Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last Call

WaPo's Walter Pincus rolls out the CIA's targeted leaks as the intel community fires another shot across Obama's bow.
The agency's defensiveness in part reflects a conviction that it is being forced to take the blame for actions approved by elected officials that have since fallen into disfavor. Former CIA director Michael V. Hayden said in an interview that CIA managers and operations officers have again been put "in a horrible position." Hayden recalled an officer asking, "Will I be in trouble five years from now for what I agree to do today?"

Although President Obama has said no CIA officers will be prosecuted for their roles in harsh interrogations if they remained within Justice Department guidelines in effect at the time, agency personnel still face subpoenas and testimony under oath before criminal, civil and congressional bodies.

As part of an ongoing criminal inquiry into the CIA's destruction of videotapes depicting waterboarding, CIA personnel will appear before a grand jury this week, according to two sources familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is continuing. The Senate intelligence committee is pursuing its investigation into whether harsh interrogations, including waterboarding, brought forward worthwhile intelligence, as agency and Bush administration officials have maintained.

The CIA plays the victim card like the all-time pros they are, and right on cue the Wingers go after the Dems for daring to question these patriots fighting America's terror war on the front lines.

Poor babies! How dare Obama and Congressional Dems try to inflict oversight on these heroes! What gives them the right to call the CIA liars? How dare he rob the CIA of their ability to torture people into giving false information to start a war of aggression! I mean after all, these Muslims are sub-human...why should we bother to treat them with human dignity?

At some point Obama and CIA director Leon Panetta need to have a little talk.

I'm Steele Standing

...or not.
Today at 1:00 p.m. ET, RNC chairman Michael Steele will be giving a major speech meant, in part, to reassure Republicans that he has control over the party. He is facing internal challenges from RNC members, including “a new set of checks and balances” on his power to “dole out money.” Today in an interview with Fox News, Steele suggested that if too much of his power is taken away, he may resign:

They can contemplate all they want to, but the reality is if they want a figurehead chairman you can have a figurehead chairman, but it won’t be Michael Steele.

As I said earlier today, that's a hollow threat Steele is making. The RNC clearly wants him gone. They don't want to follow his version of Howard Dean's 50 state strategy. They want to purify the party and expect the rest of America to follow them, because they believe that Democrats and the people that empower them are enemies of America, plain and simple.

Steele might as well go ahead and quit. He'll only be replaced by somebody far more rabid and far less intelligent (not that Steele is any kind of genius to begin with.) Please quit and then let the RNC vote in Rush Limbaugh.

No Backup Plan

Over at TNR, Jonathan Chait ponders the GOP Plan.
The economy, of course, will have much more short-term influence over Obama's popularity. And, yes, a lot of conservatives these days think that the government hiring people and buying goods can't do anything o reduce unemployment or stimulate demand. But what if the economy recovers anyway? Isn't it possible? I mean, I thought George W. Bush's economic policies were unlikely to stimulate long-term growth and out of line with public priorities, but I wasn't certain that they'd cause short-term economic pain or make him unpopular by the end of his second term. (They did do that, but the outcome wasn't preordained.)

I'm not saying the economy will recover or that Obama will stay popular. Quite possibly, four years from now we could still be mired in a worldwide depression and Obama could be facing dismal -- who knows, even Bush-like -- popularity ratings. The world is unpredictable. But isn't there a pretty decent chance that the economy will have recovered, and Obama's policies will look fairly wise in retrospect? Do Republicans want to make any political plans for this contingency?
I've been talking about the GOP Plan for months now, and it's not "Short Obama" as Chait puts it, but Destroy Obama. The reason the GOP isn't making any contingency plans is simple: if Obama actually passes anything that remotely resembles universal health care, climate change legislation, and the EFCA, then the GOP is toast. They don't have a contingency plan because they are facing political obliteration if they fail. The GOP has to stop Obama, or the Democrats control Washington for a generation. Period. This wouldn't be a minor setback like the Bush backlash. This would be a generational shift that would bury the GOP so deep in the political wilderness, they would be powerless. They know this. They aren't fighting a popular Preaident, they are fighting for survival. After FDR, the Democrats controlled Congress for almost 60 years. The GOP knows this.

Either Obama goes down in flames, or the GOP does. That was true in January, it's true now, it'll be true as long as Obama hasn't passed his key legislation yet. There's a reason that that GOP is trying to do everything they can to kill Obama's proposals...because they will mean the end of the Republicans' political power in this country for decades.

