As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

God Bless Texas

I think I have to take back everything I've ever said about Texas now. The State House just extended a certain middle finger to one Gov. Rick "The Fightin' Secessionist" Perry:

AUSTIN – House members virtually wiped out Gov. Rick Perry's office budget Friday in order to help veterans and the mentally ill.

With little debate, the House on a voice vote approved erasing 96 percent of the nearly $24 million that budget writers had recommended for Perry's office operation over the next two years.

Some Democrats cast the House's move as a rebuke of the governor's recent comments about Texas seceding from the Union.

"That's the headline: 'Two days after governor says we ought to secede, House zeroes out the governor's budget,' " said Appropriations Committee vice chairman Richard Raymond, D-Laredo.

I'm sure that eventually, his office will get funding, as the piece makes clear. But that's one hell of a nice headline. Maybe the Governor can secede from the legislature.

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Reconciliation Through Withdrawal

Earlier this week Marc Lynch wrote about the rising violence in Iraq and the inability of the Sunni Awakening forces and the Shiite central government to reach a reconciliation. He makes some important points:

Given all that uncertainty, it would be unwise to offer a confident assessment of what's really going on. But the emerging crisis surrounding the Awakenings and the uptick in violence do both seem to be primarily driven by the continuing refusal of Maliki and the Iraqi government to make meaningful political accommodations and their decision to move against at least some of the Awakenings groups at a convenient moment [...]

I'm obviously worried about all of this. I've been warning about the potential for trouble with the Awakenings project for a long time, and it would be easy to say that those predictions are now coming due. But I think it's way too early for that -- there is still time for these troubles to demonstrate the costs of political failure and to become the spur to the needed political action.

That's why it's really important that the United States not now begin to hedge on its commitment to the drawdown of its forces in the face of this uptick in violence. It is in moments like this that the credibility of commitments is made or broken. Thus far, the signals have been very good -- consistent, clear, and tightly linked to continuing pressure on political progress. President Obama reportedly pushed hard on the political accommodation front during his stopover in Baghdad last week, and General Odierno did very well to emphasize on CNN yesterday that the U.S. is firmly committed to removing its troops by the end of 2011. Maliki and everyone need to take deep breath and strike power sharing deals before things go south, and understand that they will pay consequences if they don't.

It's not just the crackdown on the Awakening forces, but the broad trends against human rights and freedom of the press that cause alarm. Maliki has been laying the groundwork for a strongman rule since last year, and it's starting to come to fruition. 25 gay men have been killed over the past two weeks, and newspapers are being harassed by the Iraqi military. This is very troubling all around, but I agree with Lynch that the United States must stay on its glide path to withdrawal, because that's the only way to force reconciliation between the sectarian factions. Ultimately, we can no longer be the backstop for internecine violence, acting as Maliki's proxy militia while he runs roughshod over his competitors. I hope we don't get cold feet on this.

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Yes We Can Impeach Jay Bybee

As we read with growing horror the most recent torture memos, knowing that there are more revelations to come, I think a lot of us are asking the question that mcjoan asked yesterday. "Now what?" How can we address this moral rot that continues to eat away at our legitimacy? What can be done? Mcjoan offers a couple suggestions.

The process by which our government came not only to torture, but through torturous logic try to convince themselves that it was legal is not just the product of evil. It's the product of excessive, unchecked power that has proven far too easy to seize, to hold, and to exercise.

And we can't allow that to happen again.

That's why, at the very least, there must be investigations. Whether through the special prosecutor that the ACLU has called for, or Senator Leahy's proposal for a commission of inquiry, America has to know how this happened, gruesome step by gruesome step. There is no other way to prevent it from happening again.

Mcjoan is right that our corroded, accountability-free zone in Washington will require an incredible amount of effort just to bring us to these steps. We need to counter the establishment pressure to move away from this evil with our own pressure, to support the rule of law, to recognize that justice delayed is justice denied, and that a failure to hold accountable these acts will result in them returning, in spades, in the future. Without this accounting, in a very real sense our democracy dies.

And there is an actual mechanism, a way to leverage grassroots anger and push the elected officials who can make these decisions, at least in one case. We can prove the desire for accountability in the country and take a systematic approach to restore democracy and the rule of law. And it starts with Jay Bybee.

As many people noted yesterday, Jay Bybee, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel whose name appears as the author of the August 1, 2002 memo justifying and authorizing clear acts of torture by the CIA (some argue that John Yoo wrote the memo, but Bybee signed it), now works as a federal judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, with a lifetime appointment. He sits in judgment when we have clear evidence that his judgment is fractured. In just this particular memo, he agreed that waterboarding "constitutes the imminent threat of death" and still allowed its use. He twisted the research of sleep deprivation experts to justify the torturous delivery of harm to prisoners through this technique. He found the rationales to explain away his own legal exposure and that of his superiors, while clearly understanding these techniques to be wrong when applied by other countries.

And that's just this memo. More are expected.

One focus of scrutiny could be the period from April to August of 2002, when C.I.A. officers interrogated Abu Zubaydah before the Justice Department gave its official written endorsement of the interrogation program. According to a Justice Department inspector general’s report, F.B.I. officials who watched some of the interrogation sessions in a Thailand safe house reported that the C.I.A. interrogators had used several harsh techniques.

The Justice Department is also expected make public an internal ethics report that officials say is highly critical of top Bush lawyers who drafted the interrogation memos, including Jay S. Bybee, John C. Yoo and Steven G. Bradbury. Legal experts said there is an outside chance that the report could include referrals to state bar associations, which have the power to reprimand or disbar their members.

Because Bybee holds a lifetime appointment conferred by the Senate (by a 74-19 vote), I would argue it is the requirement of the Congress to act and right this horrific wrong. Bybee was confirmed in March 2003, well before these memos came to light. This new information alone should be grounds for an impeachment and removal of Jay Bybee from the 9th Circuit Court.

Impeachment would require a majority vote in the House, and removal would need a 2/3 vote in the trial in the Senate. I agree with Jonathan Zasloff that there are likely 34 Republicans in the Senate willing to go on record as objectively pro-torture, and thus removal would be less likely to be successful. I also agree that the Congress should be compelled to do this anyway.

Regardless of the Obama Administration's decision on prosecution, then, impeachment hearings and a Senate trial for Bybee would signal a necessary reassertion of Congresional authority and would ensure at least some minimal accountability.

Alas, emphasis there should be on the "minimal." I would hope that the House would impeach, but Senate Republicans would clearly vote no to prevent removal.

I don't know how the politics work on this. The Beltway media will clearly spin this as the Democrats obsessed with the past and not concerned about the supposedly grave national security implications. On the other hand, Republicans would be forced to defend an incompetent, ethically-challenged judge.

But maybe, given how unclear the politics are, it might be best to do, you know, the right thing. John Conyers should start scheduling preliminary hearings right away.

As it happens, the California Democratic Party can speak with one voice about this next week. Grassroots activists submitted a resolution to be decided at next week's convention in Sacramento that would call for the impeachment of Jay Bybee from the 9th Circuit. This resolution has already been accepted, UNANIMOUSLY, by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. It can pass at the state level.

Resolutions are somewhat toothless unless used properly AFTER the fact. In the resolution (which I'll put below), it is stipulated that "a copy of this resolution with its original authorization be sent to the Office of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, and that copies of the signed resolution be sent to each member of the California delegation to the United States Senate and House of Representatives." California members of the HJC include Zoe Lofgren, Maxine Waters, Howard Berman, Brad Sherman, Adam Schiff and Linda Sanchez. The last five, at least, have part or all of LA County in their districts, and could be told RIGHT NOW that their local party has resolved unanimously to impeach Bybee. Should the entire state party agree, all the California members, including the Speaker of the House, and the two Senators (both of whom voted against confirming Bybee) can be told the same. And resolutions like this could spring up all over the country, increasing pressure from the bottom up for the Congress to act.

