Tuesday, February 24, 2009

State of the Union - The Musical!
"Chicago" Edition

Welcome to the 3rd Annual DWSUWF coverage of the Presidential Address to Congress aka State of the Union - The Musical!

In 2007, as a blogging infant, DWSUWF despaired at finding a unique or interesting angle to add to the SOTU commentary when so many other bloggers would be walking the same ground. The answer came from Bob Woodward. I asked Bob (and yes I do feel we are on a first name basis), in an on-line Washington Post forum, whether the SOTU had any real relevance. He responded by saying it was "mostly theater." Genius. That was the answer. What better way to frame the SOTU, media and blog reactions than within the lyrics of a Broadway show tune?

In 2007 it was "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In 2008 it was the 1966 hit "Georgy Girl Boy". Tonight there is only one possible choice - "Razzle Dazzle" from the musical Chicago.

The game is to find blog posts and news stories that can vaguely be referenced by the lines of the song and link them to the lyrics. I'll post the lyrics now, and then update with links to live-bloggers, references, analysis and reviews before, during and after the speech. Ok, I am easily amused. It'll be over when I get tired of it or too drunk to type.

I'll kick this off pre-speech by linking the dialog leading into the number.

As always, DWSUWF welcomes any and all suggested links, for any and all lines anywhere in the lyric, from all who accidentally stumble across this post, at any time.

If you want to sing along, this should help you hold a tune.

Music up... Raise the Curtain...

Razzle Dazzle
from Chicago - The Musical

It's all a circus, kid. A three ring circus.
These trials- the whole world- all show business.
But kid, you're working with a star, the biggest!

Give 'em the old razzle dazzle

Razzle Dazzle 'em
Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give 'em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather 'em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?

What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you're just disgusting?
Razzle dazzle 'em
And they'll never catch wise!

Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle
Razzle dazzle 'em
Give 'em a show that's so splendiferous
Row after row will crow vociferous
Give 'em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture 'em

How can they hear the truth above the roar?
Throw 'em a fake and a finagle
They'll never know you're just a bagel,
Razzle dazzle 'em
And they'll beg you for more!

Give 'em the old double whammy
Daze and dizzy 'em
Back since the days of old Methuselah
Everyone loves the big bambooz-a-ler

Give 'em the old three ring circus
Stun and stagger 'em
When you're in trouble, go into your dance

Though you are stiffer than a girder
They'll let you get away with murder
Razzle dazzle 'em
And you've got a romance
Give 'em the old
Razzle Dazzle

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wild salmon or subsidized cotton and rice?
Choose wisely.

Our Northern California February rain will continue for at least another week, the state government finally passed a budget, and the winter steelhead and salmon runs are underway. The common thread to these stories, is the future of the salmon fishery in California hangs in the balance.

DWSUWF has posted stories before about the plight of our state salmonids. Last year, the California salmon fishery was closed for the first time in history, a "canary in the coal mine" indicator if there ever was one. In the fall, a comprehensive California Trout sponsored study documented as many as 20 species of California trout, steelhead, and salmon with a poor prognosis for survival. Time for an update.

Last week the Chronicle reported more bad news:
"A record-low number of chinook salmon returned to rivers in California's Central Valley last year, indicating that severe restrictions on salmon fishing are likely again this year, federal regulators said.The Pacific Fishery Management Council reported this week that 66,264 natural and hatchery chinook or "king" salmon adults were estimated to have returned to the Sacramento River basin in 2008 to spawn, the lowest estimate on record."
Chron Outdoors writer Tom Steinstra nets it out:
"The story this past week that reported the lowest number of salmon in history to swim from the ocean, through the bay and to the Sacramento River has several shocking sub plots. It's now likely that all salmon fishing will be shut down again this year off the Bay Area coast. Killer whales, or orcas, could face a population crash because their primary diet is salmon and they could have difficulty finding other food. Now get this, from the fine print inside a report by the National Marine Fisheries Service: Of the salmon that spawn or are released from hatcheries in the Sacramento River downstream of Redding, only 20 percent make it to the Delta because of water projects. Of that 20 percent that make it to the Delta, 60 percent die because of more water projects. So for the juvenile salmon that start their journey in Northern California, only 8 percent make it to the Bay to head out to the ocean. The best suggestion is tell L.A. and other water grabbers to shut off their California Aqueduct faucet and build several desalination plants."
The Sacramento Bee expands on the political significance of the Orca angle:
"Rea's agency is assessing the effect of California water operations on four protected species: winter- and spring-run salmon, Central Valley steelhead and green sturgeon. A key focus of the report is to minimize threats to these species caused by water diversions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub for 60 percent of California's freshwater supplies.Several observers said the link between salmon and the charismatic orca is certain to elevate California's water conflicts in the public mind. Though last year was historically bad for California fish and water supplies, restoration of the state's Delta and rivers has yet to grab the public's imagination like environmental problems in Florida's Everglades or the Brazilian rain forest. Much of the debate over the Delta has focused on the tiny Delta smelt, a threatened species few people have seen.The orca could change the game."
There is a clear political appetite to distribute the blame for the collapse of the Salmon fishery across a variety of potential causes, including global warming, increased predation from non-native species, changing ocean currents, diseases spread from farmed salmon, municipal pollution in the Delta, or whatever. It is all bullshit. There is exactly one primary reason for the spectacular nosedive of the salmon population over the last few years (as well as the delta smelt and striped bass). The immediate cause of the Sacramento salmon run collapse is water diversion out of the Delta from Northern California to Southern California and agricultural interests. Over a longer term, we can point to decades of water mismanagement by the state and federal government.

Blogger Pundita gets it right:
"After decades of California's inadequate water policies and studiously short-sighted hydropolitics (the politics of water and water resources) the only hope left this year is ample rain and snow. If the miracle doesn't materialize in a year expected to be dry, there's just simply not enough water to meet projected demands... I do not want to hear that California's water crisis is the result of global warming. It's the result of human nature compounded by stupidity. And three guesses who'll have to pick up the tab for rescuing Californians from that much stupidity."
Pundita also cross-posted an excellent analysis by Procrustes blogging at RBO with a detailed overview of the continuing California water wars and the political ground being staked out on every side:
"Bottom line? In addition to current drought conditions, decrepit infrastructure, invasive species, and the water quality itself at risk, that is? Reduced water deliveries and negative “economic impact” to the SWP and U.S.-operated CVP. M-O-N-E-Y."
Procrustes references a 2005 SF Chronicle article that points to the root of the crisis using the Westlands Water District as an example:
"Now, Westlands and other districts are successfully renewing their long-term contracts at current levels and at prices far below those paid by the state’s growing cities, despite protests that pumping large volumes of water south is killing Northern California’s fisheries. Westlands is singled out for particular criticism because of its size and the amount of water it receives, but also because the irrigation of its fields produces toxic drain water, threatening state waterways. Some critics say much of its acreage should be taken out of production.S o far, about 200 contracts have been approved, and 80 more are pending, including Westlands’. About 6 million acre feet of annual water deliveries is at stake. Farmers who get federal water are generally charged a fraction of the free-market rate."
David Zetland at Aguanomics puts this agricultural water use in perspective while quoting an analysis by Lloyd Carter:
"In a typical year the California agricultural industry uses about 34 million acre-feet of water or more than 80% of the developed water consumed by urban and agricultural users in the state. Between 30% and 50% of that water is used to grow four low value, water-intensive crops: cotton, rice, alfalfa and irrigated pasture. Those four low value, water-intensive crops contributed about $2.5 billion to California's economy in 2005. All of California agricultural production was about $32 billion in 2005. Gross state product in 2005 was about $1.62 trillion. Thus, the contribution of all agriculture to the state's economy was just under 2% of gross state product (1.975 %)and the contribution of cotton, rice, alfalfa and irrigated pasture was an infinitesimal 0.15 of 1% (fifteen one-hundredths of one percent). Westlands claims an annual gross in excess of a billion dollars which would be considerably less if all the public subsidies were factored in (cheap water, power subsidies, crop subsidies, interest free construction loan). Westlands is not even a blip on the state economy's radar screen, only about three percent of California's farm gross and a tiny, tiny fraction of one percent of the state's whole economy."
All insightful posts and highly recommended. These bloggers are now on my 'roll.

In California there is more money in agriculture that there is in fish. Where there is money, there is politics and pandering politicians. As the drought loomed last summer, a bipartisan alliance between Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein began stumping for a massive new peripheral canal and dam project to divert more Delta water. With the signing of the budget agreement and Feinstein on board, the project may again be moving to the front burner. Maybe it will even qualify for Obama stimulus infrastructure funding. Bipartisanship is overrated.

The current rainfall may (or may not) ease the water supplies and hardship sufficiently that a cease-fire in the California water wars can be maintained this year. But the underlying equation will not change. There is simply not enough water in the north for both a healthy salmon watershed, a cheap subsidized water supply for expanding valley agricultural interests, and an increasingly thirsty Los Angeles/San Diego metro area. Something has got to give. A choice must be made.

Speaking for myself, I'd rather have more wild salmon in California, than artificially cheap subsidized rice, cotton, and vegetables. But that is just me.

This problem was created by government and politicians, and can only be undone by those selfsame politicians. If you agree, encourage your representatives to do the right thing by signing a letter and petition at Water for Fish.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Obama Endorses the Bush/Cheney Unitary Executive. Again and again and again.

UPDATED: 19-Feb-09
It was the most seductive argument to vote for Barack Obama - We need to elect a Democrat to "undo the damage" of the Bush administration. Although I agreed with the diagnosis, I could not concur with the treatment. The toxic side effects of Single Party Rule presented a greater risk than the potential benefit of curing the Bush/Cheney unitary executive disease. In particular, the prospect of the new President inheriting the expanded Bush/Cheney presidential power while his party held larger majorities than enjoyed by George W Bush and the Republicans was particularly frightening. Those fears were confirmed last week, when a very bad stimulus bill steamrolled a neutered Republican party, handing future generations more debt and putting the economic future of the country at risk.

That said, I expected to enjoy a couple of consolation prizes with the Obama victory. First, balance would be maintained in judicial appointments and on the Supreme Court, and second - Obama would indeed roll back some of the worst offenses of the Bush administration.While I still have high hopes for the first consolation prize, early indications are not promising for the second. Not promising at all.

Looking Back - The bad old Bush era.

As there is a lot of damage to undo, let us first put this in perspective by taking a walk down memory lane. The most egregious offenses of the Bush/Cheney administration fall under the umbrella of expanding executive branch power at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches, with a commensurate erosion of constitutional protections. The worst of these occurred between 2000-2006 when the Republicans had control of both the executive and legislative branches. Details of many of the abuses under the expanded Unitary Executive branch first saw the light of day with congressional investigations initiated after 2006. Those revelations only came to light after divided government was restored with the Democrats taking majority control of the legislature (along with the subpoena power that accompanies majority control).This, of course, begs the question -With Single Party Rule again ascendant in Washington, who will investigate and provide oversight of the Obama administration?

The graphic at the top of the page is from an October 2004 Village Voice cover story by Rick Perlstein. Ah, the good old days. Back when liberals could really work up a good head of righteous indignation about a presidential power grab - like this Perlstein column from January 2005:
"The fantasy of total control has emerged as central to the Bush administration imagination. It comes out in the unguarded utterances: the aide who blurts to a New York Times reporter that he was just one more sad-sack member of the "reality-based community."... It shows up in the tautological narcissism of Bush's National Security Strategy document, which actually uses the phrase "the best defense is a good offense," and artfully constructs a vision in which whatever the United States does to preserve its interest is always already "peaceful," even when it requires war... The manifesto takes on ominous overtones when read alongside the famous post-9-11 draft Pentagon report that establishes a royalist conception of "sweeping" executive power as the only way to keep us safe: because "national security decisions require the unity in purpose and energy in action to characterize the presidency rather than Congress."
Equally alarmed by the "royalist conception of sweeping executive powers", many libertarians found common cause with liberals, as dispassionately documented in the Cato study: "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W Bush'"
"Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes:
  • a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech, and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;
  • a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;
  • a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror, in other words, perhaps forever; and
  • a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.
President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers."
I know it has only been a month, but Obama works fast. It is time to checkpoint how President Obama is progressing on "undoing the damage" of the Bush/Cheney Imperial Presidency. There is some good stuff. The executive order to close Guantanamo in a year or so is very positive. But on balance... So far... not so good.

