Friday, June 29, 2007

Supreme Court Justices attack the Sherman Antitrust Act

In the final day of the current session, the Supreme Court overturned a portion of the Antitrust Act, allowing businesses to join together to fix prices.
WASHINGTON, June 28 — Striking down an antitrust rule nearly a century old, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that it was not automatically unlawful for manufacturers and distributors to agree on minimum retail prices.

The decision will give producers significantly more, though not unlimited, power to dictate retail prices and to restrict the flexibility of discounters.

Five justices, agreeing with the nation’s major manufacturers, said the new rule could in some instances lead to more competition and better service. But four dissenting justices agreed with 37 states and some consumer groups that abandoning the old rule could result in significantly higher prices and less competition for consumer and other goods.

The court struck down the 96-year-old rule that resale price maintenance agreements were an automatic, or per se, violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. In its place, the court instructed judges considering such agreements for possible antitrust violations to apply a case-by-case approach, known as a “rule of reason,” to assess their impact on competition. The new rule is considerably more favorable to defendants.

The decision was handed down on the last day of the court’s term, which has been notable for overturning precedents and for victories for big businesses and antitrust defendants.

No points for guessing which five justices voted in favor of big business.

John Edwards would rebuild New Orleans

Several months ago Pete Abel asked his readers to identify five critical, governance-related questions that should be asked of each of the presidential candidates. Rather than ask five, there was one specific question that I felt should be answered by every candidate running:
What should we do about New Orleans?
In particular:
Should we commit to rebuilding New Orleans within its pre-Katrina boundaries?

Should we relocate all or part of the population to higher ground?

Or, should we allow nature and market forces to determine where we build and what we abandon?
This goes straight to one of the fundamental jobs of a national leader. What do you do when entire communities are destroyed and the people left stranded and homeless?

Many have an opinion about New Orleans. It was built largely below sea level in an area prone to hurricanes and the risk was known for years. Some think the government was corrupt or unprepared. Some think the people took a gamble and lost.

But decisions need to be made. New Orleanians have been given neither a commitment that the city will be protected against a future catastrophic flood, nor a warning that they are taking their chances if they return.

Few will invest in rebuilding their homes until they know the answer to these questions. Will we commit to rebuilding a city below sea level, and grant it protection from the elements, like the Dutch or Venicians do? Will we tell the people that we will no longer insure their financial safety if another storm comes? Will we even guarantee that we'll rebuild water and power systems for those who live in the highest risk areas?

This is an issue much bigger than New Orleans. Floods threaten communities all along the coast and up the Mississippi River, earthquakes threaten virtually every city on the west coast, fire and drought threaten more. If we're willing to abandon one city to its fate, are we willing to abandon all of them?

So taking Pete's advice, I fired off an email to each of the major campaigns asking that particular question. Recently, the John Edwards campaign responded.

As John Edwards watched the horrific images of human suffering caused by Katrina, like many of us, he was heart broken. Unfortunately, those images were not the picture of one city, but of our country today. It does not have to be that way. This is a historic moment when the country is ready to act.

To get New Orleans back on its feet John Edwards believes we need to do three big things:

* Free up available money and distribute it to rebuild the housing, schools, and hospitals so that people have something to come back to.

* Create jobs to bring people back - I've called for the federal government to create 50,000 stepping stone jobs for the Gulf Coast.

* Make the city safe - with levees that can withstand another Katrina and safe from crime.

Many of the problems of New Orleans are not unique to the Crescent City. Every day, 37 million Americans wake up in poverty. John Edwards has a plan for us to eliminate poverty in the next 30 years. It's our moral. He has laid out a detailed plan to do it by creating a "Working Society," which builds on what we have learned to create solutions for the future.

While we do it, John Edwards believes we must end the old racial and economic isolation of too many communities, including pre-Katrina New Orleans. We need to build affordable housing in economically integrated communities (while preserving public housing that's livable today until new homes are ready). That way, the poor housing that separated hundreds of thousands of people from good jobs, good schools and good health care - and new isolation of trailer homes - will be a thing of the past.

We are not the country of the Superdome in New Orleans after Katrina. We are not the country where a mother has to choose between providing heat or electricity for her kids. We are Americans, and we are better than that.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Climate Change: a term laden with fear?

The German magazine, Spiegel, interviews the CEO of the largest chemical company in the world. What gives a man like this nightmares? Apparently the term "climate change"

Hambrecht: I have a problem with the term "climate change." It's laden with fear. The climate is a highly complex system, and it has always changed. If there is one thing we cannot do, it is to allow ourselves to be scared and to seek emotional satisfaction in short-term campaigns.

The term Climate Change is laden with fear? The predictions behind it, maybe, but the term itself is pretty tepid. If we were calling it Apocalypse Forecast or Planetary Inferno maybe.

My guess is there's a different reason the CEO of a chemical company is spooked about climate change. The idea that his industry may be held partly responsible comes to mind.

Hambrecht never actually accuses climatology of being junk science, he just thinks it needs a few more decades of study. And of course, he likes to think there's an up side:

Hambrecht: We must develop a different attitude toward conditions on this earth. Many academics believe that the 12th century was the most successful for people in Europe. It was also the century in which Europe was the warmest. But then came the "little ice age," which lasted until the 19th century and was a difficult time with many epidemics.

On happier nights, he must dream about the monuments that will be built in tribute to industrialists like himself for creating a tropical utopia.

Dick Cheney's toadies

Cheney, who has a habit of firing employees who aren't true believers, has managed to gather a collection of the finest sycophants in American government.

For example Paul Hoffman, who just knew that Dick is both a snowmobile enthusiast and has a peculiar hatred for cutthroat salmon:
Hoffman, now in another job at the Interior Department, said Cheney never told him what to do on either issue -- he didn't have to.

"His genius," Hoffman said, is that "he builds networks and puts the right people in the right places, and then trusts them to make well-informed decisions that comport with his overall vision."

Cheney also isn't too big a man to help focus the concentration of those who aren't as quick on the uptake:
Aides praise Cheney's habit of reaching down to officials who are best informed on a subject he is tackling. But the effect of his calls often leads those mid-level officials scrambling to do what they presume to be his bidding.
That's their euphemism for his inclination to get on the phone directly with people who take the law too literally, like the Interior Department official who thought she was supposed to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

That's what happened when a mortified Wooldridge finally returned the vice president's call, after receiving a tart follow-up inquiry from one of his aides. Cheney, she said, "was coming from the perspective that the farmers had to be able to farm -- that was his concern. The fact that the vice president was interested meant that everyone paid attention."

Cheney made sure that attention did not wander. He had Wooldridge brief his staff weekly and, Smith said, he also called the interior secretary directly.

Apparently, the technique is a big motivator. He gets lots of praise from those who survive his trial by fire:

[Mike] Gerson added: "It's principled. He's deeply conscious that this is a dangerous world, and he wants this president and future presidents to be able to deal with that. He feels very strongly about these things, and it's his great virtue and his weakness."

