3.31.2009

Where is the media's bailout fatigue?

Two economists observe:

"What's interesting is how all these numbers are being bandied about with very little pushback from the press."

Why should we care?

"What [Obama] doesn't say, and what no one seems willing to say, is that without his new budget the deficit would have been cut by 75% in four years to about $250 billion. The budget deficit and the size of the government are exploding and no one seems to care."

"Facebook for law students"

Oh boy.

3.30.2009

Touche, sirs

There's a bit more strain on the "special relationship," apparently:
It seems that the British authorities have insisted that the press in the White House "bubble" have to show passports when arriving in Britain.

This is unusual - most countries treat the travelling White House press with a gracious acknowledgement of what they believe to be their status.

Perhaps the Brits are seeking revenge after that strange incident at the White House when press traveling with Gordon Brown had trouble getting in.

The Confederate Museum


















"Other than the Wild West, there wasn't any place more violent than New Orleans"

No, we're not even talking about post-Katrina.
 

Bankrupt

President Obama may finally be catching on to something I've been saying since last December:
U.S. officials are leaning toward some use of bankruptcy in their plan to fix the U.S. auto industry, a person familiar with the matter said on Monday.

While most would prefer a restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler outside bankruptcy, bankruptcy may be necessary to reach agreements with key stakeholders, said the source, who declined to be named because the talks are not public.

It's about damn time, frankly.

Maybe he'd understand if he allowed comments

Anne Althouse doesn't appreciate Andrew Sullivan's snarking.

Permission to groove: granted

I found a band I'd never heard of: Working for a Nuclear Free City. Overall it's like folk/electronic/dance/ambient/rock, the other most similar sounding things I know would be Caribou or Sigur Ros.



This too, and so forth. How isn't this band more widely known? (Maybe a better website?)

"Faubourg NOLA"

A friend launches a new blog with an eye to New Orleans local politics.

(What's a faubourg, you say?)

Tulane Environmental Law Summit This Week

TLS hosts what has become a major, high profile event on April 3rd and 4th.  The T-P noted the keynote speaker in today's paper. 

A number of classmates have been working for some time on groundwork for the summit, and it looks like a worthwhile event for those interested in various aspects of environmental law.  For more details, check out the schedule.

Circle the Musk Oxen

In the face of bellicose Russian moves in the arctic, the maple leaf bares its teeth: 

Loubier pointed to the planned acquisition of Arctic patrol vessels, construction of a deep water port and eavesdropping network in the region, annual military exercises and boosting the number Inuit Arctic rangers keeping on eye on goings-on along its northern frontier.

Hits to Wisconsin Ports

Hook. 

"I think I may have stopped tweeting."

'Twitter marks an advance in freedom. How we use it is up to us. The Twitter backlash may be necessary, but it is also doomed. For the fault lies not in our Tweets but in ourselves."


Twitter broadcasts our shallowness or, in a few instances, our depth.

Althouse recently put the kabosh on twitter, apparently.  I can see why - sometimes concision just isn't what's best or what's being sought.  We aren't always thinking in epigrams.  Although Lileks is.

3.29.2009

The President Fires the CEO of GM

O, brave new world...

Is this merely the proper result of strings attached?  Or is the current auto industry bailout arrangement less of a marionette relationship...and more of a hand-puppet scheme, a setup that has the government more deeply - too deeply - entwined with the corporation?

Symbolically, at the very least, this is a deeply disquieting step.

Chucktown, Distilled





















Oh, Charleston.  May it please the court...

While we didn't come away sporting hardware, we did come away with a sense that each performance had been not merely satisfactory, but notably above expectations.  And the numbers bore it out.  It's always good to come away from an undertaking exhausted, ache drained down and pooling in the legs, knowing you've given it everything.


















But the city was more than the competition.  It was gingerly shucking steamed oysters in suits on the aft deck of an aircraft carrier moored in the harbor (the origin of Doolittle's Raid) as lightning flashed over Fort Sumter.  It was talking Hemingway and Philip Roth with Willis, gazing lazily into the park across the cobblestoned expanse of Chalmers Street.  It was ambling along the South Battery mansions, gulls floating in over the cannons, yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags and blue palmetto flags waving here and there.  It was an architectural treasure trove of side-porch entries, earthquake bolts, and crenellated stucco.  It was the top-hatted Caribbean doorman who gave a random shoutout to Ricky Weeks and proceeded to give a monologue that concluded with delight at the crying of Coach K.  It was the almost mystical old Unitarian Churchyard festooned with Spanish moss.  It was hip College of Charleston kids longboarding down King Street, old Gullah ladies weaving sweetgrass baskets on the steps.  It was heading to the airport at 4 am in heavy rain, the whole taxi singing Cheap Trick along with a hefty driver who made it clear she was proud to have been "born and reared" in Chucktown.



















It was the fringed mule carriage plodding past the coffeeshop window where the girl sat entranced with her sailor on leave.

David Gergen on Obama's Media Skills

Insightful audio - how Obama, in his divergence from Bill Clinton's style, risks becoming stale.

3.28.2009

The new warfare

Does China have an edge?
In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved.
...
Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.

Multimedia message

Heading out to aircraft carrier yorktown for a reception.

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Unitarian churchyard, charleston

3.27.2009

The Snuggie Cult?

Demonstrating a sense of humor?  Hmmm...I don't know.  It just seems...sort of dumb. 

