Sunday, July 31, 2011

Primary Challenge Could Help Obama, Dems

Even before President Barack Obama began upsetting everyone with his debt ceiling deals, various voices, including progressive stalwart Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), had been suggesting a Democratic primary challenge would be good for Obama and Democrats.

The Republicans' whole raft of primary candidates, running the gamut from Mitt Romney soup to Michele Bachmann (R-MN) nuts, appeared extraordinarily redundant when the sitting President was politically somewhere to the right of Richard Nixon.

Democrats, on the other hand, would do well to put up someone to represent their traditional values.

"If a progressive Democrat were to run, I think it would enliven the debate," Sanders told WNYC radio in March. Sanders is an Independent who caucuses with Democrats.

Add Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to those who had suggested a Democratic primary challenger to the President would be a good thing for both Obama and the party.

"I think primaries can have the opportunity of raising the issues and making the Democratic candidate a stronger candidate," Kucinich said in February. "I think it's safe to predict that President Obama will be the nominee of the Democratic Party, but he could be a stronger nominee if he receives a strong challenge in the primary."

A poll last fall found Democrats evenly split over whether Obama should be challenged in a Democratic primary. 46% were opposed to a primary challenge, while 45% favored one.

Even Ralph Nader figured Democrats ought to consider primary challengers to Obama, although he didn't nominate himself, as when he ran as the Green Party candidate against Al Gore.

The poll and Sanders' and Kucinich's comments came before Obama's approval rating dipped to 40%.

A primary challenge could help define Obama's positions, and might encourage him to engage and energize his party's base. At the very least, it would give Obama a chance to stand on a stump and campaign, rather than simply cede the primary season election coverage to Republican rivals. It would give Obama a chance to press the flesh and make speeches and do all the things he's good at, rather than just wrangle with recalcitrant lawmakers over budgets and policy disputes.

A progressive primary challenge could help Democrats define a progressive alternative, and redefine Obama's position in the political spectrum from left to center.

It could give the 72% of Americans who believed taxes should be raised on wealthier Americans to preserve Medicare and Social Security benefits an alternative who represented their priorities. It could give the 68% of Americans who believed federal debts should be addressed with a combination of revenue reforms and spending cuts, or revenue reforms alone, an alternative who represented their priorities.

Whatever happens over the next few days in the ongoing melodrama precipitated by the Republicans' unconscionable hostage-holding of the nation's debt ceiling, rank-and-file Democrats, to say nothing of the 72% of Americans who preferred raising taxes instead of cutting Medicare and Social Security, have become increasingly alarmed at how far to the right of Nixon Obama had proven to be.

The nation's debt ceiling is a self-imposed credit limit requiring Congressional approval to raise. Normally a pro forma vote, Republicans have been holding the debt ceiling hostage to political demands they could never have passed through normal legislative processes. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned that unless the debt ceiling is raised by Aug. 2, the federal government would no longer be able to fund operations, pay off existing obligations, or send out the 55 million Social Security checks hitting the mail room Aug. 3.

The President's bargain, hashed out with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) because he presumably was a more amenable pea-eater than House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), seemed to enrage everyone from placard-waving Tea Party zealots to House Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). Not a confidence builder. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and John Kyl (R-AZ) seemed to like it. Not a confidence builder.

The President's deal to get the debt ceiling raised was purported to reduce the federal deficit by some $2.8 trillion, with $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending over ten years up front, and an additional $1.6 trillion coming from more cuts and maybe, maybe, some tiny, tiny, non-Grover Norquist-offending revenue tweaks to be determined by a bicameral, bipartisan committee in time to spoil everyone's enjoyment of turkey and football games this fall. Meaning a group of three Democratic Senators and three Democratic Congressional Reps, along with three Republican Senators and three Republican Congressional Reps were supposed to come up with a list of budget cuts and revenue hikes by Thanksgiving, to be approved by simple majority votes in both chambers of Congress. Failing that, $1.2 trillion in mandatory across-the-board cuts, split between defense and non-defense spending, would kick in. Cuts to defense and Medicare were intended to hasten everyone's ardor for the committee process. The Medicare cuts were capped at 2% of Medicare costs, and were directed at insurers and health care providers, rather than beneficiaries.

Total discretionary spending would be reduced by $7 billion in 2012, with half coming out of national security. Like many a pro-football player's contract, the cuts were heavily back-end loaded.

In a bow to McConnell's earlier plan, lawmakers would vote against the debt ceiling hikes, and Obama would veto the disapprovals.

None of which resembled the balanced combination of spending cuts and revenue reforms the President touted and 68% of Americans favored.

Regardless, Obama would get, albeit in two bites, his $2.4 trillion debt ceiling hike, presumably enough to get him past the 2012 elections.

Whether this was a good deal, or whether it would even survive a vote in the House of Representatives, was fairly unclear to everyone involved. Tea Party enthusiasts were unhappy the deal didn't include the guarantee of a balanced budget amendment being sent to the states, didn't cut the deficit by the $6 trillion they wanted, and didn't include a single slogan, jingle, pledge or catchy tagline. Democrats were unhappy the deal didn't include any revenue reforms, and cut Medicare, although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) managed to prevent a dreaded change to Social Security's cost of living adjustment formula.

(Incidentally, the current, more favorable COLA hadn't raised seniors' Social Security checks in two years, because the plunging price of giant-screen flat panel TVs had managed to offset rising fuel, food, drug and home heating costs.)

All of which made everyone with a set of convictions on either side of the tennis court particularly miffed, a tendency the President had repeatedly begun to demonstrate.

A Democratic primary challenge could help address the ambivalence under the donkey banner. It would let voters kick the tires again, and consider whether the shiny new conveyance they signed up for four years before was really a clunker, or whether it just needed a new coat of clear-coat polymer to shine up the paint.

And, should the President's approval continue to spiral earthward, it would position Democrats with a candidate who owned considerably less baggage.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Truman, The 14th Amendment, And Progressive Income Taxes

Ever since Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) suggested President Barack Obama invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the federal debt ceiling, there's been a minor brouhaha over Clyburn's assertion that President Harry Truman did so during his presidency.

Admittedly, "Give 'em hell, Barry!" loses something without the alliteration.

In fact, Truman never did raise the federal debt ceiling. In fact, since the nation started using the debt ceiling in 1939, Truman was the only President who didn't raise the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling was incrementally raised to the princely sum of $300 billion - hardly enough to keep Wendi Murdoch in shoes - during World War II, was reduced to $275 billion in 1945, and remained $275 billion until 1954, when Dwight David Eisenhower, or "Ike," who everyone apparently liked, was President.

Whether Truman was inspired by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to issue Executive Order 9981 integrating the United States Armed Services, as some have suggested, is another issue entirely. However, there is no mention of the 14th Amendment in the Executive Order, or reference to the amendment in the Truman Library's discussion of the Executive Order.

Whatever Truman did, Obama should certainly use 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling instead of submitting to Republican blackmail demands gutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Certainly, Obama should use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling instead of allowing Republicans to blackmail the nation again a few months from now. Certainly, Obama should use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling instead of rewarding Republicans with legislative changes they could never pass through the normal legislative process.

Obama should certainly use the 14th Amendment to raise the federal debt ceiling simply because Republicans are intransigent on the very reason Truman never had to raise the debt ceiling at all.

In Truman's day, the federal government managed to fund the GI Bill, rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan, poke the Soviet Union in the eye with the Berlin Airlift, and help develop all the technologies that gave us computers, the internet, cell phones and rockets to the moon without raising the debt ceiling.

In Truman's day, the federal government, wrestling with a troubled economy converting from war production to civvies, managed to send countless veterans to college or vocational training, and provided low-interest loans for housing and living expenses without raising the debt ceiling. In Truman's day, the federal government built war-devastated Western Europe, with its millions of displaced refugees, millions of demolished homes, countless destroyed roads, and bridges, and dams, and factories into the economic power it is today without raising the debt ceiling. In Truman's day, the federal government fought the Korean War without raising the debt ceiling.

In Truman's day, all that and much, much more was possible because, instead of borrowing, the federal government did this little thing called collecting taxes.

