Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Fun Stuff--Genesis' Land of Confusion

For this crazy week, it might be nice to take a little political historical trip back into time with Genesis, and their 1986 music video Land of Confusion. Yes, that is the Republican Patron Saint Ronny Reagan in full puppet mode, with Bonzo at his side. See if you can recognize the rest of the 1980s celebrities in this YouTube video:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Clinton "Fat Cats'" letter to Pelosi may be backfiring

I found this ABC News story to be especially interesting:

The 20 Clinton-backing fat cats who vaguely threatened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to change her tune on superdelegates lest their purses and pocketbooks slam shut have contributed almost "$24 million to Democratic candidates and committees over the last 10 years," according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

They've donated almost $554,000 to Sen. Hillary Clinton's Senate and presidential campaigns and her leadership PAC -- compared to less than a tenth of that, $52,200, for Sen. Barack Obama.

"To borrow from an investment firm's old ad campaign," says the Center, "when big donors talk, politicians listen."

Except that there is just one problem with this kind of threat. It may have worked in the 2000 or 2004 campaign, but there is a new shift in political campaign donations with the rise of the small donor. Look at how Barack Obama has been able to generate millions of dollars in small donations of $100 or less with the use of online contributions and social networking sites. This can be a powerful counterweight to the big Democratic donors--especially when the fat cats are demanding a greater say in how the candidates are selected.

There is more. Further into the ABC News story:

UPDATE: ABC News' Political Director David Chalian reports that a Democratic operative unaffiliated with either campaign and familiar with the reaction to the letter among Members of Congress says, "Members of Congress - who are superdelegates - make up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee" or DCCC from which the donors seemed to be threatening to withhold funds.

"Threatening the DCCC is equal to threatening the superdelegates Sen. Hillary Clinton's trying to court. The Clinton donor letter will just push undeclared superdelegates in Congress leaning toward Obama to endorse him sooner. It also reinforces the narrative that she'll destroy the party to win."

In other words, the fat cats' letter to threaten Pelosi is backfiring. Democratic members of Congress, who are also members of the DCCC, certainly don't like to be threatened by these big Clinton donors--vote our way, or we'll cut off your funding. These are the same super delegates that Hillary Clinton is trying to solicit their support. And now to have Clinton fat cats sending threatening letters? You can bet that will piss of these Democratic congressmen, and possibly send them over to the Obama camp.

But there is even more to this story. According to The Huffington Post:

Aides to Sen. Hillary Clinton said on Thursday that they knew key fundraisers for her campaign were sending a letter to Nancy Pelosi, castigating the Speaker over her position on superdelegates and threatening, vaguely, to withhold campaign donations.

And while they did not go so far as to say they approved of the letter's content -- "we didn't know what was in it," said spokesman Phil Singer -- they did argue that the "letter speaks for itself."

"There is clearly a broad feeling among many Democrats and many people who are active in the party," said Singer, "that the role of superdelegates is to exercise independent judgment and make a decision that is best for the party and best for the country."

The Clinton campaign knew that the fat cat Clinton donors had sent the letter to Speaker Pelosi. They knew about the letter. And while the Clinton campaign claims that they didn't know the contents of the letter, they could have easily surmised that the contents were not going to be friendly to Pelosi. The Clinton campaign did nothing to either talk to their big donors about the contents of the letter, review the letter for any fallout that could hurt the Clinton campaign, or even ask that the big donors not send the letter to Pelosi. They did nothing. And by doing nothing, the Clinton campaign pretty much approved of the contents in the fat cats' letter.

What is especially interesting about this story is this paragraph:

And while they did not go so far as to say they approved of the letter's content -- "we didn't know what was in it," said spokesman Phil Singer -- they did argue that the "letter speaks for itself."

The Clinton campaign argued that the "letter speaks for itself." This is especially damning for the Clinton campaign since the Clinton campaign is approving of the Clinton donors threat to Pelosi on withholding their political campaign contributions to the DCCC if Pelosi did not retract her comments regarding the super delegates. The Clinton campaign approved of the extortion threat made against Pelosi by the big Clinton donors. Are the Clinton staffers that stupid? You do not know what the contents of the letter are, but you still approve of the letter's contents that was sent to Pelosi. You approve of the extortion threat that the Clinton fat cats made against Pelosi. This is a total screw-up on part of the Clinton campaign.

And I think the Clinton campaign knew the screwed up this badly. Continuing into the Huffington Post story:

Asked whether the Clinton campaign thought it would be appropriate for party financiers to threaten to withhold funds should Pelosi not change her stance, aides to the New York Democrat restated their commitment to helping build a larger Democratic congressional majority.

"As someone who is a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who spent a lot of years working in the House, who has both friends and family working in the House, I feel, as do most of the people I know, absolutely committed to helping elect Democrats to the House in 2008," said Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson. "I believe strongly in Nancy Pelosi's leadership. Obviously, some of our donors had an issue that they wanted to put into writing... But Senator Clinton and Bill Clinton will not take a backseat to anyone when it comes to helping Democrats or helping to fund the party committees. And the people here at every level are absolutely committed to large democratic majorities in 2008 and doing everything we can to helping achieve those large majorities."

Wolfson evaded the question. He claims that Senator Clinton is committed to electing Democrats in the House. But in the next sentence, Wolfson claims that Clinton "will not take a backseat to anyone when it comes to helping Democrats or helping to fund the party committees." This is a strange sentence. It is almost like saying that the Clinton campaign does not approve of the extortion threat made by the big donors, after the letter was made public. But yet, the Clinton campaign believes that the "letter speaks for itself," even though they didn't know the contents of the letter. It is political damage spin-control here, and it is done very badly. The Clinton campaign knows they can't answer the question of approving or disapproving the extortion threat their big donors made against Pelosi. So we get this non-answer on the extortion threat, but an approval of Clinton fat cat donors sending the letter.

What a mess.

Iraq is coming apart again

This is off The Guardian:

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, vowed to keep up the fight against Shia militias in Basra today despite deadly clashes killing 200 people across the oil-rich south and Baghdad, according to reports.

His defiance came as anti-government protests by tens of thousands of followers of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr continued on a fourth day of Iraqi military operations in Basra.

George Bush praised Maliki for the attacks. "Prime minister Maliki's bold decision, and it was a bold decision, to go after the illegal groups in Basra shows his leadership and his commitment to enforce the law in an even-handed manner," he said.

"It also shows the progress the Iraqi security forces have made during the surge."

Sadrist lawmakers in Baghdad issued a strong statement calling for an end to Maliki's assault. "We call on our brothers in the Iraqi army and the brave national police not to be tools of death in the hands of the new dictatorship," Falah Shanshal said at a news conference.

Heavy gunfire and explosions resounded across Basra today, while an interior ministry source said 51 people had been killed and more than 200 wounded in the city alone.

The city's police chief escaped an assassination attempt late today but three of his bodyguards were killed in the roadside bombing.

No other casualties were reported today but the military said a US soldier, two American civilians and an Iraqi soldier were wounded yesterday.

One of southern Iraq's two main oil export pipelines was also severely damaged in a bomb attack, officials said today.

Do you notice the contradiction within the story? President Bush is praising Maliki's "bold decision" to attack Shia militias this week, claiming "the progress the Iraqi security forces have made during the surge." And yet, I seriously wonder whether the Maliki government is actually winning this latest war, considering the anti-government protests by "tens of thousands of followers of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr" that are continuing on the fourth day of the Iraqi government's push into Basra. The fighting is still taking place between the Iraqi military and police forces verses the shia militia. Even more ominous, there are renewed attacks against the U.S. fortified Green Zone in Baghdad by rockets and mortars. The six-month cease fire agreement between the Iraqi government and Sadr's Mahdi Army has fallen apart. Expect to see an even greater level of violence take place within Iraq over the course of this year--with an increasing number of U.S. casualties.

This Reuters News story has some more interesting details regarding the fighting in Iraq:

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq's U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki vowed on Thursday that security forces would battle Shi'ite militia in Basra "to the end", despite huge demonstrations to demand his resignation.

Mehdi Army fighters loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr remained in control of much of Basra, Iraq's second biggest city and main oil hub, defying a three-day government offensive that has led to violence spreading across the south and Baghdad.

