Friday, August 28, 2009

Fighting The Good Fight Badly

Republicans are so intent on keeping Democrats at 59 votes in the Senate that they're willing to possibly sue Democrats in order to keep them from passing state legislation that would allow Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint a successor to Ted Kennedy, as Eric Kleefield reports.
I just got off the phone with Massachusetts state Sen. Richard Tisei, the leader of the minority Republicans in the state Senate, and he confirmed to me that the GOP is not ruling out a court challenge against any possible new law to quickly fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat through an interim appointment.

Tisei said that when Democrats changed the law in 2004 to provide for special elections instead of gubernatorial appointment -- when John Kerry was running for President and Republican Mitt Romney was Governor -- the GOP offered an amendment to have interim appointments. The Democrats, he said, are all on record shooting it down back then. And Tisei says that Dems can't change the rules to fit the new circumstances of a current vacancy.

Which does in fact make the Dems look like a bunch of hypocrites, and Tisei certainly has a point. But the fact of the matter is if Democrats in the Bay State do have the votes to change state law, they're going to do it. Republicans would do the exact same thing if the roles were reversed and they know it.

Tying up the law in court until the de facto time has passed is the goal here, so neither side comes away smelling like roses, but let's be honest here: Both sides are looking to politically profit.

His Last Wishes

The Republican name that gets thrown around the most when looking back on Ted Kennedy's career is Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. How nice to know then that Sen. Hatch knew Kennedy so well that he doesn't believe that the late Senator would have supported the health care reform legislation that he wrote.
On ABC's World News, senior congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl stated that "Republicans, even those close to Senator [Ted] Kennedy, are not buying" the argument that health care reform should be passed to honor Kennedy's memory, then aired a clip of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) claiming Kennedy "wouldn't want it passed if it wasn't good." But ABC did not note that Kennedy voted by proxy to pass the Senate HELP committee's health care legislation -- a bill Hatch criticized -- and advocated for progressive policies included in the bill, such as universal health care coverage and a public plan.
Which is very odd, considering Kennedy statements about his own legislation:
"I could not be prouder of our Committee. We have done the hard work that the American people sent us here to do. We have considered hundreds of proposals. Where we have been able to reach principled compromise, we have done so. Where we have not been able to resolve our differences, we have treated those with whom we disagree with respect and patience," Chairman Kennedy said. "As we move from our committee room to the Senate floor, we must continue the search for solutions that unite us, so that the great promise of quality affordable health care for all can be fulfilled."
As I called earlier this week, prepare for Republicans to tell America exactly what Ted Kennedy's life-long dream was: not to pass his own health care legislation that he tirelessly worked for over the last 40 plus years.

Ted Kennedy's bill had everything Ted Kennedy wanted in it. Ergo, Republicans say, the best thing Congress could do is to scrap the bill. After all, somebody might use Kennedy's death to politicize health care.

In Case Of Emergency, Pray

Here in KY, a judge has struck down as unconstitutional the wording of the state's Office of Homeland Security mandate that references a dependence on the Almighty God.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said in Wednesday's decision that references to a dependence on "Almighty God" in the law that created the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security is akin to establishing a religion, which the government is prohibited from doing in the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions. Ten Kentucky residents and a national atheist group sued to have the reference stricken.

"It is breathtakingly unconstitutional," said Edwin Kagin, national legal director for American Atheists Inc. in Union, "and Judge Wingate goes to great detail as to why it is."

The judge wrote in the 18-page ruling: "The statute pronounces very plainly that current citizens of the Commonwealth cannot be safe, neither now, nor in the future, without the aid of Almighty God. Even assuming that most of this nation's citizens have historically depended upon God, by choice, for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now."

The language in the 2006 legislation had been inserted by state Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church in Louisville.

