The Aeration Zone: A liberal breath of fresh air

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Walldon in New Jersey ---- Marketingace in Pennsylvania ---- Simoneyezd in Ontario
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Monday, December 31, 2007

Bloomberg candidacy designed to screw the Dems?

I haven't formed a clear impression in my mind about how a Bloomberg third party candidacy plays out in terms of who gets hurt most, but Digby has, and it's worth reading her take on it. The short form:

Let's everyone be clear about what's really happening and go from there. Bloomberg's candidacy, if it happens, is designed to deny the Democrats a victory in a year when the Republicans are so wounded and tired they probably can't win it for themselves, even if they cheat. The big money boys aren't taking any chances.


I know that the holiday polls are not likely to be very accurate, what with everyone on the move, and, even if they were, they're all over the place, so they don't tell you much. Nevertheless, I'm beginning to get the feel the John Edwards may just pull ahead in the Iowa caucuses. Frankly, I think he's the best candidate of the leading three. I really don't want to see the Bush/Clinton dynasty continue, Hillary is too hawkish for my tastes and probably too inclined to cling to the powers Bush has assumed, and Obama's talking way too much about compromising with the Republicans (which ALWAYS means, they win, we lose). Unfortunately, he's not done that well money raising, and that will put him at a serious disadvantage vis the Republicans, so I've got my reservations about Edwards as well.

In the end, of course, any of these three - or even any of the rest of the contenders - is far, far better than any of the Thuglican contenders.

The Times gets it (or do they?)

Today, the New York Times got just about as shrill as I've ever seen them. It's only a short step from here to having them call for Bush/Cheney to be tried for crimes against humanity:

There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.

It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001.

The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.

Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.

The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could.

Hundreds of men, swept up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, were thrown into a prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, so that the White House could claim they were beyond the reach of American laws. Prisoners are held there with no hope of real justice, only the chance to face a kangaroo court where evidence and the names of their accusers are kept secret, and where they are not permitted to talk about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of American jailers.

In other foreign lands, the C.I.A. set up secret jails where “high-value detainees” were subjected to ever more barbaric acts, including simulated drowning. These crimes were videotaped, so that “experts” could watch them, and then the videotapes were destroyed, after consultation with the White House, in the hope that Americans would never know.

The C.I.A. contracted out its inhumanity to nations with no respect for life or law, sending prisoners — some of them innocents kidnapped on street corners and in airports — to be tortured into making false confessions, or until it was clear they had nothing to say and so were let go without any apology or hope of redress.

These are not the only shocking abuses of President Bush’s two terms in office, made in the name of fighting terrorism. There is much more — so much that the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them.

We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.

So, what explains their hiring William Kristol? There seems to be some cognitive dissonance going on at the place.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Screwed twice

I've just been reading a post -- rather poorly written -- about a homeowner who bought his house a couple of years ago for $800,000 with a 100% mortgage. He now wants to buy the house across the street (which sounds as though it is similar to the house he lives in) for $500,000 and plans to walk away from the $800,000 house and hand the keys back to the bank.

There's a lot of babbling back and forth in the comments about the legality of this. Frankly, it doesn't strike me as illegal. That's what non-recourse mortgages are all about. The bank takes the risk that if the homeowner can't (or won't) make the payments, it gets the house. The bank charges for taking that risk by lending at a somewhat higher rate than it would have if the loan had been a recourse loan.

However, one line of argument in the comments thread did catch my eye. The forgiven debt is taxable income to the guy. And, how much is that? It shouldn't be the entire $800,000, but I can see the IRS arguing for that. You should at least be able to argue that whatever the bank got for the house was not forgiven. But, the problem here is that banks often get very little in these circumstances, since they seem to be institutionally incapable of selling houses at reasonable values. So, the guy could well end up having to pay taxes on $500,000 or so.

All of which raises an even more interesting question. All the folks who are actually going into default these days because they can't pay when the rates adjust may well end up owing huge tax bills because of the debt forgiveness they obtained.

Screwed twice! Once by the mortgage originator. Once by the government.

Paid by the word?

Question: Is Glenn Greenwald paid by the word?

I mean -- I really like him as a blogger. I almost always agree with him. He does a really thorough job of researching his pieces. But, they are often soooooooo lonnnnnnng.

Perhaps this is due to his training as a lawyer. Most lawyers will tell you that, when preparing a brief, you should raise every possible argument that you can in favor of your position, rather than focusing only on the most persuasive arguments. You never know when a judge will reject the more persuasive arguments but buy into one of the ancillary ones.

Still, Glenn is not writing for judges anymore. I think he'd be more persuasive if he got a bit pithier in his arguments.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Brattleboro, VT may issue arrest warrants for Bush/Cheney

Every town in the country should be doing this, since the idiots inside the "Village" won't.

Brattleboro, VT: President Bush may soon have a new reason to avoid left-leaning Vermont: In one town, activists want him subject to arrest for war crimes.

A group in Brattleboro is petitioning to put an item on a town meeting agenda in March that would make Bush and Vice President Cheney subject to arrest and indictment if they visit the southeastern Vermont community.

I learned something

I learned something the other day that I didn't know about before. It's something you might want to stick in your head for later reference if you didn't know it either.

Fact one: In all but 13 states in the country, purchase money mortgages are non-recourse. In other words, if your mortgage was taken out at the time you bought the house and if you live in any of the other 37 states, the lender has no recourse to you or to any of your assets except your house. If the value of your house happens to fall below the value of your mortgage loan, you can simply abandon the house and send the keys back to the mortgage servicer. Nobody can come after you or garnish your wages.

Fact two (this is the one I didn't know): No matter what state you live in, if you refinance your mortgage (for example, to get a lower rate), the new mortgage lender will have recourse to you, your assets, and your income, even after the house has been repossessed. The state laws calling for non-recourse loans apply only to purchase money mortgages.

It's too late for me, since I've already refinanced three times, but if you haven't refinanced your mortgage loan since you bought the house, you might want to think twice before doing so.

Friday, December 28, 2007

If I can't have it my way, I'll burn the country down

What's up with veto #8?

At the behest of the Iraqi government, President Bush will veto the annual defense authorization bill, saying an obscure provision in the legislation could make Iraqi assets held in U.S. banks vulnerable to lawsuits.

The veto threat startled Democratic congressional leaders, who believe Bush is bowing to pressure from the Iraqi government over a provision meant to help victims of state-sponsored terrorism. The veto is unexpected because there was no veto threat and the legislation passed both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly.

Democratic leaders say the provision in question could easily be worked out, but in vetoing the massive defense policy bill, some military pay raises may be on hold, as well as dozens of other programs. The White House contends that pay raises could be retroactive to Jan. 1 if the legislation is fixed.

"We understand that the president is bowing to the demands of the Iraqi government, which is threatening to withdraw billions of dollars invested in U.S. banks if this bill is signed," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in a joint statement. “The administration should have raised its objections earlier, when this issue could have been addressed without a veto."

Is this the president acting like a petulant little child saying, "If I can't have the toy, then I'll break it altogether so no one can have it?"

Send the infidels back to their caves

Having spent several weeks traveling in Spain this past Spring, I've been reading a couple of books on the country. One is a Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada by Washington Irving that relates the events when the Christians finally succeeded in evicting the Moors from Spain, sending the "infidel" away to preserve the holy Christian faith from impurities.

