Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Incarcerated and Innocent

Ex-Bush official Says Many at Gitmo are Innocent
(AP)--A former Bush administration official says many Guantanamo detainees are innocent, and have been held only because U.S. officials hoped they would know something important.

Lawrence B. Wilkerson was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He says only two dozen or so of the roughly 800 men held at Guantanamo are terrorists. About 240 prisoners remain at the US military prison.

"There are still innocent people there," Wilkerson told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Some have been there six or seven years."

Wilkerson says he learned of their innocence through State Department briefings and military commanders. He first made the allegations in an Internet posting this week.

The Pentagon has said the detainees are dangerous enemy combatants.

The War on Drugs?

Is it really a 'War' or a misguided concept? There are many opinions on the issue. Here are a few...

Jack Cafferty, CNN Commentary: War on drugs is insane [March 2009]
Someone described insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. That's a perfect description of the war on drugs.

If drugs were legalized, we could empty out a lot of our prison cells. People will use this stuff whether it's legal or not. Just like they do booze. And you could make the argument that in some cases alcohol is just as dangerous as some drugs. I know.

Like I said ... something to think about. It's time.

Jim Webb - The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 [March 2009]

The Act will create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process.

Why We Urgently Need this Legislation:

  • Incarceration for drug crimes has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, despite virtually identical levels of drug use across racial and ethnic lines.
  • With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses 25% of the world's reported prisoners.

  • Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.

  • Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.

  • Existing practices too often incarcerate people who do not belong in prison and distract locking up the more serious, violent offenders who are a threat to our communities..

  • Mass incarceration of illegal drug users has not curtailed drug usage. The multi-billion dollar illegal drugs industry remains intact, with more dangerous drugs continuing to reach our streets.
  • Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

  • Incarceration for drug crimes has had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, despite virtually identical levels of drug use across racial and ethnic lines.
Neal Peirce, Seattle Times Editorial The Other War We Can't Win [December 2006]
...So has the "war" worked? Has drug use or addiction declined? Clearly not. Hard street drugs are reportedly cheaper and purer, and as easy to get, as when President Richard Nixon declared substance abuse a "national emergency."...

We'd be incredibly better off if we had treated drugs as a public-health issue instead of a criminal issue — as the celebrated Nobel Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, in fact advised us. Friedman, who died last month at 94, witnessed America's misadventure into alcohol prohibition in his youth. "We had this spectacle of Al Capone, of the hijackings, the gang wars," wrote Friedman. He decried turning users into criminals: "Prohibition is an attempted cure that makes matters worse — for both the addict and the rest of us."...
New York Times, Editorial: Not Winning the War on Drugs [July 2008]
...Over all, drug abuse must be seen more as a public health concern and not primarily a law enforcement problem. Until demand is curbed at home, there is no chance of winning the war on drugs.
PBS Series: America's Forgotten War: A Series Overview [March 2009]
Many experts believe it's time to come up with a new strategy. Currently, the biggest drug use in America stems from homegrown marijuana and prescription drugs. If that's the case, critics ask, why does the United States continue to spend billions in anti-drug efforts that end up pushing production from one Latin American country to another?

National Review: The War on Drugs is Lost 7 essays [July 1996]
1. Wm. F. Buckley Jr. - Author, commentator and founder of the National Review magazine.

WE ARE speaking of a plague that consumes an estimated $75 billion per year of public money, exacts an estimated $70 billion a year from consumers, is responsible for nearly 50 per cent of the million Americans who are today in jail, occupies an estimated 50 per cent of the trial time of our judiciary, and takes the time of 400,000 policemen -- yet a plague for which no cure is at hand, nor in prospect...

...it is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana. I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors.

2. Ethan A. Nadelmann - Scholar and researcher.

The essayists assembled here do not agree exactly on which aspect of the war on drugs is most disgraceful, or on which alternative to our current policies is most desirable, but we do agree, as Mr. Buckley expected, on the following: The ``war on drugs'' has failed to accomplish its stated objectives, and it cannot succeed so long as we remain a free society, bound by our Constitution. Our prohibitionist approach to drug control is responsible for most of the ills commonly associated with America's ``drug problem.'' And some measure of legal availability and regulation is essential if we are to reduce significantly the negative consequences of both drug use and our drug-control policies...

Prohibition is no way to run a drug policy. We learned that with alcohol during the first third of this century and we're probably wise enough as a society not to try to repeat the mistake with nicotine. Prohibitions for kids make sense. It's reasonable to prohibit drug-related misbehavior that endangers others, such as driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, or smoking in enclosed spaces. But whatever its benefits in deterring some Americans from becoming drug abusers, America's indiscriminate drug prohibition is responsible for too much crime, disease, and death to qualify as sensible policy.

