December 15, 2007

BushCo’s latest dodge on the CIA waterboarding tapes trail

The administration told Judge Henry H. Kennedy it didn’t have to turn over info about the tapes because the Justice Department was investigating the matter itself.. You know the rest of the drill.

AG Mike Mukasey does a pro forma investigation. (He’s already told the Senate Intelligence Committee to buzz off.) Says he finds nothing.

Case closed.

December 14, 2007

Support presidential debates and discussions on science issues

We need science-literate, science-honest leaders at the top, above all in the White House. That certainly doesn’t include George W. Bush’s lies on environmental issues, nor Mike Huckabee’s denial of evolution — nor does it include Dennis Kucinich with claims to have talked to a UFO, for that matter.

Anyway, click here to call for a presidential debate on science and technology.

GOP: It’s OK to play the class warfare card, but only in our primaries

Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson have no problem bashing Mitt Romney as rich.

But, if some Democrat would say this against Romney, should he get the nomination, then Democrats would of course be practicing “class warfare.”

And, some Rethug will probably come up with the line that “playing class warfare helps the terrorists.”

The Preznit, true to form, is even a hypocrite on baseball

President George W. Bush says the use of steroids in baseball, as revealed by the Mitchell Report, has sullied the game. What a piece of crap.

I have no doubt that Canseco is right, and that you, Mr. W., full well knew at least the basics of Canseco teaching people like Raffy Palmeiro to shoot one another in the ass with roids while you were managing general partner of the Texas Rangers.

Greenspan uses the R-word

Well, it must be economically official. If St. Alan says recession chances are “clearly rising” then you can make economic book on it.

Of course, St. Alan also engaged in some spinmeistering to keep his halo polished:
Greenspan again rejected criticism that his policy actions helped to feed a housing boom that eventually went bust. Critics say Greenspan held interest rates too low for too long after the 2001 recession.

To have prevented such euphoria in housing that fed a bubble in prices, Greenspan said the Fed would have had to jack up interest rates so high that it would have damaged the economy. “That would have broken the back of the economy, and brought the housing boom down,” Greenspan said.

In a word, bullshit.

First, the Fed has regulatory powers St. Alan rejected using. The Wall Street Journal has more on how St. Alan deliberately rejected the idea of more regulatory policing of lending institutions way back in 2000. And, as the Journal points out, there's a need for it.

Second, Fed could have coordinated policy with agencies such as the FDIC, in areas beyond Fed direct regulation, including jawboning these institutions not to lower the monetary reserve margin backing up their loans, for starters.

Third, St. Alan could have used the Fed bully pulpit to beat down the excess of subprime mortgages, as well as exotic mortgage-based investments such as CDOs, which were predicated on the mortgage boom.

And, in refutation to what St. Alan says about bringing the housing boom down, the housing boom is being brought down now, with more pain likely, and/or another bubbling elsewhere, than if you, YOU, had acted sooner, St. Alan.

I’m sure Andrea Mitchell will NOT be reporting on this.

E.U. has simple CO2 plan for cars

Its mandatory car CO2 emissions restrictions is set to go into effect. Meanwhile, our Congress can’t even agree on upping mpg standards, let alone even consider adding a CO2 standard.

December 13, 2007

BushCo pots and kettles, international division

In the wake of Argentina trying to extradite a citizen the U.S. is putting forward as a witness in a case accusing four others as being illegal foreign agents of Venezuela, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick had this to say:
“We have talked about (Venezuela’s) interference in the affairs of other countries. They have tried to insert themselves into various elections throughout the region and in several cases it has backfired.”

Just like your tacit support of the Venezuelean coup against Chavez backfired, eh?

Here it comes: foreign bank buy-ups

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s $7.5 bil buy into Citigroup got all the publicity, but Singapore bought a $10 bil chunk of UBS recently, too. It’s striking to note that both purchases were made on terms that put the American companies’ stock valuation at little above junk-bond status.

So, what’s next? A tightening of the lending spigots. Singapore didn’t get to the level of development it has today by throwing around nickels like manhole covers.

Maybe, the venerable Singaporean practice of caning will get exported the boardrooms of UBS and other American financial institutions while we’re at it. It couldn’t hurt.

E.U. to call Bush out on climate

Unless Bush agrees to specific emissions cuts at Bali E.U. members are threatening to boycott U.S. led climate talks next month:
“No result in Bali means no Major Economies Meeting,” said Sigmar Gabriel, a top EU environment official, referring to a series of separate climate talks initiated by President Bush in September.

