Friday, November 30, 2007

Administration has admitted recession coming but how bad will it be?

What is happening to the economy?

Now that we know to expect a recession in 2008, how bad will it be? I've written before about the bind the federal reserve is in. If the economy slows down, the prescription is to lower interest rates. If inflation starts (and the dropping dollar and rising price of oil are pressing for inflation) the prescription is to raise interest rates. The fed can't do both at once, so it is hoping it can "muddle through" with only a little pain and no more rate cuts, and that the economy bail them out by turning back up so that they aren't faced with inflation that demands an interest rate increase.

Can the Fed make this work?

Throw in the current credit crunch as a monkey wrench in those Fed hopes. Jim Jubak at MSN Money points to the differing views of Wall Street and the Federal Reserve. Wall Street is of the opinion that the subprime mortgage credit crunch is just the tip of the iceberg. The Fed has already been pushed into making one interest rate cut it didn't want to make, and Wall Street thinks that there is a 90% chance that they will be forced to make another this year at their December 11th meeting.
The Fed believes U.S. economic growth can rebound in 2008 without another interest-rate cut and that cutting again raises the risk of igniting inflation and further weakening the U.S. dollar. Wall Street believes the debt markets and the big banks that support them are in such bad shape that disaster looms without another rate cut and another and another. Inflation be damned, Wall Street argues, the economy is at risk.
But what if there are more scary monsters hidden away in the securitized mortgages that the banks have been selling investors as investment grade investments that pay junk bond interest rates? And what about the survival of the companies who have purchased those investments and then borrowed money on them to make further investments?

The causes of the current problem

As we now know, those so-called investment grade securities paying junk bond interest rates were really junk (meaning high risk) in disguise. But a lot of investment companies treated them as low risk investments because that's what everyone else was doing. Jon Markman also at MSN Money, has written a report on hedge fund manager Mike Burry who recognized the mismatched risks and learned how to make money on the collapse of the mortgage market. He bet against the
fly-by-night mortgage brokers and major banks taking what he deemed "extremely unsuitable risks," using outlandish interest-only and adjustable-rate mortgages to get customers into houses they could not otherwise afford.

After listening to quarterly earnings conference calls by companies such as Countrywide Financial (CFC, news, msgs) and Washington Mutual (WM, news, msgs) and reading real-estate journals, Burry came to realize that home-price appreciation was the assumption behind every decision by borrowers, lenders, insurers and ratings agencies. He figured that once California home prices started to fall, the entire lending apparatus would fail and a credit crisis would ensue.

"It became clear to me that many people never expected to pay their loans back and depended on a rise in home values every two years to allow them to refinance," he says.
Burry has made about a 400% return on his bet this year as the mortgage crisis has become clear.

What's next?

The companies that bought those investments borrowed against them and loaned out that money also. When a lot of he investments default within a short time, those companies will also become insolvent and fail.
"I think we're headed into a deep recession, the worst since the Depression, as dozens of banks will fail," Burry says. "With massive foreclosures, there are homes that won't see the prices of two years ago for decades." And with the $500 billion home-equity spigot turned off, the money to pay off credit card debt, student loans and auto loans has evaporated. "We're looking at a lot of pain ahead."
How large is the problem?

This goes way beyond just subprime and ARM mortgages sold to people who can't pay the monthly mortgage after the ARMs reset. Merrill Lynch recently avoided hiring their first choice for their new CEO when he set a precondition that they determine how risky their investments were first. The Merrill Lynch Board of Directors would rather not know just how bad their investments really are all together. They just want the bad ones to pop up a few at a time so that they can be handled. It is my opinion that if they ever found out all at once how bad it is, the Board feared they would have to admit they were insolvent. Burry is not through shorting the credit market.
Burry remains short the corporate debt of major U.S. financial institutions, as he believes several will collapse under the weight of their write-offs. Optimists believe a Fannie Mae (FNM, news, msgs) or Citigroup (C, news, msgs) may be too big to fail, but Burry asks, "How many too-big-to-fail companies can fail at the same time?"
"Too big to fail." That means that if a company is so large that its failure threatens the existence of the market itself, the Federal Reserve will organize a rescue operation. But if too many companies that size fail at the same time, there will be no one left to bail out the ones that are failing.

That is a recipe for the worst recession since the Great Depression. I don't yet know if such a financial disaster is on the horizon. I do know that the experts expect a recession next year, and I also know that they tend to speak in very positive tones so as to not cause runs on the banks simply by acknowledging that there are financial problems. So I assume that the story that the recession is expected to be a mild one is the best possible scenario, not the most likely one. So I expect a reality that is somewhere between the disaster Burry says he expects and the mild recession the Bush administration Financial experts have admitted we should expect next year.

So with recession, there will be no inflation. Right?

One thing that seems very likely to be, though, is that along with the recession of next year we can expect inflation. The Fed is being forced into lowering interest rates, the dollar is dropping, oil prices are rising, and that all should lead us to expect inflation, unless by some miracle the economy turns around quickly and bails the Fed out. Exports are rising as the dollar drops. Unfortunately, employment is not increasing very fast, so the consumer (who provided 70% of the demand in the economy) is not getting any more money to spend.

A best case scenario would have the economy increase as exports increase, followed by an increase in total employment that exceeded the number of new workers entering the economy, and at the same time a lot of people who had given up looking for work would reenter the economy and keep the the unemployment rate around 5%. The real purpose of the unemployment rate measure is to predict the likelihood of inflation. If it drops below about 4%, then that is another pressure on the economy towards inflation.


Unfortunately, the most likely scenario that I see gives us the combination of recession and inflation that lasted from the Ford administration through the first three years of the Reagan administration and was called Stagflation. That will be the direct result of the working out of the credit problems and the simultaneous actions by the Fed to lower interest rates to head off the worse recession and satisfy Wall Street.

So my present expectations are a worse recession than we are being warned to expect, together with extended Stagflation until the Fed clamps down on the economy and lets the bad securities take out the insolvent investment companies.

The blame

And this will be somewhere between bad and really bad. Who's to blame? It is the greed of a bunch of wall street investors and mortgage brokers who were unrestrained because of the Republican free trade mantra (most of the bad mortgages never should have been made), the rating agencies who were bought by the sellers of the junk securitized mortgages (the security seller would give the business of rating the security to the company that offered the best rating - again something that only government regulation could have prevented), Alan Greenspan who allowed the housing bubble to exist and did not clamp down on it because to do so threatened the reelection of Bush in 2004, and the Bush administration who knew what was happening but fought off either regulation or exposure of the problem just as they had in the Enron crisis.

Preparing for the future

Sensible people right now are getting out of credit card debt, paying down their bills, and saving what they can for emergencies. Anyone with a choice will want to be paid in Euros. Don't refinance a house with a fixed rate mortgage if you can afford the payments, because you may be able to pay off the home with inflated dollars soon. Just the uncertainty of what is happening is going to cause problems.

A lot of people will be making adjustments in their lifestyle. Start now and live more cheaply. The powers-that-be will be urging everyone to go out and spend more, in hopes that such spending will help the economy. the fact is, people who follow their instructions will be thrown under the bus when the real problems hit, and the free market conservatives will blame the individuals who listened to those who told them to spend.

Who knows? Maybe I am just acting as a Casandra. Maybe just a pessimist. But we know a recession of some level is coming, so this is not a time to be taking financial risks.

Which is the real Rudy? I know! I know! Ask me! Ask me!

Now that the Press is confronting Giuliani on what he has been saying, all of a sudden the good will towards the press has disappeared. MSNBC has the story:
OKATIE, SC -- Giuliani refused to take questions here today about allegations that travel expenses were picked up by obscure city offices when he was mayor of New York City.

“We’ve already explained it,” he said, walking past reporters after a town hall meeting.

Giuliani, who is normally friendly to reporters, bristled past them, and campaign staffers were unusually physical in keeping the press away. Several campaign aides told campaign reporters to return to the press area, and some of his security detail manhandled reporters. On other occasions, reporters have been free to video Giuliani as he is shaking hands and signing autographs after events, and he often informally takes questions from reporters.
He'll say anything as long as you let him and don't question his facts and his narrative. Confront him and you are cut off.

Make you suspicious? It would me, if I didn't already know about the lies and the lurid personal history of serial polygamy and infidelity. For me it is just confirmation.

Huckabbee as the Republican nominee? No one is laughing any more.

Here's what Jonathan Zasloff wrote January 18, 2007:
The Republicans aren't stupid, and they are still a tightly organized ship. They will look for someone who is right-wing but doesn't really seem like it. That's Huckabee, and given everyone else's flaws, they will, I believe, turn to him. The key is whether he can get funding.

If it happens, you heard it here first. The 2008 Republican nominee will be Mike Huckabee, and he will be a formidable challenger.
With Giuliani crashing, that leaves only Romney and Huckabee, and I really don't think the evangelical Right will vote for a Mormon. The amount of their displeasure with the non-Christian Mormon is indicated by the growing support for Huckabee.

Mark Kleiman posts that he thinks the Republicans are going towards Huckabbee, and provides this reasoning:
Huckabee's problem with the theocons has been that no one thought he could ever break out of the pack. Theocon leaders tried to bet on likely winners, and theocon voters were left without a candidate of their own. But now that Huckabee is moving up in the polls, why should the evangelical base of the party accept a Romney or a Thompson as their guy if there's a serious candidate who's actually one of them?

Huckabee's other problem has been with the money-cons. Grover Norquist and Steve Forbes hate him because he isn't a complete anti-tax fanatic, and actually went along with a tax increase when he was governor. They'd love to show that they can punish Huckabee for his heresy, thus increasing their capacity to mau-mau other Republican officeholders.

But people who define their politics in terms of being against taxation are generally (Ron Paul supporters excepted) somewhat more subject to reasoned argument than people who define their politics in terms of hating gays. The serious money people — both individual greedheads and the NAM/Chamber of Commerce businessfolks — aren't nearly as interested in theological purity on the tax question as they are in making sure that their taxes don't go up. For their purposes, any Republican is better than any Democrat, and if Huckabee can get more votes in a general election than Romney, they're not going to stick with Romney.

So it seems likely to me that Huckabee's rise will be self-reinforcing. Money is going to flood in to his campaign, and dispirited Republican voters will flock toward someone who doesn't look like an obvious loser.
I hadn't thought Huckabee was even capable of getting the nomination, but as Bill Clinton (the previous national politician from Hope, Ark.) said months ago, Huckabee comes from the story-telling tradition of Arkansas and is an excellent politician. He sure seems to have won the Florida debate last Wednesday.

However, the article written by Joe Klein shows that his very strength - that he does not come off as a right-wing crazy like Tom Tancredo - is a severe weakness in his effort to win the Republican nomination. So I'm not ready to cede Huckabee the Republican nomination. Still, I no longer write him off for the nomination as I had previously. Huckabee's greatest strength is the weakness of the entire Republican field of nominees, which together with his own strengths as a politician just might give him the nomination.

For the general election, he will run into people like me who would never, under any circumstances vote for or accept a priest, preacher, or other religious leader as President. I don't think that is just me, or some group of secular or religiously liberal Democrats that believe that. In his report from the Republican reactions to Wednesday's debate, he noted: Joe Klein noted:
They tended to like Huckabee a lot (60s to 80s anytime he opened his mouth), but afterwards most said he was too extreme, religiously, to be President. Really, they did.
I have to wonder if the weakness of the Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination is a symptom of the fragmentation of the previously highly unified and organized Republican Party. We'll know when the results of the primaries and caucuses begin to come in.

I wonder if a brokered Republican convention might actually be possible? Nah! That's too far out to seriously consider. Yet.

But so was a Giuliani flame-out and a Huckabee nomination a few weeks ago.

No racism here - no sirree

The most significant issue inside the Republican Part during this run up to the 2008 election is "illegal immigration." But the republicans assure the rest of us, it's not racism. It's about people who fail to follow the law when they come to the U.S. Really? Ask Arkansas State Senator Denny Altes:
The chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas called Wednesday for state Sen. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, to apologize for e-mail comments attributed to the Senate GOP leader by a television station.

Fort Smith-Fayetteville station KHBS / KHOG-TV reported Wednesday evening that Altes sent an e-mail calling for illegal aliens to be sent back and stating that “we are being out populated by the blacks also.” Dennis Milligan, the state party chairman, said in a written response that illegal immigration should be discussed “in a respectable manner, without pitting neighbor against neighbor or using fear as a divisive tool. [Snip]

In the e-mail on the television station’s Web site, the message attributed to Altes states that he’s for “sending the illegals back but we know that is impossible.

“ We are where we were with the black folks after the revolutionary war. We can’t send them back and the more we p *** them off the worse it will be in the future. So what do we do,” the e-mail states. “I say the governor needs to try to enforce the law and sign the letter of understanding... and at least we can send the troublemakers back. Sure we are being overrun but we are being outpopulated by the blacks also. What is the answer, only time will tell.” Altes has represented the Fort Smith area in the Legislature since 1999, when he was elected to the House. He served two terms there and has been a member of the Senate since 2003.

The U. S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimates that in 2006 Fort Smith had a black population of about 9 percent and a Hispanic population of about 13. 6 percent.

Altes has been an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, fighting Gov. Mike Huckabee’s proposal in 2005 to offer in-state college tuition benefits to the children of illegal immigrants.
No racism here. Nope. None at all.

What ethnicity is the name "Altes?" Can we just send him back where he came from? America doesn't need him.

Guiliani lies - again and again

Various blogs have been hammering away on the many falsehoods that drip from Rudy Giuliani's lips each time he stands in front of a microphone, but now the New York Times commits a rare case of journalism and lays it all out.
Discussing his crime-fighting success as mayor, Mr. Giuliani told a television interviewer that New York was “the only city in America that has reduced crime every single year since 1994.” In New Hampshire this week, he told a public forum that when he became mayor in 1994, New York “had been averaging like 1,800, 1,900 murders for almost 30 years.” When a recent Republican debate turned to the question of fiscal responsibility, he boasted that “under me, spending went down by 7 percent.”

All of these statements are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong. And while, to be sure, all candidates use misleading statistics from time to time, Mr. Giuliani has made statistics a central part of his candidacy as he campaigns on his record.
Go read teh article for the details.

So why is the New York Times actually committing an act of journalism? I can only assume that the New York Times editors have decided that Rudy is already political toast, so they no longer feel too threatened to get in and actually expose what a slimeball and fruitcake he really is.

This demonstrates that the New York Times is now a repository of yesterday's news. It is often a place we find news that was first reported by blogs, but the New York Times almost never will give credit when they are rewriting and reprinting stories first reported in places like Talking Points Memo or other blogs. We already know from the Judy Miller disaster that the NY Times is the place to find an unquestioned report of today's Republican spin. Looks like they have established the niche the NY Times should fill in this, the new age if Internet news.

Republicans support torture, nix any aid to the poor

Kevin Drum refers to Joe Klein's article which describes the reaction of the Republican base to the debate Wednesday night. Kevin's take is "the only thing these GOP voters hated more than helping the poor was being told that it's wrong to torture people."

Why am I not surprised?

Conservative crisis down under

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber describes the meltdown in Austrialia's business party (the misnamed Liberals) after the loss of last weeks election. It appears that almost all of the Australian Liberal Party leaders have announced that they are leaving politics rather than find themselves relegated to the backwaters of the opposition.

Is Trent Lott's recent announcement that he will resign his seat (See also this NY Times article) in the Senate before December 31, 2007 the beginning of a similar conservative party meltdown in the U.S. Senate? We can hope.

Go read Quiggin's post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Whither the Republican nomination contest?

Not a single vote has been cast in a primary and the nearest caucus is at least six or eight weeks away, so We have only polls and news reports of isolated comments to base any conclusions on regarding who the Republicans will nominate for President. So such predictions are probably quite risky.

That won't stop me from throwing out my opinion.

Josh Marshall was reviewing some charts of approval polls for each of the Republican candidates for the nomination, and reported his 'epiphany.' [Click through to TPM, click on each of the charts, and then go down to the charts by candidate for the most interesting view.] The polls show that Giuliani has been dropping continuously since 2006, while Romney has been increasing in approval. Josh's 'Epiphany' was that Romney was going to go into the actual primaries with surprising power. Josh considers it most likely that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.

I don't. I still think it will be Giuliani. Here's why.

I think that the evangelical Republicans will look at the threat of nominating a non-Christian, a Mormon, and as a block, reject him. I think that enough of the evangelicals will shift over to Huckabee to throw the nomination to Giuliani. The New York Times today has a report that the Mormon issue is hurting Romney in Iowa, and the beneficiary is Mike Huckabee, the ordained Baptist minister from Arkansas.

I think that Huckabee will draw enough evangelical votes from Romney to throw the nomination over to Giuliani.

