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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Yes, Banksters, Insurance Costs Money

What's happening now with the banksters is that they're desperately trying to repay their TARP money, presumably so that the federal government can't hold anything over their heads and mess with their executive pay packages, but also, predictably, to make a killing:

Banks negotiating to reclaim stock warrants they granted in return for Troubled Asset Relief Program money may shortchange taxpayers by almost $10 billion if Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s first sale sets the pace, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

While 17 financial institutions have repaid TARP funds, two have come to terms with the U.S. on the value of the rights to buy stock that taxpayers received for the risk of recapitalizing the industry. The first was Old National Bancorp in Evansville, Indiana, which gave the Treasury Department $1.2 million last week for warrants that may have been worth $5.81 million, according to the data.

If Geithner makes the same deal for all companies in the rescue program, lenders may walk away with 80 percent of the profits taxpayers might have claimed.

“For once we’d like to get a fair value when we come into contact with the banking system,” said Representative Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of House Science and Technology Committee. “We don’t want a ruthless bargain.”

Rep. Miller is such an angry hippie for even daring to ask for full value for the government's investment. The nerve.

While the banks will almost certainly get away with some manner of windfall by trading in these warrants, at the very least, they can replenish the FDIC with a progressive fee system:

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which guarantees bank deposits against loss, yesterday approved a controversial change requiring big banks to pay a larger share of the bill for that insurance.

Bank failures are draining the FDIC's insurance fund, forcing it to collect larger assessments from banks, which foot the bill, at a time when many institutions can barely find the money to stay in business.

The five-member FDIC board voted yesterday to collect an additional $5.6 billion from the industry, raising the total annual bill to $17.6 billion. That amounts to a 5 percent tax on industry profits, the FDIC estimated.

The assessment could decrease the money available for lending to consumers and businesses.

That last line is so predictable, the proverbial gun to the head of Main Street that we've seen throughout this crisis. The truth is that the FDIC spends billions to rescue banks, and the banks rely on this insurance for the peace of mind of their customers and their own personal security. They can afford the fees - and without paying them, it kind of isn't insurance. The big banks caused this crisis and ought to pay at least a little bit to bail it out. This "but they won't have money to lend" argument has grown so tiresome.

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Apparently Dick Cheney is out hawking a book, which hopefully will include his younger years in the proto-punk scene at CBGB (look very closely at the bassist for Blondie and you'll see). This may lead some to believe that the media spectacle of Cheney popping up from the undisclosed location every five minutes into TV studios far and wide was a kind of pre-emptive book tour designed to raise his advance price. But actually, it seems that daughter Liz, who has been just as ubiquitous, let slip what perhaps could be the real reason for the press junket:

L. CHENEY: I don’t think he planned to be doing this, you know, when they left office in January. But I think, as it became clear that President Obama was not only going to be stopping some of these policies, that he was going to be doing things like releasing the — the techniques themselves, so that the terrorists could now train to them, that he was suggesting that perhaps we would even be prosecuting former members of the Bush administration.

Now, contrary to daughter Liz, the President has never suggested prosecution, in fact going out of his way to suggest the opposite on numerous occasions. So ol' Dick probably doesn't have much to worry about on that score. But he certainly did notice the growing outcry around these issues as the months went on, and knew somebody had to throw the media off the trail before all H-E-double hockey sticks broke loose and people started seeking the dreaded accountability. Fear has always been a powerful motivator for Cheney, and if there was a 1% chance of him going to jail for war crimes, he had to treat it like an inevitability, and waterboard the truth until it gave up.

After all, Cheney is nothing if not adept at getting out of going places.

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Calitics Press Clippings

Sandy Banks, the LA Times local editorial writer, had a peculiar connection to the Emanuel Pleitez mailer incident - it turns out her daughter appeared in one of the photos that Gil Cedillo pulled from Pleitez' Facebook page to smear him as a party animal. She writes today about the mailers.

The ad was supposed to frighten Pleitez supporters into Cedillo's camp, and it did scare off some voters.

But others saw it as a desperate attempt to tarnish not only Pleitez, but also the hard-working young people associated with him.

The "Animal House" photo that includes my daughter was taken at a gathering of Stanford students during their study abroad semester in Santiago, Chile. Some of those young women are now in law school or working on PhDs. Others are teachers, nurses, directors of nonprofit groups. Hardly the stuff of "Girls Gone Wild." [...]

...young voters lit into the tactic on political blogs, pointing out that the so-called gang sign in one photo is the symbol of Voto Latino, a national voter outreach program.

And the woman pictured making a V with her fingers alongside Pleitez is Rosario Dawson, who starred with Will Smith in "Seven Pounds" last fall. Either Cedillo didn't recognize the popular young Latina or thought she was throwing a gang sign as well.

That made Cedillo look foolish. But it also put young activists on notice.

"This is an embarrassing ad," one poster wrote on the Calitics political blog. "Everyone in the Facebook generation has photos like this. Will every Young Dem that decides to get into politics have to deal with this kind of garbage?"

I have to give respect to my friend Dante Atkins, who broke this story and drove it from the very beginning, raising its profile enough that future campaigns will have to think twice about using such a stupid tactic in the future. Atkins' posts drove the media narrative of that race, and Cedillo had to respond and defend his gutter tactics.

He deserves praise, and I wish Sandy Banks mentioned him by name.

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I Thought Seppuku Was Japanese

Wow, crazy:

Former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, a suspect in a corruption scandal that implicated his wife and family, apparently committed suicide Saturday by leaping from a mountain cliff near his rural home.

Roh, 62, died of head injuries while hiking in the early morning with a bodyguard. "He appears to have jumped from a mountain rock," said Moon Jae-in, a lawyer who was Roh's presidential chief of staff.

"The suffering caused by me is too great to too many people," Roh wrote in a suicide note found soon after his death. "The suffering in store for the future is too much to bear. The remainder of my life will only be a burden to others."

The joke headline aside, I don't think it's stereotyping to say that certain Asian cultures do place a higher importance on shame than we do in the West. Sure, we've seen public figures in America kill themselves during investigations into their dealings (see Budd Dwyer), but my sense is that this idea of dishonoring oneself and one's family is more developed in a country like Japan or Korea. Not enough to keep one from the dishonor of corruption in the first place, however.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Random Ten

It's a holiday weekend, stop reading blogs. Expect light activity through Monday.

Wishes For Kisses - The Rosebuds
Carnival - The Cardigans
I'm Your Villain - Franz Ferdinand
Little Whirl - Guided By Voices
Politik - Coldplay (embarrassing)
I Wanna Holler (But The Town's Too Small) - The Detroit Cobras (better)
In Your Dreams - Outkast
Stacked Crooked - The New Pornographers
19-2000 - Gorillaz
Going Down Slow - B.B. King


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I'd Scratch Probably

Nancy Pelosi bascially signaled she's done with the controversy over her comments on the CIA and torture.

I have made the statement I'm going to make about this. I don't have anything more to say about it... what we are doing is staying on our course and not being distracted from it and this is a distraction... moving forward in a bipartisan way for jobs, health care, energy for our country.

Because Pelosi got the pile-on treatment from the press, largely for no reason, this is probably the right move. But it comes at a time when the traditional media is finally realizing how wrong they were at every point of this debate. Jay Newton-Small, about a week or so behind the blogs, lists all the problems with the CIA's story, the endlessly parsed statements from Republicans, and the corroboration from other Democrats who were briefed, and comes to the conclusion that Pelosi was "probably" right about all this. See the title.

I've said that I'm not all that sanguine about the motives of the press on this, considering that they dropped the subject and went after Republicans at precisely the moment when talk of investigations heated up. But I suppose I can grant some thanks that the media is finally catching up to the facts here - and more so, that they are clearly paying attention to the work of writers like Marcy Wheeler. That will be valuable down the road.

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The Sad Sack Four - Terrorist Masterminds, Or Losers?

