Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Last Call

Apparently, the only card the Wingers like Jonah Goldberg have left in the deck is blaming the messenger.
I think Jamie Kirchik has the politics pretty much exactly right. Eugene Robinson, Joe Conason and E.J. Dionne, in addition to all the politicians and bloggers Jamie mentions, have been pumping the birther story in order to tar Republicans as extremists at precisely the moment their own agenda is being rejected by the American people for it's own extremism. Even the folks at Mother Jones think this is a plausible explanation of the administration's behavior:

If the White House thinks the birther movement is hurting the Republican party, they might refrain from doing anything that could cause the GOP to totally marginalize the group—like releasing the original certificate.

And heaven forbid anyone suggest that Robinson, Conason or Dionne would write columns to further the Obama administration's political agenda.

You see, pointing out the increasingly nasty attacks on the President is a distraction from the issues, unlike the attacks on the President themselves, which are not a distraction from the issues. Dig?

He then goes on to say "Liberals had 9/11 truthers! We win!" How quickly people forget that a near equal number of 9/11 truthers were and still are in fact Republicans and other right wing crackpots. (Ron Paul, anyone? Even Malkinvania thinks he's nuts.) But of course, blaming Obama for the birthers is standard. After all, if he'd just release that long form vault copy of his real birth certificate (which the birthers would not decry as fake) this would all vanish overnight. Why, I'm sure all these lunatics would believe him and we could all get back to passing health care reform.

It's not like the Wingers would gin up anything else to try to distract America from health care, right? After all, all this trying to demonize Obama isn't increasing the number of death threats he's getting or anything.

Birthers are harmless, you see.

Nowhere Near The Bottom

If these Deutsche Bank analysts are right about the housing market, we're nowhere near the bottom of the recession (emphasis mine:)
The percentage of U.S. homeowners who owe more than their house is worth will nearly double to 48 percent in 2011 from 26 percent at the end of March, portending another blow to the housing market, Deutsche Bank said on Wednesday.

Home price declines will have their biggest impact on prime "conforming" loans that meet underwriting and size guidelines of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bank said in a report. Prime conforming loans make up two-thirds of mortgages, and are typically less risky because of stringent requirements.

"We project the next phase of the housing decline will have a far greater impact on prime borrowers," Deutsche analysts Karen Weaver and Ying Shen said in the report.

Of prime conforming loans, 41 percent will be "underwater" by the first quarter of 2011, up from 16 percent at the end of the first quarter 2009, it said. Forty-six percent of prime jumbo loans will be larger than their properties' value, up from 29 percent, it said.

"The impact of this is significant given that these markets have the largest share of the total mortgage market outstanding," the analysts said. Prime jumbo loans make up 13 percent of the total market.

Deutsche's dire assessment comes amid a bolt of evidence in recent months that point to stabilization in the U.S. housing market after three years of price drops. This week, the National Association of Realtors said pending home sales rose for a fifth straight month in June. A widely watched index released in July showed home prices in May rose for the first time since 2006.

Covering 100 U.S. metropolitan areas, Deutsche Bank in June forecast home prices would fall 14 percent through the first quarter of 2011, for a total drop of 41.7 percent.

If these figures are accurate, with 48% of homeowners underwater? Forget it. Our consumer-driven economy will be driven into the ground. You won't just have a devastated housing market, hell you won't have a housing market period in some locations. It's a meltdown, millions more people are going under and the market will not be able to take something like that.

We're talking systemic risk time again. Exactly what consumer goods and services are people going to be able to buy when underwater with no buyers? Nothing. They're going to walk away and jingle mail the keys back to the banks. If this is true, we'll be wishing for 9.5% unemployment by 2011. Summer 2009 will look like a picnic compared to two years from now.

Basically Deutsch Bank is calling for a double dip recession that might as well be a depression.

Scary, scary bad if this comes true. And yet given where we are and the stubborn refusal of our elected officials to rein in the banks, I'd have to say the possibility of this happening is there, if not somewhat likely given our current trajectory. The rebound we've seen in the markets will not last much longer. The bottom will fall out again at some point, and soon. There's nothing to me that indicates the market's current path is sustainable.

Every other homeowner underwater. Wiped out. No equity. Screwed. How bad could this get?

Watch. We're nowhere near out of the woods yet.

