Monday, May 18, 2009

Everything You Need To Know About Netanyahu's Visit

...can be summed up right here.
Israel has moved ahead with a plan to build a new settlement in the northern West Bank for the first time in 26 years, pursuing a project the United States has already condemned as an obstacle to peace efforts.

The move comes on the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, despite Western calls for Israel to halt its settlement activity.

Tenders have been issued for 20 housing units in the new Maskiot settlement and contractors have arrived on site to begin foundation work.

The initiative began three years ago, under the auspices of then-defense minister Amir Peretz, who promised to transform a former army outpost into a permanent settlement for evacuees from the Gaza Strip. The move was then frozen due to American insistence.

David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley regional council that oversees Maskiot, confirmed to Reuters he had issued the tender last week for contractors to launch infrastructure work.

"It's a process that will take months, to prepare infrastructure before we can build. We are proceeding in an orderly fashion," Elhayani said.

Elhayani insisted that the construction is being carried out completely legally.

"There is full consensus among Zionist parties that the Jordan Valley must remain under Israeli control within the framework of any diplomatic deal," he said. "The Jordan Valley is necessary for the sake of national security, and woe to the administration that strays from this path."
Israel decides what is on and off the table for Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States, and Netanyahu clearly wants to remind Barack Obama who is in charge of this relationship.

Hint: It's not Barack Obama.

Epic That's Not Funny Fail

Obama tells a IRA audit joke at ASU, Glenn Reynolds writes a screaming diatribe about how Obama is abusing the powers of the office of the President, to which I say:

Let's talk about Presidents and inappropriate jokes, Glenn. Here's the difference: Obama doesn't tell jokes about the reason we supposedly sent thousands of our troops to die, unlike your buddy Bush.


The Republicans Still Run The Village proven once again today by Politico's John Feehery writing the future autopsy of Nancy Pelosi's political career.
With Pelosi, the press assumes she is both a hypocrite and a liar. Her various explanations of what she knew of waterboarding and when she knew it have been unconvincing at best. Her news conference was a complete disaster, and her credibility is in tatters.

Should Pelosi continue to mishandle this current crisis, and should she continue to make wild statements about the veracity of the CIA, don’t be surprised if somebody in the House says enough is enough. The conditions are ripe for a coup.
Of course, Feehery actually IS a former Republican staffer. Gotta love that Liberal Media, choosing to ask aloud how long Nancy Pelosi has left while Dick Cheney continues to have all the credibility in the world and gets away with torture and lying us into a war.

But the only thing that matters is NANCY IS A LIAR.

[UPDATE] Nice to see Greg Sargent catch FOX News in the admission of the truth.

Obama's CAFE Now Open

One of the good things coming out of this financial mess and the automakers being in dire trouble are the fact that Obama has the automakers and the energy companies by the short and curlies on fuel economy standards (CAFE). Politico is reporting Obama will announce major new CAFE standards tomorrow.
President Barack Obama will announce on Tuesday plans for a new national fuel economy, or CAFE, standard for automobiles in an effort to give more certainty to car companies as they struggle for survival, industry sources told POLITICO on Monday.

The administration will bill the tailpipe-emissions announcement as historic, because it avoids a patchwork of standards and harmonizes so many stakeholders, including automakers, state governments, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In secret conversations, the Obama administration has lined up support from many state governments and a huge array of domestic and foreign automakers, including GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW and many more.

Top officials are flying into Washington from around the world for the White House announcement.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is expected to attend, the sources said.
Even Ahnold is going to be there. We'll see how tough these standards are.

[UPDATE] Via Atrios, some numbahs.
Under the new standard, the national fleet mileage rule for cars would be roughly 42 miles a gallon in 2016. Light trucks would have to meet a fleet average of slightly more than 26.2 miles a gallon by 2016.
42 MPG by 2016 is a massive improvement, the auto industry knows it can't say a damn thing about it, and Congress isn't about to pick this fight...not even Michigan's congressional delegation.

SOX It To The Supremes

The Supreme Court is reviewing the constitutionality of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the legislation put in place to regulate the accounting industry after Enron. Business groups and the accounting industry say the regulatory board set up to oversee accounting is itself unconstitutional.
The justices said they will consider a challenge to the Sarbanes-Oxley law from pro-business conservatives, who complained that the board established by the law to oversee the accounting industry violates the constitutionally mandated separation of powers.

The law had been upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington.

The opponents argue that the makeup of the accounting board violates the separation of powers doctrine because its members aren't appointed by the president and cannot be removed by him, and Congress cannot control its budget.