It starts next week in Sacramento. The Resolutions Committee meeting will be held at 3:00 on Friday, April 24, at the Sacramento Convention Center, 1400 J St., Sacramento, CA. If you're in the area or if you are a delegate, you can come to the meeting and advocate for the resolution. But the decision will likely be made beforehand. Only a few resolutions get out of committee and to the floor of the convention, and the others are tabled, or combined, or referred to a separate committee. We CANNOT let this happen. The ledership of the California Democratic Party needs to hear from constituents on this issue.

Sacramento Office
(916) 442-5707 phone
(916) 442-5715 fax

Los Angeles Office
(310) 407-0980 phone
(310) 407-0981 fax

email contact form

I've also created a petition at Petition Online urging the CDP to pass this.


We have an opportunity to use the party apparatus to push for accountability and send it up to leaders in Washington. I urge everyone to get on board with this. Thanks.

Passed Unanimously by LACDP, 4/14/09
Whereas, the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the people a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances; and,

Whereas the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, the supreme law of the land under Article VI of our Constitution, requires the prosecution of those who authorize torture, waterboarding is torture, and both former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Richard B. Cheney have admitted to authorizing waterboarding; and,

Whereas former Assistant Attorney General, and current Federal Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Jay Bybee signed the "Bybee Memo," or "Torture Memo" of August 1, 2002, which advised the C.I.A. that "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment was at times allowable under U.S. law, and authored, co-authored and signed other memos on "extraordinary rendition" and "enhanced interrogation," more of which are being currently revealed to the American public as the new administration brings them to light; now,

Therefore be it resolved that the Los Angeles County Democratic Party urges that the United States House of Representatives begin impeachment proceedings against Judge Jay Bybee of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, charging him with facilitating the authorization of torture while employed by the United States Department of Justice; and,

Therefore be it further resolved that a copy of this resolution with its original authorization be sent to the Office of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, and that copies of the signed resolution be sent to each member of the California delegation to the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

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Wiretapping Suits To Go Forward - Obama's DoJ Should Give Up

Perhaps more important than the revelation that the NSA "overcollected" information on innocent Americans was the news late yesterday that Vaughn Walker, the judge in many of the wiretapping cases currently before the court, elected to keep the Al Haramain suit going.

Accordingly, the parties are hereby ordered to meet and confer regarding the entry of an appropriate protective order which shall be entered herein before the court rules on the merits. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia has successfully employed protective orders in the In Re Guantánamo Bay Detainee Litigation, D DC No Misc 08-0442 TFH, even providing for the use of top secret/sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI). See, for example, the documents at docket numbers 409 and 1481 in that matter. The United States has advanced no argument that would suggest a reason why the court’s use of a protective order in instant matter modeled on those in use in the Guantánamo Bay would not adequately protect the classified information at issue here.

As Marcy Wheeler later describes, having read the evidence in the case, including the document Bush's Justice Department inadvertently gave Al Haramain's lawyers showing a transcript of their wiretapped conversations, Walker wants the case to proceed.

Unless I'm misreading these tea-leaves (which I doubt, because the tea-leaves have been reading the same way since well before January), Walker is prepared to rule that al-Haramain is an aggrieved party. Meaning, Walker is convinced the government wiretapped al-Haramain illegally.

Not a surprise, in the least, but it's nice we're finally getting around to this [...]

But he's also called the government's bluff. Last we heard in this case, after all, the government was squawking like Cheney, threatening to come take its documents away if Walker tried to give them to al-Haramain. But what's it going to do now, if Walker has his ruling on the merits all but written now? Take Walker's rulings away? Take his notes? In other words, Walker has read the documents--documents that likely impact not just this suit, but also the other suits against the government. And the government can't take his review of those documents away at this point.

Walker has multiple wiretapping suits before him, and this ruling will have implications for them as well. Which is why Obama's DoJ should just give up with the state secrets reasoning at this point. Clearly it won't work, and it only gets them more deeply involved in a cover-up. Just allow the cases to reach court and let the chips fall.

Meanwhile, Jay Rockefeller may have speculated that NSA was wiretapping him earlier this year, in which case I'll be happy to not help him, since he led the effort to indemnify the telecoms. You're on your own, Jay.

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No Self-Awareness

Sarah Palin endorseses reproductive choice.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told an antiabortion audience in Indiana on Thursday night that, "for a fleeting moment," she considered having an abortion after learning that her son Trig would have Down syndrome.

The experience, she added, "now lets me understand a woman's, a girl's temptation to maybe try to make it all go away."

Ultimately, Palin said, she decided she had to "walk the walk" concerning her long-standing antiabortion views. She avoided using the word "abortion" in her speech, preferring the phrase "change the circumstances."

"I had just enough faith to know that my trying to change the circumstances wasn't any answer," said Palin, the featured speaker before 3,000 people at a banquet in Evansville.

In other words, she considered her options, and made the one best suited for her. As John Cole says, "There is a name for when women who are pregnant are allowed to determine whether or not they keep their baby or have an abortion. It is called pro-choice."

Interesting sentiment at an anti-abortion rally, no? And I assume we've got it on tape, considering all the government spies and black helicopters at the event.

(I think I heard Jonathan Alter last night make the additional point that any doctor Palin consulted during that "fleeting moment," under her view of the world, would be in jail right now.)

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The Evidence Demands Prosecution

Adam Serwer compared the Bybee memo to the ICRC report and finds that the CIA interrogators most certainly overstepped the legal limits placed on them by the Bush Administration.

The Bybee memo also describes a procedure known as "walling." The detainee wears a thick collar, which the interrogator uses to throw him against a "flexible wall." This "false wall" is meant to be constructed in such a way that impact creates a loud sound. Bybee wrote, "The idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and will be far worse than any injury inflicted on an individual." In Bybee's description, the detainee's shoulder blades are meant to hit the wall, implying that the detainee's back is to the wall.

In practice though, the ICRC report indicates that Zubayda was slammed "directly against a hard concrete wall." Another detainee, Walid Bin Attash, said that he was not only slammed against the walls of his interrogation room but that he was led along the corridor by his collar and slammed against the wall as he went. Another detainee said his head was slammed against a pillar repeatedly. One of the other memos released yesterday, written in May 2005 by Steven G. Bradbury, who was then head of the OLC, indicates that "walling" could be used "20 or thirty times consecutively when the interrogator requires a more significant response to a question."

In fact, one of the Bradbury memos acknowledges the illegal use of waterboarding with more frequency than spelled out in the Bybee memo's guidelines.

The memos include what in effect are lengthy excerpts from the agency’s interrogation manual, laying out with precision how each method was to be used. Waterboarding, for example, involved strapping a prisoner to a gurney inclined at an angle of “10 to 15 degrees” and pouring water over a cloth covering his nose and mouth “from a height of approximately 6 to 18 inches” for no more than 40 seconds at a time.

But a footnote to a 2005 memo made it clear that the rules were not always followed. Waterboarding was used “with far greater frequency than initially indicated” and with “large volumes of water” rather than the small quantities in the rules, one memo says, citing a 2004 report by the C.I.A.’s inspector general.

That IG report will eventually come out, among other documents, like those from between the time Abu Zubaydah was captured and the Bybee memo signed off on the 10 harsh interrogation tactics. Zubaydah himself said "the real torturing" started only three months after his capture, which would be around June 2002 (the Bybee memo allowing such techniques wasn't written until August), and it would be good to see that clarified.