Dollar Bill Jefferson Goes Bust

CNN is reporting that former Democratic Rep. William Jefferson has been convicted on 11 of the 16 charges he faced.
Jefferson, a 62-year-old Democrat, was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 4, 2007, on corruption charges, about two years after federal agents said they found $90,000 in his freezer. Authorities said the cash was part of a payment in marked bills from an FBI informant in a transaction captured on video.

Jefferson had pleaded not guilty.

The jury convicted him on four counts of bribery, four counts of racketeering and three counts of wire fraud. He was acquitted on five other counts including wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

Jefferson had faced a maximum sentence of 235 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

The verdict came on the fifth day of jury deliberations.

Dollar Bill's going away for a long, long time and rightfully so. Not all scumbags have (R) after their names, you know.

Still, you have to wonder. In Congress, $90,000 is basically ass-wipe money (as in "that pathetically small amount of money's not even worth using instead of toilet paper in an emergency to wipe my ass with.") Jefferson is going to probably go away for the rest of his days for that.

There are plenty of members of Congress who have collected ten, twenty, fifty times that much over the years in lobbyist contributions, and on both sides of the aisle.

Presidential campaigns last year netted hundreds of millions. McCain had $150 million, Obama raised over $600 million in his campaign.

The stimulus package was $785 billion. The Defense Department budget for 2010, $665 billion.

Total loan guarantees and liabilities for the economic crisis, $27.8 trillion.

Dollar Bill will probably go to jail for life for a lousy ninety grand.

Perspective is a funny thing.

Singled Out

Greg Sargent catches CNN obeying their insurance company overlords.
The labor-backed Americans United for Change, a top White House ally in the health care wars, tried to book time on CNN and MSNBC for the ad, which hits the insurance industry for wanting to preserve the status quo and levels harsh criticism at insurance giant Cigna’s CEO, Ed Hanway.

“Why do insurance companies and Republicans want to kill health insurance reform? Because they like things the way they are now,” the ad says, and then slams Hanway’s annual salary of over $12 million and golden parachute retirement package of over $70 million.

Americans United for Change’s spokesman, Jeremy Funk, tells me that CNN refused to run the ad nationally. He says CNN emailed the following reason for rejection:

“This ad does not comply with our clearance guidelines because it unnecessarily singles out an individual company and person.”

That very well may be CNN’s policy. But AUC maintains that the mention of Cigna’s CEO was necessary to dramatize the enormous stake the insurance industry has in the health care wars. What’s more, AUC argues, the industry is made up of companies that are run by individuals deciding how to spend huge money to impact the health care debate — so why are they off limits?

Because of course insurance companies like Cigna advertise on CNN and other Time Warner networks and cable outlets and internet properties and that's far more important to CNN than getting the issues straight. CEO's aren't like you and me. After all, as Digby points out, they get more media protection than say, the President does.
CNN can run programming claiming that Obama is an illegal alien and employ "consultants" who call Hillary Clinton a bitch and call it "analysis." They can defame any politician, celebrity or ordinary citizen with total impunity under the first amendment.

But don't even think of taking on a wealthy CEO.
If you tried to run that ad on FOX or other networks, I'm sure they'd give you the same answer. And it's that reason itself that's so utterly idiotic. It's perfectly acceptable to single out President Obama for criticism, or say a private citizen like Skip Gates or Sgt. Michael Crowley. It's acceptable to go after Jon & Kate Gosselin, or the Octomom, or Sarah Palin or Nancy Pelosi or John McCain or Harry Reid. All these people are fair targets for heaps of free scorn. No matter what side of the political spectrum you're on, people and their organizations are fair targets.

Even CEOs get bashed, actually. Remember AIG CEO Edward Liddy? There was an insurance company exec that screwed America out of billions, and he got pummeled in the press. It was okay to attack him, sure.

It's just not okay to run an ad attacking other insurance company CEOs who may be screwing America over, and who still have money left to advertise on CNN. Can't have that, that's unfair. Your liberal media, folks. OK to say the President isn't a U.S. citizen. Not okay to say Ed Hanway of Cigna made $12 million with a $70 million retirement package.

You tell me who's running this country.

He's Steele In Denial

Michael Steele is simply pretending that the astroturfing efforts bringing out GOP health care protesters to Democratic town hall meetings simply do not exist.
Steele dismissed questions over whether the GOP move to deflect critical calls was hypocritical in light of recent criticism of Democrats for "demonizing" the town hall protestors, and denied the Republican Party had any role in organizing the confrontations.

