Geothermal Drilling Stops In CA

In what looks like a setback to President Obama’s push to go green, a company going after geothermal energy in northern California, has shut down its federally funded drilling operation.

The New York Times reports that AltaRock Energy, has pulled it drilling rig and informed the federal government that it’s abandoning the project.  The newspaper reports the project was shut down “…a day after Swiss government officials permanently shut down a similar project in Basel, because of the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007.”

With talks on global warming underway in Copenhagen, the timing on the cessation of drilling here in the U.S. is at the very least, interesting?

Palin Zings Shatner

Sarah Palin, made an unannounced appearance on Friday night’s “Tonight Show” and traded barbs with William Shatner. The bit was obviously scripted top to bottom by Conan O’Brien’s writers giving Palin a humorous depth and sophistication she’s never had before.   It makes me think that with the right help this woman could be a serious contender on the national stage.

Happy Holidays From The U.S. Senate

Our wonderful U.S. Senate has gone the extra mile (poor guys are working so hard on our behalf) and hopes to have a health care reform bill hammered out before Christmas.  God bless those wonderful public servants. And God bless our wonderful insurance industry.  And God bless smilin’ Joe Lieberman and his blue dog crew.  It’s the Senate’s job to look out for them too and it appears that’s just what our fine senators are doing.  Tucked away in their shiny new bill under a clause captioned “No lifetime or annual limits” the literary laureates of the Senate have included words that would give insurance companies the right to place annual limits on benefits for serious illnesses, like cancer and, well, who knows what else?  Anything the insurance companies want to place limits on?

Your United States Senate.  They’re always on the job.  Looks like another big win for the insurance industry could be just days away, but hey, they need to make a living too.  Consider it a holiday greeting from those wonderful folks on Capitol Hill.

Get Off Mr. Obama’s Back

 Barack Obama Among many sad episodes in recent American history, one of the saddest is the move by those on the right to criticize President Obama for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some of the critics act as though Mr. Obama has awarded it to himself.  He has not.   The decision on recipients comes from a selection committee.  Beyond that, there is the great honor of having our nation’s leader being chosen as a recipient.  It’s an honor and a public relations coup for both the President and the country, at a time when international cooperation is a critical component in the fight against the international terrorist conspiracy that continues to threaten the U.S. and the world.

This goes beyond reasonable political differences.  For members of the party of “NO!” to attack the president on this front is simply shameful.

Iraqi Insecurity

 bombing in iraq

photo: u.s. dod

A couple of statements by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki,  point to the futility of prolonging the United States engagement in his country, and why George W. should have taken a deep breath and stepped back from the precipice (like his father did) before sending troops into that tribal mess.

Maliki, says political infighting is preventing the country from appointing a new security minister.   A particularly  sore spot right now, what with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arriving shortly after the deaths of 127 people in a series of bomb attacks on Baghdad.  An al Qaeda affiliated group is claiming responsibility for the bombings.  Maliki is quoted by the AFP as saying, “The intelligence services cannot appoint any chief because there is no political consensus on it.  Every party wants to be in charge of this service.”

Another comment from Maliki, about Osama bin Laden, speaks volumes  with regard to the mindset of some Iraqis.  “Now if I detain Osama bin Laden, some people will ask, ‘Why did you arrest him? He is a mujaheed (religious fighter)’,” Maliki reportedly said of disputes between political groups that he said were causing violence.”

Saddam may be gone but tribal differences remain.  These guys can’t even agree on a security minister.   Seems like that would be kind of ….ah…..basic?

Iraq has been without an national intelligence chief for several months.   Maliki, fired his security chief in Baghdad on Wednesday, following the bombings.

4,685 coalition forces  and more than 100,000 Iraqis have died in the war.   More than 31,000 coalition forces have been wounded in action.   The Iraqi Government has reported that 5 million kids, nearly half the country’s children, are now orphans.

Wolinsky Named Editor At Daily Variety

Congrats to old friend and colleague from the Los Angeles Times, Leo Wolinsky.   After 31 years at the Times, Leo has landed at Daily Variety where he will be responsible for all editorial content.