But we already have enough evidence, provided by the government and the Red Cross, to indict those interrogators who did not act according to OLC dictates:

Senior administration officials have made it clear to me: neither President Obama's statement nor Attorney General Holder's words were meant to foreclose the possibility of prosecuting CIA officers who did NOT act in good faith, or who did not act according to the guidelines spelled out by the OLC.

As for acting in bad faith, how about those who demanded more information from Abu Zubaydah, when he had no more to tell and was clearly under mental strain?

The first use of waterboarding and other rough treatment against a prisoner from Al Qaeda was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew, according to former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum.

The escalation to especially brutal interrogation tactics against the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, including confining him in boxes and slamming him against the wall, was ordered by officials at C.I.A. headquarters based on a highly inflated assessment of his importance, interviews and a review of newly released documents show.

Abu Zubaydah had provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs, according to one former intelligence official with direct knowledge of the case. Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said.

Even for those who believed that brutal treatment could produce results, the official said, “seeing these depths of human misery and degradation has a traumatic effect." [...]

Quoting a 2004 report on the interrogation program by the C.I.A. inspector general, the footnote says that “although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within C.I.A. headquarters still believed he was withholding information.”

The debate over the significance of Abu Zubaydah’s role in Al Qaeda and of what he told interrogators dates back almost to his capture, and has been described by Ron Suskind in his 2006 book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” a 2006 article in The New York Times and a March 29 article in The Washington Post asserting that his disclosures foiled no plots. (His real name is Zein al-Abideen Mohamed Hussein.)

This is to say nothing of the architects and superiors who designed, directed and authorized torture. But Attorney General Holder needs to be as good as his word here. The evidence exists to bring interrogators to trial. And the evidence certainly exists to bring to trial the top CIA personnel who demanded to wring Zubaydah out like an old sponge, ignoring the advice on the ground and acting in bad faith. I'd extend to these 4 ex-CIA chiefs who tried to illegally squash this information from ever being made public, George Tenet specifically, because this happened on his watch.

I'm sure someone at the Justice Department could convince a grand jury using only these documents. Prosecute.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Have a fine weekend! Supposed to be in the 80s here in LA, so I may actually get away from the computer.

Down To This - Soul Coughing
Superstition - Stevie Wonder
Brain Of J. - Pearl Jam
Uh, Zoom Zip - Soul Coughing
Shoehorn With Teeth - They Might Be Giants
I May Just Have To Murder James Blunt - Mitch
Planet Rock - Afrika Bambaataa
Haiti - The Arcade Fire
Fitter Happier - Radiohead
Sink To The Bottom - Fountains Of Wayne

Here's a bonus cut:

November Spawned A Monster - Morrissey

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Israeli Pressure Points

I'm just dubious about Rahm Emanuel saying this.

Yedioth Achronoth, the largest circulation daily in Israel, reports today that President Obama intends to see the two-state solution signed, sealed and delivered during his first term.

Rahm Emanuel told an (unnamed) Jewish leader; "In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn't matter to us at all who is prime minister."

He also said that the United States will exert pressure to see that deal is put into place. "Any treatment of the Iranian nuclear problem will be contingent upon progress in the negotiations and an Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territory," the paper reports Emanuel as saying. In other words, US sympathy for Israel's position vis a vis Iran depends on Israel's willingness to live up to its commitment to get out of the West Bank and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state there, in Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

Clearly, the US would have to find some point of leverage to get this hardline Israeli government to agree to a two-state solution. Netanyahu and Lieberman are macho neocons who rebuff any talk of a Palestinian state. But would Emanuel really hold up Iranian negotiations as an attempt to force Israel to the bargaining table? That seems like a dangerous game to me. I believe that the US would push Israel away from bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities, but not hold up multilateral agreements.

Anyway, there's a very clear point of leverage for the Israelis - billions of dollars in American aid. That Emanuel didn't go there speaks to the power of the Israel lobby - although J Street is catching up fast. And considering that most American Jews support a two-state solution, clearly they would also support bringing some American pressure to bear. But you just cannot touch Israeli money - or offer Palestinian aid, apparently.

Meanwhile, Israel is really isolating themselves from the world community by refusing to cooperate with a UN inquiry into human rights violations during the Gaza war. Maybe this is another pressure point?

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How A Better Democrat Rolls

Time Warner Cable took a tentative step in New York toward billing Internet customers based on consumption rates, a Trojan horse to two-tiered pricing on the Internet. And the usage limits were designed to gouge consumers and, since they have a monopoly, offer them essentially no other viable options.

Eric Massa took on the issue and won.

I live just about on the border of New York’s 28th and 29th Congressional districts. The 28th is represented by Louise Slaughter, the powerful chair of the Rules Committee, the 29th by freshman Congressman Eric Massa. I emailed both Massa and Slaughter about the cap. I heard nothing back from Slaughter. Massa’s office told me that they thought it was a serious issue, that they were getting complaints from a lot of constituents…and then sprung into action. The opening line of the video below (via) is “I plan on putting the entire full force of my incumbency and all the risk associated with that behind stopping this very, very ill-thought out decision by Time-Warner.”

Shortly after this, Time-Warner shelved their cap plan. Apparently, it was all a “big misunderstanding.”

More on this here. Eric Massa won election as a better Democrat with significant help from the netroots. And then he turns around and stands up on the significant issue of net neutrality. This is how progressive movement power turns into policy muscle.

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Guess What, Diplomacy Works

An astonishing statement from Cuba.

SANTO DOMINGO (AFP) — The United States welcomes as an "overture" an offer of wide-ranging talks from Cuban President Raul Castro, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.

"We have seen Raul Castro's comments. We welcome this overture. We're taking a very serious look at it," Clinton said here at a press availability with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.

On Thursday Castro said "we are open, whenever they want, to discussing everything: human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners, everything they want to discuss."

But, said Castro on the eve of this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, any dialogue "must be as equals, without the slightest violation of the self-determination of the Cuban people."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said if reports on Castro "are true, it is a positive step."

Obviously, this won't get resolved overnight. But Raul Castro has as much to gain from a cooling of relations with the United States as anyone. Lucas O'Connor has a bit on that.

This new openness from the Cuban government is less surprising than it may immediately seem on its surface. While the government came to power motivated towards empowering the poor and breaking the legacy of oligarchy and neo-colonialism, the political course charted by the Castros has always been pragmatic more than ideological. For decades, the better economic and political support system for this regime came from the Soviet Union and alignment with Communist powers. Since the end of the Cold War, Cuba has been moving slowly to open itself up to free enterprise and outside investment.

These talks, and the potential steps towards openness with the United States, is a logical step along that path. Remittances (largely from the U.S.) currently represent 1.8% of Cuba's GDP and "helps the island's $58 billion economy, as the Cuban government charges fees that take about 20 percent of exchange-wired dollars."

The overall point here is that negotiation and diplomacy works. Extending a hand instead of a clenched fist can result in the opponent recognizing a new era of relations and returning the favor. Those tough guys on the right who thinks that we must only degrade and villify our foes in the world do so because they need enemies and don't want to resolve these problems - they work better as campaign bullet points. The President has taken the opposite view, and it's good to see.

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Chris Matthews Hits The Donor State Issue

Wow, this is actual journalism on cable news. Chris Matthews just replayed Tom DeLay's comment that Texas gets back 70 cents for every dollar it gives to the federal government in Texas. Turns out they get back 94 cents. And the top 10 donor states are all blue, while 8 of the 10 states that take more back in taxes than they receive are red. Somehow, these "whiners" (Matthews' words) want to bitch and moan about how much they give to Washington in taxes, when the argument is much stronger among those states like California, New York and New Jersey.

