Friday, June 29, 2007

YASNSD (Yet Another Social Network Schism Discussion)

FireDogLake's siun pointed this evening to danah boyd’s paper on the potential social schism between Facebook and MySpace. danah is one sharp cookie. I'd caught the paper earlier in the week via SmartMobs.

However I disagree with her premise that there is a socio-economic bifurcation between the two technologies.

Facebook was originally launched by students at Harvard to allow students to keep in touch with one another as well as do self-promotion. It caught on and has rapidly caught up with and in many cases outpaced other “YASNS” (Yet Another Social Network Software) programs.

Because it was designed as something more like a hybrid communication tool-cum-yearbook, it doesn’t serve the same purposes that a blog fulfills, although it’s possible to syndicate (cross-publish) one’s blog content to their own Facebook page. MySpace, on the other hand, was designed as a YASNS with more blog-like capability including customization of HTML, while serving as a social communication tool.

Having used multiple YASNS, including Multiply, Orkut, MySpace and Facebook, I have to say that MySpace is the biggest f*cking pain in the ass to use. It’s doggy-slow, has a crap user interface, highly limited in terms of customization. (Take note of the discussion regarding MySpace's application and coding at Wikipedia for more details – it's not just me making this observation.) The folks who use it most often are folks who generally avoid blogging because they see it as more demanding than MySpace. Facebook, by contrast, is stripped down just as danah says, but the folks who use it do not perceive it as a substitute for blogging, rather a tool for augmenting blogging (just as the FireDogLake community is using it). They prefer the leaner and effective interface that users find at Facebook; is it possible that the real schism is that the folks using Facebook are generally more technologically adept and less tolerant of crap interfaces and applications? That’s a question danah didn’t explore.

Another rebuttal I offer to the question of schism: Multiply and Brazilians. I have virtually abandoned my Multiply page for nearly two years, and yet I still get messages every damned week from Brazilians. They LOVE Multiply. Why? Is the real issue the interface yet again, in relation to the local culture and not economic or educational strata? Yet another question danah didn’t explore.

We're observing technologies that are moving targets; in the short period of time I've been on Facebook (about one month), new widgets and applications have been added or upgraded. Certainly competing programs are doing the same tweaking. Perhaps in another year there will be far less of a gap between the communities of these different applications – or there will be another entirely different YASNS that we'll be watching and comparing.



Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Angler leaving no tracks -- but a rather large wake behind him

The fourth part in a series by Washington Post's Barton Gellman and Jo Becker discusses Dick Cheney's impact on the environment through his direct intervention in agency decision making. In particular, Cheney's push for increased irrigation access for farmers in Oregon's Klamath River Basin led to a major fish kill over the short term and a long term impact on fish stocks

But why did Cheney even bother with an issue like irrigation when there were more pressing matters at hand? Certainly the loss of Oregon by Bush/Cheney in 2000 by a very narrow margin, as cited in the article, was a likely motivator. Farmers and ranchers are more likely to be conservative voters, and ensuring their success through access to irrigation waters would improve the chances of taking Oregon in a subsequent bid for re-election.

Were there other factors in play, though?

Charles Swindells, a Bush Pioneer and frequent donor to the Republican Party and candidates, hails from Portland Oregon; at the time of his appointment by Bush to an ambassadorship to New Zealand, Swindells was the chair of U.S. Trust Corporation. U.S. Trust specializes in wealth management for the wealthy and ultra-wealthy, according to their website. Did Swindells have any influence on Cheney's efforts, perhaps to the benefit of Swindells' friends and clients in Oregon?

Or perhaps this was a squeeze play on donor Frank Dulcich? Dulcich's Pacific ocean fishing business was likely impacted by damage inflicted inland on the Klamath River Basin, although at the time federal scientists had not found a solid explanation for the decrease in key fish stocks along the Oregon coast. Dulcich increased his donations to the Republican Party and Republican candidates dramatically during 2000 and forward, eventually receiving assistance from President Bush to the tune of nearly one million dollars in federal assistance to treat wastewater on the Oregon coast.

Funny how the "Angler", who is not known for his fishing prowress, has such a way with fish, hmm?

Edit: I just had a passing thought after hitting Publish Post. This is small fry for the Angler, these few votes and these few dollars in donations.