“After many years on the forefront of news gathering, I feel so fortunate to be joining a great organization like Variety,” said Wolinsky. “The entertainment industry is undergoing dynamic changes and it’s exciting to be there to help chronicle the next chapter in its rapid evolution. Whether it be movies, television, theater or music, tremendous economic, technological and sociological forces are impacting culture around the globe as never before. No one is positioned to tell that story better than Variety.”  -Daily Variety

Leo is one of the really good guys, a top pro from the Times, who helped build the paper into what it was when it was pulling down two to five Pulitzers a year.

Brits Bite Banker’s Bonuses

A big huzzah! to the Brits for placing a 50% tax on 2009 bonuses  of more than $40,800 paid to bankers.   Finally, somebody is landing on these guys that screwed up the world’s economy but continue to award themselves with huge paydays.

” The levy represents the most direct attack on bank bonuses anywhere in the world. All banks in Britain – including the London-based subsidiaries of foreign banks — will be affected, whether they took government funds or not.” -NY Times

In the U.S. meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has announced an extension of the 700-billion dollar “TARP” bailout to October of 2010.  “History suggests that exiting prematurely from policies designed to contain a financial crisis can significantly prolong an economic downturn.  The government expects up to $175 billion in repayments from rescued companies by the end of next year,” Geithner says.

Gee, that’s great Tim, they’re paying back $175 billion on the $700 billion in TARP money that was handed to them because they’re too big to fail.   To be fair, the guys at the Treasury Department think they’ll eventually be able to recover all but $42 billion of the $370 billion they gave to Wall Street.   So we’ll only be out a measly $42 billion.  What the hell is that?  Next to nothing, right?  And is that projection based upon reality or is it just something they’re hoping for, while the boys at the top continue washing down their Beluga with the finest champagne?

According to a piece in the NY Times, big government can do just so much when it comes to pulling in the reigns on all the money the financial wizards are awarding themselves in spite of their monumental failures.

“And the American International Group is contractually obliged to make bonus payments of nearly $200 million in March 2010. The company has promised to try to reduce that amount by 30 percent. But once again, there is nothing Mr. Feinberg can do because those bonuses were already written into contracts — and there is a high likelihood that the bonuses will create another furor in Congress, just as they did earlier this year.” -NY Times

Oh really?  Why not follow suit with the British, and impose that same 50% tax here in the United States?   Now that would have some real meaning.  It would definitely prove to all those regular work-a-day American taxpayers that the Obama Administration is taking their side in this as opposed to simply funneling more money to the greed-driven fatcats on Wall Street with their history of treating hard earned tax dollars like monopoly money and then paying themselves off when they fail.

Of course it probably wouldn’t work here in the U.S., because all of this falls under the category of economic theory which is something most of us regular non-economist folk will never be able to understand.   Or at least that’s what the high rollers want you to believe.   It makes it so much easier for them to continue getting away with economic murder.  Looked at the interest rates on your credit cards lately?

Springsteen Backs Gay Marriage

 bruce springsteen

                     photo: wiki commons

The New Jersey Senate will be voting on a gay marriage bill on Thursday.    The bill squeaked its way though a state senate committee by just one vote on Monday.  The following is from Bruce Springsteen’s website-

A BRIEF STATEMENT FROM BRUCE
“Like many of you who live in New Jersey, I’ve been following the progress of the marriage-equality legislation currently being considered in Trenton. I’ve long believed in and have always spoken out for the rights of same sex couples and fully agree with Governor Corzine when he writes that, “The marriage-equality issue should be recognized for what it truly is — a civil rights issue that must be approved to assure that every citizen is treated equally under the law.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement and urge those who support equal treatment for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to let their voices be heard now.”

Mildest Pandemic Ever?

Some are now predicting that the horrible swine flu, er, excuse me…..the H1N1 Flu pandemic (can’t call it swine flu anymore because the pork industry is getting its underwear in a bunch)  will prove to be “the mildest since modern medicine began documenting influenza outbreaks.”

