Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Last Call

Live feed of the Chilean miner rescue going on here, courtesy of Reuters.

Hell of a thing.  Puts a lot into perspective about this last week or so.

Have a good night, folks.

It's For Our Own Good

Good ol' GOP Senate candidate Mark Kirk is running for Obama's old seat in Illinois, and he's got a plan to be helpful to some of the Land of Lincoln's citizens who just can't look out for themselves.

In a private phone conversation that was secretly recorded, Mark Kirk, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois, told state Republican leaders last week about his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to four predominately African American neighborhoods of Chicago "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."

Kirk's campaign confirmed the candidate was secretly taped last week as he was talking about his anti-voter fraud effort.

"These are lawyers and other people that will be deployed in key, vulnerable precincts, for example, South and West sides of Chicago, Rockford, Metro East, where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat," he said in the audio posted on YouTube.

Because apparently, African-Americans in Chicago are just too "vulnerable" to voter fraud, you know, being...exactly what, I don't know.  Apparently we attract some sort of bizarre probability field that makes us need extra scrutiny from white Republicans when we vote.  You know, out of concern for us.  He's just looking out for our "integrity" and it's not a concerted effort to repress, intimidate, obfuscate or otherwise disenfranchise African-American voters in Chicago or anything.

Why, Republicans would never do that.  After all, I expect those same voter integrity squads to be in Chicago's other neighborhoods.  At Mark Kirk's expense.  In fact, all over Illinois.  Checking all voters.

Including Mark Kirk himself.

Unfunded Blunder

Meanwhile, the next big financial crisis (after Foreclosuregate here) may very well be state and local pension funds coming up a good $3.5 trillion short.

Big US cities could be squeezed by unfunded public pensions as they and counties face a $574 billion funding gap, a study to be released on Tuesday shows.

The gap at the municipal level would be in addition to $3,000 billion in unfunded liabilities already estimated for state-run pensions, according to research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Rochester.

“What is yet to be seen is how this burden will be distributed between state and local governments and whether the federal government will be called upon for bail-outs,” said Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School.
The financial demands of unfunded pension promises come as state and local governments grapple with years of falling tax revenue related to the recession.

The combination has raised concern that defaults, which are historically rare in the $2,800 billion municipal bond market where local governments obtain money, could now rise.

“The bondholders would be competing with the pension beneficiaries for scarce government resources,” Mr Rauh said.

$3.5 trillion in pension liabilities on on side, and $2.8 billion in municipal bonds on the other.  Is there any wonder state and local goverments are firing hundreds of thousands of employees right now?

As home values continue to plummet, so do property tax revenues, and the decrease couldn't come at a worse time.  No, this is the real federal bailout coming, and when this bill comes due, it's going to be a nightmare.

Don't Enforce Don't Ask Don't Tell

Because the federal judge in California that ruled against the measure has slapped an injunction on the Department of Defense preventing them from enforcing the policy, effective immediately.

Partial injunction order:

2) PERMANENTLY ENJOINS Defendants United States of America and the Secretary of Defense, their agents, servants, officers, employees, and attorneys, and all persons acting in participation or concert with them or under their direction or command, from enforcing or applying the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Act and implementing regulations, against any person under their jurisdiction or command; 
(3) ORDERS Defendants United States of America and the Secretary of Defense immediately to suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding, that may have been commenced under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Act, or pursuant to U.S.C. § 654 or its implementing regulations, on or prior to the date of this Judgment.

So as of right now, DADT is dead.  Toast.  Kaput.  Unconstitutional and now unenforceable.

Now, having said that, the worst thing that could happen is that a bunch of folks in the military who are gay come forward and then the injunction is shot down by a higher court, in which case immediate discharge actions would be taken against everyone involved.

So right now, there's a stalemate.  No DADT investigations can go forward, but nobody can really come out in the military right now.  That's a different problem than say, yesterday, but a problem nonetheless.

This is a victory for everyone currently under a DADT investigation or facing discharge proceedings because of DADT.  So...net positive good thing.  For now.  We'll see what the Obama administration's response is, and they need to be very careful here this close to the election.  They don't have to appeal.

Finally, keep in mind that this was the Log Cabin Republicans that brought this case forward.  Believe me when I say the Obama administration needs to be deadly careful because there are those who feel that the Dems are taking the LGBT vote for granted.

A win-win here would be reserving judgment on appeal until the December Pentagon report on implementing another solution is released...or better yet, choosing not to appeal at all.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 17

Via the excellent Crooks and Liars (thanks for the link, guys) comes news that critical mass in Foreclosuregate may have been reached.  The White House may be cool to the idea of a national foreclosure moratorium, but some 40 state Attorneys General are about to drop the hammer and accomplish the same thing at the state level.

