Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Last Call

This story from Steve Clemons is rather disturbing as he takes a look at the Pentagon exploring removing U.S. citizenship from suspected terrorists.
A senior Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has told me that to his knowledge, there has been no serious discussion in the Committee of stripping US citizenship from terrorists, but a senior Pentagon official has confirmed that some in the military are exploring the upsides and downsides of such a more routenized mechanism for stripping citizenship.

A national security attorney who serves in an advisory capacity to President Obama has reported to me that there is no legal way for the US military or the government to strip citizenship from Americans.

But Eugene Volokh, exploring in a Salon article the case of American gone al Qaeda adventurer John Walker, writes in 2001 that "8 U.S.C. § 1481 : US Code - Section 1481" may provide such a mechanism.
As Volokh then wrote pondering whether a terrorist could be stripped of his US citizenship:
Maybe. A federal statute says that a citizen loses his citizenship by "serving in the armed forces of a foreign state if such armed forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States" but only if he does so "with the intention of relinquishing United States [citizenship]."
This topic can be more ably discussed by sharp legal minds like Jeffrey Toobin, Jeffrey Rosen and Glenn Greenwald -- but it seems to me that establishing a regularized legal framework specifying that alleged terrorists be stripped of US citizenship so that the military can deal with those de-nationed individuals differently reminds me of the kind of legal gray area that Cheney national security adviser David Addington loved to create.
On the other hand, we've got no problem with outright killing U.S. citizens when they are suspected terrorists. Stripping them of their citizenship seems like a moot point if you can say "destroy him, my minions" and blow a guy to hell, no due process, no nothing.

On the gripping hand, this is worse than anything Bush ever did.  Or that we know of Bush doing.  Either way, it's still pretty damn disturbing.

A Blizzard Of Global Warming Stupidity

Time Magazine's Bryan Walsh looks at how a record-setting blizzard like what we've seen this week supports evidence of climate change.
As the blizzard-bound residents of the mid-Atlantic region get ready to dig themselves out of the third major storm of the season, they may stop to wonder two things: Why haven't we bothered to invest in a snow blower, and what happened to climate change? After all, it stands to reason that if the world is getting warmer — and the past decade was the hottest on record — major snowstorms should become a thing of the past, like PalmPilots and majority rule in the Senate. Certainly that's what the Virginia state Republican Party thinks: the GOP aired an ad last weekend that attacked two Democratic members of Congress for supporting the 2009 carbon-cap-and-trade bill, using the recent storms to cast doubt on global warming.

Brace yourselves now — this may be a case of politicians twisting the facts. There is some evidence that climate change could in fact make such massive snowstorms more common, even as the world continues to warm. As the meteorologist Jeff Masters points out in his excellent blog at Weather Underground, the two major storms that hit Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., this winter — in December and during the first weekend of February — are already among the 10 heaviest snowfalls those cities have ever recorded. The chance of that happening in the same winter is incredibly unlikely.

But there have been hints that it was coming. The 2009 U.S. Climate Impacts Report found that large-scale cold-weather storm systems have gradually tracked to the north in the U.S. over the past 50 years. While the frequency of storms in the middle latitudes has decreased as the climate has warmed, the intensity of those storms has increased. That's in part because of global warming — hotter air can hold more moisture, so when a storm gathers it can unleash massive amounts of snow. Colder air, by contrast, is drier; if we were in a truly vicious cold snap, like the one that occurred over much of the East Coast during parts of January, we would be unlikely to see heavy snowfall.

Climate models also suggest that while global warming may not make hurricanes more common, it could well intensify the storms that do occur and make them more destructive. 
(More after the jump...)

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

The guys at The Note have pretty damn thin skin.

Just sayin.

Your Senate Really Is This Stupid

We can't have climate change legislation because it snowed in D.C. this week.

