The Road to 60

Fascinating news out of Pennsylvania today:

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

...."I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary," said Specter in a statement....He added: "Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

That's surprisingly forthright wording, isn't it?  It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Specter finds his views more in line with Democrats these days solely because there are 200,000 more of them in Pennsylvania than there used to be.  Points for honesty, I guess.

Of course, if he's really serious about this, he could switch parties now.  And maybe announce his support for a few Democratic initiatives while he's at it.  Interesting days.

UPDATE: Obama is "thrilled" by the news.  And who can blame him?

UPDATE 2: I think I may have misunderstood Specter's statement.  Apparently he does plan to begin caucusing with the Democrats immediately.  I think.  Press reports seem oddly fuzzy on this point, though.

UPDATE 3: In 1950, Specter participated in the National Debate Tournament, which addressed itself to the following topic: "Resolved: That the United States should nationalize the basic nonagricultural industries."  How newly relevant!  My father beat him, 969-964.  Take that, Ivy League.

Redefining History

The new owners of the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles want to tear it down and replace it with a pair of 50-story towers containing condos, offices, shops and a smaller luxury hotel.  But not everyone is thrilled:

The Los Angeles Conservancy is determined to stop them. To bolster its campaign, it has enlisted the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which today put the 726-room Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel on its annual list of America's 11 most endangered historic places.

"By naming this structure to the list, the National Trust is demonstrating that the preservation of recent past and modern buildings is as important to our cultural record as preserving architecture that's from the Victorian period or Art Deco era," said Christine Madrid French, director of the trust's nascent Modernism + Recent Past Initiative.

This is lunacy.  I don't care one way or another whether Michael Rosenfeld gets to build his new complex, but it makes a mockery of historic preservation to pretend that this building deserves to be protected for the rest of time.  It was built in 1966.  Its architect, Minoru Yamasaki, is prominent, but he's not a native Angeleno and this wasn't a pivotal work in his career.  The building itself is a fine example of 60s-era modernism, but that's just another way of saying that it's also a fairly typical example of 60s-era corporate hotel design.  In its heyday, which lasted for perhaps two decades at most, the Century Plaza attracted plenty of VIP guests, but it never became an iconic structure because of that.  The Los Angeles Conservancy's page about the hotel is here, and they pretty obviously struggled to figure out a way to make it seem even moderately noteworthy.

The Century Plaza Hotel is a recent building of genuine but modest distinction.  But it escapes me how that qualifies it as a national historic place.  Pretending otherwise does a disservice to genuine history.

How the Far Right Handed Dems a 60-Vote Majority

The reason Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties on Tuesday is rather obvious. Though Specter explained in a statement released today that it's due to the GOP's rightward shift ("I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," he said), the more likely reason is that Specter's political career would end if he remained a Republican. Unlike Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, who abandoned the GOP and caucused with the Democrats in 2001 in a principled decision, declining to run for reelection, Specter is simply reading the tea leaves. Most available polling indicates that the moderate Specter would be trounced in the 2010 Republican primary by a conservative challenger named Pat Toomey.

Stress Test Update

Stress test results are starting to leak:

Regulators have told Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. that the banks may need to raise more capital based on early results of the government's so-called stress tests of lenders, according to people familiar with the situation.

....Bank of America's capital hole as measured by the regulators is in the billions, said people close to the company....It isn't clear how big a capital deficit Citigroup faces.

Well, I'll bet that Citi's capital requirements are "in the billions" too.  What else would they be in, after all?

In any case, there's no way that either bank can raise private capital, and the Treasury has stated flatly that it won't allow them to fail.  That means either another big capital injection from the feds or else some kind of guarantee to private investors.  The former would almost certainly have to be at market rates (I doubt there's any appetite for more sweetheart deals) and the latter would be such a thin veneer that it's almost certainly impossible to pull off.  Especially in the case of Citi, then, it's hard to see how the government ends up anything other than a majority owner of the bank once this is all over.  Tim Geithner can call this anything he wants, but that's nationalization whether he likes it or not.

McCain's Curious Support for "Moving On"

In my blog post yesterday in which I pointed out that in 2007 John McCain was (correctly) telling people that we executed Japanese soldiers after WWII for waterboarding American POWs, I really should have pointed out that McCain has taken a look at the Bush Administration's actions, including waterboarding a detainee 183 times in a month, and has decided that instead of investigations or prosecutions, "we've got to move on."

Torturing Abu Zubaydah

In The One Percent Doctrine, Ron Suskind reported that CIA sources told him the waterboarding of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah had been worthless: Zubaydah coughed up reams of worthless intel under pressure but didn't provide anything genuinely valuable until an interrogator later got under his skin with some clever questioning.

But in December 2007, ABC's Brian Ross interviewed a CIA officer named John Kiriakou who told him just the opposite: according to Kiriakou, Zubaydah resisted waterboarding for "probably 30, 35 seconds" and the next day started providing information that "disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."

