Thursday, April 16, 2009

Zandar's Thought Of the Day

I humbly submit that George W. Bush is the worst, most incompetent supervillain of all time, because his administration's brilliant plan to get "captured Al-Qaeda operatives" to talk apparently consisted of the following two items:

1) A copy of George Orwell's 1984.

2) A completely harmless and moderately cute caterpillar.

You know, Auric Goldfinger at least had a high powered laser. The laser was in fact aiming for James Bond's nuts. We had a plan to scare a hard-core terrorist, a man willing to die for his beliefs mind you, with a CATERPILLAR.

My god. And this is now a matter of public record.

I weep. Bush did a lot of horrible things, but this...this is just stupid. Honestly, now we have to explain to crapass countries like Togo that "Well, we broke the Geneva Conventions because our Deadly Caterpillar Plan failed."

I have never been more embarassed to be an American than I am right now.

Oh Now Everyone Is Revolting, Sir!

Over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jay Bookman details a lovely little Georgia Senate resolution that basically calls for the nullification of the United States of America.
It wasn’t quite the firing on Fort Sumter that launched the Civil War. But on April 1, your Georgia Senate did threaten by a vote of 43-1 to secede from and even disband the United States.

It was not an April Fool’s joke.

In fact, Senate Resolution 632 did a lot more than merely threaten to end this country. It stated that under the Constitution, the only crimes the federal government could prosecute were treason, piracy and slavery.

“Therefore, all acts of Congress which assume to create, define or punish [other] crimes … are altogether void, and of no force,” the Georgia Senate declared.

In other words, in the infinite, almost unanimous wisdom of the Georgia Senate, Michael Vick is being imprisoned illegally, Bernie Madoff should serve no time for stealing $60 billion and the Unabomber must go free. In fact, the federal penitentiary in Atlanta should be emptied of its inmates.

But wait, there’s more.

The resolution goes on to endorse the theory that states have the right to abridge constitutional freedoms of religion, press and speech. According to the resolution, it is up to the states to decide “how far the licentiousness of speech and of the press may be abridged.”

The resolution even endorses “nullification,” the legal concept that states have the power to “nullify” or ignore federal laws that they believe exceed the powers granted under the Constitution. That concept has a particularly nasty legacy. It helped precipitate the Civil War, and in the 1950s and early ’60s it was cited by Southern states claiming the right to ignore Supreme Court rulings ordering the end of segregation.

Finally, the resolution states that if Congress, the president or federal courts take any action that exceeds their constitutional powers, the Constitution is rendered null and void and the United States of America is officially disbanded. As an example, the resolution specifically states that if the federal government enacts “prohibitions of type or quantity of arms or ammunition,” the country is disbanded.

In other words, if Congress votes to restore the ban on sale of assault rifles, the United States is deemed to no longer exist.

This, your Georgia state Senate voted 43-1 to endorse.

There really is no excuse for this kind of thing. None. Zero. Zilch. But there are obnoxious resolutions like this in a number of states (like Texas for example) that not only are passing, but are getting big local publicity. State Republican lawmakers in the South are so fundamentally frightened by Barack Obama, so utterly delusional, that they are actually writing resolutions that state they no longer recognize the legal authority of the United States of America.

I don't see this as harmless posturing. I see this as explicitly feeding the last people left to believe in the supremacy of the Republican Party: the cranks, the crackpots, and the psychos. They so fundamentally, irrationally, delusionally despise Barack Obama so much that they think secession is a good idea. I've been saying this for months now. We're only beginning to see the true depths of the abyss here.

I may have my problems with Obama, but they are based on, you know, reality. Policy issues. Legal opinions. Not crazy fringe conspiracy crap. But that's not stopping these folks. The fire they are playing with is getting out of control, and when America gets burned by these nutbars, remember who gave them the matches and the gasoline.

War Of Words

With the GOP vowing to permanently block Obama appointees over the release of the "Bush torture memos," today is the court-appointed deadline for the memos to be released by the Obama administration. The Double G however sees nothing but another snow job.
Today is the most significant test yet determining the sincerity of Barack Obama's commitment to restore the Constitution, transparency and the rule of law. After seeking and obtaining multiple extensions of the deadline, today is the final deadline for the Obama DOJ to respond to the ACLU's FOIA demand for the release of four key Bush DOJ memos which authorized specific torture techniques that have long been punished (including by the U.S.) as war crimes. Today, Obama will either (a) disclose these documents to the public or (b) continue to suppress them -- either by claiming the right to keep them concealed entirely or, more likely, redacting the most significant parts before releasing them.

