Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last Call

Senate Dems seem serious about filibuster reform for January.

All Democratic senators returning next year have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to consider action to change long-sacrosanct filibuster rules.

The letter, delivered this week, expresses general frustration with what Democrats consider unprecedented obstruction and asks Reid to take steps to end those abuses. While it does not urge a specific solution, Democrats said it demonstrates increased backing in the majority for a proposal, championed by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and others, weaken the minority’s ability to tie the Senate calendar into parliamentary knots.

Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it.

“There need to be changes to the rules to allow filibusters to be conducted by people who actually want to block legislation instead of people being able to quietly say ‘I object’ and go home,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

This year, McCaskill lined up backing from more than two-thirds of senators for elimination of secret holds, which allow a senator to block action on a bill or nomination anonymously. She said that Democrats will also push plans to force senators who place holds to do it publicly.

Both of those are great ideas frankly.  They should have been done two years ago.  I can only imagine the kind of things that could have been passed if there had been real changes to the filibuster.

Col. Mustard on the other hand believes there's no way this will happen, because Democrats will be in the permanent minority come 2012 or something and will have no way to stop the Republicans if they give up the filibuster now.

We'll see what the Democrats propose.

X-Files Hobbit Style

New Zealand's military (yes they have one) has released some 2,000 pages of detailed encounters with UFOs.

The New Zealand military released hundreds of previously classified reports Wednesday detailing claims of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings and alien encounters.

The reports, dating from 1954 to 2009, were released under freedom of information laws after the New Zealand Defence Force removed names and other identifying material.

In about 2,000 pages of documents, members of the public, military personnel and commercial pilots outline close encounters, mostly involving moving lights in the sky.

Some of the accounts include drawings of flying saucers, descriptions of aliens wearing "pharaoh masks" and alleged examples of extraterrestrial writing.

Before their release, Air Force squadron leader Kavae Tamariki said the Defence Force did not have the resources to investigate UFO sightings and would not be commenting on the files' contents.

"We've just been a collection point for the information. We don't investigate or make reports, we haven't substantiated anything in them," he told the Dominion Post.

I guess somebody in New Zealand has to document this stuff.  Poor guys.

Eat your heart out, Julian Assange.

More Failure To Launch

Homeland Security is working hard to keep would-be terrorists from making idiots out of themselves with fancy underwear this holiday season.

It was Christmas Day 2009 when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria was accused of trying to blow up a Northwest flight to Detroit by detonating an explosive device hidden in his underwear. Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, didn't address the incident publicly for several days.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan released a fact sheet on holiday security today that included improvements made since that incident, as well as the mass shooting in November 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, and the attempted bombing in New York City's Times Square in May.

Federal authorities have "taken steps to ensure past anti-terror failures are not repeated," Brennan said at the top of today's White House briefing, adding that past "deficiencies" are being addressed.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Americans shouldn't notice much of a change.

"We're taking additional step but of course we can't tell you about them.  Trust us."

Meanwhile, enjoy your enhanced patdowns, because you can beat body scanners with clever packing techniques.

Manic Progressive Bear Theater: Event Bear-izon

By Grabthar's Hammer, what a savings!  (Yet another NSFW warning).

Now I feel better.

STARTing Over On A First Reponse

I figured it would take longer for the Republicans to get themselves in trouble and go too far on trying to deny Obama a win, but they've fallen right into the pit and it's still the lame duck session for another week or so.  Senate Republicans especially have fallen apart on START.  WaPo's Dana Milbank correctly names these grandstanding idiots "The Petulant Party".

Eight founding fathers of the Petulants took the stage Tuesday morning in the Senate TV studio to provide an update on their latest cause: The defeat of the nuclear arms treaty with Russia. The New START treaty has the enthusiastic support of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the rest of the top military brass, not to mention all six living secretaries of state who served in Republican administrations.

But the Petulants do not care about Republican wise men. They do not care about the wishes of the uniformed military. What they care about is preserving the sanctity of . . . Christmas vacation?

