The Aeration Zone: A liberal breath of fresh air

Contributors (otherwise known as "The Aerheads"):

Walldon in New Jersey ---- Marketingace in Pennsylvania ---- Simoneyezd in Ontario
ChiTom in Illinois -- KISSweb in Illinois -- HoundDog in Kansas City -- The Binger in Ohio

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Our chief idiot makes a fool of himself

It doesn't seem Mr. Bush is very popular among foreign diplomats:

George Bush was castigated by European diplomats and found himself isolated yesterday after a special conference on climate change ended without any progress.

European ministers, diplomats and officials attending the Washington conference were scathing, particularly in private, over Mr Bush's failure once again to commit to binding action on climate change.

...The conference, attended by more than 20 countries, including China, India, Britain, France and Germany, broke up with the US isolated, according to non-Americans attending. One of those present said even China and India, two of the biggest polluters, accepted that the voluntary approach proposed by the US was untenable and favoured binding measures, even though they disagreed with the Europeans over how this would be achieved.

A senior European diplomat attending the conference, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting confirmed European suspicions that it had been intended by Mr Bush as a spoiler for a major UN conference on climate change in Bali in December.

"It was a total charade and has been exposed as a charade," the diplomat said. "I have never heard a more humiliating speech by a major leader. He [Mr Bush] was trying to present himself as a leader while showing no sign of leadership. It was a total failure."

Corrupt to the core

This government is corrupt to its core. I don't think you could find one senior official who is clean:

WASHINGTON — Aides to State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard threatened two investigators with retaliation this week if they cooperate with a congressional probe into Krongard's office, the chairman of a House of Representatives panel and other U.S. officials said Friday.

The allegations are the latest in a growing uproar surrounding Krongard. Current and former officials in his office charge that he impeded investigations into alleged arms smuggling by employees of the private security firm Blackwater and into faulty construction of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

With these thugs in charge, can we last another16 months, or will the whole country be pillaged by then?

Impeach Cheney?

Kucinich is thinking about forcing a vote to impeach Cheney:

Rep. Dennis Kucinich says he is so concerned about what he sees as the Bush administration's push for a war with Iran that he is considering using a parliamentary measure to force the House of Representatives to vote on impeaching Vice President Dick Cheney.

"We're preparing for another war, and they're going to destroy America," the Ohio Democrat said Thursday on the Ed Schultz show. "We have a government in place right now that has to be challenged. I'm seriously thinking about calling a privileged resolution on impeachment of the vice president and forcing a vote on the floor of the House."

Unfortunately, given the wimps that are in Congress right now, this is not going anywhere.

Lying to Congress - ho hum

John Aravosis hits the nail on the head:

Director of National Intelligence kind of lied to Congress, but the Democrats don't do anything when they're lied to anyway, so it's not really any wonder that the Bushies keep doing it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

More Limbaugh: “phony soldiers”

And now will the major media permit Americans to see the legitimate outrage from Democrats over Limbaugh calling soldiers who dissent “phony soldiers”? And will the media effectively demand that every single Republican Presidential candidate and all Representatives and Senators condemn Limbaugh for this obscenity? It’s like the soldiers who wrote the op-ed in the New York Times saying the surge was not doing much to change things who since have been killed, apparently in action. Bet their families would love hearing Rush call them “phony soldiers.”

Where was the outrage?

In January of this year, Rush Limbaugh called Republican Chuck Hagel “Senator Betrayus” for joining with Democrats opposing Bush on the escalation (with the PR moniker, “the surge”). Where was the outrage in the media? Where were the sheepish Republicans being forced to agree that their media hero was out of line?

I’ll bet you didn’t even know that. I didn't, and I thought I picked up almost everything. Or at least I don't remember. Liberal media?

Lie first, investigate later

As usual, the government's instinct is to lie first and investigate later (if at all):

The State Department's "first blush" investigation into the September 16 shootings at Baghdad's Nisour Square, which left 11 Iraqi civilians dead at the hands of Blackwater security contractors, largely absolves Blackwater of blame for the incident.


I'm afraid I have to agree with Scarecrow over at Firedoglake on Hillary's vote to allow Bush/Cheney to go to war with Iran:

There is no way to spin Clinton’s vote to blunt what it tells us. Her vote in favor of the resolution was reckless and foolish and exhibited exactly the same flawed judgment — if not opportunism — as her original Iraq authorization vote. Only this time, she has no excuse of claiming she didn’t know Bush’s character.

If this were a Republican candidate, I would see it as a disqualifying event. Why shouldn’t the same apply here, especially when two other Democratic candidates facing similar political pressures — Dodd and Biden — voted for “wise”?

I think it's opportunism, not flawed judgment, but whatever, it is disqualifying, at least among the Democratic choices. I wish there were some way to stop her, but it doesn't seem to be happening. Obama is shrinking into the cellar. Edwards continues to hold his place, but he isn't gaining on her at all. And, Dodd is simply not going to get there.

I keep sending money to the Edwards' campaign, but I'm doubtful it will help.

A sad commentary

Something's wrong with this picture:

Between January and August this year, Sweden took in 12,259 Iraqis fleeing their decomposing country. It expects 20,000 for all of 2007. By contrast, in the same January-August period, the United States admitted 685 refugees, according to State Department figures.

The numbers bear closer scrutiny. In January, Sweden admitted 1,500 Iraqis, compared to 15 that entered the United States. In April, the respective numbers were 1,421 and 1; in May, 1,367 and 1; and in August 1,469 and 529.

We couldn't possibly help to clean up the mess we've created, could we? We might have to let a Muslim into the country, after all.

California electoral initiative dead

The good news of the day is that the effort to steal 20 or so electoral votes from the Dems in California has died:

Plagued by a lack of money, supporters of a statewide initiative drive to change the way California's 55 electoral votes are apportioned, first revealed here by Top of the Ticket in July, are pulling the plug on that effort.

It's weird that only a couple of days ago Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times made it sound as though this thing was moving forward quickly and was likely to win. Maybe Herbert has his ear to the wrong ground.

Idiots all

Juan Cole:

The US Senate voted for a soft partition of Iraq on Thursday. First they messed up Iraq by authorizing Terrible George to blow it up, now they want to further mess it up by dividing it. It makes no sense to me; the US Senate doesn't even have the authority to divide Iraq. Wouldn't that be for the Iraqi parliament?

It's no wonder the Congress rates below the President in approval. Don't these guys have anything better to do? Like go home.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

To compete or not to compete

There seems to be a bit of confusion here. Josh Marshall, citing an AP piece by Robert Burns, tells us that Robert Gates is exploring whether he can get the troops to sign non-compete contracts to prevent them from being lured away to the mercenary militias like Blackwater, who pay much more for the same work. Actually, however, the Robert Burns piece tells us that Gates is exploring whether he can get the Blackwater's of this world to sign non-compete agreements.

Either way, it's pretty kooky. If Josh is right, it would be easy to get the troops to sign the non-compete agreements. Look they're essentially slaves. All you have to do is order them to sign and threaten them with court martial if they refuse. But, that would be totally dastardly. Hell, we're already screwing them enough while they're soldiers. To tie their hands behind their backs after they've left the service would be really terrible.

