Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Last Call

The Wingers must be getting a little low on cash, their fundraising letters are getting rather desperate.
Far-right Christian fundamentalist group Family Research Council has a clever idea for raising money: convince supporters that President Barack Obama will take away their Bibles and turn their kids gay. That's essentially what the group's newest fundraising alert amounts to, with its claim that the president has a "plan" to "impose homosexuality" and "silence Christianity."

It's hard to make this stuff up.

The group's four-page letter, available here [PDF link] courtesy of Think Progress, reads like end-of-days fiction, with Godless liberals on the march and only your dollars keeping America from the fires of hell.

In truth, it's a lengthy, deceptive rant about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ensure gay, lesbian and transgendered people have a right to work alongside other Americans without fear of reprisal by the employers due solely to their sexual orientation or appearance.
Obama also causes tooth decay, lunar eclipses and is the sole reason why the Cubs continue not to win the World Series.

Really, it's just silly.  And yet, people get paid to come up with this crap.


Obama's Afghanistan speech was actually...surprisingly not terrible, especially for what he didn't say:  that the war would go on forever. (emphasis mine)
We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility - what's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government - and, more importantly, to the Afghan people - that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.
(More after the jump...)

Bonded For Liberty


Via Atrios comes this silliness involving Ben Nelson and...you guessed it...Joe F'ckin Lieberman.
In lieu of a "war tax" to pay for a troop increase in Afghanistan, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (NE) is proposing war bonds.

"We didn't have a war tax in the second World War," Nelson said, and instead the government sold Americans bonds."People invested in their country, in that fashion [and] made a lot of sense back then. I don't know why it might not make sense today, certainly in lieu of jumping to tax."

The idea has the support of fellow moderate Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

"I think that's a great idea," he said, "But I think we shouldn't shrink from a war tax in which everybody is asked to contribute a little bit to this effort."
War tax, unpatriotic and evil facism.  War bonds, patriotic and necessary to continue Americans giving infrastructure to everyone but Americans.

The Man With The Goldman Sachs Guns

So, Bloomberg's Alice Schroeder has this story today, detailing how Goldman Sachs employees feel so hated that they are actually resorting to literally purchasing firearms.
“I just wrote my first reference for a gun permit,” said a friend, who told me of swearing to the good character of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker who applied to the local police for a permit to buy a pistol. The banker had told this friend of mine that senior Goldman people have loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.

I called Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas van Praag to ask whether it’s true that Goldman partners feel they need handguns to protect themselves from the angry proletariat. He didn’t call me back. The New York Police Department has told me that “as a preliminary matter” it believes some of the bankers I inquired about do have pistol permits. The NYPD also said it will be a while before it can name names.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this, so taking my good friend Mei-chan's advice (Hi Mei-chan!) I turn to the guy with the answers on Goldman:  Matt Taibbi.
On the unfunny side: it’s never good when anyone buys guns, particularly not rich weenies with persecution complexes. Also, it might possibly be true that people have threatened Goldman bankers physically, which would really not be all that funny and would make me personally feel somewhat uncomfortable, although it would probably never be very high on the list of things I have to lose sleep over.

On the funny side, there are several things to consider. There’s the image of Goldman guys walking into Dean and DeLuca’s nervously grabbing at their holstered nines as they buy espresso and soy waffles. There’s the idea that some of these dorks might actually think that they’re going to forestall proletarian rebellion by keeping guns in their Hamptons beach houses. There’s even the impossible-to-resist image of a future accidental shooting of some innocent hot dog vendor on Park Avenue, followed by the inevitable p.r. response from Goldman in which the bank claims that the only thing its employees are guilty of is “being really good at shooting people.”
Works for me.

Then again, if the Goldman Sachs people are kind of scared of us peons, remember that we'd like our goddamn billions back and we outnumber you.

Thank you, and have a pleasant day.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

BooMan asks:
Can I agree with Byron York?
Well, I'm sure you can, the guy's a complete douchebag but let's see what he has to say.
Fifty-seven percent of Democrats want to reduce the number of troops, and another 10 percent want to see troop levels remain the same.  That’s 67 percent — two-thirds — of Democrats who want the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to go down, or at least go no higher.  Which means two-thirds of Democrats likely oppose the president’s decision to send more troops.
And yet, in the 2008 presidential season, from the Democratic primaries to the general election, Democrats felt required to promise to step up the war in Afghanistan.  Was it because the Democratic base that now opposes escalation supported it back then?  No. A Gallup poll in August 2007 — in the midst of the Democratic primary race — found that just 41 percent of Democrats supported sending more U.S. troops to fight in Afghanistan.

