Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Pretty Sweet Deal

Arlen Specter's opportunistic jump to the Democratic Party has been met with glee by the big Democratic players. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has pledged his support for Specter against any and all comers in a Democratic primary, and The New York Times reports today

.... Mr. Specter said on Tuesday that he had received commitments from Mr. Obama and from Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, to support him in any primary, backing intended to deter Democratic challengers. Mr. Obama made good on that pledge on Wednesday.

The most outlandish- and telling- statement of support came from Vice President Joe Biden, who as a lon-time friend, commuting buddy, and U.S. Senate colleague of Specter, reportedly was the most instrumental in convincing the guy some Republicans are now calling "Benedict Arlen" to switch parties. Biden said, with apparent pride and lack of irony, "anyone who thinks Arlen is going to cash in his independence has another think coming."

Say what you will about Biden- and so many do- he is right on target. In his statement Tuesday, Specter bragged about his reputed "independence," vowing "My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change."

At his press conference, he confirmed "I'm opposed to the nominee for Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Council, Dawn Johnsen." Then the following day, Specter voted against the budget conference report, which enables the reconciliation process, which would allow for President Obama's budget to pass with a simple majority. And Thursday, Specter joined his fellow Republicans- er, former fellow Republicans- in voting down the amendment offered by Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.), which would have added to S896, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, "cramdown." As opencongress.org describes it, this is "a provision giving judges the power to reduce mortgage principals and interest rates for homeowners in bankruptcy," a right currently afforded owners of vacation homes, yachts, and investment properties.

The agreement apparently struck between Speaker Reid and Senator Specter allows the latter to keep as a Democrat the seniority he had as a Republican, as a Senator elected in 1980. Here, openleft.com explains Specter's rank on each of the five committees on which he currently serves and there is a possiblility Leahy will create a special subcommittee on the Judiciary Committee that Specter would chair. There also is speculation that 84-year-old Daniel Inouye of Hawaii may step aside as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, to be replaced by Vermont's Patrick Leahy, who in turn would be replaced as chairman of the Judiciary Committee by Specter.

All in all, not a bad arrangement for a guy who a few days ago was down to two choices: stay a Republican and exit the Senate in 21 months; or do a "solid" for Barack Obama, switch parties, and have a chance to survive.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Presidential Style And 100 Days

On the occasion of Barack Obama's 100th day as President of the United States, Thinkprogress.org points out that on April 29, 2001, The New York Times ran a mostly favorable editorial about George W. Bush's first 100 days. Although the editorial board now recognizes the failure of the Bush presidency, on that day exactly ten years ago readers of the Times learned

his sunny self-confidence, even his penchant for bankers' hours and long weekends, seems to sit well with many Americans. It is a relief, they seem to be saying, to have a president who is not so tiring and omnipresent as Mr. Clinton.

And how did that "penchant for bankers' hours and long weekends" work out? A little walk down memory lane is helpful:

January 25, 2001: Counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke "urgently" (his term) requests of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice a Principals Committee meeting to discuss the threat from Al Qaeda; then turns over to Rice a memo (with two Clinton-era documents about Al Qaeda attached) which urged "an immediate meeting of the National Security Council's Principals Committee to discuss broad strategies for combating al-Qaeda by giving counterterrorism aid to the Northern Alliance and Uzbekistan, expanding the counterterrorism budget and responding to the U.S.S. Cole attack."

August 4, 2001: President Bush goes to Crawford, Texas to begin a month-long vacation, where he alternates between clearing brush and contemplating stem cell research. As USA today explained on 8/3/01:


Six months after taking office, President Bush will begin a month-long vacation Saturday that is significantly longer than the average American's annual getaway. If Bush returns as scheduled on Labor Day, he'll tie the modern record for presidential absence from the White House, held by Richard Nixon at 30 days.

August 6, 2001: President Bush receives Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." Bush listens and tells the CIA briefer "All right. You've covered your ass, now." (Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine)

September 4, 2001: The first Principals Committee meeting regarding Al Qaeda of the Bush presidency takes place, only seven days before the deadly terrorist attacks.


This is not only evidence of the benefit of having a president more interested in the affairs of the nation than in vacations. Back in their April, 2001 editorial, the NYT commented

We are not among those who complain that the tradition of measuring the first hundred days of a presidency has turned into an empty ritual. It is a convenient way to demarcate a period in which a new chief executive and the American people learn things that cannot emerge in the campaign vortex. The glimpses we get often can be valuable and even prophetic.

And the editors concluded:

We remain optimistic that Mr. Bush will continue in his basically sound approach to foreign policy and trade. And we remain hopeful that he will grow in compassion for average Americans and his sensitivity to the environment.

Given how (horrifically) the Bush presidency evolved, this should have been a cautionary tale to the traditional- and new- media about vesting importance in the arbitrary demarcation of 100 days. We know little if anything about the long-term, or even short-term, consequences of the Obama economic plan. And dangers lurk in Afghanistan, the Middle East, south Asia and elsewhere, to which the President and his advisers will respond effectively, or otherwise. One hundred days or not, it is unlikely we have seen either the best or the worst of the Obama presidency.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specter Switches

There are a lot of reasons to like and support Barack Obama. This is not one of them.

Jonathan Martin of Politico reports the response of presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs to today's switch by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter from the Republican to the Democratic Party:

President Barack Obama will throw his "full support" behind Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

Obama will campaign and raise money for Specter's reelection in Pennsylvania next year, Gibbs said at the daily briefing.

Asked if that applied to a Democratic primary, Gibbs said: "Full support means full support."

The president's move sends a powerful signal to Democrats in Washington and Pennsylvania that not only is it OK to get behind the longtime Republican, but that they ought to follow suit.


As if to confirm Obama's fealty to Specter, the senior Pennsylvania Senator stated "He said he would support me, come to Pennsylvania to campaign for me."

This is the same Arlen Specter whom, according to the Associated Press, recently maintained

If we lose my seat they have 60 Democrats, they will pass card check, you will have the Obama tax increases, they will carry out his big spending plans. So the 41st Republican, whose name is Arlen Specter, is vital to stopping tax increases, passage of card check and the Obama big spending plans.

Even today- today- Arlen Specter couldn't bring himself to say that he changed parties because his perspective or (as is much more commonly claimed) the perspective of his old party changed (the popular "I have not left the party, the party has left me" line). He declared

My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords' switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.

Apparently, Specter will not be given the chairmanship of any committee. Nevertheless, The Washington Post reports

Specter will receive his seniority among Democrats as if he had been elected as a Democrat in 1980, when he rode into office on the coattails of Ronald Reagan's conservative revolution. That effectively means Specter will become chairman of a key subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee, likely the one overseeing the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

A Democratic opponent of the Employee Fair Choice Act- and he may become a key figure overseeing the Department of Labor. Rising unemployment, declining job benefits, a diminishing middle class; and Barack Obama reportedly has pledged his support- against any possible Democratic challenge- to a Senator who has generally supported legislation to make all that possible. Disgraceful.
Quote Of The Day

"As I said in China this spring, there is no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man. There is no place for torture and arbitrary detention. There is no place for forced confessions. There is no place for intolerance of dissent.” “While we walked through the Rotunda. I explained to President Jiang how the roots of American rule of law go back more than 700 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend.”

-then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.) on October 30, 1997,following his meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
Mental Confusion

The chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl, an Islamist political party in Pakistan, told the nation's Parliament "If the Taliban continue to move at this pace, they will soon be knocking at the doors of Islamabad.... "

The Long War Journal reports that the Taliban are advanceing on the districts of Swabi, Mardan, and Malakand, and on Mansehra and Haripur. Ominously (emphasis mine),

The Taliban takeover of Haripur would put the Taliban on the doorstep of Islamabad and would also put two major nuclear facilities at risk.