On the other hand, think about forcing the Blackwater's to sign non-compete agreements. What are they competing for? The answer is people who are willing to train as soldiers, tote guns, and go to dangerous places. Any person Blackwater employs to do those things is obviously a person who might otherwise have joined the military. So, as far as I can tell, a Blackwater non-compete agreement would prevent Blackwater from hiring anyone who would otherwise qualify to be recruited by the military. That would leave Blackwater recruiting from the pool of those not qualified to join the military -- the criminals, the sick, the aged, the illegal, the retarded. I don't think I'd want those people protecting me if I were a diplomat. Of course, that might force the military to do the job it's supposed to do instead of this joke of hiring others to do it for them.

Monkeying around

VIENNA, Austria - He's now got a human name — Matthew Hiasl Pan — but he's having trouble getting his day in court. Animal rights activists campaigning to get Pan, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, legally declared a person vowed Thursday to take their challenge to Austria's Supreme Court after a lower court threw out their latest appeal. A provincial judge in the city of Wiener Neustadt dismissed the case earlier this week, ruling that the Vienna-based Association Against Animal Factories had no legal standing to argue on the chimp's behalf. The association, which worries the shelter caring for the chimp might close, has been pressing to get Pan declared a "person" so a guardian can be appointed to look out for his interests and provide him with a home. Group president Martin Balluch insists that Pan is "a being with interests" and accuses the Austrian judicial system of monkeying around.

I can't imagine what's wrong with this court. Why shouldn't they declare him a person? After all, this guy bears a very strong resemblance to someone we know well.

Long waiting lines for health care

The accepted lore of the street is that nationalized health care systems tend to have long waiting lines, particularly for non-emergency procedures, whereas the private systems, like ours, have no lines whatsoever.

Well, yesterday, I went to schedule a routine colonoscopy at my colonoscopy doctor (don't know what specialty that is). First available date, December 13th -- almost 3 months from now.

See. The free market certainly works!

Verizon: It's my yard, and you can't play in it! So there!

So long net neutrality:

Saying it had the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, Verizon Wireless has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program.

The other leading wireless carriers have accepted the program, which allows people to sign up for text messages from Naral by sending a message to a five-digit number known as a short code.

Update: Verizon has reversed course:

...the company reversed course this morning, saying it had made a mistake.

“The decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect, and we have fixed the process that led to this isolated incident,” Jeffrey Nelson, a company spokesman, said in a statement.

Good. But that shouldn't be an argument against passing net neutrality legislation.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The treason party

Digby on the House's capitulation to the Republicans today by voting overwhelmingly to censure MoveOn:

The last few years of suppression of dissent and fear mongering have not reached the level of the McCarthy era, obviously. But the echoes are still there and the tactics are still being used, in symbolic form, to get the Democratic Party to submit to right wing paranoia. They just did it again today. And why not? It's been working for decades.

And, the Senate dems role over and play dead once again

With dems like this, who needs Republicans?

In today's Senate Rules committee session, which met to consider the nominations, Republicans were pulling out all the procedural stops to get this done:

During the Rule Committee’s executive meeting Wednesday, Feinstein originally said she wanted to vote on each nominee separately, as opposed to considering all four nominees together in one vote, as the committee has done in the past. Republicans on the panel objected, arguing that the move breaks all known committee precedent on moving FEC nominations.

"The precedent is very clear," said Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah), the ranking Republican on the panel. "Nominations to the FEC have always been reported en bloc and in pairs."

But Feinstein said committee rules governing FEC nominations allow only for passing nominations that have unanimous consent, which her objection would prevent. After about a half-hour of negotiation, Feinstein and Bennett agreed to pass all of the nominations without recommendation.

See that? Republicans sought to prevent a separate vote on Von Spakovsky, instead saying that all four pending nominations to the FEC had to be voted on together. FEC nominations are made in equal numbers at the suggestions of both parties. In this case, two Democrats and two Republicans. Feinstein wanted to consider each nominee separately, but Republicans said it was all or none.

Bottom line: the nominations now go to the floor for a full Senate vote. Von Spakovsky has passed the first hurdle.

Now, couldn't Feinstein have forced the issue? Couldn't she have held a vote on whether or not they should consider the nominees together or separately? Sure. But the Rules committee is divided 10-9 in favor of Democrats. And guess what?

You'll never guess!

This morning's result: faced with the defection of a Democrat on the committee, later revealed to be Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) chose to agree to send all four nominees, two Democrats and two Republicans, to the floor without recommendation.

Wasting time, doing nothing - that's our dems

They can't do anything worthwhile, but they can waist their time doing this crap:

This one came out of nowhere: The House of Representatives, which of course enjoys a much larger Dem majority than the Senate, just voted overwhelmingly to condemn MoveOn for its ad criticizing General Petraeus. The vote was 341-179.

An AUMF by any other name is still an AUMF

And, Hillary voted for it again. Obama went into hiding:

The Kyl-Lieberman Iran amendment -- which ratchets up the confrontation with Iran by calling for the designation of its Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization responsible for killing U.S. troops -- just passed overwhelmingly, 76-22.

It was watered down from it's original form, but Bush will still claim it authorizes anything he wants to do.

State sponsored vote caging

Ohio has now passed a law that forces the State to do vote caging for the Republicans:

WASHINGTON — Ohio and Florida, which provided the decisive electoral votes for President Bush's two razor-thin national election triumphs, have enacted laws that election experts say will help Republicans impede Democratic-leaning minorities from voting in 2008.

Backers of the new laws say they're aimed at curbing vote fraud. But the statutes also could facilitate a controversial Republican tactic known as ``vote caging,'' which the GOP attempted in Ohio and Florida in 2004 before public disclosures foiled the efforts, said Joseph Rich, a former Justice Department voting rights chief in the Bush administration who's now with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.

Caging, used in the past to target poor minorities in heavily Democratic precincts, entails sending mass mailings to certain voters and then using the undelivered letters to compile lists of voters for eligibility challenges.

... In Ohio, which swung the 2004 election to Bush, new Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said in a phone interview that an election law passed last year and signed by former Republican Gov. Bob Taft effectively ``institutionalized'' vote caging.

The law requires that the state's 88 county election boards send non-forwardable, pre-election notices to all 7.8 million registered Ohio voters at least 60 days before the election. Undelivered letters are public record, she said, meaning that effectively, ``now the counties are paying for'' the data needed to compile challenge lists.

I was under the impression that this was a violation of the federal election laws, but, of course, nobody is going to enforce those if they hurt the Thuglicans.


The key to this report is in the last phrase (emphasis added):

WASHINGTON — Scientists, conservationists and even the mayor of the eroding village of Shishmaref painted a grim picture of the effects of climate change in Alaska, including the loss of habitat for polar bears and the end of a way of life for native people.

"Going, going, gone," said Deborah Williams of Alaska Conservation Solutions, speaking to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. "We must take action now; it is urgent. We want to be part of the solution, not just the poster child of the problem."

