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

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Iran: Everybody's Favorite Whipping Boy

Um, this is a misleading story. Iran has enough uranium to make a bomb, but it takes until the seventh paragraph to report that "the material would have to undergo further enrichment if it was to be used as fuel for a bomb and that atomic inspectors had found no signs that Iran was making such preparations." In fact, it's even more remote than the article makes out.

Iran cannot construct nuclear bombs with uranium enriched only to less than 4%. It needs to be enriched to something like 90% to make a bomb. Iran is not known even to have that capability, and no it cannot be done in 2 months (try a decade), assuming they were trying to do it, which our $40 bn. a year intelligence agencies say they are not. So all the silly articles on Friday about how iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb are just illiterate. Moreover, the report in question actually says that Iran is slowing its enrichment activities.

This is propaganda with a right-wing frame, and I fear the Administration is promoting it. And this has consequences inside Iran. That hardliners are blocking websites promoting reformer Mohammed Khatami is to be expected, but they are clearly using the Manichean "us against the world" nature of current international relations to provide cover for this suppressing of dissent. It's stupid policy to keep hyping these reports and distorting their findings. The Obama team can go a long way to ending this crap by refusing to accept the premises. So far they haven't.

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Liberal Common Ground On Afghanistan

The National Security Network is aiming for a broad progressive strategy in Afghanistan, directly engaging those who oppose escalation into a framework for moving forward. This is a noble effort, but I'm not sure you can find common ground between drawdown and force increase. The NSN document sidesteps the question. They start by asserting that the Af-Pak region is in crisis and national security interests are at stake. That's true, but more so in Pakistan, where the Swat Valley is becoming a permanent Taliban zone with Sharia law. The semi-permanent sanctuary already exists and will bedevil efforts to remove the terrorist threat. This is why the drone attacks are widening (apparently with increased effectiveness because of better human intelligence, though I still think there are pitfalls to this strategy, especially by riling Pakistani locals to potentially overthrow a government sympathetic to bombing its own people).

This part of the NSN document, however, I agree with:

Domestic and Afghan constraints severely limit what we can achieve. In the midst of an economic downturn and weary from years of war in Iraq, Americans are justifiably reluctant to redouble efforts in Afghanistan. Afghan history and the overwhelmingly complex and unpredictable situation in Afghanistan also argue against a US presence that is massive and unlimited in time or scope.

The scale of the challenge demands broad vision but modest objectives. Larger than Iraq, with a population close to 32 million, Afghanistan suffers from one of the world’s lowest development levels, scant economic opportunity, crude infrastructure, and a dependence on the opium trade – interrelated problems that go beyond the near term issue of worsening security. Humanitarian and governance goals to which Afghans and many Americans rightly aspire will be better-served by a smaller-scale effort which can enable local, regional and non-governmental efforts than a massive one which cannot be sustained.

We have to reduce our expectations in Afghanistan, and I think the current Administration is mindful of that. This would return the mission to what is was when Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001 - to remove the threat of Al Qaeda to project power beyond national borders. But I fail to see how 60,000 troops or more for 3-4 years will align with those goals. Local control means, well, local control, and the Afghan state is not historically who has provided that, either. It's a tribal society that is resistant to Western civic structures.

Here's the strategy part of the NSN document:

Implement a comprehensive strategy that recognizes the limits of military power, with the following objectives:

Stronger governance, balanced between Kabul and traditional provincial power sources;
Greater trust in government to deliver for its citizens and reduce corruption;
An Afghan police force that better protects citizens and enforces laws;
Better economic opportunities for the Afghan people; and
Pragmatic strategies that loosen the stranglehold of the opium trade.

Adopt a counter-insurgency strategy that reinforces, rather than works against, the principles above. Military decisions should be made with an eye to meeting Afghan security concerns; developing an Afghan security force capable of controlling territory and offering protection; and, as many Afghans and some military observers have advocated, phasing out tactics that have increased civilian casualties with questionable payoffs.

This is all great. But it's fundamentally incompatible with a long-term escalation strategy. Over time, we have to reduce the footprint of foreign occupiers in Afghanistan as the support for them decreases among the population. I support efforts at civilian aid and building civic structures, but the military hasn't shown the ability to have an effective state-building capacity. And pretty soon, we'll be running out of bases in the region to project American power from (although it appears a new supply route has been secured through the brutal human rights abusers in Uzbekistan. Not change I can believe in).

I support the NSN effort but don't think it can succeed.

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Death Cult Simmers Throughout The State

I'm reading the accounts of delusional maniacs from across the state with not a little bit of bemusement. The lack of economic thought is matched only by the lack of recognition that Republicans got far more out of this budget than they deserved to get, thanks to the anti-democratic 2/3 requirement. Here's a sample of this Algonquin Roundtable:

"The Republicans should have stood their ground," fumed 70-year-old Tony Dragonetti. "Abel Maldonado is sick, and so are the other Republicans who voted for this. They give the you-owe-me crowd everything they need, but the poor slob who is working day after day paying taxes gets nothing." [...]

"I think they could have held out. There are a lot more cuts they could have made," said Steve Pyle, 61, who said he was so unhappy with the country's direction that he seriously was considering moving to Australia. "They could start by getting rid of all the illegal immigrants and the teachers unions." [...]

"I don't believe everything would have stopped if this budget wasn't passed," Sanders said. "I support what the Republicans did."

Local GOP activist Adele Harrison predicted new taxes would push the state and country into a depression [...]

Terry Carter, 65, just smiled behind the counter and kept pouring coffee. The boisterous regulars have helped keep him in business for 22 years. As for his own opinions, he keeps those to himself.

"Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is listen," he said.

Well, that depends on who you're listening to. For example, listening to talk radio is most definitely NOT the smartest thing you can do. I've been tuning in to a lot of this down in Southern California, and the ignorance abounds. A typical commenter is a well-off suburbanite bitching about $700 bucks in new taxes for their $126,000 salary (that was an actual conversation). Roger Niello, one of the Yacht Party's own who voted for the budget, got hammered on a Sacramento station.

John in Sacramento warned, "You're going to bankrupt the state with taxes."

And Dave in Cameron Park told Niello he was "outraged that you, as a Republican, caved in and voted with Democrats." [...]

"You should have let (California) fall off a cliff," John from Sacramento told him. "Then, we pick up the pieces and put this state together, the way it used to be." (emphasis mine)

This is the suicide cult politics played by the GOP. And it features a lot of righteous anger and talk of censure and recalls and primary challenges. There's even some Ventura County Supervisor and anti-tax nut who's mulling a run for Governor as the conservative alternative.

But I'm not sure it's such a force anymore. The John and Ken show ended Thursday with the two musing that "somebody should do something about this" and asking listeners to find each other to fight against the turncoats. In other words, they're not going to lead it. Ultimately, these are lazy people shouting at the end of the bar. Independents have turned dramatically against them, and the leader of the party won't show up at their convention. I don't know that they're entirely coordinated, after years of mismanagement and an almost broke state party apparatus, to even pull off the enforcer role. If someone like Anthony Adams survives a primary challenge, that would be a powerful signal that the Yacht Party is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In fact, in maybe the most pathetic rallying speech I've ever heard in my lifetime, neo-Hooverist South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford argued for losing now, losing tomorrow, losing forevah!

"We are at the incredible gut check point for what happens next in American civilization," Sanford said in the introductory address for the state party's three-day Sacramento convention [...]

"Would you be willing to lose? Would you be willing to support folks who may likely lose," Sanford told the gathering at the Capitol Hyatt. He went on to say that it was paramount for party members to support the GOP "at a time when it may look like a losing cause" because their efforts will be "pushing the ball forward in the larger conservative movement."

