Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Last Call

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is simply going to issue a new deep water offshore drilling moratorium order.  Hopefully this one's a little more solid than the last one.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday called a six-month halt on deepwater drilling "needed, appropriate and within our authorities" in announcing he will issue a new order on a moratorium just hours after a federal judge blocked such a mandate.

"We see clear evidence every day, as oil spills from BP's well, of the need for a pause on deepwater drilling," Salazar said in a statement. "That evidence mounts as BP continues to be unable to stop its blowout, notwithstanding the huge efforts and help from the federal scientific team and most major oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico."

Salazar's statement did not give an exact date for when the new order would be imposed, saying only "in the coming days." 
So, we'll see what comes of this one.

The Conversation About Afghanistan We Should Be Having

...is about strategy, not tactics.  Spencer Ackerman:
The issue with McChrystal, as Gibbs laid it out, is about fidelity to the strategy and the rest of the team implementing it. He’ll have an opportunity to make his case to President Obama tomorrow that he’s able to do that. But that exposes the biggest irony here. Gibbs said that the responsibility of team members is “not to relitigate” the policy debate of the fall. But notice: McChrystal never once relitigated it in the Rolling Stone profile. Why would he? After all, he got every significant thing he wanted from the fall strategy debate. You never see McChrystal complain about July 2011 or not being sufficiently resourced or the rest of the team’s commitment or blah blah blah. That would be relitigating the strategy.

Now, as I wrote earlier, at the heart of the strategy is a compromise for what happens after July 2011: less McChrystal and COIN (not none, but less); more Caldwell and training; and more Biden and counterterrorism-and-Pakistan focus. McChrystal signed onto that, even if the degrees to which each will balance each other and the pace at which they will de-emphasize the former and emphasize the latter have yet to be fully instantiated. Perhaps Gibbs was sending McChrystal a message that future relitigation, after 2011, won’t be tolerated — if McChrystal makes it as commander after tomorrow.

But nothing Gibbs said gave any indication that the strategy itself is about to be overhauled.
The problem in Afghanistan is not Stanley McChrystal.  The problem in Afghanistan is why nobody can explain why we're still there after eight and a half years.  We should be talking about bringing somebody in to replace McChrystal who understands that the job now is to leave.  Instead we're looking for another Stanley McChrystal.

That in and of itself tells you everything you need to know about our Afghan "strategy"...and that fact that nobody in Washington is even thinking to ask the question about why we persist in Afghanistan when our economy is falling apart.

World Cupdate

Round 3 in the World Cup began with the two Group A matches, Mexico and Uruguay, and France and South Africa.  El Tri opened up hard against La Celeste, the winner taking the group, the loser possibly bounced out if the score was run up too much.  Mexico's familiar 1-2-3-4 spear with Franco at point tried to pierce Uruguay's 3-3-4 formation with Suarez, Forlan, and Cavani up front, and early on both sides were driving hard.  Both teams were clearly flustered by the thought of being sent home by a loss, but it was Uruguay's Suarez who struck home at 43'.  El Tri were suddenly on the verge of going home with nothing. The second half turned into a massive turf war with Mexico fighting for the draw.  The second half was more of the same, both teams fighting for the win to try to take the group outright, but Uruguay's defense was just too strong and they won 1-0.

Meanwhile, South Africa and France tangled as it was the last chance for the host Bafana to show their mettle, while the French were desperately trying to stave off an embarrassing collapse in the first two matches and team in turmoil.  The Bafana went 2-4-4 with Mphela and Parker in the lead, while the French congealed into a 1-3-2-4 blob that found Cissie the unfortunate point man.  The French surrender started early as Les Bleus failed to pick up the scarecrow-like Khumalo on the corner kick and he headed it in at 20', then not five minutes later France's Yoann Gourcuff is sent off with a red for a face-bound elbow shot, and the French resistance then promptly collapsed into complete disarray.  Mphela promptly put one in at 37' and at the half, South Africa was poised to run up the score high enough to pass Mexico and actually make the round of 16.  But in the second half some of the old Gallic pride finally shone through as France deflated the Bafana with a Malouda goal at 70', enough to keep them out of advancing, but not enough to rescue their own horrible, last place performance with th 2-1 loss.  Uruguay and Mexico will advance, while South Africa has to look on at the rest of the Cup wondering what almost was...and France has to find a large enough rock to hide under for the next four years.

The late games bring us to Group B where Nigeria faced South Korea, and Greece took on Argentina.  Nigeria needed a win and for Argentina to smash Greece, South Korea needed the same result, and the Greeks just needed to win (and for Korea not to score six goals.)  Nigeria went on the board first at 12' as Kalu Uche of the Super Eagles and their 1-3-2-4 squad led by striker Yakubu drew first blood, and the South Koreans tried to get back into the match with a 2-4-4 squad led by Chu Young Park and Ki Hoon Yeom.  they did so, but it came from the unlikely head and boot of fullback Jung-Soo Lee, sneaking in on the free kick set piece at 38'.  The second half immediately saw South Korea step up against the floundering Nigerians and score again off a free kick at 49' by Chu Young Park, but a Yakubu penalty kick at 69' knotted the match at 2-2 and were very much back in the contest.  Time however was not on Nigeria's side, and the match ended in that draw.

On the other side of the savanna Greece faced off against Argentina, and the Piratikos looked to stun the Albiceleste , but Argentina was in no hurry to risk injury where they had all but won the group.  Greece was clearly playing for the draw with a defensive 1-5-4 formation with Georgios Samaras at point, while the Gauchos wasted no time with a bold 3-3-4 attack led by Messi, Milito and Aguero. The first half results were underwhelming at best as both sides seemed happy with the draw, especially with news that Nigeria was leading early.  Korea tying the match was not good news for the Greeks however.  The second half saw the South Koreans take the lead, and that lit a fire under the Greeks, now playing for survival and throwing all three subs in by 55'.  Sometimes pressure brings out greatness...in others it just opens the cracks in the armor, and that's what happened to Greece as Argentina scored at 77' and again at 89' to decapitate the stunned Piratikos and sinking their hopes for good.  With Argentina getting the win and South Korea earning a draw, they'll be the one-two from Group B to face Mexico and Uruguay respectively this weekend.

Drill Baby Drill, Still Baby Still

Reuters is reporting that Judge Martin Feldman has indeed ruled against the Obama administration and is blocking the moratorium on deep water drilling.
A lawsuit was filed by Louisiana-based Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC and was joined by more than a dozen companies involved in offshore drilling operations to reverse the drilling ban imposed by the U.S. Department of Interior.

A federal judge in Louisiana granted the drillers' request for a preliminary restraining order that would prevent the ban from taking effect.
Judge Feldman's ruling is really something.  Sam Stein:
Feldman ruled that the Interior Department had failed to provide adequate reasoning for the moratorium and was making too-broad an assertion in suggesting that the other wells might suffer from the same problems as the one operated by BP.

The administration's appeal of the ruling seems likely to ensure that the moratorium will stay in place for the time being - at least until the 5th Circuit determines whether they will hear the case and/or uphold or change the ruling. Indeed, it is not beyond the realm of reason that the appeals process could be dragged out at least until the administration is satisfied that the 33 wells where drilling has been put on halt, are sufficiently safe. 
That's something, anyway.  I wonder how many disasters it will take before Feldman would be convinced.  Two-thirds of Americans agree with the six-month moratorium, and 49% now say offshore drilling is too dangerous period.

Again, the appeal means the moratorium should continue, depending on how quickly the 5th Circuit gets into gear on this.  Surely they anticipated the appeal either way.  Still, no evidence?  Maybe this had something to do with it.
The federal judge who overturned Barack Obama's offshore drilling moratorium appears to own stock in numerous companies involved in the offshore oil industry—including Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to BP prior to its April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico—according to 2008 financial disclosure reports.
Surely that didn't have any affect on this ruling at all.

Meanwhile....drill baby drill.

Before Zee Germans Get Here, Part 4

With Angela Merkel's government falling apart and her opposition insisting on Austerity Hysteria, Merkel's got no choice but to fold her cards and try to convince herself and the world that cutting spending will lead to German economic growth.
Chancellor Angela Merkel championed German export strength as “the right thing” for her country, spurning President Barack Obama’s call to boost private spending as both leaders prepare for Group of 20 talks.

Merkel, addressing a business audience in Berlin today, said she told Obama in a phone call that cutting government debt is “absolutely important for us,” exposing a second point of contention ahead of the June 26-27 G-20 summit in Canada.

Reducing the budget deficit by 10 billion euros ($12 billion) per year “won’t put a brake on the world’s economic growth,” Merkel said, relating what she told Obama yesterday. Germans are more likely to spend money if they feel the government “is taking precautions” to ensure solid finances, she said.

Four days before world leaders meet in Toronto, Germany is heading for conflict with the rest of the G-20 over tighter financial regulation, a banking levy and U.S. calls to boost growth rather than cut debt. 
Must be nice to be able to reduce the deficit by $12 billion and get credit for it.  When Obama tried the same thing earlier this year, he was laughed at by both sides.  Things are much more serious now however, as the unemployment rate is still dangerously high and Congress seems to want to do nothing about it.

Considering the Republicans are more than happy for Obama to take the blame, blocking jobs bills seems to be their path to glory in 2010.

Storm Chasers

Dr. Jeff Masters over at Wunderground says tropical depression 93L is the first real shot at a named Atlantic storm and it may form this week (which would be Tropical Storm Alex).  Guess where it's headed?
A trough of low pressure is expected to swing down over the Eastern U.S. early next week. If this trough is strong enough and 93L develops significantly, the storm could get pulled northwards and make landfall along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast in the oil spill region. This is the solution of the Canadian GEM model. If 93L stays weak and/or the trough is not so strong, the storm would get pushed west-northwestwards towards the Texas coast. This is the solution of the ECMWF model. The amount of wind shear in the Gulf of Mexico next week is highly uncertain. There is currently a band of high shear near 30 knots over the Gulf, and some of the models predict this shear will remain over the Gulf over the next 7 - 10 days. However, other models predict that this band of high shear will retreat northwards and leave the Gulf nearly shear-free. The long-term fate of 93L remains very murky. My main concerns at this point are the potential for 3 - 6 inches of rain in Haiti over the next two days, and the possibility 93L could become a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico next week.
That would be, you know, catastrophic. Worse, it's only June...we have months to go in the 2010 hurricane season, folks.  One really bad Cat 3-4 storm smack over the Gulf Coast this year and all those hundreds of millions of gallons of oil and chemical dispersants could end up dozens of miles inland into freshwater sources.

It keeps getting worse and worse.

Pay To Play

With no budget and a deadline of June 30th just a week away, a state appeals court holds the key to whether or not the Governator can simply cut California state employee's wages to the state's minimum wage of $7.25 to save the state money.
A government civil war continued in a Sacramento appellate court on Monday, setting the stage for a dramatic decision that will dictate whether the state can withhold pay to the federal minimum for more than 200,000 workers.

Attorneys for the Schwarzenegger administration and State Controller John Chiang debated a lower court ruling that said Chiang had overstepped his authority when he refused to issue minimum wage paychecks during a 2008 budget impasse.

The legal tussle has taken on a renewed urgency since there's no budget deal in sight just eight days before the start of the new fiscal year. Without a budget that appropriates money for payroll, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could again order most state workers' wages temporarily withheld to the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

The case's uncertain outcome has put pressure on state employee unions to revive long-dormant negotiations with the governor. Four unions last week announced tentative agreements that exchanged several concessions for guarantees their members won't be subjected to minimum wage or furlough orders.

"The unions are saying, 'Look, this is better than minimum wage that's coming if you don't agree to a deal,' " said University of California, Los Angeles, state labor expert Daniel J.B. Mitchell.
 It's pretty clear that the unions are expecting to lose here and are making major concessions in order to prevent this from happening.  The problem is, with only a week left before the new fiscal year starts, there's an extremely good chance Arnold will do it anyway.

Other states are paying attention to the legal issues here, I'm sure.  Forcing all state employees into minimum wage is something I'm betting Republicans across the country are chomping at the bit to inflict upon millions of American workers.

Hopefully the judge will put a stop to this.  I seriously doubt it.  The stigmatization of state workers continues in our increasing anti-government society.  Balancing the budget on the backs of millions of state workers seems cruel, but that's what Republicans demand.

Clear As McChrystal

Seems Our Man Stan in Afghanistan has gotten himself into a little trouble in the press.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, America's top military commander in Afghanistan, has been recalled to Washington amid his controversial remarks about colleagues in a Rolling Stone article, officials said.

McChrystal was summoned to attend a meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person rather than by video conference, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

"He has been recalled to Washington," another official said.

McChrystal apologized Tuesday for the profile, in which the general and his staff appear to mock top civilian officials, including the vice president. The article is set to appear in Friday's edition of Rolling Stone.

"I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened," McChrystal said in a Pentagon statement. "Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard."

In the profile written by Michael Hastings, the author writes that McChrystal and his staff had imagined ways of dismissing Vice President Joe Biden with a one-liner as they prepared for a question-and-answer session in Paris in April. The general had grown tired of questions about Biden since earlier dismissing a counterterrorism strategy the vice president had offered.

"'Are you asking about Vice President Biden?' McChrystal says with a laugh. 'Who's that?'"

"'Biden?' suggests a top adviser. 'Did you say: Bite Me?'"

McChrystal and his aides do not directly criticize President Barack Obama in the article, but Hastings writes that the general and Obama "failed to connect" from the outset after the president took office. Sources familiar with the meeting said McChrystal thought Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the room full of top military officials, according to the article.
And of course since in the Wingnut world a General outranks the civilian Commander-In-Chief (but only if he's a Democrat) you're going to hear howls of anger from the right over this.  "How dare Obama summon the General", etc, Obama should resign, not McChrystal, etc.

Like it or not, making fun of the guy in charge is not a good military career move, despite McChrystal's considerable counterinsurgency cred.  On the other hand, it's not like the latest offensive is going really well in Afghanistan.

It's good to remind folks who's in charge once in a while.  Isn't that what the Republicans after all want Obama to do constantly, to show he's not weak?

Marc Ambinder actually has a pretty good piece on this.
What in the heck was Gen. Stanley McChrystal thinking? I mean, I know what he was thinking: he was tired of being the victim of what he believes is a concerted effort on behalf of Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and others to undermine everything he was given 18 months to do. He was tired of being perceived in the press as a neoconservative killer, Dick Cheney's hired assassin, or disloyal to President Obama and his staff. He was angry at being blamed for leaking the draft of his report to the President to Bob Woodward. (He did NOT leak the document). He was miffed that a large number of mid-ranking soldiers and battalion commanders and enlisted guys didn't support his strategy.

What I don't know is which of McChrystal's aides thought it would be a good idea to let his senior staff speak on background to Rolling Stone (!), of all publications, venting McChrystal's frustrations and their own. 
Bad judgment by the guys supposedly in charge of our war effort.  There's a shocker.

The History Of The Texas Rearrangers

The Texas GOP has voted to go all on in the anti gay bigotry, adopting the re-criminalization of sodomy and same-sex marriage as felonies as part of the state Republican party's official platform.
Texas Republicans are a conservative lot. Still, it's difficult to imagine mainstream GOP voters demanding their neighbors be jailed for engaging in a little hanky-panky behind closed doors.

Nevertheless, the state's Republican party has voted on a platform [PDF link] by which their candidates will stand, and it includes the reinstatement of laws banning sodomy: otherwise known as oral and anal sex.

The party's platform also seeks to make gay marriage a felony offense, which may be confusing to most given that the state does not sanction or recognize same sex marriages, meaning any such ceremony conducted does not bear the weight of law. Whether this means the GOP wants gay couples married in other states to be pursued through Texas as dangerous criminals, the party did not specify.

"We oppose the legalization of sodomy," the platform states. "We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy."
There's what Republicans want to do when they get back into power:  Round up gays and lesbians (and anyone having oral sex for that matter) as felons, or heck even go after people with same-sex marriages in other states.  This is their plan for solving ten percent unemployment, two wars, finding Bin Laden, the oil spill, etc.  Round up the gays and throw 'em in jail!