Haripur borders the Margala Hills, a region in the Islamabad Capital Territory. Haripur also borders the Punjab districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.

Attock hosts two major nuclear facilities in Pakistan: the Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex and the Kamra (Minhas) Airbase. The Wah Cantonment Ordnance Complex host three sites where nuclear weapons and components are stored and assembled and aircraft and missiles are modified for use in nuclear attacks. The nearby Kamra Airbase is thought to host attack aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons.


Apparently, this would little concern former Virginian governor Jim Gilmore, who afterward lost badly a Senate race and in his effort to claim the Republican nomination for President in 2008. According to the online edition of the Hampton Roads, Va. newspaper, The Daily Press, Gilmore has blasted Congressional Democrats and President Obama in a fundraising letter, claiming

....Our greatest danger comes from what's happening in Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Barack Obama. And running mate Joe Biden, former DNC head Howard Dean, and the Democratic campaign committees for the House and the Senate. If not for you, Gilmore and his crowd might be running the country. And we could have had another four years of his party: one whose ardent supporters went on and on about "radical Islamism" and "Islamofacism" while the President they supported conducted a war against a secular regime in Iraq, the assignment of which resources undermined the far more important task in Afghanistan. And a regime which subsidized a President- since forced to resign- of Pakistan, who turned around and made deals with Islamist terrorists which only emboldened and strengthened them.

We now have a chief executive who recognizes the importance of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region- and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee says he and his allies are the greatest danger faced by the United States of America. Fortunately, the adults have taken over, and some Republicans will learn to adjust, and catch up with the rest of the country, in time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Bipartisan Susan Collins

O.K., in the interests of bipartisanship (and that, we know, is next to godliness), we'll stipulate the following:

- the swine flu outbreak is not, fortunately, at least as of now, a pandemic;
- so far, as the spokesman for Senator Susan Collins (R.-Me.) says, "There is no evidence that federal efforts to address the swine flu outbreak have been hampered by a lack of funds."
- spending on public health does not fit the GOP's theme of contempt for science;
- Senator Collins was not trying to kill off Americans, or even Mexicans.

Still, Senator Collins played a major role (video below) in stripping from the economic stimulus bill nearly $900 million in pandemic flu preparations, boldly declaring "Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No, we should not."

Granted, Senator Collins, short of sound judgement, as of now has had the integrity? courage? to leave on her website a Wall Street Journal article from February 5 (before final approval of the package):

After meeting with Mr. Obama, Sen. Collins expressed concern about a number of spending provisions, including $780 million for pandemic-flu preparedness. "I have no doubt that the president is willing to negotiate in good faith, that he wants to have a bipartisan bill," Sen. Collins said.

Collins joined with Repub Senators Snowe of Maine and Specter of Pennsylvania in forcing cuts to the stimulus package in return for their "aye" vote. Collins claimed that such spending on public health would not create jobs, that eliminating it "would step back from spending projects that don't immediately lift the sagging U.S. economy." Still, Collins' opposition was, not coincidentally, consistent with Karl Rove's complaint that the bill included "$462 million for the Centers for Disease Control, and $900 million for pandemic flu preparations."

But enough of the Rove-bashing- I'll leave it to others. Commenting on Hardball tonight, Ryan Lizza probably was closer on motive when he "semi-defended" Collins by saying in part "Susan Collins through that whole process had no coherent argument. She just wanted to knock down the total so she could be viewed as a moderate Senator." And the piece in the WSJ only substantiates Lizza's theory: the writer approvingly referred to "Sen. Collins, a centrist with allies in both parties...."

Centrist! Bipartisan! Few adjectives are more lovingly bestowed by the mainstream media, and probably few more coveted by politicians, than these. The grandstanding Susan Collins, earlier this year, portrayed herself as a responsible, independent-minded public servant- while doing it all for the political benefit it bestowed as she charmed the Fourth Estate. She may have, as Lizza maintains, "a long history of funding for flu outbreaks, flu money" and, a celebrated "centrist," she can avoid the media ridicule others would face if she maintains: "I voted for it before I voted against it."


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Compartmentalizing

Candidate Barack Obama:

"I think it is going to be part of the president’s job to be able to deal with more than one thing at once.’’ (September 24, 2008 on why John McCain was wrong to believe the presidential debate should be canceled in the midst of the the debate over the bailout/rescue bill debate)

Ladies and Gentlemen, President Barack Obama:

"When you're president, you've got to walk and chew gum at the same time." (March 19, 2008, on addressing energy, health care, and immigration in the midst of economic crisis).

And a White House official who was present at a meeting President Obama held with congressional leaders (emphasis mine):

"The president said that given all that’s on the agenda and the pressing issues facing the country, that a backward-looking investigation would not be productive. The president was very clear … that he believes it’s important that there’s not a witch hunt” (April 23, 2009, on the possibility of a congressional inquiry into Bush-era torture).

It's distressing to hear a Democrat- and a former law school professor, at that- characterize the search for truth as "a witch hunt." Especially because it wouldn't be the President or his economic team that would be delving into such arcane, niggling concepts as accountability and the rule of law, as Paul Krugman explained in his New York Times column of April 23:

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.


And if we're not so capable, we have even bigger problems than condoning waterboarding, beatings, electric shock, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, and sodomy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Steve Schmidt Speaks

The chief political strategist for the McCain presidential campaign, Steve Schmidt, and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe jointly appeared yesterday at the University of Delaware. Ben Smith of Politico reported that Schmidt gushed of Barack Obama's political skills:

This was, in my view, the unfinished Bobby Kennedy campaign – the idealism, the passion, the inspiration he gave to people, it was organic and it was real and it wasn’t manufactured at a tactical level in the campaign.

Put down the Kool-Aid, Steve. Apparently Plouffe was aware of the self-serving nature of the remarks, as Smith writes that he "was not quite content to grant Schmidt that the campaigns’ managers had nothing to do with the outcome."

It's a given that Schmidt, Rick Davis, and Charlie Black "were running a campaign under extra difficult circumstances – the state of the Republican party, the president’s unpopularity, the economy – a lot of issues that were not John McCain’s fault but were John McCain’s problem in this race,” as Schmidt noted.

Schmidt curiously stated "When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall I knew pretty much right away that ... from an electoral strategy perspective, the campaign was finished.” But no one forced this troika to panic and choose a largely unknown, unqualified, and ill-informed individual from outside the continental United States* to stand a heartbeat from the presidency. Schmidt noted "It was communicated back to us very clearly from within the party that.... any pro-choice nominee was not acceptable, [and] it would lead to a floor fight at the convention with an alternate nominee for Vice President put into play.”

Perhaps the nominee, as claimed, had to be pro-life. Then Lehman Brothers collapsed and the dearth of understanding of the economy on the GOP ticket- "the fundamentals of the economy are strong" guy and the "Bridge to Nowhere" gal- became evident. Too bad they did not have at hand a candidate who was pro-life, experienced on economic matters, and from a swing state like, say, Ohio. Oh, yeah, Rob Portman. (And Mitt Romney, in his latest incarnation, is pro-life and has experience managing an economy and business.)

Still, they went with Sarah Palin. Attractive, dynamic, inexperienced, unqualified- a great candidate for a campaign team that thought so little of the American electorate. (Contrast that to Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden.) And so they went with the theme of The Two Mavericks. Brilliant. Run against the first non-white nominee of either major political party, singularly inspirational and running on the theme of "Si Se Puede," and try to match him as a change candidate. And when they hear that he wants to cut income taxes for 90% of the American public, call him a "Socialist."