California Republicans: Willing To Lose.

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You Know It's Hard Out Here For A Likudnik

So Bibi Netanyahu will form the new Israeli government. Only he wants a unity coalition rather than the natural coalition made up entirely of parties from the right. And he's constrained by a new US Administration that wants him to stop expanding the settlements and work toward peace. With Kadima and Labour likely to reject his calls for a unity government, Netanyahu is actually in a precarious position.

Ms. Livni, the current foreign minister and Mr. Netanyahu’s main rival for the premiership, has so far refused the idea of joining a government led by Mr. Netanyahu and including several ultra-orthodox and far-right parties. Committed to the peace process with the Palestinians, she has said she would rather go into the opposition than serve as a fig-leaf for a coalition of the right.

Mr. Barak, whose Labor Party fared badly in the elections, has already said he would heed the will of the people and head into the opposition [...]

Shalom Yerushalmi, a columnist in Friday’s Maariv newspaper, described such a government as Mr. Netanyahu’s “nightmare.”

“The narrow government he formed in 1996 fell apart in stages,” Mr. Yerushalmi noted. “Netanyahu swore that he would not make a narrow government again, and would never again be the prime minister of half the people.”

And what's remarkable is that American politicians are feeling free to speak out about the situation in Gaza in ways I haven't seen before. Pushing from the American benefactors is the surest way to rein in Likud.

“The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering” said (Brian) Baird, “Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, schools completely leveled, fundamental water, sewer, and electricity facilities hit and relief agencies heavily damaged. The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools, entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching – what went on here, and what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words.”

Inquiring about the status of relief efforts, the Congressmen learned that some aid material has been allowed in since the intensity of the attacks lessened a month ago, but much is still being blocked by the Israeli defense forces. Examples of aid that has been banned by the Israeli Government include: lentils, macaroni, tomato paste, lentils and other food. Basic building materials, generator fuel and parts to repair damaged water treatment equipment have also been kept out.

“If this had happened in our own country, there would be national outrage and an appeal for urgent assistance. We are glad that the Obama administration acted quickly to send much needed funding for this effort but the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food and repair essentials is unacceptable and indefensible. People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in” said Baird and (Keith) Ellison.

This is especially shocking coming from Brian Baird, the guy who supported the surge in Iraq and seemed to welcome thumbing his nose at doves in his own party.

I don't want to oversell this. The peace process is probably dead for a couple years. But Netanyahu clearly doesn't want to lead the way he did in 1996, because he knows that the same fragmenting would result. So this is a far-right government that wants to mask their far-right policies. If he's forced to do so, Netanyahu may not survive more than a year or two, and maybe we'll get a government that can move the process forward again. Either that, or Netanyahu will have to "go to China" and embark on a peace program due to internal constraints. I didn't think I would be hopeful about Israel/Palestine after the election, and I'm still not, but there's a road to hope.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Random Ten

Smoke if you got 'em.

Big Business - Dilated Peoples
The Wizard Turns On... - The Flaming Lips
GBH - Death In Vegas
Steppin' Out - Fantastic Plastic Machine
Fixing A Hole - The Beatles
I Can't Win - The Strokes
Tears Dry On Their Own - Amy Winehouse
Nobody's Fault But My Own - Beck
This Is The One - The Stone Roses
Leg Of Lamb - Queens Of The Stone Age

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Let Them Eat Crawfish Cake

Kicking off his 2012 Presidential campaign, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has decided to screw over poor people.

When President Obama signed the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act last week, it included three different provisions to benefit unemployed workers. The first provided funding to states that allowed for a $25 per week increase in benefits. The second extended the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program which gives 20 weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits to individuals “who had already collected all regular state benefits,” while the third provision widened the pool of people eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Today, however, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced his intention to oppose changing state law to allow his Lousiana citizens to qualify for the second two unemployment provisions. Jindal said the state would only be accepting money to increase the unemployment insurance payments for those who currently qualify for unemployment insurance.

In all, Jindal turned away nearly $100 million in federal aid for his state’s unemployed residents.

I know a big state on the West Coast that can use it.

For the most part, these "principled" Southern governors have been talking the talk about rejecting stimulus funds but not walking the walk. Jindal is sufficiently crazy enough to go all the way. And of course, he didn't reject the new homebuyers' benefit or anything that would hit someone of less modest means, he rejected aid for the desperate. Unemployment benefits are among the fastest forms of stimulus there are, with really big multipliers, because people in that situation spend the money. But it's considered good strategy now in the Republican Party to try and sink the economy, and it's always been good strategy to harm the poor at the expense of the rich. Jim Clyburn is right here, though I think it's a function of class and not quite race.

The highest-ranking African-American member of Congress on Friday accused Southern governors who oppose economic stimulus spending of indifference to the plight of poor blacks who might benefit from the federal money.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, amplified earlier statements that the governors' hesitation in accepting stimulus money had insulted him because "these four states are in the heart of the black belt."

Clyburn singled out Republican Govs. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi for criticism.

This isn't about traditionally poor communities anymore. Due to the length and breadth of this recession, middle class professionals are now showing up at food banks. And Bobby Jindal wants to make sure that they get no help from the state that they could use to get themselves back on their feet and ready to contribute to the economy again.

Good Presidential material.

...if Jindal wants to really make a name for himself, he could reject federal support to rebuild New Orleans. Now THAT would make him look like a tiger!

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Strong Investment

This endless trial in Minnesota over their US Senate election is really working out well for the Republicans. Norm Coleman's lawyers get to make any wild charge they want, contradicting themselves over what ballots should count and what shouldn't, and in the meantime, the winner of the election, Al Franken, isn't seated as the 59th Democratic Senator, making it harder to break the obstructionism and making the Senate more reliant on the Axis of Presidents Nelson and Collins. It's a great little racket they've got going. So they decided to keep funding it.

The Republican National Committee has transferred $250,000 to the Minnesota GOP to help pay legal fees in Norm Coleman’s ongoing recount battle against Al Franken for the Minnesota Senate seat.

A spokesman for the RNC, Alex Conant, said the committee had made Coleman’s legal battle “a priority because we think he has a case and because we think he deserves to return to the Senate.” The money was transferred last month.

“We certainly appreciate the RNC’s commitment to Minnesota as we are continuing full speed ahead,” said Minnesota Republican Party spokeswoman Gina Countryman.

While the RNC cannot legally earmark funds for specific purposes, RNC sources said the deposit was made under the presumption that it would benefit Coleman’s campaign.

Later in the article it is noted that Coleman has raised $5 million dollars since the election to fund this gambit.

It's amusing to see the RNC baldly say that they "deserve" the seat up there, but that's not what's going on. It's just easy to keep making motions and keep calling witnesses while key legislation gets blocked in the Senate. And yes, one Senator does make a difference. Greg Sargent writes today:

One wild-card in the whole looming battle over the Employee Free Choice Act that’s gotten too little attention is this: When will Al Franken be seated as a Senator?

Labor officials say they’re reluctant to really kick off the battle over Employee Free Choice — a measure to make it easier to unionize that is labor’s top priority — until Franken is officially a member of the Senate.

Indeed, Minnesota’s other Senator, Amy Klobuchar, confirmed yesterday during an event in the state that the Senate has decided not to move on Employee Free Choice until Franken is seated, the Minnesota Post reports. If the House of Representatives pushes for the Senate to vote first on the measure, as expected, this could hold up the fight that much longer.

