounter with Karl Rove on his way to the Senate. Image originally uploaded by nanotron.

: Arlen Specter is furious at Harry Reid for calling him a puppet of George Bush
Specter, R-Pa., cried foul and declared that Reid had not only violated Senate Rule XIX, which prohibits the questioning of a senator’s integrity, but was just flat wrong.
12/06/07: Arlen Specter acts to protect Karl Rove from a Congressional subpoena
A Senate Judiciary Committee vote on contempt resolutions against Karl Rove and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten were postponed following an objection by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
h/t ThinkProgress

Why Michigan and Florida don't care about DNC threats

Vote Here. Image originally uploaded by cursedthing.

So the DNC attempted to halt the competition over who gets to vote first and ended up potentially alienating the voters in two must-win states in the process.
In August, the Democratic National Committee responded by stripping Florida of its convention delegates after the state scheduled its primary for Jan. 29. Yesterday in Vienna, the DNC's rules and bylaws committee issued the same penalty to Michigan for its Jan. 15 primary date.
If you're wondering why the DNC didn't short-circuit the problem by cracking down on Iowa and New Hampshire (whose insistence on being first is driving the race to the bottom), it's because Iowa and New Hampshire don't care about losing their delegates, they want to be kingmakers. These states not only demand that they go first, they demand that everyone else wait a week before voting. This way they are able to dictate the debate and compel the candidates to focus on local issues (like farm subsidies and small town "values") instead of federal ones.

Of course, every state thinks its own interests are the most important and the larger, more urban ones have been chafing at the idea that the list of candidates available to them has been culled by voters who have very different priorities.

So Michigan and Florida have taken the gamble. And does anyone believe that if Hillary Clinton wins those primaries by a 20-30 point margin the rest of us will even have Obama or Edwards to vote for come February 5th?

If they can decide the victor, they don't need any delegates.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

George Bush: preparing for World War III

Sometimes you have to ask yourself, would you rather have a complete incompetent or a baldfaced liar as your president?

(Of course, there's no rule that says you can't have both)
BUSH: I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John -- Mike McConnell came in and said we have some new information. He didn't tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.
So Mike McConnell comes strolling into the president's office, tells him we have new information concerning a country that's supposedly planning to nuke Israel (or Poland?) and Bush doesn't even ask for a quick summary. And he doesn't ask about it for 3 months!

video at ThinkProgress

Monday, December 3, 2007

Yes, Hugo Chavez is an autocrat

Here's a simple rule:

If you try to overthow the government in a military coup, disband the legislature, rewrite the Constitution, stack the courts, silence the media and politicize the military. Then you're an autocrat.

And it doesn't matter whether your name is Putin, Musharraf or Chavez.

h/t Matthew Yglesias

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Mike Huckabee and the flight of the bumblebee

Humble Bumble. Image originally uploaded by Memotions

Mike Huckabee revives the old wives tale that scientists have proven that it's impossible for a bumblebee to fly:
"The bumblebee, being unaware of these scientific facts, goes ahead and flies anyway"
This is just another entry in the Republican habit of claiming that scientists are idiots. It doesn't actually matter that it isn't true, or that scientists figured out how a bumblebee flies years ago.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Don't confuse me with the facts

Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, explaining why it doesn't matter if Rudy keeps making things up.
“When he talks about New York, people see it,” Mr. Luntz said of Mr. Giuliani, “and they feel it, and if a number isn’t quite right, or is off by a small amount, nobody will care, because it rings true to them.”
Luntz is famous for teaching Republican candidates how to put lipstick on a pig. Here are some more of his words of wisdom:
A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The political risks of being right

Barack Obama in Austin. Image originally uploaded by That Other Paper.

Peter Beinart, arguing that Americans are too short-sighted to remember the start of the Iraq war, thinks that Obama has a problem:
Recent American history is littered with candidates who were right about war and weren't rewarded at election time.
Really? Is that right?

Lets see. What happened to the 23 Senators who voted against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq?
  • Paul Wellstone, died in a plane crash
  • Jon Corzine got promoted to Governor of NJ and was replaced by a Democrat
  • Paul Sarbanes retired and was replaced by a Democrat
  • Mark Dayton retired and was replaced by a Democrat
  • Bob Graham retired and was replaced by a Republican
  • Lincoln Chafee (the only Republican) lost to a Democrat
So 1 lost his seat (the Republican, for siding with Bush too often - to an anti-war Democrat). All the rest are still in the Senate. That doesn't seem too bad for the group that were "right about the war".

How did the 77 who voted for the Iraq war fare?
  • Democrats Carnahan and Cleland lost their bids for reelection a month after the vote. (They were accused of being soft on the terrorists). Both were replaced by Republicans.
  • Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle lost his majority that November too, then lost his own seat to a Republican.
  • Republicans Allen and Santorum lost their seats to anti-war Democrats in 2006.
  • Joe Lieberman was kicked out of his party and almost lost his seat.
  • Bill Frist lost the Republican majority and quit.
  • John Edwards resigned and was replaced by a Republican
  • Zell Miller resigned and was replaced by a Republican
  • John Breaux resigned and was replaced by a Republican
  • Fritz Hollings resigned and was replaced by a Republican
  • Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell resigned and was replaced by a Democrat
  • Republican Peter Fitzgerald resigned and was replaced by Barack Obama
  • John Kerry lost his bid for the presidency - his famous last words "I voted for it before I voted against it".
So 11 of the Senators voting for the Iraq war ultimately lost their seats to a member of the opposite party. That doesn't seem like the electorate was rewarding anyone who was "wrong on the war".

Beinart cites the primary loss of Howard Dean in 2004 as proof of his point. But while Dean surged briefly in the polls, he was only 1 of 10 candidates for the nomination and was always considered a long-shot. Famously pro-war Joe Lieberman was the original front runner and ended up in "a 3-way tie for 3rd place" before he dropped out of the race. Edwards and Kerry weren't helped much by their votes for the war, either.

