Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Yellular: Urban Word of the Day

February 25: yellular

The loudness one adopts in response to a bad cell-phone connection, in the misguided hope that talking louder will improve the connection.

"I'm so embarrassed. I went totally yellular at a restaurant last night."

comment on this definition

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is it time to cut GM and Chrysler loose?

Thom Friedman makes a case that it's time to let GM and Chrysler die and invest in the technologies of the future.

Start Up the Risk-Takers

Reading the news that General Motors and Chrysler are now lining up for another $20 billion or so in government aid — on top of the billions they’ve already received or requested — leaves me with the sick feeling that we are subsidizing the losers and for only one reason: because they claim that their funerals would cost more than keeping them on life support. Sorry, friends, but this is not the American way. Bailing out the losers is not how we got rich as a country, and it is not how we’ll get out of this crisis.

G.M. has become a giant wealth- destruction machine — possibly the biggest in history — and it is time that it and Chrysler were put into bankruptcy so they can truly start over under new management with new labor agreements and new visions. When it comes to helping companies, precious public money should focus on start-ups, not bailouts.

You want to spend $20 billion of taxpayer money creating jobs? Fine. Call up the top 20 venture capital firms in America, which are short of cash today because their partners — university endowments and pension funds — are tapped out, and make them this offer: The U.S. Treasury will give you each up to $1 billion to fund the best venture capital ideas that have come your way. If they go bust, we all lose. If any of them turns out to be the next Microsoft or Intel, taxpayers will give you 20 percent of the investors’ upside and keep 80 percent for themselves.

If we are going to be spending billions of taxpayer dollars, it can’t only be on office-decorating bankers, over-leveraged home speculators and auto executives who year after year spent more energy resisting changes and lobbying Washington than leading change and beating Toyota.

I’ve been traveling all across the country on a book tour, and every evening I return to my hotel with my pockets full of business cards from inventors in clean energy. Our country is still bursting with innovators looking for capital. So, let’s make sure all the losers clamoring for help don’t drown out the potential winners who could lift us out of this. Some of our best companies, such as Intel, were started in recessions, when necessity makes innovators even more inventive and risk-takers even more daring.

Yes, we have to shore up the banking system, which underpins everything; and finding a fair way to prevent hardworking people, who played by the rules, from losing their homes to foreclosure is both right and essential for stability.

But beyond that, let’s think, talk and plan in more aspirational ways. We’re down, but we’re not out. As we invest taxpayer money, let’s do it with an eye to starting a new generation of biotech, info-tech, nanotech and clean-tech companies, with real innovators, real 21st-century jobs and potentially real profits for taxpayers. Our motto should be, “Start-ups, not bailouts: nurture the next Google, don’t nurse the old G.M.’s.”

To be fair, the stimulus package that the Obama team and the Democrats in Congress recently passed — with virtually no Republican help — goes some way toward doing just that. Hat’s off for that. Now let’s do more.

The renewable-energy business — wind, solar and solar thermal — was almost dead in this country. Most new projects stopped last fall because they depended for their financing on selling their renewable energy tax credits to Wall Street firms. As those Wall Street firms went bust or suffered steep losses, they had no need for tax credits because they had no profits to offset. The stimulus package created a mechanism for renewable energy innovators to bypass Wall Street and monetize their tax credits directly through the U.S. Treasury, for any project that starts between now and the end of 2010.

The wind and solar industries in America “were dead in the fourth quarter,” said John Woolard, chief executive of BrightSource Energy, which builds and operates cutting-edge solar-thermal plants in the Mojave Desert. Almost five gigawatts of new solar-thermal projects — the equivalent of five big nuclear plants — at various stages of permitting were being held up because of a lack of financing.

“All of these projects will now go ahead,” said Woolard. “You are talking about thousands of jobs ... We really got something right in this legislation.”