Authorities imposed a three-day curfew in the capital to contain the clashes.

Saboteurs blew up one of Iraq's two main oil export pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the southern oilfields, a Southern Oil Company official said. U.S. oil prices briefly rose more than $1 a barrel.

Maliki, who has traveled to Basra to oversee the crackdown, told tribal leaders it was sending "a message to all gangs that the state is in charge of the country".


Tens of thousands of Sadr supporters marched in Baghdad in a massive show of force for the cleric, demanding Maliki's removal. In the vast Sadr City slum, named after the cleric's slain father, crowds of angry men chanted slogans.

"We demand the downfall of the Maliki government. It does not represent the people. It represents Bush and Cheney," marcher Hussein Abu Ali said.

The slum of 2 million people is in a virtual state of siege.

"We are trapped in our homes with no water or electricity since yesterday. We can't bathe our children or wash our clothes," said a resident who gave his name as Mohammed.

Demonstrations were also held in the Kadhimiya and Shula districts, among the largest anti-government protests Maliki's government has faced. An Interior Ministry source said hundreds of thousands took part.

A Reuters correspondent in Basra said Iraqi forces had cordoned off seven districts but were being repelled by Mehdi Army fighters inside them. Helicopters swooped overhead.

Reuters television pictures showed masked Mehdi fighters firing mortars, waving rocket launchers in the air and dancing with children in the streets. Some showed off captured government vehicles sprayed with Mehdi Army slogans.

A couple of interesting points. First, the Mehdi Army still controls Basra, even after four days of intense fighting by the Iraqi government forces. This makes me wonder if the Iraqi government forces are losing the Battle for Basra--I mean, Maliki even takes a special trip to Basra to oversee the fighting there. According to Reuters, Iraqi forces in Basra had "cordoned off seven districts but were being repelled by Mehdi Army fighters inside them." Mehdi fighters had even captured some government vehicles during the fighting, and were celebrating by "waving rocket launchers in the air and dancing with children in the streets." Obviously the Iraqi military has not yet defeated the Mehdi Army in Basra.

The second point is the protest demonstrations against the Maliki government--they are sprouting up everywhere in Baghdad, the Kadhimiya and Shula districts. This is not just one simple protest movement here, but large multiple protest movements against the Maliki government. Essentially, the Maliki government has lost whatever support they had with the Shiite people (They probably never had any such support). But now this crackdown is causing the Shiite people to rise up in both protest, and revolt against the Maliki government. I seriously wonder just how many more Shiites will be joining the Shia militias against the Iraqi government forces?

And the third big point on both of these stories is the continued fantasy of this Bush administration's insistence of the success of the U.S. surge in Iraq, verses the events that are being reported in these two news stories. President Bush wants to keep this Iraq war going until after he leaves office, and dumps this mess onto his successor. Bush will achieve this selfish and callous goal. But this U.S. war in Iraq will not be "lost" by any successor administration of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama--this Iraq war has been started and lost by George W. Bush. These news stories show that this U.S. war in Iraq has been lost. It is just a question of when are we going to accept this disaster, and start pulling out of this war.

U.S. economy nearly stalled at the end of 2007

This isn't too surprising. From MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - The economy nearly sputtered out at the end of the year and is probably faring even worse now amid continuing housing, credit and financial crises.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that gross domestic product increased at a feeble 0.6 percent annual rate in the October-to-December quarter. The reading — unchanged from a previous estimate a month ago — provided stark evidence of just how much the economy has weakened. In the prior quarter, the economy clocked in at a sizzling 4.9 percent growth rate.

The gross domestic product (GDP) measures the value of all goods and services produced in the United States and is the best barometer of the country’s economic health.

Many economists say they believe growth in the current January-to-March quarter will be even weaker than the 0.6 percent figure of the previous quarter. A growing number also say the economy may actually be shrinking now. Under one rough rule, the economy needs to contract for six straight months to be considered in a recession. The government will release its estimate for first-quarter GDP in late April.

In another report, fewer people signed up for unemployment benefits last week, although that didn’t change the broader picture of a deteriorating jobs market. The Labor Department said jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 366,000, a better showing than many economists were forecasting. Still, unemployment is expected to rise this year given all the problems clobbering the economy.

The newly released fourth-quarter GDP figure matched analysts’ expectations.

My guess is that we are now probably in the recession that everyone is talking about. I seriously doubt that the tax rebate checks that the Bush administration is now handing out to consumers will be spent on purchasing more goods. More than likely, those checks will go to paying down bills and debt. Then again, I could be wrong.

Recession: The Movie

I found this through Americablog, and it is just wicked. From YouTube:

Now playing everywhere.

Pentagon awards $300 million arms contract to 22-year old

I found this story through TPM Muckraker, which linked to the original New York Times story. It is just incredible. From The New York Times:

Since 2006, when the insurgency in Afghanistan sharply intensified, the Afghan government has been dependent on American logistics and military support in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

But to arm the Afghan forces that it hopes will lead this fight, the American military has relied since early last year on a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur.

With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces.

Since then, the company has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old Communist bloc, including stockpiles that the State Department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed.

In purchasing munitions, the contractor has also worked with middlemen and a shell company on a federal list of entities suspected of illegal arms trafficking.

Moreover, tens of millions of the rifle and machine-gun cartridges were manufactured in China, making their procurement a possible violation of American law. The company’s president, Efraim E. Diveroli, was also secretly recorded in a conversation that suggested corruption in his company’s purchase of more than 100 million aging rounds in Albania, according to audio files of the conversation.

This week, after repeated inquiries about AEY’s performance by The Times, the Army suspended the company from any future federal contracting, citing shipments of Chinese ammunition and claiming that Mr. Diveroli misled the Army by saying the munitions were Hungarian.

Read the entire New York Times story--it is mind-boggling. Here is a young kid who decides to jump into the shady world of the arms trade--and the Pentagon happily gives this kid's company $300 million worth of arms contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the NY Times, AEY was an unknown defense company that has been thriving since 2003, when the Pentagon started tossing billions of dollars to train and equip police and military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Its rise from obscurity once seemed to make it a successful example of the Bush administration’s promotion of private contractors as integral elements of war-fighting strategy." This is the most important sentence in the Times story. The Pentagon is not sending their own experts to the former Communist bloc countries to purchase these old munitions. Instead, the Bush administration has ordered the Pentagon to throw the U.S. taxpayer's money into a giant trough to allow war-profiteers to get piggishly fat with profit. AEY is an example of the excessiveness the Bush administration is giving to these war-profiteers. The losers in this game are the U.S. taxpayer, whose money is going to these war-profiteers, and the Iraqi and Afghan police and military, who are getting stuck with this useless junk of munitions.

There are so many more details in this story that are just amazing. The 22-year-old kid, Efraim E. Diveroli, has been involved in two instances of domestic violence against his girlfriend--one of which, in November 2005, the "young woman sought an order of protection from him in the domestic violence division of Dade County Circuit Court." Miami police were also called out to Diveroli's condo "during an argument between him and another girlfriend. According to the police report, he had thrown her 'clothes out in the hallway and told her to get out.' A witness told the police Mr. Diveroli had dragged her back into the apartment. The police found the woman crying; she said she had not been dragged. Mr. Diveroli was not charged." AEY's vice president, David M. Packouz, was a licensed masseur. Both Diveroli and Packouz were involved in a fight with a valet parking attendant in December 2006, outside of Diveroli's condo. Miami police were again called out. When police searched Diveroli, they found a fake ID, which would allow him to purchase alcohol as a minor. Possession of forged documents is a felony, in which a felony conviction would nullify Diveroli's federal firearms license. Diveroli "entered a six-month diversion program for first offenders in May 2007 that spared him from standing trial." Reading this, I have to ask, this is the president of a $300 million arms company? It is almost like The Wild One meets The Lord of War.

Welcome to the world of the Bush administration's war profiteers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Olbermann weighs in on the Clinton donor superdelegate letter

Keith Olbermann weighs in on the entire Clinton donor super delegate letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It is just incredible. From Countdown:

I am amazed by Jonathan Alter's comment that the Clinton campaign is now in its death throes. WOW!

Obama campaign responds to top Clinton donor's letter to Pelosi

The Barack Obama campaign has responded to the letter the twenty top Clinton donors sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. According to TPM, Obama spokesperson Bill Burton called the letter from the top Clinton donors "inappropriate" and hoped that the "Clinton campaign will reject the insinuation contained in it:

“This letter is inappropriate and we hope the Clinton campaign will reject the insinuation contained in it. Regardless of the outcome of the nomination fight, Senator Obama will continue to urge his supporters to assist Speaker Pelosi in her efforts to maintain and build a working majority in the House of Representatives.”

And there is another interesting detail coming out of Americablog on this letter. Going back to this paragraph of the Clinton donor letter to Pelosi:

We have been strong supporters of the DCCC. We therefore urge you to clarify your position on super-delegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the National Convention in August. We appreciate your activities in support of the Democratic Party and your leadership role in the Party and hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters.

A more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates. Are the top Clinton fund-raisers demanding that all delegates, in general, should exercise their "optional independent actions" when voting for a candidate during the convention--this includes both the super delegates and the pledged delegates? When you vote in a primary or caucus, you vote to select a number of delegates to represent you and the rest of your states' population in selecting a party nominee at the convention. What these Clinton donors are saying is that the pledged delegates should be given their own independent judgment in deciding who to nominate during the convention, perhaps disenfranchising your own vote for your party's candidate. This is an interesting detail to consider.

Update: CNN now has the story up on their Political Ticker website, which also includes a PDF file of the letter.

Second Update: I'm starting to pick up some responses from the Clinton campaign on this Pelosi letter, and they are rather contradictory. According to The Huffington Post, Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said, "Few have done more to build the Democratic Party than Bill and Hillary Clinton. The last thing they need is a lecture from the [Barack] Obama campaign." Instead of responding directly to the letter, Singer attacks the Obama campaign for lecturing the Clinton campaign's contribution in building the Democratic Party. Singer does not say anything about the letter that was sent to Pelosi by the top Clinton donors. This is an issue within the Clinton campaign, and has nothing to do with Barack Obama in the first place. And yet, the Clinton campaign is attacking the Obama campaign's response to this Clinton donor letter sent to Pelosi.

Then there is this interesting detail within the Washington Post on the Pelosi letter:

Clinton, in an interview with Time magazine published yesterday, accused the Obama campaign of trying "to shut this race down" and noted that even pledged delegates are not legally bound to support the candidate to whom they are pledged. "We talk a lot about so-called pledged delegates, but every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment," she said.

It is almost like Senator Clinton agrees with her big moneyed donor's assertion that all delegates in general have the right to exercise their own independent judgment. It makes me wonder whether the Clinton campaign will try to solicit support from the pledged Obama delegates in voting for Clinton over Obama. This also makes me wonder whether the Clinton campaign tacitly supports this Pelosi letter, while at the same time trying to ignore, or downplay, the publicity of this letter.

And there are more interesting details within the WaPost story:

Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and one of the organizers of the letter to Pelosi, said in an interview that there would be "no effect" on contributions to the party among the signers of the letter. "This is just fair play," he said.

Johnson added that he and the others want to make certain the nomination battle is not declared over prematurely. "It's not the role of the leadership to say 'Vote only the way the pledged delegates go,'" he said.

But the letter made it clear that the fundraisers believe their voice should carry real weight with the speaker. Noting their past financial support, they wrote, "We . . . hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters."

In other words, we're just kidding--there is no extortion here! Of course, this statement was made after the Clinton donor letter to Pelosi was made public, with the contained extortion threat. It makes me wonder whether these Clinton fund-raisers may have thought that this letter would remain private within the speaker's office. And now the Clinton backers are starting to backpedal against the public outrage of their demands. Again, this is going to hurt the Clinton campaign. This letter reveals the difference between the big moneyed interests that are donating to the Clinton campaign, verses the grass-roots, small campaign contributions that are being donated by individual Democrats to the Obama campaign. This Pelosi letter by the Clinton money donors really shows a sense of hubris by those same big moneyed interests in demanding that their selection of a Democratic candidate should have a greater weight in the nomination process than the Democratic Party voters. That is the real issue here.

Top Clinton donors threaten Pelosi over super delegates

I'm seeing this story pop up on Americablog, TPM, and Daily Kos. First a little background. According to this March 15, 2008 Associated Press story, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that it "would be harmful to the Democratic Party" if the super delegates were to "overturn" the will of the national convention delegates in choosing their Democratic presidential candidate through the primaries and caucuses. Pelosi said that even if one candidate ends up with a larger share of the popular vote than that of the delegate leader, the candidate who has the greater number of delegates should prevail. "It's a delegate race," Pelosi said in a taped interview for ABC's "This Week" March 16th show. "The way the system works is that the delegates choose the nominee." Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton in the number of pledged delegates 1621-1499. However, Clinton leads Obama in the number of super delegates, 250 to 215. So Obama's lead in the total number of delegates--both pledged and super--are around 87 delegates. It is very much a close race between these two candidates. What Pelosi was trying to tell the super delegates is don't buck the trend of who the pledged delegates will choose to nominate for the Democratic presidential candidate.

And this is where the letter from the Clinton donors comes into play. Twenty top Hillary fundraisers and donors have sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, chastising her for saying that the super delegates should support the winner of the pledged delegate count. According to the letter:

Several states and millions of Democratic voters have not yet had a chance to cast their votes.

We respect those voters and believe that they, like the voters in the states that have already participated, have a right to be heard. None of us should make declarative statements that diminish the importance of their voices and their votes. We are writing to say we believe your remarks on ABC News This Week on March 16th did just that.

During your appearance, you suggested super-delegates have an obligation to support the candidate who leads in the pledged delegate count as of June 3rd , whether that lead be by 500 delegates or 2. This is an untenable position that runs counter to the party’s intent in establishing super-delegates in 1984 as well as your own comments recorded in The Hill ten days earlier...

Now these twenty top Hillary fund raisers didn't like what Pelosi said during her This Week interview on the super delegates. And they are demanding that Pelosi "clarify" her comments and instead say that the super delegates should make an "independent" choice in the nominating process:

We have been strong supporters of the DCCC. We therefore urge you to clarify your position on super-delegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the National Convention in August. We appreciate your activities in support of the Democratic Party and your leadership role in the Party and hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters.

There is also an explicit reference that these top doners contributed heavily to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). We have been strong supporters of the DCCC. Can you say extortion? If Pelosi doesn't give into the demands of these top Hillary donors, will these donors decide to pull their campaign contributions for Democratic congressmen and women? Because that is what this letter is saying.

Now I don't know if the Clinton campaign endorsed this letter that the Hillary donors have sent to Pelosi. But I do believe this letter will cause some serious damage to the Clinton campaign. What this letter represents is the big moneyed interests within the Democratic Party demanding that they have their final say in who will be nominated for the Democratic presidential candidate. And the big moneyed interests within the Democratic Party are aligned with Senator Hillary Clinton. If this story gets played up in the blogs, and perhaps the mainstream media, it could enrage a number of Democratic voters who will see this as an extortion threat--support Hillary or die. There is no way for the Clinton campaign to spin away this letter--especially since it was written by their own big-moneyed supporters.

Here is the full text of the letter:

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the US House of Representatives

Office of the Speaker

H-232, US Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Madame Speaker,

As Democrats, we have been heartened by the overwhelming response that our fellow Democrats have shown for our party’s candidates during this primary season. Each caucus and each primary has seen a record turnout of voters. But this dynamic primary season is not at an end. Several states and millions of Democratic voters have not yet had a chance to cast their votes.

We respect those voters and believe that they, like the voters in the states that have already participated, have a right to be heard. None of us should make declarative statements that diminish the importance of their voices and their votes. We are writing to say we believe your remarks on ABC News This Week on March 16th did just that.

During your appearance, you suggested super-delegates have an obligation to support the candidate who leads in the pledged delegate count as of June 3rd , whether that lead be by 500 delegates or 2. This is an untenable position that runs counter to the party’s intent in establishing super-delegates in 1984 as well as your own comments recorded in The Hill ten days earlier:

"I believe super-delegates have to use their own judgment and there will be many equities that they have to weigh when they make the decision. Their own belief and who they think will be the best president, who they think can win, how their own region voted, and their own responsibility.’”

