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

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ken Blackwell for RNC Chairman!

Let me just take a moment to endorse Kenneth Blackwell for RNC Chairman. Sure he helped steal Ohio for President Bush in 2004, but he is also an expert in something near and dear to the heart of Republicans everywhere, something that they are deeply, deeply committed to as a party, something that they should totally campaign on in 2010 and 2012 if they want to have any chance of ever winning an election again.

That something? Sex between men and boys!

For your viewing pleasure (I hope not that kind of pleasure), here is Ken Blackwell debating then-Congressman Ted Strickland during the 2006 Ohio Governor's race. Ken Blackwell of course won that race and is now the very successful Governor of Ohio. Actually he got pathetically trounced, but--

That's right, Kenneth Blackwell seems to know a helluva lot about the North American Man Boy Love Association (commonly known as "NAMBLA" to Republicans), so he's obviously a shoo-in for the chairmanship.

Also, creepy clown-faced pseudo-politician Steve Forbes is supporting him.

And yesterday, Blackwell said that the Republican Party should try to defeat Obama's proposed economic stimulus package because if the Democrats help create jobs, it could hurt the Republicans' electoral chances down the line.

This is just the public face that the Republican Party needs: against creating jobs for Americans, and obsessed with sex between men and boys. I wholeheartedly endorse Ken Blackwell for RNC Chairman.

(Speaking for me only of course. D-Day might prefer the racist guy).

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G Dub Rollin' Out On 22

So soon-to-be former president Bush's final approval rating came out yesterday, and, you're gonna be surprised.

It turns out that the country has had a change of heart, and, in the final days of his administration, the president has managed to win back the appreciation and respect of--

Ah, fuck it. The dude's goin' out at 22 percent.
(CBS) President Bush will leave office as one of the most unpopular departing presidents in history, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll showing Mr. Bush's final approval rating at 22 percent.

Seventy-three percent say they disapprove of the way Mr. Bush has handled his job as president over the last eight years.

Mr. Bush's final approval rating is the lowest final rating for an outgoing president since Gallup began asking about presidential approval more than 70 years ago.
Mission Accomplished?

Wow. 22 percent. Roughly the same percentage of Texans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim!

So basically, the core of the president's remaining support comes from ignorant conspiracy theorists who live in Texas.

Heartwarming, isn't it?

Also, I must point out, that 22 percent is also roughly the same portion of dentists who don't think sugarless gum is better for you than sugary gum.

Thankfully, on Tuesday at noon, America's going to start taking much better care of our collective hygiene.

(Cross posted at The November Blog and Rumproast)

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Let's Get This Snarky Started!

First of all, thanks so much to D-Day for giving me the opportunity to bring my snarky ass over to his blog for the weekend. It'll be my pleasure to hold down the fort while D-Day is off setting up another covert prostitution ring in Tijuana.

It seems that with the new Obama administration taking over, the taxes D-Day pays for his two other covert prostitution rings, both located in the US, are going to be raised significantly, so, you know, a covert prostitution ring master's gotta do what a covert prostitution ring master's gotta do.

Anyway, my name is Noah. I blog at my own personal site, The November Blog, as well as at Rumproast (Winner of the 2008 Weblog Award for Best Small Blog!), and The Seminal. I used to blog with D-Day over at The Right's Field as well.

I hope you find my writing here to be snarkolicious and horribly, horribly offensive. Just kidding. Though not really.




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The Torture Of Corporate Tax Rates

So Grover Norquist associates corporate tax rates to waterboarding, which seems perfectly apt, right?

NORQUIST: The other tax cut you could do is cutting the corporate rate. The U.S. corporate rate is 35 percent; the European rate is 25 percent. Obama is a more international guy, so we should be close to the European average. We’ll stop torturing people, we’ll stop torturing corporations, and that will make us more like Europe.

Of course, he's talking about the terrible burden of the corporate tax RATE. The only burden this actually puts on corporations is that they have to hire creative accountants to get them to avoid those taxes. And they do an incredibly good job.

Most of America's largest publicly traded corporations -- including several that are receiving billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers to finance their recovery -- have set up offshore operations that could help them avoid paying U.S. taxes on their profits, a government study released yesterday found.

American International Group, Bank of America, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are among the companies that are getting bailed out by U.S. taxpayers while having subsidiaries in locations where they can avoid paying U.S. taxes, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Of the 100 largest public companies, 83 do business in tax-haven hotspots like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands, where they can move their income into tax-free accounts.

It is all legal, but it could come to an end, given the dire condition of the U.S. economy and President-elect Barack Obama's campaign pledge to close this popular business tax loophole. The Treasury estimates that it loses $100 billion a year in tax revenue as a result of companies shipping their income off shore, and congressional leaders are vowing to introduce legislation forcing big companies to pay full freight.

I would be all too happy to lower the corporate tax rate if concurrently we ended every single loophole and tax credit and mandated exactly 25 of all income, or a lesser percentage of gross sales, to flow into the US Treasury. This actually would boost revenues, because as it stands now, most US firms paid no taxes in the 1990s and two-thirds paid none from 1998 to 2005. The statistics are astounding and they have led to the United States having the second-lowest effective tax rate in the world.

But I suspect ol' Grover wouldn't like that. Because he hates America.

"This is kind of like economic patriotism," (Sen. Byron) Dorgan said. "Americans were told you have to pony up some money to help these companies. And it's rather infuriating for them to find out now that those companies, when they were profitable, didn't want to pay taxes and found clever ways to hide their money overseas."

Yes, I questioned his patriotism.

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Critical Mass On Afghanistan Skepticism

Get Afghanistan Right week has come to an end, with dozens of bloggers coming together to question the fundamental premise of whether escalation is the only option. I think its success can be measured by a new sense of skepticism in the traditional media, with this decent piece in the Washington Post as an example.

The planned U.S. military and counterinsurgency drive in Afghanistan is meeting public and official resistance that could delay and possibly undermine a costly, belated effort that American officials here acknowledge has a limited window of time to succeed.

The officials say they are optimistic that the planned addition of up to 30,000 troops, combined with a new strategy to support local governance and development aimed at weaning villagers away from Taliban influence, will show significant results within the year. They say improved cooperation from the army in neighboring Pakistan and better performance by the Afghan national army are bolstering this optimism.

Yet they also acknowledge that they face an array of obstacles, including: widespread public hostility to international forces over bombing raids and civilian abuses; the growing influence of Taliban insurgents in areas where central authority and services are scarce; and controversy over plans to establish village defense groups [...]

One conundrum, U.S. military officials say, is that the expanded forces will have to come in with heavy firepower and aggressive military tactics -- likely to create more civilian casualties and public animosity -- in order to secure rural districts so they can bring in services, aid and governance aimed at winning over the local populace.

It's a very good piece with a variety of perspectives. It follows the devastating piece revealing that Obama's team is sending troops to the region to "buy time," without a strategy in place. That's important information for the public to have.

And not only is the traditional media turning in this direction, but we're seeing a lot of smart takes from the foreign policy community. Ilan Goldenberg considers what is happening in Afghanistan and the FATA area around Pakistan to be an actual threat to American interests, but thinks that any troop increases have to have narrow goals that neutralizes that threat, and the possibility for that to drift into nation-building and propping up corrupt leaders will do nothing on that score. Robert Dreyfuss notes that nobody has any idea how to deploy those new surge troops in a way to make strategic gains in the region, and that there is a real risk that the insurgency is a home-grown reaction to occupation and will only grow BIGGER and more violent with increased troop strength. He also raises this point:

If the goal is to eliminate or neutralize Al Qaeda, then we've already won the war. If the goal is to eradicate the Taliban, remake Afghan society, and modernize its culture, then America is looking at a Thirty Years' War. There are some, including some human rights and women rights activists, who believe that reorganizing the social basis of Afghan society is an achievable goal. It is not. There are other, darker forces who believe that a long-term US presence in the heart of central Asia is an important geo-strategic goal for the United States, vis-a-vis Russia and China, in the struggle for regional influence and access to oil and natural gas.