But then Huckabee is going to suffer the same fate as Reverend Pat Robertson did when he ran for President in 1988. Huckabee is going to look good in Iowa, as Robertson did twenty years ago, but when he runs out of evangelical voters and people take a serious look at him he won't go the distance to the nomination. It's still a Romney - Giuliani race. So Rudy is going to pick up the evangelical vote as the least of all evils.

The only other Republican of any interest is Ron Paul. The Libertarians love him, and they have a large on-line presence. Dr. Paul is, however, the favorite of a small constituency, and when they run out he peaks out. The average Republican is not going to vote for him, and he has zero chance at all in any general election. Dr. Paul also ran for President in 1988 and attracted very little interest. He gets more interest today because Libertarians and the Internet seem made for each other, but a quick review of his record of bills presented in the House of Representatives show that he is not a viable candidate for President. I described Dr. Paul as a fruitcake in an earlier post and I stand by that description.

The only other two candidates of any interest, McCain and Thompson, have both seen their campaigns collapse over the Summer. McCain can't interest enough Republican voters favorably to fill a school bus, and his inability to raise money means that isn't going to change. The graph of Thompson's approval shows that the interest in him as a candidate peaked about the time he announced he was going to run and has gone downhill since.

So that's it. The only two real candidates remaining are Romney and Giuliani. Both are acceptable to the Republican money donors but they seem to prefer Rudy. Texas and Southern Republicans already appear to be coalescing around Rudy. Rick Perry, Republican Governor of Texas has come out strong for Guiliani.

If there is to be a real surprise that changes this evaluation, I think it will appear in the South Carolina primary. That primary is going to clarify all the muck and the Republicans will then know who to coalesce around to avoid a brokered convention next Summer.

Addendum 6:37 PM CST
Looks like I posted my opinion a few hours too early. From TPM election Central we get a report that Rudy is way down in South Carolina.
"On the heels of polls showing Rudy dropping fast in New Hampshire and out of contention in Iowa, a a new poll finds him sinking fast in a third key state: South Carolina. The Clemson University poll finds Mitt Romney now taking the lead with 17%, followed by Fred Thompson at 15%, Mike Huckabee with 13%, John McCain at 11% — and Rudy at only 9%.

It's definitely not a good result for Rudy, especially in light of recent polls showing him in third in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And it's great news for Romney, who apparently now leads in all three of the key early contests.
So it looks like the winner of Iowa, New Hampsire and South Carolina will be Mitt Romney. Rudy is going to find it difficult to convince Republican voters that they should nominate the guy who lost the first three contests.

I still see the size of the vote for Huckabee to be an indicator of how many evangelical Republicans will sit out the 2008 Presidential Election and not vote at all rather than vote for a Mormon. Also, I still DON'T see the Econo-Republicans supporting Huckabee. They have no hold on him and he is frankly too populist for their taste. Almost any other Republican candidate would be preferable to them outside of Ron Paul. I also see Huckabee as being fatally subject to TV ads that point up his flaws. I previously posted on some of Huckabee's flaws in " Huckabee - from an Arkansas reporter "and "Huckabee - more to confirm Brantley's report", both posted Nov 13, 2007.

Feel free to disagree with me. I'm just trying to read the tea leaves and use the results to predict which way the voters in the Republican primary are currently trending, and which changes are likely to expect. The tea leaves themselves (various news reports) may or may not be good indicators of voter sentiment, so I have to use my judgment to try to "weight" each report for consistency with the others, then see what is suggests.

I have tried to link to the reports I am basing my guestimates on, so go look. Weight them yourself and draw your own conclusions. Then, if you disagree with my conclusions, I have more to learn from disagreement than I do from agreement. Maybe I'll learn to do a better job. (And maybe trying to predict the future is just a fool's game.) In any case, feel free to disagree, but I want to know why. What do you see that I don't. Specifiy if you have evidence, or just a different judgment in weighting the evidence.

And do go look at the charts Josh Marshall refers to. As far as I can tell, that's the best relatively unbiased trend data currently available, all nicely wrapped up in a presentation that permits each comparison between candidates. Note that it does not include data from the last couple of weeks.

Personally, I think that watching politics beats watching a good poker game - and as the war in Iraq has proven, the stakes are a lot higher.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kerik's strange loan

What do you call a $250,000 loan given by a foreign billionaire who does business with the U.S. government to a well-connected American political operative? Does it help to know that it was a loan with no interest, no conditions, and no apparent date to be paid back, and was first passed to a Brooklyn businessman who then passed it to the political operative.

Does the term "bribe" quickly cross your mind? Does it help to know that the recipient of the "loan" was the Republican friend-of-Rudy Bernie Kerik? It was given to Bernie during his period of time in Iraq, but Bernie did not include it on his financial disclosure form for some reason.

Paul Kiel presents the story at TPM Muckraker.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Here is why Carol Lam was removed as U.S. Attorney, San Diego

Nov 26, 2007 - The most recent analysis of record from the Wilkes trial gives Emptywheel a lot to discuss. This came from the transcripts and subpoenas in the Wilkes case. Emptywheel at the Next Hurrah has been tracking the story. Below are earlier posts in time sequence.

The traditional media will not be discussing this because the CIA, the Department of Justice and the White House all don't want it publicized.

Apr 27, 2007 - About that FBI Special Agent In Charge. FBI Special Agent in Charge Dzwilewski commented on what happened to cause Carol Lam's dismissal and the manner it which it was done. Six weeks later he retired. Asked if there was any pressure to resign, Dzwilewski said: “I can't speak for what's behind all that, what's the driving force behind this or the rationale. I guarantee politics is involved.”

May 08, 2007 - The Foggo-Wilkes Leaks.

May 11, 2007 - Emptywheel looks at the Leaks. About that DOJ Leak.

Aug 09, 2007 - In The Leak Wars: Revisiting the Pre-Indictment Leaks. EmptyWheel looks more deeply into the alleged media leaks and the connection to the trial of Kontogiannis.

Aug o8, 2007 - Carol Lam did not know why she was dismissed, even after she left. But Elston at DoJ accused her of leaking the reasons she was removed to the press. The Leak Wars: Elston Accuses Lam IN actual practice, Lam was fired because she was threatening to indict Foggo, the third ranking man at CIA and Kontogianis, an individual who the CIA was protecting because he had been laundering money they were using for operations.

Is there an epidemic of suicides in veteran's from Iraq? The government doesn't keep records

The question is what is happening to veterans who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq. Don't ask the Bush administration, because they don't want us to know. Rick Perlstein reports on suicides among veterans. He learned that CBS had done what the Veteran's administration refused to do.

CBS asked the states for records of suicides among returning veterans, and the data for 45 states was quickly and easily available.
In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year.

Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)

One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)
If the veterans are committing suicides at twice the rate as non veterans, then the military is responsible for at least half the deaths. That's 3,128 suicides in 2005 alone, roughly three times the reported casualty rate in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period.

Rick has it right. Conservatives hate to count. Because when they count, it shows America how badly they failed. They can't count, but they sure can weasel.

Whatever the reason, the VA should be keeping records and trying to find out what the problem is. But it can't. That would politically embarrass the Bush administration, the Republicans who support the war, and Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Who knows? It might even embarrass anyone who thinks the U.S. should stay in Iraq indefinitely.

What is happening in the run-up to the 2008 election?

Want to get a really good analysis of the current stage of the 2008 elections? Digby has the best analysis I have seen yet.

US troops to stay in Iraq forever - Bush and Maliki agree

All the promises Bush has made that the U.S. will get out of Iraq as soon as the job there is done?

Bush lied.

He and Maliki have just announced an agreement that U.S. troops will be kept in Iraq to protect the Maliki government from threats both external and internal. That means they are not leaving Iraq. Ever. Go read Spencer Ackerman's article at TPM Muckraker.

Sen. Trent Lott to resign from Senate before 2008

NBC News

NBC News has learned that Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the minority whip is in the midst of informing close allies that he plans to resign his senate seat before the end of the year. It's possible a formal announcement of his plans could take place as early as today. [Snip]

While the exactly reason Lott is stepping down before he finishes his term is unknown, the general speculation is that a quick departure immunizes Lott against tougher restrictions in a new lobbying law that takes effect at the end of the year. That law would require Senators to wait two-years before entering the lucrative world of lobbying Congress.
Good Riddance. America will be better off with the racist Trent Lott in the private sector robbing widows and children on a retail basis instead of in the Senate stealing on a wholesale basis.

Lott's departure from the Senate is another indicator that the Republican Party does not expect to regain control of the Senate in 2008.

Addendum: Can Democrats pick up Lott's seat in the Senate? Go read Eric Kellfield at TPM Election Central for the state of play.