One of the things that's always mystified me about Spanish history is how a society that had practiced tolerance for five hundred years, with Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others living more or less peaceably together in such a productive and inventive mode that the arts and the sciences flourished could almost instantaneously revert to a bigoted, prejudiced, frightened community that would lead to the despicable acts of the Inquisition, purging the Jews, Muslims, protestants and others from the land.

Today, I fear, we are facing a similar turning point in America. Rudy Giuliani's spokesman in New Hampshire is calling for purging the Muslims from the world and sending them back to their caves. According to the Guardian, he said this about Rudy:

"He's got I believe the knowledge and the judgement to attack one of the most difficult problems in current history and that is the rise of the Muslims, and make no mistake about it, this hasn't happened for a thousand years. These people are very dedicated and they're also very very smart in their own way. We need to keep the feet to the fire and keep pressing these people until we defeat or chase them back to their caves or in other words get rid of them."

And, as our society becomes more and more eager to torture anyone that the president claims to be a "terrarist" in the name of saving the "United States" for Christianity, we look more and more like Torquemada burning the Jews and Muslims at the stake for their infidelity and the protestants for their heresies.

If you look at where that got Spain, it may give you a sense of where this country is headed. At the time of this turnabout (1492), Spain was at the pinnacle of it's power. It controlled much of Europe and would soon have the most extensive holdings of colonies around the world as it sent out the conquistadors to conquer the New World. But, within a century, it had fallen from that pinnacle and quickly became the most backward and one of the poorest countries in Europe. Its economy went to pot. Its government failed to function for the benefit of its citizens. It became almost a failed state, and remained such until the death of Franco 32 years ago. Only now is it beginning to come alive again, and who knows how long that will last?

Something rotten in the State of Pakistan

It appears the police may have abandoned their posts before Benazir Bhutto was shot yesterday. That sounds as though they knew about it in advance.

Further, no autopsy was performed, so there will be limited forensic evidence to track the killers.

Police abandoned their security posts shortly before Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's assassination Thursday, according to a journalist present at the time, and unanswerable questions remain about the cause of her death, because an autopsy was never performed.

Sounds like a situation guaranteed to spawn all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Borrow now, default later

Here's an interesting statistic:

Countrywide and other lenders tightened their lending standards last summer to ensure borrowers could afford loans after the interest rates adjusted upward.

Had those guidelines been in effect previously, Countrywide recently said, it would have rejected 89% of the option ARM loans it made in 2006, amounting to $64 billion, and $74 billion, or 83%, of those it made in 2005.

89% of the people borrowing couldn't afford to pay the loans off! That's an almost incredible statistic. Whoever thought this made sense should be shot.

You haven't seen anything yet

Floyd Norris, of the NY Times, seems to think we've only just begun to see the meltdown of the financial system. The next big debacle may be loans to corporations, and the institutions that insure them.

As 2007 ends, it seems that the financial world shakes every time a company reveals some new exposure to the disastrous world of subprime mortgage lending.

But just how different was subprime lending from other lending in the days of easy money that prevailed until this summer? The smug confidence that nothing could go wrong, and that credit quality did not matter, could be seen in the many other markets as well.

That was particularly true in the corporate loan market. Loans were cheap, and anyone worried about losses could buy insurance for almost nothing. It was not an environment that encouraged careful lending.

Look out below...


Juan Cole tells us that the chaos in Pakistan is being seriously under-reported by the US press. Things appear to be really, really bad over there. Go read his description.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Militarizing the Chicago public schools

It appears that the City of Chicago is turning some of it's public schools into military academies run by regular members of the U.S. armed services.

In a controversial new program, the city of Chicago has opened five public schools since 1999 based on a military academy model. Over 10,000 students attend the schools, which offer college preparatory courses combined with a military curriculum.

According to the Chicago Tribune, "military personnel work at the schools as teachers and administrators, and all academy students must enlist in the Junior ROTC, wear a military uniform and take a daily ROTC course that includes lessons on leadership, character development, drug prevention and military history."

Former army officer Paul Stroh, now principal of the Marine Military Academy, told PBS that the school's aim is to produce graduates who will become leaders of their communities. Parents interviewed by PBS agreed that the school gives their children special opportunities to succeed, while the students described the chance to take on leadership roles as "really cool."

Now, there's a lot to be said about the benefits of military-style discipline in a school setting, and I suspect many, perhaps most, of these kids will come out of these schools both better educated and better motivated and with far better leadership skills than their counterparts attending the crumby, filthy, demoralizing institutions that pass as the average public high schools. Still, I have deep misgivings about the direct links to the actual military that they're talking about here. It seems to me that we would do a whole lot better using military-style discipline without emphasizing the war-making aspects of the military in high schools.

Kansas GOP chair brags about breaking the law

Daily Kos has a great find today. The Chair of the Kansas GOP brags about voter caging in an e-mail to Republican voters. Voter caging is against the law! Of course, I can't imagine that the Bush administration would ever enforce a law against Republicans.

Suspending civil liberties

Why is it becoming fashionable for heads of state, even liberal ones, to want to suspend civil liberties?

Gordon Brown faces a humiliating parliamentary defeat over plans to allow police to hold terror suspects for up to 42 days without charge.

A survey of Labour MPs by The Independent has uncovered a growing insurrection. Only 34 votes are needed to defeat the detention plans and at least 38 MPs – enough to wipe out Mr Brown's Commons majority of 67 – are vowing to oppose controversial moves to extend the existing 28-day maximum detention period.

I suspect Hillary and/or Obama will want to continue down Bush's path on this if they win. But why?

Republican control of the media

The Republican stranglehold on the media has been pretty apparent for the past seven years, but it looks as though it's going to get even worse:

Longtime associates of President George W. Bush are consolidating their hold on American media with a string of recent purchases, RAW STORY can report.

Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. announced of late the sale of 8 of its US television stations to a private equity firm -- Oak Hill Partners -- for an estimated $1.1 billion dollars that is expected to close sometime in 2008.

The deal leaves Murdoch with another 27 television stations in major US cities such as Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles, as well as The New York Post, a controlling interest in BSkyB, movie studio 20th Century Fox, and Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co Inc.

Oak Hill Partners lead investor Robert M. Bass, a longtime associate of George W. Bush, is also the founder of Ft. Worth, Texas-based Bass Brothers Enterprises. Oak Hill issued a statement announcing the stations would be jointly managed by a broadcast holding company, Local TV, that was created by Oak Hill for the purpose of purchasing 9 other television stations from The New York Times previously this year.

Bhutto assassinated

It's hard to believe that things could get much worse than they were in Pakistan, but they did:

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide attack that also killed at least 20 others at the end of a campaign rally, aides said.

You have to wonder whether a similar fate is in store for the Democratic nominee here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Housing prices

The S&P/Case-Schiller index of housing prices from October 2006 to October 2007 for 20 major metropolitan areas paints a pretty gloomy picture.

CityYear over Year Price Change
Charlotte - NC4.3%
Seattle - WA3.3%
Portland - OR1.9%
Dallas - TX-0.1%
Atlanta - GA-0.7%
New York-4.1%
Cleveland - OH-4.5%
Minneapolis- MN-5.5%
San Francisco-6.2%
Los Angeles -8.8%
Phoenix - AZ-10.6%
Las Vegas-10.7%
San Diego-11.1%
Detroit - MI-11.2%
Tampa - FL-11.8%

Most of the more reasonable predictions point to two or three more years of this, with the US as a whole declining by 30% or so, and some of the bubble areas declining by as much as 50% or more.

