Thursday, August 13, 2009

Last Call

And is reporting that Michael Vick has signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

They become the most hated team in the NFL in 5...4...3...

Somebody Throw Me A Rope Already

A pretty depressing set of numbers out from CalcRisk this evening, showing over 15 million mortgages are now in negative equity.
More than 15.2 million U.S. mortgages or 32.2 percent of all mortgaged properties were in negative equity position as of June 30, 2009 according to newly released data from First American CoreLogic. June’s negative equity share was slightly lower than the 32.5 percent as of the end of March 2009 and it reflects the recent flattening of monthly home price changes. As of June 2009, there were an additional 2.5 million mortgaged properties that were approaching negative equity and negative equity and near negative equity mortgages combined account for nearly 38 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide.
Here's the killer however:
Nevada (66 percent) had the highest percentage with nearly two‐thirds of mortgage borrowers in a negative equity position. In Arizona (51 percent) and Florida (49 percent), half of all mortgage borrowers were in a negative equity position. Michigan (48 percent) and California (42 percent) round out the top five states.
Ohio is #6 on that list with 39% underwater. Still, that's staggering. Two-thirds of Nevada's mortgages are underwater right now, and half in Arizona and Florida. These numbers will only get worse: 33 states and DC right now have at least 20% of all mortgages underwater. That's going to take a very, very long time to fix. That negative equity equals over $3 trillion worth of residential real estate in danger of default right now.

Glub, glub, glub. No equity, no using your home like an ATM for spending money. This recovery, if there is going to be one anytime soon, will not be consumer driven.

And We're Dealin!

Getting back to the actual health care debate itself rather than the circus surrounding it, the big story over at HuffPo right now is a memo obtained showing exactly what the deal was between the White House and various industry groups:
The memo, which according to a knowledgeable health care lobbyist was prepared by a person directly involved in the negotiations, lists exactly what the White House gave up, and what it got in return.

It says the White House agreed to oppose any congressional efforts to use the government's leverage to bargain for lower drug prices or import drugs from Canada -- and also agreed not to pursue Medicare rebates or shift some drugs from Medicare Part B to Medicare Part D, which would cost Big Pharma billions in reduced reimbursements.

In exchange, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) agreed to cut $80 billion in projected costs to taxpayers and senior citizens over ten years. Or, as the memo says: "Commitment of up to $80 billion, but not more than $80 billion."

Ahh, the cold, harsh realities of business. You don't think the people run this country, do you? Obama was smart enough to at least figure out he had to deal with the industry groups. But there's no way the Republicans were ever going to sign on to health care, ever. They never wanted reform because then Obama would be able to take credit for something. Can't have that.

So now what? The deal seems like a moot point anyway. Republicans will make sure there is no health care bill at all, and they are succeeding handily at doing so. Obama went bowing and scraping before our corporate overlords for...what, exactly? Both sides can legitimately criticize this deal and will do so.

Lose-lose for Obama and the American people. Smart, too...if Obamacare folds, the drug companies get to keep the status quo where they make billions, and if Obamacare ever passed, they'd stand to make even more money by giving up some cash up front to get 50 million new potential customers. Drug companies made a deal that any mob boss would be proud of. Can't blame them.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Via Steve Benen, kudos to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA) for at least trying to lower the rhetoric in a fair and responsible way.
“I think the purpose of the town halls is for people to be able to express their views in an orderly and respectful manner, and that needs to take place on both sides,” said McMorris Rodgers, the fifth-ranking Republican in the House.

“I certainly don’t condone violence, I don’t condone calling President Obama Hitler and painting swastikas on signs at town halls,” continued McMorris Rodgers, vice chairwoman of the GOP conference.
One down, 217 more Republicans to go.

I wouldn't hold your breath on that however.