Addendum 2: I wonder if this is connected to Trent's Senate resignation? From Atrios :
Larry Flynt, editor and publisher of Hustler magazine, just told FOX Business Network’s Neil Cavuto that he’s “hoping to expose a bombshell” that will stand “Washington and the country on its head.” Within the next week or two, he says his magazine will expose a sex scandal of huge proportions involving a prominent United States Senator. Flynt refused to comment on the Senator’s political affiliation, but alluded that he or she is a Republican.
I guess we'll know in the next week or two, won't we?

What does Schadenfreude mean again? And is it a sin? :}

Here's a story about American jobs that have been off-shored

This is where New York City manhole covers come from. The owner of the factory says they never have on-the-job accidents.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Poorly written Republican drug bill hurts drug companies, helps patients

The drug companies who thought they were going to get a whole new set of customers who would have to pay full undiscounted price for their products has found a major flaw in their plans. 'The donut hole' of non coverage is driving patients to buy generic drugs instead of those still under patent and much higher in price.

The Republicans, attempting to pass themselves off as 'Compassionate Conservatives' and retain control of Congress in 2004 passed the Medicare Drug Bill in 2003 so as to avoid the anger of seniors who tend to vote their views and who had no access to insurance covering prescription drugs. Besides being passed one vote, 216-215, in violation of normal Congressional time limits and after some of the most egregious arm-twisting, was recognized as a major victory for the drug companies and their lobbyists. Both the House and Senate passed versions of the Bill that prevented the federal government from using the purchasing power of 40,000,000 patients and negotiating lower prices for the drugs as both Medicaid and the Veteran's Administration already do. It was a great political victory for the drug companies and their lobbyists.

Or maybe not.

The bill as passed was considered extremely expensive, even before it was learned that the Bush administration had prevented Bill Foster, the actuary who knew the real cost estimates, from reporting the $139 billion higher cost to Congress. Because of the anticipated expense of the program it had a strange feature known popularly as "the donut hole." After an initial annual deductible, Part D. pays approximately 75% of the cost of medications until the total costs of medications reaches $2,510 in 2008. After that, even though the beneficiary must still continue paying the monthly premium, Part D. does not cover any further medications until the total out-of-pocket expense reaches $5,726. The $2,510 is based on total drug costs, but the $5,726 is based on the out-of-pocket expenses incurred and does not include drug costs previously paid by the insurance.

In other words, the coverages stops at the total drug costs of $2,510, a limit that includes the amount of reimbursement for drugs, but does not again start until $5,726 in out-of-pocket expenses (which does not count the amount paid by the insurance) is reached. Let's look at some numbers.

DescriptionOut-of-pocketReimburseTotal drug Cost
Annual Deduct180
End init coverage2,510
Subtotals coverage8081,7022,510
Donut hole4,90807,429
[This is an illustrative example and uses amounts that may not apply to all Part D recipients.]

The $7,429 is the total drug cost less the reimbursement of $1,702. In other words, the donut hole is all drug expenses between $808 of initial out-of-pocket expenses up to the total out-of-pocket drug expenses of $5,726. That is $4908 in drug expenses not covered by Part D of Medicare.

In addition, while paying those drug expenses it is also necessary to pay the monthly premium of $24.80 or more. That is another $298 per year. Only after drug expenses have passed $7,429 does Part D begin paying approximately 95% of the costs of medication.

The trick to using Part D is obvious. Do not spend more than $2,510 in drug costs. Some people just quit taking medications when the coverage runs out at the beginning of the donut hole. But what a lot of people have begun doing is switching to generic medications. Wal-Mart is selling a lot of them now for $4 a month.

Don't wait until you hit the donut hole. Talk to your doctor, get generics instead of medications still under patent protection, and you may never reach the donut hole. And generics usually are as effective as the newer prescriptions.

Who gets hurt? No one, really. A prescription drug benefit has been needed as part of Medicare for decades. It's just that the Brand name drug companies are finding that their profits are lower.

The interesting thing as that this trend among the seniors is retraining health care providers to discuss price and choose generics whenever possible, so the trend is likely to spread to all patients. The result?

Health care costs will go down a little. More interestingly, brand name drug manufacturer's profits will drop. That's because the value of their patents is going to drop and they are going to have to actually compete for profits with the makers of generic drugs.

This really isn't what the Brand Name drug manufacturers paid their K-Street lobbyists to achieve.

[Note: the premiums and copays used above are the lowest possible. High income people on Medicare Part D may find their own expenses are a little higher.]

Two of three Americans believe officials were warned of 9/11 and ignored it

Nearly seven years into the Bush administration and nearly five years into the invasion and occupation of Iraq a majority of the American public has no confidence in the competence of the federal government and no belief that they have the best interests of the nation at heart. Surprise, surprise.

The first priority of government is to act so that society is largely stable and is protected from enemies, foreign and domestic. In a democracy, voters choose the individuals who lead the government based on whether their promises to deliver stability and protection are believable. Failure to deliver on those promises mixed with a great deal of self-centered corruption will destroy all trust in the government. 9/11 shook the American trust in capability of the Bush administration conservatives to deliver that protection and the 9/11 Commission report - stonewalled by the Bush administration until they were forced into the appearance of marginal grudging cooperation rather strongly suggest that the Bush administration knew enough in advance to have prevented the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. The bellicose statements by Dick Cheney, repeatedly proven to be untrue and excessive, together with the writings of his mostly NeoCon advisors who were strongly influenced by or members of the the Project for the new American Century strongly suggest that if the administration had known of an impending attack they would have preferred to let the terrorist incident happen to provide an excuse to achieve their long term dream of attacking Iraq.

Supporting this theory is the extreme secrecy the Bush administration has operated under, as well as the active repression of individuals who dare to question government statements. Further support is found in the refusal of the Bush administration to cooperate with Congressional oversight activities until forced to do so.

The only part of the theory not supported by the above evidence is whether the conservatives of the Bush administration, together with he Congressional Republicans who support them in lockstep manner, are working to benefit America or just themselves. The refusal of the Bush administration to even acknowledge that Enron had illegally manipulated power markets in California and intentionally ripped off consumers in those markets was a strong indication that the government was not going to protect Americans from predatory big business. The repeated tax cuts aimed specifically at the very wealthy (with fig leaves thrown to the middle class) gave similar evidence that the conservative motivation was to empower the predators and keep the rest of Americans powerless. But the most stark evidence that the Bush administration intended to hand America to predatory big business came when in early 2005 Bush announced his plans to dismantle the finest single program to come out of the New Deal, Social Security, and hand the money over to Wall Street vultures.

According to The free dictionary a conspiracy theory is "A theory seeking to explain a disputed case or matter as a plot by a secret group or alliance rather than an individual or isolated act." Wikipedia adds that the common use of the term "conspiracy theory" suggests that the apparent plot offers an explanation for events as being caused by a secret alliance of powerful individuals working in collusion behind the scenes to deceive others using power, fame, money or sex for their own personal gain.

It is hard to read of the way Bush's close friend Alberto Gonzales worked to politicize the Justice Department, the various sex and bribery scandals by Randy "Duke" Cunningham (CA - R), Jack Abramoff (See particularly the People convicted in Abramoff probe (as of June 9, 2007)), Tom DeLay, and the various forms of "voter suppression" (click the label below for a series of reports) that the Republican Party has been and continues to practice and not see the corruption of government by an alliance of social and economic conservatives. And the list could continue for a number of pages.

It is easier to believe that the Republicans, with a history like this, is guilty of allowing the 9/11 terrorist attack to occur so they could use it to justify an attack on Iraq than it is to believe that O.J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

The Republican history explains this report from Scripps Howard News Service:
Scripps Howard News Service
Friday, November 23, 2007

Nearly two-thirds of Americans think it is possible that some federal officials had specific warnings of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but chose to ignore those warnings, according to a Scripps Howard News Service/Ohio University poll.

A national survey of 811 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps and Ohio University found that more than a third believe in a broad smorgasbord of conspiracy theories including the attacks, international plots to rig oil prices, the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the government's knowledge of intelligent life from other worlds.

The high percentage is a manifestation, some say, of an American public that increasingly distrusts the federal government.

"You wouldn't have gotten these numbers a year or two after the attacks themselves," said University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster. "You've got an increasingly disaffected public that is unhappy with the administration."

Fenster, author of the book "Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture," attributed the high percentage in part to the findings of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (also called the 9/11 Commission), which concluded federal officials failed to prevent the attacks, but did not have specific knowledge of the date of the attacks.

