Friday, March 12, 2010

Cleaning Up The Mess

Yesterday Joe Biden told Israel to stop on settlement expansion in the West Bank, or we would take measures that would include us possibly considering the act of saying "stop!" again.  After Israel politely told Biden to go screw himself, today, Hillary Clinton took the unprecedented step of telling Israel "stop!" again, because apparently this time we really mean it, or something.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday sharply rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying moves to expand a Jerusalem settlement sent "a deeply negative signal" on Israel's ties to the US.

Israel announced Tuesday during an official visit to the country by US Vice President Joe Biden that 1,600 new settler homes would be built in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem.

The announcement sent a "deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the bilateral relationship," Clinton told Netanyahu in an early morning phone call Friday and was "contrary to the spirit" of Biden's trip.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley added that Clinton stressed "this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America's interest."

It was an unusually strong rebuke from the United States for its main regional ally and came as Israel Friday sealed off the West Bank amid tension in Jerusalem over the plans.
Yeah, I'm sure Israel is really quaking in their boots.  Look folks, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we can do to Israel.  They own us.  Cutting one dollar of funding would immediately be opposed by two thirds of the House and Senate, and 100% of the Republican Party, and most importantly 100% of the Village press.  There's not one single stick we can use against Tel Aviv.  Period.  It would never be allowed.  Ever.

So yes, our Israeli allies will continue to laugh at our VP, laugh at our SecState, and ignore our President.  They're waiting for the Republicans to be back in charge, because frankly they don't think they should have to deal with this Obama guy.  At all.  Actually speaking to Muslims?  What kind of bullshit is that, the Israelis say.  Let us know when a Republican president is back in charge.  Until then, screw you.

Or maybe, they'll just force our hand on Iran anyway.  They clearly don't give a damn about settlements on the West Bank, and they clearly don't give a damn about US requests.  They know there's precisely zero percent chance we'll do anything about the Netanyahu government.  Zero.  None.  Zilch.

You have a better chance of getting single payer health care passed than even a slap on the wrist for Israel.

That's what's wrong with our foreign policy.  Daniel Pipes's response to today's events is typical:
The center-left approach is better than the far-left approach, but neither has a chance of succeeding. What Israel needs is not hectoring about its residential housing policies but an American ally that encourages it to win its war against the irredentist Palestinians of both Fatah and Hamas.
Until Israel gets a US government that will give it the green light to exterminate the Palestinians, they will continue to ignore America.  They're expecting one in 2010, and especially in 2012.

Don't You Believe It

Steve M. reminds us that the Teabaggers are the GOP, and that the GOP are the Teabaggers.  There's no separating them in 2010, and that means the country club Taxen Cuten Uber Alles crew and the socially responsible What Would Jesus Do? evangelicals are singing from the same hymnal:  if you would turn your pages to "Destroy Obama By Any Means Necessary" we will begin our service...
But many of the best-known supporters of the tea party movement -- Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich -- are also God-botherers. (Yes, Gingrich -- if that surprises you, you may want to get up to speed.) And while tea party lobbyist Dick Armey has expressed disdain for evangelicals, his group Freedomworks did join with the Family Research Council and other religious right groups for a webcast in response to this year's State of the Union address.

Yes, teabaggers are going to try to keep secular issues in the forefront, in the hope of attracting members outside the Bible Belt who aren't with the religious right program. And there is some tension in the rank and file -- Jonathan Raban attended the recent tea party convention in Nashville and noted (in an article for The New York Review of Books) that some attendees were made uncomfortable by the religiosity of the gathering (and the absence of alcohol at meals):

That evening, our prayer was led by Laurie Cardoza-Moore, the founder and president of a Christian Zionist organization called Proclaiming Justice to the Nations. We were asked to join hands with our neighbors while Moore delivered a long, impassioned appeal to God, imploring Him to compel the United States to show unwavering loyalty and devotion to the State of Israel. I felt an increasingly steady pressure on my right hand from the woman holding it, as she sang out her "A-mens!"; but my left hand, lightly held by my new partner in skepticism, registered a quick double-blip from her forefinger and thumb that unambiguously said, "Uh-oh."