There was a way to electoral victory for John McCain. First, he would have needed to have chosen an adult as a running mate. Then he would have had to have attacked candidate Obama where he was most vulnerable. Hmmm. Black- better yet, biracial. Born outside the continental United States* (with the PUMA crowd, without substantiation, alleging it really was outside the United States altogether). Raised in Asia (i.e., Thailand). Has a funny middle name. Burst onto the national scene a mere four years earlier. Involved with a character named Tony Rezko. Involved with another character named (Rev.) Jeremiah Wright, who bears little resemblance to a Vietnam war hero and captive. Married to a wife who finally is proud of her country.

And, yet, the Democratic candidate, who opposed a health care mandate for adults and supported United States military action in Afghanistan to annhilate Al Qaeda, is attacked as.... a Socialist. Perhaps Senator McCain believed it unseemly to criticize his opponent in a personal, negative manner, preferring to slime Senator Obama with the political epithet of "Socialist," slightly less incendiary than "Communist" or "fascist." More likely, McCain wanted to preserve his status as the Beltway's favorite Republican and favorite United States Senator, which would have been placed in jeopardy if he had gone after Obama himself, rather than assail a leftist economic ideology, always a safe tactic with the corporatist media.

No, Steve Schmidt, John McCain's bid was not doomed from the start, nor could it have been salvaged by a full-throated embrace of gay marriage. Needing to demonize Obama, McCain-Palin emphasized the "devil you know" rather than "the devil you don't know." But it would have benefitted by learning from Hillary Clinton's campaign (before it wisely changed course) and not tried to beat Barack Obama at his own game: the embodiment of change.
Torture And False Confessions

As early as January 22, 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney was hard at work trying to convince the American people of a link between Sadaam Hussein and Al Qaeda. The Center for American Progress quotes him as claiming

There's overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. I am very confident that there was an established relationship there.

CAP notes the following sources as refutation of this central claim of the war:

"According to documents, "Saddam Hussein warned his Iraqi supporters to be wary of joining forces with foreign Arab fighters entering Iraq to battle U.S. troops. The document provides another piece of evidence challenging the Bush administration contention of close cooperation between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda terrorists." [NY Times, 1/15/04]

"CIA interrogators have already elicited from the top Qaeda officials in custody that, before the American-led invasion, Osama bin Laden had rejected entreaties from some of his lieutenants to work jointly with Saddam." [NY Times, 1/15/04]

"Sec. of State Colin Powell conceded Thursday that despite his assertions to the United Nations last year, he had no 'smoking gun' proof of a link between the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and terrorists of al-Qaeda.'I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection,' Powell said." [NY Times, 1/9/04]

“Three former Bush Administration officials who worked on intelligence and national security issues said the prewar evidence tying Al Qaeda was tenuous, exaggerated and often at odds with the conclusions of key intelligence agencies.” [National Journal, 8/9/03]

Declassified documents “undercut Bush administration claims before the war that Hussein had links to Al Qaeda.” [LA Times, 7/19/03].

“The chairman of the monitoring group appointed by the United Nations Security Council to track Al Qaeda told reporters that his team had found no evidence linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein.” [NY Times, 6/27/03]

"U.S. allies have found no links between Iraq and Al Qaeda.'We have found no evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda,' said Europe's top investigator. 'If there were such links, we would have found them. But we have found no serious connections whatsoever.’" [LA Times, 11/4/02]


But sometimes a lie dies a slow death, and fictitious claims of a connection may be at the heart of the current controversy over the torture regime established by the CIA. According to this article in the New York Times, the enhanced interrogation tactics taught to the U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency were based on a chart which in turn "had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners."

Torture as a means to obtain false confessions. Now here is investigative journalist Ron Suskind, author of The Way of the World, explaining on Rachel Maddow on 4/22:

I heard some of that back when I was reporting the book, but I really couldn‘t confirm it and you need, you know, several sources confirming to put it in the book.

And what‘s fascinating here, if you run the timeline side by side, you see, really, for the first time from that report that the key thing being sent down in terms of the request by the policymakers, by the White House, is find a link between Saddam and al Qaeda so that we essentially can link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us. That was the goal and that was being passed down as the directive.

It‘s, you know, it‘s often called the requirement inside the CIA for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives. “Here‘s what we‘re interested in, here‘s what we, the duly elected leaders, want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.”

What‘s fascinating, in the Senate report, is finally clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and mind you, the frustration inside of the White House that was actually driving action. The quote, in fact, inside of the Senate report from a major said that as frustration built inside of the White House, that there was no link that was established—because the CIA told the White House from the very start there is no Saddam/al Qaeda link. We checked it out. We did every which way. Sorry.

The White House simply wouldn‘t take no for an answer and it went with another method. Torture was the method. “Get me a confession, I don‘t care how you do it.” And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side. It‘s extraordinary.

Mind you, Rachel, this is important. This is not about an impetus to foil an upcoming potential al Qaeda attacks. The impetus here is largely political diplomatic. The White House had a political diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run-up to the war....

My question, the question for investigators now: Is how many of these interrogations were driven specifically by a desire to come up with the Saddam/al Qaeda link? It‘s essentially rivers coming together.


Perhaps this is what Dick Cheney means when he refers to the "success" of the "enhanced interrogation" tactics. The scheme was borrowed from the (Chinese) Communists who got false confessions out of it, and the Administration needed someone on the other side, a terrorist, an enemy combatant, somebody to say there was a connection between the guy the U.S. military deposed and the architects of the worst attack ever on American soil. This may seem nefarious, but for the crew who ran things, their way, into the ground the last eight years, pretty standard fare.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Reliable Dick Cheney

Not only right, but psychic. Rush Limbaugh,never one to admit error, reminded listeners on Wednesday that he is invariably correct. It came during a conversation with a caller who was no more sarcastic than Rush was tongue-in-cheek:

CALLER: Your accuracy rating as stated yesterday or the day before, 99.1.

RUSH: No, no. Documented now to be almost always right 99.

CALLER: Okay. When you started, obviously before you had an opinion, it was a hundred percent. What were you wrong to drop it?


And Limbaugh provided a telling example of what he considers incomparable insight. Earlier that day Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Ca.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clashed during a House Foreign Relations Committee hearing over the bid of former Vice President Cheney bid to have some torture documents unclassified. Rush alleged

Getting to the bottom of the matter would prove every one of you is wrong about conducting the entire war on terror, Mrs. Clinton. Dick Cheney's not lying about documents, Mrs. Clinton. He has seen them and the documents that he wants released are simply the memos that show the success....

Maybe Dick Cheney isn't lying- no one does so 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But he arguably is the fellow who pushed hardest the myth that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 (central to developing the case for the upcoming war), telling us on Meet The Press on December 9, 2001 about an imagined meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence official and Mohammed Atta:

Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that's been pretty well confirmed, that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.

And claiming on the March 16, 2003 edition of the same program that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons program, American forces would be greeted in Iraq as liberators, and that hundreds of thousands of American soldiers would be unnecessary to secure the peace:

He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.... And over time, given Saddam’s posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it’s only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons.

Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

But to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don’t think is accurate. I think that’s an overstatement.


So maybe Rush Limbaugh is right 99.1% of the time, but one of his favorite targets, Hillary Clinton, was the one on target when she implied the obvious (to almost all but Rush) about the former vice-president: "Well, it won't surprise you that I don't consider him a particularly reliable source of information."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trump And Hilton- Perfect Together

With the broadcast media atwitter (at least when I first thought to write this) about the Miss California/gay marriage controversy, I've been given an excuse to blog about it.

But what about it? Perhaps about Carrie Prejean's opposition to gay marriage, wherein, unintentionally echoing Barack Obama, she stated definitively "I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman." No, despite the best efforts of some on the left and some on the right, most people still hold dear the principle of freedom of expression.