CURE New Orleans Interview



At long last, here's the video from a brief mid-February interview with Neal Bodenheimer of the new New Orleans bar CURE on Freret Street.  I caught Neal as he was putting the first bottles on the shelves behind the bar.

Since the interview, I've visited the establishment, and I find it's a classy addition to the New Orleans scene - a nice beachhead for the redevelopment of Freret's old commercial district.

Hope, and its opposite

The Power Vertical is keeping an eye on those pesky Russian mayoral elections, and there is reason to be hopeful:
In recent weeks we have seen the ruling Unified Russia party lose city halls in Murmansk and Smolensk. We've seen opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, businessman Aleksandr Lebedev, and former Bolshoi ballerina Anastasia Volochkova announce unlikely runs for Sochi's top job. And we've seen the State Duma pass a the first reading of a bill making it easier for governors to remove disobedient mayors.

But all is not coming up roses:
But as Boris Vishnevsky writes in this week's edition of "Novaya gazeta," the Kremlin is considering an even more drastic step -- de facto scrapping mayoral elections in major cities altogether:

According to our information, a discussion is currently taking place in the Kremlin about declaring the capitals of regions to be not municipalities, as now, but administrative units...Such a scheme would make it possible to appoint the mayors of Russia's biggest cities.

WSJ praises Van Hollen for what he didn't do....

... and that is a very good thing.

Apparently Sen. Grassley - now infamous for suggesting AIG execs go commit hari kari - sent a letter to every attorney-general in the country asking that they "look into" whether or not financial institutions are paying their executives too much. For a man making $175,000 a year for spending taxpayer money with the same discretion as Elliot Spitzer on a "date," it would seem that this is little more than a political witch hunt. You know, blame everyone else for the current problems and hope no one notices your own role in the mess.

Thankfully, our attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen, declined the Senator's request. In his response Van Hollen ended with a very powerful statement about the proper role of government in a free market:
"Absent specific information indicating a transaction is fraudulent as opposed to foolish, I will not use my office to threaten litigation in an attempt to micromanage Wisconsin's businesses. Corporate governance is generally a matter for shareholders, not public officeholders."
If only more public officials felt the same way.

H/T: Charlie Sykes

"What?!?"

I'm sitting in the lobby of the hotel here in Charleston.

President Obama is live on CNN speaking about the War in Afghanistan.  The rhetoric - very Bush-like with its "perilous"ness and "dire" language keeps rolling along, people glance up at the yellow breaking news label, listen for a bit, determine it's not as important as they thought, and then proceed.

But amidst the obviousness and eloquence, Obama dropped, like an orange being thrown in the middle of Mass, the call for Congressional authorization of $1.5 billion of direct payment  to the people of Pakistan.

One of the managers at the front desk, a black man in his late twenties/early thirties, having been listening with his peripheral hearing, apparently, shouted "What?!?" - whipping his head up toward the President on television, away from the guest before him.

"Sorry," he explained, looking at me across the lobby, "I was just thinking out loud."  He shook his head and went back to the checkout paperwork.

I shrugged my shoulders, expressing a shared sense of this new and exotic form of bailout fatigue.

Brooks in Afghanistan

A column with some useful insights.

Note the piece's loaded dateline.

Brooks, despite his history-infused skepticism, says this:

After the trauma in Iraq, it would have been easy for the U.S. to withdraw into exhaustion and realism. Instead, President Obama is doubling down on the very principles that some dismiss as neocon fantasy: the idea that this nation has the capacity to use military and civilian power to promote democracy, nurture civil society and rebuild failed states.

Foreign policy experts can promote one doctrine or another, but this energetic and ambitious response — amid economic crisis and war weariness — says something profound about America’s DNA.


My question: Is this faith in Obama's choice due to the now-more-encouraging example of Iraq having played out?  Or simply the fact that he is not George W. Bush?  In other words, if Iraq had not gone well in the end, would we still be in Afghanistan at Obama's urging?

It's all speculation, of course, but I found it worth pondering, especially since I have two former roommates heading to Afghanistan shortly.

3.26.2009

Bleggity bleg

I find myself with an extra Cloud Cult ticket for the Friday show at the High Noon. Leave a comment or send me an e-mail if you want it!

Doin' the Charleston






No love for Shemp

Via Althouse, I see they've got a 3 Stooges movie in the works.

Too bad there'll be no Shemp, but Curly, I think, is the ultimate Stooge; Larry was always my least favorite.



And I see we already have a "3 Stooges" tag! Delightful! Nyuck nyuck nyuck!

More Russian cracks

Hey, remember this?

Well, there seem to be some more cracks opening -- tentatively -- in the regions:
"This is a restrained and very tentative demonstration by Rakhimov of his displeasure with the policy of strengthening the influence of the federal centre which has been pursued of late. As one knows, Rakhimov is one of the political elders who belongs to the first generation of governors," Orlov said.

According to the political expert, in the past decade the federal centre has been sharply limiting the "pseudo-sovereignty of big and economically important regions which the latter tried to acquire in the 1990s". "To some extent this applies to Bashkortostan too," Orlov said.

However, don't get too hopeful that this will mean some kind of greater Western-style federalism. It's really just a tussle over whether a local mob boss will continue in control of his territory, or whether the Federal government will take a greater hand:
"I don't think Rakhimov's criticism is directed at improving the effectiveness of federal officials' performance on the ground. It is an attempt to limit their opportunities in favour of the regional authorities," Orlov said.