I am often baffled by the resistance of conservatives to drug-policy reform, but encouraged by the willingness of many to reassess their views once they have heard the evidence. Conservatives who oppose the expansion of federal power cannot look approvingly on the growth of the federal drug-enforcement bureaucracy and federal efforts to coerce states into adopting federally formulated drug policies. Those who focus on the victimization of Americans by predatory criminals can hardly support our massive diversion of law-enforcement resources to apprehending and imprisoning nonviolent vice merchants and consumers. Those concerned with overregulation can hardly countenance our current handling of methadone, our refusal to allow over-the-counter sale of sterile syringes, our prohibition of medical marijuana. And conservatives who turn to the Bible for guidance on current affairs can find little justification there for our war on drugs and the people who use and sell them.

3. Kurt Schmoke - Dean of Howard University School of Law, former Mayor of Baltimore, MD and former prosecutor.

I have long advocated that the war on drugs be fought as a public-health war. This is sometimes called medicalization, or regulated distribution. Under this alternative to the war on drugs, the government would set up a regulatory regime to pull addicts into the public-health system. The government, not criminal traffickers, would control the price, distribution, and purity of addictive substances -- which it already does with prescription drugs. This would take most of the profit out of drug trafficking, and it is profits that drive the crime. Addicts would be treated -- and if necessary maintained -- under medical auspices. Children would find it harder, not easier, to get their hands on drugs. And law enforcement would be able to concentrate on the highest echelons of drug-trafficking enterprises...

I once told a television reporter that the war on drugs was our domestic Vietnam. Conservatives and liberals disagree about the justice of that war. But we generally agree that the strategy for fighting it didn't work, and as a result the war lasted too long and cost too many lives. The same is true of the war on drugs. It's time to bring this enervating war to an end. It's time for peace.

4. Joseph D. McNamara - former police chief.

"IT'S THE money, stupid.'' After 35 years as a police officer in three of the country's largest cities, that is my message to the righteous politicians who obstinately proclaim that a war on drugs will lead to a drug-free America. About $500 worth of heroin or cocaine in a source country will bring in as much as $100,000 on the streets of an American city. All the cops, armies, prisons, and executions in the world cannot impede a market with that kind of tax-free profit margin. It is the illegality that permits the obscene markup, enriching drug traffickers, distributors, dealers, crooked cops, lawyers, judges, politicians, bankers, businessmen...

It was my own experience as a policeman trying to enforce the laws against drugs that led me to change my attitude about drug-control policy. The analogy to the Vietnam War is fitting...

One hopes that politicians will realize that no one can accuse them of being soft on drugs if they vote for changes suggested by many thoughtful people in law enforcement. If the politicians tone down their rhetoric it will permit police leaders to expose the costs of our present drug-control policies. Public opinion will then allow policy changes to decriminalize marijuana and stop the arrest of hundreds of thousands of people every year. The enormous savings can be used for what the public really wants -- the prevention of violent crime.

5. Robert W. Sweet - Federal judge and former prosecutor.

WHY does a sitting judge, constitutionally charged with enforcing the laws of the United States, seek the abolition of the criminal penalties attached to drug use and distribution? The answer in my case stems from personal experience, leading to the conviction that our present policy debases the rule of law and that its fundamental premise is flawed...

...Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentences, and judicial discretion was radically restricted. The day in the fall of 1988 that I was mandated to sentence Luis Quinones, an 18-year-old with no prior record, to ten years of real time because he was a bouncer in an apartment where drugs were being sold, I faced our national drug policy and the need to re-examine it. Assisted by the writings of Professor Ethan Nadelmann I concluded that our present policy of criminal prohibition was a monumental error. A number of other judges have reached the same conclusion. Judge Weinstein has characterized our present policy as ``utter futility,'' and Judge Knapp has likened it to ``taking minnows out of the pond.''

As Chief McNamara writes, the realities of criminal prohibition are becoming recognized. The first and foremost effect is the creation of a pervasive and unbelievably powerful underground economy..

...the fundamental flaw, which will ultimately destroy this prohibition as it did the last one, is that criminal sanctions cannot, and should not attempt to, prohibit personal conduct which does no harm to others. Personal liberty surely must extend to what, when, and how much a citizen can ingest...

The effect of the underworld drug economy, the debasement of the rule of law, and the undermining of fundamental fairness and individual rights under the war on drugs all combine to require that the criminal prohibition against drug use and distribution be ended.

6. Thomas Szasz - Psychiatrist.

Today, the United States is the embodiment of the principle that self-medication is evil. To protect people from rejecting protection from dangerous drugs, the U.S. criminalizes self-medication without a prescription. We are now paying the price of our anti-drug mentality.

William Bennett is right: Drug use and drug controls are primarily moral issues. But whereas Bennett sees self-medication as wicked and drug criminalization as virtuous, I see self-medication as a basic human right (with unqualified responsibility for its consequences) and drug criminalization as sinful (hypocritical and unenforceable)...

