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From the Annals of Cluelessness

FROM THE ANNALS OF CLUELESSNESS....A reader recommends watching this interview on Friday between Greta Van Susteren and Troy Clarke, president of GM North America. It's worth a listen just to hear his answer to this one question: "What possessed the...

| Mon Dec. 8, 2008 12:50 AM EST

FROM THE ANNALS OF CLUELESSNESS....A reader recommends watching this interview on Friday between Greta Van Susteren and Troy Clarke, president of GM North America. It's worth a listen just to hear his answer to this one question: "What possessed the three automakers to come to town without a plan asking for money [two weeks] ago?...Didn't you know that people would want a plan?"

The exchange starts at about 10:45, and Clarke's answer, basically, is that they figured, hey, the banks got bailed out without a plan, so why shouldn't they? After all, when it's raining money, you don't ask questions, you just get out your bucket.

Points for honesty, I guess, but not much else.

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Leverage

LEVERAGE....Hey, you remember John Rogers, the inventor of the Theory of Crazification, don't you? Well, his new TV show, Leverage, debuts tonight at 10 pm on TNT. You should watch, even if you don't think you'll like it. It's the...

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 8:42 PM EST

LEVERAGE....Hey, you remember John Rogers, the inventor of the Theory of Crazification, don't you? Well, his new TV show, Leverage, debuts tonight at 10 pm on TNT. You should watch, even if you don't think you'll like it. It's the least we in the blogosphere can do to recognize his achievements.

The Auto Industry's 15 Billion Point Turn

Below is a guest blog entry by Nomi Prins: Perhaps jarred by the November unemployment report, Congress offered a $15...

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 6:56 PM EST

Below is a guest blog entry by Nomi Prins:

Perhaps jarred by the November unemployment report, Congress offered a $15 billion olive branch to the Detroit Three Friday night. (Note: You can keep calling them the Big Three if you want, but it's a bit of a misnomer these days, isn't it?)

The loan, stressed House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), will provide "short-term and limited assistance" to the D-3, though there is some ambiguity about what she meant. She also promised the money would be repaid "within a matter of weeks." But given the absence of inventory movement, and lack of cash flowing through the D-3's books, it's not clear exactly how that's going to happen.

Nonetheless, this loan will allegedly keep the auto industry on a ventilator until March, when the Obama administration and new Congress can take another pass at determining what to do. Until that point, the auto-execs will supposedly go about executing their multi-hundred page restructuring plans. Will they address the core problems that plague the auto industry? Let's hope.

—Nomi Prins

Nomi Prins is a former Wall Streeter and frequent contributor to Mother Jones.

Nisoor Square Update

NISOOR SQUARE UPDATE -The Blackwater guards who were charged on Thursday for their role in the 2007 Nisoor Square shootings...

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 4:37 PM EST

NISOOR SQUARE UPDATE....The Blackwater guards who were charged on Thursday for their role in the 2007 Nisoor Square shootings plan to give themselves up tomorrow:

Five indicted Blackwater Worldwide security guards plan to surrender to the FBI Monday in Salt Lake City, about 2,000 miles from the Washington courthouse where they were charged, a person close to the case said.

Such a move would be the opening salvo in what is shaping up to be a contentious legal fight before the guards can even get to trial. By surrendering in Utah, the home state of one of the guards, the men can argue for a trial there — a far more conservative, pro-gun venue than Washington.

Via Blue Girl. More here. Iraqi reaction here.

Afghanistan Update

AFGHANISTAN UPDATE....This is really bad news:Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become....

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 4:18 PM EST

AFGHANISTAN UPDATE....This is really bad news:

Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become.

....The plan for the incoming brigade [] means that for the time being fewer reinforcements — or none at all — will be immediately available for the parts of Afghanistan where the insurgency is most intense.

It also means that most of the newly arriving troops will not be deployed with the main goal of curbing the cross-border flow of insurgents from their rear bases in Pakistan, something American commanders would like and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has recommended.

This isn't a huge surprise at this point, but it's the most concrete evidence yet of how badly the fight in Afghanistan is going. Two years ago, the main complaint was that, sure, Kabul was safe, but it was just a small island of security in a vast sea of lawlessness. Today, we're apparently close to losing even that small island.

So does that mean that we need a surge in Afghanistan? Well, the theory behind the surge in Iraq was that a relatively small number of additional troops could make a big difference if they were concentrated primarily in Baghdad, where three or four brigades would represent a near doubling of forces. Baghdad was considered so central to Iraqi security that if it could be pacified, it would make an enormous difference in the rest of the country too.

That's not true of Afghanistan. Obviously Kabul has to be safe, but it doesn't play the same outsize role that Baghdad does in Iraq. Nor are any of the other factors that helped the surge succeed present in Afghanistan. It's just a mess. Denying al-Qaeda a safe sanctuary is an important goal, but if even Kabul isn't safe anymore, it means we've got a very, very long road ahead of us before we can make that happen. I don't envy Barack Obama the choices he has ahead of him.