Cheney's deep principle here is that the U.S. should adopt the torture techniques developed by Stalinist Russia.

Cheney's style also saves a lot of unnecessary thinking. Here's how Rob Portman uses Cheney as a "sounding board".

"He never, ever has said to me, 'Do this.' Never. Which is interesting, because that might be the perception of how he operates," Portman said. "But it is 'What do you think of this?' Well, he's the vice president of the United States -- and obviously I'm interested in his point of view."
And finally, Edward Lazear, who extolls Dick's ability to run an efficient operation:

When Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, broached the idea of limiting the popular mortgage tax deduction, he said he quickly dropped it after Cheney told him it would never fly with Congress. "He's a big timesaver for us in that he takes off the table a lot of things he knows aren't going to go anywhere," Lazear said.

Lazear, who is otherwise known as a fierce advocate for his views, said that he may argue a point with Cheney "for 10 minutes or so" but that in the end [Lazear] is always convinced. "I can't think of a time when I have thought I was right and the vice president was wrong."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dick Cheney: "holding the line on spending"

From the Washington Post's series on the vice president, we learn from his supporters that he is the go-to guy on economic issues, a "small-government" conservative who keeps George Bush faithful to Republican core principles.

Such stands by Cheney were not uncommon, said Bolten, the White House chief of staff. Cheney often stepped in if he sensed the administration was softening its commitment to Republican "first principles," Bolten said, and he was "a pretty vigorous voice for holding the line on spending and for holding the line on tax cuts." Longtime Cheney adviser Mary Matalin said the vice president brings a "spine quotient" to internal debates.

None of his aides actually cite any instances where Cheney lobbied for spending restraint, but if we take them at their word this is apparently the only area Cheney has failed to get his way.

Bush and Cheney have added over $3 trillion to the national debt and they aren't done yet.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Chris Dodd comes out for forced labor

From Chris Dodd's American Community Initiative*:

Mandate Community Service as a Requirement for Recipients of Social Security and Medicaid. Under the Dodd plan, every senior-citizen in America will be required to perform 100 hours of community-based service prior to receiving government aid. Community service will give every senior in America an opportunity to gain new knowledge and skills while contributing to their communities and their own sense of pride. Service dollars will be provided to states based on the over 65 population with additional dollars for technical assistance and program administration. States and cities will have the flexibility to tailor their individual programs and requirements to meet their community’s immediate needs – all programs will be locally designed. The program is only mandatory when fully funded by the federal government. Participation in this fully funded program is a condition of receiving federal aid.

Summer of Service for Retired Seniors. By reaching the elderly when they become idle, the Dodd plan will foster a powerful connection to community, transforming a time when retirees too often become isolated into a positive, defining life experience. Summer of Service creates a competitive grant program that enables states and localities to offer pensioners an opportunity to participate in a structured community service program over the summer months. Through Summer of Service, the elderly perform socially valuable, full-time community service for eight weeks over the summer in exchange for a small stipend plus a $500 good neighbor award for each Summer of Service for up to four summers. Summer of Service employs service-learning models to teach civic participation skills, help our elders see themselves as resources to their communities, expand social opportunities and discourage “feelings of uselessness” while providing tangible benefits to the communities in which projects are performed. Encouraging all retirees, regardless of age, income, or disability, to engage in community service, Summer of Service will become a rite of passage for every person in America.

*These plans always sound great once you're too old to be subject to them yourself.

There's a big difference between volunteerism and forced labor.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The attorney general scandal is becoming a voting rights scandal

What originally appeared to be a case of executive arrogance is rapidly becoming a scandal about voter suppression and outright racism in the Justice Department.

Originally, reports that the Patriot Act had been rewritten to allow A.G. Gonzales to appoint new U.S. Attorneys without ever subjecting them to Senate approval looked like the Bush administration simply grabbing more power. Most believed that he only wanted to appoint a group of loyalists throughout the agency and purge anyone who showed a sense of independence. So we had lots of arguments about USA's "serving at the pleasure of the president" and too many editorials suggesting the scandal was overblown.

That would've been bad enough. An agency like the Justice Department has to be seen as fair and non-partisan in it's enforcement of the nation's laws.

But in time after time, starting with Iglesias' firing for refusing to pursue a weak case against Democrats, through the USA Spakovsky shutting down investigations of voter discrimination, to the appointment of Karl Rove's hatchet man, Tim Griffin, the common denominator is always voter suppression.

Specifically, the Justice Department has been actively involved in voter "caging" and discrimination, particularly in the states of Florida and Ohio.

The latest report implicates yet another U.S. Attorney in an attempt to strip African Americans of their right to vote:

Four days before the 2004 election, the Justice Department’s civil rights chief sent an unusual letter to a federal judge in Ohio who was weighing whether to let Republicans challenge the credentials of 23,000 mostly African-American voters.

The case was triggered by allegations that Republicans had sent a mass mailing to mostly Democratic-leaning minorities and used undeliverable letters to compile a list of voters potentially vulnerable to eligibility challenges.

This time, the culprit was Alex Acosta, then Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, now USA for the Southern District of Florida. In his official capacity, he submitted a letter to the judge hearing the case, arguing:
that it would "undermine" the enforcement of state and federal election laws if citizens could not challenge voters’ credentials.

In other words the head of the Civil Rights division was openly supporting a partisan challenge against tens of thousands of minority voters.

Fred Thompson: every woman's fantasy?

Continuing to demonstrate an utter lack of interest in the 19 candidates already running for president, we get another puff piece about a man who might jump in the race.

In the battle for the women’s vote, Fred Thompson has a secret weapon against Hillary Clinton - the legions of former girlfriends who still adore him and who want him to be president.

Seriously, how many women can the guy have dated.

From one of his exes:
“Fred is a perfect example of chivalry. He’s the kind of man little girls dream about marrying, who opens doors for you, lights your cigarettes, helps you on with your coat, buys wonderful gifts. It’s every woman’s fantasy.”
Now, I realize this puts him way ahead of Giuliani in terms of the ex-vote, but this isn't Brad Pitt we're talking about here. A choice between voting for the first woman president and voting for the guy from Die Hard 2 doesn't constitute an epic battle over the women's vote.

How to suck up to the boss, Monica Goodling edition

An odd note from the recently released Monica Goodling files. During the weeks when she was busy purging U. S. Attorneys for investigating voter discrimination and replacing them with Karl Rove proteges she had a habit of tagging this quote to the end of her email messages:

"[W]e rededicate ourselves to the ideals that inspired our founders. During that hot summer in Philadelphia more than 200 years ago, from our desperate fight for independence to the darkest days of a civil war, to the hard-fought battles of the 20th century, there were many chances to lose our heart, our nerve, or our way. But Americans have always held firm, because we have always believed in certain truths: We know that the freedom we defend is meant for all men and women, and for all times. And we know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat; it is courage." - President George W. Bush, July 4, 2005

Bill Kristol is an idiot

From ThinkProgress:

Kristol said the exemptions for the president and vice president were “reasonable enough.” He called it “a pain in the neck” to have “some bureaucrat” from the National Archives “come and inspect your safe to see whether you’re locking it up properly each night.”

