Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Cashes Out Already?

Turns out that Cash For Clunkers has too many clunkers and nowhere near enough cash...the program, which started July 1 (and really didn't get underway until last week on the 24th when claims could be processed) has already run through the entire $1 billion allocated to it.
The so-called "Cash for Clunkers" program will be suspended because the funds set aside for the effort are on the verge of running out, Capitol Hill sources told CNBC.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has notified key senators that the program will "run out of money at midnight tonight," sources said.
That means there was only enough money in the program for about 222,222 of those max $4,500 rebates, and America apparently went through THAT number like, well, the program was going to run out of money or something. You figure some got the $3,500 rebate or less, so maybe that's 250,000 people, but that's the insane part, because yesterday, and I mean yesterday as in July 29th, the Kansas City star was reporting that only $150 million of the $1 billion had been allocated.
Consumers who want to take advantage of the cash assistance deal for new cars have to move relatively quickly and make sure they understand the rules. Help is available on the Web and on the showroom floor. The government has said it will spend the billion dollars on the program or pull the plug on it by November — whichever comes first.

Judging by the initial enthusiastic reaction, the government won’t have much trouble giving away the taxpayer funds. By Wednesday, more than $150 million had been allocated to new car buyers.

There’s already talk about a second, similar effort in 2010. However, federal officials ought to see exactly how Cash for Clunkers works out over the coming few months before renewing it.

That plug apparently is going to be pulled today, less than 24 hours after this story ran. It's out of money as of midnight. Guess consumers had to move REEEEEEEALLY quickly.

Now, either 200,000 clunkers got traded in today across the country on an average July Thursday, or something's the hell up. Yes, it's possible that the government just got around to getting all the paperwork done, but to suspend the program after just one week of claims being processed, for $850,000,000 worth of clunkers to get processed in one, maybe two days? I mean did all the paperwork just land today? All of it? To go from $150 million to the full one billion dollars in the middle of the week like that?

Naah. This stinks. Something's damn weird here. And I hope people follow up on this. This one's setting off alarms. I dunno if it's bait and switch, I dunno if it's massive fraud, I dunno if the Kansas City Star story is off by $700,000,000, or the program was just an order of magnitude too small, but something is not right.

[UPDATE 9:15 PM] The qualification list for eligible "clunkers" was changed on Tuesday by the EPA, with about 75 models delclared ineligible, and 75 other models declared eligible. I wonder what effect that had on the program.

[UPDATE 9:32 PM] MSNBC is indeed reporting that the massive backlog of unprocessed clunker deals from July 1 has prompted the government to suspend the program.
Through late Wednesday, 22,782 vehicles had been purchased through the program and nearly $96 million had been spent. But dealers raised concerns about large backlogs in the processing of the deals in the government system, prompting the suspension.

A survey of 2,000 dealers by the National Automobile Dealers Association found about 25,000 deals had not yet approved by NHTSA, or nearly 13 trades per store. It raised concerns that with about 23,000 dealers taking part in the program, auto dealers may already have surpassed the 250,000 vehicle sales funded by the $1 billion program.

"There's a significant backlog of 'cash for clunkers' deals that make us question how much funding is still available in the program," said Bailey Wood, a spokesman for the dealers association.

So, looks like my answer to my own question is answer number four...the program was way, way too small for the number of clunkers people wanted to trade in. With 13 unprocessed claims for 23,000 dealers, that's 299,000 claims, meaning the program is most likely over its limit by 49,000, plus the 22,000 already processed...a little math here shows the program could be...oh, $250 million over its limit already.

That's a major league foul-up on the part of the lawmakers who designed this one, meaning I get to add Democrat Stupidity to the Stupiditags down there: Democrat Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio, come on down! You've made a government program that worked too well for once, so well it in fact burned itself out.


Fish, Barrel, Gun

Ted Kennedy will be one of 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August, along with Dr. Stephen Hawking, Billie Jean King, Sidney Poitier, Jack Kemp (posthumously) and Desmond Tutu, among others.

Needless to say, the Weekly Standard's Rachel Abrams could barely contain herself on the issue of Teddy getting the award:
But of Mr. Kennedy it can most assuredly be said that he has been “an agent of change” in his lifetime—and especially with respect to one Miss Mary Jo Kopechne, for whom he was “an agent of change” in the most essential way. Indeed, he “lifted up his fellow citizen”—right off Dike Bridge and into Chappaquiddick’s Poucha Pond. And yes, it really was “an imperfect world” when he left her there to drown, but he successfully “improved it” by running away and not reporting the accident until the next day. And he did, with “relentless devotion,” use every means at his disposal (and, being a Kennedy, they were legion), overcome the very “great obstacle” this event might have presented to his political career.

So bravo, Mr. President, for singling out such a deserving medalist, and bravo, Sir Dunksalot—you’ve earned it!

Yeah, class act there Rachel, hitting the guy with the brain cancer right in the crotch with something folks like you have been swinging at Kennedy for 40 years now. I doff my hat to thee.

