Friday, July 3, 2009

Last Call

Sarah Palin's done, folks.

The more I've thought about this, the more I have to say she will not recover from this. There's no way she can run for any higher political office without this resignation killing her politically. She simply walked away from the Governor's office, her responsibilities, her constituents, and her pledge to serve for four years. She's done.

And it's the fashion in which she did it that is really forever going to haunt her. Reading the text of her roughly fifteen minute presser, my first thought was that it was the equivalent a of drunken internet forum posting. As I was watching the video I swore there were several points at she was fighting back an emotional breakdown.

And her explanation, an incoherent train wreck of tangentially-related basketball analogies, aww-shucks Northern Exposure small-town wisdom, shout-outs to her stone-faced family, "librul media" persecution complex-ranting, channeling Nixon singing Frank Sinatra's "My Way" and just plain non sequitur nonsense, raised orders of magnitude more questions than she answered.

She's either narcissitic to the point of mental instability, or she's under the strain from such a terrible scandal that's about to break that she's gone around the bend.

But either way, she's finished after today. Done. Toast. Over. She didn't just burn her bridges behind her, she napalmed them, then called in artillery strikes on anything bridge-related within a 100 mile radius.

I have a strong feeling that "pulling a Sarah Palin" will soon enter our lexicon to describe a political failure of epic proportions.

We'll see what this weekend brings. Happy 4th.

Sister Sarah Throws In The Towel, Possibly Picks Up New Bigger Towel

Sarah Palin is apparently not going to run for re-election next year as Governor of Alaska.
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is expected to announce Friday that she will not seek a second term, a Republican source close to Palin tells CNN.

Palin has scheduled a 3 p.m. ET news conference at her home in Wasilla. The governor’s office offered no further details about the subject of the news conference, but the sources tells CNN that Palin will announce her decision to forgo another run.

As the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, Palin is considered one of the frontrunners for the GOP nomination in 2012. Her decision not to seek another term as governor is sure to stoke speculation that Palin is seriously eyeing a run for the White House.

I still stand by this morning's assessment of Gov. Palin. She's too much like Bush in a number of uncomfortable ways.

But you'd better damn well believe she's going to go for the brass ring in 2012. It annoys me that I need a 2012 election tag already, but let the games begin.

[UPDATE 3:25 PM] Oh my stars and garters, she's actually resigning her office effective the end of the month.

Oh double hell yes, she's either going for the whole enchilada in 2012...or some sort of scandal so mega-huge is coming that she is resigning now.

(If it's the latter, I'm going to be pissed that I now have a 2012 Election tag with no actual viable candidates to run in 2012.)

[UPDATE 4:17 PM] According to the First Dude and FOX News, she's quitting now because Alaska is just too mean to her.

Todd Palin told FOX News that his wife will concentrate on "doing the things for Alaska and the country" that she is passionate about and can not do as governor with the limitation and constant opposition she deals with within the state.
Are you kidding me? I smell a disaster incoming, and she's right back to playing the "Liberal media is picking on me/Victim card" like she did during the election. Why is she doing it now?

[UPDATE 4:31 PM] Here's the heart of the speech, in all its incoherent glory, courtesy TPM and CNN.

Something is definitely not right here.

I don't know. Maybe she really is just quitting. Maybe there's an illness in the family, or she's sick, or she just wants the world to leave her alone...but why not reveal something like that? I would think the people of Alaska at least would want a straight answer, not to mention her base is not going to be satisfied with this statement.

Now, I wish no harm to Sarah Palin or her family. But a little honesty, please.

[UPDATE 5:47 PM] Bill Kristol: This is only good news for Sarah Palin!
If Palin wants to run in 2012, why not do exactly what she announced today? It's an enormous gamble - but it could be a shrewd one.

After all, she's freeing herself from the duties of the governorship. Now she can do her book, give speeches, travel the country and the world, campaign for others, meet people, get more educated on the issues - and without being criticized for neglecting her duties in Alaska. I suppose she'll take a hit for leaving the governorship early - but how much of one? She's probably accomplished most of what she was going to get done as governor, and is leaving a sympatico lieutenant governor in charge.

"Without being criticized for neglecting her duties in Alaska?" If Palin really is gunning for 2012, it means she quit 18 months before her term was up to run for an election 40 months from now. She completely neglected her duties in Alaska, she f'ckin quit.