The only good news about all this is that once you send the keys to your present house back to the bank because the house is worth less than the mortgage, you'll be able to buy a new house to replace it much cheaper. The bad news is that no one will lend you money for the new house since you just defaulted on the loan for your old house.

I do not do year-end look back reviews

I do not do year-end look back reviews, and I really wish everybody else would stop too. This endless chatter about the 10 worst offenses of the Bush administration in 2007 or the 10 worst quotes of the year from the mainstream media or whatever are endlessly boring, at least to me. I guess everyone feels inclined to do this because these last few days of the year rarely have any real news.


Mixed bag?

CNN's Ed Henry has an article up with the following head line:

With one year to go, Bush's legacy a mixed bag

Really? A mixed bag? I mean, what does he have but a legacy of crime, destruction, and ineptitude? I frankly can't think of a single thing he's done right. Even the few halfway decent things he's given credit for had indecent ulterior motives.

Reign of error

Steve Benen, guest blogging today over at Washington Monthly, has come up with a new (at least to me) term to describe the Bush years -- the "reign of error." Catchy enough to catch on, I would think, though perhaps not a strong enough description of the disgrace this guy has brought down upon our country nor the damage he has done to the world at large.

Hiding the data

Ah, the Bush Administration at work again. It's simply a marvel to behold:

A new online government spending database -- designed to increase transparency as to how taxpayer dollars are spent -- will actually allow intelligence agencies to keep more secrets about their private contracts than before.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Dodd for the Constitution

Pursuant to Waldon's 12/18/07 piece calling attention to the FISA issue, it is appropriate to praise Sen. Dodd's calling for restoration of FISA reviews in the Senate. Kudos to him for his profound presentation to the Senate calling for the restoration of FISA review of surveilence hence adherence to the U.S. Constitution so frequently violated by the Bush Administration. Your presentation will stand with the great ones made in the Senate. Move over Sen. John C. Calhoun. This issue is at the core of preventing the U.S. from sliding down the slippery slope to totalitarianism that the country is currently on. A partial text of his statement is shown below.

Thoughts on My New Legislation, the Effective Terrorists Prosecution Act
Submitted by Chris Dodd on December 1, 2006 - 6:35pm.

Well I was terribly disappointed when the Senate of the United States adopted the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This was a major step back for our country in my view. I was terribly disappointed that the Senate of the United States decided to retreat from the Geneva Conventions, retreat from the insistence of avoiding torture as a tactic for gaining information. It seems to me that this was a blow for those of us who really are interested in bringing terrorists to the bar of justice, getting convictions, providing protection for our own soldiers and building the kind of international support we’re going to need to have in the 21st century.

The reason I care a lot about this beyond just what’s happened here, is that I grew up in a household where my father talked about the rule of law all the time. He was a prosecutor in 1945 and ‘46 at the Nuremberg trials. And he believed very strongly, as did Robert Jackson, who was the Supreme Court Justice who was the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, that the defendants at Nuremberg should be governed by the rule of law, that they would actually get lawyers, present evidence. There were people who had brutally incinerated 6 million Jews, and were responsible for the deaths of 50 million people as the result of their aggressive war. And many people felt they should just be summarily executed. In fact, Winston Churchill advocated that result, the Soviets did at the time, and the French went along with that result. It was only the United States that said ‘No we’re different than that and we need to show the world that there is a difference between what the Nazis did and who we are.’

And so they prevailed in the argument of giving these thugs, these brutal individuals, something, which they never gave to their victims. And that was a day in court, to present evidence, to make a case for themselves. And it’s that standard upon which we built the international relationships in the post World War II period, that the United States can be so deeply proud of. In a sense we’re alone when we started and today most nations embrace the international institutions that we helped create. The irony of ironies, that the United States at a critical moment in the 21st century would walk away from the very institutions that we helped build was a source of my great disappointment. Knowing the genesis in history of how those organizations had been created.

So the results of the Military Commissions Act was a dark day, in my view, for our country. A major step back, to walk away from habeus corpus, to walk away from the Geneva Conventions, to allow for torture to be used again. Let me tell you why the torture, and Geneva Conventions, and habeus corpus, provisions of that bill are so troubling to me. First and foremost, here we need to get convictions of these people who are charged with terrorist activities against our country. My view as a result of the adoption of this legislation in October – that we’re going to have a very hard time getting convictions. I suspect many of these cases will now languish in the courts for years, arguing over the rights, the habeus corpus rights. So rather than getting convictions and seeing people punished who would do us great harm, I think as a result of this legislation being adopted, we’re going to have a much harder time getting those convictions and punishing the people responsible for doing what they have to our country and to others.

Secondly, we’re told by every expert in the field of intelligence gathering that the worst information you ever get from a person you’re soliciting information from is to torture them. John McCain will speak eloquently about what he went through as a prisoner of war. The kind of false information he was willing to give them, as a result of what he went through, as a result of torture. So torture is not a good way to get information. Why in the world we would be sanctioning torture as a way to gather information I think is a major major mistake.

Thirdly, of course our own soldiers and sailors and marines are in harms way. They could be apprehended, they could be caught; do we want them subjected to the same torture that we’d be subjecting others to? The Geneva Convention has provided a veil of protection for our own military people should they be apprehended, so they wouldn’t be harmed under these international rules.

And lastly, here the Geneva Convention and these rules are critically important if you’re going to build the kind of international support. If the United States goes off on its own, walks away from these international agreements, and I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t be modified in some way. But there’s a way of doing that, not unilaterally but by working with others who are also sponsors and signatories to these agreements. If you walk away alone and then you turn around and ask the world to be supportive on matters which are critical to us and to them, it becomes far more difficult to achieve those goals.

So for all of those reasons, I believe this was a major step backwards and as a result of that I’ve introduced legislation to make those corrections. Here, would restore habeus corpus for individuals held in U.S. custody, which is exactly what the Supreme Court has ruled. It narrows the definition of unlawful enemy combatants so we have clarity on that. It prevents the use of evidence in court gained through torture so that we stop that practice. It empowers military judges to exclude hearsay evidence that has been achieved through unreliable means, and it authorizes the court of appeals of the armed forces to review decisions by military commissions. And it restores the Geneva Convention provisions which are critically important.

So that’s what the bill does. I’m urging people to be supportive of it. I’m hopeful we can get some action on it in this new Congress. If you are so inclined to believe we are heading in the right direction – and I have posted on my website the specifics of the legislation so you can look at it with greater clarity – then I’d be interested in having you let members of Congress know and others that this is something we should get right. We shouldn’t let that law passed in October to stand on the books. I think it was passed primarily as a political action. To try to embarrass people in the 2006 elections about who’s for battling terrorism and who isn’t. But it’s a major step backwards for our country, a major step backwards in my view on effective means of dealing with terrorist activities. So again I urge you to support the legislation.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

If the children are sick, let them die

The Bush administration yesterday eliminated about $700 million a year in Medicaid reimbursements to schools, sidestepping an attempt by Congress to block such a move.

The new rule, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is expected to save the federal government $3.6 billion over five years, transferring those costs to school districts.

I mean, after all, they don't go to Exeter or Andover, so who cares about them?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Union busting at it's best

The Feds have now ruled that unions are not job related and, hence, employers may prevent union members from communicating by company e-mail:

Employers have the right to bar employees from sending union-related E-mails using company servers, the New York Times reports.

