Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama Wraps Himself in the Flag, Fights For A Piece of the Patriotism Franchise

That Barack Obama felt compelled to give a speech today on patriotism speaks volumes about the lousy state of political discourse in the U.S. That few minds will be changed although the speech was a noble effort is a fact of life for this African-American with a foreign-sounding middle name and an opposition with toxic intentions. That there are so many real issues crying out for attention in this deeply troubled land as the July 4th holiday draws near and he feels the need to wrap himself in the flag is disheartening.

What Obama sought to do at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri was redefine our archaic and platitude driven views of what constitutes patriotism by telling his own story in much the same way he did in a March speech on race and religion in Philadelphia prompted by the damage his problematic relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was causing.

That controversy has passed, but defusing the issue of his patriotic bona fides will not be easy with so many rumor and fear mongers and the willingness of John McCain to lend a hand.

Look for Obama to tell and retell the story he shared today of a multiracial and multicultural upbringing, of a heartfelt love of country that is not based on being a war hero or even a veteran, but on living the American dream through overcoming a childhood lived in poverty to excel in academia, community service and politics -- and that stories like his can only happen here.

Wresting a piece of the patriotic franchise from conservatives who believe that only they are entitled to it will be difficult. Additionally, Obama is trying to be dispassionate yet passionate about a subject where emotion is an easy substitute for substance and trying to redress wrongs is akin to being unpatriotic.

The conclusion of his speech:
"[I]t was the most famous son of Independence, Harry S Truman, who sat in the White House during his final days in office and said in his Farewell Address: 'When Franklin Roosevelt died, I felt there must be a million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential task . . . But through it all, through all the years I have worked here in this room, I have been well aware that I did not really work alone -- that you were working with me. No President could ever hope to lead our country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save the people helped with their support.'

"In the end, it may be this quality that best describes patriotism in my mind -- not just a love of America in the abstract, but a very particular love for, and faith in, the American people. That is why our heart swells with pride at the sight of our flag; why we shed a tear as the lonely notes of Taps sound. For we know that the greatness of this country -- its victories in war, its enormous wealth, its scientific and cultural achievements -- all result from the energy and imagination of the American people; their toil, drive, struggle, restlessness, humor and quiet heroism.

"That is the liberty we defend -- the liberty of each of us to pursue our own dreams. That is the equality we seek -- not an equality of results, but the change of every single one of us to make it if we try. That is the community we strive to build -- one in which we trust in this sometimes messy democracy of ours, one in which we continue to insist that there is nothing we cannot do when we put our mind to it, one in which we see ourselves as part of a larger story, our own fates wrapped up in the fates of those who share allegiance to America's happy and secular creed."
Oh, and by the way, Obama was wearing an American flag lapel pin.

More here on the speech and here for the full text.

The Economy: People Are Going To Die

Let's be really clear about a consequence of the enormous stress that Americans are under because of the ongoing economic meltdown: People are going to die.

People are going to die because their cars run out of $5 per gallon gas on some godforsaken back road.

People are going to die because "compassionate conservatism" was a Republican focus-group talking point and not a way for the government to give a leg up to people in need.

People are going to die this summer because they can't afford to stay cool and this winter because they can't afford to stay warm.

People are going to die because the sweeping deregulation of Wall Street banks and other financial institutions has rewarded the powerful and rich at the expense of the middle class.

People are going to die because they are uninsured and won't seek out the medical treatment they need until it's too late.

People are going to die because they believe that sticking their head in a lit oven is preferable to trying to scrape by after their pension plan collapses.

People are going to die because stimulus checks go only so far in providing the recommended daily allowance of nutrients.

People are going to die because some nut who can't get his unemployment benefits extended shoots up a fast-food joint or shopping mall.

People are going to die because the U.S. dollar is an increasingly worthless piece of paper.

People are going to die because the president and his economic advisors are in deep denial.

People are going to die because there are no quick fixes, only difficult long-term solutions that will not check the current meltdown and take the kind of courage to enact that has been sorely lacking in slavishly pro-business, pro-deregulation and anti-consumer Washington.

Wall Street, Main Street Crises Explained

What is going on with the economy is at the same time very simple, enormously complex and a matter of your political point of view. This helps explain why the news media in general -- and the financial media in particular -- has done such a lousy job of explaining the ongoing crises on Wall Street and Main Street.

Although it is slightly dated and written from a journalist's perspective, this explanation in the May-June issue of Columbia Journalism Review lays out the foundations of the crisis in clear terms.

Here's my summary of the explanation:
There is a credit crisis of very broad potential damage. People were given mortgages who didn't quality and that has created a domino effect because bad mortgages were packaged with good mortgages and a wide range of financial institutions bought these packages in the form of securities that were used as collateral for other borrowing.

Borrowing is what has supported the economy in the past, but because incomes haven't been rising people, businesses and government are borrowing more and debt has become the fulcrum of the economy. Despite having moderately strong economic growth, the only profits are being made by big corporations.

