Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Last Call

Helicopter Ben Bernakne's hit some turbulence, and that turbulence is named Sen. Bernie Sanders, as Yves Smith details:
First, Bernie Sanders of Vermont said he is putting a hold on Bernanke’s confirmation. A hold (in lay terms) is a threat to filibuster. This is actually pretty serious and seldom done. It takes 60 votes to beat one back, and there are enough procedural roadblocks that a filibustering Senator can throw so that it holds up Senate business for a few days, even if it is ultimately unsuccessful. And by current tallies, there are a few Senators on the right who are also vehemently opposed to Bernanke and would support this move.

Now so far, this is merely an obstacle to reappointment, but this is still much more serious opposition than anyone would have expected even a week ago.

Second, a Rasmussen poll (hat tip reader Andrew) released today found that only 21% of Americans favor Bernanke’s reappointment. This is significant not simply due to the lousy results, but that Rasmussen bothered to run the poll at all. This was not a client sponsored poll; Rasmussen thought this was newsworthy enough to run this on its own. Admittedly, a large proportion are undecided, but twice as many oppose a Bernanke reappointment as support it.

This says that the calls to Senators are making a difference. Remember, hardly anyone ever bothers voice opposition to this sort of confirmation. And it’s important to recognize that the symbolism extends beyond the question of Bernanke’s continued tenure. This is a shot across the bow as far as Wall Street friendly policies are concerned. It puts the Congress and Administration on notice that the public is aware of how badly they have been had and are continuing to be bled on the financial front and sees the conduct of economic policy as important.
Could it be that Helicopter Ben's running out of gas?  I mean I know I want to see Greenspan 2.0's rapidly balding ass gone, but I had no idea his popularity was somewhere south of Dubya and heading for Cheney's Big Suck Country.  But if Senators like Bernie are ready to pull the plug on the guy, maybe it will force Obama to reevaluate upping Ben's pilot's license...and his magic printing press.

Hooray For Science!

Via BooMan comes happy science stuff:
The National Institutes of Health said Wednesday that it had approved 13 new human embryonic stem cell lines for use by federally financed researchers, with 96 more under review.

The action followed President Obama’s decision in March to expand the number of such cell lines beyond those available under a policy set by President George W. Bush, which permitted research to begin only with lines already available on Aug. 9, 2001.

Since that date, biomedical researchers supported by the N.I.H. have had to raise private money to derive the cells, which are obtained from the fertilized embryos left over from in vitro fertility clinics.

With federal money banned from being used in any part of the work on the derived lines, researchers had to divide their laboratories and go to extreme lengths to separate research materials based on the financing source.

“You can imagine what it meant not to be able to carry a pipette from one room to another,” said Ali H. Brivanlou, a researcher at Rockefeller University. “They even had to repaint the walls to ensure no contamination by federal funds.”

Two of the newly approved 13 lines were derived by Dr. Brivanlou with private financing. The rest were prepared by Dr. George Daley of Children’s Hospital Boston.

Dr. Daley said that private financing had been drying up and that he was eager to start research on the now-approved cell lines with the help of his federal grant money.
YAY SCIENCE!  I feel better now.

Really, they had to repaint the walls to "avoid contamination by federal funds"?  God Bush ruined this country.  He really did.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

So, when the International Bowl Expo people ask Sarah Palin to bowl a game and she quits in the sixth frame, will anyone be surprised?

Housing Of Pain

More and more econ talking heads are coming around to the idea that the housing depression is nowhere near over yet. The latest is Moody's chief Mark Zandi:
The meltdown of the U.S. housing market is not over yet, and home prices will soon start trekking downward again as a flood of foreclosures looms, a well-known economist said Wednesday.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at at Moody's in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said in an interview with Reuters home prices will resume their decline by early next year as foreclosure sales pick up again.

"The housing crash is not over," he said.