"The fact that we're doing this under the cover of Christmas," complained Sen. Jim DeMint (P-S.C.), "is something to be outraged about."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (P-S.C.) was outraged. "Here we are, the week of Christmas, about to pass potentially a treaty," he protested.

And the leader of the group, Sen. Jon Kyl (P-Ariz.), is already on record saying the Democrats' legislative agenda amounts to "disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians." 

Yeah, someone needs to ask Jon Kyl how many Americans have to work the week after Christmas.   These are the same guys mind you are now continuing to block the 9/11 First Reponders health care bill.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, citing cost concerns, is threatening to block a vote on legislation that would provide additional aid to those suffering from illnesses linked to the devastation in New York following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Oklahoma Republican said yesterday that he is trying to reach an agreement with the sponsors of the $6.2 billion measure that would allow it to proceed. He couldn’t say whether that would happen before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

“We’re working on it,” Coburn said. “It costs too much; it allows things to be covered that should never be covered, like sleep apnea; it pays way too much to health-care providers.” 

Merry Christmas, brave men and women who risked their lives in the hours after 9/11 in NYC!  Tom Coburn and the Republicans are giving you a huge lump of coal.  Talk about a bunch of scrooges.  The Republicans have framed exactly what the Party of No means better than the Democrats ever could.

And they promise it will be worse come January.  Remember, the most important issue to Senate Republicans is Obama Derangement Syndrome.  Hy The Village?  Stop acting surprised by this.  Mitch McConnell said that the GOP's goal was not to help the American people, but to make sure Obama was a one-term President.

Now you're seeing that plan in glorious action.

[UPDATE]  And Tom Coburn gets whipped like a dog over this and gives in.  The 9/11 bill passes on a unanimous consent voice vote.

[UPDATE 2]  New START treaty ratified 71-26.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 52

Foreclosuregate continues to reveal the depths to which the banks will stoop to in order to foreclose on homes they have no legal right to do so, including literally breaking into people's homes, stealing their possessions, and changing the locks.

When Mimi Ash arrived at her mountain chalet here for a weekend ski trip, she discovered that someone had broken into the home and changed the locks.

When she finally got into the house, it was empty. All of her possessions were gone: furniture, her son’s ski medals, winter clothes and family photos. Also missing was a wooden box, its top inscribed with the words “Together Forever,” that contained the ashes of her late husband, Robert.

The culprit, Ms. Ash soon learned, was not a burglar but her bank. According to a federal lawsuit filed in October by Ms. Ash, Bank of America had wrongfully foreclosed on her house and thrown out her belongings, without alerting Ms. Ash beforehand.

In an era when millions of homes have received foreclosure notices nationwide, lawsuits detailing bank break-ins like the one at Ms. Ash’s house keep surfacing. And in the wake of the scandal involving shoddy, sometimes illegal paperwork that has buffeted the nation’s biggest banks in recent months, critics say these situations reinforce their claims that the foreclosure process is fundamentally flawed.

“Every day, smaller wrongs happen to people trying to save their homes: being charged the wrong amount of money, being wrongly denied a loan modification, being asked to hand over documents four or five times,” said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Identifying the number of homeowners who were locked out illegally is difficult. But banks and their representatives insist that situations like Ms. Ash’s represent just a tiny percentage of foreclosures. 

Well gosh, how can you tell it's a "tiny percentage" when the bank's paperwork is potentially fraudulent?   How many people have lost their homes and possessions because the bank flat out robbed them?   The entire foreclosure system is broken.  MERS is a massive scam, banks have been faking paperwork for years now and both contributing mortgages to securitization scams and keeping the same mortgage to potentially foreclose. 

The magnitude of this fraud is stunning.  Banks are taking people's homes because some MERS computer says they're past due.  They're not even informing homeowners, and then bam, sorry, your home and your belongings are gone.