It is genuinely unclear what the Obama administration will do today. Several weeks ago, Newsweek reported that Eric Holder had decided to release the memos -- which an Obama official described as "ugly"-- essentially in full. But then, several other sources reported there was a "war" being waged inside the Obama administration, led by former Bush-era CIA official (and top Obama terrorism adviser) John Brennan, to prevent disclosure. Yesterday, The Wall St. Journal reported that Obama is leaning towards the CIA position that only minimal disclosures are warranted, and today the WSJ reports that the memos will be released with substantial redactions to conceal the details of the Bush administration's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- i.e., will suppress information of America's use of torture.

I want to underscore one vital point about this controversy that is continuously overlooked and will be undoubtedly distorted today in the event of non-disclosure: these documents are not intelligence documents. They are legal documents and, more specifically, they constitute what can only be described as secret law under which the U.S. was governed during the Bush era. Thus, the question posed by the release of these OLC memos is not whether Obama will release to the public classified intelligence programs. The question is whether he will release to the public the legal doctrines under which the U.S. Government conducted itself regarding interrogation techniques he claims are no longer being used.

If Greenwald is right, then not only is Obama covering for Bush, but he's covering for himself as well, the logic being that Obama and AG Holder are either still using these techniques, or reserving their ability to be used. We'll see what happens when these memos are released. If they are heavily redacted to the point of being worthless, then we know that Obama implicitly approves of the techniques, or that he feels that keeping the CIA on his side is far more important than keeping the American public or world opinion on his side.

On the other hand, if Obama does release the memos and they show significant criminal activity on the part of Bush officials, then we could see some serious action on the part of seeing real justice served.

Sadly, like Double G, I'm expecting memos so redacted that they will be useless.

[UPDATE] Obama's official statement on the memos this afternoon suggests that not only will they be released, but he may be doing the right thing after an extent.
Obama has just released a statement confirming that he will release the Bush torture memos. The whole thing is worth a read.

The statement is heavy on efforts to preempt attacks on his administration from the right. It contains the obligatory promise that we’re looking forward, not backwards. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” he writes, an effort to preempt, in advance, charges that he’s politicizing the process by dumping on his predecessor.

Indeed, he also confirms that “those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”

A nation of laws...for some.

[UPDATE 2] The ACLU has the memos up in PDF form. There are some redactions, but they basically describe a series of "techniques" used to convince suspected terrorists to cooperate. The coercion techniques are described in rather excruciating detail. The Double G weighs in on the memos here in a must read.

The bottom line is that Steven Bradbury, the author of the memos, 1) acknowledges that the techniques authorized could be considered torture by other countries, 2) acknowledges that the US State Department would absolutely protest these same techniques being used on US citizens by other countries, and 3) authorizes them anyway because international opinions on what constitute torture simply are not relevant.

These memos describe the authorization and commission of international war crimes. Period. They are now public knowledge. The US government has in fact committed war crimes here, people. This is deadly serious.

Obama must now act on prosecuting those who are culpable. There is no other conceivable action.

Oklahoma Where The Stupid Comes Winding Down The Plain

Steve Benen discovers helpful Congressional Republicans are trying to tamp down the rhetoric on right-wing extremism and disassociate themselves with fringe groups. Oh, wait.
Richard Poplawski recently gunned down three police officers, in part because he feared the non-existent "Obama gun ban." In the wake of tragedy, I'd hoped some of the less responsible voices on the right might be inclined to lower the temperature a bit, especially since the administration hasn't made any efforts to pursue new gun control measures.

So much for that idea.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said this week that the administration will try "all sorts of things" to chip away at the individual right to own a gun, warning of gun control policies aimed at "disarming us."

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Cushing, Oklahoma, Coburn warned that Attorney General Eric Holder "doesn't believe in the second amendment" and "doesn't even know what an assault weapon is."

"He doesn't believe in our right to own and hold a gun," Coburn said of Holder, whose nomination he vigorously opposed. "He doesn't believe the Second Amendment means it's a right for me to have a gun to protect myself."

Coburn added, "I'm very worried about the Second Amendment, in terms of this administration," adding, "Even though the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Second Amendment means we get the right to own a gun."

First, the Supreme Court's ruling in Heller wasn't "unanimous"; it was a 5-4 split. (Coburn was only off by four justices.)

Second, what possible good could it serve to have a sitting U.S. senator tell a group of voters that the administration is pursuing policies aimed at "disarming us"? A report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security, which was requested and prepared by Bush administration officials, just told us that irrational fears of gun control are stirring political radicals and extremists.

Well gosh, could there be a reason why conservatives are getting all up in arms (literally) over this? If you don't want your party and your policial philosophy to be conflated with fringe wackos who mean to do America harm by harming Americans, then stop publicly stating as fact the same paranoid delusional fantasies these fruitcakes use to recruit with as a sitting US senator!

How difficult is this? When people kill cops because they fear an imaginary gun ban, and you as a sitting United States Senator repeat this same lie, you are an irresponsible, terrible, dangerous person. you do not deserve to represent your state as a Senator. Period.