And there's this informed take at which is slightly more in the pro-escalation direction. I have no problem with having the argument about it. I'm just glad that's finally starting to happen, and hopefully it will bubble up to elites.

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I'm sure that, when Israel stops their assault on Gaza with a unilateral cease-fire just days before Barack Obama takes office, commentators on the right will give him all kinds of credit for his presence being able to stop the war, the way they gave Reagan credit for ending the hostage situation in Iran just by his mere accession to the office. The missing link in that parallel, of course, is that Reagan's people negotiated a side deal during October to get the Iranians not to release the hostages and help Carter. But surely, they'll have the intellectual honesty to attribute the same thing to Obama that they did to Reagan.


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Will IOUs Wake People Up?

I just heard Will.I.Am on NPR talking about education cuts in California. The budget crisis has gone mainstream. And once everyone gets the news that tax refunds, welfare checks and student grants will be suspended because the state is out of cash, a whole lot of other people might get some awareness as well. The dirty little secret about "liberal bastion" California is that we are not a civically engaged people, generally speaking. The budget has been in "crisis" for decades but not enough Californians have mustered up the interest in it. We have right-wing astroturf movements that play to base emotion, but not really citizen's movements that ask for basic fairness. Californians are 45th in the country in volunteering, 44th in attending community meetings and 45th in working on community problems. Chalk it up to traffic or self-absorption or what have you, but the general take is that Californians don't see much beyond what is in front of them. IOUs would change that. Well, maybe. It depends on if the banks will accept them, which is still being negotiated.

The payments to be frozen include nearly $2 billion in tax refunds; $300 million in cash grants for needy families and the elderly, blind and disabled; and $13 million in grants for college students.

Even if a budget agreement is reached by the end of this month, tax refunds and other payments could remain temporarily frozen. Chiang said a budget deal may not generate cash quickly enough to resume them immediately [...]

State officials have already designed an IOU template, Chiang said, and have been negotiating with banks over whether taxpayers could cash or deposit them if they are issued. The state could be forced to pay as much as 5% interest on delayed tax refunds if they are not paid by the end of May, Chiang said.

The last time the state issued such IOUs -- the only time since the Great Depression -- was in 1992.

In other words, the only way this delayed tax refund is going to work is if it causes MORE debt for the state. But let's go back to 1992. This was the last big recession in the country, and California again found itself unable to pay its bills. Tell me again how the budget problems aren't structural. Anyway, the state issued about $350 million in IOUs that year, about 15% of what is being prepared today. The process was not smooth:

IOUs have caused headaches for the state in the past. California issued $350 million worth of IOUs to 100,000 recipients in 1992 during a budget impasse between then Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature.

A four-year legal battle ensued after some workers had trouble cashing them. The dispute was settled in 1996 with some state workers getting paid time off for the inconvenience they experienced.

Beth Mills, a spokeswoman for the California Bankers Association, said individual banks statewide haven't decided yet whether they will accept the state IOUs this time.

Banks are barely willing to lend money, I just don't think they're going to be interested in accepting $2.3 billion in IOUs when the process was so difficult last time, and there is more uncertainty in the financial markets now. And even if they do, it will not be uniform across all banks, and customers are going to have varying experiences.

The State of the State speech that nobody watched proved the need for fundamental reform, but it generated barely a blip among non-elites. Having trouble cashing your disabled mom's assistance payment, that's a whole different story. Not to mention the fact that the continued erosion of jobs and the 5,300 public works projects that have been delayed by the state will create a lot of angry and idle minds.

Pitchforks and torches may be at a premium. And while it's hard to write a new Constitution in a riot, something needs to shake up this decayed and dysfunctional system.

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Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

Me again. I haven't left yet. But I have a treat for you all. I've recruited Noah from November Blog, a snarky little sucker, to contribute a few posts while I'm at my undisclosed location. I'll still have a few things trigger through the magic of FUTURE POSTING throughout the holiday weekend, but for the most part, Noah will be holding down the fort. Treat him well, my friends.

I'm predicting his first post will be about the USDA employee running a prostitution ring off of her work computer. This is why I bring my OWN laptop.



Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Random Ten

A word on this weekend: I'm actually decamping for the sun-dappled town of Ojai and won't be around until midday Monday. I'm going to set up some posts to automatically trigger throughout the weekend, but nothing breaking will be around these parts until the inauguration. I'm going to try and wash the Bush out of my hair.

So, enjoy the final days of Cheney's bunker, and we'll talk again shortly. Music, please!

Saint Simon - The Shins
5 Years - Bjork
Everyday People - Sly & The Family Stone
Earth Intruders - Bjork
Play Your Part (Pt. 1) - Girl Talk
In Limbo - Radiohead
Museum of Idiots - They Might Be Giants
Else - Built To Spill
The Electric Version - The New Pornographers
A Time To Be So Small - Interpol

I thought this was an unusually good list.

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A Bill Is Not A Handshake

Jeff Merkley visited Daily Kos and explained why he voted to allow Obama to have the 2nd half of the TARP money.

From the moment we were notified of the pending vote, I worked night and day to convince the Obama team to dedicate a large chunk of the funds directly to working families for mortgage relief. Millions of working families have already lost their homes and millions more are behind on their payments. It is time that Congress and the President immerse themselves in assisting these families.

Direct mortgage relief does three things. First, it restores the financial foundation for a family by replacing a scam mortgage with a fixed-interest 30-year loan at a fair rate. Second, if a family is on solid ground and can keep their home, it strengthens the neighborhood; empty foreclosed homes have a terrible effect on communities. Third, when a family is in a better position to make payments, or a loan is paid off, it strengthens the financial institution or pension fund that owns that loan [...]

The Obama team heard us. Mostly. You saw an evolution from the FDIC $25 billion plan to the possibility of doing $40-50 billion to the final commitment in writing to a minimum of $50 billion and up to $100 billion.

In addition, the Obama team committed to support bankruptcy reform, which is extremely important. Currently a judge can adjust the mortgage features for second homes (and yachts and planes and commercial investments) for the rich, but are barred from adjusting the mortgage interest rates or terms for mortgage loans held by working families. That’s outrageously unfair.

Here is Obama’s commitment:

"The Obama Administration will commit substantial resources of $50-$100 billion to a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis. We will implement smart, aggressive policies to reduce the number of preventable foreclosures by helping to reduce mortgage payments for economically stressed but responsible homeowners, while also reforming our bankruptcy laws and strengthening existing housing initiatives like Hope for Homeowners."

That's all great. As I said initially, TARP as stimulus, saving people from foreclosure and removing $250,000 per home from hitting the greater economy, makes a lot of sense. But we shouldn't make policy on the honor system. We could have gotten it in writing. Congress could have fulfilled their obligation as holders of the purse strings to put restrictions on the funds. They shouldn't take anybody's word for it. It's a really bad precedent.

I just received confirmation from a congressional aide that Senate Banking Chair Chris Dodd will not introduce legislation in the Senate to mirror House Finance Chair Barney Frank's bill, HR 384, to provide increased conditions, transparency and oversight on the second $350 billion of the Wall Street bailout money (otherwise known as TARP).

All that was necessary to secure a seamless transition from the Bush bailout to the Obama bailout were two letters sent from Larry Summers to members of Congress. This is the same Larry Summers who, just last week, drafted a massive business tax cut for the stimulus package, which even moderate Democratic Senators found abhorrent. That tax cut was removed from the stimulus because, unlike anything that happens with TARP, one chamber of Congress can shoot it down with a simple majority vote. By comparison, for TARP to be stopped, a two-thirds majority was required from both branches of Congress.

Dodd's willingness to just trust the administration is, as Elena Schor noted earlier in the week, similar to the trust many Senate Democrats placed in the Bush administration when granting them authority to use military force in Iraq. Keep in mind that Dodd was one of the Democratic Senators who gave that authority to the Bush administration. While it can be safely said that there are good reasons to trust the Obama administration more than the Bush administration, HOPE and trust were abandoned as systems of government a long time ago.

I really would have liked to see a bill, not a handshake. That said, I'm happy that Merkley decided to engage instead of hide. His TV ads during the campaign railed against the bailout, and then he voted to release the money, and instead of ignoring the disconnect he explained it. That's more than we get from most lawmakers. It's not sufficient, but it's something.

David Sirota has more.

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History's Greatest Monster: Bush authorizes arms shipments to Zimbabwe?

Here's the memo.

Now, I want to exercise some caution here. Last May, when a Chinese ship attempted to deliver weapons to Zimbabwe, two members of the SADC - Angola and Namibia - refused to allow the ship to unload the cargo on their docks. Eventually China gave up on delivering the payload. Last month, however, the Zimbabwe Times reported that two SADC members were allowing shipments through intermediaries:

Large quantities of weapons continue to be shipped to Zimbabwe via the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to a new report by the United Nations.

Logistical support from Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe’s close allies in the government and armed forces of the strife-torn DRC is crucial to this process, evidence obtained by investigators suggests.

The final report of the group of experts on the DRC, submitted to the UN Security Council last week, says it is possible that the Congolese armed forces “may also be exporting weapons and ammunition to other countries in the region”.

The UN report skirts the issue of the precise route by which the weapons arrive in the DRC. However, unverified intelligence documents seen by the Mail & Guardian suggest that at least two countries in the Southern African Development Community are allowing shipments from China to land for onward transport to Zimbabwe via intermediaries including the DRC.

So any weapons from the US may or may not reach Zimbabwean shores. And the new President could put a swift end to any deliveries by revoking this memorandum.

However, let's put that aside for the moment. On effectively the last day of his Presidency, George Bush has apparently decided to embolden a dictator, and possibly strengthen him with arms. This comes at a time when Robert Mugabe is quite literally killing his own people.

The health crisis in Zimbabwe should be the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court, campaign group Physicians for Human Rights says.

President Robert Mugabe's government is responsible for the collapse of the health, water and sanitation systems - violating human rights, it says.

With no functioning public hospitals, the cholera epidemic has killed far more than 2,000 people, it added.

The US-based group called for the UN to take control of the health service.

This must be part of that democracy promotion agenda - dealing weapons to a fellow perpetrator of crimes against humanity.

This absolutely can be stopped by President-elect Obama, but only with attention. Let's make sure that no arms get from American hands into the hands of Mugabe's thugs.

But let's also not forget what a sad commentary this is on a pathetic and broken man who couldn't even wait out the last days of his Presidency without bringing to the world more evil and death.

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A Tale Told By An Idiot

I didn't watch one second of Bush's farewell address and I didn't really read much coverage of it either. I heard that he said something like "our air and water is cleaner" and frankly, that's all I need to know about it. I guess when he wasn't lying about his record, the whole theme of the speech was "I tried."

Sorry, not good enough. The Effort Olympics may work for young children, but for leader of the free world I don't think you should get an "also competed" award. Under his tenure, the President crippled our economy at home, sold off much of the country to corporate interests, violated more laws than I thought we had on the books, caused us little but scorn abroad and was directly responsible for the death and suffering of untold millions. That is the work of a sociopath, and a few flowery words written by speechmakers saying "I always tried to do what's right" won't really paper over the pain.

A lot of the derision for Bush focused on his words instead of his actions, which I always found to be a mistake. Yet if there's one example of those words and actions coming together to really explain the character and soul of the man, I'd say it's this:

People asked, "Which moments from the last eight years do you revisit most often?" Bush, after talking about meeting with families of fallen soldiers, replied, "I think about throwing out that pitch at the World Series on [Oct. 30] 2001. My heart was racing when I got to the mound. Didn't want to bounce it. Didn't want to let the fans down. My heart was pumping so hard, I wasn't sure if I could lift my arm. I never felt that anxious any other time during my presidency, curiously enough."

I don't think "curious" begins to explain it.

The other 15 million decisions he had to make during his Presidency, decisions that impacted the lives of practically everyone on the planet, weren't going to affect him one way or the other. He had family money and lived inside the bubble, and if the planet is singed and chaos reigns in the globe's trouble spots, "in 100 years we'll all be dead" so who cares, right? But throwing a baseball in front of a crowd is a deeply signifying event, you see. Because it's just George up on the mound. He has nowhere to hide and nobody to blame it on if things go awry. THAT'S what makes him anxious. Stupid feats of athleticism. The sending soldiers into a zone of death, no problem.

Never let it be forgotten that this was the guy who was practically worshipped by a fawning Establishment that saw his dullness and lack of concern for anyone but himself as an attribute.

MATTHEWS: What's the importance of the president's amazing display of leadership tonight?


MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV and probably, as you know, as well as I, will remember a lot longer than words spoken tonight? And that's the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot?


MATTHEWS: Do you think this role, and I want to talk politically [...], the president deserves everything he's doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief? That [...] if you're going to run against him, you'd better be ready to take [that] away from him.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Bob Dornan, you were a congressman all those years. Here's a president who's really nonverbal. He's like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign?


MATTHEWS: We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like [former President Bill] Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits. We don't want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.

...See also.

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The National(ize)

Looking at the continued sucking of our resources into the financial industry's toxic sinkhole, I see no way out of this mess without a total nationalization of the banks.

With two of the nation’s largest banks buckling under yet another round of huge losses, the incoming administration of Barack Obama and the Federal Reserve are suddenly dealing with banks that are “too big to fail” and yet unable to function as the sinking economy erodes their capital.

Particularly in the case of Citigroup, the losses have become so large that they make it almost mathematically impossible for the government to inject enough capital without taking a majority stake or at least squeezing out existing shareholders.

And the new ground rules laid down by Mr. Obama’s top economic advisers for the second half of the $700 billion bailout fund, as explained in a letter submitted to Congress on Thursday, call for the government to play an increasing role in the major activities of the banks, from the dividends they pay to shareholders to the amount they can pay executives.

“We are down a path that this country has not seen since Andrew Jackson shut down the Second National Bank of the United States,” said Gerard Cassidy, a banking analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “We are going to go back to a time when the government controlled the banking system.”

Which is what we need at this point. The masters of the universe had it their way for a while and they very nearly destroyed the economy. Banks need to lend, not cover their trillions in losses. If they do not lend, they are not a bank, and the government ought to take them over and run them like a bank for the time being until they can untangle and deleverage everything. It would be a lot better than the current situation, where the government is the main shareholder in the bank but cannot tell the executives what to do.

The only reason this won't happen is if the limits of the establishment imagination are reached, and they cannot think of nationalization in anything but the most icky, ultra-librul ways. Well, the Irish government just took over Anglo Irish Bank, so the role model is out there, and in the "Celtic Tiger" which was a model for conservatives of a thriving capitalist economy, no less.

Once the banks can actually function on their own again, we can set them back out into the market, only with shiny new regulations that assure they cannot agglomerate too quickly or over-leverage themselves ever again.

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Trying Hard Not To Understand

This has been amply discussed, but the ignorance is so strong that I'm compelled to add my voice. The FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) made a public ruling yesterday on a case involving a challenge to the 2007 Protect America Act. In it, they ruled that the 2007 law, which authorized certain kinds of surveillance, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. They are not the final word on the matter, and their ruling is subject to Supreme Court review. But they ruled that the kinds of warrantless surveillance explicitly authorized in the PAA was Constitutional.