[UPDATE 6:01 PM] Perhaps this was generated by the fact that David Broder is mildly cheesed off at the GOP.
But not all the GOP leaders have gotten the message. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents a heavily Jewish district in Florida, phoned me to complain that top House Republicans have not publicly repudiated Rush Limbaugh for his statements likening Obama's health policies to those of the Nazis.

Much improvement is needed in the health-care bills, but I think these angry opponents are playing with fire.

And now, thanks to McMorris Rogers, they have. All is forgiven, please continue scaring old people.

Just Another Day On The Job For The USSS, Ma'am

This assclown. (via Memeorandum.)

Picked up by the Secret Service outside yesterday's town hall for Ben Cardin.
A man who was holding a sign reading "Death to Obama" Wednesday outside a town hall meeting on health care reform in Hagerstown, Md., has been turned over to the Secret Service.

Washington County Sheriff's Capt. Peter Lazich said the sign also read, "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids."

Lazich said U.S. Secret Service agents took the unidentified 51-year-old man into custody Wednesday afternoon after deputies detained him near the entrance to Hagerstown Community College.

This was never about health care to some people, you know.

The Free Market Works!

John Cole on Remote Area Medical providing free health care to L.A.'s poor:
Remote Area Medical got its start serving poor people in the Amazon, but now does most of their work in the United States. You’d think someone would point that out during out current health care debate.
Ahh, but doesn't this prove that we don't need health care reform at all? After all, even folks without health insurance can clearly get health care, right?

Yeah, they have to wait until the non-profits actually show up, but the alternative is that we have to pull the plug on Granny wait in six month lines kill Steven Hawking put up with tyranny.

Why are they complaining? It's free.

Marked For Blood

Earlier today I talked about how banks were allowed to fudge the numbers on the value of their loans on their balance sheets to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. Turns out that the guys in charge of regulating that, the Financial Accounting Standard Board, wants to change the rules, imposing so called "mark-to-market" accounting on banks that would include these loan values.

Needless to say, the banks are fighting this with every last breath.
Mark to-market, or fair value accounting, requires companies to put market values on their financial assets. It is currently used for traded securities, such as stock holdings or real estate, but is not required for bank loans and other types of financial instruments that make up large portions of the balance sheets of banks.

The U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is in the early stages of discussing a proposal that could require nearly all financial instruments to be recorded at market value on corporate balance sheets and recognize changes to those values in earnings. The FASB is expected to release a formal proposal, or "exposure draft," on the changes in the first half of 2010.

And the changes themselves wouldn't be implemented until 2011 at the earliest. That basically gives banks another 18-24 months or so to get their balance sheets in line. And in this economy, that's going to be very, very difficult.

Having to reassess their loan values would mean massive losses for the banks on the order of another financial crisis, hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions. The banks don't want to tell the truth about their assets.

"What the accounting boards are discussing now would be the biggest accounting change we've ever seen," Donna Fisher, the American Bankers Association's senior vice president of tax, accounting and financial management said in a statement Thursday.

The ABA said in the statement it was "deeply concerned" about the potential changes and that, while bankers have long supported mark-to-market accounting for assets that are "actively traded," they oppose its use for the traditional loans banks make.

Banks don't want to actually have to take the hit on their bad loans. What they do want is the taxpayer to keep fronting the tab for it, but the banks will never be solvent unless they are forced to be. Expect tremendous pressure on the FASB to fold on this, as well as on the international standards board as well.

Sayonara Sanford?

Seems the Mark Sanford situation isn't over yet. Not by a long shot.
A South Carolina Democrat told CNN on Thursday that Republican legislators have assured him there are enough votes to start a bipartisan push for impeachment against Gov. Mark Sanford when the legislative session begins in January.

Rep. Boyd Brown said ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee told him Wednesday that several Republicans on the committee are prepared to team up with Democrats to begin the impeachment process if Sanford doesn’t resign or agree to a full-scale investigation into his travel expenses before the end of the year.

