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Midday open thread

January 10th, 2010 admin No comments
  • Baby, it is cold outside:

    By the end of the weekend, 180 million Americans may shiver through record-setting cold. Sixty percent of Americans will see and feel temperatures 15 to 30 degrees below normal.

  • Let’s talk creative gerrymandering.
  • Ken Burns is going to update his classic baseball documentary.
  • Motor City socialist activists mobilize inside the party to change it:

    Democratic socialists in southeastern Michigan can do something most of their counterparts across the nation cannot: they can boast of electoral victories. Moreover, they possess a level of influence within the Michigan Democratic Party of which many American leftists dream. And they’ve done it all without compromising their beliefs or values.

    Their success has come from working with, instead of against, local Democrats. …

    “As a small organization, how can we make a difference? We leverage our forces. We put our efforts towards a progressive Democrat challenging a Republican, or a progressive Democrat challenging a centrist Democrat [in a primary]. “

    “We don’t pick symbolic victories,” Green says, “We pick things we can win.”

    — Meteor Blades

  • Here’s a story you don’t see every day: Cops are ordered to return marijuana to rightful owner.
  • Color me unconvinced:

    Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) — Timothy Geithner, the former Federal Reserve Bank of New York president, wasn’t aware of efforts to limit American International Group Inc.’s bailout disclosures because the regulator’s top lawyer didn’t think the issue merited his attention, according to a letter sent to lawmakers.

  • Business Week looks at the new importance of IMAX to contributing to Hollywood blockbuster status.
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has announced its Top Ten Science Stories of 2009, including:

    The changing conditions in the ocean due to increased acidity from increased CO2 is one of the unknowns in future climate change projections.  LANL’s Climate, Ocean, and Sea Ice Modeling effort for DOE and the National Science Foundation develops the highest-resolution dynamic models of the world’s oceans and polar icecaps.

    – Plutonium Page

  • The New York Times looks at how spending habits are changing due to the recession, and Newsweek looks at just how long those habits might last:

    The Recession Generation: Those entering the workforce now will likely make less and save more—not just in the short term but for the rest of their lives.

  • CBS polls Americans about their weekends:

    Sixty-three percent of those surveyed say they ask themselves “Where did the weekend go?” while only 34 percent say they feel relaxed and ready for Monday morning. Working Americans and parents of children under age 18 are even less likely to feel rested and relaxed at the end of a weekend.

    While the weekends fly by for many, fewer than half (42 percent) of working Americans say they would give up a day’s pay per week in exchange for a longer weekend to spend more time with family and friends. Fifty-three percent of Americans said they would rather keep their current hours and pay even it means less time with family.

  • Proof that not all big elections this year are legislative in nature–social conservatives are gunning to claim a bigger stake of the Texas State Board of Education. Their success or failure could say a great deal about the quality of education for a generation of kids in the second-largest state in the Union. What are the goals of the cons?

    Another far-reaching decision will come next week, when board members decide what students must learn in U.S. history, government and other social studies courses. The board is sharply divided on the topic; social conservatives, for example, want a greater role for religion in U.S. history classes and textbooks.

    “I see [the elections] as a referendum on what we’ve done the last few years,” said Republican board member Don McLeroy, an outspoken social conservative who served as chairman until last summer.

    The seven Republicans who make up the conservative bloc have made their influence felt in new curriculum standards for English and science – including much debated language that requires students to examine “all sides” of scientific evidence for evolution in biology classes.

    In a real way, this matters every bit as much as any singular House or Senate campaign. Worth keeping an eye on. –Steve Singiser

  • Katha Pollitt examines The Decade for Women: Forward, Backward, Sideways?:

    Women are still drastically underrepresented on op-ed pages, on Sunday chat-shows, as experts in news stories, and are scanted in literary prizes, awards and Best of the Year lists, as actresses and directors and playwrights. It seemed like 20,248 articles and 1,507 books were published explaining why women’s inequality is their own fault.

    — Meteor Blades


How’s that Name-Change Working Out?

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Back in 2007, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced Senate Bill S 2398, the Stop Outsourcing Security Act. It collected a single co-sponsor, Senator Hillary Clinton.

The crux of the bill:

The use of private security contractors for mission critical functions undermines the mission, jeopardizes the safety of American troops conducting military operations in Iraq and other combat zones, and should be phased out.

It went nowhere.