Williams and other Alaskans, including a professor of forestry from the University of Alaska, came to Washington for the meeting of the House committee, which no Republican committee members attended.


There's only one reason I can see for giving Blackwater the kind of blanket protection and freedom from oversight (see here and here) that the Bushies are giving them. It's that Bush plans to use Blackwater as his palace guard when he cancels the elections and takes the helm for life. The army might not support him, but Blackwater will be loyal to the end.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm losing hope for this country

Bill Sammon makes the point in this article that Bush is trying to institutionalize the horrible programs he's put in place so the next president can continue to use them:

Bush is institutionalizing controversial anti-terror programs so they can be used by the next president.

“Look, I’d like to make as many hard decisions as I can make, and do a lot of the heavy lifting prior to whoever my successor is,” Bush said. “And then that person is going to have to come and look at the same data I’ve been looking at, and come to their own conclusion.”

As an example, Bush cited his detainee program, which allows him to keep enemy combatants imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay while they await adjudication. Bush is unmoved by endless criticism of the program because he says his successor will need it.

“I specifically talked about it so that a candidate and/or president wouldn’t have to deal with the issue,” he said. “The next person has got the opportunity to analyze the utility of the program and make his or her decision about whether or not it is necessary to protect the homeland. I suspect they’ll find that it is necessary. But my only point to you is that it was important for me to lay it out there, so that the politics wouldn’t enter into whether or not the program ought to survive beyond my period.”

Unfortunately, I suspect that the next Democrat in office will choose to do so, particularly Hillary.

On our way to Iraq Iran

Probably today, the Senate will overwhelmingly pass the AUMF for Iran, with majority support from the damn Dems.

When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

Al Gore for Prez?

Christopher Hitchens says that if Gore is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 12, he will get into the Presidential race. Hmmmm.

Hitchens is a bit of a kook, but, who knows?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Israeli Lobby mobilizes to close down Columbia University

Well, here we go again. The Israeli Lobby is mobilizing to shut down Columbia University for allowing Ahmadinejad to speak at its World Leaders' Forum:

In an interview with The New York Sun, the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, said lawmakers, outraged over Columbia's insistence on allowing the Iranian president to speak at its World Leaders Forum, would consider reducing capital aid and other financial assistance to the school.

Lawmakers warned about other consequences for Columbia and its president, Lee Bollinger, who has resisted campus and public pressure to cancel Mr. Ahmadinejad's appearance today, arguing that Columbia's commitment to scholarship requires the school to directly confront offensive ideas.

Sheldon Silver, by the way, is a Democrat and an orthodox Jew, as are many of the other lawmakers calling for sanctions on Columbia.

It's funny that these people are always strongly in favor of free speech rights for themselves, but move to block almost any speech they don't like. As it turned out, Ahmadinejad made a total ass of himself today. The more you let this guy speak the more of a buffoon he becomes. But, unfortunately, as in most other cases where the Israeli lobby gets mobilized, it will probably win.

Retired in name only

I mean, there are lots of things to say about this piece today in the Politico, and others have said many of them, but am I missing something:

President Bush and Karl Rove sat listening to Norman Podhoretz for roughly 45 minutes at the White House as the patriarch of neoconservatism argued that the United States should bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.

This is written as if it's contemporaneous (i.e., within the past few days). Wasn't Karl Rove supposed to have retired? Yet, he's still sitting in on meetings with Bush at the White House? I know, I know... they're just good friends. And, of course, we all know that it's very wrenching for some people to let go and actually retire. I guess we should really feel sorry for the man.

Question: How much is he billing us taxpayers as a consultant to the President instead of a White House employee?

Pot calls the kettle black

Look at who is calling whom intellectually lazy:

As for Obama, a senior White House official said the freshman senator from Illinois was "capable" of the intellectual rigor needed to win the presidency but instead relies too heavily on his easy charm.

"It's sort of like, 'that's all I need to get by,' which bespeaks sort of a condescending attitude towards the voters," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "And a laziness, an intellectual laziness."

Maybe, given Paul Krugman's op ed in the NY Times today on the deep-seated racism of the Republican Party, I shouldn't have chosen this particular title for this piece.

Of course, perhaps the White House is better able to recognize intellectual laziness than others, as in "it takes one to know one."

Training Iraqi security – after four years, what’s up with that?

I’m curious about all the “training” we’re doing in Iraq. We’ve been at it for over four (4) years, longer than it took us to win World War II against two mighty industrialized countries. We started in 2003 as soon as Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi security institutions, and four years later, even when it’s pretty much the only paying job in the country, there seems to be only a small number of Iraqi units we deem ready to do whatever it is they have to do. That’s after more than four (4) freakin’ years. In 2004, General Petraeus was in charge of training, and he told the American people that training was going very, very well.

What in the world are we training them to do? When everyone in Iraq supposedly can fire an AK-47, which is probably about as much as they have anyway (in the American version, of course),what don’t they know that only we know? What haven’t they learned in four years? How do the militia’s do it, and why can’t we? (Hint, hint: could it be something about morale in an “occupation”?)

I'll ask this like a good Beltway Democrat: "Not to be a bother, but if you would be so kind, we would appreciate it if, as soon as possible, whenever it's convenient, someone might consider asking these questions."

Have you heard this one about Hillary?

The Daily Howler once again shows the sheer emptiness of the big-time press: Anne Kornbluth, a Washington Post reporter, who skewed her so-called news story quite deliberately to construct a negative picture of Hillary Clinton as a “filibusterer”; and a gaggle of pundits on the Chris Matthews show regurgitating the ancient and false story that Hillary, a Cubs fan in her youth, could not have been a Yankees fan, too, but was only pandering to New Yorkers while running for the Senate when she donned a Yankees hat and said she had always been a fan.. They snickered as they tossed that about in order to slander her as much as possible -- regardless of the fact that a decent reporter would at minimum know that in Chicago, by definition as a Cubs fan, she was required to hate the Sox and the Yankees usually beat the Sox; and that childhood friends interviewed many years before had confirmed her childhood interest in, knowledge of and ability to play baseball, including daily knowledge of Mickey Mantle’s and Roger Maris’s stats and familiarity with “her favorite quote” from Satchel Paige, “Don’t look back, someone might be gaining on you.”

Now here’s another test of the power of the right wing message machine: Did you know this particular slam against Clinton was simply false? Or had you come to assume that, like anybody running for office would do, she was, indeed, pandering to Yankees fans because she had been a Cubs fan, but dismissed it as meaningless trivia, as harmless a political gesture as kissing a baby? Or did you, like the supposedly knowledgeable news experts with still another gig on TV, assume the story of her “pandering” to be true, and did it also help form a piece of a worldview of Hillary as a triangulator supreme?

You can’t know everything. I didn’t know she actually, really and truly, was a Yankees fan when she was a kid in Park Ridge, Illinois. If I ever heard she was really a baseball fan at all, I had forgotten it. My money’s on the fact that, if you remember the baseball cap incident at all, which got extensive publicity, you didn’t know any of that, either, and had internalized the pandering storyline with visual reinforcement of her wearing the Yankees cap. The lesson: if it’s a negative you feel about any of the Democratic candidates, it may be grounded in reality and may be legitimate, but it also may be grounded in whole or in part in what you’ve been told, over and over and over by the right wing message machine via the gullible or complicit national media -- until the truth of it just comes naturally. Be wary of what you think you know about them, or what you think you’ve heard they said. In this case, verify, and do not trust.