“We are a bit disappointed that all the world is still waiting for the United States,” added Humberto Rosa, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Environment. Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency and Rosa is the EU’s chief negotiator at the Bali talks.

Meanwhile, we’ve already got the White House spin accusing the E.U. being the obstructionists.
”I think those that suggest that we magically find an agreement on a metric when we are just starting ... that in itself is a blocking effort,”said Jim Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “We need to free up this conversation so we can have the deliberation to find as much consensus and collective engagement.”

Puhleeze.

Because of this, I doubt it will change anything in Washington if the EU boycotts Bush’s charade. The only thing that might actually work is if World Trade Organization rules allowed tariffs to address pollution or CO2 levels, but, unfortunately, that ain’t the case — yet.

I think the next round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, talks, needs to discuss exactly that.

When Democrats fight ain’t so pretty either

House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel? Senate Democrats have “Stockholm syndrome” for caving to Senate GOP filibuster threats all the time.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticizes Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s “iron hand” style of government. (Oh, if it were only true, Harry. You must be confusing her with former GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert, or his power behind the throne, Majority Leader Tom DeLay.)

Neither side of the Capitol Dome has done itself much credit. The latest anti-results:
Democrats in each chamber are now blaming their colleagues in the other for the mess in which they find themselves. The predicament caused the majority party yesterday surrender to President Bush on domestic spending levels, drop a cherished renewable-energy mandate and move toward leaving a raft of high-profile legislation, from addressing the mortgage crisis to providing middle-class tax relief, undone or incomplete.

And, the backbiting probably isn’t dying down. Not after comments like this:
Reid has let his own frustration show. After Republican senators accused Pelosi of lying about her intentions on a comprehensive energy bill, the majority leader offered a backhanded defense.

“I can’t control Speaker Pelosi,” he said on the chamber floor. “I hope everybody understands that. She is a strong, independent woman. She runs the House with an iron hand. I support what she does, but no one needs to come and tell me I didn’t keep my word.”

There’s plenty of blame to go around here. First, on Reid’s side, besides his anti-filibuster all-nighter on Iraq spending, he still hasn’t figured out enough sneaky tactics to counter GOP filibuster threats. Surely, Robert Byrd, “Mr. Senate,” could tell him a trick or two.

If nothing else, why doesn’t Reid threaten to do what House Appropriations Chair David Obey plans? Gut any Senate spending bill of earmarks until Republicans start squeaking. It WILL work.

Look at the water bill that Congress recently re-passed to override a Bush veto for the first time. If there’s money involved, the GOP will listen.

On Pelosi’s side, part of it is that a number of freshman Democrats are fairly conservative. At the same time, she pissed off many of the definite liberals, before taking over, by how much, besides impeachment itself, she seemed ready to rule off the political table.

Two-thirds of Pakistanis want Musharraf out — will he go?

An International Republican Institute poll has the details:
The poll showed more than two-thirds of Pakistanis opposed Musharraf's move on November 3 to impose emergency rule and suspend the constitution. He then cracked down on the media, detained thousands of opponents and replaced the Supreme Court. …

The poll underscores Musharraf's slumping popularity this year as the armed forces struggled with growing militant violence, while his attempt to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry backfired and sparked widespread street protests.

But, with Chaudhry and other judges still in lock-up, how can anything result but the rigged election most Pakistanis exist?

We’ll see just how committed to democracy BushCo is by the statement Condoleezza Rice makes after the election.

And here’s why talking about “core inflation” is so stupid

In making many of its inflationary statements, the Commerce Department talks about “core inflation,” which includes the stereotypically-phrased “often volatile” food and energy costs. Folks like the Fed follow along The reason behind November’s 3.2 percent jump in wholesale prices put the kibosh on that:
Wholesale prices shot up 3.2 percent, the biggest jump in 34 years, propelled by a record rise in gasoline prices.

Given our just-in-time retail delivery system and the amount of retail goods we import, it’s ludicrous to exclude energy prices from inflation talk.

With inanity like this, the U.S. won’t necessarily have to worry about the E.U. so much

The new European Union reform treaty was signed in Lisbon, Portugal, due to Portuguese vanity, despite an EU requirement that all such treaties be signed in Brussels, Belgium.