Drugs are, of course, not the only dangerous artifacts in our environment. Electricity, household appliances and cleansers, and countless other products of human inventiveness endanger, injure, and kill children. We accept these inventions that, in the long run, make our lives healthier and safer, and adapt to them by teaching children to cope realistically with the risks they pose. Harassing adults and depriving them of rights will not work as a substitute for disciplining children...

7. Steven B. Duke - Law professor.

``THE DRUG war is not working,'' says Bill Buckley. That is certainly true if we assume, as he does, that the purpose of the drug war is to induce Americans to consume only approved drugs. But as the war wears on, we have to wonder what its purposes really are.

If its purpose is to make criminals out of one in three African-American males, it has succeeded. If its purpose is to create one of the highest crime rates in the world -- and thus to provide permanent fodder for demagogues who decry crime and promise to do something about it -- it is achieving that end. If its purpose is de facto repeal of the Bill of Rights, victory is well in sight. If its purpose is to transfer individual freedom to the central government, it is carrying that off as well as any of our real wars did. If its purpose is to destroy our inner cities by making them war zones, triumph is near.

Most of the results of the drug war, of which the essayists here complain, were widely observed during alcohol prohibition. Everyone should have known that the same fate would follow if the Prohibition approach were merely transferred to different drugs...

The only benefit to America in maintaining prohibition is the psychic comfort we derive from having a permanent scapegoat. But why did we have to pick an enemy the warring against which is so self-destructive? We would be better off blaming our ills on celestial invaders flying about in saucers.

Monday, March 30, 2009

GOP Will Not Offer a Detailed Budget

According to a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate GOP's plan remains the same: Republicans are planning to offer individual amendments to the Democratic budget but not a detailed, comprehensive budget of their own.

That’s what made an exchange Sunday with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” intriguing.

DAVID GREGORY: “Do you think that Republicans should provide a detailed budget alternative?”

McCAIN: “Yes.”

GREGORY: “With numbers?”

McCAIN: “Yes.”

GREGORY: “Will that happen in the Senate?”

McCAIN: “We're working on it, working very hard on it.”

So -- are they?

Actually, no.

The Senate GOP has no plans to release a detailed alternative budget.

Education, Education, Education

Globe-trotting humanitarian Greg Mortenson co-author of the best-selling memoir Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time, keeps a reminder pasted to his bathroom mirror back home in Bozeman, Mont.: "When your heart speaks, take good notes."

Greg Mortenson's Peacebuilding Efforts
Greg Mortenson has been promoting peace by building schools and purging ignorance in Pakistan and Afghanistan for more than a decade.

"If you fight terrorism, that's based in fear. But if you promote peace, that's based in hope," Mortenson said. "And the real enemy I think is ignorance. It's ignorance that breeds hatred."

It all started accidentally. In 1993 on his way down from a harrowing and unsuccessful climb of the world's second tallest mountain, K2 in northern Pakistan, an exhausted and dehydrated Mortenson stumbled into the village of Korphe. The people of the village helped him get well. While recovering he noticed the children had nowhere to learn.

"When I saw those 84 children sitting in the dirt and they asked for help to build a school I made a promise that day that I would help them," Mortenson explained.

Mortenson returned to the United States and began to try to raise money for the project. He composed letters on a borrowed electric typewriter and sent them to 580 celebrities asking for help. He got one $100 check.


Mortenson said he had found his calling. He started a nonprofit group called the Central Asia Institute and has since built 78 schools for 33,000 Pakistani and Afghan children. That is an amazing accomplishment in a region where the literacy rate is as low as 20 percent. The road has been anything but smooth. He had a fatwa leveled against him by a Muslim leader who didn't trust him. He was kidnapped. And when he began to focus on educating girls, the Taliban did all they could to stop him. But persevered.

Read the article here.

The Necessity of Accountability: UPDATE


Both of these videos should be watched:

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh claims the Bush administration had a secret operations unit with authority to take out targets across the globe. Source: CNN

Rachel Maddow: Obama Strikes Back

Jonathan Turley "Obama Should Appoint a Special Prosecutor"

FOX: Spinning the Truth, Again

From Jed Lewison at Daily Kos:
Here’s video of Fox’s Chris Wallace and Karl Rove playing what they claimed to be a DNC ad criticizing Rove, along with the actual, unedited ad from the DNC:

As you can see, Wallace spliced out 15 seconds from the middle of the ad without disclosing or indicating that it had been edited. Wallace and Rove then went on to discuss the ad with Karl Rove as if they had just played the full thing, even though some of the toughest criticism of Rove (including the firing of U.S. attorneys and the outing of a CIA agent) had been removed from the ad they aired.

It’s common practice to use excerpts from ads, but when an ad is spliced together, news organizations should make it clear to their audience that the ad has been edited. They can offer verbal, textual, or visual indications of the edits, but in this case, the ad was presented as if it hadn’t been tampered with at all.

But the ad had been edited, and by treating it as if it were the full actual ad Wallace violated every journalistic principle that there is, which should serve as a reminder that nothing on Fox is real journalism. It’s all conservative propaganda.

