Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Terror attack in Dayton--Muslims involved

As victims, that is.

It isn't known who did this, but last week there was a gas attack on a mosque in Dayton, Ohio, in which someone sprayed caustic gas into the children's room of a mosque.

I'm no fan of Islam (or any other religion, for that matter), but in this "war of civilizations", aren't the Muslims supposed to be the bad guys? If that's the case, what about someone who gasses innocent children?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quick Thoughts on the Debate

I thought it was mostly a draw. That, however, is a win for Obama. I thought Obama presented himself as a credible and knowledgeable commander in chief, which he needed to do. I also think he did well in avoiding the pondering that he's been criticized for in prior debates. On the other hand, he failed to capitalize as well as he could have on McCain's vulnerabilities, including McCain's natural tendency to react without thinking.

I can see that McCain had it drilled into him to keep repeating "What Senator Obama doesn't understand . . .", but it will be interesting to see how people respond to that, given that Obama so clearly did understand what he was talking about.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

McCain on Banking and Health

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

McCain: My guy Gramm caused this problem, now let us fix it

We were talking yesterday about AIG, its collapse, and why the mortgage crisis would hurt insurance companies, and I had no idea. Since then I've heard an excellent interview on Fresh Air and done some reading on the topic, and I think I have a bit of an answer. I may be missing some of the details, but it looks pretty damning for McCain and his economic plans.

To understand this we need to go back to a pretty ugly time, a time back in December, 2000, right after that thug Scalia and his henchmen on the Supreme Court assigned us Bush as our Resident. The federal budget was going through Congress, and Phil Gramm, McCain's biggest economic advisor, called up a bill that had been considered dead, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, and muscled it into the budget bill, which then passed, right around midnight before the Congress went home for Christmas.

It didn't actually deregulate anything, it just prohibited the federal government from regulating a new, and little-known financial instrument called a swap. You may never have heard of a swap, but the swaps are what made the saps at AIG go down.

Now just keep that little bit of history in your mind for a while. Time goes on, the real estate market goes crazy, and people with money burning a hole in their pockets figure that a way to make tons more money is to bet on the following two propositions: real estate prices will always go up, and people who don't have the ability to pay their mortgages will somehow pay them. This bet leads banks and fly-by-night mortgage outfits to start lending out tons of money, even more than the house is worth, and even to people who have bad credit, their income doesn't meet standard underwriting standards, and so on. They then bundle up a whole bunch of these mortgages and sell them on the secondary market in the form of various kinds of securities. I guess the idea is that even if some of the mortgages don't perform, they will be bundled together with a bunch of other very profitable mortgages, so it's a safe bet. (Would you lend the price of a house to someone who doesn't have the money to pay it back? Me neither, but maybe that's why we're not smart enough to run Countrywide or these big banks.)

But, it's not really a safe bet, because it's not safe enough to get reasonably prudent investors to buy them. The risk is too much. However, we've known for a long time how to get people to invest their money in something when they think the risk of losing it all would be too great. It's called insurance. You wouldn't spend $10,000 or 20,000 on a car, or $100,000 or $200,000 on a house, if you thought that you would just be wiped out if the car or the house were destroyed and you were just out the money. Some people won't even spend $1,000 or $2,000 on a vacation without buying insurance on it.

So they figured out that they can just insure this risk too. That's what a swap is. They created an instrument called a credit default swap, in which Investor A pays a premium to Company B, and Company B promises Investor A that if one of the borrowers fails to pay their mortgage, Company B will step in and pay Investor A their investment. Company B gets their money, Investor A gets to make the investment and to receive the income that the investment is going to generate, and it's all possible because of the swap. That's what AIG was selling.

So what, you say? We have insurance for all kinds of things, and all kinds of bad things happen without insurance companies going out of business. People get into car crashes, trees fall on houses, vacations get rained out, and the insurance companies just pay off the policy holder and move on. How do they do it? There's a one-word answer: regulation. Your state government won't let me to call myself a car insurance company, and start collecting car insurance premiums, unless I can prove that I have enough money on hand to pay off the claims. Homeowners' insurance, the same thing.

But now we go back to Phil Gramm, and his midnight Christmas present to the money men. The law he wrote (oh yes, and if I think back to 2000, I'm pretty sure John McCain was in the Senate that year; there's the experience thing) said that these credit default swaps cannot be regulated. The government can't stop me from selling credit default swaps, even if I'm just a guy sitting in my basement in Montpelier, and it can't make me prove that I have enough money to pay off the claims.

And that's where we are today. Property values stop going up. A bunch of those mortgagors (they're the borrower--remember, "Mortgagee rhymes with Simon Legree") reach into their pocket and come up empty, so they default on their mortgages. The banks have to foreclose, and the people who own the mortgage-backed securities start looking around for someone to cover their losses, and who's standing their with their face hanging out? AIG, which sold them these credit default swaps, these promises that if the mortgages didn't perform, they'd be good for the money.

Only because of Phil Gramm, John McCain, and the other guys who voted for Gramm's bill, nobody ever made AIG set the money aside in case the loss they were insuring should happen.

And now, whose economic ideas are in the head of John McCain, the candidate who admits he doesn't know anything about the economy?

Right, Phil Gramm's.

So tell me, how much sense does it make to turn the economy over to McCain and Gramm?

No elitists need apply

Sometimes these things just write themselves.

The Republican rap on Obama is that he's an elitist, right? A guy who was raised by a single mother on Food Stamps, got to college on scholarship, went to law school on student loans--elitist all over, right?

Now we have confirmation of that characterization by one of Hillary Clinton's supporters and fundraisers, who announced today that she's supporting McCain.

And her name is . . .

Wait for it . . .

You guessed it. It's Everywoman, known to her friends as Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, international financier who splits her time between homes in New York and London.

“This is a hard decision for me personally because frankly I don't like him,” she said of Obama in an interview with CNN’s Joe Johns. “I feel like he is an elitist. I feel like he has not given me reason to trust him.”

Forester is the CEO of EL Rothschild, a holding company with businesses around the world. She is married to international banker Sir Evelyn de Rothschild.

As my wife said, I guess she would know.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Real news coverage on Palin

Today the Times has an in-depth article about Sarah Palin's days as a mayor and governor in Alaska, and it sure doesn't look good. This is a big deal because, as you know, they've been trumpeting her terms as mayor and governor as an example of the managerial experience that Obama and Biden lack. Or, as McBush's speech writers put it in Palin's speech, the difference between being a mayor and a community organizer is that when you're a mayor you have to get things done.

Things like:
Trying to censor library books when she was a member of the city council;
Firing the city attorney when he was interfering with a developer and longtime Palin crony;
Firing the director of the town museum and forcing out the remaining three employees;
Firing the director of the town library after she refused Palin's suggestion about censoring materials;
Making political campaign calls from her city office.

Of course, her record of accomplishment doesn't stop there. As governor she:
Installed a high school classmate and former real estate agent as agriculture commissioner, with the qualification that when she was a child she liked cows;
Stonewalled a professor seeking state government studies supporting her claim that polar bears were not endangered (hint--when he got them from the federal government it turns out they said the opposite of what she claimed);
Fired the attorney general and installed a solo practitioner to run the 500-person office;
Installed two other unqualified high school friends as her legislative director and director of economic director (actually, if running a Mailboxes, Etc. franchise qualifies you to be the economic development director for the whole state, maybe he was qualified);
Used her personal e-mail account for state business in order to block public access.

Now that I think about it, she pretty much has all the qualifications needed for a Bush, and consequently McCain, administration: a fanatical commitment to secrecy; loyalty to old friends and cronies as a paramount value; and a determination to exact revenge on anyone who dares to oppose her.

Read the whole article.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

McCain to voters: Fix the problem I caused

Okay, he didn't really say that. It would be nice if he did, since he bears more than a little responsibility for selling Bush's tax cut plans.

What he did say, though, is almost as good. In short, we can't afford Bush III, a/k/a McCain and his tax cut plans.

WASHINGTON (Sept. 13) - Alan Greenspan says the country can't afford tax cuts of the magnitude proposed by Republican presidential contender John McCain — at least not without a corresponding reduction in government spending.

So what's the big deal, say the Republicans, we'll just cut spending. In fact, that's exactly what McBush is saying. We just know it's a lie. It was a lie when Bush said it, so why believe it now?

Howard Dean was right: people are learning that the Republicans are the ones who can't be trusted with their money.

Vote suppression again

It's so reliable you can set your calendar by it. Every election year, and especially every presidential election, the Republican Party does its best to pervert the republican form of government required by our Constitution to ensure that the people do not have the chance to vote to protect their own interests. In addition, we know that the Republican dominance of the last forty years has been built on a foundation of racism and racial discrimination, primarily in the South, but really wherever they can gain control of the mechanisms of voting. See, for instance, the examples of Florida's fraudulent voter list purge in 2000 and Ohio's subversion of the voting system in 2004. Nevertheless, this week we have two particularly odious examples.

In Wisconsin, the attorney general, who also happens to be McCain's state campaign chair, has filed a suit designed to slow down voting lines and drive voters away from the polls.

A lawsuit filed by the state attorney general Wednesday has the potential to slow down voting lines in what promises to be a staggering turnout for the Nov. 4 election, local voting officials said.

"It will disenfranchise voters. That's what we're concerned about," City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said.

Witzel-Behl said the net effect of the lawsuit, if it is successful, will be to discourage people from voting.

"It's going to slow down the lines," she said. "And it will not only affect the people who have been flagged in the poll book, but the people who are standing behind that individual who have all come to the polls to vote."

I know, I know. You thought that people are supposed to vote, it's an aspect of good citizenship, and everyone's civic duty. The problem is, when "certain people" vote it's just a bit inconvenient for the Republicans. Keep them away from the polls, and problem solved!

Bad as that is, though, what they're doing in Michigan, where I used to live, is even more loathsome. Really, beneath contempt: they're making sure that people who have lost their homes through foreclosure will also lose the right to vote.

Michigan Republicans plan to foreclose African-American voters

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County, Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

“We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses,” party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed.

And how do they know people have lost their homes? Well, convenently for the Republicans

GOP ties to state’s largest foreclosure law firmThe Macomb GOP’s plans are another indication of how John McCain’s campaign stands to benefit from the burgeoning number of foreclosures in the state. McCain’s regional headquarters are housed in the office building of foreclosure specialists Trott & Trott. The firm’s founder, David A. Trott, has raised between $100,000 and $250,000 for the Republican nominee.

They're doing the same thing in Ohio:

Carabelli is not the only Republican Party official to suggest the targeting of foreclosed voters. In Ohio, Doug Preisse, director of elections in Franklin County (around the city of Columbus) and the chair of the local GOP, told The Columbus Dispatch that he has not ruled out challenging voters before the election due to foreclosure-related address issues.

UPDATE: As of late Thursday afternoon the Republicans claimed they had backed off this plan to block foreclosed homeowners from voting.

The Macomb County Republican Party chair who told Michigan Messenger earlier this week that Republicans planned to challenge voters at the polls using a list of foreclosed homes has changed his story.

Instead, they plan to use another sophisticated vote suppression technique called "voter caging".

Last week Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner acknowledged that the use of mail for vote caging has disproportionately affected poor and minority communities and she instructed that returned mail should not be considered reasonable evidence that someone has moved.

UPDATE: Having been caught in the act, the Michigan Republicans are trying to silence criticism by demanding a retraction. The Michigan Messenger, which reported the voter suppression story, has refused demands for a retraction and stands by its story.

Fortunately, there is a national campaign to protect voting rights, and they are actively seeking volunteers. Unfortunately, given the success of Republican vote suppression campaigns in recent years, it is entirely posible that these efforts will once again have an effect on this year's election.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More irrationality

A new study finds that many Americans have that same kind of faith. In the study, 57 percent of randomly surveyed adults said God's intervention could save a deathly ill family member even if physicians said treatment would be futile.

However, just under 20 percent of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a helpless outcome.

The study was published last month in Archives of Surgery and is one of many to show a "faith gap" between doctors and patients.

"Patients are scared to death to talk to their doctors about this issue," said Dr. Harold Koenig, co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University.

Given this gap, how can you discuss God with your physician? We asked advice from Koenig and two other physicians who study faith

1. It's OK to ask for a doctor who also has strong religious convictions

Koenig suggests this approach when talking to a physician: "I would say: 'My religious beliefs are very important to me and influence my medical decisions and the way I cope with illness, and I want a doctor who has those same convictions. If you don't come from that perspective, do you know a doctor you can refer me to?' "

Next up: It's OK to ask for a pilot who doesn't believe in gravity.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

They're a scummy rag, but . . .

Palin's Pastor Agrees God Punishes Jews Who Don't Convert

Are these people any more rational than Wright? Do we want this woman on top of the government?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Primary News

It's primary day here in Vermont. Yes, even though the general election is just eight weeks away, this is when we have our primaries.

The big news is in Montpelier. We had three candidates running for our two House of Representatives seats: incumbents Warren Kitzmiller and Jon Anderson, and challenger Mary Hooper, the mayor of a city about the size of Wasilla, Alaska. Most Democrats were unhappy with Anderson when, after being appointed by our Republican governor, voted to sustain a veto in his first vote on the job. Still, he knocked on almost every door in the city, had yard signs all over the place (even, or should I say especially, in Republican neighborhoods), so he was given a good shot at holding onto his seat.
Tonight the votes are in:
Mary Hooper--900
Warren Kitzmiller--829
Jon Anderson--583.

I guess the people have spoken.

Then, look to the Midwest. After a fast start, followed by a few stumbles, the man running for the chance to be the funniest member of the U.S. Senate has made it to the general election. As Franken has won Minnesota's DFL primary, setting him up to run against Republican nonentity Norm Coleman in the general election.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Naive? Inexperienced?

Remember last year when Obama caught a raft of shit for saying he would go into Pakistan if necessary to fight al Qaida?

And who was giving him a hard time? The Republicans, of course.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized Democrat Barack Obama on Friday for vowing to strike al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary as the Obama camp issued a strident defense of his plan.

But then, in another example of how the Bush administration has come around to follow Obama's advice, the U.S. is doing exactly that.

All Things Considered, September 3, 2008 · Pakistan says U.S.-led forces crossed into its territory and launched an attack that killed at least 15 people. The target of the attack was a village in South Waziristan, which is a tribal area used as a base by the Taliban and al-Qaida.

So what have we seen? Timetable on getting out of Iraq? Check.

Attack al Qaida in Pakistan? Check.

How come the guy who isn't supposed to have the experience to run our foreign policy is always right all of a sudden?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Story of Two Books

Friday, September 05, 2008

You knew it was coming

After the Harold Ford campaign two years ago, and, for that matter, forty years of Republican tactics, we knew that the racist attacks on Obama were on the way. Arguably we've seen them already in the commercials juxtaposing Obama with young white women like Paris Hilton.

Still, you have to figure that they weren't planning on being this blatant about it. This comment by a Deep South Republican inadvertently reveals what they really think about the idea of having a black president:

Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland used the racially-tinged term "uppity" to describe Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama Thursday.

Westmoreland was discussing vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's speech with reporters outside the House chamber and was asked to compare her with Michelle Obama.

"Just from what little I’ve seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity," Westmoreland said.

Asked to clarify that he used the word “uppity,” Westmoreland said, “Uppity, yeah.”

You know what word usually comes next.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hypocrisy Now! (Daily Show)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Republicans can't buy a break, can they?

They go to church, often many times a week, they pray, they (sometimes) abstain from sin, and what do they ask for in return? Not much. Well, wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, right? And sometimes they get it.

But every so often you need a little extra favor from the Big Guy. "Come on, Lord, help me out this one time and smite my enemies!" Doesn't seem like too much to ask, does it?

Apparently it is. First off, right-wing loony Dobson got it into his head that if Obama was going to show them all up by speaking outside, he would get his disciples to pray for rain:

As reported here over the weekend, James Dobson's Focus on the Family employs Stuart Shepard to make short, "clever" religious-right videos for the evangelical powerhouse. Shepard creates these videos regularly, and most of them are entirely forgettable.

Last week, however, Focus unveiled a new video, asking politically-conservative Christians to pray for rain on Aug. 28, in order to disrupt Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Shepard called for "abundant rain, torrential rain ... flood-advisory rain." He adds, "I'm talking about umbrella-ain't-gonna-help-you rain ... swamp-the-intersections rain." Explaining why he wants everyone to pray for rain, Shepard explains, without a hint of humor, "I'm still pro-life, and I'm still in favor or marriage being between one man and one woman. And I would like the next president who will select justices for the next Supreme Court to agree."

And what happened? A beautiful, sunny day. You couldn't ask for a nicer day if you tried, and it was followed by a beautiful night and a great night for the "godless" Democrats. So what, god doesn't like the Republicans anymore?

And then this week, once again what were they asking for? Not much, really. Just send down a massive hurricane to smite the godless city of New Orleans, kind of like the one three years ago. It would be a win-win. The people would be fine, because the government is so much better at planning for this thing than they were three years ago; the Republicans would get to grandstand their empathy for the poor suffering people of New Orleans and pretend they give a rat's ass about the poor people who live there; and McCain would get to have the mother of all photo ops by flying down there to do his acceptance speech in the midst of the rubble. What could be better?

But again, did that happen? No-o-o-o. After a late Monday morning landfall on the coast of southeast Louisiana, Hurricane Gustav became a tropical storm late Monday night but is spinning through and soaking central Louisiana.

So where's the love? Is it possible that the Republicans aren't the chosen people?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Amy Goodman Arrested at RNC

I'm taking the unusual step of posting a press release in its entirety because of its importance:


September 1, 2008

Dennis Moynihan
Mike Burke

ST. PAUL, MN—Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was unlawfully arrested in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota at approximately 5 p.m. local time. Police violently manhandled Goodman, yanking her arm, as they arrested her. Video of her arrest can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ

Goodman was arrested while attempting to free two Democracy Now! producers who were being unlawfuly detained. They are Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Kouddous and Salazar were arrested while they carried out their journalistic duties in covering street demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. Goodman’s crime appears to have been defending her colleagues and the freedom of the press.