$250,000 or $5 million is a small price to pay for the Big Money Boyz to keep workers from forming unions. And in addition to gumming up the works for months upon months, they get to delegitmize the electoral process, as well as Al Franken's claim to the seat. It's a really nice investment for them. Better than anything in the stock market these days.

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Nationalization Rumblings - Senators Step Up

Big news today on the bank nationalization front. First, Sen. Dodd states the obvious:

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd said banks may have to be nationalized for “a short time” to help lenders such as Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. survive the worst economic slump in 75 years.

“I don’t welcome that at all, but I could see how it’s possible it may happen,” Dodd said today on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” to be broadcast this weekend. “I’m concerned that we may end up having to do that, at least for a short time.”

Bank of America and Citigroup, which received $90 billion in U.S. aid in four months, tumbled as much as 36 percent today on concern they may be nationalized. The Obama administration today said a “privately held” banking system is the “correct way to go” and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said nationalization ought “to be avoided.”

And then Chuck Schumer followed suit:

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) believes that failed "zombie" banks, no matter what their size, should be taken over by the government, which should then wipe out shareholders, fire management, clean up the banks and quickly resell them into the marketplace. Such a move, he cautioned, should come only if the "stress tests" being conducted by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner determine a bank to be insolvent.

Schumer argued that there are good and bad ways to nationalize banks, and that the loaded nature of the term often leads to confusion. "'Nationalization' means many different things to many different people, and somebody needs to clear it up," said Schumer. "We have to distinguish. I like the good and don't like the bad."

Schumer also pressed that nationalization should be a last resort. "It should be the last arrow in the quiver. The danger here is when a government takes [a bank] over, it drives down shares of other banks that might not be in as bad shape," he said. "Let me be clear about this because I want to be very careful: I am not speaking of any specific institution, just a general comment about a general situation. And I don't have -- and please write this -- I don't have any specific institution in mind."

These aren't backbenchers. They're the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee and Wall Street's man in Washington. And they're merely saying out loud what already has the markets in a panic. The right will try to pin any erosion of the banks on Dodd and Schumer, surely, but the problem is not loose lips, but that many banks are insolvent:

We are not talking about fears that leftist radicals will expropriate perfectly good private companies. At least since last fall the major banks — certainly Citi and B of A — have only been able to stay in business because their counterparties believe that there’s an implicit federal guarantee on their obligations. The banks are already, in a fundamental sense, wards of the state.

And the market caps of these banks did not reflect investors’ assessment of the difference in value between their assets and their liabilities. Instead, it largely — and probably totally — reflected the “Geithner put”, the hope that the feds would bail them out in a way that handed a significant windfall gain to stockholders.

What’s happening now is a growing sense that the federal government, in return for rescuing these institutions, will demand the same thing a private-sector white knight would have demanded — namely, ownership.

And they'd better get to it soon before the whole financial sector goes over the cliff.

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The Staff-less Senator

Yesterday the press secretary resigned. Today the acting Chief of Staff to Roland Burris resigned. And Robert Gibbs today nudged him a bit further off the ledge.

If Burris recognizes that he's been a Senator for a month and can still chisel it into his mausoleum, I think he'll go quietly. the way, Gibbs' comment, which really stuck the knife in, should put to rest this ridiculous meme that Obama pushed for Burris to be seated because he needed his vote on the stimulus. As Kagro X points out, if Burris wasn't seated there would only be 98 Senators requiring 59 votes to overcome a filibuster, so the number of Republicans needed for passage would be, uh, exactly the same. John Kass is our Pert Plus Ignornant Pundit Of The Week!

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Jack O'Connell Latest To Throw Down For Majority Vote

State Superintendent for Public Instruction Jack O'Connell discusses the impact of the budget on education today, and it's predictably negative. After going through the particulars ($7.4 billion cut to Prop. 98 funding, additional flexibility for local control, a repayment measure on the ballot to return $9.8 billion to education under Prop. 98 in the future), he makes a strong announcement:

The painful budget process at our state and local school district level calls out for reform of California’s dysfunctional budgeting process. It is time for a sincere and frank conversation about reform. Central to this conversation is the idea of throwing out the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget and simply using a majority vote. Nearly every state in the nation and Congress, as well as counties, and cities use majority votes to pass their budgets. California should follow suit.

I understand that the minority party may feel that this would make them irrelevant to the process but, if anything, it would hold their majority party colleagues even more accountable.

Most importantly, a simple majority vote would protect our schools and districts from the instability they are forced to endure anytime the Legislature cannot reach a budget compromise.

It is time to bring about substantive changes to the way we do business in Sacramento — we owe the people of California this much.

Good for him, and it's explained and framed well. And now we have to line up our lawmakers along the fault line of a majority vote restoring democracy versus an arbitrary shift like 55%.

Majority Vote
John Burton, Jack O'Connell

John Garamendi, Gavin Newsom

Every leader in the Democratic Party should be able to articulate where they stand on this crucial issue, the most important one facing the state. Call your lawmakers and ask them what they prefer.

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The Last Days Of Burris' Bunker

The pressure is really hitting Roland Burris now. Gov. Pat Quinn speaks:

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) on Friday called on his “good friend” Roland Burris (D-Ill.) to step down from the Senate and said the Illinois legislature should immediately take up a bill to require special elections to fill Senate vacancies.

Quinn declined to criticize the appointed senator, saying he would go down as a “great Illinois citizen,” but he said Burris has a “cloud over his head.”

He said Burris, whom he has known for 37 years, never should have accepted the appointment from embattled former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and that Senate business is too important right now to have a senator with so many questions to answer. He said Burris would be doing the state a service by stepping down.

Good for Quinn for calling on the legislature for a special election. Some would say that the Democrats would be unnecessarily threatening a blue seat, but I see no evidence of that with a not-Roland-Burris candidate. Burris was even leading in polls before this latest stuff broke, which means that generic Dem is favored over the leading Republican candidates, even with the ethical fallout from the Blagojevich situation.

Quinn is doing the right thing here. It's very hard for an executive to willingly give up their own power. Kudos. Now the Congress should finish the job by passing Russ Feingold's Constitutional amendment making this the law of the land.

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The Highest Broderism

David Broder's paean to bipartisanship yesterday was pretty funny. Funny in an "what version of Earth in the DC multiverse is this guy living on" fashion.

Some consider Obama's wooing of Republicans a rookie mistake, a measure of his naivete. Others focus on the Republicans and fault them for obduracy in denying Obama all but three of their votes on the stimulus bill. The critics agree that the effort at bipartisanship should end.

I hope Obama isn't listening. It's the worst advice he has received.

It starts from a false premise: that the stimulus bill proves the failure of outreach to Republicans. In fact, had Obama not negotiated successfully with Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter and met most of their terms, his bill would have died. This was a success for bipartisanship, not a failure.

Morone's history also is false. To prove that bipartisanship has never existed, he has to skip over Harry Truman's success with a Republican Congress on the Marshall Plan, Lyndon Johnson's forging the great civil rights acts with Sen. Everett Dirksen and Rep. Bill McCulloch, and Ronald Reagan's steering his first budget and tax bill through a Democratic House.

But the real reason Obama should ignore this advice is that he will need Republican votes to pass the remaining parts of his program. When it comes to energy, regional and commodity interests will inevitably divide the Democrats. They always do. Oil, coal, natural gas and consumer groups will exert their will. If Obama writes off the Republicans in advance, he will end up with a watered-down bill -- or nothing.

It's useless to argue with Broderella, but nevertheless...

Never mind the fact that he has to go far back in history, when Dixiecrats still existed and the parties were ideologically jumbled, to prove his fantasy. He really manages to define bipartisanship in this one, doesn't he? Meeting most of the terms enforced by conservatives is the new working definition. And he demands that the President give in to the terms of Republicans in the same way to pass his agenda.

