Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Last Call


A foreign national was indicted yesterday for allegedly illegally importing an unmanned spy plane into the U.S., and then trying to resell it on eBay.

According to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, Henson Chua of the Philippines was indicted and charged by a grand jury in Tampa with violating the Arms Export Control Act and smuggling. Chua is accused of importing an RQ-11B "Raven" Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from the Philippines into the U.S., which is listed on the U.S. Munitions List as a defensive item, "without having first obtained from the U.S. Department of State a license or written authorization." He then "aided and abetted the attempted export" of the same UAV.

U.S. arms code prohibits people from buying and selling defense equipment without permission from the government, primarily to prevent people from selling U.S.-manufactured equipment to foreign governments. But Chua managed to reverse the process.

According to the indictments, in May 2010, Homeland Security Investigations agents in Tampa learned from the Department of Defense that a "Raven" had been listed on eBay, for a price of $13,000. The listing also had nine pictures, which showed the bar code and ID number of that particular "Raven," through which the DOD determined which one it was, and that it was the property of the U.S. government.

Yep.  Dude tried to sell an unmanned Pentagon drone.  On Ebay.


Birthers Get A Trump Card, Part 3

People tell me "Wow, Donald Trump is crazy with this whole birther thing."  I just laugh in response.  Donald Trump knows exactly what he's doing.  People who dismiss him as a fool are themselves deluded.  He is as dangerous as a crane magnet in a steel knife foundry.  He's defining himself as the birther candidate, and that alone makes him dangerous.

Donald Trump is a salesman.  He's made his billions selling things. He knows that his path to the Presidency is a job of selling Donald Trump. He's selling birtherism as a mainstream Republican value.  There's a reason for that:  Birtherism is a mainstream Republican value.

                                      Demo- Indep- Repub- Lib-  Mod-  Conser-
                                Total crat  endent lican  eral  erate vative
                                ----- ----- ------ ------ ----- ----- -------
Definitely born in U.S.         46%   73%   43%    20%    73%   52%   27%
Probably born in the U.S.       26%   16%   31%    32%    13%   27%   32%
Probably born in another ctry   15%   5%    14%    28%    4%    11%   25%
Def born in another ctry        10%   6%    9%     15%    8%    8%    12%
No Opinion                       3%   1%    3%     5%     1%    3%    4%

Look at that.  Three our of four Republicans have some doubt about Obama's status as a US citizen.  That CNN poll was released today.  Donald Trump knows his audience well.  When Trump says "Hey, I have some doubts about Obama's birth certificate", he is reflecting the opinion of a vast majority of Republican voters that share his doubts.

And Trump's not the only one cashing in on this.  Jerome Corsi is due out with another anti-Obama Birther book in May.  Corsi, like Trump, is betting on oodles of free publicity from the Village.  Already, ABC News is asking if the birther issue is enough to make Trump not only a serious candidate for President, but a winning one.

The man's crazy like a FOX, and he's going to ride this idiot birther wave all the way.  And yes, Republicans really are this stupid...well, 75% of them, at least.

New tag:  The Donald.

When has a Republican actually paid a political price for too much Obama Derangement Syndrome?

The Badger Awakens, Part 5

Conservatives are going full-bore after Wisconsin state university labor relations professors, demanding to see all email related to the Walker union-busting fight.

A free enterprise think tank in Michigan -- backed by some of the biggest names in national conservative donor circles -- has made a broad public records request to at least three in-state universities with departments that specialize in the study of labor relations, seeking all their emails regarding the union battle in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, TPM has learned.

According to professors subject to the request, filed under Michigan's version of the Freedom Of Information Act, the request is extremely rare in academic circles. An employee at the think tank requesting the emails tells TPM they're part of an investigation into what labor studies professors at state schools in Michigan are saying about the situation in Madison, Wisc., the epicenter of the clashes between unions and Republican-run state governments across the Midwest.

One professor subject to the FOIA described it as anti-union advocates "going after folks they don't agree with."

Yeah, that level of rancor against university professors is pretty much par for the course. Fits the bill with conservatives going after state university professors who teach about climate change, so anyone that pays attention to Rachel Maddow would of course need to be eliminated as a Red Communist threat to America liberal.

Of course, conservatives are calling the move all about "freedom and transparency". What it's all about of course is payback for news outlets making FOIA requests involving Scott Walker. When you make an FOIA request of an elected Republican official, that's harassment.

Then again it makes perfect sense. Republicans are all about cutting billions from education, from Head Start programs all the way through university programs. The only real education is working as a serf, and the faster you start doing that and not sucking up tax dollars on your "book smarts", the more useful you are to the elite who control the country.