On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled 3-2 that an employer, using internal company policy, has the right to classify a union-related communication as a "non-job-related solicitation."

The two dissenting board members noted that E-mail has become a major form of communication in the workplace, and disagreed with the majority's assertion that a company's "property rights" trump an employee's right to organize and discuss workplace-related issues with other workers.

The thuglicans have already just about killed off the union movement in this country, so this may finish the job. Bye, bye five day work week.

Confess your sins

So now our foreign policy involves forcing people to go to the confessional:

Iran must "confess" to running a past nuclear weapons program or its claims of cooperating with a U.N. investigation will not be credible, the chief U.S. envoy to the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Friday.

What a bunch of petty pinheads rule us.

By the way, how many rosaries will they be required to say, once they have confessed?

Friday, December 21, 2007

A pyramiding of profit

I love this one. Josh Marshall's organization filed a Freedom of Information Request with the State Department to get a copy of the Inspector General's 2005 report on the Blackwater contract in Iraq. The report was eventually provided, and it shows that Blackwater's accounting for billing purposes was totally unacceptable. Among other things, the Blackwater billing counted the company's profits as an expense to be billed in its contracts. As TPM Muckraker puts it:

It also found that Blackwater cited its profit from the contract as a cost it incurred, and billed the government for it -- resulting in what the report called "a pyramiding of profit."

What a neat trick. The more you make, the more you can bill, so you can make even more, and bill even more, and make even more, and bill even more ... ad infinitim.

I seem to recall a case I worked on some years ago where the plaintiff was claiming damages that included interest on the interest on the interest on the interest on the interest he claimed he was due. It took what might have been an actual loss of several thousand dollars and turned it into something like $14 million. Every time he filed a revised damage calculation, he would add another round of interest on it.

On PacMan partnerships and CDO-squared

Years ago, back in the late 1980s I had occasion to work on some cases related to the failure of The Equity Programs Investment Corporation (EPIC) and a Maryland state-chartered bank called Community Savings and Loan, which was owned by the EPIC holding company, and which also failed in the midst of the S&L crisis.

EPIC was engaged in the formation of tax-sheltered real-estate partnerships. Each partnership owned thirty or so single family homes, and the partnership shares were syndicated to individual high-income investors.

At some point, it became more and more difficult to find investors, so EPIC decided to form new partnerships - called PacMan partnerships - which would buy up the unsold shares of the other partnerships in order to close them out before the tax year ended. Shares of the PacMan partnerships were then sold to the public through syndication, just like the original partnerships.

Somehow yesterday's announcement by MBIA that it had insured a number of CDO-squared investments reminded me of those PacMan partnerships. CDO stands for Collateralized Debt Obligation. In the context of the current credit meltdown, the collateral is usually home mortgages (or portions of the home mortgages). To put it mildly, CDOs are not looking like very attractive investments in today's market -- in fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a buyer for them. A "CDO-squared" is a CDO the collateral for which is other CDOs. If CDOs are bad investments, you can imagine what CDO-squareds are like.

All of which makes me suspect that there may be CDO-cubed and CDO-to the fourth power investment vehicles out there somewhere. The creativity of these financial engineers is unlimited. So too is their criminality.

As Paul Krugman said the other day, we've struck a fair bargain with the Chinese. They ship us poisoned toys and we ship them fraudulent securities in exchange.

Full disclosure: Unfortunately, I own several hundred shares of MBIA.

Wall Street bonuses up 14%

For years I've been talking about how to the Bush administration up is down, right is left, black is white, etc., etc. It seems that the idea is infectious -- now Wall Street has caught the disease (or maybe Wall Street gave it to Bush, who knows?) Here we are in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis that could easily cause the collapse of the entire financial system, banks and all, and what do we learn today?

NEW YORK - This might have been one of Wall Street's most dismal years in a decade, but that hasn't stopped bonus checks from rising an average of 14 percent.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Line item veto

This very much sounds as though Bush has given himself line item veto power:

Bush also complained that Congress had stuffed a year-end spending bill with hundreds of projects that he called wasteful and instructed his budget director to explore options for dealing with them.

Bush said that a $555 billion measure passed by Congress before breaking for the holidays contains some 980 in so-called "earmarks," or projects usually benefiting only one state or congressional district.

"So I am instructing Budget Director Jim Nussle to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill," Bush said.

There really isn't any need for Congress or the courts when the King is all powerful.

Feds stop states from curtailing auto emissions

Isn't this great? We get a new energy bill that puts off doing anything to cut auto emissions for another 13 years, and what happens? Withing minutes of its passage, the Federal Government uses this as an excuse to stop the states from trying to solve the problem on their own:

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday denied California and 16 other states the right to set their own standards for carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.

The E.P.A. administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said the proposed California rules were pre-empted by federal authority and made moot by the energy bill signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday. Mr. Johnson said California had failed to make a compelling case that it needed authority to write its own standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks to help curb global warming.

Please everybody, dump as many noxious fumes into the air as you possibly can. Our president loves them.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why the media ignore candidates

Glenn Greenwald asks why the media systematically ignore or scorn the candidacies of Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, and John Edwards and concludes it's because they are all anti-establishment candidates in one way or another.

I suspect he's right about that, but I doubt this is a new phenomenon. I rather suspect the media have either ignored or scorned anti-establishment candidates ever since there have been media.

Texas creationists to offer master's degree in science

It looks as though the State of Texas is going to support an online master's degree program in science, taught by creationists:

Science teachers are not allowed to teach creationism alongside evolution in Texas public schools, the courts have ruled. But that's exactly what the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research wants them to do.

The institute is seeking state approval to grant an online master's degree in science education to prepare teachers to "understand the universe within the integrating framework of Biblical creationism," according to the school's mission statement.

Last week, an advisory council made up of university educators voted to recommend the program for approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, sparking an outcry among science advocates who have fended off attempts by religious groups to insert creationism into Texas classrooms.

Frankly, it's hard for my opinion of Texas to get much lower than it already is, but they're trying hard.

You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry

I learned about this from Digby:

Just this week our elected congresspersons passed this legislation 372-9:

Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United
States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its roots in Christianity;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;
(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;
(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;
(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;
(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and
(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

It's all that bigotry against Christians that really bothers me!

All this, from the folks who endorse torture, hate Muslims, and want to throw all the Mexicans out of the country.

"All the news that we chose to print"

Mediabloodhound notes that yesterday's New York Times buried the story of Chris Dodd's courageous role in heading off the bad FISA bill in the Senate on page A.29. Bad enough, but today, the Times editorializes on the bill with an editorial entitled "Bad Bill now, Bad Bill later." Despite agreeing with those of us who want to see this bill killed, somehow the Times manages to avoid Chris Dodd's role almost completely. The only mention of Dodd at all is in a sentence that reads as follows:

A few Democratic senators, including Pat Leahy, Russ Feingold and Christopher Dodd, opposed Mr. Reid, who tried to get around them by cutting deals with Republicans but failed.

With newspapers like this, it's no wonder many people still believe that Iraq planned 9/11.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Throw the machines out

About a week ago, the Secretary of State in Ohio concluded that all of Ohio's voting machines were unreliable. Today, Colorado came to a similar conclusion:

Colorado's secretary of state has declared many of the state's electronic voting machines to be unreliable, saying its own tests show that the federal process of certifying the machines falls short.