"We're not inciting anyone to go out and disrupt anything," said Steele. "We're not organizing the town halls," only encouraging individuals to visit their congressman or senator to "express their point of view."

"There's no upside for the Republican Party [in the protests]," he said later in the call. "That's not something that's coordinated or deliberately set in motion by me or anyone in the state party.

"…To sit back and say this is a Republican cabal is a bunch of baloney. And you can substitute that 'b' for something else if you want."

Later, a frustrated Steele shot down another question about the GOP's view of the recent chaos at congressional town halls. "I'll speak slowly. There's legitimacy to the protest. But how people protest…. I have no control over."

He added that there was nothing unusual about the development, and that he did not understand why the face-offs were drawing media attention. "Why is it so out of the ordinary that the American people should stand up and say, 'I have a concern about something the government is going to do?'

"… I'm not telling people to go out and be disruptive, because there's no upside to doing that. We want to have a legitimate debate…there's no upside for us in starting a fight with the Democratic Party, or with elected officials that we disagree with."

Oh reeeeeeally? Republicans have nothing to do with this?
The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress:

– Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”

– Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”

Sure you don't, Mike. Sure you don't. And the American infidel tanks will all be destroyed within sight of Baghdad, and the fundamentals of our economy are strong , and it's never lupus.

Then again it's only fair that Michael Steele keeps pretending the GOP astroturfing doesn't exist, because the GOP is more than happy to pretend that Michael Steele doesn't exist, either.

Hell, time to give this guy his own tag. Michael Steele!

I'm A Kenyan, You're A Kenyan...

...he's a Kenyan, she's a Kenyan, wouldn't you like to be a Kenyan too?

(via TPM.)

Quote Of The Week

Steve Benen, on GOP fringers versus Democratic ones:
Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.

If Racism Charges Don't Convince People...

...that Barack Obama is the most evil man in history, then go with charges that his administration is anti-semitic as TNR's Marty Peretz goes nuclear. (Via Yggy)
I give him the benefit of a doubt. He may not himself have made the decision to honor the contemptible Mary Robinson, arguably a real bigot, with the Medal of Freedom. But, then, there is someone in his entourage who is leading him astray, gravely astray. And that someone has it in for Israel and for American Jews, too. The fact is that there is only so much that can be explained.
And what's Marty's problem with the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson?
She was the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights when the commission began to specialize in the practice of supporting governmental repression and calling it freedom--as, frankly, Obama has done with the burqa, also in Cairo. But Robinson's biggest role on the world stage was as chair of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban. She planned it, she mostly ran it and she is responsible for that Witch's Sabbath of hate against both Israel and America, actually the west and western values in general and in particular. Since then, she has been doing the time-consuming NGO thing, talking mostly to one another and soliciting grants from American foundations.
Ahh yes, the famous Durban Conference, where the world dared to tell Israel that collective punishment of the Palestinian people might in fact be wrong, and Israel was protested against. Israel demanded that the US and EU walk out, and they did...doing the same thing 8 years later. Criticism of Israel is not allowed, you see.

For presiding over the conference where the delegates decided that Israel had been held to a different world standard, Mary Robinson is a bigot and an anti-semite. For giving her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Obama is an implied anti-semite too...excuse me, being "led astray" by the anti-semites in his administration, which actually means he's worse than an anti-semite, he's being duped into it and isn't intelligent enough to realize it.

That seems a bit of a stretch, yes? We're back to insulting Obama's intelligence and the pernicious "Blacks vs Jews" canard that has been used to divide and conquer for decades now by people who really ARE anti-semites.

Given Marty Peretz's neo-con history, I can surely understand him not agreeing with the President's current position on Israeli settlements. But to go over to the dark side on this taxes what little credibility the guy had left.

Behold, the Pretty Hate Machine rears its head at TNR once again.

Killing The Filibuster

Harold Meyerson's WaPo column today explores the "minority rule" phenomenon in the Senate and why the Democrats should end the filibuster.

When future historians look back at this passage in our nation's history, I suspect they'll conclude that this Obama-isn't-American nuttiness refracted the insecurities and, in some cases, the hatred that a portion of conservative white America felt about having a black president and about the transformation of what many thought of as their white nation into a genuinely multiracial republic. But whatever the reasons, a mobilized minority is making a very plausible play to thwart a demobilized majority.

