Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Stuff

Well, at least he didn't mistreat a horse (and from the way he bolted from the hearing today, as reported by the New York Times here, I would be prepared for more revelations)...

..."Worst Persons" (yes, the execrable Cynthia Davis still runs the Missouri food program for needy kids - and now it turns out that she's been pilfering food "on the sly"? Peachy; yep, I would say also that it's time for Mort Kondracke to revisit his RNC talking points before he decides to spout off on something else he doesn't know about (another fossil from "Dr. McLaughlin's Gong Show"); and while I haven't devoted space here to Mann Coulter for an age, I have to say that I haven't missed her (?) one bit)...

...and here's Stephen Colbert to tell us all about the Repugs' alternative to that nasty, costly, "big government" Obama plan (hiss-boo!)...

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Commonsense Health Care Reform Infomercial
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

...and the wait is over - the weekend is here!

Where The Rubber Meets The Road (6/26/09)

As reported in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, here is how Philadelphia-area members of Congress were recorded on major roll-call votes last week.


Voting 226-202, the House approved the conference report on a bill (HR 2346) to appropriate $80 billion through Sept. 30 for U.S. combat operations and $26 billion for nonmilitary programs. The bill was backed by 221 Democrats and five Republicans and opposed by 170 Republicans and 32 Democrats. Republicans objected mainly to the bill's $5 billion outlay for the International Monetary Fund, and most Democratic foes were casting antiwar votes.

A yes vote was to approve the conference report.

Voting yes: John Adler (D., N.J.), Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).

Voting no: Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).
This was held up for a time because of the Lieberman-Graham Oh Mah Gawd We Can’t Let Anyone See Those Dirty Torture Pictures Amendment, but even though the amendment was removed (I don’t believe it made it back into the supplemental before it was signed), President Obama gave Graham his assurance that he’ll ban the pix, even issuing an executive order if he has to, according to this (of course, an executive order doing away with DADT once and for all is a better idea, but I digress).

Justice Department budget. Voting 259-157, the House passed a bill (HR 2847) appropriating $64.4 billion for the fiscal 2010 budgets of the Justice and Commerce Departments, NASA, and several other agencies. The bill represents a 12 percent spending increase over 2009.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Adler, Andrews, Brady, Dent, Fattah, Gerlach, Holden, Murphy, LoBiondo, Schwartz, and Smith.

Voting no: Castle and Pitts.
Hmm, there’s an amendment here from Repug Dave Reichert of Washington (one day, Darcy, one day) allocating $2.5 million for the Office on Violence Against Women – I thought Joe was big into human rights…or something…??

Guantanamo Bay. Voting 212-213, the House refused to bar the use of funds in HR 2847 (above) to carry out President Obama's decision to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The amendment went beyond a ban already in the bill on releasing Guantanamo prisoners into the United States.

A yes vote was to keep Guantanamo open.

Voting yes: Adler, Castle, Dent, Gerlach, LoBiondo, Pitts, and Smith.

Voting no: Andrews, Brady, Fattah, Holden, Murphy, Schwartz, and Sestak.
Typical party-line BS to maintain the existence of a facility that offends the conscience of the world (and ooh, don’t transfer those scary terrists into one of our supermaxes!!).

Yes, Obama needs to fight a little harder on this (as if he doesn’t have enough to do). And in a perfect world, the “worthy opposition” would see the light of day here, and more than a few voters in this country would grow up.

But sadly…

Legal Services Corp. Voting 105-323, the House defeated an amendment to HR 2847 (above) to shut down the Legal Services Corp., which is the main federal program for providing the poor with legal representation.

Voting yes: Pitts.

Voting no: Adler, Andrews, Brady, Castle, Dent, Fattah, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Murphy, Schwartz, Sestak, and Smith.
This week’s stupid No vote by Joe Pitts (glad there aren’t any poor people in PA-16 who need legal representation – of course, those cameras I noted yesterday record everything perfectly, so there’s no need for costly litigation in the event of a wrongful arrest).


War budget. Voting 91-5, the Senate sent President Obama a bill (HR 2346) appropriating $106 billion through September for purposes such as funding U.S. combat in Afghanistan and Iraq; sending nonmilitary aid to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East; containing flu on a global scale; fighting Mexican drug cartels; supporting the International Monetary Fund; providing disaster aid to areas of the United States, and funding a new program to help consumers replace gas-guzzlers with fuel-efficient vehicles.

A yes vote was to pass the bill.

Voting yes: Thomas Carper (D., Del.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Ted Kaufman (D., Del.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), and Arlen Specter (D., Pa.).
In the article I linked to previously about Lieberman-Graham, it’s noted that fellow Repug Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., voted against it…

…DeMint's aides said he opposed the bill because it contains "a $108 billion IMF bailout" and the $1 billion to help automakers.

The measure provides only $5 billion in direct funding to the IMF, as part of a credit line that could go higher.

DeMint's amendment to strip the IMF funding was defeated in the Senate last month by a 64-30 vote.

In addition to DeMint, Tom Coburn, Mike Enzi, Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders voted No also (as noted here, with the latter two for very different reasons than the others, I’m sure).

This week, the House took up an energy and global-warming bill, while the Senate resumed debate on a bill to promote foreign tourism in the United States.

