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The GOP: Divorced From Reality

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Republican base is behaving like a guy who just got dumped by his wife.

By Bill Maher
Los Angeles Times OpEd

If conservatives don't want to be seen as bitter people who cling to their guns and religion and anti-immigrant sentiments, they should stop being bitter and clinging to their guns, religion and anti-immigrant sentiments.

It's been a week now, and I still don't know what those "tea bag" protests were about. I saw signs protesting abortion, illegal immigrants, the bank bailout and that gay guy who's going to win "American Idol." But it wasn't tax day that made them crazy; it was election day. Because that's when Republicans became what they fear most: a minority.

The conservative base is absolutely apoplectic because, because ... well, nobody knows. They're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore. Even though they're not quite sure what "it" is. But they know they're fed up with "it," and that "it" has got to stop.

Here are the big issues for normal people: the war, the economy, the environment, mending fences with our enemies and allies, and the rule of law.

And here's the list of Republican obsessions since President Obama took office: that his birth certificate is supposedly fake, he uses a teleprompter too much, he bowed to a Saudi guy, Europeans like him, he gives inappropriate gifts, his wife shamelessly flaunts her upper arms, and he shook hands with Hugo Chavez and slipped him the nuclear launch codes....(Click for remainder.)


No Change for the Dollar

The latest idea for supplanting the US dollar as the world's reserve currency just doesn't make sense

By Swaminathan Aiyar
The Guardian

Many governments and economists are increasingly unhappy with the US dollar as the world's main reserve currency. Momentum is building up for using the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) of the International Monetary Fund to supplement or rival the dollar as the main global reserve currency. The SDR, however, is more like an exchange-traded fund (ETF) than a currency, and is not a viable alternative to the dollar.

The IMF issues no SDR currency notes. This is because the SDR is simply a potential claim on the national currencies of IMF members. Those cashing in their SDR allotments for dollars or euros have to pay a low interest rate until they repurchase those allotments, so the SDR is effectively a low-interest line of credit. It is also a synthetic unit of account, a monetary basket with the following weights: US dollar 44%, euro 34%, yen and sterling 11% each.

To become a true currency, the SDR would have to be a fully convertible instrument, not a line of credit, underwritten by countries with "hard" currencies. Politically, this seems unfeasible save in modest quantities. Even if the political hurdles are overcome, the SDR will remain a basket of national currencies, not an independent currency. To this extent, it will resemble an exchange traded fund (ETF), whose value is that of a basket of equities, such as the Dow Jones industrial average, or the S&P 500. Such ETFs merely provide a simple way of investing in a basket of equities, and are not a rival form of equity. Similarly, the SDR can merely provide a convenient way of holding a basket of currencies, and will not be an alternative reserve currency....(Click for remainder.)


The Pirate Bay Case: Not Necessarily a Victory for Hollywood

Millions continue to use the filesharing service as verdict is appealed. Access to the site remains open and the Pirate political party has seen a surge of support.

By Tom Sullivan
Christian Science Monitor

Stockholm, Sweden - Last week's conviction of the founders of The Pirate Bay did not shut down the filesharing website. Instead, it has boosted the ranks of its supporters and raised awareness of an ideological and legal battle for control of how the Internet is used.

The court ruling handed down one-year jail sentences to each of the four men and assessed $3.6 million in criminal damages. The global entertainment giants that brought the case, including Warner Bros., Fox Movies, Sony Music, and EMI, claimed it as a major victory.

But even as the founders were being sentenced, 10 million Internet users were busy downloading music and movies via their website. And the verdict has been appealed, meaning that the website may remain unaffected for years – and become a standard-bearer for those who argue for a free flow of media and information over the Internet, unfettered by state and corporate control.

"There is a growing social movement around this issue in Sweden. It goes beyond filesharing and downloading free music and movies," says Daniel Johansson, a music and Internet analyst at Stockholm's Royal Institute of Technology. "It includes people who are concerned about surveillance laws and who feel the Internet is being developed by governments and corporations instead of the common man.

"The Pirate Bay," he adds, "has a lot of sympathy right now."...(Click for remainder.)


We Already Went Through Out 'Banana Republic' Phase

By Steve Benen
The Huffington Post

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, Republicans keep using the phrase, "Banana Republics," but I don't think it means what they think it means.

On Tuesday, Karl Rove argued on Fox News that accountability for Bush administration officials who broke the law would make United States "the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses."

Almost immediately, the right embraced the argument as their new favorite. In just the past few days, in addition to Rove, the notion of the United States becoming a "Banana Republic" has been touted by Sean Hannity, Bill Cunningham, Mark Steyn, and Glenn Beck, among others.

Yesterday, this blisteringly stupid argument reached the level of the United States Senate. Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) actually repeated the Rove-inspired nonsense in public.

There are a lot of errors of fact and judgment here, but let's just address the broader point: these Republican lawmakers and officials are all using the same coordinated phrase, but they don't seem to know what a "Banana Republic" is....(Click for remainder.)


Will Obama Reboot Capitalism Anew?

By Thom Hartmann
The Smirking Chimp

Over six million people are now out of work, and unemployment figures released today show that now-record number is continuing to climb. Meanwhile, still-profitable American corporations manufacture goods for American consumption using Chinese labor and pay virtually no income tax by keeping their profits offshore.

A hundred years ago, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt tried to reign in some of the most toxic behaviors of capitalists that he found incompatible with modern democracy by pushing through congress a law that banned the practice of corporations giving money to politicians. He slowed down the robber barons a bit, but three consecutive Republican presidents in the 1920s led us straight into the Republican Great Depression.

Franklin Roosevelt, his distant cousin, rebooted capitalism in the 1930s, ushering in an era of regulated capitalism - embraced by Republicans like Eisenhower and Democrats like JFK - that brought us the largest, strongest, and most stable middle class ever seen. We also became the world's economic superpower, as the world's largest importer of raw materials, exporter of finished goods, and banker to the world. We imported iron ore and exported televisions and cars and washing machines. The rest of the world was in debt to us. A worker with a high school diploma could find a job that paid enough to raise a family and have a safe and comfortable retirement....(Click for remainder.)