Secretary of State Mike Coffman decertified three of the four equipment manufacturers allowed in the state. That affects six of Colorado's 10 most populous counties.

"The results today will have national repercussions across the country," Coffman said Monday during a news conference. "What we have found is that the federal certification process is inadequate."

The decision means electronic voting machines used in Denver, Arapahoe, Pueblo, Mesa and Elbert counties cannot be used in the general election next November because of problems with accuracy and security. A number of electronic scanners used to count ballots were also decertified.

It's time to dump these machines altogether. Frankly, what the hell was wrong with paper ballots? And, who cares if it takes several days to count them?

Who's fault is it anyway?

This is just laughable:

The liberal activist group is to blame for Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) backing of John McCain for president, according to one Democratic strategist who says the endorsement could have significant primary implications for Democratic contenders in New Hampshire.

I guess it's also Al Gore's fault that we have global warming.


Given where things stand right now on the FISA bill, I think everyone should consider putting the pressure on their Senators. I wrote to both Lautenberg and Menendez yesterday to encourage them to support Chris Dodd's filibuster, and I wrote a polite, but nasty, letter to Reid today complaining about his shoddy behavior in ignoring Dodd's "hold" and bringing the intelligence committee's version of the bill to the floor.

I also sent a small contribution to Dodd's political campaign today as a sign of my appreciation. He hasn't got a chance of winning the nomination, but good deeds deserve to be rewarded.

So please let your voice be heard on this.


I am delighted to see that Rudy's campaign is falling apart almost everywhere. I suspect he might have been the harder to beat in the final race than any of the other Republican candidates (except perhaps McCain), and he clearly would have been by far the worst president we've ever had, and I include Bush in that comparison. As someone said, Rudy is Bush on steroids.

I am actually shocked to see that one of my neighbors has put RUDY sings around his yard and huge RUDY signs on the doors of his cars. That guy must have a few screws loose somewhere.

Separation of what?

A judge has ordered a hearing into the destruction of the CIA tapes even though the White House ordered him not to.

Much to the administration's chagrin, Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. has ordered a hearing on the CIA's destruction of the torture tapes for this Friday at 11 AM.

The White House has refused to cooperate with a Congressional investigation. Do you suppose they will also refuse to comply when a judge orders them to do so? I, for one, wouldn't be surprised. After all, they don't believe in the separation of powers. They want all the powers for themselves.

Which Jeff Sessions is it?

From Christy Hardin Smith we learn this:

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), when he took the oath of office,

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), on the floor of the Senate yesterday,

The civil libertarians among us would rather defend the constitution than protect our nation’s security.

Do it over again in January

I'm afraid everyone is over-reacting a bit to Harry Reid's decision to pull the FISA bill off the floor and postpone consideration of it till January. After all, we haven't won anything yet. We'll just have to do this all over again in January. Of course, if enough people make enough noise over this between now and January, things might change, but that's unlikely, given the holidays.

Down, down, down

It sure doesn't look like the housing market is going to turn around anytime soon.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Housing construction fell in November and single-family activity dropped to the lowest level in more than 16 years as a severe housing slump showed no signs of a turnaround.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Krugman's wrong on Obama's healthcare strategy

In the NYT, Krugman says Obama's naive to think he can work with insurance companies to get a healthcare plan (“Big Table Fantasies,” 12/17/07). Krugman's dead wrong in my opinion. For one thing, Hillary's got the same notion, too, coming out of her experience in the 1990s.

It may be emotionally satisfying to think we can get the job done while sticking it to the man -- the big bad insurance companies that, oh, by the way, just happen to employ millions of workers whose votes we might like and who need Democrats to serve their real interests -- but it will not get the job done.

Here's the email I sent to Krugman.

Re Obama naivete

If Obama's naive about having to work with the insurance companies, then Hillary is naive in spades, too. She has made it crystal clear that she intends to do that this time, sometimes in code words, but clearly in any case. If anyone is not naive about the power of the insurance companies, it's certainly Hillary Clinton.

Obama's right, though, and so is Hillary. It is going to be a relentless, delicate and ingenious combination of hardball and softball -- guerrilla tactics even from the White House designed not to enlist the insurance industry so much as to neutralize it (better yet, neuter it) -- that will be necessary to get universal health insurance. The biggest part of it may be to use Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and other friendlies they can recruit from the big and "responsible" corporate suites to gain the support of the IBMs, the P&Gs, the GMs, even the Chamber of Commerce, by making them see that it is in their interest to solve this blight on the national economy.

Actually, they know it already, they just need the courage to speak out finally, even at the risk of temporarily alienating their insurance executive neighbors and fellow-members of the Business Roundtable.

Someone in the insurance industry, though, will finally figure out that if the Federal government covers the most expensive healthcare -- the catastrophic kind that is the natural subject matter for national social insurance -- they can still make big profits on the coverage underneath a Federal umbrella. They will be more stable profits, too, less risky than they are now, because (a) the national agitation will have been calmed, with less pressure for a comprehensive single-payer system that cuts them out of the picture entirely, and (b) the exposure to unpredictable, unlimited losses will have been reduced. With a stable, rationalized system, too, one that takes the endemic multi-player panic out of the current situation, the government and insurance companies will be able better to join forces on pressuring costs downward.

Do the insurance companies not make a tidy sum from the supplementals underneath Medicare now? Anyway, with the Obama and Hillary plans preserving the role for private insurance, the opportunities will be there, even more than Medicare allows. Warren and Bill can show them how they can cut their losses, even win hearts and minds, by embracing the change -- and, in fact, it will be win-win-win for everybody.

You seem to forget, too, that Obama won 70% of the vote in Illinois. That's a lot. And not to recognize that thinking the populists by themselves can beat industry is itself the most naive of views. The corporations who are paying the costs now instead of reaping the profits -- the best hope for building critical mass for reform -- will not join a purely populist, anti-corporate campaign, and the corporations surely have the media under virtually complete control. Neither will the healthcare provider industries, who can recognize the opportunity to cut back on their paperwork and their collection agencies if they are assured of at least being paid the really big bills.

There is a chance, though, with great populist and political pressure that is willing to acknowledge a difference between good corporations and bad ones, between good wealthy people (like Buffett, Al Gore and Paul Krugman) and bad ones (like Ken Lay and the $200 million club members), the responsible corporations can be nurtured along. It may be a hope, but both Barack and Hillary recognize it's the only hope.

Bush loses one in court

A court has ruled that Bush can't keep on hiding the White House visitor logs:

WASHINGTON - White House visitor logs are public documents, a federal judge ruled Monday, rejecting a legal strategy that the Bush administration had hoped would get around public records laws.

Of course, he'll find a group of his hand-picked patsies on the Appeals Court to overturn this, but, in the meantime, we can rejoice.

Ron Paul?

Please explain to me what's going on with Ron Paul. He raised $5 million yesterday. Everybody must know that the guy doesn't have a prayer of even influencing the election in any significant way, much less winning, so why give him money? I don't get it.

Bush loses his fig leaf

Bush has been hiding behind the fig leaf that the reason for domestic eavesdropping was 9/11, but yesterday's NY Times piece destroys that argument:

Other N.S.A. initiatives have stirred concerns among phone company workers. A lawsuit was filed in federal court in New Jersey challenging the agency’s wiretapping operations. It claims that in February 2001, just days before agency officials met with Qwest officials, the N.S.A. met with AT&T officials to discuss replicating a network center in Bedminster, N.J., to give the agency access to all the global phone and e-mail traffic that ran through it.