At least one Republican on the Judiciary Committee contacted by CNN Thursday — Rep. Greg Delleney — said he would sign on to an impeachment effort.

The Republican chairman of the committee, Rep. Jim Harrison, said he has not yet had the chance to talk to committee members about where they stand on the matter. But he said the impeachment drumbeat could easily get louder.

“If things are going to continue to dribble out every week with new allegations of misuse of state property, it may reach the point of impeachment pretty quickly,” Harrison said.

Needless to say, this does not bode well for Sanford's future political aspirations. The more that comes out this year, the more trouble he's in.

We'll see how long Sanford can hold out on this.

[UPDATE 4:11 PM] Sanford addresses his critics in an op-ed at The State newspaper.

Chuck Grassley, Senate Finance Committee Chairman

So nice that the GOP is now running things in Washington.
The Senate Finance Committee will drop a controversial provision on consultations for end-of-life care from its proposed healthcare bill, its top Republican member said Thursday.

The committee, which has worked on putting together a bipartisan healthcare reform bill, will drop the controversial provision after it was derided by conservatives as "death panels" to encourage euthanasia.

"On the Finance Committee, we are working very hard to avoid unintended consequences by methodically working through the complexities of all of these issues and policy options," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement. "We dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly."
Three observations for the assembled:

1) Somebody tell Max Baucus that Chuck Grassley is running his committee. If I were ol' Max, I'd be pissed.

2) So this means the death panel nonsense will finally stop, right? (Of course it won't, but logic is a funny thing.)

3) Relating to #2, hasn't Grassley done the Democrats a huge favor by "euthanizing" the death panel nonsense? (And no, for the same reason the answer to #2 is also no.)

Seriously. At this point I have to give Grassley credit, Max Baucus can't defend his committee chair turf without saying Grassley's wrong on end-of-life provisions in the Senate version of the bill, and then Baucus gets attacked for wanting to pull the plug on Grandma again.

Max Baucus is increasingly useless, even for a Democratic Senator.

[UPDATE 3:33 PM] Steve Benen reports that the WSJ also confirms that this is true.
It's easy to mock the insane rhetoric about "death panels," but let's not forget that right-wing activists, by screaming about an imaginary threat, are getting exactly what they want.

Tucked inside a sweeping House bill to overhaul the health system is a provision that would require Medicare to pay physicians to counsel patients once every five years. During those sessions, doctors could discuss how patients can plan for such end-of-life decisions as setting up a living will, obtaining hospice care or establishing a proxy to make their health decisions when they are unable to do so. [...]

[G]rowing complaints over the provision are leading key lawmakers to conclude that the health overhaul should leave out any end-of-life counseling provisions. A group in the Senate Finance Committee that is attempting to craft Congress's only bipartisan health bill has decided to exclude such a measure, Senate aides said this week. [emphasis added]

Up until very recently, this provision was a common-sense idea that enjoyed bipartisan support. It would help seniors and their families plan for end-of-life care; it would help guide physicians and doctors; it would help save taxpayers money; and it would help honor patients' wishes. Even insurance companies are fine with it.

But after a right-wing temper tantrum, based on confusion and lies, lawmakers are prepared to dump the idea altogether.

Who wins? Unhinged activists, who are effectively being told that they'll get their way if they scream loud enough. Who loses? Everyone else.

And the protests will get louder and more intense, and the GOP will continue to feed the protests in order to try to bludgeon Democrats into doing what they want, and the Democrats will keep on folding.

Will the Democrats ever, ever stand up for themselves or for America?

Can See It Coming From A Mile Off

Hillary Clinton in Nigeria today said the following:
"Our democracy is still evolving.... We had all kinds of problems in some of our past elections... .In 2000, our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of the man running for president was the governor of the state. So we have our problems too,'' the Democrat said at a town hall meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, which has its own electoral problems.

