Monday, August 24, 2009

Last Call

Obama's first September 11th anniversary as President is important as he sets a new national tone. Needless to say, there are those who want the day to remain a day of abject fear and obedience to neo-con ideals.
The Obama White House is behind a cynical, coldly calculated political effort to erase the meaning of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks from the American psyche and convert Sept. 11 into a day of leftist celebration and statist idolatry.

This effort to reshape the American psyche has nothing to do with healing the nation and everything to do with easing the nation along in the ongoing radical transformation of America that President Obama promised during last year's election campaign. The president signed into law a measure in April that designated Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service, but it's not likely many lawmakers thought this meant that day was going to be turned into a celebration of ethanol, carbon emission controls, and radical community organizing.

Perish the thought! September 11th should be a day when we wet ourselves in terror and scream out in anger and anguish instead of moving on, trying to find closure to a dark period in out history. And what is the American Spectator so afraid of?
The plan is to turn a "day of fear" that helps Republicans into a day of activism called the National Day of Service that helps the left. In other words, nihilistic liberals are planning to drain 9/11 of all meaning.
It's nihilistic not to want to be at war with the entire Muslim world, you see.

Funny how that works.

The Bigger Picture

Obama's struggle to sell health care is affecting his standing not only in the United States, but with other foreign leaders. Some of them are betting against Obama in a big way now as M.J. Rosenberg points out.
Today's Ha'aretz reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is giving Special Envoy George Mitchell his answer on the matter of Jerusalem's status and settlements.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to tell the special U.S. Mideast envoy on Monday that Israel will not accept any limitations on its sovereignty over Jerusalem, and will allow settlers to continue to live in the West Bank," the paper reports.

In other words, Netanyahu is flat-out rejecting the President's proposals and is also telling the Palestinians that they can forget about negotiations. He knows that if the book is closed on Jerusalem and settlements the Palestinians will understand that all they can do is negotiate the terms of their surrender.

I hear from Israel that Netanyahu's rebuff to Obama is a direct result of his perception of Obama's declining fortunes here. He sees what is happening with the health reform issue and Obama's fall in the polls and believes he can prevail over, what he hopes is. a President on the ropes permanently.

This is just one more reason for Obama to forget about Republicans and Blue Dogs and enact the strongest bill possible -- with a powerful public component -- by including health care reform it in the reconciliation bill and passing it with a simple majority.

It would be nice if Obama would realize that getting screwed over by the GOP is killing his foreign policy agenda in addition to his domestic agenda, and putting America at risk on at least some level. If Netanyahu feels he's in a stronger position right now, then nothing will happen in the peace process.

Avoidance Therapy

Been loathe to delve into the Michael Jackson mess, but apparently the L.A. County Coroner just ruled Jackson's death a homicide.
The document unsealed Monday allowed officials to raid the Houston offices and storage facility of Dr. Conrad Murray last month.

According to the warrant, Murray, Jackson's personal physician, had been treating the singer for insomnia with the sedative for six weeks. According to the document, Murray said he had been trying to wean Jackson off the powerful sedative by using smaller doses in combination with the sedatives lorazepam and midazolam.

On the morning Jackson died, Murray said he tried to induce sleep without using propofol, starting first with valium at 1:30 a.m. When Jackson was still awake at 2 a.m., Murray injected Jackson with lorazepam, then injected him with midazolam at 3 a.m. Murray told police he administered several other drugs over the next few hours.

By 10:40 a.m., Jackson, still unable to sleep, urged Murray to give him propofol. Murray said in court documents that he administered 25 milligrams of the drug at that time, then left Jackson alone under the influence of the drug to make phone calls to his Houston office. When he returned, Jackson was not breathing. He performed CPR while a member of Jackson's staff called 911. The singer was rushed to UCLA Medical Center where he was declared dead sometime later.

A sad, strange case indeed.

Holder Makes His Play, Part 2

This is turning into a hell of a busy day for the Department of Justice. The Washington Post is reporting that AG Eric Holder will name career prosecutor John Durham as the special prosecutor to look into Bush torture allegations.
Durham's mandate, the sources added, will be relatively narrow: to look at whether there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale criminal investigation of current and former CIA personnel who may have broken the law in their dealings with detainees. Many of the harshest CIA interrogation techniques have not been employed against terrorism suspects for four years or more.

The attorney general selected Durham in part because the longtime prosecutor is familiar with the CIA and its past interrogation regime. For nearly two years, Durham has been probing whether laws against obstruction or false statements were violated in connection with the 2005 destruction of CIA videotapes. The tapes allegedly depicted brutal scenes including waterboarding of some of the agency's high value detainees. That inquiry is proceeding before a grand jury in Alexandria, although lawyers following the investigation have cast doubt on whether it will result in any criminal charges.