The conventional economic wisdom that you need a better education because jobs are becoming more sophisticated isn't holding water because college-educated people aren't doing that well.

There is no hesitation on the part of businesses to fire people or keep wages down. Serious wage increases are considered inflationary, and the minimum wages wasn't raised for many years -- signs that the federal government isn't paying attention.

The global economy has some effect on the crises, but the U.S. is not necessarily losing the better-paying jobs, or even the middle-income jobs, due to trade. Globalization has made it easier to overlook and excuse the deterioration in business norms and government norms. People are hurting and recognize they need government programs to solve problems that business cannot solve. But again, they federal government isn't paying attention.
Got that?

Cartoon du Jour


Chart du Jour

Courtesy of

How They Spent Their Stimulus Checks


GM: Too Proud Or Stupid For Chapter 11?

General Motors finally is making some decent and competitive vehicles.

But it may be too late to keep the once mighty car-making colossus from crashing and burning because its modest turnaround has been on the backs of gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks, a segment of the market that has all but collapsed, and it has very little in its inventory that can compete with the hottest segment -- high-mileage hybrids from Toyota.

Incidentally, Toyota's stock-market value now stands at $162 billion compared to just $6 billion for GM, whose shares sank to a 34-year- low last week.

Good grief!

Chapter 11 would seem to be a viable alternative, but with CEO Rick Wagoner sounding more like Richard Nixon by the day, don't hold your breath.

The Living Dead Talking Heads

I've long considered financial forecasting to be the second oldest profession, but even prostitutes have more dignity than this Crew Without a Clue, who are wrong as often as they are right.
Photos by Kevin Taylor via Mish and The Big Picture

'Gonna Strike All The Big Red Words'

When Black Friday comes
I'll stand down by the door
And catch the grey men when they
Dive from the fourteenth floor
When Black Friday comes
I'll collect everything I'm owed
And before my friends find out
I'll be on the road
When Black Friday falls you know it's got to be
Don't let it fall on me

When Black Friday comes
I'll fly down to Muswellbrook
Gonna strike all the big red words
From my little black book
Gonna do just what I please
Gonna wear no socks and shoes
With nothing to do but feed
All the kangaroos
When Black Friday comes I'll be on that hill
You know I will

When Black Friday comes
I'm gonna dig myself a hole
Gonna lay down in it 'til
I satisfy my soul
Gonna let the world pass by me
The Archbishop's gonna sanctify me
And if he don't come across
I'm gonna let it roll
When Black Friday comes
I'm gonna stake my claim
I'll guess I'll change my name

Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture for the inspiration.

Historic Photograph du Jour

By Dorothea Lange
Lange (right) tells the story of this photograph, one of the most famous ever taken:

"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it."

Quotes From Around Yon Econosphere

After eight brutal months on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average finally made it official: Blue-chip stocks have stumbled into bear territory.

A brief 155-point slide on Friday afternoon brought the decline in the Dow to 20 percent from its October peak, an ignominious figure that is generally regarded as marking the start of a bear market. The index ended down 107 points, a mere 0.1 percent above the threshold. The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has not fallen quite as much.

The eight-month journey has roughly followed the twists of the subprime mortgage crisis, with a significant drop after the Bear Stears collapse and a tantalizing rally when the economy appeared to recover slightly last month.

But in June, as the price of oil kept rising and the pain in the financial industry showed no signs of easing, the losses gained momentum. Many investors concluded that the economy was in worse shape than they had initially feared. This month, as the price of crude has gained about $13, the Dow has shed more than 1,000 points. The index closed at 11,346.51.


When the economy's gone south, the president's party always suffers in an election year. Maybe [John] McCain could benefit from focusing on the economy a little more than he has, but McCain's between a rock and a hard place here. He may just have to pick the national security hard place and stick to it.


With Americans still reeling from this week's report that gas may cost $7 a gallon in a few years and with millions either losing their homes to foreclosure or unable to sell their homes, people are looking for help.

We'll, don't expect quick action here (in Washington).

Congress has gone on holiday and told the nation, "See you after July 4th." Nobody here but tourists, who can't understand why Congress would leave with so much undone.

"I can't really say I know what they do in there," a man from Bakersfield, Calif., said outside the Capitol building. "I know what they're not doing."


Confidence among U.S. consumers fell in the month of June to the lowest level in 28 years. The culprits are record-high energy costs and rising joblessness.

Earlier this week, the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence data plunged to 16 year lows. . . . Despite the war(s), rising prices, weak job creation, Katrina, and an otherwise mediocre post recession recovery, Americans have remained not-all-that-gloomy.

That is, until recently.

The most recent peak in sentiment was January 2007, and since then, its been more or less straight down. 2008 saw the prior range broken, to record levels of unhappiness.

What gives? This must be perplexing to those who look at inflation and unemployment data without any context. The numbers seem relatively modest.