The Obama administration supports Bush era invocation of state secrecy to protect rendition and torture.
Anthony Romero - ACLU:
"After the British High Court ruled that evidence of British resident Binyam Mohamed's extraordinary rendition and torture at Guantánamo Bay must remain secret because of threats made by the Bush administration to halt intelligence sharing, the Obama administration told the BBC today in a written statement: "The United States thanks the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information and preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens." The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union: "Hope is flickering. The Obama administration's position is not change. It is more of the same. This represents a complete turn-around and undermining of the restoration of the rule of law."
The Obama administration supports Bush era executive state secrecy claims to deny torture victims their day in court.
Glen Greenwald - Salon:
"What makes this particularly appalling and inexcusable is that Senate Democrats had long vehemently opposed the use of the "state secrets" privilege in exactly the way that the Bush administration used it in this case, even sponsoring legislation to limits its use and scope. Yet here is Obama, the very first chance he gets, invoking exactly this doctrine in its most expansive and abusive form to prevent torture victims even from having their day in court, on the ground that national security will be jeopardized if courts examine the Bush administration's rendition and torture programs -- even though (a) the rendition and torture programs have been written about extensively in the public record; (b) numerous other countries have investigated exactly these allegations; and (c) other countries have provided judicial forums in which these same victims could obtain relief... What this is clearly about is shielding the U.S. Government and Bush officials from any accountability. Worse, by keeping Bush's secrecy architecture in place, it ensures that any future President -- Obama or any other -- can continue to operate behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy, with no transparency or accountability even for blatantly criminal acts."
The Obama Administration supports invoking Bush era state secrecy to protect executive order illegal wiretapping and domestic surveillance.
Bob Egelko - San Francisco Chronicle:
"For the second time this week, the Obama administration has gone to court in San Francisco to argue for secrecy in defending a terrorism policy crafted under George W. Bush - in this case, wiretapping that President Obama denounced as a candidate... The dispute involves Walker's Jan. 5 order to allow plaintiffs who say the government illegally wiretapped their phones to read a classified surveillance document that could confirm the assertion and avoid dismissal of their suit. Lawyers for the Obama administration say the judge's decision "presents a clear-cut conflict between the court and the executive branch."
Out of fairness, I should point out that this last should not be a surprise. It is completely consistent with the July, 2008 version of Barack Obama who voted against the rule of law and in support of immunity for Telecom companies who cooperated with illegal government wiretap requests. OTOH it is a flip-flop from the January 2008 version of Barack Obama who promised to support a filibuster to prevent granting immunity to Telecom companies.

The Obama Administration opposes torture. Unless - you know - they decide they really need it.
Greg Sargent - the Plum Line:
"As I noted here yesterday, human rights advocates think that the executive order outlawing torture that President Obama signed yesterday preserves some wiggle room... Obama very strongly denounced torture yesterday as he signed the order outlawing it. But it’s nonetheless hard to avoid the conclusion that the administration does in fact want to preserve some kind of flexibility here, for reasons that are not yet entirely clear, at least to me."
The Obama Administration continues Bush-era unconstitutional blurring of the principle of Separation of Church and State.
New York Times Editorial:
"...there was reassuring language about maintaining the separation of church and state in Mr. Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast preceding the issuance of his order, and in the order itself. But it would have been a lot more reassuring if the directive had actually revoked Mr. Bush’s 2002 executive order authorizing religious-oriented recipients of federal funding to hire and fire on religious grounds.We suspect that Mr. Obama was not particularly proud of this omission. He chose to sign his order away from the view of television cameras or an audience. Joshua DuBois, the Pentecostal minister selected by Mr. Obama to lead his initiative, says the president is “committed to nondiscrimination,” and that the executive order “provides a process” for case-by-case review to decide if grants to faith-based organizations are “consistent with law.” What process? The executive order says only that White House officials “may” seek Justice Department guidance if questions arise about particular grants. Discrimination by faith-based grantees should be barred.The case-by-case review seems destined to confuse as much as enlighten. And it is hardly the clear commitment to proper employment practices Mr. Obama voiced as a candidate, and the Constitution requires."
There are some other areas where the Obama administration appears to moving closer to the style and substance of the previous administration. Among them: Obama continues the much reviled White House Political Office - former home of Karl Rove; Obama appointed a political hack to the office of the White House Counsel, further opening the administration to comparisons with the Bush/Rove White Houses - and - while we are on the topic of Karl Rove; The Obama administration will apparently not challenge the constitutionally questionable Bush administration claims of "executive privilege" shielding Karl Rove from testimony before the legislature in the matter of U.S. Attorney General firings.

Where are the Liberals?
During the FISA debate, Markos Moulitsas asked "Where are the Libertarians?". He obviously was not looking very hard. No matter. As we now watch Barack Obama embrace and defend the Constitution trampling, power grabbing excesses and abuses of the Bush/Cheney imperial presidency, it is time to ask "Where are the Liberals?" Or at least Kos? There are some DailyKos community diaries qu0ting Greenwald, but I cannot find a story from him in the last two weeks on Obama's Justice Department defending these Bush administration positions. There is a lot happening on that site. Maybe I missed it.

Certainly there are more than a few liberals who have not hesitated to pick up the gauntlet, most notably Glen Greenwald, as he takes to task those whose loyalty is not to principle but to a man:
"During the 2008 election, Obama co-opted huge portions of the Left and its infrastructure so that their allegiance became devoted to him and not to any ideas. Many online political and "news" outlets -- including some liberal political blogs -- discovered that the most reliable way to massively increase traffic was to capitalize on the pro-Obama fervor by turning themselves into pro-Obama cheerleading squads.... on one issue after the next, one can vividly observe the harm that comes from a political faction being beholden to a leader rather than to any actual ideas or political principles."
Greenwald's analysis is instructive. It explains why so many on the left greet Obama's support and active defense of the Bush/Cheney model of the unitary executive with a yawn. It is not the principle of checks, balances and constitutional protections that inform their view of the world. For some (many?) on the left, it is about blind loyalty to a leader and a party. From their perspective, Bush/Cheney executive power is not a problem if Obama is in the White House. Apparently, with the ring of power in Barack Obama's benevolent hands, the Bush/Cheney executive power will only be used for good. Just put your trust in Barack -not in the rule of law - not in the Constitution - but in the man. These Obama supporters resemble nothing so much as the right-wing apologists for Bush administration excesses.

Greenwald again:
"What we need far more than a benevolent and magnanimous President is a re-assertion of Congressional authority as a check on executive power. Even if Obama decided unilaterally to refrain from exercising some of the powers which the Bush administration seized, that would be a woefully insufficient check against future abuse, since it would mean that these liberties would be preserved only when a benevolent ruler occupies the White House (and, then, only when the benevolent occupant decides not to use the power). Acts of Congress -- along with meaningful, enforced oversight of the President -- are indispensable for preventing these abuses. And that's true whether or not one believes that the current occupant of the Oval Office is a good, kind and trustworthy ruler."
Under the current incarnation of One Party Rule, the Republicans are impotent in the face of Obama and his large Democratic majority. The only hope for any moderation of the power of this presidency, must come from principled civil libertarian Democratic legislators in Congress (Feingold, Feinstein, and Leahy are stepping up). The only hope for economic sanity, must come from Democratic fiscal conservatives like the few Democratic representatives in the House of Representatives that voted against Porkulus.

It's a Hope.

DISCLOSURE: DWSUWF Obama Criticism Credentials
In this post I criticize Barack Obama policies. For the benefit of any readers of a left leaning partisan inclination who cannot tolerate such criticism, nor read criticism of his policies without assuming the source to be their right-wing partisan doppleganger, I offer these links. A selection of past posts from this blog on issues that are more important to DWSUWF than the party or personality inhabiting the White House. Including: The Patriot Act, the Military Commission Act and excutive branch preemption of Habeas Corpus; The FISA capitulation bill and erosion of 4th Amendment search and seizure protections, Torture and renditions in violation of the Geneva Convention; The principle of Separation of Church and State; Executive branch usurpation of congressional war power oversight; and 1st Amendment free speech protections.
Glenn Greenwald posted again on this topic yesterday, dismantling the “its only been three weeks” objection. Plus he includes my absolute favorite founding father quote - James Madison in Federalist #51 explaining the need for checks and balances with the phrase "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition." That quote is in our sidebar and in the title and used in several past posts. For those reasons, plus the fact I can never hope to write as well as him, plus his unquestioned credibility with left of center readers, I have no choice but to quote him here again, but encourage you to read the whole article:
“There’s just no denying that there are substantial and disturbing steps which have been taken. And critically, the primary excuse offered by Obama supporters for all of these actions — he just needs more time; it’s only been three weeks — is a complete straw man... Not even the Obama DOJ is claiming they needed more time. They’re saying they had all the time they needed, so Obama supporters should really stop trying to defend them by offering up excuses that the Obama administration itself rejects.…

There are people who believe that Barack Obama is kind, just and good, and thus are going to have a hard time believing that he’s embracing some of the most abusive Bush/Cheney policies even when he does it right in front of their faces. Others aren’t ever going to object to what Obama does in this area, because they believe (as Bush supporters believed about Bush) that there’s nothing really wrong if Obama wields these same powers since Obama is a kind-hearted ruler and therefore can be trusted not to abuse these powers. As DCLaw pointed out yesterday, people with that swooning mentality can’t be reached because they don’t really believe in the basic premise on which the country was founded, as enunciated by James Madison in Federalist 51…

We don’t place faith in the Goodness and kindness of specific leaders — even Barack Obama — to secretly exercise powers for our own Good. We rely instead on transparency and on constant compulsory limits on those powers as imposed by the Constitution, by other branches, and by law. That’s what it means to be a nation of laws and not men. When Obama embraces the same abusive and excessive powers that Bush embraced, it isn’t better because it’s Obama rather than Bush wielding that power. It’s the same. And that’s true even if one “trusts” Obama more than Bush"
I'd like be optimistic on this subject, but am having a hard time getting there. As I said, what hope I do have comes from the Democrats in Congress who are moving to begin the process of restraining executive power, and/or in the hope that Obama will appoint Supreme Court justices that will strike down the kind of expanded presidential power that Obama supports.

If it does come down to a showdown between Congress and the Executive branch, it’ll be interesting to see what the Republicans do. Obama may very well find common cause with many Republicans to preserve the Bush/Cheney expanded powers.

An excerpt of this post was cross-posted at Donklephant, where you'll also find an interesting comment thread.

Surprisingly, not everyone agrees with me.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Flotsam - The Friday the 13th Frightening and Misleading Meme Edition

Wherein we take a stroll down the metaphorical beach of the DWSUWF blog and comment on the detritus that has washed ashore and cluttered this little island of rationality in the great big blogospheric ocean. Today, rummaging through our shiny new blogroll, we found...

Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus. Stimulus.

ITEM - Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
The economy is very bad. No doubt about it. But how does this recession compare to past recessions? Last week a graph was released by the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelsoi that was truly frightening:It was widely distributed across the blogosphere, particularly favored by left-of-center blogs. Frankly, you couldn’t design a graphic that would better serve to instill fear about the state of the economy. In fact, it was apparently designed to do just that, by truncating the left scale to emphasize the difference in the three compared recessions, using absolute unemployment numbers rather percentage of the workforce, and pretending that history began in 1990.

