Friday, December 26, 2008

"Barack the magic Negro"

It appears that the RNC will remain unreconstructed for the foreseeable future.

RNC Chair candidate and former Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman has sent out a gift bag with a CD of Rush Limbaugh's "Barack, The Magic Negro".

Each party has it's wingnuts, but these guys are running the RNC and that's the difference.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More on Rick Warren's invocation

I was blunt in my criticism of Obama's choice of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the upcoming Inaugural.

Ta-Nehisi Coates weights in with a typically thoughtful post on the topic, well worth your time.

But I want to get back to what I think is the real problem with the choice of Warren. Intolerant and unwelcoming conservatives have become the face of American Christianity in at least the last 8 years and this has been to the determent of organized Christianity in a nation becoming more tolerant.

I'm not critical of Obama for reaching out to Warren and seeking to maintain a dialogue with him and all the other Americans with whom he might have disagreements. But maintaining a dialogue with Warren and giving him and his message of intolerance a featured role at his historic inauguration are too very different things.

The President elect had the opportunity to choose a pastor whose ministry is one of tolerance and acceptance and not associated with advocating war and the assassination of foreign leaders, for instance. By choosing such a figure, Obama would have in no way slighted Warren or those he represents.

But Obama has chosen more than just maintaining an open dialogue with Warren and his flock; Obama has chosen to exalt them at the expense of placing a new, open and accepting face on American government. And for now good reason.

Obama richly deserves all the criticism he is receiving for this very poor choice.

Lincoln's bible

In a deft move, the Obama transition team has announced that Obama will take his oath of office on Lincoln's bible, which has not been used by a President since 1861.

This will no doubt be an enormous disappoint to the right blogesphere who have daily insisted that Obama would take his oath on the Koran.

Why would taxpayers bailout commercial real-estate speculators?

The WSJ reports that Commercial Real Estate Investors want a Federal bailout.

It should go without saying the taxpayers cannot and should not bail out everyone, and that speculators, commercial or otherwise, are on their own.

Calculated Risk makes the case against any bailout,
Although the headline says "developers" this is really about property investors who bought commercial buildings at the price peak and are now underwater. But say the owners default and the properties are transferred to the bondholders - what is the risk to the economy? None.
(HT to TPM)

"Buff Bam"?


The NY Post leads today with pictures of the President Elect vacationing in Hawaii, under the classic headline, "Buff Bam is Hawaii Hunk".

The press coverage for this presidency is going to be very different.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Prosecuting American War Criminals

Citing the final installment of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on Torture, The NYTs in a lengthy editorial calls for the prosecution of all those who ordered torture in the name of the American people.

The Times isn't fooling around.
Now, a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

The report shows how actions by these men “led directly” to what happened at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret C.I.A. prisons.

It said these top officials, charged with defending the Constitution and America’s standing in the world, methodically introduced interrogation practices based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War. Until the Bush administration, their only use in the United States was to train soldiers to resist what might be done to them if they were captured by a lawless enemy.
I'd be curious to hear a principled reason not to do exactly as the NYTs proposes. We seem to be developing this culture in Washington in which it is widely agreed that those who commit illegal acts at the direction of a President should somehow be exempt from criminal prosecution, and I'm not clear why.

It's widely agreed, for example, that Ford did the right thing in pardoning Nixon, but why? You're either a civilized Nation governed by laws, or you're not.

I'm not suggesting the criminalization of politics, but I think torture is a bid deal.

So, please straighten me out with a principled argument about why I'm wrong.

Rick Warren

Marc Ambinder does a nice job explaining why Warren matters to gays and lesbians.

Selecting Saddle Back Pastor Rick Warren as the minister to give the invocation at the Inaugural is a dreadful idea and Obama deserves all the criticism he is receiving.

Obama has made clear that he disagrees with many of Warren's positions (comparing gay marriage to child rape, incest and polygamy, for instance) but Obama no doubt feels that he should reach to those who hate in Jesus' name as he would reach out to anyone. Good politics I suppose.

But in this, Obama misses the point. The Warrens of the world have had plenty of voice the last 8 years. The Christian voice missing from public discourse is the voice of those pastors whose ministry -- not unlike the ministry of Christ -- is one of inclusion, acceptance and love. Obama has blown this golden opportunity to make a cheap political gain.

Christ threw the Pharisees out of the Temple. Obama has asked one to speak at his Inaugural.