This, of course, has NOTHING to do with Bush's unconstitutional and illegal warrantless wiretapping plan, which he undertook without the consent of Congress shortly after September 11, 2001. There has been no ruling whatsoever on the legality of going forward with that program despite it being contrary to federal statute. Nevertheless, this has not stopped the denizens of the insaneosphere to go all two snaps up and a circle and claim that Bush has been "vindicated". What's depressing is that traditional media figures like The New York Times' Eric Linchtblau - who has been following this issue and should know better - are parroting the same nonsense. Glenn Greenwald documents the atrocities:

Is it really that hard -- especially for people who pretend to be experts in this controversy -- to tell the difference between (a) whether the President had the authority to eavesdrop on Americans in violation of a Congressional statute and (b) whether the Congress is constitutionally permitted to enact a statute authorizing warrantless eavesdropping? Apparently it is hard, because hordes of right-wing advocates, including those who claim to be "legal experts," are falsely claiming today that the FISA court did (a) (namely: found that the President had the power to order warrantless eavesdropping in violation of a statute), rather than what the court actually did: (b) (found that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit Congress from legalizing warrantless eavesdropping).

Since Lichtblau's article was placed online, a copy of the actual decision became available (here - .pdf). The only question it addresses -- as I explained earlier today -- (here) is whether the Protect America Act is constitutional under the Fourth Amendment (see also Anonymous Liberal's update here). That's the only issue it addresses. It has nothing to do with the core of the NSA scandal: whether George Bush acted properly by ordering eavesdropping in violation of the law.

But if you are a reader of right-wing Bush followers, you would have been fed today a completely alternative reality in which the FISA Court "vindicated" Bush's so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program."

Russ Feingold makes essentially the same comment here:

“The recently declassified decision by the FISA Court of Review in no way validates or bolsters the president’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. The decision, which only addressed surveillance authorized by the Protect America Act (PAA) enacted in August 2007, did not support the President’s claim of constitutional authority to violate the law. Nor did the decision uphold the constitutionality of the PAA in all cases, but rather it upheld only the Act’s application in this particular case. Finally, it is my view that the Court’s analysis would have been fundamentally altered if the company that brought the case had been aware of, and thus able to raise, problems related to the government’s implementation of the law, about which I have repeatedly raised concerns in classified settings.”

It's expected for the mouth-breathers on the right to engage in triumphalism over this. But for the media to be so completely clueless is just frustrating, though expected in many ways as well. Of course, Vaughn Walker is still going to make a ruling in the Al Haramain case, so watch them write some "just when you thought it was legal..." narratives to cover their own bad reporting.

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Destroying The Myth: CD-Level Obama-McCain Results Show There Is No Red California

Bipartisan death cultists love to tell us that the real problem in California is that gerrymandered seats lead to extremists of both sides in safe elections, and that no opposition can win in such a rigged game. Thanks to the Swing State Project and some dedicated individuals who have done the work, we can now pronounce that myth dead. Completely dead.

Volunteers processed county-level information to come up with the Obama/McCain split in virtually all California Congressional districts. Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin, Santa Clara and Ventura counties have yet to release the county-level data, so we're missing a few districts, but hopefully that information is forthcoming. What we can already view, the data for 43 of the 53 districts, is stunning.

Obama won 34 of those 43 districts, including 7 held by Republicans. He just missed in CA-46 (McCain was under 50% and the spread was less than 5,000 votes). Also, seven of the 10 currently unknown districts are held by Democrats, and I'll bet CA-24 goes blue as well, or at least close to it. I think we can say that Barack Obama won or was extremely competitive in 43 of the 53 Congressional districts in the state. Here are the 7 GOP-held districts where Obama won:

CA-03 (Lungren): Obama +1,600 votes
CA-25 (McKeon): Obama +3,000 votes
CA-26 (Dreier): Obama +12,000 votes
CA-44 (Calvert): Obama +2,500 votes
CA-45 (Bono Mack): Obama +13,000 votes
CA-48 (Campbell): Obama +2,500 votes
CA-50 (Bilbray): Obama +14,000 votes

The data I've wanted is the downticket ballot dropoff stats, and now we have them. I'll list it for these seven key districts, plus CA-46 (Rohrabacher), which Obama nearly won. These are rough estimates of the total number of votes in the Presidential contest and the Congressional contest for each district:

CA-03 Presidential 336K votes; Congressional 314K votes
CA-25 Pres. 271K, Cong. 250K
CA-26 Pres. 292K, Cong. 267K
CA-44 Pres. 269K, Cong. 253K
CA-45 Pres. 276K, Cong, 266K
CA-46 Pres. 303K, Cong. 285K
CA-48 Pres. 330K, Cong. 308K
Ca-50 Pres. 329K, Cong. 313K

Though it may have made a small difference at the margins, the ballot dropoff is relatively small, actually, and to be expected to a certain extent. Some people are just going to come out for the Presidential election, on both sides.

But what is indisputable from these numbers is that Democrats can win in California in virtually every district, even when they are "hopelessly" gerrymandered. The shifts from 2004 to 2008 are quite incredible and represent a realignment. In '04 Kerry lost CA-03 58-41. Obama won. Kerry lost CA-25 59-40. Obama won. Kerry lost CA-26 55-44. Obama won 51-47. Etc. You can check the numbers for yourself.

There's only one Congressional candidate who outperformed the top of the ticket and that's Charlie Brown. Obama lost CA-04 54-44. Therefore it's untrue that, even in unfriendly areas, there is no Democrat that can make a race competitive. The right Democrat can win in any seat in California. And I think the numbers would bear this out in the Assembly and Senate as well.

The "hopelessly gerrymandered" line is an excuse. An excuse used by elites who are pretty happy with the status quo and don't want the crazy libs having a working majority in the legislature. An excuse used by those in Washington who don't want to spend money on expensive California races. It's a pernicious excuse because it restricts progress and leads us to the brink of crisis. But it's an excuse, nonetheless.

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Brought To You By The F%$#^n' Union

Marcy Wheeler has an amazing post up about that daring rescue of all those airline passengers in the Hudson River yesterday. Turns out that almost everyone involved in the rescue, top to bottom, was a union member. I'm going to borrow liberally from her post.

There's the pilot:

"What might have been a catastrophe in New York — one that evoked the feel if not the scale of the Sept. 11 attack — was averted by a pilot’s quick thinking and deft maneuvers,


On board, the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger III, 57, unable to get back to La Guardia, had made a command decision to avoid densely populated areas and try for the Hudson,


When all were out, the pilot walked up and down the aisle twice to make sure the plane was empty, officials said."

Sullenberger is a former national committee member and the former safety chairman for the Airline Pilots Association and now represented by US Airline Pilots Association. He--and his union--have fought to ensure pilots get the kind of safety training to pull off what he did yesterday.

Then there are the flight attendants:

"One passenger, Elizabeth McHugh, 64, of Charlotte, seated on the aisle near the rear, said flight attendants shouted more instructions: feet flat on the floor, heads down, cover your heads."

They are members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. Yesterday's accident should remind all of us that flight attendants are first and foremost safety professionals--they should not be treated like cocktail waitresses.

There are the air traffic controllers:

"The pilot radioed air traffic controllers on Long Island that his plane had sustained a 'double bird strike.'"

They're represented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Someday, they'll rename National Airport for the work these men and women do to keep us safe in the air.

There are the ferry crews:

"As the first ferry nudged up alongside, witnesses said, some passengers were able to leap onto the decks. Others were helped aboard by ferry crews."

They're represented by the Seafarers International Union. They provide safety training to their members so they're prepared for events like yesterday's accident.

There are the cops and firemen:

"Helicopters brought wet-suited police divers, who dropped into the water to help with the rescues."

They're represented by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association and Uniformed Fire Officers Association (IAFF locals).They're the men and women who performed so heroically on 9/11--and they've been fighting to make sure first responders get the equipment to do this kind of thing.

Nobody's saying that only union members call pull off rescues - but it sure helps when you have the membership, the ones who are on the ground, fighting for what's necessary to make them successful. Unions fight against right-wing budget cutters, who would reduce funding for emergency services, as an example. To those who demonize the labor movement, stop for a moment and say Thank You to one of these heroes today.

And then maybe you'll understand why all workers should have the free choice to join a union and have pride in their work.

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I Don't Understand Why I Can't Use The N Word!

Steve King is both playing the victim on how he's not allowed to say Barack Obama's middle name and calling Obama "bizarre" for using it himself in polite company:

While acknowledging that the terrorists aren’t dancing in the streets, King has moved on to the whole “Hussein” controversy.

He doesn’t like the fact that the president-elect will be sworn in using that middle name during Tuesday’s Inauguration.

After telling the Associated Press last year that Obama’s middle name was among the reasons Islamic terrorists would rejoice over his election, King says he’s since been careful to avoid using it. Thus he found Obama’s decision to allow it be mentioned on the steps of the Capitol “bizarre” and “a double-standard.”

“Is that reserved just for him, not his critics?” King asked.

The congressman says he doubts Obama’s sincerity when he explained that he chose to use his middle name so as to be historically consistent with past inaugurations, when America has heard the full names of its presidents echo from the inaugural stand.

“Whatever his reasons are,” King said, “the one he gave us could not be the reason.”

It couldn't possibly be that Obama is perfectly happy with his middle name, and that the restrictions on its use were a one-sided conversation among Republicans who wanted to win and Republicans who wanted to race-bait? The strongest voice about not using Obama's middle name that I remember was Karl Rove.

Not to mention that this guy was the one saying that terrorists wouuld be dancing with joy if Obama were elected. It really is terrible that King's right to be racist has been taken from him.

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Clueless Bipartisan Fetishists Ruining California With False Equivalences

It's very rare to hear the problems of the state's budget and cash crises discussed correctly, particularly in the wider media. The journalistic fetish of "balance" and making sure the only valid opinion is perfectly situated in the middle of any argument means that the go-to "experts" for the traditional media are always these Solomon-like High Broderists with advice like "the legislature should just get together for drinks more often." Thus the breadth of opinion on a show like Warren Olney's ranges from California Forward to a beat reporter. And the problems of the state are always ascribed to "the legislature." Not the fact that we have a majority vote for elections but a 2/3 vote for any tax and budget issue, making it literally impossible for the elected representatives of the state to do the job entrusted them by the voters. No, that would be too simple. It must have to do with Democrats and Republicans not drinking together enough.

Two more examples of this today. First, the California Alliance for Jobs, which actually helped lead the fight for Prop. 1A's high-speed rail bonds, has a couple radio spots out today with "funnyman" Will Durst blaming "the legislature" for stopping all those infrastructure projects and hurting the state. The MP3 is here. Amazingly, Durst spoke for 60 whole sentence and didn't make a Monica Lewinsky joke. But he also failed to make clear in any way that any particular political party is responsible for budget gridlock. Durst says that we need a responsible budget with cuts and revenues, without mentioning that the Democrats have PROPOSED AND PASSED that.

Then wet noodle Gray Davis offers his wisdom on the crisis:

"It's deja vu," Davis told a cluster of reporters after listening to Schwarzenegger's somber address. "California has experienced feast-or-famine budgeting as long as I can recall, and (it) will go on for all eternity until the people pass a genuine rainy day fund."

Yes, THAT'S the problem. Not having revenues too closely aligned to the boom-and-bust cycle. Not ratcheting down property taxes so corporations pay less for their space than an average suburban couple in Nebraska. Not Yacht Party obstructionism. It's all about that rainy day fund (which, by the way, was PASSED but which the Governor has continually raided).

The sad thing is that Davis knows he's lying, but he's either unable to or incapable of admitting it. And so the bipartisan fetishists say "can't we all get along" without recognizing that their rhetoric, which doesn't assign blame or give any citizen a roadmap to what the problem really is, sends the state careening into disaster. I have nothing but contempt for these people, even more than the Yacht Party in many ways, because they so blithely abuse their own power.

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Just The Time For Entitlement Reform?

It was one comment over an hourlong interview, but "entitlements" is like catnip to Beltway journos, so that became the lede. Still, it's pretty troubling:

President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare "bargain" with the American people, saying that the nation's long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.

That discussion will begin next month, Obama said, when he convenes a "fiscal responsibility summit" before delivering his first budget to Congress. He said his administration will begin confronting the issues of entitlement reform and long-term budget deficits soon after it jump-starts job growth and the stock market.

"What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further," he said. "We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's."

In the same interview, Obama backed financial regulatory reform and endorsed a set of policies already put forward by Paul Volcker. In a way, he's much further ahead on that front than on this entitlements thing. As I said, catnip.

He also happened to say the right things about those specific entitlements. While I wasn't happy with his emphasis on Social Security in the primaries, it's important to remember that his SOLUTIONS were always progressive, like lifting the cap on payroll taxes from roughly $100,000 to something higher, and even adding a donut hole (so $100,000-$300,000 are exempt, and then incomes above that are subject to payroll taxes, which makes perfect sense).

"Social Security, we can solve," he said, waving his left hand. "The big problem is Medicare, which is unsustainable. . . . We can't solve Medicare in isolation from the broader problems of the health-care system." [...]

The president-elect has been in frequent conversation with lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats, who repeatedly told Obama they would be willing to support his stimulus package only if he pledged not to lose sight of the larger budget picture. Those who will be invited to attend the summit include the Blue Dogs, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.), ranking minority member Judd Gregg (N.H.) and a host of outside groups with expertise on the topics, the president-elect said.

If this is some bargain for universal health care, with light, progressive tweaks to make Social Security more sustainable, then we're on solid ground. But I'm sure that is not the intention of the Blue Dogs or a Judd Gregg. Obama is emboldening a group whose overriding goal is to break the social safety net, not strengthen it.

I believe that everything about this is a huge mistake. It validates incorrect right wing economic assumptions, incorporates their toxic rhetoric about "entitlements," focuses on the wrong problems and continues the illusion that social security is in peril when it isn't. The mantra of shared sacrifice sounds awfully noble, but it isn't very reassuring to talk about the government going broke at the moment, particularly when the cause of our problems isn't the blood-sucking parasites who depend on government insurance when they can't work, but rather the handiwork of the vastly wealthy who insist on operating without restraint and refuse to contribute their fair share. I would have thought that a bipartisan commission on financial system reform might have at least been on the agenda before social security.

Obama is empowering the Republicans and the Blue Dogs with this fiscal responsibility rhetoric and perhaps he believes they will reward him by acting in good faith. And maybe they will.Or perhaps he thinks he can jiu-jitsu the debate in some very clever way to actually bolster social security and enact universal health care. But it's a big risk. I believe that all this talk about "entitlements" and fiscal responsibility will make it much tougher to sell universal health care and easier to dismantle some of the safety net at a time when many people have just lost a large piece of their retirements, their jobs and their homes. It's very hard for me to understand why they think it's a good time to do this.

There's actually another way to go with all this, and that is claiming the mandate given by the voters, based on very clear elements of change. George Bush tried to privatize Social Security completely out of nowhere, and despite his majorities in Congress that was a key reason for its downfall. Social Security and Medicare were not tossed around during the campaign outside from a little bit in the primaries (and Obama was immediately slapped down hard for doing so and he never returned to it, except to explain that McCain thought Social Security was a disgrace). There's this Beltway disease where "entitlements" are always the most pressing issue, and in this case, it's really quite the opposite (By the way, there's never been a more descriptive word for how the Village thinks of the people than "entitlements" - how dare they think they're entitled to not starving and being cared for in their old age!). The economy is a mess and major spending is needed, and deficits don't matter for the near term. But responsible "centrists" think that a Grand Bargain must be made, and so the price for a moderately liberal policy on short-term spending must be the end of Social Security and Medicare. Tom Frank's op-ed is brilliant:

There is no branch of American political expression more trite, more smug, more hollow than centrism.