[UPDATE]  The Federal judge that blocked the law in the first place has thrown down the gauntlet again, issuing a second injunction against the law being implemented...complete with warnings of "sanctions" for those who cannot follow the ruling.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 19

With news now that soil samples taken near Fukushima Daiichi reveal plutonium, the collapse of TEPCO's credibility is pretty much complete.

In the latest blow to hopes authorities were gradually getting the plant under control, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said plutonium was found at low-risk levels in soil samples at the facility. 
A by-product of atomic reactions and also used in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on the planet, experts say. 
They believe some of the plutonium may have come from spent fuel rods at Fukushima or damage to reactor No. 3, the only one to use plutonium in its fuel mix. 
Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said while the plutonium levels were not harmful to human health, the discovery could mean the reactor's containment mechanism had been breached. 
"Plutonium is a substance that's emitted when the temperature is high, and it's also heavy and so does not leak out easily," agency deputy director Hidehiko Nishiyama told a news conference. 
"So if plutonium has emerged from the reactor, that tells us something about the damage to the fuel. And if it has breached the original containment system, it underlines the gravity and seriousness of this accident."

Yes, leaking plutonium might be considered grave in some circles.  Any wonder then that TEPCO is about to be nationalized as a result of the disaster at Fukushima?

Imposing state ownership on Asia's largest utility is one option Japan is mulling, National Strategy Minister Koichiro Gemba said on Tuesday, as the cost of fixing broken reactors and compensating businesses and households soar.

At the same time, the utility's ability to pay has been hobbled by a fall in generating capacity that is causing rolling blackouts that are expected to last for weeks if not months. TEPCO provides electricity to a third of the Japanese population and usually operates enough capacity to power the whole of Britain.

"I see no other options than nationalizing TEPCO," a fund manager at a major Japanese asset management firm said, declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. "People are so angry with the company and that anger won't subside if the government just injects money and lets the management stay."

Shareholders will be hurt, but the risk of the company collapsing without government support would be tremendous, he added.

The disaster and prospect of nationalization thumped TEPCO shares, which closed down almost 19 percent at 566 yen on Tuesday -- their lowest since 1964.

Seems like TEPCO is pretty much done at this point, as it should be. There's no way the company is going to be able to pay all the illness claims over the next generation -- and yes, that's how bad this will get, folks -- without folding. Hell, judging from the stock price, the company won't survive another week.

There's a reason why I think the total costs of this disaster will approach the one trillion mark...and that's dollars, not yen. Pretty soon I'm going to start having to append the Legal Stupidity and Criminal Stupidity tags. As it is, we're into Economic Stupidity as far as TEPCO is concerned.

StupidiNews! Read All About It Edition

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Beginning at 2 p.m. ET Monday, The New York Times will try to harness the force that has been wrecking the newspaper business: free access on the Internet.
The nation's most prestigious general interest paper will now charge readers for extended access to its website, NYTimes.com. In erecting a paywall, executives at the Times are trying to walk a fine line: generate subscription revenue from avid readers willing to pay, while still retaining more the casual customers who boost advertising revenue with their clicks.

Users get 20 free articles per month, after that payment is required.  It's an interesting model, but I think it would be more efficient to pay per click.  The article makes the argument that people are more likely to pay for digital content after the app markets have changed how we view those transactions.  However, $15 per month for unlimited online access is still steep when compared to the free competition that will continue to eat away at the big papers.  This may actually be the beginning of an era of news publishing where subscriptions aren't the measure of success, but that of clicks and reviews received.  That doesn't sound so bad to me.

Frankly, it has seemed that local papers have phoned it in for a long time, and have been reduced to AP / Reuters relays with the occasional local story to break up the monotony. The industry has been spoiled with loyal customers and little competition in a declining market.  Just like the rest of us, they should hustle for their business or make way for those who will.  At the rate of $15 - $35 per month for access to just one paper, I don't think it will go over very well.

As always, I'm curious to see what you think about it.  Sound off in the comments or on the Facebook page.

A Little Ray Of Sunshine: This Time With Meatballs

An extremely successful chef has made an enormous difference for hungry kids in his neighborhood.  This goes a little beyond the normal feel-good story, however.  It is about the sharp eye of a man who saw a need and filled it.  It's also a statement about an emerging population, the motel kids.  

While "motel kids" are found across the United States, the situation is very common in Orange County, California, a wealthy community with high rents and a large number of old motels. In 2009, local authorities estimated that more than 1,000 families lived in these conditions.

When Serato learned that these children often go hungry, he began serving up assistance, one plate at a time. To date, he's served more than 270,000 pasta dinners -- for free -- to those in need.

"Kids should not be suffering," Serato said. "[I had] to do something."