Is Broder aware of the modern conservative rump faction that includes about 90-95% of elected Republicans in Washington? Their spiritual leader Rush Limbaugh said yesterday that trying to understand a Democrat is like trying to understand a murderer or a rapist. Their favorite son Jim DeMint's plan for economic recovery is to do nothing, stand still and hope everything magically bounces back. Their top legislative agenda consists of cherry-picking pieces of stimulus spending to prove that the entire bill is wasteful, a project they have ANNOUNCED TO THE MEDIA IN ADVANCE.

The parties disagree. These days they violently disagree. And the public has pretty much made their decision on who to support.

According to a new AP poll, voters are assigning blame to gridlock -- and they're blaming Republicans. Asked whether Obama was doing enough to cooperate with the Republicans, 62 percent said he was. Asked if the Republicans were doing enough to cooperate with Obama, 64 percent said they weren't.

Republicans now run the risk of being blamed for their own irrelevance. The stimulus bill passed without their votes and that's being seen as evidence of their intransigence, not Obama's. Bipartisanship is being measured by through the evident intention's of the players, not the final tally on the bill. If this normalizes -- if Americans begin to expect that the GOP won't cooperate and so Obama can't be expected to win their votes -- you'll have a situation where Obama can reach out to them on entirely on his terms because it doesn't matter if the outreach actually succeeds. If the President asked Mithc McConnell to help him pass Medicare-for-All, it's hardly the President's fault if McConnell refuses. And that will lead the GOP totally, and unsympathetically, marginalized.

In fact, Republicans are starting to actually be blamed for their own policy ideas, and are desperately trying to run away from them. Jim Tedisco, the candidate in the New York Congressional special election to replace Sen. Gillibrand, refuses to answer the question of whether or not he supports the stimulus even though the answer is obvious. Rep. Joseph Cao, who beat Dollar Bill Jefferson in Louisiana, is now facing a potential recall as a cause of his vote against the stimulus. This is not a function of whether one side or the other is bipartisan enough, it's that the public has generally discovered that they really don't like Republicans.

Parties disagree. They have a particular platform and they are expected to uphold it. The electorate looks at each side and makes a decision. If they don't like the results they can choose the alternative later. It's called democracy. I don't think David Broder believes in it.

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Honest Barack

No President wants to fix the mistakes of the past in such a way that reflects on the present. I think it's honorable for President Obama to make this decision with respect to the federal budget, and with the right framing, he can get a win out of it.

For his first annual budget next week, President Obama has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller. The price of more honest bookkeeping: A budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear, according to administration officials.

The new accounting involves spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare reimbursements to physicians and the cost of disaster responses.

But the biggest adjustment will deal with revenues from the alternative minimum tax, a parallel tax system enacted in 1969 to prevent the wealthy from using tax shelters to avoid paying any income tax [...]

Fiscal sleight of hand has long been a staple of federal budgets, giving rise to phrases like “rosy scenario” and “magic asterisks.”

The $2.7 trillion in additional deficit spending, Mr. Orszag said, is “a huge amount of money that would just be kind of a magic asterisk in previous budgets.”

“The president prefers to tell the truth,” he said, “rather than make the numbers look better by pretending.”

The predictable spin by the right on this is going to be that Barack Obama ballooned the federal deficit with runaway spending. What he did was set a precedent to put a stop to deliberate lying. And it's the only way to realistically deal with our problems so that we don't opt for partial measures that only appear to close the gap. If this paves the way for a more progressive tax code and a real reckoning of the real costs of war and corporate giveaways, I'm all for it.

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Budget Ugliness Continues To Reveal Itself

The California Budget Project has done a preliminary report on the "solution" (and I'm glad they put it in quotes) reached yesterday and expected to be signed by the Governor today. They demystify the fact that this is, once again, a short-term fix that will actually worsen our budget situation in the future. The $42 billion dollar hole from this year is a direct result of constant short-term fixes over the past several decades, pushing off the problem until the current legislators are out of office. Even in this budget, it is balanced through $6 billion in borrowing, which might as well be magic since we have the worst bond rating in the country.

The worst part of this is the spending cap, which could cripple future budget and severely ratchet down state services well beyond demand or even the rate of inflation and population increases. We have seen from other states how this is a hammer on the heads of the least of society and it must be fought in the May 19 special election. But the CBP is just as perturbed about the massive tax cuts, at a time of a $42 billion dollar deficit, to large multinational corporations:

Give multi-state corporations the option to choose between two different formulas for determining how much of their income would be subject to tax in California. This provision would be in effect in tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2011 and would cost $650 million in the first full year of implementation, eventually increasing to $1.5 billion annually. This provision provides no benefit to small businesses that only operate in California.

The tax breaks for movie companies and new construction home buyers and for hiring new workers (which history has shown doesn't end up increasing employment but increasing employer chicanery with their payrolls) are all temporary, as are the tax increases. The only PERMANENT tax in the entire plan is this giveaway to giant corporations like Exxon. This is why Richard Holober claims that big business is the "only winner" in this budget.

The worst of the business tax cuts is a permanent change in the formula for calculating the income tax for multi-state and multinational corporations. This produces an initial big business tax cut of about $700 million a year. The State Senate analysis estimates the recalculation will eventually yield a corporate tax reduction - and state revenue loss - of $1.5 billion a year. This is not tax fairness. Combined with the tax hikes on everyday Californians, it is redistribution of income away from workers and consumers and into the pockets of our state’s biggest businesses. And it provides no tax savings for the mom and pop businesses that we usually count on to provide the camouflage for these corporate welfare schemes.

Another major sin in this budget are the agreements secured by Republicans to essentially increase greenhouse gas emissions by relaxing environmental regulations for large diesel vehicles. This is another example of Arnold Schwarzenegger being a complete hypocrite, running around the country painting himself as the "green governor" while ramming through a provision directly contrary to that.

Like the budget itself, AB 8 XX was not the subject of any public hearings. The measure’s scaling back of emission controls was one of many concessions sought by Republicans in order for three of them in the Assembly and three in the Senate to vote for the budget.

Since there were no public hearings on the measure, it was easy for the GOP to side with the construction industry and ignore the majority of its members who want California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.

A 2006 statewide by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 62 percent of Republicans strongly support state action to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions. So do 73 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independent voters.

That same poll found that two-thirds of likely voters for rolling greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. That is the legislation that became AB 32.

Finally, there is $5.8 billion that will be on the ballot for voters to agree upon, including a privatization of the lottery (which assumes a $5 billion sale... who is lining up to buy the California Lottery?) that would be a net loss of revenue for the state in the long-term, and $800 billion in raids from various voter-approved funds for things like mental health treatment. Considering how unpopular the legislature is these days, there is no guarantee that any of these will pass, which will leave another hole to fill by June.

These are just some of the details that reinforce the object lesson that major fundamental reforms, in particular repealing the 2/3 rule, are desperately needed. None of the above measures help the state. They were put in to placate a fanatical minority who is emboldened by a conservative veto. Sign the pledge to repeal 2/3.

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Binyam Mohammed Going Home

This is the least we can do.

A former British resident held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be flown home early next week, marking the first transfer of a Guantanamo detainee by the Obama administration, according to a source involved in the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.

The British government had pressed the new administration to make the case of Binyam Mohammed a priority. The release of the Ethiopian native could come as early as Monday, the day Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is scheduled to visit the military facility with top Justice Department officials who are leading a review of the cases of the approximately 245 detainees held there [...]