A Friday Flowers "Voting Rights Act" Fraud

I’ve been kicking around today’s mess of an opinion column by Christine Flowers, and I’ll admit that I’m having a hard time trying to digest it. Let me try to summarize, then.

(And oh yeah, I forgot - I also posted here.)

She starts off by expressing support for the Iranians who voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi (whose whereabouts are apparently still unknown), which is commendable. Then, she equates it with the days before the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, telling us that her father helped African Americans register to vote in 1967 (also communicating the following anecdote)…

He came back with stories of little children using the "n-word" and "Yankee lawyers" dodging spit - and worse. He wrote in his diary that "It made me feel very ill to know that there were people in America who differed very little in my judgment from those who manned Auschwitz in 1944."

And that's why, 40 years ago, that law was a godsend.
Is Flowers telling us that the black kids were resentful of the whites, or that the whites were primarily the ones behind the injustice (yes, I know history gives us the answer, but still).

And then, in a startling turnaround, she tells us this…

But as Chief Justice Roberts noted in his majority opinion, today "minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels." He also observed that when Congress renewed the act in 2006, it relied on data more than three decades old. Talk about back to the future.
Of course it relied on data dating back that far (???); actually, it relied on data further than that, as noted in this Find Law article written in 2006 when the law was last renewed. As Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU tells us…

Since its passage in 1965, and in recognition of the ongoing racial polarization and discrimination that has continued to infect the political process, the VRA was extended and strengthened in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 1992, with the support of five Presidents -- Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Ford, and George H.W. Bush. The act was expanded in 1975 to include protections for citizens with limited English proficiency -- speakers of Spanish, Asian, Native American, and Alaskan Native languages - meaning that millions more Americans gained new tools to ensure fundamental fairness in the voting process.

Over the years, the VRA has guaranteed millions of Americans the equal opportunity to participate in the political process. It is one of the most successful civil rights laws ever enacted.
And then, Flowers completes her fit of literary jujitsu…

At the very least, if we want to maintain the fiction that black voters are still denied their full rights at the ballot box, we could also acknowledge that white voters who are intimidated by Black Panther thugs at Philadelphia polling places should get the same federal protection.

But when the Justice Department shelves the prosecution of those thugs, you have your answer. I guess the times are indeed a-changin' - in some unexpectedly interesting ways.
(God, the stupid…so awful…)

OK, let’s begin with Flowers’ claim that “black voters…denied their rights at the ballot box” is “fiction.”

I have two words: voter caging.

This tells us the following…

  • In the fall of 2008 the Republican Attorney General of Wisconsin, J.B. Van Hollen—who was also co-chair of that state’s McCain-Palin campaign—filed a lawsuit against the state's Government Accountability Board to force them to cross-check more than 240,000 voter registrations against driver's license records. The impact of the lawsuit would have been to force the voters to use provisional ballots, calling their votes into question and tying up the polls on Election Day. The court dismissed the Attorney General’s case in October and the appeal was subsequently dismissed.

  • In Colorado, Common Cause and other election advocates succeeded in obtaining a preliminary injunction order against Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman. Plaintiffs claimed that state officials violated the NVRA by removing the names of voters from the statewide voter registration database within 90 days of the election for unauthorized reasons, including the return of an address confirmation postcard to reach new registrants.

  • In Wisconsin, the GOP issued a call to policemen, security personnel, and firefighters to serve as “volunteer poll watchers “in inner city precincts. According to the Washington Post “Jonathan Waclawski, the party's election day operations, wrote in a Sept. 8 e-mail that he needed contact information for people "who would potentially be willing to volunteer ... at inner city (more intimidating) polling places. Particularly, I am interested in names of Milwaukee area veterans, policemen, security personnel, firefighters etc. ... If you have any connections with such organizations, please pass that information on." The move was reminiscent of a disturbing history of attempts to intimidate voters in predominantly minority precincts.

  • In 2008 in Ohio, Greene County sheriff Gene Fischer announced that he was “seeking information” about hundreds of people who registered to vote and cast a ballot during Ohio’s five-day window of same day registration and voting. Despite rulings from four different federal and state courts upholding the lawfulness of Ohio’s five-day window, from September 30 to October 5, in which voters could register and cast an absentee ballot on the same day, the County announced they were attempting to “determine whether there was any voter fraud or not," according to a quote in an Associated Press story from Tom Miller, chief of the prosecutor’s civil liberty division. Fischer claimed to have been “flooded” with phone calls about alleged voter fraud; yet no actual evidence for an investigation was given. Following public outcry and media attention, the Greene County prosecutor’s office announced that that investigation had been cancelled.
  • And this tells us of a bill introduced by John Kerry in 2007 to make these types of practices illegal; no word on what happened to the legislation (my guess is that it expired at the end of the session – cannot locate further information on it at the moment).

    Also, this tells us more of the alleged incident of “white voter intimidation” by “Black Panther thugs” Flowers refers to (Malkin-esque nuttiness here, people – actually, the first commenter…wow, comments are allowed this week!...sums it up pretty well also)…

    So we have a bit of a dust-up about a couple of guys up at 12th and Fairmount standing outside a polling place. Wearing clothes with the emblem of the New Black Panther Party. And holding a night stick.
    And of course, this leads to an episode where the wingnuts can claim the same type of oppression as those voters who are “caged” (and of course, no charges were if those claiming to be oppressed would even BE in that neighborhood unless they were looking to stir up some right-wing umbrage).