Maybe the ignorance of the response, when Prejean contended "We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage." She was probably very nervous and, anyway, I'm confident that given time, she and Matt Lauer (video below) the following day would have lapsed into a thorough analysis of the applicability to gay marriage of the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution.

Or perhaps the judge, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, who the day after he asked the (in)famous question of Prejean called her "a dumb b_ _ _ _ _." And later compounded the narrow-minded rudeness by declaring "I don't apologize. Over the course of the past 24 hours, the more I've thought about it, the more – you know what? – No, I'm going to stand by what I said just like she's standing by what she said. And I called her the 'b' word, and hey, I was thinking the 'c' word." And on the Today Show, Hilton said Prejean should have "left her politics and her religion out because Miss USA represents all Americans," a telling remark given that the beauty queen had
mentioned nothing about religion or Christianity.

But a sense of superiority is almost a job requirement in Hollywood. Check out the consescension and religious bias in the reaction of Keith Lewis, the Executive Director of Miss California USA/Teen USA:

As co-executive director of Miss CA USA and one of the leaders of the Miss CA family, I am personally saddened and hurt that Miss CA USA 2009 believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman. Although I believe all religions should be able to ordain what unions they see fit, I do not believe our government should be able to discriminate against anyone. Religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family.

"Saddened and hurt?" The beauty contestant expresses bigoted views that Lewis believes are antithetical to human rights or civil rights, and Lewis is "saddened and hurt?" Appalled perhaps, but hardly "saddened" that someone in his "Miss California family" has expressed a dissenting opinion. Pretty fickle, that "family."

No, Lewis' response only solidifies the stereotypical image America has of Hollywood values. Rather, the most disturbing aspect of this affair might be expressed as: What was Donald Trump, Executive Director of Miss USA, thinking?

Donald Trump- or "the Donald" as the adoring media like calling him- is a giant of American business- real estate, casinos, hotels, even television. And surely he knows all about this fellow Hilton, whom gay supporter of same sex marriage Charles Karel Bouley described in The Huffington Post as

a person who is famous for smearing snarky and crude things over celebrity photos and following Brittney's every move. He lives for controversy and is only famous for it: not his overwhelming political activism, not his witty insights into the psyche of America or even the gay community, not even thought provoking conversations; no, he's a fame whore and he does it very, very well.

Donald Trump has not commented on the tirade of one of the guys he chose to be a judge of a beauty pageant millions of Americans are interested in. But it is a perfect marriage of of a sort: Hollywood and the corporate mogul, both contemptuous of traditional American values and Americans, convinced that their way is the only way.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quote Of The Week

"Sean Hannity interviewing Dick Cheney is like Paul Shaffer interviewing David Letterman or Igor interviewing Dr. Frankenstein."

-David Corn on MSNBC's Hardball, April 21, 2009
The NRA Agenda

If you're old enough, you, too, heard it growing up: "when guns are outlawed, only criminals will have guns."

And so it was that Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell and National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre squared off on Sunday's Face The Nation (video below), largely over the assault weapons ban, which Congress allowed to expire in 2004.

Referring to the ban as "a totally phony issue"- despite the murder last week of three police officers outside of Pittsburgh by a man armed with an AK-47- LaPierre trotted out the old slippery slope argument: "You're going to ban these semi-autos, and then it's going to be handguns, and then it's going to be pump shotguns..."

But more indicative of the NRA's tactics was LaPierre's remark that "we just need to enforce what we have." The gun mogul was singing a different tune when he recently claimed "Gun-control laws have never, and can never, reduce violent crime.... The 20,000 anti-gun laws already on the books in states, cities, and towns throughout the U.S. too often disarm innocent victims. " LaPierre's support for law enforcement, rather, goes no further than his advocacy of Project Exile, a worthwhile program shifting prosecution of some gun crimes to federal court, where the offender faces a mandatory term of incarceration.

And this is why the NRA typically opposes efforts by state legislatures to enact laws requiring firearms owners to report lost or stolen weapons. (The Repub-controlled state Senate in Pennsylvania has defeated such an effort led by Rendell.) If these laws were common, fewer weapons would end up in the hands of criminals, with fewer opportunities for innocent citizens and police officers to be gunned down. But then if the gun lobby supported this and other legislation intended to restrict possession of firearms to law enforcement and law-abiding, mentally stable individuals, the National Rifle Association's major objective would be thwarted: the circulation of as many firearms to as many people as possible.



Watch CBS Videos Online

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nativist, And Ignorant

Oh, this is rich. Buy a vehicle manufactured in whatever nation you prefer. Express a little nativist hostility if you'd like. But a Suzuki Vitara, very likely manufactured in Asia, I saw this day sporting a bumper sticker reading "This Is America. Speak English" adorning its rear bumper suggests hypocrisy raised to an impressive level. One wonders: Was the driver figuring that the American auto worker who did not have the opportunity to put together his Suzuki an illegal immigrant who spoke Spanish? How much English was the factory worker in Makinohara, Toyokawa, or Hamamatsu speaking when he assembled the Vitara? And did he (or she) appreciate the fine irony of driving a vehicle made in Asia while he was outraged that not enough people are speaking English?

Presumably, the motorist was inspired by South Philadelphia restauranteur Joey Vento, he of Geno's Steaks. Mr. Vento proudly displays a sign reading "This is America- WHEN ORDERING PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH" at his cheesesteak joint which, curiously, Philadelphia's Human Rights Commission a year ago ruled (by 2-1) did not discriminate against anyone.

Like Vento, I suppose, today's motorist can be confident that at least most people in "America" are at this moment speaking English. Except, probably, the vast majority of individuals in most of the other 22 nations comprising the Americas.
Article Of The Week

The "tea bag" parties of April 15 provoked much ridicule and insufficient analysis by the mainstream media, especially given that, according to fivethirtyeight.com, approximately 311,460 individuals fanned out amongst 346 locations. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of Americans are angry at high taxes and the president who is forcing a tax cut upon them, and at a big, powerful government that enabled Wall Street to rig the system against the middle class.

Though claiming to be non-partisan which, depending on the locale may have been largely true or blatantly false, sentiment and speeches reflected a great deal of Repub gospel. Blogger Jon Perr of PERRspectives.com on April 15 eviscerated ten GOP "Tax Day lies." They are:

1. President Obama will raise taxes on small businesses.
2. The estate tax devastates small businesses and family farms.
3. 40% of Americans pay no taxes.
4. Tax cuts always increase revenue.
5. The GOP is the party of fiscal discipline.
6. Ronald Reagan was the greatest tax cutter of all time.
7. FDR caused the Great Depression, or at least made it worse.
8. Obama's cap-and-trade plan will cost each American family $3,100 a year.
9. Obama's tax proposals will undermine charitable giving.
10.The rich pay too much in taxes already.

Among my favorite myths is #6. Republicans apparently forget not only that President Reagan presided over a budget deficit greater in relation to GDP than did President George W. Bush, but responded to huge deficits by twice raising taxes. It is part of the narrative- critical to maintaining the legitimacy of their ideology- the GOP is creating that President Reagan was a true conservative while President George W. Bush deviated significantly from conservative orthodoxy. Though both Presidents were conservative, Reagan was far more pragmatic, with Bush taking a harder-edged, more dogmatic and conservative, approach.

Myths #3 and its corollary, #10, are a major part of the talking points of conservative radio these days. Rush Limbaugh, especially, argues that a great many Americans pay no taxes and, hence, the wealthy pay too much. But as Perr notes, "virtually all American workers pay the 6.2% Social Security tax (on income up to $97,000) and another 1.45% for Medicare" and most taxpayers pay more in these payroll taxes than in income taxes. And that's without considering sales and excise taxes, which also generally are regressive and paid by almost everyone.