If the base didn’t support it, then why did candidates promise it?  Because Democratic voters and candidates were playing a complex game.  Nearly all of them hated the war in Iraq and wanted to pull Americans out of that country.  But they were afraid to appear soft on national security, so they pronounced the smaller conflict in Afghanistan one they could support.  Many of them didn’t, really, but for political expediency they supported candidates who said they did.  Thus the party base signed on to a good war-bad war strategy.
Hey, holy hell, even *I* agree with Byron York here.  For once he's completely correct:  Obama played up Afghanistan as the "war we should be fighting".  Now, surprise!  Even more people are expecting him to get us out.

Tonight's speech supposedly has us beginning withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011.  Why the additional troops at all, then?  Obama wants it both ways, just like he did in the campaign, just like Bush did with Iraq. 

That's not a model we need to be repeating, folks.

Guns Or Butter

Yggy makes a hell of a catch here on the issue of government projects.
Here’s a great Steven Walt post reacting to Louis Uchitelle’s point about the dearth of infrastructure mega-projects in the United States:
But it’s not as though the United States hasn’t started some big public works projects over the past decade or so; it just hasn’t been doing them here at home. We’ve spent billions constructing military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, and another billion or more on a giant embassy in Baghdad and another one in Pakistan. Needless to say, those “public works” projects are a drain on the U.S. economy rather than a source of additional productivity.
As I’ve said before, Americans have come to believe that spending government revenues on U.S. citizens here at home is usually a bad thing and should be viewed wth suspicion, but spending billions on vast social engineering projects overseas is the hallmark of patriotism and should never be questioned. This position makes no sense, but it is hard to think of a prominent U.S. leader who is making an explicit case for doing somewhat less abroad so that we can afford to build a better future here at home. Debates about foreign policy, grand strategy, and military engagement — including the current debate over Obama’s decision to add another 30,000-plus troops in Afghanistan — tend to occur in isolation from a discussion of other priorities, as if there were no tradeoffs between what we do for others and what we are able to do for Americans here at home.
Strikingly, I find that this myopia even extends to a refusal to discuss tradeoffs within the domain of interacting with foreigners. Say that building a well could help some people in Mozambique, and you get nowhere. Say that sending a Provincial Reconstruction Team to build a a well could help some people in Afghanistan, and the well gets built. Nevermind that you could undertake a dozen “help poor foreigners out with problems in their lives” projects in a friendly country for the cost of doing one in a country where guerilla fighters lead to security problems. Once a situation is defined as a “war” in which the objective is to “win” all kinds of considerations go out the window.
And that's been the truth for the last eight years.  Ask a conservative if we should spend money on a bridge, hospital or school in the United States and it's "a waste of money on a broken system."  Ask the same conservative if we should build them in Afghanistan or Iraq, and it's "a vital step in securing the peace."

I'm beginning to think the hallmark of a Wingnut is "any person who believes rebuilding Kabul is more important to America than rebuilding New Orleans."  They're the same people who say that America simply cannot afford health care reform, but we have a duty have to send tens of thousands of more troops to the Middle East.  Building infrastructure here is socialism.  Building infrastructure there is patriotism.

What's wrong with us?

Death Panel For Cutie

It's a good thing the Republicans like Sen. Tom Coburn aren't trying to scare the crap out of seniors by lying.  It's also a good thing that Republicans would never, ever say anything they would accuse, say, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of.  Republicans are classy, you know.

Fiscal Responsibility

Meanwhile, the losers in the AIG story continue to be you and me, the American taxpayer.
AIG announced Tuesday that it completed a deal wiping out $25 billion of its debt to taxpayers by selling stakes in two subsidiaries to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The troubled insurer gave the New York Fed preferred shares of two of its international life insurance companies, including $16 billion of American International Assurance Co. and $9 billion of American Life Insurance Co. The deal was originally announced in March.

The deal brings the New York-based insurer's debt to the New York Fed down to $17 billion. AIG also still owes the U.S. Treasury $44.8 billion from a separate Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) loan, so the insurer still owes taxpayers just under $62 billion.