Riner said he planned to ask Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to seek a reconsideration of the order. Conway has 10 days to do that, and 30 days to appeal.
And while from a legal standpoint the law really is inordinately unconstitutional, this is also a hand grenade in the back pocket of Kentucky AG Jack Conway as he is running for Jim Bunning's seat in 2010.
A spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway says he has not yet decided whether to appeal.
Not exactly filling me with confidence there, Jack, this case seems pretty open and shut to me. I appreciate Conway has to walk a fine line with voters here in KY, but fighting for the ability to legislate a dependence on God as an emergency preparedness tool is not going to win him any friends with Democratic primary voters.

We'll see how he responds.

Odubya In My Internets

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is behind a Senate measure that would give control of the Internet to the President in case of a "national cyber emergency," among other lovely massive violations of privacy and civil liberties.
Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.

They're not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773 (excerpt), which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency.

The new version would allow the president to "declare a cybersecurity emergency" relating to "non-governmental" computer networks and do what's necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for "cybersecurity professionals," and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.

The first is bad enough, but the last paragraph is more than a little disturbing. This seems to straongly suggest that if the government defines your network as critical, that you must have this training and be approved by the government or you can't be allowed to administer the network.

The privacy implications of sweeping changes implemented before the legal review is finished worry Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "As soon as you're saying that the federal government is going to be exercising this kind of power over private networks, it's going to be a really big issue," he says.

Probably the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to "direct the national response to the cyber threat" if necessary for "the national defense and security." The White House is supposed to engage in "periodic mapping" of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies "shall share" requested information with the federal government. ("Cyber" is defined as anything having to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks.)

"The language has changed but it doesn't contain any real additional limits," EFF's Tien says. "It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous (version)...The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process. There's no provision for any administrative process or review. That's where the problems seem to start. And then you have the amorphous powers that go along with it."

Translation: If your company is deemed "critical," a new set of regulations kick in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.

The sheer number of Odubya references is starting to grate on my nerves. Unlike all the silly health care nonsense where Democrats are supposedly coming for your kidneys in the night, this issue actually is a massive concern for any free-thinking American.

Immoral Moral Hazard

AIG stock has shot up recently as investors know a good deal when they see it, a busted stock that the government cannot allow to fail and owns 80% of means that there's no downside to stock in a company that has unlimited bailout potential should things go bad. Thanks, Moral Hazard!
“Who would want to buy a stock that’s still 80 percent owned by the government?” wondered William T. Fitzpatrick, an equity analyst at Optique Capital. Shares ended Thursday at $47.84, a gain of 27 percent from the previous close of $37.69.

Yes, the company has named a new chief executive, who comes from a solid background at MetLife, and yes, he has said that A.I.G. will pay back the government for its bailout sooner rather than later. The giant insurer has been moving to change the names of key business units and working to disentangle its bewildering structure. It even reported a profit in its latest quarter.

But none of that really explains the recent gains. Speculation swirls daily that some deal may be in the works, that short sellers are being squeezed out of their positions, or that the company’s former chief executive, Maurice R. Greenberg, may be poised to make a comeback in the role of consultant. The new chief executive, Robert Benmosche, has been fueling some of the interest, as he talks about seeking advice from Mr. Greenberg and slowing the breakup of A.I.G. so it is not a fire sale.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said he thought the likelier explanation for the increased share price was that speculators looking to profit from a distressed stock had pounced on A.I.G.

“The risk appetite has returned to the marketplace,” he said. “People don’t want to get 5 percent back. They want to get the money back that they lost over the last year.” They look at a cratered stock like A.I.G. and think, “This is the place to do it,” he said.

Of course it is. And thanks to Treasury's trillions, investors are more than happy to get a piece of this rocketship as it blasts off for moral-hazard fueled points still unknown.

The best part? Former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg is making a mint.

Also, the stock is concentrated in a few hands, meaning that a small number of investors can cause a big move in the stock price. The number of shares was reduced by a 20-for-1 reverse split in June. The government has the biggest stake in A.I.G., and the biggest common shareholder is Mr. Greenberg and a group of entities he controls.
Cha-ching! That's the sound of you getting screwed.