I'm pretty sure that's what Wen Ho Lee thought too.

Bush wants to end program to dismantle Soviet nukes

The Bush administration hates treaties, even when they're profoundly in our national security interests. The latest target is the 1991 START treaty, and they hope to replace a rigorous verification regime with an informal handshake.
WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, co-creator of the program that’s helped Russia dismantle and secure large portions of its Soviet-era nuclear forces, strongly urged the Bush administration on Thursday to reconsider plans to end the treaty based system that allows Moscow and Washington to monitor each other’s nuclear arsenals.

“The predictability and confidence provided by treaty verification reduces the chances of misinterpretation, miscalculation and error.” He said that Russian-American relations were “complicated enough without introducing more elements of uncertainty into the nuclear relationship.”

Describing the 16 year old system as "outdated" and chafing under restrictions preventing him from designing bunker buster nuclear weapons, George Bush wants to replace on-site verification with increased intelligence operations. (The type that failed spectacularly in the lead up to the Iraq war.)

Preferring to focus on enemies who don't have nuclear missile capabilities, like Iran and al Qaeda, he's forgotten that the only true existential threat to America comes from Moscow.

The intelligence community isn't happy with the idea:

Alarmed by the stress on the limited fleet of U.S. spy satellites, however, U.S. intelligence agencies oppose weakening the on-site inspections and other means that give U.S. officials a window into the only nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the United States.

Most disturbingly, George Bush literally believes that Russia no longer poses a threat to the United States. He thinks "the Cold War is over" and doesn't understand why the Russians oppose a missile defense system in Poland.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin has rolled back democratic reforms, arrested political rivals, assassinated journalists and compares the U.S. to Nazi Germany. He sees us at his doorstep and very much believes we're a threat.

Dick Cheney: the unitary (vice) executive ?

From the Washington Post:

Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.

Cheney's obsession with personal privacy and security is legendary. After 9/11 it was the vice president who fled to an undisclosed location, vanishing from the public eye for most of the next 2 years. And while you can easily find high resolution satellite images of the White House, the Pentagon, military bases and nuclear reactors, the historic residence of the Vice President has been absurdly pixelated.

Cheney's refusal to follow the rules governing national secrecy (which exist to ensure those secrets aren't deliberately or accidentally released), show that he believes the president is his subordinate, not the other way around.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

NASA will launch the first mission to tour the asteroid belt

On July 7, NASA is scheduled to launch the spacecraft on a four-year journey to the asteroid belt. Once there, Dawn will do some asteroid-hopping, going into orbit around Vesta in 2011 and Ceres in 2015. Dawn will be the first spacecraft to orbit two targets. At least 100,000 asteroids inhabit the asteroid belt, a reservoir of leftover material from the formation of our solar-system planets 4.6 billion years ago.

Dawn also will be the first satellite to tour a dwarf planet. The International Astronomical Union named Ceres one of three dwarf planets in 2006. Ceres is round like planets in our solar system, but it does not clear debris out of its orbit as our planets do.

To date, NASA has flown by only a few small asteroids ( up to a few dozen kilometers in size). Those bodies typically look like oddly shaped giant rocks and are fairly uniform in composition.

At almost 1000 km across, Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is roughly spherical. Vesta is about half that size, but is one of the most heterogeneous objects in the belt with a differentiated crust and mantle.

Chile's lost lake

A glacial lake in the Southern Andes is now an empty crater 100 feet deep.
The lake, some 20,000 square metres in area, was last seen in March. By May, all that was left was a 30-metre-deep crater and a few pieces of stranded ice that used to float on top of the water. A river running from it had reduced to a trickle, according to the park rangers who first noticed the lake was missing.

It's not the first time that a lake has disappeared, although it is quite rare for bodies of water to vanish so quickly. In central Russia in May 2005, Lake Beloye disappeared "overnight" according to local reports. People assumed that the water had been sucked into an underground cave or river. Scott Lake, in Florida, disappeared into a sinkhole over the course of a week in June 2006.

From NewScientist:
I am not for one moment suggesting that researchers at Chile's National Forestry Corporation (Conaf) are careless - suffice to say that since March, they have managed to lose a 2-hectare (5-acre) lake.

CBS news has more:
Global warming could have melted the ice and increased water levels, which, in turn, could have put pressure on the glacial lake's walls and caused a break, he said. But global warming is not going to cause the lake to disappear in one month.

Update 7/4/2007: mystery solved

Scientists yesterday told Chilean media that "a build-up of water opened a crack in an ice wall along one side of the lake", and the contents then "flowed through the crack into a nearby fjord and from there into the sea, leaving behind a dry lake-bed littered with icebergs".

Glacier expert Andres Rivera, who visited the site as part of a "missing lakes" investigative team, happily reported: "It looks like it's slowly filling up with water again." He did, however, offer the traditional warning that the lake's escape was "evidence of the effects of global warming"

"Tim needs to be carefully managed"

Following the catastrophic loss of both chambers of Congress, the A.G.'s office pushed forward in appointing Karl Rove's political apprentice, Tim Griffin, as a U.S. Attorney for Arkansas. Senators became alarmed when they realized that a clause in the recently reauthorized Patriot Act enabled the A.G. to appoint USA's without Senate confirmation.

From the House Judiciary Committee document dump:

From: Sampson, Kyle Friday, December 15,2006 4:45 PM
To: 'Oprisan. Christopher G.', Goodling, Monica

Importance: High

The Senators' Chiefs of Staff now have been notified of our intention (1) to put Griffin in as USA under an AG appointment and (2) to issue a press release our of DOJ today stating the same.

Chris, I think the While House (you) needs to continue the dialogue with the Senators re our desire to have the President nominate, and the Senate confirm. Griffin. They think they smell a rat, i.e., that we are doing an end around of their advice and consent authority by exercising the new, unlimited AG appointment authority.

Monica, please be sure that the Griffin meeting with Sen. Pryor gets scheduled.

Kyle Sampson
Chief of Staff
U.S. Department of Justice

This plan blew up when Arkansas Senator Pryor (D) objected to Griffin's appointment and the attempt to cut the Senate out of the process. The press quickly caught wind of the scandal and by February, Griffin was panicking and in daily contact with Monica Goodling over his status.

From: Sampson, Kyle, Friday, February 02, 2007 2:35 PM
To: Oprison, Christopher G.; Scott Jennings

Here's the letter the AG sent to Sen. Pryor this week. Bill and Sara both signed off on it; I should have sent to you two as well. I think it lays out the way forward pretty clearly.

From: Oprison, Christopher G., Friday, February 02, 2007 2:42 PM
To: Sampson, Kyle

Was Tim provided a copy of this letter or informed of it in sum and substance. If not, should he, as a courtesy? I defer to you on that

From: Sampson, Kyle Friday, February 02, 2007 2:45 PM
To: 'Oprison, Christopher G.'
Cc: Goodling, Monica

Tim needs to be carefully managed

monica (cc'd hereto) is the one here who tim calls regularly as tim is frequently calling you also, perhaps the two of you should compare notes
monica, what say you?