The following graph offers a somewhat broader perspective, comparing all recessions in the modern era (since 1946), expressed as an unemployment percentage.

Middle of the pack recession
H/T to Marginal Revolution for the graph.

The green bar is the current recession. No doubt, this is a bad one. About in the middle of pack as far as recessions go. The graphic points out an interesting aspect of recessions. They all end. And, surprisingly, they didn’t all need a trillion dollar stimulus bill from the Feds to end them. In fact, all of them combined up to now did not need a trillion dollar stimulus to end. McQ and QandO has a few more charts that show the same thing. A bad, but not wildly extraordinary recession. Worst than most, but not as bad as others we have weathered since WWII.

It is incumbent on our Federal government to help cushion the blow for those Americans devastated by this economic contraction. That includes unemployment extensions such as are in the stimulus bill. If there are infrastructure projects that we know we really need, like upgrading the electric transmission backbone, and repairing dangerous bridges, there is certainly a case to be made to do the projects now and cushion the recession impact. Fine. I’m on board. The operative word being “need”.

But to spend a trillion dollars, just for the sake of spending a trillion dollars, because some economists and politicians have an unproven dogmatic ideological belief in Keynesian theory, or - more likely - using unproven Keynesian theory as an excuse to load up a porker the likes of which we have never seen before - strikes me as batshit insane.

Nancy's graph served its purpose and helped the President sell us on the fear of a pending catastrophe so great we really need to be stampeded into the largest spending bill in the history of the United States. That the financial disaster is so great we really should not care that there is massive spending in this bill for projects that we do not need and will not actually stimulate the economy (translation of the bill is not perfect). That the impending crisis is so monstrous, that we cannot afford to take the time to make sure our money is not wasted, thereby guaranteeing, that we will waste more money with this bill than any other bill in history.

ITEM - Last fall's banking crisis was also so frightening that Congress did not have time to carefully consider the $700B TARP bill before throwing that money at Wall Street.

And here is one congressman explaining exactly why it was so frightening, in yet another meme that took the blogosphere by storm this week.

One problem with Congressman Kanjorski's entertaining story. It was not quite true. The part that grabbed everyone's attention, was Kanjorski claiming that there was a two hour $550 billion drawdown in money market funds last fall, essentially a "run on the bank" and that the global economic system was within 24 hours of complete collapse. This story has been used in blogs as justification for Congress abrogating their responsibility to carefully consider and debate how our money is raised, allocated and spent. Oh… and also for some gratuitous bashing of free markets. One example:

“For those of you who didn’t realize how dire the situation was (even though I implored you to take it seriously) I hope this video will make it crystal. If our banking system failed and it set off a chain reaction around the world, our credibility would have been TOAST… Letting the market work would have literally resulted in almost a complete unraveling of our way of life. Imagine if you had woken up the next day and discovered that your debit card, your credit cards… none of them worked. It would have been catastrophic.”

I thought the story was a bit fishy when I suddenly started seeing this clip all over. Why is it that the only source is one Congressman in an obscure CSPAN video clip? Where was the substantiation from… well… anyplace else? How is that anything so big and dire could take place last September, and nothing leak out about it until now? My suspicion was correct.

Kanjorski and the Money Market Funds: The Facts “With the Kanjorski Meme still spreading (see Ben Smith, Andrew Leonard, Moldbug, and more), I think I’m finally able to squash it with some hard figures: there never was a $500 billion outflow from any asset class in the space of a couple of hours or even weeks, and the Fed never shut down or froze any money-market accounts. This is not the first time that Kanjorski has made these allegations. But first, it’s worth going through the timeline…

on September 24, Kanjorski held a hearing on Capitol Hill with Treasury secretary Hank Paulson… Kanjorski is clearly fishing here: he’s talking about anonymous newspaper reports and vague “conversations” and anonymous Wall Street “friends”, and basically asking Paulson to confirm his suspicions. Which, naturally, Paulson doesn’t do, because the suspicions weren’t actually true. That said, however, Paulson’s being-polite-to-the-Congressman answer doesn’t explicitly say that Kanjorski’s numbers are false. After that, we didn’t here much more about this meme until Kanjorski resuscitated it on C-Span, this time citing the Federal Reserve as his data source, and beefing up the numbers for good measure…

…This is all, frankly, fiction, and it’s not clear where most of it came from, although maybe Kanjorski’s “friends” on Wall Street are the same people as Michael Gray’s sources at the New York Post. Thinking back to that crazy week it’s easy to get details wrong, especially when you’re speaking off the cuff on a call-in show. But let’s stop treating it as though there’s any substance to it. Please.”

So Kanjorski “misremembered” his sources as he told and retold the story over time, and as a consequence, bad reporting from the New York Post is given new life on the Intertubes.

That was indeed a very bad week for the financial sector. But there was no retail panic in money markets, no $550B drawdown in a couple of hours and the worldwide financial system was not 24 hours from collapse. Good story though. Kanjorksi enjoys telling it.

There are still questions and lessons to be learned. My question: To what extent did the Treasury Secretary and the executive branch permit misinformation and fear to be used to panic the Congress into abrogating their responsibilities to the American taxpayer and pass a very bad bill with very little consideration?

ITEM - The Stimulus Bill just passed the Senate. Beyond this, I cannot add much to my last post on this subject. I just think it is worth pointing out that none of our representatives in either the House or the Senate actually have any idea whatsoever about what is really in this bill. It is impossible for anyone to have read the final version that was voted on today. The final 1,000+ page bill was given to the legislators at 9:00 AM this morning, and passed tonight.
What a hairball. Your government in action. ITEM - Carnivalingus Some recent collections of high quality blogging punditry:
Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Yo. Barack. Stimulate this.