Ninth inning in a no hit game?

Look, I don't want to jinx this by talking about it before it's finished, but I'm beginning to think we may have a really important lesson for Americans building in Burma. Yeah, I know, it's now called Myanmar. Each day, more and more monks and sympathizers seem to join the crowds marching quietly and peacefully in protest of the tin horned generals who run the country. In the past few days, the protests have grown by about 10,000 people each day, so we're now seeing crowds of 30,000 marching. I'm hoping this is going to be something like the "flower power" revolution in the Phillipines in 1967 (though hopefully with better long-term results). Can a few monks, armed only with the power of their piety, overturn a military dictatorship? I don't know, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

In any event, even if this movement fails in the end, it shows once again the enormous power of massive non-violent protests. We, in this country, seem to have forgotten the lessons of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. The people have the power to change things if they only try. We need more people to try. POWER TO THE PEOPLE.

Be afraid, be very afraid

The US Air Force has reestablished the elite fighting force which planned the 1991 Gulf War's air campaign and tasked them with "fighting the next war" as US-Iran tensions bloom, the London Sunday Times reports Sunday.

Brzezinski: Bush hyping Iran threat

We all knew this already, but it's nice to see someone with some credentials say it instead of pandering to the Israeli lobby:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski likened U.S. officials' saber rattling about Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions to similar statements made before the start of the Iraq war.

"I think the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq," Brzezinski told CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday.

Unfortunately, nobody listens to Brzezinski anymore.

Another day, another outrage

Another day, another outrage. The problem is we're getting desensitized to these things. When I read this, I almost said, "No surprises there."

A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of "bait," such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.

The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.

Just to put this in perspective though. As I understand it, the unemployment rate in Iraq exceeds 60%, so there are lots and lots of poor, unemployed, nearly starving young Iraqi dudes walking around the streets. The so-called "bait" our snipers are putting out there has a market value, probably a significant market value, to insurgents of all types from Sunnis to Shia Militia, to al Qaeda. So, this is like leaving a gold coin in the street. It's hard to believe almost anyone wouldn't be tempted to pick the stuff up and sell it to get their next scrap of bread.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

People who live in glass houses ...

Short version of today's editorial in the NY Times: "We don't like the Democratic Presidential Candidates' health care plans because they do nothing to reduce the cost of health care, but we don't have any plan to do that either."

Rearranging furniture on the decks of the Titanic

A new centerpiece to George Romney's plans once he becomes president: to move the words "In God We Trust" from the side to the center of the new dollar coin.

Ah, how could we possibly survive as a country without him?

Our colonial future

Juan Cole writes:

... Iraqi President Jalal Talabani wrote a letter to Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker demanding that Iranian national Farhad Aghaie be released. The US military detained him in Sulaimaniya, alleging that he is actually an Iranian intelligence officer. Talabani seems confused as to whether he is president of Iraq or a representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, since he complained that the US raid injured the sovereignty of the KRG. Uh, I don't think provincial administrations have sovereignty. And, shouldn't Talabani be representing the interests in sovereignty of all the provinces?

Plus, Mam Jalal, if you are a president and have to plead with a foreign general to release your own guest from prison, you don't have any sovereignty left and haven't had for some time. You've been colonized.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wimps to the last one

If I read this piece from TPM Muckraker properly, it looks like the Democrats have pretty much given up on trying to force the White House to hand over documents, and they've given up without even a fight. What are the Democrats so frightened of? Their own shadows? I don't think I've ever seen as wimpy a group of people as these guys are.

Lieberman offers AUMF for Iran

I suppose this is another one of those things the Dems will be so frightened about that they'll endorse it. Then, we'll be at war with Iran.

Amazingly, no one anywhere in the US media seems to have noticed that yesterday Jon Kyl (Arizona) and Joe Lieberman filed an extremely threatening amendment on Iran to the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill. I guess all their time was taken up with the earth-shakingly important issue of newspaper ads.

It's a "Sense of the Senate" resolution, which means it has no legal force, but as the Congressional Research Service will tell you, "foreign governments pay close attention to [such resolutions] as evidence of shifts in U.S. foreign policy priorities." If you want you can read it yourself (.doc), but here are the most important paragraphs:

(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.

If something like this passes both the House and Senate, I think Bush could legitimately argue that between it, the War Powers Act and the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations to Use Military Force, he has all the authority he needs to attack Iran.

Is it time for the revolution yet?


Apparently, this bill is likely to pass in our Democratic controlled Congress quickly:

Sept. 20, 2007 - The nation’s biggest telecommunications companies, working closely with the White House, have mounted a secretive lobbying campaign to get Congress to quickly approve a measure wiping out all private lawsuits against them for assisting the U.S. intelligence community’s warrantless surveillance programs.

The campaign—which involves some of Washington's most prominent lobbying and law firms—has taken on new urgency in recent weeks because of fears that a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco is poised to rule that the lawsuits should be allowed to proceed.

If that happens, the telecom companies say, they may be forced to terminate their cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community—or risk potentially crippling damage awards for allegedly turning over personal information about their customers to the government without a judicial warrant.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say the U.S. intelligence community is in a near-panic about this,” said one communications industry lawyer familiar with the debate who asked not to be publicly identified because of the sensitivity surrounding the issue.

But critics say the language proposed by the White House—drafted in close cooperation with the industry officials—is so extraordinarily broad that it would provide retroactive immunity for all past telecom actions related to the surveillance program. Its practical effect, they argue, would be to shut down any independent judicial or state inquires into how the companies have assisted the government in eavesdropping on the telephone calls and e-mails of U.S. residents in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks.

Disgusting. That will shut down forever the last possible avenue to stop the government from trampling our rights. I can't tell you how discouraged I feel by the wimpish way in which the Dems have been handling things.

Big brother is watching you

Traveling overseas? Big brother is watching you. From the Washington Post:

The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.

But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged. The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf.

The Automated Targeting System has been used to screen passengers since the mid-1990s, but the collection of data for it has been greatly expanded and automated since 2002, according to former DHS officials.

Officials yesterday defended the retention of highly personal data on travelers not involved in or linked to any violations of the law. But civil liberties advocates have alleged that the type of information preserved by the department raises alarms about the government's ability to intrude into the lives of ordinary people. The millions of travelers whose records are kept by the government are generally unaware of what their records say, and the government has not created an effective mechanism for reviewing the data and correcting any errors, activists said.

Waive and smile for the camera, please.

(or flash them the bird)

Flip flop plop

Let's see now. Romney, who was once pro-choice is now miraculously anti-choice. Romney, who was once pro-universal health care, is now miraculously anti-universal health care. Giuliani, who was once pro-choice, is now miraculously anti-choice. Giuliani, who was once pro-gun control, is now miraculously anti-gun control. Hmmmm. Did somebody say Kerry was a flip-flopper?