No, really.  Steve Benen:
It seems mind-numbing, but Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said snowfall in D.C. has had an effect on policymakers' attitudes. "It makes it more challenging for folks not taking time to review the scientific arguments," said Bingaman, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"People see the world around them and they extrapolate," he added. "I think that it's hard to see an economy-wide cap-and-trade [proposal] of the type that passed the House could prevail."
Bingaman is a Democrat, by the way.   It's gotten to the point where Senators would rather punt on climate change then even bother making a bill.  Republicans and Democrats.  It's bad enough the Republicans do it.  But the Democrats, wanting to just ignore the problem, are simply going "Yeah that's a good excuse, we'll run with that."

I know there's not a lot of snow in New Mexico and it's scary and cold.

The answer to better Democrats is not more Republicans.  But the lack of better Democrats continues to be a problem.

A Whole New Can Of Worms

The reality of repealing DADT is that there are a host of new issues that allowing gays in the military to serve will create with the American public.  Absolutely it should be done, but the reality is that there's more to it that just repealing the measure.  TPM's Evan McMorris-Santoro dissects a new Q-poll on DADT, and discovers  America still suffers from homophobia. (emphasis mine):
Along partisan lines, Republicans oppose repeal of DADT, 53-40. They're the only partisan group that feels that way. Democrats favor repeal 72-23, and independents back repeal 56-37. Republicans are one of the view demographic groups to oppose repeal, the poll found. When broken down along education and income lines, Americans support the end of DADT. The only other demographic group to oppose repeal other than members of the GOP are evangelical Christians.

Military families are split on repealing the rule, with 48% favoring an end to DADT and 47% opposing it.

Should Congress repeal DADT as President Obama and military leaders have advocated, today's poll suggests new controversies about gays in the military. A 54-38 majority said homosexual soldiers should face "restrictions on exhibiting their sexual orientation on the job." A similar 50-43 majority said the government should not provide benefits to the partners of gay members of the military. Americans are split on whether gay and straight soldiers "should be required" to share quarters. Forty-six percent of respondents said that the military should not require combined quarters, while 45% said it should.
It's that partner benefit that's going to be the hardest slog.  Federal employees already get this benefit thanks to President Obama's executive order last June.  Military members on the other hand do not currently.  We'll see how far this gets, but the reality is everyone needs to be looking forward to the reality of military life after DADT is repealed and all the issues that need to be addressed, so that it can be done properly.

Israel On The Warpath

Steven D checks out the major moves Tel Aviv has been up to recently that could signal another Israeli assault on its neighbors:
Last month Syria also accused Israel of pushing the region toward war to which the foreign Minister of Israel responded with threats that Israel would easily defeat the Syrians in any conflict and that the current ruler President Bashar al-Assad would suffer the fate of regime change. Prime Minister Netanhayu later stated that Israel wants peace and not war with Syria, but clearly not everyone in his cabinet is willing to reject bellicose rhetoric against its neighbors.

Certainly that is the view of Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Meshal, which was reported by Yeshiva World News on Monday:
“I don’t see any chance of advancing on the Palestinian, Syria, or Lebanese fronts because the Israeli leadership is one of war, violence and occupation, not one that exhibits a desire for peace”.
The terrorist leader made his statements to the ITAR-TASS News Agency during a visit to Russia. [...]
It should be noted that it was Meshal who was targeted in an assassination attempt during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s first tenure, about a decade ago. While the Mossad never officially accepted responsibility, the apprehension of two ‘Mossad agents’ in Jordan resulted in a diplomatic row, compelling Netanyahu to send the antidote for the pharmacological agent injected into Meshal, thereby saving his life.
I suppose if I had been the target of assassination attempts for which Israel tacitly admitted responsibility when it provided medical assistance in the form of an antitdote to the poison injected into me, and the same person who led Israel at that time was its leader again, I might have a dim view of Israel's intentions. One thing we do know is that there has been next to no movement on any peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians despite the election of President Obama.
So what's the play here?  Israel has fallen out of the US press for some time now.  The assumption is America now has a GOP President (Scott Brown) and that Obama can't or won't pay any attention to what Israel's doing politically.  Israel is operating on the principle that it has its own destiny to fulfill.  It could be a good cop/bad cop feint towards Iran, as Steven D points out:
This all may be a grand Kabuki show of saber rattling by Iran (for domestic political purposes where the political opposition is once again planning massive street protests) in which the US Government and Israel have chosen to play a role. Their actions certainly fit the pattern of the "stick" in the "carrot and stick" approach to Tehran which the Obama administration has been pursuing under Secretary of State Clinton for some time now.