AIG Chief Executive Bob Benmosche said, in a press release, that the debt reduction "sends a clear message to taxpayers: AIG continues to make good on its commitment to pay the American people back."
What part of paying the American people back are you actually doing here, Bob?  The government is buying AIG subsidiaries at inflated prices and calling the debt square.  It would be like I owed the bank $10,000 and I sold them my toaster and my crockpot, and then they said "Well, now you only owe $4,000!"
Nice work if you can get it.

Gold Rush, Part 6

Gold topped $1,200 an ounce earlier today and continues to rise in the short term, and probably the medium term too.
Gold hit record highs above $1,200 an ounce on Tuesday as dollar weakness fueled buying of the metal as an alternative asset, while investors speculating on more gains were cheered by its recovery from last week's losses. 

Spot gold hit a peak above $1,200 an ounce, against $1,179.10 late in New York on Monday.

Prices could push to even more record highs if the dollar continued to weaken, analysts said. Significant downside risks to the price were unlikely to be seen before January, said Michael Lewis, head of commodities research at Deutsche Bank, with seasonal factors affecting the dollar likely to drive gold higher in the short term.

"We see $1.55 in the euro-dollar, so that is where we think the main catalyst is for new highs for gold," he said. "There is normally quite a strong seasonal pattern in the dollar, (and that) will be driving a further rally in gold."
As the dollar continues to weaken, more people will continue to invest in gold and other commodities.  Eventually that's going to catch up to us.  When it does, well...just another bubble to burst.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

I'm still not happy with Obama's Afghanistan policy.  He's going to get attacked from the left and the right, and deservedly so.  Eight years of the status quo isn't working.  Steve at NMMNB seems to think that because he's getting beat on by everyone over this, that he's successfully triangulating.
Wow, what could be more perfect if you're trying to be a post-partisan, split-the-difference president? Yesterday, Barack Obama had Michael Moore attacking his Afghanistan troop buildup from the left, in an open letter posted on his Web site ("If you go to West Point tomorrow night ... and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, ... you will do the worst possible thing you could do..."), and today, as he's about to announce that Afghanistan policy, he's being slammed from the right (on Afghanistan and other issues) in Dick Cheney's Politico interview ("Every time he delays, defers, debates, changes his position, it begins to raise questions: Is the commander in chief really behind what they've been asked to do?").

At the White House, I think they're quite happy. They can say they're being attacked by extremists on both sides. Yippee! This is how they think it's all supposed to work.
Alright, I can see the point that this strategy will earn Obama some Sensible Village Centrist cred.  Like it or not, the Village isn't going anywhere, and they love this crap.

The real problem is that Obama doesn't need it.  What he needs to do is the right thing and get out of a war we've been losing for eight years.

Dueling Banjos

Ahh Kentucky...a state that keeps getting funnier every time a lawmaker checks the books.
When elected officials take the oath of office, a collective snicker usually goes around the room when they must solemnly swear they've never fought a duel or acted as a second in a duel.
The idea dates to the Civil War era, when dueling was common.

But today, that part of the oath is antiquated and promotes the stereotype that Kentucky is a backward state, according to a state representative who's pre-filed a bill to do away with it.

"Dueling is, evidently, part of our history, and it needs to become just that - history," said Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, an attorney.

There were 41 recorded duels in Kentucky between 1790 and 1867, and in 1891 the legislature added the dueling clause to the oath of office to discourage people from using violence to settle disputes, according to an article on the Secretary of State's Web site.

"It may very well have served a purpose in the past," Owens said. "It does not serve a purpose anymore."

Kentucky is the only state in the nation to require its elected officials to swear they've never fought a duel.

"It just reinforces what I think is a negative impression some people have about our state," Owens said.
Well, and Jim Bunning and Rand Paul certainly aren't helping, either.  If you're really worried about the negative image the state has, stop doing stupid things in Frankfort, and stop electing idiots like Jim Bunning to represent the state.

Besides, given the current civil war climate of the GOP, you might want to reconsider keeping the duel oath in place as a precaution for future GOP lawmakers in the state.

Into Each Life, A Little Iranian Must Fall

Iran is playing games again, this time making grave pronouncements against five Britons caught "in Iranian waters" over the weekend.
Iran will take serious measures against five British yachtsmen detained in the Gulf if it proves they had "evil intentions," a close aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.

Relations between Britain and Iran have been dogged by tension in recent years over a range of issues, from Tehran's nuclear program to Iranian allegations of British involvement in post-election violence in June this year.

Oil prices rose by more than $1 on fears of a diplomatic crisis after news of the detainment was made public on Monday.

"The judiciary will decide about the five ... naturally our measures will be hard and serious if we find out they had evil intentions," Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, the president's chief of staff, told the semi-official Fars news agency.

Britain stressed the five men were civilians and played down parallels with a 2007 incident when Iran seized eight British Royal Navy sailors and seven marines off its coast.

"There is certainly no question of any malicious intent on the part of these five young people," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told BBC television. "This is a human story of five young yachtsmen. It's got nothing to do with politics, it's got nothing to do with nuclear enrichment programs."
I'm all for diplomacy, but this is just being unnecessarily obtuse and difficult.  Ahmadinejad has his little regime to prop up and anything he can do to take the people's minds off their own struggle for democracy in the country, well, he's going to take a whack at that pinata for sure.

Af-Gone-Istan, Part 2

My iPhone AP news app is telling me that Obama will be sending 30,000 troops into Afghanistan over the next six months.

Good luck with your war there, Odubya.  I wash my hands of you on this decision.  30,000 troops will not "win" Afghanistan now any more than it would have six years ago.

I'm praying now that your withdrawal timetable is still in your first term, or you will not have a second.

[UPDATE 1:28 PM] The same iPhone app is now saying that Obama will begin withdrawing troops "well before" the end of the President's first term.

A Real Protection Racket

Bob Cesca flags this item down, showing that the insurance companies are playing hardball on killing the public option and making health care reform into a huge treasure chest of new customers for insurers.  And folks, they are getting serious.
BlueCross BlueShield continues to coerce and intimidate its customers into protesting healthcare reform:
A small business owner in the Kansas-City area who carries BCBS insurance for her employees forwards us a letter she received earlier this month from BCBS of Kansas City. The letter, from Tom Bowser, the CEO of BCBS-KC, describes the public option as an "unnecessary government intrusion in the private financing of health-care," which will "cause millions to lose their current private coverage," and will create "long waits for service with some providers closing their doors." [...]
Bowser closes by telling recipients: "I am asking that you personally engage on these issues by calling or writing your member of Congress." A sample letter to lawmakers, which expresses "deep concern" about reform, follows Bowser's letter.....
This ought to be investigated and BCBS ought to be penalized. Much like the cartel as a whole, this is about coercing people based upon their will to live. The cartel capitalizes on the fact that humans don't want to die, so it's engaged in selling us life, and it knows that we'll pay any price for it. So imagine being a customer receiving a letter like this. Do you ignore it, or do you send the letter for fear of BCBS dropping your policy?
"You know Mr. Smith, it would be a shame if anything happened to your insurance coverage for you and your employees.  Now, I can make sure nothing...unfortunate...happens if you just do me the smallest of favors and tell Congress that as a business owner, you object to the public option.  I've even included this sample letter to make this easier on you, because I know you're busy taking care of you customers and your employees..."

It's a shakedown, of course.  And you can bet that thousands and thousands of small business owners and benefit administrators at larger companies have quietly gotten letters like this over the last few months from their own insurance companies.  It's good business.  Why spend tens of millions on advocacy and scare tactics to the public when you can just make "helpful suggestions" to the key people calling the shots on the millions of Americans who get insurance through their employers for the cost of a mass mailing?

What, you thought the insurance companies were going to play fair?  What do you think's going to happen between when the bill is signed into law and when the protections take effect?  Have we learned nothing from the lesson of credit card reform?

The Heretic Gets Out

Via Pam Spaulding, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs is heading for the lifeboats on the S.S. Wingnut.  The guy doesn't just burn the bridges behind him, he applies bridge-consuming nannites that excrete acid and schadenfreude.
Why I Parted Ways With The Right
1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)
2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)
3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)
4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)
5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)
6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)
7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)
8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.
9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)
10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)
And much, much more. The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.
I won't be going over the cliff with them.
Oh my my my.  He dings pretty much every major Wingnut blog out there, El Rushbo, Glennsanity, Malkinvania and the whole crew.  It's been done before, Wingnuts can reform (ask John Cole over at Balloon Juice).  Chuck's former buddies are less than happy with him.  But as Pam says:
These low-brow conservatives that coo over Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush are sheep -- no critical thinking whatsoever, in denial about how they are shilling for policies that hurt them, instead they  focus on blaming on the "other" -- that doesn't look like them, worship like them, believe in reproductive freedom or isn't heterosexual. With fumes that weak, how can that movement sustain itself? It's an incredible feat.
Hatred is self-sustaining.  It's amazing how it keeps going.  But it's even more amazing how people can sometimes redeem themselves from it.