The segment with Wallace and Rove was broadcast by Fox on Sunday, March 29.

Blacklisting by Health Insurers

An article on the cost of health care reveals how health insurers secretly blacklist people with certain ailments.

Trying to buy health insurance on your own and have gallstones? You'll automatically be denied coverage. Rheumatoid arthritis? Automatic denial. Severe acne? Probably denied. Do you take metformin, a popular drug for diabetes? Denied. Use the anti-clotting drug Plavix or Seroquel, prescribed for anti-psychotic or sleep problems? Forget about it.

This confidential information on some insurers' practices is available on the Web -- if you know where to look.

What's more, you can discover that if you lie to an insurer about your medical history and drug use, you will be rejected because data-mining companies sell information to insurers about your health, including detailed usage of prescription drugs.

These issues are moving to the forefront as the Obama administration and Congress gear up for discussions about how to reform the healthcare system so that Americans won't be rejected for insurance.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thank You Woody!

From the New Yorker March 30, 2009
Tails of Manhattan
By Woody Allen

Two weeks ago, Abe Moscowitz dropped dead of a heart attack and was reincarnated as a lobster. Trapped off the coast of Maine, he was shipped to Manhattan and dumped into a tank at a posh Upper East Side seafood restaurant. In the tank there were several other lobsters, one of whom recognized him. “Abe, is that you?” the creature asked, his antennae perking up.

“Who’s that? Who’s talking to me?” Moscowitz said, still dazed by the mystical slam-bang postmortem that had transmogrified him into a crustacean.

“It’s me, Moe Silverman,” the other lobster said.

“O.M.G.!” Moscowitz piped, recognizing the voice of an old gin-rummy colleague. “What’s going on?”

“We’re reborn,” Moe explained. “As a couple of two-pounders.”

“Lobsters? This is how I wind up after leading a just life? In a tank on Third Avenue?”

“The Lord works in strange ways,” Moe Silverman explained. “Take Phil Pinchuck. The man keeled over with an aneurysm, he’s now a hamster. All day, running at the stupid wheel. For years he was a Yale professor. My point is he’s gotten to like the wheel. He pedals and pedals, running nowhere, but he smiles.”

Moscowitz did not like his new condition at all. Why should a decent citizen like himself, a dentist, a mensch who deserved to relive life as a soaring eagle or ensconced in the lap of some sexy socialite getting his fur stroked, come back ignominiously as an entrée on a menu? It was his cruel fate to be delicious, to turn up as Today’s Special, along with a baked potato and dessert. This led to a discussion by the two lobsters of the mysteries of existence, of religion, and how capricious the universe was, when someone like Sol Drazin, a schlemiel they knew from the catering business, came back after a fatal stroke as a stud horse impregnating cute little thoroughbred fillies for high fees. Feeling sorry for himself and angry, Moscowitz swam about, unable to buy into Silverman’s Buddha-like resignation over the prospect of being served thermidor.

At that moment, who walked into the restaurant and sits down at a nearby table but Bernie Madoff. If Moscowitz had been bitter and agitated before, now he gasped as his tail started churning the water like an Evinrude.

“I don’t believe this,” he said, pressing his little black peepers to the glass walls. “That goniff who should be doing time, chopping rocks, making license plates, somehow slipped out of his apartment confinement and he’s treating himself to a shore dinner.”

“Clock the ice on his immortal beloved,” Moe observed, scanning Mrs. M.’s rings and bracelets.

Moscowitz fought back his acid reflux, a condition that had followed him from his former life. “He’s the reason I’m here,” he said, riled to a fever pitch.

“Tell me about it,” Moe Silverman said. “I played golf with the man in Florida, which incidentally he’ll move the ball with his foot if you’re not watching.”

“Each month I got a statement from him,” Moscowitz ranted. “I knew such numbers looked too good to be kosher, and when I joked to him how it sounded like a Ponzi scheme he choked on his kugel. I had to do the Heimlich maneuver. Finally, after all that high living, it comes out he was a fraud and my net worth was bupkes. P.S., I had a myocardial infarction that registered at the oceanography lab in Tokyo.”

“With me he played it coy,” Silverman said, instinctively frisking his carapace for a Xanax. “He told me at first he had no room for another investor. The more he put me off, the more I wanted in. I had him to dinner, and because he liked Rosalee’s blintzes he promised me the next opening would be mine. The day I found out he could handle my account I was so thrilled I cut my wife’s head out of our wedding photo and put his in. When I learned I was broke, I committed suicide by jumping off the roof of our golf club in Palm Beach. I had to wait half an hour to jump, I was twelfth in line.”

At this moment, the captain escorted Madoff to the lobster tank, where the unctuous sharpie analyzed the assorted saltwater candidates for potential succulence and pointed to Moscowitz and Silverman. An obliging smile played on the captain’s face as he summoned a waiter to extract the pair from the tank.

