Monday, October 19, 2009

Last Call

There's an odd reaction from the Winger blogs tonight about this story where several Village news outlets got burned by a fake US Chamber of Commerce press conference stunt Monday morning, and I have to call them collectively on it.

In a story posted Monday morning, Reuters declared: “The Chamber of Commerce said on Monday it will no longer opposes climate change legislation, but wants the bill to include a carbon tax.”

Reuters updated the story to acknowledge the hoax, but it was too late: The Washington Post and the New York Times had already posted the fake story on their Web sites.

"Reuters has an obligation to its clients to publish news and information that could move financial markets, and this story had the potential to do that,” said a Thomson Reuters spokesperson. “Once we had confirmed the release was a hoax, we immediately issued a correction, and in keeping with Reuters policy, the story was subsequently withdrawn and an advisory sent to readers."

The Yes Men, a left-leaning activist group that often impersonates officials from organizations they oppose, took responsibility for the hoax.

Andy Bichlbaum—an alias the activist uses for Yes Men demonstrations—told POLITICO that his group is targeting the Chamber for what he considers “retrograde” positions on climate change.

Very cool Yes Men versus the Village Stenographers story aside (and more on that here) it's, as I said above, the Winger reaction to the Villagers getting completely embarrassed that I have to call attention to. While some are blaming and some aren't, all are having a good laugh at the Villager's expense and are quick to say "Gosh, looks like the MSM doesn't fact-check, hurr."

Guess what, assclowns? Neither do you. Or do we have to go on about how several blogs on the right spout the same unchecked talking points from the GOP on a daily basis. Death panels? Obama's concentration camps? Those one point nine million invisible teabaggers? The whole goddamn birther stupidity?

You guys fact check?

My ass. Bunch of hypocritical jagoffs that refuse to deal in the truth even more than the Villagers: at least they pretend to be balanced once in a while and do get their facts straight. But let's not pretend for a moment that spouting various viral Obama Derangement Syndrome garbage makes you somehow better that the Village Idiots, especially when you're so quick to blurt out any Drudge, El Rushbo, Glennsanity or Malkinvania fabrication of the day about Obama, Nancy Pelosi, any White House staffer you don't like, whatever. You're not fooling a damn thing.

Most of you exist to lie.


Asking The Right Question For Once

It took months, but the Washington Post finally asks a real, honest to goodness poll question about if Americans want a Democrat-only bill with a public option or a bi-partisan bill without the public option, a majority of Americans want the public option bill as Greg Sargent reports.
Okay, this is important: The new Washington Post poll finally asks people about their cravings for bipartisanship in the right way, and its finding really challenges the conventional wisdom that people want bipartisan health care compromise at all costs.

Specifically: A majority wants a Dem-only bill rather than a bipartisan one if the Dem-only one includes a public insurance option and the bipartisan one doesn’t. A majority of Independents wants the same. From the internals:

Which of these would you prefer –- (a plan that includes some form of government-sponsored health insurance for people who can’t get affordable private insurance, but is approved without support from Republicans in Congress); or

(a plan that is approved with support from Republicans in Congress, but does not include any form of government-sponsored health insurance for people who can’t get affordable private insurance)?

Prefer government-sponsored insurance: 51%

Prefer Republican support: 37%

This is the first time a major news org has asked the question this way — Research 2000 did it once — and I like to pretend it was inspired by my ranting about this. By the way, 52 percent of indys want the partisan bill with the public option.

Other findings in the poll:

  • On who do you trust with decisions on the country's future, 49% gave President Obama a great deal or a good deal of trust on that, Congressional Dems scored 34%...but the GOP came up just 19%.
  • A majority 57% would support a government plan to compete with private insurance plans. Of the other 43%, 45% of those respondents would support a state run plan.
  • 56% of Americans would support a mandate for health insurance. Of the other 44%, a third of those folks would support subsidies for individuals making up to $40k and up to $88k for a family of four.

Interesting poll results, and very encouraging to the Dems. Or, it should be...