And the skewing of the tax system toward the wealthy and against the middle class has had an unintended- or maybe intended- effect. Citing data compiled on the period of 1979-2006 by the Congressional Budget Office, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted "the share of national after-tax income going to the top 1 percent of households more than doubled between 1979 and 2006, rising from 7.5 percent to 16.3 percent." There is now (at least before the 2008 stock market dive) greater concentration of income at the top than at any time since 1929. The Center summarizes

the top 1 percent of households had a larger share of the nation’s after-tax income, and the middle and bottom fifths of households had smaller shares, than in any year since 1979, the first year the CBO data cover. As a result, the gaps in after-tax incomes between households in the top 1 percent and those in the middle and bottom fifths were the widest on record.

Barack Obama promises to wind down the war in Iraq. He is willing to take on the terrorist threat in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan largely ignored by his predecessor. The economic downturn because of, or despite, the President's policies will be arrested. Even America's racial divisions may (but probably won't) be partially healed with the election and leadership of our first minority president. But one of the enduring characteristics of American society, the (usually growing) gap between the wealthy and the rest of our national community, lives on.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Show Me The Money!

It's nice to have your priorities straight. Texas Governor Rick Perry faces a strong challenge from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010. Facing off in the general election against the Democrat in a state solidly Repub at the state (and federal) level is far less daunting.

So on April 9 he holds a press conference to vow his support for Texas House Concurrent Resolution 50 and declares

I believe the federal government has become oppressive. It’s become oppressive in its size, its intrusion in the lives of its citizens, and its interference with the affars of our state....

....We think it’s time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas.


Earlier, he had rejected $555 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment compensation, even though Texas expects to be several hundred million dollars in the hole in its fund for assisting the unemployed. The law reportedly requires more individuals to be eligible for compensation and that these changes be permanent.

So Perry is telling the oppressors in Washington to stay out of Texas and keep their money? No. Now that I've done my grandstanding act, we'll accept the rest of the $17 billion, thank you.

But the Texas governor is not alone among Repub governors preening for the camera while eyeing national office. Referring to the offer as "a bribe," Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is rejecting $388 million of federal stimulus money. Still, she is accepting approximately $543 million. After all, there is no reason to be stubborn about principle.
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

As Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith) would have put in That 70s Show, Rick Perry is no dumbass. On April 9, the Lone Star State governor called a press conference(video below) to declare support for House Concurrent Resolution 50, which cited the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Consitution and

RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas
hereby claim sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise
enumerated and granted to the federal government by the
Constitution of the United States; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That this serve as notice and demand to the federal
government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective
immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these
constitutionally delegated powers; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That all compulsory federal legislation that
directs states to comply under threat of civil or criminal
penalties or sanctions or that requires states to pass legislation
or lose federal funding be prohibited or repealed; and, be it
further

Perry explained:

We think it’s time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas. That’s what this press conference, that’s what these Texans are standing up for. There is a point in time where you stand up and say enough is enough, and I think Americans, and Texans especially have reached that point.

As you would expect, this guy was a big hit at the three tea parties he attended yesterday in Texas. Speaking at the Dallas gathering yesterday, the Lone Star State's governor declared

They're overturning the rights we had one by one, making choices that would leave our founding fathers scratching their heads.... Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression.

But Perry didn't get to be the chief executive of the third largest state in the country through stupidity. Following his appearance at the Austin tea party, where his ears were regaled with shouts of "secede!" Perry told reporters

There's a lot of different scenarios. We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot.

Plant the thought of secession; flex your muscles; fire up the crowds; get Hannity, Limbaugh, and Beck to laud you; mission accomplished. Then, while only those who are paying attention notice, make sure to tell the media that you yourself are not necessarily in favor of dissolution.

Clever strategy for a guy who is facing opposition in the GOP primary, from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, to his plans to serve a third term- and who likely has aspirations for national office.



Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pollyanna

The Center for American Progress reports on these trends during the current recession:

1. GDP growth turns negative: In the fourth quarter of 2008, GDP declined at an annual rate of 6.3 percent, the largest decline since the first quarter of 1982. The drop in growth reflected a 4.3% decline in consumer spending, a 22.8% fall in spending on homes, a 21.7% decrease in business investment spending, and a 23.6% drop in exports.

2. Job losses accelerate: The U.S. economy shed 663,000 jobs in March 2009. Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost 5.1 million jobs, 2.7 million of them—or 53.35 of the total—in just the last four months.

3. Broad rise in unemployment rates: In March 2009, the unemployment rate was 8.5%—the highest level since October 1983. The African-American unemployment rate stood at 13.3%, the Hispanic unemployment rate at 11.4%, and the unemployment rate for whites at 7.9% in January 2009. Youth unemployment has soared to 21.7%; meanwhile, the unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma grew to 13.3%, compared to 9.0% for those with a high school degree and 4.3% for those with a college degree.

4. Hours at work at historic low: Average weekly hours amounted for production workers—the vast majority of the American workforce—fell to 33.2 hours in March. This was the lowest level since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started to calculate these data.

5. Wages still up due to low inflation: In February 2009, inflation adjusted weekly earnings were 2.5% higher and hourly earnings were 4.1% higher than a year earlier, largely because of low inflation in recent months. This is unlikely to last. Inflation adjusted weekly and hourly wages have already decreased in January and February 2009.

6. Benefits decreased before the crisis: The share of private sector workers with a pension dropped from 50.3% in 2000 to 45.1% in 2007, and the share of people with employer-provided health insurance dropped from 64.2% in 2000 to 59.3% in 2007.

7. Family wealth disappears at record pace: From June 2007—the last peak of family wealth—to December 2008, total family wealth decreased by $15 trillion in 2008 dollars. This reflects a drop of 22.8% during these 18 months, the fastest decline in any 18-month period since the Federal Reserve started to collect these data in 1952. Total family wealth stood at 483.3% of after-tax income—the lowest level since March 1995.

8. The housing market stalls: New home sales in January 2009 amounted to an annualized, seasonally adjusted rate of 337,000, 41.1% lower than a year earlier, despite a year-over-year drop in median new home prices of 18.1%. At the current rate of new home sales, it will still take 12.2 months to sell all new houses on the market. Existing home sales were 4.6% lower and their median sales price 15.5% less than a year earlier.

9. Homeowners’ wealth losses mount: The values of all homes fell by $3.9 trillion from December 2006—the last peak of housing wealth—to December 2008. Home equity to after-tax income has dropped to 74.0%, the lowest level since September 1967, and home equity as share of home values dropped to record low of 44.7% by December 2008.

10. Mortgage troubles mount: One in nine mortgages is delinquent or in foreclosure. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the share of mortgages that were delinquent was 7.9% and the share of mortgages that were in foreclosure was 3.3%. The share of new mortgages going into foreclosure stayed at its record high of 1.1%.

11. Families feel the pressure: Credit card defaults rose to 6.3% of all credit card debt by the fourth quarter of 2008, an increase of 52.4% from the fourth quarter of 2007.


A drop in consumer spending, business investment, exports, wages, new home sales, home prices. Increases in mortgage foreclosures, unemployment, and credit card defaults. Real median household income dropped by $324 from 2000 to 2007 (despite growth among those making over $1 million) and the growth in absolute terms probably "reflect(s) increased costs for medical care -- the exact same coverage (but with a higher copay) which costs 15% more year-over-year shows up as increased total wages."

The middle class has been shortchanged for at least three decades and, obviously, no more so than the past year-and-a-half.

Obvious to all but the king of talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, whose relentless criticism of criticism of President Obama's economic policy comes with a complete denial of reality. Almost in passing, Limbaugh on April 15 claimed

This trickle down, this criticism of trickle down, Reaganomics, supply-side, whatever, is an ongoing effort to discredit the economic policies that created a 25-year economic boom.