Back in the heat of the presidential campaign, in February 2008, Senator Clinton said that:

“…from this war’s very beginning, this administration has permitted thousands of heavily-armed military contractors to march through Iraq without any law or court to rein them in or hold them accountable. These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised out mission in Iraq. The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.”

Indeed. And Clinton’s voice was not the only one raised against the damage done by mercenaries. A Congressional report found the same, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had tough words as well.

One of the main catalysts for those tough words was the company that now calls itself Xe but is still known to everyone as Blackwater. Although Blackwater’s contract for security work in Iraq was canceled after nearly five years of behavior that some might call scandalously reckless and I call bloodthirsty, the administration in which Clinton is now a key player has found itself unable to cut its ties to Blackwater. At a hearing last month of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, it was learned, as Justin Elliott reported at TPMuckracker, that Blackwater pre-qualified as one of the five companies to train Afghan police. It was learned too that Blackwater is the only company that handles security for State Department employees in Afghanistan. And it obviously has a security contract with the CIA for front line work in Afghanistan.

The question is why. Or, rather, what the hell? As if U.S. military interventions weren’t problematic enough, these cowboys still operate as if they were in some third-tier action movie. Not a low-budget one, however.  

As if all the sanguinary scandals and investigations of the past weren’t enough, all through December, the headlines fairly screamed “Blackwatergate.”

First came the news about Blackwater participating in CIA raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then a more than mildly perturbed judge ruled that the five company employees who had killed 17 civilians in Iraq couldn’t be tried because federal prosecutors had botched what should have been an airtight case against them by violating their constitutional rights. Then it was learned that two of the seven CIA operatives killed December 30 by a double-agent suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan, were Blackwater employees. Then it turned out that a third Blackwater employee was injured in the Khost bombing. Then two Blackwater employees were indicted for murdering two Afghans last May.

The news about the deaths at Khost sent Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, over the edge. She was launching an investigation she told Jeremy Scahill, a reporter at The Nation who has been following Blackwater since he began research for his outstanding 2008 book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Schakowsky said:
 

“The Intelligence Committees and the public were led to believe that the CIA was phasing out its contracts with Blackwater and now we find out that there is this ongoing presence. … Is the CIA once again deceiving us about the relationship with Blackwater?

“It’s just astonishing that given the track record of Blackwater, which is a repeat offender endangering our mission repeatedly, endangering the lives of our military and costing the lives of innocent civilians, that there would be any relationship,” Schakowsky said. “That we would continue to contract with them or any of Blackwater’s subsidiaries is completely unacceptable.”

Today, on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Scahill and Schakowsky. You can watch it, read the transcript at the link, or read the excerpt below:

JEREMY SCAHILL: … Let’s remember here that this was the worst attack on a CIA base that we know about since the 1980s. And here you have three Blackwater guys in the center of this blast at the time. Now, we’re not sure what the role was of the Blackwater guys there. That’s what Representative Schakowsky is investigating right now. But let’s say for a moment that they were doing security, because Blackwater has, since 2002, had a contract with the CIA to do force protection in Afghanistan for the CIA. They not only guard static outposts of the CIA, but when CIA operatives move around the country, Blackwater guys travel with them as their security.

So if they were doing the security there, and you have, on their watch, this incredibly devastating attack, not just against some random CIA outpost in the middle of Canada or something, but against the epicenter of the forward operating maneuvers that the intelligence community of the US is engaged in to hunt down Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, because this asset made it onto that base, we understand, claiming that he had just met with Ayman al-Zawahiri. So how is it that he walks in there with explosives? And then, I think that should be one of the things that’s investigated as Congresswoman Schakowsky takes this on.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congresswoman Schakowsky, your concerns about this latest report and what you’re hoping to look into?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: You know, regardless of what the role that the Blackwater operatives were playing in this incident, why is the CIA, why is any unit of the government, the State Department, the Department of Defense—why would anyone hire this company, which is a repeat offender, threatening the mission of the United States, threatening, endangering the lives of American, well, CIA and military, and then—and also known to threaten and kill innocent civilians? It is just amazing to me, astonishing to me, that we still find Blackwater anywhere in the employ of the United States government at any place around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, during the primaries, Hillary Clinton supported a ban on Blackwater. President Obama didn’t. How does that relate to what you’re introducing now, the legislation that you’re introducing?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Look, I’m introducing legislation called Stop Outsourcing Our Security, and the idea of that is that when we have mission-sensitive activities, inherently governmental functions in battle zones around the world, that we should have only people that bear the stamp of the United States government. And that means that that would include no private military contractors at all in those operations.