At Last, Our Long National Nightmare Is Over

For lo, there is now a bipartisan effort in Congress to get rid of the dreaded Bowl Championship Series.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers fed up with the lack of a college football playoff have formed their own political action committee, Playoff PAC.

The group includes Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who have all railed against the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system that makes it all-but-impossible for small schools to win a national championship.

Abercrombie and Hatch have home-state interests in seeing a playoff system. The University of Hawaii, University of Utah and Brigham Young University are perennial contenders to go undefeated in a season, but, because they don't play in one of the major conferences, they're never mentioned as possible national champions in college football's top flight.

Abercrombie blasted as "arbitrary" and "anti-competitive" the most recent BCS rankings, which had only one small school, No. 4 Boise State University, in the Top 10.
No offense guys, but there are BIGGER PROBLEMS TO WORRY ABOUT RIGHT NOW.

Hell's Bells. No wonder Congress's approval rating is in the low 20's.

Pass f'cking health care reform, you douchebags.

Epic Golf Is A Four-Letter Word, So Is Fail

GOP Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana should perhaps change his name to Steve Seller, as Justin Elliott at the Muck reports.
Last we checked, Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) was maintaining that he had nothing more than a casual connection to the Frontier Foundation, which has collected lots of money from industry groups seeking to curry favor with Buyer, spent a lot on travel, meals, and salary, but given out nothing for its stated purpose of helping students get through college.

Now, after several media outlets questioned the legitimacy of the setup, Buyer is pushing back and he has a totally new story: the foundation is his, after all, and his selfless efforts to help poor Indiana children are now the focus of "vicious and ugly" attacks.

Oh yeah, and even though everything is on the up-and-up, Buyer has decided to review the foundation's activities and potentially change how it operates.

But wait, there's more!

Buyer now admits to the Indianapolis Star that a lot of those unitemized foundation expenses were for golf outings with corporate donors at, among other places, Disney World, the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, and the Phoenix-area Boulders resort.

Not to worry, though -- Buyer tells the paper he doesn't even enjoy the trips, saying it's "not fun for me" and the travel is "work."

So, if I'm getting this straight, Buyer here is in charge of a questionable college scholarship foundation that has never actually given away a college scholarship and when he gets busted on that he doubles down and says "you guys are picking on us!" while admitting yes, the foundation paid for golf junkets.

To Walt Disney World.

Yeah. This guy's screwed.


Better Than Bad, It's Good

Dear Democrats in Congress:

As I'm telling you, and Digby is telling you, and Atrios is telling you, if you guys pass no health care reform bill, you'll be in real trouble and will lose seats in Congress.

But if you pass a crapass bill, you'll lose Congress, period.

You're welcome.


Opposite Man

Whatever Ross Douthat thinks is a good idea, do the opposite.
But there’s another path, equally radical, that’s more in keeping with the traditional American approach to government, taxation and free enterprise. This approach would give up on the costly goal of insuring everyone for everything, forever. Instead, it would seek to insure Americans only against costs that exceed a certain percentage of their income, while expecting them to pay for everyday medical expenditures out of their own pockets.

Such a system would provide universal catastrophic health insurance, in other words, while creating a free market for non-catastrophic care. In the process, it would marry a central conservative insight — that we’ll never control spending so long as Americans are insulated from the true price of their medical care — to the admirable liberal premise that nobody should go bankrupt paying for life-saving treatment.
And of course, the real money in the health care system is to be made from the drugs and treatments and everyday costs. Millions of Americans aren't going to need catastrophic coverage, and it's the little things, from doctor's visits to batteries of tests to preventative care that buries most Americans as they turn to their health insurance only to discover they were never insulated from those "health care payments" Douthat complains about to begin with thanks to the kind of high co-payments he's suggesting are the answer.

Once again, Douthat's solution to the problem is based on the premise that poor people shouldn't get so damn sick. If they didn't, why, then they'd have more money to spend, you see. If the problem of insurance is affordability, how the hell is having everyone purchasing catastrophic going to solve the issue?

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

The GOP grassroots has literally been reduced to grown men fighting over Sarah Palin.