And of course Barack Obama, a man who spoke publicly against the war at a time when it was considered political suicide, was a rare ray of sunshine for the Democratic party in 2004.

Did I mention that he's the one Beinart thinks has a problem?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chalk up another one for Al Gore

Polar Bear. Image originally uploaded by ironmanixs

You might remember that Al Gore was accused of alarmism, exaggeration, and even outright lying in his film "An Inconvenient Truth". Fox News and other right wing critics giddily published columns with titles like "Convenient Untruths" after a British judge decided there were 9 significant errors in the film.

The Washington Post's Fact Checker also focused on that decision on the day that it was announced that Gore had received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change.
[T]he judge described Gore's film as "broadly accurate" in its presentation of climate change. At the same time he also listed nine significant errors in the movie which, he said, reflected a general context of "alarmism and exaggeration" surrounding climate change.
These 9 significant errors rapidly dropped to 3 errors or omissions once the Fact Checker bothered to ask people who actually understood the science.
By the Gore camp's own admission, some scenes in the movie have been over-simplified. As Kreider points out, science does not transfer easily to the big screen. Scientists sympathetic to Gore have effectively conceded several errors or omissions in the movie:
Among the remaining errors Fact Checker listed was this:
Drowning polar bears. Gore cited a scientific study showing that polar bears had drowned by "swimming long distances--up to 60 miles--to find the ice." According to Andrew Derocher, chair of the polar bear group at the World Conservation Union, studies show that there is a good chance that the polar bears died by drowning but no definitive proof. Storms and hypothermia are other major concerns.
Well the science is rapidly coming down on Gore's side of the argument:
A census of polar bears in Canada’s Hudson Bay has lent some hard numbers to the long-held fear that retreating sea ice is causing some bears to starve or drown.

Now, looking at 20 years of data from bears captured along the coast of Hudson Bay, a team of scientists from the United States and Canada has found that fewer of the youngest and oldest bears survived in years when the ice broke early.

“Survivorship has dropped in the cubs, subadults and very old animals and is directly related to the date of break-up,” says Ian Stirling, a biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton, Alberta, and an author on the report.
The Fact Checker's last column on the debate ended with this line:
In their zeal to draw attention to the cause, even Nobel peace prize laureates can make mistakes or shade the truth a little. I award Al Gore one Pinocchio.
I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether the Fact Checker was being too zealous in its attempt to be "evenhanded" in the global warming debate.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Remember, this is what we're fighting for in Iraq.

President Bush yesterday offered his strongest support of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying the general "hasn't crossed the line" and "truly is somebody who believes in democracy."

Bush spoke nearly three weeks after Musharraf declared emergency rule, sacked members of the Supreme Court and began a roundup of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. Musharraf's government yesterday released about 3,000 political prisoners, although 2,000 remain in custody, according to the Interior Ministry.
Musharraf, you see, is a decider, and deciders decide in a democracy. Bush elaborated on this point during the interview:
we didn't necessarily agree with his decision, to impose emergency rule
He didn't necessarily disagree, either.

Let's face it, George Bush has supported Musharraf since he led a coup against the elected government of Pakistan 8 years ago. Musharraf has never been elected himself, and he is not a democrat.

He's had opposition leaders arrested, rivals exiled, had the country's constitution rewritten to his ends, censored the media, purged members of the Supreme Court for voting against him, placed them under house arrest, replaced them with his own lackeys and required those justices to sign an oath to military rule and to Musharraf himself. (All in the name of protecting the country against terrorists)

In other words, Musharraf is the president George Bush always dreamed he would be.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Don't forget to look up, occasionally

Composite color image of Comet Holmes (November 1, 2007) showing the concentric shells of dust surrounding the main body. A faint tail can be seen emanating at the bottom right. Image credit A. Dyer via ESA and NASA

The normally sedate Comet Holmes made a bright splash in the sky about two weeks ago, unexpectedly becoming a million times brighter than normal overnight and causing a stir among astronomers.

The comet and its expanding ball of dust have become the biggest object in the solar system, with a diameter appearing even bigger than the sun.
For the next few months, the comet will be in the constellation Perseus, near Cassiopeia. Check out these star maps if you're curious.

Anti-terror laws in Pakistan

Protesters in London demonstrating against Pakistan's "state of emergency". Image originally uploaded by Orhan

Not so great at catching actual terrorists, but very good for stifling dissent:
Another opposition figure contacted by Bhutto earlier in the week, cricket legend Imran Khan, was moved to Lahore's biggest prison early Thursday after being charged under anti-terror laws for protesting against emergency rule.

Musharraf said in a series of interviews that he would not consider quitting until the turmoil in the country was over, telling Sky News: "I am not a dictator, I want a democracy."
Anyone who thinks that we need to make a devil's bargain with Musharraf to avoid having the bomb fall into the hands of radicals should remember these points:
  • It was the Pakistani military, with the help of A.Q. Khan, that sold nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

  • It was the Pakistani military which backed the Taliban in Afghanistan before 9/11.

  • Musharraf signed a deal with the Taliban in September of 2006 that effectively gave them safe haven in Waziristan and has allowed them to relaunch attacks on Afghanistan. 2007 has been the most violent year in Afghanistan, since the 2001 invasion.
  • And while Musharraf has now disbanded his country's secular courts and turned his forces against protestors demanding a return to democracy, this is how the war against Pakistan's radical militants is going:
    [I]n the last several days, the militants have extended their reach, capturing more territory in Pakistan’s settled areas and chasing away frightened policemen, local government officials said.

    As inconspicuous as it might be in a nation of 160 million people, the takeover of the small Alpuri district headquarters this week was considered a particular embarrassment for General Musharraf. It showed how the militants could still thumb their noses at the Pakistani Army.