“This is the last straw!” Moscowitz cried, bracing himself for the consummate outrage. “To swindle me out of my life’s savings and then to nosh me in butter sauce! What kind of universe is this?”

Moscowitz and Silverman, their ire reaching cosmic dimensions, rocked the tank to and fro until it toppled off its table, smashing its glass walls and flooding the hexagonal-tile floor. Heads turned as the alarmed captain looked on in stunned disbelief. Bent on vengeance, the two lobsters scuttled swiftly after Madoff. They reached his table in an instant, and Silverman went for his ankle. Moscowitz, summoning the strength of a madman, leaped from the floor and with one giant pincer took firm hold of Madoff’s nose. Screaming with pain, the gray-haired con artist hopped from the chair as Silverman strangled his instep with both claws. Patrons could not believe their eyes as they recognized Madoff, and began to cheer the lobsters.

“This is for the widows and charities!” yelled Moscowitz. “Thanks to you, Hatikvah Hospital is now a skating rink!”

Madoff, unable to free himself from the two Atlantic denizens, bolted from the restaurant and fled yelping into traffic. When Moscowitz tightened his viselike grip on his septum and Silverman tore through his shoe, they persuaded the oily scammer to plead guilty and apologize for his monumental hustle.

By the end of the day, Madoff was in Lenox Hill Hospital, awash in welts and abrasions. The two renegade main courses, their rage slaked, had just enough strength left to flop away into the cold, deep waters of Sheepshead Bay, where, if I’m not mistaken, Moscowitz lives to this day with Yetta Belkin, whom he recognized from shopping at Fairway. In life she had always resembled a flounder, and after her fatal plane crash she came back as one.

Cartoons of the Day

Geithner Flies Coach

Remember when the big three auto CEO's came to the Congress on their private jets while requesting taxpayer bailout money . Here's a refreshing Change.

CNN reports
that the man who was grilled by Congress last week over the AIG bonuses took the Delta shuttle from New York to Washington on Saturday, riding in the coach section. Asked why not first class, Geithner said he always rides coach, "never first class".

Is there a message from the top?

Two weeks ago, Susan Rice, soon after she was confirmed to be President Obama's ambassador to the United Nations, was spotted riding in coach on a morning Delta shuttle from Washington to New York.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Plants Need Global Warming Pollution

That's what Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) believes.

At a House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment
he argued against a cap-and-trade system to limit CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. His theory is novel. Speaking to British global warming denier Lord Christopher Monckton, Shimkus claimed that capping CO2 emissions will steal "plant food."

SHIMKUS: It’s plant food. … So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere? … So all our good intentions could be for naught. In fact, we could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.

Watch it:

Matthew Yglesias
points out:
The point about our CO2 emissions is that the rate at which fossil fuel use puts new carbon into the atmosphere greatly exceeds the rate at which plants remove it. The aim is not to eliminate the CO2 from the atmosphere but to stabilize the amount of CO2, which means curtailing emissions to a level much closer to the rate at which plants consume it. It also means minimizing the extent to which we destroy the plankton, rain forests, and other plant life that take carbon out of the air.
Center for American Progress has a guide to what cap-and-trade-means and how it can be succesfully implemented.

The Scoop on "The Dirty Dozen"

Rolling Stone has a very interesting article, The Dirty Dozen, about the individuals who are responsible for the present financial crisis.

Meet the bankers and brokers responsible for the financial crisis - and the officials who let them get away with it.

The Enabler

WAS Chairman of the Federal Reserve (1987-2006)
WHAT HE DID Pushed for sweeping power to regulate Wall Street — and then failed to use it. Fueled "irrational" bubble with low interest rates.
WORST MOVE Called derivatives like CDOs "extraordinarily useful"; regulating them would be a "mistake."
NOW ADMITS He was "partially" wrong to not impose tougher oversight.

The Pioneer

WAS CEO of Citigroup (1998-2003)
WHAT HE DID Created the first too-big-to-fail company, Citigroup. Led the boom in subprime mortgages.
RECENTLY Celebrated $45 billion taxpayer bailout of Citi by taking Mexican vacation on Citigroup jet, complete with $13,000 carpets, pillows made from Hermés scarves, and Baccarat crystal glassware.

The Ideologue

WAS Senate Banking Committee chair (1995-2000)
KNOWN AS "High priest of deregulation"
WHAT HE DID Pushed repeal of Glass-Steagall Act, leading to rise of megabanks.
WORST MOVE Wrote law that exempted disastrous CDS deals from all regulation.
NOW ADMITS Nothing. Says there is "no evidence" his laws caused crash, which he dismissed as a "mental recession."

The Arsonist

WAS Chief of AIG Financial Products (2001-2008)
WHAT HE DID Blew a $500 billion hole in fabric of the universe by placing massive bet on the bubble economy with money he didn't have.
WORST MOVE In August 2007 told investors his CDS deals could not lose even "$1"; lost $352 million that quarter.
NOW Enjoying his $280 million in earnings.

