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FRIDAY, JANUARY 16, 2009
MISSING INFORMATION - AT 4:36 P.M. ET:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Last year was the eighth warmest year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center...
...Preliminary calculations show the world's average temperature for 2008 was 0.88 degree Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average of 57.0 degrees F.
COMMENT: This is one of those stories that drives us crazy because of what is left out. The story suggests, but does not say, that records have been kept since 1880. That's less than a snapshot in human history. What does the lack of precise data before 1880 do to the calculation? Also, if global warming is getting worse, why was 2008 only the eighth warmest year "on record"? And, are these numbers in any case alarming, or consistent with natural variations?
DOWN FOR THE COUNT - AT 3:54 P.M. ET: From The New York Times:
Circuit City, once a bellwether American retailer, is going out of business for good, stripping the nation of its second-largest consumer electronics chain.
The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in November, said Friday that it would liquidate its stores and other assets.
COMMENT: I'd like to see some good reporting on chains that are either doing well or at least surviving in this climate. Circuit City always struck me as a chain with no real identity, and an indifferent staff. And their prices on big-ticket items were often bested by others.
QUOTE OF THE DAY - AT 3:38 P.M.: Suggested by a reader, a distinguished academic:
“I know as much or more than Cheney. I’m the most experienced vice president since anybody.”
- Joe Biden
And anybody is a tough standard for anybody.
THAT HUNGRY?- AT 9:59 A.M. ET: From Reuters:
WASHINGTON - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama skipped his soon-to-be predecessor’s final address to the nation on Thursday in favor of dining out.
At roughly 8 p.m. in Washington, about the time President George W. Bush began his televised speech, Obama left his new temporary residence across from the White House to go out for dinner in a restaurant a few blocks away.
COMMENT: Bad move. Rare PR blunder for Obama. He should have watched the speech and commented on it...favorably.
Posted at 8:51 a.m. ET
President Bush delivered a dignified, eloquent farewell to the nation last night. I flipped channels right after the speech to catch reactions, and caught Chris Matthews, resident embarrassment at MSNBC, making a vile, disgusting attack on the president, mocking Mr. Bush's belief in spreading democracy, claiming he was never ready for the presidency, and asserting that he was captured by "the neocons." There was absolutely no graciousness or reflection in Matthews's comments - simply an all-out assault from a man who cannot separate his partisanship - he's an active Democrat - from his so-called journalism.
When I was a student at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, I interned at the old Huntley-Brinkley Report. The atmosphere was professional, restrained and respectful. Watching Matthews is to watch the train wreck that NBC News has become, apparently in a grab for ratings.
One can, of course, disagree with Mr. Bush on a host of things, yet remain civil and thoughtful in dissent. That has not been the way of much of the opposition during the last eight years, and the country has suffered for it.
This morning, Charles Krauthammer, in The Washington Post, gives a positive view of the Bush presidency, and his arguments are worth reading:
Except for Richard Nixon, no president since Harry Truman has left office more unloved than George W. Bush. Truman's rehabilitation took decades. Bush's will come sooner. Indeed, it has already begun. The chief revisionist? Barack Obama.
That appeared in The Washington Post? That is permitted? Is this a new Post?
Vindication is being expressed not in words but in deeds -- the tacit endorsement conveyed by the Obama continuity-we-can-believe-in transition...
...It is the great care Obama is taking in not preemptively abandoning the anti-terror infrastructure that the Bush administration leaves behind. While still a candidate, Obama voted for the expanded presidential wiretapping (FISA) powers that Bush had fervently pursued. And while Obama opposes waterboarding (already banned, by the way, by Bush's CIA in 2006), he declined George Stephanopoulos's invitation (on ABC's "This Week") to outlaw all interrogation not permitted by the Army Field Manual. Explained Obama: "Dick Cheney's advice was good, which is let's make sure we know everything that's being done," i.e., before throwing out methods simply because Obama campaigned against them.
