Saturday, July 18, 2009

Last Call

Yeah, we live in a country where lobbyists pay homeless people to stand in lines to get the lobbyists spots for Congressional hearings so they can directly influence members of Congress more to pass laws to make the big businesses the lobbyists represent earn more profits so they can continue getting richer at the expense of turning more Americans into homeless people who can then stand in more lines for the lobbyists.

I can hear Lewis Black, Denis Leary and George Carlin all screaming from here.

The Village Declares War On Obama

Sunday's WaPo finds Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie opening up with both barrels on the President, as having been given an apparently overly generous six months to solve all the problems Bush left behind, a President with a 57% approval rating is-- according to the Village, anyway -- the new Jimmy Carter.
Barely six months into his presidency, Barack Obama seems to be driving south into that political speed trap known as Carter Country: a sad-sack landscape in which every major initiative meets not just with failure but with scorn from political allies and foes alike. According to a July 13 CBS News poll, the once-unassailable president's approval rating now stands at 57 percent, down 11 points from April. Half of Americans think the recession will last an additional two years or more, 52 percent think Obama is trying to "accomplish too much," and 57 percent think the country is on the "wrong track."

From a lousy cap-and-trade bill awaiting death in the Senate to a health-care reform agenda already weak in the knees to the failure of the stimulus to deliver promised jobs and economic activity, what once looked like a hope-tastic juggernaut is showing all the horsepower of a Chevy Cobalt. "Give it to me!" the president egged on a Michigan audience last week, pledging to "solve problems" and not "gripe" about the economic hand he was dealt.

Despite such bravura, Obama must be furtively reviewing the history of recent Democratic administrations for some kind of road map out of his post-100-days ditch.

So far, he seems to be skipping the chapter on Bill Clinton and his generally free-market economic policies and instead flipping back to the themes and comportment of Jimmy Carter. Like the 39th president, Obama has inherited an awful economy, dizzying budget deficits and a geopolitical situation as promising as Kim Jong Il's health. Like Carter, Obama is smart, moralistic and enamored of alternative energy schemes that were nonstarters back when America's best-known peanut farmer was installing solar panels at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Like Carter, Obama faces as much effective opposition from his own party's left wing as he does from an ardent but diminished GOP.

And perhaps most important, as with Carter, his specific policies are genuinely unpopular. The auto bailout -- which, incidentally, is illegal, springing as it has from a fund specifically earmarked for financial institutions -- has been reviled from the get-go, with opposition consistently polling north of 60 percent. Majorities have said no to bank bailouts and to cap and trade if it would make electricity significantly more expensive.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, more than 80 percent are concerned that health-care reform will increase costs or diminish the quality of care. Even as two House committees passed a reform bill last week, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warned that the proposal "significantly expands the federal responsibility for health-care costs" and dramatically raises the cost "curve." This sort of voter and expert feedback can't be comforting to the president.

As writers who inveighed against last year's GOP candidate and called George W. Bush's presidency a "disaster," we're equal-opportunity critics. As taxpayers with children and hence some small, almost certainly unrecoverable stake in this country's future (not to mention that of General Motors, Chrysler and AIG), we write with skin in the game and the fear that our current leader will indeed start busting out the 1970s cardigans.

Incredible. I agree totally that Bush's presidency was a disaster, but our "liberal media" here has decided that Obama's efforts to try to do anything to actually fix any of the myriad of problems Bush left us are just...too hard. They have already declared GM and Chrysler to be failures after only a few months, have given up on the stimulus plan totally, are complaining that health care reform will cost too much and they hate bank bailouts (which of course were actually done by Bush.)

How dare Obama try to fix these horrible problems caused by throwing trillions down the Iraq/Afghanistan/tax cuts for the wealthy/bank deregulation rathole by daring to spend taxpayer money! If only Obama would listen to the will of the people who elected all these Democrats into power and let the Republicans run the country like Clinton did (oh sure, Clinton got savaged and eventually impeached by the Republicans, who then allowed the Bush-Cheney junta to wreck our economy and Democrats were thrust into office with massive majorities in Congress, but other than that Americans prefer the GOP way of running things.)