Now, look, when we have a situation where you can question whether or not these contractors can get away with murder—after all, this case against those shooters at Nisoor Square has been dismissed—hopefully that there will be another effort by the Justice Department to go after these people, because it was dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct, which is true. I think there were many mistakes made. But right now, these contractors are in a legal limbo. And so, if these individuals can get away with murder, imagine—you don’t have to imagine, you know what it does to our relations with the Iraqi government and with governments around the world. And now you’ve got a situation where Germany is asking, what were Blackwater people doing in Germany?

Not just Blackwater. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairperson of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, pointed out in mid-December that from June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan. In the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan doubled, to more than 10,000.

I suspect that the Stop Outsourcing Our Security legislation has no more chance of passing in 2010 than it did in 2007-08. That’s not merely troubling, it’s infuriating. Because whatever you think of U.S. policy in Afghanistan – and I think the White House is on the wrong track and we’ll all soon come to regret it – who can doubt that these private armies are a serious danger, and not just to U.S. “interests and image” abroad, but, quite possibly in the not-too-distant future, to citizens at home.  


Steele abruptly cancels ABC interview

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Uh-oh…is RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s head about to roll? CQ Politics:

Under fire from top donors and Congressional Republicans, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele Friday abruptly cancelled a scheduled noon interview with ABC News — the network that has played host to some of Steele more controversial statements.

Steele had been scheduled for an appearance on “Top Line” with Rick Klein, but after confirming his noon appearance at 11:15 with Klein, Steele suddenly backed out 15 minutes later, according to Klein’s Twitter feed.

According to Klein’s tweets, Steele initially blamed his cancellation on a mysteriousemergency meeting.” Next, sources told Klein there was not only no emergency meeting, there was no meeting at all. Then, the story changed again, with aides claiming that there was a meeting scheduled, but it wasn’t an emergency. Hmmm, sounds fishy.

Who knows what is going on, but just in case this is our last chance to weigh in on the matter, it’s time for our first ever official leadership poll on Michael Steele.

Let your voice be heard!


Categories: Politics Tags: , ,

Chris Weigant: Friday Talking Points [106] — Election Season Begins

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Before we begin our weekly talking points, we must sadly offer our condolences to Vice President Joe Biden, whose mother just passed away. No matter what side of the political divide you come from, or what you think of our Vice President, losing your mother is something everyone can sympathize with, so we offer our thoughts to the Biden family in this sad time for them.

Of course, in Washington, the craziness goes on as usual, forcing us once again to pay attention to various bits of lunacy. Topping the list of lunatics this week was a man arrested for jogging naked near the White House. Now, I’ve got to admit, although “streaking” is a fad we all wish would make a comeback, you’ve got to hand it to this guy for pulling such a stunt in January in Washington, rather than waiting until at least the cherry blossoms had peeked out. Jogging around The Ellipse naked in January? Brrr!

The media continues its ongoing lunacy, this week hitting their well-used chorus of: “everything is bad news for Democrats, all the time.” But we’ll get to that a bit later, in the actual talking points.

The final bit of lunacy is the breathlessness which awaits the decision of when to hold the State Of The Union speech, which was earlier rumored to possibly pre-empt the season-opening episode of Lost. This will likely go down in history as the first time the biggest speech the president makes each year had to worry about enraging fans of a television show. This is mostly due to the fact that previous presidents didn’t have to worry about such lunacy, and the fact that television used to actually have “seasons,” and the “season” started in the fall and went through uninterrupted to spring, after which time re-runs would air until the “season” started again. Nowadays, television has mini-seasons which start and end for no particular reason, at random times during the year, resulting in fewer actual new episodes for viewers. Don’t even get me started on that particular lunacy, please.

But we can all breathe a sigh of relief, as the White House is now reassuring everyone that Obama will not pre-empt Lost, but will instead pre-empt the last ten minutes of the Super Bowl.

Heh. Just kidding. Because that really would get some folks annoyed at the president. Hoo boy.

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

The Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was an easy choice. Senator Chris Dodd made an impressive announcement this week, that he would not be seeking re-election this year.