The secretary's suggestion that the disputed 537-vote margin in Florida in 2000 and the 36-day court battle over flawed ballots that landed in the U.S. Supreme Court had something to do with then-Gov. Jeb Bush has raised the hackles of at least one commentator today: Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC news-talk-show host who was a Republican congressman from Pensacola during that election battle.

The idea that Jeb Bush "rigged'' the election is "an unfair slanderous assessment,'' Scarborough complained on air today.

Not very diplomatic, frankly. One could categorize it as a rather serious gaffe.

Still, the question is how quickly will the Wingers scream that the Florida election in 2000 is the new "Democrat Birther Movement", thus absolving the Wingers of all wrongdoing, oh and Hillary should immediately resign.

I give it before the end of the day. Watch.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

If all the famous lefty bloggers are at Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh this weekend, and all the famous righty bloggers are also in Pittsburgh at RightOnline, then I have three observations:

1) Who's running the poliblog internets until Monday?

2) Please tell me there's a paintball match.

3) While in Pittsburgh, try a Primanti Bros. Pastrami & cheese. It's a requirement. Do not get the double meat unless you enjoy food comas.

Opposite Man Strikes Again

Karl Rove's got stones, man. Huevos. Big brass ones. Even I have to admit that.

Much of the Democratic response to critics has been inappropriate or unpresidential. Take the reaction to the town-hall meetings taking place across the country. Many people are worried about their health care and a few are responding in unacceptable ways. But Democrats are portraying the opposition as an "angry mob" using, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote in a USA Today op-ed, "un-American" tactics. Mr. Obama's "Organizing for America," a political group founded by the president to mobilize supporters, dismisses critics as tools of "insurance companies . . . stirring up fear with false rumors," without presenting a shred of evidence to back up the charge.

The White House may actually welcome this process fight if it is more interested in the state of mind of 60 Democratic senators and 256 Democratic House members than in what the public at large is thinking. It seems to believe attacking critics will reassure nervous members of Congress. The sideshow also distracts attention from the substance of Mr. Obama's plans, which is what is really hurting him.

You see, all this is President Obama's fault. Calling out the Republican teabaggers only forces them to protest that much harder. The folks who have legitimate concerns about the health care plan are being pushed aside and drowned out by the screaming lunatics. Ignoring them only allows them to swamp the democratic process, and calling them on it brings false indignation and mock outrage.

But to see Karl Rove do it, the man that ran the most partisan, political, media-spun White House in history, to chide the White House for being too political?

That's hysterical.

It's a game that can't be won.

Dick Cheney Is Frantically Looking For a Bus

Because he really, really is about to throw Dubya under it as part of his book tour.
Cheney's disappointment with the former president surfaced recently in one of the informal conversations he is holding to discuss the book with authors, diplomats, policy experts and past colleagues. By habit, he listens more than he talks, but Cheney broke form when asked about his regrets.

"In the second term, he felt Bush was moving away from him," said a participant in the recent gathering, describing Cheney's reply. "He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took. Bush was more malleable to that. The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney's advice. He'd showed an independence that Cheney didn't see coming. It was clear that Cheney's doctrine was cast-iron strength at all times -- never apologize, never explain -- and Bush moved toward the conciliatory."

The two men maintain respectful ties, speaking on the telephone now and then, though aides to both said they were never quite friends. But there is a sting in Cheney's critique, because he views concessions to public sentiment as moral weakness. After years of praising Bush as a man of resolve, Cheney now intimates that the former president turned out to be more like an ordinary politician in the end.

That loud clicking sound you're hearing is the circular Republican firing squad taking aim at each other. While they may be doing a great job of stalling the President's agenda, they still have to convince the American people that one of them deserves to be in charge, and before they can do that, they have to settle the problem of who is taking the fall for the last eight years. Cheney is staking out Bush as the bad guy, and if you think he's doing out of anything other than to save his own ass, you're crazy.
Yet that appears to be precisely Cheney's intent. Robert Barnett, who negotiated Cheney's book contract, passed word to potential publishers that the memoir would be packed with news, and Cheney himself has said, without explanation, that "the statute of limitations has expired" on many of his secrets. "When the president made decisions that I didn't agree with, I still supported him and didn't go out and undercut him," Cheney said, according to Stephen Hayes, his authorized biographer. "Now we're talking about after we've left office. I have strong feelings about what happened. . . . And I don't have any reason not to forthrightly express those views."