From: Goodling, Monica Friday, February 02, 2007 2:57 PM
To: Sampson, Kyle; 'Oprison, Christopher G.'
Subject: RE: E.D. Ark. - Griffin

Yes, Tim and I speak daily. It's likely to be discussed on Tuesday at the hearing, so he should know. I pondered this yesterday, but when we spoke he was spun up and I didn't think it was the best time. Yesterday's issue has now been resolved, so barring any concerns from you guys, I'll let him know today that the AG and the Senator have continued their discussions and that the AG sent the letter up as part of that dialogue. (And share it with him.)

Griffin, Sampson and Goodling have since resigned.

Griffin now stands accused of engaging in voter "caging": attempting to deny Democrats the right to vote by challenging their residency status.

Let's find a way to blame Bill Clinton

From Monica Goodling's email files:

Andrea, do you want to send this to the Counsel's office? Please check this, but I think we have data on all the Clinton USA nominations in the last 3 years of his Administration - there were 19 new USAs. Can we make an argument that Pres. Bush has sent fewer nominations up (that it is quite normal for USAS to resign 2 years before the Admin ends), and how can we discover the circumstances of the Clinton Administration USA resignations? I will send out to judiciary staff soon. What do you think?
And her reply?

It is true that it is common for many U.S. Attorneys to move on for various reasons, but I don't think we want to say that we have sent fewer nominations up.

Clinton had only 122 nominated and confirmed U.S. Attorneys -- so about a third of his districts turned over and had two U.S. Attorneys nominated and confirmed. President Bush is already at 124 so we are running pretty close to the same amount of turnover right now, but our number will climb higher by the end.

From 1/1/1999 to 12/5/2000,19 Presidentially-appointed and senate-confirmed USAs resigned their positions.

Darn Clinton.

How do I get into the 15% tax bracket?

Next time you're worried about Paris Hilton's tax rate going up, remember, she probably already pays less than you do:

At the heart of the newest proposal is an attempt to bar private equity and hedge fund operators from a longstanding, but little understood, practice that has allowed them to pay a lower capital gains rate of 15 percent instead of the ordinary top income tax rate of 35 percent on their performance fees, which typically represent most of their annual income

For comparison, the typical American is paying 20-25% of their income in federal taxes after deductions. The rich technically pay more, but only on earned income, and the stories of wealthy people paying 50%, 70% or 90% are simply not true today.

And if their income comes from capital gains, or inheritance, they pay far less than the average Joe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

FEC nominee accused of blocking voting rights investigations

Hans von Spakovsky, recess appointed by George Bush to be a member of the Federal Elections Commission, has been accused of preventing career Justice employees from bringing suits or investigating allegations of voter discrimination.

A former Justice Department political appointee blocked career lawyers from filing at least three lawsuits charging local and county governments with violating the voting rights of African-Americans and other minorities, seven former senior department employees charged Monday.

Hans von Spakovsky also derailed at least two investigations into possible voter discrimination, the former employees of the Voting Rights Section said in interviews and in a letter to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. They urged the panel to reject von Spakovsky's nomination to the Federal Election Commission.

This is the flip side of the accusation that U.S. attorneys at the Justice Department were being coerced into investigating "voter fraud" and were actively involved in voter suppression.

The FEC is responsible for enforcing the nation's campaign finance laws.

Three members were recess appointed by Bush in 2006. Spakovsky, Steven Walther and Robert Lenhard, who fought to overturn McCain-Feingold. The terms of the other members have officially expired.

Missing soldier's wife threatened

While the U.S. military searches for a soldier missing in Iraq, kidnapped by insurgents possibly allied with al Qaeda, his wife back home in Massachusetts may be deported by the U.S. government.
h/t Americablog

Mitt Romney: willing to rule the world pro bono!

Multimillionaire candidate, Mitt Romney, says he's willing to donate his government salary to charity if elected president. Being a Republican, he wouldn't actually refuse the money (thus sparing the taxpayers $400,000 a year), but he'd find a good home for it.

I'm sure Mitt wants us to see this as his desire for selfless service to the country, but in a field populated with independently wealthy candidates, it's obvious they aren't in this for the paycheck. The thrill of power alone would be enough for many, but when a corporate candidate's primary concerns are deregulation of industry, curbing consumer lawsuits, and repealing investment taxes (as well as the "death tax"), it's hard to believe he hasn't looked at the bottom line.

The sad fact is that $400,000 is chump change for these guys. They're able to make much more money simply by changing the tax code.

Case in point: Dick Cheney, who in 2005 alone is reported to have saved almost $1.1 million due to the administration's tax cuts. That's more than 5 times his government salary. And he gets similar savings every year as long as those cuts remain in place.

This is also true for the rest of the CEO cabinet:
[from The Nation, 2001]: For instance, two retired CEOs, Dick Cheney and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, would have reaped a combined $4.9-$5.2 million if the tax cut had been in effect last year, largely because of the considerable parachute payments they received by leaving Halliburton and Alcoa, respectively. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has amassed a fortune with the help of prominent Republican campaign contributors, would have added between $590,000 and $890,000 to his take-home pay--more than three and a half times his $161,200 salary as a member of the Cabinet.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Why the others run

Those of you obsessing about the current poll positions of the Hillary vs. Obama or Thompson vs. McCain should remember that in December 2003 ( just weeks before the first votes in the Democratic primaries) the front-running candidates were:

Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark.

John Kerry, polling in the single digits, could easily have been described as an "also ran".

(Dean had a 9 point lead on his closest rival)

Update: Looks like kos was thinking along the same lines. At this point 4 years ago the rankings were:

Joe Lieberman, Richard Gephardt and John Kerry

How many of you remembered that Gephardt was even in the race?

France faces a particular threat from climate change

From the American Geophysical Union:
WASHINGTON – The number of dangerously hot days in the Mediterranean region could increase by 200 percent to 500 percent in this century, if rates of greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly, a new analysis finds. Of nations covered by the study, France would undergo the greatest upswing in high-temperature extremes. Mitigating these grim projections, reductions of greenhouse gas emissions may lessen the intensification of dangerously hot days by as much as 50 percent, the study shows.
In 2003, 35,000 Europeans died during a heat wave, including 15,000 in France.

2006 also had record temperatures, exacerbating a summer drought:
The heat wave hit just as farmers were beginning their wheat harvests in the midst of severe drought. The European Commission said southwestern France, southeastern Spain and central Italy are being particularly parched, with the French wheat harvest down by a fifth.

Michael Moore: pinko or capitalist genius?

Rob at SayAnything is outraged at Michael Moore's comments that he doesn't mind if people share copies of his movie "Sicko" over the internet.
I don’t agree with the copyright laws and I don’t have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people,” said Moore when asked about pirating. “I make these books and movies and TV shows because I want things to change, so the more people that get to see them the better, so I’m happy when that happens. I think information and art, ideas should be shared.”
Rob has decided to call Moore's bluff by posting the whole thing on his site, expecting to be shut down immediately. I don't know if Moore's legal team have shut it down or if Rob's bandwidth is saturated, it wasn't playing when I dropped by.

