Sunday, October 18, 2009

Last Call

It's telling that my first reaction to Joe Cirincione's well-written and badly needed rebuttal to the "Bomb Iran Now!" neo-cons was "Too bad this is the exception that proves the rule that the rest of the Villagers are behind a third war."
For years we've heard conflicting accounts on this issue. There have been claims since the 1990s that Iran was a few years away from a bomb. Then, two years ago, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Iran had discontinued its dedicated nuclear weapon efforts in 2003. Today, the consensus among experts is that Iran has the technical ability to make a crude nuclear device within one to three years -- but there is no evidence that its leaders have decided to do so.

The regime's most likely path to the bomb begins in Natanz, in central Iran, the site of the nuclear facility where over the past three years about 1,500 kilograms of uranium gas has been enriched to low levels. Iran could kick out U.N. inspectors, abandon the Non-Proliferation Treaty and reprocess the gas into highly enriched uranium in about six months; it would take at least six more months to convert that uranium into the metal form required for one bomb. Technical problems with both processes could stretch this period to three years. Finally, Iran would need perhaps five additional years -- and several explosive tests -- to develop a Hiroshima-yield bomb that could be fitted onto a ballistic missile.

Of course, the United States and others would see Tehran moving in this direction, and exposure or inspection of suspected facilities would complicate Iranian objectives. We can further lengthen this timeline by ridding Iran of the essential ingredient for a bomb: low-enriched uranium. On Oct. 1, Iran agreed to ship most of this uranium to Russia for fabrication into reactor fuel; we will know in the next few weeks if it will keep that pledge. If it does, Iran's "break-out" capability -- the ability to produce a bomb quickly -- would be eliminated, at least for the two years it takes to enrich more uranium.

In other words, Iran is still five to eight years away from a nuclear weapon at best. Hopefully, President Obama is listening to people like this rather than the discredited, broken neo-con fools who got us into the first two wars for the past eight years.

But Israel will not rest until America is bombing Iran. I wonder, when will the charges of anti-semitism be leveled against Mr. Cirincione?

The Secret Service's Dirty Secret

Thanks to Obama Derangement Syndrome, the USSS has its hands full to the point where people in Washington are questioning whether or not the Service can handle its other traditional Treasury Department duties besides protecting the President and other leaders (emphasis mine):
The unprecedented number of death threats against President Obama, a rise in racist hate groups, and a new wave of antigovernment fervor threaten to overwhelm the US Secret Service, according to government officials and reports, raising new questions about the 144-year-old agency’s overall mission.

The Secret Service is tracking a far broader range of possible threats to the nation’s leaders, the officials said, even as it also investigates financial crimes such as counterfeiting as part of its original mandate.

The new demands are leading some officials, both inside and outside the agency, to raise the possibility of the service curtailing or dropping its role in fighting financial crime to focus more on protecting leaders and their families from assassination attempts and thwarting terrorist plots aimed at high-profile events.

“If there were an evaluation of the service’s two missions, it might be determined that it is ineffective . . . to conduct its protection mission and investigate financial crimes,’’ according to a inter nal report issued in August by the Congressional Research Service.

The report, which was provided to the Globe, said such a review should look at how money and staff are allocated, and whether some of the agency’s functions and workers should be transferred to the Treasury Department.

“This is a discussion going on not only in some quarters in Congress, but inside the Secret Service. Should there be a re-look at the mission?’’ said a government official, who like others was not authorized to speak publicly about security matters or reveal details about the number or nature of the threats.

Already, there are signs of strain on the agency, officials said. Budget documents submitted to Congress this year said the agency lacks the necessary technology to keep up with threats.

Gosh that's a cheery picture, isn't it? There are so many threats against not just Obama, but other leaders of our government and their families, to the point where the USSS can't cover them all adequately. They need more money and personnel.

The bigger issue is why the GOP and FOX News continue to be allowed to foment unrest on a level that is now threatening the Secret Service to be able to do its job.

Or does somebody have to be hurt or killed first before they stop lighting dynamite and throwing?

Obama Derangement Syndrome has consequences, folks. Real ones.

[UPDATE 7:30 PM] BooMan asks referring to the story:

Does anyone want to take any responsibility for this?
Of course not. The Wingers have plausible deniability. It's not their fault people are using the paranoia the Wingers are inflaming to threaten the President. It's Obama's fault for being like Nixon and forming an enemies list...

Wait, what do you mean that's a lie? Now why would the Wingers lie to you?


And while I may have my problems with Rahm Emanuel on Obamacare, on Afghanistan he's just handed the GOP enough rope to hang all of them on the issue.

"The president is asking the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side and the strategic side," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told CNN's "State of the Union."

Among the things the Obama administration wants to know from Afghan leaders: "Do you have a credible Afghan partner for this process that can provide the security and the type of services that the Afghan people need?"

The United States faces "a much more complex decision" than just determining the appropriate level of troops, Emanuel told CNN chief national correspondent John King in a rare interview.