Steve Benen has more on this.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

FOX Business asks:
Is stock analysis objective?
If you have to ask that question, the answer is no.

More Nancy Drew Files

It's impressive what a little actual journalism can turn up in the NANCY IS A LIAR case (emphasis mine):
Here's yet another reason (as if more were needed) to doubt that that CIA briefings document perfectly reflects what lawmakers were told about torture back in the early days of the war on terror.

Almost every briefing described in the document -- including the September 2002 Pelosi briefing that's directly at issue -- refers to "EITs," or enhanced interrogation techniques, as a subject that was discussed. But according to a former intelligence professional who has participated in such briefings, that term wasn't used until at least 2006.

That's not just an issue of semantics. The former intel professional said that by using the term in the recently compiled document, the CIA was being "disingenuous," trying to make it appear that the use of such techniques was part of a "formal and mechanical program." In fact, said the former intel pro, it wasn't until 2006 that -- amid growing concerns about the program among some in the Bush administration -- the EIT program was formalized, and the "enhanced interrogation techniques" were properly defined and given a name.

Surprise, surprise! The CIA didn't use the term EIT until four years AFTER the time Pelosi was briefed.

Which means the briefing that the CIA produced to throw doubt on Pelosi's claims is in and of itself as fishy as a mountain trout stream. Once again, even a little legwork has blown holes in the claim that the CIA's briefing is correct, and gives ample room to explain Pelosi's side of the story as being true.

But you want catch our Liberal Media Steno Pool expending the energy to even bother checking up. Instead they give plenty of press coverage to the Republican effort to force her resignation.

California Rolled

California's raft of budget proposals to try to close the gap between a $21 billion shortfall and merely a $15 billion one is up for a vote today. Needless to say, the measures are looking to go down in flames.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called that deficit estimate "certain" on Thursday, warning the budget gap for the next fiscal year would swell to $21.3 billion if voters reject budget-related ballot measures in a special election on Tuesday.

Surveys suggest voters will reject the measures.

In either case, the most populous U.S. state faces sharply reduced spending, with Schwarzenegger, a Republican, seeking deep cuts in education and health and human service programs. Additionally, 5,000 state employees will receive pink slips and the state will need to borrow $6 billion with a revenue anticipation warrant.

Lawmakers responded with vows of fiscal austerity. But Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico said a more dramatic effort may be needed.

"We are in dire need of streamlining," he told Reuters. "We should have a conversation about what our priorities are as a state. ... I don't think we can go through this budget and try to offend the least amount of people."

Naturally, the winger response is "Let California rot" starting with Malkinvania:
The Taxinator is in D.C. with his hands out — and his figurative gun to the head of the rest of the country’s taxpayers. As I noted last week, California wants TARP money. They’ll argue, as every other successful bailout recipient has, that the state is Too Big Too Fail.

California did itself in. It deserves to suffer the consequences.

Tell your congressional representatives to tell the muscle man looking to pump up his puny state coffers with everyone else’s money:

Not one dime.

Let one-seventh of America fall apart! After all, it's a blue state, so it's not really America anyway. Why should folks in Utah or Tennessee or North Dakota care about them in the first place?

After all, California must be the only state facing financial problems this year...

States are facing a great fiscal crisis. At least 47 states faced or are facing shortfalls in their budgets for this and/or the next year or two. Combined budget gaps for the remainder of this fiscal year and state fiscal years 2010 and 2011 are estimated to total more than $350 billion.
...Right? It's not like any Red states are in trouble or anything...

Steele The One

RNC head Michael Steele has once again voiced his opposition to the "Let's Call Them The Democrat Socialist Party!" stupidity, which of course only assures that the resolution will pass.
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele on Tuesday strongly came out against a resolution supported by some committee members calling on Democrats to re-name their party the "Democrat Socialist Party."

Even though Steele has, in the past, accused Democrats of having a socialistic approach to government, he has so far distanced himself from the controversial resolution that is scheduled to be voted on Wednesday at meeting of the full committee. In an appearance on 'Meet the Press' on Sunday, the party chief said the resolution is not "an appropriate way to express out views on the issues of the day."

Asked on Tuesday if he is in favor of the effort to re-brand Democrats as socialists, Steele said, "No, I am not. I am not for that at all."

"I have mentioned that to folks inside the party and said that, you know, we should be smart and strategic about that," Steele said of the resolution on Fox News. "A lot of people have passions and the beauty of the Republican party is you get to express those passions in various ways."
Like calling Obama a Socialist instead of a Fascist, Hitler, or Chairman Maobama, you mean.

Gotta love GOP "open-mindedness".

[UPDATE] Via Atrios, Steele goes off the Steele Reserve.

If you mean "change" as in the Republicans kick your ass out for being too damn moderate for them and too damn crazy for the rest of us, then yes, that change is probably coming and soon.

[UPDATE 2] Actual Michael Steele quote from his op-ed in today's Politico:
"The Republican Party has turned a corner, and as we move forward Republicans should take a lesson from Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan always believed Republicans should apply our conservative principles to current and future challenges facing America. . For Reagan's conservatism to take root...."
Turning the corner and looking forward, alright. Right into the headlights of the oncoming freight train.

Give Them The Gas Face

The wingers are going nuts with the whole ZOMG OBAMA FASCIST CAR TAX!!! plan to increase CAFE standards.

The reality is that in the long run, you'll save money on the car when gas goes back up to $4-$5 a gallon (and it will, maybe not this summer, but it will) and it has some major additional benefits:

* 5% per year increase in fuel efficiency
* An increase form 25 MPG fleet average to 35.5 MPR fleet average
* 1.8 billion barrels of oil saved
* A reduction of 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
* The equivalent of 177 million cars off the road--or 194 coal plants shut down
Seems like a winner to me. Some back of the napkin numbers: 15,000 miles a year at 35 miles to the gallon is 428 gallons compared to 25 MPG, that's 600 gallons a year, you save 172 gallons of gas a year. At $4 a gallon, the OBAMA CAR TAX OF DOOM pays for itself in...23 months.

Everything after that is money you save. Plan on owning the next new car you buy for more than two years? I would think so. When you're saving $688 a year in gas in a car that should last you ten years or more, you tell me if that $1300 is worth it in the long run.

$1300 now versus $6880 later AND you save the planet? You do the math. Wingers I guess aren't smart enough to handle the numbers.

Bad Vs. Good

Let's review:

Mexican drug dealers torture people including deprivation of food and water = BAD. CNN calls this what it is: torture.
The trend continues, as police investigated roughly a kidnapping a day in 2007 and 2008 and are on track to shatter those numbers this year. Police are stingy with details of fresh cases navigating the court system, but recently allowed CNN to review the files from Andrade's kidnapping.

For two and a half days after Andrade's abduction, the kidnappers -- including Aldo Vizcarra, whom Andrade had considered a friend -- deprived their victim of food and water. Through the door of the closet where he was held, Andrade could hear the cries of other victims being tortured in the house, the report said.

Meanwhile, Valencia had defied the kidnappers and called police, who listened to Andrade "scream and howl in pain" over the phone as the kidnappers tried to cut off his ear and a finger. The torture would continue until Valencia came up with the ransom, the kidnappers told her.

They were true to their word.

Andrade was pistol-whipped and beaten with a baseball bat and the butt of a rifle. The kidnappers tried to gouge out his eye and slashed open his left eyebrow. They burned his back as well -- presumably, police said, with a blowtorch found at the scene.
US Government tortures people including deprivation of food and water = GOOD. CNN says "See how Condi Rice bravely defends America with these legal interrogation policies".
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the Bush administration's policies on the interrogation of terrorism suspects Sunday, saying former President George W. Bush would not have authorized anything illegal.

"He was also very clear that we would do nothing -- nothing -- that was against the law or against our obligations internationally," Rice said during an appearance at a Washington school.

A Senate Intelligence Committee report released in April showed Rice was among top Bush advisers who approved the CIA's use of waterboarding -- a technique considered a form of torture for centuries -- on terrorism suspects in its custody. Recently released Bush administration memos showed Justice Department officials argued that waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other coercive practices did not violate U.S. laws against torture.

The disclosures have led to calls for investigations of former Bush administration officials. But Rice said Bush "was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country" after al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

"I hope people understand that it was a struggle, it was a difficult time," she said. "We were all terrified of another attack on this country because September 11 was the worst day of my life in government -- watching 3,000 Americans die because these people attacked us." But she added, "Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal."

Class dismissed.

Bank Back Breaker

The WSJ has analyzed 940 smaller and local banks using the Fed's worst-case stress scenario, and has come up with devastating news: nearly two-thirds of them would require additional capital under the same rules the Fed set up for the big banks, and the source of those losses would be the crumbling commercial real estate sector (emphasis mine)
Commercial real-estate loans could generate losses of $100 billion by the end of next year at more than 900 small and midsize U.S. banks if the economy's woes deepen, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

Such loans, which fund the construction of shopping malls, office buildings, apartment complexes and hotels, could account for nearly half the losses at the banks analyzed by the Journal, consuming capital that is an essential cushion against bad loans.