What if the real ploy here had little to do with fish, and more to do with energy? We've suspected for some time now that there was a much larger effort to manipulate the entire energy market, beginning with whatever was schemed up during Cheney's Energy Task Force meetings, and not the least of which was reducing the likelihood of certain criminal investigations and prosecutions related to Enron's scams across the country, by way of inserting loyal Bushies in the U.S. Attorneys' offices.

But what if there were many other opportunities to mess with like reducing energy production to drive up prices? The Klamath River is home to several dams owned and operated by PacifCorp; without doing the legwork at this late (early?) hour, I'll presume that the energy these dams produced was sold into the western grid that served California. At the time that Cheney was making his phone calls to the Department of Interior's lower levels, ostensibly to help out farmers needing irrigation water, Enron was manipulating the availability of electricity into California. If there is not enough water in the Klamath River basin for fish, was there also a correspondingly lower amount of electricity generated? Was PacifiCorp put on the block and sold because of the anticipated cost to improve fish ladders after the fish kill -- and who else bid on Pacificorp besides Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy Holdings?

There is so much more here to investigate than dead fish and a lousy fisherman.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Schroedinger's Dick

He's able to claim executive privilege over Vice Presidential documents as if he were a member of the Executive Branch.

He's able to claim that he is immune to oversight by the Legislature as part of the Legislative Branch.

He's both at the same time!

I say we open the box and find out exactly what he is, just like Schroedinger's proverbial cat. Granted, the outcome is likely messy, but we'd have a solid answer besides this lame and twisted thought experiment we know as the Cheney Vice Presidency.


Friday, June 22, 2007

The Energy Bill and the auto industry: Rock, meet Hard Place

Scarecrow's covered the Energy Bill twice this week at Firedoglake; he notes the Senate version passed making a lot of people unhappy.

Let's face it: this is splitting the baby. NOBODY is going to be happy, and the people of the state of Michigan who've borne the brunt of the automotive industry woes are not going to be better off no matter how this bill was written or passed.

I'm going to explain how we got to this point, and I'm going to say some things that will truly piss off some people. But until they get past the pissed off part and start looking hard at the past and present, there will be no future for the automotive industry in America.

In the past, the automotive industry was like a fall back safety school. If you went to one of several colleges in the United States and got 3.0 or better average grades, you were reasonably assured a job in the auto industry if you had a degree in mechanical, plant or industrial engineering. This is NOT how you create a world class competitive corporation. Ditto for the business degrees; they were not as esteemed at the Big Three, either. Business folks were just paper pushers and bean counters, got far less respect than the engineering folks. Again, not the way to run a highly competitive company or industry. The preference for engineering cred at the expense of business chops was reflected even in the highest of jobs in the industry, but the shareholders failed to make the connection when it came time to vote for CEO's and presidents and other members of the board.

The auto industry was a catch-all for blue collar folks, too. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, if you weren't planning to go to college, you could reasonably assume you could get a line job at the Big Three. Again, not the way to build a lean, mean, fearsome employee base that will produce the best quality products in the world. But unions protected their own to the death. By death, I mean the death of their union. People who could not read were protected tooth and nail by the union, and there were a LOT of these people among the rank and file in the Big Three. If a worker can't read, how can they be trained to do a quality job in a reasonable period of time? How can they be relied upon to read instructions when they run into a problem with a tool or a production process? How much does it cost to keep training and retraining people like this on the most basic of skills?

And this wasn't the only problem with the workforce. There was rampant alcohol and drug abuse in the heyday; it's gotten better, but only after decades and millions and millions of dollars and many lost man hours of production. There was sexual harassment for the longest time, which also cause many problems with integrating better trained workers if they were female. And there was the chronic tension of race. Perhaps in the last decade these issues are finally to a manageable minimum, but the legacy costs of these issues remain with the industry.

These same workers also didn't look ahead to the future; when the 1980's leaned on them, forcing Chrysler into bankruptcy, they didn't see that the future would demand something different of them personally. No, they doubled-down and held the line on wages, becoming an enviable middle class in the eyes of the rest of the world. But they grew so comfortable that they began to vote on single issues. Inflamed by fear-mongering of interest groups, they voted for gun rights and anti-abortion/anti-gay legislators, who in turn were the least friendly to unionization and the protections that workers won over the previous decades. Workers' rights were gradually rolled back against them – and then their wages, and then their benefits, and then their jobs. And without the investment in additional education, they found themselves redundant and forced into retirement, bought out and moved out of state.

