Wednesday, July 22, 2009

RIP F-22

The Ward Report has long been critical of the F-22 and takes some credit for it's death.

Fred Kaplan provides some excellent context on the killing of the F-22.

This really is a big deal. Congress has not killed a program since 1977 when the Carter administration killed the B-1 which Reagan resurrected.

The DoD needs a dramatic change in thinking about their weapons systems and blue sky funding for exotic weapons systems with little or no utility.

Kaplan quotes Sec Def Gates in a speech delivered July 16 that the US cannot continue
to design and buy—as we have the last 60 years—only the most technologically advanced versions of weapons to keep up with or stay ahead of another superpower adversary, especially one that imploded nearly a generation ago. … We must break the old habit of adding layer upon layer of cost, complexity, and delay to systems that are so expensive and so elaborate that only a small number can be built, and that are then usable only in a narrow range of low-probability scenarios.
Imagine if your state police demanded $120m to purchase 600 Mercedes v12 SL600's at $200k each because that was the only way to have the fastest, most advanced production car. This is exactly what the DoD does on every single program.

While the rest of the Western world provides health care and builds out modern infastructure, we fall into neglect and disrepair laboring under a cold war era military budget spending lavishly to fight an enemy that disappeared a generation ago and it will bury us if we don't rein it in.

And there is nothing fiscally conservative about anyone who votes for the status quo.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Matthews gets a concession from "Wacko" GOP

Chris Matthews can make me nuts sometimes, but his confrontation of "Birther Bill" sponsor John Campbell (R-CA)is exactly what presumed journalist should do.

Campbell does not want to concede on national TV that Obama is the legitimate president of the United States and Matthews won't let it go. Good for him.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Budapest

Budapest is an interesting city.

Upon checking in on Sunday, I walked to the nearest metro station and purchased a 3 day pass. The metro system in Budapest is 100 years old and has suffered from years of neglect, however, in recent years improvements have been made and the system (subways, trams and buses) seems to work well. Hungarian is much more an Eastern than European language. Signs do not have English help making figuring out the station stops a little tricky but all very manageable with a map and a little effort.

I hoped on the metro and made my way to the Terror Museum. The museum looks back at many years of terror inflicted on the Hungarian people first by the fascist (both homegrown and Nazis) and then by the Soviet liberators and attempted revolutions. The bottom line is that Budapest was nearly leveled by the Soviet siege of the Nazi occupiers in 1945 and again badly damaged by the 1956 revolution that ultimately failed to overthrow the Soviet overlords.

Learning about Budapest's history has colored my view of city. While many parts are shabby many other parts in the tourist areas I'm visiting are beautiful. Construction is going on everywhere as the city modernizes with amazing speed. The EU needs to do for Hungary what it has done for Spain and is doing for Poland.

I spent today walking along the Danube, around the Parliament building and went through St Stephen's Basilica. My timing at the Basilica was perfect. A free concert by the European Youth Orchestra was underway and I was able to sit and enjoy for about 30 minutes. The building itself is stunningly beautiful and in excellent shape. I was able to go up to the top of the dome and walk around the outside taking it a great view of the city.

After lunch at a river cafe I headed up Andrasse ut which is a very nice shopping and dinning street where the Opera is located. I walked past a movie crew setting up to shoot while others were eating in a mobile dinning bus. I'm told Spielberg shot many street scenes for "Munich" on this street. I can see why Budapest would be a popular location for a movie set in Europe.

My hotel is very nice and very reasonable. Checking in on Sunday I did not see many people and wondered if the hotel was full. I know tourism is off in Europe and I was able to negotiate a significant reduction in my room rate in Prague. Well, when I went down for breakfast this morning, the room was packed. It's very common for European hotels to include breakfast but one never knows exactly what that means. Big breakfasts are an American and UK tradition while mainland Europe tends for the "Continental" breakfast, hence the name. This hotel breakfast has everything from eggs, bacon and sausage to cereals, breads, cheeses and cold cuts (a popular Euro breakfast item).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Leaving Paris

I'm at the Paris Orly airport which was Paris' first airport. I had tweeted earlier that it had not be renovated and that is true for the check-in area. All the charm of a third world airport. But now that I'm at the gate it's very different. Modern and nice and my boingo wifi works just fine.