    In fact, local officials and Western diplomats said, there is little evidence that the 12-day-old emergency decree has increased the government’s leverage in fighting the militants, or that General Musharraf has used the decree to take any extraordinary steps to combat them.
    h/t John Cole

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Who cares about planted questions?

    "And I think this little flap in Iowa over did Hillary Clinton plant questions at her rallies, just is part of all that, who cares!" - Cokie Roberts on This Week
    Who cares? Well, you're supposed to Cokie.

    After 7 years of staged photo ops, invitation only town hall meetings, free-speech zones, columnists being paid to plant propaganda in their papers, not to mention the accusation that Washington's political journalists are nothing more than a pack of stenographers - well, you think you'd be a little sensitive to this sort of thing.

    The only thing that prevents every politician from pulling these stunts is the fear of embarrassment.

    Friday, November 9, 2007

    A 5th planet is found orbiting another star.

    The newest planet found orbiting 55 Cancri is a gas giant roughly half the size of Saturn (shown here in an image taken by the Cassini spacecraft). Image courtesy of NASA/JPL.

    According to lead author Debra Fischer, assistant professor of astronomy at San Francisco State University, the fifth planet is within the star's habitable zone in which water could exist as a liquid. Though the planet is a giant ball of gas, liquid water could exist on the surface of a moon or on other, rocky planets that may yet be found within the zone. "Right now, we are looking at a gap between the 260-day orbit of the new planet and the 14-year orbit of another gas giant, and if you had to bet, you'd bet that there is more orbiting stuff there."

    "We haven't found a twin of our solar system, because the four planets close to the star are all the size of Neptune or bigger," Marcy said, but he added that he's optimistic that continued observations will reveal a rocky planet within five years.

    It's only been about 15 years since the first extra-solar planet was discovered. Since then over 200 have been found orbiting other stars. 55 Cancri is the first star (other than our own) known to have more than 4 planets.

    La Niña forecasts continued drought in the Southern U.S.

    Image of the the tropical Pacific Ocean in mid-October. Blue indicates colder waters (called La Niña). Image courtesy of NASA/JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team.

    "After eight very dry years on the Colorado River watershed and a record-breaking dry winter in Southern California in 2006-2007, the situation in the American Southwest is dangerously dry," said oceanographer Bill Patzert of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This La Niña could deepen the drought in the already parched Southwest and Southeast United States."

    Thursday, November 8, 2007

    Barack Obama: America can’t engage in piecemeal diplomacy

    Q. The Bush administration has little influence on Iranian behavior in Iraq. How would you elicit cooperation from Iran and Syria that the Bush administration has failed to obtain? Would we offer assurances that we would not be engaged in a policy of regime change. What would you do?

    A. You’ve got the Bush administration expecting Crocker to make progress on the very narrow issue of helping Shia militias at the same time as you’ve got Dick Cheney giving a speech saying it is very likely that we may engage in military action in Iran and the United States Senate passing a resolution, suggesting that our force structure inside Iraq is dependent in someway on blunting Iranian influence. You can’t engage in diplomacy in isolation. There’s got to be a broader strategic context to it.

    The Iranians and the Syrians are acting irresponsibly inside Iraq. They perceive that it is a way to leverage or impact or weaken us at a time when they’re worried about United States action in a broader context. I’ve already said, I would meet directly with Iranian leaders. I would meet directly with Syrian leaders. We would engage in a level of aggressive personal diplomacy in which a whole host of issues are on the table. We’re not looking at Iraq, just in isolation. Iran and Syria would start changing their behavior if they started seeing that they had some incentives to do so, but right now the only incentive that exists is our president suggesting that if you do what we tell you, we may not blow you up.

    My belief about the regional powers in the Middle East is that they don’t respond well to that kind of bluster. They haven’t in the past, there’s no reason to think they will in the future. On the other hand, what we know, is that, for example, in the early days of our Afghanistan offensive, the Iranians we’re willing to cooperate when we had more open lines of dialogue and we were able to identify interests that were compatible with theirs.”

    Barack Obama would withdraw from Iraq over 16 months

    Q. Following that up, what is your schedule for withdrawing forces from Iraq? How fast would these withdrawals be carried out? What time frame?

    A. [W]e believe that you can get one to two brigades out a month. At that pace, the forces would be out in approximately 16 months from the time that we began. That would be the time frame that I would be setting up. That also gives us time to make sure that we are strengthening the Iraqi forces. Obviously, I would prefer that we start this process now, but let’s assume that there are 100,000 troops when I get there, that means that we’re talking 14 to 15 months from now.

    During that 16 months, I’m engaging in very systematic, tough diplomacy, not just with the various factions in the region, but also with Iran, with Syria, the Saudis, Jordan, with the United Nationals Security Council program members. Once it’s clear that we are not intending to stay there for 10 years or 20 years, all these parties have an interest in figuring out how do we adjust in a way that stabilizes the situation. They’re all going to have a series of complex differences and we’re going to, obviously, have to monitor it carefully about what those interests are to make sure our interests are protected. But what I don’t want to do is to make our withdrawal contingent on the Iraqi government doing the right thing because that empowers them to make strategic decisions that should be made by the president of the United States.”

    Monday, November 5, 2007

    George Bush has always supported the dictator of Pakistan

    A lot of people are astonished that the man who overthrew the Pakistani government in a coup 8 years ago might not actually believe in democracy.
    US scolds Musharraf but smothers talk of aid cuts

    US President George W Bush today urged Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf to lift a state of emergency, quit as army chief, and hold elections soon - but left unclear whether US aid hung in the balance.

    Asked what he would do if Musharraf spurns such advice, Bush replied: "All we can do is continue to work with the president, as well as others in the Pak government, to make it abundantly clear the position of the United States."
    Now why would anyone think George Bush was going to suspend aid?