    Please (and DON’T get me started on Ohio in ’04 or Florida ’00, by the way).

    It’s admirable that Flowers’ father actually performed some heroic work during the civil rights era helping those who had been denied the vote for so long in this country. But given that, what can the whitewashing of his daughter on behalf of those who would stomp that legacy into dust be but an utter betrayal of that sacrifice?

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    Thursday Stuff

    Sorry I missed Afghan Exit Action Day yesterday...

    ...and kudos to Media Matters for calling out this hateful loon; the problem, of course, is that there's no telling what he might incite his lizard-brained listeners into doing as a result...

    ...and then, as we know, two famous celebrity passings took place that took center stage in the media spotlight; this was the first (would you believe me if I told you that I wasn't a fan of the show? I always thought she deserved credit for "The Burning Bed," which was a gutsy choice of a role)...

    ...and this was the second, of course (yes, we know what he probably was and what he probably did, but he has to make an accounting for himself now as we all will one day - this was my favorite song from him).

    Update 6/26/09: Just "beat it," JR (heh).

    Update 6/30/09: Here is an opposing viewpoint on Jackson that I should have noted earlier.

    And by the way, I'll bet this guy is kvetching somewhere in the great beyond because his own exit was overshadowed - thanks for keeping it real, Irv.

    Watching Our Privacy Disappear

    (And I also posted here.)

    This LA Times story from last Sunday tells us the following (a little late with this due to historic events in Iran, the Metro crash story and the doings of a philandering Southern governor)…

    Reporting from Lancaster, Pa. -- This historic town, where America's founding fathers plotted during the Revolution and Milton Hershey later crafted his first chocolates, now boasts another distinction.

    It may become the nation's most closely watched small city.

    Some 165 closed-circuit TV cameras soon will provide live, round-the-clock scrutiny of nearly every street, park and other public space used by the 55,000 residents and the town's many tourists. That's more outdoor cameras than are used by many major cities, including San Francisco and Boston.

    Unlike anywhere else, cash-strapped Lancaster outsourced its surveillance to a private nonprofit group that hires civilians to tilt, pan and zoom the cameras -- and to call police if they spot suspicious activity. No government agency is directly involved.

    Perhaps most surprising, the near-saturation surveillance of a community that saw four murders last year has sparked little public debate about whether the benefits for law enforcement outweigh the loss of privacy.

    "Years ago, there's no way we could do this," said Keith Sadler, Lancaster's police chief. "It brings to mind Big Brother, George Orwell and '1984.' It's just funny how Americans have softened on these issues."
    Yeah, what a hoot - maybe you have...

    In 2001, a local crime commission concluded that cameras might make the city safer. Business owners, civic boosters and city officials formed the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition, and the nonprofit organization installed its first camera downtown in 2004.

    Raising money from private donors and foundations, the coalition had set up 70 cameras by last year. And the crime rate rose.

    Officials explained the increase by saying cameras caught lesser offenses, such as prostitution and drunkenness, that otherwise often escape prosecution. The cameras also helped police capture and convict a murderer, and solve several other violent crimes.

    Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says the coalition's role as a self-appointed, self-policed gatekeeper for blanket surveillance of an entire city is unique.

    "This is the first time, the only time, I've heard of it anywhere," she said. "It is such a phenomenally bad idea that it is stunning to me."
    All I ask is that you keep in mind that, for the most part, these are a few of the people who keep sending Pancake Joe Pitts back to Congress every two years, which explains more than a little bit as far as I’m concerned.

    And though I think allowing some local poobahs to form a “safety coalition” of busybodies trying to act like the morality police is indeed “a phenomenally bad idea,” there is actually an argument to be made that cameras can help fight crime, as noted here (as long as the people doing the spying work in law enforcement, though I’m not at all sure that that will remain the case)…

    BUFFALO, N.Y.--The same night this city attached a surveillance camera to a light post in a crime-ridden neighborhood, a convenience store across the street fell prey to a pack of looters.

    Police saw it all happening in real-time video from their new command station and arrived in time to make five arrests.

    "It's had an immediate impact," Capt. Mark Makowski said of the wireless video surveillance solution provided by Firetide and Avrio Group, a 60-camera network that cost the city more than $3 million. "I'd say it's been money well spent."

    Buffalo is among a host of cities that in the last few years have deployed wireless video surveillance systems in the fight against crime, says Mark Jules, president of business development at Avrio Group.

    "If you look back to three or four years ago, we only (provided wireless video surveillance for) one city," he said. "Last year, we did three cities. So far this year, we've already done 18."
    This New York Times story tells us that there is definitely a civil liberties argument to be made against this type of surveillance, though, including the following…

    LOS ANGELES — A growing number of big-city police departments and other law enforcement agencies across the country are embracing a new system to report suspicious activities that officials say could uncover terrorism plots but that civil liberties groups contend might violate individual rights.

