Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Stuff

I thought this was a timely reminder...

...and let's let Dave and his friends wrap up the week.

Friday Mashup Part Two (6/18/10)

(Part one is here – by the way, there may not be much posting for most of next week, maybe towards Thursday and Friday a bit, and definitely no posting on Tuesday.)

  • Not much to note in last week’s Area Votes in Congress writeup from the Inquirer (here)…


    FHA mortgage insurance. Voting 406-4, the House sent the Senate a bill (HR 5072) nearly tripling the cap on Federal Housing Administration insurance premiums for single-family mortgages. The bill would raise the top annual premium from 0.55 percent to 1.55 percent of the loan balance, with the average borrower expected to pay nearly 0.9 percent. In return, the FHA is expected but not required to lower its one-time, up-front premium from 2.25 percent to 1 percent of the loan amount.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: John Adler (D., N.J.), Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), Joe Sestak (D., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).

    FHA down payments. Voting 131-289, the House defeated an amendment to HR 5072 (above) that sought to increase the minimum down payment for FHA-insured home loans from 3.5 percent to 5 percent. Such an increase would lead to fewer defaults on FHA-backed loans while excluding many moderate- and low-income borrowers from home ownership.

    A yes vote was to raise down-payment requirements.

    Voting yes: Dent and Pitts.

    Voting no: Adler, Andrews, Brady, Castle, Fattah, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Murphy, Schwartz, Sestak, and Smith.
    Concerning the FHA down payments vote, this may be anathema for a liberal to think or believe, but even though the down payment percentage on an FHA loan hasn’t been cited by any news outlet I consider reputable as a cause of the housing meltdown (and certainly not the Community Reinvestment Act either), I’m wondering just how bad a thing it is to raise that percentage. I know getting more people into more houses is good for the economy, but this just makes me wonder, that’s all (though finding myself out on the proverbial limb with Joe Pitts and Charlie Dent, of all people, is not a place I want to be, I’ll admit).

    Also, the Inky tells us the following…

    U.S. debt and security. Voting 38-61, the Senate failed to table (kill) an amendment to HR 4213 concerning the effect of U.S. debt on national security. This preserved language requiring quarterly presidential reports to Congress on the extent to which foreign holdings of U.S. debt imperil U.S. security.

    A yes vote was to kill the amendment.

    Voting yes: Carper, Casey, Kaufman, Lautenberg, and Menendez.

    Voting no: Specter.
    Snarlin’ Arlen showing his true colors as the clock winds down (and to help Admiral Joe against Wingnut Pat Toomey, click here).

  • This story in the New York Times today tells us the following (here)…

    In addition to the fishermen and hoteliers whose livelihoods have been devastated by BP’s hemorrhaging undersea oil well, another group of Gulf Coast residents is beginning to suffer: the tens of thousands of workers like Ronald Brown who run the equipment or serve in support roles on deepwater oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Mr. Brown, known as Rusty to his friends, is a “shakerhand.” In the rugged vernacular of offshore drilling, that means he monitors the mud flowing back from the drill hole thousands of feet below.

    He works aboard the Ocean Monarch, which was idled along with 32 other oil rigs when the Obama administration ordered a six-month moratorium on all deepwater drilling after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
    Uh, for the record, the Times also told us the following a couple of weeks ago (here)…

    WASHINGTON — In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

    The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Asked about the permits and waivers, officials at the Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service, which regulates drilling, pointed to public statements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, reiterating that the agency had no intention of stopping all new oil and gas production in the gulf.
    I don’t mean to be unsympathetic to individuals such as Ronald Brown, whose lives and livelihoods have been turned upside down, but I just think we should be clear about that, that’s all.

    And in a similar vein, the answer to Byron York’s question, by the way (here), was provided by former Bushco flak Dana Perino (here).

  • Update 6/19/10: Looks like the old gray lady "screwed the pooch" again here.

  • Also, Repug U.S. House Rep Todd Akin tells us the following (here)…

    On May 27, 2010, in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) offered an amendment to the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act to strike Section 1093(b) of Title 10. The amendment, which passed by a vote of 15-12, will permit the performance of abortions in both domestic and overseas military facilities.

    Under current law, the U.S. Military will not pay for an abortion and abortions may not be performed at military health care facilities – except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

    I firmly believe that military treatment centers -- which are dedicated to healing and caring for life -- should not facilitate the taking of the most innocent human life: a child in the womb.
    You know, I never cease to feel my gag reflex seize up when I read self-righteous claptrap such as this from “pro-life” zealots like Akin (of course, as noted here, “pro life” only for those with whom Akin agrees).

