Sunday, July 19, 2009

Last Call

Via Raw Story:

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-Not Obama's Commerce Secretary) comes up with the Worst. Universal. Health Care Coverage Plan. Ever.

No, seriously. Make everyone buy health care coverage from a private insurer, subsidize it for poor people (also help out self-employed people some too, but you'd still force 20 million people to self-insure at soul-crushing premiums), then make it high-deductible "catastrophic event" insurance that means people don't get treated unless they pay tens of thousands up front for a $100,000 plus hospital stay. It's funneling money directly to the insurance companies and still rationing people's health care by their ability to pay, and is all but worthless should you actually need it. Should you not, hey, your mandated premiums go straight to the insurance companies anyway.

God that's a hell of a scam. It really is.

CIT Group Gets A Deal

From Reuters, the WSJ is reporting that a $3 billion deal with CIT Group's bondholders has been reached to spare the company bankruptcy proceedings.
CIT Group Inc has cut a deal with its key bondholders for $3 billion in financing that will allow the 101-year-old lender to avoid bankruptcy, according to a headline on the Wall Street Journal's web site.

CIT, which suffered a liquidity crunch and found itself straining under its multi-billion dollar debt load, aims to restructure outside of court, the Journal said.

No other details were immediately available.

The NY Times has more:
Under the terms of the proposal, CIT would receive $3 billion from some of its main bondholders. The money is meant to give the company several weeks to set up an exchange of bondholders’ debt for equity, alleviating some of the pressure from billions of dollars in obligations.

CIT’s board is scheduled to discuss the proposal at a meeting Sunday evening.

The plan was formed after days of round-the-clock negotiations between CIT, its financial and legal advisers and a group of large bondholders over recent days. Jeffrey Peek, CIT’s chief executive and the architect of the 101-year-old company’s aggressive yet ill-timed push into subprime mortgages and student loans, was actively involved in the financing talks, according to people briefed on the matter.

It is unclear whether the long-sought-after lifeline will be enough to give CIT room to make crucial changes to its business at a time when it is unable to get financing from the capital markets.
More on this as it comes in.

[UPDATE 9:26 PM] Another Reuters update with additional information:

The bondholder group, which includes Pacific Investment Management Company (Pimco) and some other top CIT holders, is expected to provide the financing with a 2 1/2-year term, the sources said.

CIT's board plans to meet later on Sunday to discuss the terms of the deal, and the lender is expected to announce the deal on Monday if the board approves it, according to one source, who declined to be identified because talks are private.

The deal is part of a larger restructuring plan, the source said.

The $3 billion rescue financing plan will be backed by remaining unsecuritized assets which likely exceed $10 billion, another source familiar with the matter said.

"The $3 billion is new money but securitized by all the remaining unsecuritized assets which probably exceed $10 billion," that source said.

A $3 billion plan with $10 billion backing it up at almost assuredly usurious interest rates. Almost makes you wonder who has that kind of cash to lend these days to a company with a junk rating.

Ahh, the delicious aroma of moral hazard in action. CIT Group may not qualify in the clout department for a bailout, but I'm betting those bondholders (and whoever else put up that $10 billion in assets backing the loan to CIT) led by Pimco do. They can't lose. CIT either pays them with interest, or the taxpayers will should the company go south again. It's just amazing to see how the financial industry has turned around enough to be able to front that kind of juice to keep CIT Group alive.

Almost unbelievable, one might say. CalcRisk has more.

This is new debt at a reported 10% plus LIBOR rate. This is not debt for equity. This is essentially a bridge loan, with a reported 2 1/2 year term.
LIBOR plus ten percent? And they say chilvary is dead.

We Come Not To Praise Obamacare

...but to bury it. WaPo's Michael Shear and Shailagh Murray write the Village narrative of Obama "heading to the front lines" fighting a battle he's of course, not supposed to win. (emphasis mine):
But even as Obama returns to full-time campaign mode, he is facing increasing calls to show that his presidency can manage the tough, nitty-gritty of lawmaking by cutting deals with his allies to keep his health care legislation moving in the House and Senate committees.
And this is just the sixth paragraph in. The clucking of tongues, the clutching of pearls, and the unspoken question of "Why can't this man just listen to the Wise Men of Washington?" continue through the rest of the article. Silly President...Presidents aren't supposed to make demands of legislators. You've only been in that office for six months. What do you know? (Of course, Bush made demands for"Congress to send him bills he could sign" all the time, but that's besides the point.)
Conservative Democrats in the House are promising to vote against reform as it now stands, and are preparing two dozen amendments, including measures aimed at lowering the effort's long-term cost. In the Senate, members from both parties are urging the president to break his campaign promise to preserve the tax-free status of health benefits. And a chorus of weary voices from Capitol Hill is urging him to abandon his demand for passage of bills in the House and Senate by Aug. 7.