For a moment, forget all of the arguments about models and how the BLS measures things, and how thats changed over time. If we have full employment, where is the wage pressure? If unemployment is so low, why is sentiment so negative? If inflation is contained, why the negative sentiment? Something here doesn't compute.


American consumers haven't found so much extra money in their pockets since the Ford administration. Thanks to the economic stimulus checks that went out as a recession fighter, disposable incomes jumped 5.7 percent in May.

And yet to look at investor sentiment, all remains not well.


In the average bear market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 30 percent and sometimes much, much more. The Dow decline of 2000 through 2003 involved a loss of 55 percent, the bear of '73-'74 caused a 50 percent loss and the 1929 market wiped out a full 85 percent of the Dow's value.

We think we're still quite a ways from the bottom. Over the next year, the Dow could fall 30 percent to 50 percent from its October '07 top. The market could enjoy a few short-lived rallies during that span, like the one we experienced from March through May. But each rally is apt to result in a lower high and a lower low in the market.


Sloppy thinking by the great mathematician [Blaise Pascal] has been enshrined for decades in the undergraduate economics and statistics curriculum. You know the story: the problem of whether to believe in the Christian god and follow church teachings can be formulated as one of expected value, the cost in pleasure of being religious times the likelihood that there is no such god compared to the cost in eternal damnation times the probability that the Bearded One actually exists. The small likelihood of divine existence is outweighed by the even greater imbalance in the calue cofactor. Except that it's all wrong.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Naughty Kitty Blogging

Kimba has had a most not excellent adventure since I last kitty blogged and it involves the window in which he is grooming in this photograph.

The Dear Friend & Conscience left Kimba and Chin-Chin home alone for three days while she went on the road. To her shock and horror, while she was gone Kimba pushed through the window screen and leaped about 20 feet to the driveway and amscrayed.

While Kimba is a hunk and a half in the looks department, he is a few whiskers short of a full meow probably owing to his malnourished in utero and feral existence as a kitty, and in all likelihood became disoriented immediately after his great escape. Our fear was that he had ambled into the dense woods behind the house and up a formidable ridgeline and had become hopelessly lost.

Two days of hiking and cat calling were fruitless, but a neighbor who had been given a flier alerting her to Kimba's disappearance called and reported that he was hunkered down behind a shed in her yard and had been seen gamboling with a girl kittie who hangs in the hood.

Kimba lost some weight, is shedding like crazy because of the stress of the experience and has an attractive oil spot on the top of his head between his ears, but is now home and otherwise not too much the worse for wear.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Washington Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo

Entire forests have been pulped to provide the paper for all of the commentaries in the day and a half since the Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia's handgun ban, but when all is said and done this is what it comes down to:

Justice Antonin Scalia, who in vociferously opposing the majority in the Gitmo detainee decision two weeks ago wrote that it "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed," has no such concern when it comes ignoring the literal meaning of the Constitution, let alone the well being of residents of violent inner city neighborhoods.

* * * * *
A few blocks from the Supreme Court, David Addington and John Yoo, the two key players in justifying the use of torture on those detainees and other guests in the Rumsfeld Gulag, cozied up to microphones and did a bad cop-good cop routine that would make Heinrich Himmler blush.

The graceless Yoo showed none of the fire he exhibited in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece justifying his infamous torture memos and copped a poor-pitiful-me attitude in trying to blow smoke up the asses of his questioners by asserting that he was merely a bit player -- and an misunderstood one at that. Nobody, of course, believed him.

* * * * *
There is an emerging consensus in the wake of that Supreme Court ruling that Gitmo has to go, but where? John McCain proposes the Army prison at Ft. Leavenworth, but the base commander and Kansas' two Republican U.S. senators are crying NIMBY.

Lieutenant General William Caldwell IV says the Disciplinary Barracks, as the prison is formally known, would require a major revamping if foreign prisoners were to be brought in. This presumably would not mean having to add running water, a requisite for waterboarding.

* * * * *
The Fourth Branch of the U.S. government is unhappy about President Bush's conciliatory gestures toward North Korea.

Mr. Fourth Branch answered question after question during an off-the-record sitdown with foreign reporters, but when the subject of the newly delisted member of the Axis of Evil came up, participants say he froze and stared unsmilingly at his questioner for several long seconds, harrumphed that he was not the one to announce the decision, declared he was done taking questions and left.

* * * * *
Who are those people?

With 75 percent of Americans blaming George Bush for a hyrda-headed economic meltdown, including the worst June on Wall Street since the Great Depression, and nearly that many people disapproving of the president's overall job performance, you have to wonder who the holdouts are.

Why affluent John McCain supporters, of course, while Barack Obama is making substantial inroads among Americans who are struggling to make ends meet.

* * * * *
In a grown-up but no less immature version of a brat sticking his fingers in his ears and humming loudly so he can't hear bad news, the White House told the Environmental Protection Agency that it would not open an email containing a document concluding that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled. The EPA found that there would be $500 billion to $2 trillion in economic benefits over the next 30-plus years if auto emissions were curtailed.

