Friday, February 19, 2010

Last Call

Dave Weigel's CPAC report on the John Birch Society is pretty chilling stuff if you know your history.
If any more proof was needed that CPAC organizers aren’t sweating the stories and photos about fringe conservatives making their way around the conference, behold: the John Birch Society. The notorious right-wing group signed on as a co-sponsor late last year, drawing some controversy at the time and… showing up anyway. If anything, the JBS — which has benefited immeasurably from the amazing political comeback of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a longtime supporter — is being greeted with some smiles, some eye-rolls, and some conspiratorial winks.
Long before the Paulites, the Tea Party movement, and even the Moral Majority, the Birchers were the original Right Wing Nutjobs, formed in direct response to the rise of the civil rights movement of the sixties. Much like the Tea Party was a backlash against Obama, the Birchers were very much the virulently racist, hard-core ideologically pure zealots that rose in opposition to Dr. King.  They called Eisenhower a Communist.  Bill Buckley kicked them out because they were too nuts even for his guys.

Even as recently as last year, the Birchers were persona non grata.  That was before the Town Hall Blitzes and the Tea Party idiocy.
To understand just how much of a shift this represents for the mainstream right, consider — two years ago, blasted Ron Paul for endorsing the “conspiracy nuts” of the JBS. One year ago, National Review’s John Derbyshire implied that it was a vile smear to connect Ron Paul to the Birchers.
And now the Birchers are sponsoring CPAC.  These guys ARE the Reactionary Right, folks.  Now, these guys are the mainstream Republican Party at the biggest GOP political event of the year.  And they expect to get into power come November.

Eric Holder Needs To Go

Really, Obama?  This is pretty amateur, even for your DoJ and its complete refusal to prosecute war crimes in the previous administration.
Bush administration lawyers who wrote memos blessing the waterboarding of terrorism suspects and other harsh interrogation tactics "exercised poor judgment" but will not face discipline for their actions, according to Justice Department correspondence sent to lawmakers late Friday.

The long-awaited conclusion marks a turnaround from recommendations against two of the lawyers by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility. OPR, which conducts ethics investigations of Justice Department attorneys, twice urged that allegations against John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee be sent to state legal disciplinary authorities for further action, the correspondence said.

But the decision was overruled by David Margolis, a career lawyer in the Deputy Attorney General's office, on Jan. 5, the letter said. Margolis "declined to adopt OPR's findings of professional misconduct and concluded instead that Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee exercised poor judgment in connection with the drafting of the pertinent memoranda," said the letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich. 
Oh, and it gets worse as the FBI also officially closed the case today on the anthrax attacks.
The FBI sought to close the book on its long, frustrating hunt for the killer behind the 2001 anthrax letters Friday, formally ending its investigation and concluding a mentally unhinged scientist was responsible for killing five people and unnerving Americans nationwide.

After years of false leads, no arrests and public criticism, the FBI and Justice Department said Dr. Bruce Ivins, a government researcher, acted alone.

Ivins killed himself in 2008 as prosecutors prepared to indict him for the attacks. He had denied involvement, and his family and some friends have continued to insist he was innocent. 
I'll tell you what, Obama.  You make it pretty goddamn hard to support you when your FBI and your Department of Justice is even more corrupt than Bush's.   Not that Hillary Clinton or John McCain would have done any better, mind you.  But on this, you are an utter failure.  And I'm calling you and Eric Holder out on it.

It's time to seriously consider dismissing Holder from the position.  He's as bad as Gonzo.  He's letting Yoo and Bybee walk for torturing people in our name, and letting a dead man take the fall for a crime he may have not committed.

You tell me, why does he deserve not to be made to resign again?

A Block Buster Of A Rate

I almost wish Dianne Feinstein hadn't proposed this legislation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Friday that she plans to introduce legislation that would bar insurance companies from enacting health insurance premium rate increases that the Secretary of the Health and Human Services deems to be unjustified.

The bill would create a national Medical Insurance Rate Authority, which would be able to prevent such increases. Feinstein's announcement follows reports that Anthem Blue Cross had intended to jack up premiums for certain policyholders in California by as much as 39 percent.

A report published Thursday by HHS found that health insurance companies have requested dramatic premium hike increases over the past year in states beyond California -- 56 percent in Michigan, 24 percent in Connecticut and 23 percent in Maine.