    Here and in nearly a dozen other cities, including Boston, Chicago and Miami, officers are filling out terror tip sheets if they run across activities in their routines that seem out of place, like someone buying police or firefighter uniforms, taking pictures of a power plant or espousing extremist views.

    Civil liberties advocates praise the transparency of the police efforts in Los Angeles and a few other cities. But they also cite problems in places where police or other law enforcement officials have overreached — examples they say will multiply if the program to report suspicious activity expands.

    In September 2007, a 24-year-old Muslim-American journalism student at Syracuse University was stopped by a Veterans Affairs police officer in New York for taking photographs of flags in front of a V.A. building as part of a class assignment. The student was taken into an office for questioning, and the images were deleted from her camera before she was released.

    Also that year, a 54-year-old artist and fine arts professor at the University of Washington was stopped by Washington State police for taking photographs of electrical power lines as part of an art project. The professor was searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car for almost half an hour before being released.

    Police officials acknowledge that problems need to be worked out.
    So in addition to the civil liberties argument (suppose watching someone commit a crime leads to the apprehension of an innocent person anyway?), there is the cost argument to be made against this type of surveillance; how long will it take before the criminals get wise to knocking out the cameras before they commit a crime, and how much will it cost to replace them? Also, what about the cost of litigation in response to the treatment described above as well as any wrongful prosecution that could result?

    “Problems need to be worked out,” indeed.

    This other item of interest appears in the Times story…

    A branch of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is sponsoring the national pilot program that in addition to Boston and Los Angeles includes police departments in Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington, as well as state intelligence fusion centers in Florida, New York and Virginia. Nearly two dozen other cities have expressed interest.
    However, as noted here a couple of days ago (second item), “The Obama administration plans to kill a controversial Bush administration spy satellite program at the Department of Homeland Security” (the National Applications Office by name) – no word, though, on the future of the National Geospatial Agency (NGA), about which we know the following (from here)…

    Aug. 09, 2007 In the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 1, 2005, a U-2 surveillance aircraft known as the Dragon Lady lifted off the runway at Beale Air Force Base in California, the home of the U.S. Air Force 9th Reconnaissance Wing and one of the most important outposts in the U.S. intelligence world. Originally built in secret by Lockheed Corp. for the Central Intelligence Agency, the U-2 has provided some of the most sensitive intelligence available to the U.S. government, including thousands of photographs of Soviet and Chinese military bases, North Korean nuclear sites, and war zones from Afghanistan to Iraq.

    But the aircraft that took off that September morning wasn't headed overseas to spy on America's enemies. Instead, for the next six hours it flew directly over the U.S. Gulf Coast, capturing hundreds of high-resolution images as Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest storms of the past century, slammed into New Orleans and the surrounding region.

    The U-2 photos were matched against satellite imagery captured during and after the disaster by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Relatively unknown to the public, the NGA was first organized in 1996 from the imagery and mapping divisions of the CIA, the Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that builds and maintains the nation's fleet of spy satellites. In 2003, the NGA was formally inaugurated as a combat support agency of the Pentagon. It is responsible for supplying overhead imagery and mapping tools to the military, the CIA and other intelligence agencies -- including the National Security Agency, whose wide-reaching, extrajudicial spying inside the United States under the Bush administration has been a heated political issue since first coming to light in the media nearly two years ago.

    The NGA's role in Hurricane Katrina has received little attention outside of a few military and space industry publications. But the agency's close working relationship with the NSA -- whose powers to spy domestically were just expanded with new legislation from Congress -- raises the distinct possibility that the U.S. government could be doing far more than secretly listening in on phone calls as it targets and tracks individuals inside the United States. With the additional capabilities of the NGA and the use of other cutting-edge technologies, the government could also conceivably be following the movements of those individuals minute by minute, watching a person depart from a mosque in, say, Lodi, Calif., or drive a car from Chicago to Detroit.
    And, as noted here from last month, though the NAO has apparently bitten the dust, there is no word of future funding for the secretive “National Reconnaissance Office” (NRO), of which the NAO was a part under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (or ODNI – more follows)…

    Among the firms in the running to land ODNI/NRO new spy satellite contracts are: BAE, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. All of these corporations according to the Project on Government Oversight's (POGO) Federal Contractor Mismanagement Database (FCMD) have "histories of misconduct such as contract fraud and environmental, ethics, and labor violations."

    Unsurprisingly, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE and Northrop Grumman lead the pack in "total instances of misconduct" as well as fines levied by the federal government for abusive practices and outright fraud.

    Unaccountable federal agencies and corporations will continue the capitalist "security" grift, particularly when it comes to "black" programs run by the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Despite a documented history of serious ethical and constitutional breeches, these programs will persist and expand well into the future. While the Obama administration has said it favors government transparency, it has continued to employ the opaque methods of its predecessors.

    From the use of the state secrets privilege to conceal driftnet surveillance of Americans, to its refusal to launch an investigation--and prosecution--of Bush regime torture enablers and war criminals, the "change" administration instead, has delivered "more of the same."
    And I’d like to believe that, while our government continues to reward corporate bad actors as they develop ever-more-sophisticated-and-opaque ways to intrude into our lives (and for ever bigger bucks, as noted here), we won’t become more and more a nation of Gladys Kravitzes (the reference is here for non-Boomers out there), forming Community Safety Coalitions to find out who is suspected of criminal mischief but maybe…just maybe…using all of this whiz-bang technology suddenly at our disposal to execute some petty reprisal in the name keeping everybody safe (“Wow, the schoolteacher and the alderman just checked into the Dew Drop Inn…funny place to discuss an appropriation for a new study hall”).

