Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last Call

Rejoice, pumpkin pie fans.  Your orange gourd crisis is over.

It may not be as all-American as apple pie, but for most, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without that other uniquely American treat - pumpkin pie.

But a wet summer and record rainfall in the central United States last year made that traditional dessert a lot harder to come by.

Suffering from three years of bad weather and low yields, canned pumpkin was getting scarce on many supermarket shelves, forcing pie bakers to scramble for the remaining cans, sometimes buying and selling them at inflated prices on eBay or trying to find a substitution for the orange “super food.”

“It’s been a difficult year,” says Evan Lunde, Marketing Manager for Libby’s Pumpkin. Libby’s Pumpkin, owned by NestlĂ©, grows and processes around ninety-five percent of all the canned pumpkin in the U.S.

But now the good news:  this year's harvest was much better.

Grocery stores are starting to see their shelves restocked now, and according to Lunde, should see a steady supply through this upcoming baking season and also throughout the next year.

That should be plenty for the 50 million pumpkin pies that Libby’s estimates are made each year.

But even so, Lunde says he’s still going to hold onto the last few cans from last year’s harvest. “There actually were six cans left. We did hold on to those cans as kind of a memento of the year and we still have those and they are sitting in my office.”

So, by Thanksgiving all should be good.  Have a safe Halloween, folks.

An Extremely Hostile Environment

For all the folks out there who still proclaim no difference between Obama and the Republican party, just a heads up about what the GOP plans to do if they take the House.

If the GOP wins control of the House next week, senior congressional Republicans plan to launch a blistering attack on the Obama administration's environmental policies, as well as on scientists who link air pollution to climate change.

The GOP's fire will be concentrated especially on the administration's efforts to use the Environmental Protection Agency's authority over air pollution to tighten emissions controls on coal, oil and other carbon fuels that scientists say contribute to global warming.

The attack, according to senior Republicans, will seek to portray the EPA as abusing its authority and damaging the economy with needless government regulations.

In addition, GOP leaders say, they will focus on what they see as distortions of scientific evidence regarding climate change and on Obama administration efforts to achieve by executive rule-making what it failed to win from Congress.

Even if Republicans should win majorities in both the House and Senate, they would face difficulties putting their views into legislative form, since Senate Democrats could use the threat of filibuster to block bills just as the GOP did on climate and other issues during the past year.

Also, Obama could use his veto power.

But the GOP's plans for wide-ranging and sustained investigations by congressional committees could put the EPA and administration environmental policymakers on the defensive and create political pressures that could cause Obama to pull back on environmental issues as the 2012 presidential election draws closer.

In comments last week, White House officials said they are considering hiring more lawyers to the Office of Legal Counsel to gird for the possible battles ahead. Yet even with the White House running interference for the EPA and other agencies, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson conceded that a Republican anti-regulatory campaign could end up effectively hamstringing her agency's work.

The new rules EPA has issued over the last year on vehicle emissions and those expected soon for industry, Jackson said, "would be endangered by many, if not all, of the efforts we've seen to take away the agency's greenhouse gas authority."

Republicans want to do what their corporate masters bid them to do and want to start by declaring war on science and the environment.  If you believe the Republicans are going to focus on "job creation" instead of trying to get Obama impeached, grinding government services to a halt, and unwinding all the progress made in the last two years, you've got another thing coming.

We all do.

Sunday Funnies: Hell-O-Weenie Edition

Boy, did I need Bobblespeak Translations this week.

Gregory: are there explosive packages still out there and should this affect my trick or treating?

Brennan: absolutely

Gregory: so I should be very frightened?

Brennan: at all times

Gregory: Is the same group behind the Christmas Day plot to drop wrapped packages down our chimneys?

Brennan: yes and they targeted synagogues so they covered their bases

Gregory: were they tying to exploit the fact there are no passengers on cargo planes which could be very threatening?

Brennan: right

Gregory: that sounds terrifying

Brennan: it is

Gregory: but there’s a huge loophole because cargo isn’t screened!

Brennan: yes terrorists may just start mailing bombs marked “you may already be a winner”

Gregory: I love those

Brennan: who wouldn’t open one of those?


Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 34

Just because there's an election going on doesn't mean Foreclosuregate is going anywhere.  Yves Smith of NakedCap takes to the NY Times to recap the madcap.  This is the biggest story of 2010 folks.

The banks and other players in the securitization industry now seem to be looking to Congress to snap its fingers to make the whole problem go away, preferably with a law that relieves them of liability for their bad behavior. But any such legislative fiat would bulldoze regions of state laws on real estate and trusts, not to mention the Uniform Commercial Code. A challenge on constitutional grounds would be inevitable

And just think, the same Supreme Court that gave us citizens United would decide on mass contract law abrogation just to please the fat cats.  There's a scary thought.

Asking for Congress’s help would also require the banks to tacitly admit that they routinely broke their own contracts and made misrepresentations to investors in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Would Congress dare shield them from well-deserved litigation when the banks themselves use every minor customer deviation from incomprehensible contracts as an excuse to charge a fee? 

The banks certainly seem to think Congress will.  In fact, they're counting on it.  If banks and their investors cut off the anonymous donation fountain ahead of 2012 as a threat to make Congress comply, or worse, just donate buy elections of people who will do their bidding, our democracy is in real trouble either way.

There are alternatives. One measure that both homeowners and investors in mortgage-backed securities would probably support is a process for major principal modifications for viable borrowers; that is, to forgive a portion of their debt and lower their monthly payments. This could come about through either coordinated state action or a state-federal effort. 