He praised Dick Cheney? Battle Stations! Code Pink to the White House! The "Impeach Obama!" movement starts today.
...Obama is consciously creating a gulf between what he now dismissively calls "campaign rhetoric" and the policy choices he must make as president. Accordingly, Newsweek -- Obama acolyte and scourge of everything Bush/Cheney -- has on the eve of the Democratic restoration miraculously discovered the arguments for warrantless wiretaps, enhanced interrogation and detention without trial. Indeed, Newsweek's neck-snapping cover declares, "Why Obama May Soon Find Virtue in Cheney's Vision of Power."
Code Pink to Newsweek, too! Medea Benjamin, you're wanted on the front lines. Ban Newsweek!
Whatever venom the war generated is concentrated on Bush himself. By having personalized the responsibility for the awfulness of the war, Bush has done his successor a favor. Obama enters office with a strategic success on his hands -- while Bush leaves the scene taking a shoe for his country.
Which I suspect is why Bush showed such equanimity during a private farewell interview at the White House a few weeks ago. He leaves behind the sinews of war, for the creation of which he has been so vilified but which will serve his successor -- and his country -- well over the coming years. The very continuation by Democrats of Bush's policies will be grudging, if silent, acknowledgment of how much he got right.
Well argued, I think. Let's see if the ultra-Dems in Congress will allow Obama to govern responsibly, or whether they'll try to turn him into Jimmah II. The Democratic Party in Congress is still controlled by the intellectual leftovers of the sixties generation. They run the committees, and if Mr. Obama tries to govern from the center, which he should, they may make it impossible.
January 16, 2009. Permalink
WEATHER REPORT - AT 7:48 A.M. ET: It's 7 degrees in White Plains, New York, where we are. We are being overwhelmed with global warming.
THAT'S REAL MONEY - AT 7:28 A.M. ET: From The New York Times:
Citigroup reported Friday a fourth-quarter net loss of $8.29 billion and provided more details of an ongoing restructuring plan, while Bank of America posted a more moderate $1.79 billion loss after a modest net income a year earlier.
COMMENT: Why the dramatic difference in losses between Bank of America and Citi? Would make a good journalistic investigation, if anyone can get at the figures. But these are staggering numbers. Even here in New York, people are starting to notice.
IN THE REAL WORLD - AT 7:15 A.M. ET: With all the partyin' about to go on, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that there's a real world out there, and Iran is a very big part of it. There's this, from today's Wall Street Journal, via Fox News:
WASHINGTON — U.S. security and law-enforcement officials say they have fresh evidence of recent efforts by Iran to evade sanctions and acquire metals from China used in high-tech weaponry, including long-range nuclear missiles, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Iran's efforts are detailed in a series of recent emails and letters between Iranian companies and foreign suppliers seen by The Wall Street Journal. Business records show one Iranian company, ABAN Commercial & Industrial Ltd., has contracted through an intermediary for more than 30,000 kilograms (about 66,000 pounds) of tungsten copper — which can be used in missile guidance systems — from Advanced Technology & Materials Co. Ltd. of Beijing.
COMMENT: Welcome to the White House, Mr. Obama.
MORE ON THE COLLEGE BUSINESS - AT 7:05 A.M. ET: We ran a brief item yesterday on the cost of college, and got one of the biggest responses we've ever received. Now there is this, from The New York Times:
College students are covering more of what it costs to educate them, even as most colleges are spending less on students, according to a new study.
The study, based on data that colleges and universities report to the federal government, also found that the share of higher education budgets that goes to instruction has declined, while the portion spent on administrative costs has increased.
COMMENT. Right. And still, Congress doesn't seem to be in the mood to ask any questions about where all that federal aid goes. It's like the first chunk of bank bailout money: Don't ask, don't tell. But parents are asking, and so are kids who'll be straddled with debt once they graduate...if they have the funds to graduate.