Retract the statement or resign, Senator Coburn.

Epic Reading The Tea Party Leaves Fail

Nate Silver over at pegs the Teabagger turnout at a quarter of a million. That's not bad. But as he points out:
One should bear in mind that ours is a large country, and that gatherings of this magnitude (if several hundred individual protests can be thought of as a "gathering") are not especially uncommon. For instance, protests in favor of immigration reform drew several million participants in the spring of 2006, including several individual events of at least 300,000. Likewise, anti-war protests in 2003 involved attendance of at least 300,000 in a single American city (New York) on a single day.
So, despite FOX, the astroturfing, the crazy fringe element and the heavy wingnut push, only a tiny fraction of the people showed up for Teabag 09 than turned out for the national anti-war protests or national immigration reform protests over the last couple years.

Seems like a tempest in a teabag to me. We're supposed to be listening to a tenth of a percent of the population as indicitive of the whole of America?

Approaching EPIC FAIL territory, Captain.

[UPDATE] The Daily Beast's John Avlon completely misses the lessons of Teabaggistock.
But liberals who want to dismiss yesterday’s tea parties do so at their peril. They should remember the Gandhi line their protest leaders often quote: “First they ignore you. Then they mock you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Ignoring these tea parties didn’t work. We are now in the mocking phase—but for all the “Astroturf, not grassroots” asides, these crowds across the country were home-grown. They may have been pumped up by partisan interests but they were not purchased. Never forget that America was founded in part by a tax revolt. Now there is a real and predictable anger brewing at both big government and big business. This is bailout backlash. The 2008 election was not a liberal ideological mandate, and soon Main Street Americans will demand a return to fiscal responsibility.
No matter how large a majority in the country the Democrats have, it'll never be a mandate to the Village Idiots. Obama should completely abandon his agenda and listen to the 0.1% at the Tea Parties yesterday. After all, they're the ones with the mandate, apparently.

But remember, ten million anti-war protesters were dismissed as meaningless background noise and not a movement that would cost the GOP votes. This 250,000 strong movement is instead even more powerful somehow.

We Don't Do House Calls

Here's a depressing story out of CNN. Turns out so many people are trying to get mortgage modifications from banks that their mortgage departments are overwhelmed, and people simply can't get through to even contact the bank.
Banks and lenders say that they have been overwhelmed with calls and that they're doing all they can to help ease the situation for Americans in distress. Some calls get sent to the homeowners' Hope Now hot line of 1-888-995-HOPE, funded by the lending industry as a resource to provide free counseling and foreclosure prevention help.

"Servicers are working hard to triage those calls and help borrowers," said Faith Schwartz, Hope Now's executive director. "We are working hard on that capacity issue. There a millions of people who want help, but there are also millions of people who don't need help but might call in on other issues. So I think servicers are dealing with extraordinary call volume."

Nearly 250,000 homeowners received either mortgage modifications or repayment plans from their lenders in February, according to Hope Now. Schwartz added that 3 million more Americans are 60 days past due on their mortgages and need help.

"I always say it's never enough, but do understand there has been a lot done, and I think [banks] are working hard to do a better job of communicating with their customers -- and we're trying to help people do that," she said.
And of course banks don't want to hire additional people right now when they are under intense pressure to cut costs. But the bottom line is that so many homeowners are drowning in underwater mortgages right now that lenders are swamped.

How many of these folks are going to simply walk away from their mortgages because they can't get help, because they can't even reach their lender? How much damage will this wreak on the housing market over the next year?

This morning I caught a discussion on the CBS Early Show about housing prices. The expert on the show was saying that "we won't see 2006 level prices again for ten years."

That seems painfully optimistic to me.

The Legal Pain Remains In Spain

While the Spanish federal courts are expected to announce indictments against Bush-era torture officials, it turns out that the Spanish Attorney General is now recommending that Spain drop the proceedings entirely.
Spanish prosecutors will recommend against opening an investigation into whether six Bush administration officials sanctioned torture against terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, the country's attorney-general said Thursday.

Candido Conde-Pumpido said the case against the high-ranking U.S. officials — including former U.S. Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales — was without merit because the men were not present when the alleged torture took place.

"If one is dealing with a crime of mistreatment of prisoners of war, the complaint should go against those who physically carried it out," Conde-Pumpido said in a breakfast meeting with journalists. He said a trial of the men would have turned Spain's National Court "into a plaything" to be used for political ends.

Prosecutors at Spain's National Court have not formally announced their decision in the case, but Conde-Pumpido is the country's top law-enforcement official and has the ultimate say.
Personally, I can't wait until Double G gets a hold of this guy, but the bottom line is because Gonzo and his buddies didn't actually torture the guy, Spain has no case. The Spanish AG wants the US to deal with the issue (where I agree with him totally.)