These jobs will be in engineering, constructing and operating huge solar systems and wind farms and manufacturing new photovoltaics. Together they will drive innovation in all these areas — and move wind and solar technology down the cost-volume learning curve so they can compete against fossil fuels and become export industries at the “ChinIndia price,” that is the price at which they can scale in China and India.

That is how taxpayer money should be used to stimulate: limited financing, for a limited time, targeted on an industry bristling with new technology start-ups that, with a little push from Uncle Sam, won’t just survive this crisis but help us thrive when it is over. We need, and the world needs, an America that is thriving not just surviving.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Make America Happen. Again.

The economy is tanking. People can't afford health care. The middle class is struggling. Big problems? Without a doubt.

But, history tells us that we have overcome great challenges before and we can do so again. As public service workers, AFSCME members are uniquely suited to lead the way. That's why AFSCME has launched the "Make America Happen" campaign.

- Together, we can jump start the economy by creating jobs and investing in communities.

- Together, we can make affordable health care available to all.

- Together, we can rebuild the middle class.

- Together, we can Make America Happen.

Visit to find out how.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Favorite commercials during the Super Bowl

I am a big fan of "30 Rock" on NBC and think that Alec Baldwin is hysterical on that show. He is channeling the same character for this commercial for Hulu, my favorite during the Super Bowl.

In this ad for Bud Light (a close second), Conan O'Brien demonstrates the power of being willing to make a fool of one's self.

Bridgestone uses a common cultural reference, Mr. Potato Head in a truly ingenious way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's a New Day (Enhanced) -

Obama Inauguration Speech

The Price Of Their Security

The Price Of Their Security
By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
Tuesday, December 23, 2008; Page A17

Understanding isn't the same as forgiving. The history-be-my-judge interviews that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been giving recently help me understand why they acted with such contempt for our Constitution and our values -- but also reinforce my confident belief, and my fervent hope, that history will throw the book at them.

The basic argument that they're making deserves to be taken seriously. I don't think either man would object to my summing it up in one sentence: We did what we did to keep America safe.

That terse formulation of the Bush-Cheney apologia leaves out important details. Cheney came into office with preconceived ideas about restoring executive branch powers and prerogatives that he believed had been lost after Vietnam and Watergate; Bush either shared Cheney's views or was willing to go along. But the main narrative of the Bush presidency began with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists -- the worst such assault ever on American soil.

In a not-for-attribution chat I had with a member of the Bush Cabinet a couple of years ago, conversation turned to Sept. 11. I said something like, "I can imagine what that day must have felt like for you." The response was immediate: "No, you can't."

The official went on to describe the chaos and anguish -- the shock of seeing the 110-story World Trade Center towers collapse into rubble, the fear that other hijacked planes might still be in the air, the gut feeling that the president and those around him were personally under attack. The official talked of how the president and his aides racked their memories to think of anything they might have done differently to prevent the attacks. I doubt that anyone in the White House Situation Room actually quoted Malcolm X, but essentially a vow was taken to protect the country from another assault "by any means necessary."

These were human reactions, understandable and appropriate at the time. The truth is that the administration had missed signs that an attack was brewing -- most famously, the president's daily brief titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." But these portents were lost amid the avalanche of information that buries every president every single day. Anyone in Bush's position would have been filled with grief, anger and resolve.

Initial reactions are supposed to give way to reasoned analysis, however. For Bush and most of his top aides, this didn't happen until far too late.

For Cheney, apparently it never happened at all. In an interview broadcast Sunday, he invited Fox News' Chris Wallace to "go back and look at how eager the country was to have us work in the aftermath of 9/11 to make certain that that never happened again." People have since become "complacent," he said, but the administration's actions have "produced a safe 7.5 years, and I think the record speaks for itself."

That record, admirably, includes the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the dismantling of al-Qaeda's infrastructure and the killing or capture of some of the terrorist organization's most important operatives. Shamefully, however, it also includes the violation of international and U.S. legal norms by subjecting terrorism suspects to indefinite detention and cruel, painful interrogation; the creation of a mini gulag of secret CIA-run prisons abroad; and unprecedented domestic surveillance without court supervision -- all justified, Cheney maintains, by a state of "war" that has no foreseeable end.