What he did was begin feeding those kids, in the most straightforward and efficient way he knew how.  At the insistence of his mother, he began to serve up hot meals to kids who may not have eaten otherwise.  He not only gave when times were good, he gave even more when times were slim.  There were lean times when he had fewer paying customers and an even greater need to fill, and he didn't slow down a bit.  Now he supports 200 kids in two locations, and is encouraging other restaurants to chip in, even if it's just a few meals.

Driving A Compact Over Obamacare

MoJo's Stephanie Mencimer files this report on the Tea Party's next plan to kill Obamacare by turning to the state level.

The tea party has a new plan to attack health care reform. While some conservative activists are still fighting to get the law defunded and eventually repealed, others are organizing behind a radical, states'-rights proposal that would go beyond merely derailing health reform. Egged on by tea partiers, at least a dozen states are now contemplating legislation that supporters believe would allow them to seize control of and administer virtually all federal health care programs operating in their states and exempt them from the requirements of the health care law. That includes Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly on which a sizable number of tea partiers rely.

The vehicle for this reform end run is called the health care compact, an interstate compact not very different in theory from the ones states use to create regional transit authorities, for instance. Recently, the nation's largest tea party group, the Tea Party Patriots, has thrown its weight behind the concept, seeing it as another way of downsizing the federal government. But the group may have other motivations, too. TPP has received a significant amount of money from the measure's backer, the Health Care Compact Alliance, an organization bankrolled by the right-wing heir to a Texas construction company fortune. Last month, the Alliance underwrote TPP's policy summit in Phoenix for a sponsorship advertised at $250,000. It has also become a regular advertiser on TPP's website and email promotions.

Along with TPP's endorsement comes its considerable army of activists, who are working to persuade state legislatures to pass laws to join the interstate compact rather than to implement parts of the new federal health care reform law. The Georgia House, which recently refused to move legislation that would create health insurance "exchanges" as required under the Affordable Care Act, also passed health care compact legislation. States including Tennessee, Oklahoma, Montana, Arizona, and Missouri are currently considering similar bills.

The heart of the compact maneuver is, ironically, a kind of collective bargaining, something that Tea Party faithful insist has no place in government, as it hurts the taxpayer.  It's states banding together to resist the "tyranny" of health care reform, and if that does set off alarm bells, it should.  If enough states join this compact rather than implement the law as passed, the Tea Party figures it can effectively destroy the law from within.

But remember, the point here is to tell the federal government that it has no right to compel states to follow the law.  Compact supporters want enough states to exempt themselves from the PPACA so that the law can't possibly work at a national level.  Even better, they believe that the compact, being interstate commerce, will solely be regulated by Congress and not the President.  They figure they'll get the money and none of the executive branch oversight as long as House Republicans insist that how the money must be doled out, and Senate Dems are forced to follow.

Or hey, they can just play for time until 2013 in which case they figure they'll have Republicans everywhere who will simply eliminate the PPACA completely.  Either way, they win.

It's a surprisingly good plan.  It's going to hurt millions of actual American citizens, but it's not like the Republicans give a damn.

Duh, winning.

To The Shores Of Tripoli, Part 8

The AP fact checks President Obama's speech from last night and argues that "turning things over to NATO" means things will continue as they have been with the US in charge.

OBAMA: "Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and no-fly zone. ... Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gadhafi's remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role."

THE FACTS: As by far the pre-eminent player in NATO, and a nation historically reluctant to put its forces under operational foreign command, the United States will not be taking a back seat in the campaign even as its profile diminishes for public consumption.

NATO partners are bringing more into the fight. But the same "unique capabilities" that made the U.S. the inevitable leader out of the gate will continue to be in demand. They include a range of attack aircraft, refueling tankers that can keep aircraft airborne for lengthy periods, surveillance aircraft that can detect when Libyans even try to get a plane airborne, and, as Obama said, planes loaded with electronic gear that can gather intelligence or jam enemy communications and radars.

The United States supplies 22 percent of NATO's budget, almost as much as the next largest contributors - Britain and France - combined. A Canadian three-star general was selected to be in charge of all NATO operations in Libya. His boss, the commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Naples, is an American admiral, and the admiral's boss is the supreme allied commander Europe, a post always held by an American.

Very much a literal interpretation of the speech, but accurate. But the AP did notice the same thing I did:  we don't have an end-game in Libya.

OBAMA: "Our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives."

THE FACTS: Even as the U.S. steps back as the nominal leader, reduces some assets and fires a declining number of cruise missiles, the scope of the mission appears to be expanding and the end game remains unclear.

Despite insistence that the operation is only to protect civilians, the airstrikes now are undeniably helping the rebels to advance. U.S. officials acknowledge that the effect of air attacks on Gadhafi's forces - and on the supply and communications links that support them - is useful if not crucial to the rebels. "Clearly they're achieving a benefit from the actions that we're taking," Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs, said Monday.