As we sat down to our steak-and-jumbo-shrimp dinner, my neighbor said, sotto voce, for my ears only, "You know, I phoned my husband last night. I told him that being here has made me realize that I am a
liberal conservative."

But the mere fact that there was this religiosity tells you that, once the dust settles and we have dozens of new teabag-friendly members of Congress, they could be a hell of a lot more Christian-rightist than the secular rhetoric of the movement would lead us to expect.

Raban notes that even Joseph Farah's birther speech at the convention was religion-drenched:

He took us on a quasi-scholarly tour of the first chapter of Saint Matthew's gospel, where Christ's genealogy is traced from the patriarch, Abraham, down through many generations to "Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ," then invited us to compare Jesus' unassailable ancestry with Obama's dubious family tree.

Maybe the emergence of excessive religiosity is going to lead to schisms in the movement -- but my hunch is that that won't happen until after the 2010 elections, because there's too much shared rage and the Christian rightists are keeping their issues mostly on the back burner. After their likely big victories? At that point I think the religious rightists are going to step to the fore and push their agenda in Congress. Secular teabaggers will express disillusionment. But by then it'll be too late.
The only religion these guys believe in is "We should be in charge, and by God we will be."   The secular stuff is a puppet show designed to attract the Paulites.  When the only thing you have in common is Obama Derangement Syndrome, you can't expect them to stay friends for too much longer, and Steve's right, they won't.

But you'd better believe once 2011 rolls around, campaign promises will be broken a plenty.  The Birchers, the Birthers, the Paulites, the Club For Growth crowd, the Country Clubbers and the tinfoil hats...they aren't going to make it once the Village declares the Obama presidency to be over in January (no matter what actually happens.)  And from the ashes, the Christian Dominionists will be the boys to beat.

We Don't Need No Education

Texas simply does things bigger, including the wingnutification of the state's education textbooks.  The state school board voted 10-5 to go full winger for the kids.
The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schalfly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.

“Republicans need a little credit for that,” he said. “I think it’s going to surprise some students.”

Mr. Bradley won approval for an amendment saying students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. He also won approval for an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.

Other changes seem aimed at tamping down criticism of the right. Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” The Venona papers were transcripts of some 3,000 communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the United States.

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.”

“Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ” 
Needless to say, What Tristero Said. The goal here is simple:
1. To render a public school education all but worthless by teaching blatant lies and distortions, thereby advancing the long-desired rightwing meme is, in fact, worthless and should be eliminated.

2. As long as there must be a public education system, indoctrinate children to in the lie that rightwing/christianist authoritorianism is a core American value and not, in fact, the very antithesis of the Americanism the Founders intended.
Do for Texas schoolkids what FOX News does for the country.   And Texas is big enough that the textbooks created will be used in schools in other states, too.  Maybe even yours.

Cheery thought, eh?

The Big Weld Foreclosure Solution

As Mel Brooks's character in the movie Robots famously said, "See a need, fill a need."
In the massive foreclosure market where banks are stalling in order to not get stuck with more falling assets and homeowners are deep underwater on mortgages, there's a growing free market solution:  Cash For Keys businesses.
Jon Daurio, chief executive officer of mortgage investor Kondaur Capital, recently offered a $4,000 check to Barry Culver for the deed to his Bryan, Ohio house. 

With the exchange, and a pay-off to a second-lien holder, Culver was freed of $120,000 in crushing mortgage debt on the house, said Daurio, who had bought the right to cut the deal when he purchased the mortgage months earlier. The house, after repairs, is now on the market for $47,500. 

"It got me out of a bind," said Culver, a former Kmart employee who has since relocated near his in-laws in Tennessee where job prospects are better. "I got a little cash out of it and was able to pay off other stuff I owed." 

Such 'cash-for-keys' offers are common for Orange, California-based Kondaur, one of the largest players in the business of buying and resolving distressed loans for profit. The business is growing more popular, with volumes of loans for sale at their highest since the founding of Kondaur in July 2007, said Daurio, a veteran of the subprime lending industry. 

At DebtX, a Boston-based loan exchange, the number of bidders on pools of loans is up 25 percent since last quarter. 
July 2007.  Smart guy, Jon Daurio.  This industry is only a couple of years old, and already it's taking off.  Banks don't want to get stuck with it, but these companies are willing to take the risk and willing to service individual homeowners.  It's a good idea.

I'm not against free market ideas when the free market, in this case the banks, have failed.  Obama's had his shot too.  Somebody's wisely picking up the slack here.  See a need, fill a need.

But will it be enough?

Delay Of Game

President Obama has now postponed his Oceania trip from March 18 to March 21 in order to "cross the finish line" on health care reform.
Obama will leave for his trip to Indonesia and Australia on March 21 instead of March 18, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced Friday. The president previously expressed a willingness to delay the trip to work on health care, according to a senior administration official.

Obama spent much of the past week pitching his health care plan to nervous congressional Democrats behind closed doors. He's also tried to boost public support for the plan, publicly calling for a final up-or-down vote in Congress while hammering the unpopular health insurance industry during visits to Pennsylvania and Missouri.

He's set to deliver another health care address Monday in Ohio.

The entire House Democratic caucus spent Friday morning reviewing the status of the nearly $1 trillion reform package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said she was still waiting for a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on the cost of changes to the Senate bill being negotiated by House and Senate leaders.

"I would hope that we [get the report] today," she told reporters on Capitol Hill. She also indicated the House would wait at least one week after the CBO report's release before proceeding to a vote in the full chamber.
Pelosi has promised that the House will wait at least one week after the CBO report's release before proceeding to a vote in the full chamber.
So, that would put a vote at next Friday, March 19th at the earliest, if the CBO delivers the report today.  The rubber meets the road next week for sure, and it may be that the final fate of this reform bill is decided one way or another by this time next week.

The problem is, Pelosi is still bleeding no votes, the latest being Rep. Luis Gutierrez who is objecting on lack of undocumented workers being allowed to use health care exchanges.

I'm beginning to think this will come down to the wire.

Greek Fire, Part 8

Today's lesson:  when you decide to make massive budget cuts in the middle of a recession, your economy shrinks.
Greece's economy will shrink another two percent this year, much more than currently forecast by the government, though its debt servicing costs will fall, central bank Governor George Provopoulos told Reuters.

Grappling with a ballooning deficit and a 300 billion euro ($411 billion) debt pile, Athens aims to reduce its fiscal gap by four percentage points of gross domestic product this year through a combination of cuts and higher taxes.

That will still leave it with a deficit of 8.7 percent of GDP and economists say the plan's success will hinge on strict implementation and social peace.
Whenever your economic plan involves maintaining "social peace" you're in trouble.  Just saying.

The Nuclear Public Option

TPMDC's Rachel Slada looks at the progress on passing the public option as part of Senate reconciliation and finds the road there is long...perhaps too make that a reality.  Many Dem senators have come out saying the like the idea...
But the latest support rests on increasingly unstable grounds, with recent additions to the list naming multiple caveats. Sen. John Tester (D-MT), for example, said, "It depends on how it was designed." Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said he wouldn't vote for a public option that reimburses doctors at the Medicare rate. Sen. Russ Feingold's office told TPM he'd only support a public option that lowers the deficit by $25 billion.

And then there's Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), who was added to the list this Tuesday. The Huffington Post, which has been asking senators where they stand, wrote:
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) told HuffPost that if the public insurance option comes up for a vote under reconciliation, he will vote for it it. "I would support it, yes," he said.
But when asked by TPM, Akaka's spokesman refused to commit to the effort.

"I don't want to commit him to that hypothetical because we don't think it's going to happen," said the spokesman, Jesse Broder Van Dyke. "This bill has been around for over a year now. They did push for a public option."

PCCC co-founder Adam Green admitted to TPMDC that the supporters come in three categories: staunch supporters, those who'd support it with caveats, and those, like Dorgan and Tester, who are "leaning." Tester's mild statement, Green said, "proves he's an open-minded person."

Green also said he's confident that senators who have been reluctant to sign on, including Sens. Tom Harkin and Jay Rockefeller, would do so eventually.

To that end, the Huffington Post, in a long story published Thursday, is counting a whopping 52 senators as "gettable." How do they go from PCCC's 41 senators all the way to 52? They lower the standard again, this time including those, for instance, who have voiced support for public option in the past, but have yet to sign off on passing it through reconciliation.

That's not to say the analysis is wrong. But it does require a lot of untested assumptions. And at this point, we're far beyond a clean signature on a letter.
And the reality is that nobody who has been following this expects this to ever become reality, either.  Certainly not myself.  Nor do I believe Obama will make good on his promise to revisit it in a later bill.  The simple fact of the matter is that if Obama and the Democrats were serious about passing a public option, they would.  They had the opportunity.  The language was stripped from the House bill and never even given a vote in the Senate in order to satisfy Republicans.

The laughable, pathetic part of that is of course the Republicans never had any intention of voting for health care reform no matter what was in the bill.  I warned about that a year ago, as did many others.  The advice was ignored then, and it took a year for Obama and the Dems to truly figure it out, that the Republicans really would rather destroy America's health care system in order to try to regain their political power than hand Obama such a victory.

The same logic applies to the public option:  there are simply too many Dems who refuse to vote for it.  Believing in wishful thinking will not change that salient fact.

Obama's Nobel Gesture

The White House has released a full list of President Obama's Nobel prize money donation charities, and it's a pretty worthy one.
Applying the motto that charity begins at home, Mr. Obama put Fisher House, an organization that provides housing for the families of American veterans, at the top of the list, with $250,000. Fisher House was followed by the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, the project his two immediate predecessors are running to raise money for relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti ($200,000).

White House officials said that the money would go directly from the Nobel Committee to the recipient charities. It is to be released in the next few days. Mr. Obama promised that he would give his prize money to charity last fall, when the Nobel Committee stunned the world with its choice of Mr. Obama for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months into his presidency.

Republicans quickly contended that Mr. Obama won more for his star power and oratorical skills than for his actual achievements, and even some Democrats privately questioned whether he deserved it. Mr. Obama, himself, maintained that he did “not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize.”

Other charities receiving some of Mr. Obama’s prize money include the Posse Foundation, which tries to help nontraditional high school students get into college, The United Negro College Fund, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the American Indian College Fund, AfriCare and the Central Asia Institute, which promotes girls’ education in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Wingers have been attacking Obama on this for months now, with armchair lawyers saying everything from he reneged on yet another promise all the way up to it being an impeachable offense because Congress did not consent to the money(?!?).

But that's the way they roll.  

Defending The Wasteland

While I expect this sort of talk that the stimulus was a "complete waste" from Republicans running in 2010, it's another thing entirely to hear it from economists who ought to know better.
Now the economists at UK research company Independent Strategy have waded into the debate and come to the conclusion that stimulus spending by President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and others has been a complete waste of time and simply saddled future generations with a big bill that will crowd out the private sector for years.

Because the recession never saw deflation take hold and monetary policy was so loose there was no need for further government stimulus and central bank asset buying, Bob McKee, economist at Independent Strategy, said.

With sufficient wealth in the private sector after the financial crisis of 2008-09,  private investors would have simply stepped in at a point where they believed the market was cheap enough to make a return at the loss of only a few years of ‘"excess gains," McKee said in a report.
His key points are:
  • Use of government balance sheets to accumulate massive leverage when excessive private sector leverage got us into this mess in the fist place was wrong.
  • Borrowing so much at a time when private saving rates were not rising at the same time means US and others are now dependent on foreign buyers of their debt.
  • Spending has been the "bad sort" that prevented the clearing of the asset-price bubble.
McKee called on the Keynesian camp to explain how the Scandinavian economies managed to recover so quickly from the much tougher fiscal and regulatory policies they implemented in the wake of the banking crisis of the 1990s. Expect this debate to run and run. 
Two points here. 

One,  while the markets would have eventually reached an equilibrium point, it would have caused a lot of carnage on the way down out there in the real world.

Two, given the massive shortfalls in state and local budgets this year, it's important to remember that they would have been far, far worse if Obama had done nothing, like the vast majority of Republicans wanted him to do.

If there had been no stimulus, that 10.0% unemployment rate would have been significantly higher.  Having said that, that actually brings me to a third point: the "Swedish solution" that McKee goes on about as an example also included major financial reforms for banks, the kind we still have yet to pass.  If those had been passed at the time of the stimulus, things would have been much different.

That's the real issue, not the stimulus itself.


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