This is good news, because Dodd’s chances of winning weren’t good, and instead this virtually guarantees Democrats will hold this seat. Dodd, quite plainly, put his party’s interests ahead of his own self-interest. And that is a rare thing indeed in politics, even when you are faced with poll numbers which say you’re going to lose.

Senator Byron Dorgan decided to step down as well, but Democrats don’t have as good a chance in North Dakota of holding on to his seat. Dorgan was faced with the same bad polling news as Dodd, and decided one more run wasn’t worth it. To be fair, we’ll give him a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week as well.

Because politicians who step down early from a losing race at least give some up-and-comer a shot at winning back the seat. The alternative is to run a campaign everyone knows you are going to lose, and by doing so, give the other party an easy pickup. At least this way, even if Democrats lose, they’ll at least have a better shot at winning than if Dorgan had tried to run again. The betting is that Republicans will pick up North Dakota anyway, I have to admit.

But for putting party ahead of ego, we congratulate Senators Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd for winning Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. The award is Dodd’s ninth, putting him in third place on the all-time rankings, and Dorgan’s third, putting him in a nine-way tie for eighth place.

[Congratulate Senator Chris Dodd on his Senate contact page and Senator Byron Dorgan on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

I almost couldn’t think of a Democrat who disappointed me, which is remarkable since we’re really covering a three-week period this week (due to ourselves being pre-empted by our own annual McLaughlin Awards columns, of course).

But then Tim Geithner’s scandal sprang to mind.

Now, Geithner hasn’t been actually convicted of anything, but what leaked out this week was pretty damaging. Geithner, at the New York Federal Reserve, apparently was in the center of some hanky-panky involving AIG and the whole financial collapse last year (before Geithner was named Secretary of the Treasury). Geithner may have told AIG executives to keep quiet about some payments made (after AIG got billions of taxpayer bailout money), so the Securities and Exchange Commission wouldn’t find out about them.

This could be a big enough scandal to force Geithner to resign, although for now it seems he (and the White House) is hunkering down and hoping it will blow over.

Whatever comes of it, though, for telling a bailed-out company to essentially lie to a government regulatory agency, Geithner has more than earned Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Secretary Timothy Geithner has no contact info on the Treasury Department webpage, but you can always let the White House know what you think of his actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 106 (1/8/10)

The usual talking point from the media, no matter the subject or circumstance, is how bad things are for Democrats, as I mentioned previously. This week, it reached a crescendo of fantastical proportions, as news headline after news headline screamed: “Democrats retiring — midterms will be Republican blowout!”

Democrats, as usual, appear befuddled by the whole thing. Democrats need to wake up, and start sounding a little more confident about their chances in the upcoming election. Not to the extent of appearing Pollyannaish, but still, they need to realize that doom-and-gloom can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the political world.

Democrats face the same conundrum that faces teenage boys everywhere — girls aren’t interested in guys who exude self-doubt, they are drawn instead to those who appear self-confident. The electorate, in this twisted metaphor, are the teenage girls (which actually isn’t that bad a comparison, considering the fickle nature of both).

So instead of individual talking points this week, I offer up instead one big talking point — how to talk about the upcoming elections, and Democrats’ prospects. This may be seen by some as sheer laziness on my part, which is probably a fair criticism, but in my defense, I am in the process of preparing to upgrade my ChrisWeigant.com website this weekend, and have been swamped with lots of details on this front. Next week, I promise, we’ll get back to a regular format here.

So, for Democrats everywhere, especially those about to be interviewed, let’s have a little rah-rah go-team talk for a change, because the Republican spin is solidifying in the media’s myopic eye, and will soon set as hard as concrete. Democrats need to counter this — soon — with some of their own spin. To wit:

 

“I see the media is obsessed over two Democratic senators announcing their retirement. But what goes completely unmentioned in these stories is the fact that six Republican senators have also announced they’re not running.

“Let’s do a little math, shall we? Two Democrats out of 58 is a little over three percent. Six Republicans out of forty is fifteen percent. So, the media’s focus on three percent of Democrats retiring, while completely ignoring the fifteen percent of Republicans retiring strikes me as a little one-sided in its reporting.

“Over in the House, much has been made over Democratic retirements as well, while ignoring the fact that more Republicans are retiring from House seats than Democrats. This is not exactly ‘fair and balanced’ reporting, guys.