Paris is always great. It rained every night but yesterday was sunny and cool and I walked from the Eiffel Tower through the 7th Arr (my usual Paris address) along the Seine to Norte Dame and Ile Saint Louis around to the Louve.

Americans like to talk about the rudeness of French but that has never been my experience. On this trip - like the last - people could not have been more friendly and helpful everywhere I went. They went out of their way to speak English to me even has I tried laughably to speak French. Every cafe experience was pefect, friendly and easy.

The neighborhood in which I stayed -- Etoile and Ternes -- in the 8th Arr really grew on me. It's more residential than touristy with many upscale shops and cafes. The Paris metro system is sprawling and crazy like the streets of Paris but I now feel comfortable using the system and was easily able to get anywhere I wished.

Headed now to Budapest via easyJet which is the British version of Southwest complete with all the charm.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Paris

Paris is one of my favorite cities to visit.

After our original plane in Chicago was taken out of service for maintenance, a substitute 767 was quickly found and we left Chicago 90 minutes late. The flight was very smooth and I actually slept reasonably well, arriving in Paris just 1 hour late.

Yesterday, Paris was hot (89f) and sunny. Last night thunderstorms moved in (while I was having dinner at an open air cafe) and it's been cloudy and cool since.

Getting in late meant I only had to wait about an hour for my room which really made the day much better. After a hot shower, I headed to the Orangerie Museum and took in the Tuileries before heading back to the hotel for a break.

Today I took the Metro to the Picasso Museum and then navigated my way through le Marais to the Pompidou Center and their enormous collection of 20th Century art.

The iPhone's maps application is pretty handy. Getting off at the St Sabastien metro stop I typed "muse de picasso" into the map and hit the search button. Within a few seconds, walking directions popped up without having even entered an address. I used the GPS tracking to make sure I was on course. Same thing when heading to Pompidou. Just typed in "pompidou center" and walking directions popped up.

Another great iPhone app is Paris Metro 09 which lets me pick starting and stopping stations and it routes me -- all off line-- with the most direct train lines. Anyone who has used the Paris metro knows what an overwhelming maze it can be.

Having had my fill of museums for the day I walked past Norte Dame and took the metro back to the neighborhood by my hotel for a sandwich and some wine at a local cafe. Yesterday I wasn't crazy about the neighbor around the Hilton, but it's growing on my fast. The cafes I've hit have been filled with locals and the food has been good and reasonable.

One typical Paris Metro story. I was at the Bastille station looking at a map on the wall when a very young Roma girl walked up to me and literally stuck a tiny infant in my face as I turned around. The girl could not have been older than 16 and the baby appeared to be only days old. She held the baby up like it was on a platter. The baby was sleeping but not even wrapped in a blanket. Behind her was another girl who appeared to be slightly older with an older baby. When I said "NO!" both girls just giggled and moved on to the next tourist. She never spoke to me so it was unclear if she wanted money or was selling the baby.

Tonight I'm heading to Monparnasse for dinner and more walking around Paris.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where Am I?

I leave tomorrow for Europe for 16 days. A few weeks ago I added a box to the blog tied to my Blackberry via Google Latitude. If it is working as advertised, it will show you where I am in Europe.

It's an interesting feature. I have it set to just show the city. I could set it so that it shows my precise location, which I think is too much information for a public web site.

I will try to make occasional posts, and will hopefully be adding photos to my Flickr page along the way.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Special Prosecutor for Torture?

Newsweek reports that AG Holder is considering a Special Prosecutor of Bush admin torture.
Holder, 58, may be on the verge of asserting his independence in a profound way. Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months.
Needless to say, if Holder appoints a Special Prosecutor the GOP will go into full revolt, the likes of which we have not seen in a very long time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who are you, and what have you done with Harry Reid?