There really is a fine line between terrorists and wayward stoners goaded by an informant into hashing out criminal plots. There's a disturbing level of what I would consider entrapment in a lot of these terrorist busts. These guys in NYC who were busted for plotting to blow up synagogues don't seem like model citizens, but they were amateurs, schizophrenics and stoners and at some point, you have to ask yourself why we are putting so much effort into getting low-lifes like this to put together plots they aren't equipped to carry out, for the expressed purpose of arresting them for those plots.

Obviously these four wanted to commit these acts, and by all accounts the informant's actions were legal. But I agree with Moe Tkacik at TPMM:

It's easy to laugh at this gang of goons -- and we've done our share of that. But, frankly, it's also hard not to feel some compassion for what looks like a group of struggling, credulous, under-educated men, existing on the fringes of society, who lacked the intelligence or willpower to avoid getting taken in by a government informant anxious to mitigate his own situation, and by their own vague understanding of radical Islam and the hole it might fill in their lives.

And as for what this might say about the threat of home-grown terror, it's almost reassuring that the biggest terror bust we've seen in a while has this sad-sack group at his center.

You cannot take this stuff for granted, but at what point to we draw the line on how much an informant can lead?

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The Kindest Cut

Nobody likes the road that the budget appears to be going down, but one side benefit, perhaps the only one, is that we might yet have a conversation about the unjust and costly prison crisis that has deeply impacted the current situation. Here's Asm. Jim Beall (D-Campbell) yesterday:

We've got to reduce spending on our highest cost-drivers, prisons and health care. The prison budget has doubled in the past decade to $10 billion. The state has 173,000 inmates... Yet, California has a 70 percent recidivism rate. We aren't producing the results for the money we spend... For over half of the prisoners, drugs or alcohol played some role in their crimes. A 2006 UCLA study said 42 percent of our inmates needed alcohol treatment and 56 percent needed drug treatment. It's clear: The state should emphasize alcohol and drug treatment programs and prevention education.

Absolutely. Now, the way that the Governor is going about this, by just trying to dump undocumented immigrants in prison on the ICE and mass release without restructuring and treatment and rehab, is of course dicey. He will be helped by the Administration's effort to identify every undocumented immigrant and ready them for deportation, but that's a years-long process.

However, there are signals that the powerful prison guard's union knows exactly what could be coming - and they're trying to get out in front of it by voluntarily offering well over $6 billion in cuts. Most of it goes to capping prison health care, which has already been found to be Constitutionally inadequate, and halting prison expansion through AB900, which I think is spent through bond issues and not the General Fund. But there are other interesting recommendations in there:

2. Save up to $500 million by trimming CDCR administrative staff, which has ballooned by 400 new positions in recent months and more than doubled two of the department's administrative divisions [...]

7. Save potentially hundreds of millions of dollars ($20,000 per parolee) by embracing our past recommendation to expand Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Reentry Court and Revocation Court.

9. Save millions by no longer providing CDCR managers and headquarters staff with state vehicles and mileage allowances for commuting to work.

10. Conduct annual performance audits to determine which parole and rehabilitation programs are achieving their goals.

Remember, these are the prison guard's union's recommendations. They have an interest in keeping jails packed and ensuring overtime for their employees to manage the overcrowding. And even they understand both the need for cost-cutting and the need to expand the role of drug treatment and mental health rather than defaulting to incarceration. They're behind the curve and still modest in their goals, but significantly, the ball is moving in the direction of reducing prison costs for the first time in a long while. Obviously, jumping from this to reforming sentencing and keeping nonviolent offenders out of prison and into treatment won't be easy, and the residual "tough on crime" stance still predominates among the political class. But finally, we're having the conversation as a crisis forces the issue. Democrats ought to take this and run with it, and demand the kind of sane prison policies here that we see in Kansas and Texas.

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The California Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on Tuesday morning at 10am PT on whether or not to throw out Prop. 8, a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state. Brian Devine has the best legal description of this anywhere, which you can read here. The Court isn't really looking at the law itself, but whether a change of this type violates the limited ability of the people to amend the Constitution through an initiative; in other words, whether Prop. 8 was an amendment, which is legal through the initiative process that was used, or a revision, which requires a more deliberative process.

Based on the oral arguments, most people believe that the Court will not overturn Prop. 8, but may allow the 18,000 marriages that were consummated when same-sex marriage in the state was legal to remain that way. But the Court could surprise.

The initiative battle and particularly the aftermath of Prop. 8 have sparked a tremendous amount of activism in the state and nationally. Regardless of the outcome, the group at Day of Decision will hold nationwide events praising or protesting the Court ruling. On Saturday, 70 civil rights and progressive groups are sponsoring Meet In The Middle For Equality, a large gathering in Fresno, CA.

Lucas O'Connor remarks:

All of which adds up to yes, Prop 8 has proven to be one of the best organizing points in recent decades for the state of California. It's been a perfect storm of tactical and technological innovation from facebook and text messaging plus orgs like Courage Campaign and CREDO meeting resurgent activist energy and experience coming from the issue and the '08 presidential campaign legacy.

Like with the Dallas Principles, those battling for equality have devised new outlets for activism which have amped up the pressure for action at every level. 300,000 people have signed the pledge to repeal Prop. 8. Grassroots groups have sprung up out of nowhere, with more coming on line every day. There is no equal to the activism and organizing this has set off.

If I have any faith left in the ability for California to manage its seemingly intractable governmental problems, it's because I see this effort that has been launched in the name of rights and equality, and dream that it can be scaled up into a larger progressive movement that expands the fight for justice. Such an organizing effort has never even really been tried in the nation's largest state, and if successful could spread like wildfire across the country.

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Fighting Foreclosures By Any Means Necessary

Regardless of whether we all see green shoots or yellow weeds, whether we've hit bottom or keep hurtling downward, reality suggests that we're many years from normal.

The economy could begin to pull out of the recession later this year but a full recovery could take as long as six years, according to a forecast issued today by the Federal Reserve.

The projections were grimmer than those issued by the Fed in January. Yet, they still reflected a growing sentiment inside and outside the central bank that the economy has turned a corner and is declining at a more moderate pace than in the fall.

Fed leaders predicted the economy would shrink this year and then expand at an annualized rate of between 2 and 3 percent in 2010, before gaining further momentum in 2011. However, Fed leaders anticipated labor market conditions will be weak for some time. They projected unemployment to rise to between 9.2 and 9.6 percent and stay in that range through the end of next year before leveling off at between 7.7 and 8.5 percent in 2011. As of April, the unemployment rate was 8.9 percent.

I trust that assessment, and if anything it's too optimistic. We're seeing other developed economies basically in depression right now, and liabilities that were an outgrowth of the market crash, like our record pension insurance deficit, will really start to affect pensioners and those who will have less money to spend for years to come. The market remains 40% below its peak.

Our biggest problem right now remains the foreclosure crisis. The economy cannot sustain continued foreclosures at this rate. It impacts construction, because new inventory need not be created. It impacts the lenders' bottom lines, which affects lending throughout the economy. And small business who cannot get credit cannot create jobs. Then there's the ripple effect of foreclosures to property values, which affects the bottom lines of local governments, resulting in decreased services, particularly for education, and fewer jobs. Rising foreclosures hit just about every aspect of the economy. And the bill the President signed this week won't do much to help.

After months of debate, the final version of the latest bill eliminated a key provision that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage terms. Faced with heavy pressure from the banking industry, Congress again tabled the highly contentious provision after several attempts to introduce it over the past year. That leaves the decision to refinance a mortgage up to lenders and investors holding securities backed by those loans.

Meanwhile, homeowners stuck with unaffordable payments, or who now owe more than their house is worth, must slog through the red tape of negotiating a new loan with their lender.

I've come to the point where this guy's activism is starting to look pretty good to me.

Bruce Marks doesn't bother being diplomatic. A campaigner on behalf of homeowners facing foreclosure, he was on the phone one day in March to a loan executive at Bank of America Corp.

"I'm tired of borrowers being screwed!" Mr. Marks yelled into the phone. "You're incompetent!" Before hanging up, he threatened to call bank CEO Kenneth Lewis at home to complain about the loan executive.

Mr. Marks's nonprofit organization, Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, has emerged as one of the loudest scourges of the banking industry in the post-bubble economy. It salts its Web site with photos of executives it accuses of standing in the way of helping homeowners -- emblazoning "Predator" across their photos, picturing their homes and sometimes including home phone numbers. In February, NACA, as it's called, protested at the home of a mortgage investor by scattering furniture on his lawn, to give him a taste of what it feels like to be evicted.

In the 1990s, Mr. Marks leaked details of a banker's divorce to the press and organized a protest at the school of another banker's child. He says he would use such tactics again. "We have to terrorize these bankers," Mr. Marks says.

Something needs to shake up the status quo. Because the results for the overwhelming majority of people, even those with seemingly no connection to homeownership or foreclosures, will be catastrophic.

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Behold The Professional Cable News Guest

Newt Gingrich decided to show his expertise in California politics in the Washington Post today, arguing that the special election defeat was a triumph for anti-tax reformers. With only 1 of the 5 propositions defeated on the ballot having anything to do with taxes, and that one tied to a right-wing spending cap, and 2 of the others defeated to ensure the safety of VOTER-APPROVED TAXES FOR SPECIFIC PROGRAMS, it's a curious notion.

But Newt Gingrich knowing nothing about California just matches his lack of knowledge about really anything. And despite this, he continues to get a large megaphone to spread his disinformation.

It’s a really strange situation. If were an editor looking for an op-ed from a conservative point of view about the California budget crisis, I would turn to one of the members of the California State Senate, or to one of the members of the California State House of Representatives. If I wanted an op-ed from a conservative point of view about the implications of the California budget crisis for national politics, I think I would turn to one of the 19 different Republican members of the United States House of Representatives. But the Post went with a former House Speaker from Georgia, who last held elected office about ten years ago.

If I wanted a conservative politician to go up against Dick Durbin (D-IL), the number two Democrat in the United States Senate, my first choice would be Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who’s Durbin’s opposite number. But of course Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the top GOP dog, would be a great get too. Failing that, there are 37 other Republican Senators you can ask. And there are lots of conservatives in the House leadership who might have an enlightening point of view on whatever it is they’re up to. But Meet The Press went with a former House Speaker from Georgia, who last held elected office about ten years ago.

Matt Y. goes on to note that other former House leaders don't get nearly the kind of platform that Gingrich does. On Rachel Maddow's show the other day, The Nation's Chris Hayes mentioned that he sees Gingrich in green rooms all over town, and that he wonders what the hell he does all day.

I guess all it takes is running a newsletter and lying about your efforts to potentially run for President some day, and you too can be on the teevee 24 hours a day. As long as you're Republican.

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Media Enablers

Many are justifiably angry at the Democrats for enabling the stupid Republican bedwetting about real live terrorists coming to American maximum security prisons. But the media plays right along with this fearmongering and enables it to a frightening degree.

The front page headline in yesterday's New York Times blared: 1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds. Disturbing! Although how this would reflect on the Obama Administration and not the one who released all these "jihadists" is an open question.

Problem is, the Times and other outlets have run this story before. And scratching just an inch beneath the surface always reveals there's no actual evidence for the claim. The last time such a report was released, back in January, the Pentagon got caught including among those who had "returned to the fight" former detainees who wrote newspaper editorials criticizing US policy.

Meanwhile, the writer herself is disavowing the story in an interesting way.

New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller is now casting doubt on the claim in her front page story today, pounced on by the right and quickly picked up on cable, that one in seven detainees released from Guantanamo "returned to terrorism or militant activity."

Appearing on MSNBC today, Bumiller said "there is some debate about whether you should say 'returned' because some of them were perhaps not engaged in terrorism, as we know -- some of them are being held there on vague charges."

Aside from the fact that the Pentagon has no real statistics on this (they don't tag the detainees they release), there's what Bumiller alludes to here, which is that seven years unjustly detained in a confined cell probably makes you at least open to hating the United States, whether you were a "terrorist" beforehand or not.

The Times actually changed their lede in online editions, but of course not in the paper - and cable news ran with their headline yesterday. The Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet has no problem with this:

I think Elisabeth answered it properly in this interview. Reading some of the criticism it seems that people are saying it undercut the story. It did not. The story was about the estimate of the number of people who ended up, by DOD"s account, as being engaged in terrorism or militant activity after leaving Gitmo. That still stands. The change was an acknowledgment that some assert that not everyone in Gitmo is truly a terrorist. Some critics have said that Gitmo is also filled with people who aren't truly terrorists.

Anyone who is reading a significant retreat in the story, or as us somehow saying the story is wrong is looking for politics where it ain't.

The point is this: traditional media outlets have abetted the blatantly false argument that the "worst of the worst" sit in cells at Gitmo and must never be set free. This not only serves Republican ends as they cling to an issue to get a victory for themselves, but serves the White House, as they try and make this distinction of suspects who can neither be tried or released. Once again, the forces of the status quo and the media megaphone are uniquely aligned.

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The Saddest Man

I didn't think too much about Dick Cheney's speech yesterday because the framing of a "showdown" between the President of the United States and the least popular human on the planet just made me laugh. But this monstrosity probably should be read and studied, because it offers a window into a diseased mind and an object lesson in specious logic.

First of all, the speech offered no broad vision of dealing with national security in the 21st century, but was simply an opening statement for Cheney's war crimes trial, with a defense of torture and all of the other illegal practices of his regime. But because these practices are indefensible, he structured this defense with lies and distortions and paragraphs that were sometimes contradictory in the space of a few words. He mentioned 9/11 twenty-five times, and tried to re-create the atmosphere of fear and desperation, a world in which he clearly still lives, traumatized and desiring only to inflict pain. He continued with this idea that the Bush Administration kept America safe, except on 9/11, when nine months of ignored warnings and inattention produced the tragic wreck of that day. And even more people died in future actions in Iraq and Afghanistan than died on September 11, anyway. He takes credit for taking down A.Q. Khan's network when America had nothing to do with it and A.Q. Khan now walks as a free man. He talks about moving decisively against Al Qaeda when Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri remain at large, and when they pulled out of Afghanistan to start an unnecessary war in Iraq. He flat out lied about torture and its effectiveness on numerous occasions. He decried the Obama Administration's use of "euphemisms" when he was the one who INVENTED the term "enhanced interrogation techniques. He claims that Article II authority and the AUMF allows illegal actions. He CONTINUED - in this speech - to push a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. He kept claiming that the work at Abu Ghraib was the result of a few bad apples and not policy, which has been disproven time and again.

And then there's the most clever lie:

As far as the interrogations are concerned, all that remains an official secret is the information we gained as a result. Some of his defenders say the unseen memos are inconclusive, which only raises the question why they won't let the American people decide that for themselves. I saw that information as vice president, and I reviewed some of it again at the National Archives last month. I've formally asked that it be declassified so the American people can see the intelligence we obtained, the things we learned, and the consequences for national security. And as you may have heard, last week that request was formally rejected. It's worth recalling that ultimate power of declassification belongs to the President himself. President Obama has used his declassification power to reveal what happened in the interrogation of terrorists. Now let him use that same power to show Americans what did not happen, thanks to the good work of our intelligence officials.

It's incorrect that the President declassified the torture memos - the Justice Department did. And just a few paragraphs earlier, Cheney attacked the President for doing so. He only likes HIS kind of selective declassification. But one thing he knows - under an executive order by none other than George W. Bush, the CIA cannot declassify the documents he seeks while they are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. Cheney knows this, so he can yap about the one document that would prove him right, knowing that it cannot be released. Cheney may have never seen the law as an impediment, and claims that Obama could insta-declassify whatever he wants, but he knows that the President won't choose to do so, allowing him to lie away about evidence that, by accounts of those who have seen it, wouldn't prove a thing.

But I'm really saying too much about this sad, pathetic man, trying to save himself from universal condemnation. Time has marched on.

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The Next Auto Bankruptcy

As soon as I heard that GM and the United Auto Workers reached a deal similar on the merits to the Chrysler/union restructuring deal, I knew that the bankruptcy filing wouldn't be far behind. WaPo says next week, but more interesting than that, they claim that Chrysler will come out of bankruptcy as GM goes in:

The Obama administration is preparing to send General Motors into bankruptcy as early as the end of next week under a plan that would give the automaker tens of billions of dollars more in public financing as the company seeks to shrink and reemerge as a global competitor, sources familiar with the discussions said.

The move comes as the administration prepares to lift the nation's other faltering car company, Chrysler, from bankruptcy protection as soon as next week, industry sources said.

The shifts into and out of bankruptcy are landmarks in the Obama administration's attempt to broker a historic restructuring of the American auto industry in the space of months.

We're looking at $45 billion in loans, making it the largest investment in any company outside of AIG, I think. And the government would take 50% ownership in the deal. And the government is probably buoyed by the success and speed of the Chrysler bankruptcy, where virtually all the bondholders were eventually crammed down and the bankruptcy judge has expedited the process. Presumably they believe the same will happen with GM.

The loss of 2000 dealerships will really put a cramp on local economies. At least in Southern California, some cities have dozens of dealerships along a particular boulevard, and they account for a substantial portion of local sales tax revenue. These communities have already felt the pinch, but closure would devastate them.

Clearly the Administration has made up its mind that this is the best solution. But this is also why a robust public health care option must be invoked. The government has spent something like $55 billion on GM and Chrysler (with another $10 billion or so on GMAC, the financing arm). It could apply that to health care and suddenly make companies like them, and thousands of others, globally competitive.

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Put The Governor's Bill To A Vote

At Calitics, Robert makes quick work of the new and not improved Gov. Schwarzenegger prescriptions for disaster, trying to fill an entire $21 billion dollar deficit (which is now more like $24 billion according to the Legislative Analyst) with cuts. I cannot completely argue with the decision to cancel the RAW (revenue anticipation warrants), because bad borrow and spend policies, as Noreen Evans explained, part of the problem in Sacramento, not the solution ("Like paying your bills with your credit card when you don't have the money to afford it.")

But to replace that entirely with cuts to things like CalWorks, Cal Grants and Healthy Families would place a massive hole in the social safety net. This would, for example, roll back children's health coverage at the moment that the federal government would expand it. And nobody ought to look forward to being the only state without emergency poison control services.

This is going to get worse, by the way. The offshore drilling plan Arnold proposed lost a key environmental supporter this week, threatening that $1.8 billion solution. And Tim Geithner's apparent suggestion that loan guarantees require an act of Congress, while immaterial to the budget at this point, really hinders the ability to solve the short-term cash crunch. Basically the entire budget would have to get passed before one dime of borrowing could take place, otherwise the borrowing is unlikely to even happen, and even when it does it will be prohibitively expensive.

So, what to do? I think Greg Lucas is on to something. It's time to embarrass Governor Hoover. Put his bill on the floor and watch it get a half-dozen votes.

Bringing the GOP governor’s plan to a vote accomplishes several things.

It establishes how many initial votes exist for the plan. Not many, presumably. Will Republicans vote for it or are the cuts too deep even for them? Or should they choose to dismiss the action as a “drill” and not participate, an opportunity is presented for Democrats to score some coup on their political opponents.

A somewhat simplistic example: “All we hear from Republicans is that they want to cut state spending. Well, here’s a chance to do so and yet they sit on their hands.”

Bringing the proposal to a vote also attracts the media spotlight. Parents might be interested to know about the $6.3 billion in payments to public schools the governor would defer for one year, a figure that doesn’t include the $8 billion the state already owes schools.

What the plan does to immigrants, the developmentally disabled, the elderly who receive in-home care also might be of interest to the public which so recently decided to make the fiscal problem worse.

The public might also like to know that $12 billion of the governor’s $21 billion worth of actions are one-time and that embracing them makes it harder to solve future budget messes.

Essentially, it's time to build a set of facts and put people on the record. There has to be some long-term thinking here, and some public explanation of the implications of a Hoover-like budget. Like there was no reason for Democrats to play nice with George Bush when he was at 28% in the polls, there similarly is no reason to play nice with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is basically despised.

Time to kick sand in the face of the bully.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Waxman-Markey Clears Energy And Commerce Committee

At long last, the House Energy and Commerce Committee blew through the hundreds of Republican amendments and passed the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill out of committee. While the bill is certainly not as good as it could be, it does represent a step in the right direction, and given the wrangling in Congress there are months upon months to get it right. Left to their own devices, members of Congress will only hurt the bill, in all likelihood, which is why movement pressure must be brought to bear on the politicians. President Obama has clearly sequenced health care first in the queue, but his voice will be needed in this debate.

The other lever in this debate could actually be China. Their demands for the upcoming Copenhagen conference will include targets that are much deeper than what Waxman-Markey now provides, and without those targets, I assume China will reject any move to cap their own emissions. Apparently China and the US are holding secret talks on how to deal with climate change and have reached some kind of preliminary understanding, and if Congress can be made to comply with this kind of leverage, maybe the bill can get strengthened.

The real end point is the global summit in Copenhagen in December, so perhaps that can be used like a vice to force the bill through. At any rate, we'll need to be on top of this.

...more from the Sierra Club. Wow, Republican Mary Bono Mack (CA-45) ended up voting for the bill. That's significant. Apparently we only lost 4 Dems, all Blue Dogs: Ross, Melancon, Matheson, and Barrow.

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Labor's Still Got Some Muscle

A couple days ago, the LA Times, no doubt dripping with glee, printed a story about labor being outmaneuvered on the Employee Free Choice Act and in particular the card-check provision. First of all, the idea that anyone in the labor movement would be surprised by corporate opposition to this bill is kind of crazy. They knew that big business would throw everything they had at this, and that Republicans and key corporate Dems would resist passage.

But rumors of labor's demise are greatly exaggerated. First of all, Tom Harkin is making a smart threat, vowing to either reach a compromise on Employee Free Choice or force his fellow lawmakers to vote on it.

That may not sound like a grave threat, but it may well be. Two of the bills main skeptics--Sens. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)--face re-election next year, and both, for different reasons, may ultimately need union support to prevail. Specter, who tacked to the right and came out against EFCA before becoming a Democrat, is facing pressure from the Democratic base and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) to move left or face a primary challenge.

And at least one high level union official has suggested that if Lincoln doesn't come around and support an EFCA compromise, she may face a green party challenger, in addition to a Republican challenger, in the general election.

And let's not forget that labor still can throw their weight around on non-EFCA issues, and they came up with a major victory to stymie the Obama Administration's apparent efforts to pass a corporate-written trade deal:

U.S. officials said they will delay seeking congressional approval for a pending free-trade deal with Panama until President Barack Obama offers a new “framework” for trade.

The administration, which in March said it would move quickly to pass the trade agreement with Panama, wants to outline how trade fits with other priorities such as assistance for unemployed workers and health care, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Everett Eissenstat said today.

“It’s clear that trade agreements in the last few years have been much too divisive,” Eissenstat told the Senate Finance Committee. “We want to make sure that Panama doesn’t contribute to that divisiveness.” [...]

Eissenstat’s comments follow remarks by John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO labor federation, that unions would oppose a rush to ratify the deal. The Panama accord was signed in 2007 and was viewed as the least controversial of three trade agreements reached by President George W. Bush and pending congressional approval.

Really, the wolf whistles and hoots hoping that labor is demoralized and devoid of clout really are embarrassing.

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That Glorious Transparency

Big Tent Democrat flags this line in Obama's national security speech:

Funniest line of the speech - "I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said. That is why, whenever possible, we will make information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable." Hell, Bush and Cheney could have said that.

Another thing Bush and Cheney could have done - in fact, would have done - is pre-empt accountability for the financial crisis by adding a singing statement to the bill authorizing an independent commission gutting their ability to collect data:

Section 5(d) of the Act requires every department, agency, bureau, board, commission, office, independent establishment, or instrumentality of the United States to furnish to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a legislative entity, any information related to any Commission inquiry. As my Administration communicated to the Congress during the legislative process, the executive branch will construe this subsection of the bill not to abrogate any constitutional privilege.

The Hill explains that Obama is basically threatening to withhold data and cite executive privilege if he chooses. When Darrell Issa, fercryinoutloud, can rail against your deceptiveness - and be right - you've really sunk.

Congress supported the commission idea in broad, bipartisan fashion, although a group of roughly 50 conservative Republicans opposed it in the House. On Wednesday, the main Republican supporter of the commission, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), lashed out at the signing statement.

“Why is a president who talked so much about transparency now threatening to back away from it? If critical information is withheld from the inquiry on the financial crisis, its conclusions won’t have the credibility of the 9/11 Commission report,” Issa said in a statement to The Hill.

It pains me to say that Issa raises a good question, and it's not enough to say that Obama would only withhold the "proper" kind of information and release the rest. It makes a total mockery about the claims to transparency.

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Not Thrown Off The Trail

Good for human rights and civil liberties groups, refusing to be dazzled by rhetoric, and almost unanimously coming out today to assail the President on particular detainee policies, particularly indefinite detention, as too close to the prior regime and out of step with the policies he has articulated. A sample from Human Rights Watch:

"President Obama is absolutely right to emphasize that ignoring our values undermines rather than enhances America's security," said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth. "But allowing detention without trial creates a dangerous loophole in our justice system that mimics the Bush administration's abusive approach to fighting terrorism."

A kinder, gentler, stateside Guantanamo, with the same indefinite detention and kangaroo court policies, does not and should not satisfy those committed to the rule of law. Obama may have gotten over the hump with respect to the decision to close Guantanamo, but his divide with these groups remain. They should be commended for fighting for all of us to make us safer and more respected in the world.

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Obama Did Her Job, Now He Watches Silent As Arnold Cuts Her Pay

Commenter seanp mentioned this in my Calitics diary about the Obama Administration waiver for the Governor to cut In-Home Support Services salaries for health care workers:

When Obama was running as a Presidential candidate in 2007 he spent a few hours working with a home health care worker in Alameda, 61 year old Pauline Beck. Remember, this woman had a union contract:

While Beck's life - struggling to make ends meet with two jobs and regular visits to the food bank - couldn't be more different than the 46-year-old Democratic presidential candidate's, she came away feeling "he just cares about people. ... He wanted to know about me, yes, he did. He really wanted to feel what I did."

I wonder how Pauline Beck feels about the Obama administration helping cut her wage from $12.10 an hour to $10.10 an hour. I guess she can get a third job.

Actually, according to Andy Stern, Pauline and IHSS workers like her will get cut back to $8 an hour. Several bigger bloggers and national groups are picking up on this story today. As Greg Sargent notes, Pauline Beck even spoke at the 2008 DNC. There's video of the then-candidate's visit with Pauline Beck.

Sargent confirms with SEIU that Beck would be hit by this reduction in wages, just two years after Barack Obama walked a day in her shoes. The Administration could have used the power of the purse - and the threat of pulling stimulus money away from California - to get the Governor to back off on these wage reductions. Instead, they acquiesced, and Pauline Beck, Obama's former work buddy, will pay the price.

Brian Beutler of TPMDC has more on this, and Andy Stern has sent a message to his supporters asking them to call the Governor and stop the cuts, although the President is implicated in his message as well.

Two years ago, President Barack Obama walked a day in the shoes of SEIU home care worker Pauline Beck.

Today, Pauline and home care workers across California face pay cuts of up to 33% -- from $12.10 an hour down to $8.

Governor Schwarzenegger's belief that solving the state's fiscal problems on the backs of those who take care of the most fragile among us is an absolute disgrace.

Please call the Governor's office and tell him you strongly disagree with his misguided priorities:


Earlier this week, Californians sent a clear message of no confidence in Governor Schwarzenegger -- soundly rejecting his proposed budget reforms.

He proposed four ballot initiatives, and all four went down to overwhelming defeats.

The L.A. Times noted that some are beginning to write his "political obituary."

It's no wonder why.

Stern intimates that he will "file a challenge" against the Govenror's decision. Maybe Schwarzenegger needs to walk a day in the shoes of these home health care workers- oh, wait, that didn't work either.

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Still Time To Strengthen Waxman-Markey

Henry Waxman will suffer the endless string of GOP amendments to his climate and energy bill only until today, before he puts the hammer down and moves the bill out of committee. He's even hired a speedreader in case the GOP wants to delay the bill some more by having the whole 900-page behemoth read in full. Waxman wants the bill out of committee rather than being held up by procedural silliness and self-serving amendments. You can watch this thing drag on over at C-SPAN 3.

But of course, once the bill leaves committee, that's not the end of the story. While the Chairman believes he has the votes, and the Energy and Commerce committee is generally more conservative than the House as a whole, the bill has plenty of other hurdles. Charlie Rangel and the Ways and Means Committee wants his hands on it, and he will prioritize health care well before this bill. Collin Peterson over at Agriculture wants a piece of it as well. And Waxman wouldn't commit yesterday to this bill even reaching the House floor before August.

My point in bringing this up is that there are months to go before the final bill takes shape. Various fiefdoms in the Congress want to put their fingerprints on it, and nothing will happen quickly. This is important, because there's substantial debate over whether this bill represents a true compromise that everyone can live with, or a flawed bill that would not have the kind of impact that makes it worth the many giveaways involved. Brad Plumer at TNR highlights the biggest, but by no means the only, compromise.

One of Waxman's biggest compromises, the one attracting the most attention, was that roughly 85 percent of the pollution permits under the bill's carbon cap-and-trade system will be given out to companies for free, rather than auctioned off by the government [...]

If Congress auctioned off all or most of the pollution permits under a cap-and-trade system, companies would have to pay more for the allowances, and the U.S. government would raise more revenue. That'd be money Congress could then rebate directly back to consumers to soften the blow of higher energy prices; or it could spend some of the money on clean-energy research or efficiency projects (many of which won't necessarily come about just because there's a price on carbon). Right now, there's less money in Waxman-Markey for both of those things.

Ultimately, Plumer believes that, while the bill is flawed, it would still represent a step forward and progressives ought to support it. The Economist appears to disagree, noting the looser cap on emissions (now 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 instead of 20%). Adam Siegel calls it a coal subsidy bill because it subsidizing the fossil fuel industry far more than renewables. The bill is so large and includes so many competing measures that it's impossible to really divine what it would do at this point. But there are many months left to make that determination and find the points where it can be improved.

Progressives will either have to eat these compromises or reject anything this mushy, depending on the political movement that grows up around the issue, and right now, that movement is relatively silent.

There are two ways to overcome the political hurdle. Either cut deals with the coal, oil, auto and utility industries that weaken (but hopefully don't completely undermine) the legislation. Or convince voters in those areas that their interests are not the same as those of fossil fuel CEOs, motivating them to take action and putting public pressure on key congresspeople to back stronger climate protection legislation.

Cutting deals can be handled behind closed doors in the halls Congress. Generating public pressure requires major grassroots mobilizing.

The political reality Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey had to face is there has been no major grassroots mobilizing in the broader progressive movement. While poll numbers show strong support for strong legislation, there has been no grassroots intensity to back that up, to convince skittish politicians that the public is demanding action immediately, and will hold politicians accountable if they don't follow through.

...broad, deep, relentless and coordinated grassroots mobilization is the only thing that can put a wedge between special interest lobbying and Congress. If we aren't present in the halls and offices of Congress, you better believe every day corporate lobbyists are.

Bill Scher is absolutely right. But there's a larger question about political capacity here. All these problems hitting at once really dilutes the energy that can be put to any one topic. We have a couple wars, a financial meltdown, major health care legislation and about 100 other things going on. The President prioritized health care and that's what has gotten much of the activism. The enviro groups haven't done their job of building a movement outside of throwing a couple ads on the air. But I wonder what they really could have done. And I also wonder if there won't be possibilities for movement pressure down the road. We're at the beginning, not the end, of this fight.

...Just to be clear, I think the bill should be improved. Giving away pollution credits will put the burden of transforming the energy sector on the poor and not save anyone on their electric bills. The renewable energy standard ought to be strengthened up to at least 25%. My point is we have a lot of time to do this, but the enviro groups have to take the lead.

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Facts Are Stupid Things

Virtually the entire political leadership in Sacramento took without questioning the view that the overwhelming loss of the special election is somehow a mandate for "living within our means" and deep, drastic cuts to the budget. The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times (in multiple venues) and most other publications provided uncritical coverage of the Governor and even leading Democrats, parroting this theory that "the voters spoke" and the message was that only cuts would be allowable from this point forward.

Beware of any sentence that starts with the words "What the voters told us was..." Far too often in our politics, dishonest lawmakers decide that voters mandate their particular ideologies and preferred policy decisions regardless of the facts. Perhaps the only real message delivered from the voters to lawmakers was that the former doesn't particularly like or trust the latter. But there are other possibilities. A new polling memo by David Binder Research details why Prop. 1A in particular failed, and the results do not match the Governor's ramblings.

Contrary to what the Governor is saying after the defeat of his proposals, Prop 1A did not fail because voters delivered a message to “go all out” in cutting government spending. The all-time record low turnout for a statewide special election clearly demonstrates the lack of depth to that argument. Prop 1A did not
generate a spike in turnout and taxes were not cited as the main reason why voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop 1A. Support for a state budget that relies solely on spending cuts is very limited – even among those voting no on Prop 1a.

Voters in this election were more likely to be Republicans and less likely to be Independents, whereas Democratic voters came out in proportions consistent with past turnout. Of those that voted in this election, 43% were Democrats, 42% were Republicans and 15% were Independents or minor party voters. This past November, the electorate consisted of 46% Democrats, 32% Republicans and 22% Independents or minor party voters.

In November 2010, the electorate will be a group that is more supportive of the revenue options tested in the survey, and more strongly opposed to only using cuts to balance the state budget. While only 36% of voters that turned out for the May 19th election supported using entirely budget cuts to balance the budget, even fewer – only 24% -- of non-voters felt the same way [...]

Voters simply do not trust the leadership in Sacramento, and recognize that the failed special election was just another example of the inability to bring real solutions to voters. When given two choices, four out of five voters – even among those who voted ‘Yes’ on 1A – agreed that the special election was just another example of the failure of the Governor and Legislature, who should make the hard decisions necessary to really fix the budget. Only 20% agreed the special election was a sincere effort to fix the state’s budget mess.

I would argue that the voters feel no trust in the legislature because they see time and again policy solutions that stick the average Californian with the bill that the wealthy and well-connected don't pay. The fact that the only permanent tax issue in the February budget was a $1 billion dollar tax cut for the largest corporations in America is a perfect example.

The polling memo also shows broad support for tax increases in a variety of areas, including wiping out this massive corporate tax cut:

75% support increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages (62% support among ‘No’ voters)
74% support increasing taxes on tobacco (62% support among ‘No’ voters)
73% support imposing an oil extraction tax on oil companies just like every other oil producing
state (60% support among ‘No’ voters)
63% support closing the loophole that allows corporations to avoid reassessment of the value of
new property they purchase (58% support among ‘No’ voters)
63% support increasing the top bracket of the state income tax from nine point three percent to
10 percent for families with taxable income over $272,000 a year and to eleven percent for
families with taxable incomes over $544,000 a year (51% support among ‘No’ voters)
59% support prohibiting corporations from using tax credits to offset more than fifty percent of the
taxes they owe (55% support among ‘No’ voters)

In addition, voters oppose the kind of spending cuts outlined by the Governor.

Now, I'm sure I'll hear "eat it, you pipe dream librul hippie" because of the structural issues that prohibit these kind of tax solutions. But the reason that the legislature has such desperately low esteem right now is that they fail to publicly even advocate for the solutions Californians plainly want, or the breakage of the structural barriers that would provide it. This failure caused the May 19 debacle and will cause further problems for the Democrats in the state if they are not careful. A political party seen as devoid of principle will not be a successful political party forever. What Californians desire, essentially, is leadership. And they will punish those who refuse to give it to them.

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Republican Attack Machine FAIL

The RNC tried to get out in front of Obama's speech today by dredging up an old quote Obama made about the Constitution being "flawed." Right, um, guys, he was talking about slavery.

FACT: Obama Explains The Constitution's "Fundamental Flaw" Was Slavery. The out of context video the RNC links to contains audio from a September 6, 2001 program called "Slavery and the Constitution" on WBEZ Chicago. On the show, Obama explained that the "fundamental flaw" was "Africans at the time were not considered as part of the polity that was of concern to the framers." In addition, the framers did not " as a moral problem involving persons of moral worth." [WBEZ Radio, accessed 5/21/09]

And Republicans in the House today will seek to investigate Nancy Pelosi for what she knew about torture while defending the torture she allegedly knew about. And now, even the former CIA Director, Porter Goss, refuses to say whether he was told about torture techniques, essentially refusing to contradict Pelosi's allegation.

The sickest part here is that the Democrats run scared from this nonsense.

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Time To Drop Drone Strikes On Manhattan, I Guess

Four terrorist plotters in a home-grown cell were captured in New York City last night after threatening to blow up synagogues and shoot down aircraft. They were never far along in their plot, and the FBI and NYPD had them surveilled and sussed out the entire time. That's how terrorism is properly defeated, through effective law enforcement and intelligence.

I suppose that now, based on conservative theories about terrorism policy, we should 1) invade New York City because otherwise we are allowing terrorists safe havens, 2) immediately ship these dangerous home-grown terrorists to Guantanamo or a floating plastic island because our Supermax prisons cannot possibly handle them, and 3) start torturing them immediately just to see if they know anything about links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Peter King, a charter member of FEAR Unit, lies to the New York Times, meanwhile, claiming that somehow this terror cell consisted of "jailhouse converts," an effort to demonize our prisons as breeding grounds for terrorism or something. And somehow, that means we can't close Guantanamo. I don't get the point. But maybe I'm not supposed to - there is no point other than using "jailhouse" and "terrorism" in the same sentence.

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Obama Lays The Hammer Down On Torture Prosecutions

In his speech today, the President suggested that existing structures could deal with investigations and even proseuctions of those who violated law during the Bush Administration's torture regime. He means Congressional inquiries rather than an independent commission, and Justice Department prosecutions rather than through an indepedent or special counsel.

I know that these debates lead directly to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an Independent Commission.

I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

A fine collection of words. But in his meeting with civil liberties and human rights groups yesterday, Obama suggested that he - not the Attorney General - would not allow such prosecutions to take place.

On at least one issue, though, Obama seems to have made up his mind. Isikoff reports that Obama announced his opposition to torture prosecutions--an unsurprising admission, perhaps, but one that must have disappointed many in attendance. Previously he had said that the question of investigation and prosecuting Bush administration officials was one for Holder to answer. But with Holder sitting right beside him, there's no doubt he's feeling pressure to, as they say, look forward, not backward.

So in public, the President gave a pretty speech about upholding the rule of law, but inside the White House, he vows not to uphold it, to do precisely the opposite of what he claims to believe makes us "who we are as a people." In fact, it does violence to the rule of law for the President to even decide who does and does not get prosecuted, as that is nowhere near within his jurisdiction. And as each new revelation about criminal activity committed at the highest levels comes out, the hollowness of Obama's rhetoric becomes more and more clear:

One source with knowledge of Zubaydah's interrogations agreed to describe the legal guidance process, on the condition of anonymity.

The source says nearly every day, (a contractor named James) Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA's counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration's legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.

A new document is consistent with the source's account.

The CIA sent the ACLU a spreadsheet late Tuesday as part of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. The log shows the number of top-secret cables that went from Zubaydah's black site prison to CIA headquarters each day. Through the spring and summer of 2002, the log shows, someone sent headquarters several cables a day.

"At the very least, it's clear that CIA headquarters was choreographing what was going on at the black site," says Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU lawyer who sued to get the document. "But there's still this question about the relationship between CIA headquarters and the White House and the Justice Department and the question of which senior officials were driving this process."

This happened BEFORE the Office of Legal Counsel authorized torture through the Bybee/Yoo memos, and at a time when Gonzales was not in the Justice Department or involved in the workings of the CIA or any other federal agency. He was the President's lawyer and speaking, presumably, for the President. Directly from the White House. Directing and approving torture without legal opinions. I agree with the groups seeking disbarment of the lawyers involved with twisting the law to justify the Bush torture program, and apparently, the first lawyer involved in doing this was Alberto Gonzales.

But the President of the United States would rather issue a blanket directive that actions like this - the lawyer to the President sitting down and cabling approval of torture tactics against a prisoner on a daily basis - should face no accountability whatsoever. Making the rhetorical flourish in the National Archives today very difficult to take seriously.

UPDATE: David Waldman was at the meeting, and he says on the point of investigations and prosecutions, Isikoff's reporting is wrong. Duly noted.

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The Backstop Is Not A Bailout

I heard a bunch of California Republicans yesterday talking about the effort to get the US Treasury to backstop state borrowing as a "bailout," and the media has fallen for it, using phrases like "California is too big to fail" and other snickering.

This is ridiculous.

Let me explain this fairly clearly. California will need to borrow billions of dollars to cover their cash flow issues, the same way they do every year. Traditionally, the money comes in at different times then the money goes out, necessitating short-term borrowing. Because of the state's miserable credit rating, the interest rates that investors charge for this borrowing are ridiculously high. Usually, banks guarantee those loans, but this year they are balking because of the severity of the state's fiscal picture. So the state has asked the Treasury to step in and guarantee the loans instead.

This would cost the Treasury Department approximately $0.00 dollars to perform. Providing loan guarantees simply means that you are insuring against default, which has never happened in the history of California. Not through the Depression or at any other time. What this would do is stop Wall Street from gouging the state with abnormally high interest rates, pure and simple.

Here are the words of an idiot:

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) predicted little sympathy for the Golden State on Capitol Hill. "I have the feeling that it's going to be a long time before Washington decides that they're going to ask Kansas or Wisconsin to help with California's funding problem," he said.

Nobody would be helping anybody. The federal government would guarantee loans that California would pay back. This is about lowering interest rates to make the price of short-term borrowing lower.

I understand that President Ford rejected these types of loan guarantees for New York City in the 1970s. But later he approved them. By the way, after that so-called "bailout," every single dollar was repaid by the city of New York. How on earth could this be characterized as a bailout?

The Ford Administration, under the direction of Treasury Secretary William Simon, imposed certain conditions on the loan guarantees (which will actually delivered directly by Treasury, so this is somewhat different). That could also happen here, and the Shock Doctrine possibilities are not pleasing. Still and all, this savings (which would only represent about $1 billion dollars in all, 1/20 of the current deficit) would not cost the federal government one red cent and thus shouldn't be used to cram down California in a punitive way. The possibility exists, but it's worth the risk.

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So What The Hell Was That All About?

Last week, David Hayes was refused confirmation to the position of Deputy Interior Secretary, a job he held in the last Clinton Administration, because Bob Bennett (R-UT) might face a primary and wanted to look tough. A week later, Hayes was confirmed by voice vote. I guess the difference was that Hayes promised to "review" the cancellation of oil and gas leases in Utah that got Bennett all flustered.

Man, these Republicans are whiny ass titty babies.

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The Speech Is Not Enough

President Obama made a nice speech today, defending his national security policies and the theory that we should not shrink from our values in a maelstrom of fear. He stood at the National Archives, in front of the founding documents, and acted as a defender of them.

And that's great. Obama made quite a few excellent points, about the closure of Guantanamo, the need for checks and balances and vigorous oversight from the other branches of government, and the failure of the previous Administration to keep faith with our values.

Bully. Wonderful.

I'm pretty much done with talk. On these issues in particular, I will look to the actions of the Administration to make determinations on their success or failure in my eyes. And those actions are likely to fail as much as they succeed. Obama basically acknowledged this. I think this was the key moment in the speech, the moment where Obama tried to position himself as offering some wise middle path and marginalizing "absolutists" on either side of him:

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: "anything goes." Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants - provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense. That, after all, is the unique genius of America. That is the challenge laid down by our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages. That is what makes the United States of America different as a nation.

When he talks here about absolutists, I can only assume he's talking about those of us who believe that no prisoner should be held indefinitely without charges, who believe that there need not be a military courts process outside the one used on our own soldiers, with all of the agreed-upon safeguards and rules for acquiring justice over 200-plus years, who believe that people described vaguely as "supporters" of criminal activities are not as culpable as the criminals themselves and cannot be held without legitimate charges, who believe that the government should not be able to assert state secrets as a means solely to shut down accountability by the judicial branch. If that makes me an extremist, cue the Barry Goldwater line about extremism in the defense of liberty being no vice. I'm simply articulating Constitutional principles, much like the human rights groups who met with Obama yesterday have articulated for many years. And I come out of this speech with a similar reaction to one of the participants in that discussion.

Asked whether the president had pacified some of the concerns she brought to the White House on Wednesday, (Human Rights First CEO Elisa) Massimino said that she was pleased with the opportunity for engagement. Beyond that, she still registered concerns.

"I think that many of us were disappointed by the announcement about the military commissions and wondered what the reasoning was behind that. And to be honest, I am still wondering having been in this meeting today. I don't think that this fits the overall framework that the president had articulated about using our values to reinforce a counter terrorism strategy against al Qaeda."

Obama seems committed to providing a durable framework for future Presidents to deal with these issues, and seems committed to a robust process of oversight to allow for a full examination of whether the policies are consistent with Constitutional principles. And then he throws out something like the military commissions revival or hints about preventive detention (literally, the pre-crime process from Minority Report) and you wonder if this is the same person. The actions have not matched the rhetoric, at least not always.

Now, as a token of some sort, the US government will prosecute Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who was allegedly involved in the bombing of US Embassies in Africa in 1998, in a New York City courtroom. That's consistent with our criminal justice system and the proper method of dealing with terrorist activity. It lends credibility to the process and shows that the United States is serious about joining the community of law-abiding nations again. But one token is not enough. And I will continue to fight for civil liberties as long as I see them being abused.

Now, Dick Cheney crawled out of the primordial ooze and I'm supposed to be watching his speech today as well. Here's my only response to that.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Via OC Progressive, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, Chair of the Budget Committee, spells out slowly for everyone the structural problems and false assertions about the California budget process. If you have non-political junkie friends who want to understand this in a quick and easy way, pass them this link.

This is a very good place to start. Evans puts the lie to three big myths about California:

1) The "runaway spending" assertion. Um, no. Population and inflation accounts for 68% of the increase. I LOVE how Evans cites the tough on crime sentencing laws as a key element of over-spending, in this case on prisons (20% of the inflation and population-adjusting spending increase). Ballot-box budgeting with no dedicated funding stream (separate from the initiatives voters stopped lawmakers from raiding yesterday, which have funding sources) also contributes to the problem. And there are the prior tax cuts like Prop. 13 and Arnold's VLF cut (which would have filled this ENTIRE current deficit). To cover for this we sell bonds and now have to pay out interest to service that debt. The problems beget more problems, and necessitate more cuts because the conservative veto resists taxes.

2) There's all these "waste" in the budget. Again, no. The Performance Review of 2004 found virtually nothing that would save the state any real money.

3) It's just all that messy partisanship from both sides. No. The Democrats have made $40 billion in cuts over the past several years. The Norquistian Yacht Party won't budget because they don't have to. Evans details the 2/3 requirement and the conservative veto, and cites Norquist himself!

Seriously, pass this to your friends. Facebook it and Twitter about it. If you internalize these concepts, the solutions are obvious - we need to restore democracy and give our elected officials a budget process and a Constitution they can actually navigate.

And while we're at it, let me debunk one other myth. The one that says all California has to do is sell San Quentin and all that surplus property and save the state. Well, the money raised from selling state property would not be able to be used to balance the budget.

Under the terms of Proposition 60A, approved by voters in November 2004, proceeds from the sale of any state surplus property can only be used to pay the interest on $15 billion in budget-balancing bonds sought by the GOP governor and approved by voters in March of the same year.

Once the bonds are paid off – the Legislative Analyst estimated at the time that cash from the sale of surplus property would speed retirement of the 30-year notes by a “few months” – sale proceeds would be deposited in the state’s reserve account for emergencies.


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The Rare Reverse Kabuki

I don't know who fed the media this point, or maybe they just couldn't ignore the wealth of hypocrisy surrounding the right-wing hissy fit over Nancy Pelosi, but they have started to inexplicably push back. It started last week when Marcy Wheeler noted that Pete Hoekstra, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of providing insufficient briefings and even lying to Congress, regarding a separate investigation. In the interim, a host of elements of the CIA's story started to fall apart - their briefing record document included people who weren't in the meetings, people who lacked the security clearance to attend, and even stated Porter Goss was briefed in 2005 when he was the Director of the CIA at the time. The invaluable ThinkProgress dug up a copy of the letter Hoekstra sent to the CIA, and added this:

Similarly, in 2007, Hoekstra described a closed-door briefing by representatives from the intelligence community (including CIA) on the National Intelligence Estimate of Iran’s nuclear capability, saying that the members “didn’t find [the briefers] forthcoming.” More recently, in November 2008, Hoekstra concluded that the CIA “may have been lying or concealing part of the truth” in testimony to Congress regarding a 2001 incident in which the CIA mistakenly killed an American citizen in Peru. “We cannot have an intelligence community that covers up what it does and then lies to Congress,” Hoekstra said of the incident.

Maybe this was simply the easiest way for journalists to understand the emptiness of the hissy fit - Hoekstra said "lied," too - but for some reason they're off and running with this today. Wolf Blitzer confronted John Boehner with this and he had to concede the point. Newt Gingrich tried to play this off when called on it by Diane Sawyer, of all people, but it didn't work ut too well for him.

(not that anyone should give a crap what Newt Gingrich thinks.)

And here comes none other than Arlen Specter, calling 'em how he sees 'em with respect to the CIA:

Sen. Arlen Specter took the opportunity Wednesday to defend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has come under fire in recent weeks over a controversy surrounding when she was told of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques being used by the CIA.

“The CIA has a very bad record when it comes to — I was about to say ‘candid’; that’s too mild — to honesty,” Specter, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a lunch address to the American Law Institute. He cited misleading information about the agency’s involvement in mining harbors in Nicaragua and the Iran-Contra affair.

I have no idea why the worm turned today, but this controversy is basically over. The CIA's theory is full of holes, and the Pelosi spat has turned into he said/she said, with the media willing to explore Republican hypocrisy on the issue.

Of course, defusing this time bomb has an added benefit - it ends any rising calls for investigations, perhaps starting with what Pelosi knew but encompassing the entire breadth of the torture regime from top to bottom. The Village certainly wants no part of that. So they had to play rough with Republicans for a couple days. It's almost a Kabuki dance in reverse - the media pretends to delve deep and fact-check precisely to pre-empt anyone else getting to actually delve deep and fact-check.

Pretty sharp. Meanwhile the whole "we tortured detainees to justify the war in Iraq" storyline has faded off into the distance as well. Maybe Jonathan Landay will drop yet another McClatchy bombshell soon.

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Reviving State Regulatory Laws

This is a bit in the weeds, but President Obama reversed a major Bush policy which pre-empted state regulations with federal guidelines that were often threadbare and protected corporate interests over the public. This has implications for consumer product safety, environmental law and all sorts of other regulations. I'd like to see the states-rights conservative argue that it makes more sense for the federal government to pre-empt all kinds of local regulations rather than having those closest to the local issue, and closest to the people, make the decision. While this won't get much attention, it really is the kind of major reversal that leads to something like you saw yesterday, where the federal government adopted California emission standards for cars, instead of fighting them in court.

When Obama does something good, I reward. When he doesn't I beat with a stick. That's how I roll.

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Delayed Election Means Delayed Withdrawal

Iraq postponed their national elections yet again, pushing them back to 2010. Iraq can postpone elections if they want - I wish California would learn from them - but the President's Iraq withdrawal policy doesn't kick in until after national elections, and it's supposed to be accomplished by the end of August 2010. So now, we'd have to remove all combat troops from the country in a matter of seven months, which actually kind of is a precipitous withdrawal. And the Administration would almost certainly see this as a reason to delay the full withdrawal of US combat forces.

I don't believe this threatens the overall withdrawal by the end of 2011. But extending the agreed-upon deadlines would cause anger at home, and probably abroad in Iraq, even if it's seen as a reaction to the delayed election. The bleeding of these deadlines could easily lead to mission creep. And I agree with Alan Grayson, and some point you have to say that enough is enough, and end the policy of endless war.

The reason why I said what I said is because the fundamental goal of our endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan is supposed to be to protect us. That’s why we call the Defense Department the Defense Department, because it’s supposed to defend America. And whatever the perceived threat may be, whether it’s al-Qaeda or the Taliban or otherwise, only by the most incredibly convoluted Bushian logic could you possibly get to the point where you conclude that as a result of that threat we should spend $100 billion a year and send over 100,000 of our young men and women abroad, 8,000 miles away, and that that is an effective way to accomplish that goal. It doesn’t make any sense.

Life does not consist of a Risk board game, where you try to occupy every space on the planet. There’s no other country that does this, there’s no other country that seeks to occupy foreign countries 8,000 miles from their own border, and believe that that somehow accomplishes anything useful. It doesn’t. If in fact it’s important to our national security to keep al-Qaeda or the Taliban under control, there are far more effective ways of accomplishing that goal, if that is in fact the goal, than to expend this kind of money and this kind of blood.

This is something that Democrats said when they were in the opposition repeatedly, and that truth hasn’t changed at all just because we elected a president. You can always find some kind of excuse to do what you want to do anyway, but I have to wonder why a new Democratic president wants to do something like this. This is a president who has recognized the immorality of torture, and I’m waiting for him to recognize the immorality of war and foreign occupation.

You'll forgive me for wondering whether the need to occupy foreign countries springs from a desire to keep America safe, or a desire to pay off giant corporations.

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Good Thing We Passed Prop 1F!

Because the Citizen's Commission process that actually determines legislator salaries is clearly hopelessly br-

Declaring that elected officials must share the pain of California's fiscal crisis, an independent commission voted today to impose an 18 percent pay cut for statewide elected officials and all members of the Legislature.

The California Citizens Compensation Committee, which sets salaries for state officers, earlier voted in favor of a more modest 10 percent pay cuts in an April 29 meeting in Sacramento. But the action couldn't stand because the seven-member board lacked the required four votes.

But today the commission voted 5-1 to make a deeper reduction in elected officials' salaries because of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's announced plans to lay off 5,000 state workers.

The only reason this didn't pass before is that the Governor didn't do his job to keep the required amount of appointees on the committee. Of course, by his logic, aren't these state workers? Shouldn't they all be fired so we can "live within out means?"

Now that the already-in-place process did what it was supposed to do, clearly we can all agree that Abel Maldonado is the kewlest man evah. Two snaps up with a circle, Abel. Two snaps.

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