Monday, July 13, 2009

Last Call

With Wall Street all irrationally exuberant about bank profit reports again, Double G reminds us that it pays to go back and recall just what led up to Goldman Sachs being able to report any sort of profit whatsoever in 2009. Glenn has an excellent timeline up, but here's what grabbed me:
It's worth recalling this bit of central truth, blurted out in April by the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Dick Durbin:

And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

That was nice and blunt. That same week, it was announced that the newly-hired top lobbyist for Goldman Sachs, Michael Paese, was -- immediately prior to his hiring -- the top staffer to Rep. Barney Frank on the House Financial Services Committee chaired by Frank. If one's goal were to make all of this as blatant as possible, what else could one do besides what's being done?

The Republicans may have decimated the economy, but the Democrats have no intention of giving us anything other than smoke and mirrors. They're the ones in charge right now, not the GOP. While we're struggling for scraps, remember who's eating at the head table.

In fact, forget who's at the head table...remember who owns the food, the table, the dining hall, the castle, the county, and the kingdom. And it ain't us serfs.

That's Actually A Hell Of A Point

From AmericaBlog:
Correct me if I am wrong: the vast majority of the spending measures in the stimulus have yet to occur, whereas the tax cut effects were immediate. Right? So when the Republicans are saying the stimulus has failed aren't they really saying the tax cuts have failed?
Well know what, that makes sense to me. The only real immediate benefit from the stimulus fell into the tax cuts category.
The stimulus plan’s costliest item is a $400 payroll tax cut for individuals and $800 for couples. Retirees, disabled veterans and others who don’t pay payroll taxes will get a $250 payment. The bill also includes an alternative minimum tax cut.
How novel. Republicans in fact insisted on these tax cuts for businesses too.
Businesses won several tax breaks, including faster write- offs for equipment purchased in 2009 and incentives for companies that produce and invest in renewable resources such as solar and wind power. A business tax break pushed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will ease near-term tax burdens on companies and buyout firms that restructure debt without entering bankruptcy.
These tax breaks took effect immediately starting in March. By and large, they are the only part of the stimulus that did go into effect immediately.

Now the Republicans are saying that these tax breaks failed to fix the economy.

No wonder nobody is listening to them. They just proved tax breaks aren't stimulus, and all they want is more non-economy stimulating tax breaks!

Absolutely the Dems need to fight back on this...and hard. You've got your ammo, guys. Let's get to work.

Zandar's Thought Of the Day

Republicans still haven't figured out that when you put stuff on the internets, people other than Republicans can see it.

[UPDATE 8:25 PM] Via Balloon Juice, nice to see the Dems fighting back.

I'll See Your Delay And Raise You An Extended Session

Saturday, we saw the possibility of Eric Holder investigating Torturegate, but the Village then warned the White House that such an investigation might cost Obama his domestic agenda, specifically health care.

Sunday, the Village upped the stakes considerably by reporting that the Senate would not get Obama's health care bill done before the August recess.

Today, the White House is fighting back, saying the President may ask Congress to delay its recess until Obamacare is finished. The guys at Talking Points Memo have been on the ball and have chased down tons of illuminating info:
At today's White House press briefing, Robert Gibbs told reporters that President Obama would consider asking either or both houses of Congress to delay their recesses if they haven't held a vote on health care reform legislation before their scheduled adjournment dates.

In theory, the President could call Congress into special session, but it's hard to imagine that it'll come to that. This may be the first acknowledgment from the White House that things are further behind schedule than Obama would like. And with Obama set to meet with Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)--chairman of the Senate Finance Committee--and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY)--chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee--this afternoon, it may be a sign that the administration is stepping up its involvement in the process as the deadline approaches.

Things are moving fast now. Brian Beutler has a rundown of the who, what and where on Obamacare:
First, and foremost are the deadlines. Democratic leaders--and President Obama--want both the House and the Senate to pass their separate bills before they break for August recess. The House breaks on August 3rd and the Senate on August 10. For the first time today, the White House said it might ask Congress to push those dates back a bit if the deadline isn't met.

But assuming for the moment that Obama doesn't hold Congress' feet to the fire, that leaves precious little time for both chambers to complete a great deal of work--or to become overwhelmed and leave town for a month with a big embarrassment, and major complications, hanging over their heads. If that happens--and many think it will--then meeting the other deadline may be impossible. Obama wants to sign a bill in October, and between nominations and appropriations bills and early work on major energy legislation, it's hard to imagine the Senate squeezing what will likely be a two week floor debate on health care reform into the month of September. Tack on to that the fact that vulnerable members become less and less willing to vote for controversial legislation as election season kicks into high gear, and you can see why party leaders and reformers are getting worried.