Liz Cheney, whom friends credit with talking her father into writing the book, described the memoir as a record for posterity. "You have to think about his love of history, and when he thinks about this memoir, he thinks about it as a book his grandchildren will read," she said.

Sure they'll read how Grandpa Dick would have saved the country for Republicans if it hadn't been for that damn Dubya idiot. And after all, if Dick can't clear his own name, how is Liz Cheney going to run on it?

It's not Sarah Palin Democrats have to worry about down the road, you know.

Patty Boy Versus The Birthers

Via TPMDC, I was wondering when The Odious Patrick McHenry (R-Jagoff) was going to weigh in on the birther nonsense. Seems he can't make up his mind.
U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry this morning clarified remarks he made at a town hall forum in Lincolnton Wednesday night indicating he was unconvinced that President Obama is a U.S. citizen.

During a three-hour question-and-answer session, primarily on health-care reform, Lincolnton resident Alan Hoyle asked if McHenry thinks Obama is a citizen. McHenry declined to affirm Obama's citizenship, instead saying: “I haven't seen evidence one way or the other.”

McHenry also said the issue is being addressed “in the courts.”

Said McHenry in a statement this morning: “As I stated last night, I have not carefully reviewed the evidence as a jurist would. However, from what I have read, I have absolutely no reason to question President Obama's citizenship. I anticipate that as a legal matter the courts will continue to come to the same conclusion.”

Nice backtrack, Patty Boy. But I wonder, given the number of North Carolina Republicans who don't think the President is even a U.S. citizen, I think his "clarification" is going to hurt him more than anything else in NC-10. After all, only 24% of Republicans in the state believe the President is an American citizen. And from having grown up in that part of the state, the number of Republicans in that particular district that think Obama is really an American citizen is lower than that.

His first statement was most likely the truth for him personally: He doesn't know. But he's come down firmly against a considerable chunk of his electorate here this morning. God forbid that leaves him open to a primary challenge from an even more right-wing crackpot...

Refusing To Knuckle Under

Over at AlterNet, Sara Robinson has a pair of controversial but informative articles on the events of the last couple weeks. She argues that the rise of the teabaggers/birthers/healthers is all part of a larger problem, the rise of fascism in the true sense of the word, as defined by author Robert Paxton's "five stages of fascism". Robinson argues that America is currently staring down the barrel of stage three:
All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it "fascism" because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America's conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations -- passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of "mainstream" conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn't act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas -- the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer -- being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process -- and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It's also our very last chance to stop it.

Personally, I don't want to believe that we're that close to groups of people roaming around, enforcing laws through violence. They're so far winning just by the threat of this kind of violence, but I don't see any effort whatsoever to put the brakes on. The beast is loose at this point, and I find it hard to disagree with Robinson on the point. These groups are very much sanctioned by the Republicans and are empowered by the Villagers looking for the next big story.

So how do we stop them? Robinson explores that in her article today, giving seven things people can do to try to take the country back. Way #6 seems especially useful:

Sixth: Shut down the hate talkers. In most parts of the country, the teabaggers are coming straight out of right-wing talk-radio audiences. For hours every day, they're mainlining raw emotion and toxic misinformation.

They're going put your kids before "death panels!" They're going to kill your granny! You're going to have to call the White House to get a bone set! You'll be a Real American Hero if you get out there and join the "resistance!"

Cutting off this endless torrent of lies, fearmongering and validation will go a long way toward powering down the whole movement. (Conversely, what happens when these kinds of radio instigators are left to spin it all the way out to the end can be summed up in two words: Radio Rwanda.)