“In actual fact, the two retirement announcements by Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd were actually good news for Democrats. Before the retirement announcement, people were betting that both of them would lose their seats to Republicans. Net loss to Democrats, two seats, in other words. After the announcement, the smart money is that Democrats will hold onto the Connecticut seat. Net Democratic loss, one seat. By these announcements, Democrats’ chances in the Senate actually improved — but I must have missed all those news stories which examined this fact.

“History shows that a new president’s party will lose some seats in Congress in the midterm elections. But we Democrats do not see this as any sort of ‘landslide’ election, because we fully expect to start 2011 with a majority in both the House and Senate. We simply do not think that it is in the cards for Republicans to take control of either house of Congress this year.

“We’ve got some mighty good candidates running in some very competitive races, and if we ran the table, we even have an outside chance of picking up a few seats in the Senate. We do face some tough races to hold onto a few of our seats, it is true, but we also have some opportunities in other states of picking up a few seats as well. So I wouldn’t be writing the obituary of Democratic control of Congress quite yet, if I were you.

“Democrats have shown in the past year that we are willing to tackle the enormous challenges our country faces at the moment, and offer solid solutions for how to improve America in the future. Republicans have shown that they know how to say the word ‘no.’ Over and over and over again. It seems to be their entire party platform — stand in the way of progress, and obstruct everything rational adults know needs doing.

“We don’t think voters are ready to go back to the way Republicans ran things when they were in charge. We don’t think voters trust Republicans to be fiscally responsible, because when they were in power they refused to even pretend to pay for anything. Democrats have taken the lead in what is called ‘pay as you go’ legislation — making sure that things are paid for, and not just heaping on more spending.

“The voters are understandably annoyed over all the bailout money which President Bush had to ask Congress for, after the economy collapsed on his watch due to deregulation. But that money is starting to be paid back, and the taxpayers may even eventually turn a profit on the money, as the economy enters full recovery.

“Democrats are proud to run on our record, and will be making this case to voters everywhere this election season. And we are fairly confident that the voters are going to take a good hard look at both parties, and they’re going to see Democrats as the party that gets things done, and Republicans as the party of ‘no.’

“If the voters can even figure out who is a Republican and who is not, that is. It seems there is a gigantic intra-party struggle between Republicans and the insurgent Tea Party folks. The Republican Party is moving to a very radical, hard-right fringe position, and we don’t see that as a recipe for success in getting elected.

“Americans want to see their government work. Most of them aren’t interested in destroying government for some ideologically narrow viewpoint. But that, it seems, is what the Republican Party is offering them this year.

“Which is why I’m actually feeling pretty good about Democrats’ chances in the upcoming election. We think we can energize our base, and convince swing voters that we are the ones offering good ideas for moving the country forward. And, with Republicans offering nothing more than a vision of moving this country backwards, we think our chances are actually pretty good this year — especially since it looks like Republicans will be defending more open seats than Democrats.”

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank

 

More on Joe Biden


Kevin Drum: Obama Needs To Be Willing To Earn The Hate Of Bankers (VIDEO)

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Barack Obama needs to be wiliing to earn the hate of some bankers in order to pass financial reform. That was the sentiment of Mother Jones journalist Kevin Drum during an appearnce with fellow Mother Jones reporter David Corn on Bill Moyers Journal. Both were there to discuss Wall Street’s stranglehold on politics.

According to Corn, the push for reform is “not a fair fight.” It pits average, middle-class Americans against a well-funded and influential financial services industry that brought the nation’s economy to its knees.

Drum believes that Obama should listen to financial adviser Paul Volcker and former Fed chief Alan Greenspan and move to break up banks that are too big to fail. Both Drum and Corn believe the grassroots network that brought Obama to power could be effectively mobilized to fight for financial reform. But first, Obama has to commit to a new legislative agenda.

WATCH:

More on Financial Crisis


Categories: World Tags: , , ,

Dan Persons: Mighty Movie Podcast: Praise the Lord and Stoke the Conflagration: Kate Davis and David Heilbroner on Waiting for Armageddon

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

I’ll admit I have little patience for people who confuse religious mythology for real-world politics. You want to believe that, when the earthly going gets tough, you’re going to be zapped up to heaven and have a front row seat for the conflagration and the return of your deity? Cool, swell, no skin off my nuts. You want the U.S. to model its domestic and foreign policies on such fantasies, that’s when I politely have to object.