Conservative Hysteria Watch

CONSERVATIVE HYSTERIA WATCH....Shorter George Will: If liberals were trying to do a bunch of things they aren't trying to do, they'd really suck. Next week: If Canadians launch an attack on North Dakota, they'd be real warmongers, wouldn't they?...

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 3:59 PM EST

CONSERVATIVE HYSTERIA WATCH....Shorter George Will: If liberals were trying to do a bunch of things they aren't trying to do, they'd really suck. Next week: If Canadians launch an attack on North Dakota, they'd be real warmongers, wouldn't they?

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Late Boomers

LATE BOOMERS....In the Washington Post today, Neil Howe takes on one of my favorite hobbyhorses: The Kids These Days?. Are they really the dumbest generation ever? Howe says no: that honor belongs to my generation, those born between the late...

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 3:46 PM EST

LATE BOOMERS....In the Washington Post today, Neil Howe takes on one of my favorite hobbyhorses: The Kids These Days™. Are they really the dumbest generation ever? Howe says no: that honor belongs to my generation, those born between the late 50s and mid 60s:

On both the reading and the math tests, and at all three tested ages (9, 13 and 17), the lowest-ever scores in the history of the NAEP were recorded by children born between 1961 and 1965.

The same pattern shows up in SAT scores....It fell steeply for 17 straight years, hitting its all-time low in 1980, when it tested the 1963 cohort

....According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans born from 1958 to 1962 have the highest share that has never completed high school among all age brackets between 25 and 60. They also have the lowest share with a four-year college degree among all age brackets between 30 and 60.

....Once early Xers entered the labor force in the 1980s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noticed something else: For the first time in decades, the share of young adults entering professions such as law, medicine and accounting began to drop.

This isn't exactly conclusive evidence, mind you, but I don't think Howe is far off the truth. If I were giving out awards for the least educated, least motivated, and least engaged recent generation, mine would certainly be a top contender.

Battleground "Ad" Nauseum

Despite the fact that as a presidential candidate Barack Obama ran several national ad buys that brought campaign advertising to...

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 12:34 PM EST

Despite the fact that as a presidential candidate Barack Obama ran several national ad buys that brought campaign advertising to California, Utah, and a number of other states that hadn't experienced the excitement/overkill of campaign season in quite a while, battleground states still dominated ad purchases. According to Fair Vote:

Percent of all presidential campaign related television ads that took place in [Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvani and Vriginia] from September 24 to November 4 – 54.5%

The campaign was consolidated in other ways as well:

Percent of all 300 campaign events by major party presidential candidates between September 5 and November 4, 2008 that took place in the states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia – 57%
Number of states where 99% of all campaign visits and 99% of all campaign spending took place: 16

And the effect of this? Just over 10 percent in voter turnout.

Voter turnout in the 15 states with the most campaign activity: 69%. Voter turnout in the remaining states: 56%

Cheering the Ouster of Democrats, Continued

I've called for Charlie Rangel's removal, despite the fact that he's great on the issues. It should be no surprise,...

| Sun Dec. 7, 2008 12:13 PM EST

I've called for Charlie Rangel's removal, despite the fact that he's great on the issues. It should be no surprise, then, that I'm cheering "Dollar Bill" Jefferson's defeat. Not a hard decision — anytime someone's been indicted on 16 charges of corruption by a federal grand jury and the FBI has found $90,000 in cash in his home freezer, it's time to go.

Jefferson leaves a very Democratic Louisiana district in the hands of a Republican. Should be a targeted pickup for the Dems in 2010.

Salvation Army Strong-Arms Marriage

Next time you see the dingaling bell ringers on the sidewalk, and before you drop your coin in the...

| Sat Dec. 6, 2008 6:15 PM EST

red_kettle.jpg Next time you see the dingaling bell ringers on the sidewalk, and before you drop your coin in the red kettle, consider this: If you're an officer for the Salvation Army, you also live Salvation Army. Meaning the country's second largest charity (behind the United Way) mandates that their leaders (not priests, mind you, business professionals) don't drink or smoke, and that they marry only other officers. This all because the charity is a devoutly religious one, founded by an evangelical Christian in 1865. Still, Salvation Army gets a hefty chunk of its budget from government funding (via faith-based funding that Obama says he'll expand) so the marriage restriction seems to fly in the face of employment discrimination principles.

Take Captain Johnny Harsh, the head of Salvation Army's Oshkosh, Wisconsin chapter. His wife, also a captain, died of a heart attack in June. Johnny has since fallen in love with a nurse he met on a Christian online dating site, a nurse who, incidentally, is not a Salvation Army officer. Still, they got engaged. (The harsh consequence after the jump.)