3.25.2009

"I feel like I just went from an R-rated movie to a PG movie."














One of my moot court teammates just summed up the sensation entailed in traveling from New Orleans to Charleston.

It's interesting because I've often heard the two cities compared to one another.  Along with Savannah, they're commonly grouped as the "true Southern cities" - or Southern Belles, I suppose.

Yes, there are the common features of pastel stucco, great restaurants, palms, live oaks, cypresses, and dense colonial architecture.  But I did notice a difference in overall mood.  Here, even the fast food joints are relatively clean and orderly.  And there are fast food joints and chain franchises.  And trendy young stores along King Street. There are fewer abandoned buildings.  There's an attractive lot orbiting the College of Charleston, gravitating toward the multiple nearby Starbucks.  The city, generally, feels a bit more safe and clean.  But also a bit more scripted - "empty at night...like a movie set," as another teammate observed.

That's not to say that my brief foray into downtown and the upper edges of the historic district are dispositive.  Closer to our hotel, we encountered some interesting characters in the afternoon drizzle near rows of shabbier old homes for rent.  Like an iron-haired woman I thought was quite possibly Flannery O'Connor.  And a black man with an eye patch who appeared near the bus stop.  No, we didn't have change.

I look forward to more rambling around the town, but, in the meantime, tomorrow morning brings competition.

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Charleston, sc

3.24.2009

The New Newspaper Bill

Here's a new Congressional effort to stave off some of the heart break of recent high profile newspaper closures:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks.

"This may not be the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains but it should be an option for many newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat," said Senator Benjamin Cardin.

A Cardin spokesman said the bill had yet to attract any co-sponsors, but had sparked plenty of interest within the media, which has seen plunging revenues and many journalist layoffs.

Cardin's Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting companies.

Under this arrangement, newspapers would still be free to report on all issues, including political campaigns. But they would be prohibited from making political endorsements.

Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt, and contributions to support news coverage or operations could be tax deductible.


A bar on making political endorsements? That's a tough pill to swallow. 

While not all publications would choose this option and objective newsgathering might at least be saved in some regions, the proscription against making political endorsements (essential to non-profit status) seems to cut out one of the fundamental purposes of an American newspaper and a free press.

Here's the text of the bill as introduced (I have not had an opportunity to review it yet).

NOLA Brewing Grand Opening Second Line

If you're in New Orleans, get out your calendar and write this in the box for Thursday, April 2nd.

Wind-Powered Wine

Interesting.  I hope somebody gets a carbon credit out of it.

A Mannequin Goes to Washington?

Photo of the Day

What a shot. 

3.23.2009

"Sexting" and the Law

In the wake of teen suicides stemming from "sexting" by teenage high schoolers who sent out nude photos of themselves via cellphones, bereaved parents are calling for laws to end the madness.

I'm making a call here to end, prospectively, the madness of trying to solve the sexting phenomenon through the law.

The stories are admittedly terrible - the mistakes of teenagers exacerbated by technology, circling like a wildfire in the narrow canyon of a high school, ending in hangings.  Still, no matter how devastating the loss is for the families of those caught up in the fray, the law is not the simple answer.  We've already seen the absurdities that ensue from holding minors as sex offenders for sending nude photos by cellphone.

Addressing the problem of sexting requires societal, cultural, and family responses - and a greater emphasis on self-restraint and self-respect for teens generally.  The law can't necessarily stop the unwise decision to send a nude photo of one's self to someone who can't be trusted.  Nor can it stop the callous rumor mill that tends to grind away out of control when salacious incidents get out of hand in a high school setting.

The law could pinpoint the technological bottleneck step of disseminating a photo without the original sender's permission.  But again, the potential for chilling or overbroad laws - hammers in place of scalpels - is high when emotion is driving the push for legislation.  Moreover, even with a law in place, its actual influence on teen conduct is questionable.

What's the bottom line?  Parents - and teenagers themselves - need to ensure that teens are facing the world with sufficient self-restraint.  Parents need to make balancing decisions about what technologies their children use.  And if sexting nonetheless occurs, parents need to ensure that their children are strong enough, thick-skinned enough to bear the inevitable petty reverberations.  Teens need to realize that suicide is not a proportionate response to any embarrassment related to naked photos.

Workin' on those night moves

A new assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia.

And Kissinger is quitely back to Russia.

When getting what you want isn't really what you want

South Africa is finding out:
Presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe said the conference organisers had not consulted them before inviting the Dalai Lama.

"The South African government does not have a problem with the Dalai Lama," he told the local Sapa news agency.

"But at this time the whole world will be focused on the country as hosts of the 2010 World Cup. We want the focus to remain on South Africa.

"A visit now by the Dalai Lama would move the focus from South Africa onto issues in Tibet."

A Flaw in Geithner's Proposal?

The Law School Decision

"Law School is a Bad Decision for Most People" 

Danny S from University and State shares some sobering stats and anecdotes.

Thoughts?

Sen. Robson's road to economic recovery: Let Washington do it!

This is a complete abdication of responsibility. Instead of offering solutions or attempting to reform our state's laws and taxes to encourage growth and real economic recovery in Wisconsin, Sen. Robson is directing our attention to a website that isn't even complete.