No wonder Rush condemns Barack Obama's economic policies. Leave aside the growing health care crisis and the enormous budget deficits run up by supply-side guru Ronald W. Reagan and disciple George W. Bush. Limbaugh is not going to spend one minute of his three hours a week of talk radio looking at long-term trends in the American economy. But here is a guy who looks at today's economic picture- or that as of January 20, 2009- and sees an economic boom.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Deception- Or A Meltdown?

On October 23, 2008, roughly two weeks before California voters would approve the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, Reverend Rick Warren sent to his church members an e-mail in which he asserted:

For 5,000 years, EVERY culture and EVERY religion -- not just Christianity -- has defined marriage as a contract between men and women," Warren wrote. "There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2% of our population. This is one issue that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have publicly opposed the redefinition of marriage to include so-called 'gay marriage.' Even some gay leaders, like Al Rantel of KABC oppose watering down the definition of marriage.

Of course, my longtime opposition is well known. This is not a political issue, it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about. There is no doubt where we should stand on this issue....

This will be a close contest, maybe even decided by a few thousand votes. I urge you to VOTE YES on Proposition 8 -- to preserve the biblical definition of marriage. Don't forget to vote!


On April 6, 2009, the pastor of the huge Southern Baptist congregation in Southern California strangely told Larry King (video below):

You know Larry, there was a story within a story that never got told in the first place. I am not an anti-gay or anti-marriage activist. Never have been, never will be. The whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement. Never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going–the week before the vote, somebody in my church said, “Pastor Rick, what do you think about this?” And I sent a note to my own members that said. I actually believe that marriage is really, should be defined. If that definition should be saved between a man and a woman and then all of a suddenly out of it they made me, you know something that I really wasn’t. And there were actually a number of things put out.

I wrote to all my gay friends, the leaders that I knew and actually apologized to them. That never got out. There were some things said, everybody should have 10% grace when they say public statements and when I was asked a question that made it sound like I equated gay marriage with pedophilia or incest which I absolutely do not believe. And I actually announced that. All of the criticism came from people that didn’t know me. Not a single criticism came from any gay leader that knows me and knows that for years we’ve been working together on Aids issues.


Then on Sunday morning, ABC's George Stephanopoulos explained that moments before Warren was to be interviewed on Saturday for a segment to be televised on the following morning's This Week, his representatives canceled, saying the minister was "sick from exhaustion."

Reverend Warren may in fact have been ill this past weekend, but the thought of having to explain the apparent contradictory statements didn't help. (Pardon me as the left brain overwhelms the right brain.)

Cynics will assume, understandably, that Reverend Warren was lying. But was he? Michael Smerconish, the center-right radio talk show host and MSNBC contributor who shocked his radio audience in October by endorsing Barack Obama (over Afghanistan/Pakistan), believes that Warren may be hanging his hat on the fact that he "never once issued a statement," though sending an e-mail. Similarly, I agree that he "never once even gave an endorsement," choosing instead to make his view known semi-privately, electronically.

And does he claim credibly "I am not an anti-gay or anti-marriage activist?" I don't know what Warren is trying to say here, but any decent high school English teacher would recognize that the minister here is in fact saying:

1) "I am not an anti-gay activist." Whatever Reverend Warren was, he certainly is not an anti-gay activist now. Further, at the time when Warren was opposing gay marriage (and especially as he may see himself now) he may not have considered himself anti-gay, merely opposed to gay marriage- not unlike the "hate the sin, love the sinner" concept.

2) "I am not an anti-marriage activist." No, Warren himself is married and no doubt is foresquare in favor of the institution of marriage.

Warren contended "they made me, you know, something that I really wasn't." That is inarguably true, for "they" (whomever that might be) claimed a lot of things about Warren, doubtless some of them true and some untrue.

Although "All of the criticism came from people that didn’t know me" is a tough sell (all of the criticism?), not so the claim "Not a single criticism came from any gay leader that knows me and knows that for years we’ve been working together on Aids issues.” For this to be a lie requires a) criticism came from a gay leader (a subjective term) who both knew Warren and has been "working together on AIDS issues."

And it doesn't count if they had been working together- they must be currently working together ("we have been working"). Think PBS' Jim Lehrer- with a good question but, critically, no follow-up- and President Bill Clinton, with a misleading but truthful answer (emphasis mine):

LEHRER: You had no sexual relationship with this young woman?

CLINTON: There is not a sexual relationship. That is accurate.


Reverend Warren may not have been thinking this through in this manner. He might have not been concerned with whether he was technically lying but instead chose to give a rambling, barely coherent statement. Then again, he is presumably a man of sane and sound mind and, as we learned from the 'cone of silence' incident at the Presidential forum at his church last fall, one of dubious integrity.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Article Of The Week

An article, "The GOP's Blame-ACORN Game," written before the election and appearing in the November 10, 2008 edition of The Nation, is nearly as topical now as it was five months ago. Peter Dreier and John Atlas demonstrate that, contrary to the claims of right wingers (especially, but not exclusively, on talk radio) even today, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now played little or no role, directly or indirectly, in the housing crisis intrinsic to the financial meltdown.

Dreier and Atlas neatly dispatch the argument that ACORN somehow defrauded the federal government or the American people. The community organization paid individuals- per unit- to register voters. Many of the workers completed the registration forms themselves and passed them on to ACORN, which then alerted the authorities. Ironically, ACORN was the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of fraud, a fact seemingly lost on the political opportunists on the right.

On their way to exonerating ACORN (which shouldn't, but does, need defense) for the subprime crisis, Dreier and Atlas summarize succintly the housing disaster, explaining

Wall Street investment firms--including Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns and Citigroup--set up special units, provided mortgage companies with lines of credit, then purchased the subprime mortgages from the lenders, bundled them into "mortgage-backed securities" and sold them for a fat fee to wealthy investors worldwide, typically without scrutiny. By 2007 the subprime business had become a $1.5 trillion global market for investors seeking high returns. Because lenders didn't have to keep the loans on their books, they didn't worry about the risk of losses.

The hostility toward ACORN's alleged role in the subprime crisis, insofar as it ever is explained by ideologues short on facts, seems to turn on their supposed role under the 1977 Community Redevelopment Act. But the CRA is no culprit. It applies only to depository institutions, such as commercial and savings banks, rather than other lenders, especially private mortgage companies, including the likes of CitiMortgage, Household Finance and Countrywide Financial (recently bought by Bank of America). Those institutions which do make CRA loans are required by federal regulation to verify the incomes of borrowers to make sure they can afford the mortgages. Not surprisingly, only approximately 20% of subprime mortgages were issued by banks regulated by the act, the others issued by financial institutions not covered by the CRA and not subject to routine examination or supervision.

Only 10% of subprime loans went to first-time buyers with over half being refinances of existing mortgages. Many of these homeowners were persuaded to replace lengthy fixed-rate mortgages with deceptive and risky loans. The number of subprime mortgages increased greatly early in this decade, Dreier and Atlas note, "as the number of lenders regulated by the government and covered by the CRA dramatically dwindled."

But ACORN did play a role: a homeownership counseling program for pospective borrowers, whose foreclosure rate on loans was .032% in 2006; warning, unsuccessfully, of the danger of adjustable rate loans; exposing the "yield spread premium," "a kickback from lenders to brokers for selling loans that are more expensive than what borrowers qualify for;" promoting "assignee liability," which would have made "companies that buy, and profit from, loans bear responsibility for illegal acts committed when those loans were orginally made;" and persuading some major lenders to reduce the exorbitant interest rates and fees they charged borrowers.