That means that the key committees--particularly those committees' Democrats--are working over time to resolve remaining differences and move legislation closer to a vote. And if they're going to get it done, they'll have to make huge strides this week.

Chief among those strides: The Senate Finance Committee--riven by intra- and inter-party differences--will have to belatedly settle upon final language and release a draft bill. That committee was supposed to complete work on its bill last month, but has been struggling for weeks to reach consensus on the questions of the public option and financing. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became involved in the process and urged committee chairman Max Baucus not to let Republicans further delay progress. He told Baucus that GOP demands vis-a-vis those two issues would make the bill toxic to a number of Democrats, and that, if need be, he should eschew bipartisanship and quickly release a bill--complete with a public option--fully paid for, but without imposing a tax on employer-provided health care benefits.

A week later, that still hasn't happened. But it could at any time, and if the August deadline is to be met, it better happen sooner, rather than later.

And Robert Reich says Obama's on the clock.
Universal health insurance won't happen unless Obama can light a fire under the Senate Finance Committee this week. Within the next two weeks, the Committee must report out a bill that contains a public option and a credible source of money (either limiting deductions of the wealthy to 28 percent or capping tax-free employer-provided health care, or some of both). Obama then has to get both the Senate and the House (which reports out a bill today) to approve their respective bills before August 7, when Congress heads home for recess.

Why is timing so important? Because the health-care clock is ticking, and doesn't have many weeks left. Universal health care is so complicated -- touching on so much of the economy, stepping on the toes of so many vested interests -- that to allow the bills to languish past recess risks the entire goal. Speed is essential. Recall that after Bill Clinton was elected, universal health insurance looked inevitable; a year later, it was doomed. As Lyndon Johnson warned his staff after the 1964 landslide, "every day while I'm in office, I'm gonna lose votes."
That House health care bill has been delayed until tomorrow, too. It's not looking good.

We'll know by the end of the month if there will be any health care reform at all.

Famine And Feast

Financial analyst Meredith Whitney says she sees the unemployment picture getting brutal and problems lasting for years, with the U-3 topping 13 percent. Even my worst numbers are in the 11-11.5% range in late 2010. In all seriousness, 13% would mean a U-6 number upwards of 20%, and locally we'd see individual counties with an effective unemployment range in the 40, maybe 50% range. That seems very bad, we're talking about another six million jobs going poof if she's right and almost certainly a double dip recession.

Naturally, Wall Street ignored the 13% figure and decided to concentrate on the rumors swirling around Goldman Sachs that the bank's about to announce a $2 billion quarterly profit.
Analysts predict the bank earned a profit of more than $2 billion in the March-June period, because of its trading prowess across world markets. If they are right, the bank’s rivals will once again be left to wonder exactly how Goldman, long the envy of Wall Street, could have rebounded so drastically only months after the nation’s financial industry was shaken to its foundations.

The obsessive speculation has already begun, along with banter about how Goldman’s rapid return to minting money will be perceived by lawmakers and taxpayers who aided Goldman with a multibillion-dollar cushion last fall.

They exist, and others don’t, and taxpayers made it possible,” said one industry consultant, who, like many people interviewed for this article, declined to be named for fear of jeopardizing business relationships.

Startling, too, is how much of its revenue Goldman is expected to share with its employees. Analysts estimate that the bank will set aside enough money to pay a total of $18 billion in compensation and benefits this year to its 28,000 employees, or more than $600,000 an employee. Top producers stand to earn millions.
It was nice of us to help get rid of Goldman's competition. Dow's up 150 at 3:30 PM. What a great economy we have!

Obama Picks A Surgeon General

And he's picking a fight, too. Via Pandagon, the nominee is the eminently qualified Dr. Regina Benjamin.
President Barack Obama turned to the Deep South for the next surgeon general, choosing a rural Alabama family physician who made headlines with fierce determination to rebuild her nonprofit medical clinic in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Regina Benjamin is known along Alabama's impoverished Gulf Coast as a country doctor who makes house calls and doesn't turn away patients who can't pay -- even as she's had to find the money to rebuild a clinic repeatedly destroyed by hurricanes and once even fire.