    Here were his views in 1999, a year before George Bush was elected, 2 years before 9/11 changed everything and 3 weeks after Pervaiz Musharraf overthrew the elected government.
    "Can you name the general who is in charge of Pakistan?" Hiller asked, inquiring about Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, who seized control of the country October 12.

    Bush, in answering the question about the leader of Pakistan, also said: "The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected -- not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the subcontinent."
    Musharraf is a military dictator. Let's not act surprised when he acts like one.

    Live Free or Die

    Ron Paul's 4th quarter donor map. (States with the highest per capita donors are green) Image originally from Ron Paul Graphs.
    On Monday, a group of Paul supporters helped raised more than $3.68 million in one day — more than half of what the campaign raised in the entire last quarter
    Is it just me or does this map say a lot about the state of the Republican party today? Ron Paul's strongest support comes from the more independence minded Western states (plus New Hampshire) whose voters traditionally want the federal government to keep out of their business.

    He does most poorly in the Bible belt.

    It's undoubtedly a reflection of the fact that he's the only Republican running who can honestly claim to believe in small government and individual rights. Republicans have campaigned on libertarian ideas of personal freedom for decades, but the party that attempted to abolish habeas corpus, began covertly spying on the phone calls and daily lives of American citizens and declared that the president has extra legal powers during wartime has lost all claim to the libertarian vote.

    Rudy Giuliani strives to be as corrupt as Bernie Kerik

    Seriously, why is Ron Paul supposed to be the crazy one in the Republican field?

    Mr. Giuliani said that he had erred in not thoroughly vetting Mr. Kerik, who is now under a federal investigation for accepting free renovations while he was working for Mr. Giuliani from a construction firm suspected of having links to organized crime. But Mr. Giuliani said that Mr. Kerik’s wrongdoing did not diminish what he had accomplished for the city.

    “Sure, there were issues,” Mr. Giuliani added, “but if I have the same degree of success and failure as president of the United States, this country will be in great shape.”

    Mr. Kerik is now facing a possible indictment on a range of federal felony charges, including perhaps tax evasion and bribery, stemming in part from his acceptance of $165,000 in renovations to his Bronx apartment paid for by the construction firm, Interstate Industrial. In June 2006, Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty in the Bronx to state misdemeanor charges relating to the same renovations.
    Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik image originally uploaded by fecke

    Sunday, November 4, 2007

    Do you really want to go there Rudy?

    Rudy Giuliani, explaining why it's important to allow the police to bend the rules a bit:
    MR. GIULIANI: Now, intensive questioning works. If I didn't use intensive questioning, there would be a lot of mafia guys running around New York right now and crime would be a lot higher in New York than it is. Intensive questioning has to be used. Torture should not be used. The line between the two is a difficult one.
    First let's quit with the cute euphemisms for torture where simulated drowning becomes waterboarding becomes enhanced interrogation becomes intensive questioning.

    Now what could he possibly be referring to? This?
    Officers in Bronx Fire 41 Shots, And an Unarmed Man Is Killed

    Four New York City police officers fire 41 shots at unarmed West African immigrant with no criminal record, killing him in doorway of his Bronx apartment building; it is unclear why police officers opened fire on man, Amadou Diallo, 22, who worked as street peddler in Manhattan;
    Or this?
    Mayor Asserts That Grand Jury Blamed Shooting Death on Victim

    New York City Mayor Rudolph W Giuliani asserts to largely black audience in Crown Heights section of Brooklyn that grand jury had found that Patrick M Dorismond, the unarmed black man shot dead last March by the police, was responsible for his own death because of 'violent way he acted outside Manhattan bar'
    Or this?
    Giuliani Sneers, and Even Friends Bridle

    Analysis of Mayor Rudolph W Giuliani's sarcastic response to final report of task force he created to examine relations between New York City's residents and Police Dept following beating and torture of Abner Louima in Brooklyn police station house; says Giuliani's dismissive attitude leaves open question of whether he ever intended to take panel's findings seriously, once he was re-elected; says even his supporters on panel could not mask their disappointment
    Or this?
    Police May Have Understated Street Searches, Spitzer Says

    New York State Atty Gen Eliot L Spitzer says elite police unit that includes four officers who shot Amadou Diallo may have vastly underreported number of people it has stopped and searched on streets in last two years; Spitzer, whose office is investigating whether stop-and-frisk practices of Street Crime Unit have violated civil rights of minorities, says unit may have searched hundreds of thousands of people without finding any basis for arresting them
    I'd have to guess this:
    Giuliani Dismisses Police Proposals by His Task Force

    Mayor Rudolph W Giuliani caustically dismisses most of recommendations of task force he appointed last summer to examine relations between New York City's residents and its Police Dept; says panel failed to recognize department's recent success in reducing crime; Giuliani makes no mention of impetus behind task force--beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in Brooklyn precinct station house; nor does he discuss any of panel's primary recommendations

    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Animation of the disappearing North Pole (2007)

    The animation shows changing sea ice extent and concentration from 12 March to 24 September 2007. Credit U.S. National Ice Center (NIC) via the ESA

    At the north pole, the area covered by ice reaches it's maximum in March. The minimum occurs in September. As the figure below shows, both the winter maximum and summer minimum have been dropping over the last 3 decades. In 2006 the maximum ice extent was the lowest on record. This year's summer melting was dramatic even when taking account of the long term trend.