You win a Blogger Ethics Panel award for that one. On the other hand, this is the same award that Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol and Paul Bremer got, so maybe Sen. Kennedy should turn down the offer.

Ironically, should Teddy's health care legislation pass, you might be able to have a doctor do something about that gaping chasm in your soul there where some basic human decency should be.


So You're Saying There's A Catch, Then?

Zachary Roth, doing yeoman's work over at The Muck is reporting that the same U.S. Army colonel that wrote this memo on Iraq:
Referring to the Iraq Security Forces, the memo said: “The massive partnering efforts of U.S. combat forces with I.S.F. isn’t yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition. We should declare our intentions to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Iraq by August 2010. This would not be a strategic paradigm shift, but an acceleration of existing U.S. plans by some 15 months.”

Before deploying to Iraq, Colonel Reese served as the director of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, the Army’s premier intellectual center. He was an author of an official Army history of the Iraq war — “On Point II” — that was sharply critical of the lapses in postwar planning.

Colonel Reese’s memo comes at a sensitive time in the Iraq conflict as American forces are gradually shifting to an advisory role. American combat troops moved out of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities last month, as required by the Status of Forces Agreement concluded by the United States and Iraq.

Colonel Reese’s memo lists a number of problems that have emerged since the withdrawal. They include, he wrote, a “sudden coolness” to American advisers and the “forcible takeover” of a checkpoint in the Green Zone. Iraqi units, he added, are much less willing to conduct joint operations with their American counterparts “to go after targets the U.S. considers high value.”

The Iraqi Ground Forces Command, Colonel Reese wrote, has imposed “unilateral restrictions” on American military operations that “violate the most basic aspects” of American-Iraqi agreement.

“The Iraqi legal system in the Rusafa side of Baghdad has demonstrated a recent willingness to release individuals originally detained by the U.S. for attacks on the U.S.,” he added. apparently the same Colonel Reese that wrote this "memo" on Obamacare.
Entitled "The Camel's Nose of Health Care," Reese's post takes an alarmist, paranoid, view of the president's plan to reform health care, and rehashes many of the most far-fetched, misinformed, and flatly false fears about reform that currently circulate on right-wing blogs and email lists.

Reese warns that "the inexorable logic of government health care costs will drive big brother to intrude ever more deeply into your life in the vain hope of making it work by making you work to change your life." He adds: "[M]any in government will seize this as the opportunity to shape your lives in their image of the new dependent class."

Later, he warns that health-care reform will bring on rationing so extreme that a future couple will be forced by the government to abort a damaged foetus:

More Orwellian will be this, "Mr. and Mrs. Jones, while we appreciate your desire to give birth to your fetus, but its deformity / disease / syndrome exceeds allowable limits over its expected lifespan."

Reese also invokes future "restrictions on your lifestyle," again imagining a conversation between a government bureaucrat and a patient:

Mr. Smith, I see you have failed to lose the 25 lbs we have been talking about during your last three required checkups. I'm afraid we are going to raise your premiums 25% until you lose the weight. Or you could join the walking club at the government health club next door; as long as you walk every day with them we'll keep your cost share as it is now. But smoking is right out - give it up in 30 days or be denied care.

And Reese suggests that the government will use food vouchers to force people to eat healthier foods, thereby reducing medical costs:

Mrs. Brown, here is your new food voucher for the month. It has been encoded to allow the purchase of balanced combination of food items specially tailored to maintain a healthy, "low health care cost you," based on your medical history and condition. It can be used at any government approved grocery or supermarket, just buy the correct number of each type of item as shown on the attached printout. If you try to purchase an item that doesn't have the ObamaCare stamp on the label, the cashier will simply remove it from your basket.

You can read the whole thing here.

Yeah, turns out the guy's a regular on and posted both items there on July 20th. Absolutely nice grab by the Muckraker crew. Reading his archived copy of the original Iraq post, it's actually a very coherent and moving argument for our accelerated withdrawal. As he says, "The use of the military instrument of national power in its current form has accomplished all that can be expected." His comment on the June 30th handover to Iraq that "The limitations place[d] on US combat operations are no so restrictive as to make our presence here irrelevant to the overall security situation" is something I've talked about before, our troops are being hamstrung by the Iraqis and are being left on the inside of a shooting gallery. Payback is a bitch. Declaring victory and going home in 2010 instead of 2011 makes absolute sense at ths point. There is nothing another 30 months in Iraq will accomplish for us, other than more deaths. I absolutely agree with the Colonel on this point.

Which is what makes Zachary Roth's discovery all the more shocking. If this guy is the same Colonel Reese (and indications are so far that they are) then as coherent and persuasive as his argument on Iraq is, his view of health care reform is bugnuts, assuming that the kind of health care Americans will receive will be all of the worst aspects of Walter Reed's Building 18 plus the worst aspects of the military bureaucracy he has apparently come to know and loathe over 30 years, describing the nightmare scenario a few paragraphs above where the government seeks to control every aspect of Americans' lives to make sure taxpayers get the maximum benefit of their dollars.