"This is unconscionable. It places a huge burden on people who are already struggling in these tough economic times, including the estimated 700,000 Anthem Blue Cross policyholders in California," said Feinstein in a statement. "The insurance industry reaps soaring profits by piling massive financial burdens onto consumers. According to a recent study by Health Care for America Now, America's five largest insurance companies reported record profits of $12.2 billion in 2009, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008. And WellPoint, the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross, reported earning $2.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2009."
Cost controls are one thing, but what I'm afraid of is that the Dems will kill this bill before the Republicans get a chance to.  I don't even see this one getting out of committee.

Better to pass a real health care bill instead and remove anti-trust exemptions from the insurers.

On the other hand, this legislation would effectively smoke out the Dems who are in the pockets of the insurance companies other than Joe Lieberman.  You know all 41 Republicans are already, so there's no need to ask.

Tugging On Superman's Cape

Karl Rove has finally played fast and loose with the wrong guy's facts:  Nate Silver's.
It's not as though one should expect honesty and integrity from Karl Rove, but it's disappointing when his duplicity involves you personally. In a memo at his website,, he carelessly misrepresents my arguments about the Democrats' 2010 electoral picture, while going on to demonstrate a superficial understanding about the underlying dynamics of the race.

Here's what Rove said that I said:
On the blog, Democratic booster Nate Silver recently suggested the 2010 midterms won’t produce an anti-Democratic swing of the same magnitude of 1994 because “unlike in 1994, the GOP remains quite unpopular.”
And here's what I actually said:
It's not that I'm at all optimistic about the Democrats' electoral fortunes in 2010. The general consensus that they'll lose between 25 and 35 House seats strikes me as generous, for instance. I'd put the modal number at somewhere in the low 40s instead, although with a very wide range from as few as 20 Republican pickups to as many as 60. [...]

Clearly, 2010 will be to some greater or lesser extent an anti-Democratic year. The question is to what extent it might also be an anti-incumbent year [...] Unlike in 1994, the GOP remains quite strongly unpopular. Also as compared with 1994, the Republicans are less cohesive, and that could result in their nominating a sub-optimal candidate in Kentucky, New Hampshire, Florida or Arizona.
It's pretty rich to be characterized as a "Democratic booster" for having written an article in which I argued that (i) the general consensus on the number of seats that the Democrats will lose in the House is too optimistic (ii) my best guess would be for a loss in the low 40s instead, and possibly as high as 60, which would eclipse the Democrats' 54-seat loss in 1994.

What I do think, however, is that while the results might wind up being pretty similar to 1994, the parameters driving those results are rather different, in much the same way that losing a football game by two touchdowns can be very different between a 14-0 shutout and a 45-31 shootout.
Nate may be splitting hairs...but that's what Nate does.  He's the master of political stat crunching and once again Karl Rove finds himself getting his ass kicked by good ol' logic.  Nate completely admits that 2010 could be worse than fact Nate's mode number has the GOP eking out control of the House by a handful of seats right now.

That's not good if you're the Dems.  On the other hand, there are a lot of opportunities that could damage supposedly safe Republican seats merely because they are incumbents.  The Republicans clearly understand this, which is why they are more than happy to throw their own incumbents under the bus in red district/state primaries if it means putting in a Tea Party candidate on the ticket and saying "Behold!  We no longer have the millstone of incumbency!"  (Ask Charlie Crist or Trey Greyson.)

And, as Nate points out, Republicans are far less popular than they were in 1994.  An incumbent seat vacated by a Republican in a Red district is not a 100% guarantee that the people will put a Republican back in the seat.

In other words, there's still time to go.  I personally think the GOP has peaked, and if the Dems are smart enough to get a public option bill through reconciliation, they will suddenly find that the GOP is the team in trouble.

Public Flogging: The Return

The public option meat.  It is back on the menu for Harry Reid and the Senate Dems. Greg Sargent:
With more and more Senators signing on to the letter urging Reid to hold an up or down vote on the public option under reconciliation rules, Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau sends over a statement signaling Reid’s qualified support for the move:
Senator Reid has always and continues to support the public option as a way to drive down costs and create competition. That is why he included the measure in his original health care proposal.
If a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care, Senator Reid will work with the White House, the House, and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes.
That’s a fairly big step forward: Up until now, Reid, while supporting the public option throughout the process, had been silent on whether he’d support a reconciliation vote on it.
This thing is getting bigger now.  Much bigger.  But we need to continue to push this.  Still, there is now growing reason for hope.