Mohammed was recently visited by British officials, including a police physician who persuaded him to end a hunger strike. Officials in Britain have said Mohammed faces no charges there and will be released upon his return.

The question is whether there will be a gag order on Mohammed, like David Hicks, or whether he will be allowed to tell his story in his own words, the way Mohamed Barag Fashmilah did to devastating effect in the Huffington Post yesterday. Either way, Bashmilah and Mohammed are symbols of the same disease - a failure to account for the past and unburden the sins of the Bush era.

My physical symptoms are made worse by the anxiety caused by never knowing where I was held, and not having any form of acknowledgment that I was disappeared and tortured by the U.S. government.

I believe that acknowledgment is the first step toward accounting for a wrongdoing. The American public needs to face what has happened to those of us who were disappeared and mistreated in the name of their national security, demand accountability for those who committed torture and other crimes, and acknowledge the suffering of those who became victims. Today, a group of concerned Americans called on President Obama to take the first steps to do just that, by demanding that he establish an independent commission of inquiry into the treatment of detainees in the "War on Terror."

President Obama himself recently said that "democracy requires accountability and accountability requires transparency." If he establishes this commission, it would break the silence about what has happened and signal a real commitment not only to changing the practices of the past but also to ensuring that they do not happen again. Both the American public and the victims of these past policies need to understand what the CIA did in the name of U.S. national security. We need to find out where we were all held and who is still missing. And we need justice for the crimes that were committed in violation of our most basic human rights -- rights the United States has always claimed to uphold and defend. President Obama's recent order to the CIA to shut down its secret prisons was a significant step in the right direction, but it did not resolve the unfinished business of establishing accountability and restoring transparency.

The American public deserves to know what was done to people like me -- and I deserve to know why I lost nineteen months of my life -- all in the name of protecting their security. It gives me faith to see that Americans are standing up for my rights and calling for the truth to be exposed. It is my hope that the President will not only establish this commission, but that he will also direct the relevant authorities to investigate and prosecute those who broke American laws in ordering the torture and disappearance of people like me. Truth and justice are not in opposition; both are necessary, and both are the right of all Americans and the victims harmed in their name.

Absolutely. At the very, very least, we need Patrick Leahy's Truth Commission so we can discover the truth and build reforms. However, the Church Commission didn't work to stop a rogue President from attacking the rule of law again. So we need to have real accountability in the form of prosecutions, not clown shows where the likes of Alberto Gonzales "cooperate" the way he cooperated with the Senate Judiciary Committee as Attorney General ("I don't recall, I don't recall.") If the monsters aren't shown the consequences of their wrongs, they will return to do more damage.

...the flip side of the Mohammed release is the terrible case of the Uighurs, who have done nothing wrong but who are not able to get released. An appeals court blocked their transfer to the United States this week.

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The Move On Energy

It is commonly believed that the Obama Administration will make health care reform its next big policy push. But there are enough signs that energy actually has more momentum right now. In the stimulus there is as much attention paid to energy and energy infrastructure (like the smart electric grid) as health care. And the imminent EPA decision to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act is a major step forward.

The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.

The environmental agency is under order from the Supreme Court to make a determination whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant that endangers public health and welfare, an order that the Bush administration essentially ignored despite near-unanimous belief among agency experts that research points inexorably to such a finding.

Lisa P. Jackson, the new E.P.A. administrator, said in an interview that she had asked her staff to review the latest scientific evidence and prepare the documentation for a so-called endangerment finding. Ms. Jackson said she had not decided to issue such a finding but she pointedly noted that the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. E.P.A., is April 2, and there is the wide expectation that she will act by then.

“We here know how momentous that decision could be,” Ms. Jackson said. “We have to lay out a road map.”

At Grist, Dave Roberts lays out the importance, including how this will end new coal plant production in the US as we know it. Some would call that exclusionary, but actually it just properly prices the externalities in a way that the coal industry has never had to deal with. If they want to keep spewing toxicity into the atmosphere, they can pay the public health costs and the costs in changing weather patterns and increased natural disasters and droughts.

Depending on how they want to play it, the Obama administration could use the regs one of two ways, either:

• use them to put the screws to the economy's biggest CO2 polluters, thereby easing some pressure off the economy-wide cap-and-trade program, allowing it to ramp up more gently and serve as the backstop rather than the primary means of transforming America's dirtiest industries;

• use the threat of regs to reduce industry opposition to cap-and-trade and force big polluters to the table; however much industry hates cap-and-trade, they'll prefer it to hard regs.

Ultimately, if I had to guess, I'd say it's the latter: ultimately, the EPA rulemaking will be a cudgel to force big polluters to play ball on cap-and-trade.

And the other way that old-energy power plants will be legislated into irrelevance is through a renewable energy standard, which apparently is going to happen without delay.

Not satisfied with the billions for clean energy projects in the stimulus package, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today he will work to pass a new energy bill within a matter of weeks.

Reid -- who's helped organize a clean energy summit next week in Washington that is bringing former president President Clinton and vice president Al Gore to town along with entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens -- said he's asked Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) to prepare a bill that will set a national renewable portfolio standard.

That would mandate that a percentage of the nation's electricity come from renewables by a certain date. I've heard 25% by 2020 as a baseline. It could be more, but that's a very good start.

I think energy is an issue that unites individuals of both parties, if not their legislators. It's a good issue for Obama and the Democrats to take up.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

I'm #2,349!

In the Daily Kos election pool. Considering it was out of 9,000-plus, that's not so bad. My numbers were:

Senate: 59-41 (which will happen, eventually)
Obama: 356-182 (off by 9 EVs)
House: 264-171 (I think it's 257-178 or something like that)
Obama%: 52.4-45.8 (pretty close)

The winner got that extra vote in Nebraska. Good work.

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The Return Of The Silent Majority

This video of Rick Santelli ranting at the Chicago Board of Trade about how hard-working Murcans have to pay the price for those "losers" facing foreclosure has been making the rounds. It was obvious that this would be the conservative response to Obama's housing plan. Since the bubble popped, the intimation has been that the government put a gun to the head of the banks to lend to poor people (just say the word, why don't you) who then made bad decisions with their money, and now the responsible people have to bail them out.

The government is promoting bad behavior... I'll tell you what, I have an idea. The new Administration's big on computers and technology. How about this, President and new Administration, why don't you put up a Web site to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the loser's mortgages, or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people who actually carry the water instead of drink the water...

He gets a standing ovation from the traders at that point, and then he asks them if they want to pay for their neighbor's mortgages, and they boo. Then he goes off about how Cuba used to have mansions and when they went "from the individual to the collective, they started driving '54 Chevys." It's right-wing backlash stuff at its absolute best.

Lost from this complaint is the plain fact of predatory lending, that lenders got cash rebates to put people in crappy, high-interest mortgages, that they hid terms of the agreement and denied disclosure, and that all of those hardworking folks are seeing their property values plummet as a result of millions of foreclosed homes glutting the market. To the tune of $6 trillion dollars in home value.

But I digress. The more interesting part of the video is the part where he calls his buds on the trading floor part of "the silent majority."

These guys are pretty straightforward, and my guess is, a pretty good statistical cross-section of America, the silent majority.

This is all starting to sound very familiar. Paging Rick Perlstein...

It's also obvious that traders on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade are clearly the new face of the average lunch-pail working stiff, isn't it?

The revolution has begun. These workaday stock traders are going to take back this country for the laissez-faire capitalists who are entitled to it.

...more from Ryan Chittum.

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Blog Fights!