With the record so clear and unambiguous, one can only wonder why the right has made the Community Reinvestment Act and ACORN the primary culprits in the financial crisis. Perhaps it is because ACORN is a community organizer as is our President, and the Community Reinvestment Act because it is an example of successful government. Or maybe it's simply because something is needed to divert attention from the disaster wreaked upon the economy by financial deregulation.
Beck And Fire

Everyone is impressed, in a manner of speaking, with Glenn Beck's recent free-association routine (video below) in which he simulated setting his helper "Bill" on fire. Beck got to rant about medicare, medicaid, "the Frenchie French," Cuba, illegal "aliens" (are those the ones from Mars?), and various other things, commenting "President Obama, why don't you just set us on fire?"
In a truly excellent post about the Beck method, The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen commented

This was so completely insane, it was probably the first time I genuinely started to wonder if Beck's derangement is an elaborate act. A guy this crazy, in real life, might try to eat his shoes while arguing with mailboxes. Getting dressed and making it to a television studio every day would be difficult.

Started to wonder? In an article which appeared on March 29, The New York Times observed "Mr. Beck has long been a performer. His roots are in comedy — he spent years as a morning radio disc jockey — and continues to perform comedy on stages across the country." And the reporter quoted Beck as admitting? boasting? "I'm a rodeo clown."

It truly is a circus act- not only when he pretends to set someone on fire, but routinely. And as for Obama raising taxes when he's cutting them for individuals earning below $200,000? And decimating the military while he's asking for a 4% increase? And taking away everyone's guns? It's one and the same, just another part of the show the right-wing talkers are putting on for their audience.







HAPPY EASTER..........................................................HAPPY PASSOVER

Friday, April 10, 2009

No Award, Not Yet

One of the characteristics of liberals, a trait that seems to separate us from conservatives, is that we at least sometimes go where the facts lead us. Listening to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, it is clear that conservatives feel a special obligation to avoid facts and details at practically all costs. They are convinced that analysis is a luxury only the pansies on the left have time for.

So it is a little disconcerting to see hand-wringing of some progressives toward the apparent decision by Arizona State University to withhold from President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he gives its commencement address on May 13. Andy Barr at Politico writes that university spokesman Sharon Keeler explained

that while one committee invites speakers, a separate committee votes on who will receive an honorary degree. Typically, the committee that awards honorary degrees acts first, followed by the committee that invites the recipient. But in Obama’s case, he was invited without the honorary degree committee selecting him.
Keeler explained that the award is given for "lifetime achievement" and is "normally awarded to someone who has been in their field for some time. Considering that the president is at the beginning of his presidency, his body of work is just beginning.”

Arizona State University has conferred 171 honorary degrees, from that upon Frederick M. Irish on May 28, 1940 to that on James J. Duderstadt on May 14, 2008. But notably absent are these fellows: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight David Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Milhous Nixon, Gerald Rudolph Ford, James Earl Carter, Ronald Wilson Reagan (6-6-6), George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, George Walker Bush. No President has been given the award.

The committee has not actually addressed the issue of whether to award Obama the honorary degree and still may choose to do so before his arrival. Nevertheless, concern that Barack Obama has not been approved for this honor, inasmuch that there is no reason to suppose that policy disagreement is a motivating factor, smacks a little of hero worship. And considering this recipient of the award on May 13, 2004, we can nearly eliminate the most nefarious possibility as a factor.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wonderful, Accessible Health Care

You might think, with the widespread, deep, and growing dissatisfaction of the American people with this nation's health care system, that only a fool, knave, or a comedian would declare "The best health care system in the world is here. Now whether they choose to access it...."

So saith Sean Hannity April 8 on his syndicated radio program. Sean obviously is no comedian. And a guy who calls Barack Obama a "socialist," who believes a 4% increase represents an emasculation of the defense budget, and earns (as of 2004) approximately two million dollars a year (merely for his radio program, television and personal appearances aside) to come up with this stuff is surely no fool.

"The best health care system in the world?" We all know that back in 2000, when approximately 39 million Americans lacked health insurance, the World Health Organization concluded that the United States of America had the 37th finest health care system in the world. And then roughly 8 million people lost health care over the following seven years. And that was before this deep recession we're now experiencing, one which finds Americans, many of whom were insured through their employment, having lost their jobs and the health care that went with it.

"Whether they choose to access it?" An article, "Ten Reasons Why American Health Care Is So Bad" by Ezra Klein in The American Prospect of November, 2007 links to this article by The Commonwealth Fund, Klein summarizes the findings on access:

It's true, Americans do have short waits for non-elective surgeries. Only 4 percent of us wait more than six months. That's more than in Germany and the Netherlands, but considerably less than the Canadians (14 percent) or the Britons (15 percent). But our high performance on the waiting times only account for individuals who get the care they need. Our advantage dissipates when you see the next question, which asks how many patients skip care due to cost. And here, America is far worse than anywhere else.

In just the past year, a full 25 percent of us didn't visit the doctor when sick because we couldn't afford it. Twenty-three percent skipped a test, treatment, or follow-up recommended by a doctor. Another 23 percent didn't fill a prescription. No other country is even close to this sort of income-based rationing. In Canada, only 4 percent skipped a doctor's visit, and only 5 percent skipped care. In the U.K., those numbers are 2 percent and 3 percent. Few of our countrymen are waiting for the care they need, that much is true. But that doesn't mean they're getting it quickly. Rather, about a quarter of us aren't getting it at all.


So they "didn't choose to access it" because they couldn't afford it. Sure, there is access for sick and injured Americans when care is urgent. It's called the emergency room. And if an American needs care and it's not urgent? It's off to the waiting room and exorbitant costs for the hospital and/or the taxpayers.

Conservatives claim to be enraged at high taxes, reasonable taxes, low taxes, any taxes. Presumably, then, they live under the illusion that the uninsured endure severe illness in silence, loathe to utilize the services of the local hospital's emergency room. Many on the right expect uninsured children and adults will suffer quietly rather than endure the wait and aggravation generally part of the emergency room experience in urban hospitals. Alas, people fail to accommodate the wishes of the landed gentry on the right and instead drive up the cost of health care. They still receive inadequate treatment but at least we avoid "socialized medicine" and right-wing knave Sean Hannity, who is not as ignorant as he appears, can rest easily.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Real And Unreal

You can't argue with the message. Michelle Obama, reports upi.com, on April 2 told young girls at a school in North London "If you want to know the reason why I am standing here, it's because of education. I never cut class. I loved getting A's, I liked being smart. ... "

So why are conservative bloggers offended at the First Lady's remarks? It seems she said also

You too can control your own destiny, please remember that. Whether you come from a council estate or a country estate, your success will be determined by your own confidence and fortitude.

Although the circumstances of our lives may seem very disengaged, with me standing here as the First Lady of the United States of America and you just getting through school, I want you to know we have very much in common. For nothing in my life ever would have predicted that I would be standing here as the first African-American First Lady.

I was not raised with wealth or resources or any social standing to speak of. I was raised on the South Side of Chicago – that's the real part of Chicago.


It would be petty- though accurate- to point out that you cannot control your own destiny- otherwise, it wouldn't be your destiny, virtually synonymous with fate. (Sports persons, always gravely stating that a team controls its own fate, are the worst offenders. They mean merely that a team currently holds the upper hand, a far different thing than controlling its own destiny.)

No, the right is critical because Mrs. Obama bragged she "was raised on the South Side of Chicago- that's the real part of Chicago." They compare it to Sarah Palin, who infamously asserted

We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation," said Palin, who later backpedaled from her remarks, saying she did not mean to give offense.