Friday, September 21, 2007

“Deeply concerned”

I guess we’ve got Yellow Dog Democrats, so how about John Warner as esteemed leader of Bush's Furrowed-Brow Flunkies? These Republican phonies deserve a name that fits their character: grave concern, do absolutely nothing about it. We need some level of ridicule that makes them pay a price. The blog-coined term "Friedman Unit" (six months, per Tom Friedman umpteen times saying "the next six months in Iraq will tell....") has got to sting.

Oh my God

Oh my God, now we're going to have to throw John Aravosis into jail for writing these nasty things about our generals:

A top US general in Iraq says US media is losing the war in Iraq.

Yeah, because we wouldn't want to blame Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch himself for killing all his men in a horribly executed war. Oh no. His men are dying, Iraq is going to hell in a handbasket, it's not even safe for US government officials to travel by land in Iraq anymore, all because of ABC News (he also blames the other networks, including FOX!).

First Petraeus falls apart at the seams because he was called a mean name, and now this Lynch character can't even win a war because some TV station 6000 miles away is somehow affecting the effectiveness of his street patrols. So let me get this straight: We expect Petraeus and Lynch to handle Al Qaeda when they can't even handle one of the blonde bimbos on FOX?

I'm really beginning to think that these generals of ours are a bunch of immature, spineless, whiny children who found their commissions at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jack.

These guys make William Westmoreland look like a genius.

Biofuels add to greenhouse gases

For quite some time I've been on a crusade against corn-based ethanol. It's a losing crusade, of course, particularly as long as Iowa gets an early shot at picking the presidential candidates. But, I'll continue my crusade none-the-less. This news simply adds to the arsenal.

Growing and burning many biofuels may actually raise rather than lower greenhouse gas emissions, a new study led by Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen has shown.1 The findings come in the wake of a recent OECD report, which warned nations not to rush headlong into growing energy crops because they cause food shortages and damage biodiversity.

Crutzen and colleagues have calculated that growing some of the most commonly used biofuel crops releases around twice the amount of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) than previously thought - wiping out any benefits from not using fossil fuels and, worse, probably contributing to global warming. The work appears in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and is currently subject to open review.

'The significance of it is that the supposed benefits of biofuel are even more disputable than had been thought hitherto,' Keith Smith, a co-author on the paper from the University of Edinburgh, told Chemistry World. 'What we are saying is that [growing many biofuels] is probably of no benefit and in fact is actually making the climate issue worse.'

You have to scratch your head in wonderment

Rudy Giuliani's impeccable logic:

RESTON, Va. - Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said Friday that the alternative minimum tax — which is expected to generate as much as $1 trillion over the next 10 years — could be eliminated by balancing it out with even more tax cuts

Giuliani's remarks prompted a bewildered response from his audience of technology executives. …

Giuliani told the 700-member audience of the Northern Virginia Technology Council that he wants to cap the tax, and perhaps eventually eliminate it altogether.

"Over time we can figure out how to eliminate it. ... If we were going to eliminate it, though, we'd have to balance it with additional tax cuts," Giuliani said, leaving confused expressions on his audience. "That might be by making the Bush tax cuts permanent."

Attacking the victims rather than the culprits

This previous comment needs to be elevated to banner. Is this what we made 57,000 phone calls that gave Democrats a majority in Congress for, to make fools of themselves condeming Move On? Move On did not send 3700 Americans to their death in Iraq, the Republicans did. Democrats need to condemn them by forcing them to show their cards via forcing them to filibuster so the U.S. voter can see them for what they are: an odious band of rascals who are driven by their ideology not by the best interests of the United States.

I told you so -- president is scared of horses

I've been telling people this for years, but apparently it's news to some even well-informed people. The president is frightened almost to death by horses. He won't get near them, even if there's a fence between him and the horse. Now Vincente Fox confirms this.

Here's another fun detail from Vicente Fox's upcoming autobiography: He says that despite President Bush's cowboy image, the man is actually scared of horses.

Fox tells the story of the two men meeting in Mexico in early 2001, in which he invited Bush to ride a large horse. Bush nervously backed away. "A horse lover can always tell when others don't share our passion," Fox wrote.

Fun fact: Bush's Crawford ranch, purchased in 1999 in order to help create a down-home image for his presidential campaign, does not have any horses.

Greenspan is talking; is anyone listening?

Alan Greenspan in his book predicts rising inflation and interest rates, and continued and progressively more difficulty in the economy. He placed much emphasis on keeping oil supplies safe, but that it can only be done for a limited time, calling for, between the lines, a Manhattan project to provide alternative energy.

Is the world flat?

Whoopi Goldberg was interviewing Sherri Sheppherd, a spokesperson for the "we don't believe in evolution" crowd. When she asked Sheppherd, "is the world flat?" Sheppherd relied that she didn't know. Watch it for yourself.

Force them to filibuster

Even the NY Times thinks the Democrats should force the Republicans to actually filibuster something. From today's lead editorial entitled "In Search of a Congress:"

We support the filibuster as the only way to ensure a minority in the Senate can be heard. When the cloture votes failed this week, the Democrats should have let the Republicans filibuster. Democratic leaders think that’s too risky, since Congress could look like it’s not doing anything. But it’s not doing a lot now.

The country needs a lot more debate about what must be done to contain Iraq’s chaos and restore civil liberties sacrificed to Mr. Bush’s declared war on terrorism. Voters are capable of deciding whether Republicans are holding up the Senate out of principle or political tactics.

The current Republican leadership, now in the minority, has organized its entire agenda around the filibuster. In July, the McClatchy newspaper group reported that Republicans were using the threat of filibuster more than at any other time in the nation’s history.

Remember, this is the same batch of Republican senators who denounced Democrats as obstructionist and even un-American and threatened to change the Senate’s rules when Democrats threatened filibusters in 2005 over a few badly chosen judicial nominees. Now Republicans are using it to prevent consideration of an entire war.

If anything was clear from General Petraeus’s testimony and the president’s prime-time speech, it was that Mr. Bush has no idea how to end the war in a way that salvages as much as possible of America’s treasury, blood and global image while limiting the chaos that would follow any withdrawal, whether it comes quickly or slowly. Mr. Bush’s only idea is to keep the war going until he leaves office, and that means that other co-equal branch of government, the Congress, will have to lead the way out.

Democrats and Republicans who oppose the war have a duty to outline alternatives. Those who call for staying in Iraq have a duty to explain what victory means and how they plan to achieve it. Both sides are shirking an obligation to deal with issues that must be resolved right now, like the crisis involving asylum for Iraqis who helped the American occupation.

Congress is the first place for this kind of work. Right now, it seems like the last place it will happen.

Another kidnapping

Here's what Juan Cole says about the U.S. announcement that it had captured an Iranian smuggling arms into Iraq:

The US kidnapped another Iranian from Iraqi Kurdistan, alleging that he is an officer in the Quds Force section of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and an arms smuggler. The Kurdistan Regional Authority says that he is Aghai Farhadi, a trade representative of Kirmanshah Province in Iran.