    Time series of the difference in ice extent in March (the month of ice-extent maximum) and September (the month of ice-extent minimum) from the mean values for the time period 1979-2007. Based on a least squares linear regression, the rate of decrease for the March and September ice extents was 2.8% per decade and 11.3% per decade, respectively. (image courtesy of NOAA)

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    Please stop helping

    The bad idea that just refuses to die continues to gain support among the Washington elite, most recently in an article by ambassador Peter Galbraith, applauding Joe Biden's plan to divide Iraq into 3 parts.
    In a surge of realism, the Senate has voted 75-23 to acknowledge that Iraq has broken up and cannot be put back together. The measure, co-sponsored by Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, supports a plan for Iraq to become a loose confederation of three regions -- a Kurdish area in the north, a Shiite region in the south and a Sunni enclave in the center -- with the national government in Baghdad having few powers other than to manage the equitable distribution of oil revenues.
    This is all a very nice attempt to fix Iraq, presented by many of the same people who got us into this mess in the first place. All despite the stated desires of a majority of Iraqis to keep the country united, not to mention our own claim to have handed over sovereignty more than 3 years ago.

    Having originally ignored the warnings that a preemptive war might descend into chaos, our Senators now feel quite proud that they've learned the difference between the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds. Surely, the best solution is to separate each party and let them control their respective regions.

    That is until you take a closer look at the map above and realize that the parties aren't as easy to separate as you might have hoped. The areas where the groups are mixed have names like Mosul, Arbil, Kirkuk, Sulayminiyah, Samara, Ramadi, and of course Baghdad. In other words, the places most of the people actually live.

    Galbraith assures us that Iraq is unlikely to follow the Bosnian descent into ethnic cleansing and shrugs off the idea that the Turks might actually be serious about invading. But if you don't think the militias will do battle to seize control of the major cities then you haven't been paying attention.

    Russ Feingold joined 22 Republicans opposing Biden's measure.
    Barack Obama and John McCain were the only Senators not voting

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    Red State, Blue State? Its a rich thing.

    There's been a bit of discussion about these maps showing how the 2004 presidential election vote would have been decided if only the poorest or wealthiest voters in each state had been counted.

    But really, all the information is in these plots from the same study.

    There is no red-blue divide among the poorest voters and little among middle class. It's a rich thing.

    The wealthiest voters in the poorest states are hard-core Republicans, and there's a nearly linear correlation between the wealth of a state and the party affiliation of the wealthiest voters in that state. So for all the pundits and campaign managers trying to figure out the difference between salt-of-the-earth midwestern farmers and godless city-slickers, you're wasting your time with the wrong demographic.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    California wildfires from orbit

    Fires in Southern California, October 23, 2007. Image courtesy of NASA.
    As of October 23, fires from the Mexican border to north of Los Angeles had burned more than 1,300 homes and forced more than half a million people from their homes, reported CNN. Windy weather pushed the flames through brush and grass dried from drought.

    Putin isn't buying the Iranian threat

    I suppose there's some logical consistency in insisting on building a defense that doesn't work to counter a threat that doesn't exist.
    The proposed construction of a missile interceptor site in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, ostensibly to target incoming Iranian ballistic missiles, has enraged Moscow, which believes the system could undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent.

    The issue has contributed to the deepest chill in US-Russian relations since the cold war
    Putin isn't buying the Iranian threat, and why would he? Iran has neither nuclear weapons, nor the missiles to deliver them:

    A July report by the Congressional Research Service said that, as of mid-2007, "Iran has only flight-tested one medium-range missile, the single-stage Shahab-3, having a range of 1,300-2,000 kilometers," or about 1,200 miles. CRS also noted that many experts disagree with the U.S. assessment of Iran's capabilities.

    "The international security policy and ballistic missile proliferation community argue that evidence of an Iranian ICBM program is scant and unconvincing," the CRS reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also expressed skepticism, and the Iranians said they dropped development of an ICBM, the CRS reported.

    You might have thought they'd have done that a while ago

    Iraq ordered the closure yesterday of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) offices in the country as pressure mounted on the Government of Nouri al-Maliki to clamp down on the hardline Kurdish separatists.

    “The PKK is a terrorist organisation and we have taken a decision to shut down their offices and not allow them to operate on Iraqi soil,” Mr al-Maliki said after talks with Ali Babacan, the Turkish Foreign Minister.

    Sunday, October 21, 2007

    Romney continues to dominate wherever votes are for sale

    One dollar bill: image uploaded by Sami Keinänen

    Following his victories in the non-scientific straw polls in Iowa and Illinois, Mitt Romney again proves that, when money is the object, he can squeak out a victory. In those events, the key was his campaign's ability to bus in supporters. In this one, the price was $1 and access to the internet:

    Based on the smattering of applause that Mr. Romney got when his name was announced as the top vote getter, with 1,595 votes or 27.6 percent, it is safe to say that many in the hall were surprised that he won, surpassing Mr. Huckabee by 30 votes. The fact that Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas, finished third with 865 votes, or 15 percent, deepened the confusion. Fred D. Thompson finished fourth with 564 votes, or 9.8 percent.

    Things shake up differently when looking at only the votes that were made by those on-site. Of 952 votes cast on-site, Mr. Huckabee received 488, or 51 percent, a virtual runaway in such a crowded field. Mr. Romney had only 99 votes, or 10.4 percent;

    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    Pot attacks Kettle during "Values" summit

    This attack might work for Huckabee or even Tancredo. But Giuliani?
    Highlighting the significance of the gathering in potentially reshaping the Republican race, the one major candidate who did not speak on Friday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, made sure he was heard. In an e-mail message to reporters, his campaign went after Mr. Romney for what it called “identical stances” Mr. Romney shared in the past with Mayor Rudy Giuliani... Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, including defense of abortion rights and criticism of the National Rifle Association.

    Friday, October 19, 2007


    Scott Lemieux at Tapped makes a common error while calling for the Senate to reject Michael Mukasey's nomination for Attorney General:

    It's true that the Senate vote is virtually all about symbolism at this point -- someone has to serve in the office, and nobody Bush appoints is going to be good -- but in this case the symbolism matters.

    Confirming a nominee is about much more than just filling an open position. Confirmation implies legitimacy. This reverberates throughout the entire Justice department. The lawyers he hires, the interpretation of the law he pursues even the cases he prosecutes are affected by his standing with the people.