He's on his own in this one.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Destroying the American auto industry for political gain

MSNBC obtained the Senate GOP strategy memo which tells you all you need to know about their priorities, and it's not America.
From:

Sent: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:12 AM

To:

Subject: Action Alert -- Auto Bailout

Today at noon, Senators Ensign, Shelby, Coburn and DeMint will hold a press conference in the Senate Radio/TV Gallery. They would appreciate our support through messaging and attending the press conference, if possible. The message they want us to deliver is:

1. This is the democrats first opportunity to payoff organized labor after the election. This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it.

2. This rush to judgment is the same thing that happened with the TARP. Members did not have an opportunity to read or digest the legislation and therefore could not understand the consequences of it. We should not rush to pass this because Detroit says the sky is falling.

The sooner you can have press releases and documents like this in the hands of members and the press, the better. Please contact me if you need additional information. Again, the hardest thing for the democrats to do is get 60 votes. If we can hold the Republicans, we can beat this.
The LA Times has more.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Madigan launches legal attack to oust Blagojevich

From The Chicago Sun-Times

Madigan launches legal attack to oust Blagojevich
December 12, 2008

BY DAVE McKINNEY Springfield Bureau Chief Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD - Attorney General Lisa Madigan today opened an unprecedented legal attack against a sitting Illinois governor, taking the formal steps to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to declare Gov. Blagojevich unfit to hold office.
Madigan filed paperwork with the state high court this morning, invoking what is known as Rule 382 that would ask justices to rule on ³the ability of the governor to serve.²
After Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday, Madigan signaled her intent to move ahead on this untested legal front if the governor refused to resign or the Legislature did not launch impeachment proceedings against him.
Madigan¹s office declined comment on the filing, but she intends to hold an
11:15 a.m. press conference today at the Thompson Center to explain her action.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The F22 boondoogle

Kill the F22 already! The NYTs reports today of the move in Congress to save the F22 for the jobs. What a load of crap.

There is not a better example of the abuses of what Eisenhower famously called "the military-industrial complex" than the F22 (The Virgina Class sub is as good an example, but not better).

The F22 is an air superiority fighter designed to counter a new Soviet fighter (post SU27)that was never actually built, and has no real world mission. You doubt this? How many missions as the F22 flown in Iraq and Afghanistan? None as in zero, nada, zippo, as in not even one mission. Why? Because our enemies don't have air forces.

The USAF has spent $65B to date to purchase 187 F22s at $348M each, and Gates doesn't want any more. And can't we all agree 187 advanced fighters with no mission is plenty?

Fred Kaplan has written extensively about this boondoggle. Here is one example.

The bottom line the US is going to continue to fall behind the rest of the industrialized world in education and infrastructure until we rain in outrageous and pointless defense spending on weapons systems with no modern purpose. The F22 and the Virgina class submarine -- which has proven particularly ineffective in sandy deserts -- are perfect examples of horrible government waste that make no one safer, and bankrupts us in the process.

Bush capitulates

The Bush administration had been rushing to complete the last remaining goal of its 2001 Energy Task Force: to increase by hundreds of thousands of tons the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides spewed into the air in hopes of making global warning irreversible and thus cementing Bush's legacy for history. This last goal, like all of the others, was vehemently opposed by the career staff of the EPA, and they knew full well no responsible human being would do this so they had to act by January 20.

But now, inexplicably, and to the dismay of industry lobbyists placed in charge of the Federal regulatory agencies involved, the Bush administration has decided to stop it's efforts at gutting clean air regulations.

The Administration has even abandoned their plans to place new power plants immediately outside national parks and revoke existing clean air standards intended to prevent deterioration in the parks’ air quality.

The NYTs has the story.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's next in Illinois

Chuck Todd has a nice rundown,
Just how long will Blagojevich remain in office? Our understanding is that impeachment proceedings could take three months. What’s more, if the state legislature passes a bill calling for a special election to bypass Blagojevich’s appointment, the governor could possibly hold that up temporarily because he has 60 days to consider whether he’ll veto it or not. Also, what happens if Blagojevich makes an appointment? It’s important to point out that the US Senate doesn’t have to seat that person; the chamber has the power to seat a member. In addition, we understand that Illinois’ secretary of state has to certify the selection, and that person could decide not to certify Blago’s pick. Indeed, there appear to be plenty of ways to prevent Blagojevich’s selection from ever serving in the Senate. But there also appear to be plenty of ways for Blago to hold up this process. Remember, the governor's only bargaining chip is his office right now, and he's likely going to stay in it as long as he can if it means cutting himself a better deal with the feds. After all, if there's one thing we learned about Blago, he's always looking for leverage.