Either the US suspicions about Farhadi are baseless, or the Kurds are the major conduit for Iranian arms into Iraq. Five other Iranians were kidnapped from Irbil by the US military. Farhadi would not be doing what he was doing in Sulaimaniya unless he was the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. If he was smuggling in arms, he was smuggling them to the Peshmerga, the Kurdish paramilitary, which is allied with the United States. Presumably this means that the Peshmerga is either treansfering the weapons to the Badr Corpsselling the arms off on the Iraqi black market. If this scenario is correct, then it is pure propaganda for the USG to complain so loudly and bitterly about Iranian meddling in Iraq, when it is being facilitated by some Kurds, who are in turn putative US allies.

Gutless Democrats

Without further comment:

On Thursday, the Senate blocked legislation sponsored by Reid and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would have cut off funding for combat in June 2008. That measure failed by a 70-28 vote, 32 votes short of 60.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Canadian $ = U.S. $ for first time in 30 years

Down, down, down we go:

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- The dollar took another fall on currency markets Thursday, reaching one-to-one parity against the Canadian dollar for the first time in 30 years and plumbing a new low against the 13-nation European currency.

Banana republic here we come.

U.S. economic collapse nearing?

Emptywheel tells us that the Saudis are breaking ranks with us on supporting a dollar peg for oil prices and that this may bring down the U.S. economy in a ball of flames. I'm afraid she may have something there.


Democrats, it’s so simple: “No I’m not going to condemn MoveOn, no matter how much the right wingers whine about it. Bush shouldn’t be hiding behind someone in a military uniform, and it was wrong for a general to do that for him.”

No apologies saying how much you respect General Petraeus. I’m getting really sick of that. The fact is, he specifically provided cover for George Bush’s policy, and as a military man he was wrong to do so. It’s just a fact that both Democrats and Republicans know to be true. That has nothing to do with what a great guy he is or how much he knows about counter-insurgency, or how good a general he is during military actions.

Can't we ever, ever say something short and strong?

Ass holes

Can't do a f#$king thing to end the war, but boy the Dems can line up to do something really, really important like condemning MoveOn.Org 72-25. Ass holes.

Strike them all dead

This is the kind of pandering idiocy that really makes me sick to my stomach - literally. And, the damn Dems are even more susceptible to it than the Thuglicans:

The Senate is playing who can be nicest to military figures today. Sen. Barbara Boxer's resolution condemning political attacks on all current and former military figures (Grant? MacArthur?) got 51 mostly Democratic votes, less than the 60 needed to overcome the GOP's procedural roadblock. That was just a sideshow to the real sideshow, a vote on the GOP resolution condemning the MoveOn Petraeus ad, which is coming shortly.

These idiots are willing to suspend the Constitution for even the most insignificant short-term political gain. And, nobody is going to believe that this is a good way to "support the troops" anyway. Sometimes I wish God would strike all politicians dead.

Make them fillibuster so the press gets it

I so completely agree with Chrity Hardin Smith on this that I'll just copy her whole post from Firedoglake:

I have had it. Giving the Republicans in Congress a pass to do as they please, obstruct whatever legislation they like and pay no penalty for doing so has to stop.

Harry Reid must do his job and make the Senate GOP physically stand up and filibuster. Or we might as well declare Congress to be a lovely afternoon tea party and be done with it.

Civility doesn’t mean that you roll over and ask for a belly scratch from your opponents — it means that everyone plays by the rules on all sides. We had 56 votes for the Webb bill — but could not get it through because a super-majority was required of 60 votes for cloture. This has happened time and time again. The GOP continually obstructs? Then they ought to pay a hefty public price. Harry Reid needs to lead on this — or get the hell out of the way.

Call Sen. Harry Reid today and tell him to do his job and make them stand and filibuster. He can be reached at 202-224-3542 in DC and 702-388-5020 in Nevada.

Here come the clowns

You really wonder how they can keep on saying these things with a straight face when every particle of real evidence debunks it:

BAGHDAD - The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said Thursday that a seven-month-old security operation has cut violence in Baghdad by half, but he acknowledged that civilians were still dying at too high a rate.

I mean, it's like a skit on Saturday Night Live where the General says things are going just fine while his staff are being butchered in the background and their arms and legs are piling up around him till he can no longer be seen behind the wall of butchered flesh.

No matter how many medals they're wearing on their expansive chests, they're beginning to look like buffoons.

Losing the battles and winning the war?

Now that the Thuglicans in the Senate won three more battles yesterday, I'm hoping that what they are really doing is speeding their chariot of fire headlong towards the cliff. There's little doubt now that the Dems should (if they're competent, which is sometimes questionable) to paint the war as a wholly Republican event (Lieberman excepted), which, barring the unforeseen, is likely to be a very unpopular position next year.

Unfortunately, the hard work begins when and if the Dems win. Then, the trick will be how to get out of Iraq without appearing to be "running from the enemy" as the Thuglicans will paint it. Hopefully, whichever Dem becomes Prez will have enough savvy to pull off a "we've won so we're leaving now" stunt believably. Otherwise, Juan Cole may well be right. The Dems will be in for one term -- just long enough to be blamed for losing the war, and then the Republicans will be back for the long haul.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pope refuses to meet Rice

Frankly, though I don't trouble myself to think about it much, I haven't had particularly good feelings about the (relatively) new Pope - Benedict XVI, but this improves his image in my mind:

Pope Benedict XVI refused to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in August, saying he was on holiday, an Italian newspaper reported Wednesday.

Rice "made it known to the Vatican that she absolutely had to meet the pope" to boost her diplomatic "credit" ahead of a trip to the Middle East, the Corriere della Sera daily reported without citing its sources.

Getting Tom Daschled

I have to agree with Kevin Drum on this one:

I know the Obama fans out there are going to jump all over this, but I have to say that the guy's losing me. He's an inspiring speaker, and given the realities of how presidents exercise power that's no small thing. But he sure is cautious to a fault. His big foreign policy speech was fine, but cautious and mainstream. His big healthcare speech was fine, but cautious and mainstream. And now his big tax speech is....just cautious and mainstream. I really want to hear something big and controversial from Obama, something that demonstrates a desire to shake up the status quo. But he just doesn't seem to be willing to take any chances. That's a shame.

The man has yet to show any signs that he's going to take us in a different direction than we're already going, and we're going the wrong way. It's kind of like being Tom Daschled.

Idiots all

Well, the GOP successfully blocked both the restoration of habeas corpus bill and the "give the right to vote to residents in D.C." bill today. Kevin Drum notes that the press fails to make it clear who did what to whom, and David Kurtz notes that the AP reported the vote was 56-43 "against the bill." Actually, the vote was 58-43, and it was FOR the bill (or at least for cloture so the bill could be voted on) not "against" it. So score two misses for the AP. As Kevin Drum notes:

So, for the record, here are the votes. On the habeas bill, Democrats and Independents voted 50-1 in favor. Republicans voted 42-8 against. On the DC bill, Democrats and Independents voted 49-1 in favor. Republicans voted 41-8 against. Would it really be so hard for reporters to make it clear exactly who's responsible for blocking these bills?