The email remains in cyber limbo, but the EPA was back this week with a sufficiently watered-down version that offers no conclusion.

* * * * *
Washington is full of boobs, but we're not talking about politicians here. It's exposed women's breasts and even men's willies, and Robert Hunt is very unhappy over this rampant immodesty.

The Texas rancher was appalled to find so many statues and art work of naked women and men when he visited the nation's capital and recently proposed that the Texas Republican Party adopt a resolution calling for this filth to be removed from what he termed "our sacred cities."

Photograph by Jim McMillan/Philadelphia Daily News

Cartoon du Jour

Steve Benson/The Arizona Republic

Hope Yet For Conservative Christians

More here from the guy who officiated at Jenna Bush's wedding and introduced her daddy at the 2000 Republican National Convention. And here on how Barack Obama hopes to neutralize the evangelical vote.

Nader: He Stayed Too Long At The Fair

Ralph Nader is showing every sign of having lost his once considerable mojo and is now criticizing Barack Obama for not being black enough.

Lorenzo Odone (1978-2008)


I Don't need No Stinkin' GPS

Like many a guy, I'm reluctant to ask for directions, but like many a guy I'm pretty good at finding my way around, and on the rare occasions that I get lost, I typically get unlost quickly. Consequently, I am as one with Joel Achenbach when it comes to global positioning systems.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Topsy Clinch, 91 recreates her "living room" to depict scenes from the devastating U.K. floods last year.
Photograph by The Press Association

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

While he never would use such language, Colin Powell is said by friends to share Hunter's analysis of the GOP. His tenuous 13-year relationship with the Republican Party, following his retirement from the Army, has ended. The national security adviser for Ronald Reagan left the present administration bitter about being ushered out of the State Department a year earlier than he wanted. As an African American, friends say, Powell is sensitive to racial attacks on Obama and especially on Obama's wife, Michelle. While McCain strategists shrug off defections from Bruce Bartlett and Larry Hunter, they wince in anticipating headlines generated by Powell's expected endorsement of Obama.


Although Obama seems to be "up" in current national polls, McCain is actually doing a much better job of shaping the agenda to his advantage.

Long-time readers will instinctively know how I feel about the whole unity tour going on right now in Unity, NH- it makes me want to barf, as platitudes like this often do. However, for those of you, who, like me, thought that the joint Obama/Clinton appearance today was most likely going to be a kiss on the lips with no tongue, you are in for a rude awakening. Clinton and Obama are both pretty damned fired up, and seem about as united as is humanly possible with clothes on (sorry for the imagery).

As they begin their unity tour this week, Hillary Clinton has a powerful argument to win over diehard supporters who resist backing Barack Obama because he kept her from becoming the first woman in the Oval Office.

If John McCain is elected, they can kiss goodbye to Roe v Wade, which has been teetering in the Supreme Court balance since Bush started naming Justices and would surely be overturned in another Republican Administration.

As late as last year, McCain told Tim Russert on "Meet the Press:" "I have stated time after time after time that Roe v Wade was a bad decision . . . To me, it's an issue of human rights and human dignity."

So much for pro-choice and the illusions of Independents and disaffected Democrats that, on the overriding issue of women's rights, McCain is not Bush Redux.


The woman who wants to be the next Republican First Lady pledged today to expand her humanitarian work if she makes it into the White House, taking inspiration from the late Diana, Princess of Wales.


[Scott] McClellan sees similarities between Bush in 2000 and Obama in 2008. The Illinois senator "has a theme that is very similar to the one this president ran on" and that initially attracted McClellan to Bush: being a bipartisan who reaches across the political gulf to act as a "uniter, not a divider" and a change agent.

McClellan who is clear that he has no great admiration for Cheney, joked to the audience that his national book tour has given him some ideas for book titles Cheney might consider: "The Lies I Told," or "I Upped Halliburton's Income - So Up Yours."

He also said that during his two terms, Cheney has increased the power of the vice presidency, which was "one of the vice president's pet projects."


The will of the people is seldom clear cut and it is always muddy in the general election. Broad trends and a few bright take-aways can be gathered, but even then it can be re-muddied. For instance the 2006 mid-terms could be seen as a public rejection of the Bush Administration, but that has not translated into immediate policy steps. Instead we still have a supine Congress caving into the White House and the fear of fear itself. Others argued that the will of the people was to check corruption and self-dealing. The will of the people is an excellent trope, but it is much harder to dowse than a simple exhortion to follow the self-evident.


Always a pleasure to point out that Blackwater Worldwide is in the news again. Funny how they are hardly ever in the news for doing anything good. Still, there's no such thing as bad publicity, right? Even if Blackwater is caught first breaking the law, and then lying about it. Under the Bush administration, that's practically a character certificate anyway, especially for a company in Blackwater's line of business.