Word of Holder's decision comes on the same day that the Obama administration will issue a 2004 report by the then-CIA Inspector General. Among other things, the IG questioned the effectiveness of harsh interrogation tactics that included simulated drowning and wall slamming. A federal judge in New York forced the administration to release the secret report after a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.

This has just gotten huge, and all I have to say is it's about time. But what price will Obama and Holder pay for this?

Max Baucus Returns, Part 5

Via Bob Cesca, Max Baucus has seen the light and has become a believer. Hallelujah!
U.S. Senator Max Baucus has finally broken his silence regarding his personal position on including a public option in health care reform legislation. Last Monday night (8/17), in an unprecedented conference call to Montana Democratic central committee chairs, the powerful leader of the Senate Finance Committee told his strongest supporters that he supported a public option.

While discussing the obstacles to getting a public option through the Senate, he assured his forty listeners, "I want a public option too!"

The conference call was groundbreaking in that none of the recipients could ever remember this kind of call ever happening before. The teleconference was set up seemingly in reaction to rising discontent among the local Democratic leaders with the Senator's failure to take a clear position on the issue.

The discussion, which became contentious and rancorous at times, also touched upon the wisdom of creating insurance cooperatives as an alternative to a public option. When several of the county chairs objected, commenting that they did not trust the health insurance companies to police themselves and limit their outrageous corporate profits, Baucus commented, "Neither do I."

As Cesca notes, perhaps Sen. Baucus' increasingly lousy poll numbers in Montana on health care have prompted this Come To Jesus moment.
The poll, however, showed that 49 percent of Republicans approved of the senator's actions on health care, while 38 percent disapproved. Independents were split, with 41 percent approving, and 42 percent disapproving – though in an apparently anomalous response to a separate question, 27 percent of independents said they would be less likely to vote for Baucus if he approved a public option, nearly twice as many as the 15 percent who said they would be more likely to vote for him if opposed it.
Considering Baucus has higher numbers among Montana Republicans than Democrats on health care right now (34% approve, 55% disapprove compared to the Republican numbers of 49-38) means he's very, very vulnerable on this issue and more importantly he's finally figured out which side he's on.

Holder Makes His Play

The Justice Department's ethics office is recommending a full investigation into Bush-era torture cases that the Bush DoJ closed out.
The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.’s inspector general but have never been released.

When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general’s findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder’s associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider.

With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the issue at the expense of his own agenda.

The advice from the Office of Professional Responsibility strengthens Mr. Holder’s hand.

The recommendation to review the closed cases, in effect renewing the inquiries, centers mainly on allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Justice Department report is to be made public after classified information is deleted from it.

The cases represent about half of those that were initially investigated and referred to the Justice Department by the C.I.A.’s inspector general, but were later closed. It is not known which cases might be reopened.
Needless to say, the Republicans and certain Democrats in Congress are far more worried about this than Obamacare. The torture investigations are the main event in DC right now, not healthcare. Healthcare is in fact a secondary consideration.

There are an awful lot of people who are going to refuse to go along with Obama at all on anything until he gives and ironclad guarantee that Eric Holder is dropping this case. It appears that Holder will certainly proceed.

Obama's entire agenda just got a lot harder to deal with. On the other hand, America does need to get to the bottom of these cases. The cost to Obama politically however is going to be the death of his entire domestic agenda. I'm not sure if he's aware of that, but if you thought the Republicans were recalcitrant now, just wait.

[UPDATE 2:00 PM] Preisdent Obama has taken interrogations out of the hands of the CIA and has put the FBI in charge of them, which is a dramatic shift in power and scope.

The change is based on the recommendation of an interrogation task force established by Obama shortly after taking office in January.

The interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group will be overseen by the National Security Council and "draw on interrogators from defense, intelligence and law enforcement," a senior administration official said.

The group will be tasked in part with ensuring that future interrogations comply with restrictions outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual.

The manual provides "adequate and effective means" of conducting interrogations, the administration officials said, though they left open the possibility of adding new methods based on the latest scientific research regarding "best practices" for interrogation.

"There will be full transparency" regarding any new techniques that might be allowed as a result of such research, one of the officials said.

If that's true, then there's officially a war on between the White House and the CIA, and it could get very, very ugly.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Yggy on the Dems:
Obviously one answer could be that some Democrats prefer to see health reform defeated, but owing to their partisan allegiance don’t want to come right out and say that.
Isn't that, you know, a massive problem?

