Thursday, February 4, 2010

Last Call

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, meet NY AG Andrew Cuomo.
Former Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lewis was sued by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for defrauding investors and the government when buying Merrill Lynch & Co. The bank agreed to pay $150 million to settle a related lawsuit by U.S. regulators.

Cuomo also sued the bank’s former chief financial officer Joe Price and the bank itself for not disclosing about $16 billion in losses Merrill had incurred before it was bought by Bank of America in an effort to get the merger approved. Afterwards, Lewis demanded government bailout funds, Cuomo said.

“We believe the bank management understated the Merrill Lynch losses to shareholders, then they overstated their ability to terminate their agreement to secure $20 billion of TARP money, and that is just a fraud,” Cuomo said today at a telephone press conference. “Bank of America and its officials defrauded the government and the taxpayers at a very difficult time.”

Cuomo is pursuing individuals at the bank while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has declined to do so. The suit is being filed under the Martin Act, a New York securities law that permits both civil and criminal penalties.

The $150 million SEC settlement still has to be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff. Last year, Rakoff called the SEC’s initial settlement, which focused on the bank’s bonus disclosures, neither fair nor reasonable and questioned why the bank’s executives and lawyers weren’t sued. The agency said it lacked evidence to bring claims against specific individuals.
Have no idea if Cuomo will win, but at least somebody's got the balls to sue these assholes.   Good for him.

Absolute Obstruction

GOP Sen. Richard Shelby has finally achieved the epitome' of the Party of No:  he has placed an unprecedented blanket hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations in order to force the the President to do what the GOP wants.
In response to a question from the Press-Register, Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle confirmed that Shelby has placed a "blanket hold" on most pending nominations.

By placing a hold, a single senator can stop the Senate from voting on a particular nomination, often as a way of gaining leverage on an unrelated issue. It is not clear when Shelby placed the hold or how many nominees are affected. While individual holds are not unusual, Gary Jacobson, a congressional expert at the University of California at San Diego, said he knew of no previous use of a blanket hold.

Shelby spokesman Jonathan Graffeo did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking confirmation of the senator's action or his reason for doing so.

Holds can be overcome, but it takes 60 votes in the 100-member Senate. While tradition-bound senators are typically reluctant to take that step, they did so Thursday in voting to confirm nominees to the Labor Department and the General Services Administration.
And with 41 votes to the Dems' 59 as Scott Brown has been sworn in this evening, the Republicans can now block all Obama appointments indefinitely until they get 100% of what they want.

We have finally reached the the Tyranny of the Minority.  There are now two choices:
(More after the jump...)



Pete Hoekstra Is A Single Point In Spacetime, And Is Not Goo

There is no past for GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra, only the infinite reality of the naked now (Marcy Wheeler via Spencer Ackerman)
Just take a look at these traitorous accusations a certain Congressperson made about the CIA yesterday:
misleading and some might say lying to Congress by the intel community
The [intelligence] community covered it up,
this committee can’t do its job if you don’t share information with us
What is the community unwilling to share with this committee? What policies can’t pass public scrutiny or pass the scrutiny of this committee?
ZOMG! Congressperson, you just accused the CIA of lying to Congress!! You can’t do that!! Remember what Crazy Pete Hoekstra said about such disloyal accusations when beating up on Nancy Pelosi this spring!
She made some outrageous accusations last week where she said that the CIA lied to her and lied systematically over a period of years. That is a very, very serious charge.
It is downright outrageous that a Congressperson would make such brash accusations. Last spring, Crazy Pete even suggested that making such outrageous accusations might require the Congressperson making such claims resign.

Crazy Pete? Will you please tell Crazy Pete that he should stop making such accusations about CIA lying to Congress?
Ahh, but this is impossible as clearly Crazy Pete and Crazy Pete cannot simultaneously exist in the same time in the same place, otherwise they cause a paradox and turn into goo like Ron Silver did in Timecop.  Since Pete Hoekstra is clearly not a pile of goo (physically anyway, mentally the jury is still out) then they have not met yet.

It would be a lot easier to one of Hoekstra's aides to use Google once in a while.

It would even easier for Pete Hoekstra not to be such a completely self-serving lying asshole in the first place.

Taking A Swing

The GOPinata of a budget proposal, the Democrats are taking a swing at it.
"That's their budget plan," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)--chair of the House Democrats' reelection committee--told me in a brief interview. "He's the ranking Republican member on the Budget Committee. That is their so-called roadmap. And it's a roadmap right into the economic ditch that we got ourselves to begin with.... Put it this way. For seniors on Medicare, it's a dead end."