When [Nancy] Pelosi took impeachment off the table, impeachment was reduced to being a rhetorical protest vehicle for progressives like Dennis Kucinich or Russ Feingold. But Congress need not convict President Bush to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors. And arguably, the House need not even impeach the president to hold a grand inquest into the powers that he has claimed, registering a formal objection to them. The Judiciary Committee in the House should formally convene that inquest, no matter what the decision is on impeachment. For if Pelosi's sensible political judgment results, as it has to date, in a show of congressional "inertia, indifference or quiescence," the Democratic majority in Congress may have gained a dozen seats at the cost of relinquishing its own powers, and putting the rights of Americans at risk.


Most Democrats in the two houses of Congress balk at initiating impeachment proceedings against President Bush. We assume it’s because, like a woman living with a rageaholic husband, they prefer to let their Republican colleagues lie as if they were sleeping dogs.

Is there something else that Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives are afraid of? Perhaps they fear that impeaching the president might stir up buried shame on the part of many who voted for Bush. Americans already brought down their wrath on the administration in the 2006 election, as well as in polls. Rub any shame on their part about being "low-information voters" in their face and they just might kill the messengers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Welcome To Kiko's Kulture Friday

In which we take a deep breath and big step away from the politics, wars, feuds and other machinations of the day and celebrate the wonderful diversity of kulture. Not to worry. It'll be back to the same old shit tomorrow.

Image: Picasso's "Three Musicians" (1921)

Book Review: 'Twilight At Monticello' & Jefferson's Paradoxical Views On Slavery

To visit the homes of many famous people is usually not to really know them. A conspicuous exception is Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the third president's self-designed masterpiece of Palladian architecture where he lived for 56 historic years -- from 1770 before he wrote the Declaration of Independence until his death on July 4, 1826.

Monticello, Italian for "little mountain," sits atop an 850-foot peak in the Southwest Mountains above Charlottesville, Virginia and the world famous university that he founded. What was so striking for this first-time visitor was how small the house depicted on the flip side of the American nickel and countless other places actually is.

Befitting the life of the great man himself, Monticello seems much larger on the inside. It also is full of hidden passageways, secret chambers and other surprises.

Indeed, if you like your dead presidents simple, then Jefferson is not your man, and t
hat overriding fact rings out from Alan Pell Crawford's recently published Twilight At Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson.

This 322-page exposition on the outer actions and inner thoughts of the most complex and contradictory Founding Father focuses on the 17 turbulent years after Jefferson handed the reins of state to James Madison in March 1809, ducked out of his successor's inaugural ball through a back door and without fanfare rode into a retirement during which he never stopped fretting about the future of a republic at whose birth he had played such a huge role.

Writes Crawford:

"The survival of this exercise in self-government -- the first in the history of the world, he believed -- could never be taken for granted, as each day brought new dangers."

How prescient that seems almost two centuries after Jefferson's passing because of an exercise in imperial excess, power grabbing and vainglory known as the presidency of George Walker Bush.

* * * * *
Jefferson was a republican in politics, a deist in religion and a classicist in his tastes. He also was a spendthrift, shopaholic and lousy farmer, was overly possessive of his daughters and granddaughters to the consternation of their husbands, and was a master deal maker, something that to this day marks him as a hypocrite in his critics' eyes.

The greatest irony and failure of Jefferson's presidency was his insistence on the 1807 Embargo Act against England and France.

Writes Crawford:

"[This] occured not because this advocate of political liberty exaggerated his countrymen's desire to be free from government interference, but because he underestimated it."

The greatest paradox of Jefferson's life is what he thought about slavery, a subject that has been dissected to a farethewell in hundreds of books, most notably Dumas Malone's six-volume biography, Jefferson and His Time.

Jefferson opposed slavery in abstract political and social terms, but he also was a slaveholder and dealt with them as a day-to-day reality. His views did not so much evolve as remain in conflict with his actions, and while he tried while in public office to abolish or limit the advancement of slavery, he owned many slaves (whom he treated with respect and kindness by the standards of the day) until he drew his last breath.

Explains Crawford:

"Developed over years of practical political experience and scholarly study, Jefferson's approach to the problem of ending slavery, and of effecting radical social change of any kind, is at once more searching than has generally been granted, less self-serving than might be supposed, and yet nearly as imprisoning to thought and inhibiting to action as the political and economic realities that it attempted to explain.

" . . . That Jefferson could not act when urged to do more to end an institution that he acknowledged to be a moral wrong indicates the extent to which he was lacking in moral imagination. Trained up in the early forms of utilitarianism, Jefferson believed for most of his life that the proper subject of ethics was the maximization of human happiness. Happiness consists of tranquility of soul, which is achieved not by heroic gesture but through prudent conduct."

Crawford acknowledges that this is a surprisingly constricted view for the author of the Declaration of Independence:

"It is nonetheless the one by which Jefferson lived, even if he seems never to have been completely comfortable with it. He could always insist, as he did throughout his life, that the time to end slavery had not arrived. But, tragically, that was so in part because Jefferson had resolutely chosen not to hasten its coming."

