Friday, April 17, 2009

Last Call

Daniel Sinker at HuffPo reminds us that with the Left finally back in power that This Too Will Pass.

And so now a new group of the dispossessed have taken to the streets, arriving through a multitude of pathways, to speak in one voice against.... Taxes? Gun rights? States rights? Immigration? Obama? Coffee?

OK, maybe it's not one voice. And maybe it's not a coherent message -- actually, strike the "maybe" in that sentence. And maybe most of the groups are simply showing up to rally around their specific cause, and don't actually care about tea at all. And maybe the whole choice to rally around the term "teabagging" without double-checking its sexual meaning wasn't the brightest decision in the world, making it a very easy target for the Rachel Maddows of the world.

But haven't we been here before?

Haven't we -- the left -- been the teabaggers for decades? As you write off the right's tea parties as messageless, unfocused, marginalized ranting, don't forget that the left had our fair share of messageless, unfocused, marginalized ranting over the last twenty years. And that, ultimately, we needed those twenty years to understand how to become organized and take back power for ourselves. Without two decades wandering the desert, we wouldn't have built the modern infrastructure that the left stands on now. So laugh if you want, but today's teabaggers may be tomorrow's resurgent right.

That resurgent right will have a legitimate issue unless Obama changes his tune on the economy and wiretapping damn fast.

And that fact that he won't unless forced to do so by circumstance all but assures that the Left will not have 28 years in power like the Right did with the dawn of the Reagan Era. We had 20 years of Republicans in the White House, and the one Democrat that got in not only would qualify as a conservative Red State Dem today, he managed to hand Congress over to the Republicans as well, ultimately leading to Dubya and the situation we have today.

I'm still convinced that only the failed economy crashing in October plus the devastatingly bad performance of Sarah Palin killed the GOP. Otherwise we'd be looking at President McCain right now and a spending freeze in the middle of the worst economy in 80 years.

Keep that in the back of your mind. If Lehman Brothers had been saved and the economy held up until after the election, and McCain had picked, oh, anybody else as a Veep...Obama would have almost certainly lost and right now we'd be in an even worse economic situation. But you know what? The Democrats would still be in the wilderness.

Zandar's Thought Of the Day

Let's face reality here. Despite all that happened this week on the unfinished Bush Business front, it means precisely nothing in the end.

Congress will never investigate the torture regime, no matter what Patrick Leahy says. Too many Democrats signed off on these memos: Pelosi, Reid, Jay Rockefeller, Dianne Feinstein, Silvestre Reyes, Alcee Hastings...the list goes on. They knew exactly what we were doing. They would have to implicate themselves if they dug too deep...well before the axe swung on Bush or Cheney.

There's even less of a chance of any serious investigation of wiretapping, despite DiFi's calls for it. Not since a Senator of Illinois named Barack Obama voted for the gutting of FISA and decided to expand the Bush Doctrine on spying on Americans.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will complain too loudly. As far as Washington is concerned, the book is closed on Bush for good. Short of a miracle, these abuses will now be codified into US law by every President after Obama. These abuses will be expanded year after year by both parties.

And America will continue to commit war crimes in our name.

More Screw Jobs

The monthly state unemployment numbers are out for March, and they paint a particularly dismal picture in states like Oregon and Michigan.
In March, Michigan again reported the highest jobless rate, 12.6 percent. The states with the next highest rates were Oregon, 12.1 percent; South Carolina, 11.4 percent; California, 11.2 percent; North Carolina, 10.8 percent; Rhode Island, 10.5 percent; Nevada, 10.4 percent; and Indiana, 10.0 percent. Nine additional states and the District of Columbia recorded unemployment rates of at least 9.0 percent. The California and North Carolina rates were the highest on record for those states. (All state series begin in 1976.)
That's 17 states above 9.0% unemployment plus DC, up from 14 last month. That leaves U-6 estimates for the now 8 states in double digit unemployment ranging from about 17.8% for Indiana to close to 22.0% for Michigan at this point.

Look for DC, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio to join the double digit club next month. As I live in the Cincy area, the tri-state border of Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky (states all at or close to double digit unemployment now) I can tell you that the job picture here is still moderately okay. So far a lot of the really bad numbers from these states are coming from places that locally have 15% unemployment or worse like Elkhart, Indiana, Youngstown, Ohio, and Jackson County, Kentucky.

Still, it's going to continue to get worse. Expect to see a number of states, possibly as many as 20, in double digit unemployment by mid-July.

Torture Apologists

There seem to be three main avenues of arguments defending the torture memos yesterday.

1) The Cheney Attack: Obama made us less safe by releasing the memos. That's the line parroted by the Bushies dragged out to play CYA. Everything was legal, but by revealing specific tactics and methods, we have warned terrorists of our techniques and now they can compensate for things like the Deadly Caterpillar Plan. Americans that are killed by terrorists are now all on Obama's head.

This is stupid and inane, as Greg Sargent explains.
The claim is largely bogus. While a few technical torture details in the memos were new, much about the techniques themselves had already been public. Indeed, what’s actually new about the memos is that they reveal in unprecedented detail the Bush administration’s effort to legally justify already-known techniques.

Case in point: Two top former Bush administration officials, CIA director Michael Hayden and Attorney General Michael Mukasey, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to blast Obama. They argued that public disclosure of the memos might “diminish the effectiveness of these techniques” and makes their suspension permanent, since you wouldn’t ever revive techniques that have “already been disclosed in detail.”

This, the two men warned, means tying the hands of Obama and future presidents in the war against terrorists.

But much about these techniques was already publicly known. For instance, the recently released report from the Red Cross contains detailed descriptions of techniques such as hurling suspects against a wall; face-slapping; confinement in a box; prolonged nudity; sleep deprivation; waterboarding; etc., etc. These were the techniques detailed in yesterday’s memos. This stuff is detailed in other places.

Strike one for the neo-cons.

2) The Sensible Centrist Attack: The entire issue is moot because no crimes were committed. Obama could never prosecute the CIA or Bush, so he's attacking them in the court of public opinion instead. Since nothing illegal was done, there was no reason to release the memos in the first place other than to attack the Bush administration and the CIA in a nasty, partisan manuever.

But that argument too dies a nasty death. Marcy Wheeler points out that the practical upshot is that the CIA's John Rizzo misrepresented what it was doing to the DoJ.

I hate to say it, but the 10 high value detainees, each reporting the same treatment independently, are a lot more credible than Steven Bradbury repeating John Rizzo's empty assurances.

Which suggests that, rather than rebutting "erroneous and inflammatory assumptions," the real concern the release of these memos ought to raise is the misrepresentations CIA apparently made to DOJ. By no means do I mean to excuse John Yoo and Steven Bradbury for their "banality." But John Rizzo was lying. Blatantly. In his claims to OLC as he tried to get stuff approved.

Contrary to Obama's suggestion, these memos should not correct any assumptions we've made about the torture our government conducted in our name. Rather, they should make it crystal clear that John Rizzo lied repeatedly about what the CIA was doing.

So there's a very good chance that crimes indeed were committed and investigation is needed of the people involved. Strike Two.

3) The Lunacy Attack: Obama only released these memos because he wanted to detract from the success of the Tea Party movement. But that's the weakest of the argments. Indeed, the court order to release the information to meet the ACLU's FOIA request had a deadline of April 16. Obama you see was just following the law...he had no choice.

Even so, the officials described the president's process of deciding how much to release in response to the suit as very difficult. Over four weeks, there were intense debates involving the president, Cabinet members, lower-level officials and even former administration officials.

Obama was concerned that releasing the information could endanger ongoing operations, American personnel or U.S. relationships with foreign intelligence services. CIA officials, in particular, needed reassuring, the officials said.

But in the end, the view of the Justice Department prevailed, that the FOIA law required the release and that the government would be forced to do so by the court if it didn't do so itself, the officials said.

Strike Three, wingers.

You're out.

Marked To Market

Now this is an interesting story. CNBC is going out of its way to promote the idea that the financials are legitimately solvent and stable because banks did NOT make mark-to-market accounting changes for Q1.
Accounting changes aimed at helping the balance sheets of banks with toxic assets appear to be providing little or no help so far with earnings reports.

The accounting rules, known as mark-to-market, were amended so that banks stuck with underperforming assets—particularly mortgage and other credit-related securities—could value them at their future projected worth and not at current value.

But the early earnings are showing that the rules probably won't be reflected until second-quarter results are reported. And that has some investors hoping that financial earnings, which have been better-than-expected so far, will do even better once market-to-market accounting takes effect.

"I hope we're going to see the financial system on an upward track," says former FDIC Chairman Bill Isaac, who helped draft the rule changes. "It's probably not going to be a straight line for all institutions. There will be some varied results. We are in a very favorable climate right now for banking institutions because they're cost of funding is so low."