The basic recipe: Record their shows. Take notes of anything they say that is intimidating, threatening, or aimed at inciting violence against a named target. And while you're at it, note every single advertiser they have.

Then write a polite letter the CEOs of the sponsoring companies. Throw them some choice quotes from these shows and ask them if this is the kind of thing they want their product associated with. (Point out that if their own employees said things like this at work, they'd be fired on the spot.)

Often, the CEO has no clue that any of this is happening and will pull the ads as soon as she finds out what's being done in her name. This has worked extremely well -- and quickly -- at both the local and national level.

It indeed is working well, as Glenn Beck is finding out the hard way.
Web site, reacting to a long line of racial comments about President Barack Obama, has managed thus far to knock loose from Beck's fold, Procter & Gamble, Progressive, S.C. Johnson, GEICO, Men's Wearhouse and, just this morning, Sargento.

"We applaud GEICO and all of the other companies who have stepped forward to pull their ads from Glenn Beck," said James Rucker, executive director of Color of Change, in a Tuesday media advisory. "Beck’s rhetoric is dangerous to the fabric of our democracy, and we are heartened that so many big companies feel the same way. We won’t stop here — we’re going to continue our fight to see that as many of Beck’s advertisers pull their support as possible."

I think more than anything else, the media is the key to stopping this mess.

The Republic has survived a lot. It will survive this, most likely. But it may need some help. I know I've been fatalistically complaining about this subject, but it helps me cope with the frustration. However, Robinson's article today does give some excellent and helpful advice.

You can find more of Robinson's work over at the always outstanding and informative Orcinus as well.

Talking Out Of Both Sides Of His Mouth

Matt Taibbi wades into the Obamacare debate by catching Newt Gingrich playing the Death Panels For Grandma card...after spending months praising exactly the kind of end-of-life counseling reimbursement plan that's in the House bills.

More than 20 percent of all Medicare spending occurs in the last two months of life. Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin has developed a successful end-of-life, best practice that combines: 1) community-wide advance care planning, where 90 percent of patients have advance directives; 2) hospice and palliative care; and 3) coordination of services through an electronic medical record. The Gundersen approach empowers patients and families to control and direct their care. The Dartmouth Health Atlas has documented that Gundersen delivers care at a 30 percent lower rate than the national average ($18,359 versus $25,860). If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.

via Health Care Rx: Across the Country, Some Systems Are Getting It Right – Newt Gingrich.

That was Newt Gingrich just a few months ago praising the “Advance Directives” practiced by a hospital in Wisconsin. Advance Directives are another word for the end-of-life consultations that the teabggers have been flipping out over of late. Gingrich loved them a few months ago.
That of course was before it became the way to prevent the Democrats from claiming any success in health care reform and using it as a wedge issue to try to terrify the country into voting Republican again after America rejected the lying bastards.
I know some politicians have kind of a wink-wink nudge-nudge attitude towards lying, and some of them in private will act almost like it’s funny, part of the job description. But there are limits to how much even a politician should be allowed to lie. That’s especially when he’s lying in order to scare a bunch of old people.
I agree, but from a practical standpoint, what's the penalty for Newt Gingrich to go in front of America and lie like a rug? The Village isn't going to kick him off the air. They're just as dedicated to the death of reform as the Republicans are. The corporate giants that run the media certainly don't the Democrats around "reforming" and "regulating" things. They liked the Republicans running things.

Exactly who is going to punish Newt Gingrich or any of the Republican talking heads for this? Who will punish Sarah Palin? Chuck Grassley? How? Nobody's going to be able to call them on it. They'll just repeat the lie over and over again until they win. It's the same procedure they've been using for the last eight years.

All Newt Gingrich has right now is his talking head credentials. He's going on TV and lying about health care reform. He's allowed to continue doing this because the Village will never kick him out of the club.

There is no health care debate. There never will be, apparently. That's the whole point of the exercise.

[UPDATE 10:40 AM] Steve Benen has more on this larger point, brought up at yesterday's White House daily presser with Robert Gibbs:
Gibbs went on to say the president and his team believe it's important to address misinformation directly. Fair enough. But I suspect Gibbs knows there's at least some truth to the reporter's argument -- every moment the president spends setting the record straight on some ridiculous conservative claim is a moment he's not spending touting the importance and benefits of health care reform.

But what does this tell us about the political process? I suspect the moral of the story is pretty straightforward: it pays to lie, blatantly and repeatedly, when launching a campaign against a policy initiative. If proponents ignore your bogus claims, they go uncontested, making it easier to persuade uninformed voters. If proponents challenge your bogus claims, the media will say they've "lost control of the message."

Either way, the incentives to tell the truth and talk to Americans like grown-ups are minimal.

Unfortunately, I have to agree. The Village of course is aiding and abetting this. This is exactly why I said months ago that the President had to get health care reform done before the August recess. Now the debate has devolved into poo-flinging and scare tactics.

And health care reform is dying one news cycle at a time.

It's Still Three Card Monte

Via Atrios, Bloomberg's Jonathan Weil points out some very obvious flaws in the notion that the financial crisis is over.
It’s amazing what a little sunshine can accomplish.

Check out the footnotes to Regions Financial Corp.’s latest quarterly report, and you’ll see a remarkable disclosure. There, in an easy-to-read chart, the company divulged that the loans on its books as of June 30 were worth $22.8 billion less than what its balance sheet said. The Birmingham, Alabama-based bank’s shareholder equity, by comparison, was just $18.7 billion.

So, if it weren’t for the inflated loan values, Regions’ equity would be less than zero. Meanwhile, the government continues to classify Regions as “well capitalized.”

While disclosures of this sort aren’t new, their frequency is. This summer’s round of interim financial reports marked the first time U.S. companies had to publish the fair market values of all their financial instruments on a quarterly basis. Before, such disclosures had been required only annually under the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s rules.

For those of you playing at home, it means Regions Financial is basically broke. It's pretending to be solvent with working capital and the ability to make loans. The reality is the bank's running on unicorn farts and broken taxpayer dreams. But Regions isn't the only one:
While Regions may be an extreme example of inflated loan values, it’s not unique. Bank of America Corp. said its loans as of June 30 were worth $64.4 billion less than its balance sheet said. The difference represented 58 percent of the company’s Tier 1 common equity, a measure of capital used by regulators that excludes preferred stock and many intangible assets, such as goodwill accumulated through acquisitions of other companies.

Wells Fargo & Co. said the fair value of its loans was $34.3 billion less than their book value as of June 30. The bank’s Tier 1 common equity, by comparison, was $47.1 billion.

So, the reality is despite the bank stress tests from earlier this year stating everything is fine, the reality is that America's banks are critically undercapitalized. Banks need hundreds of billions to continue to stay afloat here especially as the commercial real estate market falls apart and those loans start going bad. These accounting rule games that are allowing the banks to pretend they are profitable will not work for much longer. it's how we got into this mess in the first place.

Behind the scenes, the Fed has slammed trillions of dollars into the system above and beyond the TARP bailout funds in loan guarantees and monetary sleight of hand. We've in effect nationalized the banking system, without the government, we'd have gone under long ago. Helicopter Ben and Timmy are frantically trying to make sure people don't pry too much into the broken system.

The problem is that while the de facto nationalization has bought us time, that time has not been used to reform the system, rather it has been used to cover up the mess and leave it for the next time. Our banks are still largely insolvent. Our country is still largely insolvent. Our financial system is a sham, a game of three card monte. President Obama is the dealer. Find the red card, the red card, you too can win a stable economy!

It's a game where nobody wins in the end.

If It's Thursday...