Seems to me there's been a spasm of blog fights lately. First "rational progressive" Nate Silver and "Marxist" David Sirota (I think Silver came out of that one looking really bad, BTW, and he desperately needs a special election to talk about or something). Now Jane Hamsher and Ezra Klein.

Jane has been dogged in her efforts to uncover what's going on at this "fiscal responsibility summit" next week, which may be headlined by billionaire hedge fund manager Pete Peterson. Now fortunately, House and Senate leadership have shut down the trojan horse designed to force an up or down vote on "entitlement reform" that could possibly lead to Social Security benefit cuts. But Jane noticed an interview with Peter Orszag that put "modest" benefit cuts back on the table:

Orszag’s long-running project – something that has made him the Left’s favorite Cabinet member – has been replacing talk of an “entitlement crisis” with his argument that Social Security requires only modest tax hikes and benefit cuts, while Medicare and Medicaid have much more dramatic fiscal woes.

“Social Security faces an actuarial deficit over the next 75-100 years. In the past I’ve resisted the term ‘crisis’ to describe that kind of situation,” he said. “This is not quantitatively as important as getting healthcare done.”

In steps Ezra to say that the important part of the sentence is that there is no entitlement crisis, that is, there is no thing called "entitlements" including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that all have the same funding problem. In fact, what Orszag has focused on all along at the CBO and elsewhere is that Medicare and Medicaid spending have the ability to destroy the federal budget, and only comprehensive health care reform can stop that. Social Security should not be in that conversation.

And you know what? They're both right! Orszag has been far more focused on health care spending as it relates to the budget, and he's absolutely right that the fiscally responsible thing to do is reform it to bring down costs (which coincidentally, would be done be eliminating the inefficiencies in delivery, namely the insurance industry). But the Diamond-Orszag plan clearly adds benefit cuts to Social Security, and Ezra's attempt to talk past that doesn't deny that reality, either. Orszag may want to end the fearmongering on Social Security by taking "entitlement reform" off the table, but he wants to do that through cutting. And that's not a liberal position. In fact, benefits ought to be increased given the collapse of the private pension system.

Jane goes after Ezra on this one.

Orszag's not running for prom king here so whether he's "one of the good guys" is not really relevant. He has been presenting his plan to cut Social Security benefits as part of the White House's efforts on "fiscal responsibility," according to people who have directly participated in those presentations. I granted anonymity in this instance in accordance with the rules followed by the New York Times, because I trusted where the information was coming from, I thought it was important to get out, and there was a valid reason (not wanting to jeopardize relationships with the administration) for requesting it.

Now Orszag confirms that reporting by doing an interview where he says he thinks Social Security requires benefit cuts. Ezra says my conclusion is "an effort to read the tea leaves to suggest that the Obama administration has a secret plan to cut Social Security benefits." I don't know what the "secret" part is.

He then goes on to tell us that what Orszag really means is that he has no intention to cut Social Security, what he really wants to do is deal with the broad question of Medicare and Medicaid as part of healthcare reform. Fair enough. But Ezra wrote a post this morning quoting anonymous administration officials on the subject wherein he granted them anonymity for no legitimate journalistic reason I can tell, because they did nothing other than give administration spin. Nobody legitimately speaking on behalf of the administration should fear retribution for doing so. Ezra transcribed this exchange with no pushback or critical scrutiny, something Glenn Greenwald has been taking Mark Ambinder to task for. If Ezra's got great sources in the administration, why is he venturing guesses about what Orszag intends? Why doesn't he go and ask them, point blank -- is cutting Social Security benefits off the table? [...]

It may be that in the wake of the horrified response Orszag got from Congressional leaders at the very thought that "fixing" Social Security has been abandoned -- these things seem to be changing by the minute. But if Ezra has valuable sources within the administration willing to speak to him about what the White House intends, there are a lot of people right now who would like to know. He should be using them to find out solid information on that front rather than float anonymous spin and then speculate about the meaning.

There are two things in conflict here - an effort to decouple Social Security with government health care spending to delegitimize the smears about Social Security, and a desire to cut benefits to put it on a path to stability (even though that's not required and an increase in the spending cap would be all that's necessary). Both of these people have enough sources inside the White House that they could get to the bottom of it. So, work the phones.

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No With One Hand, Yes With The Other

You've seen these reports of Republicans touting projects in the stimulus that they voted against, as if we all wouldn't notice. I'm looking forward to Josh Marshall's hypocrimap, which will provide a convenient graphical listing of all these charlatans.

Perhaps more annoying is the habit of Republican governors to yowl about rejecting stimulus money, and then resigning them themselves to just having to take it. Here's South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, the closest thing to Herbert Hoover in the party, backing down:

The final wall of resistance against stimulus spending has now crumbled: South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, perhaps the most vocal critic of the bill outside of Capitol Hill, now says he'll spend the money that his state receives -- at least some of it, anyway.

This is definitely a change. Sanford previously said he had his staff looking at the plan, but "for a different reason" than other governors -- that is, to figure out what was wrong with it. And South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, the House Dem Whip, had been exploring ways to force Sanford's hands.

And Governor Goodhair, as Molly Ivins used to call him:

Yet another anti-stimulus GOP governor, who had been hinting previously that his state would be turning down cash, is now accepting the money.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who co-wrote an op-ed piece with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford about all the things that were wrong with the bill, has now informed the White House that he'll accept the money. (By the way, Sanford is taking some of the money, too.)

Part of this is that Clyburn also put in a provision to give aid directly at the local level if the state governors rejected it, which is smart of him (Clyburn is from Sanford's state of South Carolina). But was there any doubt that these losers would cave? I want to find the Republican whose ideals stand strong in the face of free money. It was completely obvious, and annoying that they would even presume to have anyone believe they were making a principled stand.

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Cautious But Correct

Cautious Obama returned today in a trip to Canada:

President Barack Obama stepped cautiously in his first foreign trip Thursday, refraining from asking Canada to rethink its plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and saying changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement can wait. The new U.S. president was cheered by crowds in the snowy Canadian capital and responded by declaring "I love this country" at a news conference. On his way out of town, he stopped at a downtown market, where he delighted onlookers by shopping for gifts for his family.

In the news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama acknowledged that he has said NAFTA does too little to protect U.S. workers and the environment. Canada, the United State's largest trading partner, is leery of changes to the deal, and Obama said robust trade helps both nations.

Noting that NAFTA has side agreements on labor and the environment, he added, "If those side agreements mean anything, then they might as well be incorporated into the main body of the agreements so that they can be effectively enforced." He said he hopes there eventually will be a way to do so "that is not disruptive to the extraordinarily important trade relationships" between the U.S. and Canada.

This is cautious, but generally in the right. Side agreements respecting labor and the environment should be embedded and enforceable, not on the side and easily evaded.

We have a crucially important trade relationship with Canada, and I don't think anybody, on the left or the right, is looking to change that. But the facts are that both Americans and Canadians see problems with NAFTA that they would like reformed, and crying "protectionism!" at the very raising of criticism of a corporate-written trade deal is completely ridiculous, as are the comparisons of "Buy America" laws in the stimulus (which has been the standard in federal purchases since the 1930s), and, bizarrely, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (which didn't even affect the Depression anyway, given that trade at the time was maybe 4% of total economic output). And at a time of economic downturn, I don't think anyone should apologize ever for wanting to bolster American industry and innovation.

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25 Things About The California Budget

Done for the Facebook reference: I may not get to 25.

1. One bit of schadenfreude in this is that Doug McIntyre of KABC and the comment section of the OC Register are flipping out over the heretics who broke with dogma and voted for tax increases. McIntyre was particularly incensed about a Sacramento Bee editorial lauding Dave Cogdill as a "hero." He's not a hero, he's an extortionist, but McIntyre was calling him a guy who "took money out of your pocket to give to someone else." Typical Yacht Party jihadism.

2. It's very clear to me that this got wrapped up today before the Yacht Party's meeting in Sacramento, just blocks from the Capitol, so the spectacle of the crazies on the lawn demanding that old people eat cat food and public schools use the weeds out back for lunches be averted.

3. Joan Buchanan voted for the budget and then voluntarily cut her pay 10% in the name of shared sacrifice. It's a stunt, but it will probably go down well back home.

4. One loser in all of this is Zed Hollingsworth. He got nothing in this budget for his newly-minted Minority Leadership, including no re-negotiation, and the next major talks may not be until summer 2010, at which point a repeal of 2/3 may be a fait accompli. Meanwhile he's already embarrassed himself by scheduling a $1,000-a-person fundraiser with fat cat lobbyists just HOURS after being made leader, one that generated such bad press he had to cancel it.

5. The big winner in all of this, perhaps the only one? Twitter. In a cavernous Capitol with a dearth of political reporting, the microblogging site was practically the only way to get quality information in real time. It cannot replace in-depth analysis for a mass audience, but it was great for opinion leaders.

6. Though I've knocked him in the past, kudos to John Burton for recognizing the real problem and seeking to boldly fix it. From an e-mail:

If the last 48 hours has proven nothing else, we can no longer allow Republicans to hold the people of California hostage and therefore dictate to the Democratic majority the terms under which the budget is passed.

California should join the 47 other states who don't require a supermajority to pass the budget.

If I am elected as the next Chair of the California Democratic Party, I will make majority vote budget a top priority.

7. The federal stimulus is really helping out to reduce the pain in this budget. It does appear that as much as $10 billion dollars will flow to California in this fiscal year, which would "trigger" some jiggering to the cuts (which would be reduced by $950 million) and the tax hikes (reduced by $1.8 billion). It's an open question whether or not all of them can be spent right away because of the cash crunch, but we'll have to see how the markets react.

8. This is a baseline overview of the deal. The cuts are going to be really, really bad: 10% across the board for education, huge cuts for public transit operations, health care, etc. The new revenues basically fill in the loss of revenue from massive unemployment. Essentially, this is the same level of spending as a decade ago, adjusted for inflation and COLA, despite greater need and higher population. Not pretty.

9. Capitol Weekly reports that the cuts could hit Republican-leaning areas harder:

But data from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) suggests that cuts under the budget plan approved Thursda morning could likely hit many Republican areas hardest—while the tax burden is already falling more heavily on Democratic leaning counties.

According to the data distributed by Assembly Budget Committee chairwoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, the majority of the counties using the most in state services are generally represented by Republicans. When this data on 2007-2008 state spending is compared to registration data from the Secretary of State’s office, it shows that seven out of the top 10 counties receiving state expenditures, measured per capita, have Republican registration majorities. Of the top 10 counties that contributed the most per capita tax dollars in 2006, eight have Democratic registration majorities.

“I hate to put this in partisan terms, but it’s the wealthier counties who are paying that are represented by Democrats,” Evans said. “Everybody needs to take a step back and look at what the data actually says.”

Food for thought.

10. Wrapping the week up into a nice little bow, on the day the deal was secured, they found Lance Armstrong's bike.

11. There's a big TV/film production credit in here. While as a member of the industry I'm mindful of runaway production, I reject the "race to the bottom" that constant credits to get crews to shoot in California presume. It's corporate welfare, essentially.

12. The "single sales factor apportionment," which is the massive business tax cut, doesn't kick in until FY2011, predictably and conveniently after Gov. Schwarzenegger is out of office and it will be someone else's problem to make up the revenue! It's almost like somebody planned it that way!

13. Of the items on the May ballot, only privatizing the lottery would really kill this whole thing and send everybody back to the bargaining table. That would be $5 billion in lost projected revenue for this fiscal year. But it's a NET LOSS OVER TIME, which is what makes the provision so completely absurd. Also, I'm not convinced anyone wants to buy our lottery, as revenue has shriveled in the past year.

14. Arnold still has $600 million in line-item vetoes to make to bring this into balance. Hands up if you think they will impact the poor, the elderly, the blind, and others with almost no voice in Sacramento!

15. Karen Bass is vowing "additional Legislative actions before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1." So get ready for more fun!

There is no 16-25.

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Binyam Mohammed and The Need For Justice

Glenn Greenwald has the sordid details of the Binyan Mohammed case, which are causing a stir in Britain and around the world but barely a ripple here. Here's his ultimate summary:

So, to recap: first, the U.S. abducted Mohamed and refused to provide him with any access to lawyers or the outside world. Then -- with no due process afforded -- we shipped him around for the next couple of years to various countries that are the most notorious practitioners of torture, where agents of those countries and the CIA jointly conducted interrogations by brutally torturing him. Then, once he was broken beyond the point of return, we shipped him off to Guantanamo.

After six years in detention, we finally charged him with crimes in a Guantanamo military commission -- based on confessions we extracted from him -- but refused to provide him with the exculpatory evidence showing that those confessions were extracted by torture, even though, as the High Court noted:

"For several centuries the common law has excluded evidence obtained by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; it cannot be used to secure a conviction."

We then threatened Britain that they had better keep the facts surrounding the torture concealed from the world or else we would no longer notify them of terrorist threats aimed at them. And finally, when Mohamed sued in American courts over the rendition and torture he suffered, the U.S. Government -- first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration -- insisted that courts must not allow him a day in court because any discussion of what was done to him was a "state secret" and any disclosure at all would harm national security.

One thing that's missing, notable if only for its unbelievable nature, is that Mohammed was imprisoned as a terrorist after confessing to reading a satirical article in a magazine, written by noted terrorist Barbara Ehrenreich, about how to make an H-bomb. Really.

There was a wild claim a week or so ago that the CIA was holding the torture information from President Obama, which is absurd considering that he has unilateral ability to classify and declassify documents (unless they're protecting him from criminal liability). While some US lawmakers are demanding that the evidence be shown, and others are trying to get the State Secrets Protection Act revived so that the Administration cannot hide behind national security any longer, ultimately we're still stuck with a group of government officials putting self-interest above the rule of law:

One of the many things that bothered me about the Obama administration's invocation of the State Secrets privilege in this case was the apparent indifference to justice. It seemed to be all about what was convenient for the government, and not at all about allowing people who allege horrific treatment at our hands to have their day in court. I still hate the invocation of the State Secrets privilege. And I do not for a moment think that releasing Binyam Mohamed constitutes justice in his case, let alone in the cases of the other plaintiffs. But it is something beyond blank indifference. I suppose it says something about how low my expectations are that that matters to me.

(As Hilzoy makes reference to, is does look like Mohammed may actually be released shortly.)

Ultimately, this is what the Administration is throwing away by blocking accountability, while parroting the talk of how we value the law in America and we hold no man above it. An international group of judges have made their pronouncement on what this evasion of responsibility does to our moral standing and values, and it's a powerful statement:

"We have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counterterrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world," said Arthur Chaskalson, a member of the International Commission of Jurists, in a statement announcing results of a three-year study of counterterrorism measures since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights,'' said Chaskalson, a former chief justice of South Africa.

"It would be better that the government recognized that there are risks -- rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism -- that we live in fear and under a police state," said Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, the domestic intelligence-gathering agency.