Reconciling Reconciliation

One of the arguments I've seen against reconciliation is that it's only used for getting partisan measures through the Senate past the filibuster.  The Bush tax cuts, for example, went through on reconciliation.  That's true, but there's a difference between the Bush tax cuts and health care reform.  Bush also jammed them through with no effort to even worry about getting the Dems on board.  You can't say that with the health care reform process, now going on ten months.

The argument the Republicans are now using to try to block health care reform is that they are demanding that the Democrats immediately put a halt to efforts in the Senate to use reconciliation and permanently take reconciliation off the table in order for the GOP to even come to the summit now.
President Barack Obama must take a procedural maneuver to pass healthcare reform with a simple majority off the table, the second-ranking House Republican said Friday.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) urged Obama to reject using the budget reconciliation process to pass health reform, a tactic that would allow Democrats to finish health reform without any GOP support.

“If the president is sincere about moving forward in a bipartisan fashion, he must take the reconciliation process — which will be used to jam through legislation that a majority of Americans do not want — off the table," Cantor said in a statement.
Let's pause and review.  The key phrase here in the article is "a procedural maneuver to pass healthcare reform with a simple majority".  This is the default mode that the Senate should be.  The only reason that this is not the case is because the Republicans are using a procedural maneuver to prevent legislation being passed with a simple majority, called the filibuster.

The correct Democratic party response to this is really exceedingly simple:
"We're only using reconciliation, which is a perfectly legitimate way to pass legislation with a simple 51-vote majority, because the Republicans are threatening to filibuster and will not allow this legislation to pass with a simple 51-vote majority vote.  We will take reconciliation off the table if the Republicans in turn take the filibuster off the table.  Your move, Representative Cantor."
That's all the Dems have to say.

How about it, guys?

Oh, and the Senate Bill already got 60 votes.

Still Missing The Point On Joe Stack

As I said yesterday, the argument over if Joe Stack was a "left-wing or right-wing" terrorist is pointless, petty, and small-minded.  It misses the point that Stack was a domestic terrorists, and homegrown at that.

Naturally, Malkinvania and company are too busy spewing righteous indignation to notice.  There's no such thing as a right-wing terrorist period, ever, to them, and all politically motivated acts are leftist plots only.  They spend so much time justifying why only leftists are terrorists that they forget what terrorism is and why it's effective: it spreads a message of hatred and division that they repeat daily.  Group X is not human, not worthy or seeing as anything other than the Enemy.

The irony is lost.

Your Taxonomy Is Broken

Daily Beast's Tunku Varadarajan names the Left's 25 top journos.  Everything wrong with the article can basically be summed up with Jon Stewart is #1, Fred Hiatt is #5, and the obvious omissions of Spencer Ackerman, David Weigel, Dave Neiwert and David Corn are glaring.

Oh well.  Josh Marshall and Yggy are there at least.  But really?  The Left's best journalist is Jon Stewart?

Helpful Hints For The Republican Leadership

When you're planning to attend a bipartisan summit to work out your differences in the health care reform bill next week, it's generally helpful not to go on record as saying there is no way your party will say yes to the bill this week.
At CPAC this morning, Cantor declared that "we will say no to this health care bill because no is what the American people want."

Asked moments earlier about what might be "up the sleeves" of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cantor said, "Lord only knows what's up their sleeves."

Cantor said Democratic health bills are predicated on "back-door dealing" and declared that "these bills are ultimately designed to lead this country to a single-payer system, something that the American people reject."
Now, you know and I know that the Republicans never had any intention of saying yes to any health care bill whatsoever as long as Obama is President.  But it's going to take this summit to prove it.  Luckily, the Democratic solution to a bill the "American people reject" is to make a better bill with the public option.

PS.  Feel free to pass this advice along to Mike Pence, too.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Black guy runs country, says "sorry about the economy, here's how I'll fix it,"  not newsworthy to FOX.

Black guy plays golf, says "sorry about my penis, here's how I'll fix it," newsworthy to FOX.

Just sayin.

We're Putting The Band Back Together

Dennis over at Balloon Juice examines the folks behind the "Mt. Vernon Statement" and discovers Jack Abramoff's greasy fingerprints all over it.

Like Jake and Elwood Blues, even after you've been in prison you can always get the band back together.  Abramoff's boys are awaiting the Return of the King.
A few weeks ago the Washington Post took a look at the people in DC that are actually doing the work to drive the Tea Party Movement.

Not surprisingly, it was a list of grifters.