UPDATED: 10-Feb-09
Shortly after the election, while basking in the afterglow of the historic outcome, I - like many proud Americans - watched Steve Kroft interview the new first family on 60 Minutes. I was struck by one particular statement made by the president-elect, and even highlighted it in a post at the time:
Kroft: "Where is all the money going to come from to do all of these things? And is there a point where just going to the Treasury Department and printing more of it ceases to be an option?"

Mr. Obama:
"Well, look, I think what’s interesting about the time that we’re in right now is that you actually have a consensus among conservative Republican-leaning economists and liberal left-leaning economists. And the consensus is this: that we have to do whatever it takes to get this economy moving again, that we’re gonna have to spend money now to stimulate the economy. And that we shouldn’t worry about the deficit next year or even the year after. That short term, the most important thing is that we avoid a deepening recession."
What made the statement remarkable, is that it was patently, demonstrably, unequivocally untrue. No such consensus existed among economists - not then - not now. If we were still in the heat of a political campaign, partisans might have seen fit to call it a blatant bald-faced lie. If Bush had uttered it, it would have been cited as yet another example of his pathological inability to recognize the truth, his propensity to ignore reality. But a new President deserves the benefit of the doubt, so let us just call it an exaggeration for effect.

At the time I considered consulting the intertubes and dragging up quotes from a few dozen economists to contradict the assertion, But, I was feeling lazy, and as he had only been elected a few days before, had not been sworn in, and we had not even really started the honeymoon yet, I couldn't be bothered. My only editorial comment in that post was a reminder that someone (our children and grandchildren), someday would have to pay the price for this additional debt, in either taxes, inflation, devalued currency or all of the above.

Since then, as the massive stimulus pork laden spending bill took shape, the same statement was repeated in various forms by Obama, by surrogates and by the Democratic leadership. Over the weeks and months, the statement morphed, becoming even more assertive, more arrogant, more imperious and by extension more untrue:
"Economists from across the political spectrum agree that if we don't act swiftly and boldly, we could see a much deeper economic downturn that could lead to double-digit unemployment and the American dream slipping further and further out of reach." - Barack Obama 3-Jan-09
"Every economist from right to left, Republican, Democrat, advises that (a government stimulus) has to be a very substantial package" Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) 4-Jan-09

"Everybody, I think, from economists on the left to economists on the right realize that we must make critical investments at this time," - White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel 18-Jan-09
"There is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jumpstart the economy." — Barack Obama 09-Jan-09
The odd thing, is that Obama appeared to actually believe it, as if by repeating it often enough it would become true. It was becoming an ideological canon of Democratic dogma, chanted at every opportunity.

Last week, my procrastination paid off, as the Cato Institute published a full page ad [PDF] in the New York Times to set the record straight (and make this post a whole lot easier):
"With all due respect Mr. President, that is not true. Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians and that we all support a big increase in the burden of government, we do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance. More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. More government spending did not solve Japan's "lost decade" in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today. To improve the economy, policy makers should focus on reforms that remove impediments to work, saving, investment and production. Lower tax rates and a reduction in the burden of government are the best ways of using fiscal policy to boost growth."
They also offered a very nifty little widget to promote the ad, which is now running in the left sidebar.

This almost gives me hope. I'd like to believe that something has fundamentally changed. I'd like to believe that people have stopped believing the fairy tale that government intervention in the form of massive new spending and massive new debt that can only be funded by printing money is somehow a solution to the problem of a burst economic bubble created by government intervention in the form of massive spending, massive debt, and easy monetary policy.

It is encouraging that public support for this bill is now below 37%. It is encouraging that rational arguments are at least being heard in opposition to this bill. Examples include: Megan McArdle (also here), with Sully chiming in (but still apparently unable to resolve his claimed conservative principles with his continuing P.D.S. affliction), Steve Verdon at OTB, and Greg Mankiw among others.

Encouraging, but I don't believe it. This is all Kabuki theater. After applying a little lipstick, this pig of a bill will pass (H/T to Q&O for the graphic). To satisfy the constituents of conservative Democrats and Republicans, the bill must be voted down once, just so Senators can run an ad in their next campaign saying they voted against waste in Washington. Then the deck chairs will be rearranged and a bill of comparable size and scope will sail through. The same Senators can then also run an ad saying they saved the economy, and brought home the bacon.

Nick Gillespie
hits the nail on the head:
"McConnell's change in attitude seems suspiciously unprincipled and mostly partisan. I'm all for divided government (here's hoping it delivers gridlock), but one of the problems with unprincipled pols is that, well, they don't have principles. Which means they will flip the moment they get enough goodies promised them to go one way or the other. And if the experience with the financial sector bailout is any indication, expect the second (and third, and fourth, and so on) bills to be even worse than the awful first draft. And expect McConnell sometime soon to be on the other side of the vote, the one with all those shiny, happy Democrats yapping about how they just guaranteed a car in every pot and two chickens in every garage by funding bullshit infrastructure programs in every ZIP code in the country."
One thing has changed. President Obama is no longer asserting that there is no credible opposition to a massive federal fiscal stimulus. He is taken a different tack now. In Wednesday's briefing with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Obama's tough sounding but ultimately meaningless eyewash on limiting Wall Street executive compensation got all the press. The real message was this quote:
"Now, in the past few days I've heard criticisms of this plan that echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems," the president said at the White House. "I reject that theory, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change."
Here is the entire 10 minute event from the White House. The quote above occurs at 4:42:

The point: No more pretense that credible opposition to this insane spending plan does not exist. The new message? Something like this...
My overwhelming 52% electoral mandate means that Americans want to flush another trillion dollars that we don't have down the toilet. Because I say so. No matter what that Rasmussen poll says.
And you know what? He is probably right. Pucker up.