Which is to say that I probably couldn’t have 2010-01-08-babtism_river_jordan_310.jpgsat where the directors of WAITING FOR ARMAGEDDON did while interviewing people who dearly believe in the looming spectre of the End Times — including a couple who have come to their beliefs after, ahem, “scientific” analysis and a guy who leads tours through Israel and gets all giggly at the thought of the razing of the Dome of the Rock — and not wound up stabbing a pencil in my brain. I’m just not that strong.

Fortunately, directors Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, and Franco Saachi are, and their forbearance pays off in a documentary that gives you a good look into what a vocal and influential segment of our population believes is the world’s ultimate destiny, and what the risks may be in trying mold our politics to that worldview. It’s an important film for anyone concerned about the continuing incursion of religion into our public policy, and a balanced warning in particular for those who have noted the religious right’s involvement in Middle East politics without considering its possible costs.

Click on the player below to hear my interview with Kate Davis and David Heilbroner.

More MMP on HuffPost:
Scott Cooper on Crazy Heart
Kevin Heffernan on The Slammin’ Salmon
Aites and Ewell on Until the Light Takes Us

Check out the Mighty Movie Podcast homepage.

More on Christianity


Categories: World Tags: , , ,

Economic Outrage du Jour: Emails Exposed

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

Hugh Son at Bloomberg reports that e-mails forced into the light show that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, parts of whose job is supposedly to be curtailing bankers’ riskiest impulses, told American International Group to conceal information about its payments to banks while the financial crisis was unfolding:

AIG said in a draft of a regulatory filing that the insurer paid banks, which included Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA, 100 cents on the dollar for credit-default swaps they bought from the firm. The New York Fed crossed out the reference, according to the e-mails, and AIG excluded the language when the filing was made public on Dec. 24, 2008. The e-mails were obtained by Representative Darrell Issa, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. …

“It appears that the New York Fed deliberately pressured AIG to restrict and delay the disclosure of important information,” said Issa, a California Republican. Taxpayers “deserve full and complete disclosure under our nation’s securities laws, not the withholding of politically inconvenient information.”

You won’t hear any applause in this corner for the obstructionist, ultra-wealthy Darrell Issa. His self-funded recall petition encumbered us Californians with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the governorship, a position Issa himself hoped to capture. His support for English-Only laws, right-wing attacks on ACORN, dissing of the 9/11 widows and other antics since his self-funded campaign put him in Congress epitomize the politics progressives are duty-bound to grind into dust.

But, frankly, if the disclosures in those emails are what Bloomberg and Reuters and others are saying, congressional Democrats ought to be on top of this issue. Must we depend on the richest man in Congress to engage in an oligarch vs. oligarch battle to give us the skinny about what’s going on?

Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns says, quite correctly:

At issue is whether the 100 cents on the dollar payments by AIG to its credit default swap counterparties were a backdoor bailout.  Most market watchers believe that AIG counterparties would have received significantly less on the free market, exposing them to tens of billions in losses instead of taxpayers (see CW story from March 2009 on this issue). So, in a very real sense, many believe taxpayers were defrauded by the government’s handling of the AIG affair.  This latest revelation only adds to that belief.

Moreover, in regards to Tim Geithner personally, this revelation is extremely damaging. Not only did he, Paulson and Bernanke mishandle the Lehman bankruptcy which triggered the panic central to the financial crisis, but he has now been personally implicated in withholding – covering up, if you will – vital evidence on the looting of taxpayers to the benefit of financial companies, some of whom are not even domestic institutions. You have to see this in a negative light.

With the economy continuing to show signs of at least short-term improvement, many Democrats and some progressives in and out of the party, seem unwilling to second-guess what was done on the fly at the height of the financial crisis. And, with an election year already under way, there may be a tendency to stand publicly and firmly behind Geithner. Hoping for what? That even more damaging revelations don’t come to light before November? How much that was unknown when this was written might become known by then?

Next week, Chairman Phil Angelides will hold the first hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that was approved in May. Some people hope this will operate with the same spirit as the 1930s investigation that came to be known by the name of its last and toughest chairman, the Pecora Commission. If Tim Geithner’s name doesn’t come up a few times during those hearings, it will be a very big surprise.

= = =
The emails are here. (h/t to fladem)


Categories: Politics Tags: , , , ,

Obama Pushes Excise Tax, House Dems Fight It

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

President Obama remains steadfastly committed to forcing the Senate’s Chevy tax on health plans over the House’s millionaire’s surtax.