If a "clerical error" can cause this, then the system is broken beyond repair.  No wonder Julian Assange is making bankers nervous.  These guys are crooked as hell.  Oh, and some 56% of banksters think the $90 billion banks set aside for bonuses is too small.

Just incredible.

A Bridge Too Far On DADT

And speaking of slimy Republican efforts to kill DADT repeal in the dark of night, not even Virginia's Republican Governor is ready to reinstate DADT for the state's National Guard.

A state lawmaker from Virginia is so upset about the Congress repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell that he wants to institute a mini-DADT banning gay men and lesbians from the Virginia National Guard.

"It's a distraction when I'm on the battlefield and have to concentrate on the enemy 600 yards away and I'm worried about this guy whose got eyes on me," the lawmaker, Delegate Bob Marshall (R), told WUSA9. "If I needed a blood transfusion and the guy next to me had committed sodomy 14 times in the last month I'd be worried."

Marshall says he's working on legislation to institute a DADT-style state law. His authority to do so, he claims, comes from the clause of the U.S. Constitution which reads, "reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia."

But Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who as the authority to deploy the state National Guard in a state emergency, says no way.

"Whatever the final guidelines are from the Department of the Defense, I expect the Virginia National Guard Bureau to adhere to them," McDonnell said during a WTOP radio show today.

"While I disagree with the action the Congress took based on my own experience in the military," he said, "we can't have two different systems in the military and our National Guard." 

I expect that at least some GOP states will move to reinstate DADT policies for the various National Guard outfits, but from a legal standpoint there's no way this works.  If McDonnell won't even sign the bill considering his avowed homophobia in the past then this one has nothing to stand on.

Also, why would a gay man want to have sex with this particular Virginia bigot, anyway?  It always stuns me to see idiots like this assume they are going to get sexually molested in the middle of live fire combat or something.

But that's how Republicans roll.

Eleven Dimensional Hyper-Chess For Dummies

Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum argues that Obama keeps winning, so the Republicans make sure to exact their pound of flesh for each victory and that it has taken a toll.

With this weekend’s decisive Senate repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gay service members, can anyone seriously doubt Barack Obama’s patient willingness to play the long game? Or his remarkable success in doing so? In less than two years in office—often against the odds and the smart money’s predictions at any given moment—Obama has managed to achieve a landmark overhaul of the nation’s health insurance system; the most sweeping change in the financial regulatory system since the Great Depression; the stabilization of the domestic auto industry; and the repeal of a once well-intended policy that even the military itself had come to see as unnecessary and unfair.

So why isn’t his political standing higher?

Precisely because of the raft of legislative victories he’s achieved. Obama has pushed through large and complicated new government initiatives at a time of record-low public trust in government (and in institutions of any sort, for that matter), and he has suffered not because he hasn’t “done” anything but because he’s done so much—way, way too much in the eyes of his most conservative critics. With each victory, Obama’s opponents grow more frustrated, filling the airwaves and what passes for political discourse with fulminations about some supposed sin or another. Is it any wonder the guy is bleeding a bit? For his part, Obama resists the pugilistic impulse. To him, the merit of all these programs has been self-evident, and he has been the first to acknowledge that he has not always done all he could to explain them, sensibly and simply, to the American public.

Purdum goes on to say that Obama has made his share of mistakes too, and those have been magnified by the Republicans as well.   Bob Cesca points out that Republicans can't stand the fact that Obama keeps beating them so they try to make the victories as costly and as painful as possible, and adds that Republicans aren't the only ones who want to see Obama burn.

I would also argue that the same thing can be said about the president's progressive enemies. The establishment press continues to operate under the false impression that the progressive movement elected this president. Wrong. Many of the top shelf progressive leaders were ambivalent at best about Barack Obama during the campaign. John Edwards was the progressive candidate. Not the president. As such, there's no real motivation among some progressives to see the successes, since they had little to do with the election of the president in the first place.

He's got a point.  People often speak of disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters going after Obama and swinging to the Republicans on occasion in order to punish what they see as his betrayal, but few folks talk about the ever more rabid group of progressives that never forgave Obama for beating John Edwards, hindsight about Edwards own personal foibles be damned.