None of this changes unless we recognize that crimes were committed and that they must be adjudicated, with those held responsible brought to account. Otherwise, the cancer will metastasize with another President in another era and it will come back worse than before. In addition, continuing to ignore treaty obligations and flout international law while demanding that other nations be held to that same standard is crippling for American legitimacy. Indeed, some in the Administration claim to know that there are some terrorist suspects who we simply cannot prosecute and must hold indefinitely, while simultaneously knowing that there are individuals inside the previous government who committed and authorized direct crimes but cannot be held responsible. The double standard is staggering.

Amid such competing viewpoints, a compromise idea has also emerged, which the Obama Administration is weighing. A number of national-security lawyers in both parties favor the creation of some new form of preventive detention. They do not believe that it is the President’s prerogative to lock “enemy combatants” up indefinitely, yet they fear that neither the criminal courts nor the military system is suited for the handling of transnational terrorists, whom they do not consider to be ordinary criminals or conventional soldiers. Instead, they suggest that Obama should work with Congress to write new laws, possibly creating a “national-security court,” which could order certain suspects to be held without a trial.

One proponent of this idea is Neal Katyal, whom Obama recently named to the powerful post of Principal Deputy Solicitor General, in the Justice Department. Katyal is best known for his victory as the lead counsel in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006). In his first appearance before the Supreme Court, he persuaded a majority of the Justices to declare that the Guantánamo military-commission system was illegal, arguing that Congress had not authorized the commissions. Katyal’s new job is to represent the government before the Supreme Court. Given the sensitivity of this role, Katyal declined to comment for this story. But in October he posted an article on a Web site affiliated with Georgetown Law, in which he argued, “What is needed is a serious plan to prosecute everyone we can in regular courts, and a separate system to deal with the very small handful of cases in which patently dangerous people cannot be tried.” This new system, he wrote, would give the government the “ability to temporarily detain a dangerous individual,” including in situations where “a criminal trial has failed.” There are hundreds of legal variations that could be considered, he said. In 2007, Katyal published a related essay, co-written with Jack L. Goldsmith, a conservative Harvard Law School professor who served as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Justice Department. The essay argued that preventive detention, overseen by a congressionally authorized national-security court, was necessary to insure the “sensible” treatment of classified evidence, and to protect secret “sources and methods” of gathering intelligence. In his Web post, Katyal wrote, “I support such a security court.”

Amazing. We have powerful individuals in the Obama Administration arguing for a parallel justice system in the United States. No wonder Charlie Savage calls this a return to Bush-era national security policies. Perhaps the most disgusting thing Savage digs up is this quote from Greg Craig, the White House counsel:

Addressing the executive-privilege dispute, Mr. Craig said: “The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened. But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency. So for that reason, he is urging both sides of this to settle.”

"The institution of the Presidency" is seen as more important than the laws the President swears to uphold and execute. And thus an empire crumbles.

While I agree with Glenn Greenwald that there is a distinction between what Obama Administration officials say and what the President will actually do, and that Obama has the opportunity to make a better outcome here (especially if pressured by a newly emboldened Congress), the essential truth cannot be questioned:

Nonetheless, there is no question that Obama has already taken some truly alarming steps, including -- in addition to those listed above -- invocation of highly dubious secrecy claims to resist FOIA requests and keep Bush/Cheney documents concealed. Moreover, after initially (and very tentatively) defending the limited rendition policy which Leon Panetta said they would continue, I've become convinced -- for reasons Darren Hutchinson has argued and Savage today pointed out -- that there's more potential mischief in that policy than I immediately recognized.

There's just no denying that there are substantial and disturbing steps which have been taken. And critically, the primary excuse offered by Obama supporters for all of these actions -- he just needs more time; it's only been three weeks -- is a complete straw man.

The bottom line is this: most of the key civil liberties and Constitutional questions that linger from the dark Bush/Cheney era remain unresolved thus far. Obama has not yet embraced or rejected most of them. And that is by design. There was that first week of Executive Orders that made some nice symbolic gestures and, in some cases, took some tangible steps. In other cases, the Obama administration has already evinced some of the truly disturbing tendencies of its predecessors. But overall, the truly controversial and weightiest questions have been pushed off to the future (e.g., he ordered Guantanamo closed but has not yet said whether he wants to retain the power to imprison accused Terrorists without a real trial). In sum: who and what Barack Obama is when it comes to the restoration of our core civil liberties and Constitutional protections remains to be seen. Those fights are still ones that will be waged.

And we must wage them. We must fight for accountability and justice, starting with a full investigation into Bush-era crimes and a full release of those reports already completed. The American people deserve the truth. Furthermore, we must ensure that the changes in policy resulting from the new Administration on these issues are real changes and not the same policies with a friendlier face.

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Talking Straight About Race

On the flip side of soul brother Michael Steele, here's the Attorney General of the United States treating the nation like adults and showing more respect for African-Americans than using a catch phrase.

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

Read the whole thing. It is a remarkable piece of candor, a unique statement by a powerful government official. One devoid of the word "homeslice." I haven't seen a public speech like this in a long time. It's better than Obama's race speech.

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What's Happenin', Blood?

This reminds me of my dad coming to my room to "hang" with me and check out what "the kids" are into:

Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele plans an “off the hook” public relations offensive to attract younger voters, especially blacks and Hispanics, by applying the party's principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”

The RNC's first black chairman will “surprise everyone” when updating the party's image using the Internet and advertisements on radio, on television and in print, he told The Washington Times.

Does Clifton Davis from That's My Mama write Steele's lines? "Off the hook?" "We are going to cut the capital gains tax, can you dig it to the max, jive turkeys?!?!?" If you want an RNC Chair to relate to youth, it might be good to offer them, and I know this is crazy, policies they like, instead of references ripped off from "The Taking of Pelham 123."

I think this article was written so TBogg could make fun of it.

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We Own You And You're Going To Do What We Say

Another string attached to the TARP money, and it's a good one:

As President Obama rolls out his $75 billion aid program to stem the tide of foreclosures among cash-strapped Americans, one key point should be emphasized: Banks participating in the government's $700 billion financial bailout are required to help modify home loans, according to the administration.

"[W]e have guidance as part of [the Troubled Assets Relief Program] that anyone receiving TARP funding must participate in this program," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters today.

This is a big stick that will be attached to the carrots and incentives to get lenders together with homeowners to modify loans, the biggest one being that it costs more to let a house slip into foreclosure than to modify the loan. That doesn't mean it will definitely work. Loan modification is a tricky business, especially with all the fees tacked on.

When her brother could no longer help support her, Luzetta Reeves asked her small mortgage company to cut her monthly payments. It did — by 11 percent — making it possible for her to afford her house here on her modest fixed income.

Luzetta Reeves was able to remain in her home by modifying her mortgage, which cut her interest rate to 5.6 percent from 8.9.
In Miami, Jeffrey Mitchell saw his family income drop just as real estate taxes and insurance premiums increased, making his monthly mortgage payments crushing. He got a lower interest rate, too. But with the added fees and penalties, his monthly payment remained the same. He is now back in foreclosure [...]

The nation’s 14 largest banks reported that more than half of the loans they modified last year were delinquent again after just six months, according to the federal bank regulator, the comptroller of the currency. But several small mortgage companies like the one that helped Ms. Reeves, which have been pursuing modifications longer, say that less than 25 percent of their modified loans became delinquent again.

“It’s becoming more and more clear to us that if you do real modifications the default rate is significantly lower,” said Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa, who has led a group of state officials pushing the industry to modify more loans. “They shouldn’t be called modifications if people pay more or approximately the same.”

They have to cut principal, not just interest rates. Otherwise we'll be back here in 6 months. I think the Obama plan can work, but it's going to take some sharp work.

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