The accusations rely in large part on the assertions of a former engineer on the project. The engineer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that he participated in numerous discussions with N.S.A. officials about the proposal. The officials, he said, discussed ways to duplicate the Bedminster system in Maryland so the agency “could listen in” with unfettered access to communications that it believed had intelligence value and store them for later review. There was no discussion of limiting the monitoring to international communications, he said.

February 2001 is long before September 2001. So, there he stands without his fig leaf. Barf...

Reneging on climate change before the ink is even dry

Bush is already reneging on the Bali climate change agreement (weak though it was) before the ink is even dry. What a jerk!

WASHINGTON - Despite agreeing on the outline for a new global warming deal, the White House quibbled with it Saturday and said it does not sufficiently address the role of developing nations.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sad but true

Digby, echoing Atrios, tells us the sad facts of life:

What Atrios says here is absolutely true. A Democratic president, no matter who it is, is going to pay for the Republicans' sins. But it won't be just because the Republicans and Blue Dogs in congress suddenly "realize" they have co-equal power. I predict that the right wing noise machine will shout far and wide that the election was stolen (probably with the help of "illegal aliens.") The new president will not be allowed to weed out even one right wing plant anywhere in the executive branch without being accused of politicizing it. There will be no executive privilege as the courts rediscover their "responsibilities." Scientists and experts will all be accused of being shills for the liberal special interests. The president will be accused of violating Americans' civil liberties and destroying the constitution. There will be widespread accusations of fraud and corruption and non-stop investigations.

In other words the Republicans are going to accuse the Democratic president of everything we know the Bush administration did. And because it was never fully investigated or even fully discussed, people will lay the sins at the feet of the Democratic president and feel a sense of relief that the balance of power is being restored and Washington is finally being cleaned up.

The media, who know the real story (they helped cover it up, after all) will lead the charge. The GOP will feed them juicy stories with just the right amount of sexy detail and they will rush to tell the American people, gravely intoning their deep concern for the integrity of the office and "their town." (And the children...)

Atrios says this is better than the alternative, which is sadly true. The country can't survive another GOP administration right now. But Democratic presidents are going to have to learn that their most important and difficult job will be dealing with relentless baseless political attacks from the Republicans and the media. It's the way our politics are currently constructed. Republicans accrue vast amounts of power and wealth for themselves at the expense of the taxpayers, and the Democrats are expected to clean things up by paying the debts for them. The Dems don't do it out of altruism or commitment. They do it because they are held to standards of integrity and effectiveness that aren't expected of Republicans --- and they refuse to effectively fight them, even when they have the advantage.

Since the Democrats have shown no appetite for educating the public about what the Republicans have done these past seven years (and now time is running out) I expect they will squeak through the election by promising to move beyond the politics of division and pledging to move forward, not look backwards. (As the media keeps telling us ad nauseam: now that the Republicans are temporarily weakened by their own corruption and malfeasance, it's a known fact that the entire country wants to stop the partisan bickering and let bygones be bygones.)

And so the new Democratic president will be nearly paralyzed, standing there like a deer caught in the headlights when the Republican Semi bears down on him or her, horns honking and whistles blowing. If we're lucky, he or she will be agile enough to survive it for a term or two and the country will at least have a little time to take a short breather from the worst of the Republican treasury pillaging, disasters and unnecessary wars.

It's not a very uplifting or efficient way to run country, but it seems to be the way things work for the moment.

I don't normally copy an entire post, but this just hit the nail on the head too well to leave it to a link.

The man from the Nuthouse State

Now that Joe Lieberman has endorsed John McCain, will the Senate Democrats finally shun him? Don't count on it.

I hope the Connecticut voters are duly embarrassed with themselves. Forget about nutmeg, the state should be called the "Nuthouse" state.

Forget about warming, worry about the acid

It turns out that the oceans are absorbing the carbon dioxide and becoming ever more acidic. This is likely destroy almost all life in the oceans. And, apparently, it appears to be irreversible:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fair trials

Well, of course we always knew that the military tribunals at Guantanamo were set up to be kangaroo courts, but now, even the defense lawyers have to be working for the prosecution. This is a "fair" trial just the way Faux news is "fair" and balanced. Disgusting. I suppose they're going to want to do this in the domestic courts as well.

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is pushing to take control of the promotions of military lawyers, escalating a conflict over the independence of uniformed attorneys who have repeatedly raised objections to the White House's policies toward prisoners in the war on terrorism.

The administration has proposed a regulation requiring "coordination" with politically appointed Pentagon lawyers before any member of the Judge Advocate General corps - the military's 4,000-member uniformed legal force - can be promoted.

A Pentagon spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the reasoning behind the proposed regulations. But the requirement of coordination - which many former JAGs say would give the administration veto power over any JAG promotion or appointment - is consistent with past administration efforts to impose greater control over the military lawyers.

The former JAG officers say the regulation would end the uniformed lawyers' role as a check-and-balance on presidential power, because politically appointed lawyers could block the promotion of JAGs who they believe would speak up if they think a White House policy is illegal.

Restoring the constitution

Now that he's packed the Supreme Court with his sock puppets, he does it:

President Pervez Musharraf has lifted Pakistan's six-week-old state of emergency and restored the constitution, easing a controversial crackdown that sparked fury among his opponents.

I'm sure Bush is watching closely for tips.

I'm scratching my head, and it isn't the dandruff

So let me get this straight. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, puts a hold on the anti-torture bill, and Harry Reid, a Democrat, honors the hold, so the anti-torture bill is now dead.

Chris Dodd, a Democrat, puts a hold on the FISA amnesty for Telecoms bill, and Harry Reid, a Democrat, refuses to honor the hold, so that bill will go to the floor and will eventually pass.

I'm scratching my head, and it isn't the dandruff.

A footnote to history

I just read this post at Kevin Drum's blog at the Washington Monthly:

BALI BUFFOONERY....I realize that diplomacy and sausage making aren't always pretty, but the latest "compromise" at the Bali climate talks is about as ridiculous as anything I've seen in a long time:

Talks had been deadlocked all week by U.S. insistence on the removal of a passage in the document's preamble mandating that industrialized countries reduce their emissions 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

....A compromise proposed by Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar makes the controversial targets footnotes to the preamble, a move that seems to have satisfied both sides.

"This is a compromise. We can live with this," said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

The U.S. also seemed pleased. "We can live with the preamble," said chief U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson.

... Why not just put the numbers in hexadecimal and then rejoice at all the progress we've made?

So, I guess when it comes to enforcing the document, the Bush administration will say that the footnotes aren't actually part of the document because Bush never reads footnotes. Of course, the latter part of the statement is almost certainly true. In fact, it's doubtful that he ever reads anything except, perhaps, My Pet Goat.

True to form

You could have predicted this without even thinking about it:

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department asked the House Intelligence Committee on Friday to postpone its investigation into the destruction of videotapes by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2005, saying the Congressional inquiry presented “significant risks” to its own preliminary investigation into the matter.

The department is taking an even harder line with other Congressional committees looking into the matter, and is refusing to provide information about any role it might have played in the destruction of the videotapes. The recordings covered hundreds of hours of interrogations of two operatives of Al Qaeda.

The Justice Department and the C.I.A.’s inspector general have begun a preliminary inquiry into the destruction of the tapes, and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said the department would not comply with Congressional requests for information now because of “our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence.”