Meanwhile, that's exactly what's happening in Congress. Indeed, the very rules of the Senate empower mobilized minorities over majorities even when those majorities are mobilized, too. When the filibuster is employed, it takes 60 percent of the Senate, not 50 percent plus one, to enact legislation.

The rise of the filibuster should give constitutional originalists some pause. When the Senate first convened in 1789, just months after the Constitution was ratified, its rules allowed for calling the question (ending debate) by a simple majority vote. The Constitution had taken care to specify five kinds of issues that did require a two-thirds supermajority: treaty ratifications, expulsions of members, impeachments, the override of presidential vetoes and constitutional amendments. The Senate adhered to its simple majority rule for question-calling until 1806, when the rule lapsed because it seemed unnecessary: Scarcely any votes to call a question had been taken in the 17 years of the Senate's existence.

With that, the possibility of the filibuster was born, but filibusters didn't really come into use until Southern senators began using the maneuver to attempt to block civil rights legislation of the 1950s and '60s. They only became routine in the past few years, as the minority party in the Senate -- the Democrats until 2006, and the Republicans since -- sought to block legislation that had majority support but not the backing of a supermajority. In the 2007-08 session of Congress, Republicans forced 112 cloture votes, nearly doubling the Democrats' record when they were in the minority.

Simply put, that number means that the Senate now runs by minority rule. A more corrosive attack on the first principle of democracy, that of majority rule, is hard to conceive. The increasingly routine use of the filibuster stymies the efficacy of government (in itself a conservative objective) and negates the consequences of elections.

But minority rule is what today's Republicans are all about. Hence we see disruption in the districts and stagnation in the Senate. When and whether the majority will bestir itself to reestablish democracy's first principle is anybody's guess. Abolishing the filibuster would be a good start -- and perhaps a necessary step to enact to big changes like health reform.

Meyerson is right.

But it will never happen, thanks to the Democrats playing cover your ass. Sixty votes means they have full responsibility for not being able to pass the President's agenda. Eliminating the filibuster would only make that pressure worse...significantly worse. The Senate would have to do things like vote for real reform for their insurance company and health care owners, who wouldn't like that one bit. They would have to take responsibility for failing to pass things like cramdown and for not keeping promises.

Democrats, in other words, would have to Change Things. They're not prepared to do actual work in the Senate, you know...despite having sixty Democrats. They have no intention of instituting real reform that will hurt their corporate master's profit margins. it's sad, but it's true.

There should be no need to get rid of the filibuster. The Democrats have 60 votes. Right now, it should be functionally irrelevant. But it's not. Whose fault is that?

A Progressive Lesson

Today's WaPo on proof the Virginia Governor's race being (of course) a referendum on Obama: a disgruntled Democrat named Chris Ann Cleland.
For Cleland, it was another example -- one of many this day -- of the broken promises of a president who she thought would be different. Obama pledged to change a Washington culture that favored corporations and the connected and instead lift families such as the one sitting next to Cleland out of their economic funk. Rather, she said, Obama has backed billions of dollars to banks that continue to "act like they're broke" and started the country down a path that Cleland said she thinks will lead to more grief for the middle class.

"He's just not as advertised," she said. "Nothing's changed for the common guy. I feel like I've been punked."

There is no empirical evidence at this point in Virginia's race for governor showing that huge numbers of voters think like Cleland and will respond by sending a message to Washington. But Obama's policies are nonetheless having immediate consequences in the campaign as the candidates adjust their strategies to account for the president's controversial domestic agenda, which has overshadowed many state issues.

Gosh, six whole months and Chris Ann here is ready to give up on Obama and is of course considering turning to the Republican Party that largely created the mess that she bemoans.

But the real lesson here is not that Obama is horrible, but that Democrats have not followed through on their progressive promises.

Stephanie Slater, 44, a neighbor of Cleland's who leans Republican, voted for Obama on the strength of his character and because of his positions on education, energy and health care. She recalled brimming with confidence after Obama's historic inaugural address.

"When he gave that speech that day, I was in awe. I was really inspired and thought, 'Wow, this is a guy who can do it,' " said Slater, a medical transcriptionist and mother of three.

But she has been disturbed by the large Wall Street bonuses that Obama doesn't seem to be able to halt and his inability to rein in credit card companies that raise rates even on those with good credit. Although she is trying to be patient, she said she is losing faith in the Democrats running Washington.