The auto industry tried to cut costs through a number of different approaches during the 1980's and 1990's, from introduction of total quality management (TQM), to preferred vendor programs. The first was a step in the right direction, but the unions fought changes tooth and nail as they were seen as a threat to the workers' jobs. What if TQM systems discovered that a union members was simply unfit for a job? They resisted the possibility of discovery.

The vendor programs were implemented and remained, but they were in many ways flawed and often unethical, as unethical as the man who encouraged their introduction into the industry. Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, at one point considered god-like within General Motors as its purchasing leader, moved beyond the early programs requiring vendors to implement documented, audit-proof quality systems. “Inaki” (as Lopez was nicknamed) demanded vendors bid for work, not merely quote; once a lowest bidder was identified and awarded the job, payments might be made on terms that were highly questionable. Because of Inaki's influence, it became practice in the industry to pay late and later, then demand a rebate before final payment would be made. This required many small vendors to carry too much of the financing of parts and component production on their own backs, and many of these vendors eventually went out of business or were forced to sell out to larger firms. Many of the firms that survived cut corners on quality, as price became more sensitive than quality at this point in time. And many of the firms were purchased by foreign companies, with production consolidated to overseas facilities where labor or materials were cheaper. One additional cross often too burdensome to bear was that refusing to bid often meant that the vendor was permanently blacklisted in the industry. (These practices continue years later even though Lopez left for Volkswagen and was prosecuted for stealing proprietary secrets from GM.) Letting Lopez have his way, though, and realizing short-term savings that made shareholders ecstatic, was easier than putting the screws to the unions and asking them to become competitive both in wages and abilities, though; the long-term, systemic problems that Lopez created were simply ignored or seen as less challenging than similarly long-term and systemic problems posed by the unions.


Other corners that the Big Three cut were in their own operations, much of it now outsourced to other companies. It's hard to find the actual client at one such Big Three facility, once an R&D facility; it now houses thousands of consultant-drones providing services like telephone and computing and accounting that were once done in house, with each of the consultancies required to re-bid their contracts to obtain ever increasing cost reductions.

The one burden that all of the industry shared that could not be controlled in any way by the Big Three was health care. In the last handful of years the cost of health care for workers exceeded the cost of steel used in any car made in America, in spite of double-digit increases in steel prices inside that period of time. The unions did not help with encouraging better health among their workers, instead resisting any cuts to benefits if demanded by the auto industry. Every one of the American firms to which production or services were outsourced faced the same annual double-digit increase in health care costs as well, which both strapped them and forced them to pass on some of the costs at the risk of losing contracts.

From the outside, government did the industry no favors. Standards for miles per gallon were weakened or ignored when gas prices were low, and ramped up too quickly when gas prices rose – none of which happened inside the window of time necessary to turn around new car designs, which at best in the industry today is about 3 years from concept to full production. The tax system also failed to respond in the same time frame, generally operating in two to four year windows from inception of a policy to implementation and reversal. And tax policy often didn't match what would be in the nation's best interests. At one point in the late 1990's-early 2000's farm vehicles could obtain a credit of almost 50% if the vehicle was driven for work purposes; Humvees took off for this reason, with demand outstripping production for years until the tax credit was changed and gas prices had risen dramatically.

And the public did itself no favors being incredibly fickle. What is fashionable changes in less than the three year window as well; if gas prices are high low one year and demand for larger vehicles reflects the change, the car makers cannot change their production fast enough. And all the vendors and the fungibles on the line at either the auto makers or their vendors must be just as willing to cut their jobs or hours or benefits to flex with demand. As most of us who majored in business know, wages are sticky – so jobs get cut first.

The increasing role of risk management in the corporate decision making process also took a toll on the automotive industry; many choices have been made to play it safe rather than risk falling even more behind financially because of the risk of losses. It's not unreasonable to expect a company to sell products that are reasonably safe for their intended used, but with the market demanding even tighter cycle times from concept to production, it is increasingly easy for an auto maker to find itself in serious problems, particularly when there is little capital “seed corn” left.

What does all of this have to do with the current Energy Bill? Think about it. Think deeply about how all of this enters into play with the CAFE standards formulation. There are a lot of voters outside the state of Michigan, home to the Big Three, grumbling about the positions of Senators Stabenow (reelected in 2006) and Levin (up for re-election in 2008). They represent all of the voters under the spectrum described: automotive managers and engineers and business people, union workers actively employed and retired, vendor companies from top to bottom, the businesses in the communities in which the automotive plants are based, the health care industry that in turn supports all of these people. For these Senators to tell these millions of people who voted them into office that they are and have been stupid and screwed themselves and to suck it up would be political suicide, particularly when this state is still in the throes of a budget crisis caused by twelve years of crappy Republican leadership in the governor's office and majorities in both houses of state legislature.

And the 17 electoral votes that this state desperately clings to might well shift another direction if Levin and Stabenow didn't carefully walk the line between doing their constituents' bidding and doing what the future demands of them.

It's so easy to say that the Senators must side with greenest responses first – when you don't live in the state of Michigan, and when there are no easy solutions to any legacy problems let alone the problems the future poses.



Friday, June 15, 2007

Evil wears a bad pr0n beard

Oh. My. God. I just read the anonymous complaints from the USDOJ Civil Rights Division that TPMMuckraker posted . I want to barf. I want to tell Bradley Schlozman to f*ck off to his face, tell him that he is evil incarnate. Any man who willfully persecutes expectant and new mothers for their gender and their impending parenthood is just that. EVIL.

"Good Americans". Yes, just like "Good Germans," or "Good Nazis". That's what Schlozman wanted to put in the slots of every position of the Civil Rights Division at the USDOJ, white male Christians.

Might as well have said "Aryan."

Just last night I had an argument with a Democrat who told me there's no need to worry about discrimination against women and gays, that it wasn't an issue.

What a naive fool. Schlozman makes it all too clear that gender, race, politics and pregnancy are all things for which one will still be discriminated against by people like Schlozman, by people that support and promote Schlozman.

And who knew that evil sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk? Or wears a bad pr0n beard?


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Diving in another document dump

I wish I could pull an all-nighter, to comb through all 46 pages of emails and attachments dumped by the Department of Justice. There are so many interesting tidbits surfacing with just a cursory pass.

1. Ken Lee of EOP refers to Lam as “one of the USAs under the replacement plan” in an email to Sampson sent the week after the Pearl Harbor dismissals; Lee further asks “if there were any issues/problems when se was (presumably) notified of this plan last week?”

Where’s the plan, Sampson?? It wasn’t just a chicken scratched list on a discarded piece of paper floating in your left hand drawer; it was a PLAN, as in conspiracy.

2. I’m also fond of the chick-to-chick email that Goodling sent to Paulose, pointing out that Tim Griffin is getting hassled about his interim appointment even though he is an experienced prosecutor with an Oxford education.

Hah. Even Goodling must know her RegentU education is a piece of crap if she groks the imprimatur Oxford can convey.


I'll bet emptywheel is having a field day parsing through all this stuff, though; tomorrow should be a huge day at The Next Hurrah.



Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A recollection of crackers past

I was just chatting at FireDogLake about hillbillies and crackers when I had a flashback from a cross-country trip I took with my folks the summer I was sixteen. Imagine being cooped up in a VW microbus from Michigan to California with three siblings, my folks and my grandfather. We stopped somewhere in northern Texas for lunch at a diner decked out with knotty pine paneling and the requisite red-naugahyde-chrome chairs and de rigeur red-and-white gingham curtains.

The middle-aged gum-cracking waitress took my then-13-year-old sister's order, then asked her in the fastest possible Texas twang, "Whutchewannawetyercudwit?" Sis's eyebrows rose up into her hairline as she glanced around and then looked at me for an interpretation. I said, "She asked you what you want to drink." "Milk, please," choked out Sis.

I've never heard that phrase since, nearly thirty years later.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Good Daddy Libby, my left arse cheek

Emptywheel read and listed the entire inventory of letters sent to Judge Reggie Walton, some pleading for leniency and some asking for stiff punitive action. Those asking for leniency often mentioned what a great father Libby is.

As a parent I call bullhockey. No, in fact, my kids have heard me use the term bullshit, and they understand the meaning of the word.

So there. Bullshit.

As parents we spend a lot of time and energy teaching morals and ethics to our children. Telling the truth is one of those ethics about which we invest a lot of time, including the parable about George Washington and the cherry tree when they are in early grade school, to more complex lessons like Watergate and deception when they are in high school. The truth underpins our democracy; we cannot make informed decisions as individuals and people without it.