A coalition of as many as 40 state attorneys general is expected Wednesday to announce an investigation into the mortgage-servicing industry, an effort some of them hope will pressure financial institutions to rewrite large numbers of troubled loans.

The move comes amid recent allegations that mortgage-servicers, which include units of major banks such as Bank of America Corp., submitted fraudulent documents in thousands of foreclosure proceedings nationwide.

The World's Biggest Financial Mulligan is nigh!

The attorneys' general immediate aim is to determine the scale of the document problems and correct them. But several of them have said that the investigation could force the lenders and servicers to agree to mass loan modifications or principal forgiveness schemes. Other possibilities include financial penalties or changes in mortgage servicing practices.

Lenders and servicers have largely resisted reducing principal on mortgages, instead focusing on interest-rate reductions or term extensions. Banks say they are worried about lawsuits from investors, some of whom could lose money in a principal write down.

Former New Jersey attorney general Peter Harvey, now a trial lawyer in New York, said that a settlement with state attorneys general would likely "to give the banks some cover" to make changes that might otherwise result in lawsuits by investors in mortgage-backed securities.

The mortgage servicers had little to say in response to an impending multi-state probe. "We will work with the attorneys general to address the concerns they have expressed," said Dan Frahm, a spokesman for Bank of America. 

Rewrite the loans and lose trillions, or face up to 40 states suing the bejeezus out of you and lose trillions and then some.  Oh yes, and then the civil lawsuits, the shareholder lawsuits, and the creditors' lawsuits.  Somewhere, a Chief Legal Officer of a major US bank is urinating on themselves and wanting a nap and a juice box.

The market has already locked up.  Home prices will continue to fall because nobody is going to underwrite a loan in this environment right now.  Sales can't proceed.  Demand is effectively zero, so prices must go down, down, down.

Stay tuned for this one.  The banks know they are in egregious amounts of trouble now.  They will do anything to escape.  We can't let them.

[UPDATEDiana Olick's take on this is absolutely worth reading.

A source of mine pointed me to a recent conference call Citigroup had with investors/clients.  It featured Adam Levitin, a Georgetown University Law professor who specializes in, among many other financial regulatory issues, mortgage finance. Levitin says the documentation problems involved in the mortgage mess have the potential "to cloud title on not just foreclosed mortgages but on performing mortgages."

You know, as in "every other mortgage sale in the last several years is now suspect."  As in the entire friggin' United States housing market is basically a huge scam and nobody really knows now who owns which mortgage...least of all the banks themselves.

We are so very, exquisitely, completely screwed.

A Long Overdue Haiti Update

Nine months after January's earthquake, Haiti is still languishing as the tenth circle of hell.

"If it gets any worse," said Wilda, a homeless Haitian mother, "we're not going to survive." Mothers and grandmothers surrounding her nodded solemnly.

We are in a broiling "tent" with a group of women trying to raise their families in a public park. Around the back of the Haitian National Palace, the park hosts a regal statute of Alexandre Petion in its middle. It is now home to five thousand people displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.

Nine months after the quake, over a million people are still homeless in Haiti.

Haiti looks like the quake could have been last month. I visited Port au Prince shortly after the quake and much of the destruction then looks the same nine months later.

The Associated Press reports only two percent of the rubble has been removed and only 13,000 temporary shelters have been constructed. Not a single cent of the US aid pledged for rebuilding has arrived in Haiti. In the last few days the US pledged it would put up 10% of the billion dollars in reconstruction aid promised. Only 15 percent of the aid pledged by countries and organizations around the world has reached the country so far.

With other human rights advocates from CCR, MADRE, CUNY Law School, BAI and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, I am huddled under faded gray tarps stamped US Aid. Blue tarps staked into the ground as walls. This is not even the hot season but the weather reports the heat index is 115.

And this is the future of disaster response when the global economy is all but destroyed.  In an era where the super-wealthy control 84% of America, what hope does Haiti and its people have?

We can't even afford to fix our own roads because we have to cut taxes for the top 2% of the country above all other priorities.  You thought the world was going to help Haiti?

We're a third world economy as it is these days.  Unless Adam Smith's invisible hand picks up a hammer and nails, this country's ruined for a long, long time.  And a lot of people are going to continue to die.

Chamber Of Secrets

Everything you need to know about the US Chamber of Commerce taking foreign donations to get Republicans into power story can be summed up by this horrified reaction from Blue Dogs in the LA Times.

Democrats expressing reservations have worked on behalf of moderate candidates with business backing. They recalled past attacks on former President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for receiving foreign money and warned that White House charges now could lead to GOP reprisals, particularly if Republicans gain control of the House.