Super-delegates, like all delegates, have an obligation to make an informed, individual decision about whom to support and who would be the party’s strongest nominee. Both campaigns agree that at the end of the primary contests neither will have enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination. In that situation, super-delegates must look to not one criterion but to the full panoply of factors that will help them assess who will be the party’s strongest nominee in the general election.

We have been strong supporters of the DCCC. We therefore urge you to clarify your position on super-delegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the National Convention in August. We appreciate your activities in support of the Democratic Party and your leadership role in the Party and hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters.


Marc Aronchick

Clarence Avant

Susie Tompkins Buell

Sim Farar

Robert L. Johnson

Chris Korge

Marc and Cathy Lasry

Hassan Nemazee

Alan and Susan Patricof

JB Pritzker

Amy Rao

Lynn de Rothschild

Haim Saban

Bernard Schwartz

Stanley S. Shuman

Jay Snyder

Maureen White and Steven Rattner

Pentagon says new Iraq fighting arises from surge's success

Read the headline again. Now read the Associated Foreign Press story below:

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Pentagon on Wednesday said an eruption of violence in southern Iraq, where US-backed government forces were battling Shiite militias, was a "by-product of the success of the surge."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said it showed that the Iraqi government and security forces were now confident enough to take the initiative against Shiite extremists in the southern port of Basra.

"Citizens down there have been living in a city of chaos and corruption for some time and they and the prime minister clearly have had enough of it," he said at a Pentagon press conference.


The violence raised fears that a unilateral ceasefire called by Sadr last year, which US military officials have credited with helping to bring down last year's high levels of violence in Iraq, was coming apart.

Morrell, however, disputed suggestions that the fighting showed the risks of drawing down US "surge" forces.

"This has just begun this week," he said. "But I think at this early stage, it looks as though it is a by-product of the success of the surge," referring to the sharp hike in US troops in Iraq from earlier last year to quell violence.

We've always been at war with Eastasia.

Condi Rice gunning for McCain's VP slot?

I found this story through ThinkProgress, which links to the original source at The Washington Note. The Washington Note's Steve Clemons reports that Secretary of State Condi Rice spoke before a secret meeting at Grover Norquist's powerhouse gathering at the Americans for Tax Reform. According to Clemons, this secret gathering is the place where Republican political hopefuls "migrate to to get the blessing of not only Norquist but the diverse parts of the nation's conservative money and political machinery, Norquist gives everyone in the room 3 minutes to pitch their cause or issue." A major GOP political operative told Clemons:

Someone like Condi Rice doesn't go to Grover Norquist's den to talk about the Annapolis Middle East peace process. She's going to secure her future in Republican politics and to position herself as a 'potential' VP candidate on the McCain ticket.

I can't say whether this is political hogwash, or if Rice is seriously considering applying for the VP slot on McCain's ticket. Of course, this brings up another interesting conjecture in that would John McCain really want Condi Rice on his ticket? If there is one negative that Condi Rice brings to the McCain campaign, it is that she will be a link between the McCain campaign and the Bush administration's failed war in Iraq. You can bet that a lot of questions about her own conduct in the Bush administration's marketing for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, or even her smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud comment. There will certainly be a lot of questions about her conduct within the Bush administration on every facet of the Iraq war, even to her current work as Secretary of State within the current Bush administration. This is serious baggage. And since the McCain campaign will want to distance itself from the current Bush administration's policies on Iraq, are they willing to bring on one of President Bush's closest advisers on Iraq into their campaign?

There is also a second issue that I am somewhat reluctant to talk about, and it is Condi Rice's race and gender. I have no problem in seeing Condi Rice, a black female, run for vice president, or even president. I have no problem seeing Hillary Clinton run as the first serious female presidential candidate, any more than I have no problem seeing Barack Obama run as the first serious black presidential candidate. However, I do have a question of whether hard-lined conservatives--especially the conservatives in the southern states--are willing to vote for a black female as the vice presidential candidate on the GOP ticket. There is still an undercurrent of racism within America, and especially within the Deep South. Look at how the Republican Party slyly used racism against Harold Ford Jr. in the 2006 Tennessee U.S. Senate campaign (I met Harold at the Playboy Party). Look at the stories showing widespread GOP voter disenfranchisement against black and minority voters. Are we to now believe that the Republican Party will disregard the use of racism and voter disenfranchisement against blacks and minorities in order to send a black woman to the VP slot in 2008? I just can't see that. In addition, Condi Rice is not just a woman, but also a single woman that would be running for the VP slot. Will the Religious Right be happy having a single woman occupying the second most powerful position in the White House? Or would the Religious Right rather have women stay at home and take care of the house, the children, and stand by their presidential husbands? It just seems too much of a change for a political party that wants to be unchanging.

Auditor allowed mortgage company to conduct “improper and imprudent practices” during housing boom

This is damning. From The New York Times:

In a sweeping indictment of one of the nation’s largest accounting firms, an investigator released a report on Wednesday that said “improper and imprudent practices” by a once high-flying mortgage company were condoned and enabled by its auditors.

KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, endorsed a move by New Century Financial, a failed mortgage company, to change its accounting practices in a way that allowed the company to report profits, rather than losses, at the height of the housing boom, an independent report commissioned by a division of the Justice Department concluded.

The report is the most comprehensive and damning document that has been released about the failings of a mortgage business. Some of its accusations echo charges that surfaced during the collapse of Enron, the energy giant, which collapsed in accounting fraud almost seven years ago.

The scathing 580-page report documents how New Century lowered its reserves for loans that investors were forcing it to buy back even as such repurchases were surging. Had it not changed its accounting, the company would have reported a loss rather a profit in the second half of 2006.

The profit was important because it allowed executives at the company to earn bonuses and allay concerns that the company was healthy when in fact its business was coming apart, the report contends.

The report is the result of a five-month investigation by Michael J. Missal, a lawyer and former official at the Securities and Exchange Commission hired by the United States Trustee overseeing the New Century bankruptcy. It may allow New Century, which is in bankrutpcy, to sue KPMG.

Just as how Arther Anderson had allowed Enron to hide losses and fabricated earnings through offshore partnerships, creating the huge scandal in the energy trading market, now we have KPMG allowing New Century Financial to change their own accounting principles to report losses as profits, thus allowing company executives to earn big bonuses at the expense of shareholders. KPMG never learned the lessons of the Enron scandal in 2001--they ignored honesty and accountability for the desire of excessive greed and profit. And I bet that the New Century executives knew this in possibly demanding that KPMG allow these accounting changes to take place, or New Century will go to another of the Big Four accounting firms. And since KPMG probably didn't want to lose New Century's business, they would have accepted the changes. In a sense, the system is corrupt.

You can read the text of the report here.

Pentagon finds no evidence of Saddam Hussein plans to assassinate elder Bush

This is rather strange. From Newsweek:

President Bush said lots of things about Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq War. But few of his charges grabbed more attention than an unscripted remark he made at a Texas political fund-raiser on Sept. 26, 2002. "After all, this is a guy who tried to kill my dad at one time," Bush said. The comment referred to a 1993 claim by the Kuwaiti government—accepted by the Clinton administration—that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) had plotted to assassinate President George H.W. Bush during a trip to Kuwait that spring. Ever since, armchair psychologists have suggested that personal revenge may have been one reason for the president's determination to overthrow Saddam's regime.

But curiously little has been heard about the allegedly foiled assassination plot in the five years since the U.S. military invaded Iraq. A just-released Pentagon study on the Iraqi regime's ties to terrorism only adds to the mystery. The review, conducted for the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command, combed through 600,000 pages of Iraqi intelligence documents seized after the fall of Baghdad, as well as thousands of hours of audio- and videotapes of Saddam's conversations with his ministers and top aides. The study found that the IIS kept remarkably detailed records of virtually every operation it planned, including plots to assassinate Iraqi exiles and to supply explosives and booby-trapped suitcases to Iraqi embassies. But the Pentagon researchers found no documents that referred to a plan to kill Bush. The absence was conspicuous because researchers, aware of its potential significance, were looking for such evidence. "It was surprising," said one source familiar with the preparation of the report (who under Pentagon ground rules was not permitted to speak on the record). Given how much the Iraqis did document, "you would have thought there would have been some veiled reference to something about [the plot]."

Now the Newsweek story goes on to say that the Bush assassination plot grew out of a Kuwaiti arrest "of a band of whiskey smugglers" on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. Kuwaiti authorities also found a Toyota Land Cruiser containing 175 pounds of explosives. The smuggler's ringleader, Wali al-Ghazali, confessed to the Kuwaitis that "he had been dispatched by an Iraqi intelligence agent to blow up former president Bush." Now I can't say whether al-Ghazali was planning to blow up former President Bush on his own, or under some type of orders by Iraqi intelligence or the military. Either way, a story came out to the Kuwaiti authorities, perhaps under torture, that these smugglers were planning on killing George H.W. Bush. And regardless of whether this story is authentic, or not, the Kuwaitis passed it on to American intelligence. The story became true simply because it was publicly released well after the First Gulf War, and when U.S. relations with Iraq were especially sour. Now going through the records of Iraqi intelligence, we find that the entire Iraqi assassination plot of George H.W. Bush was non-existent. It was false.

The real damage here is that the revelation of this Iraqi plot to kill the elder Bush may have been a motivating factor for his son to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein for revenge. I'll admit that this is just pure speculation here, but I do find it interesting how the U.S. government continues to admit that Saddam had a hand in this assassination plot against the elder Bush. According to Newsweek:

A White House spokesman declined to comment, but a U.S. intelligence official said, "It remains our view that Saddam's government had a hand" in the 1993 plot, and that information since the war "lends further credence" to that view.

The Pentagon study also found no "smoking gun" connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, which was one of the principal claims that Bush administration made for invading Iraq. The report did find plenty of evidence that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Palestinian terrorist groups, of which the Bush administration is trying validate as a reason for continuing the U.S. war in Iraq in a sort of "word game" of associating other terrorist groups with al Qaeda, thus linking them to Iraq. So even as the Pentagon is showing that there is no evidence of Iraq's involvement in the Bush Senior assassination attempt, nor is there any evidence linking Iraq with al Qaeda, the Bush administration continues to support their failed U.S. war in Iraq with these lies.

McCain: U.S. "incurred a moral responsibility in Iraq"

Looks like Republican presidential candidate John McCain is continuing his push for keeping the U.S. in Iraq for another hundred years. This time, McCain said that the U.S. has "a moral responsibility" for continuing the war in Iraq. From The New York Times:

Senator John McCain made his case for continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying on Wednesday that those countries are at the core of a region extending from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.

Making his first major speech on foreign policy since becoming the presumptive nominee, Mr. McCain said that withdrawing American military forced in those countries could allow them “to sink back into chaos and extremism” that would “determine the fate of that critical part of the world, but our fate, as well.”

While strongly affirming the need for military success in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. McCain clearly sought to distance himself from the Bush Administration on a range of other issues. Speaking before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, he said that the United States should “close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding” on how to treat detainees determined to be dangerous.

Invoking his family’s military history — his father and grandfather were admirals — and his own service in Vietnam, Mr. McCain said: “I detest war. It may not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description.”

Nevertheless, he said: “We have incurred a moral responsibility in Iraq. It would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation, if we were to walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide that would follow a reckless, irresponsible and premature withdrawal.”

Okay, let me get this Bush/McCain pro-war rational straight for continuing this disastrous war in Iraq. First we had to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Then we had to invade Iraq because Saddam was harboring al Qaeda terrorists. Then we had to invade Iraq because Saddam was behind the 9/11 terrorists attacks--don't want a mushroom cloud over New York. Then we had to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein was another Adolf Hitler. Then we had to invade Iraq to free the Iraqi people, and bring democracy into the region. Then we had to stay in Iraq to stabilize the region, to avoid making Iraq into another terrorist state where al Qaeda could conduct terrorist operations. We had to stay in Iraq to keep the country, and government, intact, or Iraq will split into three distinct ethnic regions. We had to generate this troop surge to allow the Iraqi government to--again--stabilize the country and provide political and economic reforms in order to bring all three ethnic constituents into the Iraqi political process. And now McCain said that we needed to stay in Iraq because the U.S. "incurred a moral responsibility."

It doesn't matter whatever the reason is--McCain just wants to continue this failed Bush war in Iraq. Continue the endless war.

GOP state parties are hurtin'

I found this March 24, 2008 Politico story through Crooks and Liars, and I am just amazed by it. From Politio:

At a time when the GOP presidential nominee will need more assistance than ever, a number of state Republican parties are struggling through troubled times, suffering from internal strife, poor fundraising, onerous debt, scandal or voting trends that are conspiring to relegate the local branches of the party to near-irrelevance.

In some of the largest, smallest, reddest and bluest states in the nation, many state Republican organizations are still reeling in the aftermath of the devastating 2006 election cycle, raising questions about how much grassroots help the state parties will be able to deliver to presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.

The state party woes are especially ill-timed since McCain will face a Democratic nominee who may be considerably better funded and organized, and since Republicans will be facing an energized Democratic party that is shattering primary election.

“After twelve years of being in power, you tend to get fat and lazy, and in some cases arrogant with respect to your positions,” said Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican party. “There is no doubt that we have had people who have gotten caught up in both illegal activities and immoral activities and none of that helps the party as a whole.

“If you go back to 2006 most people would agree that not only did we lose our brand, that we damaged our brand significantly,” Anuzis said. “We are clearly rebuilding.”

It took only 12 years for the Republican Party to get fat, lazy, arrogant, and corrupt. And now the GOP is in a rebuilding stage....During a presidential election. All I can say is wow--how far the mighty have fallen!

Then again, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at the potential destruction of the GOP. A good chunk of the blame for the GOP's demise can be attributed to the failed policies of George W. Bush. This is a president who sent this country, and the Republican Party, into a failed war in Iraq, gave enormous tax cuts to the ubber-rich, removed environmental regulations in favor of corporate profit, enabled war profiteers to take huge profits from American taxpayers in return for shoddy service, tried to politicize the Justice Department with the U.S. attorney firings, attempted to disenfranchise minority voters for the benefit of the Republican Party, outed a CIA undercover agent in retaliation for criticism of the U.S. invasion of Iraq--the list just goes on. The GOP had forgotten that when they gained power, they represented the entire country--not just the half of the American people who voted them into office. Compromise is finding the middle ground on ideas and legislation that will benefit the entire country--not ramming your extremist ideology down your opponents' throats.

The Republican Party has given this country eight years of Bush junk, and now the GOP is reaping what they have sown. The question now is how much damage will the Republican Party inflict on this country before the November elections.

Countdown--McCaint's "Economy of Ideas"

I found this Countdown story on John McCain's big housing speech. It is amazing at how little McCain knows of the U.S. economy--of which McCain even admits his lack of knowledge on the economy. And yet, here he is giving a big speech on the housing crisis in which he is asking for experts to give him ideas on how to solve the crisis. Incredible. From Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

OOPS! My Bad! U.S. mistakenly sent nuclear fuses to Taiwan

You know, with the war in Iraq, the extended tours, the shifting of logistics operations to big war profiteers like Halliburton, and the complete evisceration of the U.S. military by the Bush neocons, it doesn't surprise me that this story actually happened. From Reuters News:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military mistakenly shipped four fuses for nuclear missiles to Taiwan in 2006 and never caught the error, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, acknowledging an incident likely to rile China.

The military was supposed to ship helicopter batteries to Taiwan, but instead sent fuses used as part of the trigger mechanism on Minuteman missiles. Taiwan returned the parts to U.S. custody last week.

No nuclear material was shipped to Taiwan, Pentagon officials said.

The problem went unnoticed until Taiwan realized it did not have the helicopter batteries it ordered and reported the issue to the United States, U.S. officials said.

The United States has notified China, which claims the self-ruled island as its own, and is modernizing its military to close the technology gap with Taiwan's mainly U.S. weapons. The two sides have been run separately since 1949, and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

"The secretary of defense is taking this very seriously. We are all taking this very seriously," Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said.

