Thursday, September 2, 2010

Last Call

They're baaaaa-aaaaaaack!
Chicago dentist William DeJean thinks four years is too long to wait between Routine Electoral Check-Ups, so he’s launching a one-man campaign to draft Hillary Clinton to run for President in 2012.

While many people have questioned his timing, his case for replacing Obama at the top of the Dem ticket is by far the most compelling one I’ve heard to date:
I’m a dentist and I don’t think this country is headed in the right direction.

Drill PUMA drill!

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Pop quiz, hotshot.  Democrats are in trouble and the average American is seeing the good life and the middle class slip further and further away.  13 million Americans are out of work.  What do you do in order to get the voting populace back on your side?

If you answered "Ezra Klein's payroll tax holiday idea!" then hey, you've got something going here.
With the recovery faltering less than two months before the November congressional elections, President Obama's economic team is considering another big dose of stimulus in the form of tax breaks for businesses - potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars, according to two people familiar with the talks.

Among the options are a temporary payroll tax holiday and a permanent extension of the research and development tax credit, say people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to describe private deliberations.

Permanently extending the research credit would cost roughly $100 billion over the next decade, tax experts said. And depending on its form and duration, a payroll tax holiday could let businesses keep more than $300 billion they would otherwise owe the Treasury
Now here's the question:  would businesses just not take payroll taxes out and give those straight to the American people, or would they sit on the money and pocket the difference?  If it's the former and it becomes "OK, for the rest of the year we're not going to take federal taxes out of your paycheck and you can keep it" then this is a good thing.  If it's the latter...not so much.

Republicans of course will find a way to block it.  They won't countenance Obama getting a win here on a payroll tax holiday.

Everyone's A Critic

The big news today in Cincy was HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in town to announce a $13.8 million health information exchange and modernization program here in southwest Ohio.
A $13.8 million federal award announced Thursday aims to improve treatment, cut costs and reduce medical errors through the use of electronic medical records for diabetic adults and children with asthma in the region.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius named Cincinnati’s HealthBridge, a non-profit organization that provides electronic medical records (EMR) connections for several hospitals, physician offices and other providers in the region, as the award recipient.

The award builds on the existing IT infrastructure HealthBridge has put in place, Sebelius said.
Asthma and diabetes are expensive diseases to treat, and patients often get care from multiple specialists. If that care, including medication, isn’t properly coordinated, patients can end up in the emergency room, driving the cost of their care up considerably, Sebelius said.

By making it easier for doctors, hospitals and patients to share information, patients get more efficient care with fewer errors, said Bob Steffel of HealthBridge.

Cincinnati is one of two sites receiving the awards under the federal stimulus program. The Southeastern Michigan Health Association, which serves the Detroit metropolitan area, received $16.2 million.
And of course, this being Cincy and this being the Obama administration announcing something that will directly create jobs in Cincy, there had to be a ruckus.
Sebelius announced the awards at the University of Cincinnati’s Care/Crawley building on the College of Medicine campus. A heckler was led away from the site by campus police after shouting remarks during Rep. Steve Driehaus’s (D-West Price Hill) remarks.

The man, who was not identified, shouted twice during Driehaus’s remarks, once exclaiming, “Shaming on you!”, and then “You lie!”

UC said the man was not arrested or charged with any offense.
Everyone's a critic, it seems.

Pushing Back The Boundaries

The real message of Jon Martin's Politico piece this morning is that "safe" Senate seats for them Dems are now up for grabs, putting control of the Senate firmly in play for the Republicans.  Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, Patty Murray in Washington state, and Barbara Boxer in California are all struggling.  If Republicans can win here, Martin's logic goes, then the races that pundits thought that would matter like Nevada, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania are firm and certain Republican wins that will give them the Senate as well as the House.

Control of the U.S. Senate increasingly appears to hang on the fate of an unlikely trio of Democratic incumbents who were elected along with Bill Clinton in 1992, hail from liberal-leaning states and have lived mostly charmed political lives.

At the start of the year, few observers thought the Senate was up for grabs in part because it seemed implausible that Washington’s Patty Murray, California’s Barbara Boxer and Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold were in any serious danger.

All three had won their last elections comfortably. And they were stockpiling the sort of money that flows readily to three-term senators.

But with the political environment turning toxic for Democrats and incumbents, Murray drawing perhaps her toughest possible opponent and Boxer and Feingold facing self-funders, the three Class of 1992 veterans are in the fight of their long political lives as the battle for control of the Senate moves from traditional battlegrounds to blue state venues.

The Senate majority could rest in their hands since it’s difficult to conjure a scenario where Republicans could pick up the 10 seats they need to reclaim the Senate without knocking off at least two of the three.

None of them will be easy to defeat—each is keenly attuned to the threat and has begun hammering the opposition. Senior Democrats, however, are increasingly worried about the trio and especially Murray and Feingold.

I'm not convinced yet that the Senate is lost.   I'm definitely not convinced that Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky are all Republican wins either.  I think Democratic losses in the Senate will be much lower than people are guessing they will be because these are individual races in battleground and blue states (and Rand Paul has serious negatives in Kentucky).  Sure, it's plausible that the Republicans could run the table and pick up 12 seats.  It's also plausible they don't and pick up only 5.

Still, all this comes down to who votes in November.  Republicans have shown in primary battles that a small number of motivated voters can have force multipliers when the other candidate suffers from the enthusiasm gap (ask Alaska's Joe Miller).  If that gap is still there in November, then yes, the Dems are in catastrophic trouble.

But I think that in a general election, a lot more people will be motivated to come out.

Shutdown Countdown

A year from now would a GOP-controlled Congress threaten to shut down the government like it did at the end of 1995?  Brian Beutler plays out the scenario to show that the GOP would again alsmost certainly come out on the losing side.
The first, and most immediate effect of a shutdown is furloughs -- hundreds of thousands of workers sent home without pay. That has ripple effects across the country.

Shalala ran down the list of functions that would be stopped.

"Social Security checks, Medicare reimbursements...welfare checks to the state, Medicaid checks to the state."

"HHS was given a lot of money for implementing the new health care plan, and it would be hard to do without the money," she added. Together, that one appropriation accounts for a huge amount of the federal budget, acording to Shalala. "[we're talking] almost half of the budget of the federal government. That's like close down the government."

During the 1995-1996 shutdown, according to CRS, "[n]New patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ceased disease surveillance (information about the spread of diseases, such as AIDS and flu, were unavailable); hotline calls to NIH concerning diseases were not answered; and toxic waste clean-up work at 609 sites stopped, resulting in 2,400 "Superfund" workers being sent home."

To make matters worse, the economy today is in much worse shape than it was in 15 years ago. The impact of employees out of work, and beneficiaries without checks, will hit the country much harder in the next year than it did under President Clinton. "It would stop all new enrollees into the [Social Security] system," Shalala said.

"It bounces through: it's grocery stores, it's farms," she said -- and the list goes on. "It bounces through when people don't have money at that scale."
Why, the GOP would have to be completely crazy to allow this to happen, right?

...Oh, wait.

Hey, maybe there will be consequences of allowing the GOP back in charge in 2010.

Oil Vey, Here We Go Again

Offshore drilling is perfectly safe, the other rigs are fine, Deepwater horizon was a fluke, and so it goes.
An offshore oil rig exploded Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico, injuring at least one worker, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

All 13 people on board the Vermilion Oil Rig 380 have been accounted for, and the one who was injured is being transported to a hospital, Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough said.

The rig is believed to be on fire, Colclough told CNN in a live telephone interview. He said it has not yet been determined whether there is a leak as a result of the explosion. 
Perfectly fine, everything's fine here, how are you?

Drill baby drill!

[UPDATE] MSNBC is reporting that a "mile-long sheen" of oil is now visible from the burning rig.  It may be from the rig itself, or it may be from somewhere else.

Hell.  Great.  Just great.

To Fight Or Not To Fight?

Bob Cesca explores the debate over taking on the Right Wing Noise Machine.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson posted an item tonight about how we should just ignore Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the others.
The Beck bashers have learned nothing from attacking Limbaugh and the Fox Network. The thing was that the more you bash, savage, pick at and ridicule a media outlet or a gimmicky talk show host you do what ad people, P.R. flacks, agencies, and sponsors drool over, and sink a mini-king's ransom into. That is to inflate, hype, and pump up a product. The product is Beck.
Obviously, I very strongly disagree with the liberal "ignore them and they'll go away" isolationist attitude. I hear it all the time: stop giving publicity to Beck and the others. While it's true that any publicity is good publicity, we ignore these people at our own peril

I can see both sides of the debate.  On one hand, going after Glennsanity and El Rushbo does carry the risk of "staring into the abyss long enough" about it all, just ask Keith Olbermann.  A large component of the credibility Beck and Limbaugh have among the right wing is precisely because of the fact that liberals go after them whenever humanly possible.  Media Matters, for instance, has a large chunk of its resources dedicated just to debunk Rush Limbaugh's radio excrement on a daily basis.  Hutchinson has a real point that people listen to Rush and Beck just because they piss liberals off.

Cesca's counterargument goes like this:
Beck and Limbaugh don't need us to give them publicity -- they do just fine on their own. So to give them an extra slice of publicity is totally negligible if it means exposing the nonsense to the light of day and whittling away at the their credibility (such as it is). It's a long-term cumulative effort, and if there's one thing we can learn from these guys is that we need to remain aggressive and unrelenting. Conceding these fights for the sake of not wanting to give Beck's website a few more hits or Limbaugh's radio show a few more listeners is dangerous and weak.
This is also true, plus it's the right thing to do.  Of course, Limbaugh's been around now for nearly twenty years, and Beck a good decade.  There's plenty of other right-wing radio loudmouths to go after these days too.  There seems to be no shortage in listeners for them, either.

I come down on Cesca's side of the argument simply because Limbaugh's lies are so pernicious.  But it's a necessary step.

The GOP Agenda Is Simple

Roll back the New Deal with the help of conservative Dems and that Obama guy.
As Republican pols from Barry Goldwater to George W. Bush can tell you, going after Social Security and Medicare is really bad politics. And they've yet to come up with a gimmick, whether it's "partial privatization" or grandfathering existing beneficiaries, to make major changes in these programs popular (I seriously doubt the very latest gimmick, "voucherizing" Medicare, will do any better once people understand the idea). Indeed, Republicans notably engaged in their own form of "Medagoguery" by attacking health care reform as a threat to Medicare benefits.

Yet the sudden Tea Party-driven return to fiscal hawkery among Republicans, particularly if it's not accompanied by any willingness to consider tax increases or significant defense spending cuts, will drive the GOP again and again to "entitlement reform." In Senate candidates like Rand Paul and Sharron Angle and now Joe Miller, we are seeing the return of a paleoconservative perspective in the GOP that embraces the destruction of the New Deal/Great Society era's most important accomplishments not just as a matter of fiscal necessity but as a moral imperative.
And the best part is Democrats are most likely going to help them do it as the confluence of the Club For Growth folks and the Religious Right converge on the notion that entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are morally repulsive because only evil people would want to "bankrupt the country" through debt. Digby catches what this means:
This is language of self-sacrifice for the greater good, which I'm not sure has been used by the far right in the context of destroying the social safety net. (Fiscal scolds pitch generational warfare, but it's not quite the same thing. This has a broader reach.) And the Religious Right hasn't gone this way before, instead worrying themselves about the culture wars. I've heard from an expert on the Religious Right that this is, in fact, an appealing approach to the evangelical side of the movement and very successfully marries the libertarian and Religious Right wings of the tea party. (And the Village will love it --- they've been calling for poor people to sacrifice for years. They can write breathless columns about how everyone has to pull together while they travel to and from green rooms in the back of a limousine.)
This new phase of the conservative movement has the simple goal of preparing average Americans to be cut off at the knees while the richest among us return to the days of the Divine Right of Kings. God made them rich.  God made you poor.  Maybe if you sacrifice more, you'll be rich someday too.  This is the rightful way things should be.

And the great theft of wealth in the country to the nobles at the top of the food chain continues unabated.

If It's Thursday...

New jobless claims down a smidge to 472k, productivity is down -1.8% for the second quarter which actually means wages and hiring went up a tad in second quarter.  That of course won't last.

Peak Oil Problems

Add Germany to the list of countries gravely concerned with peak oil fallout in the next decade or so.
Peak oil has happened or will happen some time around this year, and its consequences could threaten the continued survival of democratic governments, says a secret Germany military report that was leaked online.

According to Der Spiegel, the report from a think-tank inside the German military warns that shrinking global oil supplies will threaten the world's economic foundations and possibly lead to mass-scale upheaval within the next 15 to 30 years.

International trade would suffer as the cost of transporting goods across oceans would soar, resulting in "shortages in the supply of vital goods," the report states, as translated by Der Spiegel.

The result would be the collapse of the industrial supply chain. "In the medium term the global economic system and every market-oriented national economy would collapse," the report states.

That collapse could, in turn, cause many countries to abandon free markets principles, the report states. Deals would be struck between oil-exporting and oil-importing countries that would fix prices and remove large amounts of oil from the global market place.
Cheery news to say the least.  As oil gets tougher to find and countries like China and India consume more and more of it to power their billions of workers, the US effect on oil becomes less and less.  Despite having massive oil stockpiles here in the States now due to the economic depression, oil prices are exactly what they were a year ago, hovering between $70-$80 a barrel.

We're not in control of this ball game anymore.

Romer's Last Goodbye

As it looks more and more likely that Democrats are going to cave completely to the GOP and make the Bush tax cuts for the rich effectively permanent, additional revenue that could have gone into boosting the economy is instead going to go straight to the wealthiest Americans, making it all but impossible that Democrats will do anything else to help the struggling economy.
"The only surefire ways for policymakers to substantially increase aggregate demand in the short run are for the government to spend more and tax less," Romer said. "The key is that we need to take action and we need to do it quickly."

Romer mentioned additional tax cuts for the middle class, spending on infrastructure and a pending bill to boost small-business lending. She also supported additional efforts to promote exports and finalize new trade agreements. Romer defended the administration's regulatory approach as "prudent" for the economy.

Obama said this week his advisers are looking for additional tax cuts and spending measures as ways to boost the economy. Any large package will struggle to win passage in Congress, with lawmakers reluctant to approve additional spending before the November elections.

Romer's speech comes amid signs that the recovery is slowing, with the housing and labor markets struggling. The economy grew at 1.6 percent in the second quarter, lower than the initial 2.4 percent estimate. And economists are privately expressing rising concern about a possible double-dip recession.
Doesn't matter much.  Democrats are now playing to lose.  Extending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy will do nothing to help boost anything but the net worth numbers for the top 1% of Americans...who aren't going to vote for the Democrats anyway.  It's certainly not going to make the other 99% of Americans vote for them.

A targeted jobs program would, but Republicans won't allow that to happen.  Nor will Republicans lift a finger should they regain control of Congress other than to cut spending and take money out of the economy, slowing it down even more.

It's going to be a long, long couple of years.


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