But Rob shouldn't be so quick to outrage over Moore's "fair use" policy. After all, Moore is already a wealthy man, and there are lots of examples of good capitalists who give away things of value and still make a fortune. Google is the most obvious case in point: most of us use their services daily and never pay a dime for it. And the company’s founders are now billionaires.

Everyone with a blog also knows that they can get set up on a server for free - and I don’t see Blogger or Wordpress going out of business any time soon.

And of course, we’ve been listening to music free over the radio for about a hundred years now.

The key is to find something of greater value than the original item. Michael Moore is willing to trade some revenue for a bigger reputation and a bigger audience (including people like Rob and his readers who would likely never have paid to see a Michael Moore film in the first place).

Now if the music industry ever stops suing it’s customers for pirating music, they might figure out how to make some money on the internet, too.

h/t MvdG

A general is fired for his actions at Abu Ghraib

Unfortunately, it's the man who uncovered the abuse.
“From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.” - General Taguba, fired for exposing the torture at Abu Ghraib.

Taguba is just one of the many professionals fired by this administration for believing his loyalty lies with the country and it's ideals, not with the President. His fault lay in thinking that honor and integrity are words with meaning.

[The background materials from Gen. Taguba's investigation], including high-level policy memos, special investigations and witness testimony, describe attacks, prisoner riots, interrogation methods and the torture and deaths of detainees. They reveal that the torture and abuse of inmates at the prison by military police, exposed in April 2004 news accounts of the classified report, took place under the guidance of military intelligence with little direct supervision from overburdened senior officers.

Let's hope that, by the time George Bush leaves office, our military still has a few officers of his caliber.

Iraq's 9 to 10 year flu

One of the reasons for the continued failure of American policy in Iraq is that the administration constantly refers to the problem in the abstract - as a PR problem or in statistical terms.

So we get the latest nonsense from the commanding General:
"typically - I think historically, counter-insurgency operations have gone at least nine or ten years.” - General Petraeus
But the crisis in Iraq is not like a 7 day flu. Insurgencies don't just run their course and burn out naturally. You need to attack the root causes. His comment illustrates why the administration has always lacked a comprehensive strategy. They don't believe the details matter. They actually think we merely need to stay put for a decade or two and the problem will fix itself.

Via C&L

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ron Paul and the Republican "also rans"

The Washington Post, taking on the unexpected online popularity of Republican Ron Paul. describes him as an "also ran", which is an interesting choice of words considering the election is still nearly a year off and he is very obviously still running.

In fact, given the apparent desperation among Republican voters for someone else to enter the race, it might be reasonable to describe the entire field as "also rans".

As the CarpetBaggerReport put it:
Just below the surface, there’s a subtle GOP yearning for a trusted conservative who can raise a lot of money, appeal to a cross-section of the party’s factions, and be a credible general-election candidate. Allen and Santorum could have been the candidate, but they lost their re-election bids. Jeb would have been the go-to guy all along, except he said he wouldn’t run.
This month's favorite is Fred Thompson, who comes in just behind Rudy Giuliani in recent polls, despite the fact that few people could name his stance on any issue, or recall an event of any significance during his short Senate career (and probably couldn't even tell you which state he represented). Previous candidates for savior of the party include Michael Bloomberg, Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush, and, absurdly, Dick Cheney (perhaps the only person in the country with lower approval ratings than the current president).

Ron Paul is written off as a fringe candidate with no real chance of winning the nomination. He is of little interest to the MSM who obsess about the horserace rather than the debate over where to lead the country.

But if the latest generic polls are any indication, the Republicans are headed for a resounding defeat in 2008. The party has sacrificed virtually all it's core principles in service to George Bush. Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate trying to define the purpose of the party itself.

As one of his supporters in the WP article says:

"I'm not supporting him because I think he could get the nomination. I'm supporting him because I think he can influence the national conversation about what the role of government is, how much power should government have over our lives, how much liberty should we give up for security. These are important issues, and frankly, no one's thinking about them as seriously and sincerely as Ron Paul."

Friday, June 15, 2007

Republican moderates calling for a return to the rule of law

Pete Abel over at Central Sanity drafts a letter to prospective Republican candidates and their leaders. Here's an excerpt:
We believe in the U.S. Constitution, its checks and balances, and importantly, the protections it affords our states and citizens. We further believe those protections should be consistently applied, both in times of war and of peace. The war on terror should not be a war on habeas corpus.
That paragraph certainly would've been a minimum standard for any American politician prior to 2001.

Unfortunately, now we've got people like this:
"I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you are dead." (Senator Pat Roberts, former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman)
and this:
"Civil libertarians are in a state of denial." (Judge Richard Posner, author of Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency)
And of course this:
"Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do." (Rudy Giuliani, frontrunning candidate for the Republican presidential nomination)

Update: I'd almost forgotten about this one:
“There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.” (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales)
and this one:
"There ought to be limits to freedom" (Governor George Bush)
Really, you could keep this up all day

h/t GreenDreams

Secular and religious parties in Turkey continue to struggle over the presidency

Turkey, which faced the threat of a coup a few months ago, and continues in a face-off with Iraqi based PKK separatists, continues to be divided over how it's president will be elected.
The power struggle gripping Turkey became even more intense on Friday. Using the final political tools available to him, the country's secular president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, called for a referendum to determine whether his successor should be elected by popular vote instead of in parliament. At the same time, he said he would ask the country's high court to nullify a May 31 vote in parliament paving the way for a popular presidential election.

However the debate over the legalities of the conflict overshadows the fact that the AKP's pro-Islamic tendencies are massively popular in Turkey. The party has repeatedly insisted it is not interested in establishing an Islamic state and has led Turkey on a path of reforms in order to prepare the country for potential European Union membership. Nevertheless, Sezer has vetoed a record number of bills proposed by the AKP, many of them aimed at weakening the church-state separations put in place by modern-day Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Turkish author Ahmet Altan describes the two societies in Turkey today:
The first group has been despised, discredited, and pushed around throughout the years of the Republic. Now this group has become politically organized. It is large. And it now has the political power to win every election.

The second group is in the minority. And it currently has no chance of ever winning another election.

In Altan's description, the first group are the religious members of society, the second group are the secularists.

Joe Lieberman gets defensive about his new call for war

He merely wants to strengthen diplomacy by threatening to bomb Iran.
At the lunch, Lieberman told the crowd his words helped encourage debate on how to handle the threat posed by Iran.
via My Left Nutmeg

The 2008 candidates: quotes on Osama bin Laden

John Edwards: When we had Osama bin Laden cornered, they left the job to the Afghan warlords. They then diverted their attention from the very people who attacked us, who were at the center of the war on terror, and so Osama bin Laden is still at large.