WASHINGTON — President Obama told House Democratic leaders at a meeting on Wednesday that they should include a tax on high-priced insurance policies favored by the Senate in the final version of far-reaching health care legislation, aides said.

The White House has long expressed a preference for the excise tax on high-cost plans, which health economists say could be an important tool in controlling long-term health care spending for the government and for individuals and families….

Senate Democrats are generally believed to have greater leverage in the negotiations to reconcile the two bills because they cannot afford to lose a single vote and some centrists have warned that they would turn against the bill depending on how it changes.

The Senate approved its bill on a party-line vote, 60 to 39, on Dec. 24.

But the House does not have much wiggle room either. It approved its bill on Nov. 7 by a vote of 220 to 215, with just one Republican joining 219 Democrats in favor. That means Ms. Pelosi could spare just two votes without jeopardizing the bill’s chances.

This is undoubtedly not a smart tax in terms of politics.

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) notes that Obama pledged not to raise taxes on anyone earning under $250,000 and that he attacked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the campaign trail in 2008 over his plan to do away with the tax-free treatment of employer-provided benefits. Pro-Republican groups are already turning the tables by running ads accusing Democrats of wanting to tax benefits.

“It’s a plan that has great political risk for the Democrats,” Courtney said.

And it’s so unpopular in the House that Courtney has the signatures of 190 Dems who oppose it.

Courtney actually collected the signatures against the excise tax back in September and October, but he said that in the only caucus of House Democrats before Christmas, the majority of comments from members objected to the tax. He said that the Senate is “leaning hard for their position,” and they have some support from the White House. But judging from Nancy Pelosi’s recent comments, “this is where there’s the most resistance to the Senate plan because she knows this is where the caucus is.”

Courtney believes that the feeling has intensified among House Democrats because of input from constituents at town hall meetings and polling, both public and private. He cited several public polls showing 2-1 opposition to the excise tax, and said that members have conducted their own polling showing the tax to be “politically toxic.” He added that “on policy and political grounds, the House approach is right approach.”

The millionaires’ surtax, supplemented by the Medicare tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year from the Senate bill, is much fairer, better politics, and doesn’t have the potential policy problems that the excise tax could bring.


Timothy Terhaar: The New Activism

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

The New Activism has been around in some form for years. Precisely how many I don’t know. It’s a label meant not to sew an ideology from whole cloth but rather to give some unity of purpose to seemingly disparate grassroots social projects and political causes.

Because of the diversity of its manifestations, it is tempting to give a disjunctive definition of the New Activism, a laundry list of exemplars. One of those items would be a suggestion made on this website December 29, 2009 by Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson that U.S. citizens transfer at least some of their savings from monolithic to local banks. Some other New Activist projects are Kiva, CouchSurfing, and the Freeconomy Community.

It is hard to define the New Activism without listing its manifestations because it is a rising spirit, not a dogmatic, codified set of political beliefs. It is not as concerned with questions about how involved a government should be in the lives of its citizens as much as it is that the government should be democratic and not oligarchic.

Beginning with what Eisenhower recognized as the then-incipient military-industrial complex, the U.S. government has steadily ceded more of its power, functionality, and agenda to vested interests. We the citizens still vote for representatives, but it is less our interests than those of multinational corporations and other rotting institutions of habit which are represented.

Lobbies have eroded many citizens’ trust in the ability of our government to design policies favorable to us. In betraying our hope and patriotism, this corruption of the honesty of representation has produced in us a deep political apathy and cynicism. We have been narcotized against the possibility of real political action.

Cynicism is inimical to a well-functioning democracy. The New Activism is user-driven and necessarily participatory. In order for common citizens to reclaim their political prerogative, we must take responsibility for the allocation of our resources. From that which is blighted, we divest; into that which is vital, we pour ourselves.

The fundamental change, as the Great Recession has shown us, must occur at the level of the structure of our government. For decades the system has reproduced exploitation and corruption. We must refuse to be robbed. We must re-imagine the possible modes of production and distribution. We must not depend on an ossified government to transform itself; we should instead seek to enact on the local level a system of empathic and voluntary cooperation.

What then is the New Activism? It is not revolution; revolution is a dialectical move in the debate between tyrants. Rather than employ violence or other direct antagonism and thereby imbue a failing system of veiled oligarchy with an aura of legitimacy, we should simply withdraw. An evolutionary political change enacted through the investment of time, money, and faith in businesses and institutions we actually appreciate: this is the New Activism.