    And I’d also like to believe that the instances when cameras are used effectively by law enforcement professionals will far outweigh the times when the technology is abused (and I’d also like to believe that this new technology won’t incur additional costs when the cameras are damaged, used for “profiling” – with resulting litigation – or used to force police to make “vice” busts that, by comparison to worse offenses, don’t represent an efficient use of their time).

    But sadly, I know better.

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Wednesday Stuff

    The "money quote," if you will, comes at about 1:06 when Eichelberger says that "we're allowing (gays, lesbians, LGBT individuals) to exist" (hat tip to Michael Morrill at Keystone Progress for this - he's been all over this like the proverbial white on rice)...

    ...and in addition to the crackdown on protests in Iran and the D.C. transit tragedy, this would be the other "big story" (let's see now, Eliot Spitzer, a Democratic governor, has an affair and resigns, but Mark Sanford, a Repug governor, has an affair and...???)...

    Update 6/25/09: I forgot to note that there's more stuff on Sanford here (and he may even go to the pokey over it? Man, that's harsh! His only "out," then, is that he "did the deed" south of the border).

    ..."Worst Persons" (three real loons tonight - first, Texas Repug U.S. Congressman Randy Neugebauer signs onto the "Obama birth certificate" fiction that even World Nut Daily blew apart; then, Joyce E. Thomann, President of the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County, MD, cuts right to the chase, as it were, and compares Obama to Hitler; but Missouri State Rep Cynthia Davis is the worthy victim of an epic takedown by K.O. - I'm not even going to try and paraphrase...this woman is a truly wretched human being)...

    ...and by the way, this song is 30 years old as of yesterday (kind of reminds me of this post...please just ignore Robert, if you would).

    A Repug Reckoning Over The D.C. Transit Tragedy

    This Fox News story (I'll trust them with hard news) tells us the following…

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed caution Tuesday over suggesting that a lack of federal money was to blame for Monday's fatal metro crash in Washington, D.C., that killed at least nine.

    "I want to wait because before jumping to the conclusion that this was 'due to' a lack of money," Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters.

    Washington, D.C.'s worst Metrorail collision occurred at the height of the evening rush hour Monday when one train heading into D.C. from Maryland slammed into the back of another.

    Officials investigating the crash are eyeing whether the failure to upgrade old trains with key recording devices designed to prevent such collisions contributed to the crash.
    Subsequent to that report, we learned the following from this Wall Street Journal story…

    Federal investigators said Wednesday they found an "anomaly" in a circuit in the tracks near the site of the Washington, D.C., train collision that killed nine people Monday, suggesting that a communications system failure could have contributed to the crash.

    National Transportation Safety Board member Deborah Hersman disclosed the discovery Wednesday afternoon as investigators continued to scour the scene in northeast Washington for clues. She said five of the six circuits investigators tested in the area near the crash were working well, but one showed "anomalies" that could suggest some kind of failure.

    "These circuits are vital," Ms. Hersman said. "Our investigators are going to be taking a very close look at that."
    Hoyer is right – it’s way too early for us to figure out exactly what caused the horrific Metro crash that, at last count, has taken 9 lives. However, when it comes to federal funding of the Metro, it would be foolish to ignore some recent history that had led us to this point.

    But let's back up a bit for some history on this, shall we?

    Last February, we learned about the following projects for the approximately $230 million in stimulus funds for the Metro (here)…

    The transit authority wants to use the money for short-term projects that include replacing old buses, fixing part of the Red Line and upgrading the fare vending machines to handle more SmarTrip transactions.

    Metro won unanimous approval for the spending this afternoon from the region's Transportation Planning Board. The panel's approval will be crucial for all of the transit or road projects that the Washington area's governments submit for federal funding under the stimulus measure signed Tuesday by President Obama.
    And yes, the crash occurred on a stretch of the Metro red line; again, though, we won’t know the proximate cause, as they say, of the accident for awhile yet (and this story from April tells us that Virginia and Maryland “had (already completed) legislative action to modify the regional compact that governs the operation and funding of Metro, and they must agree to match the federal funds from dedicated funding sources. Each jurisdiction must also agree to the addition of two federally appointed voting board members”).

    And the amount of money apart from stimulus funds is about $1.5 billion, as the WaPo tells us. But as far as D.C. goes…

    "Ultimately, the three bills have to have the identical language," said Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. "The District of Columbia will either have to change its bill or Virginia and Maryland will have to change theirs."
    All of this is background to note that the Democrats are making this happen (Governor Tim Kaine in Virginia, Governor Martin O’Malley in Maryland, and the Democratic Congress on behalf of D.C., which, of course, still endures “taxation without representation,” Dem Eleanor Holmes-Norton notwithstanding).

    And what of those “across the aisle”?