"It's clear that basically we had a war for eight years that was going on, that's adrift, that we're beginning at scratch, just at the starting point ... and that there's not a security force, an army, and the types of services that are important for the Afghans to become a true partner," Emanuel said.

Echoing comments from Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, Emanuel said it would be "reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop levels if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create."

That thumping sound is the Karzai government just being tossed under the bus, but both Emanuel and Sen. Kerry have a point: if the Karzai government isn't legitimate, there's no reason for us to try to prop it up with more troops.

This is a good sign if it's used to start reducing troop numbers in Afghanistan. It's a bad sign however if the delay is simply used to create a crisis that would "require us to intervene with massive force."

We'll see how this shakes out. Republicans are already walking right into the jet engine intake on this one:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), on CBS’s “Face the Nation”
“I hope President Karzai understands that our national security interests don't depend entirely on his decision there whether to allow a recount. Obviously the legitimacy of that government is an important component of it. But my point is it shouldn't be the lynch pin for us deciding whether to protect our national security interests in that region.”
Really? So now it doesn't matter if Karzai's government is legitimate or not?

And people wonder why we're still stuck in Afghanistan.

Carry On My Wayward Son

The bad news, is that the discussion on merging the various Obamacare bills in the Senate is being done behind closed doors.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) sits at the head of a wooden table at his office as he and Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) work to merge two competing versions of health-care legislation into one bill. The three men will be joined by top aides as well as by members of President Obama's health-care team, led by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The sessions started on Wednesday and could be completed this week.

The group will make such key decisions as whether to include a government-run insurance plan designed to compete with private insurance companies. The bill passed in July by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which Dodd led while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was ailing, included such a provision, but the legislation passed last week by Baucus's Finance Committee did not.

Max Baucus has finally gotten the message that a centrist compromise will never happen. Dodd is firmly on the side of the people. Harry Reid has been talking like he has a spine lately...but the key here is still Emanuel. Both Reid and the President have basically said they'll jettison the public option if they have to.

What comes out of the Senate conference here will determine the final bill. Keep an eye on what Harry Reid says...but keep a more careful eye on what Rahm Emanuel does.

The bills also differ on how much Americans who do not buy insurance should be fined as the government seeks to get everyone covered.

In the sessions, Dodd in effect represents advocates of the government-insurance option and Baucus represents those less committed to that proposal. The tie-breaking votes are likely to be Reid and, on Obama's behalf, Emanuel. Obama and Reid have said they personally back the government-insurance option but have not ruled out supporting a bill that lacks such a provision.

The key to this is Rahm Emanuel at the table...he doesn't represent America on this, he represents GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe and the other Sensible Centrists. Rahm's job is to get a bill on the President's desk. Whether or not the bill is a good bill or represents something the American people actually want doesn't matter to him. He just needs to get a bill signed so he can say Democrats got a bill passed when Republicans couldn't.

Balloon Fight

The Balloon Boy saga is getting completely strange now, as CNN is reporting charges will be filed against the boy's father...
Hours after Colorado authorities said they expect to file charges in the "balloon boy" case, sheriff's deputies and detectives were seen entering and leaving the house of Richard Heene early Sunday.

Heene is the storm-chasing father whose giant Mylar balloon ascended into the sky late last week, sparking fears that his 6-year-old son Falcon was aboard.

A dispatcher with the Larimer County Sheriff's Department declined to release any information about the search, but said the office will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Calls to the department's spokeswoman were not immediately returned.

"We anticipate criminal charges will be filed sometime in the near future," Sheriff Jim Alderden told CNN late Saturday.

...and that Gawker's story on Heene's research assistant Robert Thomas is a pretty crazy story about Heene's crusade to get back on TV again that must be read a couple times to be believed.

When my friends called me about the whole balloon episode I was working. I had just moved to a new place and didn't have my television set up. I probably would never even have heard about this, except that a good friend of mine remembered me telling him about Richard several months ago. He told me, "Rob, you need to turn on the tv immediately! That Richard guy you worked with just pulled a massive publicity stunt!"

Richard's story doesn't add up. He is saying he thought Falcon was in the balloon, and that Falcon ran and hid as a result of Richard yelling at him. I've spent a lot of time with them, and Falcon is, first of all, not afraid of his father. I've never once seen Richard's children afraid of him — and I've definitely never seen Falcon go hide. He was one of the most social of the three children.

Secondly, Falcon supposedly hid in that attic in the garage. I've spent a lot of time in his garage, which has a drill press and various welding tools. It's unorganized and chaotic. There's really not so much an attic as some support beams connected with plywood. Being an adult of average height, I couldn't get up into the attic if I'd wanted to, so I don't know how a six-year-old child could have gotten up there. There's not an easy way to access that overhang. Maybe if I'd lifted that child up into the attic, he might have been able to rest up there, but not comfortably.

My doubts and concerns about that story were verified when Falcon's parents asked him on CNN, "why didn't you come out?" And Falcon said, "you guys said we did this for the show." Lights went off in my head. Bells were ringing; whistles were whistling. I said, "Wow, Richard is using his children as pawns to facilitate a global media hoax that's going to give him enough publicity to temporarily attract A-list celebrity status and hopefully attract a network."
Truth is not only stranger than fiction at times, it's just stranger than the truth as well. Hard to say what annoys me more if all this is to be believed, that Heene would use his son for a publicity stunt, or that his end game is making a TV show that's the Bizarro World version of Mythbusters.

This Week's Busted Banks

We're up to 99 seized banks in 2009 with about 11 weeks to go in the year. Time for another 20 or so, it seems.
Regulators shut down San Joaquin Bank in California on Friday, marking the 99th failure this year of a federally insured bank.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was appointed receiver of San Joaquin Bank, based in Bakersfield, Calif. It had $775 million in assets and $631 million in deposits as of Sept. 29.

The FDIC said the bank's deposits will be assumed by Citizens Business Bank, based in Ontario, Calif. Its five branches will reopen Monday as branches of Citizens Business Bank.

San Joaquin Bank's failure is expected to cost the FDIC's insurance fund $103 million.

Depositors' money is not in danger. The FDIC is backed by the government, and deposits are guaranteed up to $250,000 per account. But the deposit insurance fund has fallen into the red. The FDIC board recently proposed to have U.S. banks prepay about $45 billion of their insurance premiums - three years' worth.

That plan isn't a long-term remedy for the depleted fund. But it would spare ailing banks the immediate cost of an alternative idea: paying an emergency fee for the second time this year. And the FDIC still has billions in loss reserves apart from the insurance fund.

The 99 bank failures this year compare with 25 last year and three in 2007. It's the highest number in a year since 1992 during the savings-and-loan crisis, when 120 institutions collapsed. Closures peaked during that crisis in 1989, when 534 banks were shuttered.

The most severe financial crisis since the 1930s has hit banks large and small. With unemployment rising, consumer spending slack and businesses shuttered, experts say up to 400 more banks could fail in the next couple of years.

The death watch of the local community bank continues. Too Big To Fail has only benefited the banks that are Too Big To Fail.

What happens when the only banks left are TBTF banks?

It Takes A Villager...

...To defend Village idiocy, apparently. On one hand, the NY Times's David Carr admits that the White House was getting mauled by FOX News...
Until this point, the conflict had been mostly a one-sided affair, with Fox News hosts promoting tax day “tea parties” that focused protest on the new president, and more recently bringing down the presidential adviser Van Jones through rugged coverage that caught the administration, and other news organizations, off guard. During the health care debate, Fox News has put a megaphone to opponents, some of whom have advanced far-fetched theories about the impact of reform. And even farther out on the edge, the network’s most visible star of the moment, Glenn Beck, has said the president has “a deep-seated hatred for white people.”

Administration officials seemed to have decided that they had had enough.

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, said in an interview with The New York Times. “As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”
...then warns they should shut up and take it...
Ah, but pretending has traditionally been a valuable part of the presidential playbook. Smiling and wearing beige even under the most withering news media assault is not only good manners, but also has generally been good politics. While there is undoubtedly a visceral thrill in finally setting out after your antagonists, the history of administrations that have successfully taken on the media and won is shorter than this sentence.
...then notes that the poor White House is in over its head against a outfit like FOX...
The one weapon all administrations can wield is access, and the White House, making it clear that it will use that leverage going forward, informed Fox News not to expect to bump knees with the president until 2010. But Fox News, as many have pointed out, is not in the access business. They are in the agitation business. And the administration, by deploying official resources against a troublesome media organization, seems to have brought a knife to a gunfight.
...and finishes by saying the White House should stop picking on poor FOX News, and indeed, that defending themselves is beneath the Presidency.
On the official White House Web site, a blog called Reality Check provides a running tally of transgressions by Fox News. It ends with this: “For even more Fox lies, check out the latest ‘Truth-O-Meter’ feature from Politifact that debunks a false claim about a White House staffer that continues to be repeated by Glenn Beck and others on the network.”

People who work in political communications have pointed out that it is a principle of power dynamics to “punch up “ — that is, to take on bigger foes, not smaller ones. A blog on the White House Web site that uses a “truth-o-meter” against a particular cable news network would not seem to qualify. As it is, Reality Check sounds a bit like the blog of some unemployed guy living in his parents’ basement, not an official communiqué from Pennsylvania Avenue.

The American presidency was conceived as a corrective to the royals, but trading punches with cable shouters seems a bit too common. Perhaps it’s time to restore a little imperiousness to the relationship.
If any of that advice collectively make sense to you, congratulations, you're qualified to be a Village Idiot. I think Carr is saying not to bother to fight back because there's nothing the White House can do about it. Funny. Didn't stop Bush from taking on his opponents with far more robust examples (Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame-Wilson, anyone?) of action.

The only think I'm getting here is no matter what the Obama White House does versus FOX, it's good news for John McCain.
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