Tuesday, December 23, 2008

One Reindeer Down, Seven to Go


Does Old Glory Have a Dark Side?

Research suggests that seeing the flag doesn't make Americans feel more patriotic. But it does make them feel more nationalistic and more superior to non-Americans.

feature photoEarly in the presidential campaign that was, Barack Obama's initial reluctance to wear a flag pin caused some opponents to question his patriotism. After all, some conservatives argued, the flag is the quintessential symbol of American patriotism, and by not wearing it on his lapel, well, one could only assume ...

But are the stars and stripes as much a symbol of patriotism as many make them out to be? Probably not, according to some new research on the effects of exposure to the American flag. Experiments conducted by Markus Kemmelmeier, a professor of social psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and colleagues show that gazing upon the red, white and blue actually does very little to stoke feelings of patriotism.

But it does make people more individualistic, more materialistic and — perhaps most troublingly — more nationalistic.

Researchers tend to define patriotism as love of one's country; nationalism, on the other hand, tends to measure feelings of superiority. "Nationalism takes into consideration that there are others and that your own country is not just only loveable but also different and better than others," Kemmelmeier explained.


Strong resemblance

Well, You Asked

by Andrew Tobias

So where to put your money now?


The first thing to say is that everyone is different, and anyone who invests based on a TV interview here, a magazine article there – and then takes a different tack based on a blog entry from some guy who also offers eggplant recipes – is clearly not going about this the right way.

The right way is to have an overall plan, good money habits, and a life perspective that serves you well.

To cover all this adequately (or even inadequately, depending on your review) could take an entire book. Having said that, let's say some more . . . with a wide lens before we pan in.


We've known for some time that residential real estate was a bubble, and have been wary of it even back when it was only modestly inflated – e.g., this column from October, 2002. It seems obvious now, yet many got burned.

If you watched (or read) Whitney Tilson's segment on this past Sunday's '60 Minutes,' you know there's a lot more pain ahead, as the Alt-A and Option ARM mortgage default wave sweeps in even as the subprime foreclosures gradually get absorbed.

We've known for some time that interest rates, or certainly short-term rates, would likely stay low. E.g., here, in March of 2007. This week the Fed took its short-term rate down to zero (how's that for low?) and explicitly stated its intent not just to keep short-term rates low for a long time, but long-term rates as well.

Normally, the Fed tools have limited effect on long-term rates, which are determined by supply and demand. Ah, but if the Fed itself becomes a massive buyer, that can drive the price of bonds up – and, thus, interest rates down.*

*Interest rates are the converse of bond prices, as light is the converse of dark: if it's getting lighter, it is also, and to precisely the same degree, getting less dark. If a bond that is slated to pay $50 a year for 30 years trades hands for $1,000, it yields its owner 5% a year. But if it later can fetch its owner no more than $800 when he goes to sell it, the new owner gets a current yield of 6.25% on his investment ($50 on $800 = 6.25%). In this example, interest rates have gone up. If the Fed were then to come in with massive purchases, competing with private investors to buy bonds and driving their prices up to the point that this same bond fetched $1,250, then whoever bought it – the Fed or your neighbor – would be getting $50 a year on $1,250, which is to say 4%. That is how the Fed would drive down long-term rates.

It may or may not work as hoped. "The market" might be so alarmed to see the Fed printing trillions of dollars to buy bonds and mortgages that it might begin to fear for the strength of the dollar . . . and to fear the inflation they might expect eventually to result from so much money-printing . . . and thus sell their long-term bonds almost as fast as – or (oops!) even faster than – the Fed is buying them.

We've known for a long time we face challenges. There's the challenge of better preparing our kids to compete in the global marketplace. There's the challenge of maintaining our aging infrastructure – and our aging population. There's the challenge of terrorism. The challenge of global climate change.

And have I ever mentioned that the National Debt – under $1 trillion when President Reagan was Inaugurated – will be "around $10 trillion" when President Bush finally leaves?

In fact, it will be even higher, as it turns out.

Which means nothing in absolute dollars (trillions? shmillions? who can keep track?) but quite a lot when expressed relative to the size of our economy: around 30% of GDP when Reagan took over, closing in on 80% by the time Bush leaves, and inevitably rocketing rapidly higher (as it must and should for a while, so long as we're borrowing to make smart investments in our future).


The Worst Ballot Challenge Of All

But now we're at the point where all those challenges are resolved -- in other words, he can't hide behind these tricks anymore. To be fair, Franken had his share of hopeless tries to toss Coleman votes, but it was nowhere near this bad.

This one might just be the worst of all. The Coleman campaign tried to get a vote for Franken thrown out because the voter had written on the ballot. What'd they write?