Ramsey County Sherrif Bob Fletcher told Democracy Now! that Kouddous and Salazar were being arrested on suspicion of rioting. They are currently being held at the Ramsey County jail in St. Paul.

Democracy Now! is calling on all journalists and concerned citizens to call the office of Mayor Chris Coleman and the Ramsey County Jail and demand the immediate release of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar. These calls can be directed to: Chris Rider from Mayor Coleman’s office at 651-266-8535 and the Ramsey County Jail at 651-266-9350 (press extension 0).

Democracy Now! stands by Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and condemns this action by Twin Cities law enforcement as a clear violation of the freedom of the press and the First Amenmdent rights of these journalists.

During the demonstration in which they were arrested law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force. Several dozen others were also arrested during this action.

Amy Goodman is one of the most well-known and well-respected journalists in the United States. She has received journalism’s top honors for her reporting and has a distinguished reputation of bravery and courage. The arrest of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar is a transparent attempt to intimidate journalists from the nation’s leading independent news outlet.

Democracy Now! is a nationally-syndicated public TV and radio program that airs on over 700 radio and TV stations across the US and the globe.

Tons of information on Sarah Palin

Cokie Roberts was just on NPR talking about the contrast between the selection of Sarah Palin and the selection of J. Danforth Quayle twenty years ago. As she put it, Palin is an unknown, whereas when Bush 41 picked Quayle, the entire Washington press corps already knew he was a lightweight.

This time around, we don't know much, so there's a lot to learn, and I've been doing a lot of checking.

First off, we already know she tried to interfere with the procedures of a state agency to get her former brother-in-law fired from his job as a state trooper, and she's now being investigated for that.

I've also found a bunch of progressive blogs up in Alaska that know enough to take a critical look at her.

Alaskan Abroad, quoting Republican state rep. Michael Doogan:
The long and short of it is this: We're not sure she's a competent governor of Alaska. And yet McCain, who is no spring chicken, has decided she's the best choice to replace him as president if he should win and then fall afoul of the Grim Reaper.

Sarah Palin?


Mudflats, with a lot of information about her:

Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green (R): “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she’s done to this state. What would she do to the nation?” (Green is from Palin’s home town of Wasilla.)

Alaska House Speaker John Harris (R): “She’s old enough. She’s a U.S. citizen.”

Progressive Alaska:

Reporters from around the country are interviewing Rick Steiner, the UAA professor whose battle against the Palin administration last year over state correspondence on the status of Polar bears, the Anchorage Daily News consigned to the Alaska Ear column. A reporter is flying here from the UK to - among other things - interview John Stein, the Wasilla Mayor who built the city government structure Palin got credit for. A blogger named Jane Hamsher is getting into more details about Palin's past vindictiveness than our local reporters have yet scratched since the Monegan fiasco began. Sam Stein, a Huffington Post columnist, was able to determine from a few hours of basic research, that the McCain team had not investigated Palin's Wasilla administration's history in the Frontiersman. I was thinking of checking on that Tuesday, but Stein had it figured out by Friday!

The Immoral Minority:

I don't think that John McCain has ever appeared so old to me. He looks like Palin's great-grandfather!

As you can see Todd Palin has deep ties to the oil companies and a vested interest in seeing oil exploration continue in Alaska.

Sarah may seem like a breath of fresh air to people who are tired of seeing the same old white haired men leading the GOP. But make no mistake, she is simply bait to bring some of those disenfranchised women who are still angry that they cannot vote for Hillary Clinton over to the dark side. You can bet it is no accident that Palin sums up her speech by mentioning Hillary Clinton and her 18 million supporters.

But she is adamantly against a woman's right to choose, has advocated for Creationism to be taught alongside Evolution in our public schools, and fought to keep the Polar Bears from being added to the endangered species list so that it did not interfere with the Republicans crazed desire to drill all over Alaska's pristine wilderness.

That's without even getting into the weirder stuff, like the persistent rumor that she was either incredibly irresponsible in traveling from Texas back to Alaska after her water broke with her last baby, or that the baby is really her daughter's and she's raising it as her own to cover up her daughter's pregnancy. I was dismissive when I first read about it, but apparently the rumor's been active in Alaska for months.

If I were picking a vice president I would have tried to find out some of this stuff in advance, but apparently McCain's people didn't.

It will be interesting to see how things develop.