Cramdown!  Of course, it dies twice in the House before, so of course it won't pass now.

The large banks, no doubt, would resist; they would be forced to write down the mortgage exposures they carry on their books, which some banking experts contend would force them back into the Troubled Asset Relief Program. However, allowing significant principal modifications would stem the flood of foreclosures and reduce uncertainty about the housing market and mortgage securities, giving the authorities time to devise approaches to the messy problems of clouded titles and faulty loan conveyance.

The people who so carefully designed the mortgage securitization process unwittingly devised a costly trap for people who ran roughshod over their handiwork. The trap has closed — and unless the mortgage finance industry agrees to a sensible way out of it, the entire economy will be the victim. 

The banks won't take the hit.  They'll force a TARP 2 scenario.  And the "fiscally responsible" Republicans will lead the charge on that, guaranteed.

Worst-Case Scenario

OK, so if Tuesday is not just bad, but horrendous for the Dems, they lose 80 seats in the House or come close to or actually lose the Senate...what then?

Four things will prevent the Republicans from doing all the crazy things the Tea Party wants them to do.

One, Americans still really hate the Republicans.  Voters wanted gridlock?  Fine, you got it.  Now work it out.

Two, Republicans will always overreach.  50% + one vote is a permanent mandate for these guys.  They will make the same mistakes they did in 1995 and give Obama a second term.

Three, the corporate masters of the GOP will do everything they can to dispose of the populist Tea Party movement.  Tea Party supporters voted for the Tea Party, not the GOP.  When they get thrown out of the big tent as a result, you're going to see some real fireworks in 2012.

Four, they can't beat Barack Obama's veto without help, and all the centrist Democrats will be gone.

The question is how much pressure will be brought to bear on Obama to do everything the Republicans want?  It will be impressive.  How long can he hold out?  We're going to find out, most likely.

Of course, we can still prevent that worst case scenario.


Ghosts Of War On Halloween

Ladies and gentlemen, David Broder's mind has just snapped in two.

Can Obama harness the forces that might spur new growth? This is the key question for the next two years.
What are those forces? Essentially, there are two. One is the power of the business cycle, the tidal force that throughout history has dictated when the economy expands and when it contracts. Economists struggle to analyze this, but they almost inevitably conclude that it cannot be rushed and almost resists political command. As the saying goes, the market will go where it is going to go.

In this regard, Obama has no advantage over any other pol. Even in analyzing the tidal force correctly, he cannot control it.

What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.

Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

How Obama "contains" Iran as a threat to make the Republicans happy enough to go along with it beyond what we're doing right now without using military force, I have no idea.  I guess it doesn't count as war if we bomb the crap out of them or something, because doing that to Iraq and Afghanistan has worked out so well economically for us.

At this point I have to honestly wonder if Broder's a couple fries short of a Happy Meal.  Attacking Iran to improve our economy?  Risking another world war?  How awesome would that be for our GDP, especially if we reduce our population though war dead?

Jesus wept.  This guy is a Halloween ghoul of the first order.  Not even Bush was that insane.

[UPDATE]  Yggy wins the Internets.

Invading Canada would be much better war stimulus than Broder's crazy Iran plan.

Plus, poutine and Tim Horton's.  How can we lose?

The Final Stretch

Nate Silver is still predicting the GOP taking the House, but not the Senate.  He has helpfully provided a list of House races to watch, and as usual, the first big indicators are Indiana and Kentucky, where polls close at 6 PM eastern.

Baron Hill’s seat, the Indiana 9th, has long been one of the most competitive in the country. I don’t think you should get too swept up in the results of any one particular congressional district — not when there are 435 of them in every corner of the country. But Mr. Hill, a middle-of-the-road Democrat who ordinarily performs strongly in his fairly rural, somewhat Republican-leaning district, but who voted for the health care bill and the stimulus, is in a position that is fairly typical for Democratic incumbents around the country this year. Also, the district has a magic number of 41, which means that it’s right at the cusp of what Republicans would need to take over the House. If they fail to win it, that could be the first sign that they’re liable to do a hair worse than expected. If they win it by a margin in the high single digits or the double digits, however, it could suggest that a lot of Democratic incumbents, many of whom are less skilled than Mr. Hill at understanding how to run a strong campaign in their districts, are going to be in trouble.

Joe Donnelly, in the Indiana 2nd district, is one Democrat whose polls have held up fairly well in spite of the Republican wave.  Our model has him favored by just 2 points, however, and if he were to lose, that would be a good early sign for Republicans.

Indiana’s 8th district, vacated by Brad Ellsworth, is very likely to be a Republican pickup. If they’re having trouble winning it, that’s a reasonably bad sign for them.

Indiana’s 7th and 3rd congressional districts are not likely to be especially competitive. If these races wind up within the single digits, something really weird might be afoot.

I’d be a little bit more cautious about reading too much into the two Kentucky districts on our chart, the 6th and the 3rd, just because Kentucky is a fairly idiosyncratic state to begin with, and both the polling and the Senate race have been strange there. Still, John Yarmuth’s 3rd district, which encompasses Louisville, reflects a strong potential upside case for the G.O.P. if they were to win it.

I'd have to agree.  If the Dems can hold Baron Hill's seat and more, they're going to probably have a decent night and might be able to hold on.  But if John Yarmuth and Ben Chandler go down in Kentucky, the game's pretty much over.

Nate's guide is very thorough, and by 9 PM eastern or so we should have a pretty good idea how big the Republican push is.  Keep it handy for Tuesday night, I plan to.
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