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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

From Talking Points Memo

The new logo for projects funded by the Obama stimulus package:

aara_logo-340.jpg

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Strike Down Prop. 8

By Jerry Brown
The Huffington Post

The California Supreme Court finds itself center stage this Thursday when it will hear oral arguments on whether it should uphold Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage.

The case touches the heart of our democracy and poses a profound question: can a bare majority of voters strip away an inalienable right through the initiative process? If so, what possible meaning does the word inalienable have?

The state faced a dilemma like this before. In 1964, 65 percent of California voters approved Proposition 14, which would have legalized racial discrimination in the selling or renting of housing. Both the California and U.S. Supreme Courts struck down this proposition, concluding that it amounted to an unconstitutional denial of rights.

As California's Attorney General, I believe the Court should strike down Proposition 8 for remarkably similar reasons -- because it unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples and deprives them of the fundamental right to marry.

Some vigorously disagree. That's the position of Ken Starr and those who argue that a simple majority can eliminate the right to marry. But such a claim completely ignores California's history and the nature of our constitution.

Fundamental rights in California are recognized and protected by our constitution, which declares in Article I, Section 1 that "all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights" and "among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy."...(Click for remainder).

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Obama Restoring Endangered Species Act Provision

By Juliet Eilperin
The Washington Post


Today President Obama will restore rules requiring U.S. agencies consult with independent federal experts to determine if their actions might harm threatened and endangered species, according to an administration official who asked not to be identified, marking yet another reversal of President Bush's environmental legacy.

In December 2008, the Bush administration changed a longstanding practice under the Endangered Species Act by issuing rules that allowed agencies to move ahead with projects and programs without seeking an independent review by either the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Environmentalists and scientists said this shift could allow agencies to press ahead with plans that could hurt already-vulnerable species across the country.

Today Obama will issue a presidential memorandum, an administration official said, that will direct departments to yet again consult with the two agencies on decisions that could affect imperiled plants and animals "while the Interior and Commerce Departments review the Bush rulemaking."

The move, the official said, "will restore the status quo ante and allow the Interior and Commerce Departments to determine whether a new rule should be promulgated that will again codify the longstanding consultation practice under the" Endangered Species Act....(Click for remainder).

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NBC/WSJ Poll: Americans Prefer Democrats To Fix The Economy

By DemFromCT
Daily Kos

The new NBC/WSJ poll is out (MoE +/- 3.1%, 2/26 - 3/1) and it ain't pretty if you're a Republican. 60% approve of Obama's performance (see pollster.com graph below), including the economy [56%]. 84% of the public thinks Barack Obama inherited the economic mess. And conservative attempts at linking Obama with yesterday's Dow aren't working. Bottom line:

President Barack Obama enjoys widespread backing from a frightened American public for his ambitious, front-loaded agenda, a new poll shows.

He is more popular than ever, Americans are hopeful about his leadership, and opposition Republicans are getting drubbed in public opinion, the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

An important number from the new poll is that 51% want the government to do more, and 40% want the government to do less. No surprise there, if you remember the exit polls.

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Senate Ignores McCain, Keeps Thousands In Earmarks

By David Espo
Associated Press via The Huffington Post


WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly to preserve thousands of earmarks in a $410 billion spending bill on Tuesday, brushing aside Sen. John McCain's claim that President Barack Obama and Congress are merely conducting business as usual in a time of economic hardship.

McCain's attempt to strip out an estimated 8,500 earmarks failed on a vote of 63-32. The Arizona senator's proposal also would have cut roughly $32 billion from the measure and kept spending at last year's levels in several federal agencies.

Last year's Republican presidential candidate said both he and Obama pledged during the campaign to "stop business as usual in Washington," and he quoted the president as having said he would go line by line to make sure money was spent wisely.

The White House has said that Obama intends to sign the legislation, casting it as leftover business from 2008. Spokesman Robert Gibbs pledged on Monday the White House will issue new guidelines covering earmarks for future bills.

McCain's proposal drew the support of 30 Republicans and two Democrats, and the outcome reflected the enduring value of earmarks to lawmakers. While polls routinely show these pet projects to be unpopular, local governments and constituents often covet them.

The maneuvering came on legislation to assure continued funding for several federal agencies past March 6. At $410 billion, the bill represents an 8 percent increase over last year's spending levels, more than double the rate of inflation....(Click for remainder).

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Wall Street on the Tundra

Iceland’s de facto bankruptcy—its currency (the krona) is kaput, its debt is 850 percent of G.D.P., its people are hoarding food and cash and blowing up their new Range Rovers for the insurance—resulted from a stunning collective madness. What led a tiny fishing nation, population 300,000, to decide, around 2003, to re-invent itself as a global financial power? In Reykjavík, where men are men, and the women seem to have completely given up on them, the author follows the peculiarly Icelandic logic behind the meltdown.
Demonstrators in front of Iceland’s parliament building, in Reykjavík’s Austurvollur Square, on January 31.
Photographs by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson.
By Michael Lewis
Vanity Fair


Just after October 6, 2008, when Iceland effectively went bust, I spoke to a man at the International Monetary Fund who had been flown in to Reykjavík to determine if money might responsibly be lent to such a spectacularly bankrupt nation. He’d never been to Iceland, knew nothing about the place, and said he needed a map to find it. He has spent his life dealing with famously distressed countries, usually in Africa, perpetually in one kind of financial trouble or another. Iceland was entirely new to his experience: a nation of extremely well-to-do (No. 1 in the United Nations’ 2008 Human Development Index), well-educated, historically rational human beings who had organized themselves to commit one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history. “You have to understand,” he told me, “Iceland is no longer a country. It is a hedge fund.”

An entire nation without immediate experience or even distant memory of high finance had gazed upon the example of Wall Street and said, “We can do that.” For a brief moment it appeared that they could. In 2003, Iceland’s three biggest banks had assets of only a few billion dollars, about 100 percent of its gross domestic product. Over the next three and a half years they grew to over $140 billion and were so much greater than Iceland’s G.D.P. that it made no sense to calculate the percentage of it they accounted for. It was, as one economist put it to me, “the most rapid expansion of a banking system in the history of mankind.”

At the same time, in part because the banks were also lending Icelanders money to buy stocks and real estate, the value of Icelandic stocks and real estate went through the roof. From 2003 to 2007, while the U.S. stock market was doubling, the Icelandic stock market multiplied by nine times. Reykjavík real-estate prices tripled. By 2006 the average Icelandic family was three times as wealthy as it had been in 2003, and virtually all of this new wealth was one way or another tied to the new investment-banking industry. “Everyone was learning Black-Scholes” (the option-pricing model), says Ragnar Arnason, a professor of fishing economics at the University of Iceland, who watched students flee the economics of fishing for the economics of money. “The schools of engineering and math were offering courses on financial engineering. We had hundreds and hundreds of people studying finance.” This in a country the size of Kentucky, but with fewer citizens than greater Peoria, Illinois. Peoria, Illinois, doesn’t have global financial institutions, or a university devoting itself to training many hundreds of financiers, or its own currency. And yet the world was taking Iceland seriously. (March 2006 Bloomberg News headline: iceland’s billionaire tycoon “thor” braves u.s. with hedge fund.)...(Click for remainder).

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RUSH LIMBAUGH The Republican Party's REAL Leader?

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Karl Rove Is Betting He Can Avoid Publicly Disclosing His Role In the Bush Administration's Firing Of Independent-Minded U. S. Attorneys—But He May Be

By John Dean
Find Law


Former Bush II White House aide Karl Rove refused, while in office, to testify before the 110th Congress regarding the firing of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Department of Justice. So did former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former chief of staff Josh Bolten. Miers and Bolten were found in contempt of that Congress, and are now fighting a civil lawsuit that would force them to appear. No doubt, they are hoping the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will declare the case moot since that Congress has expired. Meanwhile, Rove has once again been subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee of the 111th Congress.

Because Rove, along with Miers and Bolten, refused to discuss the firings of the federal prosecutors during investigations by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General and its Office of Professional Responsibility, both offices requested the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate. Bush's Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, had little choice but to make such an appointment as he was heading out the door. He selected Nora Dannehy, the acting U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, to serve as Special Counsel to investigate the firings.

In sum, both the Judiciary Committee and a Special Counsel are actively investigating these firings and everyone wants to talk to Karl Rove, who has publicly declared that he had nothing to do with the firings, or for that matter, the selective prosecution of high-profile Democrats (like former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman). Seasoned investigators, however, do not waste their time fighting their way down dead-end streets, and they want Rove. So there is more going on here than meets the eye, despite Rove's blanket public denials....(Click for remainder).

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Maine Town Passes Ordinance Asserting Local Self-Governance and Stripping Corporate Personhood

By Chip
After Downing Street




Today the citizens of Shapleigh, Maine voted at a special town meeting to pass a groundbreaking Rights-Based Ordinance, 114 for and 66 against. This revolutionary ordinance give its citizens the right to local self-governance and gives rights to ecosystems but denies the rights of personhood to corporations. This ordinance allows the citizens to protect their groundwater resources, putting it in a common trust to be used for the benefit of its residents.

Shapleigh is the first community in Maine to pass such an ordinance, which extends rights to nature, however, the Ordinance Review Committee in Wells, Maine is considering passing one in their town. These communities have been under attack by Nestle Waters, N.A., a multi-national water miner that sells bottled water under such labels as Poland Springs.

Communities have opposed the expansion by Nestle Waters, but the corporation will not take no for an answer. The town of Fryeburg, Maine has been in litigation with Nestle for six years. Nestle wants to expand and the town's people say no to the tanker trunk traffic which has disrupted their quiet scenic beauty, so Nestle's tactic is to wear them down, and break their bank.

Nestle is the world's largest food and beverage company and has very deep pockets. However, we won't back down, we are the stewards of this most precious resource water, and we want to protect it for future generations.

Activists in Maine are well aware that the Nestle Corporation is not just interested in expanding for the purpose of filling their Poland Springs bottles today, they are interested in the control of Maine's abundant water resources for the future. They are expanding in many parts of this country from McCloud, California to Maine. Nestle is positioning themselves to capitalize on the emerging crisis of global water scarcity....(Click for remainder).

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CIA Admits It Destroyed 92 Interrogation Tapes

By The Raw Story

While it has been known for some time that the CIA had destroyed tapes of interrogations with terrorism suspects, Monday's news that 92 videotapes had been destroyed by the agency was still shocking.

The CIA acknowledged the number of tape erasures in a letter filed by government lawyers in New York. The letter was filed in response to an ongoing lawsuit from the the American Civil Liberties Union that is seeking more details of terror interrogation programs.

The ACLU immediately called for the judge to issue a "prompt finding of contempt" against the CIA.

Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU and counsel on the case said to Raw Story, “The large number of video tapes destroyed confirms that this was a systemic attempt to evade court orders.”

Singh added, "It’s about time, now that the court knows 92 tapes have been destroyed, that it hold the CIA accountable for the destruction of the tapes."

The letter was submitted when the court's stay of consideration of the ACLU's contempt motion expired on Feb. 28. John Durham, the acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who is conducting the criminal investigation into the destruction of any interrogation tapes, did not request an additional stay....(Click for remainder).

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The Flaw in the System: The Bankers Don't Care About the Banks

By Cenk Uygur
The Huffington Post


Alan Greenspan says he is in a "state of shocked disbelief" that the concept of self-interest did not protect the banks from taking excessive risks and destroying themselves. But he, along with Tim Geithner and Larry Summers and many others, are missing the fundamental flaw in the system. The bankers don't care about the banks; they care about the bankers.

The enlightened self-interest of the bank executives has been separated from the interests of the banks they work for. In the 1970's, the banks were still privately owned. So, the guy up at the top wanted to protect his company, his interest and his money. If his executives took unwarranted risks with the boss's money, they were goners. But these days the people at the top of these companies don't own the companies. It's not their money.

Here is how the Wall Street Journal explains it (a useful nugget in an otherwise horrible piece):
"The Wall Street compensation system has evolved from the 1970s, when most of the firms were private partnerships, owned by partners who paid out a designated share of the firm's profits to nonpartner employees while dividing up the rest for themselves. The nonpartners had to earn their keep every year, but the partners' percentage ownerships in the firms were also reset every year or two. On the whole, everyone's performance was continuously evaluated and rewarded or penalized. The system provided great incentives to create profits, but also, because the partners' own money was involved, to avoid great risk."
These days, the way executives make money instead is in the form of bonuses for years where they bring in a lot of return (and often times for years they don't), but the threat of being fired for too much risk taking is minimal. The more risk you take, the more money everyone makes. And it's not the partner's money you're playing with anymore. You're playing with house money. No one is minding the store anymore....(Click for remainder).

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Geithner's Folly

By Robert Kuttner
The Huffington Post


President Obama deserves immense credit for being willing to spend serious money to prevent recession from becoming depression. He has resisted pressures from fiscal conservatives to put budget balance first, or to make social insurance bear the brunt of spending cuts down the road. And he has used his gifts as a teacher to enlist the broad support of the American people for a far-reaching strategy of public investment.

However, all of this good work will be for naught if his team doesn't get the banking system functioning again. And so far the grand design of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is entirely on the wrong track.

On Friday, the Treasury made its latest deal with Citigroup to infuse even more public money into the essentially insolvent zombie bank. The terms were appalling. Basically, the government gets more preferred stock with little voting power. It can be converted to common stock, but if Citi goes deeper into the red, the government takes the loss. If by some miracle, Citi recovers, its shareholders get the gain. Once again, Treasury has declined to convert its de facto ownership into effective management control, preferring to bargain with Citi's executives at arm's length.

Geithner has also come up with the idea of subjecting the largest banks to "stress tests" to determine just how badly damaged their balance sheets are. This has been advertised as government examiners crawling all over bank records, but much of this belated effort will rely on the banks' own risk models--the same risk models that got the banks into this mess.

Come to think of it, where have the examiners been all along? Why wasn't there serious investigation of bank balance sheets all along? Why should stress tests be performed only after disaster has struck (shades of Hurricane Katrina)?...(Click for remainder).

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NIMBY Say Italians to US Military






By Russia Today

The US is reorganizing its presence in Europe. It plans to close down a base in Germany and relocate some 3,000 troops to Vicenza, Italy. However, locals there are against having a US army base in their backyard.

The Italian government has approved the new base without asking the local population. After numerous requests, the government had denied them a chance to hold a referendum on the issue.

Vicenza’s mayor Achille Variati says he is powerless:
These are military pacts Italy signed at the end of WWII, now the issue is under the competence of Rome. As a result the citizens of Vicenza have no influence over these agreements in 2009.
It comes as no comfort to the local community. Alarmed at the environmental and economic impact, as well as the risk of becoming a terrorist target, they began a grassroots campaign....(Click for remainder).

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Ban Cluster Bombs

By Lynn Bradach
The Los Angeles Times


More than half the world's nations are meeting in Oslo on Wednesday to sign a global treaty banning cluster bombs. Although my government won't be there, I will.

I have a personal stake in this treaty. My son, Travis, a corporal in the Marines, was killed by one of our own cluster bomblets in July 2003. He was clearing an Iraqi farmer's field near Karbala of unexploded ordnance when one of the men from his unit mishandled a cluster submunition. It exploded, killing Travis and taking an eye and an arm from the Marine who touched it.

When the military informed me of Travis' death, they did not tell me that the "explosive device" was a U.S. cluster submunition; men in Travis' unit filled in that blank. It was the first I had heard of cluster bombs. In the ensuing five years, I have learned enough to know that I do not want my country using these weapons to protect me -- or our soldiers.

Cluster bombs scatter hundreds of small, unguided explosives over an area as big as several football fields. Usually, some of these small bombs, or submunitions, fail to explode when they hit the ground. These mini-bombs lie in wait like land mines, sometimes for years, unable to distinguish between a soldier and a child.

The weapons were developed during World War II for use against tanks on vast, unpopulated plains of warfare. They were never intended to be used in cities, villages or even agricultural areas....(Click for remainder).

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Obama and Holder Must Prosecute War Crimes or Become Guilty of Them Himself

By Dave Lindorff
After Downing Street


The dithering and ducking going on in the Obama White House and the Holder Justice Department over the crimes of the Bush administration are taking on a comic aspect.

On the one hand, we have President Obama assuring us that under his administration, there will be respect for the rule of law, and on the other hand we have this one-time constitutional law professor and his attorney general declaiming that there is no need for the appointment of a prosecutor to bring charges against the people in the last administration, in the CIA, in the National Security Agency and in the Defense Department and the military who clearly have broken the law in serious and felonious ways.

What gets silly is that America is either a nation of laws…or it isn’t. It is either a place where “nobody is above the law”…or it isn’t.

There is really no middle ground here.

The latest solid and incontrovertible evidence of outrageous and criminal behavior by the White House is the discovery—and the public release by the Obama administration—of documentary evidence that the CIA committed not just torture but willful obstruction of justice by destroying video tapes of some 92 interrogations of terrorism suspects and captives in the so-called Bush “War” on Terror. Plus the release of a stack of nine legal opinions by White House and Justice Department lawyers providing legal cover for torture, including executive orders from President Bush and directives from then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorizing torture.

We now know that those legal opinions were so blatantly illegal and simply designed to provide cover that the authors--former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo (now ensconsed in a tenured faculty position at the law school of UC Berkeley where he teaches, with a straight face, constitutional law, and writes a syndicated opinion column on similar topics), and his then boss, Jay Bybee, then Assistant Attorney General for the Office of White House Legal Counsel, and now an appeals court judge for the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco—had them classified, simply to hide them from public inspection. For those memos alone, Yoo should be fired from his teaching post and disbarred, while Bybee, who failed to mention his activities during his judicial confirmation hearings, should be impeached. That would just be for starters....(Click for remainder).

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Extraordinary Measures

A new memo shows just how far the Bush administration considered going in fighting the war on terror.

By Michael Isikoff
Newsweek


In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Justice Department secretly gave the green light for the U.S. military to attack apartment buildings and office complexes inside the United States, deploy high-tech surveillance against U.S. citizens and potentially suspend First Amendment freedom-of-the-press rights in order to combat the terror threat, according to a memo released Monday.

Many of the actions discussed in the Oct. 23, 2001, memo to then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's chief lawyer, William Haynes, were never actually taken.

But the memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel—along with others made public for the first time Monday—illustrates with new details the extraordinary post-9/11 powers asserted by Bush administration lawyers. Those assertions ultimately led to such controversial policies as allowing the waterboarding of terror suspects and permitting warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens—steps that remain the subject of ongoing investigations by Congress and the Justice Department. The memo was co-written by John Yoo, at the time a deputy attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo, now a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, has emerged as one of the central figures in those ongoing investigations.

In perhaps the most surprising assertion, the Oct. 23, 2001, memo suggested the president could even suspend press freedoms if he concluded it was necessary to wage the war on terror. "First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully," Yoo wrote in the memo entitled "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activity Within the United States."...(Click for remainder).

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