In his day, President Ronald Reagan slashed taxes, but had to raise the debt ceiling 18 times.

Today, instead of being able to rebuild 5,000,000 homes and care for 12,000,000 refugees in bomb-devastated West Germany as Truman did, a handful of the ultra-wealthy sit in luxury boxes at Yankee Stadium.

Today, instead of educating an entire generation of Americans and innovating the new technologies of the 21st Century as Truman did, a handful of rich codgers fuss over their art collections and trophy wives.

Today, instead of building the infrastructure for the next generation, we nip and tuck and botox and tan the spotted countenances of a privileged past generation.

Without addressing revenue, whether Barack Obama uses the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling doesn't make a hill of beans worth of difference in the world. The ruinous tax policies of the last thirty years have paupered a nation that could, and did, once rebuild one entire world and create a whole new one for the future. The ruinous tax policies of the last thirty years have managed only to concentrate 84% of the nation's wealth in the hands of 20% of its people, with no payoff except that a handful of people can plaster themselves with enough designer labels to look like prissy Nascar drivers and turn everyone around them into peasants subjugated by armies of lawyers, lobbyists and politicians.

84% of the nation's wealth is being spent on the creation of a world miserable even for the wealthy few, instead of the building of a better world for everyone. 84% of the nation's wealth, an entire future for a whole generation, is being horded away in arcane financial instruments and funnelled into the intellectually bankrupt social engineering of an ignorant and greedy few. 84% of the nation's wealth is being squandered on so many legal briefs and politicians' perks to bludgeon away oversight of business and industry, respectable wages for workers and educators and first responders, and environmental protections.

84% of the nation's wealth is being squandered on the exhausting one of world, instead of the building of many.

Whether Barack Obama uses the 14th Amendment to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling only matters in that it will allow the government to function a bit longer, send out Social Security and Medicare and veteran's checks for a few more months, and prevent the catastrophic cascade failure of the world's financial markets for another day.

Until Americans give themselves the revenue tools Americans had in Truman's day, whoever the future belongs to, they won't be Americans.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Polls: Neither Dem or GOP Debt Ceiling Plan Cleaves To Americans' Wishes

Yet another poll revealed how disconnected from ordinary Americans the Washington Beltway pols were.

A Reuters/Ipsos flash poll conducted Monday evening after President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) addressed the nation revealed 68% of Americans believed federal government debt should be addressed either with a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, or tax hikes alone.

Yet, both surviving debt plans being haggled over in Congress addressed the problem with cuts only, a strategy favored by just 19% of the American people

Poll after poll has revealed the fevered haggling in Washington has drifted further and further from the wishes of the electorate.

While 72% of Americans wanted to raise taxes on those making $250,000 or more to save Medicare and Social Security, Republicans subverted the discussion in Washington to one about lowering taxes on those making $250,000 or more, while voucherizing Medicare and privatizing Social Security.

While 56% of Americans want to address the nation's debt with a combination of cuts and tax hikes, and 12% want to address the debt with tax hikes alone, Republicans wrestled the Washington budget discussion away from a discussion of cuts and revenue reforms, and into a discussion of the size and timing of an all-cuts scheme.

While 60% of Americans said keeping Social Security and Medicare benefits as they were was more important, Beltway Republicans numbered among the 32% of Americans who said reducing the deficit was more important.

Republicans making $75,000 or much, much more a year were the only demographic group that prioritized deficit reduction over maintaining Social Security and Medicare, by 68% to 28%. And, Republicans making $75,000 or much, much more a year have been controlling the discussion on Capitol Hill.

Republicans have successfully monopolized the debt ceiling conversation, making it all solely and exclusively about the amount of the tax cuts, tax breaks and tax subsidies the rich would receive. All discussion of revenue reform was banished from the table. Instead, all discussion focused on slashing vital services all Americans relied upon, so the funds for those services could be handed to the already-rich.

Republicans controlled the conversation on the strength of a great PR campaign. Republicans characteristically pulled out Madison Avenue sound-bite pledges and postures. They pulled out yet another catchy-sounding slogan, Cut, Cap and Balance, to sell their scheme for the forced voucherizing of Medicare and plundering of Social Security so they could hand a $6 trillion tax subsidy to their already-unspeakably wealthy patrons and cronies. They wrestled the Washington discussion to when, not whether, to implement Cut, Cap and Balance.

Instead of discussing tax hikes on the richest Americans, Republicans hijacked the discussion to make it about the biggest tax subsidy the rich have ever enjoyed.

It is the Republicans' mastery of the message, their sovereignty over the sound-bite, that lets them, time and again, fool the ignorant into voting them into office so they could continue their thirty-year plundering of the nation. Their policies have paupered the country, concentrating 84% of the nation's wealth in the hands of 20% of its richest residents.

The Republican mantra of more tax breaks for the rich and more service cuts for everyone else continued to fool many into believing those tax breaks and service cuts somehow helped them. Tax breaks for the rich never created jobs, lowered health care costs, or cleaned up the environment. More service cuts never improved education, or put more cops and firefighters on the street.

Some softening of support for Republicans might have revealed a softening of American gullibility.

Despite Tea Party admonitions that failing to raise the debt ceiling posed no problems, 83% of Americans said they were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the looming Aug. 2 deadline to raise the nation's credit limit.

Despite Republican demagoguery, Reuters/Ipsos found a plurality of Americans, 31%, blamed Republicans for the debt ceiling deadlock, while 21% blamed President Obama. Just 9% blamed Congressional Democrats. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 42% would blame Republicans if debt hike negotiations failed, compared to 36% who would blame Obama.

There was some indication Americans considered Republican bravado as overreaching. Only 30% said they favored retaining their present members of Congress, while 63% said they preferred to look for someone else. Republicans might be swept out of power as quickly as they had been swept in, changing the focus of discussion on Capitol Hill to more closely match Americans' wishes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Beltway Debt Ceiling Noh Play Winds Toward Final Act

Ah, the excruciating screech of annoying Japanese stringed instruments. The tooth-jarring shriek of annoying Japanese woodwinds. The mind-numbingly inscrutable Japanese Noh play that has held the Washington Beltway in its thrall for all these many months with all its many classic elements, might, just maybe, be trundling and lumbering to its inevitable final curtain. Like all Japanese Noh plays, it has been excruciatingly tedious. Like all Japanese Noh plays, it has been interminably long. It has been incalculably stylized. It has been performed with jerky posturing and screeching dialogue that has all been very symbolic and reassuringly predictable. And, most importantly, all the players have worn masks.

The playbill said that unless lawmakers raised the federal government's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2, the Emperor and all his Taishos and all their Samurai wouldn't be able to hold their courts or flail their peasants or send out any of the 55 million Social Security checks languishing in Treasury Castle.

But, the scheming Republican clan would not deign to raise the debt ceiling unless all the rice harvests and all the rice-wine barrels in the land were first handed to the great plutocrat gods.

And so, the actors paraded onto the stage, posing their poses and posturing their postures as the woodwinds shrieked and the strings screeched. Every strutting samurai with a plan fell to dust and became a moaning ghost. Every moaning ghost became a strutting samurai with a plan.

Finally, the leaders of the two great clans presented their final, final, schemes to slay the demon, and great Lord Obama (it is a Japanese Noh play) cast his favor toward Senate Majority Leader Lord Harry Reid's (R-NV) plan (it's not a very good Japanese Noh play), as Lord Harry Reid was from Lord Obama's own favored clan. The other clan's House Speaker Lord John Boehner's (R-OH) plan was scorned by all, not least, shockingly but predictably, by his own treacherous samurai, who disdained it not because it was a scornful plan, but because it wasn't scornful enough. It may not be a very good Japanese Noh play, but it is accurate.

As Lord Boehner lay dying over his ruined plan, his trusted vassal, Lord Eric Cantor (R-VA) plaintively cried out to his disgraced and shamed samurai "to stop grumbling and whining and to come together as conservatives and rally behind the Speaker and call the President's bluff."

"I do think we're going to have some work to do to get it passed," croaked Lord Boehner as he contemplated his entrails, "but I think we can do it."