America still needs your help.

The Count Of Charlie Crist, Oh!

Dumas puns aside, the GOP Senate primary in Florida between Gov. Charlie Crist and State Speaker Marco Rubio is shaping up to be indicative of the greater GOP battle between the Wingnut base and the remaining moderates. Each candidate has become the poster face for their respective sides in the battle, Crist representing the chamber of commerce, country club moderates and Rubio representing the fire-breathing Wingnut contingent.

The problem is this shouldn't even be a battle according to Crist's people, but buzz about Rubio is rising fast.

Polling released last week showed a significant deterioration in Crist’s once sky-high approval ratings, with an InsiderAdvantage survey showing his job performance rating dipping below 50 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida political insiders and the state media buzzed about an unreleased recent Chamber of Commerce poll said to show a closer-than-expected primary race.

For his part, Rubio is tapping into conservative grass-roots antipathy toward Crist. He has won nearly a dozen county straw polls across the state — often by landslide margins. In August, he won a Florida Federation of College Republicans poll, and in September, he won several straw polls conducted by local GOP women’s clubs.

Last week, Rubio defeated Crist in a decisive 90-17 vote in Palm Beach County.

“It’s created an appearance of momentum that has gotten people enthusiastic about him,” said Jason Roe, a Republican strategist with Florida ties. “Crist started the campaign with an air of inevitability, and Marco has chipped way at that.”

Rubio’s fundraising has also taken off — he announced earlier this month that his campaign had raised nearly $1 million in the third quarter, a significant boost over his $346,000 second-quarter performance. While Crist, a prolific fundraiser, took in considerably more — $2.4 million — Rubio’s haul was surprising given the expectations of many that his fundraising would dry up in the face of his uphill battle.

“There is definitely a buzz going on,” said Ana Navarro, a longtime Florida Republican fundraiser who is working for Rubio. “There has been a sea change.”

“It’s going to be a race. It’s going to be a dogfight,” said Mike Hanna, a veteran Republican strategist in the state. “It’s going down to the wire and will be a close race.”

Indeed, that Florida Chamber of Commerce poll has Rubio down 44-30%, which is actually far closer than it was just a couple months ago. It's worth revisiting Dave Weigel's take from May on the Crist-Rubio Senate race.

The coming Florida primary is shaping up to be the most brutal of the ideological primaries. Rubio, a 39-year-old Cuban-American who served for eight years in the Florida House — the last two years as speaker — entered the Senate race on May 5. Early on, he said that anyone who voted with the Senate Republican moderates “might as well be a Democrat.” In March, Rubio quietly signed up Ann Herberger, a prolific fundraiser for Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, to stockpile cash for a campaign. In April, he came to Washington to talk with the Club for Growth, the fiscal conservative PAC that until April was led by Pat Toomey, and one that welcomed Crist into the race with pointed criticism. This, and an aggressive media strategy that has resulted in warm interviews with Fox News and National Review, has allowed Rubio to build buzz with conservative activists who fully expect Crist to lead the first rounds of polls.

“It will be closer than it looks right now,” said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida. “It’s Crist’s race to lose but there is a pent-up animus against him from mainstream Republican voters who don’t like the fact that he’s cozied up to President Obama.”

Rubio is laying the groundwork for that by patiently laying out a litany of conservative complaints against Crist — his environmentalism, his appointment of a pro-choice judge, and above all his support for the economic stimulus package. “Charlie Crist has proven to have more confidence in the ability of government to grow the economy than I have and than Republicans should have,” Rubio told National Review. While Crist supported the president, Rubio attended an anti-spending Tea Party and has produced a video that mashes up his speech from the event with interviews he conducted with other protesters — a video that has been played for attendees of Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meetings of Washington conservatives.

“Rubio went to a Tea Party,” said Javier Manjarres, chairman of the south Florida-based Conservative Republican Alliance. “Where was Crist? He didn’t go to any Tea Parties. To stand with Obama like he did was a slap in the face of Republicans.”