Dennis Kucinich: "When you [use assassination as a tool], it comes back at your country," he said. "I think Osama Bin Laden, if he's still alive, ought to be held to account in an international court of law...I would say I don't believe in assassination politics, and when you do that, you bring the assassination of our own leaders into play.

Barack Obama: "I think Dennis is right and I don't believe in assassinations, but Osama Bin Laden has declared war on us...under existing law, including international law, when you've got a military target like Bin Laden, you take him out," the freshman Illinois senator said.

Hillary Clinton: "I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,'" Sen. Clinton said, "he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team."

John McCain: "These people will follow us home," he said. "If you leave (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi, if you leave (Osama) bin Laden, if you see what they're after -- this is now part of this titanic struggle between good and evil which will consume us for the rest of this century."

Mitt Romney: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person"

Ron Paul: Osama bin Laden has expressed sadistic pleasure with our invasion of Iraq and was surprised that we served his interests above and beyond his dreams on how we responded after the 9/11 attacks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mitt Romney's empty foreign policy

From the Economist:
MITT ROMNEY'S foreign-policy essay in Foreign Affairs (by contrast with Barack Obama's) is a dull nostalgia-ridden safety-play which isn't going to get him into any serious arguments with anyone, mainly because it doesn't contain any worthwhile ideas, let alone proposals, and seems to have been written by committee.
Although, in between 9/11, the Nazi's, the "greatest generation" and Stalin, he did manage to blame Bill Clinton for destroying America's military (again).

Democratic Congress increases the budget for science

A House spending panel has exceeded President George W. Bush's 2008 budget request for four key science agencies. That's very good news, say science lobbyists, who nevertheless warned that the bill must still survive a threatened White House veto if its higher spending levels aren't first whittled down in the Senate. Science and math education is treated especially well, in line with the bipartisan push to improve teacher quality and raise student test scores.

At NOAA, the spending bill represents a pleasant reversal of the usual pattern, in which the president wants to lower the agency's budget and the House seeks further cuts. Instead, the overall spending level of $4 billion is $200 million above the president's request for a small increase.
NOAA, of course, is the agency responsible for studying the climate and warning of future hurricanes. The president recently proposed cutting the number of satellites monitoring the global climate.

Today's report contrasts dramatically with last year's proposal by the Republican led House:
NOAA Budget Slashed by $500 Million in House Bill

June 29, 2006 -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill today that would cut approximately $500 million from the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in fiscal year 2007.

The massive budget cut passed the House of Representatives less than one year after NOAA was widely praised for its success in forecasting hurricane Katrina and protecting thousands of people from death or injury. According to NOAA, the House bill would fail to fund day-to-day operations of the agency’s aircraft, which are the nation’s first line of defense for monitoring and forecasting hurricanes and tropical storms.
President Bush is now threatening to veto the Democratic bills for exceeding his requests, despite having signed off on trillions of dollars of deficit spending while his party was in control not to mention having recently demanded (and received) a $100 billion war supplemental.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Barack Obama would focus the war back onto al Qaeda

From his essay in the Foreign Affairs:

Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists who struck us on 9/11, and incompetent prosecution of the war by America's civilian leaders compounded the strategic blunder of choosing to wage it in the first place. We have now lost over 3,300 American lives, and thousands more suffer wounds both seen and unseen.

We must refocus our efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the central front in our war against al Qaeda -- so that we are confronting terrorists where their roots run deepest. Success in Afghanistan is still possible, but only if we act quickly, judiciously, and decisively. We should pursue an integrated strategy that reinforces our troops in Afghanistan and works to remove the limitations placed by some NATO allies on their forces. Our strategy must also include sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban and more effective development programs that target aid to areas where the Taliban are making inroads.

People around the world have heard a great deal of late about freedom on the march. Tragically, many have come to associate this with war, torture, and forcibly imposed regime change. To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.

New "ministry of propaganda" to win the war on terror

The Bush administration thinks every problem can be solved with a good P.R. strategy. Having failed in their attempts to spread happy thoughts through planted stories, hired journalists or politicizing the "Voice of America" broadcasts, they now plan to create a center in the State Department to "counter terrorists messages".

It will develop messages "to undermine and marginalize extremist ideology and propaganda" and "aggressively rebut and efficiently respond to actions and statements by terrorist groups and leaders across the world."

The recommendation is one of several in a 34-page strategy document, which was completed last month by Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, a longtime confidante of President Bush. It has been shared with some members of Congress but hasn't been formally released.

They never seem to realize that our actions speak for us. And our actions lately haven't been much to brag about:

"From a public diplomacy standpoint, I don't know how you come out and talk about all the stuff you do, for human rights, to support democracy. . . . When people hear that, they stop and say, `What about Abu Ghraib? What about Guantanamo?" said Price Floyd, who was the State Department's director of media affairs until earlier this year.

A sickening sign of "hope" in Iraq

Only in the twisted Iraq war debate, where the president and his allies are constantly trying to lower expectations, is carnage considered a cause for hope.
The battle in Amiriyah, currently Baghdad's most dangerous district, lasted two days. Afterwards, the dead littered the streets and even the last inhabitants of the Maluki mosque had fled. No one counted the actual number of casualties, since the Iraqi police, army and US military no longer come to this part of Amiriyah. Here terror, insurgency, murder and violence are left to fester undisturbed.

Still, the carnage in Amiriyah is a cause of hope for some. Until recently, the Iraqi branch of the global terrorist network al-Qaida had good ties to the Islamic Army, a homegrown radical Sunni outfit taking part in the country's insurgency. The two groups used to congratulate each other on their respective Web sites whenever they managed to blow up a US Humvee or a group of Iraqi police recruits.

The Iraqi government and the US military have both acknowledged the new internal Sunni conflict with cautious optimism. They consider al-Qaida to be the worst of the problems plaguing the war-torn country. The terrorist offspring of the late Islamist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- who was killed last year -- aren't interested in Iraq as a nation, nor do they care about the plight of the Iraqi people. What they want is the civil war that they've successfully fueled through a series of attacks and suicide bombings.
The parties in Iraq have never fallen into the simplistic categories defined by the neocons. There is no insurgency in Iraq, not if it's defined as a single entity bent on fighting the Iraqi government. There are dozens of factions, each fighting for political power. Many of those factions also have representatives in the Iraqi parliament itself. Alliances are formed and dissolved constantly. Whether it's Chalabi playing the Americans and the Iranians against each other, or the simmering tensions between Shiite factions, or fighting between various Sunni factions and the foreign al Qaeda contingent, news of more violence is confirmation that the country is collapsing, not evidence of a successful American strategy.

Update: Tony Snow confirms that, yes, the Bush administration does see the increase in violence as a sign that their strategy is succeeding.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Are we driving our adversaries into each others arms?

The 9/11 attacks put the U.S. and Iran in the unusual position of being on the same side against multiple adversaries, the Taliban, al Qaeda and Sunni dominated Iraq. Because of this common interest, Iran was an American asset in the days after the fall of the Taliban.
Opinions differ wildly over how much help the Iranians actually were on the ground. But what is beyond doubt is how critical they were to stabilizing the country after the fall of Kabul.
This could've been an opportunity to end the decades long hostility between the two countries, but the hawks in both nations have a vested interest in keeping the conflict alive.