Van Hollen says Republicans should own up to their own ideas, and debate them on the merits, or else stop complaining when Democrats accuse them of being the Party of No.

"These guys got very sensitive about the fact that they had no ideas to put on the table," Van Hollen said. "Well, it turns out they did have some ideas to put on the table. You gotta give Congressman Ryan credit for putting the proposal on the table. Now they should have to live with the consequences of that proposal."
Good.  More of this, please.  Much, much more.  These delicious treats will not burst forth from the GOPinata by themselves, you know.

Elevator Going Down

Dow down 268 to just above the 10,000 mark ahead of tomorrow's jobs report.  Tyler's rundown at Zero Hedge:
Today's market action highlighted the perfect chaos that has engulfed the markets over the past several weeks, with most investors suddenly having no idea what to do with the mountain of cash on the "sidelines", and as a result putting most of it in Treasuries (remember the whole crash the markets hypothesis?), threatening to unwind the steepener trades that have become all the rage over the past several months. This is despite the just voted through $1.9 trillion debt ceiling increase, the ridiculous US budget deficit, looming state and municipal defaults, and the just cancelled MTA bond auction. Adding uncertainty to it all is tomorrow NFP report which as the BLS noted today, could probably see even greater revisions than the 824,000 presented before, coupled with rumblings of an incipient trade war between China and the US which could cause this major buyer of US heavy manufacturing to scale back its purchases. All of this is occurring on the backdrop of plunging markets everywhere, but especially in Europe where sovereign default risks are now spreading like wildfire, hitting stock and corporate levels without discrimination. And the cherry on top is that the contagion fears are spreading globally, with the Bovespa now closing 4.7% and the BZL plunging.
All systems eventually lead to chaos.  Suddenly the world looks like a scary place.  Truth is it always was, but the RAH-RAH smiley face crew ran out of steam.

Sarah And Moose: Freelance Police, Part 2

Hey look, Moose Lady's crusade against the word "retard" has snagged another famous face:

El Rushbo.  Greg Sargent:
“Our political correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards,” Rush said, adding that Rahm’s meeting yesterday with advocates for the mentally handicapped was a “retard summit at the White House.”

I asked Palin spokesperson Meghan Stapleton for comment on Rush’s rant, and she emailed me this:
“Governor Palin believes crude and demeaning name calling at the expense of others is disrespectful.”
It hardly has the passion of her response to Rahm, and there’s no call for him to step down. But given Rush’s stature among conservatives, it’s pretty interesting that she went this far, denouncing his on-air rant as “crude and demeaning name-calling.”
I know, it's petty, asinine and lowers the discourse in a country that has already seen the discourse lowered specifically because of these two.

Still, popcorn time!

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

Via Atrios, a reminder that thanks to the economy there's a growing segment of the population for whom Wal-Mart is out of their price range.
Discount retailer Dollar General says it will add 5,000 jobs as it opens 600 new stores over the next 12 months.

Shoppers have flocked to discount stores during the recession as they look to spend less money on their purchases. During the first nine months of its fiscal year, Dollar General's profit surged while revenue rose 13 percent to $8.61 billion.

The company, based in Goodlettsville, Tenn., says it will add job throughout its operations.

Dollar General says it added 4,000 jobs in 2009. It operates 8,800 stores with about 78,000 staffers. 
That's pretty damn scary.  And yes, I've been in a Dollar General.  There's one in walking distance of my apartment, 3 more within a short drive, and 2 more near where I work.  The stores are relatively clean, there's just stacks of canned goods and other grocery items in open pallet boxes, nothing fancy.  But the prices are the real draw.  It's the convenience store version of Wal-Mart, and frankly if I need to run in someplace and grab a couple of 2-liters or some dish soap or something without the hassle of meeting half the county at the Super Enormous Wal-Mart on a Saturday, I'm all for that.

On the other hand, the jobs that Dollar General happens to be making aren't really high-paying.  For every company like DG hiring 5,000 this year, there's Verizon cutting 13,000.  You can't really sustain a middle class on an economy like that.  It's the roll-down economy:  The Macy's shoppers 5 years ago are shopping at Belk's now.  The Belk's folks are at Target.  The Target folks are at Wal-Mart, the Wal-Mart folks are dropping a rung to Dollar General.