No good and decent father lies to the FBI and makes false statements in regards to the outing of a CIA operative under deepest cover. It goes against everything parents teach their children about the nature and value of truth.

I have to wonder about the parenting skills of those who wrote and asked for leniency for such a "good father", too. Amazing how many of them are practicing or licensed attorneys, too; they make lawyer jokes reasonable.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Not-so-Goodling

As I commented at FireDogLake about Monica Goodling in light of the DOJ's document dump last night:

Oh. Man.

I hope the testosterone-enriched members of the community didn’t buy that “stupid little good girl” act that Goodling sent up.

This bit in particular is going to get her spanked:

“We had given her two options - one formal w/order number, one with informal - no number — they decided to go with informal unnumbered. She said the cover memo needs to go thru OLC - not DAG or OASG.”

[source: email from Mari Santangelo to Robert Marshall, dd. 22-FEB-06 4:44p]

She deliberately avoided the DAG’s and OASG’s office; in the background, on the date of this particular email, the PatActII is being debated and is not approved until the end of the month, with the Delegation of Authority signed on 01-MAR-06 (need to double-check the date) almost immediately after the PatActII passed.

Within weeks of this time, Thomas Heffelfinger will announce he is leaving USA-MN position.

Our “stupid little good girl” was quite deliberate and very busy; she’s on the hook for a lot more than Hatch Act violations.

Oh, and one more bit that has been stuck in my craw and may yet add up to something. During the course of the emails about the delegation and in the cover letter of the delegation there is a reference to a memo — Memorandum for Jennifer G. Newstead, General Counsel, Office of Management and Budget, “Assignment of Functions Related to Certain Military Appointments, at 3-4(July 28, 2005)”.

As far as I can tell, Newstead is no longer in OMB; what the hell was this about?

Remember Iglesias comment to the effect that every thing was documented at DOJ in memos?

Yeah. That.

And I think we now have concerns about OMB.



Sunday, June 03, 2007

It's all about Dick

A single entry that Josh Marshall posted this past week really got under my skin, in a number of different ways.

First, I think we've reached a point where so damn much corruption has passed under the bridge that we can't hang onto the sheer volume of facts that are rushing by us in a torrent.

Secondly, I'm so angry that this has happened, that we've let these bastards bury us under so much bullsh*t that people who should be making connections between dots simply can't. Aren't we brighter than these criminals? Aren't there more of us than them? Can't we put this altogether and see it for what it is?

The post in question dd. May 31, 2007 -- 02:12 PM EST cites an email by a reader JR:

Re your argument that the quest for oil is a parsimonious explanation for the Iraq war. I have long doubted this proposition. Big Oil may be venal in its pursuit of profit, but it has an intimate knowledge of non-western political structures, and it's far from stupid. These interests would have known from the start that a cobbled together, post-colonial state like Iraq couldn't be invaded without catstrophic consequences. This set me wondering, though. I never did come across any substantial report on what Big Oil actually thought as this loony-tunes adventure popped up in the night. I don't mean the paid mouth-pieces but the power managers within the companies - those advised by anthropologists, political scientists, and other experts who actually have a clue about the workings of the real world.

The missing piece is the Energy Task Force documentation. It laid out in the first quarter of 2001 what DeadEye Dick Cheney in the OVP and Big Oil understood to be the priorities in the Middle East in regards to oil production.

The "substantial report" to which reader JR refers, believing them to be missing, were distilled into those high-level maps and plans that Cheney deliberated over with Big Oil and its facilitators like Enron executive Ken Lay. This is exactly why Cheney fought tooth and nail from allowing the public to see them. The little glimpse made available to the public already suggests that from its inception (and possibly before) the Bush Administration planned to divvy up oil in the middle east.

It's right there, under our noses, yet we are blind to it because of the plethora of corruption. They had the entire Middle East parceled out for its energy resources from the earliest days of the Bush Administration; groups like Judicial Watch and Sierra Club had strong suspicions of it. We can trace the outline of what the OVP and Big Oil were trying to do by what they didn't do -- doesn't it seem incredibly odd that a "substantial report" hasn't been produced in the last six years, in spite of all the data suggesting we are on the downside of oil production, after all?

I could send this to Josh, but I won't; I've sent him emails over the last several years and I've never heard a peep of acknowledgement back from him. Maybe he's buried under mounds of emails with more pointers like this, detailing this avalanche of corruption in little bits and pieces. I wouldn't be surprised.


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