  UPDATE: 05-Feb-09 Apparently the portion of Obama's comments not related to executive pay yesterday got repackaged and regurgitated into a Washington Post op-ed today - The Action America Needs. Compare this quote from the op-ed to his White House comments yesterday (quoted above):
"In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive. I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change."
I guess you can't really plagiarize yourself. Same old stuff. Pay no attention to the content (massive pork) in the bill. Pay no attention to the fact that it will not solve the root problem and will at best delay a day of reckoning. Pay no attention that it will add a trillion dollars of debt that we do not have and will have to borrow from the Chinese or tax from Americans or devalue the currency to repay. Just pass it, because an economic fear-mongering President says it should be passed. 

Did we learn nothing from the hastily passed $700 Billion Wall Street bailout last year? You remember - when we witnessed the rampant stupidity of a craven congress rolling over to an executive demand for fast action on the basis of economic fear mongering - and as a result - were treated to the spectacle of our representatives wasting massive amounts of taxpayer resources without really understanding what they are passing or having any idea where the money will go or how it will be used. Apparently we learned nothing. This is exactly what is happening on the floor of the Senate as I write this.

 As predicted: Unable to pass a $900 Billion massive pork-laden stimulus spending package that will do nothing except spend money we do not have on stuff we do not need, wildly increase the debt burden on future generations, and ultimately require devaluation of the dollar - the Democrats are in the process of paying off a couple of Republican Senators with a share of the pork, and will likely pass a $800 Billion massive pork-laden spending package that will do nothing except spend money we do not have on stuff we do not need, increase the debt burden on future generations, and ultimately require devaluation of the dollar.

  UPDATE: 10-Feb-09 The Senate just passed their version of the stimulus bill. I'll have some thoughts on this abomination as it wends its way through the conference process over the next week. In the meantime, this YouTube dramatization of the passage of the bill pretty much sums up exactly what just happened. Ned Beatty gives an Oscar worthy performance as the American taxpayer. The other two characters in this clip are playing the United States House of Representatives and Senate.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Blogroll Amnesty Day
Blogrolling Assassination Day

As promised, today we celebrate Blogroll Amnesty Day by cleaning up the sidebar and finally dropping the Blogrolling widget, which has not been working since last October anyway. Over the course of the next day or so, DWSUWF will begin repopulating the blogroll using the Google/Blogger widget. This should be of some benefit to linked blogs, as it appears that both Google and Technorati diss the Blogrolling links, but are perfectly happy counting the Google/Blogger links. Whatever.

In the spirit of B.A.D. we will strive to add under appreciated smaller blogs, and over the course of the celebration DWSUWF will be updating this post with a selection of favorite links.

Although DWSUWF is a reasonable Liberal, DWSUWF has adopted a Conservative Mutual Backscratching Blogrolling Policy - to whit: "You Blogroll me. I Blogroll you." In this manner, the integrity of a fundamental law of the universe - The Conservation of Blogrolls - is maintained. As any high school science student knows, Blogrolls cannot be created or destroyed, they can only change form.

We will start with the co-creators of the Blogging Holiday:
I know. I know. They are all bigger than me. I'll make up for it in quantity.

An eclectic selection of 10 smallish and not so smallish blogs I like - not all of a consistently political persuasion - and in no particular order:
Stay tuned - I am going to work on the sidebar blogroll for a while, but I'll be back adding another 10 or so links before the celebration ends.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Monday Miscellany - The "I'm BAD" Edition

In my continuing effort to rehabilitate my sloppy blogging habits and restore this blog to a semblance of reasonable posting blogging goodness, a few items from around the sphere you might enjoy find informative:

ITEM - Blogroll Amnesty Day...
...is celebrated tomorrow - Tuesday February 3rd. Jon Swift - the reasonable Conservative - created this joyous holiday in cooperation with Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and Blue Gal. As Jon explains:
"February 3 is the day when we celebrate the blogosphere's greatest (and, so far, only) holiday, Blogroll Amnesty Day, a day when we salute all of the great smaller blogs that don't get the recognition they deserve. Blogroll Amnesty Day, or B.A.D. as it is known to the twitterati, was not always such a happy day. In fact, the first Blogroll Amnesty Day, way back in ought seven, was one of the darkest days in the blogosphere."
Jon is a blogging hero of mine, having established himself as the one and only reasonable Conservative blogging today. I aspire to emulate his efforts and am working to establish my credentials as the only reasonable Liberal in the blogosphere. While some may consider this goal to be ambitious, perhaps even arrogant, cetainly no one would argue that the position remains unfilled and has been so since the beginning of time. So - I dare to ask - Why not me? Can I do it? Let me answer clearly and decisively as only we liberals can -


Like Jon, I have adopted a Conservative Blogging Policy - to whit: "You Blogroll me. I Blogroll you." In this manner, the integrity of a fundamental law of the universe - The Conservation of Blogrolls - is maintained. As any high school science student knows, Blogrolls cannot be created or destroyed, they can only change form.

To that end, and in my continuing effort to sincerely imitate the success of my blogging role model, I am now announcing a new totally original blogging holiday of my own invention - "Blogrolling Assassination Day" (B.A.D.) which coincidentally will be celebrated on the same day as "Blogroll Amnesty Day" (B.A.D.)

I have used the Blogrolling service to maintain my blogroll since the inception of this blog. Despite my affection for the service, I have, through careful analysis, determined that it is time for me to move on to a new blogroll technology platform. While there is much to like about the Blogrolling platform, there is one aspect of the technology where it has failed to keep up with its competitors - Specifically, it stopped working sometime last October.

Normally, in the tradition of all reasonable liberals, I should continue to embrace and promote obsolete and completely failed ideas like Blogrolling, Keynesian Economics and the notion that the government knows better than you what kind of car you should drive and knows better than GM management what kind of car they should build.

Wait - that last part may actually be true. God knows GM management have no friggin' idea what kind of car people want to buy or what they should build. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can certainly do no worse than GM management.

But I digress.

We will kill two birds with one stone. Tomorrow, in observation of Blogrolling Assassination Day, the Blogrolling sidebar widget will be deleted, and replaced with the Google Blogger widget. And in the spirit of Blogroll Amnesty Day, we will begin to repopulate the blogroll by focusing on smaller blogs that don't get the recognition they deserve. Like um,,, moi - Divided We Stand United We Fall - The Home for Reasonable Liberals Everywhere.