Really, it seems, Obama should just give up and go back to the same Republican pillars of TAXEN CUTTEN UBER ALLES, letting multi-trillion dollar industries police themselves, and cutting government programs that would help poor people. It's the only way we can all become rich, you know.

And yet, this is only the beginning of treating a President with a 57% approval rating like he was orders of magnitude worse than the last guy in office stuck at 27% or so for the last several years of his second term.

Operation Destroy Obama has entered its shock and awe phase. He hasn't saved the country after six whole months? Throw the bum out!

For the President's press honeymoon to be over, he would of had to have one in the first place, remember?

Control Issues

If this is true, then Obamacare is on its deathbed, folks. At least one House Republican is saying at this point they are discussing a deal with Blue Dog Dems for their own health care bill.
Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) asserted that an "interesting development" is taking place underway that, if true, could effectively remove Democratic leadership from the driver's seat on healthcare reform legislation in the House.

"There's an interesting development occurring behind the scenes, wherein moderate Democrats — so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats — and business-friendly new Democrats are actually starting to have conversations with us to build a coalition from the center outward, to actually really come up with substantive and well-founded healthcare reform," Boustany said during an appearance on Fox News. "And that's the only way to do this."

Now, this is most likely just a House Republican trying to sow doubt and discord among the ranks.

But if it's true, here's how the playbook runs:

The GOP announces their own health care plan along with the Blue Dogs, I'm guessing something exaclty like their non-plan they rolled out in June. There's no way the plan includes a public option, mandates, or subsidies. The plan will however include rolling back insurance regulations "in order to make it easier for health insurance companies to compete for your health care dollars." It will most likely have opt out rules, meaning you will have to take your employer's insurance offerings unless you tell them no. Parents will be able to keep kids on their insurance until age 25. Most likely, Republicans will want to give some sort of tax credit to businesses too.

In other words, your employer will make the choice of what they want to offer, and you can take it or leave it, with the default being take it. You will be able to get your own health care plan through the "private insurance co-ops" or whatever the Republicans will call it, but of course the cost will be astronomically higher than the employer based plans. The health insurance comapnies will get more premiums from more people, make higher profits, and will get more loopholes. Republicans will crow about covering more Americans, but we'll still have the exact same problem: a health care system designed to maximize insurance company profits rather than providing care to consumers.

In other words, nothing will change. We'll still have the same broken system, only it will cover another 10 million Americans or so, making even more money for the insurance companies. It will do nothing to control costs and it will most likely increase them as private insurers will have to "pass the costs of insuring people with pre-existing conditions" on to consumers. Once again, health care will be rationed by your ability to afford coverage.

The plan is simple: if the House GOP and enough Blue Dogs back this terrible plan and force Obama and the Democratic leadership to kill it, the GOP claims they tried to fix health care and the Dems didn't. 2010 becomes a bloodbath for the Dems at the polls, and rightfully so.

We're in the endgame now, folks. Our shot at real reform is on life support. Contact your Representative and let them know you want actual health care reform, and not another multi-billion dollar handout for the insurance giants so they can extend their monopoly and keep overcharging us.

Remember the GOP Plan:

"If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said yesterday during a conference call with conservative activists. "It will break him."
Destroy Obama. That's all that matters to these guys.

More Victims Of The Economy

A series of bureaucratic glitches and ignoring safety warnings has led to the death of a Detroit family facing bankruptcy.
Falling behind in your bills can be deadly, as the tragic story of a Detroit family shows.

A 46-year-old father and this three children are dead from carbon monoxide poisoning after their local energy company cut off their power, prompting the family to use a generator that poisoned them with carbon monoxide.

And the family’s power company says a bureaucratic “glitch” caused them to shut the power off when it shouldn’t have been.

Vaughn Reed, 46, and his three children, Markeisha, 17, DeMarco, 12, and DeMarte, six, died in the early morning hours of Friday when carbon monoxide from a generator in the basement of the family’s two-story home on Detroit’s west side.