After all, as Mark Leibovich pointed out in Sunday's New York Times, transcending faction has been the filler-talk of inaugural addresses going back at least to Zachary Taylor's in 1849. When you hear it today -- bemoaning as it always does "the extremes of both parties" or "the divisive politics of the past" -- it is virtually a foolproof indicator that you are in the presence of a well-funded, much-televised Beltway hack [...]

The reason centrism finds an enthusiastic audience in Washington, I think, is because it appeals naturally to the Beltway journalistic mindset, with its professional prohibition against coming down solidly on one side or the other of any question. Splitting the difference is a way of life in this cynical town. To hear politicians insist that it is also the way of the statesman, I suspect, gives journalists a secret thrill.

Yet what the Beltway centrist characteristically longs for is not so much to transcend politics but to close off debate on the grounds that he -- and the vast silent middle for which he stands -- knows beyond question what is to be done.

And centrism's achievements? Well, there's Nafta, which proved Democrats could stand up to labor. There's the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. There's the Iraq war resolution, approved by numerous Democrats in brave defiance of their party's left. Triumphs all.

These things don't typically work out. Obama, responsible centrist that he is, had better opt for what ACTUALLY works. Even if it is, Heaven to Betsy, ideological.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lack Of Blockage

So Obama will get his bailout money after a Senate effort to stop it didn't pass.

The Senate voted narrowly today to permit President-elect Barack Obama to spend another $350 billion to stabilize the fragile U.S. financial system.

On a vote of 52 to 42, the Senate defeated a resolution that would have blocked the second half of the money from a $700 billion financial rescue program from flowing to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The vote was a victory for Obama, who made personal appeals to deeply skeptical lawmakers in recent days to try to rally support. Obama's economic team says the money is urgently needed, along with a massive spending package, to restore health to financial markets and the slumping economy.

The Senate's defeat of the resolution to disapprove the funds means the money will be available to Obama about a week after he takes office Tuesday.

Elena Schor at TPM has a good rundown of who voted what way, including the release of the "a-hole caucus" in the Senate, as Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln voted for the bailout under Bush but against giving Obama the money. I don't think that's totally defensible.

Meanwhile, the House is set to pass a pretty strong oversight bill, written by Barney Frank, that would restrict how this new batch of TARP money would be spent. One very good amendment to the bill just passed:

I sound like a broken record, but it's a shame that the Senate didn't take up its own bill setting conditions on the new administration as it spends the cash. Especially since one of the two amendments adopted this afternoon was Rep. Patrick Murphy's (D-PA) plan to require the Federal Reserve to reveal the mysterious terms and contracts governing its purchase of mortgage-backed securities.

"We are only just starting to get details about the contracts with the Troubled Asset Relief Program and that is only after the threat of a subpoena - we cannot let history repeat itself," Murphy said after his amendment was unanimously approved.

The Senate is not bothering to pass such a bill. If there's still time, they ought to be pushed to have a vote.

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Better Than A Press Release!

I will be discussing the budget crisis tomorrow morning at 7:00am on "The Morning Review," with Roy Ulrich on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles. You can listen live online here, and if you miss it in the morning an archive is kept here.

While I appreciate all these mailed-in press releases reacting to Arnold's State of the State Address (shorter Arnold: not my fault!), I find them to be astonishingly ineffective. Maybe they provide a good pull-quote or two for state media, but they do little to educate citizens about the state of affairs, because they are dryly forwarded to the same places to be seen by the same news junkies and nobody else.

In this respect I have to commend Assmeblywoman Nancy Skinner for an innovative way to connect with constituents and deliver a quick but important message on the budget crisis.

As your State Assemblymember from the East Bay, I am concerned about how the economic downturn is affecting our California communities. Job loss and foreclosures are at an all time high and our neighborhoods are hurting.

In Sacramento, I am working with state leaders on budget solutions that will preserve vital services, protect our children's schools, and restore funding to shovel ready infrastructure projects that can put people back to work up and down our state.

With the enormity of Californias budget deficit such a solution requires a balanced package of spending cuts and new revenues.

But Governor Schwarzenegger has not been able to lead his own party to a reasonable compromise.

We can do better.

Join me, tell the Governor we can fix Californias budget problems without rollbacks to worker and environmental protections or devastating our schools.

Together lets move California forward.

Yes, it has the look and feel of a campaign ad. And that's the point. This is a PERFECT way to use off-cycle messaging to make the case for a responsible budget solution. And with a local cable buy (CNN, MSNBC, CNN Headline News, CNBC, Fox News, and Comedy Central), it is relatively cheap for Skinner to do so. It's not surprising that Skinner's Chief of Staff is former California Progress Report editor Frank Russo. He understands well that this kind of direct communication has been sorely lacking over the past few years.

In the coming months, as the crisis grows bigger, there's going to be an effort by the Governor to use the bully pulpit to cast the whole thing as a problem of "the legislature" instead of laying the blame where it belongs. It is crucial for progressives to push back against that, and Skinner has shown the way. Of course, her Bay Area audience doesn't really need to be convinced. The Speaker or the Senate President Pro Tem or even the CDP should take this model and push it out in areas with close Assembly races last cycle or even just Republican communities. That would be some forward thinking that would make the case for a responsible budget instead of ceding the territory to talk radio or worse. It's time for Democratic leaders to fill the news gap and begin to educate Californians.

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Sen. Burris (D-IL)

Roland Burris was sworn in today. The Cook Political Report immediately moved this race to a toss-up for 2010, but I don't think that's fair. It assumes Burris will be the nominee of the Democratic Party, which is far less than a 50-50 proposition IMO. More likely is that a big name with no ties to Blagojevich will come in and take the nomination, and blow away the meager Republican competition. And Roland Burris will be something of a footnote.

I could be wrong, but that seems likely.

Also I predict that approximately nothing will be done about the Senate appointment process even though this episode has shown it to be a farce.

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They Call It Blowback

Nobody could have anticipated that Israel couldn't bomb its way to peace with Palestine.

Israel hoped that the war in Gaza would not only cripple Hamas, but eventually strengthen its secular rival, the Palestinian Authority, and even allow it to claw its way back into Gaza.

But with each day, the authority, its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and its leading party, Fatah, seem increasingly beleaguered and marginalized, even in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, which they control. Protesters accuse Mr. Abbas of not doing enough to stop the carnage in Gaza — indeed, his own police officers have used clubs and tear gas against those same protesters.

The more bombs in Gaza, the more Hamas’s support seems to be growing at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, already considered corrupt and distant from average Palestinians.

“The Palestinian Authority is one of the main losers in this war,” said Ghassan Khatib, an independent Palestinian analyst in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “How can it make gains in a war in which it is one of the casualties?”

This is a pretty familiar outcome - what rises from the ashes of an attack like this is typically not more moderate or agreeable to the offensive power. Fatah was already disliked and now they are seen to be cooperating, either directly or indirectly, with the bombing of civilians.

I bring this up because Tom Friedman can't bother to read his own paper or talk to any regional expert, and would rather just tell the Palestinians to suck on this.

Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future. […] In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.

Yes, it is quite educational to murder women and children, and it almost always leads to a more learned and chastened militant group. Just read any history book. I guess the theory of "education" doesn't extend to Friedman, who can't seem to learn that collective punishment induces radicalism and rage.

Very. Serious. Monster.

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America, Your Stimulus Package

I'm sorry, American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.

In the next two weeks, the House will consider the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which makes long-term investments that are worthy, needed, fully-screened, and based on merit, not politics. Developed with priorities shared by President-elect Obama, the plan will create or save 3 to 4 million American jobs, with an estimated 90 percent of the jobs created in the private sector—getting the American economy moving in the short term and making investments for a stronger economy in the long term. The Chairman’s mark (draft legislation) will be circulated and posted online later today and next week the Ways and Means Committee, Energy and Commerce Committee, and Appropriations Committee will mark-up the legislation.