Not Waiting Until January

As I've mentioned before, GOP punching bag Mark "First Class" Sanford may be facing impeachment by his ow party in January, and the threat of that made zero difference in his tone or rhetoric.

Ergo, South Carolina Republican lawmakers are apparently turning up the heat.

South Carolina Republican lawmakers are laying plans for a special session legislative session on whether to impeach and remove embattled Gov. Mark Sanford by the end of the year, several senior state lawmakers have told The Washington Times.

Republican lawmakers in the state House will use a regularly scheduled annual retreat in Myrtle Beach this weekend to discuss the governor's fate and the details on whether to call a special impeachment session of the legislature before its scheduled reconvening in January, Rep. Gary Simrill, a Republican, told The Times on Thursday.

Two bills of impeachment already are being prepared - one by a Republican lawmaker and the other by a Democrat, Mr. Simrill said.

Mr. Simrill, who said he has voted about 80 percent of the time with the Republican governor, met privately with Mr. Sanford on Tuesday and urged him to resign but to no avail.

Mr. Sanford, whose extramarital affair with an Argentine woman sparked an international scandal earlier this summer, has rejected calls to step down voluntarily, including one issued Wednesday by the state's Republican lieutenant governor.

The movement toward impeachment is bipartisan and goes beyond talks at the Republicans' House retreat this weekend.

"A group of Republicans and Democrats are discussing how to take up impeachment before we reconvene in January," Rep. James Smith, a Democrat, told The Times. "The only question is: Are we better off waiting or taking up impeachment before the legislature reconvenes?"

At this point South Carolina is so eager to get rid of Sanford's ass that they are willing to actually call a special legislative session to do it as soon as possible.

That cannot bode well for Sanford's chances against impeachment proceedings. He's going to get Blagofied. I've said all along that Sanford was going to lose this battle, it was just a question of when.

And that when just got a hell of a lot closer.

Concern Trolling 101

The Wall Street Journal's Kim Strassel is suddenly worried about Leon Panetta's job.

In the game of political football that is today national security, spare a thought for CIA Director Leon Panetta. Quarterbacking is hard enough without getting sacked by your own team.

President Barack Obama fought hard for the former California congressman during his uncertain February confirmation fight. That's about the last thing the president has done for his spy chief. Quite the opposite: If the latest flap over CIA interrogations shows anything, it's that Mr. Panetta has officially become the president's designated fall guy.

The title has been months in the making. Mr. Obama is contending with an angry left that's riled by his decisions to retain some Bush-era counterterrorism policies. He's facing Congressional liberals still baying for Bush blood. He's hired Attorney General Eric Holder, who is giving the term "ideological purity" new meaning. Mr. Obama's way to appease these bodies? Hang the CIA and Mr. Panetta out to dry.

Shouldn't conservatives be thrilled to see a former Clintonite like Panetta get fried up like latkes by "his own team?" After all, if Panetta is the fall guy, that means Bush, Cheney, Gonzo, Ashcroft and John Yoo aren't going to be the ones in front of the firing squad. That should have conservative pundits like Strassel dancing in the streets, yes?

Ahh, but the problem is for Panetta to be the fall guy, there's the implication here that others will fall with him. Some of those others may in fact be Republicans, current or former. The risk of that is apparently so great that Strassel is playing the "won't you think of poor Leon Panetta" card this early in the game. It's a feckless and desperate move that strongly implies there's much hidden from the public eye.

All the more reason for Holder's investigation to go to the top.

The End Of The Rainbow

After 26 years, LeVar Burton's public television staple Reading Rainbow is coming to to an end.

Reading Rainbow comes to the end of its 26-year run on Friday; it has won more than two-dozen Emmys, and is the third longest-running children's show in PBS history — outlasted only by Sesame Street and Mister Rogers.