An earlier Scripps Howard/Ohio University survey, conducted in July 2006, revealed that more than one-third of Americans thought federal officials assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East.

"What (the recent survey) could mean is that people are thinking that the Bush administration is incompetent, that there were warnings out there and they chose to put their attention on other things," Fenster said.

At a time when the price of crude oil has neared $100 per barrel, 81 percent of Americans also said it was "somewhat likely" or "very likely" that oil companies conspire to keep the price of gasoline high.

"It shows that the oil companies are not trusted by a lot of people," said Tyson Slocum, director of the Energy Program of Public Citizen, the consumer watchdog organization founded by Ralph Nader.

Record-breaking quarterly profits stir the pot, too.

"People look at the huge profits and put two and two together," he said. "'Those high prices I'm paying are fueling those profits.'"
It is clear that the conspiracy theories that the Bush administration had evidence that 9/11 was going to occur but simply didn't want to act on it because they could use if for their own purposes reflects an high level of distrust for the Republican government.

It is unfortunate that the Democratic Party leadership in Washington, D.C. refuses to confront the Republican incompetence, corruption and malfeasance in office directly for fear that they will be tarred with the same brush. Their refusal to act has led many of us to believe that they are part of the problem, much like the Republicans are. The Republicans in the Senate, using the threat of the filibuster, have literally paralyzed Congress, and Bush has used the veto to finish the job.

The result is that America now has a disastrously conducted occupation of Iraq which requires political action by the Shiite government of Iraq to achieve success, while that government refuses to act to unify their nation. That is a festering political wound that distracts some attention from the paralyzed and incompetent government in Washington, D.C. The public wants action, and sees that this already untrustworthy government cannot act and cannot even tell the truth because of White House censorship and refusal to provide accurate reports. This is compounded by the paralysis of Congress. The conservative-dominated federal courts have proven that they are generally a joke, again acting more to restrict government actions than to allow them. The only question about the Supreme Court is how long it will take them to lead the way back to the Gilded Age and the economy of the Robber Barons in a nation which has forgotten what Civil Rights are.

So why is it that nearly two-thirds of the American public believes that the federal government could have prevented 9/11 but decided not to?


There is no longer a sane person in the U.S. that trusts our government. That's why.

[ h/t to Thers at Firedoglake. ]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Will oil be the basis for the new international alignments?

What does Saudi Arabia's participation in the Annapolis talks mean?

Can Saudi Arabia hack together a Sunni alliance (with Israel as honorary Sunnis) to counter the Middle East Shiite alliance? Is a hot war likely to ensue?

If so, oil will hit at least $200 per barrel, and the American economy will be in the tank. If that happens, then the dollar will cease to be the international reserve currency, to be replaced by the Europe. Since the Sunni nations in the Middle East have their international reserves in petro-dollars, then those nations will take a major hit in the nest egg. China faced that same problem with the dollar.

But Russia will suddenly be the new rich man on the block and able to really throw their weight around in Europe and the Middle East. How likely is a Russia - Iranian alliance?

Pakistan will be in chaos, as it seems to be headed that direction already.

Emptywheel at the Next Hurrah throws out many of these questions and her commenters address a lot of them.

In my opinion, the oil producing nations of the world appear to be well on their way to dominating international trade because of the value of oil. The European Union, as a highly productive industrial economy which has already adjusted over the years to having relatively little oil well have industrial products to sell. Since the U.S. is a heavy oil-consuming nation, we are likely to be mostly just sitting on the sidelines hoping someone will have pity on us.

The severity of America's problems is going to be a lot worse than it would have been had Cheney and Bush not attempted to substitute military power for diplomacy, economics and heavy doses of research into alternative fuels.

Go read Emptywheels discussion and see what you think.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Caging: What Bob Woodward doesn't know (or care) about Voter Suppression

Recently investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Jeff Leen participated in a question-and-answer session, and one participant asked them the extent of the voter suppression technique called “caging” is. Neither investigative reporter even understood what "caging" is. Think Progress offers this description of the important voter suppression technique for the rest of us.
Caging most recently gained attention in the U.S. attorney scandal. In 2004, BBC News published a report showing that Tim Griffin, the former Rove protege who was placed as a U.S. attorney in Arkansas, led a “caging” scheme to suppress the votes of African-American servicemembers in Florida.

On Nov. 5, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Caging Prohibition Act, a bill to outlaw this “long-recognized voter suppression tactic which has often been used to target minority voters.” Bush administration officials have repeatedly tried to dismiss this as “direct-mail term.” But the charges are serious enough that earlier this year, several senators called for an investigation into the RNC’s use of this voter suppression tactic. Whitehouse and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) explained:

Caging is a voter suppression tactic whereby a political campaign sends mail marked “do not forward” to a targeted group of eligible voters. A more aggressive version involves sending mail to a targeted group of voters with instructions to sign and return an acknowledgment card. The campaign then creates a list of those whose mail was returned undelivered and challenges the right of those citizens to vote — on the ground that the voter does not live at the registered address.
This is a powerful tool in the Republicans' voter suppression arsenal. Unless they are in strongly gerrymandered pro-Republican districts, it is very difficult for Republicans to get the majority of the votes of those who are eligible to vote and want to vote in the election. Voter suppression techniques like "Caging" are powerful tools used to prevent minorities and Democrats from participating in the election process.

Republicans don't hesitate to use "Caging" just because it is illegal. They are, after all, Republicans.

Mario Cuomo describes how America has abandoned the rule of law

In a speech given Wednesday before 2,000 of New York's most influential lawyers Mario Cuomo decried "“power seeking presidents” who engage in “efforts to throw off constitutional restraints” through various means." His theme was the abandonment of “Our Lady of the Law.” Firedoglake's Looseheadprop attended the speech and reported on it.

Among other things he discussed were
  • signing statements,
  • “secret White House task forces,”
  • the “unprecedented politicization of the Department of Justice.” and the really big one
  • “the seizing by presidents of the power to declare war.”
Here is loosheadprop's readtion to what appears to be Mario Cuomo's most significant charge in the (well-received) speech:
It was one of those smack yourself on the forehead moments. It’s so obvious now that he has said it. He went into some history involving litigation about the Viet Nam War and pointed out that SCOTUS has never ruled one way or the other whether or not the Korean police action, Viet Nam, Kosovo, etc., etc., etc. are legal or not. SCOTUS has neither condemned nor approved of the president engaging in war absent a Congressional declaration of war.
Cuomo asked if American lawyers could march in America in support of the lawyers and the rule o flaw in Pakistan, why can't they march in America in support of the rule of law here in America?

Editors opinion Of course, what Looseheadprop did not point out is that presently the U.S. Supreme Court has a majority of five Roman Catholic, activists pro-Monarchy and anti-democracy Justices, while the other four are all strong conservatives but generally are less activist and less ready to overthrow the Constitution. The Court abandoned the Constitution when they appointed Bush as President in 2000 in their shameful, toadying and disgusting decision. I'd hate to see those people asked to actually apply the Constitution and rule of law to the issue of whether the President could declare War on his own. That has always been the prerogative of the Monarch under the philosophy of the Divine Right of Kings.

Traditionally conservatives have always preferred rule my Monarchs and Priests, while detesting democracy, legislatures and the rule of law. Our modern American conservatives are no different. Editors opinion

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Only about 700 foreign fighters entered Iraq this year

The insurgency in Iraq was and remains mostly Sunni and Iraqi. Sixty percent of the 700 foreign fighters who arrived in Iraq this year to help the Iraq insurgents came from America's allies, Saudi Arabia and Libya. From the fort Worth Star-Telegram:
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. -- The New York Times

BAGHDAD -- Saudi Arabia and Libya, both considered allies by the U.S. in its fight against terrorism, were the source of about 60 percent of the foreign fighters who came to Iraq in the past year to serve as suicide bombers or to facilitate other attacks, according to senior U.S. military officials.

The data come largely from a trove of documents and computers discovered in September, when American forces raided a tent camp in the desert near Sinjar, close to the Syrian border. The raid's target was an insurgent cell believed to be responsible for smuggling the vast majority of foreign fighters into Iraq.

The most significant discovery was a collection of biographical sketches that listed hometowns and other details for more than 700 fighters brought into Iraq since August 2006.

The records also underscore how the insurgency in Iraq remains overwhelmingly Iraqi and Sunni. U.S. officials estimate that the flow of foreign fighters was 80 to 110 per month during the first half of this year and about 60 per month during the summer. The numbers fell sharply in October to no more than 40, partly as a result of the Sinjar raid, the officials say.