"Honestly, at this point, I have to say I'm worried. I haven't come across one person that seems to have been helped," she said. "If I don't see a spark, a light at the end of the tunnel, I may be voting Republican [for governor]."

Hey, there's a concept. Maybe Democrats coming through on real health care reform, real economic reform, real mortgage reform will keep voters like Cleland and Slater in the D column.

If Democrats act like Republicans and sell out to corporate interests, they will be punished for it by the voters. It seems to me the Blue Dogs are trying to put themselves out of a job. You were elected to change the system, not to sell out to it more efficiently than the Republicans did, guys.

Here endeth the lesson.

Totally The Same

So, the difficulties the Obama administration have had with the government "Cash For Clunkers" program for $4,500 rebates on car trade-ins (lack of money, busy websites) is apparently equivalent to the difficulties the Bush administration had with the flooding of New Orleans (thousands of people dead, billions in damage).

So sayeth The Village.

Last night, Fox News aired a clip of a woman at a Philadelphia town hall meeting over the weekend berating Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) about health care reform. “What I see is a bureaucratic nightmare, senator. … And you want us to believe that a government that can’t even run a Cash for Clunkers program is going to run one-seventh of our U.S. economy,” the woman complained. “I think that there is anger out there, real anger,” said NPR’s Mara Liasson, responding to the clip. She then called the woman’s concern “legitimate” and compared the Cash for Clunkers program to Hurricane Katrina:

LIASSON: I thought that woman actually asked a pretty legitimate question — especially Cash for Clunkers is like a mini- Katrina here. I mean it’s not good to start a program and not be able to execute it.


First of all, what the hell is wrong with this woman? How is the disaster in New Orleans and especially the government response to it (long delays, FEMA mismanagement, taking years to get money to people) anything...anything like Cash For Clunkers running out of money because it was successful? Is Mara Liasson mad? That's the most idiotic comparison I've heard in quite some time, that's like saying waiting at the DMV to get your driver's license renewed is like "a mini-Bataan Death March." That's horrible.

Second of all, the GOP seems to be convinced that Cash For Clunkers is the worst government program ever. I've said this before: it's the one clear and shining example of the stimulus program actually delivering the goods to people, and the GOP is doing everything it can to convince you that it has already failed. That moronic meme, "Government can't run X, government ergo can't run health care" is everywhere, "X" in the example has been Cash for Clunkers, the Post Office, the DMV, schools, prisons, you name the much-maligned government service, it's proof that the government should never be allowed to run anything.

And yet, the government has done a pretty good job with Medicare and Medicaid. It's the health insurance comapnies and their recission practices that are the problem. Like it or not, somebody has to provide those government services. The latest examples of private contractors stepping in to "do it better" ultimately results in companies like say, Blackwater.

No, government is not perfect. But there are some services it should provide to the people as a matter of common good, and health insurance and health care options should be one of them.

Contraction Action

Bad news on the job front, it looks like the service sector is contracting, and since that's a massive majority of the American economy, that's bad news for everyone.
The Institute for Supply Management’s index of non- manufacturing businesses, which make up almost 90 percent of the economy, fell to 46.4 from 47 in June, according to the Tempe, Arizona-based group. Fifty is the dividing line between expansion and contraction.

The report indicates that most of the economy has yet to benefit from government programs, such as the cash-for-clunkers plan, aimed at reviving manufacturing. The highest jobless rate in a quarter-century, stagnating wages, falling home values and mounting bankruptcies mean consumer spending will be slow to recover.

“The consumer is still facing a weak labor market,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., a New York forecasting firm. “There are still plenty of problems out there. To declare everything is fine is premature at this stage.”

Economists forecast the index would rise to 48, according to the median of 77 projections in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from 44 to 49.3.

That's bad. It means that for nearly 90% of the economy, the average is that companies are still shedding jobs and will continue to do so for the forseeable future.

"Slow to recover" will look like an understatement by this time next year.

Prison Break

From David Dayen at Calitics, news that California has lost a federal ruling and now must reduce overcrowded prisons by 44,000.
A ruling by the three-judge panel who have effectively taken control of the California prison system has ordered the state to reduce the prison population by as much as 40,000 44,000 inmates within the next two years, finding the system in violation of Constitutional mandates. The Tough On Crime balloon has just popped.
The judges said that reducing prison crowding in California was the only way to change what they called an unconstitutional prison health care system that causes one unnecessary death a week. In a scathing 184-page order, the judges criticized state officials, saying they had failed to comply with previous orders to fix the health care system in the prisons and reduce crowding, and recommended remedies, including reform of the parole system.