Thank you for counting my vote!

Is there anything more that needs to be said?


No Limit Texas Dreidel

Jennie sez, "My husband and I have solved a problem plaguing Jews for hundreds of years: the boring, yet ubiquitous Dreidel Game. We've created a new game, fun for adults, that crosses dreidel with Texas Hold'em poker: No Limit Texas Dreidel."
No Limit Texas Dreidel combines the traditional dreidel game with Texas Hold'em poker. The objective is for each player to create the best dreidel "hand" by combining dreidel spins. You will combine dreidel "spins" in your shaker, which only you will see, with other Community Spins, which will be seen by all players. Players bet in rounds using poker betting rules. The game is best played with chocolate gelt (coins), as is the traditional wager for the Dreidel Game. No Limit Texas Dreidel is an entertaining adult party game and is family fun for everyone ages 9 to 99.
No Limit Texas Dreidel on Amazon, No Limit Texas Dreidel homepage (Thanks, Jennie!)

Willie Nelson on A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All

Last Known Gay Holocaust Survivor Speaks Out in New Interview

Rudolf Brazda, a 95-year-old German citizen and the last known gay survivor of the Holocaust, has definitively broken his silence on his experience at the Buchenwald camp. In a new interview in the French gay magazine Têtu, Brazda speaks in detail for the first time since he made provisional remarks at the June inauguration of a Berlin memorial to gay victims of the Nazis.

"The way Nazis treated the 'pink triangles' is unspeakable," Brazda told Têtu, referring to the emblem gays were forced to wear to signify their homosexuality. "They had absolutely no mercy."

The "pink triangles" not only had to suffer the ill treatment of the Nazis but also had to endure the homophobia of other prisoners. In the documentary Paragraph 175, which takes its name from the German criminal code provision regarding homosexuality, Pierre Seel, the only Frenchman to have publicly testified about his imprisonment for being gay, explains that "the weakest people in the camps were the homosexuals; they were at the very bottom." Seel died in 2005.

Before Brazda first spoke in June, the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD) did extensive research to authenticate and certify his testimony. He may not be the only survivor still alive, though, according to LVSD spokesman, Alexander Zinn. "No one ever invested the time and the money to try and find all those who survived," Zinn told Têtu. It's estimated that 75,000 gays were deported by the Nazis.

While other survivors of the camps were celebrated at the end of the war, gay survivors usually had to remain silent about their experiences because homosexuality was still illegal in many European countries (such as France, where it was not decriminalized until 1982). "Before, no one cared about this tragedy," Brazda told Têtu when asked why he didn't speak out earlier.


Shock and Awe



I think the title pretty much sums it up.



Matthews for Senate (?)

by Jamison Foser 

Chris Matthews' interest in the Pennsylvania Senate seat currently held by Republican Arlen Specter raises the possibility of something that is all too rare among the nation's media elite: accountability.

It has long been clear that if we applied to journalists who cover politics the standards they purport to apply to politicians -- truthfulness, judgment, being in touch with regular Americans, and so on -- many of them would fare quite poorly.

Few journalists are as aggressive as Chris Matthews in purporting to speak for average voters -- or as quick to declare (liberal) politicians to be out of touch with those voters. And few have his track record of failing to live up to the standards he sets for politicians, particularly Democrats. But there is no real accountability in cable news -- no matter how often Matthews is wrong on the facts, or how frequently he offends the concepts of fairness and rational thought, there are rarely consequences.

True, Matthews did have to apologize after a particularly offensive string of commentary about Hillary Clinton earlier this year, though given his long track record of misogynistic comments, it is clear he got off easy even then -- particularly in comparison to his colleague David Shuster, who was suspended after an inappropriate comment of his own. Shuster likely paid the price not only for his own nasty remark about Clinton, but for his more famous colleague's long string of sexist commentary as well. As long as Matthews stops short of Imus-level offensiveness, MSNBC seems quite happy to continue broadcasting his false claims and inane commentary.

Should he run for the Senate, however, Matthews might finally have to answer for his dubious track record. And he'll have to do so outside of his comfortable cocoon of fellow Beltway journalists and political insiders who are too eager to get invited back to ever truly challenge him on his cable program. Indeed, he'll have to do so while facing the very "regular Americans" he has caricatured so grotesquely over the years.

True, Pennsylvania voters aren't much more likely than MSNBC executives to care about Matthews' long string of false claims on Hardball.

But they may well be less pleased than Matthews' bosses at General Electric with his at times effusive praise for President Bush -- and even less pleased with his insults of people who disagree with him. In 2005, for example, Matthews said of Bush: "I like him. Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left -- I mean -- like him personally." At the time the "real whack-jobs" who disliked Bush constituted a majority of the American public. The following year, Matthews called Bush "a wise man ... almost Atticus Finch."