The chairman of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and the other four directors are appointed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, an independent federal agency.

The accounting board is funded by fees on publicly traded companies according to their size. Congress created the board to replace the accounting industry's own regulators amid the business scandals, giving it subpoena power and the authority to discipline accountants.

Keep this challenge in mind the next time conservatives complain about activist judges trying to interfere with Congress. After all, to overturn this law would be an unusual step in enforcing the court's will upon the legislative process, yes?

And that only happens to stupid hippie laws that want to regulate things like accounting or the financial industry. Why, there's no evidence that these industries need any additional oversight...

Race And Subprime Lending

Baseline Scenario puts together a sobering post on the issue of race and subprime lending in America and arrives at the conclusion that racism still exists.
Like most forms of hardship in our society, the foreclosure crisis is disproportionately affecting minorities. The New York Times conducted a study of foreclosures in the New York area and found, among other things:

Defaults occur three times as often in mostly minority census tracts as in mostly white ones. Eighty-five percent of the worst-hit neighborhoods — where the default rate is at least double the regional average — have a majority of black and Latino homeowners.

Well, that might simply be a function of poverty: statistically speaking, minorities are more likely to be poor, and therefore more likely to become delinquent on their mortgages. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

It never is. Turns out that a lot of minority homeowners who could have qualified and gotten regular mortgages were given subprime loans anyway.

You can also give him a higher-rate mortgage than he could otherwise qualify for. According to the Times article:

Roughly 33 percent of the subprime mortgages given out in New York City in 2007, [Secretary of HUD Shaun] Donovan said, went to borrowers with credit scores that should have qualified them for conventional prevailing-rate loans.

In general, high-rate mortgages account for a larger proportion of mortgages in minority communities, even after taking median income into account. According to sociologist Gregory Squires,

We see these loans heavily concentrated in poor neighborhoods and targeted to minority neighborhoods. There is some evidence that these neighborhoods were actually targeted — that lenders have gone after people whom they think are less sophisticated borrowers, including single women and the elderly. . . .

Credit rating and income would and does explain some of the patterns. But when you control for those, segregation is also a factor. . . . In those metro areas where segregation is highest, the share of loans that are subprime goes up.

If you are disproportionately steering minority borrowers into higher-rate mortgages, then of course they will suffer a higher rate of defaults and foreclosures than you would predict solely from their other characteristics (income, credit rating, etc.).

Remember, the argument from the "broke-ass minorities caused the subprime crisis" theory states that banks were forced to give minorities loans under Clinton's (It's always Bill Clinton's fault) Community Reinvestment Act, and the only loans these minorities could get were subprime loans at higher rates (which they couldn't pay). Banks were therefore forced to give risky loans to risky customers, and that's how these defaults wrecked the financial industry and eventually the entire economy.

But this of course shows that this theory is completely false. The banks were greedy and gave minorities in poorer neighborhoods subprime loans to rip them off. They should habve qualified for better prime loans. They were instead given worse loans and higher rates based on race and location, NOT income.

But here's the real mindblower from the Times article.

In retrospect, this seems like an area where better consumer education could have played a role. Back to the Times:

Upper-income black borrowers in the region are more likely to hold subprime mortgages than even blacks with lower incomes, who often benefit from homeownership classes and lending assistance offered by government and nonprofits.

Maybe the economic debacle we are all living through will lead to better personal finance education, both in school and for adults. That’s one silver lining to hope for, since an end to racism is almost certainly far off.

In other words, they didn't know they were getting ripped off. They didn't shop around...they just figured "Well, that's the rate you get when your me."

Buyer beware, of course. But the banks certainly got greedy across the board. They ripped off millions of Americans, bilking them for billilions. Now the bill is due, and we're all paying for corporate greed.

Remember this story next time somebody tells you it was the "broke-ass blacks and Mexicans" who ruined the economy.

When You're All Standing On The Same Quicksand...

It's common ground. Obama talked much about "common ground" in his speech at Notre Dame on Sunday, but the reality is there is no common ground in the argument.

Either you think abortion should be legal, or you don't. It really is that simple.

Pretending there's middle ground on it (it should be legal is some situations) is pointless. You can call yourself pro-choice or pro-life or whatever, but it boils down to a black and white decision.

Legislating it as a common ground decision is equally banal. It should be legal, period, or illegal, period.

Decide. Don't qualify it. Either it's legal or illegal. Choose one, America.