What deal?

The AP reports that a deal has been reached between Congressional Dems and the WH on a bridge loan to the Big 3.

When someone explains to me why Richard Shelby (R-AL) would care, I'll believe a deal might actually pass the senate. Until then, it's all just navel gazing.

Mrs. Blagojevich

I think my favorite part of the Criminal complaint (See pdf page 47) is this observation overheard from the First Lady of Illinois:
During the call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s wife can be heard in the background telling ROD BLAGOJEVICH to tell Deputy Governor A “to hold up that fucking Cubs shit. . . fuck them.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked Deputy Governor A what he thinks of his wife’s idea.
I'm not a Cubs fan either and have expressed that very sentiment on many occasions.

Patrick Fitzgerald

The NYTs had a nice profile up this morning of Patrick Fitzgerald. He made his bones prosecuting the so-called blind Sheik for plotting a wave of terror in the US that included bombing the UN Building and half of NYC.

Ironically, in the Blago indictment, all those Republicans that smeared Fitzgerald for his prosecution of Scooter Libby are falling back in love with him. In March 2005 while in the midst of the Plame investigation, Fitzgerald made Rove's list Gonzales' list of USAs who should be considered for termination.

Obama and the Illinois Ethics Bill

The NYT explains Obama's inadvertent roll in bringing down Blagojevich.

Here's the short version. The IL legislature passed an ethics bill to curb campaign donations from contractors, etc. who have business with the state. Blago (love the new shorthand for his name -- not Jacko but still...) vetoed the bill. President of the IL Senate and Obama mentor Emil Jones also opposed the bill, but then candidate Obama phoned him and urged him to support the bill which Jones did leading to the override of the veto. With the new bill taking effect January 1, Blago went on a spree to squeeze everyone in sight for campaign cash before the Dec 31 deadline. The Feds got tipped off which led to the wiretaps. On the wiretaps they caught Blago conspiring to sell the Senate seat.

Got it?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Obama wouldn't play ball

Buried inside the Fitzgerald Press Release and quoting wiretaps,
“Blagojevich said he knew that the President-Elect wanted Senate Candidate 1 for the open seat but ‘they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them!.”
Candidate 1 appears to be Tammy Duckworth.

UPDATE: TPM thinks Candidate 1 is Valerie Jarrett.

Fitzgerald acts before Senate seat could be sold

I'm watching US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's press conference. The FBI Special Agent In charge has just described Illinois as the most corrupt state in the country.

After listening to Fitzgerald and reading his press release and part of the complaint, it's clear that Fitzgerald acted today before Blagojevich could literally sell the vacant senate seat to the highest bidder.

From Fitzgerald's press release,
In the earliest intercepted conversation about the Senate seat described in the affidavit, Blagojevich told Deputy Governor A on November 3 that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open seat, then he will take it for himself: “if . . . they’re not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it.” Later that day, speaking to Advisor A, Blagojevich said: “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain.” He added later that the seat “is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”

Over the next couple of days – Election Day and the day after – Blagojevich was captured discussing with Deputy Governor A whether he could obtain a cabinet position, such as Secretary of Health and Human Services or the Department of Energy or various ambassadorships. In a conversation with Harris on November 4, Blagojevich analogized his situation to that of a sports agent shopping a potential free agent to the highest bidder. The day after the election, Harris allegedly suggested to Blagojevich that the President-elect could make him the head of a private
foundation.

Later on November 5, Blagojevich said to Advisor A, “I’ve got this thing and it’s [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there,” the affidavit states.

Tammy Duckworth's star rising?

I was told last week by a friend who is close to Gov Blagojevich -- let's call him 'Advisor A' -- that Duckworth would not get the Senate appointment.

In light of the events today and the details contained in the Criminal Complaint (pdf), I'm thinking Tammy Duckworth may find her star rising.

And I'm also feeling silly and naive for previously believing reports that Duckworth would get the job.