    There's nothing symbolic about demanding that a nominee believe in the rule of law and emphatically renounce torture. Alberto Gonzales would never have been confirmed in the first place if the Senate had demanded those simple standards. Instead, 6 Democrats voted along with 54 Republicans to give him a Congressional seal of approval.

    Gonzales was able to run roughshod over Justice because he was confirmed by a Senate that knew he condoned torture and believed in a unitary executive. He was forced out when he lost the faith of those same Senators

    A recess appointee would never have had the clout to act so egregiously.

    Precedents matter in this country. Regardless of whether George Bush ever nominates a qualified AG, future presidents should be on notice that they can't simply nominate anybody to the highest offices in government.

    Chris Dodd draws a line in the sand

    image courtesy of the National Archives

    Amendment IV

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    (Below are Chrid Dodd's statements against granting immunity to telecom companies who abetted George Bush's warrentless surveillance of U.S. citizens in violation of the FISA law)
    By granting immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the President’s terrorist surveillance program, even though such participation may have been illegal, the FISA reform bill sets a dangerous precedent by giving the President sweeping authorization to neglect the right to privacy that Americans are entitled to under the Constitution.

    The President has no right to secretly eavesdrop on the conversations and activities of law abiding American citizens and anyone who has aided and abetted him in these illegal activities should be held accountable,” said Dodd. “It is unconscionable that such a basic right has been violated, and that the President is the perpetrator. I will do everything in my power to stop Congress from shielding this President’s agenda of secrecy, deception, and blatant unlawfulness.”

    "While the President may think that it's right to offer immunity to those who break the law and violate the right to privacy of thousands of law-abiding Americans, I want to assure him it is not a value we have in common and I hope the same can be said of my fellow Democrats in the Senate.

    "For too long we have failed to respect the rule of law and failed to protect our fundamental civil liberties. I will do what I can to see to it that no telecommunications giant that was complicit in this Administration's assault on the Constitution is given a get-out-of-jail-free card."

    Update: Washington Post reporter, Rita Skeeter, worries that Dodd will lose precious campaign time by doing his job:
    Whenever that big day comes, Dodd -- as the keeper of the "hold" -- must return from the campaign trail to officially block debate on the bill. That entails standing around on the Senate floor, forcing procedural votes, avoiding the furious glares of colleagues who don't share the same concerns. The standard duration of such showdowns is about a week -- time that Dodd, who is trailing badly in early primary polls, can scarcely afford.

    Uvs Nuur Basin, Mongolia. Image courtesy of NASA.
    Far from a moderating ocean, the Uvs Nuur Basin has an extreme climate with temperatures that swing from a low of -58 degrees Celsius (-72 Fahrenheit) during the winter up to 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the summer. Containing a number of ecosystems in its fresh and salt water lakes, deserts, mountains, grasslands, and forests, the basin provides an important habitat for a variety of animals ranging from the endangered snow leopard to the white-tailed sea eagle. Because of its diversity and the relatively low amount of human impact on the area, the basin is a United Nations World Heritage Site.

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Hillary Clinton on the "forgotten front"

    The forgotten frontline in the war on terror is Afghanistan, where our military effort must be reinforced. The Taliban cannot be allowed to regain power in Afghanistan; if they return, al Qaeda will return with them. Yet current U.S. policies have actually weakened President Hamid Karzai's government and allowed the Taliban to retake many areas, especially in the south. A largely unimpeded heroin trade finances the very Taliban fighters and al Qaeda terrorists who are attacking our troops. In addition to engaging in counternarcotics efforts, we must seek to dry up recruiting opportunities for the Taliban by funding crop-substitution programs, a large-scale road-building initiative, institutions that train and prepare Afghans for honest and effective governance, and programs to enable women to play a larger role in society.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Turkey is on the verge of invading Iraq

    In an apparent attempt to get the U.S. to act against Kurdish separatists using northern Iraq as a safe haven, Prime Minister Erdogan is requesting authorization from his parliament to invade.
    Erdogan suggested Turkey may not take immediate action but may rather wait to see if the US and the Iraqis crack down on the PKK bases in northern Iraq. "If you're against it, make your attitude clear and do whatever is necessary," the prime minister said. "If you cannot do it, then let us do it."

    Pressure has mounted on Erdogan this week after 15 soldiers were killed over the weekend in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. The bloodshed continued on Wednesday -- one policeman was killed and several people were injured when a bomb was thrown into a tailor's shop in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's southeast.
    There's little doubt that if the Americans don't act, Turkey will send it's army across the border. This would unfortunately spoil the president's attempt to portray the Kurdish north as an Iraqi success story. It's not obvious which side the Americans would end up fighting for, but considering his own saber rattling against states giving aid and shelter to terrorists, you might think he'd have acted on this years ago.

    The PKK is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

    Monday, October 8, 2007

    It's the war, stupid!

    A lot of virtual ink is being wasted interpreting this image from Professor Pollkatz's site, purporting to show a correlation between the price of gasoline and President Bush's poll numbers. This despite the best efforts of others to debunk the claim.

    At first glance it looks pretty impressive with both time series showing a sharp jump after 9/11 followed by a fairly long decline. Chris Bowers goes so far as to conclude that rising gas prices helped helped Democrats win power in 2006 and warns that the longterm trend spells doom for future presidents.
    Ending the war will help, and providing millions of people with health care will help, too. However, gas prices will still remain high, making approval ratings in the 40s and 50s about the best anyone can do even under the most favorable conditions until at least 2020.

    In two words this is complete nonsense.

    If you look at the Bush's popularity figures it's dominated by 3 events - 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and the capture of Saddam. After each event he saw an immediate jump in approval followed by a nearly linear drop back to the norm. I don't think anyone can seriously argue the price of gas dominated his poll ratings during that time.