FOUR DAYS TO THE AGE OF OBAMIUS
Posted at 6:45 a.m. ET
It's getting so close. Can you feel the progress? Can you feel the change we can believe in? Can you feel the ethical purity - Hillary Clinton, Roland Burris, Timothy Geithner, Eric Holder?
Do you feel good enough for the coming of Obama?
We can report the following exciting developments:
- Inspired by Attorney-General-designate Eric Holder's claim that he became a better person because of his involvement in the Marc Rich pardon scandal, Barack Obama pledged to recruit people to his administration who've made major mistakes.
- It is rumored that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, having made major mistakes, is in line for a seat on the Supreme Court.
- It is rumored that Bernard Madoff, having made major mistakes, may be the next secretary of commerce.
- CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta reports that he successfully infiltrated Fox News and placed a listening device under Bill O'Reilly's anchor desk - so that every word O'Reilly utters on the air will be heard at CIA headquarters.
- Treasury-Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner, already in hot water over unpaid taxes, admitted that he got his weekly allowance twice one week when he was eight years old, after his dad forgot that Tim had already received it. Geithner asserted that it was an administrative error common to eight years olds, but that it made him a better person.
- President-elect Obama said that because of Hillary Clinton's past ethical lapses, she is probably the best person in the world.
January 16, 2009. Permalink
THURSDAY, JANUARY 15, 2009
NO BIAS? ARE WE SERIOUS HERE? - AT 11:20 P.M. ET: Here is a headline on the MSNBC website:
Poll: Solid support for Obama's economic plan
And here are the actual poll results:
According to the poll, 43 percent believe the stimulus is a good idea, compared to 27 percent who think it’s a bad one, and 24 percent who don't have an opinion.
COMMENT: That's solid support? Does someone at MSNBC need to take basic math?
SUCH CLASS, AT 7:54 P.M. ET: Ultra-liberal PBS talk-show host Bonnie Erbe, says farewell to President and Mrs. Bush in her typical classy manner, at a US News blog:
To me, the most telling point is that Stepford Wife Laura Bush is flooded with agent requests to sell her memoir to publishers, but no one's really interested in what The Legacy has to say. Good riddance to bad rubbish!
COMMENT: This is the kind of "comment" we've had on the left for eight years. Please notice that the critiques of Mr. Obama from the conservative side tend to be on a much higher, more thoughtful level. Let's keep it that way.
I'M BETTER BECAUSE I WAS BAD - AT 7:27 P.M. ET: Eric Holder, Jr., nominee for attorney general, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, which is weighing his nomination. What I saw was a classic example of Hollywood logic and Washington ethics.
It's common in Hollywood for executives who've failed to go on to better, higher-paying jobs. It's called "failing upward." The argument is that, "yes, Freddie produced 74 flops in a row, but that gave him the kind of experience he needs to succeed. And he deserves to have his salary doubled because of all the pain he's felt. He's earned it." This argument is presented seriously, and taken seriously.
We heard that from Holder today. Sure, he conceded, he was wrong to okay the Marc Rich pardon in the last days of the Clinton reign, but the blunder will simply make him a better attorney general and nobler person.
So, readers, if you really want to get ahead in this world, use Hollywood logic as interpreted by Eric Holder, Jr. Just make a lot of mistakes. Come in late. Screw up. Then say that you've been chastened by your experience. You're wiser, a better person. And demand a raise. And see what happens.
Oh, by the way, Holder refused to rule out prosecuting members of the Bush administration for "illegal" activities associated with the war on terror. That will really inspire our intelligence services, law enforcement, and the military, to know that they have an administration that backs them. Why is there cheering in the mountains of Pakistan tonight?
Holder will be confirmed. Let's hope it doesn't take another 3,000 deaths on American soil to make him a better lawyer and finer person.