In some quarters of Florida’s Republican base, there is lingering bitterness over Crist’s olive branches to Democrats — he once said he was “open” to reparations for slavery — and the state GOP’s decisions during the 2008 election. While Obama carried Florida, the party lost the House seats of scandalized Republican incumbents Rep. Tom Feeney and Rep. Ric Keller while winning the seat of disgraced Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney. Republicans who worked on other races, without much party support, aren’t won over by Crist or his endorsement from state party chairman Jim Greer.

As goes Charlie Crist, so goes the GOP in 2010. If Republicans insist on putting up Teabaggers like Rubio nationwide, they're in serious trouble in the general elections. The country will slap them down in 2010 just like 2006 and 2008. And even if Rubio doesn't win, Crist will have to tack hard to the right in order to satisfy the base, and that I think will depress the base even more should Rubio come close and lose.

In other words, if Crist wins, the GOP base will stay home. If Rubio wins, the Dem base will be motivated to stop him. Either way, it's not looking good for the GOP in a number of purple states.

Obama Derangement Syndrome is not going to fix the country's problems, and yet that's all the GOP will have to run on in 2010.

[UPDATE 2:35 PM] How many House Republicans are going to be in big trouble down the road with the Winger base for taking the stimulus money every single one of them voted against? This goes for Senate Republicans and GOP Governors too.

I'm not worried about the Democrats losing in 2010.

Foreclosing On A Dream

I may talk about the economic numbers on this blog in a clinical manner, but it's important to keep in mind there are real people whose lives are being affected by these numbers, and they are making up the new ranks of America's growing homeless problem.
Growing numbers of Americans who have lost houses to foreclosure are landing in homeless shelters, according to social service groups and a recent report by a coalition of housing advocates.

Only three years ago, foreclosure was rarely a factor in how people became homeless. But among the homeless people that social service agencies have helped over the last year, an average of 10 percent lost homes to foreclosure, according to “Foreclosure to Homelessness 2009,” a survey produced by the National Coalition for the Homeless and six other advocacy groups.

In the Midwest, foreclosure played a role for 15 percent of newly homeless people, according to the survey, reflecting soaring rates of unemployment — Ohio’s reached 10.8 percent in August — and aggressive lending to people with damaged credit.

At a shelter for women and children run by the West Side Catholic Center in Cleveland, where Ms. West now lives, foreclosure accounted for zero arrivals in 2007, the center’s executive director, Gerald Skoch, said. Last year, two cases emerged. This year, the number has already reached four.

Similar increases have been reported at shelters in California, Michigan and Florida, where a combination of joblessness and the real estate bust have generated unusually severe rates of foreclosure.
The banksters are still reporting record profits and making record bonuses. The ashes of the lives those banksters help to ruin aren't even cold yet. And the best part is with the shape state and local budgets are in, resources to help people like Sheri West here are vanishing like water into the desert.

When I talk about America's residential real estate depression, I'm talking also about the growing numbers of Americans who are on the streets because of it.

And it will only get worse. There but for the grace of God goes this blogger.

Not The Last Dance With Mary Jane

The Obama DoJ has released new federal guidelines on medical marijuana prosecution, and with all things legalese, I defer to the Double G, who is apparently pleased with the new regs allowing the states the leeway to handle this issue on their own.
Criminalizing cancer and AIDS patients for using a substance that is (a) prescribed by their doctors and (b) legal under the laws of their state has always been abominable. The Obama administration deserves major credit not only for ceasing this practice, but for memorializing it formally in writing. Just as is true for Jim Webb's brave crusade to radically revise the nation's criminal justice and drug laws, there is little political gain -- and some political risk -- in adopting a policy that can be depicted as "soft on drugs" or even "pro-marijuana." It's a change that has concrete benefits for many people who are sick and for those who provide them with treatments that benefit them. So credit where it's due to the Obama DOJ, for fulfilling a long-standing commitment on this issue.