    In response, I give you the following (here)…

    Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) introduced an amendment which would repeal the current discriminatory law that bans abortion in military facilities even if a woman pays for the abortion with her own private money. Burris’s amendment passed by a vote of 16 to 10 and will now be included in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act as it moves to the Senate floor for a vote in the coming weeks.

    We need this amendment for the safety and welfare of our brave servicewomen stationed overseas. Unable to access abortion services in military facilities, our servicewomen serving abroad are forced to seek health care in foreign hospitals despite language barriers and the risk of inadequate care. If abortion is illegal in the country where she is stationed or if she is serving in a warzone, a servicewoman is left in a bind, unable to exercise her constitutional right to an abortion. Without access to comprehensive reproductive health care, servicewomen are exposed to grave health risks, and some have even sought unsafe abortions or attempted to self-induce an abortion.

    Out of respect for the health, safety and welfare of the brave military women who have committed their lives to our country, we hope that Congress will include Senator Burris’s Amendment in the final National Defense Authorization Act for 2011. It is about time we repeal this unjust ban and show our servicewomen the respect and justice they deserve.
    We ask the women in our military to defend this country even if that requires sacrificing their lives. Why is it (according to Akin, anyway) too much to ask that we allow them to control their own bodies as well (especially when they're paying for the coverage themselves)?

  • Finally, Christine Flowers of The Daily News inflicted the following assault on common sense here…

    This week, in federal court, the Boy Scouts are trying to prove that the city is unfairly targeting them because of their refusal to accept openly gay members or troop leaders.

    They argue that they're being discriminated against because of a politically unpopular "viewpoint," something that the Constitution and a bunch of Supreme Court justices specifically prohibited. And to prove it, they're providing evidence that while the city is bent on evicting the Scouts from city-owned property, it's willing to turn a blind eye to other organizations that do the same thing.

    It's not necessary to list all of the groups that have sweetheart deals with the city. Suffice it to say that the only one that seems to have run afoul of City Hall is the one that provides a safe haven for boys and young men, that teaches them the meaning of both independence and interdependence, that gives them valuable skills, lifelong friendships and, in many cases, the only adult male role models they'll ever have.

    In a town that's forced to close pools and libraries, the Scouts are a lifeline.

    But that's not enough for some people. The reason this organization has raised the hackles of the city lawyers is that it has the audacity to presume that sexual orientation is irrelevant, and that little boys don't need to trumpet their preference (or have it shoved in their faces by other Scouts, or their leaders).

    The truth is that the Boy Scouts don't force kids or troop leaders to submit to a "sexual orientation" test before they can join. They don't ask if they prefer Liza Minnelli to G.I. Joe. They don't ask - but they also don't expect anyone to tell.
    Isn’t it hilarious the way Flowers so easily resorts to caricature when she realizes that she’s standing on thin ice?

    As noted in this prior post, the Boys Scouts’ headquarters are currently located in some nice digs in Logan Square, not far from the Art Museum and the Franklin Institute. The Scouts enjoyed a rather substantial rent discount. However, the city could no longer keep giving the discount because of recent U.S. Supreme Court cases holding that taxpayer money cannot be used to support private groups that knowingly discriminate.

    So the city told the Scouts to either stop hating teh gay or pay fair-market rent, on the order of about $200 grand a year.

    Well, the Scouts chose another option, and that was to sue the city. And that is where we currently stand (Flowers does manage to provide the meaningful detail that the suit is being heard in federal court this week).

    That is the issue in a nutshell. It has nothing to do with “a politically unpopular viewpoint," “the political will of a group that cares only about its own narrow interests and not the welfare of 8-year-old boys,” or the fact that Philadelphia has closed pools and libraries.

    It is a legal matter. And at this point, the Scouts are on the wrong side, because they discriminate.

    For a lawyer, Flowers has a steadfast ability to ignore a legal principle if it means advancing her own doctrinaire point of view.

    If I were in need of representation before a judge, she isn’t even the last person I would call. I wouldn’t trust her to represent me for so much as a parking ticket.
  • Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Thursday Stuff (updates)

    Yep, we know what that idiot Joe Barton of Texas said, apologizing to the criminals of BP who have destroyed the Gulf (here, and Barton, being utterly bought and paid for by Big Oil, has a long, long history of this stuff), so I thought I'd add this response from Joe Biden - he gets going at about 2:30, and he's absolutely right...and by the way, I don't give a damn that Barton supposedly apologized for his apology (!), not concerning this...

    Update 1 6/18/10: And as long as I’m on the subject of the spill, I should add that I’m glad somebody said this (h/t Atrios). I watched about a minute or two of K.O. haranguing Obama over the speech the other night with Tweety (who rolled his eyes in response, even though he has no room to criticize anyone as we know) and Howard Fineman, and I had to turn it off. I admire K.O., but the whole damn thing was ridiculous. Was the Deepwater Horizon rig constructed and approved on Obama’s watch? Of course not.

