Thursday, March 31, 2011

Last Call

Rep. Louie Gohmert may actually be the craziest guy in Congress, and that's saying something.

GOHMERT: It's a bad bill. And then when you find out that the prior Congress not only passed that 2,800 page bill with all kinds of things in it, including a new president's commissioned officer corps and non-commissioned officer corps. Do we really need that? I wondered when I read that in the bill. But then when you find out we're being sent to Libya to use our treasure and American lives there, maybe there's intention to so deplete the military that we're going to need that presidential reserve officer commissioned corps and non-commissioned corps that the president can call up on a moment's notice involuntarily, according to the Obamacare bill.

Yep, Obama is trying to kill as many of our troops as possible to leave us vulnerable to his secret Sharia plan to enslave us with his Obamacare Army of oddly healthy jackbooted goons. 

And this man is a United States Congressman.

Personally, I think it's time we ask every Republican in Congress if they believe Rep. Gohmert here and support his um...theories.

Birthers Get A Trump Card, Part 4

As I have said before, Donald Trump knows exactly what he is doing going full birther.

It's official: Donald Trump is a "birther." But he'd prefer you don't use that term.

Speaking to MSNBC Thursday, the business mogul and improbable presidential candidate reiterated much of what he has said in the last several days when it comes to doubting President Obama's birthplace, declaring, "I am embracing the issue, and I'm proud of the issue. I think somebody has to embrace it."

Trump, who in the last two weeks has raised the debunked issue on several programs, added he finds the term "birther" downright insulting.

"I don't like the name birther," he said. "I think it's very unfair and derogatory to a lot of good people that happen to think there is a possibility that this man was not born in this country."

Trump added he will continue to press the issue because, "If it were true, it'd be the greatest scam in the history of this country."

Look objectively at what Trump has done here.  He's as brilliant as he is dangerous.

He has gone on "liberal" MSNBC to defend the millions of Republicans (and some Independents and even a few Democrats) who believe that Barack Obama is hiding something on his birth certificate.  Before, the birther movement's greatest spokespeople were crackpot idiots like Orly Taitz and Alex JonesSarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have tried on their birther costumes, but they only did it halfway and they immediately jumped out after taking the heat.

But Trump knows how to play hardball.  Trump is selling birtherism as mainstream the way he hard-sells properties, and he knows rule #1 of the sale is never sell it halfway.  He knows what I've been saying for months now:  birtherism is mainstream Republican thinking.  And brother, he is selling that for everything it's worth.

In two weeks, Trump has gone from embarassment to nutjob to crazy like a fox to a serious threat.  And he's doing it by stomping as hard as he can on the birther message.

In fact, how long before we see other Republicans pick up the message that using the term "birther" is a filthy pejorative, insulting to all those hard working Real Americans out there who think the President is the greatest scam artist in American history, the way they freaked out over use of the term "Teabagger"?

Oh, and Trump is damn sure aware of the racial connotations to all this.  And he doesn't give a damn.  Trump has sold his soul for his shot at the big time, and that alone makes him the perfect GOP candidate.

Sing A Song Of Sick Pence, Pocketful Of Lies

Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence takes to the National Review to declare war on women again.

On Feb. 18, 2011, with bipartisan support, the House of Representatives passed the Pence Amendment, which would end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. In response, Planned Parenthood used its vast resources to launch slick Madison Avenue television ads portraying the group — the nation’s largest abortion provider — as an altruistic organization that provides health-care services to the poor and has only an incidental interest in abortion.

Despite efforts to suggest otherwise, the Pence Amendment does not reduce funding for cancer screenings or eliminate one dime of funding for other important health services to women; the money that does not go to Planned Parenthood as a result of the Pence Amendment will go to other organizations that provide these services. If the Pence Amendment becomes law, thousands of women’s health centers, clinics, and hospitals will still provide assistance to low-income families and women. The Pence Amendment would simply deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

Two problems with that.  One, Pence believes 100% in the fungiablity of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood, but of course doesn't mean that women, particularly poor women, will have access if Planned Parenthood shuts down.  If Planned Parenthood is the only clinic around offering women's health services in the area, and funding goes away, it's going to take time to replace the clinic with the "other organizations".  In the meantime, where do women go to get health services?

Second, if you buy the fungiabilty argument, then no government dollars can ever go to any organization, clinic, doctor, or nurse at a clinic that does provide them, but why does the argument stop there?  Why not strip federal funding from the local, county, and state government that allows the clinic to exist?  Why not strip tax breaks from medical equipment providers, power companies, water and sanitation providers, contractors, and automakers that allow the people at the clinic to function as a business?

Oh, and Pence has no problem with oil companies making tens of billions in profits while getting government subsidies, nor does he have a problem with farm subsidy payments (being from Indiana.)  Only when it involves Planned Parenthood does he decide to be a fiscal hawk who wants the federal government to interfere between doctor and patient, if THAT stance makes any sense.

[UPDATEMore on Pence's pile of lies from marindenver at Rumproast.

This Week In Pants On Fire Lies

Liar, liar...

Pants on Fire!

As we check PolitiFact we see our own Speaker of the House, Ohio's own John "Orange Julius" Boehner can't seem to help himself when it comes to lying about health care reform.

Republicans and Democrats alike marked the recent anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s passage.

The White House issued a report listing benefits the bill had brought to Ohioans, like free wellness visits, mammograms and colonoscopies for Medicare beneficiaries, while Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner issued statements that said it destroys jobs and should be repealed.

"In the coming weeks, you’ll see more votes and more hearings in the House to take this law apart, step by step," Boehner promised in a press release and video disseminated to reporters on March 23 . "That includes repealing the law’s mandatory spending slush funds."

Boehner expounded more on the health care "slush fund" theme in a video released the previous week.

"Let’s look at Obamacare," Boehner said in the March 14 video. "Its authors went to great lengths to protect their government takeover of health care from anyone attempting to repeal it. They funneled federal bureaucrats billions of taxpayer dollars to implement this job-crushing health care law. This isn't just some startup money that fell into the wrong hands. It's a series of slush funds, set up to stay on the books automatically, with little or no oversight."

So what did PolitiFact find about OJ's "Obamacare slush fund" nonsense?

The health care bill provides several pools of money that the HHS Secretary can disburse for purposes designated by the legislation. Is it appropriate to call them "slush funds?" The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a "slush fund" as "an unregulated fund often used for illicit purposes." The money vexing Republicans is designated for programs specifically defined by the law, which hardly makes them illicit and unregulated. Congress also has the power to oversee the bill’s implementation, and Republicans have held several hearings on the subject already this year.

Boehner may object to the latitude the health care bill gives HHS. But as speaker, his words carry a lot of weight, and he should choose them wisely. His  "slush fund" label is not only inaccurate, but ridiculous. On the Truth-O-Meter, that rates a Pants on Fire.

Oops.  And hey, it seems America's newest Tea Party darling has trouble with truth too.

"Let's look at the number one. Number one," Bachmann said. "That's the number of new drilling permits under the Obama administration since they came into office.

Too bad Bachmann doesn't know how to count.

Bachmann's press office did not return our call, so we are relegated to playing the "perhaps she meant" game to test whether there is a sense in which she might be accurate.

Perhaps she meant permits since the moratorium, not since Obama administration came into office, as she said. (There were hundreds issued pre-gulf oil spill).

Perhaps she meant just deepwater drilling, not shallow water drilling. There have been 39 shallow-water permits for new wells since June 2010. And many more before that.

Perhaps she meant to exclude permits issued for projects that were under way prior to the oil spill (and which had to come back and meet the new, modified standards). Five of the six new well permits were underway prior to the moratorium.

Perhaps she meant not permits, but exploration plans. The first exploration plan since the oil spill was approved last week.


But that's not what she said.

She said: "One. That's the number of new drilling permits under the Obama administration since they came into office." It's not even close, and the claim is ridiculously false. Pants-On-Fire.

At least someone is calling Republicans out on their constant lies.  But they only seem  to be rewarded for it.

As The Technology Turns

Technology is always shifting and taking new directions.  This article is a helpful guide as to what you can part with (desktop computers and digital cameras are listed) and what you should keep (books and alarm clocks were among them).  Not only does it list some surprises, but the author does a great job of explaining why.  This is good insight for everything from purchasing decisions to predicting what will be coming in the next few years.  I'm glad to say we had just talked about a few of those topics (cable vs. Netflix and Hulu) and I was on the right track.

I disagree only on one point and say goodbye, alarm clocks.  I'll take my chances and let it go the way of my watch and Flock of Seagulls keychain.

Another Star Is Fading

It looks like Zsa Zsa Gabor isn't going to be with us much longer.  The actress has suffered from several serious ailments over the past year, including amputation and most recently coughing up blood.  She is another legend, a hell of a strong woman.  And for those who don't remember, she was one of many stars who in her prime could stop traffic.  She's pictured here with some other famed females from her time.  A time that is fading with each passing of some of our classic leading ladies.

Shutdown Countdown, Part 13

John Boehner's professional hostage game is now working perfectly, and Dems are falling for it hook, line, and stinker.

A top Senate Democratic aide says there's been a key thaw in discussions between Senate Dem leaders and House Republicans to avert a government shutdown.

The aide said Republican negotiators are once again willing to meet Democrats in the middle, to cut a bit over $30 billion from current spending -- just about half the $61 billion House Republicans have proposed.

Crucially, the idea of drawing from mandatory spending areas -- including the big entitlement programs -- is back on the table, according to the aide.

"Part of the thaw is that we think we can get some of the cuts we need to add up to this number from areas outside of discretionary," the aide said.

Another source familiar with the discussions says, "The appropriations committees in the House and Senate have been tasked to work on a bill that achieves cuts betweenw 30 and 36 [billion dollars]."
"That's just on [overall] spending cuts," the second source added, "and they'll have to hash out how much mandatory, how much discretionary."

I don't buy the news that Cantor has been cut out of the budget loop, either.  Meeting the GOP halfway on budget cuts is not something the Tea Party will accept.  It's possible they are going to save their ammunition for the debt ceiling fight, but you notice that the original GOP proposal way back in early February was $32 billion or so out of the House Appropriations committee.  After a Tea Party revolt, it was pushed up to $60 billion as a compromise with the wingers, who wanted $100 billion plus (and some wanting several times that.)

But you see, now the GOP has gotten their opening proposal as the minimum of what they are going to receive from the Dems.  The Dems have basically folded from day one.

All this talk about government shutdowns and Eric Cantor and his threats are just hiding the reality that the Dems have given the Republicans their original proposal without so much as a fight.  Orange Julius has gotten a 100% win here and the Dems, the Village, and everyone has fallen for it.  The Republicans started with $32 billion in cuts and the Democrats' pushback lasted less than a week.  It is still possible that the Tea Party could go into complete revolt.  But the real power behind the GOP will put them in their place, as always, and the GOP will take yet another complete win.

Anything above the $32-$33 billion mark they are going to get now is gravy, and they know it.  Should make the debt ceiling fight even more fun.

SB 5 Isn't The Last Word

As expected, Ohio Republicans sent the union-busting SB 5 to Gov. John Kasich's desk yesterday, where he is expected to sign it into law quickly.  It is not however the last word.

Union officials are gearing up for a Nov. 8 ballot issue that would seek to repeal Senate Bill 5. The measure will affect labor contracts as they expire. Union leaders favor a statewide vote this fall instead of waiting until the 2012 presidential election.

The bill passed 53-44 in the Ohio House Wednesday evening. Then, by one vote just before 9:30 p.m., the Senate agreed 17-16 to 25 House amendments.

Gov. John Kasich, who said he will sign the bill into law, said his $55.5 billion state budget counts on unspecified savings from lifting union protections to plug an $8 billion gap and offset $1 billion in proposed cuts to local governments and $3 billion to public schools.

“Senate Bill 5 gives local governments and schools powerful tools to reduce their costs so they can refocus resources on key priorities – like public safety and classroom instruction – while at the same time preserving government workers’ right to unionize and collectively bargain,” Kasich said in a prepared statement.

That doesn't change the fact that Kasich is plugging the state's budget hole by putting tens of thousands of government employees out of work and cutting billions from Ohio education budgets, which will lead to more layoffs, on top of the budget busting move.   Republicans want to delay the repeal referendum as long as possible, to 2012 or beyond.  After all, the "will of the people" only matters if the Republicans agree with it politically.

After all, Kasich has only a 30% approval rating, with some 53% opposed to his budget plan.  It's not like he gives a damn about the "will of the people" anyway.  Someone ought to ask him where the jobs are in Ohio, because everything he has done so far and plans to do will only put more and more Ohioans out of work.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 21

TEPCO officials and the Japanese government have basically thrown in the towel on Fukushima Daiichi.  They have all but lost the battle with the six reactors, and at this point it's just as matter of time before the go-ahead is given to begin the work of "decommissioning" the plant.

And that work will take years, if not decades.

Japan will consider pouring concrete into its crippled Fukushima atomic plant to reduce radiation and contain the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano yesterday ruled out the possibility that the two undamaged reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s six-unit Dai-Ichi plant would be salvaged. Units 1 through 4 suffered from explosions, presumed meltdowns and corrosion from seawater sprayed on radioactive fuel rods after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami cut power to reactor cooling systems.

Workers have averted the threat of a total meltdown by injecting water into the damaged reactors for the past two weeks. The complex’s six units are connected with the power grid and two are using temporary motor-driven pumps. Work to repair the plant’s monitoring and cooling systems has been hampered by discoveries of hazardous radioactive water.

The risk to workers might be greater than previously thought because melted fuel in the No. 1 reactor building may be causing isolated, uncontrolled nuclear chain reactions, Denis Flory, nuclear safety director for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at a press conference in Vienna.

Radioactive chlorine found March 25 in the Unit 1 turbine building suggests chain reactions continued after the reactor shut down, physicist Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, wrote in a March 28 paper. Radioactive chlorine has a half-life of 37 minutes, according to the report. 

Oh, it gets worse.  Much, much worse.

Dismantling the plant and decontaminating the site may take 30 years and cost Tokyo Electric more than 1 trillion yen ($12 billion), engineers and analysts said. The government hasn’t ruled out pouring concrete over the whole facility as one way to shut it down, Edano said at a press conference.

And personally, I think that $12 billion estimate is missing a zero at the end.  TEPCO will have to be nationalized, that is a given.  I have said all along that the total cost to Japan as a result of the Sendai earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster, will end up costing a trillion bucks.

I feel even more confident of that estimate now. 


... A Rant Continued

I'm not sure how the post from yesterday was cut short, I'm sorry about that.  Here is the rest of that train of thought:

... Highly abusable private data, who we talk to, what we say, where we are.  Already there are "helpful" services that allow remote "technical support" of devices.  That means we're one step away from

the day when law enforcement, without the burden of getting a warrant, can point a finger and snoop on anyone they please.  This remote support capability  means that our text messages, emails, control of our phone functions, pictures, instant messages, browser history and cookies, documents, music, videos, GPS location, call history, contacts, calendar and more will be subject to the whim of a power that does not have a counterbalance.  It is for the greater good that those rules are in place.  Backup services could become mines of information in the wrong hands.

The future of our lives will be digital.  We'll never gain privacy rights, this is a purely downhill ride.  This is not where we should start.  We're talking about setting a foundation that will protect us from unwarranted intrusions, pun intended.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Last Call

When I say Republicans are misogynistic, evil bastards, this is what I mean.  Republicans in the Indiana state House passed one of the nation's strictest abortion laws, outlawing nearly all abortions whatsoever after 20 weeks.  Democratic State Rep. Gail Riecken proposed an an admendment that make exceptions in case of rape or incest.

Republicans voted it down.  Republicans like Eric Turner.

TURNER: With all do respect to Rep. Riecken, I understand what she’s trying to do. But as you know that when the federal health care bill was going through Congress there was a lot of discussion whether this would allow for abortion coverage and of course we were all told it would not. And the bill, my house bill 1210, would prevent that for any insurance company to provide abortion coverage under federal health care bill. This [amendment] would open that window and I would ask you to oppose this amendment.
I just want you to think about this, in my view, giant loophole that could be created where someone who could — now I want to be careful, I don’t want to disparage in any way someone who has gone through the experience of a rape or incest — but someone who is desirous of an abortion could simply say that they’ve been raped or there’s incest.

He wants to be careful when he basically says Indiana women who say they are raped are all liars, and none of them deserve an exception because they are dirty, horrible, evil slutty women with vaginas that are filled with sin and no man in Indiana would ever rape a woman, ever, so there's no need for the exception amendment.

The logical rebuttal to Turner's point, that some women might lie, is not to assume all women are liars.  It's that when a woman says no, she means no, and that if she's still forced to have sex, it's rape.

When people say "Well Democrats are just as bad" this is what I mean when I say "No, they are not."

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Jennifer Rubin might have a point about "Obama's energy hypocrisy" if A) every President hadn't said the same thing since Nixon about our dependence on foreign oil and when Republicans were in charge of the country's economy, they did nothing about it,  B) the problem in this country really was lack of domestic production and not the fact we consume twice as much oil daily in this country as the entire country of China, C) Obama hadn't led off with the strictest fuel efficiency standards ever, standards that are expected to get tougher soon to lower that consumption (which Republicans are fighting tooth and nail) and D) Obama didn't actually say as part of his speech that yes, we do need to increase domestic energy production, key word being energy and not just oil.

Of course, if Rubin paid attention to basic facts, she wouldn't be a complete effing hack, either.

The Best Legislature Money Can Buy

Hey, why muck about with the middleman when it comes to buying and selling state lawmakers?  Florida is well on its way to making it legal.  Howard Troxler of the St. Petersburg Times explains:

It is now legal in Florida for the leaders of our House and Senate, of both the Republican and Democratic parties, to operate what are laughably called "leadership funds."

If you are an interest group in Florida, a corporation, a lobbyist seeking favor, you go to these "leadership" funds run by lawmakers …

And you pay them.

They will launder the money into local elections around the state, to keep electing more obedient followers.
This is so astonishing a corruption that it defies belief.

The bill in question is House Bill 1207, passed in the 2010 legislative session.

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. Last Thursday the Legislature overrode the veto.

The House vote was 81-39. The Senate vote was 30-9.

The twisted logic used in the Capitol, and what your legislator will try to tell you, is that it's better for the Legislature to be paid off directly.

See, they will write it down in a separate little report. So this is all about "informing the public" and "transparency."

If they try to give you this line, just ask this question:

"So, is it legal to make unlimited payoffs to 'leadership funds' that are operated directly by the leaders of the Legislature, or not?"


Nice work if you can get it.  And now Florida lawmakers will be getting plenty of it:  Cash.  Everyone has their own personal slush fund.  Unlimited money can be given to it.  That's "free speech" we have been told.

Lawmakers for sale.  Get them while they're hot.

Big Brother Gets All... Brothery

Prompted by privacy concerns, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is circulating draft legislation that would require law enforcement officials to obtain warrants before using data collected from mobile devices for tracking purposes.

If formally proposed as it’s now written, the bill would severely curtail the ability of police to use geolocation information acquired by wireless carriers. Such data is utilized frequently to pinpoint the whereabouts of criminals through items such as cell phones, global positioning systems and computers.

Sorry, I honestly thought protective measures were already in place.  I have dealt with the FCC and other communication regulations, and I had no idea.  Shows what I know.  It appears in the era of spying and then justifying the data once you have it, that your location and other information is up for grabs and not that hard to get.  Now for the bit that made my stomach actually churn:

“Law enforcement will say, ‘I don’t have time to get a warrant, so I guess we can’t do that,’” Wormeli said. “That puts the life of [a] victim in danger. There are consequences.”

Wormeli conceded that current law could be revised for clarity and strengthened regarding commercial use of location data. But he was steadfast that Wyden’s bill unduly restricts police from ensuring the public’s security.

“When it comes to public safety, we have a history in this country allowing the law enforcement agencies … to use whatever tools they need as long as they can show that it is a reasonable application of the tool,” Wormeli said. “I much rather see legislation that started from that whole notion of permission.”

To which I humbly reply: I just bet he freaking would.

I am sorry if our rights are an inconvenience to law enforcement, but do your job.   If a judge would not justify a warrant, that means there is a reason.  The article mentions the reasonable application of the tools, but we also read daily about gross abuses of authority.  This is the foundation of checks and balances put in place to protect us, and ones that should never be sacrificed. To let this slip and go unprotested is to allow our privacy to be manipulated by people who just want us to trust them to do what's right.  Kind of ironic, since they're stomping the hell out of our rights to privacy and control of our private data.  Highly abusable private data, who we talk to, what we say, where we are.  Already there are "helpful" services that allow remote "technical support" of devices.  That means we're one step away from

New tag: Privacy Stupidity.  The war on privacy isn't going anywhere.  I am going to rant on this for a while.

It's A Lot Like Freedom Fries... Just More Stupid

CNN ( -- Japan's nuclear power plant crisis is no laughing matter in Springfield: Networks in several European countries are reportedly reviewing episodes of "The Simpsons" for any "unsuitable" references to nuclear disaster.

An Austrian network has apparently pulled two eps, 1992's "Marge Gets a Job" and 2005's "On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister," which include jokes about radiation poisoning and nuclear meltdowns, respectively.

Okay, I understand being sensitive to what is going on in Japan.  But I know a thing or two about tragedy, and I can say from experience that scrubbing the world so that it isn't offensive is a waste of energy.  Instead of taking the "what if" trail, put that energy into directly helping the people who are devastated.  I'm glad to see that someone thought of it, and the executive producer said he understood the concern, but this is a silly waste of time when there are far more important things to take care of right now.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 20

The "concrete box" solution to Fukushima Daiichi is now very much on the table.

Top government spokesman Yukio Edano suggested Wednesday that all of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant should be scrapped.

''It is very clear looking at the social circumstances. That is my perception,'' Edano said in a news conference when asked if all six reactors at the troubled nuclear plant should be decommissioned.

And with the damage to Fukushima's containment structures and the surrounding area (after all, you can't just turn off plutonium, folks) it's looking more and more like decommissioning the reactors means building a rather smart tomb around the place, especially since it's looking like the race to stave off nuclear disaster has been lost.

Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.

Workers have been pumping water into three reactors at the stricken plant in a desperate bid to keep the fuel rods from melting down, but the fuel is at least partially exposed in all the reactors.

At least part of the molten core, which includes melted fuel rods and zirconium alloy cladding, seemed to have sunk through the steel "lower head" of the pressure vessel around reactor two, Lahey said.

"The indications we have, from the reactor to radiation readings and the materials they are seeing, suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," Lahey said. "I hope I am wrong, but that is certainly what the evidence is pointing towards."

Last of the Fukushima Fifty out the door, turn out the lights.  We're now well beyond a "partial meltdown" scenario and into "what are our emergency containment options at this point".  It's just a matter of how much additional exposure is necessary before the Powers That Be give the order to box the thing in.

Home, Home I'm Deranged, Part 19

Gosh, remember when Cramer called a bottom to the housing market in July 2009?  Some 18 months later, housing prices are continuing to drop.

Home prices in January remained barely above lows hit during the worst of the recession, according to an index that tracks prices in America's biggest cities, and many analysts said they expected values to fall further as the housing downturn plumbs new depths.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index for 20 major U.S. cities, released Tuesday, showed prices dropped 3.1% from January 2010 and 1% from December as demand for homes remained weak and distressed properties — foreclosures and short sales — remained a large part of the market.

"Keeping with the trends set in late 2010, January brings us weakening home prices with no real hope in sight for the near future," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor's. "The housing market recession is not yet over, and none of the statistics are indicating any form of sustained recovery."

The 20-city index is 1.1% above its low hit in April 2009. A second index, tracking prices in 10 major cities, remained 2.8% above its April 2009 bottom. Many economists expect these widely watched indexes to dip below those previous benchmarks this year, marking a double dip in housing values as defined by Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller.

And I've only been predicting a housing double-dip for 18 months now (or more correctly that the housing depression never ended in the first place.)  The housing market will continue to crash and burn in 2011 and most likely well into 2012 at the very minimum.  There are just too many vacant homes and foreclosed properties out there to conduct a healthy market. 

And as housing values drop, more and more people are going to be underwater on their homes, meaning they'll face higher mortgage payments, risking mortgage default, and adding to the bonfire of the vanities.  There is no political will to deal with this situation right now in Washington either.

We're about to see another significant leg down in the housing market.

Shutdown Countdown, Part 12

Orange Julius:  Professional Hostage?  Ezra Klein muses:

The math of a possible budget deal isn’t particularly hard. If John Boehner can’t get enough Republicans, he can always move to the left and get some Democrats. As my colleague Paul Kane reports, there’ve been some preliminary feelers from GOP leadership looking into doing just that. Plenty of Blue Dogs would be happy to help out, and the Republican leadership could get a spending bill with cuts equal to their initial $30 billion proposal. By any normal accounting, that’d be a win. It’d be as if House Democrats had managed to send their first health-care bill, complete with public option, sailing through the Senate in order to head off a singe-payer proposal favored by the party’s liberal wing. What the arithmetic leaves out, however, is Eric Cantor.

Whether you call it the Tea Party or not, the hardline of the modern Republican Party has demonstrated its willingness and skill at deposing incumbent Republicans who are too willing to compromise with the other side. Deposing the Speaker of the House, however, is hard. But it’s a bit less hard if you have another option waiting in the wings. An option like Eric Cantor. As David Rogers and Jake Sherman note, Cantor has been separating himself from Boehner’s “I’m not going to put any options on the table or take any options off the table” and making it clear that he both opposes a short-term CR and hasn’t been informed about a range of compromise discussions. It’s an odd public stance for the Majority Leader to take. But it’s right in line with a Republican Party where the conservative caucus has promised to counter Paul Ryan’s budget with an even-more conservative document -- even though no one has yet seen Ryan’s budget!

In fact the WIN THE MORNING Village crew is all over this "Will Cantor go after Boehner as Speaker?" crap this morning, and I'm laughing my head off.  It's such crap.

I believe that garbage as far as Eric Cantor can throw me.  Absolutely this is "bad cop, insane cop trying to kill me in my sleep" being played for all to see.

This is the point where Orange Julius goes to Blue Dog Dems and says "I can't control Eric Cantor and the Tea Party anymore.  The only way we're going to get out of this without a shutdown is if you guys can help me out here and give me enough cuts to save my neck.  You'll be heroes, too...defying your party to reach across the aisle, the press will love it.  Otherwise, well, who do you think's going to be blamed here?  You'd better act fast, deal's only on the table for so long..."

And the Dems will fall for it.  At this point the worst Orange Julius can do is getting his initial $30 billion in cuts.  The Dems have already given up that much.  And the way Cantor's taking Alka-Seltzer tablets and using them to fake frothing at the mouth, he's going to get a lot more.

Folks, this is kabuki at its finest.  Dems are being played, Village is being played, US taxpayers are being played.  The odds of this being the final push for Republicans to get what they want (and then move on to getting even more long-term concessions in the debt ceiling bill) are higher right now than the odds of a shutdown.

Count on it.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Last Call

A foreign national was indicted yesterday for allegedly illegally importing an unmanned spy plane into the U.S., and then trying to resell it on eBay.

According to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, Henson Chua of the Philippines was indicted and charged by a grand jury in Tampa with violating the Arms Export Control Act and smuggling. Chua is accused of importing an RQ-11B "Raven" Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from the Philippines into the U.S., which is listed on the U.S. Munitions List as a defensive item, "without having first obtained from the U.S. Department of State a license or written authorization." He then "aided and abetted the attempted export" of the same UAV.

U.S. arms code prohibits people from buying and selling defense equipment without permission from the government, primarily to prevent people from selling U.S.-manufactured equipment to foreign governments. But Chua managed to reverse the process.

According to the indictments, in May 2010, Homeland Security Investigations agents in Tampa learned from the Department of Defense that a "Raven" had been listed on eBay, for a price of $13,000. The listing also had nine pictures, which showed the bar code and ID number of that particular "Raven," through which the DOD determined which one it was, and that it was the property of the U.S. government.

Yep.  Dude tried to sell an unmanned Pentagon drone.  On Ebay.


Birthers Get A Trump Card, Part 3

People tell me "Wow, Donald Trump is crazy with this whole birther thing."  I just laugh in response.  Donald Trump knows exactly what he's doing.  People who dismiss him as a fool are themselves deluded.  He is as dangerous as a crane magnet in a steel knife foundry.  He's defining himself as the birther candidate, and that alone makes him dangerous.

Donald Trump is a salesman.  He's made his billions selling things. He knows that his path to the Presidency is a job of selling Donald Trump. He's selling birtherism as a mainstream Republican value.  There's a reason for that:  Birtherism is a mainstream Republican value.

                                      Demo- Indep- Repub- Lib-  Mod-  Conser-
                                Total crat  endent lican  eral  erate vative
                                ----- ----- ------ ------ ----- ----- -------
Definitely born in U.S.         46%   73%   43%    20%    73%   52%   27%
Probably born in the U.S.       26%   16%   31%    32%    13%   27%   32%
Probably born in another ctry   15%   5%    14%    28%    4%    11%   25%
Def born in another ctry        10%   6%    9%     15%    8%    8%    12%
No Opinion                       3%   1%    3%     5%     1%    3%    4%

Look at that.  Three our of four Republicans have some doubt about Obama's status as a US citizen.  That CNN poll was released today.  Donald Trump knows his audience well.  When Trump says "Hey, I have some doubts about Obama's birth certificate", he is reflecting the opinion of a vast majority of Republican voters that share his doubts.

And Trump's not the only one cashing in on this.  Jerome Corsi is due out with another anti-Obama Birther book in May.  Corsi, like Trump, is betting on oodles of free publicity from the Village.  Already, ABC News is asking if the birther issue is enough to make Trump not only a serious candidate for President, but a winning one.

The man's crazy like a FOX, and he's going to ride this idiot birther wave all the way.  And yes, Republicans really are this stupid...well, 75% of them, at least.

New tag:  The Donald.

When has a Republican actually paid a political price for too much Obama Derangement Syndrome?

The Badger Awakens, Part 5

Conservatives are going full-bore after Wisconsin state university labor relations professors, demanding to see all email related to the Walker union-busting fight.

A free enterprise think tank in Michigan -- backed by some of the biggest names in national conservative donor circles -- has made a broad public records request to at least three in-state universities with departments that specialize in the study of labor relations, seeking all their emails regarding the union battle in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, TPM has learned.

According to professors subject to the request, filed under Michigan's version of the Freedom Of Information Act, the request is extremely rare in academic circles. An employee at the think tank requesting the emails tells TPM they're part of an investigation into what labor studies professors at state schools in Michigan are saying about the situation in Madison, Wisc., the epicenter of the clashes between unions and Republican-run state governments across the Midwest.

One professor subject to the FOIA described it as anti-union advocates "going after folks they don't agree with."

Yeah, that level of rancor against university professors is pretty much par for the course. Fits the bill with conservatives going after state university professors who teach about climate change, so anyone that pays attention to Rachel Maddow would of course need to be eliminated as a Red Communist threat to America liberal.

Of course, conservatives are calling the move all about "freedom and transparency". What it's all about of course is payback for news outlets making FOIA requests involving Scott Walker. When you make an FOIA request of an elected Republican official, that's harassment.

Then again it makes perfect sense. Republicans are all about cutting billions from education, from Head Start programs all the way through university programs. The only real education is working as a serf, and the faster you start doing that and not sucking up tax dollars on your "book smarts", the more useful you are to the elite who control the country.

[UPDATE]  The Federal judge that blocked the law in the first place has thrown down the gauntlet again, issuing a second injunction against the law being implemented...complete with warnings of "sanctions" for those who cannot follow the ruling.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 19

With news now that soil samples taken near Fukushima Daiichi reveal plutonium, the collapse of TEPCO's credibility is pretty much complete.

In the latest blow to hopes authorities were gradually getting the plant under control, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co said plutonium was found at low-risk levels in soil samples at the facility. 
A by-product of atomic reactions and also used in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on the planet, experts say. 
They believe some of the plutonium may have come from spent fuel rods at Fukushima or damage to reactor No. 3, the only one to use plutonium in its fuel mix. 
Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said while the plutonium levels were not harmful to human health, the discovery could mean the reactor's containment mechanism had been breached. 
"Plutonium is a substance that's emitted when the temperature is high, and it's also heavy and so does not leak out easily," agency deputy director Hidehiko Nishiyama told a news conference. 
"So if plutonium has emerged from the reactor, that tells us something about the damage to the fuel. And if it has breached the original containment system, it underlines the gravity and seriousness of this accident."

Yes, leaking plutonium might be considered grave in some circles.  Any wonder then that TEPCO is about to be nationalized as a result of the disaster at Fukushima?

Imposing state ownership on Asia's largest utility is one option Japan is mulling, National Strategy Minister Koichiro Gemba said on Tuesday, as the cost of fixing broken reactors and compensating businesses and households soar.

At the same time, the utility's ability to pay has been hobbled by a fall in generating capacity that is causing rolling blackouts that are expected to last for weeks if not months. TEPCO provides electricity to a third of the Japanese population and usually operates enough capacity to power the whole of Britain.

"I see no other options than nationalizing TEPCO," a fund manager at a major Japanese asset management firm said, declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. "People are so angry with the company and that anger won't subside if the government just injects money and lets the management stay."

Shareholders will be hurt, but the risk of the company collapsing without government support would be tremendous, he added.

The disaster and prospect of nationalization thumped TEPCO shares, which closed down almost 19 percent at 566 yen on Tuesday -- their lowest since 1964.

Seems like TEPCO is pretty much done at this point, as it should be. There's no way the company is going to be able to pay all the illness claims over the next generation -- and yes, that's how bad this will get, folks -- without folding. Hell, judging from the stock price, the company won't survive another week.

There's a reason why I think the total costs of this disaster will approach the one trillion mark...and that's dollars, not yen. Pretty soon I'm going to start having to append the Legal Stupidity and Criminal Stupidity tags. As it is, we're into Economic Stupidity as far as TEPCO is concerned.

StupidiNews! Read All About It Edition

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Beginning at 2 p.m. ET Monday, The New York Times will try to harness the force that has been wrecking the newspaper business: free access on the Internet.
The nation's most prestigious general interest paper will now charge readers for extended access to its website, In erecting a paywall, executives at the Times are trying to walk a fine line: generate subscription revenue from avid readers willing to pay, while still retaining more the casual customers who boost advertising revenue with their clicks.

Users get 20 free articles per month, after that payment is required.  It's an interesting model, but I think it would be more efficient to pay per click.  The article makes the argument that people are more likely to pay for digital content after the app markets have changed how we view those transactions.  However, $15 per month for unlimited online access is still steep when compared to the free competition that will continue to eat away at the big papers.  This may actually be the beginning of an era of news publishing where subscriptions aren't the measure of success, but that of clicks and reviews received.  That doesn't sound so bad to me.

Frankly, it has seemed that local papers have phoned it in for a long time, and have been reduced to AP / Reuters relays with the occasional local story to break up the monotony. The industry has been spoiled with loyal customers and little competition in a declining market.  Just like the rest of us, they should hustle for their business or make way for those who will.  At the rate of $15 - $35 per month for access to just one paper, I don't think it will go over very well.

As always, I'm curious to see what you think about it.  Sound off in the comments or on the Facebook page.

A Little Ray Of Sunshine: This Time With Meatballs

An extremely successful chef has made an enormous difference for hungry kids in his neighborhood.  This goes a little beyond the normal feel-good story, however.  It is about the sharp eye of a man who saw a need and filled it.  It's also a statement about an emerging population, the motel kids.  

While "motel kids" are found across the United States, the situation is very common in Orange County, California, a wealthy community with high rents and a large number of old motels. In 2009, local authorities estimated that more than 1,000 families lived in these conditions.

When Serato learned that these children often go hungry, he began serving up assistance, one plate at a time. To date, he's served more than 270,000 pasta dinners -- for free -- to those in need.

"Kids should not be suffering," Serato said. "[I had] to do something."

What he did was begin feeding those kids, in the most straightforward and efficient way he knew how.  At the insistence of his mother, he began to serve up hot meals to kids who may not have eaten otherwise.  He not only gave when times were good, he gave even more when times were slim.  There were lean times when he had fewer paying customers and an even greater need to fill, and he didn't slow down a bit.  Now he supports 200 kids in two locations, and is encouraging other restaurants to chip in, even if it's just a few meals.

Driving A Compact Over Obamacare

MoJo's Stephanie Mencimer files this report on the Tea Party's next plan to kill Obamacare by turning to the state level.

The tea party has a new plan to attack health care reform. While some conservative activists are still fighting to get the law defunded and eventually repealed, others are organizing behind a radical, states'-rights proposal that would go beyond merely derailing health reform. Egged on by tea partiers, at least a dozen states are now contemplating legislation that supporters believe would allow them to seize control of and administer virtually all federal health care programs operating in their states and exempt them from the requirements of the health care law. That includes Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly on which a sizable number of tea partiers rely.

The vehicle for this reform end run is called the health care compact, an interstate compact not very different in theory from the ones states use to create regional transit authorities, for instance. Recently, the nation's largest tea party group, the Tea Party Patriots, has thrown its weight behind the concept, seeing it as another way of downsizing the federal government. But the group may have other motivations, too. TPP has received a significant amount of money from the measure's backer, the Health Care Compact Alliance, an organization bankrolled by the right-wing heir to a Texas construction company fortune. Last month, the Alliance underwrote TPP's policy summit in Phoenix for a sponsorship advertised at $250,000. It has also become a regular advertiser on TPP's website and email promotions.

Along with TPP's endorsement comes its considerable army of activists, who are working to persuade state legislatures to pass laws to join the interstate compact rather than to implement parts of the new federal health care reform law. The Georgia House, which recently refused to move legislation that would create health insurance "exchanges" as required under the Affordable Care Act, also passed health care compact legislation. States including Tennessee, Oklahoma, Montana, Arizona, and Missouri are currently considering similar bills.

The heart of the compact maneuver is, ironically, a kind of collective bargaining, something that Tea Party faithful insist has no place in government, as it hurts the taxpayer.  It's states banding together to resist the "tyranny" of health care reform, and if that does set off alarm bells, it should.  If enough states join this compact rather than implement the law as passed, the Tea Party figures it can effectively destroy the law from within.

But remember, the point here is to tell the federal government that it has no right to compel states to follow the law.  Compact supporters want enough states to exempt themselves from the PPACA so that the law can't possibly work at a national level.  Even better, they believe that the compact, being interstate commerce, will solely be regulated by Congress and not the President.  They figure they'll get the money and none of the executive branch oversight as long as House Republicans insist that how the money must be doled out, and Senate Dems are forced to follow.

Or hey, they can just play for time until 2013 in which case they figure they'll have Republicans everywhere who will simply eliminate the PPACA completely.  Either way, they win.

It's a surprisingly good plan.  It's going to hurt millions of actual American citizens, but it's not like the Republicans give a damn.

Duh, winning.

To The Shores Of Tripoli, Part 8

The AP fact checks President Obama's speech from last night and argues that "turning things over to NATO" means things will continue as they have been with the US in charge.

OBAMA: "Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and no-fly zone. ... Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gadhafi's remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role."

THE FACTS: As by far the pre-eminent player in NATO, and a nation historically reluctant to put its forces under operational foreign command, the United States will not be taking a back seat in the campaign even as its profile diminishes for public consumption.

NATO partners are bringing more into the fight. But the same "unique capabilities" that made the U.S. the inevitable leader out of the gate will continue to be in demand. They include a range of attack aircraft, refueling tankers that can keep aircraft airborne for lengthy periods, surveillance aircraft that can detect when Libyans even try to get a plane airborne, and, as Obama said, planes loaded with electronic gear that can gather intelligence or jam enemy communications and radars.

The United States supplies 22 percent of NATO's budget, almost as much as the next largest contributors - Britain and France - combined. A Canadian three-star general was selected to be in charge of all NATO operations in Libya. His boss, the commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Naples, is an American admiral, and the admiral's boss is the supreme allied commander Europe, a post always held by an American.

Very much a literal interpretation of the speech, but accurate. But the AP did notice the same thing I did:  we don't have an end-game in Libya.

OBAMA: "Our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives."

THE FACTS: Even as the U.S. steps back as the nominal leader, reduces some assets and fires a declining number of cruise missiles, the scope of the mission appears to be expanding and the end game remains unclear.

Despite insistence that the operation is only to protect civilians, the airstrikes now are undeniably helping the rebels to advance. U.S. officials acknowledge that the effect of air attacks on Gadhafi's forces - and on the supply and communications links that support them - is useful if not crucial to the rebels. "Clearly they're achieving a benefit from the actions that we're taking," Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs, said Monday.

The Pentagon has been turning to air power of a kind more useful than high-flying bombers in engaging Libyan ground forces. So far these have included low-flying Air Force AC-130 and A-10 attack aircraft, and the Pentagon is considering adding armed drones and helicopters.

Obama said "we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people," but spoke of achieving that through diplomacy and political pressure, not force of U.S. arms.

And the AP is again correct here.  Nobody is buying the notion that the no-fly zone is "protecting civilians" and not helping the rebels both tactically and strategically.  If the goal in Libya is NOT regime change, for it has been stated that the goal is to get Libya to the point where they can decide their own fate, then it's everything the rebels need to achieve it.

It's very good to see that the pressure diplomatically is on to get Qaddafi to step down...but that again is regime change, is it not?  Even Obama has publicly said, as have other leaders, that Qaddafi has to go.  Yes, Obama is certainly going about it in a more intelligent wat than a Republican would have, but the prospect of an ugly ground war still hangs over this.

On the other hand, if Qaddafi does fold and leave, Obama will look like a genius.

On the gripping hand, Republicans will attack Obama no matter what he does in Libya.

Shutdown Countdown, Part 11

Ezra Klein is convinced a government shutdown is coming as soon as the end of next week.

April 8th. That’s the deadline for Republicans and Democrats to reach a deal on funding for the remainder of 2011. No deal? Then the government shuts down. And if I were a betting man, that’s where my money would be right now: the negotiations have become too acrimonious, the issues at their heart too numerous and personal to the parties, to make a deal likely even in normal circumstances. But in circumstances in which newly elected Republicans are trying to prove to their base that they won’t catch Beltway fever and compromise while Democrats are trying to prove they won’t get pushed around by a party that controls a minority of the federal government? A deal seems near impossible.

One way you know that talks are going poorly is that, over the last 24 hours, reporters have suddenly been showered with leaks and inside information about what’s holding up the talks. It’s not just that Republicans want to cut deeper than Democrats and pass a series of riders accomplishing longtime conservative priorities like defunding Planned Parenthood. It’s also that Republicans are insisting that the House’s spending bill serve as a starting point for all negotiations and Democrats are insisting that if Republicans want so many cuts, they need to be open to the cuts coming from outside the non-defense discretionary bucket. So the fights over “what” and “how much” have been joined by fights over “from where” and “based off what.” It’s not a good sign, at this late stage in the negotiations, for the points of contention to be multiplying.

I'm still not convinced of a shutdown.  If you had shown me this post six weeks ago as a message from the future, I would have agreed with it totally.  But in the intervening weeks what I have seen is that at pretty much every major juncture in this process since the new Congress was convened, Dems have folded.

Republicans have all but gotten a complete win on the budget here and the process has been the same:  Tea Party Republicans threaten to destroy the country, GOP leaders say "Well if you give us some concessions we might be able to put a leash on them", Dems offer billions more in cuts, and the Tea Party settles down for a few days, then the process repeats itself.

I fully expect another round of tens of billions more in cuts to be offered by the Democrats before the end of next week, which will buy another couple of weeks in the House for negotiations.  Dems are convinced that if there is a shutdown, they will be blamed, and not the Republicans.  Even the chance that they might take the heat for it is leading them to capitulate.  They're buying the Cantor Theory.

"Senator Reid failed to pass a budget last year and once again is abandoning his responsibility to offer a credible plan to cut spending and fund the government for the rest of the year. The Reid/Schumer leadership team has failed to take our fiscal crisis seriously, as members of their own Democratic caucus have pointed out.

"Our federal government borrows nearly forty cents of each dollar it spends, yet Senate Democrats want to keep spending money that we don't have. It is clear that because Senator Reid refuses to make any spending cuts, he instead plans to force a massive future tax hike on families and small business people.

"In the scope of our debt crisis, if Senator Reid and Senator Schumer force the government to partially shut down over these sensible spending cuts, Americans will hold them accountable." 

Every word of it other than "Senator Reid" and "Senator Schumer" (because they are Senators) is a lie, but the Dems are completely terrified by this.   Now, it's possible that the Tea Party will revolt and Ezra is right. But I think the Republicans can get one more batch of cuts, basically getting to the $60-$80 billion in cuts range that they put as their starting position, without having to give up anything but a couple of continuing resolutions.

Seems like a total win to me...unless Ezra is right and the Tea Party blows up the whole deal (which is very possible.)

[UPDATE]  Brian Beutler reports that Republicans are planning to can the White House's latest offer outright, leaving everything up in the air.  Entirely possible now that this is prelude to a shutdown.  It's also possible that this is prelude to a complete fold by the Democrats.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Last Call

Here's the word cloud of the President's speech tonight (full text here)

Make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, Ivory Coast is actually in a civil war right now.

Heavy gunfire and explosions rang out from the strategic town of Duekoue in western Ivory Coast on Monday, residents said, but it was not clear who was involved in the shooting.

Duekoue has remained under the control of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo since a 2002-3 war but rebels who seized the north of the country have pushed toward the town as the country's post-election crisis turns increasingly violent.

Would be nice if, you know, the world gave a damn.

Just saying.

The Reporters You Should Be Reading, Ladies First Edition

So Saturday I blew a gasket over this infuriating NY Times style section piece on DC's hot young reporter/blogger gurus who of course happened to be all male.  In the comments, bjkeefe took me to task for not naming any women in my response, something I corrected in the comments, but I feel I need to put it out here as its own post.  So here they are, the reporter/bloggers I follow who happen to be women.

Let's start with Mother Jones and some of the best in the business:  Mac McClelland, Kate Sheppard, Stephanie Mencimer and Suzy Khimm.  Sheppard is MoJo's Washington environmental reporter and her work on women's rights and the GOP abortion extremists is must-read stuff, Mencimer covers Capitol Hill and the Tea Party very well, and Khimm covers DC politics as well as anybody at the Post or Times, if not better.  McClelland's work on human rights, Haiti and the BP oil spill in particular is outstanding and even though she's not strictly a Washington correspondent, her work is just that good.

Also getting props, HuffPo's Amanda Terkel, formerly of ThinkProgress, now HuffPo's Senior Washington Correspondent.  I've been reading her for years, her coverage of the 2008 campaign was brilliant stuff.

ProPublica's Dafna Linzer is another excellent find, one of the best national security reporters out there.  Her columns on Gitmo are especially worthy reading.

Finally, Miami Herald's political ace, Joy Reid (of The Reid Report blog) shows you don't have to be in Washington to have an excellent political sense of the beltway.  I aspire to write as well as she does merely from a personal standpoint.

I read these folks on a regular basis, and you should as well.  At least in a fair world, it wouldn't matter that they all happen to be women.

Dems Get A Win-diana

When Dems left in Wisconsin to stop the GOP, it devolved into an ongoig nightmare.  But Indiana Dems are finally coming back home having beaten Republicans and Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Here are two big highlights from compromise, provided to TPM by a Democratic source:

Labor: Republicans have agreed to scrap the controversial right-to-work law that led the Democrats to shut things down back on Feb. 22. Republicans have also pledged not to pass a law making the state's existing ban on collective bargaining for state workers, created by Daniels executive order, permanent.

Daniels had suggested the legislature not take up the bill in the first place, saying he supported it but that it could "wreck" his goals of making the session about education reform and other top priorities for his administration. So the deal to take labor off the table can be seen as a victory for both the Democrats and Daniels, who's eager to move on to other things, possibly in advance of a run for the White House.

Education Daniels' signature policy agenda for this legislative session was a proposal to create a state-funded private school voucher system for low- and middle-income families. That plan will be curtailed considerably in the deal with House Republicans.

The compromise calls for strict caps on the number of vouchers the state can give out the program's first two years, denying, as a Democratic source put it, "the largest voucher program in the nation the Republicans originally wanted." Under the new plan, vouchers will be limited to 7,500 students in the first year and 15,000 in the second year.

Other concessions in the deal call for the abandonment of plan to let private companies take over failing public schools. 

It could be the Republicans were beaten by Democrats who finally showed enough spine to win.  Or it could be the fact that polls are showing that Republican governors pushing anti-union, anti-education agendas are getting savaged in polls.   Daniels wants to run as a "moderate Republican", not as a Tea Party nutbar (of course that still puts him to the extreme right of the country).  His presidential bid would die stillborn if he ran on that.

Still, it's a win for Democrats in the Hoosier State for sure.

The Ultimate In Unfinished Bush Business

Rolling Stone's article on the " Afghanistan Kill Team" is very sobering stuff, and they are not even close to kidding when they say the images are disturbingly graphic (and completely NSFW.)  Soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company out of Washington State, did things so horrific to Afghan civilians that every American needs to be made aware of them.  And yes, they are war crimes.

The poppy plants were still low to the ground at that time of year. The two soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes, saw a young farmer who was working by himself among the spiky shoots. Off in the distance, a few other soldiers stood sentry. But the farmer was the only Afghan in sight. With no one around to witness, the timing was right. And just like that, they picked him for execution.

He was a smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old. Not much younger than they were: Morlock was 21, Holmes was 19. His name, they would later learn, was Gul Mudin, a common name in Afghanistan. He was wearing a little cap and a Western-style green jacket. He held nothing in his hand that could be interpreted as a weapon, not even a shovel. The expression on his face was welcoming. "He was not a threat," Morlock later confessed.

Morlock and Holmes called to him in Pashto as he walked toward them, ordering him to stop. The boy did as he was told. He stood still.

The soldiers knelt down behind a mud-brick wall. Then Morlock tossed a grenade toward Mudin, using the wall as cover. As the grenade exploded, he and Holmes opened fire, shooting the boy repeatedly at close range with an M4 carbine and a machine gun.