Total losses at those banks could surpass $200 billion over that period, according to the Journal's analysis, which utilized the same worst-case scenario the federal government used in its recent stress tests of 19 large banks. Under that scenario, more than 600 small and midsize banks could see their capital shrink to levels that usually are considered worrisome by federal regulators. The potential losses could exceed revenue over that period at nearly all the banks analyzed by the Journal.

The potential losses on commercial real estate are by far the largest problem facing the midsize and small banks, easily exceeding losses on home loans, which could total about $49 billion, according to the Journal's analysis. Nearly one-third of the banks could see their capital slip to risky levels because of commercial real-estate losses, the Journal found.

The Journal, using data contained in banks' filings with the Federal Reserve, examined the financial health of 940 small and midsize banks. It applied the loan-loss criteria that the Fed used in its stress tests of the largest banks.

The findings are a stark reminder that the U.S. banking industry's problems stretch far beyond the 19 giants scrutinized in the government stress tests. Regulators and investors have focused on too-big-to-fail banks such as Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. But more than 8,000 other lenders throughout the country are being squeezed by the recession and real-estate crash.

If you figure that two-thirds applies to the other 7,000 banks out there, that's a good indication that the secondary wave of CRE and unemployment-based forclosures are going to devastate the financial industry across the board over the next 12 to 18 months.

Thousands of small-to-medium banks are in potential trouble. Who will bail THEM out when they get swamped by commercial real estate losses?

The second half of the hurricane is coming.

House Of Pain

Housing starts fell to their lowest level since the government started keeping track in 1959.
Initial construction of U.S. homes sank to a record low in April, according to a government report released Tuesday, as increased unemployment and skyrocketing foreclosures of existing homes deterred new builders.

Housing starts fell 12.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000, down 12.8% from a revised 525,000 in March, according to the Commerce Department.

The reading is the lowest level since the government began keeping records in 1959. The second lowest reading came in January, when the rate of housing starts was 488,000.

Economists were expecting housing starts to come in at 520,000, according to a consensus estimate compiled by Briefing.com. Compared to the same month last year, privately owned housing starts were 54.2% below the revised April 2008 rate of 1,001,000.

This is good news and bad news...good news because housing starts will have to keep falling in order to stabilize the market. The bad news is even if housing starts fall to zero, there still will be millions of unsold homes on the market, and that number only increases as foreclosures add to the surplus.

What this does mean is that there's no turnaround in the housing market, and there will not be a national recovery from this housing depression until the glut of homes is resolved.

And that may take years.

Will The Last Republican In The Big Tent Shut Off The Lights, Please?

A new Gallup poll shows extraordinary and categorical losses by the Republican Party in nearly every imaginable demographic and subset, from college graduates (a loss of 10 percentage points) to Midwesterners (9 points) to single Americans (8 points). Even frequent churchgoers managed only to break even...and that was the best group. Not a single demographic group registered an actual gain in GOP voters from 2001 to now.

Naturally, the wingers are taking this as proof that 1) The rest of the moderates Megan McCain Republicans must be purged from the party, 2) The newly purified party will then magically attract more Ron Paul libertarian independents than moderates they will lose from the purge, 3) The Democrats will then eventually lose because they are Democrats.

While number 3 is actually 100% true, the Republicans seem to be acting like driving away everyone but self-labeled conservatives and frequent churchgoers will somehow allow them to earn the trust of everyone else, because they seem to believe that everyone is secretly in one of those two groups, and only those two groups matter.

The GOP seems to believe that the only "Real Americans" are religious conservatives, and that it's only a matter of time before everyone is shamed, horrified, and disgusted enough by what they see as Democratic Party excess to come crawling back to the party of religious conservatism. Nobody actually likes the Dems, they're just angry at the GOP right now. They'll be back because we'll tell them to come back, or they won't be Real Americans, you see.

That's the big plan, to demonize not only Barack Obama, but everyone who voted for him. Only the Republican Party can offer you salvation, boys and girls. They're awaiting America's "Come to Jesus" moment. They believe it'll happen in 2010 and 2012 and that Republicans can get right back to driving this country off a cliff into a bigoted, racist theocratic nightmare, because that's simply how the country should be.

This isn't a defeat. This is simply a test of faith. They intend to pass even if it kills the Republican Party.


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