The New Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Are Gunning For Obama's Judicial Nominees: A Republican Strategy That We Must All Hope Fails

By John W. Dean

There is a high-stakes game for the future of the federal judiciary currently underway, albeit, at this time, still quietly being played out behind-the-scenes. Over a month ago, the New York Times revealed the then-imminent selection by the Obama Administration of "a small stream of nominees to the federal appeals courts" throughout the nation. The story even floated a few names of potential nominees. But little has happened since then.

Thus far, there has been no stream of nominees; indeed, barely a trickle. No one keeps score better than the Alliance for Justice, which reports three Obama nominees so far: Gerald Lynch for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Andre Davis for the Fourth Circuit, and David Hamilton for the Seventh Circuit.

The reason Obama's judicial nominees have not been streaming forth is that conservatives in the Senate are doing their best to dam that stream, literally and figuratively. To use the phrase coined by former Nixon speechwriter Bill Safire, the Obama Administration is being blocked by what can accurately be described as the new "nattering nabobs of negativism."

According to the coiner of the phrase, Safire, nattering is complaining; a nabob – taken from Urdu – is a self-important potentate; and negativism, of course, is habitual skepticism, the tendency to be pessimistic, seeing the world in the worst light possible. This outlook is very much the one possessed by the remarkably pompous contemporary conservative Republican leaders, particularly those in the Senate.

Nattering Negative Nabobs of Conservatism: Working to Block Change In the Judiciary

Needless to say, conservatism is inherently negative (see William F. Buckley's founding motto and mission statement for the National Review: "It stands athwart history, yelling Stop"). But since President Obama's election, the conservative nabobs have been yelling STOP before anything even starts. They have truly fulfilled Safire's colorful alliterating appellation for overbearing naysayers....(Click for remainder.)


There Must Be Consequences

By Rep. Earl Blumenauer
The Huffington Post

It's hard to calculate the damage that has been done by the Bush Administration-approved interrogation policy. The ill-advised and immoral practices that have come to light are intolerable. The United States, from before its founding under the leadership of George Washington, enforced a moral imperative against torture. It was not only inhumane but also bad strategy and bad tactics. The proud tradition of, at least officially, being opposed to torture included the United States leadership in international agreements we didn't just sign, but helped to negotiate.

The torture policy under the Bush Administration was counterproductive in the extreme. Waterboarding somebody 183 times and having a doctor monitor the oxygen level in the prisoner's blood so that they bring him right to the point of death but don't actually kill him is barbaric by any standard. These tactics, after all, were what we prosecuted people for war crimes when they were inflicted against our troops in World War II. These torture techniques were developed by mimicking what our enemies did to our soldiers in prior conflicts. They aren't just counterproductive in terms of a vague image of the United States, they're actually dangerous. My daughter in the Peace Corps is at greater risk because the degrading and brutal treatment of these prisoners has inflamed the attitudes of people who are inclined not to like us. It undercuts any moral authority we have to condemn, much less prevent, brutal treatment of the United States civilians or soldiers.

As the stories come out of the mistreatment -- not just torture, but death of people in American custody --we should be systematic, thoughtful, and dispassionate about a full accounting. While I'm open to the President's idea of a commission, I think Congress should be involved with investigations by the appropriate committees. There is behavior that was quite possibly illegal. It was possibly against the law. I think it was unethical for the legal personnel and they violated their professional oaths of responsibility. If so, then they should be disbarred or, in the case of those on the bench, impeached. There were clearly illegal activities not operating under clear guidance. Criminal prosecution would be in order through our legal system....(Click for remainder.)


Nutball John Ensign Keeps Pushing It

By Steve Benen
Washington Monthly

I'd hoped we were past this nonsense by now.
John Ensign wants to make one thing very clear: he's not sorry for saying it was "irresponsible" of President Obama to be seen laughing with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at last week's Summit of the Americas.

"That visual image is going to be used by Chavez to legitimize himself," said the Nevada Republican senator in an interview this week with the Fix. "Maybe if the president gets criticized for doing something like that he will be much more careful in the future."
I'm curious, what, exactly, Ensign and his confused cohorts would have the president do. Obama, arguably the most well-known leader on the planet, attended an international gathering with heads of state from around the hemisphere. Presidents and prime ministers -- some allies, some not -- wanted to at least greet Obama, and perhaps share a few words.

Ensign seems to think the ridiculous attacks this week should teach Obama a lesson, and the president should be "much more careful in the future." But what does that mean? The next time the leader of the free world is at an international gathering, he should hide in the bathroom so he doesn't have to shake hands with third-rate bad guys from South America?...(Click for remainder.)


"Nobel Prize Winning Scientist" vs. "Guy who holds up painting of Jesus riding a Dinosaur"

Industry Ignored its Scientists on Climate

By Andrew C. Revkin
The New York Times

For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups....(Click for remainder.)


Crazy Pete Hoekstra Wants to be Governor Torture

By Emptywheel

I wanted to comment on Crazy Pete Hoekstra's torture apology in the WSJ. The WSJ doesn't mention it, but Crazy Pete is running for governor in Michigan in 2010. We've got our share of wingnuts in this state, but MI is increasingly blue, and our large population of Arab-Americans have historically been one of the swing voting blocks.

So Crazy Pete's torture apology should be looked at as an attempt by the current or former Gang of Eight member facing the toughest electoral campaign next year (save perhaps Jane Harman, given recent revelations, but she made written objections to the torture program) to minimize the damage his support for torture will have next year.

That said, Crazy Pete's effort to spin his own complicity in torture is a (surprise!) thoroughly dishonest effort. He pretends to want to expose to complicitly of both Democrats and Republicans by releasing a list of the briefing's Congress received.
Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an investigation can't be a selective review of information, or solely focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.
(Click for remainder.)


We Need a Special Prosecutor, Not a Truth Commission

By Bob Fertik

Today's news is dominated by a conflict among leading Democrats over a Truth Commission. Speaker Pelosi has supported a Truth Commission since John Conyers proposed it earlier this year. But President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid oppose it.

“The president said that given all that’s on the agenda and the pressing issues facing the country, that a backward-looking investigation would not be productive,” said a White House official who attended the session. “The president was very clear ... that he believes it’s important that there’s not a witch hunt.”

"I think the last few days might well be evidence of why something like this would likely just become a political back-and-forth," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"I believe what we have to do is wait until the intelligence committee finishes its work," Reid told the Las Vegas Sun.

This whole debate is a sideshow and a distraction. Even Glenn Greenwald got sucked into it:
as they have done for years, Democratic leaders continue to lead the way in shielding Bush crimes from scrutiny and stifling public disclosure of what was done. Obama met yesterday with Congressional leaders and emphatically argued against the establishment of a Truth Commission, insisting that such an inquiry would interfere with his political agenda.
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RNC Wants More Republicants to Brand Dems "Socialists" to Save Themselves

By John Amato
Crooks and Liars

Oh Lord, thank you:
A conservative faction of the Republican National Committee is urging the GOP to take a harder line against both Democrats and wayward Republicans, drafting a resolution to rename the opposition the “Democrat Socialist Party” and moving to rebuke the three Republican senators who supported the stimulus package.

In an e-mail sent Wednesday to the 168 voting members of the committee, RNC member James Bopp, Jr. accused President Obama of wanting “to restructure American society along socialist ideals.”

“The proposed resolution acknowledges that and calls upon the Democrats to be truthful and honest with the American people by renaming themselves the Democrat Socialist Party,” wrote Bopp, the Republican committeeman from Indiana. “Just as President Reagan’s identification of the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire’ galvanized opposition to communism, we hope that the accurate depiction of the Democrats as a Socialist Party will galvanize opposition to their march to socialism.”
Didn't they already try that during the general election? We can only count our blessings that the members of the RNC want to keep running down the socialism road as a path to their salvation. Since the Republicans constantly attack Hugo Chavez, it's frakkin' hysterical that Republicans are less popular than Venezuela. The more they run down these extremist roads, the lower The Republican Teabagger Party will fall.

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Thousands of Pages of Evidence and a Quarter Million Signatures: What Will It Take For Attorney General to Prosecute Torture Crimes?

Amid citizen outrage and news that torture was used to extract a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, Eric Holder won't say if he intends to prosecute.

By Liliana Sequra

By the time Attorney General Eric Holder took his seat before a Congressional subcommittee on Thursday, the Bush torture program had broken wide open. In the past week alone, hundreds of pages in declassified legal memos and Congressional reports had blown the lid off the previous administration's harsh interrogation policies to reveal -- in addition to grisly new details about what the U.S. government did to prisoners in its custody -- a chronology of the program's history that implicated the most senior government officials, including Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and of course the former president. What's more, it appeared that the torture of high-value detainees in 2002 and 2003 was, at least in part, the direct consequence of Bush officials' need to extract a link -- fictitious or otherwise -- between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Damning stuff, to be sure. Yet watching Holder's testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, where his office was met with a coalition of activists delivering petitions carrying 250,000 signatures from Americans who support appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate Bush's crimes, it would be hard to guess that it came in a week that saw such a flood of evidence of human rights violations and war crimes come to light. Reiterating his contention (following the initial release of legal memos last week outlining the rationale for Bush era torture) that "those in the intelligence community who acted reasonably and in good faith are not going to be prosecuted," Holder also reassured the committee members that he "will not permit the criminalization of policy differences" -- an almost superfluous response to one of the bogus conservative talking points that has sprung up -- the notion that holding accountable lawyers who authorized flagrantly illegal techniques against U.S. held prisoners will have a "chilling effect" on advisers' opinions. But, he said, "it is my responsibility as attorney general to enforce the law. ... If I see evidence of wrongdoing I will pursue it to the full extent of the law." Very well, but with virtually no references to the avalanche of evidence that emerged this week, Holder's words, like President Obama's pep-rally style speech before the CIA last week and the hearing itself (which, in fairness, was held to discuss the 2010 budget of the DOJ), largely belied the severity of what has been revealed in the past week....(Click for remainder.)


Obama Tells Lawmakers In Private Meeting He Won't Support Torture Probe

By Jason Leopold
The Public Record

President Barack Obama has backtracked on statements he made earlier this week in which he indicated he was open to a 9/11-type commission to investigate the Bush administration’s use of torture, telling lawmakers at a meeting at the White House Thursday he now doesn’t support the idea.

Underscoring Obama’s new stance on the issue, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters: "the president determined the concept didn't seem altogether workable in this case."

"The last few days might be evidence of why something like this might just become a political back and forth,” Gibbs said.

Additionally, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also said on Thursday he no longer supported the idea of an independent panel to investigate torture. Reid said the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been “reviewing” the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program to determine whether the techniques were effective in thwarting terrorist plots against the U.S., should continue its work. The intelligence committee’s chairman, Dianne Feinstein, said her committee expects to complete its review in six to eight months.

"I think it would be very unwise, from my perspective, to start having commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are," Reid said. "And I don't know a better way of getting the facts than through the Intelligence Committee."

On Tuesday, in a departure from statements he has made since his Jan. 20 inauguration, Obama said he was open to the idea of a 9/11-type bipartisan commission to probe the Bush administration's torture policies, but he said he was concerned "about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively, and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations."...(Click for remainder.)


Reagan's DOJ Prosecuted Texas Sheriff For Waterboarding Prisoners

By Jason Leopold
The Public Record

George W. Bush’s Justice Department said subjecting a person to the near-drowning of waterboarding was not a crime and didn’t even cause pain, but Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department thought otherwise, prosecuting a Texas sheriff and three deputies for using the practice to get confessions.

Federal prosecutors secured a 10-year sentence against the sheriff and four years in prison for the deputies. But that 1983 case – which would seem to be directly on point for a legal analysis on waterboarding two decades later – was never mentioned in the four Bush administration opinions released last week.

The failure to cite the earlier waterboarding case and a half-dozen other precedents that dealt with torture is reportedly one of the critical findings of a Justice Department watchdog report that legal sources say faults former Bush administration lawyers – Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury – for violating “professional standards.”

Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury also shocked many who have read their memos in the last week by their use of clinical and legalistic jargon that sometimes took on an otherworldly or Orwellian quality. Bybee’s Aug. 1, 2002, legal memo – drafted by Yoo – argued that waterboarding could not be torture because it does not “inflict physical pain.”

During the procedure, a subject is strapped down to a bench with his head lower than his feet and his face covered by a cloth that is then saturated with water, cutting off his breathing and inducing the panic reflex that a person feels while drowning.

“You have informed us that this procedure does not inflict actual physical harm,” Bybee wrote. “Thus, although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. ... The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering.”...(Click for remainder.)


Reclaiming America's Soul

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

“Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” So declared President Obama, after his commendable decision to release the legal memos that his predecessor used to justify torture. Some people in the political and media establishments have echoed his position. We need to look forward, not backward, they say. No prosecutions, please; no investigations; we’re just too busy.

And there are indeed immense challenges out there: an economic crisis, a health care crisis, an environmental crisis. Isn’t revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we can’t afford?

No, it isn’t, because America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.

And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible....(Click for remainder.)


My Tortured Decision

By Ali Soufan
The New York Times Op-Ed

FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives....(Click for remainder.)

Ali Soufan was an F.B.I. supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005.


Only Socialism Can Save Conservatives Now

By Thers

Conservatives have nothing left but socialism. As a form of name calling, of course, not as policy. They don't do policy anymore, if they ever did, which they didn't, apart from "start wars and cut taxes," which is unfortunately more a spasmodic symptom (the disease known as "stupidity") than a program for responsible government, when you get right down to it. Not that name calling has been working out very well for them lately. But of course, in Greater Wingnuttia, the absence of ponies is merely a surefire sign that you need to shovel shit faster. Hence:
Republican state party leaders are rebelling against new Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele for failing to dub President Obama and the Democrats as "socialists." And the rebels insist that the label matters.

Even though Mr. Steele has called his Democratic adversaries "collectivists," at least 16 state leaders say the term lacks the pejorative punch needed to sway public opinion and want all 168 members of the Republican National Committee to debate and vote on it.
Right, because that's their problem, that Michael Steele isn't saying "socialism" enough. Or "fascism," even.

Their problem is that they are crazy. That would be the long and the short of it. And you sort of have to gaze in wonder at the slightly less crazy crazies who are dubious about the name-calling approach, like this puppy-Malkin, or Stratass, or, Lord help 'em, Charles Johnson (to whom I will never link, even by bankshot). Because "slightly less crazy" does not mean "not crazy." And because of the total failure to understand that the vaunted Conservative Messaging Machine has created powerful disincentives to not be crazy. Look, even 20% of the population is a lot of people, and 20% of the population happens to be comprised of shithead mouthbreathing hardcore wingnuts of the sort who think Sean Hannity isn't an asshole. You can get rich off the crazy, you know. Is it insane to think Tim McVeigh was obeying Bin Laden? Yes! But so? Will this video make money? Yes! Will shit like that help wingnuts get back every branch of government? No! That would be insane! But, again, ... so?...(Click for remainder.)


Too Many 'Straws' Sucking Water Out of the Colorado

By Peter N. Spotts
Christian Science Monitor via AlterNet

Tim Barnett is no stranger to water woes in the western US, particularly for states that draw on the Colorado River. He’s called its waters “the life’s blood of today’s modern Southwest society and economy” – an artery that serves roughly 27 million people in the US and Mexico and moistens 3 million acres of farmland.

Without significantly cuts to demand from the river,  the US Bureau of Reclamation will be unable to deliver the amounts of water that states in the Lower Colorado River Basin have been allocated, according to a new study he and colleague David Pierce published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Both are scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. You can find a plain-English description of their study here.

The shortfall in water deliveries would hold true with or without the general drying effect global warming is expected to have in the region, the duo finds. But the effects would be more pronounced when taking global warming into account.

Unlike past studies on the river, the two have come up with estimates on the magnitude of shortfalls water managers can expect – and when – with or without global warming, and in conjunction with a burgeoning population in the region.

Without global warming in the picture, the scientists estimate that the Bureau of Reclamation would be unable to meet delivery schedules 40 percent of the time by 2050, although the shortfalls would be manageable....(Click for remainder.)


Republicans Threaten to Become Bigger Assholes

By Chris Bowers
Open Left

If Democrats provide cheaper and more accessible health care to Americans, Republicans have promised to publicly turn themselves into the biggest partisan assholes of the last forty years.

Seriously. That is the actual political calculation Senate Democrats face on health care reform right now. It is the most obvious win-win political calculation Democrats have been presented with during my entire lifetime.

If Democrats use the budget reconciliation process, which denies Republicans a filibuster option, to invest two-thirds of a trillion dollars into health care, Republicans are "threatening" to do the following:
The GOP might first go after White House nominations. Republicans could require each appointee to get a separate hearing and a separate roll call vote. They could stop attending committee hearings, and decline to provide "unanimous consent" to move forward on even the most benign issues or routine Senate business. Republicans could also demand that the text of bills, which are often hundreds of pages long, be read aloud.
Yeah, that will really be a big electoral winner for Republicans. While Democrats give Americans cheaper and more affordable health care, Republicans give America extreme partisan gridlock. Oh please, please don't do this to us Republicans! How can we Democrats ever survive as a political party if Republicans were to engage in such brilliant political tactics?...(Click for remainder.)


GOP Plots Revenge

Reconciliation May Shut Down Senate

By David M. Drucker
Roll Call

As Senate Democrats move closer to using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year, key GOP Senators are signaling plans to avenge the move by employing parliamentary tactics to trip up even the most noncontroversial of agenda items.

Although Senate Democrats are far from reaching a consensus on the reconciliation issue, party leaders confirmed Wednesday that they are reserving the right to use it to pass health care reform if Republicans fail to negotiate in good faith. Senate Republicans — saying they have every intention of being a full partner in the upcoming health care negotiations — said holding reconciliation in reserve could poison the discussions, and threatened retribution.

“If they go down that road, I think the fur is going to fly,” Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said. “I suspect that there is going to be an awful lot of resistance, and we will exercise our prerogatives so that the rules of the Senate are respected.”

Some top GOP Senators declined to speculate on how their Conference would respond if Democrats use reconciliation to pass health care reform. Senior Republican Senate aides say it is too early to discuss retaliation for something that might not occur; they prefer to focus instead on trying to shape a bill that they can embrace....(Click for remainder.)


Holder Won't Selectively Release Torture Memos

By Devlin Barrett
Associated Press via Yahoo! News

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Thursday he won't play "hide and seek" with secret memos about harsh interrogations of terror suspects and their effectiveness. In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Holder said he's willing to release as much information as possible about the interrogations.

Several members of the committee pressed him about the Justice Department's release last week of four long-secret legal memos detailing the harsh techniques used on some detainees during the Bush administration.

"It is certainly the intention of this administration not to play hide and seek, or not to release certain things," said Holder. "It is not our intention to try to advance a political agenda or to try to hide things from the American people."

Republicans — including former Vice President Dick Cheney — have urged the Obama administration to release other, still-secret documents detailing what intelligence was gained from the controversial interrogation techniques.

"I think you have an obligation to release the rest of the memos," said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va....(Click for remainder.)


Andrea Mitchell Calls Out Kit Bond for Attacking the SIC, SASC Reports on Abu Ghraib and for 'Banana Republic' Remark

By John Amato

Crooks and Liars

Sometimes Andrea Mitchell can be a tool, but sometimes she acts like a journalist. Kit Bond was on a wanker role today on MSNBC and actually had Andrea Mitchell almost jumping out of her seat with his distortions of so many facts. Bond said that the Senate Armed Services Report was a partisan report and it was wrong. When he tried to say that Abu Ghraib was just a few rogue soldiers that's when Andrea got into it with him.
Senate armed services committee released an exhaustive report detailing direct links between the harsh interrogation programme of the CIA and abuses of prisoners at the US prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, in Afghanistan and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
When Andrea brought this fact up to Kit, he called the SASC report lies...( rough transcript. Fill in the thread)
Mitchell: Do you really feel that the CIA/terror fighters are being stabbed in the back by the President's actions?

Bond: Yes, very clearly. by released these classified has put all the CIA under the gun.There could be prosecutions for following orders and there could be prosecutions in other countries.

Mitchell: ...the Bush administration lawyers, one a sitting federal judge, on the federal appeals court on the 9th circuit in San Francisco, so those legal opinions themselves are being questioned, the practice is being questioned, the chain of how these decisions led eventually to Abu Ghraib according to the Armed Services Committee report yesterday and your own committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee has released a time line that shows that Condi Rice and others as early as July, 2002 approved these techniques, your colleagues have done on the hill.
(Click for remainder.)


In Massachusetts, a Husband's Death Shows How Important Marriage Is -- and How Absolutely Ordinary and Accepted Same-Sex Marriage Has Become

I don't usually post full posts from other blogs, or websites, however this time, I think this post is incredible and worth the full posting.  Please read this and share it with everyone.

By Joe Sudbay

Last month, one of our devoted readers, Peter Dubuque, died unexpectedly and way too young. He was 39. His husband, Steven Kleinedler, wrote to John to let him know. We can officially say "husband" because Peter and Steve lived in Massachusetts. Steve shared with us an amazing personal account of how Peter's death reaffirmed to him how important marriage is. Their marriage was accepted without question by those he dealt with after Peter died.

If you know anyone who questions whether marriage equality matters, send them this:
On March 24, I came home after work and found my husband, Peter Dubuque, dead from an unexpected accident. We have been together almost fifteen years and, because we live in Massachusetts, married for four-and-a-half years. In the aftermath of unexpected death, the surviving spouse faces a jumble of legal responsibilities, emotional reactions, and practical considerations. At 42, I never expected to have to plan a memorial service for the 39-year-old love of my life. I am very fortunate to have a strong national and local network of love and support from friends and family. These past few weeks would have been impossible without them.

In 2004 in Massachusetts (as there had been previously in Vermont when it legislated civil unions), opponents of marriage equality predicted social disaster. The destruction of our social fabric never materialized, of course; each argument was merely an rhetorical arrow in a quiver of hateful obstructions. What was surprising, however, is how marriage equality in Massachusetts has quickly blended into the social landscape. Despite a few feeble and ineffectual protests from the extreme right, it has become a non-issue here.

Just how far marriage equality has become a regular component of society here has been made clear to me while interacting with people I didn't know. What was once unheard of is now commonplace and, frankly, ordinary.

In 1994, I was arrested, handcuffed, and spent the night in jail for dancing with another man in suburban Chicago. (Not kissing, not even touching : just dancing.) But on March 24, 2009, the EMTs, police officers, and detectives on the accident scene were extremely professional, respectful, and courteous.

Shortly after Vermont legalized civil unions, debated raged whether newspapers across the country would accept or refuse to acknowledge such partnerships; now many more highly visible newspapers routinely do. The gracious funeral home operators treated me the same as they would any grieving spouse.

Referring to my husband as my husband doesn't raise eyebrows or result in scorn or sarcasm, whereas when referring to him as my partner ten years ago carried the risk of bad service, indifference, or outright hostility. Customer service representatives at places like banks respect the terminology, whereas once we might have sheepishly referred offhand to our partner. (It was perhaps only six or seven years ago when introducing Peter as my partner, sometimes people would assume I met business partner, even when the context would indicate otherwise.) Twelve years ago something as simple as explaining to utility companies that two people weren't roommates but partners could be construed as being "in your face." Flash forward to the young associate at the Apple store who helped me with Peter's iPhone. Sexual orientation was irrelevant as he expressed sincere condolences for my loss.

Ten, even five years ago, people in my situation in Massachusetts would have faced prejudicial treatment in some of these interactions--in addition to having to deal with protracted legal issues because of being denied the right to be married--simply because marriage equality was an unknown, often feared, and that fear was exploited by our opponents for political gain. Coming of age in a time when AIDS felled so many so quickly, I was aware of far too many horrible, heart-wrenching stories in which the surviving partner was completely shut out and cast aside by next of kin. Now, we are legally next of kin. For all the wonderful things that marriage equality does for the living, it maintains our dignity in death.

So, when the wonderful news from Iowa and Vermont broke, I felt happy. I know Peter would have been overjoyed, and knowing how happy it would have made him made me elated as well. I am so happy that soon in Iowa and Vermont, the idea of two women or two men joined in marriage will be an unremarkable event.

Iowa and Vermont are, however, only the third and fourth state of fifty. We must stop letting those who oppose marriage equality frame the debate. The objections they raise are smokescreens that mask not only their hypocrisy, but also sidetrack our focus. We will win when we focus on equality.

The legal right to have been married to Peter that was so important in our lifetime, has turned out to be equally important in death. I am thankful for the all of the couples, lawyers, advocates, and judges who have put so much energy into this struggle over the past many years, and to those who continue to do so until the goal of federally recognized marriage equality is met.
Legislatures in New York, Maine and New Hampshire are considering marriage equality legislation. If you live in any of those states, call and email your legislators. It matters.

That's especially true in New Hampshire TODAY. If you live in the Granite State or know anyone who does, State Senators need to hear from constituents NOW. (You can find Senator's numbers and emails here.) Do it for Peter. And as Steve says, "We will win when we focus on equality."  (Click for original.)


Norah O'Donnel Slaps Down Liz Cheney Over the Use of Torture

By John Amato

Crooks and Liars

On MSNBC today, Norah O'Donnell got into a heated debate with Liz Cheney over the torture memos and what role her father had in pushing torture through. The two started shouting down one another, but Norah wouldn't back down from the bullying tactics Republicans for the most part successfully use on cable shows.

Norah brings up the timeline and points out that it was her father who signed on to it earlier than most and wonders if he pushed the OLC to approve these measure. Liz Cheney tries to use the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape as a justification that "enhanced methods" aren't really torture because our troops were trained in this manner and it's denigrating to them to say otherwise. Huh? Now, we're against the troops again?

She also uses the yet-to-be-substantiated Republican Talking Point that we got a lot of useful intel from torturing. E-mailer Margaret writes in:
In the first place, how does Liz Cheney know we got valuable information? Did she have the same clearance as the Pres and the VP? Beyond that, her rationale for torture, not being torture, because what we do to our own service people isn't torture, is making my head.
(Click for remainder.)


Rick Reyes, The New John Kerry: Afghanistan Vet Speaks Out Against War Before Congress

By Sam Stein
The Huffington Post

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday hosted a hearing of compelling politics and historical parallels, as an Afghan war veteran offered critical testimony of that war in front of a committee chairman who had done the same during Vietnam.

The similarities between the situation that retired Marine Corporal Rick Reyes finds himself in today and that which confronted Sen. John Kerry in April 1971 are obvious. At 28 and a few years removed from combat, Reyes has chosen to go public with reservations about the scope and direction of the military strategy his government is pursuing in a difficult terrain. Having supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election, he now is deeply skeptical about the president's decision to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

"We were basically destroying innocent lives and creating more enemies," he said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "That is exactly what is happening. The escalation and occupation in Afghanistan is counterproductive to what we want to accomplish and the Senate and the president should to rethink Afghanistan."

Nearly 38 years earlier, John Forbes Kerry was in a similar spot. Called before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the three-time recipient of the Purple Heart declared that an "attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy."

It was a scathing rebuke from an experienced soldier, one that thrust Kerry into the political spotlight. And, as the cause-and-effect of history goes, it led in a way to his current position as chair of the foreign relations where he oversaw Thursday's "Afghanistan War Experiences" hearing and Reyes' testimony....(Click for remainder.)


Bush Proves Rove and FOX are Lying About Torture


GOP Congressman Calls Climate Bill "The Largest Assault on Democracy and Freedom"

By Alex Pasternack
The Huffington Post

When it comes to talking about climate change and the costs of fighting it, not all Republicans find it easy being green (or rational, for that matter). Yesterday's opening of hearings on the draft bill on climate change before the House included this grandstanding gem from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.):
This is the largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country that I've ever experienced. I've lived through some tough times in Congress. We've seen two wars, terrorist attacks. I fear this more than all of the above.
We've heard of the risks of climate change hype and fear-mongering, but this takes it in a whole new direction.

The House's biggest emitter of tragicomic relief had other compelling points to make.

In the same hearing, Shimkus asked EPA Chief Lisa Jackson what the greatest source of greenhouse gases were. "Livestock," she responded. He quickly shot back that wetlands were the country's greatest source of carbon dioxide, and asked if therefore the EPA intended to drain the nation's wetlands.

Jackson replied that the issue at hand was anthropogenic climate change, and no, the EPA did not intend to drain America's wetlands.

If verbal arguments wouldn't disabuse Shimkus of his fears about "the largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country," maybe images like these would do the trick? Probably not....(Click for remainder.)


Polis Praises Verdict in Zapata Murder: 'Zero Tolerance for Hate Crimes'

By Ernest Luning
The Colorado Independent

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who was elected to Congress in 2008 as an openly gay man, urged the passage of pending federal hate-crimes legislation in the wake of Wednesday’s conviction on murder and bias-motivated, or hate-crimes charges of the man accused in the brutal death of Angie Zapata, a transgender Greeley woman.

The Boulder Democrat is a co-sponsor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, sometimes called the Matthew Shepard Act in memory of the gay college student who was beaten and left to die in Wyoming a decade ago. The bill made its way Thursday out of the House Judiciary Committee on a 15-12 vote.

Allen Andrade was sentenced to life without possibility of parole Wednesday after a Weld County jury convicted him in the murder of Angie Zapata. Andrade awaits sentencing on the hate-crime charge and other felonies, including automobile and identity theft, which could add 60 years to his sentence if he is convicted on habitual-criminal charges at a hearing set for May 8.

Here’s Polis’ statement:
“I hope this verdict will set a precedent that our country has zero tolerance for hate crimes. The horrific death of Angie Zapata is exactly why we need strong national hate crimes legislation to protect LGBT Americans. Attacks like this occur every day and perpetuate a climate of fear in the LGBT community. The Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, or Matthew Shepard Act, is expected to be on the House floor next week. As a cosponsor of this bill, I look forward to its being signed into law to help end this violence, especially in the many areas of the country lacking the hate crime protections that we have in Colorado.”
(Click for remainder.)