Mudin buckled, went down face first onto the ground. His cap toppled off. A pool of blood congealed by his head.

The loud retort of the guns echoed all around the sleepy farming village. The sound of such unexpected gunfire typically triggers an emergency response in other soldiers, sending them into full battle mode. Yet when the shots rang out, some soldiers didn't seem especially alarmed, even when the radio began to squawk. It was Morlock, agitated, screaming that he had come under attack. On a nearby hill, Spc. Adam Winfield turned to his friend, Pfc. Ashton Moore, and explained that it probably wasn't a real combat situation. It was more likely a staged killing, he said – a plan the guys had hatched to take out an unarmed Afghan without getting caught.

Nor was this the only incident. Not by, and if you will excuse the term, a long shot.

After the killing, the soldiers involved in Mudin's death were not disciplined or punished in any way. Emboldened, the platoon went on a shooting spree over the next four months that claimed the lives of at least three more innocent civilians. When the killings finally became public last summer, the Army moved aggressively to frame the incidents as the work of a "rogue unit" operating completely on its own, without the knowledge of its superiors. Military prosecutors swiftly charged five low-ranking soldiers with murder, and the Pentagon clamped down on any information about the killings. Soldiers in Bravo Company were barred from giving interviews, and lawyers for the accused say their clients faced harsh treatment if they spoke to the press, including solitary confinement. No officers were charged.

But a review of internal Army records and investigative files obtained by Rolling Stone, including dozens of interviews with members of Bravo Company compiled by military investigators, indicates that the dozen infantrymen being portrayed as members of a secretive "kill team" were operating out in the open, in plain view of the rest of the company. Far from being clandestine, as the Pentagon has implied, the murders of civilians were common knowledge among the unit and understood to be illegal by "pretty much the whole platoon," according to one soldier who complained about them. Staged killings were an open topic of conversation, and at least one soldier from another battalion in the 3,800-man Stryker Brigade participated in attacks on unarmed civilians. "The platoon has a reputation," a whistle-blower named Pfc. Justin Stoner told the Army Criminal Investigation Command. "They have had a lot of practice staging killings and getting away with it."

After nine years of the abyss staring back, I can hardly say I'm surprised at this. But it's not an excuse for what should be considered war crimes, plain and simple.  Maybe this will be the incident that gets us out of Afghanistan, but I doubt it to the point of near despair.  it makes Abu Ghraib look like a church picnic, a systemic series of message killings of civilians, just to put the fear of God and the United States military in them (in that order.)

But frankly, given all that is going on the world this month, this won't even register on the Village radar.  And it's a damn shame, too.  The Army won't say how widespread this is.  We only know about it because Morlock and Holmes got caught.  We may never know the full extent of this mess.

But hey, it's all fair, right?  They killed our civilians on 9/11, so we're killing theirs.  Eye for an eye.  Torture and indefinite detention is an approved method of obtaining information in America now.  Why not outright murder?

Epic Fail: Boys Sleepover Leads To Man Shot In Groin Edition

Sometimes, you just gotta love a news story for the simple and amusing beast that it is.  This is one of those times. Those Aussies know how to throw down!

Six boys cowered in the dark as a knife-wielding man threatened to kill them during a suburban sleepover from hell.

The group of mostly 12-year-olds yesterday told how their neighbour went on a rampage, screaming they "were going to die" and trying to batter down the door to their townhouse in the Brisbane suburb of Capalaba.

The three-hour ordeal ended only when Brett Hayes, 50, was shot in the groin by a policewoman after he allegedly lunged at her with six 30cm knives.

An investigation has been launched into the shooting as police defended their response to several frantic calls for help.

There is some criticism of the police department for taking an hour to respond, but the policewoman's mighty shot put an end to the ruckus.  And silly me, I thought we had clinched the global redneck title.

And With A Loud Jangle, My BS Detector Went Off

Washington (CNN) -- After almost 30 years in a mental hospital, John W. Hinckley Jr., the college dropout who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, is moving closer to the day his doctors may recommend he go free.

According to court records, a forensic psychologist at the hospital has testified that "Hinckley has recovered to the point that he poses no imminent risk of danger to himself or others."

That concerns former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova, who helped oversee Hinckley's prosecution in 1982. He told CNN, "I think John Hinckley will be a threat the rest of his life. He is a time bomb."

There are certain things you can't do if you ever expect to enjoy freedom in your life again.  Shooting the POTUS is one of them.  Playing Russian Roulette on film and stalking a young actress is minutiae when compared to that one single act.  I understand redemption, I understand that he is 55 now, an old man when compared to the man who shot Ronald Reagan.  I also understand the depth of his insanity, and am in total agreement with diGenova.

How Much For The Little Girl?

Ezra Klein finally figures out what E.J. Dionne could have told you three weeks ago and what Steve M. expanded on:  John Boehner's game of "Bad Cop, Completely Insane Cop" means Republicans are going to get everything they wanted in budget negotiations and then some.

Back in February, Paul Ryan unveiled what was supposed to be the opening bid from the House Republicans: $32 billion in cuts for the rest of 2011. But the Tea Party demanded more and House leadership quickly caved, doubling their proposed cuts to more than $60 billion -- or almost $100 billion less than barack Obama’s 2011 budget request (quick note: different news stories present these numbers differently, as it depends on whether you use Obama’s budget request or 2010’s funding as a baseline. I’m using the difference from 2010 funding, which makes for lower sums). Now Democrats are offering as a compromise measure $30 billion in total cuts, or exactly what Ryan’s original proposal had called for. Pretty neat, huh?

And that’s not the Democrats’ final offer, either. Odds are good that the eventual compromise will see cuts somewhere between the $30 billion Republican leadership called for and the almost $70 billion the conservative wing of the House GOP demanded. “That’s not much of a compromise if we end up with what the House Republican leadership wanted in the first place,observe Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden. And they’re right. But the irony is that it’s entirely possible the press will report that Democrats “won” the negotiations, as Republican leadership is likely to have to lose a lot of conservative votes in the House to get any compromise, no matter how radical, through the chamber. That will make them look bad, and in the weird logic of Washington, make the Democrats look good. But if you just keep your eye on the policy, Republicans are moving towards a win far beyond anything the House leadership had initially imagined. Getting there required learning they had less control over their conservative wing that they’d hoped, but it also taught them that their inability to control their conservative wing gave them credibility in negotiations with Democrats and can lead to pretty remarkable policy wins, as no one doubts that House Republicans really will shut down the government or allow for a default.

In other words, all Orange Julius had to do to win was to let his Tea Party lunatics do what they always do:

Yes, Jake and Elwood in the restaurant acting like complete nutjobs until they get what they want is an extremely viable political strategy in 2011.  Dionne called this weeks ago, and as I said back then, it's working.

I thought for sure a shutdown was coming.  But the Democrats have so completely folded in sheer terror at the prospect of more Tea Party abuse that they are going to give OJ the whole ball of wax just to get them to go away.  And you can bet Boehner will simply repeat this "Well gosh I dunno what they are going to do" threat time and time again.

[UPDATE]  And right on cue, Dems are offering another $20 billion in social cuts, which the Republicnas will not accept and will continue to shut down the government again in two weeks.   Rinse, repeat.
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