But the warning signs are getting more and more ominous that the Israel's "dogs of war" may slip the leash of its presumed handler, the US government, and attack one of its neighbors in the near future, if only to show its Middle Eastern neighbors that it remains the predominant military force in the region and can act with impunity regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat occupies the seat in the Oval Office. 
I'm learning towards the latter.  Iran is looking to press the advantage it has and to them Obama is now irrelevant and far too busy to try to waste political capital to stop them.  Look for Israel to make a move soon...particularly with the Feb 13 anniversary of the Iranian Revolution coming up.

Blogroll Wednesday

Woot, I made Skippy's.

Dude's been around the blogging block.  Hell, dude is the block.  Much love.

Helicopter Ben's Escape Plan

Ben's talking about pulling the Fed out of the "supporting our broken economy" business as part of our coming austerity measures, and the markets are not happy.
"These programs, which imposed no cost on the taxpayer, were a critical part of the government's efforts to stabilize the financial system and restart the flow of credit," Bernanke said in prepared testimony for a House Financial Services Committee hearing that was postponed due to snow. "As financial conditions have improved, the Federal Reserve has substantially phased out these lending programs."

But Bernanke also emphasized that the U.S. economy still needs the "support of highly accommodative monetary policies." He said that "at some point" in the future the Fed will "need to tighten financial conditions" by raising short-term interest rates and reversing programs that pumped liquidity into the markets.

The markets have been waiting to hear an inkling of how the Fed plans to start raising short-term interest rates and pulling back on the trillions the Fed has pumped into the financial system, since it started teetering on the edge of collapse back in late 2008.
The markets are unhappy because you and me are supposed to be experiencing austerity measures, not our precious corporate oligarchs.  Dow dropped 200 as a result, but have gradually risen back to positive territory on the realization that Helicopter Ben can't actually do this in an election year.

So, everyone's breathing a sigh of relief.  The reinflation of the bubble continues unabated.

The Kroog Versus Clueless Obama

Paul Krugman rightfully pummels Obama for stupidly saying the following:
I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,” Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.”
Krugman loses it. 

First of all, to my knowledge, irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn’t brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and cost millions of innocent Americans their jobs and/or houses.

And more specifically, not only has the financial industry has been bailed out with taxpayer commitments; it continues to rely on a taxpayer backstop for its stability. Don’t take it from me, take it from the rating agencies:
The planned overhaul of US financial rules prompted Standard & Poor’s to warn on Tuesday it might downgrade the credit ratings of Citigroup and Bank of America on concerns that the shake-up would make it less likely that the banks would be bailed out by US taxpayers if they ran into trouble again.
The point is that these bank executives are not free agents who are earning big bucks in fair competition; they run companies that are essentially wards of the state. There’s good reason to feel outraged at the growing appearance that we’re running a system of lemon socialism, in which losses are public but gains are private. And at the very least, you would think that Obama would understand the importance of acknowledging public anger over what’s happening.

But no. If the Bloomberg story is to be believed, Obama thinks his key to electoral success is to trumpet “the influence corporate leaders have had on his economic policies.”

We’re doomed.
Kroog's sounding like Roubini on a bender here.  Besides, Obama may not begrudge Jamie Dimon getting his millions, but the rest of America certainly the hell does.  I'm really, really hoping Obama issues a major correction or retraction on this, because if he doesn't do it today, he's just lost another five points off his approval ratings easy.

Like Kroog says, there guys aren't savvy businessmen, they lost trillions of friggin' dollars.