Republicans can't defeat this legislation. Only the Democrats can. If we have Democrats that think the insurance companies are more important than the American public, then the Democrats are basically going to be right back where they were in 1994.

Death Panels For Veterans

The lies and half-truths never stop.

Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of National Review Online, went on Fox News today to fan the flames of the latest fabricated "death panel" controversy.

Goldberg equated a Veterans Affairs pamphlet -- one that's reportedly no longer being used -- with Nazi eugenics, saying "death panels may not be too far off the horizon."

The pamphlet in question is one that, Fox reported this weekend, encourages disabled veterans to decide whether their lives are worth living. Tammy Duckworth, an assistant secretary of the VA, told Fox on Sunday that the department instructed VA doctors to stop using the pamphlet in 2007.

But Fox has ignored that insistence, saying soldiers returning from Iraq are given the pamphlet.

"This goes into the realm of valuing whether life is worthy of life, as the Germans used to say," Goldberg said today.

Never mind that this of course means Bush and the Republicans created the pamphlet in the first place. Obama's killing veterans with his health care death panels!

It never stops. The GOP will stoop to any level in order to kill this legislation.

Stopped Clock Is Right Alert

Via John Cole, it turns out that even Ross Douthat can't go zero for eternity and actually gets one right this week.

In reality, the health care wrestling match is less a test of Mr. Obama’s political genius than it is a test of the Democratic Party’s ability to govern. This is not the Reagan era, when power in Washington was divided, and every important vote required the president to leverage his popularity to build trans-party coalitions. Fox News and Sarah Palin have soapboxes, but they don’t have veto power. Mr. Obama could be a cipher, a nonentity, a Millard Fillmore or a Franklin Pierce, and his party would still have the power to pass sweeping legislation without a single Republican vote.

What’s more, health care reform is the Democratic Party’s signature issue. Its wonks have thought longer and harder about it than any other topic. Its politicians are vastly better at talking about the subject than Republicans: if an election is fought over health care, bet on the Democrat every time. And for all the complexity involved, it’s arguably easier to tackle than other liberal priorities. It’s more popular than cap and trade, it’s less likely to split the party than immigration and it’s more amenable to technocratic interventions than income inequality.

If the Congressional Democrats can’t get a health care package through, it won’t prove that President Obama is a sellout or an incompetent. It will prove that Congress’s liberal leaders are lousy tacticians, and that its centrist deal-makers are deal-makers first, poll watchers second and loyal Democrats a distant third. And it will prove that the Democratic Party is institutionally incapable of delivering on its most significant promises.

You have to assume that on some level Congress understands this — which is why you also have to assume that some kind of legislation will eventually pass.

If it doesn’t, President Obama will have been defeated. But it’s the party, not the president, that will have failed.
In other words, it's Congress, stupid.

Yes Harry Reid, I'm looking straight at you. Your job as Senate Majority Leader is in fact to pass legislation. You're failing miserably. And yes, Ross Douthat is right. It's not Obama who's going to take the fall for this if this fails, it's the Democrats in the House and Senate.

Your Daily Dose Of Doctor Doom

The Great Roubini warns that we're still in danger of a secondary recession stemming from the global response to the financial crisis.
Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor who predicted the financial crisis, said the chance of a double-dip recession is increasing because of risks related to ending global monetary and fiscal stimulus.

The global economy will bottom out in the second half of 2009, Roubini wrote in a Financial Times commentary today. The recession in the U.S., the U.K., and some European countries will not be “formally over” before the end of the year, while the recovery has started in nations such as China, France, Germany, Australia and Japan, he said.

Governments around the world have pledged about $2 trillion in stimulus measures amid the worst worldwide recession since the Great Depression. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and other global policy makers have cautioned that the recovery is likely to be muted, indicating they would not soon remove all the stimulus injected into the financial system.

“There are risks associated with exit strategies from the massive monetary and fiscal easing,” Roubini wrote. “Policy makers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”

Government and central bank officials may undermine the recovery and tip their economies back into “stagdeflation” if they raise taxes, cut spending and mop up excess liquidity in their systems to reduce fiscal deficits, Roubini says. He defines “stagdeflation” as recession and deflation.

Stagdeflation as defined there would be a catastrophe. The GOP plan for the economy would certainly lead to this effect. The question is whether or not Obama will be able to continue spending in order to help things along. The GOP will raise taxes too, they'll just call it something else and kill spending while doing it.