Beyond the tangible benefits to patients and providers, there is the issue of states' right. Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana, many by referendum. The Bush administration's refusal to honor or even recognize those states' decisions -- by arresting people for doing things which are perfectly legal under state law -- was one of many examples giving the lie to the conservative movement's alleged belief in federalism and limited federal power (see here, for instance, how John Ashcroft and GOP Senators tried deceitfully and undemocratically to exploit the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent Oregon from implementing its assisted suicide law). Constitutionally and otherwise, what possible justification is there for federalizing decisions about whether individuals can use marijuana for medical purposes? Ironically (given the "socialism" and "fascism" rhetoric spewed at it by the Fox News faction), the Obama administration's decision is a major advancement for the rights of states to have their laws respected by the federal government.

Painting this issue as a states' rights issue neatly disarms the GOP as well. I'd like to see what the tenthers like Texas Gov. Rick Perry have to say about this, personally. I'm betting that Perry's going to find himself having a pretty small eye of a needle to thread on this one.

My personal observations on the War of Drugs are that it's a great way to criminalize large portions of the populace. Yeah, there are problems out there with drugs and violence, you have only to look at any newspaper for that, but there are plenty of people in America's prisons who really shouldn't be there.

Politics makes strange smoking buddies, however.

No Country For Old Moderates

Over at The Moderate Voice, Jazz Shaw is still lamenting the Democrats' fiscal policy, but at least Jazz is now admitting that the GOP in its current state is no answer.

But this is also a time when looking to the GOP for a unified front offering sound, reasoned solutions to these shortcomings seems equally futile. I would first suggest that you take a look at Rick Moran’s column from yesterday, The Different Reality Inhabited by the Conservative Base. At first glance I thought some of the criticism in there, largely drawn from one study by James Carville’s Democracy Corps and a thought provoking column by Peggy Noonan, was a bit harsh. But on further reflection, it seems to me that it may not have even gone far enough. (By all means, follow the links to those two source pieces in addition to Rick’s essay. They are eye openers, and not in the usual partisan hack festival way.)

There has long been a reasonable amount of healthy debate in the Republican ranks, largely between the primarily fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. Such discussion is useful and productive. The problem is that, ever since their trips to the woodshed in 2006 and 2008, a variety of GOP tribes have been fighting intensely to lay claim to the mantle of being “true conservatives” and attempting to raise their standard as the definitive flag of the Republican party.

This has now reached the truly alarming stage after listening to certain “hard core” individuals who consider their definition of conservatism to not only be the single valid one, but a casus belli against anyone who doesn’t speak in the proper code phrases. The calls for “purging the RINOs” from the party in the primary process (which is partially how the party lost me back in 2005) have given way to much more hostile tones in some circles, as I found out while browsing the comments section of my column from Sunday at Pajamas Media.

Now, Jazz Shaw's idea of moderate is strictly in the Olympia Snowe/Evan Bayh model, but it's worth noting that while Obama is no moderate, he's not openly hostile to them like the Wingers are. The solution?
The point is, it can get rather depressing when you’re in the mood to have a reasoned discussion on the future of conservatism. Don’t get me wrong… I’m well aware that people such as the ones who left the comments I quoted above actually only represent a small but vocal percentage of an otherwise largely civil society. (As I pointed out in a previous column.) But the problem is that the chief forums today for such debate and productive discussion – almost exclusively on the internet – seem to be dominated by the loudest, most divisive voices. There is little room for reasoned discussion of serious problems which likely could be solved with sufficient elbow grease and cooperation.

The ideal solution, of course, would be the formation of a viable third party focused on moderate, states based approaches to social issues with a strong national focus on fiscal responsibility and accountability. Sadly, the two party system is too deeply entrenched (at least for the time being) and we’re unlikely to see that any time soon.

Blame both sides. This is actually an improvement, because up until now the problem was of course all solely with the Democrats.

Even moderates can be taught, folks.

Running Scared

The GOP is trying to kill Obamacare, we know that and have known that for months now. What is new is that the Village is reporting that the goal of the GOP is to kill the legislation...and that the GOP is very worried now that they've failed to stop it.
Roll Call reports today on what we can expect to see from the Senate GOP caucus as the debate over health care reform enters the final stretch.

Senate Republicans, acknowledging they lack the votes to block a health care reform bill outright, have implemented a comprehensive political strategy to delay, define and derail. [...]

Senate Democrats are rejecting Republicans' demands to slow things down, charging that the GOP isn't interested in working with the majority to craft a bipartisan health care bill. Rather, Reid said repeatedly last week, the Republicans' primary goal is to sink reform in order to undercut President Barack Obama.

It seems safe to say, then, that the Republican strategy for the next several weeks is identical to the strategy of the last several months. As long as the majority appreciates the tactics for what they are, the process will proceed nicely. (In late July, Harry Reid told reporters, "Working with the Republicans, one of the things that they asked for was to have more time. I don't think it's unreasonable." We probably won't hear that one again.)

Of particular interest in the Roll Call piece, however, was a take on GOP expectations.

Earlier in the year, Republicans were hoping that Democratic divisions would do to Obama's health care agenda what the GOP can't, but they no longer expect moderate Democrats to stand in the way of passage -- even one that includes a public insurance option.

Now, the piece didn't attribute a specific quote to anyone on this, but if it's true, it's extremely encouraging. Indeed, at this point, it's the single most important procedural angle to the larger debate: will members of the Democratic caucus side with Republicans and block consideration of the bill. This article suggests Republicans expect all 60 members of the majority caucus to, at a minimum, let the bill come up for an up-or-down vote.

In other words, the only thing the GOP can do is filibuster, and they're not expecting that to work. Cracks are beginning to appear in the united wall to kill Obamacare. Senators don't like being remembered for being on the wrong side of history.

I'm not sure I share Steve Benen's optimism here, but at least it's a sign that the GOP admits it's on the losing side here. It makes stories like this reek with the odor of flop sweat.

[UPDATE 11:55 AM] BooMan's analysis is, as usual, worth reading on the calculus of Congress.

I think the real question is not whether or not Obama has 60 votes now, but whether he will have them in the end. Will any member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate be willing to cast the deciding vote against cloture that denies the president an up-or-down vote on the Conference Report? My guess is 'no,' there will not be any Democrats who will take responsibility for killing reform. But, until we get to that point, there are senators who are looking to win concessions for their states and their interests (and their campaign contributors). So, the dance will continue.
He argues that this story is there to put pressure on the ConservaDems, and I believe he's right.

The New Recession Goes Old School

This holiday season an old standby is back in the era of hyper-derivatives and securitization: the good ol' layaway. More and more stores are adding it back this shopping season, figuring interest free installment payments are better than inventory sitting unsold on shelves.
Toys R Us Inc. is introducing a layaway program for larger-ticket items such as bikes and cribs ahead of the holiday season, the company said Monday.

The largest U.S. toy retailer said the program is effective immediately in stores nationwide. Customers can put a variety of items on hold and make a series of payments until the item is paid in full.

Layaway programs are financing agreements in which retailers -- without charging interest -- hold merchandise for customers until they have finished paying in installments.

Popular during the Great Depression, layaway had become largely a thing of the past before the recession hit. But Sears expanded its program for the holidays last year, and due to its popularity Sears and Kmart introduced an online option this year.

Retailers who have introduced the programs see them as a way to keep customers buying in a time of tight credit and other economic problems. Toys R Us CEO Gerald Storch said his company's customers were requesting a layaway program.

Yes, stores are that desperate this holiday shopping season for customers and sales that they are turning to layaways to get you to buy, buy, buy.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, it seems. But it goes to show you just how bad off the holiday shopping season is expected to be over the next two months.

Not Such A Sweet Home, Alabama

Birmingham, Alabama is facing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, and the blame is flying in Ken Wells's lengthy and informative article in Bloomberg this morning.
In its 190-year history, Jefferson County, Alabama, has endured a cholera epidemic, a pounding in the Civil War, gunslingers, labor riots and terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan. Now this namesake of Thomas Jefferson, anchored by Birmingham, is staring at what one local politician calls financial “Armageddon.”

The spectacle -- a tax struck down, about 1,000 county employees furloughed, a politician indicted over $3 billion in sewer debt that may lead to the largest municipal bankruptcy in history -- has elbowed its way up the ladder of county lore.

“People want to kill somebody, but they don’t know who to shoot at,” says Russell Cunningham, past president of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce.

One target of their anger is Larry P. Langford, who was the county commission’s president in 2003 and 2004 and is now mayor of Birmingham. The 61-year-old Democrat goes on trial today, charged in a November 2008 federal indictment with taking cash, Rolex watches and designer clothes in exchange for helping to steer $7.1 million in fees to an Alabama investment banker as the county refinanced its sewer debt.

Jefferson County’s debacle is a parable for billions of dollars lost by state and local governments from Florida to California in transactions done behind closed doors. Selling debt without requiring competition made public officials vulnerable to bankers’ sales pitches, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for borrowing gone awry.

The great news? Birmingham isn't alone. Not by a long's only the most visible disaster. Tons of other local and county governments played the credit default swap roulette game too, and as rising unemployment and foreclosed homes eat into the remaining tax revenue, a whole mess of other places are going to find themselves in similar economic positions over the next year or two. The results are going to be catastrophic to state budgets, which in turn will be catastrophic to the national one.

You thought 2009 was bad? Just wait. Cities and counties across the country will have no choice but the wholesale elimination of services and jobs. It'll only get worse from here.

Raising The Roof

The big financial story over the weekend is the call from Barron's Magazine writer Andrew Bary for Helicopter Ben to raise interest rates from 0% to 2%. CNBC says it's not happening.
"I think that the US central bank should begin raising rates in December, I believe that the economy is strong enough for that," Dariusz Kowalczyk, chief investment strategist at SJS Markets Limited told CNBC.

"At the same time I'm sure they will wait longer because they will want to err on the side of caution," Kowalczyk added in an interview for "Worldwide Exchange."

Caution is the word, but also the economic indicators are not there yet, Jim O'Neill, head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC.

Well of course these guys say it's not going to happen. They'd make less money if it did. That speculative bubble has to keep swelling like a boil. Actually letting the pressure out slowly would be logical, and we can't have that in the era of irrational exuberance.
He reminded of Japan's "lost decade", saying part of it was caused by the fact the Bank of Japan raised rates too quickly in the mid-1990s, causing deflation.

"I think the name of the game to have kept us away from an even more severe recession than we have is to ease financial conditions," O'Neill said.

"They (the Fed) want financial conditions to be as easy as possible. I think the Fed will be pretty relaxed about it at the moment, as it should be," he added.

The Barron's article served one good purpose though, to remind market participants that central banks' decisions are not always easy to anticipate.

"It's a widespread view that the Fed won't be able to move rates until 2011. They miss the point," David Page, economist at Investec, told CNBC. "We do expect to see the Fed start its move around the middle of next year."

The Fed will likely raise rates to around 2 percent, but will probably have to remain around that level for a few years to avoid choking the recovery, he said.

They're worried that raising rates will cause deflation? Have you been paying attention to the housing market, guys? Deflation's already here. The only thing balancing it is the massive amount of money the government is creating to throw at the problem.

The real issue that money's going to the people who already have money. It's called transfer of wealth. All the money going into the economy is being sat upon by the Too Big To Fail crew, and they're getting richer and richer. So much money's going in now that your average American is getting burned by both deflation in housing AND inflation in consumer prices.

What recovery? What middle class? We're well beyond the point where fiddling with interest rates will fix anything.

The Revolution Will Be Webcasted

It's getting damn scary out there, folks. Back in Clinton's day, militias and anti-government groups didn't use the internet so much. Now they have their own websites, making it easier than ever for people to join up to "fight the coming war"...
Launched in March by Las Vegan Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers bills itself as a nonpartisan group of current and retired law enforcement and military personnel who vow to fulfill their oaths to the Constitution.