Instead of diplomacy, we've had years of sabre rattling, starting with the declaration of the "Axis of Evil", in which Iran and North Korea were apparently included simply for dramatic effect:
Tehran backed up the political support with financial muscle: at a donor's conference in Tokyo, Iran pledged $500 million (at the time, more than double the Americans') to help rebuild Afghanistan. In a pattern that would become familiar, however, a chill quickly followed the warming in relations. Barely a week after the Tokyo meeting, Iran was included with Iraq and North Korea in the "Axis of Evil." Michael Gerson, now a NEWSWEEK contributor, headed the White House speechwriting shop at the time. He says Iran and North Korea were inserted into Bush's controversial State of the Union address in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq.
Given a president who thinks that open dialogue is a sign of weakness, and sends his vice president to strut on an aircraft carrier and talk about regime change, it's got to occur to the Mullah's that if Iraq ever emerges from chaos, they'll have 150,000 hostile forces on their border with nothing to keep them occupied.

So while John McCain sings "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran", Rudy Giuliani speculates about dropping tactical nuclear weapons and Joe Lieberman openly advocates "limited air strikes", we start to hear that Iran may hope to keep Iraq destabilized.

And now we see claims that Iran may be aiding it's old nemesis the Taliban:
Experts say a strengthened Taliban would benefit Tehran in a number of ways. Peter Tomsen, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, says a weakened Afghan state lessens the likelihood it can become a U.S. ally against Iran. By maintaining a certain level of instability, he says, “it keeps us tied down. After all, we have airbases in Afghanistan where we could mount attacks on Iran.” Some analysts call it “managed chaos,” a strategy they say is similar to the one Iran employs in Iraq. Abetting the Taliban also boosts Iran’s leverage at a time when it is under pressure to end its uranium-enrichment program. “It’s saying, ‘If you push us on the nuclear issue, we can make life hell for you not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan,’” says Amin Tarzi, an Afghan expert at Radio Free Liberty/Radio Liberty.
Now that the diplomats have been sidelined, and we have a leadership which talks publicly about opening a third front in a war that's already a fiasco, would anyone be surprised that Iran finds it in it's interests to keep the "Great Satan" distracted?

Hillary Clinton is the only presidential candidate to vote on Gonzales

Republicans successfully blocked the no confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales. 53 Senators voted for cloture (and presumably would've voted "no confidence") 38 Senators voted against.

7 members missed the vote. 5 of them are presidential candidates, including both Republicans (McCain and Brownback), and Democrats Obama, Dodd and Biden.

Of the 6 presidential candidates in the Senate, Hillary Clinton was the only one who voted (voting for cloture along with the remaining Democrats and 7 Republicans).

Here's Senator Clinton's statement on the US Attorney scandal:
Why should Gonzales resign? Because he is at the center of a widening scandal over the firing of several U.S. attorneys -- firings we now know to be political. These attacks on the impartiality of the federal government's prosecutors are a genuine threat to the foundations of our justice system.

It's so bad that one U.S. attorney in Arkansas was fired to make room for a former aide to Karl Rove.

Gonzales's chief of staff has already resigned over the firings, but the attorney general himself is ultimately responsible for what happened. Join me in asking for him to resign now.

So where were the other candidates? Here are statements from each of them over the past few months:

I voted against the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General because I was concerned he would act as the President’s lawyer, not the people’s lawyer. Mr. Sampson’s testimony underscores my concern that Attorney General Gonzales subverted justice to promote a political agenda. I renew my call for Alberto Gonzales to be replaced as Attorney General with an advocate who will defend and promote the rights and liberties of the American people.
Senator Dodd characterized Mr. Gonzales as unfit to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, citing cronyism, misleading Congressional testimony, and an inability to defend and protect the Constitution. Mr. Wolfowitz’s violation of the World Bank’s ethical and governance rules, as well as a World Bank ethics committee investigation, conflicts with the Bank’s global mission of reducing poverty, aid development, and promoting good governance in all nations in which it operates.

"When I voted against then-White House Counsel Gonzales's nomination to be Attorney General, I expressed concern about his ability to transition from the first job to the second...

"My skepticism has been confirmed by his conduct. This Attorney General has remained the President's lawyer at the expense of fulfilling his duty to be the American people's lawyer. Attorney General Gonzales should step down."


"Although his answers suggested that there were serious managerial issues at the Department of Justice, I did not see a factual basis to call for his resignation. As for whether the Attorney General should resign, that is a question I leave to him and to the President." Brownback is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


WASHINGTON -- Presidential contender John McCain joined the growing number of Republicans calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step down in the furor over the firings of eight federal prosecutors.

"I am very disappointed in his performance," McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday when asked about the attorney general in an interview with CNN's Larry King. "I think loyalty to the president should enter into his calculations."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bottom feeders?

That's the header on an MSNBC story on the current state of the housing market. Potential buyers are described as greedy schemers just waiting for disaster to strike the unfortunate homeowner.
Foreclosures rising? Great. Cash-strapped sellers pressured into lowering prices because they can’t find buyers? Even better.

“Somebody else’s misfortune could be my happy ending,” said Montufar, 27, a resident of suburban Los Angeles.
Like most reports on the economy, tales of the housing prices remaining flat or even falling are met with dread. And I'm sure it's worrying, if you're desperate to sell your house.

But lots of people aren't merely waiting like vultures on the sidelines. They're simply priced out of the current market.

Like this person:
“At this point, I’ve got no choice but to wait and see how low they get so that it gets to a point where I can afford it,” he said.
and this one:
Still, she had to go to Fitchburg, some 40 miles from Arlington, to find a home that suited her budget and need for space. She settled on a $199,000 condominium.

In California, where home values more than tripled since 1995, sales have been lagging and price appreciation has slowed or fallen in major metro areas.
Does that make them bottom feeders?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Republican war

Fouad Ajami in the WSJ:
Mr. President, the one defining mark of your own moral outlook is the distinction between friend and foe, a refusal to be lulled into moral and political compromises. Your critics have made much of this and have seen it as self-righteousness and moral absolutism, but this has guided you through the great, divisive issues faced by our country over these last, searing years. Scooter Libby was a soldier in your--our--war in Iraq, he was chief of staff to a vice president who had become a lightning rod to the war's critics.
Keep in mind, the foe in this case was a covert CIA agent working for the United States to prevent the nation's enemies from obtaining nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

The friend was a partisan hit man.

In Ajami's mind the enemy isn't bin Laden or Saddam. It's the CIA the State Department, and the Democrats.
In "The Soldier's Creed," there is a particularly compelling principle: "I will never leave a fallen comrade." .... They have done it, we know, to give heart to those who embark on a common mission, to give them confidence that they will not be given up under duress.
Libby betrayed his oath to defend the country when it conflicted with his loyalty to the president. He sacrificed a real soldier to do it.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Turkey and the Kurds still on the edge

CIZRE, Turkey, June 7 — Turkey is stepping up its presence along its border with Iraq to levels not seen in years in an effort to root out Kurdish separatist guerrillas who take refuge in northern Iraq.