"I want to make money" (updated)

I don't think anyone would call me naive about the role of money in politics, but I have to say I'm shocked that a Governor of a state like Illinois who knows full well he's under a federal corruption investigation, would be so arrogant or foolish.

From USA Patrick Fitzgerald's press release (pdf),
A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife.

At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich allegedly discussed obtaining:

• A substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.

• Placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year.

• Promises of campaign funds — including cash up front.

• A cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.

On Dec. 4, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might “get some (money) up front, maybe” from Senate Candidate 5, if he named Senate Candidate 5 to the Senate seat, to insure that Senate Candidate 5 kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election. In a recorded conversation on Oct. 31, Blagojevich claimed he was approached by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: “We were approached to ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”

On Nov. 7, while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with Harris and an advisor, Blagojevich said he needed to consider his family and that he is “financially” hurting, the complain states.

Harris allegedly said that they were considering what would help the “financial security” of the Blagojevich family and what will keep Blagojevich “politically viable.” Blagojevich stated, “I want to make money,” adding later that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 a year, the complaint alleges.
UPDATE: Criminal Complaint here (pdf)

Gov. Blagojevich taken into federal custody

Both the Tribune and Sun-Times plus all the local TV and radio stations are reporting local sources that Blagojevich has been taken into federal custody. More to follow when details are available.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Big Three - Consumer Perspective

I am torn at this point much like Don on how much to help the American auto business. But we can't blame them for all the issues they are dealing with at this point.

When the consumer can't afford to purchase car - American or Japanese - without taking out a 60 or 72 month loan and with the quality of cars improving so that the average car is lasting longer than ever without needing major repair work, the industry should have started to downsize years ago. I have a 2002 Chevy Impala with almost 110K miles on it. I have never had a major issue with the car, like the way it drives and have no plans to replace it in the next 12 months. Just 20 years ago, that same car would have been traded in long ago and a new one purchase. Maybe even two cars in the same period I have owned that car. And the auto companies were building cars people wanted for the last few years - SUVs and crossovers.

I was listening to WGN radio in Chicago last week when the topic was what can of help to give the auto industry. Two owners of major dealerships were talking to the host about the status of car sales. Both suprised me when they explained that since the price of a gallon of gas had fallen below $2.50 a gallon in early November here in Chicago, auto sales had taken off. And what they were selling were pick up trucks and SUVs. The Chevy dealer said he was sold out of Suburbans and the bigger SUVs. The Ford dealer said the F-150 were selling at or above list since the demand was high and he had a hard time getting them from Ford. A man claiming to be a Toyota dealer called and said he was selling SUVs also and couldn't move a Corolla even with a big discount. Who is to blame for the companies not building smaller, more efficient cars - we are - the consumers.

My youngest son has a Chevy Cobalt - I hate it. It is cramped and uncomfortable. It gets great gas milage - but who cares if you have to be uncomfortable with every mile you drive.

If you really want to help the auto industry and many other depressed industries in this country - implement a government sponsered, cost controlled health care system that covers everyone with an emphasis on prevention - not treatment. This will take the stress off the manufactures to pay retiree health care benefits, increase profit and allow real research into fuel cell and electric car development. It will also allow the industry to pay a fair wage and keep the workers spending. I had an argument with a freind last week over auto worker wages.

He claimed, incorrectly, that the average worker in the industry made about $75,000 a year. When I explained that the right wing radio folks had distorted that wage level by taking all the wages paid plus the unemployemnt sub-pay paid to laid off workers and benefits and included retiree benefits and divided it by number of current workers in the industry to get that number. It was actually more like $57,000 a year. Not a bad wage, but still not $75,000. When I pointed out that his wife- an accountant and me -with a degree in economics and an MBA - both made over $100K and we had to set in an office all day and not work in the conditions in a factory- he had no response. Then when I pointed out that with his bonus and commission as a salesman, he also made more than $75K and all he did was drive around and sell ink. My point here is that the auto workers are not overpaid. We have to have a well paid working middle class or the dream we have had as Americans is gone. You can't buy a house,a car and put your kids to college without a descent wage.

Let's hope this temporary loan will hold the industry over until Jan. 20 and that the Republicans who want to see the industry fail in order to bust the UAW will not succeed in causing the downfall of a major company before we have a chance to fix it.

Tim

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Big Three

I caught a little of the hearings today with the heads of the Big Three in Washington begging for money.