The Japanese woodwinds wailed plaintively.

To no avail. "I am confident that as of this morning that there are not 218 Republicans in support of this plan," crowed the most treasonous samurai, Rep. Jim Jordon (R-OH) of the hideous Republican Study Committee, fondling his snakes and toads Tuesday.

If that weren't enough, the even more hideous Club for Growth, a special snake-and-toad interest group that was very important to the Republican Clan, had damned and condemned Lord Boehner three times over their steaming cauldron.

The Japanese strings screeched implacably.

If as few as thirty or forty of Lord Boehner's ronins and ninjas failed to rally to his banner, his implacable foe, the great House Minority Leader, Lady Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) could whip her retainers into voting against Lord Boehner, plunging him into the great flaming cataract beneath the Mountain of Eternal Exiles.

Then, if as few as five or seven wavering members of the Republican Clan, fearful of offending their plutocratic gods with the inevitable collapse of the celestial bond markets should Lord Obama not get his debt ceiling hike, could quietly, quietly touch their sacred stones to Lord Reid's plan, and send it to Lady Nancy in the House. 

Finally, finally, it would be up to Lady Nancy, with the thundering volcanic cataclysm of Death Mountain bursting behind her, to gather some thirty or forty wandering vassals from the shattered remnants of Lord Boehner's once-great army, add them to her own legion of 193 brave samurai, and, gaining the mystical number 218, cry her war cry to the heavens, whereupon everyone would fling themselves into the abyss of the volcano, saving the celestial bond markets and placating the plutocratic gods.

Then, Lord Obama would be able to send out the 55 million Social Security checks languishing in Treasury Castle.

Of course, being a Japanese Noh play, which is unfathomable beyond imagining, there can be no telling who are Lords and who are samurai, and who are mere ghosts, what with all the masks and posturing and all. There is no telling who's who, or whether Lord Reid's plan might become Lord Boehner's, or whether Lord Boehner's plan might have been Lord Reid's plan all along.

There is no telling even who's doing what, or who they represent. Never mind that a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,001 peasants revealed that, should the debt ceiling not be raised and the great Engine of Commerce grind to a halt, collapsing the celestial bond markets, 39% would blame Lord Obama, but 42% would blame Lord Boehner's Republican clan.

Never mind that 63% of peasants surveyed said they'd seek new congressional Lords to send to the Capitol, as opposed to just 30% who said they were happy with their present congressional Lords.

And, never mind in the least that 72% of peasants surveyed said that the wealthy plutocrat gods should have their earthly taxes raised to pay off the nation's debt and preserve Medicare and Social Security.

Despite everything the peasant chorus might sing in the background, the great Lords will pray and burn incense and placate their plutocrat gods, balancing the budget on the backs of the rice-harvesting middle class and, being America, not Japan, their unrevered and abandoned elders.

Because that is what happens in every Noh play on the Washington Beltway.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Boehner Debt Plan DOA With His Own GOP "Nutters"

In case anyone out there was at all confused, a feisty British finance minister only needed to look around for a few minutes to figure out what, exactly, was wrong with Washington's inability to raise it's own, self-imposed credit limit.

"The irony of the situation at the moment, with the markets opening (Monday) morning," U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable told the BBC Sunday, "is that the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few right-wing nutters in the American Congress rather than the Euro zone."

Quite right. Cheerio.

A bunch of those right-wing nutters just about killed House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) two-stage deficit-reduction plan to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling just about as soon as he got it out of his mouth.

"While I thank the Speaker for fighting for Republican principles," opined right-wing nutter Rep. Jim Jordon (R-OH) in a statement released shortly after Boehner announced his plan, "I cannot support the plan that was presented to House Republicans this afternoon." Jordon is a member of the arch-conservative Republican Study Group. It was not immediately known which Bible verses they were studying this week.

In his primetime address to the nation Monday night, President Barack Obama echoed Cable's warnings about the perils the nutters posed. "We would risk sparking a deep economic crisis - this one caused almost entirely by Washington," the President said without referring to the nutters by name.

Boehner's deficit plan was apparently DOA with his own caucus even before the ink from the Speaker's pen was dry. It would slash $1.2 trillion from the budget immediately and raise the nation's debt ceiling by $1 trillion, then reopen the excruciating can of worms in six or eight months after a bipartisan committee of 12 lawmakers offered up another $1.8 trillion in cuts primarily through voucherizing and privatizing Medicare and Social Security.

Boehner's plan would also float the Republican's feverishly coveted and irretrievably doomed balanced budget amendment. A Constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress and ratification by 38 of 50 states, and there weren't nearly enough nutters in all of America to fill that order.

Despite Boehner's best efforts, the nutters weren't impressed. "We're just not running and gunning with this thing," said Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI).

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was meeting right-wing nutter resistance to his own plan to reduce the deficit and raise the nation's debt ceiling. Reid's plan would cut $2.5 trillion from the budget and raise the debt ceiling by that amount.

The Senate plan didn't raise taxes, but would doubtless draw Republican ire for not handing all of Medicare's money to insurance company fat cats and throwing seniors to the dogs.

"This proposal satisfies Democrats' core principles by protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and providing long-term extension of the debt ceiling that the markets are looking for," Reid said, apparently unaware those very features were anathema to Republicans.

In Reid's plan, $1.2 trillion in savings came from cuts to discretionary spending, including $400 billion in interest savings, $100 billion already agreed upon during bipartisan talks led by Vice President Joe Biden last spring, $40 billion in "program integrity savings," and $60 billion reforming Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, agricultural programs, and the Universal Service Fund.

Another $1 trillion came from winding down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"It's an accounting gimmick," snivelled right-wing nutter Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) about the war savings. "I know they rationalize that, well, that appeared in the Ryan budget, too," Kyl said, referring to Rep. Paul Ryan's 2012 budget scheme, which was most infamous for voucherizing Medicare.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said Republicans, "included the exact same savings in the Ryan budget that passed the House. They never criticized such accounting then, it's hard to see how they could do so now."

Nonetheless, Kyl, in true nutter fashion, said, "Republicans, I don't believe in the Senate, will support a bill that purports to cut spending if that's the kind of the spending that it purports to cut."

As onerous as Reid's plan was, lacking any revenue reforms to address the nation's revenue crisis, it faced a serious uphill climb, as it was not nearly as onerous as Boehner's plan. And, as onerous as Boehner's plan was, even that wasn't onerous enough for the right-wing nutters.

Some nutters were distressed Boehner's measure required only a vote on the Constitutional amendment, not an outright amending of the Constitution. It was not immediately known whether Republicans understood the American people had to voluntarily approve an amendment before they got to change the Constitution of the United States of America.

Others disapproved of the idea of allowing Democrats onto a bipartisan committee. "That is a very legitimate concern," muttered nutter Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).

At any rate, Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced the Boehner plan was DOA with them. The right-wing Heritage Action group also nixed the idea.

Many Republicans have pledged not to raise the debt ceiling under any conditions, including right-wing nutterette Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Others, such as Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Jeff Landry (R-LA), allowed they would have to read Boehner's bill first before making up their minds, discrediting the notion that the entire GOP caucus was illiterate.

Reading was one thing, but counting was quite another. Asked whether he had the votes to pass his measure, Boehner deferred to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

"We believe we laid out the position that we would not raise if we did not have the cuts and we would not have tax increases," McCarthy stumbled and mumbled. Well, a group that advocates home-schooling on Bible verses and Ku Klux Klan bylaws would understandably be light in the arithmetic department.

Boehner needs 218 votes to pass a bill in the House of Representatives, and, although his caucus numbered 240, right-wing nutters from various hot beverage coalitions and Bible study groups limited the votes he could count on.

Among the votes Boehner likely couldn't count on were the 193 Democratic ones Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) presided over.

"The latest proposal from the House Republicans is a short-term plan that burdens the middle class and seniors, and continues this debate about whether we will default in a few months from now," Pelosi said, ignoring imploring looks from Boehner and stubbornly indulging her annoying habit of constantly championing the needs of the American people rather than simply coddling billionaire plutocrats.

Rep. Chris Van Hollern (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, was less sanguine, calling the GOP plan, "a dangerous, reckless path."  

