Thursday, July 9, 2009

Last Call

Democratic Sen. Roland Burris is not running in 2010, which is actually pretty good news for his fellow Democrats, as explaining how his only qualification for the office was "I was appointed by Rod Blagojevich" and that was basically going to hand over Barack Obama's old seat in Illinois to the Republicans.

The problem is replacing Burris. Illinois AG Lisa Madigan was favored, but she has flatly denied the seat and is running for AG again. Without Madigan, the seat is suddenly a lot more vlnerable than it was say, last week.

We'll see.

Joe Does The Queen City

Vice President Joe Biden was in Cincy today for a speech on the stimulus package and how it is working, funding projects like the renovation of the old American Can Company in Northside.
Vice President Joe Biden today defended the $787 billion federal stimulus against critics who say it isn't creating jobs.

"When they say we’re not saving jobs, count the cop that still has a job, count the teacher that will be showing up in the classroom in September who would not be able to show up but for this," he said during a speech this morning at a redevelopment project on Spring Grove Avenue in Northside. "These are all essential services affecting the quality of life of our children and our families.”

Biden was in Cincinnati to promote the Obama Administration's stimulus package by appearing at a project that uses federal stimulus money.

About 200 people gathered behind the former American Can company building to hear Biden speak.

The abandoned red brick factory is marked by graffiti. Weeds have overtaken the grounds. City officials, though, have said that $1.6 million in stimulus money will help developers transform this site into a hub of activity for the Northside neighborhood as developers remodel it into apartments and retail.

Biden said the factory project would create 100 jobs. He also mentioned that the Cincinnati Police Department and the University of Cincinnati are getting stimulus money that will either save or create jobs and "do good."

It's a smart idea to get out there and show people jobs that this package is creating. It's an even better idea to actually deliver the jobs. The plan is supposed to deliver money over 18 months, but the bulk of the money is going to be needed very, very soon.

Still, Biden made some good points.

Tehran Calling, Part 5

Things are getting hinky in Tehran again as protesters are taking to the street in massive numbers. As usual, HuffPo's Nico Pitney has the best liveblogging coverage. You can also find good stuff from Robert Mackey at the NY Times.

CNN has this story:
The demonstration is taking place on the 10th anniversary of a student uprising that, at the time, posed the biggest threat to the Islamic regime since its inception in 1979.

The protesters are using the anniversary to resume demonstrations against the outcome of the June 12 presidential election.

An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people crowded the streets and headed toward Tehran University, the site of the 1999 student uprising.

Several protesters were hit on the arms and backs by the Basij, the journalist reported. The militia tried to persuade one man, whose face was bleeding, to get into an ambulance, but he refused.

Some of the protesters shouted "Allah u Akbar," or "God is Great" and "Ya Hussein, Mir Hussein" referring to opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi.
We'll see what happens.

GOP Sekrit Wepuns

Yes, RNC chairman Michael Steele has deployed his new plan to stop Obama and return the Republican party to power: imaginary invisible candidates! Even the Weekly Standard isn't buying it.

The latest in a never-ending series of gaffes from the RNC chairman:

Having already lost control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008, the party has been battered in recent months with admissions of infidelity by two prominent party members -- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Nevada Sen. John Ensign -- and the surprising announcement by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin that she will resign as Alaska's governor at the end of the month.

All three had been viewed as possible GOP presidential candidates in 2012.

Steele on Wednesday brushed off the recent incidents as "old news, old school."

"That's not the generation of candidates I'm trying to groom, he said.

Given that Palin is basically in a statistical tie with Romney and Huckabee for the pole position in the 2012 primary, it's not clear why Steele keeps shooting his mouth off about a favorite among the rank and file, but he'd be well advised to zip it. Also, it would be helpful if Steele could just let us know which candidates he is grooming so that the party can quarantine them in case the stupidity is contagious.

If you've lost Goldfarb and the Weekly Standard there Mike, you've lost the GOP.

Me, I call shenanigans. I think Steele is raising Chia Pets or Pokemon or chinchillas or something in his basement and assuming they'll be ready by 2011. They'd get more votes than Mark Sanford would, I'm thinking.

If It's Thursday...

...I must be slacking. Good news and bad news on the unemployment front: First-time claims dropped to under 600k for the first time since January, to 552,000. Bad news, continuing claims hit a new record anyway, jumping up 159,000 to 6.88 million.

Fewer people are being fired. Fewer people however are finding work once unemployed. Still very bad.

Reading Comprehension For The Win

Ahh, Wingnuts. They do love the Village when they play their little games, and go right into screaming Pavlovian hysterics on cue. Today's stimulus in our little stimulus-response experiment is in fact, the stimulus package and where the money is going. First, USA Today plays the gotcha game:
Counties that supported Obama last year have reaped twice as much money per person from the administration's $787 billion economic stimulus package as those that voted for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, a USA TODAY analysis of government disclosure and accounting records shows. That money includes aid to repair military bases, improve public housing and help students pay for college.

The reports show the 872 counties that supported Obama received about $69 per person, on average. The 2,234 that supported McCain received about $34.
And since that's all the evidence that the Wingers need to convict and impeach President Uppity Hussein Black Man as the worst human being in existence, (we're talking Hitler riding in a Death Star powered by the blood of babies) they stop right there.

What they don't do is continue down to the end of the article.
The imbalance didn't start with the stimulus. From 2005 through 2007, the counties that later voted for Obama collected about 50% more government aid than those that supported McCain, according to spending reports from the U.S. Census Bureau. USA TODAY's review did not include Alaska, which does not report its election results by county.
Gosh, now who was in charge of the government in 2005? Hint: It wasn't Barack Obama or the Democrats. The other crucial piece of information is that the reason these traditionally Democratic counties get more money is because they are heavily populated urban counties. There are more people in these counties. Think Dade County in Florida (Miami, 2.5 million plus) or Cook County in Illinois (Chicago, 5 million plus) or the County of Los Angeles (population 10 million). Doesn't it make sense that those counties, with large urban minority populations, would tend to vote Democratic? Doesn't it make sense that some of these counties would have a million people in them and would need more federal money in general than say Flathead County, Montana (population, maybe 90k)?

Good lord, Wingnuts are just silly, silly people. But they couldn't be this silly in the first place without the Village implying that Obama went back in time to manipulate the Bush administration and the Republicans into giving the counties that voted for Obama more money. Doesn't stop them for teaming up to bash on the President in a needlessly stupid manner, however. All it does is point out in sharp relief the few remaining real journalistic outlets we still have in this country.

Kvetching Like A Pro

Apparently Israel's PM is not too happy with President Obama's staff, at least if Haaretz is to be believed. Of course if it is true, Netanyahu's administration is a complete disaster.
An atmosphere of permanent crisis has surrounded Netanyahu's bureau ever since he took office, so it was no surprise that the press conference also had an air of panic. The five advisers - National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser, director general of the Prime Minister's Office Eyal Gabai, political adviser Ron Dermer and Nir Hefetz, who heads the public relations desk - arrived at the meeting without a prearranged, uniform message. Over and over, they cut each other off.

Hauser tried to convince the press that Netanyahu's zigzagging on the issue of value-added tax was a deliberate ploy coordinated with the other coalition parties. Arad once again lambasted U.S. President Barack Obama's refusal to honor understandings reached with his predecessor, George W. Bush, on the issue of the settlements, but argued that coordination with Washington on Iran had actually improved. Dermer emphasized Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University, which he said won international plaudits. And Hefetz denied that there was any panic in Netanyahu's bureau, attributing the friction there to "work-related pressure."

But despite the unified front they tried to present, it is clear that all of Netanyahu's aides dislike each other: They are constantly badmouthing each other and blaming each other for leaks. Arad, for example, demanded that Hauser undergo a lie-detector test and is now demanding the same of Hefetz. And the latter two say "it is impossible to work with" Arad.

Compounding the problem is an inexperienced bureau chief, Natan Eshel, and a former spokesman, Yossi Levy, who is still clinging to his office and refusing to give it up to his replacement, Hefetz - who, for his part, is kept out of half the discussions.

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama's senior aides: as "self-hating Jews."
Yeah, this is not a problem or anything. I'm not Jewish, but even I can see Bibi is playing the same tired old "If you're not with us, you're against us" Bush card circa 2002. If he really thinks it's the duty of Rahmbo and Axe to do the PM of Israel's bidding and not to advise and conduct the policy of the President of the United States of America, then U.S.-Israel relations are in serious trouble.

Netanyahu needs to get control of this situation right now, staring with a denial and some major-head knocking on his staff. Then again Robert Farley over at LG&M thinks Bibi might just be nucking futs.

Mark-ed For Trouble

Gov. Mark Sanford survived a censure motion from his own party earlier this week, and declared the push for his resignation over and that he had ridden out the storm.
Though Monday’s vote does not have any binding effect on the governor, it serves as a sign that even many of Sanford’s enemies among the state party establishment may no longer have the will to continue calling for his resignation, barring any unforeseen or additional disclosures about the governor’s personal life.

For Sanford, it was an improbable outcome after events last week left him with a tenuous grip on the governorship. In a tell-all interview with The Associated Press last Tuesday, he referred to his Argentine mistress as his “soul mate” and confessed having “crossed lines” with a handful of other women, admissions that proved so damaging that more than half the Republican state Senate caucus called for him to step down in the aftermath.

But the party vote Monday night and a series of other factors have provided him with some breathing room, if not ensured his outright political survival, according to top South Carolina Republicans.

Only one problem: the people of South Carolina think he needs to go.
Jeff Neipp of Greenwood campaigned for Mark Sanford during both of the Republican’s races for governor.

Now, Neipp wants Sanford — caught in a scandal after disappearing from the country to secretly visit his lover — to resign.

“He left our state without any chain of command,” Neipp said. “That is totally unacceptable. I would like to see him resign with some dignity left. But if that’s not possible, he needs to be impeached.”

Other politicians’ agendas, the 2010 election and a state Constitution that makes impeachment difficult all mean Sanford is likely to stay on. But many S.C. residents believe that the governor no longer is fit to lead.

Two recent polls reflect the public unhappiness with Sanford:

In a recent SurveyUSA poll, 60 percent of S.C. residents surveyed thought Sanford should resign.

A Rasmussen Reports poll found most S.C. voters think Sanford’s ethics are the norm for politicians. Still, 46 percent said he should resign. (Thirty-nine percent said he should stay on the job; the rest were undecided.)

First of all, impeachment? That can't be pretty. And if there's growing pressure from the citizens that Sanford should resign, he may not have too much of a choice without completely wrecking the GOP in the Palmetto State.

I don't think this one's done yet. Not by a long shot.

Sister Sarah Saga: The Reason, Redux

I know, I know, I said I was done with her, but reading Steve Benen, there's ample evidence that the reason Sarah Palin gave for quitting, that is the state of Alaska being overwhelmed by ethics investigations costing the state valuable money, isn't even a valid reason.
Some of this may sound vaguely plausible. A constant stream of ethics charges may very well prove to be distracting and cumbersome. It's not a compelling reason to quit and walk away from one's responsibilities to a state, but it's not inconceivable.

But there's new evidence to suggest the argument is just factually wrong. Greg Sargent reported that the governor's own office conceded yesterday that money used to respond to the ethics charges are part of fixed costs that would have gone to the same lawyers, whether the charges were filed or not. The funds wouldn't have to go schools, police, or transportation, as Palin claimed. The $1.9 million "was arrived at by adding up attorney hours spent on fending off complaints -- based on the fixed salaries of lawyers in the governor's office and the Department of Law. The money would have gone to the lawyers no matter what they were doing."

What's more, Palin is currently only facing three pending complaints -- hardly the kind of burden that should take up "most" of a governor's staff's time.

And there's something else that's been bugging me about the official explanation. For years, the Alaska Republican establishment was deeply involved in widespread corruption. According to Palin's version of events, when she took office, she championed a major overhaul of the state's ethics laws. To hear Palin tell it, her opponents are now using her own achievement against her -- exploiting the law to waste taxpayer money, bankrupt the state's governor, and paralyze state government.

Doesn't that suggest there's something wrong with the new ethics laws? If the measures were written in such a way as to make it easy and cost-free for anyone to cripple the state's political process, then don't the reform laws need reforming? Indeed, even putting Palin aside, won't all future Alaskan governors have to deal with the same problem?

And those are excellent questions. None of this makes sense. It's looking more and more to me like Palin just wanted out of the job, and is simply blaming her political enemies for her own problems with the ethics rules she demanded be passed and signed into law.

She's still a quitter, now it's looking like she's a liar, too.

The CIA's Augean Stables

Hercules had to direct a couple of rivers through the Augean Stables to clean them out in one day as one of his famed Twelve Labors. Leon Panetta is sure wishing he could do the same about right now, as his own impossible task of cleaning up the Bush-era CIA has already revealed a healthy mountain of bovine fecal material.
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, has told the House Intelligence Committee in closed-door testimony that the C.I.A. concealed “significant actions” from Congress from 2001 until late last month, seven Democratic committee members said.

In a June 26 letter to Mr. Panetta discussing his testimony, Democrats said that the agency had “misled members” of Congress for eight years about the classified matters, which the letter did not disclose. “This is similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from other recent periods,” said the letter, made public late Wednesday by Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, one of the signers.

In an interview, Mr. Holt declined to reveal the nature of the C.I.A.’s alleged deceptions,. But he said, “We wouldn’t be doing this over a trivial matter.”

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas, referred to Mr. Panetta’s disclosure in a letter to the committee’s ranking Republican, Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, Congressional Quarterly reported on Wednesday. Mr. Reyes wrote that the committee “has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one occasion) was affirmatively lied to.”
Well now, this is a problem in and of itself. The GOP was quick to attack Nancy Pelosi and even call for her resignation when she brought up that the CIA wasn't telling the truth.

Now we have testimony from the Director of the CIA saying "Yes, the CIA deliberately mislead Congress for basically the entire Bush era." We need to know exactly what was going on here. We need to know what these lies were, who told them, and why. I can surmise the why part: Bush's war on American civil liberties.

But here's the real kicker: it looks like the President is pulling another Odubya moment and trying to cover the CIA from additional oversight.
In a related development, President Obama threatened to veto the pending Intelligence Authorization Bill if it included a provision that would allow information about covert actions to be given to the entire House and Senate Intelligence Committees, rather than the so-called Gang of Eight — the Democratic and Republican leaders of both houses of Congress and the two Intelligence Committees.

A White House statement released on Wednesday said the proposed expansion of briefings would undermine “a long tradition spanning decades of comity between the branches regarding intelligence matters.” Democrats have complained that under President George W. Bush, entire programs were hidden from most committee members for years.
As BooMan says, what comity?

Let me put this diplomatically. It is not the proposed expansion of briefings that undermines a tradition of comity between Congress and administrations on intelligence matters. That comity was undermined when the CIA lied, misled, and withheld information from the leaders of Congress and the Intelligence Committees. That's where the trust broke down. But, even if the administration and the CIA had been forthcoming and honest, it still would have been a problem that the chair and ranking member of the Intelligence Committees were prohibited from discussing matters with their whole committee.

The object of oversight is to keep covert activities within a legal framework and to protect people's constitutional rights. During the Bush era, neither of those objectives were met. It should be obvious that reforms are required. If the Obama administration has a problem with the proposed reforms they should get engaged constructively with the Intelligence Committees. But I don't want to see simple veto threats and fatuous statements about comity. If I may use a play on words, don't insult our intelligence.

Stop screwing things up and do what's right.

So, you're telling me the CIA getting butthurt is more important than the truth here? It seems the CIA may not be the only building that needs a river redirected through it to clean out all the bullshit.

Epic Iron-y Mining Fail

From Think Progress:
On June 25, the Arizona Senate’s Retirement and Rural Development Committee discussed the prospects for uranium mining in the state. During the hearing, State Senator Sylvia Allen (R), the vice chairman of the committee, argued in favor of mining by saying that the earth “has been here 6,000 years, long before anybody had environmental laws, and somehow it hasn’t been done away with.” “We need to get the uranium here in Arizona, so this state can get the money from it,” argued Allen.

Oh good lord. And these know-nothing ignorant Republican dipsticks are making major policy decisions for millions of Americans on a daily basis? Shouldn't the people making decisions at this level -- particularly scientific, economic, and environmental decisions -- be slightly more informed, educated, and logical? And yet we have here someone who is and elected state official making policy decisions at at state level, armed with bad facts and pure ignorance. Six thousand years old, really? God/Goddess/Yahweh/Allah/Buddha/Flying Spaghetti Monster is smarter than that.

Ahh, but it gets worse:
Phil Plait of BadAstronomy notes that the irony of Allen’s claim “is that she’s talking about uranium mining, and it’s through the radioactive decay of uranium that we know the Earth is billions of years old.”
Because science is a myth, it's just invisible creator deity of your choice cruelly testing us, cleverly planting decayed uranium (the bastard!)


Global No Confidence Vote: Revenge Of Subprime

The Thing That Will Not Die has returned from beyond to haunt the housing markets once again. Yes folks, subprime mortgages are back, and all those homes foreclosed upon last year are still clogging up the balance sheets of big banks.

Now we're seeing the Revenge of Subprime: all those homes are being sold back into the market in bulk so that the banks can get whatever money they can for them instead of holding on through falling home prices. Yves Smith at NakedCap runs down the details:
Now we have a new side effect of securitization: trusts dumping foreclosed houses. This looks to be a tragedy of the commons. While it seems rational for owners of foreclosed houses to liquidate inventory and move on (in theory, price discovery and market clearing are a good thing), the servicers are selling in bulk. If you have a lot of sellers dumping inventory at the same time, that is likely to produce an overshoot of housing price declines below historical levels in terms of relationship to rental prices and incomes.

The Wall Street Journal profiles the development in Atlanta, and Georgia has one of the fastest foreclosure timetables in the country, so this trend will be coming to your market soon.

From the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. housing market is facing new downward pressure as holders of subprime-mortgage bonds flood the market with foreclosed homes at prices that are much lower than where many banks are willing to sell.

While nationwide figures are scarce, a review of thousands of foreclosures in the Atlanta area shows that trusts managing pools of securitized mortgages sold six times as many properties as banks during the six months ended March 31. And homes dumped by subprime bondholders sold for thousands of dollars less on average than bank-owned properties, the data show.
Yves here. That does not prove conclusively that the servicers are truly getting worse prices. The banks presumably were able to offload the best homes, and what is left will probably sell at deeper discounts. Back to the story:
Experts say this is a bad omen for residential real-estate prices and homeowners trying to sell or refinance, because the fire sales, many to cover soured subprime loans, put downward pressure on the value of nearby homes. All of this undermines federal efforts to stabilize the housing market and revive the broader economy....

In the Atlanta area, hit hard by foreclosures and declining home values in the past two years, mortgage-backed securitization entities completed 6,260 foreclosures in last year's fourth quarter and the first quarter of 200...

Of those foreclosures, securitization entities sold 2,963 homes during the same period for an average of 62% of the original loan amount. Banks unloaded just 442 of the homes they foreclosed upon, with an average selling price of 69% of the original loan amount.

There still is much more inventory that mortgage-servicing firms are racing to sell for securitization trusts. Such entities tend to sell in bulk so that they can cut losses, finding it more cost-efficient to move homes through foreclosure and subsequent sale than to try to restructure the mortgage with the borrower...

According to Karen Weaver, global head of securitization research at Deutsche Bank AG, the steepest losses are on subprime loans, where lenders generally are recovering just 26% of the original loan amount....
Yves here. Read that last sentence again. Stunning. But that also says you could do ridiculously deep principal reductions and still come out ahead.
26% of the original loan amount? Good lord, that's insane!

In other words, mortgage loan servicers are stuck with piles of homes they haven't been able to sell individually. It's gotten to the point where they are now selling all these subprime properties at fire sale rates...and in mass quantities. That is putting tremendous downward pressure on the low end of the housing market once again.

In other words, we're looking at yet another wave of price-crashing in the housing market. There was evidence in Q2 that there was some price stabilization at the low end of the housing market (while prices were still tumbling in high end homes). That evidence however is getting swamped as we speak by mortgage servicers unloading thousands of low-end homes into the markets.

In other words, housing prices may even accelerate their overall fall into Q3 and Q4 if this trend keeps up. Couple that with resetting rates of ARMs in the second half of the year and it's possible in some areas to see housing prices fall as fast or even faster as they did back in 2008. That would be an unmitigated disaster right now, and would seem to indicate that we're increasingly at risk for a double-dip recession.

After all, banks like Morgan Stanley are trying to go right back to selling near-junk bonds as AAA offerings, starting up the Great Game Of Three Card Monte once again. Q3 2009 is beginning to look more and more like Q3 2008, folks.

Be prepared.


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