Oh What A Feeling

Toyota's troubles are just beginning as the automaker faces the next stage of its recall disaster:  the inevitable safety lawsuits.
Fixing millions of gas pedals and brakes and convincing customers their vehicles are safe could end up being the least of Toyota's challenges. Some experts think the price tag from legal settlements could end up topping the company's estimate of $2 billion in recall costs.

There are already more than 30 U.S. lawsuits filed against Toyota involving the problems with its gas pedals alone, according to Craig Hutson, senior investment grade analyst at Gimme Credit, a bond research service firm. And there are more lawsuits are in the works.

"Lawyers are champing at the bit to get at these guys, and the company has come out and largely admitted mistakes in respect to these issues," said Hutson. "It's hard to put a dollar amount on it, but multi-billion dollar costs are not out of the realm of possibility."

Hutson isn't alone in worrying about how much lawsuits could hurt Toyota. Credit rating agency Moody's cited the litigation risks when it warned Tuesday that it might downgrade Toyota's credit ratings.

The company also faces at least one class action suit involving problems with the brakes on 2010 models of the Prius and other hybrid vehicles. Toyota announced a recall for those hybrids Tuesday.

New reports of problems with the steering of its Corolla could mean more lawsuits against Toyota.
These legal problems could tie up Toyota for years.  They will want relief from the Obama administration, certainly.  They will threaten to take jobs and leave the country if they don't get it.  I fully expect the GOP to start siding with Toyota here and soon, especially from southern red states where Toyota has union-free labor (Kentucky is a good example, Toyota has significant operations here in NKY in both manufacturing and parts.)

It'll happen soon.  The GOP can't help itself.  Will it happen before the 2010 elections?  I'm betting in at least some places it will.  You'll see the GOP coming out saying what we need to fix Toyota's problems is tort reform and tax cuts to keep Toyota from bolting.

If you believe that'll solve Toyota's problems with their cars, then you're reading the wrong blog.

CBS News Needs A Civics Refresher Course

Because Political Hotsheet's Mark Knoller doesn't know the difference between a majority and a minority in a representative democracy and attacks President Obama for, you know, wanting to pass his agenda.
In this 13th month of his presidency, he's anxious to pass a jobs bill and be seen addressing an unemployment rate that only last week declined from double digits. And his efforts to enact bills on energy, financial regulatory reform and especially health care are stuck in Congress despite the solid majority his party holds in both chambers.

He's appealing for a spirit of bipartisanship - urging Democrats and Republicans alike "to put aside matters of party for the good of the country."

It's a familiar refrain from U.S. presidents who can't get their way in Congress.

"We must put aside our political differences if we're ever to set our economy to rights," said President Reagan in 1982.

"It is time to put aside partisan rivalries and work together for our nation's future," said President Reagan in 1987 in trying to get Congress to enact deficit reduction

"We must put aside partisanship for the sake of our nation," said the first President Bush in 1990 in appealing for congressional cooperation on the budget.

"We must now put aside bitterness and rancor, move beyond partisanship," urged President Clinton in 1993 in trying to get Congress to pass his economic plan.

What these presidential appeals for bipartisanship always mean is: do it my way.
Indeed, the piece is entitled "Obama Says Bipartisanship, But What He Wants Is GOP Surrender".  A President with an overwhelming majority of his party in power should do what the opposition party wants?  Really?  Since when?

Maybe Knoller should be paying attention to the fact that the majority of Americans want to see the GOP work with the President and an overwhelming majority of them want both sides to continue to work on "what the President wants", namely health care legislation.

Also, in 1982, 1987 and 1993, both Regan and Clinton did get their budgets passed, too.  Took some reconciliation as well, but they passed.  Hmm, seems reconciliation is kind of useful...

[UPDATE 10:12 AM] Same goes for WaPo's Michael Gerson, who should again read his own paper's poll on a majority of Americans saying the Republicans aren't working with the President at all.  But he's too busy spinning Paul Ryan's Medicare-eliminating budget as a great idea.  We should trust the Bush Boom again and privatize both medicare and Social Security and hand over the money to the financials.  After all, when do free market economies ever lose money and require taxpayer bailouts?