What is wrong with our press? Are they just idiots? Or, do they think the rest of us are idiots?

"To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces"

John McCain says it’s unconstitutional for Congress to make rules about the length of service of military personnel in the Iraqi combat zone. John McCain is an idiot. He should read Section 8 of Article 2 of the Constitution before he spouts off nonsense.
The Constitution says Congress shall have the power:

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
To provide and maintain a navy;
To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Snookered once again

From TPM's election central:

There's been a new twist in the battle over Jim Webb's troop readiness bill: It was just announced on the Senate floor that Senator John Warner -- who had been wavering in his support of Webb's amendment -- is planning to introduce his own, nonbinding version of Webb's measure.

But here's the rub: According to a source close to Webb, Warner didn't even inform his fellow Senator that he was planning to do this. Webb was totally surprised when he heard the announcement, the source tells us.

Obviously, this will draw the Republican votes away from Webb's bill forcing Dems to vote for the Warner bill in order not to be accused of failing to support the troops. Republicans win again.

Dowd looking for ways to ridicule Obama now

Eric Alterman shows how Maureen Dowd and other national pundits are developing the character portraits of the Democratic candidates – the ones that will be the accepted descriptions and references that all reporters who aspire to work for the New York Times must allude to in their stories. The ones that Leno and Letterman will play off of every night. Of course, we’ve seen the phony Edwards storyline -- because he has a big house and gets an expensive haircut, he’s a hypocrite for advocating for the poor. The implication, of course, is that, since it is extremely difficult without public funding of campaigns for anyone other than a wealthy person to run for President, only the rich people deserve representation. Alternatively, they go for the “Breck Girl” feminization of Edwards, mirroring the way the hidden persuaders, the subliminal techniques that are difficult to challenge, that were used to diminish the stature of Gore and Kerry by questioning their masculinity.

Clinton, of course, is cold and calculating because she runs a well-disciplined campaign. Now, apparently, Dowd is toying with a new angle for Obama: he’s high and mighty, thinks he’s better than the rest of us, because he’s so smart. In a similar vein, he’s “trying to look thoughtful” because, well, I suppose because he thinks it’s important to think through issues carefully. Trying to be thoughtful, in the Dowd “Mean Girls” world, means trying to look thoughtful. (Alterman cites the Shannon Doherty character in the movie, “Heathers.”) Of course, in the case of Obama, Dowd must struggle extra hard to find something that, no way, no how, can be called racist.

We better figure out a way to undercut these idiots who are dominating the political coverage in the national media – to immunize as many people as possible against these insidious techniques that brought us the administration of George Bush. Exposure is the first order of business. For starters, everyone leaning Democrat should be made to understand the history of how Maureen Dowd – and others (Chris Matthews, Margaret Carlson, Katharine Seely [Times], Ceci Connelly [Washington Post] whom Bob Somerby has carefully identified in his Daily Howler journal – did, in fact, bring us the Bush administration. They will do it again if they can get away with it.

Israel names Gaza "enemy entity"

I think I agree with the Paletinian spokesman on Israel's decision to name Gaza an enemy entity and shut off supplies of fuel and electricity to the region:

Speaking to Al Jazeera on the Israeli announcement, Saeb Erekat, senior Palestinian negotiator and spokesman for the West Bank-based government, said on Wednesday:

"I believe Gaza and West Bank are still under Israeli occupation. Under no circumstances can Israel view it as an 'enemy entity'. Gaza as not an independent state, Gaza is under occupation.

"They aim to starve our people and force them to accept humiliating formulas that could emerge from the so-called November peace conference"

"This is a decision in total violation of international law, it is a collective punishment, and a preparation for further military escalation against the 1.5 million people of Gaza.

"At the end of the day, it will not end the cycle of violence but complicate matters and breed more violence."

Bush upping pressure on Iran

This McClatchy piece is interesting:

WASHINGTON — One year after the United States launched an intensified global economic campaign against Iran with the stated aim of halting Tehran’s nuclear work, the Bush administration is counting its successes — and calling for still more pressure.

In recent months, once-reluctant European countries have joined the effort, which some are calling a financial war, with more vigor.

Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, said recently that it would stop doing business in Iran. France has trimmed export credits that encourage business in Iran and advised French firms, including the oil and gas giant Total S.A., not to start new investments there. Even Japan, heavily dependent on Persian Gulf oil, has pulled back from energy projects in Iran.

While hard to quantify, the multi-pronged effort appears to be causing significant pain in Iran, raising the cost of doing business and delaying Tehran’s plans to modernize its inefficient oil and gas industry, according to a dozen U.S. officials, Western diplomats and analysts.

In Washington, the drive for financial sanctions has proved a boon to Bush administration aides seeking to head off military operations against Iran, which Vice President Dick Cheney favors.

Whether it will succeed in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions remains to be seen.

Look, I'm all in favor of any policy that has a chance of averting Bush's desire for a war with Iran, but frankly, I can't think of any time when sanctions like this really worked. (Think Cuba, for instance) It strikes me as more likely the Iranian leaders will simply dig in their heals and use the sanctions as a propaganda ploy to shore up their political support. Hope I'm wrong.

Show me

Many liberal blogs are jumping with joy over Harry Reid's decision to drop efforts to compromise with Republicans on the war and insist instead on a firm withdrawal date. I agree that it's a move in the right direction, but I'm not buying in just yet. On this one, I'm from Missouri. He's going to have to show me by actually doing something.

Dems prepare to capitulate on FISA once again?

Glenn Greenwald thinks the Democrats are preparing to capitulate to the president on FISA once again.

Specifically, almost immediately after the Democrats enacted the new FISA, the Bush White House and DNI Mike McConnell began demanding that Congress quickly go further by providing retroactive immunity to telecom companies who participated in warrantless eavesdropping by shielding them from the consequences of having broken the law. Once it had what it wanted on FISA, the White House decreed (bolded commands in original):

Our Work Is Not Done -- This Act Is A Temporary, Narrowly Focused Statute To Deal With The Most Immediate Needs Of The Intelligence Community To Protect The Country. When Congress returns in September, the Intelligence Committees and leaders in both parties will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, including the important issues of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Buried within an article in the New York Times this morning from James Risen is this passage, strongly suggesting that Congressional Democrats are ready, as always, to do what they are told:
Mr. McConnell argued on Tuesday that the expanded surveillance powers granted under the temporary measure should be made permanent.

He also pushed for a provision that would grant legal immunity to the telecommunications companies that secretly cooperated with the N.S.A. on the warrantless program. Those companies, now facing lawsuits, have never been officially identified.

Democratic Congressional aides say they believe that a deal is likely to provide protection for the companies.

Granting retroactive immunity to telecom companies for past lawbreaking is so plainly unjustifiable, even dangerous, that it ought to require no real debate. That Congressional Democrats are even considering submitting to this demand, let alone that they are likely to do so, dispels any doubt about what they really are.

Good God, what is wrong with these people? I mean, you don't have to be a genius to know that if Bush wants it, he shouldn't get it.