The reality of course is that the health care reform legislation being discussed includes none of those draconian measures, and he somehow neglects to include the fact that insurance companies already have a nightmare bureaucracy out there that we all have to deal with, that deny us care based on cost-benefit analysis anyhow, that's how insurance companies stay in business.

It bothers me that a person that can write such an intelligent and reasoned defense on one subject, and then goes off into insane-o-land on another.

Then again, I'm betting some of you say that about me, too.

Here endeth the lesson.

The Spooky Invisible Hand Of Karl Rove

Least shocking political news headline of 2009 is breaking here from the WaPo's Carrie Johnson: "Rove Had Heavier Hand in Prosecutor Firings Than Previously Known"(emphasis mine):
Political adviser Karl Rove and other high-ranking figures in the Bush White House played a greater role than previously understood in the firing of federal prosecutors almost three years ago, according to newly obtained e-mails that shed light on a scandal that led to mass Justice Department resignations and an ongoing criminal probe.

The e-mails and new interviews with key participants reflect contacts among Rove, aides in the Bush political affairs office and White House lawyers about the dismissal of three of the nine U.S. attorneys fired in 2006: New Mexico's David C. Iglesias, the focus of ire from GOP lawmakers; Missouri's Todd Graves, who had clashed with one of Rove's former clients; and Arkansas's Bud Cummins, who was pushed out to make way for a Rove protege.

The documents and interviews provide new information about efforts by political aides in the Bush White House, for example, to push a former colleague as a favored candidate for one of the U.S. attorney posts. They also reflect the intensity of efforts by lawmakers and party officials in New Mexico to unseat the top prosecutor there. Rove described himself as merely passing along complaints by senators and state party officials to White House lawyers.

The e-mails emerged as Rove finished his second day of closed-door-testimony Thursday about the firings to the House Judiciary Committee. For years, Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers had rejected efforts by lawmakers to obtain their testimony and their correspondence about the issue, citing executive privilege. The House of Representatives sued, igniting a court fight that was resolved this year after discussions among lawyers for former president George W. Bush and President Obama.

Robert D. Luskin, Rove's attorney, said, "I certainly can confirm that Karl answered all of the committee's questions fully and truthfully. His answers should put to rest any suspicion that he acted improperly."

Rove and Miers, as well as other Bush administration figures, still could be called to testify at a public hearing on Capitol Hill. Transcripts of their behind-closed-doors accounts could be released by the House Judiciary panel as early as August under the terms of the court settlement.

At the same time, assistant U.S. attorney Nora R. Dannehy continues to investigate whether the firings of the prosecutors and the political firestorm that followed could form the basis of possible false statements, obstruction of justice or other criminal charges. Rove and Miers each met with Dannehy this year.

This looks like it has the potential to meet 3 or 4 of the 5 requirements of Nate Silver's EMPSCAT test, (Is it sound bite worthy, is it against the core element of the person, does it prove a negative perception about the person, and can the opposition use the scandal without looking foolish, with #5 being "Is the media bored?")

Certainly during the August recess, the Village won't have wall-to-wall Washington news, and should those potentially juicy transcripts be released in the August news dead zone, it could be a clean EMPSCAT sweep. Granted, Karl Rove isn't a political candidate, but he does represent a large chunk of the Bush/GOP brand, and it certainly won't help the GOP to remind voters why they dumped the Republicans in 2008 should this become the big news story in a hot, boring recess month.

Then again, this could become the bext Scooter Libby flameout, too. I don't know. But I seriously doubt that this story is going away, and I'm thinking the White House isn't going to be terribly upset if the Village lays off the race issue and healthcare for a bit.

We'll see where it goes. Zachary Roth at the Muck has more.

Next, Look Up George Washington

Via Melissa McEwan at Shakesville:

Ahh, the power of national criminal databases. It's like apparently like Wikipedia, only with rap sheets and a few more mug shots. It must be tempting to just look up people in them if you're a cop. Of course, misusing that information is a major no-no, but that's besides the point.

The point is, if there's one person out there where trying to run a background check on would get you neck deep in Internal Affairs, the media, the Feds, the Secret Service, G.I. Joe, and black helicopters flown by government ninjas carrying little water bottles full of Vitamin Screwed, it would be Barack Obama.
Two DeKalb County police officers have been placed on paid administrative leave after an investigation revealed they ran a background check on President Barack Obama.

A representative for the DeKalb County CEO’s office identified the officers as Ryan White and C.M. Route.

Officials said Obama’s name was typed into a computer inside a DeKalb County police car on July 20 and ran through the National Crime Information Center.

The secret service was immediately notified and contacted the DeKalb County Police Department.
Oh, my favorite part?
It is unclear why the officers ran a check on the president.
Oh gosh, why would anybody want to question the background of the President? Why, I can't think of anybody who would seriously be questioning that on or before July 20th.

Can you?

[UPDATE 5:40 PM] Well actually, the answer to my rhetorical question above there is Pam Gellar, who apparently believes that Obama is in fact smart enough to con us all into electing him President, but not smart enough to take his Top Ultra Secret Black Ops Code Umbra Rainbow Barry Hussein X criminal record off the federal NCIC database, which these two cops would have found in like 10 seconds if it hadn't been for the Secret Service's super compartmentalized code word access only Obama Crime Database Hacking Squad.

