Monday, April 19, 2010

Last Call

Afghanistan is just a really, really screwed up place.
A donkey covered with explosives and carrying a remote control detonator blew up at a police post Monday in the city of Kandahar, killing a boy and wounding four other people, officials said.

Zalmai Ayoubi, spokesman for the Kandahar government, said a young boy was killed by the blast and two police and two civilians were slightly injured.

The attack took place at the Fazladding Agha escort post of the Afghan National Police in Kandahar, said Mohammad Shah Khan, assistant police chief.
My God, we need to get out of there.

Goldman Sacked

Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin's staff is promising a cavalcade of fun and excitement at hearings on Goldman Sachs later this month...or at least, a big ol' opportunity for some major league financial schadenfreude.

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh:
Washington is suddenly looking very unkind to the firm that used to be known as "Government Sachs." Now the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, is planning to focus hearings scheduled for next week at least in part on Goldman Sachs's role in the financial disaster. Levin's staff has uncovered new documents "that link certain actions to specific people" at Goldman, according to a senior legislative official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official would not divulge the nature of the allegation but said that Levin believes it amounts to "another big shoe to drop on Goldman." Spokespeople for Levin said they were not prepared to discuss the nature of the probe, but his committee has been conducting several weeks of hearings and one is planned for April 27 on "the role of the investment banks." "We expect to have some information tomorrow," spokesman Bryan Thomas said Monday. 
Things appear to be getting worse for GS, not better.  Many on the right are accusing the Obama White House of manipulating the SEC to bring charges against Goldman Sachs now as a political maneuver rather than out of justice.  The Republicans are certainly wasting no time attacking Obama on this, with Judd Gregg leading the way.
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, warned members on the other side of the aisle from using the charges for political purposes, saying that it's foolish to trump up the allegations that have not yet been tried in court.

"It's really disingenuous for some people to pursue regulatory reform based off this one instance," he said on MSNBC. "This is a single event, we don't even know what the outcome will be."

Which is funny, because any thinking person would believe the Democrats were pursuing regulatory reform off the instance that financial firms blew our economy apart, necessitating a two trillion dollar package of bailouts and loans at taxpayer expense.  I would think regardless of the outcome of the SEC investigation of Goldman Sachs that reform is still sorely needed to prevent that from happening again.

And it seems that the GOP in the Senate is starting to realize that Mitch McConnell wants them to burn for this.  Not everyone's interested in backing Wall Street right now and not everyone sees blocking this as a winner.
Senators could end up passing a financial regulatory reform bill with 70 votes by Memorial Day, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Monday.

Corker, a member of the Senate Banking Committee who has been intimately involved in negotiations for the bill, predicted a somewhat broad bipartisan tally, and saw it coming before Congress finishes this work period in late May.

"At the end of the day, despite all the rhetoric, I believe that we're going to end up with a 70-vote bill," Corker said during an appearance on MSNBC. "I believe that with all my heart, and I think we'll do it before Memorial Day."
To see that prediction coming from a Republican has got to be a gut punch to Mitch McConnell.  But again, the devil in this bill will certainly be in the details, and much remains to be seen what will be in the final product.  It does appear however that something will pass.

Flaw In The Logic

You know that conventional wisdom that "America hates Obamacare" and that running on repealing the law or suing the government is a winner?

That last part, not so much.  At least not in Florida.
 A new Quinnipiac poll of the FL governor's race finds that 54% of voters think that State Attorney General Bill McCollum's health care reform lawsuit is a "bad idea," compared to 40% who back the lawsuit.

McCollum (R) has been the public face of the constitutional challenge to health care reform, a suit he filed with 12 other state AGs.

According to the pollster's analysis, though, the "threatened lawsuit to void the new federal health care law doesn't sit well with voters, including independents, historically the key voting group."

This might explain the gains made by Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) since the last Quinnipiac poll in January, which showed McCollum leading by 41%-31%. This latest poll has McCollum only leading Sink 40%-36%.
Now this is interesting.  If the argument is that McCollum is suing because that's what the people of Florida want, why don't the people of Florida actually want McCollum to sue?