A note to Sen. Robson and the rest of the representatives for Beloit and Janesville: Our communities are in desperate shape. We have the 1st and 3rd highest unemployment rates in the state. Don't hold tell us that a website for the Office of Recovery and Reinvestment or two construction projects will fix our problems. Do not hold photo-op office hours on public buses to show you are a "man of the people."

Use your positions of influence and get something done! Stop relying on Washington to do your jobs.

We cannot spend our way out of this situation. The construction projects and the "stimulus" money are only a way to limit the effects of the recession by temporarily stemming the tide of job loss. We cannot build highways and schools indefinitely and eventually we will need real economic recovery to take place.

This is where my anger comes in. It is all well and good that we are going to do what we can to keep people employed by improving our roadways and infrastructure, but more needs to be done. We must put in place tax and regulatory policies that will encourage job creation for the long term.

Instead of doing so, Sen. Robson and the rest of her party have voted in massive tax increases on businesses and consumers to fill budget gaps. I know we need to balance the budget, but punishing economic activity in the middle of the worst recession in 25 years is mind-numbingly stupid. We need to position ourselves for success in the long term and these tax policies harm us now and in the future by making our state less competitive.

The legislature is going to be debating the budget in the coming weeks. This is the perfect opportunity to set our priorities on long term economic recovery. The best thing for Beloit and Janesville is a competitive Wisconsin. Our position as border communities make it that much easier for companies to move if conditions are better in Illinois. The same goes for every other border community in the state.

Our representatives need to remember that economics, unlike politics, is not a zero-sum game. If a company or industry grows and prospers, it does not mean that someone else loses. If companies are paying less in taxes to government they can pay their workers more or hire more employees. They can reinvest the money otherwise spent on taxes to grow or improve their business. It is in their interest to do so in order to remain competitive.

It is time our representatives actually do their jobs and represent the interests of all people - business owners and employees alike. The stimulus money might stop the bleeding momentarily, but eventually we need to get down to work ourselves.

The people elected you to help solve this crisis. Stop passing the buck and get to work.

The Next Step

At long last, the Obama administration unveils its plan to address toxic assets.

I look forward to digging into the trillion-dollar plan to see what it truly entails.

3.22.2009

Mardi Gras Indians - Uptown Tribes






































We couldn't find the Downtown tribes near Bayou St. John, so we headed back to catch the Uptown tribes along Simon Bolivar Avenue in Central City. The displays and pageantry of the day mesmerized beyond what I could have imagined - the tired streets of Central City burst into full bloom.

Luckily, we were in the right place at the right time - we ran into musical legend Dr. John out marching along with the Indian chants that informed his music. You can see him in the photo below (burgundy shirt, black beret, gray hair - he had his crazy cane, too, but it isn't visible):









Mardi Gras Indians - Central City


















Two friends prevailed in getting me out to see Super Sunday.  I'm glad they did.

Forts on the Lower Mississippi

The Times-Picayune highlights an effort to turn two ancient forts in Plaquemines Parish near the mouth of the Mississippi into a national park.

I've visited Fort Jackson on the West Bank side, and I've attempted (unsuccessfully) to find Fort St. Philip on the East Bank side.  Fort Jackson, erected in the 1820s and still closed from Katrina damage, was eerie, but fascinating in its half ruinous state.

3.21.2009

Well said; well reasoned

John Stossl, perhaps the most famous libertarian in the nation, recently did a fairly extensive interview with Reason magazine. It is definitely worth a read, especially with all the bailout and budget madness going on.

An excerpt:
reason: What do you think of the bailout mania that’s sweeping the country?

John Stossel: I think it’s disgusting. They keep saying everybody agrees that we have to bail these people out and the feds have to spend trillions of your tax dollars guaranteeing this and that. It’s just so irresponsible. We’ve got a $35 trillion Medicare liability already that they’re not facing. Now they’re going to throw more trillions of dollars to stop this recession, like we’re not allowed to experience any pain in America. There are recessions. There are booms and busts. Bubbles have to pop.

What Republican Party?

Though I disagree with Susan Estrich on virtually everything she says from a policy standpoint, she is dead-on in her column about The Republican Vacuum.

She's right. We don't have a leader. We don't have a unified strategy. John Boehner isn't stepping up and neither is Mitch McConnell. Someone in the Party needs to stand up and say "follow me." Someone needs to grab the elephant by the tusks and say "I will lead this party." They can't wait for an invitation, it's time to stand up now.

I think it is safe to say that the GOP faithful are willing to follow just about anyone right now who presents a clarity of vision and purpose. We need someone to stand up and fight. Not just the horribly bad policies coming from Pelosi and the White House, but from misguided policies advocated by other "conservatives."

How much longer will it take for this to happen?

A Zephyr of a Day

The Russian rearmament: a disturbance in the Force, but for better or worse?

Folks have been stirring about Russian President Medvedev's announced plans to overhaul the Russian military:
The plan, first disclosed in October, envisions the most dramatic transformation of the Russian military since World War II, abandoning a structure designed to mobilize large numbers of new troops to fight a major war and replacing it with a leaner, standing army that can respond more quickly to local conflicts. Thousands of combat units staffed now only with officers would be eliminated, and the military's four-level command structure would be trimmed to a three-tier hierarchy.