The media wouldn't have checked that one first or anything. Nope. They're in the tank for Obama, right Pammy?

Message And Messenger

Greg Sargent gets wind of The Axe's marching orders for House Dems before they leave this weekend for recess.
With a House Dem bill closer to reality, the battle will shift to a new phase: Selling it. And according to an email to House Dems that was sent over by a source, Axelrod and top White House health care adviser Nancy DeParle will be attending a breakfast with members to discuss “health care reform messaging.”

“This meeting is MEMBERS-ONLY,” the email reads, meaning no press and no staff.

The health care delay has dramatically upped the stakes for the White House and individual members of Congress, who will be at home for a month while their constituents are strafed by advertising from all sides. As Nancy Pelosi put it today, “insurance companies are out there in full force carpet bombing” in a “shock and awe” campaign.

“We have a month where 256 members will be in their districts with a bill to sell,” a senior Dem aide tells me. “Axelrod is going to talk to them about getting out and there selling it. House Dems are going on the offensive in August.”

And hopefully next week, the same meeting plans will be made for the 60 Democratic senators. I'm encouraged mightily that the White House is finally treating this with the seriousness that it deserves.

The Dems have completely dropped the sales pitch on health care reform, and they've flubbed it from the beginning. By not putting out specifics, the GOP has ever so kindly filled in the public with snuff fantasies for old people and medical fascism nightmares where government bureaucrats assign you to die by dartboard because your life is costing too much taxpayer scratch.

Might want to spend the next month, I dunno, fighting back.

Meet Lucy And Her Football

(Via AmericaBlog) Somebody want to explain to me with with 60 Democrats in the Senate, why the decisions on the top legislative priority of the year, affecting basically every American out there, are being made by a Senator from the minority party representing the least populous state in the nation?

Enzi, who spoke while leaving the Capitol on Wednesday night, echoed Grassley’s desire for more time before he’d agree to a deal.

“We have huge parts that have not been discussed yet. We have other parts that we asked questions on that we haven’t gotten answer back yet. I don’t know how we make decisions on those parts — they’re pretty big issues,” Enzi said.

“You can’t say you got to do it in a week, you got to do it in a month,” he said. “You got to do it in the amount of time it takes.”

Enzi, a soft-spoken conservative, was furious about headlines Wednesday morning that suggested he was close to reaching a deal with the Democrats.

“I felt my reputation was in danger,” he said.

He issued a statement batting down the stories and insisted any deal he might ultimately sign onto would have to be preserved by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Reid when it is merged with other more liberal legislation in the Senate and House.

“I’m not interested in lending credibility to disaster,” Enzi said.

Let's review.

Mike Enzi represents the least number of Americans in the Senate as Senator from Wyoming.

He is in the minority party where the majority has a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate.

He is now making demands that his legislation defines the entire bill.

Somebody please explain to me what in the name of Kal-El, son of Jor-El, is going on here, and why Harry Reid's response is not "And Mike Enzi can walk back to Wyoming and suck off a mountain goat?" Anyone?

I can explain it, but my explanation is that the Democrats are a bunch of useless, greedy, corporate whores. So, if anyone has a better explanation, I'm all ears.

[UPDATE 4:13 PM] Well, Harry Reid says he can count to 60...but he still needs Republican support for the bill. We "can't do it without Republican support" he says.

Which means the dude obviously can't count to 60. At what point do the Democrats consider jettisoning Reid?

Asterisks For Everybody

As if Boston didn't have enough problems this week, the NY Times is reporting that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz tested positive for steroids during the Red Sox's 2004 world championship season.
Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, the sluggers who propelled the Boston Red Sox to end an 86-year World Series championship drought and to capture another title three years later, were among the roughly 100 Major League Baseball players to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, according to lawyers with knowledge of the results.

Some of baseball’s most cherished storylines of the past decade have been tainted by performance-enhancing drugs, including the accomplishments of record-setting home run hitters and dominating pitchers. Now, players with Boston’s championship teams of 2004 and 2007 have also been linked to doping.

Baseball first tested for steroids in 2003, and the results from that season were supposed to remain anonymous. But for reasons that have never been made clear, the results were never destroyed and the first batch of positives has come to be known among fans and people in baseball as “the list.” The information was later seized by federal agents investigating the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes, and the test results remain the subject of litigation between the baseball players union and the government.

Five others have been tied to positive tests from that year: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Jason Grimsley and David Segui. Bonds, baseball’s career home runs leader, was not on the original list, although federal agents seized his 2003 sample and had it retested. Those results showed the presence of steroids, according to court documents.

The information about Ramirez and Ortiz emerged through interviews with multiple lawyers and others connected to the pending litigation. The lawyers spoke anonymously because the testing information is under seal by a court order. The lawyers did not identify which drugs were detected.