Perhaps somebody should ask him.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

DougJ at Balloon Juice asks:
By chance, since I started reading a lot of conservative blogs (in place of Politico), I had been thinking there were three spheres of intellectual conservatism. These are philosophical rather than structural divisions. First off, we have to exclude “legacy conservatives”—people who are identify as conservative simply because of the way they were brought up (e.g. Chris Buckley) or because they think their school-day intellectual predilections make them life-long conservatives (e.g. Andrew Sullivan). Once we’ve excluded these crypto-liberals, we’re left with three basic divisions:

  1. “Atlas Shrugged” conservatives: Megan McArdle, the Reasonoids, Larry Kudlow, etc.
  2. “Chronicles Of Narnia” conservatives: Ross Douthat, Peggy Noonan, many other Catholic conservatives.
  3. “300” conservatives: Victor David Hanson, war bloggers, any neoconservatives.
There’s lots of overlap, especially among the “Atlas Shrugged” and “300” crowds: Glenn Reynolds, Pam Geller, etc.

Is this about right?
Well, let's see:  that boils down to the StupidiTags of:  Economic Stupidity, Social Stupidity, and Military Stupidity.

Yep, that pretty much sums up your wingers.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Once again, someone needs to tell conservatives that using Twitter immediately becomes a bad idea the second you forget that people other than conservatives can see what you said.

There Are No Racists In The Tea Party

Because Tom Tancredo calling to "send Obama back to Kenya" isn't racist, it just makes Tancredo an incredible assclown, along with apparently some of the other speakers at last week's Tea Party rally in Greenville, SC.  TPM's Jillian Rayfield:
The event took place at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, and featured former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) as its keynote speaker. Tancredo, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said that Americans are "going to have to pray that we can hold on to this country."

He added, referring to President Obama: "If his wife says Kenya is his homeland, why don't we just send him back?"
Oh, it gets worse.
 Pastor Stan Craig, of the Choice Hills Baptist Church, was particularly angry about the state of Washington, saying he "was trained to defend the liberties of this nation." He declared that he was prepared to "suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do."
Still gets worse.  And crazy weird, too.

Dan Gonzales, who Chairs the Constitution Party in Florida, asserted that "this is the end of America right here," and if the Tea Partiers "don't get to work we're going to be fighting in the streets."

He was not particularly kind to the Republican party either, claiming they were owned by the Rockefeller family. 
And yeah, it still gets even worse.
Another speaker, who claimed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is gay, noted:
I'm a tolerant person. I don't care about your private life, Lindsey, but as our U.S. Senator I need to figure out why you're trying to sell out your own countrymen, and I need to make sure you being gay isn't it.

No racists here though!  Violent, intolerant ignorant bigotry on display for the world to see, but no racism!  Vote for 'em in November, folks!

Crunching -- And Grilling -- The Numbers

Nate Silver's statistical superpowers are at times fascinating as he takes a look at, of all things, just how unhealthy the KFC Double Down really is.  From a calorie standpoint, the Double Down isn't as bad as, say, a Wendy's Triple Baconator.  But on a "crap per calorie" basis, the Double Down is only exceeded by...the grilled Double Down.
All of those products, however, contain more -- often substantially more -- calories than does the Double Down. They have lots (and lots and lots) of bad stuff, but some good stuff like protein, iron and fiber as well. Their calories aren't quite so empty, and they damned well ought to leave you full.

So suppose instead that we re-calibrate our metric by dividing by the number of calories that each sandwich contains. This alternate measure, which we'll call Double Downs per Calorie (DDPC), gets at the idea of how bad each product is for you on a bite-by-bite basis.

And here, things don't look very good at all for the Double Down, since for all that crap you're taking in, you're only getting about one-quarter of the calories that you need. On this basis, not only is the Double Down worse for you than any of the chicken products (Chick-Fil-A's Chargrilled Chicken Club, at 0.91 DDPCs, is the next-worst), but also all of the burgers as well -- even the Triple Baconator (0.98 DDPCs) and the infamous Thickburger (0.92 DDPCs). In fact, the only thing that beats than the Original Recipe Double Down is the supposedly healthier grilled Double Down (1.19 DDPCs), which is almost 20 percent worse for you than the signature version on a per-calorie basis.
Have a nice lunch today.  I know what I'm not going to be eating. Even a footlong Subway chicken sub is only half as bad for you...and that sounds pretty good to me about right now for lunch.

Food for thought, indeed.

Goldman Sachs Going To The Mattresses

As Taegan Goddard reports, Obama is ready this week to make a blistering push for financial regulation using Goldman Sachs as the poster child of bad banks, and Goldman Sachs is more than ready to fight back.
This expected push comes, of course, in the wake of the SEC accusing Goldman Sachs of securities fraud and, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the SEC has expanded their investigation into other major Wall Street banks.

The situation "has emboldened Democrats to ratchet up pressure on Republicans who oppose the Obama administration's proposal," the New York Times reports.

But Goldman Sachs is pushing back and as one senior executive at the firm told me over the weekend, "This is all out war.
Things are about to get interesting.  The case against Goldman Sachs is heating up, but it's the Shark Effect:  if there's blood in the water, sharks will attack other sharks.  And the seemingly invincible Masters Of The Universe at GS suddenly have a trail of red in the water behind them.  GW at Zero Hedge:
More importantly, the SEC action may represent a crack in the company's armor.

Before the SEC announced the charges, Goldman seemed unstoppable. It seemed like even countless tons of water pressure or scores of invading armies could not touch Goldman.

Now, there is a crack ...

Even if the timing of the SEC's announcement was wholly political (some commentators have called it bread and circuses or kabuki theater), and even if (as some writers have alleged) Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein himself approved the action as a way to diffuse pressure for bigger, criminal prosecutions against bigger players, tons of public pressure and hordes of lawyers are probably on their way.

Or perhaps Goldman is like the warlord hated - but feared - by all.  If there is ever a crack in the warlord's veneer of invincibility, the locals might realize that he is only human after all ... and decide they can - together as a group - take him on.
The rest of Wall Street may be quite eager to throw GS under the bus, folks...especially if it helps them avoid their own "SEC action".  Count on it.  And I'm betting a lot of these other banks are pretty damn eager to take GS down a few pegs too.

That faoums Sonny line from the Godfather comes up yet again: "If not, it's all-out war: we go to the mattresses."

This could get very interesting indeed.

The Big Dog Digs Up Some Bones

The bones in this case being the remains of the Glass-Steagall Act that Clinton repealed ten years ago by signing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act into law in its place.  Glass-Steagall was the firewall set up after the Great Depression between banks, insurance companies, and investment firms to stop them from getting into each others' realm of business.  Clinton's outgoing act as President was to bring down that firewall, creating the climate that led to the financial ruin that took place over the last decade.  Talking to Jake Tapper on Sunday, Clinton finally signaled he regretted doing that.  Crooks & Liars:
CLINTON: Well, I think on the derivatives – before the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, it had been breached. There was already a total merger practically of commercial and investment banking, and really the main thing that the Glass-Steagall Act did was to give us some power to regulate it – the repeal. And also to give old fashion traditional banks in all over America the right to take an investment interest if they wanted to forestall bankruptcy. Sadly none of them did that. Mostly it was just the continued blurring of the lines, but only about a third of all the money loaned today is loaned through traditional banking channels and that was well underway before that legislation was signed. So I don’t feel the same way about that.

I think what happened was the SEC and the whole regulatory apparatus after I left office was just let go. I think if Arthur Levitt had been on the job at the SEC, my last SEC commissioner, an enormous percentage of what we’ve been through in the last eight or nine years would not have happened. I feel very strongly about it. I think it’s important to have vigorous oversight.

Now, on derivatives, yeah I think they were wrong and I think I was wrong to take it because the argument on derivatives was that these things are expensive and sophisticated and only a handful of investors will buy them and they don’t need any extra protection, and any extra transparency. The money they’re putting up guarantees them transparency. And the flaw in that argument was that first of all sometimes people with a lot of money make stupid decisions and make it without transparency.