This is almost never brought up on national television, and the wingnut forced to respond decided to change the subject, of course. But the fact is that the blue wealth-creating states have been dragging the asses of the red states for a long time, and it's really about time this gets some proper attention.

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Shorter Bass And Steinberg: Booga Booga!

I've obtained a copy of the email sent to every California Democratic Party member from the Assembly Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem, trying to scare the membership into supporting the special election ballot measures. It's really unconscionable for them to stretch the truth this much. They conflate apples and oranges to make it seem like an immediate $31 billion dollar deficit is forthcoming if the measures fail, which is simply untrue. They mostly discuss what failure would mean rather than what success would mean. And they neglect the permanent damage that would be caused by the ballot measures in favor of the temporary tax increases. I'll put the whole thing on the flip, but here is the excerpt that kills me.

There seems to be a great deal of misinformation about Proposition 1A, the spending reform measure. This is NOT a spending cap, but rather a mechanism to force savings in good years to protect funding for services when our economy sours. If California had a rainy-day fund like most other states, $9 billion in cuts could have been avoided this year. In the long-run, Proposition 1A will stabilize state spending for critical services.

Um, actually, folks, that's what a spending cap IS. It caps spending and puts money into a rainy day fund. Of course, the way this cap is structured, the rainy day fund would have to take money even in DOWN budget years, due to its stringent, restrictive nature. The line about how $9 billion in cuts could have been avoided this year with rainy day fund money is offered without the knowledge that the money would have had to come FROM somewhere, and would have meant $9 billion in cuts in years prior. Not to mention the fact that it would have had to be replenished almost immediately. With this spending cap - yes, Madame Speaker and Mr. President pro Tem, sorry to burst your bubble but that's what it is - spending will be forced $16 billion dollars below the Governor's baseline budget next years. That's the ENTIRE gain of the $16 billion in temporary tax increases in just one year. And the cap goes on and on and on.

Pathetic. About the only good thing here is the shout-out to eliminating 2/3 for budgets and taxes. I appreciate that, but would appreciate some honesty about the spending cap even more.

Dear Fellow California Democratic Party Member:

At this month’s California Democratic Party Convention in Sacramento, you will be asked to take a position on Propositions 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E and 1F that will appear on a special statewide election May 19. We strongly urge you to support this package to provide California the short-term revenues to get through these difficult economic times, as well as the long-term reforms to stabilize our budget process and protect funding for vital services. After months of difficult negotiations, we made some of the toughest decisions elected officials could ever make. We closed a $42 billion budget shortfall that threatened to send California into fiscal collapse — halting thousands of jobs, devastating critical education, health, children’s and senior services, and plunging our economy into deeper meltdown.

The tough choices we made will begin the long process of getting California back on track and providing long-term stability to the programs and services we all value.

Make no mistake: the final budget agreement contains important victories that hold true to our shared Democratic principles. In particular, we negotiated four years of desperately needed revenue increases, worth $12.5 billion this year alone. We cannot overstate the significance of this achievement. By doing so, we were able to protect education, health care and safety net services from even deeper cuts.

We were also able to stave off Republican demands to roll back hard-fought environmental and worker protections. And, through Proposition 1B, we will ensure that schools are repaid over time for the painful cuts they have endured because of this budget crisis.

But the package and revenues we negotiated will all be for naught if we don’t pass Propositions 1A-1F in May. Unless Prop. 1A is approved, California will lose $16 billion in revenues from the sales, vehicle license and income taxes beginning in Fiscal Years 2011-2013. Prop. 1A also provides the mechanism to restore $9.3 billion in funds to schools. And without Propositions 1C, 1D, and 1E, we will lose another $7 billion in funding.

Losing $23 billion in revenues, on top of the $8 billion deficit projected by the Legislative Analyst, will result in renewed demands for catastrophically deep cuts to schools, hospitals, essential children’s services and senior programs for the foreseeable future.

There seems to be a great deal of misinformation about Proposition 1A, the spending reform measure. This is NOT a spending cap, but rather a mechanism to force savings in good years to protect funding for services when our economy sours. If California had a rainy-day fund like most other states, $9 billion in cuts could have been avoided this year. In the long-run, Proposition 1A will stabilize state spending for critical services.

Passing Propositions 1A-1F is the first step in restoring our state’s fiscal health and voter confidence in state government. This is essential for us to move forward with our shared priorities such as expanding healthcare to all Californians, further reforming the budget process to eliminate the destructive 2/3 requirement for budgets and taxes, protecting against climate change, and ensuring necessary education, health and social services for the people of California.

We hope you will join us in supporting Propositions 1A-1F.

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The Line Of Secession

With all the talk of secession in the air, Rasmussen polled Texans about it, and they found that 31% thought that " individual states have the right to leave the United States and form an independent country," and 18% answered yes to "If you could vote on the issue, would you vote for Texas to remain in the United States or to secede from the United States and form an independent country of Texas?"

Roughly one out of every five people in the state of Texas think they should go ahead and form an independent country. If you're in line at the bank with five people, one of them believes this.

Now, Rick Perry, the king of the 18 percenters, wants us to believe he wasn't calling for secession, just asserting the sovereignty of the state of Texas under the 10th Amendment. This is classic Overton window stuff, putting secession on the extreme while making this assertion of sovereignty - and by extension the belief that the President is violating the Constitution - seem banal and reasonable. But of course, this is ridiculous. The President in the stimulus package offers the states the ability to accept federal funds, with certain qualifying guidelines. States can comply to the guidelines and accept the funds, or refuse the funds. That actually is the very definition of the 10th Amendment. It's not the President's fault that, during a recession, it would be deeply unpopular not to change the guidelines. Indeed, Secessionist Perry's own legislature in Texas voted to accept stimulus money for unemployment by changing their guidelines. Which I guess makes King Richard want to secede from the Texas legislature.

Now, back to that 18% number. 18% of the voting public from the last election would be around 20 million people. Which puts the 250,000 or so teabaggers in perspective, doesn't it? Basically, that was a collection of people so angered by losing power that they want to either create their own country or forcibly take back this one. In other words, nutters.

By the way, you'll surely be shocked to know that Tom DeLay lied on national television when talking about this.

...By the way, if any Democratic elected official ever even dipped their toe in the secession water, they'd be the second coming of Ward Churchill and forced to resign. Just sayin'.

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Steve Schmidt Throws In His Lot With The Long Arc Of History

Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain's campaign (some would say into the ground) last year, is prepared to call for the GOP to drop their opposition to gay marriage.

Former top McCain adviser Steve Schmidt is planning to use a Friday speech to the Log Cabin Republicans to urge the GOP to drop its opposition to same-sex marriage.

"I'm confident American public opinion will continue to move on the question toward majority support, and sooner or later the Republican Party will catch up to it," Schmidt plans to say according to excerpts provided to ABC News.

Schmidt's push for Republicans to endorse same-sex marriage comes as his party is grappling with a string of gay rights victories in Iowa, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.

The Republican Party is just trapped on this. Young people don't care about this issue and they isolate themselves from the next generation with every fundie-backed denunciation of loving relationships. But their base has become increasingly hostile and fever-pitched, and without the theocrats on the ground they have virtually no one willing to get out the vote for their candidates. They can't take this issue off the table, as much as the Steve Schmidts of the world would want it.

And anyway, Schmidt probably was helped into the light by virtue of his lesbian sister. That's what it typically takes for conservatives to recognize the world outside their cloistered view.

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Knowingly Acted In Violation Of The Law

I must agree that this is perhaps the lowest of the low when it comes to the torture memos, noting that we have condemned human rights abuses for 225 years that are completely similar to the ones authorized in the documents.