You kids know the drill. Jobless claims up 4k to 558k, continuing claims fell back to 6.2 million (we seem to have hit equilibrium there, at least.) Retail sales however fell 0.1%, despite Cash For Clunkers. Without autos, retail sales would have been down 0.6% in July.

Still bad news on the job front.

Welcome Back, Mr. Potter

Former Cigna insurance PR exec Wendell Potter has finally taken his story to a larger audience with CNN.
Wendell Potter knows a little something about the health care industry's practices and is not afraid of to speak out as the health care reform debate heats up around the country.

The former vice president of corporate communications at insurance giant Cigna, who left his post, says the industry is playing "dirty tricks" in an effort to manipulate public opinion.

"Words matter, and the insurance industry is a master at linguistics and using the hot words, buzzwords, buzz expressions that they know will get people upset," he told CNN Wednesday.

Now a senior fellow on health care for the watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, Potter writes a blog on health care reform. He is focusing on efforts to defeat legislation supporting a government health care plan -- something he supports.

In early July, Potter testified before the Senate Commerce Committee, telling senators that "I know from personal experience that members of Congress and the public have good reason to question the honesty and trustworthiness of the insurance industry."

Potter described how underwriters at his former company would drive small businesses with expensive insurance claims to dump their Cigna policies. Industry executives refer to the practice as "purging," Potter said.

"When that business comes up for renewal, the underwriters jack the rates up so much, the employer has no choice but to drop insurance," Potter had said.

I've talked about Wendell Potter a couple of times before. His insights into the practices of Cigna and other health insurance companies are invaluable and should be the center of the health care debate in this country. The free market is not working when it come to health insurance. Insurance companies, motivated by profit, have every reason to take in as much as they can through premiums and to deny care whenever and however possible. We should be having a debate in this country about how to give the for-profit insurance industry some competition where the focus is providing care, not making profits.

The insurance companies are not exactly working in good faith here. At the dead, bare minimum we need tremendous reform in the way health insurance companies function. Care is rationed through your ability to pay, and that is determined by your ability to afford health insurance comprehensive enough and expensive enough to allow you to afford health care's extraordinary costs.

Instead, America is having a debate over how outrageous the reasons people can come up with are to continue to deny any reform to the system. Hopefully, more focus on the real problems facing the country, more focus on people like Wendell Potter, will help change that narrative.

Still A Long Way To Go

A lot of attention has been paid to signs that the recession is abating and that the economy is in recovery mode. To folks convinced it's all over but the shouting, I say "not so fast".
U.S. home loans failed at a record pace in July despite ongoing federal and state programs to avoid foreclosures, which have severely strained housing and the economy.

Foreclosure activity jumped 7 percent in July from June and 32 percent from a year earlier as one in every 355 households with a loan got a foreclosure filing, RealtyTrac said on Thursday.

Filings — including notices of default, auction and bank repossession — have escalated with unemployment.

"July marks the third time in the last five months where we've seen a new record set for foreclosure activity," James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac's chief executive, said in a statement.

"Despite continued efforts by the federal government and state governments to patch together a safety net for distressed homeowners, we're seeing significant growth in both the initial notices of default and in the bank repossessions."

More than 360,000 households with loans drew a foreclosure filing in July, a record dating back to January 2005, when RealtyTrac started tracking monthly activity.

Notices of default, auction or repossession have reached nearly 2.3 million in the first seven months of the year — with more than half a million bank repossessions, the Irvine, California-based company said.

Foreclosure activity is one key to any real recovery (the other being unemployment). We're still losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, foreclosures are still rising and that means there's not going to be any major consumer spending recovering anytime soon. It's a bad combination that will strictly limit, if not wipe out, any recovery in the economy.

But what about the stock markets, you say. Yeah, it has been a wild ride up from March. It won't continue for much longer. The bubble mentality is back with a vengeance. When this one pops, it's going to hurt for a long, long time.


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