[UPDATE 6:41 PM] Boy, did I pick the wrong morning to psychoanalyze Sarah Palin. Raw Story is reporting that Palin resigned as damage control ahead of a major scandal "not involving her family", and that even her family did not know of her resignation until the press conference. Short of being caught on tape transforming into an evil space alien, what the hell did she do that was worse than Mark Sanford's year-long affair with an Argentinian newscaster?

Cup Of Stupidi-Tea

Tomorrow being the 4th of July and all, the Teabaggers are expected to be back out there, hating the President protesting the government ahh screw it, spreading racist/anti-Semitic bullshit.
White supremacists and neo-Nazi hate groups plan to take advantage of the anti-tax “Tea Parties” set to occur in more than 1,000 cities and localities over the July 4 holiday weekend to disseminate racist fliers and other materials and attempt to recruit others to their cause, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

ADL’s Center on Extremism, which monitors extremist groups and provides information to law enforcement and the public, has released information on its Web site describing the attempt by white supremacists to co-opt the anti-tax message of the events as a means to spread racism and anti-Semitism.

On Stormfront, the most popular white supremacist Internet forum, members have discussed becoming local organizers of the “Tea Parties” and finding ways to involve themselves in the events. Many racists have voiced their intent to attend these rallies for the purpose of cultivating an “organized grassroots White mass movement,” with some suggesting that they would do so without openly identifying themselves as racists.
But then again, why are we acting surprised? After all, the last Teabagger get-together didn't degenerate into a racist hatefest or anything, did it?

Oh you mean white supremacists would be looking at this group of chowderheads for recruits? I'm shocked!

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

The Kroog asks:

This morning’s Wall Street Journal opinion section contains a lot of what one expects to see. There’s an opinion piece making a big fuss over the fake scandal at the EPA. There’s an editorial claiming that the latest job figures prove the failure of Obama’s economic plan — something I dealt with in the Times. All of this follows on yesterday’s editorial asserting that the Minnesota senatorial election was stolen.

All of this is par for the course; the WSJ editorial page has been like this for 35 years. Nonetheless, it got me wondering: what do these people really believe?

I mean, they’re not stupid — life would be a lot easier if they were. So they know they’re not telling the truth. But they obviously believe that their dishonesty serves a higher truth — one that is, in effect, told only to Inner Party members, while the Outer Party makes do with prolefeed.

The question is, what is that higher truth? What do these people really believe in?
See GOP Plan, The there Paul.

It really is all about looting the country and setting up somebody else, in this case Barack Obama, to take the fall. It always has been.

What they believe is that they are entitled to all the money and power and decision-making ability, and that we are entitled to give it to them and to be grateful for the Divine Right Of Conservatives.

Deflation Is Bad, Man

Don Surber decides deflation is good.

Falling prices reflect demand. If supply costs remain below the price, no problem.

Computer users learned this in the last 20 years. New computers (which were slower and had less memory) cost $2,000 in the 1990s. The one I just bought cost $300. Computer companies are fine with it because as the prices have dropped, productivity for computers and their component parts has increased and costs have gone down. As long as cost is below price, no problem.

Deflation today is caused by two things: The burst of the housing bubble and the precipitous drop in the price of oil.

The housing price drop slowed production of new homes because productivity is not improving fast enough to keep pace. The upside is construction is less expensive and this helps public works projects.

The downside is that property values are dropping and with them the property tax revenues, which largely go to support schools.

Housing prices likely will drop further as the supply of mortgages has fallen due to a variety of factors, mainly interventionist government. Stopping foreclosures is breaking the Rule of Law, which hurts any economy by introducing instability. This scares off investors.

The drop in the price of oil — and with it energy — helps all other producers by cutting their costs. They may or may not pass those savings on to consumers.

If I can figure this out, a Nobel-winning economist should.

Somebody should tell Don there that allowing massive housing deflation to continue unchecked would be a hell of a lot worse than "government intervention" because unchecked foreclosures would be putting people out of ther homes and into the streets, making them more dependent on the government services that are paid for by the same property tax revenues he notes are falling. It squeezes everybody. People have to live somewhere, and if entire neighborhoods are being wrecked by plummeting housing values, those neighborhoods turn into urban blight and empty subdivisions. And these property taxes pay for a lot more than schools: witness the plethora of local and state governments having to slash expenditures due to lost revenue.

If I can figure that out, certainly a newspaper columnist should be able to...

Quid Pro Quo-Mart

Brian Beutler has an article up at TPM that shows concern that the cost for Wal-Mart's support for Obama on employer mandates for health care reform is the complete and permanent death of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Labor sources, well-acquainted with Wal-Mart's anti-EFCA tactics, have suggested or acknowledged this concern to me in the days since the administration announced the deal--and as hard as it is to imagine Wal-Mart fighting that legislation harder than they already do, the sources say both sides may turn up the temperature in the fight over employee rights in the weeks and months ahead.

It's unclear where the basis of this concern lies--whether it comes from internal knowledge of Wal-Mart's negotiations with key health care players in Washington; or from an understanding of the company's incentives; or whether some in the labor movement are using this moment to launch a pre-emptive strike against their main EFCA opponent.

But either way, it's clear that the uneasy alliance between labor and Wal-Mart on the question of health reform does not translate into rapprochement on the issue of unionization. If anything, it makes the fight over that issue bloodier.
This makes sense. If there's any company on Earth that would be completely opposed to employee mandates, it would be the country's largest private employer, Wal-Mart. And let's face it, Wal-Mart is not exactly known for its generous health care benefits. Wal-Mart would be on the hook for a whole bunch of employees for health care, most of them earning around $10 an hour, even the part-timers.

The death of EFCA may in fact be the price Wal-Mart wants for flexing its muscle and getting behind Obamacare.

[UPDATE 1:06 PM] Amanda Marcotte has another explanation for Wal-Mart's sudden generosity: it expects the cost of employer-mandated health insurance to finish off the rest of the country's supermarket chains and discount stores.
The likely employer mandate that Wal-Mart wants to see would cost every business that doesn’t provide benefits to part-timers, particularly those that finagle hours so that full-time employees are nominally part-time. The clearest example of this? Retailers, particularly grocery stores. If there’s one operational tactic that Wal-Mart has perfected, it’s short-term loss for long-term gain. Five years of an employer mandate on most small margin retailers around the country will put many of them out of business, leaving Wal-Mart with an effective monopoly across most of the country.

The real question is why SEIU is letting themselves get played like this. An employer mandate is one of the worst possible ways to achieve universal health insurance, forcing everyone into the current terrible private health insurance system through employers, which is like curing your polio by going around smacking other kids in the knees with hammers.

I'd have to argue that an employer mandate is better than the no health insurance 50 million people have now, but that's another thing. I absolutely agree with Amanda that this is a totally valid reason why Wal-Mart is going with this, and certainly a reason why mandates should be reconsidered.

The Goldman Sachs Bubble Buster

Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone article on how Goldman Sachs has been destroying the American economy for the last, oh, 80 years or so is up, and it's a hell of a thing.

Goldman's role in the sweeping global disaster that was the housing bubble is not hard to trace. Here again, the basic trick was a decline in underwriting standards, although in this case the standards weren't in IPOs but in mortgages. By now almost everyone knows that for decades mortgage dealers insisted that home buyers be able to produce a down payment of 10 percent or more, show a steady income and good credit rating, and possess a real first and last name. Then, at the dawn of the new millennium, they suddenly threw all that shit out the window and started writing mortgages on the backs of napkins to cocktail waitresses and ex-cons carrying five bucks and a Snickers bar.

And what caused the huge spike in oil prices? Take a wild guess. Obviously Goldman had help — there were other players in the physical-commodities market — but the root cause had almost everything to do with the behavior of a few powerful actors determined to turn the once-solid market into a speculative casino. Goldman did it by persuading pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil futures — agreeing to buy oil at a certain price on a fixed date. The push transformed oil from a physical commodity, rigidly subject to supply and demand, into something to bet on, like a stock. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of speculative money in commodities grew from $13 billion to $317 billion, an increase of 2,300 percent. By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed.

Ahh, but it gets worse. How many major government financial types were ex-Goldman Sachs employees? You'd be surprised...or maybe not.
The history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled-dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates. By now, most of us know the major players. As George Bush's last Treasury secretary, former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson was the architect of the bailout, a suspiciously self-serving plan to funnel trillions of Your Dollars to a handful of his old friends on Wall Street. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary, spent 26 years at Goldman before becoming chairman of Citigroup — which in turn got a $300 billion taxpayer bailout from Paulson. There's John Thain, the asshole chief of Merrill Lynch who bought an $87,000 area rug for his office as his company was imploding; a former Goldman banker, Thain enjoyed a multibillion-dollar handout from Paulson, who used billions in taxpayer funds to help Bank of America rescue Thain's sorry company. And Robert Steel, the former Goldmanite head of Wachovia, scored himself and his fellow executives $225 million in golden-parachute payments as his bank was self-destructing. There's Joshua Bolten, Bush's chief of staff during the bailout, and Mark Patterson, the current Treasury chief of staff, who was a Goldman lobbyist just a year ago, and Ed Liddy, the former Goldman director whom Paulson put in charge of bailed-out insurance giant AIG, which forked over $13 billion to Goldman after Liddy came on board. The heads of the Canadian and Italian national banks are Goldman alums, as is the head of the World Bank, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the last two heads of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — which, incidentally, is now in charge of overseeing Goldman.

But then, something happened. It's hard to say what it was exactly; it might have been the fact that Goldman's co-chairman in the early Nineties, Robert Rubin, followed Bill Clinton to the White House, where he directed the National Economic Council and eventually became Treasury secretary. While the American media fell in love with the story line of a pair of baby-boomer, Sixties-child, Fleetwood Mac yuppies nesting in the White House, it also nursed an undisguised crush on Rubin, who was hyped as without a doubt the smartest person ever to walk the face of the Earth, with Newton, Einstein, Mozart and Kant running far behind.

Rubin was the prototypical Goldman banker. He was probably born in a $4,000 suit, he had a face that seemed permanently frozen just short of an apology for being so much smarter than you, and he exuded a Spock-like, emotion-neutral exterior; the only human feeling you could imagine him experiencing was a nightmare about being forced to fly coach. It became almost a national cliché that whatever Rubin thought was best for the economy — a phenomenon that reached its apex in 1999, when Rubin appeared on the cover of Time with his Treasury deputy, Larry Summers, and Fed chief Alan Greenspan under the headline the committee to save the world. And "what Rubin thought," mostly, was that the American economy, and in particular the financial markets, were over-regulated and needed to be set free. During his tenure at Treasury, the Clinton White House made a series of moves that would have drastic consequences for the global economy — beginning with Rubin's complete and total failure to regulate his old firm during its first mad dash for obscene short-term profits.

And it goes on. Do read the whole thing, and ask yourself "Has anything really changed here under Obama?"

My answer is no.

The Rise Of The Christian...Left?

The Wall Street Journal has noticed the growing voice and power of the Christian Left (I come from a family of pro-life Catholic Democrats myself) and the issues that are important to them, mainly climate change legislation and tackling poverty.

This being the Wall Street Journal however, the framing of the article is not the Christian Left, but what the Christian Right has to do to try to stop them:
The religious right and secular conservatives are taking notice. In recent weeks, key religious-right groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council have heavily promoted the work of a group called the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The Cornwall Alliance dismisses global-warming alarms as hype and argues that forceful action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions could cripple the economy and harm the poor. It is organizing conservative pastors to carry this message to the pews.

The religious left has a long tradition of activism on social issues, including the civil-rights movement. But for the past quarter century, faith-based politicking has been dominated by the religious right, which built a powerful army of activists -- and a formidable fund-raising machine -- on the strength of leaders such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority and radio host James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

The religious left's re-emergence as a strong voice -- with the financial backing to make aggressive media buys -- is a "seismic shift," said D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University who studies evangelical politics.

"The religious left is experiencing today what the religious right had in 1981," Mr. Lindsay said. "They've finally found a White House that's not just tolerating but welcoming, affirming, of their involvement."

Left-leaning Christian groups also have started to attract funding from secular donors who share their political goals -- and who see Biblical appeals as a promising way to broaden public support.

Oxfam America has worked with churches for years, but on relatively non-controversial campaigns such as staging fasts to call attention to world hunger. Now, the group is teaming up with the religious left to push for congressional action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

E. Calvin Beisner, a spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance, says the right has to respond forcefully to the well-funded campaigns from the religious left, because "they're certainly not being silent."

People forget that it was the religious Left that gave rise to the civil rights movement, both Christians and Jews working together to try to correct an egregious moral injustice. It was the backlash of this that created the religious right in the 80's, that used religion to advance strict moral conservatism instead.

So yes, I guess the Right should have a healthy fear of the religious Left. How nice of the Wall Street Journal to warn us about the Dirty Hippies, or whatever.

Banana Republicans

I'd be much more willing to listen to the Right on the issue of Honduras if they hadn't all decided that the correct course of action was not "let's analyze the situation here and decide how we should proceed" but "Whatever Obama is doing has to be the wrong horse to back in this fight."

I originally said it looked like Zalaya tried to pull a Hugo Chavez and was deposed for it. However, with the UN and OAS backing Zalaya as the rightful President, I'd argue that he should at least be allowed to finish his term, or hey, let's go through the legal proceeding to impeach the guy (if that exists in Honduras).

Having the military grab the guy out of bed in his nightclothes and exiling him to Costa Rica is in fact not something done in a actual democracy. If he's a powermongering scuzzbag, vote him out of office. Replace him with somebody better.

You can't say "Well, Zalaya's in the wrong because he had no respect for the rule of law" and then institute a replacement President because you don't like him. That's just as illegal and undemocratic. Obama's right to oppose Zalaya's ouster.

Zalaya may be trying to grab power, but he's not arresting people who don't agree with them and exiling them to other countries.

Attacking Al

Steve Benen seems a bit confused about the right's alpha strike on Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) (typing that still makes me giggle) and why they are bothering to attack the guy.
Attacking Franken last year -- you know, during the campaign -- made sense. Far-right Republicans didn't want to see Minnesotans vote for him, so it stands to reason they would encourage voters not to.

But therein lies the point. The election's over, and Franken won. Glenn Beck has spent several days this week saying Franken doesn't belong in the Senate. I completely disagree, but either way, isn't that an argument to be raised in the October before the election, not the July after it?

Not if your goal is to de-legitimize Al Franken's election, everything he does, and by extent everything he votes on. The right is pushing the "Franken stole the election" meme hard, and will continue to not treat him as an actual United States Senator. It makes it easier to level brutal broadsides at the guy, much like the Right is currently doing with Barack Obama.

Standard GOP operating procedure: de-legitimize your opponent, then de-humanize them. The Right's plan is clearly to act like there are still 99 senators in the Senate.

Depressing Graph Of The Day

Via Digby:

Like the Kroog said, you can't have hyper-inflation without wage increases. What we're seeing here is serious wage deflation. In fact, the only thing that has kept us out of deflation at this point has been major government spending.

We've got evidence of two major deflationary spirals in effect now, the deflationary effect of a 30%+ drop in housing values (rapidly spreading to commercial real estate now) and now a 5% drop in payrolls as companies are shedding highly-paid veteran workers and going with more and more part-timers at a lower wage...or increasingly not replacing the workers at all. Fewer workers means fewer wages paid...deflationary on any economy.

Can you imagine where we would be without the stimulus?

It's becoming clear that the stimulus needs to kick in ASAP, because the second half of 2009 is not going to be pretty in the least.

The Other Side: Sister Sarah

The Wingers are having a nice little scrum over Sarah Palin after this week's Vanity Fair profile of the Alaska Governor, and it has forced Republicans to ask themselves "What went wrong in Wasilla?" WaPo's resident curmudgeon Chuck Krauthammer does not have a very high opinion of her.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Republicans who believe she is the long-term future of the Republican Party: a post-feminist, pro-life, successful working mother who can attract moderates and women from across the racial spectrum, and stanch the outflow of Republican voters into Independent-land in a way the good ol' boy network never could.

My problems with Palin are this: She reminds me so much of George W. Bush that it's literally scary. The same carefully cultivated folksy charm, the same flashes of anger when challenged, the same sense of entitlement, the same screaming cries for attention and the need for people to like them, and the same displays of political cunning to manipulate the people, not manage the actual issues...all of those I see in the Sarahcuda's sneer. Like Bush, you do not want to cross her. Ever. We had eight years of President Ego Is More Important Than The Country (see Iraq). Not going to go for another four. I wholeheartedly agree with her supporters that she is in no way a stupid person, on the contrary I believe she's far more intelligent than she lets on, and far more intelligent than people give her credit for. But she's seen her intellect as something to hide, a liability in a world dominated by perception rather than substance. In a sense, that's her own fault. She wants people to underestimate her rather than being who she is. I don't think a person like that is a good leader.

The other problem is with the GOP itself. They are forming the same cult of personality they did around Dubya with Sarah Palin and her family for that matter...the same cult of personality they constantly attack Barack Obama for having. The entire exercise is lost on them, how they raised up a puppet king from the Crawford brush and made him out to be a great statesman, how now a former mayor from an Alaska town of a few thousand is the future of the country, but they say Barack Obama is nothing more than a community organizer, constantly attacking his lack of qualifications to be President.

It's one reason why I can't bring myself to vote for Republicans, even as a registered Independent. I know Democrats make mistakes and do idiotic things, but Republicans do all that and don't even question if it's an idiotic mistake, then repeat it.


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