"I don't think we should be bound by a timetable that isn't realistic," Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), a key swing-vote on health care, told Obama last week as she reminded him that President Lyndon B. Johnson took 1 1/2 years to pass Medicare.

Why, how dare a President tell a Congress of his own party that legislation needs to be done before their summer four-week vacation! The unmitigated gall of the man. Has he no idea how Washington works? Doesn't he understand that he's only a President? Why, the Democrats in charge of Congress would never knuckle under to a Republican President (except for all the dozens of times they did just that on FISA, Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, tax cuts for the rich, yadda yadda) what makes you think they would actually support Obama's agenda?
Obama has not officially budged on the timetable, although he and aides have notably failed to note the August deadline in recent remarks. But Obama is quietly working with conservative, Blue Dog Democrats in the House on an amendment to create an independent panel to govern Medicare reimbursement rates that could help reverse crippling health-care inflation.

Most difficult for Obama is the pressure to accept a tax on health benefits as a way of financing the massive insurance reform he wants.

Ahh, now here's the true thrust of the attack, what the Village thinks Obama SHOULD do. Obama already has a plan to pay for health care...but darn it, it makes rich people pay for it, and rich people are in charge of the damn country. How stupid can a guy get, expecting rich people to pay additional taxes.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," White House budget director Peter Orszag would not rule out support for the benefits tax, but he continued to promote Obama's preference for limiting deductions for wealthy taxpayers.

Some Democrats close to the negotiations say they think it is only a matter of time before Obama backs off. One proposal that has emerged would tax insurance companies, as opposed to beneficiaries, and is considered a potential compromise approach that Obama may be able to embrace.

Oh? And exactly where did THIS come from? The Wise Men of Washington, no doubt. After all, they spent most of the Sunday shows today complaining about how America would never accept Obama's surtax on those making over $350,000, like David Brooks did on today's Chris Matthews show:
BROOKS: You know, they made some progress on the Hill, they got a House bill out, they got a Senate bill moving forward. They’re scaring the dickens out of the moderates in their own party, let alone the Republicans. They’re scaring the dickens out of them because the House bill calls for raising the top tax rate to 52 or in some cities, 57%. That’s higher than in France, Spain, Italy…
You know, tax rates on Villagers like David Brooks. So many Americans are worried about the top tax rate (at least according to the Village they are.) Instead, Obama should follow the Village advice and break his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class (which the Village believes the middle class will accept...more.) And of course taxing insurance companies wouldn't turn into another corporate tax loophole that would give the insurance companies free reign to raise health insurance premiums on everybody while pocketing the difference. Why, that would never happen.

After all the Village, conservative Democrats, and the GOP only have the President's best interests at heart. Sure, raising health insurance premiums on all Americans and sparing the tax burden on our wealthiest citizens won't backfire on the President, causing the GOP to attack Democrats savagely across the board in an orgy of fury, causing the GOP to run in 2010 and 2012 on a platform of "roll back the Obama tax" and cause the Village to prattle on about the "Obama health care plan disaster" for years and years, effectively killing any chance at real reform for another generation.

Surely that can't be the plan here.


Growing Pains

Meeting with India's Environment Minister, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has run into a bit of a snag in trying to convince India to accept carbon production limits.
India will resist pressure from the Obama administration to accept legally binding caps on its carbon emissions, the South Asian nation’s environment minister told visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have been among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions,” Jairam Ramesh said at a meeting today with Clinton in Gurgaon near New Delhi, according to a statement he issued to reporters. “And as if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours.”

Clinton is on a state visit to India meant to showcase trade and security ties and seek common ground on climate change and arms control. India has said it will reject any new treaty to limit global warming that makes it reduce emissions because that will undermine the country’s energy consumption, transportation and food security.

The climate-change bill that passed the U.S. House on June 26 calls for carbon-based tariffs if countries like China and India don’t adopt their own greenhouse gas controls by 2020. The U.S. said its push for higher environmental standards is not aimed at limiting the economic progress of nations, including India.

“No one wants to in any way stall or undermine the economic growth that is necessary to lift millions of more people out of poverty,” Clinton said at a joint news conference with Ramesh in Gurgaon. “But we also believe that there is a way to eradicate poverty and develop sustainably that will lower significantly the carbon footprint of the energy that is produced and consumed to fuel that growth.”