    What we are watching is the full flower of the rapacious disaster capitalism that we’ve been warned about by easily ridiculed liberals like Naomi Klein, which has been nursed and nurtured primarily by Repugs for years. We are reaping the whirlwind of their mindless greed and slavish subservience to the investor class, first and foremost. Blaming Obama because he can’t wave a magic wand and make it go away overnight is an insulting notion to any adult with a brain.

    Update 2 6/18/10: One more thing – I know there’s a spat going on right now between K.O. and The Daily Kos because a diarist at the site alleged that Olbermann was attacking Obama for ratings, or something like that. That’s an idiotic charge, and I don’t blame Olbermann for being POed. I disagreed with some of what Olbermann said in response to Obama’s speech because I didn’t think his analysis was as spot-on as some of his other commentaries; I just have a substantive disagreement with him on the merits. I’m not alleging anything other than that (and it’s not like I’m upset with the MSNBC host and that’s why his videos haven’t appeared lately; that’s a separate issue with MSNBC which actually happens every few months or so when they decide to mess around with the video uploads, screw up the process, and don’t fix their mistake for weeks on end).

    ...and I thought this was an appropriate selection in light of this story - if this blog had a theme song, this just might be it.

    Thursday Mashup (6/17/10)

  • More funnies with Matt Bai of the New York Times (here)…

    (In the matter of Number 44’s recent outcry against BP) If Mr. Obama has so consistently cast himself as the populist scourge of corporate abusers, then why does so much of the popular anger seem to be directed at him instead?

    In part, this is probably because Mr. Obama, while seemingly eager to read from a populist script, is really too cool and contemplative to be terribly convincing in the role. For sheer intensity of emotion, the president hardly rivals even the more patrician John F. Kennedy, who complained after a run-in with steelmakers that all businessmen were in fact “sons of bitches,” as his father had counseled him.
    As Daily Kos diarist blackwaterdog shows us here, the “too cool and contemplative” president met with residents of the beleaguered Gulf Coast recently, and in the words of the “classic” rock song, “every picture tells a story, don’t it?”

    Bai also tells us the following…

    …a succession of liberal politicians — Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, John Edwards — have tried to run for president on a traditionally populist, anticorporate platform, with little success.
    It’s really a stretch to consider Jesse Jackson Sr. as a politician, but Bai is technically correct here. As Wikipedia tells us, in addition to being a two-time presidential candidate, Jackson was also a “shadow senator” from the District of Columbia from 1991-1997, though these individuals are never seated in the U.S. Senate (this is part of the idiotic gamesmanship that has proceeded for years in this country, all part of granting D.C. the representation it deserves, which hopefully will be achieved one day).

    And Bai also tells us…

    This new American populism (yet more “tea party” love from Bai) is why the federal deficit has emerged as a chief concern for voters
    In response, I give you the following shockingly sensible editorial from The Philadelphia Inquirer last Sunday, particularly the following…

    According to a new Pew Research poll, 23 percent cited the federal budget deficit as their top concern. By contrast, a substantial 41 percent put jobs at the top of the list.

    That's no surprise, given a still-rocky recovery that has forced workers to live off unemployment checks and piece together part-time jobs. So why is Congress suddenly worried about federal spending rather than job creation? Why did Congress get fiscal religion after eight years of a profligate presidency that left the nation swimming in red ink?

    Elected leaders are understandably nervous after the banking collapse of 2008 - especially since they didn't see it coming. With Europe struggling to contain a debt crisis that started in Greece and threatens to spread, no responsible U.S. politician wants to be accused of ignoring impending fiscal doom here.

    But any responsible U.S. politician would read the fine print in the warnings: U.S. budget deficits will pose a critical problem for the economy about 10 years from now, as more baby boomers retire and entitlement spending soars. Should the White House work on a plan to balance the books before then? Absolutely.

    One of the best ways to do that is to put taxpayers back to work. An estimated 20 percent or so of the current federal deficit, according to the Center for American Progress, was brought on by the recession; when taxpayers lose their jobs and businesses go bankrupt, they don't pay taxes. A recovery would boost the federal treasury.
    Yes, but it conflicts with the “conventional wisdom,” don’t you see (with the corollary to this manic preoccupation with the deficit being that those who are out of work and drowning in debt shouldn’t be tossed a life preserver, but an anvil instead).

    What country am I living in again?

  • Staying with “the old gray lady,” I also give you this…

    HARGEISA, Somalia — As the United Nations Security Council expressed a “deep concern” on Wednesday over the continued use of child soldiers and a “readiness” to adopt sanctions against individuals who deploy them, an American lawmaker warned that the United States might have broken several laws by providing assistance to the Somali military, which uses children in conflict.

