Month: January 2014

Barack Obama is Determined to Go to War Against Syria

Because we need to find some little country to beat up every decade or so.

The US is now amping up complaints about the speed of Syrian chemical weapons destruction as a justification for military strikes:

The United States on Thursday accused Syria of deliberately delaying the surrender of its chemical weapons stockpiles and jeopardizing a tightly timed and costly international removal and destruction operation that narrowly averted U.S. airstrikes last year.

It was the first formal accusation that Syria was not cooperating with the terms of its disarmament after months in which international diplomats and chemical weapons experts marveled at the speed with which the process was being carried out. The public denunciation, however, closely tracked concerns that independent experts have expressed privately in recent weeks about the operation’s pace.


Most chemical weapons experts agree that Syria’s ability to manufacture and deploy the banned weapons was destroyed last year. ………

Would You Let the Vampire Squid Get a Hold of Your Dong?

It appears that the coalition in Denmark has collapsed over this issue:

After a recent spate of controversies and ministerial resignations, the Danish centre-left government suffered another blow on Thursday when the Socialist People’s party (SF) left the ruling coalition amid anger over Goldman Sachs‘s investment in Denmark’s state-owned energy company.

Goldman’s 8bn kroner (£900m) purchase of a 19% share in Dong Energy has been championed by the government but caused a revolt among SF’s parliamentary group. After a night of tension and discussions, SF’s leader, Annette Vilhelmsen, announced her resignation and said her party was leaving the coalition.

“It has been a dramatic 24 hours,” Vilhelmsen said. “Yesterday it became clear to me that it wasn’t possible to unite the party. For the sake of SF, I take the consequence of this.”

The Goldman Sachs deal was approved by the parliament’s finance committee on Thursday, but it has come under widespread scrutiny and criticism in recent weeks. A poll showed 68% of Danes were against the sale, and close to 200,000 people signed an online petition opposing the deal.

(emphasis mine)

Even worse, like most privatization deals, it is a hand out from taxpayers to overpaid CEOs:

My friend Niels-Jakob Harbo Hansen and I calculated some of the financial aspects of the deal, and they don’t look that good. The bidders are offering about 107.25 kroner per share, supposedly valuing the company at 31.5 billion kroner before the investment. In addition to a healthy package of minority rights, they also get a put option for 60% of the shares: if DONG doesn’t go public within 4 years or so (and Goldman can veto that), the investors can sell 60% of their shares at a strike price equal to the purchase price of 107.25 kr per share, plus a healthy return of about 3% per year.

That’s like an insurance policy that covers not only your loss, but also the insurance premium you originally paid, plus interest.

Once you account for the put option, the deal values the shares at 24.5 billion kr., around 47% of book value. Maybe that’s fair because DONG just had a big loss and will be constrained by its business plan to invest in windmills and such, but it still seems awfully low. On the other hand, the investment bankers have deemed it Fair™, so who am I to question that.

The main thing we did was to compare the deal to the most obvious alternative: the Danish government (AAA rating, 26% debt/GDP, 45% including local government) could borrow at an interest rate of about 1%, and make the investment itself. The expected loss from the deal compared to a government investment is about 2.5 billion kroner.

So, it costs the taxpayer 3x as much as a public investment, and you can be certain that rates will go up faster than they would if the company were to remain completely publicly owned.

Thank You Harry Reid

The Majority Leader of the Senate has come out against fast track authority for trade deals:

President Barack Obama’s push for authority to fast-track trade deals has hit a big setback in the form of opposition from his top fellow Democrat in Congress, but it is far from dead.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s warning to policymakers on Wednesday “just to not push this right now” reflects concern about the domestic political agenda ahead of November’s congressional elections, when free trade could be a damaging issue for many Democrats.

The unusually blunt public opposition came less than 24 hours after Obama noted the need for fast-track power in his State of the Union address, albeit less forcefully than business lobbyists and pro-trade Republicans would have liked.