Good for Target.  Good for Wal-Mart.  Really good for Dollar General, you figure another 600 stores in 2011 will get them to 10,000 outlets and 90,000 employees.  Not so good for Macy's.  Or the middle class.

A Cup Of Orange Tea

John "Orange Julius" Boehner today:
There aren't any major differences in beliefs between "Tea Party" activists and the Republican Party, the top House Republican said Thursday.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the GOP and the groups conservative activists across the country are indistinguishable when it comes to policy.

"There really is no difference between what Republicans believe in and what the tea party activists believe in," Boehner said during an appearance on the conservative Mike Gallagher's radio show.

Boehner said his advice to Republican lawmakers going into this fall's elections has been to "prove it to the tea party activists that we really are who we say we are."
Well okay then.  Glad we got that settled.  As Steve M. points out, does this mean the White House, Dems, and Firebaggers will figure this out and stop treating either the GOP or the Teabaggers as rational actors interested in governing?
I'm going to say this with confidence: If we're against it, most teabaggers are for it, and vice versa. We're never going to find common ground. The majority of them don't want to find common ground with us -- ever. The whole point, for them, is that we are the enemy.
And in that respect, the GOP and the Teabaggers are wholly united.  They will never work with the Dems.  They only look forward to dominating them.

Block Busted On Jobs

Will Scott Brown, being sworn in this week as the new 41st Republican vote, choose to help the Republicans filibuster President Obama's jobs bill?

 "We'll have a vote on a jobs bill on Monday," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said at a press conference today.

There's just one wrinkle: According to the Senate's top vote counter, there is currently no Republican support for the proposal Democrats are putting forth--and with Scott Brown to be seated today as the 41st Republican Senator, they'll need at least one member of the minority to come aboard.

"You need two to tango. And you need Republicans for bipartisanship," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (I-IL).

"Hope is prospective...we don't have bipartisanship at this moment. I hope we'll have it in a matter of minutes, hours, days."

That sets the stage for a potential showdown between the two parties on the first major issue since the Democrats lost their supermajority, and put health care reform on the backburner.

"I watched the Democrat leadership's press conference just now and what I learned is that there will be a vote Monday on 'a bill,'" said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "But that they don't know what's in the bill or how many jobs they expect it to 'save or create,' or when anyone beyond the Beltway will see it, or how much it will cost. They did have a nice sign, though, and a pretty handout, so they obviously gave this some thought."
In other words, surprise!  The Republicans are going to most likely try to kill the jobs bill Obama mentioned in the SOTU just one week ago.  The GOP is apparently pretty confident that they can kill this measure and have the Dems take the blame for it.

That tells you everything you need to know about how nasty the Republicans are...and how supine the Dems continue to be.  So what of Scott Brown?  Where will he come down on this?  Does he want to rack up a record of killing the job fixes he complained the Democrats weren't concentrating on?

I'm not sure he cares.

Assassination Character

Double G has a must read today on our not-so-secret program to target and kill U.S. citizens in Afghanistan fighting as terrorists if determined to be so by the President.
As The Washington Times' Eli Lake reports, Adm. Dennis Blair was asked about this program at a Congressional hearing yesterday and he acknowledged its existence:
The U.S. intelligence community policy on killing American citizens who have joined al Qaeda requires first obtaining high-level government approval, a senior official disclosed to Congress on Wednesday.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said in each case a decision to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen must get special permission. . . .
He also said there are criteria that must be met to authorize the killing of a U.S. citizen that include "whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American is a threat to other Americans. Those are the factors involved."
Although Blair emphasized that it requires "special permission" before an American citizen can be placed on the assassination list, consider from whom that "permission" is obtained:  the President, or someone else under his authority within the Executive Branch.  There are no outside checks or limits at all on how these "factors" are weighed.  In last week's post, I wrote about all the reasons why it's so dangerous -- as well as both legally and Consitutionally dubious -- to allow the President to kill American citizens not on an active battlefield during combat, but while they are sleeping, sitting with their families in their home, walking on the street, etc.  That's basically giving the President the power to impose death sentences on his own citizens without any charges or trial.  Who could possibly support that?

But even if you're someone who does want the President to have the power to order American citizens killed without a trial by decreeing that they are Terrorists (and it's worth remembering that if you advocate that power, it's going to be vested in all Presidents, not just the ones who are as Nice, Good, Kind-Hearted and Trustworthy as Barack Obama), shouldn't there at least be some judicial approval required?  Do we really want the President to be able to make this decision unilaterally and without outside checks?  Remember when many Democrats were horrified (or at least when they purported to be) at the idea that Bush was merely eavesdropping on American citizens without judicial approval?  Shouldn't we be at least as concerned about the President's being able to assassinate Americans without judicial oversight?  That seems much more Draconian to me.
Agreed.  This is a mind-blower.  As bad as Dubya and Cheney were, they never said that they reserved the right to kill American citizens because the President says they are bad guys.  Not even John Yoo and Jay Bybee went that far.  This means that if he deems fit to do so, Barack Obama can end an American citizen's life for being a suspected terrorist.  No trial.  No evidence.  No check or balance on that.  Life or death on a suspicion.

I've had my problems with the way Obama has handled the Warren Terrah before, but this is legal insanity.  No President should have that power under any circumstances.  None.

Nevertheless, Greenwald writes an outstanding overview of the situation and what it means for a new low in the battle of America's civil liberties.  Please read the whole thing, if just to educate yourself on the full scope of what this means.  We have now authorized the President to be able to take a person's life on a suspicion.

My God.  We have become the abyss.

Carolina Tea Time

Well well well.  It seems my old foe The Odious Patrick McHenry is finally facing not one, but two serious challenges in NC-10 this year...and both of them are attacking McHenry's right flank.
McHenry raised about $112,000 during the fourth quarter of 2009 and had about $149,000 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31.

Dentist and Iredell County Commissioner Scott Keadle topped those totals with about $270,000 in receipts from October to December and about $274,000 in the bank at the end of 2009.

Another Republican, entrepreneur Vance Patterson , reported $250,000 in receipts and the same amount in cash on hand at the end of 2009.

Both challengers were able to outperform McHenry in the money chase by reaching deep into their own pockets.

Keadle -- who filed for the race in September and also reported more receipts and cash on hand than the Congressman at the end of the third quarter -- has loaned his campaign some $485,000 so far this cycle with $235,000 of that coming in the fourth quarter.

Patterson, who filed for the race in late December, loaned his campaign all of the $250,000 he reported raising.

McHenry, meanwhile, would have had more money in the bank if he hadn't spent $50,000 last quarter repaying himself for previous campaign loans, (which he still had $150,000 worth of on Dec. 31). McHenry also raised more money in the fourth quarter of 2009 than any of his four other North Carolina GOP House colleagues.

But regardless of those circumstances the fact remains that with a little over four months to go before the North Carolina primary McHenry was in the third place in the 10th district money chase.
Which is kinda disturbing, really.  McHenry is largely seen as a rising star in the House GOP for his extremist views, but apparently he's not extreme enough.

(More after the jump...)

The Pinata, It Is Gravid With Delicious Treats

But who on Team Donks will step up and take a whack to break open GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's budget as Josh Marshall points out.
What's in it? A few interesting things.

First, it calls for big cuts in Social Security benefits for everyone currently under 55 years of age. On top of the cuts it also calls for privatizing Social Security.

Basically the exact plan President Bush tried in 2005. Next, it calls for the full privatization and phasing out of Medicare. It'll be replaced by a system of vouchers in which instead of getting Medicare you get a voucher to buy un-reformed private insurance.

Weirdly, with all that, the draft GOP budget doesn't get the federal budget into surplus until 2083, which seems like a pretty long time. But isn't this sort of a big deal? House Republicans are poised to run in 2010 on slashing or abolishing the two most popular federal government programs -- Social Security and Medicare.

Now, Minority Leader Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Whip Cantor (R-VA) have been sort of dancing around the Ryan draft. They're both saying they're putting forward a detailed budget plan and then simultaneously refusing to say Ryan's plan is endorsed by the conference. But Ryan's their budget writer. So this is a bit like Peter Orszag releasing a budget document and having Obama and Rahm saying he's just speaking for himself.
C'mon guys.  Let's draw some blood over this.  The GOP wants to privatize Social Security and to end Medicare and replace it with vouchers.  Even my one-year old nephew can win that fight.  This is a beachball over home plate.

Swing at it.  Hard.  The GOP solution to balance the budget is to end Medicare and give the bankers control to run Social Security's trust fund.  That's about as popular as a urinary tract infection.  If you can't smash this one open, you guys deserve to lose in 2010.

Clued In
Above: Chuck Todd's crew searches for clues.