As to whether Boehner's plan might succeed in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said any two-step proposition was a "non-starter." Apparently, that would be a "no."

"The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government," Obama said, without explaining how any government that included Republican right-wing nutters could be expected to be anything but dysfunctional.

Reid and Boehner promised votes on their respective plans in their respective chambers by midweek. The nation hits its credit deadline Aug 2, and if the debt ceiling hasn't been raised by then, the government will no longer be able to fund operations, pay back loans, send out Social Security checks, or, to Rupert Murdoch's enormous relief, fund Justice Department inquiries.

Which, of course, is what the nutters hope.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Debt Ceiling Debacle: The 14th Amendment And The Republican Insurrection

The final, final, absolutely, positively, last ditch talks among House and Senate leaders collapsed with no deal to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, trundling the nation ever closer to the once-inconceivable possibility that the United States might not be able to fund operations, pay off loans, or send out any of the 55 million Social Security checks waiting to be loaded onto mail trucks Aug. 3.

The last real President America had, Bill Clinton, opined he would use an obscure clause in the Civil War-era 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, and let everyone rot.

Clinton said he would invoke the 14th Amendment "without hesitation," and "force the courts to stop me."

"I have talked to my lawyers," said a more timid President Barack Obama, peeling himself off the asphalt from the last time he'd flopped to the ground and let himself be steamrolled during debt hike negotiations. "They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument."

Republican and Democratic lawmakers Sunday retired to their respective corners and busied about developing separate plans to raise the ceiling and slash federal spending. Everyone had given up on trying to raise revenue, because that would have been the most sensible solution to the nation's revenue crisis, and no one wanted to do anything that anyone might construe as sensible.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), had spent the whole weekend trying to placate their Republican counterparts, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), because Boehner had discovered the President was nothing but a poo-poo head who only wanted to slash spending and save the country, making him impossible to talk with. Boehner then discovered his fellow lawmakers were also poo-poo heads who only wanted to slash spending and save the country, making them impossible to talk with as well.

With the talks collapsed, Reid began work on drafting a plan to slash $2.5 trillion off the budget without touching entitlements, and raise the debt ceiling by that amount.

Boehner and Republicans eagerly moved further to the right, gleefully announcing they were going to push their already-disgraced Cud, Cats, and Valance scam, as it had a catchy title that would likely fool poor and ignorant folks into believing the GOP cared about them.

Cud, Cats, and Valance would force all senior citizens to eat cattle regurgitants, compel everyone to serenade Republican overlords Rupert Murdoch, Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers with tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, and make everyone continuously change Wendi Murdoch's drapes and curtains at her whim. Actually, the scheme was much more destructive than that, as it would dismantle Medicare after the manner of Paul Ryan's couponization scam, and plunder Social Security on behalf of Wall Street fat cats.

The deepening intransigence of Republicans on raising the debt ceiling coincided with the opening of US Justice Department probes into the toxic quagmire of Murdoch's News Corporation.

Republicans who had previously been content to obstruct the government and extract as many tax breaks as they could for their liege lords, suddenly found themselves in a desperate struggle for survival thanks to the News Corp phone-hacking scandal exploding in England.

Apparently, the naked corruption and brazen racketeering infesting every corner of the Republican Party was so endemic, Republican leaders were horrified their coven would be demolished under even the earliest stages of the most cursory investigation. Destroying the government became critical to saving themselves.

Making the 14th Amendment all the more appropriate.
"The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."
"You're not supposed to hold the validity of the public debt hostage to achieve political ends," said Jack Balkin, a Yale law professor.

As to Obama's concern the courts would nix his invoking the 14th Amendment, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe said, "This is not a circumstance in which courts have any plausible point of entry."

"This is largely a political question," explained Prof. Balkin. "It is unlikely courts would decide these questions."

Section 4 of the 14th Amendment was written to make sure Union debts would get paid and Confederate ones wouldn't even if the Rebels somehow seized power and tried to do the opposite. Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas said,"Nobody would argue that Section 4 is clear in its meaning, other than at the time everyone though that the South, if they ever got back in control, would not pay Civil War debt."

Although the 14th Amendment was obviously broadly written to apply in all sorts of circumstances, in fact, the present situation was the exact one for which the Amendment was originally written. Today's Republican Party, with its strongholds in the Red States of the South and their Plains and Mountain West possessions, is exactly the same Confederate entity under a different name.

The Republican Party's allegiance may be pledged to numerous lords, but none are the United States of America. They are the liege men and women of oil moguls, the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch and Grover Norquist, but they are not pledged to United States of America. They may be Neo-Confederates, Ku Klux Klansmen, anti-American militias, and theocratist Evangelical supremacists, but they have no allegiance to the United States of America.

Norquist, for one, has emphatically pronounced his supremacy over the United States. When Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) dared to suggest he was an American first and Norquist's vassal second, Norquist's vengeance was swift and ruthless.

Bristling under Norquist's pledge to ruthlessly shield transnational plutocrats like Murdoch from taxation, Coburn complained, "Which pledge is more important? The pledge to uphold your oath to the Constitution of the United States, or a pledge from a special interest group who claims to speak for all American conservatives, when, in fact, they don't?"

"The pledge that Tom Coburn signed was to the Citizens of Oklahoma," Norquist elevated himself to the royal personification an entire nation. Norquist presumed to impose his whim upon hundreds of millions of Americans who had no wish to let Murdoch and the Kochs plunder the nation and accumulate their vast untaxed horde. Despite Norquist's posturing, to deal with debt, 72% of Americans want Norquist's plutocrats to pay their share in taxes.

Norquist's treachery had already enabled 20% of Americans to accumulate 84% of the nation's wealth.

By practice and custom, Elizabeth II of England speaks in the royal plural, but Norquist and Kochs' and Murdoch's Tea Party hireling thugs were simply larcenous usurpers. Tea Party Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) shamelessly demanded $700 million for her cronies to build a bridge to nowhere through the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, while she schemed to pauper the elderly and abandon disabled veterans. Tea Party Rep. Allen West (R-FL)  got $21 million for his cronies to build luxury expansions at vacation airport Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International, while he schemed to starve school children and discard disabled poor.

Republicans who plunder and ransom America are non-state actors in a state of rebellion against the United States. George W. Bush's Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill recognized them as, "a version of Al Qaeda terrorists."

Certainly the 14th Amendment demanded to be invoked in the very instance for which it was written: to stop Rebel traitors and terrorists leveraging the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

Friday, July 22, 2011

FBI On Jude Law Phone Hacking; Execs Say James Murdoch Knew Hacking Was Widespread

Sherlock Holmes might not be on the News Corporation phone hacking case yet, but his assistant Dr. Watson is.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations will be contacting British actor Jude Law, star of Sherlock Holmes and Alfie, in response to his lawsuit that reporters for now-defunct News of the World hacked his cellular telephone and intercepted voicemail messages he had been exchanging with his assistant Ben Jackson while they both were at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2003, officials told the BBC Friday.

Law claims News of the World's September 7, 2003 story about his brief stay in New York was based on information gleaned from his voicemails. If true, even if the hackers had been sitting in London and the phone's voicemail box had been in England, the messages would first have gone to a U.S. cell site, over U.S. phone lines, through a U.S. Mobile Telephone Switching Office, and into a U.S. long distance trunk line before getting anywhere.

All of which makes messages allegedly exchanged between a couple of Brits, hacked by other Brits, and written up in a British tabloid a very, very U.S. problem. Aliens attack U.S. communications system. Dr. Watson, meet Mulder and Scully.

Law's allegations are the first claims of News Corp phone hacking on U.S. soil. If the FBI finds evidence supporting Law's allegations, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, a U.S. corporation, could face charges for violating American wiretapping and privacy laws right here in the good 'ol US of A. Book him, Danno.

The Federal Communications Commission frowns upon cons holding FCC broadcast licenses. News Corp, aside from owning shuttered News of the World, owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and a whole panoply of other media and communications enterprises.