Which is polite diplo-speak for "Screw you guys." India is basically calling out the Obama administration on Waxman-Markey bill, saying that they not only believe that that there's no way the US will ever put carbon tariffs on India, but that they don't believe climate change legislation will ever pass here. The international language is business, and there's no way America is going to threaten that.

“Legally binding” emissions targets won’t be acceptable for India, Ramesh said. “It’s going to be impossible to sell in our democratic system.”

Clinton said she is confident that the U.S. and India can devise a plan that changes the way energy is produced, consumed and conserved, helping to create additional investments and jobs. The two countries must also expand the use of renewable energy in India, especially for rural electrification.

“There is no question that developed countries like mine must lead on this issue and for our part, under President Obama, we are not only acknowledging our contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, we are taking steps to reverse its ill effects,” Clinton said. “It is essential for major developing countries like India to also lead because over 80 percent of the growth in future emissions will be from developing countries.”

Obama's point of view is that India and China having a third of the world's population means that those two countries will have a massive effect on the carbon footprint of the world in the future. India's point is that America has a massive effect on the world's carbon footprint NOW, and by having that growth over the last sixty years has put America where is is today.

However, India's major point is that since Kyoto, the United States has zero credibility on carbon limits. None. Zero. Zilch. We certainly don't have the credibility to pull the paternalistic big brother colonialist crap on them, not when we told the rest of the world to kiss off at Kyoto. 183 other countries ratified Kyoto. We never did. Even China and India ratified it. Why should India bow to U.S. pressure when our word on climate change agreements is literally worthless?

Until the U.S. gets serious and passes cap and trade legislation, the rest of the world will simply smile and nod at our desires for what the planet needs to do, and go on without us. Should Waxman-Markey become law, then we can ask other countries to go along.

We're all in this together.

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

Steve Benen finally understands the GOP "health care plan" and says publicly what I've been saying for months now: The GOP can never allow the Democrats' real health care reform to pass.
In 1993, Bill Kristol privately advised congressional Republicans to do whatever it took to "kill" the Clinton health care reform initiative. It wasn't that the policy proposal was a bad idea; it was that passage would help the Democratic Party for years to come. The GOP, he said, for the sake of its own future, couldn't compromise or negotiate with the majority.
And that's the trillion-dollar answer to the question of "Why are Republicans so against health care?" It's all politics to them. It always was. If the Democrats pass a real health care reform plan with a public option, the Republicans are in the wilderness for a generation more. Not only that, he explores the next obvious question: Why are conservative Democrats so eager to sink reform?
Republicans don't want to reform the health care system and don't want President Obama to be the president who finally delivers the overhaul Americans have been waiting for over the last several decades. The GOP has every possible reason to see this initiative fail, but that hasn't stopped some Democrats from a) insisting that Republican support for a reform effort they oppose is paramount; and b) making it easier to see their own party's efforts fail.

It occurs to me, then, that there's at least a possibility that "centrist" Democrats -- Blue Dogs, New Democrats, Lieberman, et al -- might not see failure as such a horrible option here. In other words, they may realize that coming up short on health care, letting this opportunity slip away, and hurting millions of Americans in the process may be devastating for the Democratic majority, but these same "centrist" Democrats may prefer a smaller majority, or perhaps even a GOP majority to "balance" the Democratic president. They may very well disagree with the party's leadership on most issues, and think the best course of action is taking away their power by undermining the party's agenda.

It seems odd that these "centrist" Democrats would forget the lessons of 1993 and 1994. But alternatively, are we sure they have forgotten those lessons, or have they learned those lessons all too well?

I have to believe it's the latter. The first part of it goes back to BooMan's excellent "60 votes means ConservaDems have nowhere to hide" theory.
So long as the Republicans had 41 votes in the Senate, the timid, vulnerable, conservative Democrats could get away with voting for progressive legislation that wouldn't pass and against progressive legislation that did. But now that the Democrats have sixty votes, every single bill the Democrats introduce should pass. Every nominee should be confirmed. And each Democrat that votes 'nay' on an issue is giving the Republicans the ability to stop the president's agenda. They can no longer hide. And that is that last place they want to be.
Which explains why they are doing everything to sink this bill. They know it means a huge Democratic majority for years to come, and it means they will have to be the bad guys in order to stop the kind of reforms Democrats have been promising for decades. Bad guys are the incumbents who lose elections and don't get to be Senators anymore. They want Reagan-Bush-Clinton style gridlock. It means they don't have to be responsible for fouling up the country. It means they can pad their pockets. It means they can get a great lobbying/TV/pundit gig afterwards. Bad guy senators...they don't get cool gigs. They don't make a great addition to the letterheads of lobbying firms. They get shafted.

The second part is, and let's face it, there are plenty of Senators on both sides of the aisle horrified that the Democrats may be in charge again for a long, long time. Your average Senator is in their 60's. They tend to be very conservative anyway as people. Pretending to follow the party line to get elected is not exactly something new here. Republicans just call them Mavericks and drag them out when it looks like they're not doing too well. Democrats just hide theirs until it comes time to kill anything that remotely looks liberal.

So yeah, the same old ossified Chamber of Commerce mentality naturally precludes a bill that would significantly change the long term power structure in Washington towards liberalism. So, yes, it has to die screaming like it did in 1993...and look how the next 15 years turned out after that. The Village is doing it because they like playing kingmaker. The GOP is doing it because they don't want to be running around in the wilderness until 2030. But the takes a special brand of mealy-mouthed politicially opportunistic amoeba colony to be one of them.

As I've said before, the Village, the GOP and the ConservaDems must do everything they can to kill Obamacare. It's self-preservation of the political patronage system, plain and simple.

Epic Fixing The Government With A Chainsaw Fail

Via Tbogg, we see that Freeper King Jim Robinson has gone sooooooooo far off the deep end that he has come out in somebody else's another dimension where he's glad to appoint Hillary Clinton as Chief Executive.
It cannot be denied that the central government has become destructive of our unalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and our rights to live free. The government is no longer responsive to we the People. They have stretched and shredded the constitution to the point that they have illegally seized for themselves virtually unlimited powers over the citizens and act as if we have no rights and no powers of our own. They are acting without our consent.

Our Founders established that when our government becomes destructive of our rights then it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We have reached the point where the government's long train of abuses and usurpations has achieved absolute Despotism, therefore it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for our future security.

Therefore, We the People of America choose to exercise our right to throw off and alter the abusive government by peacefully recalling and removing from office the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States and all U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives effective immediately.

Therefore, We the People of America choose to exercise our right to throw off and alter the abusive government by peacefully recalling and removing from office the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States and all U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives effective immediately.

An interim provisional Chief Executive and congressional representatives will be established as follows:

The Secretary of State shall immediately assume the office of interim Chief Executive. The Chief Executive shall appoint and the interim Senate shall confirm an interim Vice President.

So, it's like Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor, only without crashing an airplane into the Capitol building and Hillary Clinton playing the part of Jack Ryan. And then we form a more perfect union where we throw out all those Amendments!
The Constitution of the United States must be kept intact and must be adhered to and strictly followed by all government entities as originally intended. The government has stretched the constitutional limits well beyond those intended by our founders. We must take steps to ensure that this is corrected and that the out of control government is reined in and that sufficient measures are introduced to maintain the limits, checks and balances on government and that government powers are strictly limited to those enumerated in the constitution and that our rights are reestablished, reaffirmed, re-secured and safeguarded. We must restore and reestablish the sovereignty of the people and the states and restore the constitutional balances between the central government, the various states and we the people. The constitution severely restricts government powers and guarantees unalienable freedom and Liberty to the people.
Except for all the parts where we reinstitute slavery, limit voting only to white male landowners, eliminate freedom of speech, assembly, religion, press, petition to redress grievances (like Jimmy's doing here!), and the right to bear arms, right? As in the original Constitution that didn't have a Bill of Rights or any other additional amendments? No term limits for Presidents, no direct elections of Senators, and eliminates due process of the law, right? Sure, to protect us from despotism!

If you had a million Freepers march on Washington, D.C, I think the density of Stupid would form a singularity somewhere near the Robert E. Lee Memorial and suck all the world's intellect into it.

On the other hand, the internets would be a much nicer place. Perhaps with flowers. You know, for whatever short time period we would have right before we all collapsed into puddles of our own urine having lost all sentience.

And yes, Rick Moran is right when he says he could have pulled parts of this screed's accusations of Obama from "any of 50 lefty blogs" concerning the description of perceived presidential lawlessness on the part of Bush. The difference is I don't recall any of the lefty blogs advocating the overthrow of the United States Government and rolling back all constitutional amendements to 1776, either.

The fallacy of "Obama is worse than Bush just six months in!" doesn't equate to us not asking questions about the Bush administration's legal practices, nor does it excuse Obama following those same actions and in some cases expanding on Bush's policies and methods.

Still, I have to say if Jim Robinson and Orly Taitz get anywhere within a mile of each other, we're going to have one of those dimensional cross-rips that Egon Spengler was always talking about in Ghostbusters when the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper get together and summon Gozer.


Zandar's Other Thought Of The Day

Mark Sanford really, really, really needs to learn that when you're ahead and you've survived the scandal, shut the hell up.

Death Of A Salespitch

CIT Group is facing its final hours on the Deal or No Deal clock.
CIT Group was in talks with a bondholder group over the weekend as the lender tried to hammer out a rescue financing deal before markets opened and avoid bankruptcy, a source close to the situation said.

Talks with the bondholder group, advised by investment bank Houlihan Lokey, for a $2 billion to $3 billion financing, took place through Saturday and were expected to continue today with the aim of announcing a deal by Monday morning, the source said.

If a deal is not reached, the 101-year-old lender that services nearly one million small- and mid-sized businesses could file for bankruptcy protection as soon as Monday, according to the source, who did not want to be identified because talks are private.

That however doesn't mean being snapped up by a couple other megabanks is off the table. On the contrary, those ghoulish fellows would rather dine off a fresh corpse than worry about a live company.
Talks are also going on a parallel track for debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing if the lender has to file for bankruptcy, the source said. CNBC first reported on the possibility of such funding Friday.

JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Morgan Stanley, which is also advising the company, might take part in a DIP financing, the source said.

Ahh, DIP financing. Rhymes with RIP financing, which is both a clever warning to the soon to be demised and the noise the assets make when the vultures tear into the corpse, leaving the debt behind. The banks will try to buy the good stuff, only after making a generous reorginization loan to get the company back on its feet...minus a few choice assets bought at pennies on the dollar, of course. After all, these banks are salivating to get at CIT Group's customer base, thousands of various businesses that would become customers of the big guys.

What offer will the megabanks make CIT Group that they can't refuse, I wonder? We'll see shortly. The clock is ticking.

Wendell Potter And The Order Of The Profits

Via the always excellent Crooks and Liars, here's another remarkable interview with Wendell Potter, the former CIGNA insurance PR head who I talked about last Sunday. This time, Potter is on MSNBC's The Ed Show, and I'm very glad to see Ed Schultz is taking the time to interview folks like Wendell Potter.

The most intersting part of the interview:

SCHULTZ: Where are the insurance companies making their big profits when it comes to health care? What are they doing to consumers?

POTTER: What they`re doing to consumers is, number one -- they`re shifting a lot more of the financial burden from them and the employers onto the shoulders of working men and women. And they also are very actively looking at claims when they`re submitted. And they`re acting -- taking action to dump people when they`re sick, either in the individual market or in the small groups.

So a lot of small employers no longer can afford health care because of the actions taken by the insurance companies to get rid of them when their employees` claims are a little bit higher than the underwriters expected.

SCHULTZ: Mr. Potter, do you think that there`s a lot of people in the industry that feel the same way you did but just didn`t follow the action you took?

POTTER: Absolutely, I know there are. I`ve gotten just dozens, actually hundreds of e-mails from people that I have worked with in the past. And most of them now former Cigna employees and employees of other companies who know me and have sent me communications to sell me, "I wish I had done that."

There are many who feel the same way.

Go ask any hospital administrator or doctor's office manager or your employer's insurance claims processor. They'll be the first ones to tell you that the point of the industry is always find a way to deny the claim. It's how insurance companies stay in business. They hire people whose job it is to find a way to deny the claim.

Keep that in mind when the Sensible Centrists tell you "Well, we don't need a public option. The private sector can do it better."

How do we know? It's not like we have that choice now, do we?

They keep saying a public plan will put private insurers out of business. Why would that be? Because the public plan wouldn't have to have the overhead? The public option would be held to the same rules as the private plan. But the people would want the public option. Over 100 million people would switch by some accounts, and that of course would put some insurance companies out of business.

Why is that a bad thing again? Would not the public plan need insurance adjusters and actuaries and claims agents too? Or the private insurers could compete by lowering costs. Imagine that.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Via Atrios, a reminder to our fiscal conservative friends that just because you cut social programs, it doesn't mean people magically stop needing them and that everything's going to be okay.

It means you have to fall back on what often ends up being more expensive "free market" solutions to taxpayers because the system that has to fill in the gaps for the lost programs fall into that whole "we're not doing this unless we make a stinkin' huge profit" category, dig?

Those pesky human variables keep mucking up the libertarian utopia.

Running A Numbers Game

Sick of proponents on both sides in the climate change debate using individual weather events rather than long-term climate patterns to bolster their arguments,'s Nate Silver does the blogoverse a huge favor and lays down the law on the difference between the two. He's also putting his money where his stats are.
John Hinderaker at the popular conservative blog PowerLine reports that it's been cold, cold, cold in his home town of Minneapolis, Minnesota, going to far as to compare it with "The Year Without a Summer", 1816, when global temperatures were abnormally low as a result of the eruption of Mount Tambora:
I don't think things are quite so bad this year, but if something doesn't change pretty soon 2009 may go down in history, in some parts of the U.S. at least, as another year with barely any summer. Here in Minnesota and across the Midwest, temperatures are abnormally cold. I don't know whether the phenomenon is world-wide--data that will answer this question have probably not been assembled, and may not be honestly reported--but the current low level of solar activity suggests that the cooling trend could indeed be universal.
Indeed, it's been pretty cool in Minneapolis for the past couple of days; the temperature hasn't hit 70 since midday Thursday. But has it been an unusually cool summer? No, not really. Since summer began on June 21st, high temperatures there have been above average 15 times and below average 13 times. The average high temperature there since summer began this year has been 82.4 degrees. The average historic high temperature over the same period is ... 82.4 degrees. It's been a completely typical summer in Minneapolis, although with one rather hot period in late June and one rather cool one now. (Note: actual high temperatures can be found here and historical averages can be found here.)
To paraphrase Jim Croce: "You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger and you don't mess with Nate Silver's numbers."
The rules of the challenge are as follows:

1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.
2. The challenge proceeds in monthly intervals, with the first month being August. At the end of each month, we'll tally up the winning and losing days and the loser writes the winner a check for the balance.
3. The challenge automatically rolls over to the next month until/unless: (i) one party informs the other by the 20th of the previous month that he would like to discontinue the challenge (that is, if you want to discontinue the challenge for September, you'd have to tell me this by August 20th), or (ii) the losing party has failed to pay the winning party in a timely fashion, in which case the challenge may be canceled at the sole discretion of the winning party.

Any takers? You can reach me by clicking the 'Contact' button at the top of the page.

EDIT: No takers yet. Eligibility will remain open through Monday (the 20th). Limit three contestants within any one 100-mile geographic radius.

And sorry for all the typos, etc. Been a long week.
Somehow, I don't think anyone's going to want to take Nate up on his challenge, even playing for $25 a day.

But I certainly hope somebody does, if only so Nate can prove his point about the number of intellectually dishonest arguments about climate change out there. Climate is long-term by definition, folks. Yearly patterns, decade-based patterns, century-based patterns. And based on those long-term patterns, things are getting warmer.

Yes, we've had ice ages before, long before man ever invented combustion engines. It's the rate of change in just a short period of time that should be worrying people. And that rate of change is increasing. If it keeps up, bad things are going to happen, weather patterns and events will become more extreme and dangerous.

It's about 71 here in Cincy at noon. Normally we should be in the upper 80's. Two years ago in July Cincy had a record number of hundred-degree days. Does this mean global warming is a hoax? No...but it does mean we are seeing more weather extremes in both directions...and that instability as the Earth loses the ability to regulate the planet's temperature due to environmental effects is the real issue. Yes, the planet is trying to compensate for us polluting the atmosphere. If you over-compensate, that's when you lose control. You get shocks to the system, short and extremely violent weather events that are well above and well below the averages...and lots more of them. It's like an unbalanced race car tire developing a wobble due to a loose lug...eventually that wobble will, over time, cause the wheel to come flying off. That's the difference between climate and weather. Weather is the individual daily wobbles in the system. Climate is the long-term results of that wobble. And the loose lugnut? Pollution. Climate numbers are showing that the weather wobbles are getting to be too much.

Putting too much pressure too quickly on any system will break it, folks.

Village Chief Auditions: Chuck Todd

Back on Wednesday, I talked about Double G calling out NBC's Chuck Todd on the difference between reporting the news and actively advocating the Village position that Obama should kill any effort by AG Eric Holder to investigate torture. As Greenwald said:
It's the establishment press that stands most stalwart against investigations. They believe, as Richard Cohen so memorably put it when railing against the Lewis Libby conviction, that "it is often best to keep the lights off." Few things explain better what has happened to our political class than the fact that (with some important exceptions) it is establishment journalists who are the most aggressive opponents of investigations of high-level government lawbreaking. Trying to prevent investigations of their friends, colleagues and bosses in political power is one of the few times they're willing so explicitly to turn themselves into advocates, as Chuck Todd did here.
I missed getting back around to this story until today, but Chuck Todd did indeed go on Greenwald's radio show later to discuss the issue. I respect Chuck Todd for doing that, but Greenwald tore him a new one anyway (emphasis mine):
CT: The political conversation is this: What message does that send if we have this political trial, and how do you know this won't turn into a political trial? In fact, we know it's going to turn into a political trial. I'll take that back - we don't know whether it's going to turn into a political trial. That is the experience of how these things have worked in the past, that end up getting turned into a political trial. And then....

GG: What do you mean by that? What is a political trial?

CT: Let's take this a step further. I want to ask you - I do respect your legal mind on this - what happens when there is a - 'cause one of the reasonings that I hear about going through with these prosecutions is that you need to send a message to the world, and to the future administrations, that this is not the way that the American government should conduct itself.

If you have this trial, and there is, inevitably, some appeals and some, where we have a back-and-forth, where there is some sort of, where it becomes a legal debate about whether so-and-so can go on trial, or not go on trial, what was allowed - they were, they thought that they were following the law, that they, you know, what message does that end up sending? Does that end up harming us down the road? Do you worry about that, if it's not a clean cut as it feels to you right now?

GG: I don't know what you mean. Here's what I think about this: here's how our system of government is supposed to work. We have laws that are enacted by the United States Congress, by the American people through their Congress, that say that if you do certain things -- if you do X, Y, and Z -- those are crimes. We have laws in place that say that anyone who engages in torture, or who authorizes torture, is committing a felony.

If people do that, and the prosecutor concludes that there's evidence to suggest that they've done it, there's one of two things to do. You either apply the rule of law to those government officials, the way that American citizens have the law applied to them when they commit crimes, or you announce a policy, the way that I think you were suggesting on this show -- and I think the transcript's pretty clear that you weren't only talking about what the Obama White House thinks, but you were describing this as being your view; that's certainly how both Mika Brzezinski and Pat Buchanan understood what you were saying --

But leave that aside. The other alternative is to say that when government officials break the law, because we're afraid of political controversy, or disharmony, we're not going to apply the rule of law to them. And what I don't understand is, if that's the route that you take, why would future presidents ever feel compelled to obey the law if they know that there's going to be this great media voice saying that it's too political, too controversial to prosecute them? Why would any political official ever abide by the law?

CT: But you're assuming a black and white. I mean, the whole point of those OLC memos was showing that they were getting a set of, that the interrogators were potentially getting legal advice to, and in fact what the Bush administration was trying to do, was trying to find a legal way. They were trying to find a legal way, they were trying whatever, which is, of course, my - as a non-lawyer - my frustration with the law sometimes - is that the law isn't clear cut. And instead, what do lawyers get paid to do? They get paid, in many ways, to find a legal way around to do something, to prove that some way is legal and to stretch what the law --

GG: But that's not the role of Justice Department lawyers to stretch the law. The president is not the client of the Justice Department lawyers --

CT: I understand that that's--

GG: They're not there for that purpose, and if they're doing that, then they're bastardizing their duties. They're distorting the law, they're not applying the law.

Stop and think about this. Chuck Todd is worried about the political damage of actually investigating administration officials. Glenn Greenwald is worried about the legal damage of not investigating administration officials. That's the microcosm of the entire argument. Which choice will do the least harm to America in the long run?

Double G, being a legal expert, says that violating rule of law harms America more. Chuck Todd, being political news director for a major TV network, says the political damage to the country is the larger problem.

But notice Todd's framing of the argument. Everything legal must be run through a political lens, because in Chuck Todd's world, everything is political. Chuck Todd's job is in fact to discuss and deal with the people and the issues in the political arena. Chuck Todd believes people who want to see Bush officials investigated are only doing it for political reasons. Todd cannot bring himself to believe that there is even the possibility that there could be valid legal reasons, because to Chuck Todd, all legal reasons are simply applied political ones.

His remark that "And instead, what do lawyers get paid to do? They get paid, in many ways, to find a legal way around to do something, to prove that some way is legal" reveals everything you need to know about Chuck Todd's feelings about what this is. To him, the law is what politicians say it is. "Laywers are there to find ways to make things legal." Left unspoken is the addition "when they are illegal now." That is what Chuck Todd believes laywers do, manipulate the interpretation of the law for political reasons. That is Chuck Todd's reality of the purpose of law, and it is the Village reality as well: Political reality shapes law.

We are not a nation of laws to the Village. We are a nation of political reality that shapes law.

But what really strikes me is that Todd is afraid that investigating the Bush administration sets a terrible precedent, that is, a sitting President attacking a former President's administration is an abuse of political power subverting the law for political purposes. What Todd fails to realize is that by not investigating torture, his fears of setting a terrible precedent of abusing the law for political purposes has already come to pass, and that he is trying to aid and abet it.

If Chuck Todd is running for Village Chief of the Obama era, he had a hell of a job interview for it last week.

Another Dispatch From Post-Racism America

The election of Barack Obama has meant a lot of things to African-Americans like myself, an upwelling of pride, hope, and joy. It has also meant an increasingly grim realization that we still have a long way to go in race relations in this country as incidents like this one from California prove.
In the past several months Atwater City Councilman Gary Frago has sent at least a half-dozen e-mails to city staff and other prominent community members containing racist jokes aimed at President Barack Obama, his wife and black people in general.

In all, the Sun-Star obtained seven e-mails that Frago sent from October 2008 to February 2009 from an anonymous source.

Some compared Obama to O.J. Simpson while others suggested that "nigger rigs" should now be called "presidential solutions."

Perhaps the most overboard e-mail was sent on Jan. 15. It read: "Breaking News Playboy just offered Sarah Palin $1 million to pose nude in the January issue. Michelle Obama got the same offer from National Geographic."

Frago admitted sending the e-mails, but showed no regret. "If they're from me, then I sent them," he said. "I have no disrespect for the president or anybody, they weren't meant in any bad way or harm."

You sent a joke implying the First Lady of the United States was in fact an animal or a primitive tribeswoman rather than a highly-educated black woman, and you meant no disrespect?

Screw you, asshole. No, seriously. I see that idiotic excuse all the time, "Well I didn't mean any disrespect or anything bad by getting a cheap thrill out of a degrading, tasteless set of racist jokes referring to the President as a 'nigger' among other things and then sent the jokes to all my other friends."

Yeah folks, I know. We've all got that friend who means well, who'll occasionally tell you that racist joke (yes, people will in fact tell a black guy racist jokes on occasion, usually it's one about Asians or Latinos, causing me to say "So, do you tell your Latino friends jokes about me there? Not cool.") or a misogynist joke or a homophobic joke or an anti-religious joke of some sort. We all know a guy like that. He (or she) is not a bad person, they don't think they are a bad person. They just think it's a funny joke. What's the harm in a funny joke?

The harm comes of course when you fail to tell your buddy there that it's not okay.

The list of people who either sent or received the e-mails reads like a who's who of Atwater community and political leadership, including a county supervisor, a former police chief, a city manager, a former city council member, a former president of a veterans group, a former grand knight of the Knights of Columbus, among others.

All the jokes that Frago sent originated from others, the e-mails show. Those who could be identified were Bob Rieger, a retired Atwater city works employee; Michael McIntyre, a Merced resident; and Lee Aldridge, a retired Air Force colonel in Alabama.

Most of the recipients said they do not recall receiving the e-mails and several of the senders either do not remember sending them or claim they were not meant to be harmful.

Still, a few of the senders and a recipient said they saw no harm in any of the jokes sent.

Black community leaders called the e-mails outrageous, revealing that American society has not left behind some of its racist past.

While recent racial barriers have been broken -- such as the election of a black president -- and most outright racial and prejudice is not acceptable in public, local civil rights activists and others believe the e-mails illustrate the racism that lingers behind some doors assumed to be closed in Atwater and America.

And you know, the crazy thing is that people have to be taught racism. If you've ever seen a kindergarten class, you know little kids don't give a damn about race or religion, they just want to finger paint and pet kitties and make a mess in the kitchen and play kickball and hug each other when somebody skins a knee. You have to go out of your way to teach a kid how to dehumanize a particular group of people so that they grow up and treat people different from them like garbage. You have to ingrain that into them. You have to make it okay to laugh at racist jokes and then send those jokes to other people because you want to reinforce the social more that racist jokes are okay.

You have to stay silent and not speak out against things like that for it to spread.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not okay. And the reason it's not okay is that nobody deserves to be dehumanized and degraded like that. Nobody. We're all human beings here. It's a wonder we haven't killed ourselves yet, frankly.

But it won't change unless we change. And it starts with you and me.

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