Over at NBC's First Read this morning, the Scooby Gang has discovered the Useful Idiot factor of "Some on the Left say...", in this case the notion of Rahmbo getting canned.
*** The other R-word -- Rahm: Just askin’, but have we all missed the REAL story in the controversy over the R-word that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel uttered and for which he apologized? It’s that someone has it out for Rahm. Given that someone leaked a six-month-old anecdote to the Wall Street Journal (which contained that R-word), there is clearly an effort to embarrass the chief of staff, hoping it leads either to a trimming of his sails or forces him out of his position. And do note that the criticism he has received comes from the group of folks Rahm was disparaging in that anecdote: the left.
Hey guys?  Welcome to 2009.

Still, this certainly means "Even the Left wants Rahm fired" and equating him to Karl Rove will now become the latest attack on Obama by the Village.  Rahm's an ineffective jackass, sure...but that's a reason to fire, say, most of Congress, the Village, the Supreme Court and everyone in the Beltway, not just Rahm.

Pass The Damn Bill, Part 2

Matt Osborne flags me this story from Head On Radio about yet another reason the Senate Bill is better than no bill for millions of Americans who need help with health insurance:  it eliminates much of the means testing on Medicare, meaning millions more working poor will qualify for Medicaid help.  Here's a section of the interview with Jennifer Sullivan, Senior Health Policy Analyst for Families USA:

And this really goes to the heart of the argument here.  In the end, the "something" the Senate bill provides is still better for a vast number of Americans than the status quo.  It can be improved even more, but even the much maligned Senate bill is a massive improvement over what exists now particularly for the tens of millions of Americans who simply can't afford health insurance.

That's the big picture we have to keep in mind.

Pass the damn bill.

If It's Thursday...

New jobless claims this week up 8K to 480K.  Continuing claims basically unchanged at 4.6 million.

Big story, 4Q productivity in the U.S. up a whopping 6% in the country.  You worked 6% harder last fall and overall 2.9% for the year.

Did you get a 5% raise this year for your additional work and to cover inflation?  I'm guessing for a vast majority of us the answer is we're making the same now that we did three, four years ago.  Some of us are making less, far less.

Funny how that works.  Doing more work for less money.  Isn't the free market great?

Sarah And Moose: Freelance Police

Back in July, Sarah Palin promised to be less politically correct now that she had quit her job as part-time governor of West Canada or whatever.

Fast forward to February, and less than 24 hours after demanding Rahmbo be fired for using the word "retarded", she's now going after a spokeman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the same accusation.
Sarah Palin is criticizing a Rick Perry campaign adviser accused of using the word "retarded" - but she isn't demanding that the aide be fired.

The accusation - made against top Perry consultant David Carney on Wednesday by Kay Bailey Hutchison's gubernatorial campaign - is of note because Palin is heading to Texas this weekend to campaign for Perry as he seeks a third term as Texas governor.

On Monday, Palin called on President Obama to fire his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for using the very same word in a closed door meeting about health care negotiations.

Hutchison's campaign manager Terry Sullivan told CNN Wednesday that Carney repeatedly said "retarded" during a recent conference call between the gubernatorial campaigns to plan logistics for their Jan. 14 debate in Denton.
Of course, Republicans don't get fired in Sarah's world, they just quit and claim victory because they're no longer political insiders.  It's that whole mavericky "I pretend to hate both parties but I only really hate Dems" Teabagger cred thing, I guess.

A One-Sided Affair

Michael Steele will be taking on Harold Ford, Jr. in a series of debates on the future of American politics for Black History Month starting tonight in Little Rock.
The event, dubbed "Left, Right, and Forward: On the Future of America" will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday night. According to the school, "the discussion by the two African-American political combatants kicks off UALR's annual Black History Month program."

"As prominent leaders representing both sides of the political spectrum, Harold Ford Jr. and Michael Steele will engage the audience in the most hot-button issues that will shape our nation's future," said Jan Austin, director of the school's Office of Campus Life, in a statement. "Anyone with an interest in politics and in the future of the country will want to attend."
My question is simple...who's representing the liberal position of the future of this country?  It sure isn't Michael Steele.  And it sure the hell isn't Harold Ford.  Something tells me that the only thing these two clowns will be debating is just how horrible Barack Obama is.

Seriously, this is two moderate black Republicans pretending to be Teabaggers facing off on which party is better able to capture the "We're not exactly thrilled with black people" vote.  What's the point, exactly?

It's embarrassing.


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