ITEM - Peter Schiff is still being ignored - Thank God.
A few months ago a YouTube compilation of Peter Schiff clips from Fox and CNBC over the last three years got a great deal of play across the blogosphere. We reasonable liberals were greatly amused at how stupid the right wing talking heads on Fox and CNBC looked when they ridiculed Schiff's contention that the failed Bush administration policy of borrow and spend with huge deficits, coupled with the failed Fed policy of easy credit would lead inevitably to an asset bubble, a market crash and a financial crisis. Boy was he right. Boy were those stupid conservative pukes wrong.

Unfortunately, now Peter Schiff is completely wrong. He seems to think that the Obama administration's brilliant policy of even more spending with even more borrowing and gigantic deficits, coupled with the Fed's new policy of even easier money available at an effective interest rate of zero percent (0 %) is not the answer to our economic woes. It is kind of sad really. I just don't know how anyone who was so smart could suddenly become so stupid. Anyway, FWIW - this is from his badly flawed recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed:
"As recession fears cause the nation to embrace greater state control of the economy and unimaginable federal deficits, one searches in vain for debate worthy of the moment. Where there should be an historic clash of ideas, there is only blind resignation and an amorphous queasiness that we are simply sweeping the slouching beast under the rug...

It would be irresponsible in the extreme for an individual to forestall a personal recession by taking out newer, bigger loans when the old loans can't be repaid. However, this is precisely what we are planning on a national level. I believe these ideas hold sway largely because they promise happy, pain-free solutions. They are the economic equivalent of miracle weight-loss programs that require no dieting or exercise. The theories permit economists to claim mystic wisdom, governments to pretend that they have the power to dispel hardship with the whir of a printing press, and voters to believe that they can have recovery without sacrifice...

By borrowing more than it can ever pay back, the government will guarantee higher inflation for years to come, thereby diminishing the value of all that Americans have saved and acquired. For now the inflationary tide is being held back by the countervailing pressures of bursting asset bubbles in real estate and stocks, forced liquidations in commodities, and troubled retailers slashing prices to unload excess inventory. But when the dust settles, trillions of new dollars will remain, chasing a diminished supply of goods. We will be left with 1970s-style stagflation, only with a much sharper contraction and significantly higher inflation. The good news is that economics is not all that complicated. The bad news is that our economy is broken and there is nothing the government can do to fix it. However, the free market does have a cure: it's called a recession, and it's not fun, easy or quick. But if we put our faith in the power of government to make the pain go away, we will live with the consequences for generations."
This is just so sad. Peter... Peter... Peter...

Peter Schiff was a financial adviser to Ron Paul's presidential campaign, and is President of Euro-Pacific Capital. Please ignore him. Maybe he will go away.

ITEM: GM is soon going to tell us how good it is going to be.
Since I last blogged about the subject, GM and Chrysler have both accepted Federal bailout money. GM received $14 billion and Chrysler/Cerberus received $4 billion. But they are not getting this money without strict Federal oversight. No-sir-ee. Our government has extracted a commitment that GM must return to the Federal Government in March with a report and a plan for viability. That'll show 'em that Congress means business.

When I wrote that post, I suggested that our choice was to either let the insolvent GM go under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, or first flush 17 billion dollars of taxpayer money down the toilet before dealing with the same reality in the spring. I was wrong. That was before I became a reasonable liberal. Now I understand that we should flush another $10 to $15 billion in order to get another report on their viability later. Maybe in the Fall. Yeah. That's the ticket.

The boys at Fast Money on CNBC were in rare form today. In the first segment Jeff Macke tells us what to expect with the pending GM report on viability:
Jeff Macke: "General Motors in a month and a half is going to come up with a fake balance sheet tht argues they have a positive net present value."
Dylan Ratigan: "They should call Madoff."
Jeff Macke:"They could call Madoff... they could call any number of people. Heck, I'll fake it for them, Yeah we have a positive value. Are you kidding me? They make products nobody wants and then sells them at a loss."
You have to wade through half the clip to see that bit, but it is worth it. You can watch it here.

There is some other good stuff in there - including another Mackeeism: - "The Obama administration will play God with the banks - who will live, who will die, who will get bailouts. I don't know what this is but it is not a free market." and the usual Ratigan Rant about the Credit Default Swap Insurance scam perpetrated by the banks.

Problem is, Mackee says this stuff like it is a bad thing. Don't worry Jeff. Obama knows what is best for all of us. Trust the Obama. It'll be ok.

In the meantime. Ford Motors has declared a loss, but declined to take their turn suckling on the taxpayer teat. Those arrogant bastards are apparently going to try and actually manage the business through a downturn, as if that is the responsibility of a CEO and management team:
"The company said it will burn through cash again this year, but added that it does not anticipate needing to receive federal help "barring a significantly deeper economic downturn or a significant industry event, such as the bankruptcy of a major competitor that causes disruption to the company's supply base, dealers or creditors."Instead, Ford said it will draw on its available credit lines to receive an additional $10.1 billion in cash on Feb. 3. "Ford went to the credit markets two years ago when they were functioning normally and obtained the funding necessary - including our credit lines - to support our product transformation and restructuring," said Ford CEO Alan Mulally in a statement"
I feel it is important to conclude this post by pointing out the obvious, that it would be irresponsible for any of us reasonable liberals to buy a Ford. Since they did not take Federal bailout money (yet), they do not have to accept the Federal strings that come with it (yet). As GM does. As Chrysler does. Not only does that unfairly make the GM and Chrysler management look like incompetent boobs, it also means that Ford may be designing and building cars without the beneficent guidance of the Obama administration. Moreover, they will not be able to tap the free car design consultation service offered by the Pelsoi/Reid Democratic Party leadership. Very very risky.

No - best to stay away from Ford for your next car.

Just not enough Obama in that Ford for my taste.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.