At this rate, I may have to throw Chuck a blogroll link.

The Next Crisis Will Not Be Equitable

But it may be private equity.  Private equity firms like Blackstone have used (and continue to use) cheap credit to purchase distressed companies.  The problem is over the next few years, the bill will be due on those purchases -- by some accounts half a trillion dollars -- and that threatens another meltdown in both the financial and the jobs market.  It gets worse, according to author Josh Kosman:
"They're playing with other people's money -- putting 20% down, and company they buy is borrowing 80% -- in that sense, there's already little risk [for the private equity firm]. Apollo doubled its money in two years while driving Linens N' Things into bankruptcy. Most of the risk comes from other investors like state pension funds, some of which are really exposed to private equity investments - Oregon has 22% exposed, California is 14%."  

The biggest leveraged buyout in history -- when PE firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and TPG took control of power generator TXU (now called Energy Future Holdings Corp) in 2007 -- is close to the brink due partly to a collapse in natural gas prices. "Their cash flow is negative, they owe $30+ billion," says Kosman. "They won't go bankrupt in next year or two but there is no prayer of that company being able to pay that debt."

Kosman explains that PE firm execs often do well when their companies collapse because most of them earn enough from management fees they charge their investors and the companies to more than cover their losses. Typically, private equity managers rake in 'two and twenty' fees -- two percent of the total amount assets under their management, regardless of performance, and twenty percent of any profits their fund earns.

He also warns that PE firms are trying to profit from the current crisis by buying up distressed assets like banks, mortgage and corporate loans at deep discounts and the US government is seeking them out to help rescue failing banks.

And Kosman takes a tough looks at Bain Capital, the PE firm owned for 11 years by potential 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He claims that three companies -- Ampad, Dade Behring and GS Industries -- failed after being bought by Bain Capital. In the case of Dade, a lab testing equipment maker, Romney pushed for big cutbacks in the employee pension plan, which saved the company $40 million. The next month, he used that as a basis to borrow $420 million.

A company executive told Krosman that he confronted the CEO about the move, telling him "Well, that'd be like me going out and borrowing the amount of money I make in a year and then trying to pay it off and pay for my house and feed myself and everything else. That doesn't make sense." The CEO responded: "Companies do that all the time." Within two years, the company collapsed.

Kosman is skeptical about Romney's claims that he wasn't aware of some of these events: "That either indicates he doesn't know what's going on at a company which he [owned] 100% of, which is incompetent, or he's lying, which is worse."
Which means the coming private equity meltdown could have an effect on the 2012 primaries, as well as millions of American workers.  Cheery thought, huh?

100% Wrong Again, Shelly

Ahh, the Bachmmaniac.  You can pretty much always count on any facts she spews to be incorrect to the point of requiring derisive mocking of her ignorance.  Today's whopper:
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has often warned that America is being transformed under President Obama from a free-market system into a totalitarian socialist one -- and now she's employing an interesting piece of tautology, depicting the pre-Obama era as some kind of perfect free market.

Bachmann told the Christian Examiner site: "I think it is jaw dropping when you think that under his watch, the federal government has taken ownership or control of the private economy. People know that something has really changed. The federal government now owns or controls 30 percent of the private economy. Just over a year ago, you couldn't say that. Just over a year ago, 100 percent of the private economy was private. Today, 30 percent is owned or controlled by government."
The 30% claim is factually incorrect.  But the "100% of the private economy was private" remark is just flat-out stupidity.  On its face, it's meaningless, it's a LOLCat meme: "private economy is private."  If she actually meant that 100% of the total economy was private before Obama, well she's flat-out wrong on that, too.

The more she talks, the less sense she makes.  It's irresponsible, especially since she's just making stuff up to try to attack Obama.


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