 “A typical flu season is associated with an average of 36,000 deaths in the United States, and an estimate released in August by a presidential advisory panel that Lipsitch was involved in predicted that the 2009 H1N1 virus could kill 30,000 to 90,000 in this country.  ‘Those were the best estimates we could make at the time based on the data available at the time,” he said. “We now have much better data to make estimates from.’ ” -MSNBC

It’s being reported that around 4000 Americans have died from the H1N1 flu in 2009.   However, it’s difficult to put a real number on the fatalities as there appears to be no accurate count, just estimates.

A question remains as to why this was presented to the American public as though we were about to be subjected to a smallpox epidemic as opposed to a potentially serious outbreak of the flu.   Should the CDC give more consideration to context with regard to future “pandemics?”

I know it’s not possible to determine how any given virus is likely to mutate but this was a flu bug, not the plague,  and we are living in 2009 with modern hospitals,  I-V drips and antibiotics.   It’s not the same situation that existed in 1918.  Context is important.

 

Expanding Medicare (sort of)

 u.s. senate

Members of the millionaire’s club (the U.S. Senate) are talking about expanding medicare coverage by letting people aged 55 to 64 buy into the plan with their own money until 2014, when the new health care bill kicks in.   It’s a way to reach a compromise with those senators who have been bought off by the insurance and pharma industries and who, consequently, refuse to follow through on the public option most Americans want. 

Here’s a great idea from comedian Robin Williams.  The senators should be required wear corporate endorsement patches on their suits.  You know, like the Nascar drivers.  That way we could all tell who they’re really working for.

It appears most in Congress are working for a few corporate bosses and not the millions of Americans who thought they were voting for a major change when they went to the polls.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics,  from 1998 -2009, the pharma and health products industry was at the top of the list for dumping cash on the Congress, with their lobbyists turning over $1,760,225,789.   The insurance industry is in second place with $1,309,425,963.

If these guys can afford to pay out that much in bribe money, imagine what we could save with adequate federal regulation?   However, this kind of compromise may be unavoidable as a necessary first step in knocking down the current greed-driven system of health care delivery.  Three billion dollars buys a lot of loyalty.

Web Shut Down, Press Cards Pulled, Thousands Protest

The anticipated protests are underway in Iran.    Thousands are in the streets protesting the recent and highly contested election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.   Government sanctioned goon squads of Basij Militia are reported to be moving against students at various locations including Tehran University.   The Iranian theocracy appears to be doing all it can to cut off communication but some news, including some video, is getting out.   For those of you who are just coming on board with this story, progressive thinkers in Iran are demanding the rights citizens of the U.S. take for granted under guarantees contained in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Time To Go

 Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is expressing concerns about the announcement that the U.S. will begin withdrawing its troops in July of 2011.   Mr. Obama didn’t say he was going to pull everybody out in July of 2011, he said he was going to start turning over the responsibility for the security of Afghanistan to the Afghans.   In fact, the administration seems to be going to great pains to make the point that they are not going to leave Karazi hanging.  Which could happen literally if we cut and run, which may be why he is so worried.

Appearing on the Amanpour program on CNN Karzai said,  “We will try our best, but the international community must have also the patience with us and the realization of the realities in Afghanistan.  If it takes longer, then they must be with us.”

Where has this guy been?  We’ve had our troops in his country (which harbored the al Qaeda, remember them?) since October of 2001.  It’s now December of 2009.   Somebody run over to Barnes and Noble and get Hamid a calendar.   Over much of the time we’ve been there the stated goal has been to help the Afghans manage their own security.   Their progress in moving toward that goal has been abysmal while our people have continued to die.   The coalition has lost 1535 troops.  More than 900 of those fatalities were U.S. military.  Then there’s the Afghan election, which much of the world is pretty sure Karzai stole.   It appears that nearly a third of the votes were bogus.

There were plans for a second round of voting, but the Taliban was threatening terrorist attacks at the polls.  Karzai’s opponent withdrew from the race and the second vote was scrapped.  Karzai was simply declared the winner.  The U.S. issued a statement saying: “We congratulate President Karzai on his victory in this historic election and look forward to working with him.”

