Friday, September 26, 2008

Football and financing or "Why aren't the youth outraged?" (Updated)

I am a huge football fan. I love the game as much as I love to follow the game of politics. This week's news is almost as shocking as this evening's USC-Oregon State game. This is my favorite game of the season because it features the Trojans and the Beavers! "And the Trojans penetrate the Beaver defense and score."

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past week, you have heard about the $700 billion bailout of the financial section. Talk about someone getting screwed.

The ultra simple version is that deregulation allowed financial institutions (these are not your community banks; think Ditech) to give mortgages to people who did not have the means to repay the money, especially when the interest rates started to balloon after those initial years of "low, low financing." These loans were then purchased by the nation's largest financial institutions.

The inevitable happened right before the election. The repayments stopped coming in and the largest financial institutions were left holding the bag. The problem is that these institutions have grown so large that they control whether or not Americans (at least the ones who do have the means to repay the loans) can get lines of credit. That means the American economy will grind to a halt if these outfits fail. 1929?

Now W. and Congress are looking for a $700 billion bailout. Oh, and we have to do it soon so that the members of Congress can back back to their districts and do some last minute (okay, last 40 some days) campaigning.

Where did that $700 billion figure come from? Apparently from someone's backside.
"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."
Why is this such a problem? Well, W. managed to piss away the Clinton-era budget surplus and run up a deficit of something around $11 trillion. Now, in his last few months in office, Our Fearless Leader has Decided to just add another three-quarters of a trillion dollars to that total. What does he care? It's our children who will have to repay this money. By the way, this debt is held by other countries like our main economic competitor, China. We might as well learn Mandarin, because that may well be the language our CEOs will be speaking.

Back to the football intro. My favorite football column is Tuesday Morning Quarterback by Gregg Easterbrook. He is an incredibly intelligent guy who also writes for ESPN during the season. Click here (and scroll down to the subhead titled "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!) and read his full argument for why youth should be rising up over this.

So what was John McCain's reaction? He suspended his campaign to (eventually) head back to DC just in time for the bailout deal to fall through. We are all wondering whether this "suspension" means he will show up for tomorrow's debate. Of course, this was all a smokescreen. If Obama follows his lead, he looks like he is following McCain's lead and looks weak. If Obama continues campaigning, McCain can accuse him of putting politics before the crashing economy. Never mind that McCain has been Mr. Deregulation. And a key figure in the Keating Five.

John Stewart's reaction:

Wow. We're the midst of a crisis. I better stop talking to people about what I am going to do.

To his credit, Obama is having none of that nonsense and has pointed out that a president might actually need to juggle several issues at once. He plans to go on with the debate.

And to make the progressives feel better, here is the most current electoral college map.

That's some really good news for the good guys. And please check this site out. These guys really know what they are talking about. Forget about the national polls. Nate and Sean look at the data state-by-state because this is a state-by-state election. The aggregate the various polls, throw out the outliers and show us all how the polling is going in each state.

It's looking like this race might come down to Virginia. However, if swing voters see the McCain campaign suspension as the final jumping the shark moment, we might easily add Nevada, Ohio, Florida, Indiana Missouri North Carolina, and Montana.

That is if no one has foreclosed on the polling stations in the heavily Democratic districts.


Update: The debate will go on with both McCain and Obama and McCain has already declared victory in this evening's debate. Sad but true.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Update: Charges dropped

St. Paul has dropped the charges against the reporters, including the ones from Democracy Now, who were arrested at the RNC in early September.

Even better than that is the news that the investigators will be taking a very broad view of what constitutes a "journalist." This is due to the large number of alternative media (that is, bloggers) covering the convention.

Score one for freedom of the press.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

For fanboys and geeks only

This is basically and inside joke for anyone who is both a geek and a political junkie. Mightygodking has boiled this entire political season down to a simple set of Magic: The Gathering cards. And the gods bless him for it. Here is my favorite (because MSNBC finally gave her a show):

Now, if they would only give the same billing to Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. Maybe that's asking too much.

The rest of the set is definitely worth it. I snorted beer through my nose at the "Ron Paul" card. Another good one is the Freeper holding a sign reading "Get a brain! Morans." I think he meant to tell us Lefties to "get a brain, morons." I might be wrong, though. Those of us with an education might be too intelligent to understand that the Republicans know how to run this country.

btw: The New York Giants borrowed some of their money to build a new stadium from Lehman Brothers. That went well. Bonus: McCain was for deregulation before he was against it. Also, check out this video. Try to spot Obama making a funny:


Monday, September 15, 2008

The FEMA-DHS divorce

This is a repost of a diary I wrote at Daily Kos today. Enjoy.

Before I get to the meat of this diary, I have to say that my prayers go out to the people of Houston, Galveston, and other areas that Ike hit. I also have to sincerely apologize for politicizing disasters, but this issue has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks.

I firmly believe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has no business being a small part of the sprawling Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Follow me below the fold for my reasoning and a small plea for assistance with a research paper.

(Insert DKos fold here.)

MSNBC as well as many of our esteemed diarist are reporting that the victims of Ike are having a hard time getting things like water, ice and MREs. It feels like New Orleans 2005 all over again.

We are all now aware that the major reason for the botched response to Katrina was that FEMA was (and still is) an agency within DHS. That means there are additional layers of red tape to cut through in order to get anything done. This is a particular problem when an agency is responding to a crisis.

Here is a perfect summary of the problems FEMA faced on the Gulf Coast in 2005:

Many believe that one of the most grievous errors in judgment occurred at the top of the DHS hierarchy. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff waited fully three days before declaring Katrina an issue of "national concern." During that time, the National Weather Service " ... was absolutely clear about what was going to happen," according to Kary Joblonka of the Professional Development Program at Rockefeller College of the University at Albany. The storm was "... the most anticipated catastrophe of the modern world," Jablonka said.

The situation deteriorated quickly, with thousands of displaced residents stranded in New Orleans for days without food, water, or medical supplies. Maine Senator Susan Collins has contended that this phlegmatic response was rooted in a failure of coordination between FEMA and bodies that are outside of DHS jurisdiction, yet are also responsible for disaster relief, such as the National Guard.

Before I get to the Congressional solution, a little history would be helpful. (Note: I am not going to include many links here as this information is available through multiple sources, however this article from Rolling Stone is very thorough.)

Prior to 1979, the federal response to major natural disasters was fragmented. Every time a disaster hit, a task force was appointed to coordinate the federal response. Once the crisis was over, so was the federal response. There were two problems. First, this set up did not account for any preparations (like making sure plenty of drinking water was available after a flood) between crises. Second, there was no institutional learning or memory. That means the successes and failure of the past were not easily reused or discarded as appropriate.

President Carter formed FEMA in 1979 to respond to natural and man-made disasters. FEMA was made an independent agency, answerable only to the President for operations and Congress for funding. Now there was an agency that could coordinate response between state and federal agencies and that could plan for the next disaster.

During the 1980s, President Reagan changed FEMA's focus to preparing for the aftermath of a nuclear war that never happened.Predictably, FEMA had a string of failures late in the decade. At that time, there were calls to incorporate FEMA into the Department of Defense. Thankfully, that did not happen.

Then Bill Clinton was elected. Clinton appointed James Witt as head of FEMA. He was the former director of Arkansas emergency management department. It was obvious political appointment, but for the first time a person with emergency management experience was in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. More importantly, FEMA was given cabinet level status, meaning that Witt had Clinton's ear in the event of an emergency. The results were telling: FEMA was a shining example of how an executive branch agency should operate.

Then came the Decider in Chief. Bush decided that his former campaign manager Joe Allbaugh should be in charge of FEMA. After 9/11, someone in the bureaucracy noticed that acts of terrorism will require disaster response. Therefore, FEMA should become one of 22 agencies incorporated into the new DHS. Notably, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin warned against the move.

Of course, FEMA has not had to respond to an act of terrorism since then (unless you count the anthrax attacks in 2002). FEMA's primary mission is still in the realm of natural disaster remediation rather than responses to terrorism.

Somewhere along the way, Allbaugh hired his old college buddy Mike "heckuva job" Brown, who was FEMA head when Katrina hit. There is evidence that Brown was more interested in his wardrobe and how much time he would have for dinner than actually responding to the disaster. There was plenty of time to prepare for the storm, but Brownie (who had zero emergency management experience) did nothing. As a result, the people in New Orleans were stranded in a football stadium and conference center for days without food, water, or sanitation.

Brown got canned and Congress started an investigation. Initially, there was a push to restore FEMA to its former status it enjoyed as an independent agency. This effort was led by Senators Hillary Clinton, Daniel Akaka, Barbara Boxer, Trent Lott, and Rep. Tom Davis a Republican from Virginia. After a lack of response by FEMA to some ice storms in Oklahoma in January, 2007 the very Republican delegation from that state called for FEMA to regain its independent status as well. This includes Coburn and Inhofe.

