Thursday, July 8, 2010

Last Call

Finally, somebody does something useful with the Tenth Amendment.
The federal law banning gay marriage is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define the institution and therefore denies married gay couples some federal benefits, a federal judge ruled Thursday in Boston.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in favor of gay couples' rights in two separate challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, a 1996 law that the Obama administration has argued for repealing. The rulings apply to Massachusetts but could have broader implications if they're upheld on appeal.

The state had argued the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004.

Tauro agreed and said the act forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens in order to be eligible for federal funding in federal-state partnerships.

The act "plainly encroaches" upon the right of the state to determine marriage, Tauro said in his ruling on a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Martha Coakley. In a ruling in a separate case filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Tauro ruled the act violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification the Constitution clearly will not permit," Tauro wrote.
(More after the jump)

What Does It Take To Get This Guy Fired?

El Rushbo accuses Obama of tanking the economy on purpose because he hates white people and wants revenge for slavery.

No really, that's the argument.
Rush Limbaugh said on his July 2 radio show that he believes Obama tanked the economy on purpose, both as "payback" for 230 years of racial oppression and because Obama simply doesn't like America.

He railed: "Who is Obama? Why is he doing this? Why? Why is he doing it? Is he stupid? Is it an accident? Is he doing it on purpose or what have you? ... I think we face something we've never faced before in the country -- and that is, we're now governed by people who do not like the country, who do not have the same reverence for it that we do. Our greatest threat (and this is saying something) is internal."

Limbaugh went on to compare Obama to the Black Panthers:
"So in this interview with J. Christian Adams yesterday talking about [how] he and his line attorneys were told to just drop the case against the New Black Panthers for voter intimidation in Philadelphia, he said that there were people in the office, DOJ, who said, 'Well, you know, those people suffered the indignity of slavery, discrimination, segregation and so forth.'
He said somebody else said, 'This is payback,' meaning, 'All right, look. We don't care if it's the New Black Panthers or whoever it is. Black people in this country have never, ever had a fair shake. This is payback. O.J. Simpson was payback. How does it feel?' That word 'payback' is not mine, [but] it is exactly how I think Obama looks at the country: It's payback time... There's no question that payback is what this administration is all about, presiding over the decline of the United States of America, and doing so happily."
 But this is totally fair because a commenter on a liberal blog said Bush was a Nazi.

Seriously.  This guy is repugnant.  What's it going to take to get him fired?

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Greg Sargent continues to collect evidence that the GOP plan to scuttle the economy and blame Obama is not only their actual plan, but that the plan is working.  He straight up asks:
As you regulars know, I've been noting here regularly that GOP obstruction could perversely end up benefiting Republicans politically, because voters may end up holding Dems accountable for government dysfunction, since they run the place.

Here's yet another data point for this argument, though I'll admit it's highly speculative. What if the GOP's successful efforts at obstruction in the Senate are also partly responsible for the "enthusiasm gap" between the two parties, which is also widely expected to help Republicans?
Hey, there's a decent call.  Unfortunately the effect of the "enthusiasm gap" where Republicans are more eager to vote in 2010 is also a symptom of the true problem and not the cause.  The bigger problem is that the Village is holding the Democrats responsible for government dysfunction.

As long as Democrats are being blamed for not capitulating to Republican demands, in a world where controlling 59% of Congress is not a majority and is doing things "against the will of the people" then the Democrats are going to lose and the GOP is absolutely counting on it.

So while this is a good question, it's also akin to asking why a bacterial infection from a gunshot wound might be adversely affecting one's health.  Greg's usually very bright, but he's ignoring the elephant in the room for sure.

On the other hand, the whole Dave Weigel thing just shows ignoring the elephant is far safer for your job security in the Village.

It's A Nuclear Melt-Up, Part 2

The cause:
The latest consumer credit number continues the decline we have seen in recent months, plunging from $2424.4 billion in April to $2415.3 billion in May, a $9.1 billion decline, or 4.5% annualized, on consensus of $2.3 billion. Yet the biggest stunner was the April revision which was whacked from +$1 billion to a revised -$14.9 billion! In other words, there has been a $24 billion decline in consumer credit in the past two months. The biggest hit was, as usual, experienced by revolving credit accounts, which fell by a 10.5 annualized rate to $830.8 billion, from $838.2 billion in April, and just north of $910 billion a year earlier.
$24 billion in consumer credit lost, removed from the consumer-driven economy, in our continuing deflationary spiral.  That's bad, people.

The effect:
Stocks rose for a third straight day Thursday on the Labor Department's report of a larger than expected drop in the number of newly laid-off people seeking unemployment benefits. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 121 points after climbing 275 Wednesday and advancing modestly Tuesday. The 4.7 percent gain in that time is the Dow's best three-day move since mid-May.
The melt-up is here.  Stocks are no longer following logical rules.

Here there be dragons.

On A Gender Bender

And the latest Winger outrage is the Financial Regulation legislation, specifically Section 342.  Diana Furtchgott-Roth wades into this latest example of Ofascism, but only ends up stuck in her own mucky arguments.
In addition to this bill's well-publicized plans to establish over a dozen new financial regulatory offices, Section 342 sets up at least 20 Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion. This has had no coverage by the news media and has large implications.

The Treasury, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the 12 Federal Reserve regional banks, the Board of Governors of the Fed, the National Credit Union Administration, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau...all would get their own Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.

Each office would have its own director and staff to develop policies promoting equal employment opportunities and racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of not just the agency's workforce, but also the workforces of its contractors and sub-contractors.
Now, the federal government required by law to be an equal opportunity employer, this kind of enforcement and oversight arm makes sense.  Because it does, she goes and borrows one straw man too many.
This latest attempt by Congress to dictate what "fair" employment means is likely to encourage administrators and managers, in government and in the private sector, to hire women and minorities for the sake of appearances, even if some new hires are less qualified than other applicants. The result is likely to be redundant hiring and a wasteful expansion of payroll overhead.

If the director decides that a contractor has not made a good-faith effort to include women and minorities in its workforce, he is required to contact the agency administrator and recommend that the contractor be terminated.

Section 342's provisions are broad and vague, and are certain to increase inefficiency in federal agencies. To comply, federal agencies are likely to find it easier to employ and contract with less-qualified women and minorities, merely in order to avoid regulatory trouble. This would in turn decrease the agencies' efficiency, productivity and output, while increasing their costs.

Setting up these Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion is a troubling indictment of current law. Women and minorities have an ample range of legal avenues already to ensure that businesses engage in nondiscriminatory practices. By creating these new offices, Congress does not believe that existing law is sufficient.
Now, here's where she runs into her own buzzsaw.  She assumes that hiring will, because of this new office, be of women and minorities who must be less qualified, otherwise they would be already hired...meaning that there's no existing discrimination in the current hiring practices that this office would be needed to monitor.  Besides her insulting assumption that more women and minorities would lower the quality of work, she's also assuming that there's no discrimination now, and that this office would instead create reverse discrimination against "more qualified" hires.

At the same time, she assumes that the office is unneeded because there are already other agencies that investigate discrimination in the they should enforce their discrimination policies to handle the discrimination that she just got done assuming there was absolutely none of.

But no, the worst part apparently is extending these rules to the contractors and sub-contractors that do business with these financial regulatory agencies.  How dare the government try to make private sector businesses taking taxpayer dollars to be contractors and sub-contractors have to follow government rules!

Which of course is exactly what Wingers want to do to prevent insurance companies involved in state insurance exchanges to have to follow regulations on abortion.  That's fine.  Applying those rules to prevent legal abortions, a moral imperative.  Applying those rules to private sector companies to prevent illegal discrimination?  Fascism.

You'd think Wall Street supporters could afford better logic.

In Other Breaking News, The Sun Is Hot And Made Of Fire

Rasmussen discovers a majority of Americans are basically mean-ass bastards who don't like taxes.  Shocking, I know.
Most Americans would not pay higher taxes for specific public services in their states, but they are more supportive of paying for education and staffing law enforcement than supporting state employees and entitlement programs.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Adults shows that only 19% would be willing to pay higher taxes to avoid layoffs of state employees. Sixty-nine percent (69%) say they would not be willing to pay more in taxes for this reason. Another 11% are undecided.
Adults feel similarly when it comes to funding entitlement programs. Twenty-two percent (22%) would pay higher taxes to prevent cuts in entitlement programs for low-income Americans.
Sixty-three percent (63%) say they would not pay more to keep these programs afloat. Another 15% are undecided.
Americans are slightly less opposed to paying higher taxes for education. Thirty-four percent (34%) say they are willing to pay higher taxes to provide funding for public education, but 54% say they are not. Another 12% aren’t sure.
Thirty-seven percent (37%) say they are willing to pay higher taxes to increase the number of police and firemen in their communities. Still, 52% say they would not be willing to do so. Another 10% are not sure. 
Bottom line is if you're a public employee, Americans don't really give a damn if you get laid off.  You would think people would realize that employed police officers, teachers, firefighters and workers are more useful to the economy and the community when they are taking taxpayer money to provide a useful service back to taxpayers rather than taking taxpayer money and collecting unemployment checks, but I never said it was an intelligent assumption.

At this point we're so eager for a scapegoat that we're willing to sacrifice basic infrastructure for the name of Austerity Hysteria.  I'd like to see Rasmussen ask people if they'd raise taxes to go to war with Iran.  Now there would be a poll question.

Road Trippin'

The Big O is hitting the road today, heading to Missouri and Nevada to tout stimulus success stories, and to stump for Senate Dems.
With Democrats facing uphill battles in the November elections, Obama is combining a couple of economy-focused events Thursday and Friday with a campaign swing on behalf of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Missouri Senate hopeful Robin Carnahan.

Reid is in trouble in his bid for a fifth term, with unemployment sky-high in Nevada and Republicans working furiously to unseat him. Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, represents a chance for a much-needed Democratic pickup of the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Kit Bond.

Obama will aim to energize their supporters Thursday with a sharply partisan message he's been honing of late.

The man who pledged during his campaign to bridge partisan divides has begun playing into them as his party claws for political advantage. Obama's been singling out individual Republican House members for comments he says show they care more about corporations than people.

Ahead of Thursday's trip, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said voters could expect to hear Obama repeat his attacks on Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who had to apologize for apologizing to BP PLC, the primary owner of the blown-out well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and House Minority Leader John Boehner, who contends his metaphor likening the financial crisis to an "ant" is being twisted by Democrats.

"Obviously, we're getting much, much closer to the fall elections, and the president will have, will do more things leading up to that," Gibbs said. "He has been very involved in raising money and in making an argument."
Fired-up campaign mode Obama is at least more interesting and less damaging than "Begging Republicans for votes" Obama. We'll see how it goes.  The Missouri Senate race is going to be razor thin either way, but Nevada I'd have to say Sharron Angle is her own worst enemy.  We'll see.

May Want To Put The Corks Back In On That Champagne

Turning back to the Palmetto State, the fact that Nikki Haley won the GOP gubernatorial primary means she's already won in November, yes?  Not so fast...
South Carolina business leaders are sticking with a decision not to endorse state GOP gubernatorial nominee Rep. Nikki Haley as her campaign Wednesday called the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce "a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare."

State chamber board member Ted Speth said Wednesday that he's backing Democrat Vincent Sheheen because the next governor needs to get along with the GOP-controlled Legislature, something that has been missing for eight years under Republican Gov. Mark Sanford. They "certainly have not had much harmony there within the past eight years," said Speth, managing shareholder in Ogletree Deakins, one of the state's largest law firms.

The chamber endorsed Sheheen, who won the Democratic nomination, earlier this year along with Republican U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett. On June 18, days before Barrett lost a runoff with Haley, the chamber decided it would stick with that decision even if Haley won. This year's endorsements were the first ever in a governor's race for the state chamber.

"These candidates had a particularly favorable focus on business," said Reed Byrum of The Byrum Innovation Group Inc. in Greenville.

Part of Haley's campaign stump talk has been that she would go into legislators' districts and hold them accountable with their voters if they didn't go along with reforms she seeks.

"I just don't think that's going to bring the type of cooperation that we need," said Otis Rawl, the chamber's chief executive officer. "That's a slippery slope when you're talking about getting things done."

Not all the chamber's members are happy with the ongoing Sheheen endorsement.

For instance, Mark Buyck Jr., a Florence lawyer who runs one of the state's oldest law firms, resigned his chamber membership. "We cannot lend our name to an organization which behaves as the chamber did in this endorsement without input from its membership," said Buyck. He said the decisions were made by the board, not the chamber's membership.

Haley's campaign shrugged off the endorsement.

"The state Chamber is a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare, so it's no surprise that they would prefer a liberal like Vincent Sheheen over a conservative like Nikki Haley," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
The fact of the matter is your average state, local, or nation Chamber of Commerce really is a fan of corporate welfare and big bailouts.  Haley's people are correct.  But the SC Chamber backing Democrat Shaheen means he's not out of the race, and I think you're going to see a lot more of this disconnect where Country Club and Chamber of Commerce Republicans are going to be fed to the Tea Party buzzsaw and will have to turn more and more to the Democrats for support.

I'm not saying that's a good thing.  Politics makes strange bedfellows however.  The Hoffman Effect is making the Mitt Romney wing of the GOP persona non grata, and at this point the Dems need all the help they can get.

I Disbelieve The Economy

Via John Cole comes this Henry Blodget piece on our old friend commercial Real Estate, and why the collapse isn't quite happening yet but may soon will.
Most experts agree that one reason Japan's economy has taken so long to recover from its bubble crash is that Japan's banks spent the first decade in denial.

Specifically, when loans went bad, the banks didn't write the loans off--they lent the bankrupt borrowers more money so the borrowers could keep paying interest on the original loan. Thus, the bank and the borrower could pretend that everything was hunky dory.

Except it wasn't. Because the borrowers were bankrupt. And, eventually, everyone figured that out. And, finally, more than a decade into the collapse, the banks began owning up to reality and writing off some of the bad loans.

This practice, "extend and pretend," isn't always a bad strategy. If the economy recovers strongly and quickly, sometimes banks can make more money (or at least lose less) by working with with troubled borrowers who will eventually make good on their debts.  This is what most of the ideas to "save the housing market" have been about--encouraging banks to restructure mortgages to keep borrowers in their homes.  And sometimes, it actually works.

But, usually it doesn't--especially when practiced on an industry-wide scale, and especially when borrowers aren't just temporarily strapped. When banks "extend and pretend" just to avoid write-offs and protect their capital, they're just delaying the inevitable.  And the financial health they're bragging about in the quarterly reports becomes bogus.

And that's what appears to be happening in the commercial real-estate market right now.
Applied denial as lending policy.  The banks, flush with taxpayer money, are playing Big Casino again with the CRE market to keep the band playing.  Once the music stops however, the explosion is going to pretty much cripple our economy.  Basically the banks are throwing money at commercial real estate hoping magically that the market will turn around and that everything will be fine.

The irony of course is that businesses are doing everything they can to screw over their employees in this economy, and that's cutting their own throats on demand.  People are cutting back.  Meanwhile, banks are making the same bet with construction companies, building more commercial properties in the hope that the market will come roaring back.

All of this is going to detonate in our faces spectacularly and soon.  The question is when and how ruthless it will be when it happens.  The answer of course is that we'll have no choice but to bail out the banks again to the tune of trillions...again...and that cost will get squeezed out of every American.

The next decade or so looks really, really bad.  Standing around trying to disbelieve it will not solve the problem.

If It's Thursday...

New jobless claims actually down somewhat this week to 454K, continuing claims down big to 4.41 million.  This is actually good news, but I have to ask how much of that drop is coming from people simply too discouraged to care any more.

Still, we have to get under 400K a week to have any shot at getting our heads above water.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

Exactly why does there need to be a law allowing guns in churches in Louisiana, anyway?
Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed into law one of the more controversial bills from the recent legislative session, one allowing guns to be carried into houses of worship.

Including the "gun-in-church" bill, House Bill 1272 by Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, Jindal has signed into law 940 of the 1,067 bills the Legislature sent him, vetoed 12, and used his pen to line-item spending measures in four different budget bills.

Burns' bill would authorize persons who qualified to carry concealed weapons having passed the training and background checks to bring them to churches, mosques, synagogues or other houses of worship as part of a security force.

The pastor or head of the religious institution must announce verbally or in weekly newsletters or bulletins that there will be individuals armed on the property as members of the security force. Those chosen have to undergo eight hours of tactical training each year.
Security forces.  In churches.  And somebody thought this was a good idea?  Eight hours of tactical training a year, huh?


Never Waste A Crisis

The Rahm Emanuel phrase is turning into the Washington operating manual these days, and in this case the target is changing Social Security.  Republicans have been licking their chops for years now to try to seriously wreck the program for everyone after the Baby Boomers, and now they are being aided and abetted by the Dems.  Brian Beutler:
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer explicitly put the idea on the table as well in a speech last month. "We should consider a higher retirement age or one pegged to lifespan," Hoyer said.

He echoed House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who put it this way: "With minor changes to the program such as raising the salary cap and raising the retirement age by one month every year, the program could become solvent for the next 75 years." One month a year may not sound like much, but if you're 30 years away from retirement, that adds up to almost three years.

In the House, though, Nancy Pelosi is the linchpin, and she's not nearly as enthusiastic as her colleagues. But, notwithstanding the enthusiasm gap, she also left the possibility of raising the retirement age on the table. When asked about it by TPMDC at her press conference last week, she criticized the plan, but mainly to say she disagrees with putting Social Security on the chopping block ahead of other measures. "Why they would start talking about a place that could be harmful to our seniors -- 70 is a relative age," Pelosi said. "Around here, there's not a lot of outdoor work or heavy lifting. But for some people it is, and 70 means something different to them. So in any event let's talk about growth, lets talk about how we can reduce spending, lets put everything, those initiatives: promoting growth, tightening the belt, looking at entitlements. But let's not start on the backs of our seniors."

There's one catch, though. Last week, Democrats included a rider to the supplemental war spending bill that will likely force the House to vote on a forthcoming fiscal reform plan, if the Senate passes it first. That package is being put together by President Obama's deficit and debt commission, and will be ready to go after the midterms. Pelosi had already pledged to give the package a vote, so perhaps nothing has really changed. But in a way, she also tied her own hands: if the Senate passes a broad tax-and-entitlement reform package at the end of this Congress and her own caucus is willing, she'll be hard-pressed to stop the Social Security reforms she thinks should come last.

Of course, that puts the onus on the Senate, which can't pass much of anything these days, especially if it includes tax hikes -- and any serious effort to pull the country back from the brink of fiscal crisis will have to include some of those. But if there's a fluke, or an unexpected decision on the part of 60 senators to hold hands and jump together, it could happen swiftly, with very little notice.
And once again this raises the specter of Obama's deficit commission making some tough choices on an America headed down the road of a depression that will certainly prolong the misery.  There's a reason Digby's been calling the group the "Catfood Commission" because it's what we're going to be reduced to eating here, and she's been on this one for over a year now.

It's becoming painfully clear that Washington's solution to our little Depression problem is to make Hoovervilles out of America, but as eager as the Republicans are to redistribute the wealth upwards, they can't do it without Obama's consent.


Related Posts with Thumbnails