From there it only gets better.

Karzai’s brother,  Ahmed Wali, is allegedly connected to the country’s opium trade and according to the New York Times,  is being paid off by the CIA for various services including arranging contacts with the Taliban and helping to run an Afghan paramilitary operation in Kandahar.  So the CIA’s money, er, excuse me,  U.S. tax dollars, are possibly going from Karzai’s brother to the Taliban and an Afghan paramilitary operation?

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.” -NY Times

So what are we left with?   Our man in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai,  hasn’t been able to get his country’s security together in the 5 years he’s served as president.  A UN backed investigation indicates that his supporters rigged the last election.  His brother is believed to be a possible player in the opium trade and is branded by a senior military intelligence official as being someone who deals with thugs on our behalf.

The BBC reports;  “Some observers are saying Mr Karzai’s legitimacy is also in question, and ask whether his government can be effective.”    Gee, think so?

And now Hamid Karzai, perceived by his own people as being corrupt,  is on the tube expressing his concerns about our plan to start pulling out our troops in July of 2011.

Mr. Obama,  it’s time to get the hell out of Dodge.

Iran Kills Communications

 Basig

Monday is “National Student Day” in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  A day commemorating the deaths of 3 students during an anti-American protest in 1953.  It’s a day that would normally pass without anyone, other than the Iranians, paying much attention.   This year that isn’t the case.   The county’s leadership, such as it is, is obviously worried it won’t be able to maintain power if exposed to the truth of an honest intellectual exchange.  Consequently, they are doing what they can to kill the truth.

The people running the Iranian Theocracy, headed by their Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamanei (duly elected by the “Assembly of Experts”), are anticipating this day of celebration could turn into another day of protest against the recent and highly disputed election of  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.   Consequently,  these fearful clerics and their puppet political leaders are cutting off communications with the outside world and harassing the press.   The BBC reports “Tehran residents said that they had been unable to use e-mail and that opposition websites were being more tightly restricted than before.”

According to “Reporters Without Borders” – “Journalists who have chosen not to the leave the country are being constantly threatened or summoned by the intelligence services, including the intelligence service of the Revolutionary Guards…Some have been given long prison sentences at the end of completely illegal judicial proceedings.”

Another report indicates that internet and mobile phone service could be disabled on Monday.   As before, you can be sure government sanctioned goon squads on motorcycles will be in the streets attacking people at will with their batons.

And so, in what is surely one of the greatest exhibitions of oxymoronic thinking of all time, the government of Iran is turning its “National Student Day” into a nationwide commemoration of ignorance and fear.   The Supreme Leader and his “Assembly of Experts’ should be very proud.

Meet The New Boss…

President Obama said he would start pulling our troops out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.  The next day,  Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the withdrawal would be “conditions based,” a statement that was later supported by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

Today, Sunday, Mr. Gates is saying that we should expect our troops to have a significant presence in Afghanistan for two to four more years.

I am reminded of the buildup to the war in Iraq, when then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said repeatedly that the Iraq War would be over and done with in about 6 months time.

 “We don’t talk about deployments in the specific, but we have brought a good many Guard and Reserve on active duty. Fortunately, a great many of them were volunteers. We have been able to have relatively few stop losses. There are some currently, particularly in the Army, but relatively few in the Navy and the Air Force. And it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months”  -Donald Rumsfeld  February 7, 2003

As we approach the end of 2009 our troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan.   In Iraq 4,685 coalition forces and untold numbers of Iraqis have been killed.  In Afghanistan, 1,535 coalition forces and untold numbers of Afghans have been killed.  It appears plans laid by the neocon influenced Bush Administration for the United States to have an ongoing presence remain in place.  Somewhere, Karl Rove and the boys are undoubtedly  toasting themselves with very old scotch and expensive cigars as they lay plans for the next national election while their strategy for democratization of the Middle East, or something like it, dies the death of a thousand cuts.