This puts into perspective the plain fact that these people knew what they were doing was illegal, which is always the nagging problem with prosecution in cases of this type.

I don't think Obama wants any part of such a prosecution, though I agree that he left open the door for the officials who condoned, directed and authorized this to be held accountable. Frankly, it will take a larger movement than we currently have for any pressure to be successful. We have to make the Administration appoint a special prosecutor.

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Unions Beat Pirates

It was a tailor-made quote for the labor movement, and they picked it up and ran with it.

We're seamen. We're union members. We stuck together and we did our jobs.

Business leaders and their enablers in Congress still want you to believe that unions are scorned by the public. Wrong again. And this kind of reminder is great.

By the way, I like the accommodations I'm seeing in the labor movement toward larger goals. The blue-green alliance on climate issues is one of the more exciting developments in the progressive movement which could spur the development of good, green union jobs, and the historic accord on immigration adds another partner to the coalition. As the face of the average union member is increasingly Hispanic, getting AFL-CIO and Change to Win to support comprehensive immigration reform was almost an imperative for them, but kudos for them triumphing over fear and demonization which has crippled past efforts at coalition-building.

I know that the Employee Free Choice Act appears dead at this point, but this broad coalition that can now demand it has at least the potential to change some minds.

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CA Congressional Q1 Reports

So the first quarter of fundraising for the 2010 cycle ended, and this week the reports were filed. Swing State Project has a good roundup. Here's what I found interesting:

• In CA-48, Beth Krom had an unusually strong quarter, considering she entered the race in the middle of it. She raised $63,000 for the quarter, actually beating the incumbent, John Campbell, who raised $55,000. Now, in 2008 candidates like Nick Leibham and Debbie Cook beat their incumbent counterparts in fundraising repeatedly, but had major disadvantages in cash on hand because the incumbents had assembled war chests from prior fundraising. And that's the case here too - Campbell has $300,000 CoH, while Krom has $61,000, a 5-to-1 advantage. But to beat Campbell so early in the cycle shows a lot of potential.

• Debbie Cook, Charlie Brown and Bill Durston basically raised no money in the quarter, dampening any expectation that they will run again in their respective districts. Durston raised $9,000, but that was probably all before he hinted at dropping out due to medical troubles.

• In CA-44, Bill Hedrick may be getting national attention, but he's not raising national numbers, and if he continues to put up $14,000 for a quarter, the D-Trip will either walk away or look for another challenger. I respect the hell out of Hedrick but he's got to do better than that.

• CA-37 is absolutely ripe for a primary challenge. Noted deadbeat Laura Richardson raised a paltry $28,500, as an incumbent, and her $39,000 cash on hand is dwarfed by $363,000 in debt. We deserve better than Laura Richardson in that very blue district.

• Jerry McNerney put up a $275,000 quarter in CA-11.

• His numbers weren't spectacular, but Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet is drawing some attention for his challenge to Mary Bono Mack in CA-45. This is another "Obama Republican" district, and Pougnet, a gay father of two, has an interesting profile for the district and a proven record in the community. This one bears watching.

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Waxman: Focus on the Cap

The EPA today took a major step in declaring greenhouse gas pollution a danger to the public, increasing the urgency to regulate CO2.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson is officially confirming today that greenhouse gas pollution endangers the health and welfare of the American public, finally obeying the mandate set down by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 2, 2007. Following a review from the White House and agencies across the administration, Jackson is announcing this morning that she has signed the Clean Air Act endangerment finding for six greenhouse gases. By the time the decision is finalized after two months of public comment, it will have been nearly two years since the EPA was blocked by the Bush White House from issuing such a finding.

The implications of this ruling loom large over proposed climate and energy legislation under consideration in the Congress. I agree with Barbara Boxer that this finding will provide a serious boost to those efforts, because now the EPA is obligated under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions.

The EPA's endangerment finding will open the door for the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions under the 1970 Clean Air Act.

Although the president would prefer not to tackle this issue through his administration's regulatory power, the threat of EPA regulation could be used as a hammer to persuade moderate senators of both parties to get behind cap-and-trade legislation.

"What it says to the senators on the fence is that it's not really a question of whether regulation is happening. It's a question of how it will happen," a senior aide to Boxer told ABC News.

Call it "blackmail," as the corporate lobbyists do in this piece, or call it what it is, a requirement under the law mandated by the Supreme Court. So the obstructionists can block legislation in Congress and watch the EPA enact strict mandates, or they can have a say in the regulation. Their choice.

Respective of Congressional legislation, I recently had a great opportunity to sit down as part of a lobbying delegation with Henry Waxman, my Congressman and the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to discuss the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation introduced on March 31. There are actually two bills, one in Energy & Commerce and one in the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, both following similar tracks and expected to be out of committee by Memorial Day. And it can be argued that this provides a wealth of options for Congress to consider in pricing carbon, and thus the multiplicity of bills makes sense. But clearly, by virtue of its expansiveness and impact on a host of energy/climate issues, not just carbon pricing and hard caps but energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, the Waxman-Markey bill will be the template for energy legislation in this Congress.

Waxman brings an interesting perspective to the debate. He believes that the best way to get energy legislation through the Congress is to just start moving it, with tight deadlines, and dare the Republicans to stop it. He frames the issue as one of national security, to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy; of environmental imperative, to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change; and of economic necessity, to move the country into a renovated, clean energy economy.

There's a lot of talk about how the cap and trade portion of the bill will be handled. The bill is somewhat murky on these points. The potential exists in the bill for offsets that would give a substantial portion of the carbon permits away for free. And the bill has no mention of how the revenues gained from what permits are auctioned off would be used (Waxman said that he would like to see some money directed to ratepayers, and some money directed to R&D for innovation in the energy space, and he would like to see the money targeted rather than applied as a broad tax cut). But Waxman de-emphasizes these concerns in favor of looking at the cap part of cap and trade. If the cap is firm and based on what the scientists have set as a goal to mitigate the effects of climate change, he reasons, the rest will fall into place. He used the example of acid rain, which used a similar cap and trade system in the 1980s. Industry feared that they'd have to spend billions for compliance, but lawmakers focused on the cap, and the problem was resolved for 1/10th of the expected cost. The goal, then, must be the cap. Waxman believed that offsets would have to be verifiable, and in exchange for the offsets there would have to be more reductions (a 1-to-1 1/2 ratio rather than 1-to-1). But if that's the cost to make the bill more politically attractive, Waxman is content to focus on the cap. Waxman also responded to a question I had about Europe's cap and trade system, which was marred by offsets and giveaways, by saying that the committee worked with Europe's regulators in drawing up the legislation, and that they will not fall into the same traps.

Waxman also played up the economic possibilities of the legislation, that only the innovation unleashed by having to get under the cap will be sufficient to actually create valuable goods for America and "get us out of the recession." Dozens of new industries can be developed and tremendous potential realized through innovation and technological advancements.

The other problematic element of the bill, for the progressive citizen lobbyists in the room with me, was the inclusion of clean coal technology in the bill, something that has been accepted by the White House and the Department of Energy as part of the solution. The typical response to this is that India and China will keep using coal even if the Western world stops, and we'd better come up with a way to capture and store the carbon produced or else our efforts will come up lacking. Waxman said that "we have to figure out if we can keep coal in our future." Obviously, the cap will eventually be too stringent for coal to remain a going concern in the United States without capture and storage technology advancing. And hopefully, the cap can force that, and develop new industries and new exports in the process. I don't know that I totally agree with that, but it's the party line on this, anyway. And besides, renewable energy has its own trade-offs.

Overall, I am far more optimistic about the prospects of climate and energy legislation coming through the Congress than I was before walking into that meeting. We still need to work hard to make the bill stronger, but the combination of the EPA ruling and the deliberate pace of the legislation moving through the House could provide the necessary momentum. We have to get this done, and hopefully we can create that sense of urgency. Also, we need to use the leverage of the EPA ruling to ensure this bill doesn't get weakened as it goes through the legislative sausage-making.

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When In Doubt, Just Call For Victory

You have to admit, Jim Tedisco is the Alpha Dog of the Week:

COLUMBIA COUNTY — 20th Congressional District candidate Republican Jim Tedisco submitted a petition to the Dutchess County Supreme Court Thursday asking the judge to declare him the winner of the extremely close special election race, despite the numbers currently being in favor of his opponent, Democrat Scott Murphy.

According to The Associated Press, Murphy leads Tedisco by 178 votes district wide — 79,452 to 79,274. The only ballots that have not been counted are those challenged by each candidate’s lawyers, and while Tedisco’s office has said the challenges are roughly evenly split between the two camps, Columbia County lawyers for Murphy have only challenged 22 ballots, while Tedisco’s have challenged 258.

Nicely done. I'm going to head to my local courthouse today and ask to be crowned king. The results of that vote, or whether there was one at all, simply inconvenience my desire to rule over the land like a colossus.

Cher from Clueless puts this best:

Cher's Dad (looking at her new-and-improved report card): Cher, what's this all about?
Cher: My report card?
Cher's Dad: The same semester?
Cher: Uh-huh!
Cher's Dad: What did you do? Turn in some extra credit reports?
Cher: No.
Cher's Dad: You take the midterms over?
Cher: Uh-uh.
Cher's Dad: You mean to tell me that you argued your way from a C+ to an A-?
Cher: Totally based on my powers of persuasion. You proud?
Cher's Dad: Honey, I couldn't be happier than if they were based on real grades.

I think this is just the first step in repealing the 17th amendment and going back to selecting lawmakers instead of having the unwashed rabble VOTE for them.

...Scott Murphy's now up by 264 votes, proving once again that the judges have to step in and stop this count before things get out of hand and the Democrat wins.

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Making Money Coming And Going

You'll lack surprise when you discover that Edward Liddy, the head of AIG installed after the company imploded, owns a large stake in Goldman Sachs, which has been bailed out by AIG counter-party payments.

Edward M. Liddy, the dollar-a-year chief executive leading the American International Group since its bailout last fall, still owns a significant stake in Goldman Sachs, one of the insurer’s trading partners that was made whole by the government bailout of A.I.G.

Mr. Liddy earned most of his holdings in Goldman, worth more than $3 million total, as compensation for serving on the bank’s board and its audit committee until he stepped down in September to take the job at A.I.G. He moved to A.I.G. at the request of Henry M. Paulson Jr., then the Treasury secretary and a former Goldman director.

I think this has to be the end of Mr. Liddy. When your alibi is that the $3 million is “a small percentage of his total net worth,” you're really grasping at straws. No really, that's his alibi, check the link.

The 100% pass-through of AIG counter-party payments to Goldman and other banks is absolutely insidious, maybe the worst part of this whole thing. This is why Goldman and these other banks can self-righteously claim to be renouncing government help while accepting it through pass-throughs and separate federal aid programs. They'd rather get their payoffs in black bags than in public, that's all they're whining about.

I don't necessarily think that Liddy is only making Goldman whole because of his financial stake; it's more that he's a bankster helping out his other bankster pals. It's the culture of coziness between elites that must be stopped.

Have we completely lost of sense of what is and is not a conflict of interest? Have we really built a system in which greed fully overshadows responsibility? Is it not time for a complete rethink of what constitutes acceptable executive behavior?

One of our country’s leading corporate attorneys made a telling point to me on Wednesday night, “the only way to control executive behavior is to criminalize it,” i.e., civil penalties do not change behavior - the prospect of jail time has to be on the table. His broader point was that antitrust action can make a difference in today’s world, but only if this includes potential criminal charges [...]

Let me be very clear on my position vis-a-vis AIG-Goldman and the broader Washington-Wall Street Corridor. I’m not saying that anyone has broken any laws, but rather that laws need to be changed. I’m not even saying that there have been transgressions against the prevailing code of ethics for executives and politicians - although surely we agree that this code needs to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

I’m just saying that we have a problem - ultimately, with the belief system that underpins how big finance behaves - and we need to fix it.

...more AIG hilarity: Jake DeSantis, who "resigned" in a letter picked up by the New York Times, still works for the company. What a bunch of WATBs who want to rule the universe in secret like the good old days instead of under public scrutiny.

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Every Day A Torture Memo

Now that I've had some time to marinate in these depraved memos justifying and finding legal rationalizations for torture, I am convinced that the members of the Bush Administration who directed and authorized all this just willed themselves to believe they were doing the righteous and just thing. Sure, they knew enough to find some thin strand of legal reasoning to cover their naked bodies, but that was seen by them as a brave and forthright act. I don't see another way to live with approving Room 101 techniques like putting someone in a box with a bug unless you've convinced yourself of your own worthiness. The memos also produce a fact pattern of deliberate lies by the CIA to put their proposed torture of Abu Zubaydah in the best possible light (claiming he was of sound mental health when contemporaneous reports term him a basket case, for example). Combine that with typical Republican victimhood status, and you have the squealing pigs in the media today despairing about the release of these documents.

Two of the rogue's gallery, Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey, argue in the Wall Street Journal that the President "tied his own hand on terror" due to the release. Here's a choice quote from these moral lepers.

Disclosure of the techniques is likely to be met by faux outrage, and is perfectly packaged for media consumption. It will also incur the utter contempt of our enemies. Somehow, it seems unlikely that the people who beheaded Nicholas Berg and Daniel Pearl, and have tortured and slain other American captives, are likely to be shamed into giving up violence by the news that the U.S. will no longer interrupt the sleep cycle of captured terrorists even to help elicit intelligence that could save the lives of its citizens.

We're always supposed to remember that we simply had to violate laws and shrink to the level of our enemies because that's how they operate, which is certainly telling on behalf of the cretins defending themselves in this. But the contempt of our enemies was never in question; it's the contempt of our allies, of indeed the entire world, which is only exacerbated by the defense of these actions, especially considering that they have for the time being been put outside the criminal justice system and above the law. It's not the "publicizing of the techniques," as this unnamed coward given sanction by useful idiot Mike Allen to rant today, that weakens national security, it's the constant defense of them, the daily shame that there are powerful people in the US government convinced that drowning people is a necessary activity that "can never be used again" - as if that's a bad thing.

In this sense, Richard Armitage is an anomaly - someone who after the fact would be reflective enough to consider the moral issues involved. The others have brainwashed themselves into believing not just the legality of this monstrousness, but the essential nature of it all. And because they continue to run out in the media and talk about the importance of being torturers, and never face a consequence, they harm national security with each passing moment.

And so do those who refuse to hold them to account. I agree that the largely unredacted release is a praiseworthy act by the President. The push to "move forward" and offer no accountability for violations of domestic law and international convention is a huge mistake - one compounded every day by the continued issuing of "torture memos" in newspapers and on cable TV from the Bush Administration weasels who aren't satisfied with just getting away with the crime, but feel the need to glorify it. This is a Justice Department decision, and they ought to appoint a special prosecutor, taking it out of the political realm. Believers in the rule of law should be screaming for that. Because every day that passes, another torture memo puts distance between us and the world.

As for the impeachment of Jay Bybee, who sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and spends his days officially passing judgment when his judgment is on display in the torture memos for all to see, I know of a movement upon which we can all latch. I have to confirm it, but please stay tuned.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Banksters Losing Their Grip?