So, the E.U. will have a “re-do” signing ceremony in Brussels. Portugal had the rotating presidency of the E.U. and insisted the treaty be signed there. Meanwhile, E.U. government is itself split, with its parliament meeting in both Brussels and Strasbourg, France.

We’ll also see just how serious the E.U. is about global warming if/when it agrees to tackle/eliminate some of these redundancies.

In any case, while the E.U. rightfully regulates business in a way the U.S. doesn’t, it will hamstring itself with stuff like this.

December 12, 2007

Levin trying to gut energy bill and Bush is piggybacking

Sen. Carl Levin is reportedly trying to jigger things, in the name of getting EPA and the Transportation Department on the same page, to restrict the ability of California to enact more stringent pollution controls, most namely, now, on carbon dioxide.

Shock me that a Michigander in Congress would do this, even after this backdoor gutting of the bill had already been shut down in the House.

Of course, the Polluter-in-Chief is ready to go along for the ride.

Both Levin and Bush argue that just one agency should have actual authority over mileage and related issues, and both want to put EPA in a purely advisory position.

Shockingly, this comes after the Supreme Court ruled this summer that EPA can regulate CO2; tie that with the EPA letting California set more stringent pollution rules, and you have the basis for California to set tougher CO2 standards, and for states that have EPA waivers to follow California on other issues to do so here.

In essence, both Levin and Bush want to do an end run on the SCOTUS ruling, pull the rug out from under California and tag-along states, and keep CO2 regs off the U.S. table – period.

Don’t believe the lies about wanting to coordinate government agencies; it’s all about gutting CO2 regs.

More proof the dollar is going in the crapper – will OPEC follow?

Russian oil and gas giant Lukoil is discussing denominating its sales in rubles by 2009.

OPEC members Iran and Venezuela have already said that oil consortium should switch to the euro for similar reasons, but OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia has put the kibosh on that, so far.

However, if other Russian oil and gas companies follow Lukoil into ruble-land, or even the Euro-zone, the pressure on the Saudis to at least do dual denomination, as in the old, pre-1970s OPEC doing dollar-pound sterling dual denomination, will increase.

Waterboarding update – maybe Mike Hayden needs a taste

First, if the White House has been court-ordered not to destroy torture-related evidence, it’s a clear lie for Bush to say “I didn’t know anything about waterboarding.”

Second, I posted earlier this week that third-party countries that cooperate in CIA renditions might have more tapes. Well, we don’t know that yet, but the fact that the waterboarding incidents occurred in other countries was the legal loophole the Spook Shack used to avoid court order about not destroying the tapes:
(T)he tapes themselves were never brought onto U.S. territory; they were kept, and later destroyed, at a secret location overseas. At one point portions of the tapes were electronically transmitted to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., so a small number of officials there could review them. A counterterrorism source, who also asked for anonymity when discussing this subject, said that there was no reason to believe that any recordings of such an electronic feed still exist.

That said, I’m of the opinion that more stuff still does exist overseas in black-site countries, and, as I posted earlier, that the Spook Shack likely would have transferred technical physical custody to torture partners as an extra layer of legal CYA at some point.

Hell, for that case, maybe individual CIA agents went Abu Ghraib and whipped out their own cell-phone cameras or something.

Anyway, whether any more such tapes exist or not, here’s how the Clusterfucked Idiots’ Agency’s stance on the tapes we know once existed all played out:
The CIA destroyed the tapes in November 2005. That June, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had ordered the Bush administration to safeguard “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.”

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a nearly identical order that July.

At the time, that seemed to cover all detainees in U.S. custody. But Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the terrorism suspects whose interrogations were videotaped and then destroyed, weren't at Guantanamo Bay. They were prisoners that existed off the books — and apparently beyond the scope of the court's order.

Leading the Head Spook to defend his agency thusly:
CIA director Michael Hayden told the agency in an e-mail this week that internal reviewers found the tapes were not relevant to any court case.

A sweet-and-sour legal bankshot.

But, this thing might not be over:
Attorneys say that might not matter. David H. Remes, a lawyer for Yemeni citizen Mahmoad Abdah and others, asked Kennedy this week to schedule a hearing on the issue.

In legal documents filed in January 2005, Assistant Attorney General Peter D. Keisler assured Kennedy that government officials were "well aware of their obligation not to destroy evidence that may be relevant in pending litigation.”

Assurance from the Department of Justice?

I’ve got BushCo DOJ “assurance” in one hand, and a warm, steaming pile of crap in the other. How do you tell the difference?