Of course, as adumbrated here, the label “New Activism” could apply to diametrically opposed projects. I do not think this a failure of the scheme. Rather than think of it as a set of policies, it’s best to think of it as the political application and expansion of communitarian social values. A nation without community is a nation without patriots.

Indeed, mobilizing the Youth Vote has often proven prohibitively difficult precisely because there has been little honesty in politics and U.S. social organization has appeared uninspired and unjust. It is a hard thing to do, to take responsibility for the generation of community, but if we can understand that the deep-rooted capitalist process of social isolation and exclusively self-serving individuality is a prime cause of the current, rather bad state of U.S. economic and political life, we will have come a long way as Americans.

Mark 12:31: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than [this].

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AR-Sen: Time for Lincoln to retire

January 7th, 2010 admin No comments

Democrats dodged a bullet with Sen. Chris Dodd’s retirement, solidifying their hold on a seat that was sketchy at best. Connecticut is off the board.

That leaves two incumbent Senators whose polling suggests a 2010 loss. The first is Nevada’s Harry Reid, who is currently lagging behind two no-name Republicans — Sue Lowden (42-50 per Pollster.com composite), and Danny Tarkanian (43.1-48.1). Democrats would be far better off in Nevada with a Reid retirement, but the party (and Reid himself) continue to operate under the assumption that his dominant cash advantage and the machine nature of the state (the unions are strong) will be enough to pull off a victory. This isn’t the kind of election where money can dictate results, but the machine may be enough. Maybe. In any case, the Senate majority leader isn’t going anywhere, for better or for worse.

The other embattled incumbent is Arkansas Blanche Lincoln. Set aside her woeful handling of the health care debate for the moment, and let’s just focus on her poll numbers:

Rasmussen, 1/5/10

Blanche Lincoln (D) 39
Gilbert Baker (R) 51 (the likely nominee)

Research 2000 for Daily Kos, 11/30-12/2/09:

Blanche Lincoln (D) 42
Gilbert Baker (R) 41

Zogby for the League of American Voters, 11/16-17:

Blanche Lincoln (D) 41
Gilbert Baker (R) 39

Zogby is probably the worst pollster in the biz, and the League of American Voters is a front group for big insurance and big tobacco (if there was ever an unholy alliance). Still, their numbers are little different than ours. Rasmussen is the GOP’s favorite pollster, and his spin is utter horseshit. His numbers may be overly optimistic for Baker, but Lincoln is still at that same place, stuck around 40 percent. The DSCC released a poll for this race back in October showing Lincoln leading Gilbert 50-37. There’s been nothing since, and you can bet they’re polling it repeatedly. Their silence since October is quite telling. If the numbers were still that good, they’d be releasing them.

So you have Lincoln under 50 percent, which is relevant because incumbents under the 50 percent mark in reputable polling only have a 50 percent chance of being defeated in their reelection bids.

In the 2008 cycle, the following Senate races featured incumbents with at least one reputable independent poll showing them under 50 percent against their challenger: Alaska, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas.

Of those 11, the challengers won five: Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon. That’s a 45 percent success rate.  

All other incumbents running for reelection, those who didn’t suffer poll results under 50 percent, won handily. That’s a zero percent success rate for their challengers.

In the 2006 cycle, the following Senate races featured incumbents with at least one reputable independent poll showing them under 50 percent against their challenger: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington.

Of those 12, the challengers won six: Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. That’s a 50-percent success rate.

So over the last two election cycles, no Senate incumbent polling exclusively over 50 percent has lost his or her race. And of those polling at least once under 50 percent in a reputable independent poll, 47.5 percent of their challengers have been able to knock them off.

The closer those incumbents were to 50 percent, the more likely they were to survive. Lincoln, stuck at around 40 percent, is in dire straits. No incumbent dipping into the 30s survived in ‘06 or ‘08. Quite simply, she is unelectable.

Democrats have a thick bench in Arkansas, and could make a serious bid to hold the seat. But Lincoln won’t pull it off. She’s toast.

If Lincoln cares about her state and her party, she’ll do the honorable thing like Chris Dodd and retire. Otherwise, let’s hope Lt. Gov. Bill Halter forcefully retires her in a primary.


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