Keith Olbermann: The Inanity of Sean Hannity


Are Leading Democrats Afraid of a Special Prosecutor to Investigate Torture?

By Jeremy Scahill
Rebel Reports

There are not exactly throngs of Democratic Congressmembers beating down the doors of the Justice Department demanding that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special Independent Prosecutor to investigate torture and other crimes. And now it seems that whatever Congress does in the near term won’t even be open to the public. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said this week that he prefers that the Senate Intelligence Committee hold private hearings. The chair of the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has asked the White House not to take any action until this private affair is concluded. She estimates that will take 6-8 months.

“I think it would be very unwise, from my perspective, to start having commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are,” Reid said Wednesday. “I don’t know a better way of getting the facts than through the intelligence committee.” It is hard to imagine other Democrats bucking Reid on this and there is certainly no guarantee that the committee will release an unclassified report when it concludes its private inquiry.

Then there is the deeply flawed plan coming from the other influential camp in the Democratic leadership. The alternative being offered is not an independent special prosecutor, but rather a more politically palatable counter-proposal for creating a bi-partisan commission. This is a very problematic approach (as I have pointed out) for various reasons, including the possibility of immunity offers and a sidelining of actual prosecutions. Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights has also advocated against this, saying this week it will lead to a “whitewash:”...(Click for remainder.)


Freeh Fall: A Former FBI Director and His Princely Benefactor

By Michael Crowley
The New Republic

During his tenure as FBI director, Louis J. Freeh struggled to raise a family of eight on a government salary. By the time he stepped down in 2001, his house was heavily mortgaged and he could be seen flying in coach class. Since leaving the Bureau, however, Freeh has earned a handsome salary. He first spent several years as a top lawyer for the credit-card giant mbna before opening his own firm in 2007, Freeh Group International, which bills itself as "a global consulting enterprise," specializing in advising a "select" group of (mostly undisclosed) clients on the niceties of international accounting and anti-corruption laws.

In the grand scheme of post-government careers, this might not seem so extraordinary were it not for one remarkable member of Freeh's "select" clients: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. Currently accused of illegally siphoning as much as $2 billion from a Saudi-British arms deal, Bandar has hired Freeh as his lawyer.

The two are an unlikely pair. Freeh is a character from the Untouchables--an altar boy from New Jersey. Bandar is a large-living billionaire and an ex- fighter pilot. He is also a Washington legend: a friend to multiple presidents, CIA directors, and media giants, as well as a renowned broker of Middle Eastern realpolitik. Bandar's adult life has been about moving in the shadows. Freeh's has been about shining a light into the shadows. The story of how the G-man and the prince came to be friends and then business associates is a story about terrorism, politics, money--and hidden Washington machinations.

Our heartwarming tale of friendship begins in terror. On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb exploded outside the Khobar Towers complex housing U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia. The attack killed 19 U.S. soldiers and wounded 372. Dispatching hundreds of his agents to Saudi Arabia, Freeh took an almost fanatical personal stake in the case, meeting for hours with the families of the slain soldiers near a scale model of the devastated building, complete with faux bomb crater. "The meetings lasted three days, and I was there for every moment of them and every meal: morning, noon and night," Freeh recalled in his 2005 memoir, My FBI....(Click for remainder.)


Durbin and Grassley Introduce H1B Visa Reform Bill

By Daphne Eviatar
The Washington Post

Responding to growing concerns about immigrants displacing U.S. workers, assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today introduced the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, designed to preserve the controversial H-1B program that allows U.S. companies to hire foreign workers, but to limit its abuse.

“Congress created the H-1B visa program so an employer could hire a foreign guest-worker when a qualified American worker could not be found,” said Durbin in a statement released today. “However, the H-1B visa program is plagued with fraud and abuse and is now a vehicle for outsourcing that deprives qualified American workers of their jobs. “

The bill would improve the capacity of the Department of Labor to crack down on fraud that allows U.S. companies to hire foreign workers even when U.S. workers are available.  Specifically, the Durbin-Grassley bill would 1) require all employers who want to hire an H-1B guest-worker to first make a good-faith attempt to recruit a qualified American worker; 2) Prohibit “H-1B only” ads and prohibit employers from hiring additional H-1B and L-1 guest-workers if more than 50% of their employees are H-1B and L-1 visa holders; 3) Increase the Labor Department’s authority to investigate employers suspected of abusing the H-1B program;  and 4) establish a means for investigating and auditing employers for potential L-1 visa abuses, since this program – which allows international companies to hire foreign workers and avoid U.S.  labor laws – is often used to evade the minimal labor protections of the H-1B program....(Click for remainder.)


When Joe Barton (R-Exxon) Speaks, Teachers Cry

By David Waldman
Congress Matters

And just maybe, throw up a little in their mouths.

TPM caught this one, complete with the Barton spin:
Oh the (rare, but occasionally exceptional) joys of Twitter. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)--the ranking member on the House Energy & Commerce Committee--says (tweets?) "I seemed [sic] to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question - Where does oil come from?"

He's referring to Nobel prize winning Energy Secretary Steve Chu, and this exchange.

Yeah, you "baffled" him alright, Joe. A Nobel Prize winner can't believe you were able to dress and feed yourself in preparation for asking that monumentally stupid question.

I can only assume that what Barton thought he was "proving" was that since the organic matter that creates oil and gas flourish in warmer climes, that must mean that the Arctic was once tropical, and therefore global warming is a myth, and everybody should burn everything they can get their hands on as a patriotic act....(Click for remainder.)


100 Days of No


America Hater & Douchebag, Mittens Romney, Thinks That Investigating Torture is Partisan

By Blue Texan

Willard, appearing on his biggest fan's radio show, doesn't think much of accountability or the rule of law.

HH: I want to start with the big news from yesterday, that President Obama has reopened the door, opened the door to the prosecution of former Bush administration officials in connection to the interrogation memos. What’s your reaction to that, Governor?

MR: Well, it’s a bad decision on a number of fronts. First of all, it violates his most consistent campaign pledge that he was going to work on a bipartisan basis in Washington. There’s nothing that could be more hostile than saying we’re going to go after the prior administration and see if we can make them all get lawyers and pay millions of dollars in legal fees, and drag them in for hearings, and see if we can really demonize the prior administration. That’s the lowest form of partisanship, and it’s something which I think the American people will recognize was very different than what they heard during the campaign.
Now I realize the word "bipartisan" is fairly meaningless, but I've never seen it defined as "whitewashing all crimes committed by Republicans no matter how egregious."...(Click for remainder.)


Dem Senators Call for Freeze on Credit Card Interest Rates

By Arthur Delaney
The Huffington Post

Last year, the Federal Reserve announced new rules for credit card issuers that would rein in controversial practices like arbitrary rate increases on existing balances. Consumer advocates welcomed the news, but the regulations wouldn't take effect until mid-2010. So members of the House and Senate introduced legislation that would essentially move up the start date for the Fed's plans.

That's still not fast enough for some. Hearing it from their constituents, Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) asked the Federal Reserve on Thursday to hurry up and stop arbitrary rate increases immediately.

"Credit card providers have been aggressively raising rates on consumers now to avoid the ramifications of this rule when it goes into effect next year," the senators wrote. "Companies have increased interest rates across the board now, to increase interest rates before the new rules go into effect."

The senators say the people they represent have been getting soaked: "Consumers describe situations to our offices in which the interest rates on their accounts have doubled or tripled overnight, without any misconduct on their part."

Public anger over credit card rates has reached the White House -- on Thursday President Obama assembled CEOs to talk to them about their controversial practices. After the meeting, the president called credit cards "an important convenience for a lot of people...We think that's important and so we want to preserve the credit card market... but we also want to do so in a way that eliminates a lot of the abuses and the problems that a lot of people are familiar with."...(Click for remainder.)


Keith Olbermann: They Tortured to Justify Iraq War


Ed Schultz: "Cheney Wants This Country to Get Hit Again for Political Gain"


Congress Delays Credit Card Reform

Democrats Who Decried Fed's Timeline in December Now Offer Nearly Identical Plan

By Mike Lillis
The Washington Independent

It’s one of the central components of the Democrats’ plans for reforming the finance industry this year, and among the most vital, supporters say, for protecting consumers from abusive lending practices in a tumbledown economy. Yet as Congress advances legislation reining in the most abusive credit card traps, both the House and Senate proposals have been watered down in recent weeks so that the protections likely won’t help card users for more than a year.

The delay — a concession to the banks, who oppose the changes — means that Congress’ reforms likely won’t arrive anytime sooner than the Federal Reserve’s new credit card rules, scheduled to take hold in July 2010. It also leaves consumers hung out to dry at an unwelcome time, as the recession deepens, unemployment rises and card issuers raise fees and interest rates on even their most reliable customers. Many observers wonder why, if some credit card practices are indeed unfair and deceptive — some say criminal — Congress isn’t acting more quickly to eliminate them. Some consumer advocates say the delay is yet another example of lawmakers prioritizing the banks above working families amid the downturn.

“While we expect the Fed to be weak and buckle under bank pressure, there is no excuse for Congress pandering to the banks and delaying implementation of legislation to stop practices that hurt working families,” Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, wrote in an email. “Every day of delay is millions of dollars in unfair fee income. Every day of delay means more families cannot buy things to stimulate the economy (or save to buy things later), as they are forced to pay usurious credit card interest rates.”...(Click for remainder.)


Tedisco Tries To Make Roadkill Of Sam Seder's Ballot

By Eric Kleefeld
Talking Points Memo

We can now add another illustrious name to the list of absentee voters whose ballots in the NY-20 special election have been challenged by the campaign of GOP candidate Jim Tedisco: Sam Seder, the liberal talk-radio host with Air America!

Sam posted a message on Twitter yesterday: "NY20th race Tedisco challenged my absentee ballot. 4 days before the election I was jury foreman for a trial in NY20th. Challenge Fail."

The Tedisco camp had previously challenged U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's ballot -- the person that Tedisco is seeking to replace in Congress -- and now Sam is on the list, too.

The jury had served on March 26 and March 27, and Election Day was March 31. Since this past October, Sam has maintained a second place in New York City for his radio job, and voted absentee because he would be at work on Election Day. Other than the need to be in New York City for work, he has been living full-time in Columbia County.

In fact, I was able to confirm with Columbia County Democratic election commissioner Virginia Martin that Sam's ballot has indeed been challenged by the Tedisco campaign -- on the grounds that he does not legitimately live in the district. Martin overruled the challenge, while the Republican deputy commissioner sustained it, keeping the vote out of the count until further notice....(Click for remainder.)


The Daily Left: Obama Says Torture Prosecutions Not Off the Table


"Payday Lenders Pay Up": New Report Shows How Payday Lenders Influence Elected Officials in Washington

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

In light of new legislative efforts and ever-growing controversies over the role of payday lenders in Americans’ lives, CREW released a new study entitled, Payday Lenders Pay Up, which examines the payday loan industry’s efforts to gain influence on Capitol Hill. (A pdf of the report can be found here.)

The first-of-its-kind study explores how the payday loan industry has stepped up its lobbying and public relations efforts as well as its campaign contributions to federal candidates in the face of greater congressional scrutiny of industry practices.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, explained the significance of the report:
Payday Lenders Pay Up shows the payday loan industry is following the familiar path already cleared by other industries suddenly confronted with congressional oversight.  Payday lenders have joined the ranks of defense contractors, investment funds and others who influence the legislative process through lavish political contributions, expensive PR campaigns, and strategic lobbying.
In 2006, Congress capped the interest rate on short term loans to military members at 36%. In the 110th Congress, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) dropped a bill to apply the same cap across the board and he reintroduced that legislation earlier this year.

CREW has examined those campaign donations, which demonstrate how an industry with a previously low federal profile seeks to influence members of Congress to achieve a particular policy outcome.  CREW found that the payday loan industry doubled its lobbying expenditures from $2,045,000 in the 109th Congress to $4,182,550 in the 110th Congress and doubled its campaign donations over the past three election cycles....(Click for remainder.)



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