The U.S. housing market has suffered the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and its impact has rippled through the recession-hit economy as well as the rest of the world. A setback for the hard-hit housing market could portend problems for the U.S. economy.

Home prices, as measured by the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, will trough in the third quarter of 2010 after declining 38 percent, Zandi said.

The index peaked in the second quarter of 2006 and hit a trough in the first quarter of 2009, a drop of about 32 percent. Home prices in many regions have been rising.

That is because foreclosure sales fell over the summer and fall as mortgage servicers have tried to put stressed homeowners into the Home Affordable Modification Program and other modification plans, he said.

"This lull in foreclosures sales has resulted in the price gains in the past few months," he said.

"Foreclosure sales will increase, and home prices will resume their decline by early 2010 as mortgage servicers figure out who will not qualify for a modification," he said.
Even the optimists are now saying we're going to see another year of housing prices falling. My money's on declines well into 2011 if not 2012.

T For Tanner Is Not T For Trouble

Long-time Blue Dog Dem John Tanner of Tennessee will join Kansas Blue Dog Dennis Moore in retiring from the House.
While Tanner ran unopposed in his last two re-election victories, John McCain won the district by 13 points in last year's presidential contest. But 14 of the 20 state lawmakers in the district are Democrats. The district is located in the northwest portion of Tennessee and includes Jackson. Will Tanner's retirement present the GOP with an opportunity?

"With $1.4 million in the bank, John Tanner opted for retirement rather than be forced to defend the abysmal economic policies of the Obama-Pelosi agenda," Ken Spain, National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director, tells CNN. "When a longtime incumbent such as Tanner – who hasn't faced a credible challenge in over decade – chooses to retire, it speaks to the deteriorating political environment that Democrats have left in their wake after eleven short months."

But Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is optimistic his party can keep the seat.

"We are confident that a Democrat who shares Congressman John Tanner's determination to bringing bipartisan, commonsense solutions for Tennessee's families will succeed him as the next Representative of Tennessee's 8th District," says Van Hollen in a statement.

Amy Walter, Editor-in-Chief of the Hotline, says Tanner's retirement carries a lot of weight: "As the longtime leader of the Blue Dogs, and someone who's gone from majority to minority and back in his 21 years in Congress, many would take his decision as a signal that moderates were in a heap of trouble in 2010. If a guy like that is leaving, the thinking would go, how can a freshman or sophomore in a similar district have any hope of hanging on?"

Sigh. The Village. As I said when Moore announced his retirement last week, there are opportunities on both sides here.  But part of the problem the Dems had in 1994 was from the unusual number of retirements (there were 20, including 9 in January and February of that year.)  Two retirements on the other hand does not a tidal wave make.

Doesn't stop the idiotic speculation, of course.  Remember at this point two years ago, there were seventeen House Republicans calling it quits (and six more in the Senate!)   Besides, Dems have already signed up a candidate to run for Tanner's seat.  State Sen. Roy Herron will most likely face off against Republican Steven Fincher in 2010.

When the Democrats' retirement numbers get to a dozen or more then you have a trend.  Until then, the Dems are looking to play hardball on defense, and the near immediate candidacy of Roy Herron shows the Dems are serious about keeping the seat.

All Eyes On The Empire State - UPDATE: Bill Fails 38-24

Taking a page from D.C.'s soon to be successful gay marriage legislation, New York's State Assembly has passed a same-sex marriage bill and is finally on the way to the State Senate.
By clearing the path for a vote, Senate Democrats have removed the last remaining obstacle for a debate on the same-sex marriage bill, which has never been put to a vote in the Senate despite repeated efforts by gay rights advocates.

But Democrats, who have a bare, one-seat majority, do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some Republican support.

In a debate that in many instances was cast in unusually personal tones, many senators delivered emotional speeches on the floor of the chamber, equating the struggle for gay rights to the civil rights movement or the battle women have waged for equality.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Senator Thomas K. Duane of Manhattan, who is gay, said the bill would finally give him something that as a New Yorker he has never enjoyed.