''For all the tremendous obstacles that she has overcome, Regina Benjamin also represents what's best about health care in America, doctors and nurses who give and care and sacrifice for the sake of their patients,'' Obama said Monday in introducing his choice for a job known as America's doctor.

He said Benjamin will bring insight as his administration struggles to revamp the health care system:

Saying she ''has seen in a very personal way what is broken about our health care system,'' Obama said Benjamin will bring important insight as his administration tries to revamp that system.
Not only is Dr. Benjamin's story incredible, but she is also massively qualified as a top-notch physician.
Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA, is Founder and CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. She is the Immediate Past-Chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States, and previously served as Associate Dean for Rural Health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. In 2002, she became President of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, making her the first African American woman to be president of a State Medical Society in the United States. Dr. Benjamin holds a BS in Chemistry from Xavier University, New Orleans. She was in the 2nd class at Morehouse School of Medicine and received her MD degree from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, as well as an MBA from Tulane University. She completed her residency in family medicine at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. Dr. Benjamin received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 1998, and was elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees in 1995, making her the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected. Dr. Benjamin was previously named by Time Magazine as one of the “Nation’s 50 Future Leaders Age 40 and Under.” She was also featured in a New York Times article, “Angel in a White Coat”, as “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and as “Woman of the Year” by CBS This Morning. She received the 2000 National Caring Award which was inspired by Mother Teresa, as well as the papal honor Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope Benedict XVI. She is also a recent recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.
Go ahead, GOP. Repeat the same mistakes you're making with Sonia Sotomayor today at Dr. Benjamin's hearing. You know she's going to be brutally attacked on the issues of abortion and sex ed, so line up the sound bites and the microphones, and see if you can manage to insult another huge chunk of America.


Liz Cheney, Russia Expert

Can we just get Liz Cheney a blog slot over at Townhall or Pajamas or Hot Air and be done with it, instead of having to inflict her on the WSJ?
The truth, of course, is that the Soviets ran a brutal, authoritarian regime. The KGB killed their opponents or dragged them off to the Gulag. There was no free press, no freedom of speech, no freedom of worship, no freedom of any kind. The basis of the Cold War was not "competition in astrophysics and athletics." It was a global battle between tyranny and freedom. The Soviet "sphere of influence" was delineated by walls and barbed wire and tanks and secret police to prevent people from escaping. America was an unmatched force for good in the world during the Cold War. The Soviets were not. The Cold War ended not because the Soviets decided it should but because they were no match for the forces of freedom and the commitment of free nations to defend liberty and defeat Communism.
And we totally owned them with our giant robots and laser cannons and we blew up their evil Technodrome base and we sent in our helicopters and ninjas and dinosaurs and ninjas on dinosaurs and WOLVEREEEEEEEEEEENS!

Honestly, when one is accusing the President of rewriting history by giving us an overly simplistic view of the workings of the cold war, and describing the Soviet Union as a place where there was "no freedom of any kind" not only does it make you look like a partisan hack, it makes you look like a stupid partisan hack.

When the person accusing the President of rewriting history is the clearly partisan daughter of the last Vice President, it just compounds the stupidity (if not fractalizing it.)

[UPDATE 2:57 PM] And now the epidemic of Liz Cheney All Over The TV makes sense.
The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that running for political office is on her horizon.

"It's something I very well may do," said Elizabeth "Liz" Cheney, a lawyer and State Department appointee who has worked on two Republican presidential campaigns.

Oh let her be Saracuda's VP choice in 2012. It gets me all tingly just thinking about it. Of course, the tingly part may be because by 2012 the Palinites will be openly torturing political bloggers with car batteries and cattle prods.

Yeah, I've complained about her enough and she's thinking about running for office? You get a tag Lizzy, just like dad.

The Sessions Sessions

Not only are the Republicans walking right into the jet engine on Sotomayor, they're doing it en masse. If today's opening statements are anything to go by, they're lining up to execute themselves.
Sessions, a former prosecutor and attorney general in his home state, challenged the attribute of empathy cited by President Obama in nominating Sotomayor.

"Call it empathy, call it prejudice, call it sympathy -- whatever it is, it is not law," Sessions said.

In particular, Sessions quoted Sotomayor from past speeches in which she said a wise Latina woman should be able to reach a better ruling than a white man, saying it showed an inherent bias.