Saudis accounted for the largest number by far of fighters listed on the records -- 305, or 41 percent -- U.S. intelligence officers found as they combed through documents and computers in the weeks after the raid. The data show that despite increased efforts by Saudi Arabia to clamp down on would-be terrorists since 9-11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, some Saudi fighters are still getting through.

Libyans accounted for 137 foreign fighters, or 18 percent of the total, the senior U.S. military officials said.
So the insurgency in Iraq is primarily Iraqis with little external support. If bin Laden's al Qaeda is doing anything (beyond just world-wide fundamentalist jihadi public relations on TV and the Internet) it isn't doing much of anything at all in Iraq.

That means the fighting in Iraq is almost entirely an Iraqi internal civil war rather than being caused by international terrorism, so U.S. troops are not fighting international terrorism while they remain in Iraq. It looks like our diplomats should be working with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Libya prevent or find and catch the volunteers going to Iraq.

The other part of the war on terror should involve the U.S. fighting a real public relations battle on TV and the Internet. The key is to gain control of the hearts and minds of the majority non-aligned people in the Middle East. They can be reached by offering the same messages of hope that won the Cold War, but the only thing the Bush administration has offered with the invasions and threats of invasions and bombings is reasons to fear and hate America. Any effective PR battle will be delayed until AFTER the U.S. withdraws from Iraq and Dick Cheney stops threatening to bomb Iran.

That is not to say the military is not needed to go after terrorists. Military force is still needed to go after the really nasty creeps like Bush's friend, bin Laden. (Why was he ever allowed to escape from Tora Bora?) Instead Bush and Cheney got our military totally bogged down in an unnecessary invasion and occupation of Iraq which is mostly counterproductive to the effort of effectively going after terrorists on a world-wide basis.

The presence of American troops in Iraq at present is doing little except destroying the combat effectiveness of our troops, damaging our reputation world wide with the collateral damage and the Blackwater (and other) mercenaries, while simultaneously destroying the American federal budget in case those troops are really needed somewhere.

Consider this, also from the bottom of the same article in the fort Worth Star-Telegram:
General speaks out: Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq shortly after the fall of Baghdad, said he supports Democratic legislation that calls for most troops to come home within a year. "The improvements in security produced by the courage and blood of our troops have not been matched by a willingness on the part of Iraqi leaders to make the hard choices necessary to bring peace to their country," Sanchez said in remarks to be aired Saturday for the weekly Democratic radio address.
Our real enemies are not in Iraq now, if they ever were. It is time for us to apologize to the Iraqis, offer reparations and get out of their country. It is time to get serous about fighting international terrorism and leave the Iraqi sideshow.

More Global Warming: Irish salmon farm wiped out by jellyfish

In a rather striking example of the current effects of global warming, the only salmon farm in Northern Ireland lost all its salmon to an attack of jellyfish.
By SHAWN POGATCHNIK - The Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ireland -- The only salmon farm in Northern Ireland has lost its entire population of more than 100,000 fish, worth some $2 million, to a spectacular jellyfish attack, its owners said Wednesday.

The Northern Salmon Co. Ltd. said billions of jellyfish in a dense pack of about 10 square miles and 35 feet deep overwhelmed the fish last week in two net pens about a mile off the coast of the Glens of Antrim, north of Belfast.

Managing director John Russell said the company's dozen workers tried to rescue the salmon, but their three boats struggled for hours to push their way through the mass of jellyfish. All the fish died from stings and stress, he said.

"It was unprecedented, absolutely amazing. The sea was red with these jellyfish and there was nothing we could do about it, absolutely nothing," Russell said.
These jelly fish have rarely been seen in waters this far north.

Global warming is happening. Fighting it will require both efforts to prevent adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and also adapting to the higher temperatures, more powerful storms, and higher sea levels. Keeping the jellyfish out of the salmon farms will be a part of the necessary adapting.

Hillary, Obama, Edwards refuse to cross CBS writer's picket lines

The CBS writers have not had a contract with CBS for 2 1/2 years now, so they went on strike. CBS had planned to hold a debate for the Democratic nominees for President on December 10, 2007. It looks like the CBS negotiators better get it in gear and finally negotiate with the Writer's Guild in good faith. According to Sam Stein at Huffington Post the top four Democratic candidates have acted to support the writers and will not cross the picket lines.

Hillary Clinton:
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, declared that: "The workers at CBS News have been without a contract for close to two and a half years. It is my hope that both sides will reach an agreement that results in a secure contract for the workers at CBS News but let me be clear: I will honor the picket line if the workers at CBS News decide to strike."
Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, weighed in as well, issuing the following statement through his campaign: "If CBS News is unable to reach an agreement with its workers and they decide to strike, Barack Obama will not cross the picket line to attend the debate."
John Edwards
former Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, offered his support for the strikers, declaring that he and his wife Elizabeth "will also honor any picket lines at CBS News, up to and including the CBS presidential debate on December 10th... I hope that in these disputes, management and the union are able to agree on a just settlement. But until those settlements are reached, I will stand firmly with these workers in their fight for a better life."
Bill Richardson
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has offered his support for the strikers as well, saying in a statement, "Supporting workers' rights is more important than anything I will say at the debate."
I have to wonder what the CBS management is thinking when they fail to bargain in good faith with their writers. Without their writers they have no product to put on the air. No contract for 2 1/2 years is simply stupidity on the part of CBS.

The basis for Southern Revanchisme?

Mark Kleiman was a bit surprised (as was I) to learn that during the American Civil War roughly one-quarter of all Southern males of military age were killed. No combatant nation in WW I suffered a casualty rate that high. [*]

Mark speculates that that casualty rate might explain the revanchisme (desire for revenge) that has actuated so much of Southern white politics ever since. Since "States Rights" was a code word for "the south's peculiar institution" (slavery), then that casualty rate may also explain the special virulence of Southern racism. I know that as a white boy in East Texas during the 50's I was still subject to propaganda about the greatness of the South and the South's general military superiority during the "War of Northern Aggression." Like soldiers everywhere who left home and fought through such a devastating war, those who fought and lost had to believe that the war they fought as worth it.

It is reasonable to assume that the survivors when they got home and were again allowed to participate in politics after the Reconstruction would do their best under the changed circumstances of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to repress the freed slaves. The institutions of legal and social segregation mixed with KKK terrorism was a very effective program to conduct that repression for over two generations. It has now been another two generations since the Civil Rights Movement began effectively to remove those institutions, and the removal process is as yet incomplete.

Recognizing that the South had a 25% casualty rate among men of military age after the Civil War certainly offers at least a partial explanation for the laws, institutions and violence with which segregation of the freed slaves was implemented.

[*] I think that I recall the German casualty rate during WW II was even higher. According to Germany's total casualty rate was 10.77% of the population, of which 5.5 million were military. Back in the 60's I recall seeing a graph of the German population showing males and females in five year age increments. What shocked me and made it so memorable was that the population of males who would have been between the ages of 18 and 55 during the war almost literally weren't there.

But the occupation of Germany after WW II by the French, British and Americans was much better planned than was the Post Civil War Reconstruction, while the Cold War stared at the end of WW II and probably had more effect on German attitudes than the WW II casualty rate by itself did. also, The Germans did not fight WW II in order to exterminate the Jews. That was more of a side effect of the war and Nazi control of the nation. If someone more familiar with post-war Germany than I am could provide information, I would be very interested in it. also reports that 13.39% of the Soviet Union's population died in WW II, of which 10.7 million were military death. They don't call it "The Great War" for nothing.

Since my knowledge of post WW II Soviet/Russian attitudes is even less than my extremely weak knowledge of post WW II German attitudes, I won't even attempt to speculate on the effects of the casualty rate of the Great War.

Another great moment in voter suppression

Once again the conservatives prove that while they cannot run government and cannot get elected in fair elections where every valid voter votes, when they put their minds to it they can do an excellent job of keeping likely Democratic voters from casting their ballots. Mark Kleiman points out that:
"They've very skilfully arranged that hundreds of thousands of citizenship applications filed last summer won't be approved in time for the new citizens to vote. Remember, this crew makes no actual distinction between campaigning and governing: everything is geared toward winning the next election."
But if you know anyone going through the immigration/greencard/citizenship process or who is looking for fairness in the deportation process, you will recognize what the Republicans have been doing.

In Texas the busiest immigration office was and remains the one in Mesquite, TX. Back when Dick Armey was House Majority Leader, The Mesquite office of what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service had ten people processing paperwork for visas, Green cards and citizenship. Republican Congressman Armey very carefully cut six of those jobs from INS budget, creating the longest backlogs for processing the paperwork in the U.S.

That action had the dual effect of reducing the number of legal immigrants and reducing the number of new citizens (who mostly vote Democratic, since they know who to blame for their difficulties.)

The Washington Post's article presents the Bush administration's excuse:
Bush administration officials said yesterday that they had anticipated applicants would rush to file their paperwork to beat a widely publicized fee increase that took effect July 30, but did not expect the scale of the response. The backlog comes just months after U.S. officials failed to prepare for tougher border security requirements that triggered months-long delays for millions of Americans seeking passports.

Before the fee hike, citizenship cases typically took about seven months to complete. Now, immigration officials can take five months or more just to acknowledge receipt of applications from parts of the country and will take 16 to 18 months on average to process applications filed after June 1, according to officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of DHS. Such a timeline would push many prospective citizens well past voter-registration deadlines for the 2008 primaries and the general elections.
That amounts to the Republican version of "The dog ate my homework." This backlog was planned. The conservatives then did what conservatives always do with government when a problem is anticipated: nothing.

In this case, doing nothing is very effective and well-planned voter suppression. It goes hand-in-glove with the effort by Florida Republicans to prevent likely Democratic voters from getting registered to vote.

They can't do anything else effective with government, but the Republicans are quite good at making sure that likely Democrats either aren't allowed to vote, or that their votes are not counted.

Bush administration addresses danger in imported foods

There is not yet a book on the market as striking as Sinclair Lewis' "The Jungle" addressing the dangerous foods and products are being imported into the U.S. and it there were, and assuming that conservatives actually read anything other than Tom Clancy novels, the Bush administration does not believe that government is capable of doing anything. But the news that American consumers are being exposed to dangerous foods and products are being imported into the U.S. must have appeared on FOX News. The Bush administration does not believe in government action, but it recognizes a public relations problem in a heartbeat. Lead paint on children's toys is a public relations problem.

So the Bush administration as acted! The White House has posted Fact Sheet: Import Safety Action Plan: Increasing Protection of American Consumers on its web site! They actually have 'A plan!'

Unfortunately, it is not a plan for the government to take any actions. The bush administrations action stop with presenting this document on the White House web site. Rick Perlstein deconstructs all the pretty language, with a particular emphasis on how it applies to the food additive industry. The food additive industry has entirely moved overseas, so any food additives in our food must be imported.

The Bush administration's pretty "plan" takes no effective government responsibility for ensuring consumer safety. The plan instead is to recommend two things.

First it includes a statement telling companies the party line that "[a]ny private entity that seeks to benefit from access to the U.S. market" already has the same responsibility domestic producers have to ensure their products meet all applicable U.S. safety standards." As Rick points out, that statement is not true. That great conservative guru Milton Friedman said that private entities have a responsibility to sell the lowest cost product at the highest price, either without getting caught selling unsafe products or without getting penalized if they are caught.

Friedman emphasizes that Companies have a responsibility to provide the greatest return on investment to their stock holders. For corporate managers to spend company money on other activities (like consumer safety, which is a social responsibility function) is stealing from the stockholders. This is core conservative doctrine, and no pretty documents posted on the White House web site is going to change corporate belief in that doctrine. Still, companies who are caught importing dangerous products need some fig leaf, a cover to use to avoid being penalized for selling dangerous products. They need to appear like they are concerned about consumer safety. Friedman would approve of such expenditures as long as they don't get out of hand - as they would if they involved a real program to ensure consumer safety. So Bush's government "plan" goes on to recommend a public relations type program to appear conscientious, (but the plan does not fund any form of enforcement. Wouldn't want the government to get carried away and keep records or shudder actually do something or ask companies to actually do something effective. That's unFriedmanlike. K-Street Lobbyists would be up in arms.) Here is their recommendation.

The second element of the "plan" suggests that American companies which are importing additives should establish "private entities to certify the safety of the imports." The plan does promise that the FDA will train the inspectors of the private entities, but gives no hint how the FDA will pay for such activities. Of course, large companies like General Mills or Kraft can afford to take such actions, but their smaller competitors cannot. So it is a giveaway to large importers. No surprise. The smaller importers can't afford the high-power lobbyists on K-Street.

Rick's excellent article, another in his "E-coli Conservatives" series, should be read in its entirety.

So now we know that the Bush administration has recognized the problem of toxic imports and decided to take action on it. Unfortunately, they recognize the problem as a public relations issue that demands a public relations response. They have now taken all the action that they know how to do - write the PR document and place it on the White House web site.

Surely you didn't expect this crew, who want to take American government back to the Gilded Age, to do anything else did you? If voters elect Republicans and conservatives to office and the voters will get wars, overspending (Ted Steven's Bridge to Nowhere - descriptions by and by Wikipedia.) designed to get Republicans reelected, corrupt government (Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, Brent Wilkes, Larry Craig, and a cast of thousands more), great public relations campaigns, and nothing else. It's the inherent nature of the conservative beast.

Feel safer yet?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bush: Out of touch or guilty of obstruction of justice

Did Bush commute of Scooter Libby's prison sentence as a payoff for Libby's self-sacrifice in protecting Dick Cheney? If it was a payoff, then Bush is guilty of obstruction of justice because he aided Libby in shutting down Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the ringleader of the Plame leak cover up. So far solid evidence that could be used to prove Bush's obstruction of justice in a court (or Senate trial of impeachment) has not surfaced. That makes the short blurb from Scotty McClellan's proposed book naming the five White House individuals who sent him out to lie to the public exciting.

Monday we learned that Bush's previous spokesman, Scott McClellan, intends to publish a book that names Karl Rove, 'Scooter' Libby, the vice President Dick Cheney, the President's chief of staff Andrew Card, and the president himself as having directed the cover up of the leak of Valerie Plame's name as a CIA officer. The term used was "were involved" in covering up who did it.

The exact actions behind the term "were involved" were not explicitly described beyond just lying to McClellan and getting him to lie to the public, but they are clear in context. The two events that provide the context are first, Patrick Fitzgerald's closing statement at the Libby trial in which Fitzgerald directly pointed the finger at Vice President Dick Cheney as the boss in charge of the Plame cover up and second, the obvious payoff to Libby when Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence. There is little room for doubt regarding what McClellan meant when he named the five principals who "were involved."

Today CNN Political Ticker reports an interview with Valerie Plame's husband, who clarifies what Scotty's revelation means.
(CNN) — The revelation by a former White House spokesman that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were "involved" in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson's identity shows how the White House "closed ranks" to protect themselves, her husband, Joe Wilson, said Wednesday.

The information — from an upcoming book by Scott McClellan — also shows how important it was to the administration to commute the sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Wilson said on CNN's "American Morning."

"I think it now makes it very clear the extent to which the vice president was involved, which, of course, then makes it very clear how important to the vice president the commutation of Mr. Libby's sentence was," the former U.S. ambassador said.

Libby, who was Cheney's chief of staff, was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to investigators and a federal grand jury about his contacts with reporters concerning Wilson.

Just before Libby was to report to a federal prison in July to serve 30 months behind bars, Bush commuted his sentence, although the president stopped short of a full pardon and Libby still had to pay a $250,000 fine.

"They basically closed ranks, guaranteed that the cloud (special prosecutor Patrick) Fitzgerald said was over the vice president's head would not be lifted. And now because of McClellan's statement, that cloud is over the president himself.

"He is either completely out of touch or he's an accessory to an obstruction of justice both before the fact and after the fact," he said.

[Link added to the quotation - Editor WTF-o]
Scooter Libby was convicted in March for perjury and obstruction of justice. He was guilty of lying to FBI agents and to a grand jury to conceal his actions and those of others in revealing Valerie Plame's name to the Press. It was not provable who the others involved were because of Libby's lies.

Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine for his conviction. Just before he was to report to prison, President Bush commuted his sentence so that he did not have to spend any time in prison. That left the $250,000 fine and presumably the Republican high rollers paid the fine. And the damage to his post-White house career? There is little doubt that Libby will be on 'Wingnut welfare' so that he will not be hurting for money for the rest of his life. He quickly was hired by the conserative think tank, the Hudon Institute, at $160,000 per year. That's roughly what he was paid at the White House. The fix was in. Someone really didn't want Libby talking to avoid the prison sentence. Patrick Fitzgerald, in his concluding summary of the prosecution at Libby's trial stated There is a cloud over the vice President.
In no uncertain terms, in his most public statement, Fitzgerald made clear that he believed that Cheney was the one behind the crime for which he was prosecuting Libby. It was Cheney who was the boss, Cheney who gave the orders, and Cheney to whom Libby was the loyal soldier, and it is Cheney for whom Libby is covering up.
Scooter Libby's lies and obstruction of justice prevented Fitzgerald from going after the boss who directed the cover up, Cheney. Scooter was amply repaid for throwing himself onto his sword. Scotty's short excerpt from his book (promised for April 2008) reopens the entire story, placing both Cheney and Bush into the cross hairs. So why has McClellan made this statement? And why now? Five months before the release of the book seems a little early for the publisher simply just to be trying to build excitement for the book. Here's what I suspect.

Either someone failed to provide for Scotty McClellan in the way he expected and he is blowing the whistle, or this is a public move by Scotty telling the White House and Dick Cheney - "Meet my terms or I go public." I'd guess that when they meet his terms, the publisher will withdraw the short blurb they have presented and make excuses that say "Oops! Mr. McClellan didn't say that. Someone in our office was playing around on the computer and it accidentally got posted, but it's not true."

There is also the minor possibility that Scotty actually is an honest man with a conscience, but he is a Republican who acted as spokesman for the Bush White House, which makes that a very unlikely possibility.

This story is another tiny window into the actions of the single most incompetent, venal, dangerous and crooked Presidency America has ever had. It was obvious when bush kept Libby out of prison that he was paying Libby off. That is pure obstruction of justice. Can a case for obstruction of justice be proven in court? That's a separate question, but this really stirs that pot. We'll have to see where it goes.

Update 3:38 CDT
Well, that didn't take too long. Someone has gotten back to Scotty and made him an offer of some kind already. Go see Greg Sergent's report at The Horses Mouth, posted at 1:35 PM EST (12:35 PM CST.) I posted the above at 12:32 PM. "Publisher Of McClellan Book: Scottie Won't Implicate Bush For Lying About Plamegate, After All."

As I predicted.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

TPM as Uberblog! GQ gets it.

Everything I know about the disaster that is the Department of Justice under alberto Gonzales I have gotten from Talking Points Memo. That's true for you, too, dear reader, whether you know it or not. The same is true of Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Jack Abramoff. So GQ figured it out and has written an article about it. They recognize that TPM is "the prototype of what an Internet-based news-gathering organization might one day look like." Here is a key part in their excellent article:
On Gonzales and the United States Attorney debacle, TPM did beat the big boys, assuming “big boys” means all the newspapers, magazines, and television networks that ignored an enormously important story about the rule of law being systematically hijacked by political thugs. TPM dogged it for two months before the national press piled on in March. At that point, TPM was perhaps most valuable as an archive for all the other journalists getting up to speed. [Snip]

Marshall, 38, is a modest man with the thoughtful manner of an academic (he has a doctorate in history from Brown). He does not see himself as David standing alone against Goliath. He is not a zealot wielding the Righteous Flaming Sword of the Netroots. He is a journalist. He runs a journalism company that employs other journalists who produce very good journalism that is read by approximately 700,000 people who tend to be well educated (84 percent have college degrees), well paid (60 percent make more than $75,000 a year), and politically active (90 percent give to a cause or candidate). If TPM were a paper-and-ink medium, Marshall would be in the upper tier of American media: The Boston Globe, one the nation’s best papers, has a daily circulation of barely more than half of TPM’s readership.

The difference is that he happens to publish in the blogosphere, another term that deserves italics because it, too, is pointlessly broad, encompassing tens of millions of people with modems who send into the digital ether billions of words, of which very few are read by anyone other than their author. Even among its most intelligent and widely read practitioners—say, Atrios or Andrew Sullivan or Glenn Greenwald—blogging is typically a platform for opining and critiquing and excoriating, for commenting on what is already known. Marshall, though, has optimized the medium as a journalistic enterprise: Working in digital bits, TPM can report emerging stories in real time, updating at will, linking to other sources (including my GQ piece on Ralph Reed, in August 2006), weaving compelling narratives out of disparate threads. On a good day during the United States Attorney scandal, TPM posted more than a dozen updates.

“TPM is something new under the sun—it’s in part an opinion blog, but it’s also an investigative-reporting shop,” says New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “And it’s having a big influence. Josh and crew did more than anyone to break the U. S. attorneys story, they’ve played a big role in uncovering the Blackwater scandal, and more. At this point, it’s hard to see how we ever lived without something like TPM. I rely on them a lot.”

“You’re making a mistake if you’re not checking in,” says Time Washington bureau chief Jay Carney. “That’s not ideological at all: They’re good at what they do. They’re the best of a breed.”
I have known this for several years, and TPM is always the first on-line news source I check each day. I am delighted to see one of the older journalistic enterprises 'get' what TPM does.

Now, if someone can just get the New York Times and other traditional media to credit their source when they steal from TPM and similar blogs, perhaps there might be some hope for the traditional media. Not professionalism, not investigative journalism, but at least maybe some hope.

[ h/t to (of course) Talking Points Memo. ]

Florida Republicans working hard to suppress minority voter registrations

As predicted, the new Florida procedures of checking applications for voters registration against the Social Security database and the driver's license database have caused large numbers of registration applications to fail to be acted on. That's not rejected, just not acted on. The Florida News-Press presents the story:
County election officials say the number of voters lost through Florida's central registration system is small — 90 percent of applications get voter cards.

The result is applications from more than 43,000 Floridians hoping to become eligible voters over the past 21 months were rejected by state computer programs and kicked out for special review.

More than 14,000 initially rejected — three-quarters of them minorities — didn't make it through that last set of hoops.

Blacks were 6 1/2 times more likely than whites to be rejected at that step.

Hispanics were more than 7 times more likely to be failed.

Unaccepted but also not denied, they remain in limbo as "incomplete" or, often, sitting in Florida's new statewide voter registration system with no designation at all.

State law requires those "lost" voters to be notified; most contacted said they were unaware of the problem.

[Underlining mine - Editor, WTF-o]
Of course those "lost" voters aren't contacted. The Republicans will suppress 13 1/2 minority voters for every White voter they lose if they simply don't bother to find out what the problems are. That's a big edge for Republicans in a state where elections tend to be quite close. The current "problems" are intentional.
The issues began with the 2005 Florida Legislature, when lawmakers pushed through election law changes meant to bring the state into compliance with new federal laws that were a result — in part — of Florida's notorious electoral past.

Along with federal mandates to create a single statewide voter database and to check those names against drivers license and Social Security numbers, Florida added a requirement: Applicants who didn't pass the database test would not be registered to vote.

The provision was approved by the U.S. Justice Department in 2005, but further tinkering gave "lost" voters just two days after an election to prove the computers were wrong.
That has raised new civil rights concerns and the Justice Department has asked Florida to prove its system is not discriminatory against minority voters.

[Underlining mine - Editor, WTF-o]
Because of the way computers match names, the system was expected to reject larger number of Hispanic and Black registration requests. That's exactly what happened. Most of the problem is built into the sytem.
The Florida match requires names, birthdates and drivers license or Social Security numbers all agree on the application and with information in computer databases. Applications that don't match are reviewed by the Department of State, fixed by hand if the problem is obvious, and forwarded to the county for its own determination of whether to fix the application or leave it in limbo.

By law, applicants must be told if their registrations are incomplete. Voting rights advocates complain those notices, when they are sent, often fail to explain the problem.

State records show more than 76,000 of the 830,157 applications received between January 2006 and September 2007 did not result in a new voter card.
And of course, the Republicans who are responsible for voter registration and for the suppression of minority votes (remember Katherine Harris and Choicepoint?) are delighted to fail to act on those registration requests which are in limbo.

[Editor's note: As an election worker myself I frequently hear from people who are not registered but who claim they registered when applying for a Texas driver's license under the Motor Voter Law. It is a frequent occurrence. I can't prove it, but I suspect that there are people who work in the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles in our Republican Party-dominated state who throw away applications that are made under the Motor Voter law.]

Republicans can't get elected if everyone who wants to vote for Democrats is allowed to vote. That's what this Voter Suppression activity is all about. Without voter suppression activities in Florida in 2000 Al Gore would have been elected President. Without voter suppression activities in Ohio in 2004, John Kerry would have been elected President.

The Republicans are working hard to steal Florida again in 2008.

The Florida law in question was passed with the advice of Hans Von Spakovsky who was Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice. (See also his wikipedia entry, Hans Von Spakofsky.) TPM Muckraker has a further story on Von Spakovsky's history of working for voter suppression while working in Alberto Gonzales' Department of Justice.

Bush has nominated Von Spakovsky to be on the Federal Election Commission. His nomination is being held up in the Senate - for good reason.