Tortured Reasoning


President George W. Bush
President George W. Bush on his way to announce the transfer of 14 terrorism suspects from previously secret C.I.A. prisons abroad to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, September 6, 2006.
By Gerald Herbert/A.P. Photo.
George W. Bush defended harsh interrogations by pointing to intelligence breakthroughs, but a surprising number of counterterrorist officials say that, apart from being wrong, torture just doesn't work. Delving into two high-profile cases, the author exposes the tactical costs of prisoner abuse.

by David Rose

By the last days of March 2002, more than six months after 9/11, President George W. Bush's promise "to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act" was starting to sound a little hollow. True, Afghanistan had been invaded and the Taliban toppled from power. But Osama bin Laden had vanished from the caves of Tora Bora, and none of his key al-Qaeda lieutenants were in U.S. captivity. Intelligence about what the terrorists might be planning next was almost nonexistent. "The panic in the executive branch was palpable," recalls Mike Scheuer, the former C.I.A. official who set up and ran the agency's Alec Station, the unit devoted to tracking bin Laden.

From U.S. Central Command/A.P. Photo (Zubaydah); from A.P. Photo (Sheikh Mohammed); from Reuters/Landov (Padilla); from Press Association/A.P. Images (Mohamed).
Clockwise from top left: al-Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah; al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed shortly after his capture, in 2003; terror suspect Jose Padilla; former British resident and current Guantánamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Early in the morning of March 28, in the moonlit police-barracks yard in Faisalabad, Pakistan, hopes were high that this worrisome intelligence deficit was about to be corrected. Some 300 armed personnel waited in silence: 10 three-man teams of Americans, drawn equally from the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., together with much greater numbers from Pakistan's police force and Inter-services Intelligence (ISI). In order to maximize their chances of surprise, they planned to hit 10 addresses simultaneously. One of them, they believed, was a safe house containing a man whose name had been familiar to U.S. analysts for years: Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Hussein, a 30-year-old Saudi Arabian better known as Abu Zubaydah. "I'd followed him for a decade," Scheuer says. "If there was one guy you could call a 'hub,' he was it."

The plan called for the police to go in first, followed by the Americans and ISI men, whose job would be to gather laptops, documents, and other physical evidence. A few moments before three a.m., the crackle of gunfire erupted. Abu Zubaydah had been shot and wounded, but was alive and in custody. As those who had planned it had hoped, his capture was to prove an epochal event—but in ways they had not envisaged.

Four months after Abu Zubaydah's capture, two lawyers from the Department of Justice, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, delivered their notorious memo on torture, which stated that coercive treatment that fell short of causing suffering equivalent to the pain of organ failure or death was not legally torture, an analysis that—as far as the U.S. government was concerned—sanctioned the abusive treatment of detainees at the C.I.A.'s secret prisons and at Guantánamo Bay. But, as Jane Mayer writes in her recent book, The Dark Side (Doubleday), Abu Zubaydah had been subjected to coercive interrogation techniques well before that, becoming the first U.S. prisoner in the Global War on Terror to undergo waterboarding.


Osama bin Laden's Latest

Bush Insider Who Planned To Tell All Killed In Plane Crash: Non-Profit Demands Full Federal Investigation

WASHINGTON /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Michael Connell, the Bush IT expert who has been directly implicated in the rigging of George Bush's 2000 and 2004 elections, was killed last night when his single engine plane crashed three miles short of the Akron airport. Velvet Revolution ("VR"), a non-profit that has been investigating Mr. Connell's activities for the past two years, can now reveal that a person close to Mr. Connell has recently been discussing with a VR investigator how he can tell all about his work for George Bush. Mr. Connell told a close associate that he was afraid that George Bush and Dick Cheney would "throw [him] under the bus."
A tipster close to the McCain campaign disclosed to VR in July that Mr. Connell's life was in jeopardy and that Karl Rove had threatened him and his wife, Heather. VR's attorney, Cliff Arnebeck, notified the United States Attorney General , Ohio law enforcement and the federal court about these threats and insisted that Mr. Connell be placed in protective custody. VR also told a close associate of Mr. Connell's not to fly his plane because of another tip that the plane could be sabotaged. Mr. Connell, a very experienced pilot, has had to abandon at least two flights in the past two months because of suspicious problems with his plane. On December 18, 2008, Mr. Connell flew to a small airport outside of Washington DC to meet some people. It was on his return flight the next day that he crashed.

At a remote terrorist training camp