As it stands, FEMA is still a part of DHS, but has more authority and flexibility. This was a result of a compromise while a funding bill was making its way through the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The committee is chaired by Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins is the ranking Republican.

While it is premature to assume that the FEMA failures in Texas are a result of the agency's place within DHS, the empirical evidence is clear. FEMA functioned best as an independent agency headed by an experienced emergency manager.

This is not simply an esoteric argument meant for a few high-ranking Senators and executives. This is an issue of lives, homes and livelihoods. People died in New Orleans because of bureaucratic delays. The same thing might be true in the aftermath of Ike, but it is a little too early to say that for certain.

So if you made it this far, thanks. Now I am hoping for help from my fellow Kosacks. I am writing a paper on this topic for a class I am taking in pursuit of my masters degree. Does any one out there know of any Senators or Representatives who are actively pushing for FEMA's independence? I can say that three bills calling for this have died in committee. Does any one know if there has been any other movement on this? Has Obama said anything about it? What about the Senators and Representatives in Texas?

Thanks and the gods bless Texas.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday evening musings

Not much in the way of in-depth political musings this evening. First, here a couple of pictures that amuse me. Hope you all enjoy them. (h/t to the Rev. Irwin Addison for the first one.)

For reviews of the RNC, I direct your attention to one of the many open thread discussions on Daily Kos. More later about 9/11 Rudy, Sarah Palin's vitriol and her failed attempt to eBay that plane, and Mr. Noun Verb POW.

Oh, and congrats to Rachel Maddow. Her new show premiers Monday at 9 p.m. She even filled in on Countdown this evening and skewered Palin. Here it is for your review.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Democracy Now! host Goodman arrested at RNC (Updated x2)

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, but the prima facie evidence is that Democracy Now host Amy Goodman was arrested by St. Paul police while reporting on the protests at the Republican National Convention. The details are unclear, but it appears that Goodman was attempting to secure the release of two producers, Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous. They are being held on suspicion of rioting.

If the details from DN! are accurate, this is a clear violation of freedom of the press. It is particularly troubling because DN! is a leader among the new media. Goodman and her staff are notable for their hour-long broadcasts on issues that the traditional media tend to gloss over. Incidentally, the CNNs and MSNBCs of the world make no mention on their websites, but the news of the pregnancy (and pending shotgun nuptials) of Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter are featured prominently.

Update: The Washington Post, and the Associated Press have filed stories. As of this writing at 10:10 p.m. Eastern Time, the Dickinson Press in North Dakota had posted the story on line.

This is not the first time that DN! has run afoul of the local constabulary in the Twin Cities during the RNC. While reporting from the RNC Welcoming Committee's convergence space, Elizabeth Press was caught up in a preemptive police raid over the weekend. Here's her report. She claims that a lot of the activists are having run-ins with police even though they had not (at least yet) committed any crime or engaged in violence.

Important note about the RNC Welcoming Committee: They are a self-described group of anarchists and anti-authoritarians. As such, the local law enforcement would have a very good reason to keep an eye on these people.

Protests are certainly an important part of the American political process and I will generally support the right to peaceably assemble. The key word is peaceably, though. The people who damage property are not only rightly subject to arrest and detention, but are also hurting their own cause by casting the entire movement in a bad light. Protest the GOP, but be respectful about it. That will be much more effective than torching the city.

On the other hand, it does seem like the police in Minnesota showing an inordinate amount of zeal in carrying out their duties. Innovations like cheap video cameras and YouTube will be key to keeping an eye on the conduct of law enforcement.

Here's a great collection of photos from Monday's protests from the Star Tribune in the Twin Cities. Yes, the traditional media are doing their bit and deserve a bit of recognition.

This should be a wake-up call to the GOP. The DNC protests were sparse and mainly consisted of die-hard Clinton supporters. These protesters absolutely loathe the Republican Party and their policies. Maybe it really is time for a real change, ladies and gentlemen. The kids (read: the future) are willing to get pepper sprayed and arrested for it.

As for Ms. Goodman, there is not much more information about this incident. Hopefully more details will emerge tomorrow.

Update: The Post reported that Goodman, who was displaying her press credentials was charged and released, but the producers could be held for 36 hours. Hopefully, DN! will continue to cover the protests. Tomorrow's edition will be interesting.


Update: All three were released, but the producers are looking at felony rioting charges. Here's hoping they encounter a judge who understands First Amendment rights.

h/t to Daily Kos diarist smartinez and Alternet for picking up the story.