The show, which started in 1983, was hosted by actor LeVar Burton. (If you don't know Burton from Reading Rainbow, he's also famous for his role as Kunta Kinte in Roots, or as the chrome-visored Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Each episode of Reading Rainbow had the same basic elements: There was a featured children's book that inspired an adventure with Burton. Then, at the end of every show, kids gave their own book reviews, always prefaced by Burton's trademark line: "But you don't have to take my word for it ..."

"The series resonates with so many people," says John Grant, who is in charge of content at WNED Buffalo, Reading Rainbow's home station.

Needless to say, I grew up with this show and I'm somewhat saddened to see it go after more than a quarter-century. It's especially sad seeing how popular children's books have become in the last decade, from Harry Potter to Maximum Ride to Eragon the Dragon Rider to the Baudelaire children, and that's led a revival of the classic books featuring characters from my own youth, Meg Murry, Turtle Wexler, Peter Hatcher and his little brother Fudge, Encyclopedia Brown and Tom Swift.

Reading to explore new worlds is what it's all about, and Reading Rainbow showed a generation that. All good things must come to an end, as they say, and the show really did have a heck of a run.

Still, going to miss it. Share your memories of the show if you have it, or the books the show interested you in growing up.

Finally Had Enough, Eh?

Steve Benen is fed up with Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Grassley's comments aren't the words of someone worried about deficit projections. Grassley's comments are the words of someone who wants to kill health care reform.

I'm tempted to ask Max Baucus to write 100 times on the chalkboard, "Chuck Grassley does not support health care reform. Chuck Grassley does not support health care reform. Chuck Grassley does not support health care reform."

What more would the guy have to do? Grassley wants to drive a stake into the heart of the reform bill, for reasons that defy common sense. He doesn't think he can reach an agreement with the administration. If he thinks the bill is "imperfect," he won't vote for it. He's prepared to vote against his own compromise bill, and as of this week, it's doubtful he'll "even support something."

What more is there to talk about with Chuck Grassley?

Why he's still in charge of the GOP negotiations for health care reform that he doesn't want and will never allow to pass, and why Obama keeps acting like Grassley is acting in good faith are two questions that most certainly need to be talked about as far as Chuck Grassley is concerned.

The third and final question is "When are Dems going to tell Grassley to go bugger himself with a chainsaw?"

How many times to I have to say this, folks? The GOP will never allow health care reform to pass if the Democrats can take credit for it. It really is as simple as that, and has been since Medicare and Medicaid were passed decades ago.

The Hunt For Sanity In The GOP

Why am I worried about the President so much? Stuff like this.
Rex Rammell, a former elk rancher slated to run against incumbent C.L. "Butch" Otter in the May 2010 GOP primary, made the comment at a Republican rally Tuesday in Twin Falls where talk turned to the state's planned wolf hunt, for which hunters must purchase an $11.50 wolf tag.

When an audience member shouted a question about "Obama tags," Rammell responded, "The Obama tags? We'd buy some of those."

It's all fun and games until somebody loses a President.

Too Big To Fail Becomes Even Bigger

The forced consolidation of the financial industry is simply making banks that were too big to fail last year even bigger now, as David Cho writes at the WaPo.
The crisis may be turning out very well for many of the behemoths that dominate U.S. finance. A series of federally arranged mergers safely landed troubled banks on the decks of more stable firms. And it allowed the survivors to emerge from the turmoil with strengthened market positions, giving them even greater control over consumer lending and more potential to profit.

J.P. Morgan Chase, an amalgam of some of Wall Street's most storied institutions, now holds more than $1 of every $10 on deposit in this country. So does Bank of America, scarred by its acquisition of Merrill Lynch and partly government-owned as a result of the crisis, as does Wells Fargo, the biggest West Coast bank. Those three banks, plus government-rescued and -owned Citigroup, now issue one of every two mortgages and about two of every three credit cards, federal data show.

A year after the near-collapse of the financial system last September, the federal response has redefined how Americans get mortgages, student loans and other kinds of credit and has made a national spectacle of executive pay. But no consequence of the crisis alarms top regulators more than having banks that were already too big to fail grow even larger and more interconnected.