Actual Journalism

There's a reason McClatchy News is over in the links. You should be reading it, they actually tend to do things like "reporting" and "investigating" rather than "stengoraphy".
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defending the invasion of Iraq, asserted in 2004 that detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp had revealed that Iraq had trained al Qaida operatives in chemical and biological warfare, an assertion that wasn't true.

Cheney's 2004 comments to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News were largely overlooked at the time. However, they appear to substantiate recent reports that interrogators at Guantanamo and other prison camps were ordered to find evidence of alleged cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — despite CIA reports that there were only sporadic, insignificant contacts between the militant Islamic group and the secular Iraqi dictatorship.

The head of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo from 2002-2005 confirmed to McClatchy that in late 2002 and early 2003, intelligence officials were tasked to find, among other things, Iraq-al Qaida ties, which were a central pillar of the Bush administration's case for its March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"I'm aware of the fact that in late 2002, early 2003, that (the alleged al Qaida-Iraq link) was an interest on the intelligence side," said retired Army Lt. Col. Brittain Mallow, a former military criminal investigator. "That was something they were tasked to look at."

Which is the real thing that needs to be investigated. But the steno pool is more interested in spewing the GOP talking points on NANCY IS A LIAR rather than looking at the actual story here.

Big Pile Of Irony


Maureen Dowd (fake journalist at real newspaper and one of the worst Village offenders) rips off Josh Marshall (blogger who does actual journalism), then Marshall in turn gets dumped on for being the hack by Winger bloggers who do zero journalism, all ironically noted by a non-journalistic blogger.

[UPDATE] Iggy does him homework and comes up with the GOP walking right into the jet engine intake.

Who Wants To Tax Dodge Like A Millionaire?

Arthur Laffer and Steven Moore argue loudly that the worst thing a state can do is tax rich people, because they can afford to simply move to states with lower or no taxes.
With states facing nearly $100 billion in combined budget deficits this year, we're seeing more governors than ever proposing the Barack Obama solution to balancing the budget: Soak the rich. Lawmakers in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Oregon want to raise income tax rates on the top 1% or 2% or 5% of their citizens. New Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn wants a 50% increase in the income tax rate on the wealthy because this is the "fair" way to close his state's gaping deficit.

Mr. Quinn and other tax-raising governors have been emboldened by recent studies by left-wing groups like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that suggest that "tax increases, particularly tax increases on higher-income families, may be the best available option." A recent letter to New York Gov. David Paterson signed by 100 economists advises the Empire State to "raise tax rates for high income families right away."

Here's the problem for states that want to pry more money out of the wallets of rich people. It never works because people, investment capital and businesses are mobile: They can leave tax-unfriendly states and move to tax-friendly states.

And the evidence that we discovered in our new study for the American Legislative Exchange Council, "Rich States, Poor States," published in March, shows that Americans are more sensitive to high taxes than ever before. The tax differential between low-tax and high-tax states is widening, meaning that a relocation from high-tax California or Ohio, to no-income tax Texas or Tennessee, is all the more financially profitable both in terms of lower tax bills and more job opportunities.

California's problem isn't that it's home to 1/7th of America's population, it's that it has high taxes. Here's my favorite little bit of the article however.

Those who disapprove of tax competition complain that lower state taxes only create a zero-sum competition where states "race to the bottom" and cut services to the poor as taxes fall to zero. They say that tax cutting inevitably means lower quality schools and police protection as lower tax rates mean starvation of public services.

They're wrong, and New Hampshire is our favorite illustration. The Live Free or Die State has no income or sales tax, yet it has high-quality schools and excellent public services. Students in New Hampshire public schools achieve the fourth-highest test scores in the nation -- even though the state spends about $1,000 a year less per resident on state and local government than the average state and, incredibly, $5,000 less per person than New York. And on the other side of the ledger, California in 2007 had the highest-paid classroom teachers in the nation, and yet the Golden State had the second-lowest test scores.

The Granite State's test scores are great because there's no income tax or sales tax! What these knuckleheads forget is New Hampshire has to pay for schools somehow, and it has arguably the most regressive tax structure in the country, with property taxes, cigarette taxes, meal taxes, car rental taxes, hotel taxes, timber cutting taxes...the list goes on. The poorest residents in the state provide a lion's share of the tax revenue in the state, while the wealthiest in New Hampshire contribute only a few percentage points.

And these two jerks basically want that regressive tax structure to become the norm across the country.

You want to know what the real problem is? States like NH with high property taxes are going to find themselves in deep trouble with falling home prices. They're going to need to cut services and spending on things like schools and police too, just like the states with other types of taxes.

If I was a millionaire, I'd want to live in New Hampshire too, and I could afford to move.


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