First, Reid tells his caucus he expects to have their votes on procedural matters and now this.

TPMDC,
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office just told TPMDC that the senator will file for cloture on the nomination of Robert Groves, whom President Obama tapped to be director of the Census Bureau on April 2.

Groves, the 60-year-old director of the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, sailed through confirmation hearings in Mid-may, but shortly thereafter, anonymous Republican senators held up his nomination, preventing a confirmation vote and leaving the bureau without a director. Earlier today Roll Call (sub. req.) reported that those holds were placed by Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and David Vitter (R-LA).
Is it possible that the flaccid Harry Reid has grown a pair? More likely he was told if he didn't start leading he would be ousted.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Soda? Pop? Coke? The map



I grew up in the St Louis/ South West Illinois region that is an inexplicable island of "soda" or as some say, "sodee".

Second term for Bernanke?

Fed Chair Ben Bernanke's term is up in January and the WH must reappoint him or replace him.

The WJS,
Before making a decision later this year, the White House also is expected to look at other economists, including Roger Ferguson and Alan Blinder, former Fed vice chairmen; Janet Yellen, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank; and Christina Romer, chairman of Mr. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

Mr. Bernanke's reputation on Wall Street has ebbed and flowed. But a Wall Street Journal survey conducted this week of 46 private-sector economists found that 43 endorsed his reappointment. "Bernanke's leadership during this financial crisis was outstanding, but not flawless," said Scott Anderson of Wells Fargo & Co., one of those surveyed. "But given human limitations and the limitations of economic and financial knowledge he deserves another tour of duty." Some saw benefits to continuity. "Don't change horses in midstream," said David Wyss of Standard & Poor's. Others cited the alternatives: "Stated differently: Don't appoint Summers," said Nicholas Perna of Perna Associates.
I think one of the biggest mistakes Bill Clinton made was to appoint Alan Greenspan to a second term. An absurd cult of the personality developed around him that made it impossible for anyone to disagree with him. And it's undeniable that his monetary policy of keeping interest rates unusually low during Bush's first term was a major contributing factor the our economic collapse.

I'm not qualified to make a solid evaluation of Bernanke's performance but has a matter of basic public policy, no Fed Chair should serve more than one term. We don't need any more Greenspans.

And it's my guess that like Clinton before him, the POTUS will find it very hard not to reappoint Bernanke.

Sen Jim DeMint: Major League Kook

Sen Jim DeMint (R-SC) appears to be a real nut-case. He was plugging his new book, Saving Freedom, at the National Press Club where he not so subtly suggested recent American elections have lost their legitimacy ala Nazi Germany and more recently Venezuela.

An excerpt of DeMint's remarks from The Washington Independent, wherein he was relating a recent conversation with an Iranian immigrant,
They understand socialism. They understand tyrants. But none of us have ever had it here. We don’t even know what it looks like. Part of what we’re trying to do in “Saving Freedom” is just show that where we are, we’re about where Germany was before World War II where they became a social democracy. You still had votes but the votes were just power grabs like you see in Iran, and other places in South America, like Chavez is running down in Venezuela. People become more dependent on the government so that they’re easy to manipulate. And they keep voting for more government because that’s where their security is. When our immigrants get here, they’re worried, because they see it happening here.
What exactly is the Senator saying? That a coup may be in order if Republicans continue to lose elections?

Netanyahu on the brink?

I'm not sure what to make of this piece from Haaretz that paints Bibi and his government on the brink of collapse.

Here's the crux,
But despite the unified front they tried to present, it is clear that all of Netanyahu's aides dislike each other: They are constantly badmouthing each other and blaming each other for leaks. Arad, for example, demanded that Hauser undergo a lie-detector test and is now demanding the same of Hefetz. And the latter two say "it is impossible to work with" Arad.....

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama's senior aides: as "self-hating Jews."

"He thought that his speech at Bar-Ilan would become mandatory reading at schools in the United States, and when he realized that Obama gave no such order, he went back to being frustrated," one of his associates said.
Could Bibi actually believe that the POTUS orders American school children to read political propaganda, or anything else?