    Well, taking the lead from their ideological puppet masters, the Heritage Foundation tells us (from here in September 2006, when Dubya still resided in An Oval Office)…

    On July 17, 2006, the House of Representatives passed, by a one-vote margin, Representative Tom Davis’s (R-VA) H.R. 3496. The bill would divert $1.5 billion of federal revenues earned through offshore drilling to subsidize the troubled Metro transit system that serves Washington, D.C., and Davis’s congressional district in suburban Virginia.

    If ultimately enacted, the Davis bill would be one of the largest earmarks ever passed—seven times more expensive than Alaska’s infamous Bridge to Nowhere earmark and twice as expensive as Mississippi’s Train to Nowhere. Given the wealth of Davis’s constituents—in 2004, the median household in Fairfax County, Virginia, the most populous part of Davis’s district, enjoyed income of $88,133, compared to a national median of $44,684—the earmark would be a costly exercise in “trickle up” economics, forcing Americans across the country to subsidize the transportation needs of a small slice of one of the nation’s most prosperous communities.
    And to think, these people accuse Democrats of class warfare…

    As troubling as this inequitable transfer would be, Mr. Davis’s proposal also requires that, as a condition of Metro receiving the $1.5 billion federal bailout, all communities in its service area establish a “dedicated funding source” (a euphemism for a tax increase) to match the federal subsidy. To date, the White House has been silent on this costly proposal, and this silence may have contributed to the bill’s victory in the House last July. The President has an opportunity to rectify this by issuing a statement expressing his opposition to the Metro bailout.
    And somehow, I have a feeling that Heritage nonsense like this had more than a little bit to do with Tom Davis (one of the few centrist conservative Republicans in the House) deciding to chuck it all and return to private life, as he did last year.

    And taking their lead from Heritage and their like-minded brethren, we have Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma saying here that he was “happy” to block Metro funding, and this tells us that congressional Repugs once threatened to hold up Metro funding “unless the transit agency renames its National Airport Station to honor Ronald Reagan.”

    There is still a lot that we have yet to learn about the deadly Metro crash, and it’s true that it may not be possible to assign the continual, idiotic, partisan gamesmanship of the Repugs as the reason why the circuit “anomaly” occurred, which, at this moment, appears to be the cause.

    But if nothing else, let us please use this tragedy as an opportunity to commit to funding the Metro and other existing and yet-to-be-implemented forms of mass transit once and for all.

    And I can think of at least nine reasons (including Retired Major Gen. David Wherley Jr.) that outweigh any notion that it would be an “inequitable transfer.”

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Tuesday Stuff

    "Worst Persons" (Sen. Judd Gregg complains about plaques for stimulus projects, forgetting of course that he has commemorations like that for himself featured prominently in his home state; Baby Newton Leroy shills for coal - not much more to say about his nonsense aside from that; and believe it or not, there are MORE "Downing Street" revelations about the runup to the Iraq war with Dubya, who gets the nod here - I can't understand why he didn't just purchase the Goodyear Blimp since it's a big, slow-moving target, have it rebranded with a sign that said, "Bring It On, Saddam," and then let history run its course...I suppose there is no literal Farsi or Arabic translation for "Gulf of Tonkin")...

    ...and "Where In The World Is Mark Sanford" anyway (trying to lighten things up a bit after the first video)...

    ...time for some happenin' indie stuff...

    ...and RIP, Ed McMahon.

    Tuesday Mashup (6/23/09)

    (And I also posted here – also, posting is questionable for tomorrow.)

  • I will give TV financial guru Suze Orman a bit of credit because I have no doubt that her advice has helped a few individuals, but I happened to stumble across this interview with her (with the obnoxious title of “Why The Recession Is A Good Thing”) and found this particularly offensive excerpt…

    U.S. News: Do you think young people have it worse than any other generation, with their higher unemployment rate, high debt levels, and weak job market for graduates?

    SO: Right now, they have it so great it's not even funny.
    Isn’t that just the best? And just after I defended myself and (by association) baby boomers last week here, along comes one of our own to act like an idiot.

    This tells us the following…

    WASHINGTON, June 8 (Xinhua) -- A new study finds that in sharp contrast to the overall declining rates of colorectal cancer in the United States, incidence rates among adults younger than age 50 years are increasing. The authors theorize that these increases may be related to rising rates of obesity and changes in dietary patterns, including increased consumption of fast food.
    Diet and exercise…yes, I know. Also (from here)…

    Student debt in the United States has surged in recent decades, with outstanding federal student debt now topping $500 billion. The share of young adults carrying some educational debt has almost tripled since 1983, according to economist Ngina Chiteji.

    Most young-adult debt profiles haven’t yet reached horror-story status. In fact, young people’s overall indebtedness as a proportion of income has not changed much since the 1960s, according to Chiteji’s research.

    There is an important difference between then and now, though. Mortgage debt used to be virtually the only major debt held by young people. Now, their debt load is much heavier on schooling.

    And student debt can be extremely difficult to discharge, even in bankruptcy court. (Click here to see how one former grad student did it.) That’s partly because of a crackdown on defaults following a record default rate of 22.4 percent during the 1990-91 recession.
    And does the news get any better for job prospects? Well, as noted here…

    IN the first year of the recession, older Americans gained jobs at an impressive rate.