Bolton tells Israel the U.S. supports a first strike against Iran

Josh Bolton is out there urging the Israelis to attack Iran:

President Bush's former United Nations ambassador John Bolton said the United States would stand behind a pre-emptive strike by Israel against countries developing "WMD facilities."

In his remark, printed in Tuesday's edition of the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, Bolton directly referenced Iran.

It's one thing for him to speak for himself, but it's another for him to speak as if he still represents the United States. Unfortunately, he's probably right. Bush Co. would probably support Israel if it nuked Iran.

Want some money? Go to Iraq and rob a bank.

Apparently, Iraq has become the world's capital for bank robberies.

... on average, a million dollars a month being taken at gunpoint. Bank executives have been kidnapped from their homes for ransoms as high as $6mn. Amid the bombs and gunfire, there is one "industry" is doing remarkably well – Baghdad is now the bank robbery capital of the world.

Here's a first hand account of one:

Firas Ali Suleiman, a driver for the Bank of Baghdad described how a van carrying $1.6m from its Hilla branch to Baghdad was ambushed. "It was a Kia van and it was not armoured, but we had four guards with the money inside," he said.

"We were stopped at a checkpoint in Audiya run by the Ministry of Interior commandos. They ordered the back door to be opened and saw the money. The guards were called out and then put in handcuffs and hooded. I could hear them talking about the money and then they took the money out. I was told to drive away and I called the manager on my mobile and told him what happened.

"The next roadblock was by the Mehdi Army (Shia militia). I think they, too, were expecting to get some money but, by then, of course, it was gone. The police were called later but they did nothing."

[H/t to Chris in Paris at Americablog]

It's getting pretty ugly out there in the real estate market

In today's NY Times, David Leonhardt tells us that homes in the US are overvalued by about 20%, perhaps more, and in some areas may be overvalued by as much as 40%.

From the late 1960s until 2000, the price of the typical American home and the income of the typical family moved almost in lock step. House prices rose a bit more quickly than incomes during the occasional real estate boom, but would always settle down again. In 2000, the median home cost about $130,000, roughly three times the typical household income — almost precisely the ratio that had held since the ’60s.

Then came a real estate boom unlike any before it. By last year, this ratio of prices to incomes had suddenly shot up to 4.5. For it to return to its old level, home prices would have to fall by an almost unthinkable one-third, and probably more in California, Florida and the Northeast.

There are good reasons to believe that the real estate slump won’t be quite that severe — more on that shortly — but there is also reason to think the slump still has a long way to go. That’s why the Fed went further than most Wall Street analysts expected yesterday, cutting interest rates by half a percentage point and announcing, in effect, that it is now on a recession watch.

And whether home prices begin falling noticeably or merely stagnate for years until incomes catch up, it’s clear that the real estate bust has become the dominant force in the economy.

... The exact path that housing prices will take over the next few years is, obviously, unknowable. But there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that the typical home last year was overvalued by something like 20 percent. I wouldn’t necessarily argue with anyone who insisted on 15 or 25 percent.

The reason it may not be bigger is that mortgage rates remain a good bit lower than they were for much of the last generation. But they’re not so different as to suggest that home prices have returned to rational levels. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s, ran an analysis for me this week in which he looked at home values, mortgage rates, tax rates and incomes going back to 1968. Taking all these into account, he found prices were about 20 percent too high.

... The scariest part of a national decline like this is that it could be more like 40 percent in some parts of the country. That’s difficult to fathom — and, in fact, construction would probably come to a halt in those places, cushioning the price drop locally and, by extension, a bit nationally. But 40 percent is not out of the question in a few places, like the southwestern coast of Florida.

As Leonhardt says, there are basically only two possible scenarios with some mix of both likely: 1) either housing prices plummet 20% or so quickly or 2) they stagnate for six years or so waiting for household incomes to catch up to them. Either way, things look pretty grim.

You can see it already just driving around my neighborhood. The number of "for sale" signs has exploded in the past year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A run on the banks

It's not getting much press coverage here, but the mortgage crisis is creating bank panics in England.

The Government made an unprecedented intervention in the Northern Rock crisis yesterday by publicly guaranteeing all the bank's deposits. The intervention, by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, capped a dramatic day that had seen further mass queuing outside Northern Rock branches and billions wiped off banks' shares on fears of contagion.

The worst hit of the other banks was Alliance & Leicester, which tried to stem fears that it would be the next bank to seek emergency funding. Bradford & Bingley was another to feel the pain.

The slump in Alliance & Leicester's shares raised fears of its customers making mass withdrawals of their savings in a second run on a British bank, and the Leicester-based mortgage lender had to act quickly.

But it was the Northern Rock crisis that continued to cause the most concern. The bank's shares fell by 35.4 per cent, and mass withdrawals continued, bringing the total withdrawn in the past week to £2bn.

In an attempt to calm the panic, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: "Should it be necessary, we, with the Bank of England, would put in place arrangements to guarantee all the existing deposits in Northern Rock during the current instability. This means people can continue to take their money out of Northern Rock but if they choose to leave their money in Northern Rock it will be guaranteed safe and secure."

Mr Darling said that if forced to, the Government would use Northern Rock's assets to fund the deposits. City analysts said that would be tantamount to nationalising the bank.

The Treasury said the Government could provide backing for other lenders if necessary, depending on their financial situation.

Before Mr Darling's statement, thousands of people had continued to queue outside Northern Rock branches and bombard the bank's website to get their money out, causing fears the Newcastle-based bank would be unable to continue trading. About £2bn of the bank's £24bn of deposits was taken out before yesterday with another £1bn likely to have been taken out yesterday.

Hopefully, Americans won't catch this disease.

The new "God Bless America"

Here are the new lyrics to God Bless America, as rewritten by the religious right and sung to enthusiastic applause at the recent Republican Value Voters presidential debate:

Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back
On everything that made her what she is.

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sin and heal our land

The courts ruled prayer out of our schools
In June of ‘62
Told the children “you are your own God now
So you can make the rules”
O say can you see what that choice
Has cost us to this day
America, one nation under God, has gone astray

Why should god bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land

In ‘73 the Courts said we
Could take the unborn lives
The choice is yours don’t worry now
It’s not a wrong, it’s your right

But just because they made it law
Does not change God’s command
The most that we can hope for is
God’s mercy on our land

Why should God bless America?
She’s forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is

Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land

Aren't these the same people who think God's on our side in the war with Iraq and that he's dictating every move to his anointed one on earth, George W. Bush? Seems a bit inconsistent to me.

Ohio Republicans block tests of voting machines

By a vote of 4-3, Ohio Republicans on the Controlling Board blocked Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's efforts to get voting machines tested before the 2008 elections:

COLUMBUS - The state's chief elections official will have to wait two weeks to find out if she will get $1.7 million to run tests on Ohio's new electronic voting machine system, a legislative panel ruled Monday.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner told the state Controlling Board that the delay likely will make it tougher for her office to complete the testing by January, the deadline she set for issuing the results to county boards of elections. Next year's primary is early - March 4 - because of the presidential election.

No look, there's only one reason why Republicans would not want these machines tested. It's because they know they're either already fixed or will be fixed to elect Republicans no matter what the voters do.