The White House called Reid’s office shortly after his comments to voice displeasure, a top Democratic party aide said.

“They were really upset,” the aide said. But the aide said the White House did not try to get Reid to shift his position.

These guys were really upset because they, like the staffers who negotiated NAFTA for Clinton and Bush I, made some serious bank as lobbyists and consultants.

I really hope that it’s not, as Yves Smith’s sources say,  “Another gambit is more likely: to make some cosmetic changes and try to get the bill passed during the lame duck session, on the assumption that some Democrats (particularly those who are leaving office) will use the cover and change positions.”

The TPP, and it’s European equivalent, the TTIP, are egregiously bad deals, not just for the United States, but for the whole world, because they are predicated on the idea that democracy and transparency must be almost completely eschewed in the interest of unregulated global investment flows and IP based looting through draconian copyright and patent provisions.

These are abysmally bad deals for everyone but banksters, big pharma, and the cocaine addicted brothers in law of senior studio and record label executives.

Pushback on Drug Pricing

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is lobbying to keep the $1000.00 a pill Sovaldi out of Medicaid formularies.

I wholeheartedly agree enough is enough:

In a series of letters to be sent to state Medicaid directors starting today, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein will ask the state directors to block Gilead Sciences’ new $1,000-per-pill Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) from inclusion on their respective state Medicaid and other drug formularies. The drug was approved by the F.D.A. on December 6, 2013 and Gilead immediately announced that it would price the drug at $84,000 for a twelve-week course of treatment—or $1,000 per tablet—making it one of the most expensive drugs ever marketed. Suggested treatment guidelines also require that Sovaldi be used with another drug, ribavirin (a nucleoside inhibitor), further adding to the cost of the prohibitively expensive course of treatment.

“When is enough, enough? At $1,000-per-pill, Sovaldi is priced 1,100% more than Gilead’s most expensive AIDS drug, Stribild, its four-in-one AIDS drug combination, which was priced at $80 per pill a year ago when it came to market,” said Michael Weinstein , President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “At that time, Stribild’s price was 35% more than Atripla, the company’s best selling combination HIV/AIDS treatment, and made Stribild the highest priced first-line combination AIDS therapy. Now, Gilead has set a new benchmark for unbridled greed with its outrageous price for Sovaldi—a price that some pharmacy industry sources suggest represents a retail markup of 279,000% over the cost of actually producing the drug.”

In his letter to state Medicaid directors, Weinstein wrote, “Gilead is charging a higher price for this drug even though the cost to produce it is small. According to industry reports, Gilead produces Sovaldi for approximately $1.00 per gram (with only 10 to 30 grams needed to successfully treat patients with Hepatitis C).1 This represents a retail markup of over 279,000%.

Enough is f%$#ing enough.

This sh%$ needs to stop.

Mixed Emotions

When something bad is happening to an group of truly awful people, I frequently experience schadenfreude.

When it in suggest negative implications for the rest of us, my feelings are more mixed.

Case in point, the defamation suit that may bankrupt the National Review:

National Review, founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955, has had an enormous impact on the nation’s politics. Its writers formulated the ideology that animated the quixotic Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964, and then Ronald Reagan’s successful run for the White House in 1980. In the years since, National Review has often worked to keep Republican presidents focused on implementing its vision of conservatism, while bucking up the conservative troops when the movement has found itself out of power.

Today the magazine enjoys circulation roughly equivalent to that of The Nation, the American Left’s leading journal of opinion, and more than twice that of William Kristol’s The Weekly Standard, its primary competition on the Right.

And now, National Review may be fighting for its life.

Climate scientist Michael Mann is suing National Review and Mark Steyn, one of its leading writers, for defamation. It’s a charge that’s notoriously hard to prove, which is no doubt why the magazine initially refused to apologize for an item on its blog in which Steyn accused Mann of fraud. Steyn also quoted a line by another conservative writer (Rand Simberg) that called Mann “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.” (Simberg and the free market think tank for which he works, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, are also named in the suit.)