My sense is that the Russians never seriously remade their military in the wake of the Soviet collapse -- which would mean that it is indeed high time for some major changes to be made. Last year's war with Georgia, despite the relative ease with which the Russian behemoth steamrolled it's diminutive southern neighbor, doubtless revealed serious inefficiencies in the Soviet command structure, as well as a need for more modern weaponry. The inimitable Johnson's Russia List points to Russia's perceived need for change:
“In fact, Medvedev did not say anything new,” commented Viktor Litovkin, the editor in chief of the Independent Military Review, a weekly supplement to the Moscow-based Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. “He repeated for the umpteenth time that Russia’s armed forces need an upgrade. In fact, this upgrade is being done now, but its speed can be compared to that of a turtle. When Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said that ten percent of the Russian army is equipped with modern weaponry, that meant that the remaining 90 percent were equipped with outdated weapons. Any president of any country would have to do something about it urgently, wouldn’t he?”


Indeed, as JRL goes on to note, Russia's economic contractions lately mean that money is tight for any purposes -- and that may well hold up any weaponry upgrades.

But the changes may not be entirely smooth. La Russophobe recently raised some alarms about the possibility of renewed hostilities with Georgia. One always has to be careful with the sometimes overly-strident LR, but this bit has me worried:
The ceasefire last August has left the strategically important Russian base in Armenia cut off with no overland military transit connections. The number of Russian soldiers in Armenia is limited to some 4000, but during 2006 and 2007 large amounts of heavy weapons and supplies were moved in under an agreement with Tbilisi from bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki (Georgia)... [I]f a credible overland military transit link is not established within a year or two, there will be no possibility to either replace or modernize equipment.


I would suspect that, in order to put more pressure on Azerbaijan to route its oil through Russia, rather than through Georgia and Turkey, Russia would like to maintain links to its Armenia base. And as the Caspian Sea reserves dry up, control of transit routes will become increasingly important.

Moreover, Georgian determination to leave the CIS could be another spark in the tinder -- a trifecta of desire to test the newly-flexible Russian Army, desire to create a land link with the base in Armenia, and desire to punish Georgia for leaving the CIS.

Bonus: It's controversial, but many suggest that the Treaty of Kars gives Turkey the right of intervention if the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchevan comes under attack, raising the stakes for any broader war in the Caucasus.

The New Red Sea

I do not know how we will part this, how we will escape the folly of our leaders:

President Barack Obama’s new budget will produce a string of annual deficits averaging in excess of $926 billion over the next decade and more than triple what taxpayers pay each year in interest charges on the national debt, according to new estimates released Friday by the Congressional Budget Office.

The raw numbers bring the extent of the prospective damage from excessive spending into focus:

CBO calculates that the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30 will show a record deficit of $1.85 trillion that narrows to $658 billion in 2012. But that proves to be the low point for the decade, and by 2018 and 2019, CBO says the government would be back in a situation where it is running up more than $1 trillion in red ink annually.

The level of debt held by the public as a percentage of the gross domestic product will grow to 82.4% —more than double what it was only last year. All told the deficits projected by CBO would total $9.27 trillion for the next 10 years, more than $2.3 trillion above what the White House had predicted using more optimistic economic assumptions.

As the debt grows, so does the annual cost of simply meeting interest charges –which threaten to squeeze out important programs. CBO estimates that net interest costs in 2009 will be $170 billion; by 2019, that will have risen to $806 billion.

I vigorously oppose the Obama budget.  If passed, it will encase future generations in a straitjacket of debt and severely limit our range of action as a nation.

Suggestions for Charleston?

I'm heading to Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday for the second half of Spring Break.

I'm set to compete in the John R. Brown Admiralty Moot Court Competition with a crack team from the Tulane Maritime Law Journal.

Any recommendations?  I've never been to Charleston (or South Carolina, for that matter).  I'm not sure how much free time I'll have, but Fort Sumter is already on the list.

A Cloudy Outlook

What do you think - accurate? 

3.20.2009

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More crawfish - spring fling @ the levee - spring break is here!

Uh oh

A "pro-Obama budget" event is slated for 2pm this afternoon here in Uptown:

NEW ORLEANS - Louisiana ACORN and SEIU Local 21 plan to gather in New Orleans to kickoff a national campaign in support of President Barack Obama's budget, which ACORN calls "a transformational blueprint for rebuilding and renewing America."

The event will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at New Orleans Adolescent Hospital, 210 State St.

If I wasn't locked into an obligation that runs through that time, I might actually contemplate protesting outside the event to counter speech with speech.

Crawfish Season

Break.  Suck.  Peel.  Pinch.  Pull.  Eat.

3.19.2009

More sad news for Azerbaijani "democracy"

Is there any other kind, though?

Ali Novruzov has a truly fantastic roundup of commentary on the recent referendum to amend the Azerbaijani constitution. For those who don't follow Caucasian politics, after being overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev proposed an amendment to the Constitution to eliminate presidential term limits. That amendment passed this week, meaning, essentially, that Aliyev (the guy who is pictured as "President of Kazakhstan" at the end of the Borat movie) will be president for life. Which is really what one wants to see in an ostensibly friendly petrostate on the norther border of Iran.

Ali's post is too long and detailed for me to really excerpt here, but I will pull a different quote from one of the blogs he quotes:
There were independent international observers at the referendum. Yeah, right. I am sure they were probably not much different than these guys (essential reading, trust me). I have no confidence anyway in the opinion of those parachuting short-term election observers, Western, Eastern or Marsian, as they naively assume that elections are only rigged at the very day of the elections. I think that about 95% of the voting manipulation takes place prior to elections or referendums, through intimidation of opposition activists, severely maiming of independent media, overall strategy of stimulating political apathy among citizens, etc. . One only needs to have a pervert mind and winning elections actually becomes very easy.