Law and Jackson stayed briefly in New York while the actor was en route to Canada to film I Heart Huckabees. News of the World published a detailed account of Law's arrival at JFK and his stay at the Carlyle Hotel, including his room number and room service tab. Law claims News of the World could only have learned some of the things written in the article from his voicemails.

The FBI and US Justice Department are also looking into alleged News Corp hacking of 9/11 terrorist attack victims, and possible violations of the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an anti-bribery law.

Meanwhile, in London, Murdoch's son, News Corp deputy chief operating officer James Murdoch, was coming under further scrutiny as two former News Corp executives contradicted the younger Murdoch's Monday testimony before a Parliamentary committee that he'd had no knowledge that phone hacking had extended beyond rogue reporter Clive Goodman.

Watson, Mulder, meet the "For Neville" Email.

Seems an English ex-footballer (that's soccer player, for all us Yanks), Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, was getting a six-figure phone-hacking settlement from the News of the World. In May, 2008, News of the World parent News International's then-legal manager Tom Crone got a stack of papers from Taylor's lawyers marked "Amended Particulars for Claim," which included the description of a document seized by police during a raid on News of the World gumshoe Glenn Mulclaire, who'd been arrested with then-presumed "rogue" reporter Clive Goodman for phone hacking. With what must surely have been a sinking feeling in his gut, Crone read:
"By email dated 29th June 2005, Mr. Ross Hindley emailed Mr. Mulclaire a transcript of the aforesaid 15 messages from the claimant's mobile phone voicemail and 17 messages left by the claimant on Ms. Armstrong's mobile phone voicemail. The transcript is titled 'Transcript for Neville' and the document attached to the email was called 'Transcript for Neville.' It is inferred from the references to Neville that the transcript was provided to, or was intended to be provided to Neville Thurlbeck. Mr. Thurlbeck was at all material times employed by NGN as the News of the World's chief reporter."
Meaning, of course, that neither News of the World reporter Ross Hindley or News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck were either "rogue" gumshoe Glenn Mulcaire or "rogue" reporter Clive Goodman. Cha-ching. High and deep to center field, and it's outta here. Caught red-handed in the cookie jar with a smoking gun. That's gotta hurt.

And, the original "For Neville" email had been sitting quietly in Scotland Yard's basement among the 11,000 documents Met boss Sir Paul Stephenson, busily enjoying $20,000 worth of spa treatments at posh Champney's courtesy of News Corp, and his Number Two, John Yates, had disdained rummaging through when they'd dropped the case back in the day. Gordon Taylor's lawyers hadn't dropped the case, and had gotten their hands on the "For Neville" email from the cops under a court order.

Sir Paul resigned as Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police Sunday. Yates resigned Monday. 

Now comes the good part. Crone, heart no doubt in his throat, walked down the hall to see his new boss and tell him the other side had the high-and-deep, cha-ching, cookie jar-smoking gun, that's-gotta-hurt email and its list of painstakingly transcribed voicemail messages. The new chief executive of News International, who'd been on the job for five months, and hadn't been around when the original proverbial had hit the fan the previous year, was none other than James Murdoch.

Who'd sat in front of lawmakers Monday and had told everyone he'd never, ever, pever, jever heard of anyone other than Goodman and Mulclaire hacking messages before.

Crone and former News of the World editor Colin Myler told a Parliamentary committee Friday they had told James Murdoch about the high-and-deep, cha-ching, et cetera email before Murdoch fils approved a big-money settlement for Taylor that was twice as much as what outside council for News International had advised. And no one ever heard of the "For Neville" email again. Until now. That's gotta hurt.

Oh, and, in the good ol' US of A, Senator Frank Lautenberger (D-NJ) Wednesday asked the FBI to take another gander at a complaint he'd made to then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2005 that News America Marketing, a subsidiary of News Corp, had hacked into the computers of FLOORgraphics, Inc., of Princeton, New Jersey, one of Sen. Lautenberger's constituents.

Lautenberger hadn't heard back on that case, and he was wondering what was going on with it. Them. News Corp. Murdoch. Gonzales. The Bush Administration.

Book him, Danno.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

With McConnell Fallback Fading, Debt Ceiling Plans and Bickering Proliferate

Add President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to the burgeoning list of pols presenting, or offering, or, in this case, denying, various plans and packages and pledges and general posturing over deficit-reduction schemes aimed at ending the Republican hostage-holding of the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

"There is no deal," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said of the President's deal. "We are not close to a deal." Obama had backed himself into a corner romanticising a Grand Bargain notion of big cuts and big revenue overhauls, as he'd been eager to demonstrate that he was relevant and serious about budgets and debts.

Everyone was wary of the last time Obama and Boehner tried to wrangle a deal, only to have Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) throw a hissy fit because it didn't include pointing the Death Star at the Earth and pulling the trigger. Or, did include some tax revenues, which, to Republican Tea Party zealots, was infinitely worse.

Obama's current negotiations alarmed fellow Democrats, as his new deal with Boehner was rumored to contain trillions in cuts with only a promise-with fingers-crossed to someday maybe, possibly, consider some tiny, tiny, non-Grover Norquist-offending revenues, confirming the President's haggling strategy continued to consist of flopping to the ground and getting flattened like a possum on a two-lane blacktop.

"The President always talked about balance, there had to be some fairness in this. This can't be all cuts," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blubbered in exasperation. "The caucus agrees with that. I hope the President agrees with that, and I'm confidant he will," revealing the alarming lack of confidence the senator had in his commander-in-chief.

The President's non-deal suffered the same pox plaguing all the other plans: Democrats demanded that the revenue crisis required new revenue, while Republicans demanded all the money in Medicare and Social Security be handed over to their insurance industry and Wall Street cronies.

Obama planned to meet with Reid and Democratic leaders including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Thursday afternoon, presumably to tell them how he'd thrown his own pastor and grandmother under the bus before he'd ever been elected President, so, as President, how throwing the rest of the American people under the bus was a relative cakewalk.

The deal that wasn't a deal apparently included $3 trillion in cuts, busting up Medicare and Medicaid, and generally Republicanizing spending and services, while promising to look at revenues someday in another galaxy, far, far, away.

Unless Washington politicos can manage the normally pro-forma task of raising the nation's self-imposed credit limit by Aug. 2, the federal government will not be able to fund operations or pay back loans or send out any of the 55 million Social Security checks gathering dust in the Treasury Department mailroom Aug. 3.

A while back, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), painfully aware that no one in Congress had the intestinal wherewithal to accomplish the mundane without first demanding excruciating caveats like having everyone eat all the hot dogs on Coney Island or telling Kim Kardashian to stop dressing so provocatively, came up with the brilliant stroke of letting everyone vote against raising the debt ceiling. Then, the President could simply veto the debt hike denial, and all would be well, barring the fantastically unlikely event that two-thirds of anyone on Capitol Hill could remain conscious long enough to override the Presidential veto.

Thus assured of continued continuity, Wall Street resumed climbing toward Dow 13,000, although it was smart enough to hedge by buying enough gold to send that stuff toward $1,600 an ounce.

Meanwhile, back on the Beltway, reassured that a way out of the woods was at hand, pols have been busily filling time with an exponentially-proliferating menagerie of alternate budget deals and wheels and steals to let everyone know how relevant and serious they all were.

The Gang of Sixes and Sevens, which now numbered eight, pushed their plan to cut $3.7 trillion off the debt over some umpteen years, including trillions in spending cuts and a trillion or so in what might or might not be new tax revenues, depending on who you talked to at what time on what day. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) signed onto the Gang Thursday, to show how relevant and serious they were, knowing that Gang leader Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) had, to everyone's relief, announced their plan wouldn't really be ready for a long, long time.

"The Gang of Six plan has not been drafted nor has it been scored by the CBO: It's not ready for prime time," Durbin Tuesday assured a nation nervous that lawmakers might actually have accomplished something. "Not drafted" meant their plan was still akin to something a bunch of potheads came up with at three a.m. on a Sunday morning, only to be forgotten by lunchtime. "Not scored" meant the Congressional Budget Office, which had to look at any money-related Congressional thing before anyone can vote on it, hadn't looked at it. Either process took much longer than the thirteen days left before America turned into a pumpkin.