    But younger ones lost them.

    The recession provides a double whammy for the job prospects of those trying to establish themselves. There are fewer jobs to go around, and older Americans who can do so are either delaying retirement or seeking to return to the work force.
    Well, there is at least one “employer” who’s hiring, as noted here.

    Now Suze, you want to try telling me again how young people “have it so great that it’s not even funny”? And once more, how is it exactly that you didn't see our financial train wreck coming at us?

  • Also, this is an update to this prior post, which tells us as follows…

    WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration plans to kill a controversial Bush administration spy satellite program at the Department of Homeland Security, according to officials familiar with the decision.

    The program came under fire from its inception two years ago. Democratic lawmakers said it would lead to domestic spying.

    Lawmakers alerted (Homeland Security Secretary Janet) Napolitano of their concerns about the program-that the program would violate the Fourth amendment right to be protected from unreasonable searches-before her confirmation hearing.

    Once she assumed her post, Ms. Napolitano ordered a review of the program and concluded the program wasn't worth pursuing, the homeland official said. Department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa declined to speak about the results of the review but said they would be announced shortly.

    The lawmakers were most concerned about plans to provide satellite imagery to state and local law enforcement, so department officials asked state and local officials how useful that information would be to them. The answer: not very useful.

    "In our view, the NAO is not an issue of urgency," Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, wrote to Ms. Napolitano on June 21.

    Writing on behalf of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Chief Bratton said that were the program to go forward, the police chiefs would be concerned about privacy protections and whether using military satellites for domestic purposes would violate the Posse Comitatus law, which bars the use of the military for law enforcement in the U.S.
    I’m sure Dubya wasn’t aware of the law when this was first proposed, no doubt thinking it was a means to encourage celibacy (…or maybe not).

  • This Parade Magazine article from Sunday tells us the following…

    The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is now urging consumers to seek out “drug take-back programs” instead of flushing their pills. Unfortunately, such programs are rare, since it is illegal for patients to give their controlled substances to others, even if it is just to get rid of them. Take-back programs for controlled substances require the supervision of the Drug Enforcement Administration or other law-enforcement authorities to ensure that the drugs don’t fall into the wrong hands. (The Food and Drug Administration still recommends flushing drugs with a very high potential for abuse, like oxycodone and morphine.) Legislation introduced this year in Congress would require the Justice Department to develop simplified rules for take-back facilities.

    “It used to be just flush it and forget it, but we’ve learned in recent years that that can have an impact on the environment, on drinking water, and on aquatic life,” says Sharon Corbitt of the American Pharmacists Association.

    For those lacking take-back options, the federal government recommends mixing the drugs with an “undesirable substance” like coffee grounds or kitty litter, entombing them in sealed containers, and throwing them in the trash.
    Would that the Supremes were as enlightened on marine-life matters as the White House, since they effectively ruled today that Lower Slate Lake, north of Juneau, Alaska, can be permanently fouled with mining waste by the Army Corps of Engineers (here).


  • And finally, how could I possibly ignore the latest gun-related developments (as much as I’d like to)?

    This story tells us the following…

    WASHINGTON — More than 800 gun purchases were approved after background checks in the last five years even though the buyers' names were on the government's terrorist watch list, investigators said Monday.
    In response, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has introduced the Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2009 (more info is here, along with details here on H.R. 2324, the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2009).

    As I’ve said in the past, I don’t know how a legitimate sportsman would have an issue with a one-gun-a-month restriction, mandatory background check of buyers at gun shows, and renewing the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (and it’s not as if the gun business isn’t stoking the misplaced fears of those who think President Obama will try to confiscate their property, as noted here, including the following)...

    Gun dealers across the nation have reported robust sales since Barack Obama’s election. In New Jersey, applications for pistol permits have soared — to roughly double last year’s totals, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark. There’s a shortage of ammunition, and many types are almost unavailable. The Bullet Hole limits ammunition sales to two boxes a customer for the firing range and one if you’re taking it home.

    “It’s the full spectrum — financial people who have come across the pond from Manhattan and people who pump gas for a living,” said Mr. Colandro, who tools around in a Dodge Ram pickup with his “Gun for Hire” logo, the lowercase “i” looking like a fallen figure with blood pooling around the dot.

    “I don’t think it’s so much Obama,” he added. “It’s the economic meltdown that scared the heck out of people. You have Hillary Clinton in government, and people associate her with the assault-weapons ban. Look what happened after Katrina and the L.A. riots. So you’ve got ammunition shortages and a lot of people are buying because they’re worried about confiscation.”
    The obligatory NRA-generated umbrage will begin momentarily (five…four…three…two…).
  • Monday, June 22, 2009

    Monday Stuff

    Gee, Bob, I'd say it's "classless" to bail on a meeting with a Supreme Court nominee limping around in a cast because she was 10 minutes late (here - and wow, what a hard-hitting "jackass" question; based on that, I'd consider that man a subject matter expert)...

    ...Author John Ghazvinian is interviewed by K.O. on the strife in Iran (nice backdrop of the Philly skyline behind him)...

    ..."The Pap Attack" tells us how the impact of "Christian" political leaders is fading away (thank God - man, is that Scientology stuff a hoot)...