Unlike Ramirez, who recently served a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy, Ortiz had not previously been linked to performance-enhancing substances.

Scott Boras, the agent for Ramirez, would not comment Thursday.

Asked about the 2003 drug test on Thursday in Boston, Ortiz shrugged. “I’m not talking about that anymore,” he said. “I have no comment.”
I can't say I'm shocked about Manny or Big Papi, really. Juicing has been going on for years in baseball, and I'm not honestly sure anyone really cares too much anymore.

Maybe that comes from not growing up in a major league city, nearest MLB games for me growing up were the Atlanta Braves. Minor league baseball we had buckets of in western NC however.

Having lived in Minneapolis and now Cincinnati, I do notice baseball more, but people in the Twin Cities cared much more about hockey, and here in Cincy we're more worried about Pete Rose than Manny. Still, that does throw a wrench into that 2004 Red Sox miracle season. They may have beaten the Curse, but they may never lick the Asterisk.

Budweiser, King Of Parks

Via David Dayen at Calitics, it turns out California's state parks are turning to corporate sponsorships to try to keep them open.
State parks officials and nonprofit organizations scrambled Wednesday to find funding and possibly new corporate sponsors to keep as many as 100 parks and beaches open after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed an additional $6.2 million out of the state parks system.

Budget cuts also suspended a land conservation program that has been hailed as a key to preventing sprawl and easing economic pressure on farmers and ranchers.

State officials won't finalize a list of park closures until Labor Day and said they hope to see the parks reopened in one to two years.

"We are actively seeking anyone who can help us with these places, all of them jewels, at a time when people need them most," said state parks Director Ruth Coleman.
Hey, why not? I'm sure there's plenty of corporate citizens who wouldn't mind a lucrative deal to slap logos on every tree they can find in some of these parks, right?
"We're reaching out to all possible partners -- cities, counties, nonprofits, banks, corporations, newspapers, individuals -- who would be interested in helping us," said Roy Stearns, spokesman for the state parks department. "Maybe we can find agreements that don't alter, commercialize or degrade our state park system.

"For example, if Budweiser came forward with money for Malibu Beach State Park, we wouldn't change the name to Budweiser Beach," he said. "But why not put up a banner saying, 'This park is kept open by Budweiser' for as long as they continue helping us?

"Will it work?" he added. "We really don't know. We're not sure what awaits us at the end of this road."
I do. It's classic disaster capitalism. Underfund something to the point the corporate world has to step in, declare big government is a failure, have the good corporate citizen "help out financially" and then wonder why government is full of conflicts of interest, graft, corruption, and pay-for-play sleaze. You can bet the corporate sponsors won't "alter, commercialize or degrade" the state park system at first, it would be bad press after all. They'll wait until the jobs, the revenue, and the system become dependent on the corporate partnership, then start making helpful suggestions.

Is it better to close the parks instead? No...but ask yourself whose fault it is that the parks are closing in the first place.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Justin Barrett's mea culpa:
A Boston police officer who sent a racially charged e-mail protesting newspaper coverage of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. apologized Wednesday night and said "I am not a racist."

Justin Barrett, 36, admitted using the term "jungle monkey" in writing about the arrest of the Harvard professor by a Cambridge police sergeant.

"It was a poor choice of words. I did not mean to offend anyone," Barrett told NewsCenter 5's Cheryl Fiandaca.
My response to those three statements?

"Bullshit, you're damn right, and bullshit." In order.

Enjoy your free time there, man. You're going to have an awful lot of it. I personally suggest taking up a constructive hobby to help you reflect on your life, like photography or creative writing or not being a racist asshole.

Meanwhile, Pam Spaulding asks some very important questions while I try to cool off for a while:
Help me out here -- If Officer Justin Barrett's that transparent in his racism and yet doesn't consider himself racist, what in his mind constitutes racism? Burning a cross on a lawn? Lynchings? Unleashing dogs and training high-blast fire hoses on people? Fire-bombing a church and killing four girls? If that's the line that people like Barrett draw to cleanse their consciences of any ability to say or do anything racist, then we are so far away from a post-racial society that I want to weep.
Tell me about it. I was up at 3:30 AM over this guy, trying to find one redeeming quality in a guy who supposedly had the duty to protect and serve when all it was apparently was a way to make this guy feel powerful at the expense of others. This guy really didn't think he was being a racist. It's staggering. Whatever race sensitivity training these cops are going through in Cambridge or Boston, they need to get the city's money back.

It's the good cops out there in the country who should be the most upset, regardless of race. They are the ones who still have to go out there and clean up after this mess day after day long after the media attention is over. And they'll have to deal with the next incident like this, wherever it may be.

Post-racial era, my ass.

Stop Picking On Bibi

Now, I'm the first guy to admit the Palestinians are a disingenuous mess that can be just as intransigent and stubborn...even more so than Israel at times. However, the whole insanity over Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is just ridiculous, the concept of the United States asking Israel to not build settlements in land Israel originally took from the Arabs by force seems like a no-brainer on the path to peace.

But asking Israel to actually do something they're not to fond of is of course frowned upon by our own Village Chiefs, in today's unsigned WaPo editorial on the subject that Obama is just too darn mean to Bibi and Friends.

In part the trouble was unavoidable: Taking office with a commitment to pursuing Middle East peace, Mr. Obama faced a new, right-wing Israeli government whose prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to accept the goal of Palestinian statehood. In part it was tactical: By making plain his disagreements with Mr. Netanyahu on statehood and Jewish settlements, Mr. Obama hoped to force an Israeli retreat while building credibility with Arab governments -- two advances that he arguably needs to set the stage for a serious peace process.

But the administration also is guilty of missteps. Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu's initial concessions -- he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations -- Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement "freeze." Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the "confidence-building" concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu. And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active during the Bush administration's final year, have yet to resume.

U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab world -- a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place. At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed. If he is to be effective in brokering a peace deal, Mr. Obama will need to show both sides that they can trust him -- and he must be tough on more than one country.

Those peace negotiations have yet to resume because Israel has no intention to stop building settlements. All this is is a game of chicken, Bibi fully expects the pressure that Israeli interests in the US can bring to bear on the Obama administration will get him to drop the settlements issue and Israel can go back to the "America as our sugar daddy" relationship that they are used to, and the Obama administration is fully expecting the pressure they can bring along with the rest of the international community to get Bibi to back down.

But categorizing Obama's insistence that Israel follow through on the settlement freeze as a "misstep" is the main problem with the level of discourse (or lack of it) we have in America concerning Israel. The last eight years have been horribly one-sided. Both sides have blood on their hands, both sides need to make sacrifices and changes. I can understand the political climate in Israel right now dictating what the Prime Minister can and cannot do, but America setting limits is not automatically asking Israel to commit suicide here.

As long as Israel is getting billions in aid and military equipment from the American taxpayer, I think we have the ability to call some shots down there. People conveniently forget that.

GOP Lifeclocks All On Lastday

Greg Sargent reminds us that the Medicare end-of-life debate has been around for a while, and that it started again this year at least not in the House, but in the Senate. The GOP has been unfairly attacking the House Democrats for including that provision in their health care bill, railing against it as a "measure to euthanize seniors".

But it turns out over in the Senate that a similar bi-partisan measure to include the same type of counseling in Medicare was introduced earlier this year by Senators Jay Rockefeller (a Democrat) and Susan Collins (a Republican).
This sharply undercuts the GOP and conservative claim — unless, of course, you believe Collins backed an initiative she thinks could lead to mass government extermination of the elderly. Though this talking point has been debunked multiple times, conservatives and GOP leaders like John Boehner continue to employ it with abandon.

On May 22nd, Senators Collins and Jay Rockefeller introduced the “Advance Planning and Compassionate Care Act,” according to a press release sent over by a source. The measure provides Medicare funding “for advance care planning so that patients can routinely talk to their physicians about their wishes for end-of-life care,” the release says.

Collins praised the measure, which may be included in the Senate health care bill, in the release. “Our legislation will improve the way our health care system care for patients at the end of their lives,” she said, “and it will also facilitate appropriate discussions and individual autonomy in making decisions about end-of-life care.”

Which is almost exactly what the House measure provides for. Funny how that works. The bill was referred to Max Baucus's committee with little fanfare.

Forbes has a very good article on both the APCCA in the Senate and the House health care bill:

The end-of-life language originates from a different bill, called the Advance Planning and Compassionate Care Act, introduced earlier this year by Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. In addition to the consultation, which Medicare will pay for every five years, the bill also says that patients will be informed about the benefits of hospice and palliative care. Hospices are facility or home-based services for terminally ill patients to receive pain medicine and other comforts before they die.

The proposed legislation says that patients should be instructed on how to write an advanced health care directive. It defines standard categories of care that can be included in such a document as nutrition, hydration, antibiotics and resuscitation in the event of a lack of pulse. It also would create a tracking system to see if doctors are promoting advanced care directives and following them. Sen. Rockefeller's office released a statement Friday saying the measure has bipartisan support as well as the backing of groups like the AARP.

Why the focus on end-of-life care? Sen. Rockefeller announced at the time of the original bill's introduction that he wants to encourage the use of hospices and help families make the right decisions as death approaches.

Yet end-of-life care is also a key issue when it comes to slowing the growth of health care costs. About a quarter of all spending by Medicare, more than $100 billion, takes place during a patient's final year of life. President Obama has made reference multiple times to the fact that his grandmother received an expensive hip replacement while she was terminally ill with cancer, holding it up as an example of spending that sometimes takes place near the end of life. He's wondered whether the country can afford those kinds of bills, even though he said he would have paid for grandmother's hip out of pocket.

Which is true. End-of-life care is a massive issue, and I'm glad to see that at least some Republicans (well, one anyway) are willing to deal with it. But the rest of the rhetoric has been just absurd.
The idea that ObamaCare is promoting physician-assisted suicide for old people, or encouraging them to forgo medical care late in life, has made its way into partisan rhetoric among the bill's opponents. "[The bill] would require every senior to have a mandatory counseling session with a government bureaucrat every five years on ways to 'die with dignity;' starvation, dehydration, stuff like that," Republican strategist Lawrence Lindsey wrote in a memo.