"I want to be clear: I will not vote for and no senator should vote for an individual nominated by any president who is not fully committed to fairness and impartiality toward every person who appears before them," Sessions said.
So, Jeff is indeed going down the racist asshole route basically accusing the first Latina Supreme Court nominee of being prejudiced against white men. Jeff's buddies on Team Rocket there are follwing his lead.
Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl said that while Sotomayor's "background creates a prima facie case for confirmation," many of her past statements regarding the role of race and gender in judicial decision-making have raised serious questions about her suitability for the high court.

Every person should have emphathy, Kyl also argued, but it is problematic when empathy becomes the key ingredient in reaching decisions.

Kyl also cited a comment once made by Sotomayor that U.S. courts need to take international law into account in certain instances or risk losing influence in the world.

"That's not a judge's concern," Kyl said.
So when Sessions isn't going for the racism, Kyl is accusing her of being an overly emotional woman unable to be impartial. Oh lord, I warned of this train wreck coming for months now, and they're doing it anyway.

Ugly stuff here. There's no way they come out of this looking like anything other than a bunch of hateful old white men.

Love And Hate

The love is from Tim F. over at Balloon Juice, much appreciated. I still believe the Village is very, very unhappy with Obamacare and wants to kill it cold, and as I said yesterday, within 24 hours of the Newsweek piece on Saturday we saw how all of a sudden the Senate no longer expected to have Obamacare on time before the August recess, how they suddenly became busy from, say, Friday. That is not a coincedence.

The hate? Still the Village, specifically a double-barreled blast on Obamacare from Bill Kristol and Robert J. Samuelson. First, Kristol:
Obama’s economic program -- the stimulus package, health care, cap-and-trade -- offers a huge opportunity to Republicans: Oppose root-and-branch this attempt to impose on us more spending, more debt and higher taxes, accompanied by an ever heavier hand of government. Oppose these schemes that are informed by the unwarranted arrogance of the central planners and the barely hidden condescension of the best and the brightest.

Republicans can propose instead incentives for economic growth and job-creation consistent with free markets and limited government, accompanied by reasonable regulations that will avoid a repeat of the financial meltdown. With Obama going down the road to the nanny state, Republicans have a chance to articulate by contrast a sensible and compelling pro-growth agenda consistent with the history of American democratic capitalism and the principles of a free society.

The party of no rolls on into Samuelson's piece:

Obama would make matters worse. He talks about controlling "entitlement" spending (mainly Social Security and Medicare) but hasn't done so. He's proposing just the opposite. His health-care proposal would increase federal spending. He says he will "pay for" the added outlays with tax increases or other spending cuts, but what people forget is that every penny of this "payment" could be used (and should be) to close the long-term deficit -- not raise future spending and taxes.

The latest excuse for avoidance is the economic crisis. True, deep spending cuts or big tax increases would be undesirable now; they would further depress an already depressed economy. But that doesn't preclude action. Changes could be legislated now that would begin later and be phased in -- a gradual increase in eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare; gradual increases in energy taxes; gradual elimination of some programs. Such steps might improve confidence by reducing uncertainty about huge budget deficits.

Yes, because the only problem in a Republican world is budget deficits, the same idotic TAXEN CUTTEN UBER ALLES garbage from a group of people that have ignored deficit spending since Reagan (and of course, Samuelson says we can't possibly risk defense cuts in this risky world).

The GOP is running the 1993 playbook, smugly determined to see a Contract With America redux in 2010 that puts the GOP in charge. They still have yet to figure out that things are different, that Americans want a public option and want affordable health care. They want it now. Many of them recall 1993, and what that led to: 6 years of a neutered Clinton and then 8 years of Republican rule that resulted in an economic catastrophe that we're still being crushed by.

The GOP is still convinced we'll put them back in power because the Democrats haven't fixed the problem in six months.

If you believe that, then you deserve what's coming.

Audiencias De ConfirmaciĆ³n De La Muerte

The Confirmation Hearings Of Death...not for Sonia Sotomayor, but for the GOP. If they attack her, they lose the Latino vote, if they don't attack her they lose the immigration-hating base. Taking a look at the members you can guess to see who will do the most damage to the GOP:

Jeff Sessions -- The GOP's ranking member I don't see swinging the axe here. He faced this committee in 1986 as a federal judge appointee, and got reamed for his statements on the NAACP. They sent him home in a box and needless to say, he didn't get the federal bench appointment. If Sessions comes across as a racist asshole here, he's going to be the poster boy for "The GOP have been racist assholes for decades" argument, and that's going to murder them in the voting booth. I fully expect him to play nice (if I were him), which means Jeff Sessions being Jeff Sessions, he'll go full-bore racist asshole.