The Bagman

WAS Treasury secretary (1995-1999)
WHAT HE DID Opposed regulation of credit swaps; fought to overturn Glass-Steagall Act, leading to creation of Citigroup, where he later made $115 million.
WORST MOVE Asked Treasury to pressure ratings agencies to delay downgrading Enron, a Citigroup debtor.
NOW Still on Citi's board; mentor of Treasury Secretary Geithner.

The Card Shark

WAS CEO of Bear Stearns (1993-2008)
WHAT HE DID Took card-playing vacations and allegedly smoked weed while Bear went bankrupt.
WORST MOVE Cashed out his $61 million share after resigning shortly before Bear's sale to J.P. Morgan Chase.
NOW SAYS Of Treasury Secretary Geithner: "The guy thinks he's got a big dick. He's got nothing, except maybe a boyfriend."

Economic Crisis: Money & Power

Matt Taibii says the global economic crisis isn't about money-it's about power. Below is an excerpt from his Rolling Stone article "The Big Takeover."

How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution

The real question from here is whether the Obama administration is going to move to bring the financial system back to a place where sanity is restored and the general public can have a say in things or whether the new financial bureaucracy will remain obscure, secretive and hopelessly complex. It might not bode well that Geithner, Obama's Treasury secretary, is one of the architects of the Paulson bailouts; as chief of the New York Fed, he helped orchestrate the Goldman-friendly AIG bailout and the secretive Maiden Lane facilities used to funnel funds to the dying company. Neither did it look good when Geithner - himself a protégé of notorious Goldman alum John Thain, the Merrill Lynch chief who paid out billions in bonuses after the state spent billions bailing out his firm - picked a former Goldman lobbyist named Mark Patterson to be his top aide.

In fact, most of Geithner's early moves reek strongly of Paulsonism. He has continually talked about partnering with private investors to create a so-called "bad bank" that would systemically relieve private lenders of bad assets - the kind of massive, opaque, quasi-private bureaucratic nightmare that Paulson specialized in. Geithner even refloated a Paulson proposal to use TALF, one of the Fed's new facilities, to essentially lend cheap money to hedge funds to invest in troubled banks while practically guaranteeing them enormous profits.

God knows exactly what this does for the taxpayer, but hedge-fund managers sure love the idea. "This is exactly what the financial system needs," said Andrew Feldstein, CEO of Blue Mountain Capital and one of the Morgan Mafia. Strangely, there aren't many people who don't run hedge funds who have expressed anything like that kind of enthusiasm for Geithner's ideas.

As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren't hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system - transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.

Read the complete article here.

Looney, Kooky & Dangerous!

Remember Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)?


During the presidential campaign she called on the media to conduct a McCarthyite investigation of all liberals in Congress for being anti-American.

Now she's back with not only stupid statements but clearly statements that Republicans would have called 'treasonous' if uttered by a Democrat. As Steve Benen has noted, she is mad as a hatter.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) -- who is, by the way, mad as a hatter -- appeared on a radio show earlier this week, describing elected Democratic officials as the "enemy" and encouraging her constituents to be "armed and dangerous." Soon after, appearing on Sean Hannity's radio show, Bachmann went even further.

"We are headed down the lane of economic Marxism. More quickly, Sean, than anyone could have possibly imagined. It's difficult for us to even keep up with it day to day....

"[I]t's like Thomas Jefferson said, a revolution every now and then is a good thing. We are at the point, Sean, of revolution. And by that, what I mean, an orderly revolution -- where the people of this country wake up get up and make a decision that this is not going to happen on their watch. It won't be our children and grandchildren that are in debt. It is we who are in debt, we who will be bankrupting this country, inside of 10 years, if we don't get a grip. And we can't let the Democrats achieve their ends any longer.

"If Tim Geithner is successful under President Obama, and they move us to an international currency. Then we have no hope of standing on our own as a sovereign nation with our own economic system. It's over. We can't do that."

She went on to decry "tyranny" being "enforced upon the people," adding that "our very freedom" is at stake.

"Right now I'm a member of Congress. And I believe that my job here is to be a foreign correspondent, reporting from enemy lines. And people need to understand, this isn't a game. this isn't just a political talk show that's happening right now. This is our very freedom, and we have 230 years, a continuous link of freedom that every generation has ceded to the next generation. This may be the time when that link breaks. And I'm going to do everything I can, I know you are, to make sure that we keep that link secure. We cannot allow that link to break, because as Reagan said, America is the last great hope of mankind. where do we go--"

Now, Bachmann simply isn't well. Were she not an elected member of the U.S. Congress, she'd probably be shouting conspiracy theories and holding cardboard signs on some sidewalk somewhere. But what I find especially interesting is that her paranoid delusions are so detached from obvious truths. If Bachmann wanted to complain that a 39.6% top rate was the epitome of Marxism, she'd be just another conservative. But she's convinced herself that the Obama administration will "move us to an international currency," due entirely to her breathtaking stupidity.

My fear, at this point, is that lunacy from deranged politicians and their media allies is going to end up getting someone hurt. Republican officials believe they should emulate the insurgency tactics of the Taliban. They see themselves as "freedom fighters" taking on the "slide toward socialism." They want a "revolution" because Americans "can't let" Democrats succeed in taking away "our very freedom."

This is obviously madness, not from some right-wing blog, but from elected federal officials. But I worry it's more than that. Incendiary rhetoric like this leads strange people to do strange things.

Republicans, it's time to lower the temperature. In the midst of multiple crises, America deserves more than hollow, partisan rage.

It's funny, till you remember she is a member of Congress.


Stan finally figures out just how our treasury system works in this 'Margaritaville' episode" of South Park".

WATCH this clip:

WATCH the full episode here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The First Family

Thanks to Jack & Jill Politics


When Barack Obama emerged as a possible candidate for president, I asked John Hope how historic it would be if Obama won his party’s nomination. He replied that the historical significance of such a thing was beyond measure. Obama’s nomination, he said, “would counter one of the most dominant narratives of the past 350 years on this continent.” Then he added the thought that it could be even more historically and culturally important “to have that family as the First Family than to have Obama as President.”
—from Walter Dellinger on John Hope Franklin

DNC Responds to GOP's Attempt at a Budget

The Number Zero, Brought To You By The Party Of N-O

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Issue

NYT - President Obama said on Friday that he plans to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan, increase aid to Pakistan, and for the first time set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in both chaotic countries.

A Pakistani girl from the Bajur tribal region.
A Pakistani girl from the Bajur tribal region in line for bread. (Photo: AP)

Our war in Afghanistan began almost 3,000 days ago, on October 7, 2001. Our war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than World War I, World War II, the Civil War, the Korean War, the first Gulf War in Iraq and the second Gulf War in Iraq. If we are still fighting in Afghanistan a year from now, the war will have lasted longer than the American Revolution. Children who were born on the day the war began are now halfway through grammar school.


Is the Obama administration simply working with the hand it was dealt by George W. Bush, or are the same Bush administration mistakes about to be committed all over again? Norman Solomon, writing for Truthout on Tuesday, noted, "We desperately need a substantive national debate on US military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While the Obama administration says that the problems of the region cannot be solved by military means, the basic approach is reliance on heightened military means. And so, with chillingly familiar echoes, goes the perverse logic of escalating the war in Afghanistan. 'Strategic patience' - more and more war - will be necessary so that those who must die will not have died in vain."

However this all shakes out, one thing is certain: Both the United States and Afghanistan are likely going to be Enduring Freedom for a long time to come.

Obama puts forth his Afghanistan Strategy: Part I

Obama's Strategy on Afghanistan-Pakistan Region: Part II

Stop Supporting The O’Reilly Harassment Machine: UPDATE

Think Progress has launched a campaign asking O'Reilly's major sponsors to issue a clear statement opposing O'Reilly's Harassment Machine.

The bottom line is O'Reilly's thuggish brand of gotcha journalism has got to end, and you can hold O'Reilly to a higher standard by signing up to tell his corporate sponsors to shut down the O'Reilly Harassment Machine.

On Saturday, March 21, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly sent one of his producers to stalk, harass, and ambush ThinkProgress.org’s managing editor Amanda Terkel. Upset over a ThinkProgress report that noted O’Reilly’s insensitivity to rape, O’Reilly sent two men to track Amanda in a car for two hours, and then confronted her with hostile questions while she was on vacation.

Sadly, Amanda is just one of at least 40 different victims of O’Reilly’s Harassment Machine. O’Reilly has hired producers whose job is to track, harass, and intimidate anyone whom O’Reilly perceives as an opponent. That’s not “journalism” — that’s a mafia-style operation. And we need to put an end to it.

Tell O’Reilly’s advertisers that you want them to issue a clear statement explaining their opposition to O’Reilly’s “ambush journalism.” Fill out the form below to tell O’Reilly’s corporate advertisers to stop supporting the O’Reilly Harassment Machine, and e-mail us if you receive any responses.


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UPDATE: From Think Progress

More than 10,000 of you have stood up to Bill O’Reilly.

Since the launch of our Stop Supporting The O’Reilly Harassment Machine campaign on Wednesday afternoon, more than 10,000 of you have taken action. Thank you for all your support! In just two days, here’s all the successes we’ve had:


UPS announced it will no longer advertise on The Factor

Capital One expressed “regret” for O’Reilly’s insensitivity and explain that it does not endorse his views.

– A Ford spokesman candidly told us that he agreed with us about the “rantings of the hopelessly pig-headed Mr. O’Reilly.” (Ford then clarified that the statement did not speak for the company)

AT&T said it makes “every effort” to ensure their advertisers are in keeping with the company’s “corporate values and philosophy,” but it would not say whether O’Reilly’s show was in keeping with that philosophy.