The Bush-Cheney record also includes the invasion of a country -- Iraq -- that had nothing whatsoever to do with Sept. 11. This misadventure has claimed more than 4,000 American lives, wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and grievously damaged our strategic position in the Middle East. In an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News this month, Bush claimed credit for vanquishing al-Qaeda's forces in Iraq. When Raddatz pointed out that there were no al-Qaeda forces in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion, the president answered, "Yeah, that's right. So what?"

Here's so what: Bush and Cheney, understandably shaken by an unprecedented act of terrorism, declared and prosecuted a "war" without specifying who the enemy was. Rather than focus on the architect and sponsor of the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, they turned away to lash out at others in preemptive blows that dishonored our nation's most precious ideals.

History will note that the point of the Constitution is that the ends don't always justify the means -- and that nowhere in the document can be found the phrase "so what?"

Bush Final Press Conference According to Doonesbury

8 Years On The Dark Side

8 years on the dark side
By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / December 20, 2008

VICE PRESIDENT Dick Cheney said this week that he directly approved waterboarding to torture terror suspects. "I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared," Cheney told "ABC News." Asked if he believes the simulating of drowning is an appropriate technique, he said, "I do."

Last week, a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded that the 2003 Abu Ghraib detainee abuse was not just the result of a few rogue soldiers. It said: "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely."

Those items help cement this White House as among the most cancerous in American history. Cheney told us after 9/11 that the administration would protect us by working on "the dark side . . . in the shadows in the intelligence world." Cheney, Rumsfeld, and President Bush turned the dark side into a blind eye, the shadows into a shroud, and obliterated intelligent discourse on terrorism with raw fear. That was only the warm-up for twisting intelligence to invade Iraq for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

For eight years the administration never feared trampling truth and justice, even as Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2004 about Abu Ghraib, "Anyone who recommended that kind of behavior that I have seen depicted in those photos needs to be brought to justice." At the moment, the administration faces no serious repercussions for decisions that resulted in many times more deaths in Iraq than here on Sept. 11, 2001. Rumsfeld went from disgrace to a visiting fellowship at the Hoover Institution. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz went from miscalculating the need for hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq as "wildly off the mark" to counting the planet's dollars at the World Bank - until corruption ended his presidency there.

Bush is sure to regale us about compassionate conservatism in his sugar-coated presidential library and Cheney will mumble from some undisclosed bunker about being the great liberator. All they currently face is the judgment of history.

It was something of a consolation for history that President-elect Barack Obama named Eric Shinseki to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki was the general who made the Iraq troop estimate that Wolfowitz criticized.

And at least we have some facts to go with the fiction. The Senate report released jointly by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona said Rumsfeld's authorization of techniques "was a direct cause of detainee abuse." It also said that Bush's presidential order saying the Geneva Convention for humane treatment of prisoners of war did not apply to al Qaeda "impacted the treatment of detainees."

Cheney and the report give us fresh clarity on their obfuscations. For instance, two years ago, Cheney was asked on a conservative radio talk show, "Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Cheney responded, "Well it's a no-brainer for me." The White House immediately trotted out the late White House spokesman Tony Snow and vice-presidential spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride to convince the press that Cheney was not referring to waterboarding.

McBride said, "The vice president does not discuss any techniques or methods that may or may not have been used in questioning." Snow was challenged by reporters that it defied common sense to deny that a "dunk in water" was waterboarding. Snow still asserted, "he wasn't referring to waterboarding. He was referring to using a program of questioning, not talking about waterboarding." Pummeled by the press over this parsing, an exasperated Snow said, "I'm telling you what the vice president's view is, which is it wasn't about waterboarding. Period."

The not-so-funny thing is that Cheney's "no-brainer" remark was an honest window into his brain. True to the eight years of this administration, even the truth must be covered with a lie.

Take Me To Your Leader (last week)