"The White House may reap the whirlwind," said one top Democratic staffer. "What are we going to do next year if a Republican Congress is making baseless claims about President Obama? We'll want the media to hold them accountable to the facts and the evidence."

The Democratic staffer and a handful of other prominent Democrats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the topic.

You know what this tells me?  A) the story is true, B) the Chamber is going to take it out on the Blue Dogs unless they kill this thing now, and C) the Blue Dogs are terrified.

It also tells me that Congressional staffers are idiots. "What are we going to do next year if a Republican Congress is making baseless claims about President Obama?"  Effing really?  What do you think Republicans have been doing for the last two years?  Have you knuckleheads learned nothing about how completely ineffective the strategy of "capitulating to the Republicans so they aren't mean you" is?

We can't follow up foreign/anonymous/unlimited contributions to our political system because it might make the Republicans attack Obama?

Jesus wept.  This country is heading straight for the toilet.

Blue Dog Walking Down The Middle Of The Highway

The big political news around Cincy this morning is that Blue Dog Dem Steve Driehaus in Cincy's main district, OH-1, discovered the plug was pulled on his ads by the DCCC.

If Rep. Steve Driehaus didn't already face an extremely difficult re-election bid, a move Monday by national Democrats is making the freshman's task even tougher.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is pulling the plug on television commercials for Driehaus after this week. A Democratic source confirms reports earlier Monday by the Rothenberg Political Report and by the National Journal's Political Hotline that the DCCC has canceled its media buys after this week. But the DCCC will still finance get out the vote efforts in the district.

Two years ago Driehaus beat seven-term Republican Rep. Steve Chabot by five points in a district that President Barack Obama captured by 11 points.

This year Chabot is running to reclaim his old seat and both the Rothenberg Political Report and the Cook Political Report, two of the top non-partisan political handicappers, rate the race as "Lean Republican."

"It is difficult to read the cancellations as anything other than the Committee's decision to write off the Driehaus race. The DCCC could reverse course and re-purchase the time, of course, but it would then pay a higher rate," says Rothenberg.

What nobody seems to be saying is the fact that while Driehaus was certainly an improvement over Chabot, he still ran as a Blue Dog and as a member of the "Stupak bloc" during the health care debate, and he's tried to split the baby on that.  A lot of national attention has been focused on this race for a number of reasons:  Stupak's voting record, Chabot winning his seat back, Ohio being a battleground state, etc.

Chabot certainly can't run as a political outsider on this seat.  But he has slammed Driehaus for his health care reform vote mercilessly, and Driehaus has responded by talking up his conservative credentials rather than sticking with his base:  West Cincy's urban core.  Driehaus needs to turn out people and can, he proved that when he won.

What's interesting to note is that Chabot's pretty unpopular around here still.  There was a reason Chabot lost by five points in a fairly red urban district.  Still, it's worth noting the NRCC isn't spending much money here either right now, but Chabot's still getting funding for a flood of ads from, well, somewhere.

These days of course you don't know who's behind them.

So Proud They Are Anonymous

The NY Times discovers that people are giving millions to Karl Rove's super PAC in order to influence the midterms precisely because they can make anonymous, unlimited donations to Republicans who will write laws to benefit them.

Stoking the flow of dollars has been the guarantee of secrecy afforded by certain nonprofit groups. Mel Sembler, a shopping mall magnate in St. Petersburg, Fla., who is close to the Republican strategist Karl Rove, said wealthy donors had written six- and seven-figure checks to Crossroads GPS, a Rove-backed group that is the most active of the nonprofits started this year. Republicans close to the group said that last week, the group received a check for several million dollars from a single donor, whom they declined to identify.

I think most people are very comfortable giving anonymously,” Mr. Sembler said. “They want to be able to be helpful but not be seen by the public as taking sides.” 

Sure.  Because giving a million dollar to Karl Rove's Super PAC doesn't mean you're taking sides at all.

Republicans involved in Crossroads say the groups owe their fund-raising success to a hope that a Republican Congress would undo some of the Obama administration agenda. But they also credit their fund-raising strategy.

When Mr. Rove and Ed Gillespie, the former Republican chairman, began their efforts last spring, they first helped set up a group called American Crossroads under a tax-code provision that requires the disclosure of donors. It took in several seven-figure contributions from high-profile donors, including Trevor Rees-Jones, president and chief executive of Chief Oil and Gas, and Robert Rowling, chief executive of TRT Holdings.

Then in June, Mr. Rove and Mr. Gillespie helped organize Crossroads GPS under the provision that allows donors to give anonymously. A Republican operative who speaks frequently with Mr. Rove said the public donations, revealed over the summer, were used as “a way to energize others to give large amounts anonymously.”

The operative added, “It has worked like a charm.” 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how our democracy works now.  Like a charm, if you're one of the ruling class elites who can give hundreds of thousands or more to make sure you get Republicans to write laws that directly benefit you.  You don't have to say who you are, and you can give as much as you want.

And it's all perfectly legal.

Some are more equal than others.

Just Ever So Slightly Misunderstood

Ohio GOP House candidate Rich "My Hobbies Include Waffen SS Re-enactments" Iott gets out his shovel and "manages" the hole he's in deeper a few dozen miles as he attempts to "clarify" his position to CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Rich Iott, a Tea Party favorite running for election in Ohio's 9th Congressional District, explained his position during an interview on CNN's "AC 360" Monday night.

Iott participated in World War II re-enactments for several years in the past decade and created a German alter ego. He has said he started participating in the events as a way to bond with his son. Iott has also participated in Civil War and World War I re-enactments.

"The whole purpose of historical re-enacting is to educate people one-on-one," Iott said. "And that is done by going out and participating in re-enactments."

When asked whether he thought the men being impersonated were "valiant men," Iott said, "I don't think we can sit here and judge that today. We were not there the time they made those decisions. Were there bad people? Absolutely. Were there atrocities committed? Absolutely there were. There are people that want to deny the Holocaust ever happened in this country and around the world."

The website for Iott's re-enactment group -- which impersonates members of the 5th SS Panzerdivision, Wiking -- does not mention the Holocaust directly.

According to Wiking's website, it is a nonprofit group with a "common interest in the German side of the war and want to tell the story of the average combat soldier of the German military."

"Racism or any type of embracement of Nazi ideology of any kind is strictly prohibited by this re-enactment unit," the website reads.

So his position is "Well the Nazis were bad, but really not everybody in the German military was bad, in fact some of them were really great guys, you know, the kind of guys you'd want to hoist a lager with or burn down a village with during Kristalnacht."

Guys, the 5th Panzerdivision was not really friendly.  They were an SS dvision, deep into the weeds as far as the atrocities during the holocaust went.  There's nothing really admirable about them, and reenacting the only moderately nauseating stuff and holding them in high regard for the times when they weren't exterminating people and committing genocide doesn't exactly make you a good person, dig?

Rehabilitating the image of Nazi SS troopers as a father and son bonding exercise?  That's this guy's idea of "fun"?  And he wants to be a Congressman after this?

Awesome.  But no, there's nothing disturbing about Tea Party candidates.  Why do you ask?

A Need-To-Know Situation For The Know-Nothings

Alaska GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller has decided that he's simply not going to talk about his past to the media, because they (and Alaska voters apparently) don't need to know about what kind of person Joe Miller is, you just need to vote for him because shut up, that's why.

"We've drawn a line in the sand. You can ask me about background, you can ask me about personal issues -- I'm not going to answer," Miller said.

Miller made the statement to reporters following Monday's Anchorage Chamber of Commerce candidate forum at the Dena'ina Center. Standing with his wife, Kathleen, Miller delivered a seven-minute address in which he complained he had been mistreated by the Alaska news media and announced he would no longer be answering personal questions. He took no questions, then quickly left down a nearby stairwell.

Miller said he has been the victim of "journalistic impropriety."

The statement came as new questions were being raised about Miller's time as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Miller spent seven years as a part-time borough attorney before leaving in September last year.

The statement followed the Alaska Dispatch quoting an anonymous source Sunday night saying that Miller used borough equipment in the unsuccessful 2008 attempt to oust state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich. Several Alaska news organizations, including the Daily News, have been asking for borough records about Miller's employment since summer, including information related to any disciplinary action Miller faced while employed there. The Dispatch and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner filed a lawsuit Monday seeking their release.

But never mind that because if you're a Republican, the media is not allowed to ask you tough questions about your background, your history or your past dealings. Only FOX is allowed to talk to Republicans, so they can ask questions about puppies and freedom and why the Democrats are the most evil people on Earth.

Alaska voters, you don't need to know if Joe Miller was campaigning while working for the state or what he was doing while employed as a part-time attorney because really, Joe Miller's not a Democrat, so anything in his past is out of bounds, see?  The less you know about them, the better off they are, so only Democrats have to answer questions.

Clearly the Alaska media and Alaska voters aren't aware of the rules the rest of the country has to follow on IOKIYAR, despite Moose Lady perfecting the rules two years ago.  You don't need to know anything about Republicans other than they're all patriots, so stop asking questions, citizen.


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