But of course Governor Palin was suggesting that not only were the parts (i.e., conservative) of the U.S.A. she was campaigning in were the "real America," they were distinct from the unreal parts of the country, those not "pro-America," hence, anti-America. Mrs. Obama, by contrast, was not suggesting that Chicago outside of the South Side was unpatriotic, lazy, worthless, or worse.

Or they're comparing it to the remarks (video below) of then-Senator George Allen (R.-Va.), running for re-election against James Webb, finding at yet another rally of his the young volunteer for the challenger, and stated

Let's give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.

Speaking in a positive, upbeat vein, the First Lady, in contrast to Allen, did not use a term in any way similar to "macaca." Nor did she see someone of apparent south Asian descent and assume- incorrectly- that he is not an American.

But if comparing Obama's comment to that of Palin was weak, and comparing it to that of Allen, ludicrous at best, Mrs. Obama was out-of-line.

Michelle Obama must not be held to a higher standard simply because she is black and, it could be argued, should be particularly sensitive to a suggestion that some areas are "real" and others, I suppose "unreal;" or its corollary, that some groups of people are "real" and others "unreal." Everyone should avoid this distinction and Mrs. Obama's inability, or unwillingness, to do so is made no more reprehensible because of the bigotry that she has likely suffered along the way. But there is no "real Chicago" and unreal Chicago; real Cleveland and unreal Cleveland; or real America and unreal America. Not being from Chicago, I am spared the ignominy of not being from "the real Chicago." Still, if nary a word is heard on this from Chicagoans and the left or the mainstream media, something is very, very wrong.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Banks, Obama, And Rush

It's amazing how often, even for an entertainer, Rush Limbaugh allows his imagination to run amok with something he has heard. Politico reported on a meeting Barack Obama held with CEOs of major financial institutions in which the President reminded them of the fierce public reaction to huge compensation packages paid to executives such as themselves. The President apparently cautioned them

Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn’t buying that. My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.

Limbaugh could have, legitimately, scolded Obama for referring to Americans as the gang with "pitchforks." But then, he would have found awkward making the transition to referring contemptuously to "The mob that President Obama stoked, the mob that he fueled, the mob that he and his buddies at ACORN inspired to protest AIG, their offices, and the executives of the homes." Instead, Rush on April 3 whined about the executives being

dragged in there and to have the president of the United States threaten you, "Hey, the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks is me," meaning you better accede to what I want or you might get mobbed, the American people are ready to hang you and burn you at the stake, for all intents and purposes.... My administration is the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks. And then it goes on to say that President Obama told the CEOs exactly what he expects from them, because he is running their business.

If only it were true. If only the President of the United States wanted to assert over corporations which have nearly brought the nation to its knees even half the control he is over the automobile industry (itself battered by the unavailability of credit from the financial services industry). Instead, Mr. Obama was telling them that if they would merely show a little tact, he would gladly run interference for them. And the executives of the financial institutions, not reticent to assert its influence over a neo-liberal president, had other plans. On March 24, The Wall Street Journal reported

When administration officials began calling them to talk about the next phase of the bailout, the bankers turned the tables. They used the calls to lobby against the antibonus legislation, Wall Street executives say. Several big firms called Treasury and White House officials to urge a more reasonable approach, both sides say. The banks' message: If you want our help to get credit flowing again to consumers and businesses, stop the rush to penalize our bonuses.

And Obama, ever alert to pressure from the financial industry and the declining public furor over bonuses paid to the nation's biggest welfare recipients, has stood up and taken notice. The Washington Post reports today:

The Obama administration is engineering its new bailout initiatives in a way that it believes will allow firms benefiting from the programs to avoid restrictions imposed by Congress, including limits on lavish executive pay, according to government officials.

Administration officials have concluded that this approach is vital for persuading firms to participate in programs funded by the $700 billion financial rescue package.

The administration believes it can sidestep the rules because, in many cases, it has decided not to provide federal aid directly to financial companies, the sources said. Instead, the government has set up special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed, according to officials.


Still, Republican party leader Rush Limbaugh, sincerely or not, runs on and on about President Obama being a "socialist." It's no surprise that, like so many other things claimed by the conservative talk show king, it's a charge that goes without definition or explanation.
Republican Presidential Stakes

I wish I had found this a couple of weeks earlier instead of its final stages, but Ken Rudin, who writes the Political Junkie blog for NPR, set up an interesting scheme, based on the NCAA basketball playoffs, to allow readers to vote for the next Republican presidential nominee. Two (instead of four) brackets and thirty-two (instead of 64-65) entries were established with some realistic, and some not so realistic, GOP names. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an indication whether Rudin wanted respondents to vote for the man or the woman they expect to win (as motivates most of the participants in the actual basketball pool) or the individual they hope will win (as, given human nature, is likely to dominate here and given the large number of votes for Ron Paul, probably did).

I find Rudin's picks more realistic than those of the readers, but I would not have gone for Ryan over Bush or Palin, nor for Paul over Barbour (or anyone) or Sanford over Thune. (I'll leave the Haley Barbour post for another time.) I assume (though we all know what "assume" makes out of you and me) that this fellow Rudin, being of sound mind, will predict Romney over Huckabee. Take what I predict from someone who thought the 2008 nominees would be Romney and Clinton or, as Glenn Beck would say, "if you take what I say as gospel, you're an idiot."

Friday, April 03, 2009

Caution On The Surge

It has been nearly two years now that political correctness has demanded that all bow to the success of The Surge in Iraq. The mainstream media, Republican (and most Democratic) politicians, and most military analysts have readily complied.

Someone forgot to tell Thomas Ricks, who covered the United States military for The Washington Post until recently and has written extensively, for the paper and otherwise, about Iraq. Here in his blog, Ricks questions the staying power of the Anbar Awakening, the "mainly Sunni group of about 100,000 people, many of them former insurgents, who in late 2006 and 2007 arrived at ceasefires with the U.S. military presence in Iraq." He explains:

The American plan was to integrate about 20,000 members of Awakening groups into Iraqi security forces, and help the rest find other work. Meantime, the Baghdad government was supposed to take over the payments to the groups, which when I last checked totaled about $30 million a month.

But the Shiite-dominated Baghdad government never really liked the idea. Indeed, the first deals were cut by U.S. officials behind the back of the Iraqi government. So Maliki's guys are:

Arresting some leaders of the "Sons of Iraq" (the American term for Awakening forces)
Attacking others
Bringing only 5,000 of the ex-insurgents into the Iraqi security forces
And stiffing others on pay, with some complaining they haven't been paid in weeks or even months

I think Maliki's gambit is to crack down on the Sunnis while American forces are still available in sufficient numbers to back him up. This is a turning into a test of strength, Sunni vs. Shiite.

There's more. If the Awakening fighting spreads, I wouldn't be surprised to see Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia re-emerge. I've always thought the Sunni Awakening forced him to go to ground, because he didn't want to be the only guy taking on American forces.


Ricks is unsure whether the surge, which has played a role in reducing American casualties but was implemented to achieve not military but strategic objectives, has worked.

It has always struck me as odd that (Senator and President) Barack Obama has been one of the few politicians who appear to understand that Iraq is not an isolated country but part of a region. This recognition is one of the reasons (political strategy being another) that he has consistently emphasized the rather obvious, but largely unstated, central reality of American foreign policy of the last seven-and-a-half years: while we have been fighting a war in Iraq, we have "taken our eye off the ball" in Afghanistan. The latter is not only another nation in the Gulf, but a more important nation than Iraq, at least given the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.

The surge has been a tactical success. Determining, however, whether it will have been a strategic success awaits- at a minimum- the outcome of the war(s) over there.

Problem Of A Different Sort

Two days after the mid-terms, the Daily Beast reported “I think he’s a fantastic politician in the best sense of the word,” (Bern...