“This legislation would merely provide me and tens of thousands of other New Yorkers with equal rights in New York State," Mr. Duane said. “It would make me equal in every way to everyone else in this chamber.”
(More after the jump...)

Gold Rush, Part 7

Peter Schiff seems convinced that gold at $1,200 an ounce is just the beginning.  He sees the precious metal hitting three, maybe four times that price in the next several years.
“[Gold at] $1,200 is not expensive, considering all the money that we’ve created and all the money we’re going to create—not only the Federal Reserve, but central banks around the world,” Schiff told CNBC.
Schiff said inflation pressures will drive gold prices up to $5,000 an ounce and investors should stock up right now.

“It might not hit $5,000 this year or next year, but it will eventually—maybe before Barack Obama leaves the White House,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s enough gold to meet the new demand that’s coming–because gold is money, it’s not just some other commodity."

"And when central banks makes currencies unattractive with zero interest rates and all this printing, people are going to go back to traditional money—they’re going to save in gold and transact in gold and the demand is going to explode,” he said.
Now, I'm no gold bug myself, but when I see the price of a commodity jump from $800 in mid-January to $1,200+ in December, I pay attention.  The faces change, but the bubbles remain the same.

Gold at $5,000 an ounce?  Honestly, I just don't see that happening and I pray it doesn't, because when that bubble pops, it will take the entire global economy with it.

More Rational Thought

A solid op-ed from the Anchorage (AK) Daily News on HCR:
In the health care debate, there's a lot of misinformed talk about how government will "ration" health care. To hold down costs, the argument goes, the government will deny you drugs or medical procedures you need -- maybe even let you die.

Well, unless you're Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or someone else with a bottomless checkbook, your health care is already rationed.

If your health care is a benefit of your job, your company has already had to decide what level of coverage it can afford to provide.

That's rationing.
(More after the jump...)

Capitalism As Piracy, And Piracy As Capitalism

This Reuters/CNBC story just goes to show you that unfettered free markets always have winners...and losers.  Take for example Somali pirates, branching out into the world of venture capital:
One wealthy former pirate named Mohammed took Reuters around the small facility and said it had proved to be an important way for the pirates to win support from the local community for their operations, despite the dangers involved.
"Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 'maritime companies' and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking," Mohammed said.

"The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity."

Haradheere, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Mogadishu, used to be a small fishing village. Now it is a bustling town where luxury 4x4 cars owned by the pirates and those who bankroll them create honking traffic jams along its pot-holed, dusty streets.

Somalia's Western-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is pinned down battling hard-line Islamist rebels, and controls little more than a few streets of the capital.

The administration has no influence in Haradheere -- where a senior local official said piracy paid for almost everything.

"Piracy-related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area and as locals we depend on their output," said Mohamed Adam, the town's deputy security officer.

"The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools."
Amazing what a decade of anarchy does for advancing the laboratory of libertarian ideals, huh?

John Galt, eat your heart out.

Snowe Job, Part 8

Back to the HCR battle today in the Senate, and the news is looking depressingly like the news from the Senate Finance Committee/Max Baucus shenanigans from 3-4 months ago:  Maine's GOP Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are calling the shots again despite both of them not even voting for  the bill to come to the floor.
Snowe in particular continues to speak of health care reform as a project she's a part of. Yesterday, defying her party's own talking points, she told The Hill that a new CBO report, regarding the impact of the Senate legislation on insurance premiums, is encouraging news for reformers.
The CBO report, she says, indicates that the legislation "makes strides, without question" toward extending affordable coverage. On this score she sees room for improvement: "We have to be sure that we are providing the most affordable plans to Americans, and that's not abundantly clear at this point," she said. "That's what's of concern to me."

But it's not just her. Susan Collins, Snowe's Maine colleague, told reporters yesterday that she's been meeting with Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, and DeParle's deputy Jeanne Lambrew.

Those negotiations are ongoing, and Collins is a tougher sell than Snowe, but for the first time in weeks Collins suggested she may be in play.

"I made very clear that I could not support the bill as it's currently drafted, and that there would have to be substantial changes, but I certainly hope that that will be possible," Collins told reporters. "I think there is unease on both sides of the aisle about specific provisions in this bill, and that it's possible that we can come up with alternatives that will garner bipartisan support."

Collins says she's "not a fan," of the latest public option compromise being discussed. Still, one Democratic aide said Collins' vote might even be more gettable than some of the recalcitrant conservative Democrats.
So the question is, as always, what are the demands that the White House will have to give up in order to get their votes?  At this point there's not much left, the bill is in such bad shape with the provisions not even taking effect for another three years that there's little wiggle room left.  the public option is hanging by a thread and the ConservaDems are busy trying to find the Jenga piece that'll bring the whole thing down.

Everyone wants their cut from the bill.  What are Snowe's and Collins's respective prices?

[UPDATE 5:07 PM] Ezra nails it.
So far, I've not heard anyone discuss a deal along these lines. The horse-trading over the public option is taking place entirely in terms of the public option, and not in terms of the broader health-care bill. That strategy made sense for trying to keep the public option alive, but if the votes aren't there, that may not be the right strategy for letting it die.

Got A Tiger By His Tale, Part 2

Hey look, Tiger's cribbing from the Mark Sanford/John Edwards playbook now.
Saying that he has "not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves," golf superstar Tiger Woods just posted an online statement that concedes he has "let my family down."
It's the most Woods has said so far about the circumstances surrounding the late-night car accident outside his home last Friday and the Internet-fueled rumors about his personal life.

But the world's first $1 billion athlete doesn't give any details about what happened or the "personal sins" he says he's committed.
The statement is kind of bizarre, to say the least:
I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone.
I like Tiger.  He's an athlete.  But the guy has literally built a $900 million brand out of his own image, and it just floors me to see him A) calling for privacy and B) sounding like any wide array of politicians who have been caught red-handed fooling around.

I don't have a hell of a lot of sympathy for the guy if his problems are of his own making.

President McCain Watch Continues

Steve Benen's President John McCain watch continues, because as always whenever the Village wants to know what the GOP is thinking on the Sunday shows, they ask President John McCain.
NBC News announced the line-up for this week's "Meet the Press." Take a wild guess who'll be on.
Also This Sunday: Exclusive! Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. John McCain, the Republican Presidential Nominee in 2008, and Ranking Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, gives us his reaction to the president's plan.
I especially loved the "Exclusive!" with the exclamation point, as if this were a rare, special occurrence.

For those keeping score at home, as of this weekend, there will have been 47 Sundays since President Obama's inauguration in January. With this 16th appearance on a Sunday morning talk show this week, John McCain will have been a guest on one of the programs every 2.9 weeks. No other official in the country has been sought out by bookers this often.
Now, with McCain being the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, I can actually see why they'd want his opinion on Afghanistan.  It would be nice to have him balanced by the top Democrat and Chairman on that committee, Carl Levin.  For that matter, ANY DEMOCRAT would do.

Sadly, that's not to be.  President McCain's opinion is vital to taking the pulse of the nation, you see.  The 15 other weekly appearances however is borderline egregious.

[UPDATE 10:50 AM]  And gosh, guess what President McCain is going to say on Sunday?

But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the leading Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said while he agrees with the president's decision to up the number of troops, setting a timeline for withdrawal will only allow the Taliban to regroup and emerge stronger when U.S. forces leave Afghanistan.

"I support the president's decision to have a properly resourced counter insurgency strategy," McCain told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts today. "My only difference... is setting a date for return. ... Dates should be determined by success on the ground not by the calendar."

On The Table, Or On The Block?

White House Budget Director Peter Orszag is at it again this morning, assuring the Village that everything's on the table chopping block.
Speaking at the National Press Club this morning, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag confirmed that in high level discussions between Democratic health care principals just about every possible public option compromise is on the table.
"There are many sensitive discussions that are ongoing," Orszag said. "I'll just say there are a lot of those discussions going on - opt outs, opt ins, triggers and I'll leave it at that."
The thing with 11-dimensional chess is both sides have to be playing for it to work.  It continues to amaze me that after nearly six months of this fight, the White House refuses to take a solid stand on the public option.  If you want to know why the fight has taken six months and will most likely require another three, well there's your answer.

Jobapalooza Preview

ADP's job loss numbers for November are in today at 169K, and that's worse than expected.
Private companies shed 169,000 jobs last month, fewer than the 195,000 jobs lost in October, suggesting some stabilization in the labor market as the economy emerges from recession, according to the ADP Employer Services report, jointly developed with Macroeconomic Advisers.

The October fall was originally reported at 203,000.

The median of estimates from 30 economists surveyed by Reuters was for a decline of 155,000 private-sector jobs last month.

A slowdown in job losses boosts the chances that job growth could appear in early 2010. But the labor market remains fragile, which could be a drag on consumer spending and curb the pace of an economic rebound.

"The losses are still substantial," Macroeconomic Advisers' chairman Joel Prakken said on a conference call. "But these losses are diminishing every month."
We're still losing 150-200K jobs a month, and while that's certainly better than 750K a month, it's still no recovery.  As I've said before, we need to be positive 200K each month before We can start talking about a jobs recovery, if not 300K a month.  I'm going to argue that without another jobs/stimulus bill, this number's going to creep back up in early 2010.

Epic District Of Equality Win

Time for non-Afghanistan news, starting with yesterday's impressive 11-2 vote by Washington D.C.'s city council to legalize same-sex marriages.
The D.C. Council voted overwhelming Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in the District, a key step in a process that could enable gay couples to marry in the nation's capital by the spring.
After months of debate, the council passed the legislation 11 to 2 after a lively discussion that elicited passionate statements from members about the historical significance of their action.

A second vote, scheduled in two weeks, is necessary for the measure to become law. The bill's sponsors said final passage is almost certain, although the bill could be tweaked. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has said he will sign it.

The bill will also be subject to a 30-day congressional review period, but officials in both parties said it is unlikely that the Democratic majority in Congress will block the measure. The District would join New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Massachusetts in allowing same-sex marriage. It would be the first jurisdiction in the region to do so.
Leave it to our nation's capital to actually lead the way for once.  It's a matter of time now before the rest of the country follows...but that time will most likely be measured in years, possibly decades.
It will be in your lifetime, however.  Count on it.


Making The Rounds

Making the rounds this morning, pretty much a grand total of nobody is happy with the President's Afghanistan strategy this morning.

On the Left:

Taylor Marsh: "I’m just stunned at the lack of vision and the conflicting imperatives."

Big Tent Democrat: "July 2011 exit date? the force buildup will not even be complete until May 2010. This seems unrealistic, not to say dishonest. A mistake from the President imo."

Michael Stickings: "This is where liberal internationalism resembles neoconservatism. Obama is firmly committed to the pursuit of American hegemony, if less aggressively. I will continue to support him, given the alternatives, but there will be no radical transformation of American foreign policy during his presidency. It will be more of the same, just different, which means that the overall decline of the American Empire will continue."

John Aravosis: " In the end, I don't think the speech really changes anything, as Chris Matthews just said on TV, the right is still going to hate him, and the left is still going to be ticked that we're sending more troops."

Derrick Crowe: "Post-game, Rachel Maddow gets it totally wrong. The left is not appeased by this milquetoast mirage of an "exit date." Obama did not set an end date in this speech, period. I’m still angry. You?"

(More after the jump...)


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