With all the talk of torture and wiretapping and tea parties, I have neglected that little story about how the banks have the economy by the cojones and won't let go. While more banksters release earnings reports completely tarnished by the creative accounting and cheap bailout money (as well as conveniently forgetting major write-downs that would show a loss), they are continuing to tell everyone they're just about to repay the government, a fact somewhat sullied by the fact that they have no money:

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill noted that at the start of the TARP program, the heads of the major U.S. banks were summoned to Washington and told they were required to take the money so that those who needed it would not be stigmatized.

"So they all took the money. Stop and think about that. What was the purpose of this policy? To deceive the people so that the public would not know which banks were in danger of failing? Why didn't any of the CEO's, claiming not to need the money, have the courage to refuse?" O'Neill said in an e-mail to ABC News. "If banks now claim they want to return the money because they don't need it, why do they have to raise new capital to replace the money from we the people in order to repay the government?"

O'Neill said that unfortunately the government is permitted to practice a policy of deception for the greater good of the society.

"Is the public ever going to have clear facts regarding any of the individual institutions?" he said. "For months I have been calling for a public disclosure of all bank assets by rating class, along with facts showing the face value of so-called toxic assets along with the associated current book keeping value and associated reserve account. The public and members of Congress seem to be accepting of the idea that a handful of people in the administration and the Fed should do all of this in secret."

The banksters clearly want to return the money to get out from under executive pay restrictions. They care more about their own salaries than they do the greater economy. But of course, if a bank like Goldman Sachs does manage to return TARP money, they are still a ward of the state given all the special treatment it has gotten from special-purpose vehicles and cheap money from the Fed, without which they would be in the toilet right now. Oh, and the creative accounting and counter-party payments from AIG, too.

Now, the Treasury Department has actually pushed back on this a bit. They oppose the banks repaying the TARP funds. They replaced Neel Kashkari as head of the TARP. And they will now release the stress test results, and they claimed that Goldman's desire to repay the TARP money was a factor.

The administration’s hand may have been forced in part by the investment firm Goldman Sachs, which successfully sold $5 billion in new stock on Tuesday and declared that it would use the proceeds and other private capital to repay the $10 billion it accepted from the government in October.

That money came from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, and Goldman’s action was seen as a way of predisclosing to the markets the company’s confidence that it would pass its stress test with flying colors.

Goldman’s action has put pressure on other financial institutions to do the same or risk being judged in far worse shape by investors. The administration feared that details on healthier banks would inevitably leak out, leaving weaker banks exposed to speculation and damaging market rumors, possibly making any further bailouts more costly.

The Goldman move also puts pressure on the administration to decide what conditions will apply to institutions that return their bailout funds. It is unclear if Goldman, for example, will continue to be allowed to benefit from an indirect subsidy effectively worth billions of dollars from a federal government guarantee on its debt, a program the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation adopted last fall when the credit markets froze and it was virtually impossible for companies to raise cash.

“The purpose of this program is to prevent panics, not cause them,” said one senior official involved in the stress tests who declined to speak on the record because the extent of the disclosures were still being debated. “And it’s becoming clearer that we and the banks are going to have to explain clearly where each bank falls in the spectrum.”

Yves Smith thinks that this information was leaked specifically to blame Goldman for releases that would possibly result in receivership or worse for the most struggling banks. And Emptywheel hones in on those FDIC subsidies:

Shorter Anonymous Senior Official: "Goddamn it Goldman, you risk starting a panic here! And as punishment, we're going to reconsider the terms of that FDIC backing." [...]

Goldman Sachs, you see (and Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase, and Citi, and Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo) have been benefiting from higher credit ratings than they themselves merit because the FDIC has been backing their loans to the tune of billions of dollars [...]

Now, frankly I'm most interested in this from the same perspective that Yves is. These two stories, taken together, appear to be a welcome new tactic from the Administration, to start laying out all the value the government has given the banksters. It's time to make these banks squirm with the recognition that they're deadbeats for a change.

There are plenty of tactics available to the regulators here, and if they get sufficiently pissed off, I'll bet they have no problem using them. Significantly raising capital requirements, for example, or calling in the antitrust division of the Justice Department to investigate the market share of leading banks, or even letting Nancy Pelosi loose with her (very noble) idea for a 21st-century Pecora Commission:

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that the American people are demanding "discipline and accountability" after the multibillion-dollar federal bailouts, promised Wednesday to create a legislative commission with broad oversight to investigate the causes of Wall Street irregularities and their full costs to taxpayers.

Pelosi, speaking to the Commonwealth Club of California, said she wants the panel to be modeled after the Pecora Commission, a bipartisan investigative body established by the U.S. Senate in 1932 to examine the causes and abuses of the Wall Street crash of 1929 and to prevent a repeat.

"They investigated what happened in the markets," including conflicts of interests and irregularities that set off such devastating effects on the U.S. economy, she said. When the commission issued its findings during the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "they had tangible recommendations," she said, which helped generate widespread public support for major banking system reforms and new securities laws.

Liberals are cheering this move by Pelosi and the Congress because it could result in the same kind of systemic reform we saw after the Depression. And with even the teabaggers angry about the bailouts, Republican leaders would be in little position to mount a defense.

Anyway, I don't know where this will lead, but it seems to me that the banksters have a slightly weaker hand than they did a couple weeks ago. They still have the power to overrun the country, but the anger is rising and Treasury has a few tools in the toolkit; and what's more, they might actually use them.

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Secession Follies

This reference to secession by Texas Gov. Rick Perry has actually flipped the light switch on for some people as to the extreme nature of the rhetoric coming from the hard right. Let's be clear - for eight years, George Bush broke the economy, rang up massive debt, started unnecessary wars, wiretapped American citizens and committed torture in our name, and crickets from these folks. In under 100 days, Obama has inspired cries of secession. I guess the tax cut wasn't big enough.

PERRY: Oh, I think there’s a lot of different scenarios. Texas is a unique place. When we came into the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. My hope is that America, and Washington in particular, pays attention. We’ve got a great Union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what might come out of that.

Earlier, I remarked, tongue partially in cheek, that Texas ought to secede for the good of the nation. But let me acknowledge the fine Texas Democrats down there who pushed back on this today. Sen. Rodney Ellis slammed Perry pretty hard, and Rep. Jim Dunnam went further:

I love Texas.

I am fortunate that my great-grandparents moved to Texas over 100 years ago, and I am deeply proud of our state.

Every 2 years, my colleagues in the Legislature and I spend time away from our families trying to make Texas a better place. I am honored and privileged to do so.

However, I am also an American. And I am proud to be an American. There is even a song I like that says that - you probably know it.

Every Texas elected official takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. I take oaths seriously, and that one most of all. And every day during the legislative session we pledge "allegiance" to the flag of the United States.

We even require every public school child to recite the pledge -- every day. That is "one nation, under God, indivisible."


Yesterday, our Governor had the opportunity to disavow anti-American rhetoric of secession. He chose not to, and instead he chose affirm those who believe and actually contemplate that our nation is divisible.

What do I say to my youngest daughter when she asks "why do I recite the pledge every day at school, if our Governor doesn't believe it?"

Perry has since tried to walk this back, but not many people are buying it. But if a Republican said it and it's divisive, you can be sure there are enough party leaders willing to defend him. Rush Limbaugh dug it. And Tom DeLay made up a bunch of gobbledygook to try and defend this.

Q: You can’t secede from the Union!