That jives exactly with what I saw in my year over there.

Also, let me recommend Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines, which is maintained by one Arzu Geybullayeva, on whom I am very rapidly developing a blog crush -- a witty, independent-minded, world traveling, and lovely Azeri woman? What's not to love? And she even does sarcasm!

Added: Ilham (left) wants to remind you, via this lovely poster, that he's not up to anything sneaky, and just wants to be a good democrat.

Survivor



Neenah, Wisconsin

But we get such great gov't services...

For everyone who likes to argue that we get better government services for all the high taxes we pay, what about this story?

One would think that 5,000 citizens being told wrongly told that their social security benefits would be cut warrants an apology, or at least another letter informing them of the error.

Nope, not in Wisconsin. We're just going to wait and handle it if anyone calls. Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but we're in a recession. Most seniors live on fixed incomes, you think that this might cause those 5,000 individuals to be a little upset?

The people at DHS need to get off their backsides and let each and every person affected by this know that it was a mistake. Just hoping that they call to complain is not good enough. Whoever is responsible for the "glitch" needs to explain why it happened and what steps were taken so it never happens again.

FLASHBACK: Remember this from about a year ago? Why is it that we seem to keep on having these problems with "glitches" screwing so many things up? It shouldn't be too much to ask for a little competence in state government.

A Poll - Where's the Line?

Do you think President Obama's appearance on the Tonight Show this evening (a first for a sitting President) demeans the office of the Presidency?
Yes
No
  
pollcode.com free polls

Amendments Reveal Need to Amend the SBA Constitution

"The SBA general assembly unanimously voted to approve the new amendments to the SBA constitution. It can be viewed on the SBA page, under documents and contracts. It goes into effect immediately so please peruse it at your convenience."

That's strange, I thought - I heard about the drafting of the amendments, but I didn't see an email about voting on them.  On investigation, I found that constitutional amendments to the SBA Constitution were passed without direct approval by the student body.

This seems patently improper to me - the SBA general assembly is the same body that would pass general decision-making "legislation" of the SBA.  Thus, it's analogous to the Congress or a State legislature for the law school. Under that model, it should have to send any constitutional amendments out to the people for ratification (as is done with many state constitutions). For U.S. Constitutional Amendments, state legislatures have to ratify - and we have no analogous bodies (our class reps comprise the SBA legislature - so they can't be Congress and the state legislature, so to speak - we need another representational check). 

Moreover, there's no technological or feasibility reason SBA couldn't have set up a simple online election and had the entire student body vote - just as we've done in other instances.

The bottom line: a Constitutional amendment is a big deal in any institution. The failure to get sufficient ratification for such a change is problematic. SBA should be able to change its own bylaws without a student vote, but not its Constitution.

--

I understand that SBA was acting within its prerogative under its current Constitution when it amended the constitution without a student body plebiscite.  That cannot stand.

So, I will soon begin work with others on a draft amendment to amend the SBA Constitution to require that any future amendments must be ratified by at least a majority vote of the entire student body, not merely passed by the SBA elected officials.  If anyone is interested in helping with this effort - especially presenting it to SBA - please get in touch.

Coach K to Obama:

Get your priorities straight. 

Grab your torches and pitchforks

The circus that has become the AIG bonus "scandal" needs to end. It needs to end now.

I don't like the fact that people were rewarded for their performance at AIG. If for no other reason than it looks horribly out of touch, AIG executives should have had the foresight to postpone any bonuses until such time as the company is back in the black.

That said, the phony, pretend, extremely exaggerated outrage from so many members of Congress and the administration is disgusting. I'm disappointed with AIG. I'm mad as hell at Congress and the President.

Congress and the administration new for months about the bonuses. Senator Dodd put a clause in the bailout bill that explicitly protected these bonuses. That bill passed through Congress and President Obama signed it. They knew what they were doing. Now they want to pretend that they were had. They want to pose for holy pictures with torches and pitchforks.

The endless calls to tax all of the bonuses after the fact are bad enough. Brad has pointed out the potential constitutional problems. I think it is safe to say that there is no legal recourse to retake the bonuses. It may not be a pleasant reality, but following the law and the constitution are far more important than the money paid in these bonuses.

But as much as the blatant hypocrisy bothers me - I unfortunately have come to expect it from elected officials - I am truly disgusted by two remarks in particular.

The first is Senator Grassley's now infamous remark that these executives should commit suicide. I can't believe a US Senator would actually say something like that - whether it was in jest or not. It's absurd, and he needs to spend a long time apologizing to each and everyone of the people who got these bonuses. These are not evil people. They may not be saints, I don't know. I really don't care. But these people are not Bernie Maddoff. They have been charged with no crime. It's disgusting to attack them so personally.

The worst comments I have heard, though, came from Rep. Barney Frank. When the current CEO of AIG, Liddy, was testifying about the bonuses before Congress yesterday Frank insisted that he turn over the names of the recipients. Liddy declined, citing death threats sent to AIG. When Frank persisted, Liddy read a threat about killing each of the executives - and their families - with piano wire. Frank's response is truly dispicable:

"I am not persuaded." and "Everyone here gets those threats."

Sorry, the AIG execs are not public officials. Their identities should be protected when this kind of rage and hatred exists and threats have been made- spurred on, I might add, by people like Mr. Frank. We should never be so dismissive of graphic threats made against innocent people. Remember, these people are not criminals.