As usual, the Bush administration is trying to keep anyone from learning about it's war crimes while using its Just-us Department to destroy the evidence and white wash the crimes.

Friday, December 14, 2007

What did you expect from a Bush organization?

I bet the decision will be the exact opposite when it comes down to ActRed (or it's equivalent):

The Edwards campaign has been notified that the Federal Election Commission has decided to deny matching funds for contributions collected for him by ActBlue, upholding its earlier draft opinion and rebuffing the Edwards camp's request that the funds be matched.

And, they will claim there's no inconsistency for some lame-brained reason that has nothing to do with anything.

Income disparity under Bush

Prompted by Paul Krugman, I went to look at the CBO's recently released effective income tax statistics and discovered a statistic even more compelling than those Krugman offers up at his web site. Here's the total growth in after-tax income between 2001 (the beginning of Bush's assumption of the kingship) and 2005 (the most recent data available):

Average growth for the lower 60% of the families, by income: -3.5%
Average growth for the top 10 % of the families, by income: 14.8%
Average growth for the top 5 % of the families, by income: 17.6%
Average growth for the top 1 % of the families, by income: 30.1%

In other words, a significant majority of the population saw their after tax income fall (in real terms), while the richest 1% saw their income increase by more than 30% over Bush's reign. No surprises there, but them's the facts.

Raped woman forced to arbitrate

Something is dead wrong here when a woman who has been raped by Cheney's organization (KBR/Halliburton) is forced to seek justice in arbitration (which almost always favors the company) instead of in the courts and the Justice Department once more turns a blind eye on wrongdoing by Cheney/Bush friends:

... the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, the U.S. Army doctor who examined her turned over the rape examination kit, thought to contain useful evidence, to KBR officials. In the letter, Nelson also asked for an investigation to determine how many rape examinations were performed by U.S. military doctors in Iraq, and what was being done to ensure the cases were prosecuted.

In a separate letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Nelson asked why there has been no criminal prosecution in the case of the alleged Florida victim. The woman, reportedly now 41, has alleged she was raped in her living quarters. She has sued KBR and Halliburton in civil court, but the judge ordered the case into private arbitration.

Contacted Thursday, the woman's lawyer said the rules of arbitration prohibit her from discussing the case or making her client available for an interview.

Reid planning to cave on FISA

Please explain this to me, someone, please:

... the House has passed a bill that updates FISA while doing a great deal to ensure real judicial and Congressional oversight of any eavesdropping. The Senate Judiciary Committee also wrote a bill that does those things — with a sensible two-year expiration date.

Mr. Bush, of course, wants fewer, not more, restrictions and wants those powers to be made permanent. He also wants amnesty for telecommunications companies that gave Americans’ private data to the government for at least five years without a warrant.

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, seems intent on doing the president’s bidding. He has indicated that instead of the Judiciary Committee’s bill, he may put on the floor a deeply flawed measure from the Senate Intelligence Committee that dangerously expands the government’s powers and gives undeserved amnesty to the telecommunications companies. The White House says amnesty is intended to ensure future cooperation but seems truly aimed at making sure the public never learns the extent of the companies’ involvement in illegal wiretapping.

That will leave Democratic senators like Christopher Dodd and Russ Feingold in the absurd position of having to stage filibusters against their own party’s leadership to try to forestall more harm to civil liberties.

Is it that Reid is simply bought by the Telecom lobby? Can you really buy a Senator for that little? I mean, I just don't get it.

A small band of nice gentle hobbits

Juan Cole on today's Congressional Democrats:

You have a sinking feeling that a small band of nice gentle hobbits is facing off against the Orcs of Mordor, without any magic rings or even just ordinary armament, and without any over-arching strategy.

And, Gandalf isn't there to bail them out, either.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Terror plot unfoiled

Remember that horrible terrorist plot that Bush single handedly uncovered with the help of his torture team? I'm talking about those dangerous terrorists who were planning to blow up the Sears tower. Yeah. Those kids in Miami who didn't know who they were, what they were doing, or why they were doing it, but once they enlisted the FBI to help them, they were able to get themselves arrested for trying to blow up the Sears tower. Well,

MIAMI (AP) - One of seven Miami men accused of plotting to join forces with al-Qaida to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower was acquitted Thursday, and a mistrial was declared for the six others after the federal jury deadlocked.

Isn't it funny that I find this in a U.K. publication before I find it anywhere in the U.S. press? Maybe that's just me, but I doubt it.

Your government (and your tax dollars) at work

Read and weep:

WASHINGTON--The US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has been caught conducting covert propaganda attacks on the internet. The attacks, exposed this week in a report by the government transparency group Wikileaks, include deleting detainee ID numbers from Wikipedia last month, the systematic posting of unattributed "self praise" comments on news organization web sites in response to negative press, boosting pro-Guantanamo stories on the internet news site Digg and even modifying Fidel Castro's encyclopedia article to describe the Cuban president as "an admitted transexual" [sic].

Frankly, it's gotten so bad that any time I read anything anywhere that seems to be praising the government, I simply assume it's a plant by the government. It's the only way you can read the NY Times (e.g., Judy Miller) and make any sense of it, much less stuff that's even more easily polluted with propaganda. This government is incapable of doing anything good. It needs to be overthrown -- at the ballot box, that is.

Contempt citations in the SJC - too little, too late

Here we are, months and months after the actions that gave rise to it, long after the press, much less the public has forgotten what the infractions were, and now, finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee votes contempt citations against Karl & Co.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved contempt resolutions against Karl Rove, the former top aide to President Bush, and Joshua Bolten, the current White House chief of staff. The vote was 12-7.

The criminal contempt resolutions now move to the Senate floor, although no action on them is expected until next year.

If the idea was to look "fair" by taking so long, that doesn't fly, because at this point the public doesn't remember the infraction that led to it, so it looks unfair and downright "partisan." Why flog a dead horse? Why re-fight old battles? That will be the story line from the Thuglican noise machine, and it will resonate in the minds of the populace.

Furthermore, the actual contempt vote in the full Senate won't take place till next year. After the public has had even more time to forget.

And, what's happening to the similar resolutions in the House?

At this point, the Dems have no credibility whatsoever. And, they don't even have a clue how to use this as an effective political tool. Sometimes, they just look hopeless.

The power of the human spirit

Thanks to our friend, Simon in Ontario, I was able to see this You-Tube performance. It has nothing to do with the purpose of this blog except that it says something very fundamental about the strength of the human spirit. I encourage you to watch after reading this introduction:

This is from a Chinese modern dance competition on TV. One couple won one of the top prizes. The lady has one arm and the guy has one leg. They performed gracefully and beautifully. The lady in her 30s was a dancer and was trained as one since she was a little girl. Later she got into some kind of accident and lost her entire left arm.

She was depressed for a few years. It seemed that someone asked her to coach a Children's dancing group. From that point on, she realized she could not forget dancing. She still loved to dance. She wanted to dance again. So she started to do some of her old routines. But by her losing an arm, she also lost her balance. It took a while before she could even making simple turns and spins without falling. Eventually she got it.

Then she heard some guy in his 20s had lost a leg in an accident. This guy also fell into the usual denial, depression and anger type of emotional roller coaster. She looked him up (seemingly he was from a different Province) and persuaded him to dance with her. He had never danced. And to dance with one leg? Are you joking with me? No way.