In a post entitled "The Democratic Culture of Death is Absolutely Terrifying." one blogger wrote "First they came for our light bulbs, then they came for our SUVs. Now, they are coming for our senior citizens," Other commentators have made a connection between the bill and the Terry Schiavo episode, in which a woman on life support in Florida starved to death after a feeding tube was removed when her husband prevailed in a prolonged legal battle.

In fact, the bill says nothing about death with dignity or any other code words for euthanasia. It also does not make these counseling sessions in any way mandatory--it just says that Medicare will start reimbursing for them.

Which apparently is a massive crime, at least if you're a Republican. How this became Logan's Run, well, you'll have to ask our moderately delusional GOP House friends and their media enablers about that. The GOP decided to turn it into a talking point, strategists like Lawrence Lindsey communicated it with the usual suspects, and the Wingers and the Village Steno Pool crapped the lie back out while making fools of themselves, it's what they do best after all.

It's a cruel and degrading lie. But we are talking about the Republican Party, after all.

Well He Really Is Full Of Hot Air After All

In the immortal words of The Tick: "Cool! They've got a blimp!"
Rep. Pete Sessions — the chief of the Republicans’ campaign arm in the House — says on his website that earmarks have become “a symbol of a broken Washington to the American people.”

Yet in 2008, Sessions himself steered a $1.6 million earmark for dirigible research to an Illinois company whose president acknowledges having no experience in government contracting, let alone in building blimps.

What the company did have: the help of Adrian Plesha, a former Sessions aide with a criminal record who has made more than $446,000 lobbying on its behalf.

Sessions spokeswoman Emily Davis defends the airship project as a worthwhile use of federal funds and says it could eventually lead to thousands of new jobs in Sessions’s Dallas-area district.

But the company that received the earmarked funds, Jim G. Ferguson & Associates, is based in the suburbs of Chicago, with another office in San Antonio — nearly 300 miles from Dallas. And while Sessions used a Dallas address for the company when he submitted his earmark request to the House Appropriations Committee last year, one of the two men who control the company says that address is merely the home of one of his close friends.

Jim G. Ferguson IV — the younger half of the father-son team behind Jim G. Ferguson & Associates — told POLITICO that he and his father are trying to build an airship with a “high fineness ratio” that can be used in both military and civilian applications.

Fineness ratio is the technical term for the relationship between an airship’s length and its diameter; the higher the fineness ratio, the longer and more slender the airship is. A blimp with a very high fineness ratio could fly faster and be able to stay aloft longer — the holy grail for airship designers during the past century.

Yet Ferguson acknowledged that neither he nor his father has a background in the defense or aviation industries, nor any engineering or research expertise.

On the contrary, I think any company getting earmark cash from Pete Sessions is 100% qualified to deal with huge gasbags designed to leave solid ground way behind for the lure of the clouds.

Also, exactly what military applications do blimps (big, slow, floating, vulnerable, not very maneuverable gas-filled things) still have in 2009?

Other than as earmark sponges that cost taxpayers money.

But hey, that's just me.

[UPDATE 10:20 AM] Come to think of it, Ron Paul had a blimp. Maybe Pete Sessions wanted one too.

Can you blame the guy?

Quote Of The Week

Bob Cesca on the Mike Pence getting caught in the act of Republican health care hypocrisy: Hate government health care, Love Medicare.
This is like saying, "I hate meat. Despise it. Meat is shit. But I love beef!"

Both Sides Against The Middle

Blue Dogs: the new Mavericks.

The Village loves nothing more than a group of "sensible centrists" that can oppose legislation that the Village simply doesn't want. But that's the problem with playing both sides against the middle: you're standing in the perfect spot to get crushed between the two.
You'll notice, if you're familiar with the current debates and with some of these people, the interesting fact that some of the more vocal Blue Dogs are among those with the most comfortable margins. As I noted in a post the other day, Mike Ross of Arkansas is a leading healthcare Blue Dog. His MVM is a gaudy +67. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who helped weaken the cap and trade bill, has an MVM of +41.

You will also notice if you really study this list that McCain won many of these districts rather narrowly. In fact, he won 24 of them by 10 points or fewer. This hardly makes these districts scarlet red.

You can see also how many of these members either run unopposed or face only token opposition in these red districts. Many of them are long-time incumbents and fixtures. Even some with only modestly positive MVM figures are solid incumbents, as you can tell by looking at their margins: Gene Taylor (number 24 on the list, +50), Ike Skelton (number 31, +32), Dan Boren (number 32, +40).

My conclusion? Yes, some Democrats have to be very careful and not be seen as casting a liberal vote. But they're a comparatively small number. A very clear majority of these people have won by large enough margins that it sure seems to me they could survive one controversial vote if they some backbone into it.

But many of these folks manage to sell this story line to Washington reporters who've never been to these exurban and rural districts and can be made to believe the worst caricatures. I say many of these Democrats are safer than they contend. People need to start challenging them on this.