My point is that everyone currently faking outrage - for crying out loud, President Obama needed a teleprompter to tell him he was mad - they need to look in the mirror. The laws they passed, the loopholes they created and encouraged brought us this mess.

Taking all of our collective anger out on the people who got one-tenth-of-one-percent AIG's total bailout is ridiculous.

The constitution was written in large part to protect against this kind of thing. We can't use our laws to go back and penalize someone, or some group of people after the fact. That isn't what our nation is about. If we go back and forcibly take the bonuses, our government has broken a valid contract simply because they didn't like the terms. That's not the way our system works. Laws still mean something.

I think the chorus of congressmen chlamoring for heads to roll has gotten so loud because they don't want anyone to ask how this happened. Essentially they are trying to tell us that AIG and these executives are to blame for everything that has gone wrong. AIG is to blame for your lost job, or your lost home and you should be mad at them. Congress doesn't want us to start asking why and how, because this is as much their fault as anyone's.

I for one am tired of it. Both parties have behaved badly in this scene and I have no respect for anyone in Washington claiming outrage over this.

3.18.2009

Emerald City for A Day














Jason V sends a few views of the Windy City on St. Patrick's.


"Mysterious Brown Substance" Found in St. Bernard Parish














It's staining the siding of houses in Arabi and the Lower 9th Ward - and nobody seems to know what it is...

Residents said the brown film began appearing mostly on vinyl siding last week. Cleaning agents including bleach, soap and detergent won't get it out, they say. "It's a damage to quality of life, and you don't what you're breathing, either," said Laura Bostic, who has been scrubbing her stained white Center Street home to no avail since last Wednesday.

Interestingly, none of the reports I've read about the brown mystery substance say definitively that people have seen it airborne (although in contacting the Domino Sugar Company about fumes, it seems people presume it's an airborne emission).

Well, one of my roommates and a friend saw a great brown haze in the air down in the precise area involved on the Sunday of Mardi Gras weekend while driving around. It was quite noticeable, and quite high up in the air that afternoon - and it stretched for miles over Arabi, the 9th Ward, and down to the river around the refinery/smelting plant/Chalmette Battlefield.

We snapped some photos of it - mainly because it looked so eerie, adding a further sense of dread to some of the Katrina-devastated tracts. I will post some soon.

ADDED: Here are the photos courtesy of Ian F:




Cursory Constitutional Considerations on the AIG Bonuses

One of my roommates and I got to wondering about the constitutionality of any attempt to stop the AIG bonuses.

Potential problems:

1. Wouldn't it likely (but not necessarily) be a bill of attainder - legislation directed at one specific party?

2. Wouldn't it be an ex post facto law?

And if we're talking about state laws and you wanted to revive pre-1937 jurisprudence:


Darren Sharper to New Orleans

The former Packer and current Viking will now be playing for the Saints. 

MRI brain scan proffered as legal evidence in U.S. court

A possible first for a U.S. court:

In an upcoming juvenile-sex-abuse case in San Diego, the defense is hoping to get an fMRI scan, which shows brain activity based on oxygen levels, admitted to prove the abuse didn't happen.

The technology is used widely in brain research, but hasn't been fully tested as a lie-detection method. To be admitted into California court, any technique has to be generally accepted within the scientific community.

The company that did the brain scan, No Lie MRI, claims their test is over 90 percent accurate, but some scientists and lawyers are skeptical.


I noted the groundbreaking use of a similar brain scan technique in a court in India last fall, and the article linked above at Wired mentions that instance, too:

Lie detection has tantalized lawyers since before the polygraph was invented in 1921, but the accuracy of the tests has always been in question. Greely noted that American courts and scientists have "85 years of experience with the polygraph" and a wealth of papers that have tried to describe its accuracy. Yet they aren't generally admissible in court, except in New Mexico.

Other attempts to spot deception using different brain signals continue, such as the EEG-based technique developed in India, where it has been used as evidence in court. And last year, attorneys tried to use fMRI evidence for chronic pain in a worker's compensation claim, but the case was settled out of court. The San Diego case will be the first time fMRI lie-detection evidence, if admitted, is used in a U.S. court.


The use of brain scans in legal proceedings is gravely concerning to me, primarily for privacy and autonomy reasons.  I'm intrigued to find out how courts assess the new technology under Daubert.

Justice Thomas' Diagnosis

Adam D over at Vagabond Liberty highlights an apt Justice Thomas quote on the current crisis and provides context.


3.17.2009

End of the Road


The Grand Am is done.






















Perhaps it's gratuitous to show these photos, but I find they alone convey the depth of our good fortune.



How China Benefits from a Side Effect of the Global Slowdown

As global trade declines, the need for ships declines.  As the need for ships declines, the viability of shipyards and shipbuilding declines.

That makes for a worrisome trade and national security scenario in the next five years because it is likely to benefit China drastically, according to Lloyd's List :

However, the authors believe China, which has as taken enormous trouble to guarantee long-term sources of raw materials and plan its expansion of steel production and shipbuilding capacity, is likely to take a different approach. 

"In the face of the same factors of cancellation and non-payment, China is likely to continue building vessels on schedule through 2009-2012, but now for its own account. 

"As its national fleet grows, it will give preference to its own vessels against tonnage chartered from the free market." 