Because of my years researching Jack Abramoff and his activities since 1978 quite a few of these names jumped out at me. They also caught the eye of another scholar of the modern conservative movement, Thomas Frank.

Tom is the author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas” and more recently, “The Wrecking Crew“. It was in the Wrecking Crew that Tom took a deep dive into the long history of conservative corruption. In 2008 Tom excerpted The Wrecking Crew in Harper’s Magazine and it is an important tutorial for anybody who wants to understand how corruption works in Washington.
And the list of band members is long and storied:  Dick Armey, Patrick Pizzella, Tome DeLay you've probably heard of.  But there are more.
Take Matt Kibbe, the President of Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks—he was one of Abramoff’s junketeers to Saipan and a reliable think tank defender of sweatshops and human trafficking upon his return. Or then there is the reliable grifter-for-hire, Brent Bozell, who runs the Media Research Center—a conservative PR spin shop designed to extrude press releases and commentary on command. Bozell was another traveler to the Marianas Islands and a reliable media voice to defend the abuse ever since. And the there is Horace Cooper who has been indicted in the Abramoff scandal and is awaiting trial for his crimes. Cooper is a former long-time Dick Armey staffer who connects Dick to Jack in a tight and dirty way.

There are more connections as well in the list of names behind the resurgence of the converative movement. Some of these grifters go back to the sixties, some the seventies, some the eighties, nineties and some come from the zeros. Regardless where they come from, the Tea Party movement is becoming a full employment movement for the Republican grifters who drove up the debt, stole from tax payers and got rich during the Gingrich/DeLay/Bush era actively destroying the Government of the United States. To call the movement these grifters are promoting “grassroots” is an insult to astroturf.
All these guys have one goal:  to use the Tea Party movement to annihilate the last 80 years of liberalism and concentrate all the remaining power in the hands of conservatives. They've sewn a mistrust of government so pervasive and mendacious that this populist backlash is going to be the battering ram that knocks down not just Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, but every liberal social advancement since the New Deal.

And in the process, they just happen to end up running the country as a result.  The cynical GOP knows a gravy train when they see it, and they're all on board for the ride along with their Village buddies.

Because when this band gets put back together, they'll play the funeral march for America.

The Kroog Versus 39% Insurance Rate Hikes

Paul Krugman weighs in on the Country Club Republican's horrified reaction to Wellpoint's "bad timing" on those rate hikes, doing so before health care reform was officially dead.  He then beats the GOP by using Wellpoint's own argument against them (emphasis mine):
Now, what WellPoint claims is that it has been forced to raise premiums because of “challenging economic times”: cash-strapped Californians have been dropping their policies or shifting into less-comprehensive plans. Those retaining coverage tend to be people with high current medical expenses. And the result, says the company, is a drastically worsening risk pool: in effect, a death spiral.

So the rate increases, WellPoint insists, aren’t its fault: “Other individual market insurers are facing the same dynamics and are being forced to take similar actions.” Indeed, a report released Thursday by the department of Health and Human Services shows that there have been steep actual or proposed increases in rates by a number of insurers.

But here’s the thing: suppose that we posit, provisionally, that the insurers aren’t the main villains in this story. Even so, California’s death spiral makes nonsense of all the main arguments against comprehensive health reform.

For example, some claim that health costs would fall dramatically if only insurance companies were allowed to sell policies across state lines. But California is already a huge market, with much more insurance competition than in other states; unfortunately, insurers compete mainly by trying to excel in the art of denying coverage to those who need it most. And competition hasn’t averted a death spiral. So why would creating a national market make things better?

More broadly, conservatives would have you believe that health insurance suffers from too much government interference. In fact, the real point of the push to allow interstate sales is that it would set off a race to the bottom, effectively eliminating state regulation. But California’s individual insurance market is already notable for its lack of regulation, certainly as compared with states like New York — yet the market is collapsing anyway.

Finally, there have been calls for minimalist health reform that would ban discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions and stop there. It’s a popular idea, but as every health economist knows, it’s also nonsense. For a ban on medical discrimination would lead to higher premiums for the healthy, and would, therefore, cause more and bigger death spirals.

So California’s woes show that conservative prescriptions for health reform just won’t work.

What would work? By all means, let’s ban discrimination on the basis of medical history — but we also have to keep healthy people in the risk pool, which means requiring that people purchase insurance. This, in turn, requires substantial aid to lower-income Americans so that they can afford coverage.