They are indeed a lot safer than the Village contends. After all, if they were safe district Dems playing the "I have to be conservative in this district" card all the time, why the Democratic leadership might have to knock some heads in.

The Village gets to push the Mavericks Revolt Against Despised Pelosi story, the Blue Dogs get to look like Brave Resisters, and the legislation gets watered down, which is the real point. You can accuse the Blue Dogs of a lot of things, but not knowing how Washington works is not one of them.

The only problem for the Blue Dogs is sometimes if you play in the middle of the street, you get run over by the bus. They may be ready to support a public option now, but what's left of that option isn't much of an option, and when the voters figure that out, those safe districts may not be so safe anymore.

[UPDATE 9:20 AM] What BooMan said:

I'm all for congresspeople reading the legislation before they vote on it, but that isn't why the Blue Dogs want to avoid a vote before the recess. The Blue Dogs are clearly trying to defeat health care reform, and Ms. Herseth Sandlin, at least, isn't even doing much to hide that fact.

They are basically bragging about their progress.

May be a long recess for some of them. "I need a four-week vacation from my three and a half day work week to do my job" tends to not go over well in an economy like this.

If It's Thursday...

New jobless claims up to 584,000, continuing claims down slightly to 6.2 million. Getting to the point where we are starting to see people exhaust their unemployment benefits, despite extensions included in the stimulus package, and off they fall into U-6 land.

Luckily there's starting to be more unemployed to replace them. Joy. We're starting to reach equilibrium, however.

Welcome to the new normal.

Make The Other Guy Pay For It

This poll shows the broad problem with America right now: everybody agrees they want to lower the deficit, but nobody wants to make sacrifices.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said that they were not willing to pay more in taxes in order to reduce the deficit, and nearly as many said they were not willing for the government to provide fewer services in areas such as health care, education and defense spending.

Preference for deficit reduction ahead of spending to boost the economy peaks at 79 percent among Republicans, and also includes 60 percent of independents. It falls below half, to 43 percent, among Democrats.

Views of some solutions to the high deficit reflect underlying political philosophies, the poll found. Democrats are the most opposed to having fewer government services – 62 percent are against it, compared with 50 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans. Republicans, for their part, are broadly opposed to paying more in taxes – 69 percent are, compared with 56 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats.
In other words, Republicans want everyone else to lose services they don't want to pay for, just not their entitlements, tax cuts and loopholes. Democrats want everyone else to pay taxes to foot the bill for their services, just not raising taxes on the "middle class".

What we end up with is a California situation. Something's got to give here, and soon. Politicians are afraid of leveling with the people, and you're going to get more and more states going all one way (either massive tax hikes or massive service cuts) than asking everyone to pay.

It's going to take both, folks. It's the only fair way to do it.

The Case For Specifics

The latest NBC/WSJ poll shows the President's numbers on health care are falling in a general sense, but the more specific pollsters were about the Democrats' health care plan, the more people liked it:
As Congress works on its legislation and as Obama campaigns to get an overhaul enacted, 42 percent now say that the president’s plan is a bad idea, which is a 10-point increase since last month. Thirty-six percent say it’s a good idea.

In addition, 39 percent — a plurality — believe that Obama’s plan would result in the quality of their health care getting worse. That’s 15-point jump since April.

And just 41 percent approve of the president’s job on health care, which is nearly identical to Bill Clinton’s scores from 1994, when he failed to get Congress to pass health care reform.

But the poll — which was taken of 1,011 adults from July 17-20, and which has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points — also reveals a clear split between those who have private health insurance and those who don’t.

Americans who have private health insurance disapprove of Obama’s job on health care by a 51-38 percent margin. Those who lack insurance, however, approve of his job, 52-29 percent.

Also, when read the specifics of his goals for health care — like requiring insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions, providing low-income families with subsidies to help them afford insurance, and raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for the subsidies — 56 percent say they support Obama’s plan. Only 38 percent oppose.

Hart, the Democratic pollster, thinks the Obama White House might see that finding as a silver lining in this survey. According to him, it means, “If I can get my message out, I am going to be there.”

That's a huge jump: a +18 margin for specific goals as opposed to -6 for a general plan. That means the better the Democrats can work out the details and get the message out that "this is what the plan will contain", people will listen.

Right now there are just a bunch of nebulous plans with big dollar figures attached rather than focusing on the "what's in it for me?" part of the benefit. People need to be told what they are going to get for this money. That's what the Democrats are going to have to do in August, get the message out and more importantly the President himself has to draw some big, thick lines in the sand and say "Our health care reform plan will have X, Y, and Z."

Americans want specifics. Right now, the GOP is filling in what they say are the specifics, scaring people into "hating the government plan", attacking "government euthanasia" and other distortions. It's because the Dems won't commit to specifics yet.

The battle here isn't at 50,000 feet, it's at ground level. People want to know how this will affect them personally. They are ready to listen to specifics, guys. Let's see some leadership from the top.


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