The special three-judge panel also described a chaotic prison system where prisoners were stacked in triple bunk beds in gymnasiums, hallways and day rooms; where single guards were often forced to monitor scores of inmates at a time; and where ill inmates died for lack of treatment.

"In these overcrowded conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent, infectious diseases spread more easily, and lockdowns are sometimes the only means by which to maintain control," the panel wrote. "In short, California's prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage."

This started as a series of lawsuits claiming that the overcrowded prisons violated inmates' Constitutional right to medical care through the 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment while under confinement. The judges concluded that massive reductions were the only way to get the balance right and restore Constitutional order to the process.

It's nothing less than an epic failure at all levels of leadership over the last thirty years which has brought us to the point where judges must mandate reductions in the prisons. A state that is unable to manage its finances can also clearly not manage its plainly illegal corrections system.

So now, California has to let prisoners go. They have no choice now.

The real irony is that California Republicans tried to pin the "early release of 27,000 prisoners" on the Democrats as part of the budget deal to try to make it look like the Dems were soft on crime. Now the Republicans have nobody to blame but California's Republican-born three strikes rule. They wanted to lock up as many people as possible, they just didn't want to pay for prisons, guards, and prisoners. Now it has blown up in their faces.

Yggy has more:

And if you’re facing a court order to reduce your incarceration head count, the sensible thing to do is to start letting older prisoners out. Some of them will probably offend again, but the majority will have “aged out” of serious criminal activity. And older criminals tend to engage in less-risky, less-violent crime that’s not as bad.

But thanks to “three strikes” California mostly can’t do this. Instead of letting out some of the vast number of mostly harmless offenders they have behind bars, they’re going to need to keep them locked up and instead cut loose people with fewer crimes on their record. This is going to be a younger and much more dangerous group and letting them out will lead to higher crime. And that, in turn, will increase demand on the state’s punitive apparatus but it’s not going to magically conjure up any new prison beds and lots of the ones they have will continue to be occupied by oldsters who don’t need to be behind bars.

California's prison experiment has collapsed. The results over the next couple of years will not be pretty...and remember, these prisoners will have to be released into the worst state economy in the country that is planning to make unholy amounts of draconian cuts to state services, exactly the kinds of services these prisoners would need in order to integrate back into society successfully.

It's going to be a nightmare.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Politico is smugly saying that Obama wants "left wing groups" to back off.
A White House official who was in the lunch tells POLITICO: "The President discussed how the current tone and culture in Washington made it more difficult than it has been in the past to work in a bipartisan fashion. In particular, he singled out Republican Senators who are trying to work in a bipartisan fashion even in the context of a vocal minority in their party who doubt that the President was born in the US. In this context about the less productive tone of the debate in Washington, he said he didn’t like to see 'left wing groups attack fellow Democrats.'"
I honestly think Politico is missing the context. I'm sure Obama said exactly that: he didn't like seeing them doing it. I think the context was however that these Democratic Senators should be backing the President in the first place so that they aren't having to be attacked. Obama's just playing good cop to's bad cop.

Note that the attacks on the Senators are going on anyway. Politico doesn't get sarcasm, apparently. Steve Benen:
Instead, we're hearing that senators -- who'd prefer not to receive the pressure -- received supportive comments from a sympathetic president about those mean ol' activist groups leaning on members to do the right thing. As Ezra Klein noted in July, that makes sense as a strategy: "It looks like Obama is semi-publicly defending the congressional Democrats whose votes he'll eventually need. That, obviously, is what Obama needs to do. But that's different from seriously putting the screws on, say, the unions attacking restive centrists."

Right, and there's very little evidence to suggest the White House is doing anything to pressure those applying the pressure, beyond saying nice things to members of Congress about how awful it must be to feel so much pressure.

The larger issue is that Politico is determined to show this as Obama attacking progressive groups, "Obama Waves Off Liberals" is the tag line on the Politico article. He's clearly not, and hasn't been. Obama's playing chess, Politico is playing Mad Libs.

Then again, as long as progressives understand the strategy, perhaps Politico is actually doing a favor, reinforcing Obama's centrist credentials and backing up the good cop routine. Seems to me the White House expected this knee-jerk Village response to his "defense" of his ConservaDem friends in the Senate.

A few moves ahead, always.