Orrin Hatch -- The old man from Utah is going to have to be the voice of reason here for the GOP. He's been through approximately 83 million of these hearings over the last few centuries and will have to come across as the elder statesman somehow. Sessions may be the ranking member, but Hatch is in charge.

Lindsey Graham -- The Barney Fife to John McCain's Andy Griffith, Lindsey will be the Good Cop to Sessions's Bad Cop. That's pretty much his job, sidekick.

Tom Coburn, Chuck Grassley, Jon Kyl and John Cornyn -- They'll follow Hatch's lead, especially if Sessions self-immolates.

There are Democrats to watch too:

Al Franken -- Al's first major duties as Senator Franken. not like the guy's going to freeze up on TV, but I think America is going to be damn impressed with Policy Wonk Al.

Chuck Schumer -- Chuck loves him some TV, he does. Watch him grandstand, showboat, and generally be all over the mike.

Sheldon Whitehouse -- The guy in the room with the major hotshot legal experience. Could be a chance for him to shine and help Sonia dig her way through the bullshit sure to emanate from the GOP.

Pat Leahy -- The Chairman and referee. Watch to see how hard he smacks down Jeff Sessions.

Russ Feingold -- Always amusing (and illuminating) to watch Russ go. Will he ask about the McCain-Feingold campaign legislation up before the court in September?

Keep an eye out today.

Not So Confusing

Over at Atrios's place, Echidne ponders the Republican health care tax Sunday Show shuffle:
Over My Dead Body.

That's what several Republican politicians appear to be saying about the proposal to fund some of the health care reform by an extra tax on those families which earn more than $350,000 per year. Senator John Kyl, the Republican Whip:
"We're in a recession," he told CNN. "It would be a job killer. It would be exactly the wrong thing to do any time, but especially when we're in the middle of a recession.
Mmm. Yet Senator Lamar Alexander is all for tax increases as long as they only affect employees' health benefits:
"I'm willing to stop giving tax deductions to people for Cadillac health insurance plans in order to give everybody a chance to buy their own health care insurance and not add a penny to the debt. I think that would be a good way," Alexander said.
As I said last night, this is not confusing at all if you remember that the first tax proposal would be funding the public option (which the Republicans are doing everything to destroy) while the second one would be strictly used to maximize profits of the existing health care system by pushing Americans into being underinsured in order to avoid paying taxes (which the Republicans really, really think is a great idea.)

Example time. If you pay $6,000 a year in health care and never go to the hospital, you're the guy the insurance companies want. Let's say Lamar Alexander's plan there limits health care deductions for individuals there to only the first $5,000. You get a cheaper free market plan to avoid paying taxes, say, $5,000 a year in benefits instead but the coverage you get is really half as much when you read the fine print, the insurance companies are going to be fighting for you.

Should you need to go to the hospital, that cheaper plan is going to probably bankrupt you. Should you not need it, you're still pretty much pure profit to the insurance company. They can say "Well now, you should have read the fine print. We expect our customers to make informed choices under this plan, and you chose a plan that didn't meet your needs." Not their fault, but your fault (or the fault of the people who passed that damn "health care reform", which would be the Dems.)

So yes, the Republicans are very much trying to sandbag health care reform while getting as much money as they can for their clients: health insurance giants. Some Democrats are right there with them.

Report: Kim Jong-Il Has Pancreatic Cancer

Several news outlets are reporting this morning that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago, according to both South Korean and Chinese sources.
Kim's health is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the reclusive communist state. Kim, 67, was widely thought to have suffered a stroke last year, but there has never been official confirmation.

Kim looked gaunt during a public appearance last Wednesday at a memorial for his father and state founder Kim Il-Sung.

Kim's health raises questions about succession in Asia's only communist dynasty and who will control its nuclear weapons programs.

The question of course is after nearly a year, why is the report leaking now, weeks after a series of nuclear weapon and missile tests in June and early July?

This raises a lot of uncomfortable questions at this point, largest of which is who will be in charge after Kim passes. Pancreatic cancer is usually pretty fatal as it tends not to be detected and diagnosed until it gets bad enough to be fatal, and that was a year ago. The peaceful transfer of power is not something nuclear communist nations are known for.

We'll see.


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