But she didn't give up. He reluctantly agreed. ' I have nothing else to do anyway.' She started to teach him dancing 101. The two broke up a few times because the guy had no concept of using muscle, control his body, and a few other basic things about dancing. When she became frustrated and lost patience with him, he would walk out.

Eventually they came back together and started training. They hired a choreographer to design routines for them. She would fly high(held by him) with both arms (a sleeve for an arm) flying in the air. He could bend horizontally supported by one leg and she leaning on him, etc. They danced beautifully and they legitimately beat others in the competition!

The video

Yep, must have started in kindergarten

Good background article on how Obama turned down the path to being a Supreme Court after being elected President of the Harvard Law Review, and becoming the first African-American ever to hold that position. It’s far and away the most prestigious start to a legal career, and according to the writer it’s worth a $200 K bonus from the top law firms when the clerkship is over. (Damn – that close! Well, OK, that’s a total fabrication, but shoulda been!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Christians are at it again -- witch burning, that is

From Nigeria:

But an exploitative situation has now grown into something much more sinister as preachers are turning their attentions to children - naming them as witches. In a maddened state of terror, parents and whole villages turn on the child. They are burnt, poisoned, slashed, chained to trees, buried alive or simply beaten and chased off into the bush.

Some parents scrape together sums needed to pay for a deliverance - sometimes as much as three or four months' salary for the average working man - although the pastor will explain that the witch might return and a second deliverance will be needed. Even if the parent wants to keep the child, their neighbours may attack it in the street.

This is not just a few cases. This is becoming commonplace. In Esit Eket, up a nameless, puddled-and-potholed path is a concrete shack stuffed to its fetid rafters with roughly made bunk beds. Here, three to a bed like battery chickens, sleep victims of the besuited Christian pastors and their hours-long, late-night services. Ostracised and abandoned, these are the children a whole community believes fervently are witches.

[h/t Americablog]

There goes the world

There goes the world:

Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice.

Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years.

Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss.

The next question is, "how many years till the oceans reach the boiling point?"

Meanwhile Bushco will still be pushing us to burn more oil.

Republican says waterboarding is just like swimming the backstroke

It's really hard to believe that anyone could be stupid enough to liken waterboarding to swimming the backstroke. What's next? Using thumb screws is nothing more than playing with a large Erector Set? And burning at the stake is nothing more than a good bonfire?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

So who hates Christmas, Bill?

Another in the department of “I didn’t know that” – and I fancy myself fairly knowledgeable about history: evangelical Christians from the Puritans (who thought it “popish”) well into the 20th century hated Christmas. After the Revolution, it was seen as a Tory celebration. It didn’t really begin to take hold as nationally popular celebration until after the Civil War – aided immensely by the influx of immigrants, especially from Germany and the Scandinavian countries. But as late as 1931, there were still nine (9) states that kept their public schools open on Christmas.

It's ironic to hear Religious Right groups portray themselves as the great defenders of Christmas - their spiritual forebears hated the holiday and even banned its celebration.

The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay frowned on Christmas revelry, considering the holiday a Roman Catholic affectation. A law in the colony barred anyone from taking the day off work, feasting or engaging in other celebrations on Christmas, under penalty of a five-shilling fine.

. . . . Christmas celebrations remained unpopular in New England and other colonies for many years. That did not change after the Revolution, because many Americans viewed Christmas as a Tory custom, a reminder of the expelled British.
Although Christmas became popular in the South as early as the 1830s, other regions were apathetic. Writer Tom Flynn notes in his 1993 book The Trouble with Christmas that Congress did not begin adjourning on Christmas Day until 1856. Public schools in New England were often open on Dec. 25, as were many factories and offices. Many Protestant churches refused to hold services, considering the holiday "popish."

Not until after the Civil War did Christmas begin to seriously affect American cultural and religious life. European immigration increased sharply after the war, and many of the newcomers came from countries with strong Christmas traditions. Germans, Italians, Poles, Swedes, Norwegians and others brought the holiday and many of its features, including Christmas trees and Santa Claus, to America in a big way.
The celebration spread, and in 1870 Christmas was declared a federal holiday by Congress. But practices in the states continued to vary. As late as 1931, Flynn reports, nine states still called for public schools to remain open on Christmas Day.

OK, Bill O’Reilly, what do you make of that? This was the real “War on Christmas.”

Dealing with the neo-conservatives, 2007

Investigative reporter and author Robert Parry at Alternet gives us some good perspective on the NIE Iran report and the neo-conservatives. (“Neocons Devastated by Iran Intel Bombshell, But Don't Count Them Out Yet,” December 8, 2007).

. . . .the neocons were dealt an unexpected body blow with the Dec. 3 release of a stunning U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago, a finding that contradicted Bush's belligerent rhetoric about Iran's nukes possibly provoking "World War III." The National Intelligence Estimate knocked the wind out of the neocons' hope for a military confrontation with Iran before the end of Bush's term. . . .
At a Dec. 4 press conference, Bush was left sputtering an unpersuasive claim that his warning about "World War III" . . . was uttered while his intelligence advisers were keeping him in the dark . . . . the NIE represented a declaration of independence by professional U.S. intelligence analysts who had been bullied by the neocons over the past three decades and especially during the run-up to the war with Iraq. . . .
Though Bush and the neocons again find themselves on the defensive, the political battle is far from over. The neocons retain extraordinary strength within the U.S. news media as well as in the leading Washington think tanks and inside many of the presidential campaigns. . . . the Republican contenders are enthusiastic backers of the neocon agenda of an imperial United States . . . waging . . . an indefinite "war on terror."
While all the Democrats criticize Bush's approach to some degree, the neocons view purported front-runner, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, as an ally who often votes with neocon hawks, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut. Until recently, Sen. Clinton was getting foreign policy advice from "surge" advocate Michael O'Hanlon.
So, if the early political handicapping holds up, the neocons could find themselves in the enviable position next fall of having a super-neocon Republican versus a neocon-lite Democrat.
If that's how Election 2008 does turn out, the again-triumphant neocons might be looking to dish out some payback to those newly independent-minded CIA analysts. Plus, the neocons implicated in abuses during Bush's presidency could expect to get off scot-free.

Here is something I either forgot about or didn’t grasp at the time:

When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he appointed neoconservative Democrat James Woolsey to head the CIA. Then, in a gesture of bipartisanship, the new President pulled the plug on ongoing investigations of Reagan-Bush-era wrongdoing regarding secret arms deals with Iran and Iraq. By turning out the lights on that history, President Clinton apparently felt he would gain some reciprocity from the Republicans. But Clinton's actions only emboldened the Republicans and gave the neocons time to regroup.

I have always thought Bill Clinton’s “triangulating” with Republican positions was less philosophical and a lot more tactical – in an era that had been dominated by the right wing for 12 years, with Mondale and Dukakis having been killed. I think Parry is probably right that he was looking to defuse some Republican opposition – as with NAFTA, a balanced budget and “the end of welfare as we know it,” and mostly guessed wrong on how nasty the Republican Party is now. But now we’ve seen the light. We’ve seen the damage the neo-cons have done, too. I think Hillary’s so-called hawkishness has been a lot more about getting elected – and it’s critically important for the Democratic nominee to win, whoever it is – than a policy position like Lieberman’s. I would expect her actual foreign policy to be a lot more like Obama’s and Edwards’ than Lieberman’s.