The article is not well written which calls its credibility into question, but Haartz is a real English language Israeli news outlet. And if half of the article is factual, Bibi's government cannot stand very much longer.

Palin

I've been intending to write about Palin's recent return to the news, but David Frum has said what I wanted to say better than I could.

Here's the crux,
Yet there will be no escaping another story line. Faced with exasperating criticism and the accumulating cares of public office -- she quit to cash in. Her admirers can excuse anything, but to the much larger audience of non-admirers, Palin will look a lot like those CEOs who wrecked their banks and the national economy while accepting huge bonuses for themselves personally. John McCain’s slogan in 2008 was "Country First." Palin’s in 2012? "I seen my opportunities, and I took ‘em."
Sarah Palin is the very embodiment of everything that is wrong with the Republican party. Guys like Huckabee and Romney only get it half right.

Sarah Palin hasn't left highschool. She is the prom queen writ large as Todd Purdum explains in his entertaining Vanity Fair profile (note that all her critics are Republicans). People are to be used until they no longer advance the princess, then they are cast off. People who criticize Princess are singled out as mean and the princess puffs her lips and plays the victim. Power is for Princess to have her revenge on those who wouldn't worship her or dared to disagree with her.

The simple truth is that with lower oil prices, being the governor of Alaska has become much harder. With the Government in the red and not enough earnings in the Alaska Permanent Fund to send the big checks she promised everyone -- and showing actual leadership out of the question --there was only one thing for Princess to do: Quit, and head south where they still love the GOP's favorite little victim. Watching Romney, Huckabee and Gingrich (with whom she competes most directly for the substantial kook vote) while she was stuck in Alaska dealing with issues prove too much for Princess. And everyone in Alaska is mean now.

In Sarah Palin, the GOP is reaping what it has sowed the last 20 years and it's entertaining as hell to watch. Theocratic anti-intellectualism in a Louis Vuitton silk jacket.

Haven't we been here before?

TPM points to this from Bloomberg.com
Morgan Stanley plans to repackage a downgraded collateralized debt obligation backed by leveraged loans into new securities with AAA ratings in the first transaction of its kind, said two people familiar with the sale.
I seem to recall problems with similar 'securities' in the recent past.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Rove was deposed today

The Politico,
Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was deposed Tuesday by attorneys for the House Judiciary Committee, according to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the panel’s chairman.

Rove’s deposition began at 10 a.m. and ended around 6:30 p.m, with several breaks, Conyers said.

Conyers would not comment on what Rove told congressional investigators, what the next step in the long-running Judiciary Committee investigation would be or whether Rove would face additional questioning.
I'll be surprised if anything comes of this testimony but it's important for at least two reasons. One, the power of Congress to conduct investigations and take sworn testimony; and two, the historical record.

Ours is a democracy and it is important to our future survival that history record exactly what took place in the last 8 years. Not looking back makes President Obama's job easier, but it is not good for the country. We need to know even the gory details.

Class and Sarah Palin

Yglesias counters Ross Douthat.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Confessions of a Non–Serial Killer

As Professor Michael O'Hare has learned, conspiracy theories are all fun and games until you become the subject of one. Professor O'Hare has been the subject of a bizarre conspiracy theory for many years now and tells his story in this Month's Washington Monthly.

Best cocktail party story ever!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Supermajority not so super

I tweeted this earlier but it is worth a post. Listening to cable news reports of Franken's final victory in last November's MN Senate race has been a little maddening because of the lack of actual reporting.

The worst kept secret in DC is that Ted Kennedy is gravely ill with cancer and may well never vote in the US Senate again, and certainly cannot be counted on for regular cloture votes. And should Sen Kennedy retire, MA law does not allow the Governor to appoint a replacement. Only the voters may fill any vacancy at the next special election which would take at least months.

Likewise, the 91 year old Sen Byrd has just been released from a 1 month hospital stay and is also very ill and weak, and may never again vote in the Senate.

So in short, Franken makes 58.