And secondly, the most important flaw was even if less than 1 percent of the total investment community is involved in derivative exchanges, so much money was involved that if they went bad, they could affect a 100 percent of the investments, and indeed a 100 percent of the citizens in countries, not investors, and I was wrong about that. I’ve said that all along. Now, I think if I had tried to regulate them because the Republicans were the majority in the Congress, they would have stopped it. But I wish I should have been caught trying. I mean, that was a mistake I made.
While I'm glad to see Clinton finally admit he's partially to blame for the mess we're in now, it would have been nice if he'd resisted doing so when he could have.  On the other hand, Dubya would have certainly signed that legislation into law during his first year, so odds are excellent we'd still be in the exact same boat we're in now, Clinton or no.

Having said that, yeah Big Dog, you screwed up.  You screwed up big time.  I'm glad to see Obama correct this mistake...or try to anyway, if it wasn't for the GOP blocking the effort to try.

Wonder why that is?  Can't be the GOP wants to see the economy burn between now and 2012, right?  Naah...

Vegas Village Idiocy

A really weird op-ed out of the Las Vegas Review-Journal over the weekend.  Steve Benen explains:
I like to think I can take a joke, and appreciate political commentary intended as humor, but this item from Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, wasn't amusing. The headline read, "Time to repeal the 19th Amendment?"
People and candidates for public office should be judged on the basis of their ideas, stance on the issues, character, experience and integrity, not on the basis of age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability.
Therefore, we must repeal the 19th Amendment. Yes, the one granting suffrage to women. Because? Well, women are biased..... Men are consistent. Women are fickle and biased.
To "prove" his point, Mitchell, head of Nevada's largest newspaper, pointed to poll results showing women voters in the state preferring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) over former state Sen. Sue Lowden (R) by a narrow margin, but preferring Reid over real estate agent Danny Tarkanian by a wide margin. This is evidence of "bias." (That women voters might perceive Lowden as more qualified than Tarkanian doesn't seem to enter the equation at all.)

Mitchell also pointed to recent Gallup data that showed, nationwide, women tend to prefer Democrats, while men tend to prefer Republicans. This, apparently, substantiates the argument that ... well, actually, I have no idea.

If there's a clever insight here, it's hiding well.
And if there's a punchline, I missed it too.  I understand there may be a point about no longer needing equality amendments in the Constitution in our "advanced" political environment and all...and then silliness like this goes ahead and proves quite succinctly exactly why those amendments are there.

I'm not quite sure what the point of the op-ed was, but it was poorly done.  Just because you're editor of Nevada's largest newspaper doesn't mean you should pen an op-ed like this.  You have the right to do it, you're the editor of the paper...but it doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Mitch Explains It All

After getting busted by the President in his weekly address over the weekend, GOP Sen. minority leader Mitch McConnell tried to explain to CNN's Candy Crowley about that little meeting he had with Wall Street execs. He should have kept his mouth shut.
"Did the meeting take place?," CNN Chief Political Correspondent and State of the Union anchor Candy Crowley asked McConnell. "What was the conversation?"

"Well, we certainly didn't talk about blocking the bill," the Kentucky Republican replied. "I don't know anybody who's in favor of blocking this bill."

McConnell added, "I thought [the president] wanted us to have a bipartisan bill. That's what I would like to have. We are in the process of gathering information from people all across the country, from Wall Street to Main Street to try to get advice about doing this right."

McConnell also said that he met recently with bankers in his home state who oppose the current version of the financial reform bill.

Pressed by Crowley about how Cornyn's involvement, at least created the appearance that Republicans were playing politics with the issue of reform, McConnell denied Obama's accusation.

"Well, look, we were talking about financial regulation, as everybody in the country is talking about it," the top Senate Republican said. "Most of the people in New York supported the president, the vast majority of them are on his side. They supported him during the election, they still support him. Is he saying we shouldn't sit down with his supporters and talk about a bill that he thinks we ought to pass and that I think we ought to pass? This is absurd, he..."

"Why was Sen. Cornyn there?," Crowley queried.

"Candy, [Obama] is the one who is trying to politicize this issue. We are the ones who are trying to get it right," he replied.
Nobody's in favor of blocking the bill, says the guy who is leading the efforts of all 41 GOP senators blocking the bill.  They're not politicizing the issue, says the guy saying the bill needs to go back to the drawing board.  That's pretty damned funny.