The lawsuit has not been going well for the magazine. In July, Judge Natalia Combs Greene rejected a motion to dismiss the suit. The defendants appealed, and last week D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg rejected the motion again, opening the door for the discovery phase of the lawsuit to begin.

That’s not all. On Christmas Eve, Steyn (who regularly guest hosts Rush Limbaugh’s radio show) wrote a blog post in which he excoriated Greene, accusing her of incompetence, stupidity, and obtuseness. As a result of this outburst, the law firm that had been representing National Review and Steyn (Steptoe & Johnson) has dropped Steyn as a client and reportedly has plans to withdraw as counsel for the magazine as well.

Part of me hopes that The National Review gets sued into oblivion.    It is a pernicious organization, and it has been since Buckley founded it, and filled it with Oh-So-Civilized support for segregation.

Part of me worries that the Kochs will start funding SLAPP suits against in an attempt to intimidate real news gathering organizations.

And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door – the lady, or the tiger?

H/t Salon.

You Sure Picked the Wrong Guy to go All ‘Roid Rage On, Representative Grimm………

After the State of the Union Address, a NY1reporter Michael Scotto asked Congressman Michael Grimm about his fundraising scandal.

Grimm, expecting questions about the SOTU address, was upset and walked off.

Then he walked back, and threatened to break reporter Scotto in half and throw him off of the Congressional Balcony.

This does make the persisistent rumors of anabolic steroid abuse more credible.

But he picked the wrong reporter to threaten.

You see Michael Scotto is the nephew of Anthony Scotto, a former head of the Brooklyn longshoremen’s union and a former boss in the Gambino crime family.

Grim went postal, and, to my non-lawyer eyes, it was technically assault, on the nephew of a Gambino crime bus.

Sucks to be you.

BTW, before he was a Congressman, he was an FBI agent, and I have to agree with Alex Pareene when he says, “We shouldn’t let people like him have badges and guns.”

The only thing worse than a goon is a goon with a gun and a badge.

Deep Thought

The death of Pete Seeger has me thinking of Woody Guthrie:

See the label on his guitar saying, “This machine kills fascists?”

Folk songs are about not some sort of generic emotional warm fuzzies.

They are about life, and they are about deep moral outrage.

H/t TPM for the picture (c. 1943).

Barack Obama, Fire James Clapper Now

If you want to give a guy the keys to our security apparatus, they cannot hold the Constitution of the United States of America in contempt:

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, appeared today before the Senate Intelligence Committee, his first appearance since outright lying to that Committee last March about NSA bulk collection. In his prepared opening remarks, Clapper said this:

Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.

Who, in the view of the Obama administration, are Snowden’s “accomplices”? The FBI and other official investigators have been very clear with the media that there is no evidence whatsoever that Snowden had any help in copying and removing documents from the NSA.

If there were any credible evidence of foreign agency involvement, it would have been leaked by Obama and His Evil Minions, if not publicly trumpeted in a press conference.

Clapper, the man whom Edward Snowden proved to have lied to Congress, should not be allowed to have access classified of any kind.

Here’s hoping that Mr. Snowden wins the Nobel Peace Prize he was recently nominated for.

He is far more deserving that President “I Have a Drone”:

One of the biggest debates over the last year was whether Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who ignited a storm of controversy when he revealed a huge number of covert measures by the NSA, was a traitor or a hero. Today, the latter camp got a big boost after it was announced that Snowden had officially been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

While Nobel Peace Prize nominations are typically kept secret for 50 years, those who submit nominations can make them public themselves sometimes. Thousands of different people, including academics, elected officials, and former recipients can make nominations for whomever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” over the preceding year.

Snowden was nominated by Norway’s Socialist Left Party politicians Baard Vegar Solhjell, a former environment minister, and Snorre Valen, a member of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where Valen announced the whistleblower’s nomination earlier today.

