Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Last Call

With the Dow closing up at its best level in six months and the S&P 500 at its best level in 8 months, it's interesting how Obama is magically no longer being attacked for tanking the markets. In fact, the usual suspects assured us that the January 20 to March 8 descent was "Wall Street's verdict on Obama's policies."

Dow's gone up since then. Obama's policies are still destroying untold wealth, only...umm...making it go up.

Now personally, I believe the stock market has next to nothing to do with Obama's policies and everything to do with people buying because they thought March was the bottom of the market and the recession. I don't believe that's the case, and I think we're going to get hurt again.

But you notice how even with a near 30% gain in the markets since March, Obama's policies mysteriously have nothing to do with Wall Street's success, according to the folks who say that Presidents make markets, only its failure. Granted, every President takes hits like that, but you know...Presidents don't control the market any more than anyone else does. They can certainly contribute, but we're still dealing with Bush's "contribution" not Obama's.

Birther Of A Nation, Part 3

AmericaBlog's Joe Sudbay takes a look at the Village response to the Birther-mania out there this week and finds very different responses from CNBC's Chris Matthews and CNN's Rich Sanchez and Lou Dobbs.
The absurdity knows no bounds. Today, Taegan noted that CNN's Lou Dobbs had joined the crazy birther movement. Dobbs did it on his radio show, not CNN, but he's most identified with CNN. Most of the birther crowd has been hanging out at FOX, but Dobbs joined in.

Also today, actually on CNN, Rick Sanchez went after the birthers in a big way. I watched it live and it was fantastic. I couldn't find video, but Rachel Weiner at Huffington has a report:
It's a "completely unfounded story," Sanchez said, and then repeated himself for emphasis. "There's something strange about even having to do this story," he said, but so many people believe it that "it needs to be addressed."
Lou Dobbs should watch CNN every now and then.

Jed posted a clip of Chris Matthews eviscerating one of the whacko GOP members of Congress, John Campbell from California, whose been pushing legislation on the birther issue. After telling Campbell "what you're doing is appeasing the nut cases" and "you're verifying the paranoia out there" and "you are feeding the whacko wing of your party," Matthews did get the Campbell to admit that Obama was born in the U.S.
Here's that clip from DKTV:

Go Tweety. Grew a spine and everything.

But we are seeing a large uptick in Birther activity in the last couple weeks, and this thing is starting to get out of hand, as Marc Ambinder notes:
At least nine members of Congress have cosponsored a birther bill that would require prospective presidents to affirm their U.S. citizenship. What we don't know is how widespread the belief is among Republicans -- and even if the belief is confined to a narrow minority, whether the belief will spread as Republicans begin to pay closer attention to electoral politics in 2010 and 2012. In the same way that Democrats in 2004 always got a stolen election question (which, to be fair, was at least closer to reality than the birther's claims), Republican presidential candidates need to figure out how to diffuse angry birthers who are bound to show up and demand their attention. .... The buried lede to this post: Rush Limbaugh claimed today that Obama "has yet to prove that he's a citizen." Republicans have to be extra careful. If they give credence to the birthers, they're (not only advancing ignorance but also) betraying the narrowness of their base. If they dismiss this growing movement, they might drive birthers to find more extreme candidates, which will fragment a Republican political coalition.
To this I say "Man, what behavior that you've seen lately from the Right makes you think that the GOP actually wants to diffuse this Birther stupidity?" If anything, I believe they are trying to actively encourage it.

There are more Republican co-sponsors joining the list on Mark Posey's bill, not less. If El Rushbo has weighed in on it, you'd better believe it's now An Official GOP Talking Point. In the last two weeks we've seen the Birthers cross over from the realm of Newsmax and World Net Daily to Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh. Underestimate this movement at your own peril, because I foresee a point very, very soon where people other than Lester Kinsolving are asking Robert Gibbs about Obama's birth certificate at those daily briefings.

But the real problem is what the Birther movement really represents: the belief that Barack Obama is not the legitimate President of the United States and needs to be removed from the office by any means necessary. More than a few of these folks believe he is an enemy of the state and should be treated as such. They will not stop. They will not be satisfied with anything less. Some see the movement as a joke, or as a mass delusion of some sort where harmless cranks and tinfoil lunatics hang out and swap tips on keeping the NSA out of your cereal. I assure you, for some of these folks it's deadly serious.

The more the Birther movement is encouraged by the GOP and its mouthpieces, the more it becomes a clever little meme on the intertubes and the talk radio box and the teevee, the more it grows from silliness to curiousity to zeitgeist shorthand to a rallying cry of "I do not recognize this man as our President."