They had put the gas-powered generator into use when power supplier DTE Energy cut power to the house in late June, one day after Reed filed for bankruptcy.

On Thursday night, the family had sealed all the windows to run the air conditioning, the Detroit Free Press reports. By the time the house began to fill with carbon monoxide at around 3 a.m., it was too late.

Spokespeople for DTE say the company had been notified of the bankruptcy filing, which would have prompted them to restore power. But the address listed with the bankruptcy notification was incorrect — it was Reed’s mother’s address — so power was not restored to the proper house, DTE says.

“The address is the primary component used in that process,” Eileen Dixon, a spokeswoman for DTE, told the Detroit News. “This just underscores how important it is that people let us know when [they] are in trouble.”

Pretty tragic all the way around, frankly. Difficult to assign blame here, the power company screwed up for sure, but running a generator with no way to vent the carbon monoxide in a sealed home is, well, quite a deadly mistake. If even one event in the chain that led to this tragedy was broken, the Reed family would probably still be alive today.

Could DTE have checked with the Reeds before shutting off power? Could Vaughn Reed have paid way more attention to safety warnings on the generator? Could the Reeds have a bought a working carbon monoxide detector in the home? Could DTE have checked the right address and accepted the bankruptcy notification anyway?

Who knows? Sadly, it's too late for the Reed family, anyway. When I talk about the economic crisis, foreclosures, bank bailouts, bankrupt families and government services in dry, technical term with numbers and charts and explanations, you have to keep in mind that behind all this is a human cost to be paid as well, emotional, social, mental, and in some cases, a physical toll.

Sometimes that human cost is very, very high.

Coming This Fall, TSI: Washington

Obama's kinder, gentler Warren Terrah involves finding a replacement for the torture squad techniques he's outlawed. Like it or not, we're still going to have to at some point have measures in place to interrogate people that are trying to harm Americans. Siobhan Gorman at the WSJ reports on the new season of Terrorist Special Interrogations.
The Obama administration is considering overhauling the way terror suspects are interrogated by creating a small team of professionals drawn from across the government, according to people familiar with a proposal that will be submitted to the White House.

The new unit, comprising members of spy services and law-enforcement agencies, would be used for so-called high-value detainees, they said. In a switch from Bush-era efforts, it wouldn't be run by the Central Intelligence Agency, though who might be in charge isn't specified.

One of the team's tasks would likely be to devise a new set of interrogation methods, according to one person familiar with the proposal. Those techniques could be drawn from sources ranging from scientific studies to the psychology behind television ads.

It does sound like a TV show or a Tom Clancy novel, doesn't it? Unfortunately, while a "professional" series of interrogators certainly sounds better than the military contractors we were using, several points in the article strike me as saying we should be expecting more reruns from the Bush days of the program.
In addition, the team would be asked to devise noncoercive procedures that may differ from the 19 permitted in the Army Field Manual, which include providing rewards for information and playing on a detainee's anxiety or other emotions. That document has emerged as a favored standard among many lawmakers and some human-rights groups.

Mr. Obama shut the network of secret CIA prisons on his second full day in office and launched two reviews -- one of interrogation practices and the other of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The interrogation proposal, written by a Justice Department-led task force, is being finalized and neither review will be completed by a Tuesday deadline.

There is general support within the Obama administration for a professional interrogation team from multiple agencies, said one person familiar with the task force recommendations. The debate is over the details of how to do it: who should be in charge, where it should be housed within the government, and what its composition will be.

It isn't clear whether Congress would have any special oversight role beyond its regular duties.

A Justice spokesman referred questions to the White House. White House spokesman Benjamin LaBolt said the president hasn't yet reviewed the proposal.

Ahh, the same old questions from last season's cliffhanger: who's in charge, where's the oversight, and what constitutes a "non-coercive technique outside the ones permitted in the Army Field Manual." While again, we are going to have to have some procedure in place for dealing with captured terrorists, one would think these questions -- being by far the most important questions given the dark history of programs like these -- should be answered first before we start worrying about which agency is stepping on which set of toes and which nasty little surprises we have in store for those we capture.