Critical Mass(Care)

The Boston Globe defends the MassCare public insurance program, with an editorial saying the program has worked and worked well (emphasis mine:)
The facts - according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation - are quite different. Its report this spring put the cost to the state taxpayer at about $88 million a year, less than four-tenths of 1 percent of the state budget of $27 billion. Yes, the state recently had to cut benefits for legal immigrants, and safety-net hospital Boston Medical Center has sued for higher state aid. But that is because the recession has cut state revenues, not because universal healthcare is a boondoggle. The main reason costs to the state have been well within expectations? More than half of all the previously uninsured got coverage by buying into their employers’ plans, not by opting for one of the state-subsidized plans.

This should be exciting news for those fiscal conservatives, including both Republicans and “blue dog’’ Democrats, who claim to support the goal of universal coverage while despairing over its budget impact. But that’s not what you hear from the Massachusetts bashers. Trying to scare off the nation from helping the uninsured get coverage, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said recently, “You don’t have to look any further than the universal healthcare mess in Massachusetts to see disaster ahead.’’ New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on Monday accused President Obama of “pushing a health plan that looks a lot like the system currently hemorrhaging money in Massachusetts.’’

The Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, has also gotten his licks in. Costs in Massachusetts, he wrote in the Washington Post Monday, “have been dramatically higher than expected.’’ Pawlenty’s purpose in attacking this state’s plan might be both to discredit a national plan and to score points against former governor Mitt Romney, one of the architects of what Massachusetts has accomplished. Romney, of course, is a possible rival of Pawlenty for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Whether out of ignorance or convenience, all three bashers have it wrong. Unlike the Big Dig, health reform came in on time and under budget. It will be proportionately more expensive nationally to provide coverage for the uninsured than it has been here simply because the state began the task with a much lower rate of uninsured, 7 percent, compared with the US rate of 17 percent. But a national plan that relies, as Massachusetts’ does, on both government-subsidized insurance and a mandate on employers to offer insurance or pay a penalty (in Massachusetts’ case, a very small penalty) should be able to cover nearly everyone without busting the budget.

Which is true. If the critics' accusations that a public plan will destroy private health care are true, then in Massachustetts, private health care insurers should be reeling and on the verge of leaving the state completely. They're not, they're coexisting because the plans are competitive, which is exactly what should be happening.

I think more attention should be paid to MassCare and how it is working. People aren't being euthanized, they're not being beaten in the streets by the health police, food intake is not being government mandated by a fascist army of bureaucrats, and they're not having to wait six weeks to see a doctor and dying in the waiting room. The scares are phony. What people have in Massachussetts is health care that works.

You Kids Get Off My Lawn, Part 2

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows Americans approve of the President's proposals for health care reform 50-45%. The interesting news is that older people don't want young people to have health care.
"Obama's plan is most popular among younger Americans and least popular among senior citizens," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "A majority of Americans over the age of 50 oppose Obama's plan; a majority of those under 50 support it."

The poll's release comes as lawmakers go back to their home districts and states for summer recess. The House of Representatives is already on break and the Senate heads home at the end of the week.

Some lawmakers are holding town hall meetings or other public forums on health care reform over the next few weeks, where voters will get a chance to speak out about the various proposals for change. The poll indicates that seven in 10 Americans say they're very or somewhat likely to attend such events.

"Nearly half of those who oppose the Obama plan say they are more likely to attend town hall meetings to express their views on health care; only 37 percent of those who support Obama's plan are very likely to attend a public forum on that issue," Holland said.

The poll indicates that only three in 10 of all Americans think the president's health care proposals will help their families. Another 44 percent feel they won't benefit but that other families will be helped by the president's plans, and one in five say no one will be helped.

So, the haters are more motivated to disrupt town halls, but even people who don't like the plan admit it will benefit themselves or others. 74% think at least some Americans will gain from the plan, and I think that's the path the Democrats need to take to sell this. It's good for the country, even if you don't personally like it. Other highlights from the full poll:

  • Two versions of a question about it being necessary to make "major structural changes" to health care, both questions garnered about three-fourths of Americans saying yes.
  • People were evenly split on who they wanted to have to make the tough decisions about who gets health care, 40% say insurance companies, 40% say the government, 7% say they both should.

Still, that's basically the "Congress sucks/My Congressperson is great" paradigm. People like their own health care plan, but think that the system as a whole needs major changes. It's also good to see that younger Americans are more open to health care reform. It means eventually it will happen, just a question of when. Old people hate change.