Though the cost of lending for banks is near zero, a strong effort to reduce debt among financial firms and with the mark-to-market changes is providing an uncertain earnings environment.

"We have an accounting rule change and we're in the middle of the transition," David Kotok, chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors, told CNBC. "We won't know the eventual impact of that until the June 30 quarter."

CNBC's Jeff Cox there would have you believe that not only are banks doing well, but that critics of mark-to-market like myself who said that banks were going to use mark-to-market to inflate assets have been completely discredited now. Could it have something to do with General Electric, owner of NBC-Universal, having one of the financial divisions in trouble? Naah. Course not.

But there's no mystery. We know exactly why the banks are reporting such fantastic earnings this quarter without mark-to-market. AIG's counter-party payments explain everything. AIG got billions to pay off their debts to other banks, the other banks got paid off through AIG. The banks are merely counting these billions in payments from AIG as assets for Q1.

And presto! Record quarterly earnings for bank after bank! And mark-to-market had nothing to do with it, so the banks are fine and profitable again and the economy has been fixed!

It's nothing more than three-card monte. Follow the red card...oh, that's too bad. You lose!

We all lose.

It's A Gas Gas Gas

As widely expected, the EPA has moved to classify CO2 and other greenhouse gases as a pollutant in order to smack Congress in the back of the head to get to work on cap-and-trade.
Having received White House backing, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Friday that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a significant threat to human health and thus will be listed as pollutants under the Clean Air Act — a policy the Bush administration rejected. "This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

The move could allow the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, but it's more likely that the Obama administration will use the action to prod Congress to pass regulations around a system to cap and then trade emissions so that they are gradually lowered.

Indeed, the EPA emphasized that the congressional route was preferred to EPA regulation. "Both President (Barack) Obama and Administrator Jackson have repeatedly indicated their preference for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and create the framework for a clean energy economy," the EPA said in its statement.
About time. If Congress won't make laws, then Obama will go with executive orders on global warming.

Still, the point has been made, and it shows Obama is serious about getting legislation crafted and passed ASAP.


Taking a break from caterpillars, prosecution of war crimes, the next American Civil War and the death of irony, I nearly forgot to post about John Madden retiring from NFL broadcasting. Say what you will about the old man, he got to work 30 years at a job he loved, he got to be in video games, and his ride kicks ass.

Not a whole lot of people in any profession in America can lay claim to all that.

Here's to ya, John.

Be Secedin' Ya, Buddy

Good ol' Rasmussen. You can always count on them for some wacky poll fun, and this one is outright silly. Turns out 18% of Texans want to secede from the United States.
Thirty-one percent (31%) of Texas voters say that their state has the right to secede from the United States and form an independent country.

However, the latest Rasmussen Reports poll in the state finds that if the matter was put to a vote, it wouldn’t even be close. Three-fourths (75%) of Lone Star State voters would opt to remain in the United States. Only 18% would vote to secede, and seven percent (7%) are not sure what they'd choose.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, in response to a reporter’s question about secession at a protest "tea party," said Wednesday, "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." The comment was widely reported in the media.

Really? Roughly one in five Texans want to form their own country? Nobody else finds this disturbing that a couple million folks want to actively leave the US?

Weren't anti-war protesters told to "love America or leave it" by the Right during the Bush years? Weren't they told that by weakening America, they made it less safe?

And now less than three months, and millions of Texans want to leave it, and the Right now calls them heroes and brave resisters of the Obama tyranny.

But it's not just Republican governors messing about with this "We do not recognize federal authority" thing. Oh no. It's Democrats, too.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has signed into law a bill that aims to exempt Montana-made guns from federal regulation, adding firepower to a battery of legislative efforts to assert states’ rights across the nation.

“It’s a gun bill, but it’s another way of demonstrating the sovereignty of the state of Montana,” Democrat Schweitzer said.

Since the law applies only to those guns that are made and kept in Montana, its impact is limited. The state is home to just a handful of specialty gun makers, known for recreating rifles used to settle the West, and most of their customers are out-of-state.

But supporters of the new law hope it triggers a court case testing the legal basis for federal rules governing gun sales.
Again, where were these outrages against Bush?

Germ Killer

So, one of those unintended consequences of global warming is that things frozen in glacier ice are thawing out. Things like million-year-old bacteria.
But under the Taylor Glacier on the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, near a place called Blood Falls, scientists have discovered a time capsule of bacterial activity.