    The United Nations lists the Somali government as one of the “most persistent violators” in the world of using child soldiers, and this week The New York Times documented several child soldiers, some as young as 12, toting assault rifles and working for the Somali transitional government in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.

    The story also tells us that Dem Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois expressed concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over this country paying the salaries of Somali soldiers and providing millions of dollars in arms. Durbin’s concern is that this assistance might violate the Child Soldier Prevention provision of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; the Durbin-Coburn Child Soldiers Accountability Act; and the Durbin-Coburn Human Rights Enforcement Act.
    We also learn the following in the Times story…

    On Wednesday, the Security Council held a long-scheduled meeting on child soldiers and issued a presidential statement expressing its “readiness to adopt targeted and graduated” sanctions against commanders who deploy under-age combatants.

    “This is the first step,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations’ special representative for children and armed conflict, said by telephone from New York. “For the last two or three years, the Security Council has not focused on this issue. Now at least they are showing the readiness for sanctions.”

    Measures are already in place in a limited number of conflicts, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the agreement Wednesday would make it a blanket provision in all the conflicts the Council monitors, said Marco A. Morales, the spokesman for the mission of Mexico, which pushed through the change in its role as this month’s Council president.

    Several international treaties cover the issue. While the American government has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which presses countries not to deploy soldiers younger than 15, the American government has ratified an optional protocol to that convention eschewing the recruitment and the use of child soldiers.
    I wondered why on earth this country hasn’t ratified the Convention, and as you read this Wikipedia article, what you learn is that conservatives in this country don’t like the Convention because it disallows the execution of child criminals (though a Supreme Court ruling citing the Convention does the same thing), and another “straw man” argument is that the Convention “would virtually undermine parents’ rights as we know it in the United States.”

    Oh, and the happily-now-departed Jesse Helms once referred to the Convention as a "bag of worms," and an effort to "chip away at the U.S. Constitution."[8]

    To his credit, though, President Obama has called our failure to ratify the Convention “an embarrassment,” which it most certainly is (Somalia is the only other country that hasn’t ratified it, and they plan to do so shortly – Somalia, people!).

    To be fair, I should note that the U.S. government has ratified an optional protocol to the Convention eschewing the recruitment and the use of child soldiers, as the Times tells us. However, that doesn’t absolve us of doing the right thing, even if it means signing off on a long-overdue measure that doesn’t bear the names of U.S. politicians.

  • Finally, it seems that John Feehery is unhappy (awwwhere)…

    In full disclosure, I think the Disclose Act is a complete joke, and it is getting funnier.

    What is the Disclose Act?

    According to The Hill, the Disclose Act is “the Democratic response to a January Supreme Court ruling that overturns limits on spending by corporations and unions in political campaigns. It would tighten transparency requirements associated with corporate and union contributions, including forcing the CEOs of businesses to appear in ads funded by the company.”
    And in response to the horrific Citizens United ruling (and after all, let’s not forget the origins of the group in question, as noted here), Think Progress told us the following (from last February here)…

    Just two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of opening the floodgates of corporate donations into electoral politics, a class of Wall Street Republicans have assembled around a new GOP group that aims to capitalize on corporate America’s empowerment. According to The New York Times, the group aims to “develop and market conservative ideas…hoping to capitalize on the fundraising and electioneering possibilities opened up by a recent Supreme Court ruling.” “This administration as well as Citizens United — when you combine the two the prospects for funding these types of efforts are greatly enhanced,” said former senator Norm Coleman, one of the group’s organizers.

    The Republican figures behind the American Action Network have a long history and symbiotic relationship with Wall Street.
    And one of the individuals who is part of that “long history and symbiotic relationship,” as TP tells us, is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who is currently involved in the American Action Network.

    This was after he co-founded Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, a lobbying firm involving the Mississippi guv, which morphed into BGR Holdings (here), which mutated somewhat into New Bridge Strategies, a “company established to help clients win Iraq reconstruction contracts” according to TPM’s Josh Marshall.

    And you’ll never guess who served as a “lobbyist and public affairs strategist” for Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, as noted here.

    Why, that would be none other than John Feehery, of course (of The Feehery Group).

    No wonder Feehery doesn’t like the DISCLOSE Act! It has more than a little bit to do with how much of an “influential” he would be on Capitol Hill knowing that his activities would come under the scrutiny of the cold light of day.

    In full disclosure, I have only this further to say:

    I don’t think John Feehery has the slightest idea of what “full disclosure” really means.
  • Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Wednesday Stuff

    Today's "Let 'Em Eat (Oily) Cake" moment, courtesy of BP...

    ...and I thought this selection was appropriate in light of this story.

    Wednesday Mashup (6/16/10)

  • Repug U.S. House Rep Ed Royce of California opines as follows at The Hill (here)…

    Back in April I wrote about "the ever-lasting lure of a temperate Syria," noting the Obama Administration’s persistent attempts to get Damascus out of Iran’s orbit despite zero evidence of progress.

    Well, the Wall Street Journal reports today that after innumerable, fruitless trips to Damascus by our diplomatic and military officials, the Administration is trying something new: sending some of our top technology companies to Syria, "marking the latest bid by the Obama Administration to woo President Bashar al-Assad away from his strategic alliance with Iran."
    ("Innumerable, fruitless trips" including the one by this guy, by the way...)

    Royce’s snide tone has been echoed by other House Repugs, notably Dana Rohrabacher and Dan Burton here; Burton is the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee for the Middle East and South Asia, and compared sending an ambassador to Damascus to appeasing Adolf Hitler before World War II.

    Oh, cute (the Bloomberg story also tells us that President George W. Bush withdrew the last U.S. ambassador in 2005, following Syria’s alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri).

    Is Syria a bad actor? Of course they are. But Bushco rewarded Libya which, unlike Syria, executed an honest-to-goodness terrorist attack against our people and gave one of the perpetrators a hero’s welcome when he returned home (and besides, as noted here, Syria acted in our defense in 2006 when our embassy was attacked). Syria’s actions have affected neighboring states in the region where they live; though they support Hezbollah, I know of no actions they have perpetrated directly against this country (and Fred Kaplan of Slate made a compelling argument for opening a dialog with Assad here in 2006, which was dutifully ignored by Former President Nutball of course…despite it all, I’ll still take “Professor” Obama over his perpetual truant predecessor).

  • Also, I thought this was an interesting story telling us that the U.S. is prepared $300 million to Vietnam to help treat the effects of the chemical defoliant known as “Agent Orange” used during the war…

    A joint panel of U.S. and Vietnamese policymakers, citizens and scientists released an action plan Wednesday, urging the U.S. government and other donors to provide an estimated $30 million annually over 10 years to clean up sites still contaminated by dioxin, a toxic chemical used in the defoliant.

    The funding would also be used to treat Vietnamese suffering from disabilities, including those believed linked to exposure to Agent Orange, which was dumped by the U.S. military in vast quantities over former South Vietnam to destroy crops and jungle cover shielding communist guerrilla fighters.

    Washington has been slow to address the issue, quibbling for years with its former foe over the need for more scientific research to show that the herbicide sprayed by U.S. aircraft during the war caused health problems and birth defects among Vietnamese.
    This Wikipedia article also tells us the following…

    Starting in 2005 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎ (EPA) began to work with the Vietnamese government to measure the level of dioxin at the Da Nang Airbase. Also in 2005 the Joint Advisory Committee on Agent Orange made up of representatives of Vietnamese and US government agencies was established. The committee has been meeting yearly to explore areas of scientific cooperation, technical assistance and environmental remediation of dioxin.

    A breakthrough in the diplomatic stalemate on this issue occurred as a result of United States President George W. Bush's state visit to Vietnam in November 2006. In the joint statement, President Bush and President Triet agreed that "further joint efforts to address the environmental contamination near former dioxin storage sites would make a valuable contribution to the continued development of their bilateral relationship. [27]

    In late May 2007, President Bush signed into law a supplemental spending bill for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan that included an earmark of $3 million specifically for funding for programs for the remediation of dioxin 'hotspots' on former US military bases and for public health programs for the surrounding communities.[28] The appropriation was renewed in the fiscal year 2009 and again in FY 2010.
    Make a note that I’m giving Number 43 some actual credit for doing something constructive here (shocking, I know - the article tells us that New Jersey was the first state to create a commission working with Rutgers University to study the effects of Agent Orange in 1980, but the commission was broken up by former governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1996…figures).

    Also, here is a link to a page on Agent Orange from the web site of the Veterans Administration, including a link for any service people exposed to this deadly chemical to apply for disability compensation.

  • Finally, I came across this column from Bernie Quigley at The Hill that would be hilarious if it weren’t so utterly illogical (ostensibly, Quigley continues to make fun of Paul McCartney for his joke about Dubya supposedly not knowing what a library is…in addition to being wrong 90-something percent of the time, conservatives generally are execrable because they have no capacity whatsoever to laugh at themselves).

    There is so much dookey in Quigley’s column that it’s hard to address it all. Among other things, he claims that McCartney was “along for the ride” during the whole Beatlemania thing way back when. He also alleges that the name of Apple, the corporation The Beatles formed after the death of former manager Brian Epstein, had something to do with Rene Magritte’s painting, when in fact it had more to do with an exhibition of performance art John Lennon witnessed by a previously-unknown artist named Yoko Ono (I’ll tell you how I know that in a minute). Quigley also says that Lennon had “become the bodhisattva in exile who never smiled for the cameras again when he returned from India,” presumably after the Fab Four’s infatuation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which is also laughable (Quigley obviously never watched the interview Tom Snyder conducted with Lennon over his immigration issues in 1975).

    I suppose all of this is an excuse to plug author Philip Norman’s great book on Lennon here, which I’m currently reading (Norman explains who people such as Pete Shotton and Bill Harry are in Lennon lore, among many, many others - I’m up to the part where the movie “Magical Mystery Tour” has just bombed…you can tell how desperate the wingnuts are to go after McCartney when they actually cast Lennon in a sympathetic light; had he lived, I’m sure he would have earned volumes more spite from them than McCartney ever could).

    And one more thing – as long as I’m on the subject, all I can say in response to this is “way to rock on, Sir Paul!”…I think he’s coming to Philly this fall.
  • Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Tuesday PM Stuff

    Nail. Hammer. Head. (more here)...

    ...and Rachel Maddow rakes Doug Suttles of BP over the proverbial coals here, and with good reason (if I could find humor in this somehow, which I really can't, I'd compare Suttles to the Michael Palin character Mr. Ken Very Big Liar from a Monty Python skit - not sure what's going on with MSNBC's vids...I see them loaded successfully elsewhere, but when I grab the code, I end up linking to a Nightly News report - wonder if it's an IE8 thing?)...

    …and as a tribute to this guy, I think I’ll eat a sizzling, greasy pork product tomorrow...

    ...and a hat tip goes out to Andy Vineberg of the Courier Times for reminding us that Rory Gallagher left us 15 years ago yesterday; this is one of my favorite Gallagher performances, with Jack Bruce of course.

    Tuesday Mashup (6/15/10)

  • I gotta tell ya’, Mark Halperin of The Page really knows how to bring teh funny (here)…

    The President's current priorities are all liable to make a now bad relationship that much worse (with big bidness). The financial regulation bill is viewed as a typically ignorant Washington overreach.
    So many directions I can go with this, but so little time…

    Let’s just take one supposedly courageous example of a Democrat standing up to the corpocracy, and that would be a certain Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who recently dispatched primary challenger Bill Halter with the help of the DLC establishment which, as usual, remains utterly disconnected from the party’s core constituency.

    Matt Taibbi brings us the gory details (from here)…

    When all the backroom obfuscation doesn't work, of course, there is always one last route in Congress to killing (financial) reform: the fine print. And never has an amendment been fine-printed to death as skillfully as the proposal to reform derivatives.

    Imagine a world where there's no New York Stock Exchange, no NASDAQ or Nikkei: no open exchanges at all, and all stocks traded in the dark. Nobody has a clue how much a share of IBM costs or how many of them are being traded. In that world, the giant broker-dealer who trades thousands of IBM shares a day, and who knows which of its big clients are selling what and when, will have a hell of a lot more information than the day-trader schmuck sitting at home in his underwear, guessing at the prices of stocks via the Internet.

    That world exists. It's called the over-the-counter derivatives market. Five of the country's biggest banks, the Goldmans and JP Morgans and Morgan Stanleys, account for more than 90 percent of the market, where swaps of all shapes and sizes are traded more or less completely in the dark. If you want to know how Greece finds itself bankrupted by swaps, or some town in Alabama overpaid by $93 million for deals to fund a sewer system, this is the explanation: Nobody outside a handful of big swap dealers really has a clue about how much any of this shit costs, which means they can rip off their customers at will.

    This insane outgrowth of jungle capitalism has spun completely out of control since 2000, when Congress deregulated the derivatives market. That market is now roughly 100 times bigger than the federal budget and 20 times larger than both the stock market and the GDP. Unregulated derivative deals sank AIG, Lehman Brothers and Greece, and helped blow up the global economy in 2008. Reining in derivatives is the key battle in the War for Finance Reform. Without regulation of this critical market, Wall Street could explode another mushroom cloud of nuclear leverage and risk over the planet at any time.

    The basic pillar of derivatives reform is simple: From now on, instead of trading in the dark, most derivatives would have to be traded on open exchanges and "cleared" through a third party. Last fall, Wall Street lobbyists succeeded at watering down the clearing requirement by pushing through a series of exemptions for "end-users" – that is, anyone who uses derivatives to hedge a legitimate business risk, like an airline buying swaps as a hedge against fluctuations in jet-fuel prices. But the House then took it even further, expanding the exemption to include anyone who wants to hedge against balance-sheet risk. Since every company has a balance sheet, including giant insurers like AIG and hedge funds that gamble in derivatives, the giant loophole now covered pretty much everyone except a few megabanks. This was regulation with a finger crossed behind its back.

    When it came time for the Senate to do its version, however, the lobbyists were in for a surprise. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas – best known as one of the few Democrats to vote for Bush's tax cuts – suddenly got religion and closed the loophole. Facing a tough primary battle against an opponent who was vowing to crack down on Wall Street, Lincoln tweaked the language so derivatives reform would apply to any greedy financial company that makes billions trading risky swaps in the dark.

    Republicans went apeshit, pulling the same tactics they tried to gut the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Sen. Enzi, back at the lectern after his failed attempt to claim that the CFPB was a government plot to control the orthodontics industry, barked to the Senate gallery that Lincoln's proposal would harm not millionaire swap dealers at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, but "a wheat-grower in Wyoming." Unmoved by such goofy rhetoric, the Senate shot down an asinine Republican amendment that would have overturned Lincoln's reform by a vote of 59-39.

    Then reform advocates started reading the fine print of the Lincoln deal, and realized that all those Wall Street lobbyists had really been earning their money.

    That same day the GOP amendment failed, the derivatives expert Adam White was at his home in Georgia, poring over a "redline" version of the Lincoln amendment, in which changes to the bill are tracked in bold. When he came to a key passage on page 570, he saw that it had a single line through it, meaning it had been removed. The line read, "Except as provided in paragraph (3), it shall be unlawful to enter into a swap that is required to be cleared unless such swap shall be submitted for clearing."

    Translation: It was no longer illegal to trade many uncleared swaps. Wall Street would be free to go on trading these monstrosities by the gazillions, largely in the dark. "Regulators can't say any longer if you don't clear it, it's illegal," says White.

    Once he noticed that giant loophole, White went back and found a host of other curlicues in the text that collectively cut the balls out of the Lincoln amendment. On page 574, a new section was added denying the Commodity Futures Trading Commission the power to force clearinghouses to accept swaps for clearing. On page 706, two lines were added making it impossible for buyers who get sold an uncleared swap to void the deal. Taken altogether, the changes amount to what White describes as a "Trojan Horse" amendment: hundreds of pages of rigid rules about clearing swaps, with a few cleverly concealed clauses that make blowing off those rules no big deal. Michael Greenberger, a former official with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who has been fighting for derivatives reform, describes the textual trickery as a "circle of doom. Despite the pages and pages of regulations, violating them is risk-free."
    So the only ones guilty of “overreach,” on this and so many other issues, are our corporate “betters” pulling the proverbial strings of political puppets like Dame Blanche and pushing the buttons of media automatons like Halperin.

    I will give “The Page” poster the benefit of the doubt on one point, though. When it comes to “ignorant,” Halperin’s a subject matter expert.

  • Also, for some reason, the New York Times did its impression of The National Review last Sunday and granted column space to Ramesh Ponnuru to weave some more “pro life” fairy tales (here)…

    The number of pro-life women running for office has increased, perhaps paradoxically, because of the social changes of the last few decades. The first generation of women to become active in politics strongly identified as feminist and considered abortion rights central to their feminism. Pro-life women were more likely to be full-time homemakers. Their invisibility on the public stage contributed to an impression that the vast majority of women were pro-choice.

    Pro-life women can also soften the message: Ms. Fiorina has said, “I myself was not able to have children of my own, and so I know what a precious gift life is.” It’s hard to imagine a male politician making that comment. These women will make it easier for pro-lifers to discuss the issue in the terms we want to discuss it: as a plea for justice for a vulnerable group.
    I must tell you that I read that last sentence and I wanted to throw up.

    Where the hell is the “justice” from these people towards women who have made a decision that surely must be the most tortuous one that could be made by any woman?

    This tells us that, while thus far Ponnuru and his pals have not been able to overturn Roe v. Wade (which, let us not forget, is still the law of the land), they have had a great deal of success on the state level. The Think Progress post tells us that Florida governor Charlie Crist quite rightly vetoed a measure requiring women to view an ultrasound of the fetus before undergoing an abortion. However…

  • 14 states have introduced laws this year that ban or limit abortion coverage,

  • 18 states have introduced legislation this year that requires abortion providers to offer their patients an ultrasound.

  • 14 states have introduced legislation or ballot initiatives this year to amend the state constitution to establish that legal personhood begins at conception, which would limit access to abortion, contraception, fertility treatments, and other medical services.

  • 9 states have introduced bills this year that would criminalize abortions done purportedly because of the sex or race of the fetus.* Only Oklahoma’s bill has thus far become law.

  • 1 law has been enacted this year (in Utah) that define criminal homicide to include a “knowing” act by a pregnant woman that causes a miscarriage or stillbirth. This bill is so broad that it could apply to a woman who smokes cigarettes or takes prescription medication.
  • And in case anyone needs a reminder of how quickly the “pro life” forces can work themselves into a furor when they detect the slightest whiff of accommodation from any politician they see as doing the will of those who are pro-choice, all one needs to do is take a look at how quickly the life of Dem U.S. House Rep Bart Stupak was threatened when he gave ground on health care reform when he believed he had accomplished his “pro life” goal in the legislation (I didn’t like the original Stupak-Pitts pro-sepsis coat hanger abortion amendment, but I never would have threatened Stupak’s life over it, and neither did anyone else of my political persuasion).

    I suppose there’s a lot more to be said about this, but I’ll leave this topic with this final remark. I’m sorry that Carly Fiorina was denied the opportunity to have her own children. But that doesn’t give her or anyone else the right to interfere in the most personal decision that can be made by a woman and/or her partner and health care provider.

    I’m sure the next brilliant idea that will come from a “pro life” legislator is to make a woman seeking an abortion listen to a tape of babies wailing before she consents to undergo the procedure.

  • Finally, this New York Times story Sunday told us the following (here)…

    Looking for the federal government to come to the rescue of newspapers? Don’t hold your breath.

    The Federal Trade Commission has set out on the somewhat quixotic journey of trying to identify ways to save journalism as we know it from possible extinction.

    Through a series of public forums, the last of which will take place in Washington on Tuesday, the commission has been gathering and analyzing an array of suggestions to help make the business of gathering and reporting news profitable again. A broad range of ideas — loosening antitrust statutes to allow news organizations to start charging for online content all at once; imposing a tax on iPads and other electronic devices to subsidize the cost of reporting; creating a public fund akin to AmeriCorps to pay young journalists — have been suggested.

    But the commission could easily sidestep making any recommendations to Congress or invoking its regulatory powers, and instead issue something along the lines of an analysis of its findings.

    The commission is expected to produce a final study late this year.
    This may sound hilarious coming from someone who opposes online fees as a source of revenue for news organizations, but I believe we should pay a modest fee to our government, if that is what it takes, to ensure the survival of designated news organizations (Which ones would be “designated”? I’m not 100 percent sure yet).

    I say this partly because the Times interviews “new media” guru Jeff Jarvis in the story (formerly of “dead tree” media, as it were), and Jarvis believes that the “entrepreneurial spirit” will save the Fourth Estate.

    All I know is this. I’ve been operating this blog, such as it is, for five years, and to make sure I sound somewhat knowledgeable about the topics I post about, I read as much as I can about this topic and others (not trying to pat myself on the back). I’ve been waiting for the glorious day to come when “citizens media” overtakes the corporate house organs who slice and dice the days’ events to make sure (most times, but not always) that they conform to the narrative of the moment (the prior post about Ponnuru is based on his Op-Ed about “the (supposed) year of the conservative woman” in politics, resurrected from the ashes of “the (supposed) year of anti-incumbency” narrative).

    And simply put, I don’t see that day coming (love to be wrong, though).

    And like it or not, government is the only force that can level the intellectual playing field to make sure designated news outlets receive funding that allows them to survive and report/editorialize on the news so that we make informed decisions.

    I know this isn’t the sort of thing you would expect to read from a blogger. And the thought of The Philadelphia Inquirer receiving so much as one thin dime of taxpayer funds that would allow them to continue publishing Rick Santorum, Kevin Ferris and John Yoo makes me gag.

    However, I have to owe up to the fact that I am not a salaried news professional. I supposed I am performing some type of a journalistic function, but I am not a journalist by occupation. And those are the people who are needed to report the news so that adults with brain matter who happen to be between 35 and dead can consume it and not automatically switch on Fix Noise instead. I simply cannot compete with these people for reader circulation, so if it’s a choice between our government supporting them or supporting me…well, I could give a selfish preference, but I know I’d be wrong.

    All I’m saying is that, sadly, we are at a point where we need to pay for intelligent media the same way we might pay for a night out at the ballpark, a pair of new whitewall tires, a pair of men’s slacks, a handbag, or a Happy Meal. And I’m sure this makes me a socialist at heart or something, but I actually would want a government bureaucrat making the decision of how my money would be spent based on predefined standards and criteria as opposed to a cash-poor media outlet shoveling money out the door to keep its creditors at bay.

    I believe the consequence of what I have in mind would be a more (and better) informed nation. The stakes are too high and the tasks before us too daunting to allow ourselves to settle for anything less.
  • Tuesday AM Stuff

    Lots of stuff came up recently which has cut into my posting time, but I hope to get back to it later today. In the meantime, here is a morning meditation (and I also posted here).