The House of Representatives, eager to demonstrate they were neither serious or relevant, except as an Himalayan obstruction to anything trundling up the Interstate, passed their ridiculous Cud, Cats, and Valance plan, which required every American to chew on cow regurgitant, sing songs from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and hang curtains until their eyes bled. Not really, but, everyone was thoroughly confident the measure would never, ever, pever, jever pass the Senate, as it contained a Constitutional Amendment which would never, ever, pever, jever muster the two-thirds vote required in the Senate, let alone meander its way through ratification in 38 states before Aug. 2.

Cuds, Cats and Valance compared to the Republicans' original Medicare-voucherizing 2012 Budget proposal - the one that got universally ridden out of town halls on rails last Spring - roughly the way Hitler's Torah study groups compared to Mother Theresa's caring for lepers.

Cud, Cats and Valance's only redeeming quality appeared to be that it gave Harry Reid the opportunity to call it, "some of the worst legislation in the history of this country," in a country that once not only permitted slavery but also outlawed cold brewskies on Friday nights. Reid scheduled the measure to be shot down in the Senate this Friday, hopefully in time for everyone to go out for brewskies afterward.

But, problems also plagued the McConnell Plan, or, more recently, the McConnell-Reid Plan, since Reid had insisted he be considered relevant and serious by saddling McConnell's perfectly sensible nonsense with $1.5 trillion in cuts and a Congressional committee or two. Reid's manipulations have been disastrous, as the $1.5 trillion, Congressional-committee baggage he piled on has given House Republicans a new hostage to hold ad infinitum. House Republicans' new demand holds the amount of the debt ceiling increase to only the $1.5 trillion Reid offered to cut, or alternately, to chop the debt ceiling hike into tiny, tiny increments with corresponding cuts every few days while everyone casts around for a different solution.

Strapping $1.5 trillion in cuts to the McConnell Plan was a mind-numbing misstep, as it reduced the plan to just another deficit-reduction scheme vying for stage time with all the other deficit-reduction schemes. The beauty of McConnell's original plan was that it didn't deal with deficits and debts and the budget, but gave Obama the clean debt ceiling hike he always should have gotten.

Reid's vainglorious desire to be relevant and serious just might have killed America's last, best hope to remain relevant. Seriously.

Leaving everyone wishing for the good old days, when politicians were all irrelevant and silly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murdoch Misses Being Pied, But Cameron Ties Tighten, Police Bribes "Obvious"

Clearly, the British get to have so much more fun than Americans do, as News Corporation mogul Rupert Murdoch narrowly missed being pied by a merry prankster, and further revelations tied Prime Minister David Cameron ever closer to disgraced and now-defunct News of the World. Meanwhile, a rowdy crowd gathered outside hearing site Portcullis House, singing loud choruses of rock band Queen's Another One Bites the Dust.

England was jolly as ever as another day came and went in the News Corp phone hacking scandal. All that, and universal Public Health.

Rupert Murdoch and his son James were being grilled by lawmakers in a small meeting room when British comedian Johnnie Marbles tweeted his Twitter warning, "it is a far better thing i do now than i have ever done before #splat."

Marbles approached Murdoch and tried to pie him in the face, but Murdoch's nimble wife Wendi sprang from behind her husband and clocked the would-be avenger. Most of the shaving cream missed the mogul. Bobbies hustled Marbles away, who looked like he'd gotten the worst of the splatter himself.

When the lawmakers' questioning resumed, Conservative Member Louise Mensch asked Murdoch whether he had ever considered resigning.

"No," Murdoch replied. "Because I feel that people that I trusted let me down, I think that they behaved disgracefully," and added, "Frankly, I am the best person to clean this up." It wasn't immediately clear whether he meant News Corp, or the shaving cream on his sleeve.

Murdochs Rupert and James naturally claimed they knew nothing of the phone hacking and police bribery scandals that have rocked Jolly Olde.

"These actions do not live up to the standards that our company aspires to everywhere around the world," James Murdoch told lawmakers, in an astonishing reference to the company that owned Fox News in the United States and the News of the World and the Sun tabloids in England.

 "I employ 53,000 people around the world who are proud, ethical, distinguished people," Rupert Murdoch said under oath, apparently omitting any number of U.S. Republican politicians, American Tea Party zealots, and talking heads.

Whether British Prime Minister David Cameron might be considered one of those 53,000 proud, ethical, et cetera, et ceteras was becoming a bigger question for Her Majesty's subjects, as new information revealed closer ties between the PM and Murdoch's empire. Turns out Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor at News of the World who'd gotten himself arrested for the phone hacking scandal last week, worked as an advisor to Cameron's Conservative Party in the run-up to the general election. Wallis joined former Cameron press secretary Andy Coulson and Cameron pal Rebekah Brooks as News of the World or News Corp jailbirds with ties to Cameron.

Wallis apparently spent a week doing some pro bono helping out of the Conservatives. Very thrifty. A party spokesperson said, "it has been drawn to our attention that he may have provided Andy Coulson with some informal advice on a voluntary basis before the election. We are currently finding out the exact nature of the advice."  Maybe just pointing out to Andy which fork to use with the fish.

Meanwhile, ex-Scotland Yard boss Sir Paul Stephenson and his sidekick John Yates - who'd resigned Sunday and Monday, respectively - were telling lawmakers Cameron chief of staff Ed Llewellyn had been keen on shielding the PM from information about the scandal.

And while the cops - sorry, ex-cops - were busy telling tales out of school, Lord Macdonald, the very upstanding former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, was telling the home affairs select committee that he'd been shocked by what he'd discovered last month when News Corp lawyers asked him to take a gander at some News of the World emails and tell them what he thought.

Lord Macdonald said it took him only "three to five minutes" to find "blindingly obvious" evidence of bribes to police officials.

"The material I saw was so blindingly obvious that trying to argue that it should not be given to the police would have been a hard task," the ex-prosecutor-in-chief told the committee. "It was evidence of serious criminal offenses."

The ten or so emails Lord Macdonald handed over to Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Cressida Dick formed the basis for Operation Elveden, the ongoing police bribery probe.

All of which leaves the Yanks over in the Colonies pining to get in on the fun. At the moment, certain analysts were still saying News Corp wasn't going to get its FCC licenses pulled.

"If alleged bribery and phone tapping are confined to the U.K., we believe the likelihood of U.S. broadcast licenses being revoked or not renewed is very low," analysts Rebecca Arbrogast and David Kaut of Stifel Nicolaus, an investment firm, soothed clients.

Unfortunately for News Corp, that was before even a single rock had been turned over, and even a single slimy, crawly, disgusting multi-legged abomination had been revealed. "It would be a grave problem if the company is found in the United States to have committed a massive coverup of misconduct or questionable links with law enforcement that is emerging in the U.K.," Arbrogast and Kaut advised.

You're kidding right? Murdoch just about invented the Tea Party.

Crank up Queen. "And another one bites the dust..." 

Monday, July 18, 2011

British News Corp Whistle-Blower Found Dead

In a fantastically convenient turn of events for Rupert Murdoch, the whistle-blower who'd claimed now-defunct News of the World editor and former British government spokesperson Andy Coulson knew all about the phone hackings roiling the United Kingdom was found dead Monday in his home in Watford, near London, England.

In a statement, police said, "The death is currently being treated as unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious," without specifying how they figured a death wasn't suspicious even though it hadn't been explained yet. Maybe it was a technical thing, like when an injured football player is listed as "questionable" instead of "doubtful." Maybe they meant anybody who messed with Murdoch should just expect to wake up dead.

To be fair, the police had quite a lot of bangers and mash piled on their plate Monday, as back at the Yard, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates was in the middle of resigning over the News Corporation phone hacking flap. He was following in the cubicle-clearing footsteps of his boss, Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, who'd resigned Sunday. All that, and Sherlock Holmes was no where to be found.

The dead man, Sean Hoare, was the former Sun and News of the World reporter who'd been telling anyone in earshot that Andy Coulson, his former boss and later Prime Minister David Cameron's press secretary, knew his minions were hacking into folks' voicemails.