What Happened In Nashville Should Stay In Nashville

As I've said, there's no separating the GOP from the Teabaggers.  Last weekend's Tea Party Convention in Nashville however proved that there's no separating the Obama Derangement Syndrome from either group.  Jonathan Kay of Canada's National Post goes into the madness.
Within a few hours in Nashville, I could tell that what I was hearing wasn't just random rhetorical mortar fire being launched at Obama and his political allies: the salvos followed the established script of New World Order conspiracy theories, which have suffused the dubious right-wing fringes of American politics since the days of the John Birch Society.

This world view's modern-day prophets include Texas radio host Alex Jones, whose documentary, The Obama Deception, claims Obama's candidacy was a plot by the leaders of the New World Order to "con the Amercican people into accepting global slavery"; Christian evangelist Pat Robertson; and the rightward strain of the aforementioned "9/11 Truth" movement. According to this dark vision, America's 21st-century traumas signal the coming of a great political cataclysm, in which a false prophet such as Barack Obama will upend American sovereignty and render the country into a godless, one-world socialist dictatorship run by the United Nations from its offices in Manhattan.

Sure enough, in Nashville, Judge Roy Moore warned, among other things, of "a U.N. guard stationed in every house." On the conference floor, it was taken for granted that Obama was seeking to destroy America's place in the world and sell Israel out to the Arabs for some undefined nefarious purpose. The names Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers popped up all the time, the idea being that they were the real brains behind this presidency, and Obama himself was simply some sort of manchurian candidate.

A software engineer from Clearwater, Fla., told me that Washington, D.C., liberals had engineered the financial crash so they could destroy the value of the U.S. dollar, pay off America's debts with worthless paper, and then create a new currency called the Amero that would be used in a newly created "North American Currency Union" with Canada and Mexico. I rolled my eyes at this one-off kook. But then, hours later, the conference organizers showed a movie to the meeting hall, Generation Zero, whose thesis was only slightly less bizarre: that the financial meltdown was the handiwork of superannuated flower children seeking to destroy capitalism.

And then, of course, there is the double-whopper of all anti-Obama conspiracy theories, the "birther" claim that America's president might actually be an illegal alien who's constitutionally ineligible to occupy the White House. This point was made by birther extraordinaire and Christian warrior Joseph Farah, who told the crowd the circumstances of Obama's birth were more mysterious than those of Jesus Christ. (Apparently comparing Obama to a messiah is only blasphemous if you're doing so in a complimentary vein.) To applause, he declared, "My dream is that if Barack Obama seeks reelection in 2012 that he won't be able to go to any city, any city, any town in America without seeing signs that ask, 'Where's the birth certificate?'"

Many of the tea-party organizers I spoke with at this conference described the event as a critical step in their ascendancy to the status of mainstream political movement. Yet with rare exceptions, such as blogger Breitbart, who was reportedly overheard protesting Farah's birther propaganda, none of them seems to realize how off-putting the toxic fantasies being spewed from the podium were.
None of them.  At the same time, the rest of the conservative movement is scrambling to lock these crazy uncles away while at the same time the "liberal media" is telling us how popular and cool it is to be a Teabagger. Folks, this is the heart of darkness here.  Not only does Obama have to deal with the One World Order idiots, he has to deal with Birthers, the Climate Change Conspiracists, the folks that see George Soros in every shadow, and the rest of the lunatics.  Oh, and the flat-out racists too.

This is the poison populism that's running uncontrolled in the GOP ranks (and it's beginning to infect some in the left, too.)  I only hope in the end the American voter can reject this idiocy before it melts our country into slag.  The GOP is cynically embracing these fools to gain political power.  But the cost is too high, and even conservatives like Jonathan Kay are starting to ask about that price tag.