– Bill O’Reilly lashed out at us, calling us “insects

– Amanda appeared on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss the campaign

Let’s urge more companies to follow the lead of UPS. Please join our campaign.

What News Anchors Do During Commercial Breaks

In Chicago, WGN News anchors Robert Jordan and Jackie Bange have been together for many years. Here's what news anchors do during commercial breaks.


Thank Goodness Palin isn't "Calling It Like She Sees It"

Firedoglake tells the continuing saga of Sarah Palin who "continues to champion personal responsibility by constantly blaming other people for her failures."

Last Friday at the Alaska GOP's Lincoln Day Dinner, The 'Cuda explained why McPalin and the GOP got their asses handed to them last November.

There was an unprecedented level of media slant this go around.

Forget Bush, Cheney, Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, gas prices, Katrina, declining middle class wages, the failure of the banking system, health care, McPalin's assclownish campaign, Palin's obvious flaws and non-stop gaffes, etc. etc.

Nope, it was all the media's fault:

Some in the media actually participated in not so much the 'who-what-where-when-why' objective reporting on candidates and positions, those five W's that I learned when I had a journalism degree so many years ago in college, when the world of journalism was quite different than it is today," she said.

"No, things have changed," she continued. "But complaining? Or whining? Absolutely not. But I am going to call it like I see it. It doesn't do any good to whine about any of this. But I can call it like I see it. Sometimes it gets me in a lot of trouble when I speak candidly, and I speak from the heart and I do such a thing. But I am going to."

"And there was that media slant this go round," she said. "And unless things change, the GOP had really better can stand together, 'cause we got that on the battlefield also. I call it like I see it and like I lived it on the campaign trail. Not complaining, but dealing with reality."

Not whining, not complaining, just callin' like I see it, and gosh darn it, WE WOULD'VE WON IF IT WEREN'T FOR THAT BITCH COURIC!!!

That, and...

"So I'm looking around for somebody to pray with, I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra," she said. "And the McCain campaign, love 'em, you know, they're a lot of people around me, but nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray."

That's right -- if the McCain campaign hadn't been a bunch of secular godless heathens, Sarah Palin would be living at the Naval Observatory right now.


What Happened at AIG?

The story of AIG is complicated. Matt Taibbi, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, explains to Laura Flanders on GRITtv what happened.


Who Wants to Block Obama?

From Think Progress:

Bayh: My Group Of Blue Dogs ‘Literally Has No Agenda’ Other Than Blocking Obama’s

Yesterday, MoveOn.org, Americans United for Change, and several other progressive groups began running ads urging “moderate” Democratic members of Congress to “get on board with the president’s budget.” The ads are, in part, a response to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and 14 of his Democratic colleagues who are creating what they call a “moderate coalition that will meet regularly to shape public policy.” Bayh responded to the new ads late yesterday, telling Politico that his group of “moderates” should not be targeted because they have “no agenda”:

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is also unhappy with the friendly fire. Bayh…found himself targeted by an ad accusing him of “standing in the way of President Obama’s reforms.” “We literally have no agenda,” Bayh shot back. “How can they be threatened by a group that has taken no policy positions?”

Bayh’s claim that his group has no agenda is hard to believe. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal explained yesterday, the group’s “stated goal is to…protect business interests.” Even before the group was officially formed, their efforts dampened a number of progressive policy proposals and they clearly have aspirations to expand their portfolio:

Shrinking Economic Recovery: The group’s first significant “success” was “paring down the more than $900 billion economic stimulus bill to $787 billion,” reducing the government’s ability to spur economic recovery quickly. [Roll Call, 3/12/2009]

Preserving The Bush Tax Cuts: Regarding Obama’s plan to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, Bayh said, “I do think that before we raise revenue, we first should look to see if there are ways we can cut back on spending.” [Politico, 3/3/2009]

Delaying Cap-and-Trade: Bayh coaltion member, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), explained that the group might “push for a more lenient phase-in period for a cap-and-trade system and revenue-raising offsets to pay for expensive mandates.” [CQ Politics, 3/9/2009]

Weakening Bankruptcy Protection: Centrist Democrats “forced changes to a House bill that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages, ensuring that the legislation better reflected the concerns of the financial-services industry.” [WSJ, 3/25/09]

If Bayh is to be believed and his new group of moderates “literally have no agenda,” then what exactly are they doing? As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow explained last night, it appears that Bayh and his colleagues have found at least one niche to fill by helping Republicans obstruct the President’s agenda and deny voters the policies they endorsed last November:

Anyone voting against a Democratic agenda voted Republican. Those votes produced a very small Republican minority in Congress. A small minority that now has way more power than they otherwise would because of conservative Democrats deciding to give Republicans as much power as they can.

Watch it: