Monday, July 12, 2010

Last Call

Maybe...just maybe...I was wrong about the Republicans killing financial regulatory reform.  Seems Sen. Cosmo McCenterfold is actually in on the Wall Street Bill.
Coy no more. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) says he expects to vote for the Dems' Wall Street reform bill.
"While it isn't perfect, I expect to support the bill when it comes up for a vote," reads a statement from Brown's office. "It includes safeguards to help prevent another financial meltdown, ensures that consumers are protected, and it is paid for without new taxes."
By remaining undecided, Brown and other Republican moderates forced Dems to put off passing the Wall Street reform bill and sending it off to the White House until after the July 4 recess. That's a familiar pattern: Senate Republican leaders have pushed swing vote Republicans to at least delay passage of Democratic initiatives.
Brown now gives Dems 58 votes. They'll still need both Maine senators if they hope to pass the bill before West Virginia governor Joe Manchin appoints a replacement for Robert Byrd. According to Senate leadership, a vote on the final legislation could come as early as this week. 
So...this may actually happen.  So now that Brown has put his chips in, what will the Ladies From Maine demand, and will it be enough to sink the bill?  It's not a done deal yet and a lot could go wrong still.  But...the bill is a lot closer than it was just last Friday.

I still am expecting something to go wrong, however.  Perhaps Senator Byrd's death motivated a few folks to do the right thing.  Perhaps monkeys will fly out of my ass too.  Or perhaps Ben Nelson will go from yes to undecided again because he's an asshole and wants another special deal.
The bad news: Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) explicitly told reporters this evening he's not committed to voting for the legislation, citing a handful of measures, and concern about potential future directors of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"You don't know who's going to be head of the consumer protection bureau," Nelson said after a vote. "You can't just send a rogue agency out on its own."

The suggestion is that Nelson wants input behind the scenes on who the White House might nominate to run the new agency.
Why should President Obama choose who heads the new CFPB, when President Ben Nelson can do it for him?  After all, isn't Ben Nelson the most important guy in Washington, just like he was the most important guy in the health care debates with his Cornhusker Kickback (which of course got killed in favor of a special deal for pretty much everyone because, well everyone wanted their cut).

After all, why should Ben Nelson be the only greedy asshole and hold a bill hostage when Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe, Evan Bayh, Joe Liberman, Susan Collins, or Max Baucus can too?

It's not the safe Dems in the liberal districts who are going to lose, folks.

McJob McWage McDeflation

The other big deflationary pressure besides the drop in home prices is the job market:  people are getting fired, jobs are getting eliminated, but the growth industries in the country right now are McJobs that pay under $10 an hour.
While the job market may still look grim for those looking to replace their good-paying office or manufacturing jobs, opportunities are expected to abound for a host of jobs paying less than $10 an hour, everything from cashiers to home care aides.

“If you look at the job growth distribution of the last two recoveries, it suggests we’re going to see growth of a lot more lower-income jobs,” said Peter Creticos, president and executive director for the Institute for Work and the Economy. He said that the lowest net growth was among middle-income jobs, such as manufacturing or office jobs, in the prior two recoveries. It remains to be seen what will happen with this recovery, he added, but “there is no indication this recovery will be any different.”

Low-wage jobs have always been part of the economic landscape, but wages have been suppressed for many years now. Part of the reason is supply and demand, Creticos said, as the huge baby boomer labor pool flooded the job market and, thanks to the bad economy, are working longer, many past retirement age.
Creticos calls this phenomenon the “down-waging” of American jobs.

Many of the lowest-paying jobs were once seen as the domain of younger workers who were first starting out in the work world, but increasingly these positions are survival jobs for midcareer folks who have been downsized, said Randall Hansen, a workplace expert with Quintessential Careers. 
Fast food workers, dishwashers, theater ushers, amusement park attendants, waiters and waitresses, and increasingly home care aides for the elderly...that's where the jobs are now, jobs that maybe pay $18-$20k a year, the kind of work you ask teenagers to do...except for the fact that working Americans with families are having to take these jobs, and the teenagers and other entry level workers have nowhere to turn to right now.

And wages for average Americans go down, down, down along with our economy as high end jobs vanish and are replaced by McJobs with little to no prospect of advancement, jobs that basically suck.

More and more Americans are now turning to these jobs not as short term stops, but long-term careers.  You don't build a middle class on waiting tables and flipping burgers, folks.  But you can sure lose one that way.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Steve Benen asks about the axe Republicans have to grind right between the eyes of the unemployed.
And in the bigger picture, Republicans' efforts to castigate the jobless continue to strike me as bizarre. Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, considers the unemployed "spoiled ." One GOP congressman recently compared the unemployed to "hobos." In the House, GOP lawmakers tried to eliminate a successful jobs program. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) actually started pushing a measure to require the unemployed to take mandatory drug tests in exchange for benefits. Kentucky's Rand Paul wants the jobless to quit their bellyaching and "get back to work."

And, of course, in the Senate, Republicans have refused to allow a vote to extend unemployment benefits, and won't even consider aid to states that would prevent hundreds of thousands of additional layoffs.

What did the unemployed ever do to offend the Republican Party this much?
Real simple, Steve.  Real Americans are never unemployed, only Those Other People are.  Since Those Other People vote Democratic and Real Americans vote Republican, cutting off Those Other People only hurts the Democrats, and not Real Americans.

Ergo, the GOP has a double-sided battle axe to grind against the unemployed, and it's time to cut them off in an election year.  People without unemployment money can't make their bills, their car payment, hey, even their mortgage or rent.  And homeless people, they tend not to vote, dig?

Segregation Nation

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the folks in charge of the White House message shop suck.  Prima facie evidence of this:  the fact that the Pentagon is openly and publicly considering a separate but equal policy for gays and lesbians in the military, and the fact that a weekend later the White House still hasn't figured out that an African-American president signing off on a Pentagon policy of discrimination will end Obama's political career. John Aravosis:
The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that it is considering segregating gay troops, specifically with regards to creating separate showers and/or barracks for straight and gay troops.

Advocate reporter Kerry Eleveld just transcribed the following quote from Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell at Friday's briefing about the new "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" survey:
"We think it would be irresponsible to conduct a survey that didn’t try to address these types of things. Because when DADT is repealed, we will have to determine if there are any challenges in those particular areas, any adjustments that need to be made in terms of how we educate the force to handle those situations, or perhaps even facility adjustments that need to be made to deal with those scenarios."
Segregation, folks. Separate but equal. In the year 2010. And from a black president, no less.
Hello?  White House messaging shop?  Why isn't the immediate response from the White House on this that a policy of separate but equal will not be tolerated in the military under any circumstances?  This should be an absolute no-brainer here, guys...and the White House seems to be content on letting the Pentagon consider this path.  Surely they have talked to the White house about this "facility adjustment" stupidity.  Somebody in the White house knows about this, and there hasn't been a command decision of "hell no" on this from the top?

Exactly what is President Obama waiting for here?

What part of "game over" do you guys not get up there?  Maybe the First Read guys are right:
Turning our attention away from the midterms and to the Obama White House, we’ve come to this conclusion: This White House is simply not good at handling communication and politics. The legislative achievements are there. So is the individual outreach. But what's missing is a coherent message. Whether dealing with the media, the business community, Republicans, or Congress, this White House hasn’t gotten its message across. (Just check out what Dem Gov. Chris Gregoire said of the White House’s communication on immigration: “They described for me a list of things that they are doing to try and help on that border,” Ms. Gregoire said... “And I said, ‘The public doesn’t know that.’”) Why is this surprising? The last thing so many of us thought during the presidential campaign was that these guys would have difficulties controlling the message and managing their constituents. Simply put, Washington runs this White House right now; the White House doesn't run Washington.
And in this case, the Pentagon part of Washington is running the White House on this, and they're about to run them out of Washington for good.  This isn't a simple oversight, guys.  This is a Class Omega Screwup Of Massive Proportions, and you had better clamp down on this and show some resolve, or you will pay for it at the polls with lots of Americans.

Oh yes...and it's the right thing to do.  Separate facilities my ass.  Not in my America.

Epic Kwisatz Octorok Win

Paul the Psychic World Cup Octopus went 8 for 8 this year in his picks in South Africa, and the little guy gets his own World Cup trophy as a prize.
The two-year-old octopus with possible psychic powers turned into a worldwide celebrity for accurately predicting the winner of Germany's five World Cup wins as well as their two defeats. Paul also tipped Spain to beat Netherlands in Sunday's final.

"We've had a lot of offers for Paul but he will definitely be staying with us and returning to his old job -- making children smile," Sea Life spokeswoman Tanja Munzig in Oberhausen told Reuters after presenting Paul with the World Cup replica.

"There's no rational reason why he always got it right."

Bettors around the world made small fortunes based on Paul's uncanny picks, said Graham Sharpe, media relations director at William Hill in London, one of Britain's largest bookmakers.

"I've seen a lot of things in my lifetime but this is the first time I've ever seen people making their picks based on what an octopus tells them," Sharpe told Reuters.
Meh, why not, we do things for more stupid reasons.  Why not make sports bets based on prognosticating cephalopods?

Paul Muad'Dib, the Kwisatz Octorok.  I like that.  Maybe he can summon sandworms, battle Harkonnen squids, and become Emperor of a Million Aquariums.

Paul has certainly earned EPIC WIN for his efforts, and now he's got the trophy to prove it.

Jack Conway Twitting

Here in the NKY, Jack Conway's going after Rand Paul on the most basic of attacks: saying that Rand Paul is a couple throughbreds short of a Kentuck Derby on earmarks.

So how exactly does that strategy work in practice? Consider Conway's comments last Thursday on earmarks -- which Paul has says he wants to ban altogether.
We do need earmark reform. But I'm not going to call for an end to all earmarks. What we need is transparency in the earmark process ... You know what?...the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has been the recipient of earmarks in the past. Our locks, our dams, our bridges have been the recipients of earmarks in the past ... those projects, they mean jobs. And when I go to Washington, I'm going to make sure that those worthwhile projects, that are so important to your communities are looked out for and are adequately represented.
Conway told the crowd that his plan for earmarks -- and other spending problems -- comes down to more "accountability" in government. And that led directly into the Rand Paul-is-too-crazy-for-Kentucky stuff.
"I can tell you what accountability is not. Accountability is not going on national TV and saying it's unAmerican to go after British Petroleum," Conway said. "Accountability is not having a world view where you think that government should basically never touch business whatsoever."
It's a strategy that might seem obvious on its face, but carries with it more than a little risk. After all, Paul didn't sweep the GOP primary by offering ideas that don't fly among a large section of the Republican base. And John McCain didn't defeat President Obama 58-41 in the state in 2008 because a lot of Kentuckians aren't prepared to pull the lever for a Republican when the time comes.
Still, a Conway campaign source told me Friday, the Democrats feel like they have the upper hand in the policy debate, calling Paul's position on earmarks "extremely unrealistic." The source said Conway will appeal to a wide range of voters -- including Republicans -- by talking solutions to the problems Paul is raising that Kentuckians believe are actually possible.
As for the remaining portion of Conway's strategy to this point, waiting for Paul to embarrass himself, things really couldn't be going better for the Democrats up to now, the Conway source said. Paul's comments about BP and the 1964 Civil Rights Act have given Conway ample opportunity to sit back and watch Paul squirm. 
It's the sitting back and watching Paul squirm part that I don't agree with.  Jack Conway needs to give Kentuckians a reason to vote for Jack Conway and Jack Conway's policies, not voting against Rand Paul and Rand Paul's policies.  If he's serious about the talking solutions part, then he's in much better shape come November.

As I've said before, if this race is between Rand Paul and Jack Conway, Conway will win.  If this race is between Rand Paul and Barack Obama, Conway's going to lose by 15 points.

Like A House On Fire

I've been pretty grim about the GOP taking over in November in the House.  And yes, the Democrats will certainly lose seats in the 2010 elections and there are reasons why.  But, there are a couple of reasons why the GOP may not reach 39 pickups, at least according to MSNBC's First Read crew:
The facts are the facts: The Cook Political Report identifies 64 Democratic-held seats as either “Lean” or “Toss-up” races, and Republicans would need to win a majority of them (39) to win control of the House. Indeed, there are four reasons why the House is up for grabs: 1) according to history, the GOP stands to pick up seats; 2) Republicans enjoy a significant enthusiasm advantage; 3) Democrats are losing the independent vote; and 4) much of the House battleground will play in white/rural districts, where Obama isn’t performing well.
On the other hand, the Republicans may not get all 39:
But we also can list another four reasons why the GOP won’t win back the House: 1) Unlike in ’94, the Republican Party has a fav/unfav score that's no better (and sometimes event worse) than the Dem Party’s; 2) Unlike in ’94, the GOP isn’t necessarily running on new ideas or even with many new faces; 3) the National Republican Congressional Committee has a HUGE financial disadvantage compared with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the RNC’s political/fundraising troubles won’t be able to make up the difference; and 4) winning 39 seats is a tall order. After all, when Democrats won back the House in 2006 -- during the height of violence in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina -- they picked up 30 House seats. The GOP will need almost 10 more than that. One thing that's truly amazing about this cycle, historically: The fact we're headed for a third-straight cycle where more than 20 seats change hands.
So, MSNBC's political aces are calling at least 20 Republicans pickups, but not 39.   That will actually be good news for the Dems if that's the case.  But it also leaves the Republicans in a position where 2012 becomes a referendum on giving the Republicans back the White House as well as both chambers in Congress, and well within the possibility of winning back all three.  That may in turn motivate Democrats to stop them, it being a presidential election year.

But I do see this being a distinct possibility, where the Dems lose a healthy number of seats but keep control.  The Village will act like the Republicans are in charge anyway, but we'll see what happens.

On the other hand, NBC's Chuck Todd basically said at Aspen that if the GOP managed to not win the House back this year, it would be political malpractice.   Funny how Chuckle's First Read Crew says one thing in public and another for Villager consumption.

Give Us A Little Credit

...or not, if you're a bank or credit card company.  Credit agency FICO now says 1 in 4 Americans have a credit score under 600, meaning they're not getting a damn thing as creditors continue to ratchet down on who gets plastic.
FICO's latest analysis is based on consumer credit reports as of April. Its findings represent an increase of about 2.4 million people in the lowest credit score categories in the past two years. Before the Great Recession, scores on FICO's 300-to-850 scale weren't as volatile, said Andrew Jennings, chief research officer for FICO in Minneapolis. Historically, just 15 percent of the 170 million consumers with active credit accounts, or 25.5 million people, fell below 599, according to data posted on
More are likely to join their ranks. It can take several months before payment missteps actually drive down a credit score. The Labor Department says about 26 million people are out of work or underemployed, and millions more face foreclosure, which alone can chop 150 points off an individual's score. Once the damage is done, it could be years before this group can restore their scores, even if they had strong credit histories in the past.
On the positive side, the number of consumers who have a top score of 800 or above has increased in recent years. At least in part, this reflects that more individuals have cut spending and paid down debt in response to the recession. Their ranks now stand at 17.9 percent, which is notably above the historical average of 13 percent, though down from 18.7 percent in April 2008 before the market meltdown.
There's also been a notable shift in the important range of people with moderate credit, those with scores between 650 and 699. The new data shows that this group comprised 11.9 percent of scores. This is down only marginally from 12 percent in 2008, but reflects a drop of roughly 5.3 million people from its historical average of 15 percent.
This group is significant because it may feel the effects of lenders' tighter credit standards the most, said FICO's Jennings. Consumers on the lowest end of the scale are less likely to try to borrow. However, people with mid-range scores that had been eligible for credit before the meltdown are looking to buy homes or cars but finding it hard to qualify for affordable loans.
The rich are paying off their debt, they can afford to...and they are reaping the benefit with better credit scores.  The rest of us however are hurting as more and more Americans are missing payments and falling into traps, taking hits on their credit scores, seeing their credit limits reduced and rates raised, having to pay more off per month when it's becoming more and more of a squeeze.

Our consumer-based economy can no longer consume, that leads to less demand, that leads to layoffs and furloughs, that means people tighten their belts, and the cycle continues as the deflationary spiral rolls on and on.

Please Check Your Lottery Tickets

For I agree -- wholeheartedly I might add -- with a Ross Douthat column on of all things, ending tax breaks.
This policy is typical of the way the federal government does business. In case after case, Washington’s web of subsidies and tax breaks effectively takes money from the middle class and hands it out to speculators and have-mores. We subsidize drug companies, oil companies, agribusinesses disguised as “family farms” and “clean energy” firms that aren’t energy-efficient at all. We give tax breaks to immensely profitable corporations that don’t need the money and boondoggles that wouldn’t exist without government favoritism.

And we do more of it every day. Take Barack Obama’s initiative to double U.S. exports in the next five years. As The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney points out, it involves the purest sort of corporate welfare: We’re lending money to foreign governments or companies so that they’ll buy from Boeing and Pfizer and Archer Daniels Midland. That’s good news for those companies’ stockholders and C.E.O.’s. But the money to pay for it ultimately comes out of middle-class pocketbooks.

This isn’t just a corporate welfare problem. The same pattern is at work in our entitlement system, which is lurching toward bankruptcy in part because of how much Medicare and Social Security pay to seniors who could get along without assistance. Instead of a safety net that protects the elderly from poverty, we have a system in which the American taxpayer is effectively underwriting cruises and tee times.

All of this ought to be grist for a kind of “small-government egalitarianism,” in the economist Edward Glaeser’s useful phrase, that seeks to shrink government by attacking Washington’s wasteful spending on the well-connected. And sometimes conservative politicians make moves in this direction. President George W. Bush’s Tax Reform Commission proposed sharply reducing the mortgage-interest deduction. House Minority Leader John Boehner, to his great credit, recently floated the possibility of means-testing Social Security. Many Republican senators have been staunch critics of corporate welfare.

In the age of Barack Obama, many rank-and-file conservatives have been more upset about redistribution of a different sort — the kind that takes money from the prosperous and “spreads the wealth” (as Obama put it, in his famous confrontation with Joe the Plumber) down the income ladder.

This kind of spending can be problematic. But conservatives need to recognize that the most pernicious sort of redistribution isn’t from the successful to the poor. It’s from savers to speculators, from outsiders to insiders, and from the industrious middle class to the reckless, unproductive rich. 
Blaming Obama for something that's been going on for decades is your typical Douthat sloppiness, but he's right on the face of the problem:  tax breaks for those who don't need it are killing us, and if those who call themselves conservatives are serious about reducing debt and paying for spending, then we have to let tax breaks go for those who don't need them to get revenue back in our system.  The Bush tax breaks are costing us trillions right now, and all they did was provide casino money to the worst speculators in the housing bubble collapse under Bush.

Congress of course won't allow these tax breaks to expire.  Obama doesn't seem too keen on letting them go either, is the problem.  Still, it will be interesting to see what the response on the right to Douthat's column will be, and just who over there is serious about deficit reduction rather than just using it as an excuse to attack social programs.

Canada Dry

While the rest of the G-7 nations are drowning in the wake of the financial crisis, Socialist Fascist health care rationing death panel Canada is...recovering quite nicely.
In less than a year Canada has made up nearly all the jobs lost during the recession.
"We've replaced those jobs already. It is quite something how we are rebounding," said Dawn Desjardins, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank.
Desjardins said low interest rates, a stable banking system and the government's comparative strong fiscal position has spurred the recovery. Although its deficit is currently at a record high, the International Monetary Fund expects Canada to be the only one of the seven major industrialized democracies to return to surplus by 2015.
Canada entered the global downturn in the last three months of 2008 and withstood the global economic crisis better than most developed countries. There was no mortgage meltdown or subprime lending crisis in Canada where the financial sector is dominated by five large banks.
Last month, Canada became the first Group of Seven nation to raise interest rates since the crisis. Economists said the strong jobs report provides further impetus for the central bank to raise rates again on June 20.
No housing bubble...because Canada had financial regulations in place already that prevented Canadian banks from playing the Big Casino games.  As a result Canada really is on the way back to recovery and may not have to worry about the coming second leg of this depression, or at least they'll be in much better shape.  Their regulators actually did what was necessary to stop the meltdown and their major banks went along because they were not given a choice.

Meanwhile, we're down 8 million jobs thanks to letting Goldman Sachs run the country instead of the government, and now we're facing a massive deflationary contraction that will almost certainly have to be countered by running up interest rates by printing money.  When the bond market detonates, America is done.  Canada on the other hand, well, they're going to be fine.  We still have yet to learn the lesson of why Canada will be kicking our asses economically for the next generation, and even if our political class did figure it out, we don't have the political will to do it.

Good Ol' Fashioned Cajun Showdown

GOP Sen. David "Diaper Dandy" Vitter looked like he was on Big Easy Street heading for another six years as Senator...until a last minute primary challenger popped up late Friday night in the Louisiana race.  Suddenly, Vitter's about to find himself under assault from his own party's Teabagger flank.
Meet Chet Traylor, a former Louisiana Supreme Court Justice well-connected in Louisiana Republican political and business circles circles, who surprised everyone this afternoon by qualifying at the witching hour to challenge Vitter.

Vitter has plenty of money in the bank and, with just weeks to go, time on his side. But Traylor could catch up quickly.

Traylor was elected to the court on the strength of support from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which suggests that Vitter might have lost the support of the business community (at least over the course of the next several weeks until the primary).

And, in the meantime, Traylor will make Vitter spend money he had planned to save, and nudge him off his anti-Obama message, or at least distract him from it. Traylor appeared Friday evening with Roy Fletcher, a high-powered GOP consultant whose work helped propel Mike Foster to victory in the 1995 gubernatorial race.

Traylor was the very conservative justice who once wrote in an opinion upholding a Louisiana sodomy law that "any claim that private sexual conduct between consenting adults is constitutionally insulated from state proscription is unsupportable," so you can bet that he'll blast the already conservative Vitter from the right, and draw blood over Vitter's high-profile scandals. 
We'll see how this works out, but odds are that Vitter will have to take Traylor's challenge seriously.  The bad news is this could put somebody even further to the right in the Senate, but that could make things easier for Democrat Charlie Melancon.


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