The Republican Exodus Continues

Facing stiff primary challenges from Teabaggers and an electorate that still despises the Party of No, Republicans are bolting from Congress at an even higher rate than Democrats.  The latest Republican to throw the towel in is expected to be Michigan's Vern Ehlers this morning.  Hotline:
A press release from Ehler's office says the presser "follow[s] speculation about his plans to continue serving" in the House. Several GOP sources tell Hotline OnCall his wife had a heart attack last week, further lending credence to speculation he will step aside.

The 2/10 announcement will come a day after state Rep. Justin Amash (R) announced a primary challenge to Ehlers.

This Grand Rapids-based seat, under the right circumstances, is a potential pickup opportunity for Dems. In the '08 Dem wave, and with the GOP virtually conceding MI, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) eked out a 49%-49% win over Pres. Obama. But in much better times for the GOP in '04, George W. Bush won a comfortable 59-40% win over Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). The current enviro., both nationally and in MI, indicate that GOPers should be in a much safer place to hold this open seat. Ehlers, meanwhile, has never won with less than 61%.

Besides Amash, a GOP source names state Sen. Bill Hardiman (R) as a potential candidate. Hardiman, an African-American, represents a Grand Rapids-based seat in the Legislature, and was former mayor of Kentwood.

Ehlers will be the 17th House GOPer to announce plans not to run for re-election, compared to 11 Dems who have done the same.
It's that last sentence that's the shocker.  If you were really expecting to be swept back into power and to take control of the House and Senate in November, would you be retiring at a higher rate than the supposedly doomed Democrats?

Republicans are getting pummeled by Teabaggers from the right.  The Hoffman Effect is growing, giving more and more Democrats the chance to limit the damage in 2010 as more and more House districts will have to choose between a moderate Democrat and a raving Birther lunatic.  Independents are angry at the Dems for not delivering, but they're not about to go put even more partisan Republicans into office, either.

This is why I believe the Dems will keep the House and Senate in 2010.  Realistically the Dems had such a big margin that they can afford to lose 25 or 30 seats and still maintain control.

And the Republicans in the House aren't buying the hype.  In a realm where incumbents win big usually, ten percent of them have already retired on the red side.

Not even the GOP thinks it'll take back anything this year.

Greek Fire, Part 4

The Greek Fire is spreading, and everyone is now counting on Germany to engineer a firewall to save the Eurozone's economy from a Greek default.
A German government official said that the steep decline in the euro and pressure on bond prices had forced Berlin to “take a significant step” in how to deal with the crisis.

Germany is worried that any flight out of Greek assets, especially government bonds, could hit its banks and those in other eurozone countries.

As the eurozone’s dominant economy, Germany would be expected to take the lead in marshalling financial support for a Greek bail-out. There are fears the crisis could spread to other eurozone states with big deficits such as Spain and Portugal.

“We’ve had to face up to the fact that what is now a Greek problem could turn into a European one,” the official said.

”We’re thinking about what we should do if the crisis spills from Greece into other euro countries. So it’s more about finding firewalls, containing the problem, than principally about helping the Greeks.” He added there were ”no concrete plans” as yet. 
The Germans are anything if not practical pragmatists.  If Greek debt is worrying them to the point where even they have to believe there's no other way out, then they will get it done.  But the Greek Fire has spread that far, that quickly, and the German response shows just how dire the situation really is behind the scenes.

The problem is Germany's about the only other country in the Eurozone that can afford to help.  The UK and Sweden aren't so happy about this plan:  they have their own problems.  They think the IMF needs to foot the bill.
Non-euro zone countries, led by the UK and Sweden, yesterday broke from the public position of Germany, France and other euro area states by suggesting that, if Greece required help, the International Monetary Fund was best placed to supply it.

A Swedish official said: “The IMF has the technical know-ledge”.

Officials in London suggested that the risk of financial contagion from the Greek crisis meant that it should not be regarded as a matter exclusively for the 16 euro zone countries.
The reasons why markets are up is the moral hazard of Too Big To Fail.  Investors know Greece will be bailed out by somebody.  They're just not sure who yet.  That's a hell of a detail to find the Devil in.


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