There's a group of hard-core lefties that never saw Obama as anything more than a DINO, and that America was suckered into voting for him by a particularly slick campaign.  And they've never been too fond of his many accomplishments either.

Keep that in mind as the President signs DADT repeal into law this morning.

Obama's Lock Down Smackdown

It's the return of President Odubya.

The White House is preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention that will provide periodic reviews of evidence against dozens of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, according to several administration officials.
The draft order, a version of which was first considered nearly 18 months ago, is expected to be signed by President Obama early in the New Year. The order allows for the possibility that detainees from countries like Yemen might be released if circumstances there change.
But the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.
Nearly two years after Obama's pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo, more inmates there are formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention and fewer are facing charges than the day Obama was elected.
That is in part because Congress has made it difficult to move detainees to the United States for trial. But it also stems from the president's embrace of indefinite detention and his assertion that the congressional authorization for military force, passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, allows for such detention.
After taking office, the Obama administration reviewed the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay and chose 48 prisoners for indefinite detention. Officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that number will likely increase in coming months as some detainees are moved from a transfer category to a continued detention category.
If signed by President Obama, the new order will provide added review for detainees designated for long-term detention. The order, which is being drafted jointly by White House staff in the National Security council and the White House counsel, will offer detainees in this category a minimal review every six months and then a more lengthy annual review. Detainees will have access to an attorney, to some evidence against them and the ability to challenge their continued detention.

Good luck with that.  You imagine a single indefinite detention detainee will ever go free?  Of course not.   This policy?  This one right here is enough to make me seriously question Obama on civil liberties.  As I've said before, civil liberties and Warren Terrah is the area where Obama has failed completely.  He has surpassed Bush in the depths of his contempt for rule of law, and even fulfilled all my dire predictions of a McCain presidency here.

Obama has done a lot of really good things for this country, but this is the subject where he gets a completely failing grade from me.  An executive order allowing indefinite detention of prisoners without due process or trial, under the pathetic fig leaf of six month reviews?   Completely unacceptable and un-American.  Obama deserves every single bit of criticism, scorn, and anger here.

This is absolutely unacceptable.  No President should have power like this.  Try these men or let them go.

What's to stop Obama from indefinitely holding whomever he deems a threat, or god help us, the next Republican President we have from doing the same thing?

Think about that.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pay Attention To The Poison Pill

Republicans tried to block DADT with a sneaky amendment in the defense authorization bill, but when they got caught, Mitch McConnell pulled the poison pill and disavowed any knowledge of the move.

Just hours before President Obama planned to sign on Wednesday the repeal of the military’s 17-year ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces, Republicans tried one last legislative maneuver to block the change.

Republicans in the Senate filed an amendment to a sweeping defense authorization bill that would have required the four military service chiefs to be part of the certification process called for in the bill that repeals the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

That would have put Marine Corps chief General James Amos, a vocal opponent of the repeal, in line to delay or potentially prevent its implementation. The amendment was filed late Tuesday to the defense measure, which could be voted on in the Senate on Wednesday.

But Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader from Kentucky, said late Tuesday night that an objection from a senator had been registered to the last-minute amendment and that it would not be included as part of the defense authorization bill.

Mr. Stewart made the remarks after advocates of repeal scrambled late Tuesday night to assess the potential impact of the amendment and to prevent its inclusion in the otherwise uncontroversial military spending bill. A senior Democratic aide in the Senate said “this would be a poison pill for DADT repeal.”

And of course, nobody's owning up to this amendment and McConnell is playing dumb.  It was only stopped because it was caught in time last night, but it could have gone to the floor today otherwise and it's possible there could have been the votes for it.

Pretty sneaky even for Republicans, back door bigotry.  Caught red handed, even McConnell had to pull the amendment.

But remember, Republicans negotiate and operate in good faith, and we should trust them.


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