Hoare told the BBC Coulson had been "well aware" of the hacking, and that "to deny it is a lie. Simply a lie."

Regarding rummaging through all those celebrity voicemails, he'd told The New York Times that Coulson "actively encouraged me to do it."

The Hertfordshire police statement said, "At 10:40 am today (Monday, July 18), police were called to Langley Road, Watford, following the concerns for the welfare of a man who lives at an address on that street," in its thoroughly British way. "Upon police and ambulance arrival at a property, the body of a man was found. The man was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after." Spot of bad luck, that.

Well, Hoare was a bit of a drinker and snorted coke and all that.

"He made no secret of his massive ingestion of drugs," said fellow journalist Nick Davis of the Guardian. "He told me how he used to start the day with a 'rock star's breakfast' - a line of cocaine and a Jack Daniels."

It was not immediately known whether Murdoch ever said, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent cokehead?"

Hoare had contradicted Coulson's declaration that he'd, "never condoned the use of phone hacking, and nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking took place." Coulson has since been arrested, released on bail, and told not to leave town.

Sunday, News Corp honcho Rebekah Brooks, another Cameron pal, became the tenth person arrested in the scandal, giving the British PM the unsavory distinction of having as many jailbird cronies as some cheap third-world dictators.

In the United States, News Corp owns Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, and actively supports the Tea Party.

Hoare had also been telling everyone that News of the World was getting the local PD, aka Scotland Yard, to "ping" the whereabouts of celebs and pols. Hoare told the Guardian that reporters just had to go to their editors and ask for someone's whereabouts.

"Within 15 to 30 minutes, someone on the news desk would come back and say, 'Right, that's where they are.'" Hoare said.

The police have the ability to surreptitiously signal a cellular phone, and triangulate its location in relation to nearby cell sites. The practice supposedly required case-by-case authorization and was restricted to high-priority cases, such as to pinpoint the whereabouts of an Al Qaeda terrorist running around with a dirty bomb, not to pinpoint the whereabouts of Angelina Jolie running around with dirty underwear. She's got a wonderbra! Get her!

The brouhaha that police allegedly received News Corp bribes and gave News Corp inside info and generally cozied up to Murdoch's minions led to Stephenson's and Yates' resignation. That and some piddly stuff like Stephenson accepting from News Corp about $20 grand worth of spa treatments at posh Champney's and Yates conveniently ignoring 11,000 pages worth of hacking-related files piled up in Scotland Yard's basement.

In 2009, Yates refused to look into the phone hacking mess, saying there wasn't any evidence worth looking into.

"I'm not going to go down and look at bin bags," the British equivalent of dumpster-diving, said Yates. Never mind the dumpster was actually neatly stacked evidence boxes containing those 11,000 documents.

Now, it was Yates and Stephenson who'd been consigned to the dust bins. That's British for garbage cans.

And poor Sean Hoare was a-mouldering in his unexplained yet somehow unsuspicious grave.

Now, the US Justice Department and the FBI have started poking around Rupert Murdoch's empire.

It was not immediately known whether Murdoch has said, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent Justice Department probe?" but Tea Party loyalist Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said Monday, "We're going to find out if the Tea Party's still there in force in the next few weeks on this debt limit because we're trying to recruit Americans right now..."

Unless the US government raises its debt ceiling by Aug. 2, it will no longer be able to fund operations, send out Social Security checks, pay off obligations, or run Justice Department investigations.

With so many eager Murdoch Tea Party minions champing at the bit to prove their worth to their Lord, one has to hope that the federal government won't wake up dead Aug. 3.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

With McConnell Plan Safely Under Their Belt, Beltway Pols Keep Posturing

Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has gummed up the works a bit by saddling it with a mind-numbingly ludicrous $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and yet another blue-ribbon commission or three, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) heroic solution to getting Washington past its unconscionable hostage holding of the nation's debt ceiling remained the safe harbor around which politicians of all stripes posed and postured and ranted and raved.

Unless the federal government raises its $14.3 credit limit by Aug. 2, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned one and all that come Aug. 3, the United States would no longer be able to fund operations, pay existing obligations, or send out the 55 million Social Security checks piled in the mailroom that morning.

Because no one in Washington had the stomach to raise the debt ceiling without first doing the hoochy-coochy and juggling flaming torches and eating all the ice cream at Ben and Jerry's, McConnell came up with the brilliant solution of letting everyone vote against raising the debt ceiling. Then, all President Barack Obama would have to do is veto Congress's law preventing the debt ceiling hike, and, barring a two-thirds veto-overriding vote, everyone could go home to their dancing and juggling and shovelling mounds of Cherry Garcia into their cakeholes.

Everyone around the Beltway breathed an enormous collective sigh of relief, and, solution safely in hand, figured there was still a good deal of garbage time left on the clock to go into full posturing mode.

President Obama stormed out of a meeting, then sternly told everyone they must still find a way of implementing his plan to reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion over umpteen years with a combination of unconscionable spending cuts and a few piddling tax loophole closures, despite knowing intractable Republicans would never allow a hair to be harmed on the heads of their corporate jet depreciation rates.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) sought a balanced approach with half spending cuts and half tax hikes, despite knowing that if the President's plan was unacceptable to Republicans, his was a full-blown Biblical anathema.

"If it doesn't solve the policy problem for this country, I'm not going to support it," snivelled Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on CBS' Face the Nation. Coburn had had his chance at solving the nation's policy problems before walking out of the Gang of Six deficit reduction talks earlier this year, revealing that Sen. Tom Coburn himself was one of the biggest obstacles to solving the nation's policy problems. Coburn said he was unlikely to vote for the McConnell plan, but wouldn't rule it out.

On the same show, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, "I don't believe this plan, as it's been outlined to me, is a credible solution to our debt problem," entirely missing the point of the plan, which was not to solve the debt problem, but to avoid a government default, shutdown, and catastrophic global cascade failure of the world's financial systems.

"It's like leaving the jail door open and looking the other way, then saying it's not our fault," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) pontificated nonsensically earlier in the week in voicing his opposition to the McConnell plan.

DeMint and Rubio were Tea Party vassals of Rupert Murdoch, and as the US Justice Department and the FBI were just getting started turning over rocks at Murdoch's News Corporation, they were understandably eager to do anything to prevent a debt ceiling hike, cause a government shutdown, and stop any inquiry into their Lord's nefarious doings.

House Republicans also howled there was no way they would support the McConnell plan, all but calling the good Senator a dirty von Stauffenberg for betraying the Reich and trying to assassinate Hitler.

"The McConnell plan doesn't have 218 Republican votes," Rep. Jim Jordon (R-OH) on Fox News Sunday stated the glaringly obvious, as McConnell's plan didn't include pointing the Death Star at the Earth and pulling the trigger, which seemed to be the bottom line for the Ayn Randian sociopaths of the Tea Party persuasion.

Jordon, however, had to admit there were probably enough votes for the measure if you included Democrats. "Who knows if there's a combination of Rs and Ds will go for it," he said, his caucus being astonishingly bad at counting votes. Well, apparently, you only cover Bible verses and Ku Klux Klan bylaws when you're home-schooled.

Nancy Pelosi had 193 Democratic votes at her disposal in the US House of Representatives, making the magic number for House Republicans something on the order of 25, or 24, considering Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had expressed interest in the measure.

As long as people were stating the glaringly obvious, Rep. Chris Van Hollern (D-MD) opined, "It's a political answer, not a real answer to the problem." Of course, the real answer would be to reform revenues so the nation's wealthiest 20% wouldn't be devouring 84% of all the nation's wealth, but that would require Murdoch's News Corp empire to collapse and stop funding the Tea Party.

Van Hollern wouldn't rule out voting for the McConnell plan himself, but said he was "working very hard so that it's not our only choice."

McConnell's pal and fellow von Stauffenberg co-conspirator John Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate Minority Whip, laid out the game plan: as Republicans were keen on raising the debt ceiling by passing their ridiculous Cut, Cap and Balance dog-and-pony show, they would be allowed to try doing so, then, when that utterly contemptible waste of perfectly good time and oxygen miserably failed, the way would be cleared for everyone to enact McConnell's plan.

Cut, Cap, and Balance is another of those Republican Pledge devices, and would make everyone eat cold cuts, wear gaudy feathered baseball caps, and balance large, heavy objects on their noses like a seal. Not really, but as it's no more likely to pass than a Constitutional Amendment requiring all Americans to do just those things, we'll let it go at that. BTW, a Constitutional Amendment, which Cut, Cap and Balance includes, needs to be ratified by a whole raft of individual states, and everyone between here and the Large Magellanic Cloud knows that wouldn't get done by Aug. 2 without the temporal dilation machine we won't invent for another 5,000 years.

Nonetheless, because Republicans love Pledges, having gleefully signed pledges about taxes, and marriage, and wiping homosexuals off the face of the Earth, everyone has to wait until the Republicans can caterwaul their little Pledge songs and cavort their little Pledge dances, and generally waste half the garbage time left on the clock. One has to wonder why someone just doesn't give every Republican a case of spray-on furniture polish from S.C. Johnson and Co., and be done with it.

Once the posturing and posing are done, as many nominally sentient beings as Congress can muster would have to vote for what Kyl had taken to calling the "McConnell-Reid" plan, although Reid'd done nothing but add about 1,500,000,000,016 useless gizmos onto a perfectly good McConnell plan, the 1,500,000,000,016 gizmos being $1.5 trillion in cuts that only hurt America, and 16 lawmakers on a commission trying to figure out more ways to hurt America.

"That's what the Senate is proceeding with," Kyl told ABC's This Week.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jude Law Claims News Corp Company Hacked His Phone While He Was In U.S.

In the first allegations of News Corporation phone hacking involving a U.S. telecommunications carrier, British actor Jude Law has claimed now-defunct News of the World illegally accessed voicemail messages he was exchanging with his personal assistant while they both were at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2003.

Law's allegations, reported in the British media, were significant as they were the first involving voice communications originating in and being carried on American cellular and long distance telephone networks. If true, there may have been violations of American wire-tapping and privacy laws.

"If phones or messages were hacked while these individuals were here in the U.S., this would clearly be a criminal offense under the federal wiretap acts," said Los Angeles attorney Brian Kabateck, who has represented clients in U.S. wiretapping cases.

U.S. telephone companies are public utilities licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, just as American television companies are public utilities licensed by the FCC.

Under U.S. law, anyone convicted of a criminal offense may not be issued an FCC broadcast license. News Corp owns Fox News, and a number of other American media outlets.

Law's claims are separate from his ongoing tussle with News Corp's British tabloid The Sun, which Law also alleges hacked his voicemails. In additional, Law is suing the News of the World, and was among several persons selected by a British judge to move forward with lead cases this coming January to establish guidelines for damages and to determine whether company executives had been involved in the hacking.

Law alleges News of the World published information obtained by hacking his cellular telephone voicemail box while he was in the baggage claim area of New York's JFK airport. He was in New York for a brief stay en route to Canada for filming I Heart Huckabees.

A News of the World story published Sept. 7, 2003 described how Law sent his personal assistant, Ben Jackson, ahead to see whether reporters and photographers were waiting for him in the terminal, and reported Law "refused to leave the baggage reclaim hall until Ben had spent 20 minutes scouring the arrivals lounge."

The story also detailed Law's stay at New York's Carlyle Hotel, including Law's room number and room service tab.

The widening scandals involving Rupert Murdoch's News Corp subsidiary News of the World has already led to nine arrests and to the resignations of Dow Jones CEO and Wall Street Journal editor Les Hinton and News Corp newspaper honcho Rebekah Brooks. As many as 4,000 people may have had their voicemails hacked, including 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler, whose hacking has provoked widespread revulsion and outrage.

Other victims include former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose son's medical records had been revealed, and the British Royal Family. News of the World has been alleged to have bribed police officials for information.

In the U.S., a half-dozen lawmakers, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY), have called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller to open investigations into allegations News of the World hacked the phone records of  9/11 terrorist attacks victims, and possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act anti-bribery law.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Let the Fox Hunt Begin

Hopefully, it'll be an ever-exponentially-expanding witch hunt and media circus with guys in DOJ and FBI windbreakers carting off truckloads of documents, and with streams of company execs, TV celebs, expert witnesses and assorted hangers-on marching to and fro before umpteen Congressional hearings. Let the games begin. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, a U.S. company, has been under fire in the United Kingdom, and contagion has brought the circus to America.

Circus it may be, but it is a circus of sad clowns, in part because of what the crazed international media empire that runs Fox News did to a thirteen-year-old girl while she was tragically losing her brief life. Police in England have compiled a list of 12,000 names and numbers that might have been hacked by News Corp.

While Rupert Murdoch was in London busting a desperate public relations move visiting the family of the thirteen-year-old murder victim whose voicemail his minions hacked when she was still a missing person, his chief executives were dropping like flies, and law enforcement agencies on this side of the pond were limbering up for what might be a long slog through a great many News Corporation files.

After weeks of hanging tough, Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch's chief honcho in England, and British Prime Minister David Cameron's pal and neighbor, resigned as chief executive of British newspaper operations for News Corp. Les Hinton, chairman of Dow Jones and publisher of News Corp's Wall Street Journal, figured it was time he, too, packed his office tsotchkes into a cardboard box and took the long elevator ride into history. Hinton had been top dog at News International, the British publishing subsidiary among Murdoch's rabbit warren of News Corp companies, from 1997 to 2005, when The News of the World had been rummaging through people's voicemails.

Murdoch himself, doubtless at the behest of PR giant Edleman, spent the day Friday in Jolly Old having a spot of tea with the family of poor Milly Dowler, the murder victim whose voicemails News Corp hacks hacked. Murdoch hired Edleman to take care of News Corp's spinning in the hacking and bribery scandal.

The list of alleged hacking victims included former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the British Royal Family. News Corp minions allegedly bribed police officers and officials for information. Nine persons have been arrested in the scandal so far, including former Cameron press secretary Andy Coulson.

Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking Friday from Sydney, Australia, where he'd been meeting with foreign justice officials, announced the US Justice Department would be looking into the phone hacking and police bribery scandal.

"There have been serious allegations raised in that regard in Great Britain and there is an ongoing investigation here," Holder said. "There have been members of Congress in the United States who have asked us to investigate the same allegations, and we are progressing in that regard using the appropriate federal law enforcement agencies in the United States."

The Federal Bureau of Investigations Thursday said they'd begun their own preliminary probe of allegations News Corp hacked the voicemails of  9/11 terrorist attack victims. An ex-New York police officer and private investigator told British media that now-defunct News of the World asked him to get phone records of 9/11 victims.

Aside from the phone hacking itself, US lawmakers asked Holder to look into possible News Corp violations of American anti-bribery laws.

"I am writing to express my deep concerns regarding allegations that News Corporation and its subsidiaries bribed foreign law enforcement officials for information to advance their business interests," Sen. Frank Lautenberger (D-NJ) told Holder in a letter dated July 13. "If true, these allegations may be a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977..."

Lautenberger was one of several US lawmakers who'd jumped into the News Corp fray. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) became the first Republican to join Democrats Lautenberger, Commerce Committee chair Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (WV), Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA), Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ), and Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY) in calling for probes into News Corp's doings.

"It is revolting to imagine that members of the media would seek to compromise the integrity of a public official for financial gain in the pursuit of yellow journalism," Homeland Security Committee chair King wrote to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Murdoch throw money at people for gain? Unbelievable!

Murdoch is one of the moneybags bankrolling the Tea Party movement in America.

King is not exactly a shy and retiring wallflower, and he claims his district was home to more than 150 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He recently held hearings on how patriotic American Muslims might be, so he's not exactly reticent about holding a hearing or two, either. One could only hope that his truly justifiable outrage over the deplorable possible violation of his heroic constituents won't precipitate a crazed media circus tearing into News Corp. Or not.

Murdoch might have to hope his Tea Party juggernaut can prevent the federal government from raising its debt ceiling, forcing a government default and shutdown. News Corp may not survive the ensuing catastrophic cascade failure of the global financial markets, but at least it won't be alone.