All I could think about was how many times do they have to learn the same lesson? I'm old enough to remember the first oil shocks when Detroit got caught with their pants down building cars that were rolling, gas guzzling junk heaps.

The Big Three have expended millions if not billions of dollars making this bed. They, and their Democratic and Republican Congressional enablers, have fought for years the kinds of regulations that would have saved them from their current fate. While Toyota (now the world's largest automaker), Honda, Nissan, etc. have focused on making efficient and quality cars for a global market, the Big Three insisted on putting all their eggs in the truck / SUV basket (and getting Bush to triple the big SUV tax deduction), while dinosaurs like John Dingell (D - MI) did everything they could to make sure no regulation forced the Big Three to join the rest of the world. It's outrageous and everyone involved should find themselves unemployed including those in Congress who fought for years against modern CAFE standards, etc.

So it's not pity I feel for them, but anger. And what makes me maddest of all is that I know we have no choice but to once again save GM, Ford and Chrysler from themselves. Because in the end, it's not about them. It's about the 3 million plus jobs that include all their suppliers who also happen to supply all the other automotive plants in the US including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Daimler, etc.

And last but not least, spare me the laying of all of these woes at the feet of the UAW. It's certainly true that the UAW is not blameless in this tail of woe, and is going to have to make concessions (which they have done before) without which the Big Three will never be profitable, but this is hardly all their fault. The labor issues are not so much wages, but health care costs which have soared, without any real explanation, for 10 years.

A little context is in order. 15 to 20 years ago, most of the pension plans of the Fortune 500 were believed to be way over funded (as in much more money than was needed to pay pensions obligagtions as they came due) thanks to great stock performance that went on for many years. With this extra money in the pension funds, many corporations saw an opportunity to offer early retirement to older, high wage, less productive employees that they could replace with younger, lower wage employees -- or in many cases not replace at all. Best of all, the money to fund the buyouts would come from the over-funded pension plans. The Big Three were no exception. They agreed to allow their UAW members to retire with 30 years at age 55 with medical benefits to age 65 when they were eligible for for medicare -- all funded but their supposed over-funded pension plans. And when these deals were made, it was a win - win proposition because the automakers could downsize painfree with a younger, cheaper and more produtctive work force.

Well, stock market conditions soured and it turned out these pension plans weren't so over-funded after all. Add to this the fact that health care costs soared during this same time and suddenly now these retiree costs -- so-called legacy costs -- were killing the Big Three automakers. This is exactly why health care reform is urgent, but the Big Three don't have years to wait for such reforms. They need saved today.

So save them we must, but will someone explain to me how we save them without releaving them of their legacy costs and how we do that without a bankruptcy filing? The UAW can't just agree to cut off the medical of all their retired members under age 65.

If anyone who has the answer to this question, please let me know.

On the plus side, the Big Three with their 3 million associated jobs is seeking a tiny fraction of what AIG alone has recieved.

Back at it

Forgive the long absence but I needed a break from blogging and thinking about politics. But I'm back now and ready to go.

There's no meaningful difference between 58 and 60

With the final defeat of Jim Martin in Georgia, it's now certain that the Democrats will not hold 60 seats in the Senate and may have to settle for 58 (I'm growing skeptical of Al Franken's chances).

A point which I think is obvious, but which seems lost on the nattering nabobs who form public opinion is that there is no meaningful or practical difference between having 58 seats or 60 seats. There are just too many variables inside the Democratic and Republican caucus to prevent either group from voting in perfect lock step with their respective party leadership.

In the Democratic caucus there are conservative senators and liberal senators who represent very different constituents but have the common interest of being re-elected. It's naive to believe they will both always vote together on legislation sponsored by the Obama WH or Harry Reid.

Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) are among the most Conservative Democrats in the Senate and all hail from McCain states. It should go without saying that they will view many issues very differently than Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Barbra Boxer (D-CA) who are among the most liberal Democrats (by voting record) from the bluest of states.

And these same factors apply to several Republican senators who come from very blue states including Olymbia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Arlen Spector (R-PA) who is up for re-election in 2010. Other senators from Blue states up for re-election in 2010 include Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), and George Voinovich (R-OH). While many of these are considered safe seats, their consitutents who voted Obama do not expect them to be filibustering the new president's agenda.

So when you actually get down to counting votes, there isn't anything magic about having 60 Democratic Senators. Get 65 Dems and you can start feeling like you have a supermajority.