Naturally, the wingers are calling for the US to take strict diplomatic sanctions against Spain should the investigative procedures continue.

But let's not kid ourselves: It appears the Obama administration has directed Spain to kill this thing dead. Too many secrets, after all. And some of them point back to Obama and the Democrats. This Pandora's Box can't be opened without mutually assured destruction on both sides.

And so, the crusade to bury the torture regime and the involvement of people on both sides of the aisle continues.

If It's Thursday...

...for once there's actually some slightly good news. Jobless claims actually fell drastically from last week to 610,000. That's still a lot, but a better than what it was. Maybe it's a one week burp, who knows. However, the number of people on unemployment crossed the six million mark, and that's only going to keep going up. We're adding another million people to the rolls every six weeks or so, at this rate we're going to easily have more than ten million by the end of the year.

Housing starts dropped like a rock too. That's actually good news. It would in fact be better news if housing starts actually fell to almost zero however. There are just too many homes on the market and not enough buyers, and builders are still churning out 500,000 plus new housing starts a month.

Home prices therefore will continue to drop. The pain will continue to spread.

Spy Kids

NY Times reporting this morning that the NSA far exceeded the limits Congress imposed upon its domestic spying. Quelle surprise!
Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.
Overcollection is the new black, I guess. Check the Obama administration backpedal on the untamed NSA.
In a statement on Wednesday night, the N.S.A. said that its “intelligence operations, including programs for collection and analysis, are in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence community, did not address specific aspects of the surveillance problems but said in a statement that “when inadvertent mistakes are made, we take it very seriously and work immediately to correct them.”

The questions may not be settled yet. Intelligence officials say they are still examining the scope of the N.S.A. practices, and Congressional investigators say they hope to determine if any violations of Americans’ privacy occurred. It is not clear to what extent the agency may have actively listened in on conversations or read e-mail messages of Americans without proper court authority, rather than simply obtained access to them.
And let's remember that the Obama administration is trying to get every one of these court cases dismissed on the grounds that it's only illegal to "overcollect" if the information obtained without a warrant is actually used against you. Obama himself apparently has no problem with the"overcollection" itself.

Oh, and bonus political enemy abuse:
And in one previously undisclosed episode, the N.S.A. tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant, an intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The agency believed that the congressman, whose identity could not be determined, was in contact — as part of a Congressional delegation to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006 — with an extremist who had possible terrorist ties and was already under surveillance, the official said. The agency then sought to eavesdrop on the congressman’s conversations, the official said.

The official said the plan was ultimately blocked because of concerns from some intelligence officials about using the N.S.A., without court oversight, to spy on a member of Congress.
And you'd better believe if the NSA is trying to spy on members on Congress, they don't give a shit about people like you and me. Think about recordings of all your phone calls, your emails, your text messages, all sitting on a server in Fort Meade, Maryland.

And your President has no problem with this. Your President, as Senator, voted to give the NSA the ability to do this. He said he was safeguarding us. Now? Gosh, nobody could have predicted this power would continue to be abused with zero accountability.

Well I have a problem with it. You should too.

[UPDATE] Funny how allegations of warrantless wiretapping against members of Congress motivate them to investigate the issue.

Hey Buddy, Wanna Buy A Maul?

As expected, America's second-largest mall owner, General Growth Properties, has filed for bankruptcy.
General Growth, which owns more than 200 shopping malls in the U.S., sought Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. The company listed $29.5 billion in total assets and debts of about $27.3 billion, making it the largest real estate bankruptcy in U.S. history.

“While we have worked tirelessly in the past several months to address our maturing debts, the collapse of the credit markets has made it impossible for us to refinance maturing debt outside of Chapter 11,” Chief Executive Officer Adam Metz said in a statement today.

The filing lists Eurohypo AG, a unit of Commerzbank AG, as General Growth’s largest unsecured creditor with claims totaling $2.6 billion under two loans. Noteholders are owed about $4 billion in total. Much of the company’s debt can be traced to its $11.3 billion purchase of commercial-property developer Rouse Co. in 2004.

The Chicago-based company lost 81 percent of its market value in six months after saying repeatedly it may have to file for bankruptcy. General Growth closed at $1.05 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading yesterday, valuing the company at $329 million. The shares traded as high as $67 in March 2007.

In order to satisfy creditors, how many mall properties will GGP have to sell? How many will have to close, and how many thousands of jobs will be lost? Remember, GGP had to declare bankruptcy due to debt from purchasing another mall developer company. The commercial real estate market is a disaster right now, and it's only getting started.

Who will get GGP's property? With values dropping nationally, who would want them? How many of those 200 malls will end up shuttered for good?


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