And if you put all of that together, you end up with something very much like the health reform bills that have already passed both the House and the Senate
Best argument I've seen yet to Pass The Damn Bill, guys.  Send Wellpoint a thank you card, because they've single-handedly saved health care reform from the dumpster.

The Village Notices The CRE Bubble

V. Dion Haynes notes in today WaPo that Washington D.C. may be a prime target for the coming commercial real estate collapse.
The foreclosure wave is likely to swamp many smaller community banks across the country, and many well-known properties, including Washington's Mayflower Hotel and the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo, are at risk, industry analysts say.

The new round of financial pain, which some had anticipated but hoped to avoid, now seems all but certain. "There's been an enormous bubble in commercial real estate, and it has to come down," said Elizabeth Warren, chairman of the Congressional Oversight Panel, the watchdog created by Congress to monitor the financial bailout. "There will be significant bankruptcies among developers and significant failures among community banks."

Unlike the largest banks, such as Citigroup and Wachovia, that got into so much trouble early on, the community banks in general fared better in the residential mortgage crisis. But their turn is coming: Not only did community banks issue a higher proportion of commercial loans, but they also have held on to them rather than sell them to other investors.

Nearly 3,000 community banks -- 40 percent of the banking system -- have a high proportion of commercial real estate loans relative to their capital, said Warren, whose committee issued a report on commercial real estate last week. "Every dollar they lose in commercial real estate is a dollar they can't use for small businesses," she said. Individuals -- who saw their home values drop in the residential mortgage crisis -- would not feel that kind of loss, but, Warren said, a large-scale failure would "throw sand into the gears of economic recovery."

In Washington, the number of troubled properties has multiplied at a phenomenal rate, with the value growing from only $13 million in 2007 to $40 billion now, according to CoStar Group, a Bethesda real estate research company. The region trails only South Florida and metropolitan New York in the per capita value of commercial real estate assets in foreclosure, default or delinquency, according to the research group Real Capital Analytics.

The threat is especially acute in the District, the firm said, where the catalogue of troubled commercial real estate properties has grown tenfold since April. Moreover, the region has $7.3 billion in commercial properties that are underwater -- worth less than the mortgages on them -- according to CoStar.

Whether the commercial real estate bubble bursts in a catastrophic event or subsides slowly and less dangerously will be determined during the next year. An immediate crisis was postponed when domestic and foreign investors began snatching up troubled properties at bargain prices. And banks more and more are renegotiating loans, extending the terms by a year or two in the hope that conditions will improve rather than calling in mortgages that cannot be paid.
So there is some hope, but the sheer financial size of these collective properties and the relatively small size of most of these community banks by comparison means they can't wait this out much longer.  These loans are the bread and butter of community banks.  It means the banks can't loan out to other clients because they are sitting on these underwater loans waiting for them to come up for air.  That's hurting the rest of the clients that these community banks serve, which in turn hurts the community itself.

It's nice for the Village to finally notice what I've been warning about for a year now.  The CRE bubble could very well be the trigger for the second leg of a double-dip recession in 2010 or 2011, and we're by no means out of the woods yet.  Buckle up folks, it's going to be a hell of a ride.

Is The Game Really On For The Public Option?

Open Left's Adam Green makes this catch:

From Rachel Maddow's interview tonight with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius:
Maddow: "The private insurance company writ large hasn't done a great job. That's why we want a public option to compete with them. These 18 Democratic senators want to bring that back into the fold. If that happened, would the administration fight for it?"
Sebelius: "Well, I think if it's...Certainly. If it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely." 
Wow. That's news. 
It is.  Sebelius is clearly saying the White House will back the public option if the Senate Dem leadership does.  Chuck Schumer has already signed on.   That means the ball is now in Harry Reid's court.  Green continues:
What will Reid do? If it's up to Nevada voters, the answer's obvious. From reporter Jon Ralson in today's Las Vegas Sun:
Nevadans overwhelmingly against previous health care reform package, but support reconciliation, public option
Those are the results of a poll conducted for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has been pushing for a public option and its pollster, Research 2000, previously has done work in Nevada to pressure Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Research 2000 also polls in the state for the Reno Gazette-Journal. The poll.
Highlights from the Nevada poll (commissioned by PCCC/DFA/Credo):
  • 34% support for current Senate bill (32% of Independents)
  • 58% support for public option (61% of Independents)
  • 55% support "reconciliation" on health care (64% of Independents)
Seems like a no-brainer to me, Harry.  If the Senate bill puts the public option in through reconciliation, the Dems win.  If you don't, well...

Your choice.


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