The Pentagon has been turning to air power of a kind more useful than high-flying bombers in engaging Libyan ground forces. So far these have included low-flying Air Force AC-130 and A-10 attack aircraft, and the Pentagon is considering adding armed drones and helicopters.

Obama said "we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people," but spoke of achieving that through diplomacy and political pressure, not force of U.S. arms.

And the AP is again correct here.  Nobody is buying the notion that the no-fly zone is "protecting civilians" and not helping the rebels both tactically and strategically.  If the goal in Libya is NOT regime change, for it has been stated that the goal is to get Libya to the point where they can decide their own fate, then it's everything the rebels need to achieve it.

It's very good to see that the pressure diplomatically is on to get Qaddafi to step down...but that again is regime change, is it not?  Even Obama has publicly said, as have other leaders, that Qaddafi has to go.  Yes, Obama is certainly going about it in a more intelligent wat than a Republican would have, but the prospect of an ugly ground war still hangs over this.

On the other hand, if Qaddafi does fold and leave, Obama will look like a genius.

On the gripping hand, Republicans will attack Obama no matter what he does in Libya.

Shutdown Countdown, Part 11

Ezra Klein is convinced a government shutdown is coming as soon as the end of next week.

April 8th. That’s the deadline for Republicans and Democrats to reach a deal on funding for the remainder of 2011. No deal? Then the government shuts down. And if I were a betting man, that’s where my money would be right now: the negotiations have become too acrimonious, the issues at their heart too numerous and personal to the parties, to make a deal likely even in normal circumstances. But in circumstances in which newly elected Republicans are trying to prove to their base that they won’t catch Beltway fever and compromise while Democrats are trying to prove they won’t get pushed around by a party that controls a minority of the federal government? A deal seems near impossible.

One way you know that talks are going poorly is that, over the last 24 hours, reporters have suddenly been showered with leaks and inside information about what’s holding up the talks. It’s not just that Republicans want to cut deeper than Democrats and pass a series of riders accomplishing longtime conservative priorities like defunding Planned Parenthood. It’s also that Republicans are insisting that the House’s spending bill serve as a starting point for all negotiations and Democrats are insisting that if Republicans want so many cuts, they need to be open to the cuts coming from outside the non-defense discretionary bucket. So the fights over “what” and “how much” have been joined by fights over “from where” and “based off what.” It’s not a good sign, at this late stage in the negotiations, for the points of contention to be multiplying.

I'm still not convinced of a shutdown.  If you had shown me this post six weeks ago as a message from the future, I would have agreed with it totally.  But in the intervening weeks what I have seen is that at pretty much every major juncture in this process since the new Congress was convened, Dems have folded.

Republicans have all but gotten a complete win on the budget here and the process has been the same:  Tea Party Republicans threaten to destroy the country, GOP leaders say "Well if you give us some concessions we might be able to put a leash on them", Dems offer billions more in cuts, and the Tea Party settles down for a few days, then the process repeats itself.

I fully expect another round of tens of billions more in cuts to be offered by the Democrats before the end of next week, which will buy another couple of weeks in the House for negotiations.  Dems are convinced that if there is a shutdown, they will be blamed, and not the Republicans.  Even the chance that they might take the heat for it is leading them to capitulate.  They're buying the Cantor Theory.

"Senator Reid failed to pass a budget last year and once again is abandoning his responsibility to offer a credible plan to cut spending and fund the government for the rest of the year. The Reid/Schumer leadership team has failed to take our fiscal crisis seriously, as members of their own Democratic caucus have pointed out.

"Our federal government borrows nearly forty cents of each dollar it spends, yet Senate Democrats want to keep spending money that we don't have. It is clear that because Senator Reid refuses to make any spending cuts, he instead plans to force a massive future tax hike on families and small business people.

"In the scope of our debt crisis, if Senator Reid and Senator Schumer force the government to partially shut down over these sensible spending cuts, Americans will hold them accountable." 

Every word of it other than "Senator Reid" and "Senator Schumer" (because they are Senators) is a lie, but the Dems are completely terrified by this.   Now, it's possible that the Tea Party will revolt and Ezra is right. But I think the Republicans can get one more batch of cuts, basically getting to the $60-$80 billion in cuts range that they put as their starting position, without having to give up anything but a couple of continuing resolutions.

Seems like a total win to me...unless Ezra is right and the Tea Party blows up the whole deal (which is very possible.)

[UPDATE]  Brian Beutler reports that Republicans are planning to can the White House's latest offer outright, leaving everything up in the air.  Entirely possible now that this is prelude to a shutdown.  It's also possible that this is prelude to a complete fold by the Democrats.


Related Posts with Thumbnails