It’s simple – the warm, steaming pile of crap still has more substance.

Beyond that, here’s an idea. Let’s waterboard Hayden until he pleas guilty to perjury and/or obstruction of justice, along with former CIA operations chief Jose Rodriguez, the man who signed off on destroying the tapes. And, they admit to any more tapes or other evidence.

It’s called “poetic justice.”

Update: Hayden knew of the existence of the tapes before becoming CIA head:
Hayden said he learned of the terrorist interrogation videotapes more than a year ago in his tenure as principal deputy director of national intelligence, a post he held from April 2005 to May 2006. He said he did not know that the tapes were being destroyed.

Bush still has wool over the eyes of at least one Iowan

On the Iowa campaign trail, at least one Iowan still believes has basically decided to tell Bush and Congressional GOP to “stick it” on a new budget. Tired of bad-faith negotiations from the White House, he’s going to craft a new budget that meets the WH overall bottom line, while stripping out every earmark necessary to meet that bottom line, as well as a bunch of Bush priorities.
“Keeping the tax cuts permanent — I’m middle class and we’re the ones that benefit from the tax cuts. I’m afraid of a president who will put those taxes back up,” said pastor Chris Magnell, 34. “Fiscal issues are probably number one for me.”

Geez, is it any wonder Republican candidates blather about further tax cuts with sheep like this? I hope you’re enjoying the extra $50, at most, in your paychecks this year while the CEOs of the companies who made your kids’ Christmas toys are taking tens of thousands in tax cuts to the bank.

When Republicans fight: don’t you love it?

So Mitt Romney is blowing a gasket because Mike Huckabee asks: “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”
Of course, it’s a lie. Jesus and Joseph Smith are brothers, according to Mormons. (C’mon, we all know that.) And Jesus had multiple Mormon wives — Mary Magdalene, Salome, Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus. (C’mon, we all knew that, too.)

Given the, not rough edges, but more willing rough elbows of the Huckabee campaign, a claim this blunt doesn’t surprise me at all. Huck’s shown he’s willing to get the brass knuckles out. (Sidebar: doesn’t this say something about Arkansas politics and politicians?)

And, sure, Huck is speaking in “code words” to evangelicals. But, Mitt, did you audience-test your “JFK speech” in advance of giving it? I can’t believe you really thought that it would tamp down rank-and-file conservative evangelical skeptics, let alone outright critics, to give such a speech without actually talking about Mormonism. OK, so you didn’t see the Huckabee Surge™. But, if this was supposed to be a pre-emptive speech, you should have anticipated something like this.

Does the WTO allow carbon cap-and-trade “tariffs”?

I’m afraid that or something similar is the only way the European Union and the United Nations will get a breakthrough on post-Kyoto global warming efforts, as essentially demanded by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The sensible EU position, opposed by the U.S., Japan and Canada:
The European Union wants a reference by industrialised countries that a cut of 25-40 percent in their emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, will be a guideline for the post-2012 haggle.

The United States, Japan, Canada and others however are against that.

“We want to be sure that the text that we have before us is going to be neutral — it will leave all options on the table and, again, will not prejudge outcomes, which should be something that comes at the end of the two-year process,” said US negotiator Harlan Watson.

For “prejudge outcomes,” read, “not force the U.S. to take serious action.”

Also still on the table: how much and what sort of help developed nations should offer developing ones.

That said, there is one big problem with the Kyoto framework — its lumping of all but the most prosperous nations into one “developing nations” grab bag. China, India and Brazil may not be the U.S. or E.U. member states, but, they’re not Zimbabwe, Bolivia, or Myanmar in terms of development, either. I think a post-Kyoto round does need to two-tier “developing” nations.

December 11, 2007

Boy, is John Edwards wrong – or deceiving – on Iraq

In an interview today, Edwards claimed there’s not that much difference among Democratic candidates on Iraq and that voters know that:
“My instinct is that most caucus-goers think any of us will end the war.”

Just plain wrong. You’re one of the three Democratic “front-runners” who do NOT have a plan, desire, goal, or intention of getting us OUT and not halfway out of Iraq. No exceptions, no stipulations, nothing short of getting us out qualifies as getting us out.

Yes, let’s do some WTO judo on China

A California group, California First Amendment Coalition, is pushing the feds to file a World Trade Organization complaint against China. The grounds? Internet censorship by Beijing is restraint of trade.