I talked about this back on Friday, too.

Why should senior citizens want health care for everyone else? There's really nothing in it for them. If you assume there's a finite number of doctors in America (there is) and a finite number of hospital beds (there is) and the major thing keeping people out of using those resources is cost, if you reduce that barrier so that more of those resources are being used, then while that's great for people who don't have health care, it's not so great for the people already getting it.
So yes, the GOP has a point in trying to terrorize seniors and older boomers to try to kill the plan. They're much more likely to vote than younger Americans, too.

Still, I feel a bit better about the plan's chances. The Dems can sell a 50-50 proposition over the GOP right now.


ADP is putting July's private sector job loss numbers at 371,000, a little higher than expected. Friday's official Labor Department number is expected to be 320,000. Needless to say, I'm expecting more.

We're still losing jobs at a pretty hefty clip and will continue to do so.

The GOP Plan Is Failing

Over at HuffPo, Thomas Edsall dissects The GOP Plan as what it is: the "white voter strategy".
The appeal of the anti-Obama agenda has proven to be particularly strong among whites of low and moderate incomes. The Pew Center, tracking evaluations of Obama's job performance, found in a July 30 report that there "has been essentially no shift in opinion among affluent whites [but] among whites with annual family incomes of less than $75,000, Obama's approval ratings have declined substantially (from 57% in June to 47% today). Assessments of Obama's performance remain high among African Americans (85%)."

ABC News polling similarly found in late June that the possible costs to consumers of cap-and-trade legislation "are particularly important to less well-off Americans. Among those making less than $50,000 a year, support for regulating greenhouse gas emissions drops by 17 points (from 75 percent to a still-majority 58 percent) if it raises prices; support if it costs $10 a month is 49 percent; and at $25, just 35 percent."

The trend lines reported by Gallup are perhaps the most striking: At the start of this year, during late January, Gallup found that Obama's job approval ratings stood at 63 percent among whites, 86 percent among African Americans, and 74 percent among Hispanics. In the Gallup survey taken in late July, Obama had gained 9 points among blacks, reaching 95 percent job approval, and was holding his own among Hispanics, dropping a statistically insignificant 2 points to 72 percent.

Among white respondents, however, he had dropped 16 points to 47 percent.

These findings are reinforced by recent trend lines emerging in the Wall Street Journal/NBC polling series.

In that series, the decline has been sharpest among white men, whose approval-disapproval ratio fell by 27 points, from 50-36 to 40-53.

So the race-based attacks are working against white voters, particularly white men and especially white men in the South. But the cost of the GOP refusing to come up with any new ideas of their own is high: it's driving minorities more towards the Democrats.

The GOP is convinced that it can gain enough white voters to cancel out the minority surge, so the attacks continue. But the latest Gallup poll on state party affiliations is dismal news for the GOP.

An analysis of Gallup Poll Daily tracking data from the first six months of 2009 finds Massachusetts to be the most Democratic state in the nation, along with the District of Columbia. Utah and Wyoming are the most Republican states, as they were in 2008. Only four states show a sizeable Republican advantage in party identification, the same number as in 2008. That compares to 29 states plus the District of Columbia with sizeable Democratic advantages, also unchanged from last year.
In other words, the GOP hasn't gained any ground at all from an electoral college standpoint, and may have even lost ground. Take a look at the Gallup poll map:


Not good. The GOP at this point only has a double digit advantage in four states, the Democrats have double digit advantages in twenty-nine states. Those numbers are the same as last year, meaning that by and large while the GOP Plan has stopped the bleeding, the balance of power still strongly favors the Democrats. Right now, the traditional "Big 3 Battleground" states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida are in the Dems' column, along with major states like California, New York, and Illinois. At this point the Dems are winning in a number of Southern and Mountain West states too.

What happened is that the GOP leaner states have now become toss-ups. The competitive states now are ones like Texas and Arizona, who just 5 years ago were solid GOP bulwarks. Even Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Mississippi are in play now. The GOP is losing its firewall states.

It's not working. They are losing as many minority votes and independents as they are gaining in disaffected white voters. They are treading water after being hit by the tsunami, and they are still far from shore. At this point, the GOP doesn't have a prayer.

The GOP Plan has been singular in purpose for the last 12 months: Destroy Obama. Surprise! It's not working.


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