The bill is actually up here, and if you don't speak Congress, a more readable report is here. The big takeaway is that we're up to an $825 billion dollar package, with 2/3 for investment and 1/3 for tax cuts. That's less than before, and the taxes are more focused on energy and middle-class tax relief than broad corporate cuts, but my sense is that's still a bit out of balance.

There are quite a bit of safeguards in the plan. It mandates no pet projects or earmarks (for now), with full transparency. In addition to Inspector General reviews, monthly reporting, whistleblower protections and competitive bidding, there will be a government website showing where all the stimulus money is headed, and the public will be able to oversee the spending. In addition, all the contracts will be going online, leading to this funny exchange:

ORSZAG: We plan to create a Web site that will contain information about the contracts and include PDFs or contracts themselves, and also financial information about the contracts.



Chris Bowers has a very good rundown of where the spending is headed, and so does the aforementioned report from the Appropriations Committee. Practically every sector is going to be seeing a portion of this money, with major expenditures for health care, education, energy and the environment. There is unemployment relief and food stamp increases in the bill, which is good. There is a section called the "State Fiscal Stabilization Fund" that earmarks $79 billion to help the states. That too is good. But overall, this looks more like an omnibus appropriations bill than a targeted spending effort. That's not necessarily bad. But it has people like David Sirota upset.

The Post says the package "includes about $85 billion worth of infrastructure spending, most for highway and bridge construction." That's it - $85 billion in an $850 billion bill.

$85 billion for infrastructure in a nation that now regularly sees bridge collapses, steam pipe explosions, sink holes, dam failures, levee breaks and blackouts.

$85 billion at a time when Obama is demanding another $350 billion blank check for Wall Street.

$85 billion when the American Society of Civil Engineers says we need $1.6 trillion.

$85 billion in the same package that could include hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts - many for the banks that created the economic mess. This, at a time when U.S. News & World Report notes that a new poll shows 81 percent of Americans are ready to pay higher taxes to fund significant infrastructure investments.

As Matt Yglesias notes, there is an error in thinking that the stimulus bill alone can solve our infrastructure problem - it can't, and we need to be thinking long-term about how we fund infrastructure (reforming the highway bill to get more money for transit and rail would be a good start). Also, flood control, a key infrastructure need, is included in the energy and environment spending, so there's some overlap here.

In general, this is decent but could be better, and given the drift already in the direction of more spending and less taxes, I would hope for that to continue. However, it's worth noting that everyone and his mother is going to be looking for a piece of the action here, and so "stimulus" could start to look a lot like "bailout" as it grows. Diligence is required.

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Just Too Many Unanswered Questions

Hillary Clinton was recommended for confirmation as Secretary of State by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today by a 16-1 vote. The one no vote? David Vitter.

Sen. David Vitter , R-La., was the only member to vote against the nomination, and he did so by proxy. In a statement released before the vote, Vitter said, “Sen. Clinton is certainly a smart, capable colleague, and I take no pleasure in voting against her confirmation. But I must do so for one compelling reason. I believe President Clinton’s business and foundation dealings are a multi-million dollar minefield of conflicts of interest. And this could produce explosions at any minute, particularly concerning the Middle East where we least need them.”

Yes, it wouldn't be good to have someone in a position of power with so many unanswered questions. For example, Pampers or Huggies?

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Don't Let The Banks Suck Up More Bailout Money

In many ways, the stimulus package debate has been overshadowed somewhat by the request for the second half of the bailout money, orchestrated by both the current and the next President. I think the reason for this is that we're starting to hear a steady drumbeat from banks that need more cash infusions to survive in this economic climate. The first tranche of money hasn't fixed the balance sheets of these companies, and it indeed might have encouraged them to take larger write-downs because they could absorb them. Bank of America is asking for billions in US aid because they claim not to have known the extent of the rot inside Merrill Lynch when they bought it. Citi is about to fall over if they don't get more funds. And that's just the beginning.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bernanke publicly made the case that one of the most unpopular and most scorned programs in Washington — the $700 billion bailout program — needs to pour hundreds of billions more into the very banks and financial institutions that already received federal money and caused much of the credit crisis in the first place [...]

Since last September, no major banks have failed and the credit markets have thawed somewhat.

But analysts said the problems are still acute, if less apparent on the surface. Banks have received $200 billion in fresh capital from the Treasury since last fall and have borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars more from the Fed. But in the meantime, the economy fell into a severe downturn last fall that is likely to continue until at least this summer.

Industry analysts estimate rising unemployment and business failures will lead to another $500 billion to $750 billion of losses in coming months. That could bring total losses from the credit crisis to $1.5 trillion to $1.8 trillion, twice as high as earlier estimates.

Bernanke expanded upon this at a speech this week, saying that the recovery package would be "doomed" if the financial and credit markets weren't fixed. And we're starting to see the same kind of wrangling for more bailout money from the financial sector and their establishment cheerleaders, warning that even more than the $700 billion allocated must be put into the banks.

I agree with Atrios - the time has come to talk about nationalization. There is no oversight over this huge amount of money lent by both the TARP program and the Fed, which is only now coming under scrutiny. It's been a slush fund of close to $2 trillion dollars, without a sense of who got that money or where all of it is going.

I think we'll finally see a look into just what the Fed is up to as a result of that grilling.

Indeed, Treasury is already promising more money to the banks before they are even authorized by the Congress to do so. Sadly, the way it has been structured, it will be very unlikely for Congress to stop the delivery of the other $350 million. They have to vote affirmatively to keep it away from the President, which the Senate will do today, but the President can veto, and then override would require a 2/3 vote. I don't think you'll see that kind of support for holding back the money in Congress.

What ought to be done is that Congress should establish some oversight, and the TARP funds should be committed in a radically different way. On the first point, Barney Frank has worked to draft a bill putting restrictions on the bailout money, which include limiting executive compensation and demanding information on where the money is going. But top Democrats feel that the bill doesn't need to become law and that it should be seen more as a guideline, and Obama ought to be trusted to do the right thing. This isn't about taking someone at his word, this is about Congress fulfilling its oversight duties. So that should clearly be passed as a statute with the force of law instead of wishful thinking.

On the second point, here's Robert Reich:

1. Do not use any of the money to buy stock in -- that is, to "recapitalize" -- the banks. This is a sinkhole of cosmic proportion. Citigroup, to take but one example, has so far received $45 billion of taxpayer cash since early October (along with some $250 billion in taxpayer-supported guarantees from the Fed for junky assets on Citi's balance sheets), and is in far worse financial shape than it was three months ago. Perhaps, someday over the rainbow, these shares in Citi along with Citi's lousy assets will be worth more than taxpayers paid for them. But we're not in Wonderland yet and probably never will be. Giving Citi or any other big bank more taxpayer money is analogous to giving it to Bernard Madoff. It's a giant Ponzi scheme. The money will disappear.

2. Do not use the money to buy the banks' "troubled" assets. This might have made sense a year ago when the proportion of such assets -- which include mortage-backed securities as well as loans to private-equity partnerships that pissed them away -- was relatively small. But these days a huge and growing proportion of bank assets are "troubled." (It's also a huge waste of taxpayer dollars for the Fed to exchange them for Treasury bills.)

3. Prohibit any bank that gets TARP II funds from issuing dividends, purchasing other companies, or paying off creditors.

4. Bar any bank that gets TARP II funds from paying its executives, traders, or directors more than 10 percent of what they received in 2007.

5. Require that any bank getting TARP II funds be reimbursed by its executives, traders, and directors 50 percent of whatever amounts they were compensated in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. This compensation was, after all, based on false premises and fraudulant assertions, and on balance sheets that hid the true extent of these banks' risks and liabilities.

6. Insist that at least 90 percent of the TARP II money be used for new bank loans. If the banks cannot find suitable lenders, they should return the money.

Absolutely. Obama says that the second tranche will be used to limit foreclosures. That's simply a wiser use of the money rather than throwing it into the sinkhole provided by the banks. It would provide a bottom-up stimulus and generate actual economic activity. Reich has an excellent suggestion for how this could be done.

Meanwhile, Congress should attach to TARP II -- or to the upcoming stimulus bill -- a small change in the bankruptcy law allowing homeowners to renegotiate their mortgages on their primary residences (as owners of second homes and commercial real estate can already do). The practical effect will be to give homeowners more bargaining leverage with their mortgage banks, and save at least 800,000 homes from foreclosure. Yes, in theory, holders of mortgage-backed securities will take a hit but as a practical matter they've already taken a hit because the securities (and the securities in which they're wrapped) are already deemed to be junk. At the least, this change will put a bit of a damper on the rising number of foreclosures. A home that's occupied by a family paying something on their mortgage is far better than a home that's empty, on which no one is paying anything.

And the money from TARP could be used to sweeten the pot for lenders to get moving on these workouts, though ultimately they're going to have to take a haircut.

This ought to be a bright line for progressives. Bankruptcy and foreclosure reform ought to be a part of this bill - and we should be willing to fight for it. Thomas Geoghegan, the progressive candidate running to replace Rahm Emanuel in IL-05, has a petition calling for no more blank check bailouts.

We call on Congress to reject President Bush’s request for another $350 billion blank check bailout. The Congress must follow their constitutional role and provide guidelines and restrictions on any money given to banks and Wall Street. These include:

Give priority – directly if possible – to help people keep their homes.
Get public interest representatives or directors on bank boards in all of the banks receiving money.
Penalize any bank that has been hoarding money from the first bailout
In a time of economic hardship, with people losing their jobs, health care, pensions, and homes, Americans need economic security. We need a raise in social security, less debt, and single payer universal health care reform.

I recommend signage.

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Holder Pattern

I caught a little of the Eric Holder testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the way in. I guess the page one headline is that he called waterboarding torture. If that's so, then he is obligated by law to prosecute those who authorized and directed it. Just sayin'.

The cable gabfests are probably talking about him taking responsibility for mistakes made in the Marc Rich pardon. I want to focus on a couple other things. First, the issue of Guantanamo:

Holder echoed that stance Thursday but said shuttering the prison would be difficult and would take time. Many detainees could be transferred to other countries, he said, and some could be charged in U.S. courts. That is a contentious proposal because many oppose the idea of bringing terrorism suspects onto U.S. soil.

"There are possibly many other people who are not going to be able to be tried but who nevertheless are dangerous to this country," Holder said. "We're going to have to try to figure out what we do with them."

What we do is old-fashioned detective work, figure out if we can charge these people, and if we can't, release them. It's as simple as that. That's going to take a little time, since the evidence is currently in complete disarray, as a former prosecutor at Gitmo acknowledges. But it can and should be done as quickly as possible. Furthermore, there is an error in assuming this applies to every detainee still at the facility. It does not. There are hundreds that present no threat to the United States and should be released.

A federal judge ordered the release yesterday of a detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ruling that the government's evidence is too weak to justify the man's continued confinement.

It is the second time that U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon has ordered the release of a detainee after examining government evidence, most of it classified. Leon said that the Justice Department failed to prove that Mohammed El Gharani, 21, is an enemy combatant because it relied heavily on statements made by two other detainees whose credibility is questionable.

In fact, the least we can do is allow some of the detainees whose lives we destroyed to remain free in the United States, even as a symbolic act of contrition and tolerance. This will make it easier to export other detainees to Western nations. If the Obama-Holder plan is just a kinder and gentler indefinite detention and more friendly military commissions, then they own a process which, among other things, is trying children in sham courts, against international law.

A couple other things - Jeff Sessions' questioning of Holder was hilarious. Sessions admitted being "concerned" that Holder wants to operate within the "spirit of the Constitution," because that could mean different things to different people. Yes, see, if your version of the Constitution means that we're not allowed to crush the testicles of children, Mr. Holder, we've got a problem!

In Chuck Schumer's testimony, Holder was asked if he would review the case of Bradley Schlozman and the politicization of the civil rights division, to determine why the US Attorneys declined to prosecute, and Holder said he would. So the Schloz is not out of the woods yet. And he was strong on the overall issue of politicization.

Holder promised to be an independent attorney general, telling lawmakers that he did not believe the attorney general's job was to serve as the president's lawyer — a frequent criticism of Gonzales' tenure under President George W. Bush. He also pledged to restore the independence of a Justice Department where Bush administration appointees used political benchmarks when making hiring decisions.

"One of the things I'm going to have to do as attorney general in short order is basically do a damage assessment," Holder said.

Several Republicans have already agreed to back Holder, so the effort to oppose him is pretty much a sideshow. Inside the false media narrative, however, there is some important information coming out.

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The State Of The State Is, Well, You Know

Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers the State of the State Address at 10am this morning. Typically he has done this speech to coincide with the evening news. This year he's trying to hide it.

I don't blame him. As David Greenwald discusses, people pretty much know the State of the State already.

As Governor Schwarzenegger prepares to report on the State of the State tomorrow, California’s families today declared that “the State of the People” is increasingly grim with a record number of Californians having lost their jobs and health care and their homes. California educators, students, health care workers, seniors and people with disabilities said more state budget cuts are exactly the wrong prescription after they’ve suffered the consequences of more than $16 billion in state budget cuts to critical services over the last 3 years.

“California families are here to report what you won’t hear from the Governor tomorrow: budget cuts over the last three years have deeply wounded our families’ health and well-being, diminished our children’s opportunity for the future, and damaged our economy.” said Evan LeVang, Director, Independent Living Resource Center of Northern California.

Californians who have personally been affected by budget cuts detailed the severe consequences that the cuts, including $10 billion in cuts already this year, have had on California families who have already been hit hard by the nation’s economic meltdown.

“Before our elected leaders slash another dollar from our hospitals, they should think about what health care would be worth to them if their husband, their daughter, or their father needed care. Because every patient that comes to our hospital is someone’s parent, spouse, or child,” said Beverly Griffith, an environmental services worker and SEIU member at Summit Medical Center in Oakland. “While longer hours and staff shortages caused by budget cuts have been rough on hospital workers, they’ve been unbearable for our patients.”

And of course, this is bound to get worse. It's important to split the two major problems into their discrete parts - we have a budget crisis AND a cash crisis. Even if the budget hole is at least partially filled (and with any luck, we'll be able to access some federal stimulus money, either through direct payments or tax revenues on increased economic activity, by February), the cash crisis would persist, and we could see IOUs even after a budget deal because of the inability for California to go to the bond markets and borrow. And the converse is also true. In sum, it's a different problem which needs a different solution. The LAO is obscure here, but I believe "restricted funds" refers to Prop. 98 money:

The Legislature's budget analyst, Mac Taylor, says that schools, colleges and bondholders will have first call on the state's money if its cash flow crisis hits home in a few weeks.

But Taylor says in a report on the looming cash flow crisis that even if the Legislature fails to reach agreement on closing the state's budget deficit, the cash crisis could be relieved with some emergency legislation to allow more internal borrowing of restricted funds.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders have been conducting closed-door negotiations this week on both the budget and the cash crisis, which are related but separate issues. Controller John Chiang has said that the state will be forced to curtail state disbursements sometime in February unless there's rapid action on the budget and/or cash flow-related legislation [...]

The administration has asked the Legislature to approve measures that would free up about $2 billion in restricted funds that could be borrowed by the state general fund and thus stave off the cash crunch. It's also said that rapid action on the budget would allow the state to defer more than $1 billion in payments to schools that otherwise would have to be made.

As a budget solution would at least have some impact on loosening the bond markets, this could be the intent of Schwarzenegger's delay - so he can raid dedicated funds for schools and health care. It's important for us to start figuring out Arnold's gambit. When I talked to State Senator Fran Pavley at one of the election meetings last weekend, she said "It's hard to negotiate with someone if you don't know what they want." My next several posts here will seek to figure that out.

Anyway, you're not going to hear it at 10am, I gather.

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