    ...and Styx, Mr. President? Styx??!!

    Oh well, at least it gives me an excuse for this song (some bad words in the intro, but he's right).

    The 8 Percent Non-Solution

    Near the end of this AP analysis of sorts of Obama and the economy, we read the following…

    White House economic advisers estimated in January that if Congress passed the president's economic stimulus bill, unemployment probably would rise no higher than 8 percent this year. Congress did and unemployment now stands at 9.4 percent.
    And if you haven’t heard that line yet, don’t worry. I predict that our dear corporate media will hang this one around Obama’s proverbial neck ad nauseum (particularly in light of this story, which tells us that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed that the unemployment rate “could be 10 percent within months”).

    I would only ask that you also consider the following on that from Media Matters here…

    As the (L.A.) Times reported, in a January 9 report, (White House economic advisors Christina) Romer and (Jared) Bernstein had predicted "that with the stimulus spending, the U.S. unemployment rate this year would not exceed 8%. It now stands at 9.4%." However, at no point did the article report that during a June 8 press briefing, Bernstein responded to a question about the initial projection by saying: "[W]hen we made our initial estimates, that was before we had fourth-quarter results on GDP, which we later found out was contracting on an annual rate of 6 percent, far worse than we expected at that time."
    Perhaps that should not have been surprising when you consider the following from this September 2008 post...

    The increase in the jobless rate sent the misery index, which adds unemployment to inflation, to 11.7 percent, the highest level since 1991.
    And we know who was president in ’91, don’t we (talk about the apple not falling far from the proverbial tree; Poppy Bush was paying the price for his predecessor’s “voodoo economics,” but still).

    And when it comes to failing to crunch the numbers properly on the unemployment rate, I give you the following from here (in January, before Obama was sworn in).

    Reflecting the current drop in GDP, the White House said it expects the unemployment rate to rise to an average rate of 7.7% this year from 5.7% in 2008.
    They had eight years to get it right, and they still screwed it up (I realize, though, that we’re talking about Bushco). How could we expect Obama or anyone else to do substantially better in five months?

    Besides, as this tells us, the actual rate is a lot closer to 15.8 percent anyway (and what Atrios sez here, by the way).

    Repug Wingnuttery Reigns On “Iran-A-Muck” Monday

    (And I also posted here.)

    While Iran continues to become unglued over the fraud in the most recent election, with more here, including the split among the mullahs Rafsanjani (one of the original revolutionaries from 1979) and leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the recriminations continue to play out within the Beltway between the grownups in charge and what passes for an opposition party (personified by U.S. House Rep Dana Rohrabacher, who said the following from here recently)…

    Well I think that Mr. Obama, if he continues to have these types of attitudes, we’re going to see things get very bad, very quickly. Already the North Koreans have challenged him and realized that he’s a cream puff, if that is what he is indeed going to be as a President.… [N]ow if the Mullahs in Iran are permitted to just roll over opposition something like Tiananmen Square, we will have missed a great opportunity.
    (And by the way, Dana, I fixed the "Tiananmen" misspelling.)

    And “A great opportunity” for what exactly, Dana? Nuclear war? Trading arms for hostages, as your former boss once did? Invading and trying to teach counterinsurgency to those who would later use those tactics against us, as you did with the Afghans in the 1980s?

    And as noted here, Senator Huckleberry Graham said that Obama was “timid and passive more than I would like,” and Chuck Grassley saying that Obama was conveying the message that “we don’t care.”

    Fortunately, Senator Richard Lugar echoed Obama’s caution (also saying here, correctly I think, that we should sit down with Iran for nuclear talks), and “Straight Talk” McCain said that, though he would’ve demanded a recount or more forcefully condemned the government crackdown, he “appreciate(d) the comments Obama made (Saturday).”

    Also, I thought Helene Cooper of the New York Times made the following great points yesterday (here)…

    During the Bush years, Iran’s regime was able to coalesce support by uniting the country against a common enemy: President Bush, who called Iran a pillar of the “axis of evil” in a speech that alienated many of the very reformers whom the United States was trying to woo. For much of his administration, even as he strengthened Iran by toppling Iran’s nemesis Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush struck a confrontational public line against the Iranian regime.

    The result, according to many experts here and in Iran, was that Iranians, including reformers, swallowed their criticism of the hard-line regime and united against the common enemy. Iranians with reformist sympathies even began advising Americans to stop openly supporting them, lest that open them to attack as pawns of America.

    Mr. Obama seemed to be taking that kind of advice to heart last week — to a fault, perhaps, as even some Democratic allies said. He kept his remarks about the Iranian election so cool and detached that Republicans quickly attacked him as showing weakness in the defense of democracy.

    On the other hand, he had already put in play a tool that the reformists could use in their internal debate — the notion that this could be the best time in many years in which to seek better relations with America.
    We’ll see (and by the way, if you have access to New York Times' content, it should be noted that Roger Cohen has been doing some courageous, exemplary reporting on all of this - here is an example...and E.J. Dionne had some good stuff on this here).

    Let us hope and pray that the Iranian vote is truly honored and that power is somehow loosed from the mullahs, if for no other reason than to honor the sacrifice of Neda Soltan, noted here.