NO ORNAMENT TO GOOD GOVERNMENT - AT 4:30 P.M. ET: From The Washington Post:
WASHINGTON -- Roland Burris took his place as Barack Obama's successor in the Senate on Thursday, ending a standoff that embarrassed the president-elect and fellow Democrats who initially resisted the appointment by scandal-scarred Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
COMMENT: More change we don't have to believe in.
REAL TURNAROUND - AT 4:21 P.M. ET: Some good news - the Dow rebounded and actually closed up 12, to 8213.
DOW DROPPING - AT 10:43 A.M. ET: The Dow is down 150, to 8050. The question is whether it will descend through the psychological 8000 mark.
Posted at 10:38 a.m. ET
Karl Rove, who's been there, presents a sober view of what Barack Obama will face on Tuesday. Once Chris Matthews and his associates finish with the gushing, the adjectives, the religious comparisons, Mr. Obama will have to govern. As Rove suggests, that's the part they don't include in the travel brochure. He considers the presidential aides:
What these aides will soon realize is that they aren't history, but passing through it. I learned that from an elderly man who told me "to honor the house" as he emptied my trash bin late my first day at work.
That is what an administration owes the country. But it is not all it owes. There is also the matter of governing. Team Obama is about to learn that it's easier to campaign than to govern.
Right. And maybe they'll develop some appreciation of George W. Bush.
In fact, they are already learning it. Last February, Congress passed a stimulus bill, adding $152 billion to the deficit. Mr. Obama called it "deficit spending" and criticized the "disdain for pay-as-you-go budgeting" in Washington. Now he forecasts trillion dollar deficits on his watch. Mr. Obama, the candidate, criticized the "careless and incompetent execution" of the Iraq war. But as president-elect, he decided to retain George W. Bush's defense secretary and put a Bush adviser in charge of the National Security Council.
The real world closes in. The Daily Kos and MoveOn.org are not the real world.
Mr. Obama also tripped himself up by sending advisers to Capitol Hill on Dec. 18 to say that he wanted a stimulus bill to cost between $670 billion and $770 billion, but that he would accept $850 billion. This invited Congress to roll him and spend more.
Mr. Obama can recover. But he has to avoid loosing his footing again by allowing Congress to enact its wish list instead of policies that will help the economy. He seems to be mistaking what may be good ideas for economic stimulants.
Rove is right. Many of the ideas coming from Congress are being proposed just to satisfy interest groups.
There is also the question of the practicality of Mr. Obama's own proposals and projections:
Take the "green jobs" he promises. There are 6,856 people who work for companies that make solar cells in America and 2,150 people who work for the biggest wind equipment maker. Mr. Obama says he'll create 459,000 new "green energy" jobs like those. Can he really do that? A lot of people will be keeping score.
Mr. Obama says 244,000 of his new jobs will be in government. Will these new government employees disappear when the economy recovers? Or is Mr. Obama pushing the largest expansion of government since LBJ's Great Society?
For all the pride America can have next Tuesday, these issues are real and not going away. The inauguration is a moment of constitutional significance and important symbolism. Team Obama should enjoy it. As I can attest personally, it won't last long. By the next day, the realities of governing will intrude.
Words of wisdom from someone who's been on the inside, looking out, which is where Team Obama will be Tuesday afternoon.
January 15, 2009. Permalink
THE MAN WHO WILL PRESIDE OVER THE IRS - AT 8:58 A.M. ET: Although he will probably be confirmed, the tax embarrassment of Treasury Secretary designate Timothy Geithner becomes greater with each revelation. It now turns out that, while employed by the International Monetary Fund, he was reimbursed for taxes he was supposed to pay, but never did. How could he accept the reimbursement, then claim he didn't know the taxes were due? Byron York, at National Revue Online, notes:
Although it has been dismissed by some observers as a “hiccup” in an otherwise smooth confirmation process, treasury secretary-designate Timothy Geithner’s failure to pay self-employment taxes during the years he worked at the International Monetary Fund is causing some Republicans on Capitol Hill to ask serious questions about his actions. First among those questions is why he accepted payment from the IMF as restitution for taxes that he had not, in fact, paid.
COMMENT: Many Republicans like Geithner, and they may not make too much of a fuss. But Geithner won't enter office as a great role model, that's for sure.
SCHOOL DAYS, UN STYLE - AT 8:28 A.M. ET: From Joel Mowbray at Fox News:
The United Nations agency that administers a school in Gaza where dozens of civilians were killed by Israeli mortar fire last week has admitted to employing terrorists to work at its Palestinian schools in the past, has no system in place to keep members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad off its payroll, and provides textbooks to children that contain hate speech and other incendiary information.
COMMENT: Our UN contribution at work. The disgraces of the UN go on, yet nothing is done about them. There are UN agencies that work hard to advance the worst causes, but the media is much more upset by Christian evangelicals.
COLLEGES MAKE THEIR OWN RULES - AT 7:51 A.M. ET: From AP:
Most high school seniors and their families have not made final college plans for next fall. But they know this: It's probably going to cost more than they had planned.
Even in good economic times, states and colleges have largely failed to hold tuition increases in line with inflation. Now as the slumping economy forces states to slash spending, students can expect the sharpest increases in years.
COMMENT: Let me sound off on this. I have the highest regard for quality instruction, but it's time we took a hard, cold look at the "college education," probably the most oversold product in America. We treat colleges as sacred institutions, ask few questions and make few demands. The new, sharp rise (again) in college costs should prompt some congressional hearings, with demands for cost-cutting and the scaling back of the endless number of feel-good programs and courses. One Urgent Agenda reader suggested that we start with any academic department with the word "studies" in its title.
IF YOU THINK WE HAVE IMMIGRATION PROBLEMS NOW - AT 7:33 A.M. ET: From the El Paso Times:
EL PASO - Mexico is one of two countries that "bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse," according to a report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command on worldwide security threats.
The command's "Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008)" report, which contains projections of global threats and potential next wars, puts Pakistan on the same level as Mexico. "In terms of worse-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico."
COMMENT: Welcome to the State Department, Hillary Clinton.
WE MUST SHARE WITH OTHERS - AT 7:04 A.M. ET: From The Hill:
President-elect Obama’s evident distrust in sharing with Congress sensitive information about the internal workings of his administration has begun to irk Democratic committee chairmen...
...Ten committee chairmen in the Senate and House said that Obama’s advisers did not alert them ahead of time about the incoming president’s Cabinet selections. Nine of them learned of the picks from the media, even though the Senate committee chairmen have confirmation authority over them.
COMMENT: More and more, it appears that some of Obama's most serious conflicts will be with Democrats, not Republicans. Already there is friction.
FIVE DAYS TO THE AGE OF OBAMIUS
Posted at 6:44 a.m. ET
In five days the world will be enriched by the inauguration of The One. The Sun will come out again, and remain out. Evil will be banished. Our 401K's will be filled to overflowing. And that's only on the first day.
We can report the following developments:
- Rounding out his meetings with journalists of different beliefs, Mr. Obama had lunch with members of the vegetarian press. He spoke about his warm feelings for beets.
- Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden will say goodbye to the Senate in special speeches this morning. Clinton is going to the State Department. Biden is going to an undisclosed location.
- The White House announced that the increased security needed for the Obama inauguration was made financially possible when Treasury Secretary designate Tim Geithner paid his back taxes.
- CIA Director designate Leon Panetta said that he will be disguised among the flowers on an inaugural-parade float, so he can keep an eye on the crowd and detect any major threats to the nation.
- Obama's press secretary announced that President Obama will repeal "Don't ask, don't tell." This will clear the way for liberals to serve openly in the armed forces.
- Obama plans to visit the Pentagon, which is on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, by walking across the water. He denied that this was showing off.
January 15, 2009. Permalink