We'll see. Remember, as the real estate market continues to collapse, we're seeing trillions in wealth vanish from the country. That's your major deflationary pressure right now.

Still No Penalties For Lying

As Steve Benen details, there's just no penalty for the GOP lying on TV. The Village gets them right back on to continue to lie, even when the Villagers have to call the GOP out. This week's example? GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) appeared on ABC's "This Week," and raised a number of arguments that proved Hatch doesn't understand health care reform. He argued, for example, that reform would force "up to 119 million people into Medicaid," which isn't even remotely accurate. He added that members of an Independent Medicare Advisory Council will determine "what kind of health care you're going to have," which is just crazy.

Seven days later, "Meet the Press" decided to reward Hatch for his performance by having him address health care again. This time, he argued that the Congressional Budget Office concluded that "tens of millions of people" would lose their private insurance, go with the public option, and "destroy the private health industry."

David Gregory, to his credit, had his facts straight and intervened. "Well, wait a minute, Senator Hatch, that's not right. The Congressional Budget Office did not say that.... The CBO said that, in fact, those enrolled in private insurance plans would go up by three million, and they estimate that about 10 million people, only 10 million people go into a public plan. 'Tens of millions,' that's different than 10 million."

Hatch, undeterred by reality, responded, "Well, that's plenty. Others are saying up to 119 million people."

The "119 million" number is the same bogus claim Hatch repeated last week, which is still completely wrong.

But it doesn't matter. Sen. Hatch will be invited back again and again on MTP and the other Sunday shows in order to lie about Obamacare. He'll get called out, but he'll be back again and again.

There's effectively no penalty for him to lie on national television. And Howard Kurtz keeps wondering why there's a trust issue with the Village these days. Fascinating.

Obama's Vietnam, Take Two

I hate to spoil the NY Times' fun, but Newsweek was calling Afghanistan "Obama's Vietnam" way back in February. Still, in the last couple of weeks the press has really run with Afghanistan as fully Obama's problem now, especially in light of the allegations of election fraud in that country.
The possibility that more troops will be needed in Afghanistan presents the Obama administration with another problem in dealing with a nearly eight-year war that has lost popularity at home, compounded by new questions over the credibility of the Afghan government, which has just held an as-yet inconclusive presidential election beset by complaints of fraud.

The assessments come as the top American commander in the country, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has been working to complete a major war strategy review, and as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, described a worsening situation in Afghanistan despite the recent addition of 17,000 American troops ordered by the Obama administration and the extra security efforts surrounding the presidential election.

“I think it is serious and it is deteriorating,” Admiral Mullen said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “The Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated, in their tactics.” He added that General McChrystal was still completing his review and had not yet requested additional troops on top of the those added by Mr. Obama.

The American commanders in Afghanistan spoke this weekend with Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past two days, Mr. Holbrooke visited all four regional command centers in Afghanistan, and the message from all four followed similar lines: while the additional American troops, along with smaller increases from other NATO members, have had some benefit in the south, the numbers remain below what commanders need. The total number of American soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan is now about 57,000. It was unclear whether the commanders told Mr. Holbrooke exactly how many additional troops might be required.
The pressure is clearly on from the defense industry to step up things in Afghanistan, and the Vietnam references are being done on purpose. Obama's domestic agenda will not be what he is remembered for if Afghanistan falls apart. We need to find a way out and fast. We literally can't afford to stay there for another eight years.

Lots More Busted Banks To Come

In 2009 we've already seen 81 bank failures in eight months, and one analyst says we could see another 150 to 200 more failures before all is said and done.
A prominent banking analyst said on Sunday that 150 to 200 more U.S. banks will fail in the current banking crisis, and the industry's payments to keep the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp afloat could eat up 25 percent of pretax income in 2010.

Richard Bove of Rochdale Securities said this will likely force the FDIC, which insures deposits, to turn increasingly to non-U.S. banks and private equity funds to shore up the banking system.

"The difficulty at the moment is finding enough healthy banks to buy the failing banks," Bove wrote.

And as bad as the forced consolidation of the banking industry is, the really scary part is the cost of this bailout.
Bove said the FDIC will likely levy special assessments against banks in the fourth quarter of this year and second quarter of 2010.

He said these assessments could total $11 billion in 2010, on top of the same amount of regular assessments. "FDIC premiums could be 25 percent of the industry's pretax income," he wrote.

And while the banks are going to be paying into the FDIC failure fund to the tune of billions, it's the American taxpayer who is going to get stuck with all the bad assets once all the smoke clears.

We're just not out of the woods yet, folks.


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