Thursday, May 27, 2010

Last Call

The Senate Armed Services committee voted 16-12 to end DADT today, bringing the measure to the floor for a full Senate vote as part of the defense appropriations bill...and an expected filibuster showdown with the GOP.
Maine Republican Susan Collins joined 15 Democrats in adopting the repeal plan as an amendment to the 2011 Defense Authorization Act, which should receive a floor vote next month. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) was the lone Democrat to vote 'no' with the Republicans. The House is expected to adopt similar language later tonight or tomorrow.

But key Republicans adamantly oppose the move, and are willing to take extraordinary measures to prevent the repeal from going through.

"I'll do everything in my power [to stop the repeal]," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who serves as ranking member on the Armed Services Committee yesterday.

McCain was echoed by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who made his promise to obstruct explicit: "If it is adopted, I will not sign the conference report, and there will be an attempt to filibuster the bill on the floor," Wicker said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the White House all support overturning the ban, though until this week, their plan had been to delay legislative action until after the Pentagon completes a review, analyzing the effects of implementing repeal. But congressional leaders and activists forced their hand, and they agreed to a compromise: Congress will pass a law now, but instead of overturning DADT directly, it will delay repeal until the review is complete and Gates has given the green light.

Some wavering senators, including Webb, cite the Pentagon's reluctance as a rationale for opposing repeal. But by putting the provision in the authorization bill, Democrats gave themselves tremendous leverage--Republicans will have a hard time sustaining a filibuster of crucial national security legislation based on opposition to a policy that's supported at the highest levels of the military. 
The question is how many GOP Senators will be cut loose to vote for this, and how many ConservaDems will in turn stab an overwhelming majority of Americans in the back again and vote this down.   The problem is even if this passes, the Pentagon can simply choose not to repeal DADT in know, AFTER the midterms.  Melissa McEwan is pretty correct here to be pissed off:
So, essentially, even if the Democratic majority passes the repeal, after midterm elections are already over, the military—and/or, "the military"—can then decide to make that legislation worth less than the paper on which it's printed. Gotcha.

Either this is the real deal, or Mullen's talking out his ass and the administration is so incapable of getting its ducks in a row that the chaos threatens to undermine an extremely important piece of radical and long-overdue legislation.

Either way, my contempt for this administration plummets to heretofore uncharted depths.  
I don't know if I would go quite that far, but this does seem like a completely self-serving and slimy deal to get the Dems out of harms' way, and then in the winter the Pentagon can go "Oh well, TEH GHEY is infectious or something, so we'll finish this up in 2018.  Have a nice day."  If that does happen, there are going to be a lot of really, really pissed off people, including myself.

Top Kill Slays The Drag--OHNOES IT LIVES!

The literary dragon, he is not as dead as BP would like.
BP temporarily stopped pumping drilling fluid into its stricken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday night after engineers saw that too much of the fluid was escaping along with the leaking crude oil.

BP officials said engineers spent Thursday revising their plans, and that the company hoped to resume pumping by midnight.

“We have not yet stopped the flow so the operation has not achieved its objective,” Doug Suttles, the chief operating officer of BP said in an afternoon news conference from Robert, La. 
BP's plan not working?  What, a plan to plug an underwater hole with mud failed?  Nobody could have predicted...

We're screwed.

The Kroog Versus Not Inflation

The noises that I'm hearing from the Serious Beltway People are that we need to do two things:  cut the debt and raise interest rates soon before inflation gets here.  The problem is the latter will do nothing for the former, and the former will ensure that we'll need to do the latter.  As Krugman points out, it's madness.
So the OECD wants the Fed to start raising interest rates soon — in the next six months or less — because … well, we can look at the OECD’s own forecast. According to this forecast, in the fourth quarter of 2011 — a year and a half from now — the unemployment rate will still be 8.4 percent. Meanwhile, inflation will be 1 percent — well below the Fed’s implicit target of 2 percent. My view is that inflation will be lower than that — core inflation is already below 1 percent. But even given the OECD’s forecast, what possible reason would there be to tighten monetary policy now, when the economy will still have vast excess capacity and inflation that’s too low at the end of next year?

The only explanation seems to be at the beginning of that passage: some people, the report claims, are starting to think there might be inflation, so even though they’re wrong according to our forecasts, see, we need to head off this phantom threat and slow the economy’s recovery … what?

What’s so scary about this is that the OECD virtually defines conventional wisdom; it’s a numbered-paragraph sort of place, where a committee has to sign off on everything, policing the nuances as they say. So what we get from this is that among sensible people the idea that you should undermine recovery to appease those who think there might be inflation even though actually there isn’t has become conventional wisdom — so conventional that it’s treated as self-evident.

This is really, really bad.
As I keep saying, massive disinflation from continues losses in the residential and commercial real estate markets will continue to keep prices AND growth low.  We have a 9.7% unemployment rate and an unofficial rate approaching 18%, Republicans are screaming that the national debt is more important than double-digit unemployment.
Republicans yesterday called the bill "irresponsible" because of its cost and impact on the national debt. To bolster their argument, they referred to the US Debt, which marked a milestone yesterday of $13 trillion in borrowing by the Treasury.

Unless lawmakers act before June 1 to pass either HR 4213 or a short-term extension of federal unemployment benefits, thousands of people will begin exhausting their unemployment benefits next week.  
The GOP in other words would rather have these folks out of work. Conservative Dems aren't helping on this either.  And people wonder why they hate Washington.  You know what would help the economy?  EIGHT MILLION $^*%#&*@ JOBS.

Assholes.  Meanwhile, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reminds us just how bad things are going to be here.
The stock of money fell from $14.2 trillion to $13.9 trillion in the three months to April, amounting to an annual rate of contraction of 9.6pc. The assets of insitutional money market funds fell at a 37pc rate, the sharpest drop ever.

"It’s frightening," said Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research. "The plunge in M3 has no precedent since the Great Depression. The dominant reason for this is that regulators across the world are pressing banks to raise capital asset ratios and to shrink their risk assets. This is why the US is not recovering properly," he said.

The US authorities have an entirely different explanation for the failure of stimulus measures to gain full traction. They are opting instead for yet further doses of Keynesian spending, despite warnings from the IMF that the gross public debt of the US will reach 97pc of GDP next year and 110pc by 2015.

Larry Summers, President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser, has asked Congress to "grit its teeth" and approve a fresh fiscal boost of $200bn to keep growth on track. "We are nearly 8m jobs short of normal employment. For millions of Americans the economic emergency grinds on," he said.

David Rosenberg from Gluskin Sheff said the White House appears to have reversed course just weeks after Mr Obama vowed to rein in a budget deficit of $1.5 trillion (9.4pc of GDP) this year and set up a commission to target cuts. "You truly cannot make this stuff up. The US governnment is freaked out about the prospect of a double-dip," he said. 
Think Republicans will allow another stimulus?  Course not. You thought the 2008 crash was bad?  Wait until you get a load of the second half of this disaster.

Specifically Not Feelin' Randy, Part 5

So, turns out Rand Paul may actually not be a licensed ophthalmologist.  Well, he is, and he isn't, the story is really, truly weird.  It turns out that the licensing board that certified Rand Paul is operated by...let's see here...a "Rand Paul".
In 1999, Paul created a new non-profit organization, the National Board of Ophthalmology (NBO), headquartered at his home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in order to "provide information to the public concerning physicians with exemplary qualifications in the medical specialty of ophthalmology," according to the organization's founding document, filed online with the Kentucky Secretary of State's office.

"It was a certifying board," Beth Ann Slembarski, the administrator of the major existing ophthalmology certifying board, the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO), told TPMmuckraker. 
Say what?  Rand Paul created his own non-profit certification board for eye doctors?  That doesn't exactly seem very cricket, does it? Ahh, but it gets more interesting.
But it's unclear how rigorous the certification process used by Paul's group is -- and how much legitimacy the group is seen as having in ophthalmologist circles. Unlike the established ABO, Paul's organization is not a member of the American Board of Medical Specialties, an umbrella group for medical specialty organizations. Slembarski declined to offer a direct assessment on how Paul's group is viewed in ophthalmology circles, but she said that creating a legitimate certification board is "a very big endeavor." She added: "I don't think [NBO] was very successful," though she acknowledged she wasn't personally familiar with the details of its record.

Officials for two other eye-doctor groups -- the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery -- told TPMmuckraker they'd never heard of Paul's group. "I think it's fair to say that we would have heard of most organizations involved in ophthalmology in the US," said John Ciccone of ASCRS.

An internet search turned up eight ophthalmologists, from California to Virginia, who claim that they're certified though NBO. All also claim certification through ABO, the established certification group.

Neither the Paul campaign nor any of those eye doctors responded immediately to TPMmuckraker's requests for comment on NBO. Paul -- whose father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), is a Texas obstetrician -- also did not respond immediately to a message left at his Bowling Green medical practice.

About 96 percent of American ophthalmologists are certified through ABO, the established group, Slembarski said. But Paul himself is not. He was certified from 1995 until 2005, when his certification lapsed.
So Rand Paul's been operating without a certification for the least five years.  Nice. And now this guy wants to be my Senator?  I think I'm a little blurry on that whole prospect.  About as blurry as Dr. Paul here is on his certifications, actually.

Paging Jack Conway:  you have your next campaign commercial.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Given that Larry Kudlow's track record on politics is even worse than it is on economics, if I were California's Meg "San Francisco eBay" Whitman or Carly "Demon Sheep" Fiorina, I'd be very, very worried right about now.
Come November, Fiorina will join the new tea-party nucleus in the GOP Senate caucus, while Whitman will change Sacramento after she defeats Jerry Brown, the quintessential yesterday’s man. 
Come to think of it, I'd be scared stiff if I were the Tea Party.

The Zen Of Legal Hackery

Former Bush AG Michael Mukasey of course found nothing wrong with all the Bush/Cheney shenanigans in Iraq, Afghanistan, warrentless wiretapping, torturing prisoners, or any of the people involved in any of the above lying to Congress and the American people...but Joe Sestak?  WE NEED A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR NOW!
"It seems to me that if the offer came from the White House, you need a special prosecutor," Mukaskey said. "People were railing on me for months, demanding a special prosecutor for this, a special prosecutor for that. But here's a case where ... well, he hasn't said what happened."

Mukasey suggested that there were two extreme scenarios in the Sestak story, one that might not be a big deal, and one that would require a real investigation. "The least bad case," Mukasey said, "is that the guy's 20 points down, and everybody says you don't want to do this and bloody up a candidate to no end. You want to do something, we can find something for you. But to call somebody in and tell them, 'Look, you bow out and we'll offer you a job' is very serious. No rational prosecutor should indict unless it's that blatant.’ "
You have to be kidding me.  By Mukasey's logic, he should have appointed a dozen special prosecutors himself to look into his own bosses.

Top Kill Slays The Dragon?

Early this morning the LA Times is reporting that BP's "top kill" procedure has in fact actually worked.
Engineers have succeeded in stopping the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico from a gushing BP well, the federal government's top oil spill commander, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said Thursday morning.

The "top kill" effort, launched Wednesday afternoon by industry and government engineers, has pumped enough drilling fluid to block all oil and gas from the well, Allen said. The pressure from the well is very low, but persists, he said.

Once engineers have reduced the well pressure to zero, they will begin to pump cement into the hole to entomb the well. To help that effort, he said, engineers are also pumping some debris into the blowout preventer at the top of the well.
No confirmation yet, but we'll see if BP finally got this damn thing fixed or not soon, I would think.  I'll reserve EPIC WIN status until then.

[UPDATE] Everyone's still hedging their bets on if it actually worked or not, but the official estimates are now in the 15-30k barrels a day range.  I think those are still several times too low.  Obama's presser:

And now the really, really bad news, there's far more oil under the surface, possible millions of barrels worth.
David Hollander, associate professor of chemical oceanography at the school, says the thick plume was detected just beneath the surface down to about 3,300 feet. He says it’s more than 6 miles wide. Scientists say they are worried the undersea plumes may be from chemical dispersants used to break up the oil a mile under the surface.
Not good.

Unimpeachable Character

Jill over at Brilliant at Breakfast argues this morning that the White House better get on stomping this Joe Sestak job offer thing into the ground, because the Party of No is already shifting into Lewinsky Mode.  Salon:
The zeal that Rep. Darrell Issa has brought to his pursuit of the allegations that the White House dangled some kind of job in front of Joe Sestak last year while they were trying to muscle him out of the Pennsylvania Senate primary is impressive, if also a little amusing. Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, has been thundering about an alleged bribe, using scary words like "impeachable," "crime" and "ethics complaint." (Actually, considering how rarely the House Ethics Committee can be roused to do anything about lawmakers, that last one isn't so scary.)

But as Alex Pareene has already noted, this isn't exactly the first time someone in politics cut a deal for a job. When Sen. Judd Gregg was going to leave Congress to join the Obama administration -- which, in the end, he didn't do, because he realized he disagreed with everything President Obama stands for -- he wasn't going to take the appointment to become commerce secretary unless his replacement in New Hampshire's Senate seat would caucus with the GOP.
Right, so Issa's not about to throw fellow Republican Judd Gregg under the bus just to go after Obama, right?

If you've been paying any attention over the last, oh, 16 years, you know the answer already.
After we hung up, though, I found a quote from a Gregg statement, making clear he wanted a Republican appointed (and another quote from Gregg's appearance with Obama, where he thanked New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, for "his courtesy and courage in being willing to make this possible through the agreement that we have").

Which, to Bardella's credit, and Issa's, meant he changed his tune a little bit.

"If the White House had come to Judd Gregg and said, 'We will make you the secretary of commerce, in exchange for which we will guarantee the appointment of a Republican,' that would be just as wrong," Bardella said. (Which is, of course, exactly what happened.) "That would be worthy of the same scrutiny and would still be a violation of how [Obama] said he would govern. Once you vacate your seat, you announce your intention to take another job, you lose the right to dictate what should happen to that seat. No one person owns a seat ... Offices in the United States Congress should not ever be used as bargaining chips."

So to recap: Issa's staff says Gregg's deal is just as bad as the one Sestak alleged. We'll pause here to allow for the angry phone calls and e-mails back and forth between people who work for Gregg and Issa. (And while we wait, we also have a call in to Gregg's office for comment, which wasn't immediately returned.)
As Jill points out, this is where it will begin.
Let's not forget that Republicans regard ANY Democrat who is elected President by the will of the people as illegitimate. This is a party that has embraced the teabaggers and the birthers and is looking for ANY EXCUSE WHATSOEVER to remove this president from office. They did it before with Bill Clinton, when they tried to impeach him for lying about an affair -- something their peeps do all the time. They will trump up bullshit, and their lackeys in the media will huff and puff and clutch their pearls in outrage. Because where the media is concerned, the IOKIYAR rule always applies. (And yes, I'm talking to you, Chuck Todd.)

But remember one thing: Whatever this president's shortcomings, he's got a lot on his plate right now: a still-faltering economy, a persistent terrorist threat from the Middle East, a rise in right-wing violence and threats of violence here at home, tension between the Koreas, Europe on the brink of chaos, and an oil company run amok in the Gulf of Mexico. The last time the Republicans decided to impeach a president over nonsense, the effort failed because Americans regarded him as a lovable scamp. Barack Obama's cool aloofness will not serve him as well.
I happen to agree with her.  Understand that should the GOP take control of the House in November, Obama will face impeachment hearings.  This is an absolute, like gravity, birds crapping on your freshly washed car, and Uwe Boll movies based on video game franchises sucking horribly.  If you think Obama's doing a lousy job, that's one thing.  Do you think the Republicans deserve to be back in control?  That's another thing entirely.

[UPDATE] WaPo's Jon Bernstein agrees.
The incentives all run to impeachment, as far as I can tell. The leaders of such an effort would find it easy to cash in (literally, I mean) with books and appearances on the conservative lecture circuit. It's hard to believe that Rush, Beck and the rest of the gang wouldn't be tripping over each other to wear the crown of the Host Who Brought Down the socialist gangster president. And we've seen the ability, or I should say the lack thereof, of rank-and-file GOP pols to stand up to the talk show yakkers. Besides, it's not as if a new Republican majority would have a full agenda of legislative items to pass, and what they did have would face an Obama veto (and most likely death in the Senate at any rate). Against all that is the collective preference of the Republican Party not to have a reputation as a pack of loons, but that doesn't seem to be much of a constraint in practice. Of course, also against impeachment is the lack of a serious offense by the president, but I don't see that as a major impediment -- if offering a job to a potential Senate candidate is an impeachable offense (and see Jonathan Chait if you think it really is), then they'll have no trouble at all coming up with something.
It's not like voters punished the GOP short term in 2000 for impeaching Clinton in 98-99.   They ended up controlling Congress and the White House, remember?

If It's Thursday...

460K new jobless claims, 4.61 million continuing claims.  Best line:
The U.S. job market has failed to bounce back convincingly despite three straight quarters of solid economic growth.
Well, that's because the "growth" is all in corporate profits through additional job cuts, genius.

Headless Chicken Scramble

I've seen a lot of folks on both the left and the right scream OBAMA NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING about Lake Palin.

Do...what?  What should be be doing?  Very few people seem to have those answers, but they sure are mad.
The response to the disaster by energy giant BP, President Obama and the federal government all get terrible grades from Americans in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed Monday and Tuesday say BP is doing a "poor" or "very poor" job in handling the calamity. Six of 10 say that of the federal government. And a 53% majority give Obama a poor rating.
So, suddenly now everyone's mad and worried about the environment:
The catastrophe has boosted concern about the environment over development of new energy supplies -- a long-time balancing act in American politics.

Now, a majority say protection of the environment should be given priority, "even at the risk of limiting energy supplies."

The 55%-39% divide on that question was a reversal of American views in March, before the April 20 explosion sent crude oil spewing into the gulf. Then, by 50%-43% Americans said development U.S. energy supplies should be given priority, "even if the environment suffers to some extent."

On a similar question, those surveyed divided 50%-43% over whether the environment should be protected "even at the risk of curbing economy growth" or if growth should be given priority, "even if the environment suffers to some extent."

That's a big swing from March, too. Then, by 53%-38% Americans chose economic growth as their priority.
So, maybe the American people want the federal government to take over the effort to clean up?
Who should be in charge of cleanup efforts? More than two-thirds say BP, not the federal government.
Umm...okay... well, Obama can at least stop offshore drilling, right?
There is still majority support for increasing offshore drilling for oil and gas in U.S. coastal areas: 52% favor, 44% oppose. Just one in five oppose all offshore drilling. 
Right then.  Carry on, America!

[UPDATE]  A TPM reader has some interesting perspective on "top kill".
On having Obama "do more," WTF is he supposed to do? Everybody seems to be calling for more fire in his belly and scary, threatening speeches. What does that accomplish? It's like people want him to do a dramatic speech like post-9/11 about bringing the criminals to justice. It does nothing to actually plug the damn well. The government does not have the expertise to do more to stop this gusher. It's in BPs interest to stop the gusher. All the conspiracy theories about wanting to preserve the well for future production are technically wrong and ignore that NOBODY in the industry benefits from this gusher continuing. BP wants what everybody else wants, though I'll concede that I suspect dispersants are about killing life where it's less easily photographed. Dispersants aside, the only conflict of interest is regarding the causes of the blowout, not the capping of the well. Fed investigations are already taking care of that part.
Do read the whole letter.

The Real Deal Appeal Of Repeal, Part 4

Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli has become the de facto GOP point man on the efforts to overturn health care reform, and he's confident that the matter will go before the Supreme Court relatively quickly, but they have to start with the federal district court.
"Just statistically, we're most likely to survive standing, and then we have a better than even chance of winning on the merits," he said in an interview Tuesday, a day after the federal government filed a response to his suit. "I wouldn't go farther than that. I wish I could."

At the same time, a loss would strengthen the hand of those who have argued that Cuccinelli's suit is frivolous with little chance of success, and, for that reason, Cuccinelli argues his suit is a marathon that will undoubtedly be decided by the Supreme Court. Winning along the way to Washington would be more fun than losing, but not a necessity.

"Nobody likes to lose, but we're in this for the long haul," he said. "We understand this is going to be decided ultimately by the Supreme Court, and that's the course we're on, regardless of what happens in the district court or the 4th Circuit. ...You take them one at a time -- you don't think about the next drive until you finish your putt."

Cuccinelli said he realizes he faces the burden of proof in convincing judges the law is unconstitutional. But the federal government faces "the burden of persuasion."

"The federal government has a significant burden in convincing judges they can order people to do something, to go buy something, under the guise of regulating commerce, when that has never ever ever been done before in the history of the United States," he said.
It still amuses me that the idea of an insurance mandate was originally proposed by and fully supported by Republicans like Chuck Grassley.   I've gone over the legal arguments for and against the constitutionality of mandates before, and they are worth looking at again.  The fact of the matter is the courts have already decided on several occasions that the Commerce Clause extends this far, most recently five years ago:
Numerous constitutional scholars say the mandate is well within the scope of what the court has defined as commercial activity -- pointing to the 2005 case, Gonzales v. Raich, in which the Supreme Court found that the federal government could criminalize the growth and possession of medical marijuana, even when it was limited to within a single state, on the grounds that doing so was part of an effort to control the interstate drug trade.
This lawsuit is just a cynical political exercise, nothing more.  They're wasting time and state tax dollars, which the TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY crowd doesn't seem to care about all of a sudden...


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