The FCC Gets Lemons, and Makes An Antifreeze Cocktail

I have a plan so cunning that you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel………Not!!!!

Because the FCC is unwilling (not unable, just unwillint) to properly classify broadband providers as common carriers, because they are a bunch of wimps have been cowed by, and have bought into, the bankrupt philosophy of the free market Mousketeers, so they have come up with a plan that makes Baldrick from Blackadder look like a genius:

The nation’s top telecom regulator is tipping his hand a bit more on network neutrality.

While FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wouldn’t say outright how he intends to respond to a recent court decision overturning his agency’s rule barring Internet providers from blocking Web traffic, he appears to be leaning increasingly toward using the FCC’s existing legal authority to regulate broadband providers.

Industry watchers say this approach would likely turn on a part of the Communications Act known as Section 706, which gives the FCC authority to promote broadband deployment. Moving in that direction would put more distance between Wheeler and another alternative that’s been floated, which is to reclassify Internet service provders (ISPs) as a kind of utility (making them much more like the phone companies the FCC already regulates strongly).

You see the problem here, don’t you?

What happens when the next Michael Powell, a corporate tool nonpareille ends up running the FCC, and they decide, much as Powell did, that eliminating regulation will magically promote broadband.

This is what has given the United States the slowest and most expensive Internet access in the developed world.

Here is an Amicus Brief I Fully Support

There has been a fascinating friend of the court (amicus) brief on the latest Obamacare suits, the “ladyparts are icky” suits from Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

It argues that the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” is an unconstitutional because it is an unconstitutional abrogation of the constitutional role of the courts in interpreting the law:

Arguing that Congress has gone too far to push aside the Supreme Court’s constitutional role in religion cases, a loose coalition of child welfare organizations, survivors of clergy child sexual abuse, and non-believers has urged the Justices to strike down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when it rules on a new dispute over the federal health care law.

The amicus brief, written by a prominent academic authority on religion and the law, Cardozo Law School’s Marci A. Hamilton, seeks to add a bold new dimension to the Court’s review of the Affordable Care Act’s “contraception mandate.”

“RFRA,” the document contended, “is Congress’s overt attempt to take . . . over this Court’s role in interpreting the Constitution. . . . [T]his novel federal statute, which is one of the most aggressive attacks on this Court’s role in constitutional interpretation in history, has fomented culture wars in the courts like the one ignited” in the pending cases by for-profit businesses seeking a RFRA-based exemption from the mandate to provide health insurance for pregnancy-related services to workers.

Normally, I would not expect that this would have any bearing on the court’s decision, but the core of this argument is flattering the court as an institution, so that makes it a bit more likely.

And the New York Times Just Went Medieval of Christie’s Lt. Governor………

It appears that  New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno has drawn the attention of the Times, and when the hed is, “A Lieutenant Governor, an Artist and a Portrait of a Smear, it’s pretty clear that your political career is in trouble:

In her first year in office, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno opened a frontal attack on an unlikely target, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Its contracting was “inexcusably” flawed, she said. Its practices were “unethical” and too cozy. Its director had to go.

Ms. Guadagno went on like this for months in 2010, and no one knew what to make of it. She wanted more control over the Arts Council, which distributed $16 million a year all over the state and was broadly respected.

In spring 2011, she began a new offensive. She went before legislative committees and pilloried a man doing work on an Arts Council contract, building a 9/11 timeline at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. His contract was no-bid, she said, the money unclear.

This gentleman is Daniel Aubrey, a 62-year-old man with a gray-flecked goatee. He and his wife, an artist, live in a modest home on a modest block just outside Trenton. A friend called him that day and exclaimed: The lieutenant governor just spelled out your name and said there was contract fraud!

A day later, an assistant attorney general called Mr. Aubrey. You are involved in an illegal contract, the prosecutor said. Do you have a criminal attorney?