"Though this was not and could not be construed as nuclear material ... I would tell you that we are very concerned about it," he told reporters at the Pentagon.

What I find so amazing here is that the U.S. military sent the nuclear fuses to Taiwan in 2006, and they never caught the error. The fuses were placed in an unclassified storage facility in the U.S., and then shipped to Taiwan in 2006. The Taiwan military then placed the fuses in their own storage facility until 2008, when they opened the box and discovered they had nuclear fuses instead of helicopter batteries. It was the Taiwanese military that caught the error--and not the U.S.

I'm starting to wonder when the U.S. military will be mistakenly shipping nuclear warheads to Iraq?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Workers sue KBR over toxic exposure in Iraq

I found this Boston Globe story through TPM Muckraker and it is just sickening. From The Boston Globe:

WASHINGTON - When the American team arrived in Iraq in the summer of 2003 to repair the Qarmat Ali water injection plant, supervisors told them the orange, sand-like substance strewn around the looted facility was just a "mild irritant," workers recall.

The workers got it on their hands and clothing every day while racing for 2 1/2 months to meet a deadline to get the plant, a crucial part of Iraq's oil infrastructure, up and running.

But the chemical turned out to be sodium dichromate, a substance so dangerous that even limited exposure greatly increases the risk of cancer. Soon, many of the 22 Americans and 100-plus Iraqis began to complain of nosebleeds, ulcers, and shortness of breath. Within weeks, nearly 60 percent exhibited symptoms of exposure, according to the minutes of a meeting of project managers from KBR, the Houston-based construction company in charge of the repairs.

Now, nine Americans are accusing KBR, then a subsidiary of the oil conglomerate Halliburton, of knowingly exposing them to the deadly substance and failing to provide them with the protective equipment needed to keep them safe.

But the workers, like all employees injured in Iraq, face an uphill struggle in their quest for damages. Under a World War II-era federal workers compensation law, employers are generally protected from employee lawsuits, except in rare cases in which it can be proven that the company intentionally harmed its employees or committed outright fraud.

KBR is citing the law, called the Defense Base Act, as grounds to reject the workers' request for damages.

But the company's own actions have undermined its case: To avoid payroll taxes for its American employees, KBR hired the workers through two subsidiaries registered in the Cayman Islands, part of a strategy that has allowed KBR to dodge hundreds of millions of dollars in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

That gives the workers' lawyer, Mike Doyle of Houston, a chance to argue to an arbitration board that KBR is not an employer protected by federal law, but a third-party that can be sued.

Read the rest of the story. It is just so sickening at how KBR has screwed both American and Iraqi workers by forcing them to work in such an environmentally hazardous conditions, lied to those workers when confronted with the mounting health problems, and have been using this obsolete Second World War law to protect KBR from their own criminal negligence. All in the desire for excessive profit and outright greed.

McCain derides Fed's bailout on housing crisis, while housing bust continues on

I've been a little busy for the past two weeks engaged in some serious spring cleaning in the house--we're talking scrubbing everything down. So blogging has been light. But I've been keeping a half eye on the news, and I certainly need to start posting on the news and politics. It seems there is so much in the news today.

But for tonight, I noticed this interesting little contradiction between what is going on with the continuing housing crash, and what Republican presidential candidate John McCain had just said in a speech on the housing market. First let us look at this MSNBC News story about McCain's speech regarding the housing slump:

SANTA ANA, Calif. - Republican John McCain on Tuesday derided government intervention to save and reward banks or small borrowers who behave irresponsibly though he offered few immediate alternatives to fixing the country's growing housing crisis.

"I will consider any and all proposals based on their cost and benefits," the certain GOP presidential nominee, who has acknowledged in the past that the economy is not his strong suit, told local business leaders south of Los Angeles.


The housing turmoil has rocked Wall Street and is dominating the presidential race as the nation faces an economic downturn and the Federal Reserve has taken steps to intervene.

Over the past two days, the Fed essentially bailed out the investment house Bear Stearns and announced it has auctioned another $50 billion in short-term loans at an interest rate of 2.615 percent to cash-strapped banks to help them overcome credit problems. Since December, the Fed has provided a total of $260 billion in short-term loans to banks.


McCain said he wants to leave the door open to a wide array of proposals to address the problems and seemed to suggest he might even be open even to solutions that stray from the GOP line.

"I will not play election-year politics with the housing crisis," he said, adding he would evaluate all proposals. "I will not allow dogma to override commonsense."

But the small-government advocate and four-term Arizona senator also put restrictions on how far he was willing to go.

"I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers," McCain said. "Government assistance to the banking system should be based solely on preventing systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy."

He said any government assistance to alleviate the housing crisis must be temporary and should be accompanied by reforms that aim to make the system more transparent and accountable to prevent a repeat of the crisis. He said no assistance should be given to speculators, or people who bought houses to rent or as second homes.

Asked whether the Federal Reserve went too far in helping Bear Stearns, McCain said: "It's a close call, but I don't think so." He said he doesn't support federal bailouts unless it has catastrophic effects on the entire financial marketplace and there were indications that a Bear Stearns failure would have rippled across the entire economy.

A couple of interesting items regarding McCain's speech. First, McCain contradicts himself, saying that "it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers..." But then McCain said that the Federal Reserve did not go too far in bailing out Bear Stearns, and the company's own irresponsible behavior of involving itself too heavily in mortgage-backed securities business during both the housing boom and bust. Excuse me Senator McCain--you have just rewarded Wall Street executives for their own excessive greed and irrational behavior, knowing that if they screwed up (As they have with this subprime mortgage meltdown and the financial companies writing down billions in losses), then the U.S. taxpayer will always bail them out.

Of course, it gets better. Continuing further into the MSNBC story:

McCain also said that people shouldn't be able to buy homes with little or no money down, such as the interest-only loans that banks have given the last few years. Lenders, he said, "should never insure loans when the homeowner clearly does not have skin in the game."

In other words, the Fed should not help out homeowners, who may have been enticed by predatory lending practices, for purchasing homes they could not afford, and are now losing their homes. But it is more important for the Federal government to bail out Wall Street for pre-packaging all those subprime loans into now worthless investment securities.

What do you expect from a Republican?

In more housing bust news, we've got this MSNBC News story, titled Too soon to look for housing market bottom:

Last month’s pick-up in home sales — even as prices kept falling — has some homeowners wondering if the steep housing slump may be coming to an end. But most housing market watchers say the optimism is premature — and that this spring will likely be another washout for the residential real estate market.

“There is no clear bottom yet,” said David Blitzer, chief economist for Standard and Poor’s, which tracks home prices. “We hope it comes soon. But right now it's a hope.”

Home prices, meanwhile, fell 10.7 percent in January compared to a year ago, according to the latest reading of S&P’s Case-Shiller index. Prices were hardest hit in Miami and Las Vegas, where the index fell nearly 20 percent. Of the 20 cities tracked by the index, 13 posted their biggest drops in two decades.

A separate government index showed prices falling 3 percent in January compared to a year ago. That data is derived from a smaller sample of homes with mortgages that conform to the $417,000 limits on loans sold through government housing finance agencies.

Falling prices were clearly a factor in the 2.9 percent gain in existing home sales for February. That uptick has been taken as a sign by some analysts and industry officials that the housing market may be nearing a bottom.

I'm not so sure that housing has hit bottom yet. It is going to take a couple of years to get through all the adjustable-rate mortgage interest resets of the boom, which will increase the number of foreclosed homes that banks are sitting on. And while interest rates may be low, banks are not loaning out money for home buyers unless those buyers have absolute sterling credit and a huge chunk of money for a down payment. In other words, nobody is buying homes now because nobody has any money. This housing bust is going to be a huge drag on the U.S. economy, if Americans are not buying any homes and are not buying products to furnish their homes.

This is not good.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New York Governor Spitzer caught in prostitution ring, resigns

This week I have been rather busy helping move my brother and sister-in-law into their new house. But amidst the packing and moving of boxes, I did catch a little of the story of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer getting caught in a prostitution ring, and his subsequent resignation as governor.

First, Spitzer had too much hubris. Spitzer makes a name for himself in the New York district attorney's office breaking up prostitution rings and bringing down the "Gambino family's control over Manhattan's garment and trucking industries." Spitzer is later elected at New York's attorney general, after which he goes on a crusade against Wall Street CEO's excessive paychecks, and the corruption of financial firms using their research departments for making IPO sales pitches to investors that would greatly benefit such firms. Spitzer made powerful enemies at Wall Street. Now Spitzer felt that, as governor, he was just too powerful to be taken down. Or maybe Spitzer's Wall Street enemies had somehow found out about Spitzer's high-priced sex habit, and tipped off the Feds. It really doesn't matter here. Spitzer had too much hubris, and the trappings of power in the New York governor's mansion, and the bevy of hot, sexy ladies at the Emperor's Club, were too much of a temptation for Spitzer. He got caught with his pants down. The meteoric rise of Eliot Spitzer had flamed out due to a $4,300 sexual escapade with this girl.

Should Eliot Spitzer have resigned from the governorship? Probably not. I could care less who Spitzer had sex with--be it with his wife, a prostitute, bi-sex, gay sex, porno sex. What he does in the privacy of his own home, or in a hotel room, makes no difference to me. Granted, he was caught in a prostitution ring. And in that case, Spitzer should have been fined and placed on probation. Look at Larry Craig and David Vitter. Craig was a Republican U.S. senator from Idaho, who was busted for soliciting gay sex in a Minneapolis airport restroom. Craig was fined and then placed on probation for his crime. And even though he first announced that he would resign from the U.S. Senate after this sex scandal was publicized, Craig never followed through with his resignation, saying that he would continue serving his term. Republican senator Larry Craig is still in the U.S. Senate, even after getting busted for soliciting gay sex. Democratic governor Eliot Spitzer is forced to resign after getting busted for having sex with a prostitute.

Let us look at David Vitter. Vitter is a Republican senator from Louisiana, whose phone number was included in the phone records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey as she was operating a prostitution house--We're talking about the D.C. Madame scandal. Vitter is still serving in the U.S. Senate, and has not faced any criminal charges, or even censure by the Senate Ethics Committee for his actions. Vitter has not resigned from the Senate. And yet, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is being forced to resign after getting busted for having sex with a prostitute.

Do you see a pattern here? If you're a Democratic politician, you are forced to resign for having sex with a hooker. But if you are a Republican politician, it is okay if you had sex with a hooker or a gay prostitute--it is not your fault, and thus you are not going to lose your job. There is a double standard being played out here that I find very disturbing. This double standard even includes a certain Republican presidential candidate who was caught having an affair with a female lobbyist. In that situation, I seriously wonder just what political favors John McCain gave Vicki Iseman after their hot bopping time in bed. I don't care if a politician wants to have sex for pleasure. But I do care if a politician is exchanging political favors for sexual pleasure--to me, that is corruption because it harms the constituents in that the politician is using the office for gaining sexual pleasures at the expense of the constituents of that office. John McCain may have given political favors Vicki Iseman for helping her telecommunications clients, as they were enjoying their little sexual tryst. That I don't like.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Superman in The Electric Earthquake

This is just an action-packed, fun Superman cartoon, The Electric Earthquake. In this 1942 cartoon, Superman must stop a Native American scientist who is demanding that Manhattan Island be returned to his people, or else he will destroy Manhattan with his electric earthquake machine. Naturally, Lois Lane discovers this evil scientist's plot, and gets herself into life-threatening danger in which she must be, again, rescued by the Man of Steel. The Superman cartoons are fun to watch--they are fast-paced, great action, wonderful music score, and some of the best animation you will ever see. Time to get shaking with Superman in The Electric Earthquake. From YouTube:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

King George The Deciderer has anointed John McCain as heir apparent

Well, it is now official. King George The Deciderer has anointed John McCain as the heir to the Bush Monarchy. From MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - President Bush endorsed Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain on Wednesday, two bitter rivals from the 2000 presidential race joining together now in hopes of preventing Democrats from winning the White House this fall.

"John showed incredible courage, strength of character and perseverance in order to get to this moment and that's exactly what we need in a president — somebody who can handle the tough decisions, somebody who won't flinch in the face of danger," Bush said, appearing with McCain in the Rose Garden.

Bush's embrace of the Arizona senator as the party's next standard-bearer comes a day after McCain clinched the GOP nomination by getting the requisite 1,191 convention delegates. Republicans won't officially nominate McCain until early September at the GOP's national convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

"A while back I don't think many people would have thought that John McCain would be here as the nominee of the Republican Party," Bush said. "Except he knew he'd be here and so did his wife, Cindy."

With his low poll ratings and an unpopular war on his shoulders, Bush could hurt McCain with some groups, while helping with others.

The problem here is that George W. Bush is such an unpopular president, with almost two-thirds of the American population disapproving of his job performance. And now Bush is endorsing a Republican candidate that the conservative base, and the Religious Right, just do not like. If the Democrats are smart, they should go through McCain's Senate voting record and tie every Bush scandal to McCain--that includes the Bush war in Iraq, the intelligence failures, social issues, Supreme Court nominations, illegal domestic spying program, and everything else that John McCain has done during the last eight years in the Senate, and during his entire Senate career. Hang the Bush albatross on McCain.

Huckabee drops out, McCain wins nomination

Both of these stories should not be surprising--they were eventually coming. The first MSNBC News story is Mike Huckabee dropping out of the race:

IRVING, Texas - Mike Huckabee bowed to reality Tuesday and out of the Republican presidential race.

"We kept the faith," he told his end-of-the-road rally Tuesday after John McCain clinched the nomination. "I'd rather lose an election than lose the principles that got me into politics in the first place."

The genial conservative went out as he had campaigned all along, with a quip: "It's time for us to hit the reset button."

Huckabee won the leadoff Iowa caucuses, making him a sudden but short-lived sensation, and then seven other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana and Kansas. Meantime, McCain piled up big victories on his way to winning the prize on Tuesday night.

The writing was on the wall for weeks, but the former Arkansas governor hung on until McCain secured the necessary delegates.

"We started this effort with very little recognition and virtually no resources," Huckabee told supporters. "We ended with slightly more recognition and very few resources."

The crowd laughed. "But what a journey," he said. "What a journey. A journey of a lifetime."

In some ways, Huckabee was a side-show in the GOP race between Mitt Romney and John McCain. He was the candidate to the religious conservatives, who wanted to bring God into the Constitution. There was no way the Republican Party would ever nominate Huckabee, however he did provide an outlet for the evangelical conservatives to register this disapproval of the GOP's Mormon candidate of Romney, and the flat-out pandering candidate of McCain. If there was any electoral strength with Huckabee, it was with his wins in the Deep South states of Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas. He was the evangelical candidate.

‘The contest begins tonight,’ McCain says: This is also another no-brainer MSNBC story of John McCain winning the GOP nomination:

Sen. John McCain of Arizona claimed the GOP nomination Tuesday after rolling up one-sided victories in primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont.

"I am very pleased to note that tonight, my friends, we have won enough delegates to claim with confidence, humility and a sense of great responsibility that I will be the Republican nominee for president of the United States," the 71-year-old McCain told cheering supporters in Dallas.

"The contest begins tonight," the former Navy fighter pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam said, looking ahead to a match-up with either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 4 General Election. Both the remaining Democratic candidates called McCain and offered their congratulations, their campaigns said.


According to projections by NBC News and the Associated Press, Tuesday’s victories gave McCain a total of 1,205 delegates, 14 more than the 1,191 required to secure the Republican nomination. The projection is based on both delegates pledged to the four-term senator from Arizona and those who have told the AP they will vote for him.

When Mitt Romney dropped out of the race, it was only a matter of time for McCain to seal the nomination. Mike Huckabee was never really a credible threat to McCain, but rather a distraction. The question here was how long will it take before McCain wins the required number of delegates needed to cinch the GOP nomination. Yesterday, he cinched it. Now McCain can shift his campaign from a primary to a general election campaign in attacking the Democratic candidates. And you can bet that the McCain campaign is already thinking up strategies to attack either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. It is just a question of who is going to win the Democratic nomination.

Clinton wins Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island, Obama wins Vermont

Here are the results from yesterdays primaries. From MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton scored three victories in a night of revival that denied Barack Obama a ripe opportunity to drive her from the Democratic presidential race. Clarity came only to the Republican side, where John McCain made the nomination his own.

Meanwhile, Clinton, fresh off big primary victories, hinted Wednesday at the possibility of sharing the Democratic presidential ticket with Obama — with her at the top. Obama played down his losses, stressing that he still holds the lead in number of delegates.

In a night that failed to clarify the Democratic race, McCain clinched the Republican nomination. Clinton won primaries in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island, halting Obama's winning streak. Obama won in Vermont.

Both Democrats insisted on Wednesday they had the best credentials to go head to head — or as Clinton put it, "toe to toe" — against McCain.

For the past three weeks, there has been a lot of talk in the mainstream news media for Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race and cede the nomination to Barack Obama. Clinton has refused to do so. And what is more interesting is that the American people are still saying that they like both candidates here. After the 11-straight wins that Obama gained, he still has not yet shown that he can bury Clinton away in this nomination. And yet, for the big wins that Clinton gained in Texas and Ohio, she still doesn't have the time, or the delegate math, to catch up to Obama's pledged delegate lead before the convention. So what we have here is half of the Democrats voting for Obama, and half of the Democrats voting for Clinton, with Obama taking a slight lead of around 100 delegates into the convention. Both candidates will press hard in selling themselves to the super-delegates for the nomination. And the super-delegates will be faced with an extremely difficult situation--who to choose between two closely divided, and equally popular, Democratic candidates?

This is where I think the brokered convention is going to be played out. The super-delegates are going to be faced with two important issues--the first is certainly who will be chosen for the Democratic nomination. But a more serious issue is the question of which candidate candidate can beat John McCain, who is now the heir apparent for the continuation of the Bush regime. Both candidates have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. For Hillary Clinton, her strength is certainly her experience in the Washington political scene--having served eight years as First Lady, and almost eight years in the U.S. Senate, whereas Obama has been in the U.S. Senate for only four years. John McCain's Senate career dwarfs them both at 26 years. She is one of the smoothest debaters I have seen, and she has the Democrat's fondness for former president Bill Clinton's two terms in office. Hillary Clinton's greatest weakness is the fact that she is a Clinton--the Republicans are going to dredge up every piece of dirt and mud that they can on the Clinton's, in order to anger their own base into voting for McCain. Hillary has very high negative numbers, with a number of people claiming that they will never vote for Hillary. In addition, there is some concern for having almost 28 years of a combined Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton presidencies (If Hillary gets elected for two terms). Hillary Clinton is both a strong candidate, that also comes with serious issues.

There are strengths and weaknesses with Barack Obama as well. Barack Obama is an incredible candidate--young, great looking, intelligent, charismatic, incredible stump speaker, and he has an incredibly beautiful, intelligent wife. Barack Obama is almost like an African-American equivalent of a John F. Kennedy--if Obama gets elected to the White House, will we see a resurgence of a new Camelot? And yet, Obama also has his own set of weaknesses. Like it or not, Obama is still inexperience--he has only been in the U.S. Senate for four years. Obama has not been the best debater when compared to Clinton. Obama stammers as he is saying one sentence, while his brain is thinking about the third or fourth sentence. Hillary Clinton has a very smooth presentation style in her debates with Obama. And I think that the single greatest strength and weakness Obama brings is his African-American heritage. It would be an incredible achievement to have either an African-American, or a woman, to be elected to the Oval Office. But if Barack Obama gets the nomination, the Republicans will pull out all stops in slinging the most racist dirt they can against Obama, that it would make the GOP attacks against Harold Ford in the 2006 Tennessee Senate race seem like a tea party. We have already seen a preview of these attacks against Obama, suggesting that Obama is a Muslim, or he will secretly side with the terrorist, or that he is not a true American. The Obama campaign has been sharp at counter-attacking some the negative campaigning by the Clinton camp. But that will be nothing compared to the crap that the GOP will fling against Obama in the general election.

I like both candidates. I can be happy both voting, and supporting, either Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, for the White House. And looking at how close some of these state primaries and caucuses have been, I believe the Democrats are happy with either choice--the Democratic Party is split down the middle with half supporting either candidate. This brings up the question of a combined Clinton/Obama or Obama/Clinton ticket. Just look at the audience response to the possibility of a dream ticket with both candidates at the CNN debate before Super Tuesday:

The Democrats love these two candidates, and are especially supportive of both of them. It is the reason why neither candidate can put the other away. And it is the reason why there is an enthusiastic response to a combined ticket. In one sense, both Clinton and Obama complement each other in bringing the best of the Democratic voters' support for winning the White House. Of the two, I would say that a Clinton president/Obama vice-president would make the best sense. It would provide Obama 4-8 years of vice presidential experience under a Hillary Clinton administration. When Hillary Clinton steps down, Obama could then become a powerful Democratic candidate that may continue the Democratic Party's hold on the Oval Office for another 4-8 years. Either way, both are great candidates for the office.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Coke and GE execs making millions

I don't really have much of a comment here, except to say that even in a recession, the ubber-CEOs are still getting their multi-million dollar paychecks. Both of these stories are from The New York Times.

Coke’s Chief Got $21.6 Million in 2007:

ATLANTA (AP) — The chief executive of the Coca-Cola Company, E. Neville Isdell, received total compensation valued at $21.6 million in 2007, a more than 3 percent increase from the year before, according to a regulatory filing on Monday.

According to an analysis of the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Isdell, 64, was granted a salary of $1.6 million and a performance bonus of $6.6 million.

He received all other compensation of $817,066, including $341,849 for aircraft usage, $80,116 for a car and driver, $117,065 for security, $48,169 for tax reimbursements, $213,375 for contributions to company thrift plans and $3,492 for life insurance premiums.

For security purposes, Mr. Isdell is required to use company aircraft for all travel, both business and personal, and he is reimbursed for the tax liability associated with the personal use.

Mr. Isdell also received stock and option awards the company valued at $12.6 million on the day they were granted.

Immelt of G.E. Made $14 Million in Last Year’s Pay:

BOSTON (Reuters) — General Electric’s chief executive, Jeffrey R. Immelt, was awarded $14.2 million in compensation last year, including salary, bonus and the value of plan-based awards, the company said Monday in a regulatory filing.

G.E.’s proxy statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that Mr. Immelt’s 2007 compensation included salary of $3.3 million, $5.8 million in bonus and $396,267 in other compensation, as well as other plan-based awards valued at $4.7 million at their grant date.

In 2006, he was awarded $8.8 million in salary, bonus and other compensation, and $6.3 million in plan-based awards.

Factoring in the plan-based awards, Mr. Immelt’s awarded compensation was down 6 percent for the year. Without them, it was up 7 percent.

U.S. vehicle sales plunged in February

This is not surprising. From MSNBC News:

DETROIT - Automakers got hit where it hurts in February, with U.S. sales of their most profitable vehicles — trucks, sport utilities and large sedans — plunging as consumers reacted to high gas prices and the possible recession. General Motors and Ford announced second-quarter production cuts in the face of falling U.S. sales.

General Motors reported a sales decline of almost 13 percent while Ford's sales slumped 7 percent, Chrysler's tumbled 8 percent and Toyota's fell 3 percent. It was expected to be a difficult month for automakers as consumer confidence continued its slide. Declines in home construction have also significantly weakened truck sales.

GM said its sales decline was led by a 19 percent drop in sales of trucks and SUVs. Sales of Chevrolet full-size pickups were down 29 percent for the month. Large sedans didn't fare much better; sales of the full-size Buick Lucerne were down 26 percent. GM's sales dropped 6 percent in the first two months of the year.

Detroit's Big Three has been pushing too many gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs on the American consumer. Those big trucks and SUVs represent fat profits for Detroit automakers. The problem for GM, Ford, and Chrysler is that when they were raking in the big profits on their fuel-inefficient vehicles, they were ignoring the need for investing in new gas-saving vehicles, and hybrid technology. And just like during the 1970s Arab Oil Embargo, American consumers today are dumping their gas-guzzling vehicles for the Japanese hybrids. And Detroit is playing catch-up again.

Déjà vu.