At chilling temperatures, with no oxygen or sunlight, these newly found microbes have survived for the past 1.5 million years using an "iron-breathing" technique, which may show how life could exist on other planets.

For years the reddish waterfall-like feature on the side of Taylor Glacier captured the attention of explorers and scientists. Earlier research indicates the color of Blood Falls is due to oxidized iron, but how the iron got to the surface of the glacier remained a mystery.

"When I saw iron, I thought, 'Wow -- that's an energy source for microbes. There has got to be microbes associated with that,' " said Jill Mikucki, lead author of a study about the strange bacteria, published this week in the journal Science.

Scientists found these isolated microorganisms use iron leached from the glacial bedrock in a series of energy-producing metabolic reactions. With the help of sulfate, the iron is transformed and eventually deposited on the surface of the glacier. Air oxidizes the iron, giving Blood Falls its redish hue.

"We don't fully understand the extremities of life: What cuts off life? What are the upper and lower temperatures limits? What are the parameters that life can handle?" said Mikucki, a geomicrobiologist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

"Microbes really defy those limits and can get into the extreme environments and tell us a little bit about the natural history of our earth."

As cool as this is, there's a plot for Michael Crichton or Dan Brown. Ancient iron-eating microbes thaw out from global warming and start killing people by eating all the iron in their blood!

OK, come to think of it, that would be a pretty damn cool book. And iron-munching microbes may actually be on other "lifeless" planets.

Kickback Backfire

When the Obama administration does the right thing , such as yesterday's memos on torture, I applaud them. But I've found whenever the Obama administration does the right thing, it's almost invariably followed up by breaking news of something maddeningly stupid.
Steven Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration's auto task force, was one of the executives involved with payments under scrutiny in a probe of an alleged kickback scheme at New York state's pension fund, according to a person familiar with the matter.

A Securities and Exchange Commission complaint says a "senior executive" of Mr. Rattner's investment firm met in 2004 with a politically connected consultant about a finder's fee. Later, the complaint says, the firm received an investment from the state pension fund and paid $1.1 million in fees.

The "senior executive," not named in the complaint, is Mr. Rattner, according to the person familiar with the matter. He is co-founder of the investment firm, Quadrangle Group, which he left to join the Treasury Department to oversee the auto task force earlier this year. Neither Mr. Rattner nor Quadrangle has been accused of any wrongdoing. Mr. Rattner did not return calls for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Treasury, which is in charge of the auto task force, said that "during the transition, Mr. Rattner made us aware of the pending investigation."

Honestly. You couldn't find somebody to run the car czar position that wasn't under investigation for something?

Barack And Raul's Excellent Adventure

What a difference 90 days with "smart power" makes. Raul Castro is apparently now open to high-level diplomacy with the US where "everything is on the table".
"We've told the North American government, in private and in public, that we are prepared, wherever they want, to discuss everything -- human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners -- everything, everything, everything that they want to discuss," Cuban President Raúl Castro said Thursday at a summit of leftist Latin American leaders in Venezuela.

The response came days after President Obama lifted all restrictions on the ability of American citizens to visit relatives in Cuba as well as to send them remittances. Travel restrictions for Americans of non-Cuban descent will remain in place.

This week's move represents a significant shift in a U.S. policy that had remained largely unchanged for nearly half a century. The U.S. government instituted the embargo three years after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.

Cuba Libre indeed. Here's hoping to bring the Castros...and the GOP...around to the power of diplomacy with Secretary Clinton.

New tag: Cuba.

Dear America:

"Well, I hope you're happy, Mr. President. Now that the world knows about Operation That's Not A Caterpillar Inside The Box, It's Really The Goddamn Batman, and the fact you refuse to slam people's heads into walls and waterboard the bejeezus out of them, we're less safe now and that's bad enough. But your real sin was making the CIA look bad. And for that, Mr. President Obama man, well you'd better watch your ass from now on."

--Michael Mukasey and Michael Hayden

"Dick Cheney was right. Obama is a complete pussy."

--Jennifer Rubin

Oh, and my favorite piece of winger stupidity? Obama only released these memos to distract the media from the most successful grassroots protest in the history of the world, for in the desperate twilight of the failed Obama Presidency, it's the last gambit of a fascist dictator. After all, no crimes were committed, so the only possible reason for the timing was to try weakly to stop the teabag tsunami.

Le sigh.


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