More specifically, the group's members, which number in the thousands, pledge to disobey orders they deem unlawful, including directives to disarm the American people and to blockade American cities. By refusing the latter order, the Oath Keepers hope to prevent cities from becoming "giant concentration camps," a scenario the 44-year-old Rhodes says he can envision happening in the coming years.

It's a Cold War-era nightmare vision with a major twist: The occupying forces in this imagined future are American, not Soviet.

"The whole point of Oath Keepers is to stop a dictatorship from ever happening here," Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and Yale-trained lawyer, said in an interview with the Review-Journal. "My focus is on the guys with the guns, because they can't do it without them.

"We say if the American people decide it's time for a revolution, we'll fight with you."

Hmm. Ex-soldiers and cops ready to prevent America from becoming a dictatorship. Gee, that doesn't sound like a problem...especially since after eight years of a Bush/Cheney junta, these guys are only formed a few months after Obama takes office. Now that's not suspicious as hell.

But let's see what the Oath Keepers have to say for themselves:

Oath Keepers got some unwanted attention in April when an Oklahoma man loosely connected to the group was arrested for threatening violence at an anti-tax protest in Oklahoma City. Rhodes called the man "a nut" who had no real affiliation with his group.

Nonetheless, Potok's group now monitors Oath Keepers on its Web site blog "Hatewatch."

Oath Keepers is not preaching violence or government overthrow, Rhodes said. On the contrary, it is asking police and the military to lay down their arms in response to unlawful orders.

The group's Web site,, features videos and testimonials in which supporters compare President Barack Obama's America to Adolf Hitler's Germany. They also liken Obama to England's King George III during the American Revolution.

One member, in a videotaped speech at an event in Washington, D.C., calls Obama "the domestic enemy the Constitution is talking about."

Nope, these guys aren't a problem.

Keep telling yourselves that these guys are harmless, they're not driven in part by racism or paranoia, and that they're non-violent, and that calling for the police and military to consider the government to be illegitimate and to refuse to follow orders is a perfectly normal thing to do.

So what's Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes's excuse for letting Bush slide?

Rhodes, a former firearms instructor, said he easily could have started Oath Keepers during the Bush administration, but his focus during those years was first on getting his law degree and then volunteering on the 2008 presidential campaign of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican in whose office Rhodes worked during the 1990s.

What Rhodes terms "the rise of executive privilege" during the post-9/11 years of the Bush presidency will in his opinion only accelerate with Obama in office. What's worse, he said, is that "gun-hating extremists" now control the White House.

Two things have happened since the Homeland Security Department and Southern Poverty Law Center released their reports on extremism: Membership of Oath Keepers has spiked dramatically. And Rhodes has had to do a lot of explaining.

"We're not a militia," he said. "And we're not part and parcel of the white supremacist movement. I loathe white supremacists."

Oath Keepers doesn't offer paramilitary training; nor does it have a military command structure. It instead has board members, which include directors in seven states and outreach coordinators to currently serving local and federal law enforcement and military personnel. The group's state director in Montana, who goes by the name Elias Alias, has said Montana and other states should consider seceding from the United States in protest of the federal government's conduct.

You see, government power isn't a problem until the people you don't like are in charge of wielding that power. Only then are they illegitimate. Only then do groups like Oath Keepers get formed. It was no problem when Bush was in charge, starting his wars and wrecking the economy. No, the real problem was the interminable two months between when Barack Obama took office and Oath Keepers was formed in March. That was the final straw, you see. Now it's perfectly fine for the police and military to turn against the government and for states to secede from the union. It's not like that has ever caused problems in America's history or anything.

Look, I have my problems with Obama's use of Bush-era anti-terror powers and tactics, but he has improved in a number of areas. I agree that vigilance is needed, but there's a difference. The difference is that these guys consider a lot more than just Obama to be the enemy. He has protection. Most of the rest of us don't.

If your first response to the election of an African-American president is to form a network of ex-military and police in order to combat what you see as a fascist takeover of the country, there's something wrong.

And it will only get worse from here.


Related Posts with Thumbnails