Of course this was going to be the outcome. Save the largest 19 banks, throw the rest to the wolves. What did you think was going to happen to the industry as ten banks have failed on average each month this year, and some think scores if not hundreds more banks could fail before all this is over? The big boys take over the market. You're delusional if you didn't think that was the plan all along.
This problem, known as "moral hazard," is partly why government officials are keeping a tight rein on bailed-out banks -- monitoring executive pay, reviewing sales of major divisions -- and it is driving the Obama administration's efforts to create a new regulatory system to prevent another crisis. That plan would impose higher capital standards on large institutions and empower the government to take over a wide range of troubled financial firms to wind down their businesses in an orderly way.

"The dominant public policy imperative motivating reform is to address the moral hazard risk created by what we did, what we had to do in the crisis to save the economy," Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said in an interview.

The worry for consumers is that the bailouts skewed the financial industry in favor of the big and powerful. Fresh data from the FDIC show that big banks have the ability to borrow more cheaply than their peers because creditors assume these large companies are not at risk of failing. That imbalance could eventually squeeze out smaller competitors. Already, consumers are seeing fewer choices and higher prices for financial services, some senior government officials warn.

Those mergers were largely the government's making. Regulators pushed failing mortgage lenders and Wall Street firms into the arms of even bigger banks and handed out billions of dollars to ensure that the deals would go through. They say they reluctantly arranged the marriages. Their aim was to dull the shock caused by collapses and prevent confidence in the U.S. financial system from crumbling.

Officials waived long-standing regulations to make the deals work. J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo were each allowed to hold more than 10 percent of the nation's deposits despite a rule barring such a practice. In several metropolitan regions, these banks were permitted to take market share beyond what the Department of Justice's antitrust guidelines typically allow, Federal Reserve documents show.

"There's been a significant consolidation among the big banks, and it's kind of hollowing out the banking system," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's "You'll be left with very large institutions and small ones that fill in the cracks. But it'll be difficult for the mid-tier institutions to thrive."

"The oligopoly has tightened," he added.

Make no mistake, Helicopter Ben and his sidekick Timmy planned this out with the blessing of President Odubya. The only way to save the financial industry was by drowning it in moral hazard and making sure the largest banks, able to give the largest political contributions, survived. Over the next several years, your local bank will get bought out, competition will be reduced, and consumers will be left holding the bag on trillions in toxic assets. Bush may have started the process, but Obama is doing everything in his power to finish.

Change we can believe in, indeed. Bankster fat cats are laughing all the way to, well, the bank.

Blast From The Past

One name being kicked around as interim replacement for Ted Kennedy's seat is, of all people, Michael Dukakis.
Marc Ambinder and others are reporting that Michael Dukakis is the most likely placeholder Senator should the Massachusetts legislature grant Deval Patrick the power to make a temporary appointment until a special election can be held for Ted Kennedy's seat. That makes sense to me. Ambinder, however, raises the possibility that Patrick might pick an up-and-coming Democratic pol for the job and thus give him or her a major leg up in the special election. I don't see that happening--not only because Patrick isn't Blago, but also because Kennedy, before his death, specifically requested that Patrick receive an "explicit personal commitment" from his appointee not to seek the seat on a permanent basis if the legislature grants Patrick that power. It would be politically disastrous for Patrick to go against Kennedy's wishes.
Ted Kennedy was a very shrewd and intelligent man, and I don't see Gov. Patrick pulling a Blago either, he'd be annihilated for it. But Michael Dukakis? Granted, he's the closest thing to a non-Kennedy elder statesman the Bay State has, but you know the GOP is going to attack the guy rather mercilessly.

Of course, maybe that's the point. We know the GOP will attack whoever is appointed for being a hypocrite, and we know they will continue to insist that anything the Democrats do will be "exploiting Kennedy's death". Let the GOP be the ones politicizing Kennedy's passing then by attacking for political gain.


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