In the end, Crawford takes the road less traveled, spending little time on Jefferson's famous retirement years correspondence with John Adams, his predecessor as president, and perhaps too much time on Jefferson's daily routine and family life with all of its illnesses, miscarriages, scandals and deaths.

After reading Twilight at Monticello, one might wonder if Jefferson was a failed idealist. I do not believe so, but he certainly was a flawed one.

The Dear Friend & Conscience and I lucked into nearly perfect circumstances when we visited Monticello -- a Monday morning in early summer where there were virtually no other tourists and the mountains to the west were covered by a thick fog, which Margaret Bayard Smith, a dear friend of Jefferson's, wrote in 1809:

"[H]ad the appearance of the ocean and was unbroken except when the wood covered hills rose above the plain and looked like islands. As the sun rose, the fog was broken and exhibited the most various and fantastic forms, lakes, rivers, bays, and as it ascended, it hung in white fleecy clouds on the sides of the mountains. By the afternoon, when the clouds had rolled over the mountains, you could hardly believe it was the same scene."

That the scene was indeed the same on our visit is a testament to the private, nonprofit Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which maintains the Monticello plantation, supports scholarly research and however belatedly has come to acknowledge -- and even underwritten studies -- that show Jefferson almost certainly fathered six of slave Sally Hemings' children.

Monticello is about 125 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. and is open every day of the year except Christmas.

More here.

DVD Review: The Beatles' 'Help'

In 1965, hot on the heels of the terrifically successful A Hard Day's Night, the Beatles showcased the tunes from their hit album Help in another Richard Lester comedy film, this one an eponymous spy spoof that was impossible to not love.

Natural actors all, John, Paul, George and Ringo outsmart a religious cult, pack of crooks and a mad scientist who are all in pursuit of a boffing big red ring with magical abilities that Ringo has innocently purchased. The result is 153 quick minutes of slapstick saturated antics with time out for them to belt out "Ticket to Ride," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "The Night Before," and of course "Help," and more.

There are two great things about the 1997 two-disk box set of Help that the Dear Friend & Conscience and I ate up, one rather obvious and the other a wonderful surprise:

* The majesty of the Beatles is without peer.

I love the Stones, the Dead, Joni, Bo, Bob and Sting, but the Fab Four rise above them all. There is a mix of innocence and worldly wisdom in the beautiful faces of these young men, and I felt twinges of sadness knowing that the years after the making of this movie were punctuated by feuding and later tragedy.

* The box set gives new meaning to the term remastering.

There is not merely the expected conversion from theatrical to wide-screen DVD format, but each frame has been painstakingly color corrected with every scratch and speck excised. The remaster is vastly superior both visually and sound wise to the original.

Be sure to take time to enjoy the bonus DVD. It includes behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, theatrical trailers, a fascinating explanation of the restoration process, and 40-year-later interviews with a crew whose pride in having helped make Help is obvious.

There are a couple aspects of Help that give pause: The xenophobic stereotyping of Indians is painful to watch, and the James Bond knockoff action tends to get a bit tiresome after a while.

I had always wondered if the Beatles did their own stunts. The answer is "mostly," including the sequence in the Swiss Alps where director Lester simply told the lads, none of whom had ever skied, to let 'er rip and filmed the hilarious results.

A New Hillbilly 'Gone With The Wind'?

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit

Who Says We Can't All Get Along?


Obama Opens Up His I-Pod


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Freelance photographer Art Kane shot this marvelous and historic portrait of 57 jazz musicians on 126th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues in the summer of 1958.

I have looked at it for hours and can now pretty much identify most of the musicians, who include Basie, Gillespie, Golson, Hinton, Krupa, McPartland, Mingus, Monk, Mulligan, Rollins, Silver, Williams and Young.

My question is, how the heck did Kane get all these cats out of bed for a 10 a.m. shoot?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Willfully Ignoring The Past & Future: Why My Iraq Mea Culpa Is Staying On Ice

There has been a . . . um, surge of revisionist thinking lately over the Iraq war in general and the Surge strategy in particular, and you may find yourself climbing aboard the Mission Finally Accomplished bandwagon.
If so, then you'd better fasten your seatbelt because you're forgetting the past, are going skin deep on the present and giving short shrift to the treacherous future. That is something that I will not do, which is why my own Iraq war mea culpa is still on ice and likely to stay that way.

The past includes President Bush thumbing his nose at the generals who pleaded for more troops and all of the strategies that he proffered. Each and every one of those schemes put politics ahead of policy, the result of which was the catastrophic first four-plus years of the war.

The future involves getting what troops there are out of Iraq safely. This will be a feat since the White House, ever living in the present, has no post-Surge strategy and it has been obvious for quite some time that Bush plans to dump the whole mess on his successor.

As it is, the present itself is problematic.

If you ignore virtually all of the benchmarks that the U.S. once set for the Al Maliki regime, Iraq is doing pretty well and the Surge has indeed resulted in some significant military successes. But even here appearances are deceiving.