And while reports this week of a large Turkish military push into Iraq seem to be untrue, the army is acting with greater urgency here in the southeast, home to a large part of the Kurdish minority, which accounts for one-fifth of Turkey’s population.

That group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, has carried out violent attacks in Turkey since the 1980s, fighting for a separate Kurdish state. It has recently stepped up attacks against Turkish soldiers. Militants killed seven on Monday by hiding in a food delivery vehicle. Three forest rangers were killed Thursday in a land-mine attack.

However amplified the oratory, the militants pose a serious threat. In April and May alone, 30 Turkish soldiers were killed in attacks, and in the first nine months of last year, about 600 people were killed in militant-related violence, according to official Turkish figures. Turkey is trying to become a member of the European Union, and navigating a violent fight with armed separatists has proved difficult.

Rudy Giuliani would nuke Iran

This must be the first campaign when the leading candidate in a major party has come out both for legalized torture and for dropping the Bomb, yet isn't considered certifiably insane.
MR. BLITZER: Do you think if you were president of the United States and it came down to Iran having a nuclear bomb, which you say is unacceptable, you would authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons?

MR. GIULIANI: Part of the premise of talking to Iran has to be that they have to know very clearly that it is unacceptable to the United States that they have nuclear power. I think it could be done with conventional weapons, but you can’t rule out anything and you shouldn’t take any option off the table.

And during the debate the other night, the Democrats seemed to be back in the 1990s. They don’t seem to have gotten beyond the Cold War. Iran is a threat, a nuclear threat, not just because they can deliver a nuclear warhead with missiles. They’re a nuclear threat because they are the biggest state sponsor of terrorism and they can hand nuclear materials to terrorists. And we saw just last week in New York an attempt by Islamic terrorists to attack JFK Airport; three weeks ago, an attempt to attack Fort Dix
For the record, Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons, nor missiles to carry them. They don't even have nuclear power.

And of course, the men arrested in the plots against the JFK airport and Fort Dix had no links to either al Qaeda, or Iran. And they didn't actually have any weapons with which to carry out their planned attacks, nevermind nuclear ones.

Tommy Thompson has 2 spectacularly stupid plans for Iraq

Joining the growing ranks of Republicans who would allow the Iraqi prime minister to decide American foreign policy, Tommy Thompson thinks Iraqi voters, (rather than American ones) should decide on the fate of the U.S. military deployment:
MR. BLITZER: All right. Let me bring in Governor Thompson. Go ahead, same question to you. If General Petraeus says it’s not working in September, what should the U.S. do then?

MR. THOMPSON: The first thing the president should do is demand the al-Maliki government to vote as to whether or not they want the United States to stay in Iraq. We’ve been there four years. Give the government the responsibility of voting. If they vote yes, how are they going to help us win this war? And if they vote no, we should redeploy our forces outside.

Secondly, there are 18 territories in Iraq, geographically defined. Those 18 territories, just like 50 states in America, should elect their state leaders. And if they do so, the Shi’ites will elect Shi’ites, Sunnis will elect Sunnis, Kurds will elect Kurds. And you know something? People will go to those particular territories and you get rid of the civil war, internecine.
Mr Thompson might want to read up on the breakup of India and Pakistan, not to mention Yugoslavia. A plan that calls for the voluntary ethnic-cleansing of Iraq would be a disaster. Every place it's happened has seen brutal violence.

Free Scooter!

Mitt Romney, man of principal.

MR. ROMNEY: This is one of those situations where I go back to my record as governor. I didn’t pardon anybody as governor because I didn’t want to overturn a jury.
But he says he might make an exception for a man who outed a CIA agent to as part of a political hit job.

Also answering the question of whether they'd pardon Scooter Libby:

Duncan Hunter gave a rambling non answer, then said no, then said maybe.

Ron Paul and Jim Gilmore gave a simple 'No'.

McCain won't comment until the ongoing appeals are over.

Former prosecutor and overall hardnose, Rudy Giuliani, who made a name enforcing laws against spitting on the sidewalk, thought the prosecution of Libby was incomprehensible.

Brownback and Tancredo said yes.

And Tommy Thompson complained that Clinton only lost his law license, so I guess he feels the Republicans are owed one "gimme" on the perjury charge.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Mitt Romney, you're no Harry Truman

From the last Republican debate:
MR. BLITZER: In 1994 you were quoted as saying that you advocated gays being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation’s military. The question to you is, do you still feel that way?

MR. ROMNEY: No, actually, when I first heard of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, I thought it sounded awfully silly. I didn’t think that would be very effective. And I turned out to be wrong. It’s been the policy now in the military for what, 10, 15 years, and it seems to be working. And I agree with what Mayor Giuliani said: that this is not the time to put in place a major change, a social experiment, in the middle of a war going on. I wouldn’t change it at this point. We can look at down the road.
My guess is he'd feel differently if Mormons were being excluded from military service, but as Matthew Yglesias asks, didn't Harry Truman desegregate the military during the height of the Korean war?

Why yes. Yes he did.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Turkey is threatening to invade Iraq

As Iraq continues to fracture and Americans are focused on battles between the Sunni-Shiite factions, many forget that the Kurdish areas are also sources of conflict which could draw Iraq's neighbors into the war.
Turkish patience is running out over the cross-border raids by Kurdish militants based in northern Iraq. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged caution, but Ankara is openly debating an incursion to root out the rebels. And it plans to take its case for action to the UN this week.

The signs have become increasingly ominous. For weeks, Turkey has been building up its military presence on its south-eastern border with Iraq in response to cross-border raids by Kurdish rebels. Potentially more concerning, Ankara has been openly considering an incursion into Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq in an attempt to root out members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) based there.
Turkey, a NATO ally, striving for membership in the EU, battled with Kurdish separatists for decades and worry that an independent Kurdish state on it's border would threaten to provoke a civil war. The PKK was a particular threat.
The main characteristic of PKK attacks was the use of indiscriminate violence, and PKK guerrillas did not hesitate to kill Kurds whom they considered collaborators. Targeted in particular were the government's paid militia, known as village guards, and schoolteachers accused of promoting forced assimilation. The extreme violence of the PKK's methods enabled the government to portray the PKK as a terrorist organization and to justify its own policies, which included the destruction of about 850 border villages and the forced removal of their populations to western Turkey.
Iran and Syria have similar worries.

Russ Feingold defends Harry Reid

[Reid] is having a serious problem with members of his own caucus who simply are buying into these ridiculous arguments of [Vice President] Dick Cheney that somehow we’re trying to take funds away from the troops under Feingold-Reid,” Feingold said. “That’s absolutely false.”

Sam Brownback demands that science affirm his religion

In an editorial rejecting the fundamentals of evolutionary science, Sam Brownback declares that he's ready to accept all scientific theories that reinforce his own personal beliefs.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.