Many of them will do nothing but complain and vote in 2012. But some may not be so sanguine about it. Some may decide to do something about the man they see as an illegitimate President who America needs to rise up against. A few of those may formulate a plan. A small number of those may decide to act on it. A couple may even have an opportunity.

And one may get "lucky", as it were. No. I don't find the Birthers harmless at all. I find some of them to be dangerous fanatics. And there's a mainstream political party and their media enablers who are encouraging them openly. The GOP is well aware of the potential dangers of fueling these idiots. Yet, their influence is growing, and the GOP continues to boost them anyway. What does that say about the Republican Party in 2009?

"Will no one rid America of this troublesome Kenyan?"

What's it going to take, folks?

About That Other Shoe Dropping...

An independent investigator has found evidence that Gov. Sarah Palin may have violated ethics laws by accepting private donations to pay her legal debts.

The report obtained by The Associated Press says Palin is securing unwarranted benefits and receiving improper gifts through the Alaska Fund Trust, set up by supporters.

An investigator for the state Personnel Board says in his July 14 report that there is probable cause to believe Palin used or attempted to use her official position for personal gain because she authorized the creation of the trust as the "official" legal defense fund.

The fund aims to help Palin pay off debts stemming from multiple ethics complaints against her, most of which have been dismissed. Palin says she owes more than $500,000 in legal fees.

A call seeking comment from her lawyer was not immediately returned.

Looks like Raw Story might have been right back all those distant...ummm...God has it only been two and a half weeks?


[UPDATE 5:30 PM] USA Today has picked up the AP story too, AP story updated.

Palin's friends and supporters created the Alaska Fund Trust in April, limiting donations to $150 per person. Organizers declined to say how much it has raised, and had hoped to raise about $500,000. A Webathon last month brought in about $130,000 in pledges.

In his report, attorney Thomas Daniel said his interpretation of the ethics act is consistent with common sense.

An ordinary citizen facing legal charges is not likely to be able to generate donations to a legal defense fund, he wrote. "In contrast, Governor Palin is able to generate donations because of the fact that she is a public official and a public figure. Were it not for the fact that she is governor and a national political figure, it is unlikely that many citizens would donate money to her legal defense fund."

The ethics complaint was filed by Eagle River resident Kim Chatman shortly after the fund was created, alleging Palin was misusing her official position and accepting improper gifts.

Palin was given a copy of the investigator's report a week ago, Chatman said Tuesday.

"It's an absolute shame that she would continue to keep the Alaska Fund Trust Web site up and running," Chatman told the AP.

Now things get...interesting.

Just how much money are we talking about is in that fund? If she used her office to help raise awareness or to solicit donations for her personal legal fund while in capacity as Governor...why, she'd have to resign or something.

If this was the reason she did resign, did she not think this would get out at some point? Did she believe she could secure a pundit/campaign/fundraising job before this issue was revealed? What did she think was going to come afterwards?

So, she resigned pre-emptively as an effort to what, earn points? Hell's Bells.

[UPDATE 6:56 PM] Nate Silver takes myself and others to task for using the "other shoe" metaphor, as this afternoon's political news fails to clearly pass his EMPSCAT test of "Is this scandal a major scandal?" Based on Nate's criteria, it's not...and Nate's been pretty damned good at both defining criteria and deriving conclusions based upon those criteria for quite some time now.

I have to agree with his assessment...after all, she's already going to be resigning this Sunday, and other GOP governors (namely Mark Sanford) have so far held on through much worse than a shady legal fees fund.

We'll see how this pans out.

A Winning Hand Or A Busted Flush?

With states looking for additional revenue from, well, anywhere these days, it's no surprise to see a major lobbying push for legalizing more gambling, in this case internet poker.

They're seeking regulation of Internet gaming, a change they say would reduce compulsive and underage gambling, according to John A. Pappas, the executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, whose slogan is "Poker is Not a Crime."

Members of his organization plan to meet with 100 members of Congress from 35 states this week and were to host a charity poker tournament Tuesday night benefiting the USO and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. They've enlisted the help of famous poker players such as Annie Duke, Andy Bloch and Howard Lederer.

Among those pushing legislation is Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who sees the measure as consumer protection and a potential source of revenue, since winnings could be taxed.

Pappas kicked off the lobbying effort Monday by hosting a panel to promote the benefits of lifting the gambling ban. Many American poker players have been getting around the ban since it was instituted in 2006 by using sites based in the Caribbean or the United Kingdom. The sites make up more than a third of all online poker players.

However, Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the top Republican on the House committee, condemned the gambling legislation in the works. Bachus helped write the 2006 bill, which made it illegal for banks or credit card companies to process money earned through online gambling, although it doesn't specifically define online gambling.

Bachus, in a statement, said he'd continue to support efforts to discourage online gambling.

"Illegal off-shore Internet gambling sites are a criminal enterprise, and allowing them to operate unfettered in the United States would present a clear danger to our youth, who are subject to becoming addicted to gambling at an early age," he said. "In fact, studies have shown that earlier one begins gambling, the more likely it is he or she will become a compulsive problem gambler."

When times get tough it seems, the tough turn to gambling revenues.

Internet poker for real money seems terribly easy to spoof, fool, hack or mess with, unless you have serious security, which would cost money. Look at the number of folks abusing glitches and exploits in any MMO or other online games whenever there's a software update. Are the internet gambling companies ready to lay out real cash to people should a glitch screw up a million dollar poker hand? Can't wait for the lawsuits over that.

Gambling in person is one thing. Gambling online? Seems like a busted flush to me.

Worst Reason Ever For Anything

Dr. Regina Benjamin, Obama's pick for Surgeon General, has an outstanding record across the board.
Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA, is Founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. She is the Immediate Past-Chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States, and previously served as Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. In 2002, she became President of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, making her the first African American woman to be president of a State Medical Society in the United States. Dr. Benjamin holds a BS in Chemistry from Xavier University, New Orleans. She was in the 2nd class at Morehouse School of Medicine and received her MD degree from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, as well as an MBA from Tulane University. She completed her residency in family medicine at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. Dr. Benjamin received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, and was elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees in 1995, making her the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected. Dr. Benjamin was previously named by Time Magazine as one of the “Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under.” She was also featured in a New York Times article, “Angel in a White Coat”, as “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and as “Woman of the Year” by CBS This Morning. She received the 2000 National Caring Award which was inspired by Mother Teresa, as well as the papal honor Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope Benedict XVI. She is also a recent recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.
But none of that matters, apparently. She's unqualified for the post of Surgeon General because she's too heavy.

No. Seriously.
But the full-figured African-American nominee is also under fire for being overweight in a nation where 34 percent of all Americans aged 20 and over are obese.

Critics and supporters across the blogsphere have commented on photos of Benjamin's round cheeks, saying she sends the wrong message as the public face of America's health initiatives.

Are you kidding me? Are you f'ckin joking? You cannot be serious. The Village hates anyone associated with Obama so much that we're actually having the debate if one of the most brilliant doctors America has on its shores is too overweight for the post of Surgeon General?
Even some of the most reputable names in medicine chimed in.

"I think it is an issue, but then the president is said to still smoke cigarettes," said Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard University Medical School. "It tends to undermine her credibility."

"We don't know how much she weighs and just looking at her I would not say she is grotesquely obese or even overweight enough to affect her health," Angell told ABCNews.com.

"But I do think at a time when a lot of public health concern is about the national epidemic of obesity, having a surgeon general who is noticeably overweight raises questions in people's minds," she added.

The potential for hypocrisy bothered others.

"When a teenager listens to this person I want them to listen and respond in a positive way," said Lillie Shockney, administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center. "Not say ho-hum and then drive to a fast food place."

Oh, screw that. That is by far the most idiotic, puerile, insulting, moronic, heartbreakingly stupid piece of The Stupid that I, Zandar, have ever been Versus. The Village can't find a real reason to oppose her nomination, so we're going to go with concern trolling about how her body image affects America as Surgeon General?

That's it? That's your trial balloon angle of attack? Let's fire all doctors who do not meet the Body Mass Index standards. Shitcan any doctor who has ever had a drink, a smoke, or a greasy burger in a public restaruant or a party. Hell, I saw a doctor buy a box of Count Chocula once at the grocery store. I demand her job!

I'll tell you the message Regina Benjamin would send Americans, that a truly good, talented, brilliant physician is leading the way into public service, not for money, but to help people. That a strong, intelligent Black woman from the South can hold one of the most distinguished posts in arguably one of the world's most distinguished professions...to add to her many distinguished posts and positions she has already earned through her hard work. That we aren't judging the worth of a human being by their clothing size or by the unrealistic body images that the media portrays for both men and women, but especially women. That's the message Regina Benjamin would send as Surgeon General.

Yeah, America needs to lose weight. But if 40 pounds over disqualifies you for the job, then i know a hell of a lot of Washington and the Village who need to quit too.

Good god, I am disgusted. The article at least has the fig leaf of talking to those who support Dr. Benjamin.

"I am appalled that this amount of bias and discrimination exist regarding large people," said Steven Blair, professor of exercise science at Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina. "The focus should be on Dr. Benjamin's credentials and accomplishments. What difference does her size make?"
None. Unless you're a Villager looking to make your bones off attacking her, and Obama by proxy. Assholes. Seriously.

Sus-Pension Of Belief

Via John Cole at Balloon Juice, it's not the $26.3 billion in the budget deal that's the state's problem...it's the $56.8 billion the state's pension fund lost in 2008.
California's huge government pension fund is expected to report today a whopping annual loss of an estimated $56.8 billion, almost a quarter of its investment portfolio.

The loss at the California Public Employees' Retirement System for the fiscal year ended June 30 is the second in a row for the country's largest fund. A year ago, CalPERS reported an $8.5-billion loss, as the severe recession began to take hold.

The tremendous drop in value is expected to have a direct effect on the amount of money that the state and about 2,000 local governments and school districts must contribute in coming years to pay for pensions and healthcare for 1.6 million government workers, retirees and their families.

As income from the pension investments fall, the governments would have to make up the difference to meet the state's pension and healthcare obligations.

In the fiscal year that ended a year earlier, CalPERS' holdings in stocks, private equity, real estate and commodities positions were worth $239.2 billion. They fell to $182.4 billion on June 30, down 23.7%, according to daily postings on the fund's Internet site.
But hey, readers around here have known state and local governments and state pension funds were in trouble for a while now. Why is everyone acting all suprised that pension funds, investing heavily in the stock market, tanked in 2008?
The misleading numbers posted by retirement fund administrators help mask this reality: Public pensions in the U.S. had total liabilities of $2.9 trillion as of Dec. 16, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Their total assets are about 30 percent less than that, at $2 trillion.

With stock market losses this year, public pensions in the U.S. are now underfunded by more than $1 trillion.

That lack of funds explains why dozens of retirement plans in the U.S. have issued more than $50 billion in pension obligation bonds during the past 25 years -- more than half of them since 1997 -- public records show.

The quick fix for pension funds becomes a future albatross for taxpayers.

In the CTA deal, the fund borrowed $1.9 billion by promising to pay bondholders a 6.8 percent return. The proceeds of the bond sale, held in a money market fund, earned 2 percent -- 70 percent less than what the fund was paying for the loan.

The public gets nothing from pension bonds -- other than a chance to at least temporarily avoid paying for higher pension fund contributions. Pension bonds portend the possibility of steep tax increases.

Warned you about this three months ago. Saw it coming a mile away. You think California has problems? Your state's pension is next. And by law, you're on the hook for it.
“It’s pitiful, isn’t it?” says Frederick “Shad” Rowe, a member of the Texas Pension Review Board, which monitors state and local government pension funds. “My experience has been that pension funds misfire from every direction. They overstate expected returns and understate future costs. The combination is debilitating over time.”

Rowe, 62, is chairman of Greenbrier Partners, a private investment firm he founded in Dallas 24 years ago.

Texas teacher retirement fund spokesman Howard Goldman and Calpers’s McKinley declined to comment on Rowe’s views.

Most public pension funds, like the one in Chicago, were already treading water before the 2008 stock market crash. Now they’re closer to sinking.

State government pension fund assets in the U.S. fell 30 percent in the 14 months ended on Dec. 16, losing $900 billion, according to the Center for Retirement Research.

Fund managers don’t have many options for increasing assets. They need adequate funding from state legislatures, which in many cases they don’t get. Beyond that, they’re at the mercy of financial markets.

There's another $850 billion in pension losses out there, folks. Enjoy that as the baby boomers roll over into retirement age over the next ten years.

Senators Riding Raptors

Via BooMan, the Senate has successfully amended the Defense Bill for 2010 and stripped out the additional funding for F-22 Raptor jets that the Defense Department told Congress it didn't need or even want.
It should be pretty easy to identify the states that play a part in building the F-22's. There are no more offensive appropriations that those that are for weapons that we don't need. But when Barbara Boxer is willing to vote for wasteful Pentagon spending to protect jobs in her state, you know how corrupted the system is.
Naturally, both my Senators voted against it. But Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning are just fiscally conservative kind of guys, ya know?

(P.S. The amendment doesn't actually strip the money out, it just re-appropriates it back to the Pentagon's operational and personnel budget section where it came from the first place. How messed up is that? Even when we're fighting the industrial military complex, we're not fighting it.)

Bill Kristol Discovers Debate

The Most Wrong Dude In The Punditverse (tm) suddenly discovers the need for public debate of policy and demands Congress stands up to the tyranny of giving people health care choices.
Congress should assert itself, stand up for the deliberative and democratic process, and defy this presumptuous presidential diktat.

The time to debate is now. There's plenty of time to act later.

This from the same guy who famously said on Iraq:
So the editors of this magazine wrote in the December 1, 1997, issue, whose cover proclaimed, not so subtly, "Saddam Must Go." Saddam will soon be gone, thanks to the courage of one man above all, George W. Bush, very much aided by the equally impressive courage of another, Tony Blair. Obviously, we are gratified that the Iraq strategy we have long advocated--and whose contours were further specified in that December 1, 1997, issue, in articles by Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz, Frederick W. Kagan, and Peter Rodman--has become the policy of the U.S. government, because we believe it is the right policy for the country and the world.
Oh? So...no need for standing up to a Presidential diktat there in 2003, Billy? How'd that turn out for the country and for the world, considering we're still there? If only Congress had stood up to prevent the pointless war in Iraq over ginned up, false reports of WMD in Iraq...but we can make up for it, they have to protect the country before 50 million Americans suffer untold indignities and are forever scarred by the monstrous desire of Obama to push Congress for (lightning, scary organ music) affordable health insurance.

Thunderbolts and lightning, very very fright'ning, me. Look, you'd have an argument if you hadn't come out yesterday and said your entire plan was not debate the merits of Obamacare versus the hundreds tens (umm...what Ron Wyden said) GOP health care plan (singular) out there, but to kill Obamacare entirely.
So the constructive part of the message would be: Start Over. We're not giving up on health reform. Far from it. But the only way to pass health reform is first to get rid of the misbegotten efforts now before Congress. The only way to pass health reform is to start over in the fall. The Obama plan wouldn't go into effect until 2013 anyway (except the tax increases, which would kick in in 2011). We have plenty of time to work next year on sensible and targeted health reform in a bipartisan way. But first we need to get rid of Obamacare. Now is the time to do so.
You don't get to play the "Congress isn't debating!" card when 24 hours ago you said wanted to completely scrap the plans before Congress now. That's not debate, Bill.

That's a diktat.


(Dude, 24 hours ago. Do you read your own stuff?)

In A Family Way

Via Tristero at Hullabaloo comes this story from Salon about the most influential organization in conservative politics right now, simply referred to as The Family:
The Family likes to call itself a "Christian Mafia," but it began 74 years ago as an anti-New Deal coalition of businessmen convinced that organized labor was under the sway of Satan. The Great Depression, they believed, was a punishment from God for what they viewed as FDR's socialism. The Family's goal was the "consecration" of America to God, first through the repeal of New Deal reforms, then through the aggressive expansion of American power during the Cold War. They called this a "Worldwide Spiritual Offensive," but in Washington, it amounted to the nation's first fundamentalist lobby. Early participants included Southern Sens. Strom Thurmond, Herman Talmadge and Absalom Willis Robertson -- Pat Robertson's father. Membership lists stored in the Family's archive at the Billy Graham Center at evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois show active participation at any given time over the years by dozens of congressmen.

Today's roll call is just as impressive: Men under the Family's religio-political counsel include, in addition to Ensign, Coburn and Pickering, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, both R-S.C.; James Inhofe, R-Okla., John Thune, R-S.D., and recent senators and high officials such as John Ashcroft, Ed Meese, Pete Domenici and Don Nickles. Over in the House there's Joe Pitts, R-Penn., Frank Wolf, R-Va., Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and John R. Carter, R-Texas. Historically, the Family has been strongly Republican, but it includes Democrats, too. There's Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, for instance, a vocal defender of putting the Ten Commandments in public places, and Sen. Mark Pryor, the pro-war Arkansas Democrat responsible for scuttling Obama's labor agenda. Sen. Pryor explained to me the meaning of bipartisanship he'd learned through the Family: "Jesus didn't come to take sides. He came to take over." And by Jesus, the Family means the Family.

Family leaders consider their political network to be Christ's avant garde, an elite that transcends not just conventional morality but also earthly laws regulating lobbying. In the Family's early days, they debated registering as "a lobby for God's Kingdom." Instead, founder Abraham Vereide decided that the group could be more effective by working personally with politicians. "The more invisible you can make your organization," Vereide's successor, current leader Doug Coe preaches, "the more influence you can have." That's true -- which is why we have laws requiring lobbyists to identify themselves as such.

But David Coe, Doug Coe's son and heir apparent, calls himself simply a friend to men such as John Ensign, whom he guided through the coverup of his affair. I met the younger Coe when I lived for several weeks as a member of the Family. He's a surprising source of counsel, spiritual or otherwise. Attempting to explain what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was -- or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate -- he asked a young man who'd put himself, body and soul, under the Family's authority, "Let's say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?" The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was a monster. "No," answered Coe, "I wouldn't." Why? Because, as a member of the Family, he's among what Family leaders refer to as the "new chosen." If you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply.

Now folks, I'm not sure how much of this is true. Not even sure how much of this is objective, as the article's author has written a book on the subject. But I'm sure as hell inclined to believe it, and it more than explains the fanatical anti-progressivism in the halls of Congress these days.

This "divine right of kings" stuff went out with the Magna Carta (and no, I did not misspell 'manga', go look the damn thing up.) These guys have been around for quite a long time. Obama's agenda represents a direct, existential threat to the Family. You would think Jesus would want all of his flock to be cared for by universal health coverage, for example.

Apparently Jesus is here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and simply does not have time for pursuits such as bubble gum.
One needn't be a Marxist to find fault with the Family's mash-up of New Testament and unfettered capitalism -- Adam Smith himself would have recognized that theology as a disingenuous form of self-interest by proxy. Such interests have led the Family into some strange alliances over the years. Seduced by the Indonesian dictator Suharto's militant anti-communism, they described the murder of hundreds of thousands that brought him to power as a "spiritual revolution," and sent delegations of congressmen and oil executives to pray to Jesus with the Muslim leader. In Africa, they anointed the Somali killer Siad Barre as God's man and sent Sen. Grassley and a defense contractor as emissaries. Barre described himself as a "Koranic Marxist," but he agreed to pray to Grassley's American Christ in return for American military aid, which he then used to wreak a biblical terror on his nation. It has not yet recovered. More recently, the Family has paid for congressional Christian junkets to bastions of democracy such as Serbia, Sudan, Belarus, Albania, Macedonia and Musharraf's Pakistan.

If the Family men who stood over John Ensign as he wrote a baldly insincere breakup letter to his mistress were naive about hearts that want what they want, they don't claim ignorance about the strongmen with whom they build bonds of prayer and foreign aid. They admire them. Counseling Rep. Tiahrt, Doug Coe offered Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden as men whose commitment to their causes is to be emulated. Preaching on the meaning of Christ's words, he says, "You know Jesus said 'You got to put Him before mother-father-brother sister? Hitler, Lenin, Mao, that's what they taught the kids. Mao even had the kids killing their own mother and father. But it wasn't murder. It was for building the new nation. The new kingdom."

Sen. Ensign, facing calls for an investigation of what may have been felony abuses of campaign funds in his attempt to cover up his affair, might not get there. Then again, the Family's preview of a "new kingdom" -- a private club of men protecting one another's secrets -- doesn't sound so different from the old kingdom. That's the awful secret behind the closed doors of the C Street House, the Family's authoritarian rhetoric, and even the Family's real mission: business as usual, fortified by faith in more power for the powerful and privilege itself a form of piety.

Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

I'd be surprised at the networks complaining about Obama's presser tomorrow, to the point where the White House moved it to 8 PM rather than 9 PM so we're not deprived of "America's Got Talent" (and FOX of course refusing to cover it) but after all, our liberal media is so much in the tank for Obama he can walk all over them.

Any wonder then why Obama is turning to the blogs to get his message out?

Epic Ham Boehner Boner Fail

Steve Benen runs down yesterday's Drudge Ultimate Porkulus Special on the menu, but as usual the only thing the wingers end up with is egg on their faces.
Drudge, running with contracts from the government's stimulus website, claimed that the Obama administration had spent, among other things, $1.19 million on two pounds of ham. Some conservative bloggers, following Drudge's lead, ran with the story. House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office complained about the "pork" in the stimulus. Republicans sent "blast e-mails of screenshots from the Drudge Report, highlighting the contracts as wasteful spending."

By yesterday afternoon, the Department of Agriculture felt compelled to issue a statement, explaining how terribly wrong conservatives are about this.

Through the Recovery Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made $100 million available to the states for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which acquires food that is distributed to local organizations that assist the needy -- including food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens.

The Recovery Act funds referenced in press reports allowed states to purchase ham, cheese and dairy products for these food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries that provide assistance to people who otherwise do not have access to food. This program will help reduce hunger of those hardest hit by the current economic recession.

The references to "2 pound frozen ham sliced" are to the sizes of the packaging. Press reports suggesting that the Recovery Act spent $1.191 million to buy "2 pounds of ham" are wrong. In fact, the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.191 million, at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound. In terms of the dairy purchase referenced, USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) purchased 837,936 pounds of mozzarella cheese and 4,039,200 pounds of processed cheese. The canned pork purchase was 8,424,000 pounds at a cost of $16,784,000, or approximately $1.99 per pound.

While the principal purpose of these expenditures is to provide food to those hardest hit by these tough times, the purchases also provide a modest economic benefit of benefiting Americans working at food retailers, manufacturers and transportation companies as well as the farmers and ranchers who produce our food supply.

In other words, the conservative activists who pounced on this were thoroughly confused about every relevant detail, including the underlying claim.

In other words, not having to be as nice as Mr. Benen here, Wingers fail at math nearly as badly as they fail at fact-checking, accepting the truth, dealing with reality, critical thinking skills, humor, and being, you know, correct about anything.

It's a larger problem. We get Drudge or El Rushbo or any of the other adults in the Pretty Hate Machine saying something unsourced and/or completely misinterpreted, then the Wingers jump on it like it's gospel (as the Sadly, No! guys would say, "Address my [blank] , Libs!") and then 90% of them ignore it ever happened when the truth comes out. About 10% do feel bad enough to put up a correction/retraction post, but those are just rare enough to prove the point. The rest of them either again ignore the point, or keep using the smear even after being debunked. It will get to the point where you will see the million dollar ham meme back on one of the Sunday Shows, or out of the mouths of Jim DeMint/Michele Bachmann/Mike Pence, or in a Karl Rove WSJ op-ed piece, months after this debunking came out, and it will come out challenged or unchallenged, but it will come out.

And we'll go through it again. Immortal Zombie Lies. I swear if we could harness this power for good, we could have a perpetual source of energy. Watch to see where the million-dollar ham lie strikes next.

I'm betting we'll see it again before or during budget negotiations this fall, hence into the Future Stupidity predictions pile it goes.

Oh yes, and EPIC FAIL.

Big Ben's Big Problem

Not that I'm much of a Bengals fan here in Cincy (I love my hometown Carolina Panthers), the running joke is "You know it's the All-Star Break when talk turns from how bad the Reds are to when the Bengals start play, and you know it's the Bengals bye week when talk goes from how bad the Bengals are to when the Cyclones start play."

But when our division rival Pittsburgh Steelers see their Super Bowl MVP QB Ben Roethlisberger getting in trouble over a sexual assault suit, Cincy pays attention too.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a woman in Nevada.

According to online court records, a defamation lawsuit was filed in Washoe County on Friday. Andrea McNulty is listed as the plaintiff.

Details of the suit were not available late Monday night.

Roethlisberger was one of nine defendants listed in the online court docket report.

Roethlisberger's attorney released a statement to several media outlets Monday night saying the two-time Super Bowl winner was accused of sexual assault in the lawsuit by McNulty. Atlanta-based attorney David Cornwell denied Roethlisberger sexually assaulted McNulty.

"This weekend Andrea McNulty served Ben Roethlisberger with a civil complaint accusing him of sexually assaulting her in July 2008. Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone; especially Andrea McNulty. The timing of the lawsuit and the absence of a criminal complaint and a criminal investigation are the most compelling evidence of the absence of any criminal conduct. If an investigation is commenced, Ben will cooperate fully and Ben will be fully exonerated," Cornwell said.
Needless to say, I'm thinking this case is going to expose a lot of things that you don't know, or don't want to know, about people you discuss it with. There are going to be those who say Big Ben is being unfairly attacked because of his fame, and those who will say the sheer amount of his fame shielding him is why he may be actually guilty. Sports heroes in 2009 are a tricky minefield at best.

I will only say the accusation should be taken seriously, investigated fairly, and the truth found, and as soon as possible.

Hand Over Ears Saying "Lalalalala!"

DougJ at Balloon Juice catches David Brooks in an act of intellectual dishonesty, which is much like catching the sun in an act of producing heat and light through fusion. Brooks tries to deconstruct what went wrong with the GOP in Bush's second term and can't quite figure out what the problem was...
It was interesting to watch the Republican Party lose touch with America. You had a party led by conservative Southerners who neither understood nor sympathized with moderates or representatives from swing districts.

They brought in pollsters to their party conferences to persuade their members that the country was fervently behind them. They were supported by their interest groups and cheered on by their activists and the partisan press. They spent federal money in an effort to buy support but ended up disgusting the country instead.
DougJ of course just might have the answer:
No mention of the Iraq war—that’s bold even for Bobo. Let’s say this plainly: the country initially turned on Bush—and by extension the Republican party—because of the Iraq war.

He was in negative territory by early 2005 and there’s little doubt that it was primarily because of the war. What else could it have been? The economy wasn’t bad, the press still loved him, Katrina hadn’t happened yet.

There is no way the Republican electoral disasters of 2006 and 2008 would have happened if Bush had had a healthy approval rating. And there’s no way his approval rating would ever gone so low without the Iraq war.

Which is bad enough for Brooks. But then Brooks spends the entire rest of the article going "And then the liberals will implode any second now."
We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.

Then there is the budget. Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.

Finally, there is health care. Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.

The House bill adds $239 billion to the federal deficit during the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would pummel small businesses with an 8 percent payroll penalty. It would jack America’s top tax rate above those in Italy and France. Top earners in New York and California would be giving more than 55 percent of earnings to one government entity or another.

Nancy Pelosi has lower approval ratings than Dick Cheney and far lower approval ratings than Sarah Palin. And yet Democrats have allowed her policy values to carry the day — this in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.
That's right, Nancy Pelosi is running the country, not that Obama guy. The Village goalposts for the Democratic Party have been moved to another stadium. It's no longer about President Obama, it's all about San Fran Nan.

Are we even pretending anymore that David Brooks has credibility? He's worried about crusading for the tax rates of America's wealthiest while millions of us face a health care crisis? He's worried about a stimulus package that acts primarily in 2010 rather than 2009 as signs of complete and systemic failure of the plan? He's worried about how anxious moderates are about the national debt, and all these are signs of the apocalypse?

Six months in and the President's agenda is a "suicide march". This is what the discourse in our Beltway wise men community has been reduced to, the impending end of David Brooks's entire concept of America where a 1-3% surtax on 1.2% of America is financially crippling, health insurance for all is doom for all, and Nancy Pelosi has been unleashed to prey upon our soft, tender, nubile rich people.

And he's worried about Democrats being out of touch. Ai-ya.

I swear, if you Village jagoffs make me add a Pelosi Derangement Syndrome tag in the next couple of months, I will be cross.

Dear America:

"Obama's a Democrat? Those still exist? What the hell? Has this man not gotten the Clinton triangulation memo yet? It's been six months already!"

--William McGurn, WSJ

Bonus Verbatim The Stupid:
In itself, of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with opting to forgo bipartisanship support for the sake of getting your ideas through. That, however, is not what Candidate Obama promised. And just think how the debate would change if the press were to begin describing Mr. Obama in a way that seems reserved for Republicans: a highly partisan president pursuing a narrow partisan agenda.
Because only Democrats want affordable health care, apparently. Six months in and the Village is shocked to discover Obama actually is trying to keep those promises on health care, the environment, and education. That's not why he was elected, he was elected to do what the Village tells him to do!

The nerve of the guy.

Cutting A Deal, Heavy On The Cutting Part

As expected, lawmakers and Gov. Ahnold reached an agreement last night for California's budget, and the details are going to be a shock to the system for millions of Californians.
After weeks of often-cantankerous negotiations, state officials have come up with a compromise that few who receive government services will celebrate. While the state’s health insurance program for children, Healthy Families, remains, it was cut by $144 million, meaning thousands of children will probably be on a waiting list for the program unless a private foundation makes up the balance, as the Democratic-controlled Legislature hopes.

In-home services for the elderly and infirm were reduced by several million dollars, and Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, achieved his goal of having caregivers and the recipients fingerprinted in the future with the goal of preventing fraud. While the governor wanted certain welfare benefits to be reduced from a five-year period to two years, the program was instead given an overall cut of $500 million.

Local governments will lose millions of dollars that are used to build housing, among other purposes, and the state plans to borrow roughly $2 billion in property taxes from localities, which would have to be repaid within three years. Lawmakers believe that cities and counties could in turn borrow against that borrowing; localities bankrupt or nearly so would be exempt.

One of the biggest sticking points was over the $11 billion already cut from public schools. The budget deal calls for roughly $650 million more in cuts.

Under California law, though, the state is on the hook to pay that money back, something it has not done in the past. So lawmakers have written legislation guaranteeing that the money goes back to schools. The governor had faced strong criticism from the state’s teachers’ union.

“We accomplished a lot,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said after the agreement was reached. “We made government more efficient and also we’re cutting waste, fraud and abuse.”

The governor also said, on his Twitter feed: “We’ll actually be having a CA Garage Sale at the end of Aug to auction cars and office supplies.” He will sign some of the items to increase their value.
As the REM song goes, "Everybody hurts". The scary part is that all this budget does is extend the problem down the road. That $11 billion plus has to be paid back to the state's school system at some point, as do the $2 billion raided from local governments. Nobody's going to be happy at the voting booth. We've gotten to the point where California's safety net, while not destroyed, has gaping holes in it that California Dems are hoping charities will help close. The reality is that thousands if not millions of Californians are going to suffer, and the next budget will be worse: How many people are going to see their local police, firefighters and child's schools slashed to ribbons and say "We've got to get of here." Better yet, how many of those soon to be unemployed teachers, cops, firefighters, case workers, home care aides and other state workers will have to leave and not come back?

Losing trained firefighters, cops and teachers to other states will be bad enough for lowering revenue forecasts the next time California has this battle. It's the people who can't leave, the people who don't have the resources to move, that will suffer the most. Keep a weather eye on California, folks. It's the big, big petri dish in this Great Recession experiment. The kinds of things that will take root and grow are not going to be pretty. Some of them are going to be an outright disaster.

And odds are pretty good they're coming to your state soon.


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