Sectarian violence is down, but that has less to do with a kinder and gentler Iraq than the binge of pre-Surge ethnic cleansing, throwing up walls around Baghdad neighborhoods and imposing harsh curfews there and in other cities.

The Iraqi army is making gains, including its offensive against the Mahdi Army in Basra (insert obligatory text here about the Iraqis accomplishing in a few weeks what the hapless Brits couldn't do in a few years), but at the first sign of trouble U.S. helicopter gunships come rumbling to the rescue.

And despite the mea culpas, mainstream media happy talk and high-fiving of right-wing zealots over the "success" of the Surge, the U.S. withdrawal -- whether it comes sooner or later -- probably will not be on its terms and the end game may well resemble a classic Gordian knot:

As long as U.S. troops stay, Iraq will remain unstable. Yet the more stability the Baghdad government has, the greater the pressure will be for U.S. troops to leave.

Nevertheless, the best hope of long-term stability is a long-term U.S. troop presence, but that impinges on Iraqi national sovereignty.

Iraqis are just as proud of their sovereignty as are Americans of their own. A result of this is that the status-of-forces agreement being negotiated between Washington and Baghdad is stillborn in its present form.

No matter the when or wherefore of a withdrawal, the U.S. will be pretty much in the same position as it was in the pre-2003 invasion years except that Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a Shiite-dominated government with close ties to Iran.

And Iran will have further strengthened its position as the dominant regional player in the course of a war that killed many tens of thousands of people, made refugees of millions more and bankrupted the U.S. economy.

Incidentally, the wild card in all of this is not Iran, Moqtada al-Sadr or Barack Obama. It is Israel, which has a hair so far up its ass over Iran that it could draw the U.S. into a war that would make the worst foreign policy disaster in American history seem like small beer.

Image: Steve Mumford's "Charlie 1-153 Off Haifa Street

North Korea & Iran: I Just Don't Get It

So here I am scratching my head over the Bush administration's lip lock of North Korean following years of carrot-and-stick diplomacy.

This is because the White House is still scratching its ass (with its head, no less) over Iran, a far greater threat but not worthy of any kind of diplomatic overture in lieu of saber rattling and coddling Israel.

Meanwhile, Ilan Goldenberg at American Prospect, says there is a broad consensus on what the next administration should do about Iran.

Let's hope so.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

The Ever So Loathsome James Dobson

A hateful piece of work by the name of James Dobson has stickybeaked his way back into the headlines by misinterpreting and taking offense at something Barack Obama said a couple of years ago.

As I wrote last year in a post titled Why is Gay Hating James Dobson Still Licensed As A Therapist In Colorado?, what makes an especially loathsome example of the right-wing televangelist ilk is his ego-tripping insouciance as a man of the cloth who believes he is doing God's bidding, is used to getting his way and raises holy hell when he doesn't.

Read the whole thing here.

The Definition Of An Editor

I missed the birthday of Ambrose Bierce, my all time favorite contrarian, by a couple of days. So sue me.

But it's never to late to reprise his satirical Devil's Dictionary definition of an editor:
"A person who combines the judicial functions of Minos, Rhadamanthus and Aeacus, but is placable with an obolus; a severely virtuous censor, but so charitable withal that he tolerates the virtues of others and the vices of himself; who flings about him the splintering lightning and sturdy thunders of admonition till he resembles a bunch of firecrackers petulantly uttering his mind at the tail of a dog; then straightway murmurs a mild, melodious lay, soft as the cooing of a donkey intoning its prayer to the evening star. Master of mysteries and lord of law, high-pinnacled upon the throne of thought, his face suffused with the dim splendors of the Transfiguration, his legs intertwisted and his tongue a-cheek, the editor spills his will along the paper and cuts it off in lengths to suit. And at intervals from behind the veil of the temple is heard the voice of the foreman demanding three inches of wit and six lines of religious meditation, or bidding him turn off the wisdom and whack up some pathos."

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Polimom

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Let us stipulate that it's impossible in June to prognosticate about an election in November. We can't know what is yet to happen, what unforeseen events may intrude, or what the candidates might do to help or hinder their prospects. In the immortal words of that stellar war planner Donald Rumsfeld, seemingly uttered as jazz poetry on Feb. 12, 2002, "There are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns. The ones we don't know we don't know."

One of those known unknowns is a humorless little guy with pursed lips and mustache who looks like a high school principal in a '30s movie. That would be Bob Barr, the ex-Georgia congressman, an erstwhile conservative Republican who is running this November as the Libertarian party's presidential candidate.

Barr has been getting a lot of buzz lately, deservedly so, because he threatens to become a big headache for the John McCain campaign. McCain has yet to unite and galvanize the GOP's conservative base, and Barr conceivably could draw enough protest votes to imperil McCain's victory prospects in at least three red states.

Granted, this guy is not an ideal protest vehicle. He's akin to a '94 Chevy with a rebuilt engine and patched tires. After eight years in Congress, Barr was squeezed out of his House seat in 2002 when his district was redrawn, and he signed on to the Libertarian party and its principles (small government, low taxes) only two years ago. He is notoriously charisma-challenged, twice divorced, and a past champion of moral issues despite the fact that he was once photographed licking whipped cream from a woman's breasts. (It was a charity event to raise money for leukemia research, he explained at the time.)


Like, how bad a president is George Bush, when the country goes, "You know, we'll try the black guy?"


I have repeatedly railed over the last seven plus years that the Bush Administration is qualitatively different from all of those that have gone before. And I don't just mean in the fact that they have proven incapable of governing competently. Rather, a related point, and one inextricably linked to the incompetence -- the fact that this is the most ideological administration in American history. one I have repeatedly described with little exaggeration, as "Leninist" in temperament.

What do I mean by calling Bush and his coterie Leninists? Obviously they are not attempting to overthrow the established order to create the dictatorship of the proletariat. But what they share in common with those who established the Soviet Union is the belief in belief , i.e. the notion that reality can literally be transformed by ideology. It is a world without objective fact and one in which nothing is sacred -- even the sacred. Everything is a means to an end, a mode of acquiring power, and power is acquired to acquire yet more power. Friends are rewarded and enemies punished, not in the name of some greater good, but in the cause of the continuation of the self-perpetuating power machine.


If there were only one agency (and there’s probably not) that has consistently enjoyed the benefits lavished on it by an ignorant president who continuously diminishes its standing in the world of science, it would be the Environmental Protection Agency. No other agency has so thoroughly given in to the importunings of a president who lives in constant fear of what science might offer if left to its own devices, science being a branch of knowledge that cannot be controlled by him or Dick Cheney.


You probably don't know who Rep. Chris Cannon is, but he is a Republican that has represented America's most conservative congressional district since 1997. Tonight he lost his primary in an unpredicted blowout to a real anti-immigration zealot named Jason Chaffetz. This district is Utah's Third, and it will have a new representative next January. That new representative will almost certainly by Jason Chaffetz. In itself, this is a modestly bad thing. We've just lost one of the most conservative members of Congress for an even more conservative (and younger) member.

But this election also provides further confirmation that no Republican incumbent is safe. Rep. Cannon probably lost because he supported the president's immigration reform, but Chaffetz also ran against No Child Left Behind and the budget deficits. Those are two signature Bush policies that don't sit well with many conservatives. This Utah district will now lose seniority on the Judiciary, Natural Resources, and Oversight & Government Reform committees on which Cannon served. While Chaffetz is a wingnut of extraordinary proportions, he is not compromised by any Bush-supporting votes. Chaffetz will rail pointlessly against the Department of Education, Latinos, and abortion, and do nothing for his district. He'll be the least senior member of an irrelevant party. But he won't be guilty of supporting Bush. The rest of Republican caucus will surely take note.


McCain's more traditional abortion rhetoric is leavened by his carefully maintained political brand as a "maverick" politician. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL, believes that has led many voters to make incorrect assumptions about McCain's views on abortion and is one reason he is now courting pro-choice women, particularly Hillary Clinton's supporters. "People think that he's a maverick and that must mean that he's a moderate," Keenan says. "And they come to the conclusion that if you're a moderate, you must be pro-choice."

Barack Obama will focus his resources largely in 14 states George W. Bush won in 2004, his chief field operative said . . . hoping to score upsets in places like Virginia, Indiana, and Georgia.

But winning the White House won’t be his only goal, deputy campaign manager Hildebrand told Politico: In an unusual move, Obama's campaign will also devote some resources to states it’s unlikely to win, with the goal of influencing specific local contests in places like Texas and Wyoming.

"Texas is a great example where we might not be able to win the state, but we want to pay a lot of attention to it," Hildebrand said. "It’s one of the most important redistricting opportunities in the country."


How much experience does it take before your average Washingtonian realizes that Sen. Russ Feingold is eventually proven right about pretty much everything?


Hensley & Co., one of the nation's major beer wholesalers, has brought the family of Cindy McCain wealth, prestige and influence in Phoenix, but it could also create conflicts for her husband, Sen. John McCain, if he is elected president in November.

Hensley, founded by Cindy McCain's late father, holds federal and state licenses to distribute beer and lobbies regulatory agencies on alcohol issues that involve public health and safety.

The company has opposed such groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving in fighting proposed federal rules requiring alcohol content information on every package of beer, wine and liquor.

Its executives, including John McCain's son Andrew, have written at least 10 letters in recent years to the Treasury Department, have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a beer industry political action committee, and hold a seat on the board of the politically powerful National Beer Wholesalers Assn.

Hensley has run afoul of health advocacy groups that have tried to rein in appeals to young drinkers. For example, the company distributes caffeinated alcoholic drinks that public health groups say put young and underage consumers at risk by disguising the effects of intoxication.