Folks, this is not the position of a few fringe members of the party.  This is now an officially adopted, mainstream platform plank of all Texas Republicans.

Oh, and PS, they want to do all this too:
In addition to this, the Texas GOP seeks to end the state's lottery, which provides millions in funding to public education; restrict citizenship to children born in the United States whose parents are citizens; end federal sponsorship of pre-kindergarten schools; impose a jail sentence on any illegal immigrant in the state; shut down all day-labor centers; cut off all bilingual education after a student's fourth year in a U.S. public school; legalize corporal punishment in public schools; mandate that evolution and global warming be "taught as challengeable scientific theory"; and demand that Congress evict the United Nations from U.S. soil and end American membership in the global body.
This lunacy is now the mainstream Texas Republican platform, folks. Rounding up all gays and illegal immigrants, end the 14th Amendment, end the United Nations, end evolution, and more.  Their reaction to the elections of 2006 and 2008 have been to go completely insane and try to turn the country into a fundamentalist theocracy.  And Republicans in state after state are adopting similar platform planks.  They are becoming the reactionary purity party, and it should scare the hell out of everyone.

Scary Similarities

This morning's read is Simon Johnson's piece on financial reform in the Atlantic, which three months later is still spot on.  Johnson talks about his tenure as the International Monetary Fund's chief economist, and why he believes the US banking crisis and recession look to him like America is simply another Banana Republic controlled by the most powerful banking interests.
In my view, the U.S. faces two plausible scenarios. The first involves complicated bank-by-bank deals and a continual drumbeat of (repeated) bailouts, like the ones we saw in February with Citigroup and AIG. The administration will try to muddle through, and confusion will reign.

Boris Fyodorov, the late finance minister of Russia, struggled for much of the past 20 years against oligarchs, corruption, and abuse of authority in all its forms. He liked to say that confusion and chaos were very much in the interests of the powerful—letting them take things, legally and illegally, with impunity. When inflation is high, who can say what a piece of property is really worth? When the credit system is supported by byzantine government arrangements and backroom deals, how do you know that you aren’t being fleeced?

Our future could be one in which continued tumult feeds the looting of the financial system, and we talk more and more about exactly how our oligarchs became bandits and how the economy just can’t seem to get into gear.

The second scenario begins more bleakly, and might end that way too. But it does provide at least some hope that we’ll be shaken out of our torpor. It goes like this: the global economy continues to deteriorate, the banking system in east-central Europe collapses, and—because eastern Europe’s banks are mostly owned by western European banks—justifiable fears of government insolvency spread throughout the Continent. Creditors take further hits and confidence falls further. The Asian economies that export manufactured goods are devastated, and the commodity producers in Latin America and Africa are not much better off. A dramatic worsening of the global environment forces the U.S. economy, already staggering, down onto both knees. The baseline growth rates used in the administration’s current budget are increasingly seen as unrealistic, and the rosy “stress scenario” that the U.S. Treasury is currently using to evaluate banks’ balance sheets becomes a source of great embarrassment.

Under this kind of pressure, and faced with the prospect of a national and global collapse, minds may become more concentrated.

The conventional wisdom among the elite is still that the current slump “cannot be as bad as the Great Depression.” This view is wrong. What we face now could, in fact, be worse than the Great Depression—because the world is now so much more interconnected and because the banking sector is now so big. We face a synchronized downturn in almost all countries, a weakening of confidence among individuals and firms, and major problems for government finances. If our leadership wakes up to the potential consequences, we may yet see dramatic action on the banking system and a breaking of the old elite. Let us hope it is not then too late. 
Sadly, it seems we are almost certainly heading for a combination of the worst parts of both scenarios now.  Both the UK and Germany are talking about massive spending reduction that will almost certainly shut the Eurozone economy down.   Here in the states, facing nearly ten percent unemployment, the answer from Congress is increasingly to do nothing.

The second scenario is coming true, but the worst possible response is being borne because of it.  And within months, a second recession will grip the world.  Once again I forsee us on the verge of another global crisis, an economic meltdown.  Only this time, we will let it happen.


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