Any chance of this flying?
CFAC’s petition rests heavily on arguments first put forth in a 2006 paper by Tim Wu [CQ], a professor at Columbia Law School. In that paper, Wu argued that international trade laws offered companies some protection against government censorship, particularly in cases where this tactic was used to shield domestic companies from international competition.

However, Wu cautioned that WTO members have generally said censorship is a political and not a trade issue. But, he also noted in his paper that the WTO’s Appellate Body has shown an inclination to make broad rulings on such issues.

That said, this is a poor, backhand way to try to get at countries like China for the human rights violations that are often linked with censorship. And that’s why Slick Willie Clinton deserves to rot over the WTO as well as NAFTA, as do Members of Congress from both parties, but especially Democrats, who signed off on both agreements.

Sarkozy’s Libya cuddle-up doesn’t please his own party

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was “resigned”. to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s visit to Paris while President Nicolas Sarkozy's junior minister for human rights said France shouldn’t do business with Gaddafi without getting more human rights guarantees. I guess Sarko really is trying to be more like U.S. leadership.

More seriously, can Sarko risk alienating too much of his Cabinet this early in his administration while dealing with the transport strike and other domestic issues?

Greedy Street gets drawn up short

Wall Street dropped like a rock today after the Federal Reserve only cut the prime rate (and discount rate) a quarter-percent rather than a half-percent.

The Street turned on a 240-point dime, falling from 40 points up to 200 points down after the announcement. Apparently, the Street is greedy for anything that will liquidize, or re-inflate, or even re-bubble, the credit market, ignoring that oil prices are likely to at least stay somewhere in the $85-90/bbl range, that the European Central Bank, while not raising rates, refused to cut them last week, and that European inflation concerns may constrain the U.S. from doing much more.

Of course, the Fed may make another quarter-point cut later; Fed Governor Eric Rosengren wanted a half-percent cut today.

That said, since it was just a quarter-point cut, and the ECB dog didn’t bark last week, the dollar probably won’t slump too much lower.

Sports-newspapers conflict of interest: the bottom line

How can newspapers truly claim to cover sports impartially, when you have a media-sports team ownership conflict of interest lie this:
(Being a director of the Boston Red Sox) was not the first time (former Senate Majority Leader George) Mitchell would have a financial stake in a baseball team. At the same time he joined the Red Sox, Mitchell was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of the Anaheim Angels and eventual 2002 World Series champions. He has been on the Disney board since 1994, and was chairman at Disney from 2004-06.

But from the beginning, the Red Sox sale was a particularly sensitive issue for Selig. The commissioner was accused of engineering the $660 million Red Sox transaction to the Henry group, while various other competitors to buy the Red Sox, such as HBO and CableVision founder Charles Dolan, believed the Henry group's bid had not been the highest. Dolan reportedly believed he had outbid Henry by nearly $100 million, and a bid by Miles Prentice was said to be the highest, at $755 million. Selig denied any involvement in managing the sale of the team or that he favored Henry, who had owned the Florida Marlins, or Werner, who endured a turbulent experience as owner of the San Diego Padres during the early 1990s when baseball was embroiled in a rift between large- and small-market franchises. Selig, who was fond of Werner, watched the bitterly divided owners push Werner out of the game in 1993 and told him he would run a team again one day.

In the days following the sale, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced an investigation of the transaction on the grounds that the Yawkey Trust, the charitable foundation that held the team following the 1992 death of Jean Yawkey, was entitled to the highest bid. Reilly threatened a lawsuit against the Red Sox and Major League Baseball, depending on his findings. The Boston Globe, which holds a 17-percent stake in the Red Sox through its ownership by the New York Times Company, referred to Henry's purchase as "a bag job." The Boston Herald called the sale, "the fix." Ultimately, Reilly did not take legal action after the Henry ownership group agreed to increase its charitable contribution to the Yawkey Trust.

So, you have Disney, with multiple media ownerships, above all, ESPN, controlling the Angels. You then have the Boston Globe, via the New York Times Company, with an interest in the Red Sox, which not only raises Red Sox conflicts of interest, but, given the Times is in New York, Yankees conflicts of interest as well.

But, it’s not just MLB. The Dallas Morning News at one time owned a share of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

If major professional sports leagues, above all MLB, had any guts at all, they would ban media ownership of sports teams, period.

Freddie Mac leaking money, pushes back on lenders

The latest home-finance bad news, as well as the answer proposed for it, are certain to add weight to the housing bubble anchor.

Freddie Mac expects to lose an additional $5.5-$7.5 million over the next few years, beyond the $4.5 million it’s already lost this year.
"I honestly think it's going to get tougher before it gets better," Richard Syron, the company's chairman and CEO, said in a discussion with financial analysts in New York.

Hello, presidential candidates, are you listening?

Meanwhile, Freddie Mac is protecting its own bottom line:
Syron's remarks came a day after Freddie Mac and its larger government-sponsored rival Fannie Mae said they are changing their criteria for purchasing delinquent home loans they've guaranteed, in order to reduce the number they buy from investors.

On Tuesday, McLean, Va.-based Freddie Mac announced it was imposing a 0.25 percent fee on all new home loans it buys or guarantees with settlement dates starting March 9, matching an earlier move by Fannie Mae. Both companies have begun adding surcharges on loans to borrowers with credit scores below 680 and who are borrowing more than 70 percent of the home's value.

This can only push the price of new loans up further, while making banks and other lending institutions even more nervous about iffy loans they have on the books dating from March 9 to the present.

We’re going to see more and more financial CYA like this in the coming six months or so. Financial bulls who claim housing market recovery is “just around the corner” are full of it.

Was waterboarding taping also outsourced?

With one new “war on terror” detainee claiming to have his torture videotaped, we have to wonder how many videos are out there.

And, just who all may have them.

First, the story:
The former prisoner who reported seeing cameras, Muhammad Bashmilah of Yemen, was seized by Jordanian intelligence agents in 2003 and turned over to the C.I.A., according to an investigation by Amnesty International, the human rights advocacy organization. He was flown from Jordan to Afghanistan in October 2003 and held there until April 2004, when he was flown by plane and helicopter to a C.I.A. jail in an unidentified country, Amnesty found. Mr. Bashmilah and two other Yemeni men held with him were flown to Yemen in May 2005 and later released.

Note that he was held in an unidentified country. He may have been taken back to Jordan. Maybe Egypt. Maybe one of the Eastern Europe rendition sites.

Since we know about rendition itself, here’s a possibility:

Given that Bashmilah said he was taken to "an undisclosed country" during the time he said he was taped, maybe the CIA had intelligence officials of this country officially do the taping. That would be another way of trying to keep tapes hidden from U.S. oversight.

Maybe Jordanian or Pakistani intelligence, or Egypt's, has whole libraries of torture tapes. Although Bashmilah saw a full setup, maybe yet other detainees had interrogations, ones that included torture, taped on hidden cameras.

And, as TPM Muckraker notes, there may be more tapes that are still in CIA hands.

Obey calls out Bush on budget

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey has basically decided to tell Bush and Congressional GOP to “stick it” on a new budget. Tired of bad-faith negotiations from the White House, he’s going to craft a new budget that meets the WH overall bottom line, while stripping out every earmark necessary to meet that bottom line, as well as a bunch of Bush priorities.
“When the White House refuses to compromise, when the White House continues to stick it in our eye, I say to hell with it.”

And, he’s prepared to wait Bush out:
“If anybody thinks we can get out of here this week, they're smoking something illegal,” he said.

Especially given that, barring some surprise change, whatever budget the House passes is going to add massive Iraq funding in House-Senate conference anyway, I’m in favor of the budget getting stuck for several months, not just a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, at least a few House Republicans ARE sweating:
“There are a lot of people who were very disappointed last year when nobody got any earmarks. If they do it again for the second year in a row, it will be a very bitter pill to swallow,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), an appropriator who complained that he could lose $400,000 he needs for the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial celebration, slated to begin Feb. 12.

LaHood is not the only Republican appropriator who is angry at the White House and at GOP leaders who have refused to negotiate with Democrats on domestic spending levels. In recent days, Rep. David L. Hobson (Ohio), ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of energy and water projects, had a heated discussion with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), arguing that Boehner should come off his hard line.

Rep. James T. Walsh (N.Y.), another senior Republican appropriator, took to the House floor to argue: “If the proposal is to split the difference, to reduce the amount of spending above the president's request by $11 billion, I would advise the president to take yes for an answer.”

Right now, there’s not enough movement to create a veto-proof majority, but the longer Congressmen have to withdraw from pork addiction, the more antsy they will get.

December 10, 2007

Did the Snooze pull a fast one on the Trinity Toll Road?

It sure looks like it. Imagine waiting until a day AFTER Nov. 6 Prop. 1 vote to reveal that, sometime in October, a representative of the North Texas Tollway Authority Chairman Paul Wageman had specifically undercut Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert’s claim that the Trinity Toll Road’s price was locked in (follow the Observers sublink to the Snooze’s original article
NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman said last month that the agency would build the road only if it is viable -- meaning it produces enough in tolls to pay for construction. He said if the costs continue to rise above the current estimate of $1.29 billion, the agency may ask its partners -- including the city and the Regional Transportation Council, which sets priorities for the entire North Texas area, to increase their investments in the road.

But, now, Snooze reporter Bruce Tomaso is claiming the price is still locked in for the city of Dallas, although his exact phrasing leaves plenty of wiggle room.

And, pre-vote, Snooze ME George Rodrigue owned up to “garden-variety mistakes.” He didn’t mention “sitting on the truth for a month until after we know we’ve won the election to preserve the Trinity Toll Road.”

There’s a phrase for bull… like that…

Now, it may be true that Dallas winds up paying no more. But, it also may be true that it gets some significant sticker shock.

And, unfortunately, too many south suburban leaders went along for the ride, not that their comments probably were a six-point sway in the Dallas voting.

Yes, Ted Rall IS hopeful about print media

In fact, and perhaps surprisingly after the first two parts of his series on print’s status today,, he’s actually kind of bullish:
some types of papers are prospering and growing. I believe that the business of printing news on dead trees will emerge from the current shakeout more profitable than ever. This will be thanks to three emerging trends:
• Big National Newspapers
• More Small Local Papers
• Freebie Dailies

At present, the biggest 50 dailies (“A” papers, in industry jargon) dominate the landscape. Below them is a swath of dailies in midsize cities (Akron, Austin, Albuquerque). Small town, suburban and rural dailies, weeklies and bi-weeklies, whose focus is highly localized (“New Stop Sign Stirs Controversy”) —the “C”s — bring up the rear.

During the 20th century, most newspaper profits were generated by "B" papers. This is the market segment that has been hit hardest by the Web. Free online classifieds has decimated advertising revenues. Neither beast nor fowl, the midsize dailies’ attempt to balance local, national and international coverage pleases no one in an environment where highly customized news consumption is available to readers online--for free. (Publishers were idiots for giving away their content, but that's another column.) MyYahoo feeds me the latest headlines from Itar-Tass and Agence France-Press every morning; how could the Dayton Daily News, the paper of my childhood, do as well for this half-Frenchman with a Central Asia obsession?

Rall expects the future American newspaper market to look a lot more like Europe and Japan — a smaller group of definite “A” or even “Super-A” papers, and then a bunch of “C”, or maybe, in my view “B-lite,” papers. A two-tiered, not a three-tiered, market.
The Wall Street Journal and USA Today already print multiple national issues. In the era of “Super-A” papers, sure, you could see a few others joining them, and perhaps co-opting some of the traditional “B” papers with new versions of old-time joint operating agreements (Detroit News/Free Press, Denver Post/Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle and Salt Lake City papers are among those that have JOAs).

But, will this be a good thing?

Well, there, the answer is No, according to Rall:
None of this will improve the quality of journalism. “Ultimately [free dailies] will breed in people the idea that news shouldn't cost anything, even that news is cheap,” points out media commentator Roy Greenslade. “But in fact, news, done well and properly, requires investment and money. They will no doubt tell us what happened —but news should also tell us how and why things happen. I fear that approach will be lost.”

It will. It’s a trend that began decades ago, when newspapers closed overseas news bureaus and eliminated long-term investigative journalism to cut costs, and started embracing elites rather than exposing them. And it’s terrible for our society, culture and politics. Government and business will face even less accountability than they do today. Democracy will lie in ruins. The print newspaper business, however, will be going gangbusters.

I don’t doubt Rall is right. That said, I found this third part of his series a letdown, in several ways.

First, he’s by no means the only columnist to analyze the shakeout of the news business in a similar way.

Second, after talking about how the Internet would affect privacy issues in the future, and how this might affect media, in parts 1 and 2, we didn’t hear a single thing about that in this third part.

Ted, you can do better than that… that’s not like you to start an idea and let it dangle.

Two big NOs to the mortgage freeze

Bill Fleckenstein has a laundry list of reasons to oppose it.

They include the possibility that it will further deflate values, more than doing nothing would, and encourage further irresponsibility, including from the holders of doggy mortgages:
This bailout will complicate the lives not just of homeowners but of anyone who touches the mortgage paper after them. Allowing someone to pick whatever mortgage rate they'd like to pay will solve nothing. It will only make mortgage-backed assets worth that much less, with the very stocks that rallied recently on this idea being the ones negatively impacted.


Jon Markman agrees and for similar reasons :
Have we completely lost our common sense? Is it really desirable to provide easier money to people and companies that got into trouble by abusing their access to money in the first place? And is it really a good idea both to cancel mortgage bondholders' contracts for the sake of an adjustable-mortgage-rate freeze and to provide a couple of years of grace for stressed-out home borrowers who are likely to eventually default anyway?

Personally, I think they’re right. I don’t doubt that I’m more politically liberal than either one of them, but, liberalism doesn’t equate to irresponsibility or free passes.

If that’s not enough, Markman says we could stand to learn a lesson from Japan:
Postponing the undeniable anguish involved in making participants own up to debt-fueled losses is exactly why it took Japan more than a decade to shake off the bursting of its own credit bubble back in 1990. Interest rates were cut essentially to zero, but because moribund banks and real-estate tycoons were given government stipends, they drew funds and attention away from more-productive uses, and the country entered a recession that haunts Japan to this day.

Plus, Markman points out, in the future, holders of mortgage-based securities will demand a higher risk premium. (Now, on the other hand, that’s going to be true anyway.

Beyond that, he says we should expect a spate of lawsuits before this is all over.

And, in yet more cheery news, auto loan delinquencies are their highest in a decade and look like they will continue to rise.

WaMu making HUGE job cuts

Per the AP:
Washington Mutual Inc., the nation's largest savings and loan, said Monday that problems in the mortgage and credit markets are forcing it to close offices, lay off more than 3,000 workers and set aside up to $1.6 billion for loan losses in the fourth quarter.

That’s not the half of it.

I’ve already read a bit of speculation that WaMu might have to board up ALL the windows. If that’s the case, the subprime crisis/housing bubble has officially become the worst economic problem since the two Arab oil embargos, and threatens to become the worst since World War II.

To say the least, WaMu is once-burned, twice-shy:
After dismantling much of its subprime mortgage operation in September, Seattle-based WaMu will now get out of the business entirely. The company said it will close about 190 of its 335 home loan centers and sales offices, shut down nine call centers and eliminate 2,600 home loan workers and 550 corporate and support jobs.

That, in turn, tightens the credit market, with less money for residential loans. And, all the slashing still won’t stanch the bleeding:
For the first quarter of 2008, the company said it expects loan losses to total $1.8 billion to $2 billion. Loan losses will remain high throughout the year, WaMu added.

Actually, I think WaMu will become a takeover target sometime next year. And, given that they’ve already dipped their toes in the water by propping up Citigroup, don’t be surprised if investors from Abu Dhabi or elsewhere in the Arab world try to get a piece of the action, if only most indirectly and discreetly.

And, that’s not the only rocky financial news of Monday. Bank of America shut down a major institutional investment fund Pthat was leaking like a sieve:

December 09, 2007

Wind power: more potential than many may claim?

As the House and Senate are probably headed toward a watered-down compromise on an energy bill, this news from Great Britain should make people pay attention to alternative energy.
Every home in Britain could be supplied by wind power alone in 2020 by making full use of the wind-swept seas around the country, Energy Secretary John Hutton said on Monday.

Every home. Yes, Britain has a lot of wind from the North Sea and North Atlantic. But, we have plenty of wind on the High Plains, and a fair amount in some other parts of the country.

Yes, the High Plains are away from much of our population, but let’s look at other places.

The fire-inducing Santa Ana winds of Southern California? Sounds idea for wind-generated electricity.

We can’t accept a watered-down energy bill. Too much is at stake.

Iraq War affecting global warming

I didn’t realize just how much fuel our troops were using until Michael Klare spelled it out. Try 16 gallons of oil per soldier per day — four times what we used per soldier in the Gulf War, and equivalent to the average daily use of the entire nation of Bangladesh.

Besides the massive amount of CO2 for global warming this generates, it also illustrates something else.

We can’t fight our way to oil independence. The world’s most oil-dependent army has the greatest risk of grinding to a halt.

Klare says that the Iraq War has been the single biggest detriment to the U.S. addressing global warming. I’d say the same about Peak Oil.