In fact, I would honestly think job one would be to actively determine if the people we have captured are indeed guilty of anything before we go heading back into such black waters. I would also think that Congress would at this point demand complete and total oversight on this replacement program considering the amount of lawbreaking involved in the most recent efforts. In fact, the faster and more completely we can investigate what went wrong, the better the resulting replacement program will be, yes?

Trust these guys? I don't think so.

Cramming Down The Blame On Cramdown

As I said back in March, without the "cramdown" provision to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage rates, Obama's foreclosure relief plan was doomed from the get-go. The cramdown provision was defeated by the Senate ConservaDems in April as one of Arlen Specter's first votes as a Democrat.

Three months later, as we learn the first half of 2009 set a record for foreclosures in the country and only threatens to get worse, the political damage is starting to set in at a time when the Democrats can least afford it, and the usual suspects are twisting the knife in.
The Obama administration’s $50 billion program to curb foreclosures isn’t working, and the White House knows it.

Administration officials blame the mortgage servicers charged with carrying out the mortgage modifications and refinancing under the federal program. Many of their Democratic allies on Capitol Hill back them up, but others are criticizing the White House for fumbling the execution. Whatever the reason, the program hasn’t stopped the rising tide of foreclosures: Experts predict that at least another 2 million homes will be lost this year, and the administration’s plan has so far reached only about 160,000 of the 3 million to 4 million homes it was supposed to protect over the next three years.

That’s bad news for the economy — and bad news for the Democrats.

The Democrats’ political and policy fortunes rest on their ability to persuade voters that they’re fixing the economy. But experts say that rising foreclosures will only exacerbate the nation’s economic woes, pushing down home prices, slashing state and local tax revenues and imperiling consumer confidence.

“Everybody understands that getting out of this broader crisis requires that we stabilize our housing market and stem the tide of foreclosures,” Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said in a hearing Thursday. But in unusually harsh words for a Democrat, Dodd said that the Obama administration’s progress in stopping foreclosures has been “disgraceful” so far.

“It’s just hard to explain to the working families in America how it is we could move so fast with extraordinarily complicated deals with the huge financial institutions, and we are moving so incredibly slowly, mired in paperwork, in rules, in talking to banks back home,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

You want to know why the plan is failing?

Max Baucus (D-MT)
Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Tom Carper (D-DE)
Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Mark Pryor (D-AR)
Arlen Specter (D-PA)
Jon Tester (D-MT)

...all these Senate Dems killed cramdown. Cramdown would have allowed judges to directly set rates and do it quickly. Instead, months of paperwork means those who could have been helped the fastest are having to wait and wait and wait as foreclosure proceedings clog up the courts. As a result, homeowners are going under instead of getting help.

Let's not forget more than 35 Republicans voted to kill this measure too. But the ConservaDems stabbed Obama -- and the country -- in the back in April. Now the bill is due, and millions more Americans will lose their homes.

The same ConservaDems will most likely kill Obamacare too.

Remember them.

Long Way From Home

The Washington Post has a disturbing dispatch from Baghdad, where Bush's negotiated pullout from Iraq is turning into a bigger threat to our troops than Bush's war of choice.
In a curt missive issued by the Baghdad Operations Command on July 2 -- the day after Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. troops to bases outside city centers -- Iraq's top commanders told their U.S. counterparts to "stop all joint patrols" in Baghdad. It said U.S. resupply convoys could travel only at night and ordered the Americans to "notify us immediately of any violations of the agreement."

The strict application of the agreement coincides with what U.S. military officials in Washington say has been an escalation of attacks against their forces by Iranian-backed Shiite extremist groups, to which they have been unable to fully respond.

If extremists realize "some of the limitations that we have, that's a vulnerability they could use against us," a senior U.S. military intelligence official said. "The fact is that some of these are very politically sensitive targets" thought to be close to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The new guidelines are a reflection of rising tensions between the two governments. Iraqi leaders increasingly see the agreement as an opportunity to show their citizens that they are now unequivocally in charge and that their dependence on the U.S. military is minimal and waning.

The June 30 deadline for moving U.S. troops out of Iraqi towns and cities was the first of three milestones under the agreement. The U.S. military is to decrease its troop levels from 130,000 to 50,000 by August of next year.

And can you blame the Iraqis for handcuffing us after all we've done to them, to their people, to their cities, to their culture and country? Payback is a bitch, and for the next year, our troops are going to pay dearly for the hubris of our leaders.

U.S. commanders have not publicly described in detail how they interpret the agreement's vaguely worded provision that gives them the right to self-defense. The issue has bedeviled them because commanders are concerned that responding quickly and forcefully to threats could embarrass the Iraqi government and prompt allegations of agreement violations.

A spate of high-casualty suicide bombings in Shiite neighborhoods, attributed to al-Qaeda in Iraq and related Sunni insurgent groups, has overshadowed the increase of attacks by Iran-backed Shiite extremists, U.S. official say.

Officials agreed to discuss relations with the Iraqi government and military, and Iranian support for the extremists, only on the condition of anonymity because those issues involve security, diplomacy and intelligence.

The three primary groups -- Asaib al-Haq, Khataib Hezbollah and the Promised Day Brigades -- emerged from the "special groups" of the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia of radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which terrorized Baghdad and southern Iraq beginning in 2006. All receive training, funding and direction from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force.

"One of the things we still have to find out, as we pull out from the cities, is how much effectiveness we're going to have against some of these particular target sets," the military intelligence official said. "That's one of the very sensitive parts of this whole story."

As U.S. forces tried to pursue the alleged leaders of the groups and planned missions against them, their efforts were hindered by the complicated warrant process and other Iraqi delays, officials said.

So yes, with the al-Maliki government now looking the other way as Iraqi resistance groups attack our troops, years of us killing thousands of Iraqis will now give rise to a year-long extraction of many, many tons of flesh -- forget mere pounds of it.

Bush got us into this quagmire to begin with, an unecessary and brutal war prosecuted so badly, so wastefully, and with so much blood spilled that the long and ugly pullout will guarantee an untenable situation on the ground. Our troops will not take this lying down. The Iraqis will not miss their chance for revenge.

Everything the last President touched has turned to steaming offal and broken souls. Remember how we got into this situation.

Cost And Effect

Over at HuffPo, Sam Stein argues that the CBO estimate on the cost of Obamacare shouldn't be treated as written in stone and that they've been wrong before:
Perhaps the biggest caution flag for treating CBO numbers as gospel -- and one of the more illuminating benchmarks from which to compare the current debate over health care costs -- is the Iraq War.

In October 2003, the CBO was asked to do a study about the costs of the Iraq War. According to varying scenarios of troop deployment the total price tag ranged from $85 billion to $200 billion over a ten-year period. A year later, the projected costs had risen further. Having already spent $123 billion, the CBO was now estimating that the prosecution of both Iraq and Afghanistan would total roughly $1.1 trillion over the subsequent ten years.

"In the scheme of things, the war is not super-expensive, but it also sure ain't cheap," said Michael O'Hanlon, a Brookings Institution scholar and prominent war supporter.

By 2007, as the Iraq War had spiraled out of control, and with the surge of troops just beginning to take place, the price tag had jumped even more dramatically. The CBO was now projecting that the government would have to spend as much as $1.7 trillion over the next ten years on Iraq and Afghanistan. With interest, the number rose to $2.4 trillion -- $1.9 trillion of which was for Afghanistan alone.

Certainly, the costs of a war -- especially one as poorly managed as Iraq -- are far more difficult to predict than that for health care legislation. But, at the same time it is worth noting that the 2007 CBO projection for the ten-year cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are roughly double the prospective 10-year cost projections for health care reform. And yet, owing to the inverse political power in D.C. at the time, Republicans two years ago were scoffing at the congressional budget office's projections while Democrats were deeply concerned.

While it's a very good argument that Republicans just don't think spending money on fixing health care is as important as blowing things up, I think Stein's piece does a fair amount of damage to Obamacare as a whole. Pointing out that the CBO is liable to wildly underestimate the cost of things only adds height to the blockade that the Sensible Centrists are building to kill Obamacare.