He did not.

Just like that, Mr. Aubrey fell into reputation’s ditch, and the Christie administration piled dirt atop him. Except — and this is not incidental to our story — Mr. Aubrey did nothing wrong.

This behavior is unconscionable, and if it is not illegal, it should be.

No surprise, but Kim Guadagno used to be a professional bully prosecutor.

Sucks to be her right now.

Another Strike Against the No Fly List

Obama must love Kafka and Orwell’s nightmares, because he is emulating them

And this ruling is not being classified as secret:

A Virginia man who claims that as a teenager he was detained, interrogated, and abused in Kuwait at the behest of the Obama administration (a story I wrote about here) has won a key victory in his lawsuit against the government. A George W. Bush-appointed judge allowed Gulet Mohamed’s case to move forward on Wednesday, ruling that by putting him on the no-fly list (and thus infringing on his right to return home to the US), the government made him “a second class citizen.”

Judge Anthony Trenga of the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that the no-fly list’s “impact on a citizen who cannot use a commercial aircraft is profound,” restricting the right to travel and visit family, the “ability to associate,” and even the ability to hold down a job. Inclusion on the list also “also labels an American citizen a disloyal American who is capable of, and disposed toward committing, war crimes, and one can easily imagine the broad range of consequences that might be visited upon such a person if that stigmatizing designation were known by the general public,” Trenga added. Here’s another key excerpt:

In effect, placement on the No Fly List is life defining and life restricting across a broad range of constitutionally protected activities and aspirations; and a No Fly List designation transforms a person into a second class citizen, or worse. The issue, then, is whether and under what circumstances the government should have the ability to impose such a disability on an American citizen, who should make any such decision, according to what process, and by what standard of proof.

This little bit of Kafkaesque horror is something that came from the Obama administration.

This is not the product of one of Dick Cheney’s security wet dreams, this is Obama embracing and extending those policies.

Conservative Butthurt

Normally, I have no interest in awards, but the Grammy’s have their moments.

The last time was in 1984, when Annie Lennox stunned and offended ½ of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States (and amused the other ½).

This year, however, it is a bit more significant. Queen Latifa officiated at the wedding of 34 couples, some of them same sex, and right wingers are having a major butt hurt about this:

Anti-gay commentators were none too pleased with last night’s performance of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” at the Grammy Awards, which included a ceremony where thirty-four couples — including same-sex couples — were married. Unsurprisingly, many claimed that the show was evil and mean to anti-gay activists.

My heart bleeds borscht for these bigots.

Pravda on the Potomac Blames Ukraine For Enacting U.S. Like Laws

The Washington Post is criticizing the Yanukovych government in the Ukraine for laws that exist in their hometown without any comment:

The lunatics writing the Washington Post editorials want to blame the Ukraine (and the Russian president Putin) for its remarkable patient defense against the foreign supported, neo-nazi vandals of the Svoboda party who try to storm and take over government buildings in Kiev.
One paragraph especially shows their unmatched hypocrisy:

The repressive new restrictions, which criminalize such activity as wearing helmets and setting up tents in public spaces, look a lot like the strategy the Russian ruler used to crush mass demonstrations against his regime in 2011 and 2012. Mr. Yanukovych even adopted the regulation Russia imposed on nongovernment groups that receive foreign funding — a product of Mr. Putin’s paranoid conviction that pro-democracy movements in his country and elsewhere are the result of Western government plots.

Wearing helmets and masks at demonstrations has been unanimously criminalized by the D.C. Council in the Washington Post’s hometown. Tents set up in public spaces by the Occupy movement have been outlawed and cleared by force all over the United States. The Russian and Ukrainian laws that regulate foreign money to political organisations are copies of the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act which is law of the land since 1938.

(emphasis original)

There is very little difference between how the Ukraine is using law as an instrument for crushing political protest, and how the United States s using law as an instrument for crushing political protest.