    The fact that neither the sharpest drop in gas prices (in the weeks after 9/11), nor the sharpest increase a few months later had any obvious impact on George Bush's poll numbers is a pretty good clue that the gas theory is full of hot air.

    That brings us to about January of 2004. So cover up the left half of pollkatz's chart. Still see a trend?

    Want to know what has an even better correlation with George Bush's approval ratings than the price of gas? It's exactly what people keep telling you it is:

    Pollkatz's Bush approval index in red. Polling Report's "Do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting?" in blue.

    Sunday, October 7, 2007

    Not so arbitrary timelines

    What would prompt our leaders to pull troops from the frontlines of the war for civilization? Apparently the prospect of having to pay them benefits under the GI Bill:
    Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.

    Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school.
    Anyone suggesting this was done deliberately is due for a nasty letter from our esteemed Senate.

    h/t John Cole

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007

    Why is the cost of the Iraq war rising year after year?

    Because politicians pretend that wars are free.

    “Just as I have opposed the war from the outset, I am opposed to a draft and I am opposed to a war surtax,” Pelosi said in a statement issued this afternoon.

    Funny thing, though, you've actually been sending war budgets up for a vote.

    To date we've spent nearly half a trillion dollars on the Iraq war alone. The dirty little secret is that we haven't actually paid for it yet. Those bills are going to come due whether you call it a war surtax or not.

    Democrats had the opportunity to make the president decide between his two favorite causes: the Iraq war and "tax cuts so help me God". Instead we get Congresswoman Pelosi declaring that she doesn't believe in a war tax and Bush gets his funding without any obligation to actually pay for it.

    So then annual war spending jumps from $50 billion to $75 billion to $85 billion to $100 billion to $130 billion to $160 billion, because everyone pretends the money isn't real.

    As long as Congress keeps rubber stamping George Bush's war requests, they at least need to find a way to pay for it.

    h/t John Cole

    Sunday, September 30, 2007

    Increased melting of the Antarctic Ice Cap

    Melting at the South Pole. Image courtesy of NASA

    Just as the North Pole has had record ice loss in recent years, the South Pole is also showing the evidence of rising global temperatures:

    The top map shows how the area affected by persistent melting has expanded since 1987. The colors represent the first year in which satellites observed persistent melting. Light green shows areas where melting was observed from the beginning, while blue shows areas where melting occurred for the first time more recently.

    The bottom map shows the number of days on which melting occurred in 2005, a year of particularly dramatic melting. Snow melted as far inland as 500 miles and at altitudes of 1.2 miles above sea level.

    $9.11, $9.11, $9.11

    Just a slightly updated version of Rudy's original campaign theme.

    Republicans and taxes

    "got a ticket" image uploaded to by isado

    Chris Wallace actually made a good point with a question to Mitt Romney in the Fox news debate.

    MR. WALLACE: Governor Romney, you have taken the pledge [not to raise tax rates]. You like to say that you don’t just talk about budgets, but in fact you actually had to operate one as governor of Massachusetts. But according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in your first year as governor you raised fees and fines by half a billion dollars, including fees paid by the blind, by gun owners, by those seeking training against domestic violence and even by used car shoppers. In fact, the Associated Press says you earned a nickname back then in Massachusetts, it was FeFe. (Laughter.)

    How do you respond, sir?

    MR. ROMNEY: Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard that, Chris, but it’s pretty good. As a matter of fact, a little exaggeration. The total fees raised were $260 million, and that’s a big number. We had a $3 billion budget gap. The Democrats -- you probably know that Massachusetts is a bit of a Democratic state -- the Democrats wanted to raise taxes, I said no way. And in fact, we did not raise taxes on our citizens, and we lowered them across the state time and again.
    When politicians sign the "no new taxes" oath, you need to pay attention to the fine print. Fines, penalties, tolls and fees: these are the ways they prefer to fund the government.

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    97 Senators vote to censure criticism of the military

    in two amendments, one sponsored by Democrat Barbara Boxer, the other by Republican John Cornyn.

    Russ Feingold was the only Senator voting against both amendments.

    46 Republicans thought it was perfectly acceptable to attack veterans like Max Cleland and John Kerry, but outrageous to attack the credibility of General Petraeus.

    22 Democrats and Independent Joe Lieberman felt it was reprehensible to ever criticize members of the military.

    Joe Biden and Maria Cantwell didn't vote on either measure.

    (For comparison, only 5 Senators were willing to go on the record censuring the President for violating the law by spying on Americans without a warrant.)

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    What did I do with all those Canadian quarters anyway?

    The price of a U.S. dollar in Canadian dollars.

    Holy frack! Now the Canadians are going to start making fun of our money.
    The Canadian dollar rose as high as $1.0008, before retreating to 99.87 U.S. cents at 4:16 p.m. in New York. It has soared 62 percent from a record low of 61.76 U.S. cents in 2002. The U.S. dollar fell as low as 99.93 Canadian cents today. The Canadian currency last closed above $1 on Nov. 25, 1976, when Pierre Trudeau was Canada's prime minister.
    When George Bush became president the U.S. dollar was worth about $1.50 Canadian.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    Northwest passage open. Northeast passage nearly open

    Satellite mosaic of the polar ice cap during September 2007. Image courtesy ESA

    The most direct route of the Northwest Passage (highlighted in the top mosaic by an orange line) across northern Canada is shown fully navigable, while the Northeast Passage (blue line) along the Siberian coast remains only partially blocked. To date, the Northwest Passage has been predicted to remain closed even during reduced ice cover by multi-year ice pack – sea ice that survives one or more summers. However, according to Pedersen, this year’s extreme event has shown the passage may well open sooner than expected.

    The call of the moderate Republican

    I endorsed it,” Mr. Warner said of the Webb proposal. “I intend now to cast a vote against it.