Hey Mitch, I'm a registered independent in the state of Kentucky, and I'm telling you, you're blocking the bill.  It really is simple:  the GOP is so cocky now that they will gain back the House and possibly the Senate that they believe they can shut down any legislation -- even overwhelmingly popular financial reform -- and get away with it.  I don't think reality is quite that bad for the Democrats, especially if the Republicans keep going down this road.

But the GOP figures you'll vote for them even if they side with the banks, insult your intelligence and lie to you about doing so by telling you they're not in Wall Street's pocket and let the banks off with a slap on the wrist, thus assuring we get another bubble that will burst and wreck our economy time and time again.

It's bad enough that even Candy Crowley is calling Mitch out on it.  The GOP leadership really does think you're that stupid, folks.

And Now, An OKC Bombing Anniversary Message

On the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal building, an armed rally at a Virginia national park is planned today to remind all of us that now there's a Democrat back in the White House, our little domestic terrorism problem is back.

Daniel Almond, a three-tour veteran of Iraq, is ready to "muster outside D.C." on Monday with several dozen other self-proclaimed patriots, all of them armed. They intend to make history as the first people to take their guns to a demonstration in a national park, and the Virginia rally is deliberately being held just a few miles from the Capitol and the White House.

Almond plans to have his pistol loaded and openly carried, his rifle unloaded and slung to the rear, a bandoleer of magazines containing ammunition draped over his polo-shirted shoulder. The Atlanta area real estate agent organized the rally because he is upset about health-care reform, climate control, bank bailouts, drug laws and what he sees as President Obama's insistence on and the Democratic Congress's capitulation to a "totalitarian socialism" that tramples individual rights.

A member of several heretofore little-known groups, including Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and Oath Keepers -- former and active military and law enforcement officials who have vowed to resist laws they deem unconstitutional -- Almond, 31, considers packing heat on the doorstep of the federal government within the mainstream of political speech.

Others consider it an alarming escalation of paranoia and anger in the age of Obama.

"What I think is important to note is that many of the speakers have really threatened violence, and it's a real threat to the rule of law," Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said of the program for the armed rally. "They are calling health care and taxes that have been duly enacted by a democratically elected Congress tyrannical, and they feel they have a right to confront that individually."

On the lineup are several heroes of the militia movement, including Mike Vanderboegh, who advocated throwing bricks through the windows of Democrats who voted for the health-care bill; Tom Fernandez, who has established a nationwide call tree to mobilize an armed resistance to any government order to seize firearms; and former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, who refused to enforce the Brady law and then won a Supreme Court verdict that weakened its background-check provisions.

Those coming to the "Restore the Constitution" rally give Obama no quarter for signing the law that permits them to bring their guns to Fort Hunt, run by the National Park Service, and to Gravelly Point on the banks of the Potomac River. Nor are they comforted by a broad expansion of gun rights in several states since his election.

The brandishing of weapons is "not just an impotent symbol" but "a reminder of who we are," said Almond. "The founders knew that it is the tendency of government to expand itself and embrace its own power, and they knew the citizenry had to be reminded of that." 
There is zero mistaking the symbolism of both the day, the lineup of the speakers and what they have said in the past, and the open display of firearms just a few miles from DC.  The "citizenry has to be reminded" of  the number of people who crawl out of the woodwork whenever a Democrat is in charge of the country, and that the Democrat in question needs to be afraid.

This is bullying, plain and simple.  A group of people who feel politically powerless after just 16 months are now taking to an open rally of armed Americans with the message that they will not fear the government, but that the government should fear them, on a day where 15 years ago, 168 Americans were killed by a truck bomb.

Daniel Almond, it seems, has no problem with the symbolism of invoking the deadliest act of US domestic terrorism in the 20th century to send a message to the President in the 21st.

The message is unmistakable.  After the OKC bombing, dozens of additional militia plots were foiled, and one, the Olympic Park Bombing in Atlanta in 1996, was successful.  The door is now opened again on this era of bloody lunacy, only now it's far worse.  Now, rallies like this one are daring the government to try to stop them.

Who will hear the message spoken today at this rally and decide now is the time for action?


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