DeLAY: Texas was a republic. It joined the Union by treaty. There’s a process in the treaty by which Texas could divide into five states. If we invoke that, and the last time it was voted on was 1985, the United States Senate would kick us out and nullify the treaty because they’re not going to allow 10 new Texas senators into the Senate. That’s how you secede.

Chris Matthews kept asking DeLay, who's under indictment, what the hell Perry was doing inflaming the public with this kind of rhetoric, the kind that killed 600,000 people in the Civil War, and DeLay fell back on a bunch of talk about the 10th Amendment (which is not germane), and he really couldn't wriggle out of it.

By the way, this is spreading. The Georgia State Senate has threatened to secede as well.

Republicans have seriously gone around the bend. John Aravosis has this right:

The Republican party has a serious problem with extremists, not just in its midst, but among its leadership and its key allies in the faux media (FOX News) and its grassroots (Limbaugh, the blogs, and the religious right). The GOP is quite literally pushing their most extreme followers to violence. And now that they're calling on the government to ignore known terrorist threats, it's only a matter of time before something violent happens, and then the Republican party will find itself out of power permanently.

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I've decided, in the interest of doing less better, to stay mostly out of the nitty-gritty electoral politics arena, mainly because there are others doing that better than I ever could. But this is worth mentioning.

U.S. Senator Roland Burris, the controversial appointee to the seat once held by President Barack Obama, is holding his first campaign fundraiser since he took office this weekend—and the financial report he filed this week shows he could use some political donations.

Burris campaign officials on Thursday released a report showing the new senator raised only $845 from January through March and had $111,032 in debts from defending himself in ongoing ethics and perjury probes and travel.

I think I have inadvertently raised $845 for my future elections, and I'm not running for anything.

By contrast, Alexi Giannoulias, who is going to beat Burris' tail in the primary, raised $1.1 million in the same quarter.


C'mon Roland, TRY.

In other fun Illinois news, Mark Kirk, who could be the "moderate" counterpart on the Republican side in this Senate race, just called for the shooting of the Illinois Governor. And I actually do believe this qualifies as a moderate in the modern Republican Party. At least he didn't call for shooting Obama!

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Don't Fall For The Assumed Ubiquity Of The Yacht Party Mentality

That wise Mr. Skelton intones that Prop. 1A is not "a sneaky trick to raise taxes." I agree. It's a sneaky trick to drown government in a bathtub.

We touched yesterday on this bigger concern about the lessons that may be learned from the special election battle. It is clear that those anti-tax forces on the right will take credit if the ballot measures, particularly 1A, are defeated, saying that this is proof that California has had enough and the vote signals the rise of the teabaggers. That actually would be a dangerous lesson, mainly because it's not true, and it's part and parcel of the vast disinformation around taxes that the cynical forces on the right spare no expense in delivering to the public.

Low-, not high-, income Californians pay the largest share of their income in state and local taxes. Here’s an updated analysis of data we’ve blogged about before that takes into account the temporary tax increase included as part of the February budget agreement.

California is a moderate, not high, tax state when all state and local taxes and fees are taken into account. This results from the fact that California has moderately high state taxes, but low local property taxes due to the impact of Proposition 13 on local property tax collections.

High-income Californians aren’t leaving the state due to higher taxes. In fact, the number of millionaire taxpayers is growing at a rate that far exceeds the increase in the number of personal income taxpayers as a whole.

Over the past 15 years, lawmakers have enacted tax cuts that will cost the state nearly $12 billion in 2008-09. That’s a larger loss than the $11.0 billion 2009-10 temporary increase in state tax revenues included in the February budget agreement.

Moreover, while the tax increases included in the budget are all temporary, regardless of the outcome of the May election, the September 2008 and February 2009 budget agreements included massive corporate tax cuts that are permanent and that will reduce state revenues by approximately $2.5 billion per year when fully implemented.

Saying that tax policy is just plain wacky and inconsistent neglects these plain facts - that the past thirty years of the conservative veto have tilted tax policy, and most everything else, in a very rightward direction.

In actuality, we are seeing a grassroots/establishment divide, where the grassroots in the Democratic Party would like to see some leadership instead of another layer of failed solutions. Unfortunately, because the voices on the right are so loud in their opposition, and because advocates of the special elections would rather frame themselves in opposition to the right, the right is well-positioned to take credit for the defeat of these measures, should that happen. When that's simply not the lesson that ought to be learned.

The resultant fear is that the feckless Democratic leadership takes that lesson, and then cowers from going down the road of enacting the real structural reforms that represent the only solution possible to lift us from this perpetual disaster. That would be catastrophically wrong. Don't assume from a short-term setback that the Yacht Party mentality runs the state. People will pay for taxes in exchange for services; that was proven in 2005 and it's just as true today. Californians elect their leaders to function and yet the structure of government denies them. Dismantle that barrier, and restore democracy to the state.

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More On The Torture Memos

I'm doing some crowdsourcing on the memos over at Daily Kos. You can read it there, but let me bring this to your attention:

On p. 15 of Memo #1, Bybee concludes that waterboarding "constitutes a threat of imminent death," because it creates the "uncontrollable physiological sensation that someone is drowning." NONETHELESS, it was approved, because "prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition on infliction of severe mental pain or suffering." So, the Bush OLC approved a technique that they admitted constitutes a threat of imminent death. Wow.

One of the other techniques included putting insects into a small box with Zubaydah. It's really quite sick. I don't know how these people live with themselves.

In addition, here's part of Eric Holder's statement which states that DoJ would foot the bill for any CIA officers prosecuted:

Holder also stressed that intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.

The Attorney General has informed the Central Intelligence Agency that the government would provide legal representation to any employee, at no cost to the employee, in any state or federal judicial or administrative proceeding brought against the employee based on such conduct and would take measures to respond to any proceeding initiated against the employee in any international or foreign tribunal, including appointing counsel to act on the employee’s behalf and asserting any available immunities and other defenses in the proceeding itself.

To the extent permissible under federal law, the government will also indemnify any employee for any monetary judgment or penalty ultimately imposed against him for such conduct and will provide representation in congressional investigations.

"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.

Just sayin', but that violates the Nuremberg principles:

Article 7. The official position of defendants, whether as Heads of State or responsible officials in Government Departments, shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment.

Article 8. The fact that the Defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the Tribunal determines that justice so requires.

UPDATE: John Conyers:

"I highly commend the President, Attorney General, and Director of National Intelligence for their decision to release Office of Legal Counsel memos concerning techniques used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects between 2002 and 2005. This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country's standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation's history. Hopefully these practices have been ended for all time. Critical questions still remain, including the role and legal culpability of high-ranking officials in the former Administration in directing and approving the use of these troubling techniques. I urge the Administration to continue to ensure that the rule of law is upheld concerning this matter."

UPDATE: From Memo #3:

Walling "is one of the most effective interrogation techniques because it wears down the [detainee] physically, heightens uncertainty in the detainee about what the interrogator may do to him, and creates a sense of dread when the [detainee] knows he is about to be walled again."

Reads like a proud papa describing his son the star running back.

It occurs to me that this is entirely actionable. You have the US government releasing specific information about specific techniques used on specific prisoners. No wonder the CIA wanted it buried. Obama definitely deserves credit for releasing it, if not for protecting everyone from prosecution. He pointedly did not mention higher-ups in his statement, however, and while he wouldn't work hard to start an investigation he may not get in the way of one occurring.

Greenwald has this amazing bit from Memo #2:

They explicitly recognized that the techniques they were authorizing were ones that we condemned other countries for using -- including as "torture" -- but nonetheless approved them, explicitly saying that the standards we impose on others do not bind us in any way:

Absolutely astounding. At the very, very least, it is time for Congress to impeach Jay Bybee.

...Read Digby.

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