    Webb's amendment would have required the military to grant soldiers as much time at home as they spent overseas. The vote to end debate garnered 56 votes in the Senate. A majority, but short of the 60 needed to overcome Mitch McConnell's filibuster.

    40 Republicans and Independent Joe Lieberman voted against cloture.

    Republicans Norm Coleman, Susan Collins, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, Olympia Snowe, and John Sununu broke with their party.

    Let's hope John Warner finds his lost self-respect in retirement.

    How about just giving Iraq an effective legal system?

    Another reason to oppose arbitrary, indefinite detention of suspects without trial:

    The effort to reshape attitudes among the growing detainee population is aimed at addressing a problem that has vexed U.S. troops in Iraq for the past four years: Military detention facilities have served as breeding grounds for extremist views, transforming some prisoners into hard-core insurgents, according to military analysts.
    We want the guilty in jail, and the innocent out. Consider that while we debate the restoration of habeas corpus to our legal system.

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Russ Feingold calls for an end to the military mission in Iraq

    Senator Feingold plans to use the Defense authorization bill to end the Iraq war:
    “Last night, we heard the President tell the nation that he intends to keep a large number of U.S. troops bogged down in Iraq indefinitely, while Al Qaeda continues to strengthen and regenerate in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Feingold said. “While many Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged the President’s strategy is the wrong approach, Congress has so far failed to take strong action to end it. Congress must use its power to end this misguided policy – a policy which has stretched our military to the breaking point, hobbled our ability to go after those who attacked us on 9/11, and endangered our national security.”

    Time for Congress to end this

    John Edwards:

    "Has there been serious progress to a political solution?"

    "The answer to that is no," he said in answering his own question.

    Edwards said, as he's done in the past, that Congress should pass the next Iraq spending bill only with a timetable for withdrawal attached. And if Bush should veto that legislation, Congress should keep re-submitting the same bill. "It is time for the Congress to end this," he said. "It's time for the Congress to stand its ground."

    Chris Dodd:

    "Rather than picking up votes, by removing the deadline to get our troops out of Iraq you have lost this Democrat's vote.

    "Despite the fact that this has been the bloodiest summer of the war and report after report says that there has been little to no political progress, the White House continues to argue that their strategy is working.

    "It is clear that half measures are not going to stop this President or end this war.

    "I cannot and will not support any measure that does not have a firm and enforceable deadline to complete the redeployment of combat troops from Iraq. Only then will Congress be able to send a clear message to the President that we are changing course in Iraq, and a message to the Iraqis that they need to get their political house in order.

    Barack Obama:

    "There is an eerie echo to the President's words today. Five years ago, he made a misleading case to the American people that the trail to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden somehow led through Iraq, and too many in Washington followed without asking the hard questions that should have been raised. Now we are dealing with the consequences of that failure of candor and judgment, and the President is using the politics of fear to continue a wrong-headed policy. It's time to turn the page on the failed Bush-Cheney strategy and conventional Washington thinking, remove our combat troops from Iraq, mount a long overdue surge of diplomacy, and focus our attention on a resurgent al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

    Sunday, September 16, 2007

    Irrational behavior and the Iraq war

    For those of you wondering why Congress and the President can't end the disaster that is the Iraq war; I think the best explanation is right here:
    The problem surfaces when the bidders get up close to a dollar. After 99 cents the last vestige of profitability disappears, but the bidding continues between the two highest players. They now realize that they stand to lose no matter what, but that they can still buffer their losses by winning the dollar. They just have to outlast the other player. Following this strategy, the two hapless students usually run the bid up several dollars, turning the apparent shot at easy money into a ghastly battle of spiraling disaster.

    Theoretically, there is no stable outcome once the dynamic gets going. The only clear limit is the exhaustion of one of the player's total funds. In the classroom, the auction generally ends with the grudging decision of one player to "irrationally" accept the larger loss and get out of the terrible spiral. Economists call the dollar auction pattern an irrational escalation of commitment. We might also call it the war in Iraq.
    This is why war supporters always complain about their critics "looking backwards". It doesn't matter that the Iraq war has become more expensive than it was ever worth. All that matters is that we might end up in a situation that's slightly better than the one we are in today.
    h/t Andrew Sullivan

    Mitt Romney attacks his home state

    There's an old saying that goes, "you dance with the one who brung ya". Mitt Romney doesn't subscribe to that creed. He routinely ridicules the people who elected him Governor, and talks about his 4 years in office as though he had staged a one-man battle against the forces of darkness.
    "Coming from Massachusetts, I saw first hand the liberal future, and it doesn't work. That's why I ran against Ted Kennedy. Liberal social programs weren't solving poverty; they were in fact creating a culture of poverty. I didn't win, but at least Teddy had to take out a mortgage on his home to beat me.

    "Massachusetts became center stage for the liberal social agenda - sort of San Francisco east, Nancy Pelosi style.

    "Ten months into my term, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said our Constitution requires gay marriage. John Adams, who wrote it, would be surprised.
    Massachusetts, for the record, has one of the lowest rates of poverty in the nation (and has for decades).

    It also has the lowest divorce rate, not that that has anything to do with gay marriage.

    And how did Romney attempt to stop the liberal hordes from destroying his state? Did he marshal bills through the State House? Did he rally like-minded citizens against the extremists? Did he use his phenomenal leadership skills to turn the tide in his favor?

    "I vetoed bills, and filed new bills. I enforced a law that banned out-of-state same sex couples from coming to Massachusetts to get married. I went to the court again and again, I testified before Congress for the federal marriage amendment, and I championed our successful drive that collected 170,000 signatures for a citizen ballot initiative to protect marriage.
    Sadly for Romney, most of his vetos were overriden, he failed in his appeals to the courts and he was ultimately replaced by a pro gay-marriage, liberal Democrat.