As a result, they believe it is quite possible China will control, directly or indirectly, more than a third of the world's dry cargo fleet by 2012. 

China could then use its muscle to dominate free markets to the nation's own advantage which, in turn, could provoke a response by the US, the European Union, Russia and India. 

New Slang













"And then you go downtown now
I said buy yourself a shotgun now
We're gonna break it down baby now
We're gonna load it up baby now"



















What was that again about supporting veterans?

"I want to be very clear that my strategy for ending the war in Iraq does not end with military plans or diplomatic agendas - it endures through our commitment to uphold our sacred trust with every man and woman who has served in Iraq." - President Obama; Feb. 27, 2009
How does one square that statement, with this story about the President's plan to charge wounded soldiers for treatment?
The Commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session said, "This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate ' to care for him who shall have borne the battle' given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America's veterans!"
This is outrageous. This is NOT a conservative/liberal issue. This is a matter of honoring the service of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. We at the very least should treat the wounds and injuries that our veterans receive in the line of duty. I am appalled that the President would be so callous as to try and plug a budget hole by charging veterans for treatment when we're throwing billions of dollars at failed companies.

I want someone - anyone - in Congress to introduce a bill to prevent this.

The result of this policy switch would also increase insurance premiums for every veteran and probably all Americans. These types of wounds and injuries are not easy to treat and often take years to fully recover - if ever. Insurance companies are not likely to absorb those costs without rate increases.

With this policy President Obama has shirked the nation's commitment to our veterans. I am disgusted that my Commander-in-Chief can look our troops in the eye and give his word to honor their sacrifice and then ask them to pay for their own treatment.

Taking advantage of the cracks

A little while back, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's excellent Russia-watchers noticed cracks forming in Russia's leadership. Now, it looks some possible reformers are trying to take advantage of those cracks:
First, the opposition group Solidarity -- perhaps sensing the elite's vulnerability as the economy sputters -- decided to make a statement in Sochi by nominating one of its heavyweights, Boris Nemtsov, as its candidate for mayor.

Nemtsov, who was governor of Nizhny Novgorod and First Deputy Prime Minister in the 1990s, was actually born in Sochi, meaning he can play the role of a native son returning.
...
Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia announced on Friday that it was considering nominating Andrei Lugovoi as its candidate. Lugovoi, a former KGB officer, is Britain's main suspect in the 2006 poisoning death of émigré Kremlin critic Aleksandr Litvinenko in London. Moscow's steadfast refused to extradite Lugovoi has been a sore point in Russian-British relations.

And today, billionaire businessman Aleksandr Lebedev -- who last year announced he would team up with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to form a new political party -- indicated that he will run as well.

The only time that change has come in Russia is when the leadership is divided, willing to support third-party groups in order to undermine another clan vying for leadership of the state -- it was fashionable for aristocrats to give money to revolutionary causes in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the Soviet Union finally fell when the old hard-liners were fighting amongst themselves. So I think there's a real possibility that something interesting could happen in Sochi. Stay tuned.

3.16.2009

In Memoriam, Two Hometown Pillars

Kiel lost two important members of the community in the past few days.

- Eugene "Butch" Reineck, my cheerful neighbor since childhood and the longest tenured member of the famed Kiel Municipal Band in its history with 63 years on the trombone.

- My great uncle Charlie, always active in the community and encouraging to me, he built and maintained a family business with my grandfather.

They will be missed, and my sympathy goes out to the families.  I regret that I wasn't able to attend the funerals.

Is It Just Me -

- or does Organizing for America sound a little creepy?

This weekend, supporters like you are organizing Pledge Project Canvasses to talk to people in their communities about this plan and mobilize support in neighborhoods across the country.

Host or attend a Pledge Project Canvass in your neighborhood this weekend.

It's absolutely crucial that Americans hear from you about this plan -- we can't leave this important debate up to a Washington establishment that doesn't welcome change.

It's up to you to show Washington that Americans are demanding this new direction and won't stand on the sidelines while our country's future is at stake.

On these canvasses, you'll join fellow supporters in your community to:
- Talk with people about the President's plan
- Ask them to sign their names to the pledge
- Provide information on how to contact and urge their elected representatives to support the plan
- Host or attend a canvass this weekend:

http://my.barackobama.com/pledgecanvass

Nothing is more powerful than having people hear from ordinary Americans about the vision President Obama has laid out for our country. Join us this weekend.


It's an interesting and possibly savvy move on the part of Obama - go directly to the people.

But something about it just strikes me as a little eerie...some echo from some uncomfortable historical example...rather Maoist in its cultishness and mass obedience to the propaganda spin on issues of the day.

Wisconsin: We spent $50,000 and all we got was this lousy slogan...

John Jagler from Milwaukee's WTMJ has the story over on his blog about the state's new slogan. Here's the logo and the new slogan:


Apparently that person is supposed to be doing a cartwheel. You know, because people here cartwheel all the time. Not only is it kinda lame... it's not even original.
Bacardi has already used it.

Nice. We spend $50,000 for an add firm to give us something off a booze bottle.

This should honestly outrage every taxpayer. We can't even get an original slogan? We shell out 5o grand and get a crappy - stolen - slogan. Great job.

You know, something tells me we could have spent a tenth of the money and asked 4th graders all across the state to come up with a better slogan. Maybe even something that has to do with our state's identity? The comments on Jagler's post have some good suggestions. I wonder what LIB readers can come up with.