You'd think these same centrists would be worried about the multiple polls saying Americans want real health care reform, and they want it now. Alas, lobbyists, not constituents, define the agenda in Washington.

[UPDATE 1:26 PM] And Democrats like Arkansas Blue Dog leader Mike Ross, deep in the pockets of big business, are the reason why we'll continue to have 50 million Americans with no health insurance and 10% yearly inflation in health care costs.

In the end, it will be Democrats that kill Obamacare, and Democrats who will pay the price for it in 2010.

The Not So Magnificent Six

Paul Krugman notes that of the six Sensible Centrist senators that are threatening to kill Obamacare, five of the six voted for Bush's Medicare Part D drug benefit plan, which turned into a windfall for Big Pharma.

What’s especially galling is the hypocrisy of their claimed reason for delaying progress — concern about the fiscal burden. After all, in the past most of them have shown no concern at all for the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook.

Case in point: the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which denied Medicare the right to bargain for lower drug prices, locked in overpayments to private insurance companies, and did nothing, nothing at all, to pay for its proposed outlays. How many of these six self-proclaimed defenders of solvency voted no on the crucial procedural vote? One. (Joe Lieberman, to my surprise.)

And let’s not forget that Ben Nelson, who appears to be the ringleader, has fought tooth and nail against competition from a public option — which would almost certainly save a significant amount of money, as well as providing much-needed competition.

If the Gang of Six really does kill reform, remember their names; they will bear the responsibility for vast, unnecessary suffering over the years to come.
At least Joe F'ckin Lieberman is consistently a douchebag, but Krugman's point still stands: Obamacare is in mortal danger right now because the health care lobbyists have gotten to the Sensible Centrists in a big, big way. This time last week, it was looking very rosy for the program. Now, we have the President trying to "regain momentum" and going on the defensive.

What happened? I still stand by my theory that Obama's choice to not stop Eric Holder's investigation has precipitated all out war in Congress on Obama's domestic agenda. Many of the same folks on Capitol Hill who are now kvetching up a storm about Obamacare are the same folks who gave Bush blank check after blank check and authorized some pretty foul stuff. They are the ones that stand to lose the most here.

They are making sure Obama feels that pain too. If Obamacare tanks, serious health care reform is done for another generation. Obama's presidency will be damaged, perhaps fatally. Time is running out.

Next week will determine if Obamacare will survive or not.

This Week's Busted Banks

The FDIC shut down four more small banks this week, bringing the 2009 total to a staggering 57:
State regulators shut down four banks Friday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said.

The bank were: First Piedmont Bank, based in Winder, Ga.; BankFirst, based in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Temecula Valley Bank of Temecula, Calif.; and Vineyard Bank of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Friday's actions bring the total number of closings for 2009 to 57.

Georgia has claimed 10 of the casualties this year, more than any other state, according to David Barr, spokesperson for the FDIC.

State regulators shut down the four small, regional banks and named the FDIC the receiver.

The price tag so far this year: $13.4 billion. Remember that next time one of the TARP recipient megabanks posts a couple billion in quarterly profits. Dozens more small and medium banks will be consumed by larger banks, becoming regional banks that operate in multiple states. Larger regional banks will eventually consume these smaller regional banks to become super-regional or national banks. National banks will consume regional banks to become the only game in town.

The forced consolidation of the banking industry as the survivors rush to gain "Too Big To Fail" status will not exactly help the consumer, folks. It will only make it much, much more likely that the next financial crisis caused by derivative shell games and securitized financial instrument three-card monte to actually become the worst-case scenario as the global economy breaks down.

Banks will continue to fail for years, folks. Assets will go to larger banks, liabilities will be paid for by your tax dollars. Those assets will be used to play more games with money, to re-leverage the industry to the point where it's wound tight enough to break again. Moral hazard created by the knowledge that if you're big and powerful enough you can't lose will only lead to riskier deals and higher and higher leverage ratios.

Only, when the spring snaps next time on the Money Machine, there will be no fixing it.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

Related Posts with Thumbnails