My comment at the time: "Same guy. CIA sources for both accounts. But diametrically opposite conclusions. So who's right?"  Today, the New York Times revisits this episode in the wake of the torture memos released two weeks ago:

[Kiriakou's] claims — unverified at the time, but repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs and newspapers — have been sharply contradicted by a newly declassified Justice Department memo that said waterboarding had been used on Mr. Zubaydah “at least 83 times.”

....During the heated debate in 2007 over the use of waterboarding and other techniques, Mr. Kiriakou’s comments quickly ricocheted around the media. But lost in much of the coverage was the fact that Mr. Kiriakou had no firsthand knowledge of the waterboarding: He was not actually in the secret prison in Thailand where Mr. Zubaydah had been interrogated but in the C.I.A. headquarters in Northern Virginia. He learned about it only by reading accounts from the field.

....“It works, is the bottom line,” Rush Limbaugh exclaimed on his radio show the next day. “Thirty to 35 seconds, and it works.”  Mr. Kiriakou subsequently granted interviews to The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and other media organizations. A CNN anchor called him “the man of the hour.”

....Mr. Kiriakou was the only on-the-record source cited by ABC. In the televised portion of the interview, Mr. Ross did not ask Mr. Kiriakou specifically about what kind of reports he was privy to or how long he had access to the information. “It didn’t even occur to me that they’d keep doing” the waterboarding, Mr. Ross said last week. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

He added, “I didn’t give enough credit to the fiendishness of the C.I.A.”

Kiriakou's testimony was immensely influential at the time, but it's pretty clear now that he was wrong: unless the CIA continued waterboarding him just for sport, Zubaydah didn't break after a single session.  Or ten sessions.  Or fifty.  And if Kiriakou was wrong about that, what are the odds that he was also wrong about the "dozens of attacks"?  Or about the fact that waterboarding was responsible for any actionable information at all?

Ron Suskind, on the other hand, hasn't been contradicted at all.  As near as I can tell, his reporting has stood up almost perfectly in the face of subsequent evidence.  If you want to know what really happened to Zubaydah, his book remains the gold standard for now.

Conservatives Think Colbert Is Serious

Via HuffPo comes a study that confirms one thing we already knew—Stephen Colbert is totally hilarious—but also points out something surprising: both conservatives and liberals think he's on their side. According to an Ohio State University study, The Colbert Report is like a political Rorschach text, and you see what you want to see in it:

...Individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert's political ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism.

Proof that we live in different worlds came just last week when the National Organization for Marriage (nom nom nom!!) thanked Colbert for his parody of their insane "Gathering Storm" anti-gay marriage spot. NOM president Maggie Gallagher actually said "I've always thought Colbert was a double-agent, pretending to pretend to be a conservative, to pull one over Hollywood." Wow. Really? Well, I guess if you think gay marriage is a scary lightning storm, coming to take away your rights, your brain is full of neat ideas.

Bailout for Breakfast: GM Rolls Out New Plan

This story first appeared on ProPublica.

It is the latest from ProPublica's new bailout blog. Check out the all-seeing database of the bailout billions.  

This morning, General Motors is rolling out its third new business plan since December. The plan, in brief: cut 21,000 jobs, a third of its workforce, close a number of its plants, drop the Pontiac brand and try to persuade 90 percent of its bondholders to swap their notes for equity in the company.

Treasury officials gave GM a June 1 deadline to restructure. But the government aid isn’t likely to slow any time soon, reports the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. Treasury will extend $11.6 billion more to GM, in addition to $15.4 billion in existing loans. The government will forgive half the debt in exchange for equity in a restructured GM.

Should all that come to pass and GM lands more than $27 billion in aid, that would make the company the fifth largest beneficiary of taxpayer money in the bailout so far, behind AIG, Bank of America, Citigroup and Freddie Mac.

In other auto news, Chrysler says it has struck a deal with the UAW. That’s progress, but the company still has to reach a deal with its big bank lenders by Friday, the deadline set by the administration for a restructuring deal.

Monday Top Five

This week, a couple tunes good for indie dance parties, a surprising and hilarious mashup, a Brooklyn duo takes an eventful trip to Times Square, and Kate Bush fans have a new artist to worship.

 

 

 

1. Passion Pit – "The Reeling" (from Manners out May 26 on French Kiss)

This Boston-based band charmed me (and lots of other people based on their Top 30 ranking on iTunes) with their quirky "Sleepyhead," but I was wholly unprepared for the raucous good time that is "The Reeling." Tinkly '80s-style synths are offset by stomping rock drums, and the sing-along chorus is irresistible: "Oh, noooo!"

2. Bon Jovi vs. Nina Simone – "Like a Life on a Prayer" (Mad Mix Mustang mashup, download at his web site)

Usually, the point of a mashup is to be amused at the transformation of both sources, but I'd never heard this Nina Simone track before. However, it's perfect with the Bon Jovi lyrics, and the track ends up sounding like a Mark Ronson souled-up retro-remix, with some Austin Powers silliness thrown in.

"We Could Have Done This the Right Way"

A must-read from Michael Isikoff of Newsweek starring FBI agent Ali Soufan, the man who would have led the interrogations of America's detainees if the war on terror had been prosecuted in a different universe these past eight years: