Thursday, November 11, 2010

Last Call: The Good, The Bad, The Stupid

The Good:
Americans everywhere showed respect and gave thanks to the soldiers who have fought for our freedom and strength as a country.

Amazon pulls the plug on The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct.

The Bad:
Haiti's death toll is up to 800 now as cholera spreads like wildfire.

Yahoo dances around but does not deny a rumor of a layoff that could affect up to 20% of employees.

Despite privacy concerns, Facebook invites the press to a "special event" and the rumor is they plan to greatly improve and expand messaging. This comes on the heels of Facebook and Myspace data assisting in the arrest of 74 suspected gang members.

The Stupid:
Travelers who had to suffer a temporarily closed bar and other indignities made world news when they were able to dock today.

Raytheon is developing a suit that is compared to the one worn by Iron Man, for both military and potential commercial use.

In Pakistan, a Christian woman named Asia Bibi has been sentenced to death for making disparaging remarks regarding Mohammed while working in a field with several Muslim women.

One Tough Mother, Indeed

From this article on Yahoo:

PORTLAND, Ore. – Gert Boyle, the 86-year-old leader of Columbia Sportswear whose book describes her as "One Tough Mother," fooled a robber by tripping a silent alarm at her suburban home, summoning police and leading to the capture of a suspect.

As crime rises and city budgets continue to take a beating, we're going to see more people defending themselves when blindsided by an attacker. Whether it is intended or not, we're going to get in touch with our Constitution with a whole new perspective. Especially that "right to bear arms" bit.

Enjoy though, the granny won.

And We Will Rain Doom Down Upon Your Doomed Heads

Larry Sabato reminds Republicans that they should probably stop moving furniture in the White House right now.   While the Village will certainly voice the question "Is Obama even relevant" many times over the next six months or so, as we gear up to see who his eventual Republican contender will be as our lantern-holding guide to the Underworld, Sabato speaks of known unknowns that we should, well, know.

Despite his upset victory over heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the ’08 Democratic contest and his easy win over a much more seasoned John McCain in November two years ago, Barack Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn’t find the center with both hands, even if his career depended on it. And there is no chance at all the new Republican leadership in Congress could over-reach and repeat the errors of Newt Gingrich and his allies. The GOP legislative caucus contains no core of rigid ideologues that might go too far and create an opening for Obama.

Historically, incumbent presidents who have sought another term have won them by a two-to-one margin. Those aren’t impressive odds. How many of us would bet on a horse with minimal chances like that? Since 1900 only one incumbent president whose party captured the White House from the other party four years earlier (Jimmy Carter) has been beaten. The other incumbent losers—Taft, Hoover, Ford, and the senior Bush—were from a party that had held the White House for two or more consecutive terms. But the key is that Carter and Obama are practically twins; both won the Nobel Peace Prize. Enough said. Moreover, the present moment is unprecedentedly perilous for an incumbent president. There’s really no comparison in the existence of the American Republic, save for about a dozen crises like the Civil War, economic panics, the Great Depression, world wars, and 9/11.

Democrats may also place false hope in the fact that the next presidential election will have a turnout twenty full percentage points higher than we saw in the midterm—probably about 40 million more people than voted on Nov. 2. No doubt these “midterm-missing” voters are disproportionately 18-34 years old and members of minority groups, segments of the population that backed President Obama by margins ranging from 62% to 95% in 2008. Obama can’t seem to get them to cast a ballot except when he’s on the ballot. Well, yes, he’ll be on the ballot in 2012, but they’re likely disillusioned with him, too.

So yes, despite all that 200 plus years of history or so, Obama doesn't stand a chance, and the political climate can't possible swing back to the Dems after just two years.

I wonder how many folks in the Village will miss the joke at their own expense, which is of course the real exercise.

The People In Charge Of Sacking The People Reponsible Have Been Sacked

"Why no, Mr. The American Public," said the Washington opinion wonk. "I don't understand why you guys in flyover country would have a problem with millions of people losing unemployment benefits right before Christmas.  Isn't that what you voted for?"

To fight the worst recession since the Great Depression, Congress started giving the unemployed additional weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits in July 2008 on top of the 26 weeks always provided by states. The benefits became more generous in 2009 to the point where in hardest-hit areas, the jobless are eligible for 73 weeks of extra benefits, for a total of 99 weeks in some states.

All 73 weeks of federally-funded benefits expire on Nov. 30 without a congressional reauthorization, which will face stiff opposition from Republicans and conservative Democrats opposed to deficit spending, which is the traditional way of financing extended unemployment benefits during recessions.

Apparently, some members of Congress and their staffers fundamentally misunderstand the question before them. They think they're being asked to hand out additional weeks of benefits to help the "99ers" -- people who collected unemployment for nearly two years without finding work. (There are bills to give additional weeks to the 99ers, but those bills are pretty much dead in the water.)

"The same confusion exists in the media and it exists in the general public," said a lobbyist who works on the issue. "This isn't about adding more weeks. This is about the 27ers."

And of course, the Republicans are fine with making Americans think that refusing to extend unemployment benefits means "You get 99 weeks and now the socialists want more?  Help me stop them!"   What's really going to happen is that the cliff is going to move from 99 weeks to 27 weeks, and everyone after that is going to fall off into the void.

Republicans are fine with this.  Some Democrats are fine with this.  If there's enough of both groups and Congress cuts off Americans without jobs at the knees like this right before Christmas...a whole two million of them, mind long will it take for the Republicans to say it's all Obama's fault?

Lame duck session is going to be awesome.  And the country's about to go careening off the cliff because the GOP has figured out that it's better to win than to govern.

The Washington Catfood Massacre, Part 2

Kevin Drum throws the kitty kibble in the trashcan.

To put this more succinctly: any serious long-term deficit plan will spend about 1% of its time on the discretionary budget, 1% on Social Security, and 98% on healthcare. Any proposal that doesn't maintain approximately that ratio shouldn't be considered serious. The Simpson-Bowles plan, conversely, goes into loving detail about cuts to the discretionary budget and Social Security but turns suddenly vague and cramped when it gets to Medicare. That's not serious.

There are other reasons the Simpson-Bowles plan isn't serious. Capping revenue at 21% of GDP, for example. The plain fact is that over the next few decades Social Security will need a little more money and healthcare will need a lot more. That will be true even if we implement the greatest healthcare cost containment plan in the world. Pretending that we can nonetheless cap revenues at 2000 levels isn't serious.

And their tax proposal? As part of a deficit reduction plan they want to cut taxes on the rich and make the federal tax system more regressive? That's not serious either.

Bottom line: this document isn't really aimed at deficit reduction. It's aimed at keeping government small. There's nothing wrong with that if you're a conservative think tank and that's what you're dedicated to selling. But it should be called by its right name. This document is a paean to cutting the federal government, not cutting the federal deficit.

And really, capping revenues is the dead giveaway the Simpson-Bowles plan is all Cato think tank hogwash. To put it even more succinctly, it's an austerity plan.  One that happens to include tax cuts for the wealthy and increasing the federal gas tax by 15 cents a gallon on the rest of us.

But the worst part about all this is that unless the President immediately comes out and says these two jokers are full of crap, this will become "the President's plan to cut Social Security and raise taxes on the middle class" in every Republican attack ad heading into 2012, and frankly it probably will anyway.  It's not like voters are interested in the truth.  (Obama's a Kenyan Muslim, you know.)

So what does Obama say instead?

"Before anybody starts shooting down proposals, I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts. I think we have to be straight with the American people."

Brilliant.  And it gets better.

"I set up this commission precisely because I'm prepared to make some tough decisions. I can't make them alone. I'm going to need Congress to work with me," he said. "The only way to make those tough choices historically has been if both parties are willing to move forward together."

And I'm sure the Republicans will be happy to back you on these cuts, Mr. President.  They won't make you walk the plank and face the wrath of the voters in 2012 or anything.  Scout's honor!

And as far as the firebagger contingent of the Democratic party?  Why I'm sure they'll fall right into line just like they did this year

There's a reason why Republicans refused to give any sort of budget specifics in the lead up to the 2010 elections.  They knew all they had to do was continue to sandbag until this thing exploded in Obama's face, and now they can run as the party of preserving Social Security (and ringing up that debt while we're at it.  Tax cuts don't count because they pay for themselves!)

It's going to be awesome.

The Stampede For The Exits

The folks in the know are bailing out of the market at a record pace.  With stock markets climbing back to their pre-Lehman meltdown numbers, some $4.5 billion in insider stock sales took place last week as the big players completely cashed out.  Tyler Durden:

Insiders have officially marked the top of the stock market: last week's insider selling of all stocks (not just S&P) hit an all time record of $4.5 billion. This is the biggest weekly number ever recorded by tracking company as Sentiment Trader highlights no other week before had more than $2 billion in net selling. Furthermore, selling in just S&P companies hit a whopping $2.8 billion: over 4 times more than the week prior! As such the ratio of insider selling to buying is now meaningless. Even Bloomberg, which traditionally just posts the data without providing commentary to it, highlighted this ridiculous outlier: "Insider selling at Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies reached a record in the past week as executives took advantage of a two-year high in the stock-market to sell their shares." We hope those retail investors who dared to reemerge in the stock market and play some hot potatoes with the big boys, enjoy their brief profit as they once again end up being the biggest fools.

Here, there be dragons, folks.  We're at the top of the rise on this roller coaster, and the tracks go straight down.


But of course this was destined to happen.  Actually winning Washington fights is hard and gets you killed in elections, that's the only lesson you need to know as a Democrat.  Better to not even try.

President Barack Obama's top adviser suggested to The Huffington Post late Wednesday that the administration is ready to accept an across-the-board, temporary continuation of steep Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest taxpayers.

That appears to be the only way, said David Axelrod, that middle-class taxpayers can keep their tax cuts, given the legislative and political realities facing Obama in the aftermath of last week's electoral defeat.

"We have to deal with the world as we find it," Axelrod said during an unusually candid and reflective 90-minute interview in his office, steps away from the Oval Office. "The world of what it takes to get this done."

"There are concerns," he added, that Congress will continue to kick the can down the road in the future by passing temporary extensions for the wealthy time and time again. "But I don't want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point."

It has been widely assumed that the president would have to accept an across-the-board deal of some kind, but Axelrod's remarks were the first public confirmation of that fact -- and by a figure regarded as closer to Obama than any other White House staffer.

And what does the Obama administration get in return for this maneuver?   I'm sure Darrell Issa will send them an iTunes gift card so that White House staffers have some music to listen to while they're waiting to testify before Issa's Oversight commission for the sixth or seventh time.

It also means that the White House has been given advance notice on the $680 billion in social spending cuts Republicans will demand -- and certainly get -- to offset the continued tax cuts for the top 2%.

I'm betting the Republicans get at least another ten years out of these, but if they were smart, they'd make it two and play this game all over again in 2012, knowing they can't lose because the Dems will absolutely cave again.  Then they can run on "unless you elect Republicans, Obama will raise your taxes!" again.  Worked great for them so far, even though the Republicans are the ones who designed the measure to expire.

Anyone actually surprised by this hasn't been paying attention to the last, oh, 30 years in national politics.

The Big Payback

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to Ohio and Wisconsin's new train-phobic Republican Governors:  we want our rail stimulus money back.  Now, that's not going to be a problem, is it?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in letters to Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker, both Republicans, said the two states would simply lose funding if they choose not to participate in the rail project.

When it comes to the stimulus money, "none of those funds may be used for anything other than our high-speed rail program," wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a letter to Kasich dated November 9 and obtained by Reuters late Tuesday.

"I respect the authority of governors to make decisions for their states," LaHood said. "If, however, you choose not to participate in the program, we would like to engage in an orderly transition to wind down Ohio's involvement in the project so that we do not waste taxpayers' money."

In a similar letter to Walker that also threatened to end Wisconsin's involvement in the program, LaHood said 30 foreign rail manufacturers agreed to locate their bases of operations to the United States "so that we can restart idled manufacturing plants here at home and put our skilled workers back on the job."

Naturally, both Republican Governors say they should get to keep the money anyway to spend it on roads. Which is funny, because both states are already receiving quite a bit of road stimulus money already set aside for road projects, all 50 states did.  Now they want the rail stimulus money too, they just don't think they should have to follow the Transportation Department's rules on it and actually use it for passenger rail projects.

But feel free to fork us over the cash and we'll gladly make campaign commercials about how we brought home the bacon, right?

Gotta love people who campaign specifically on killing stimulus projects, then get all pissed off when they have to give the money back.  But hey, Republicans don't give a damn.  Just give them the federal taxpayer money because shut up, that's why.

That's fiscal responsibility, GOP style.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 38

The numbers are in and as predicted, last month's sharp decrease in foreclosures is completely thanks to various voluntary foreclosure proceeding suspensions by banks.

Foreclosure activity fell in October due to the so-called "robo-signing" scandal that caused large mortgage lenders to put a temporary freeze on foreclosures, according to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac

Foreclosure activity was down 4.39 percent in October from the previous month, but was practically flat (down just 0.04 percent) from the previous year, according to the report. 

"The drop is probably artificial,” said Rick Sharga, senior vice president of foreclosure data web site RealtyTrac. "Unemployment is still high. None of things that would lead to a recovery have come to the forefront." 

"By the time we get to the first of the year we’ll probably see numbers escalate again," he added. 

I'm not so sure about that, Rick.  I think there's going to be a hell of a lot of litigation or a hell of a lot of putbacks, or both.   We're going to see huge dents in foreclosures until this mess gets straightened out.  And there's absolutely no reason to believe that things are going to get back to normal by the first of the year or anytime soon for that matter.

But that drop in foreclosure activity being only 4.4% is equally suspicious.  It means banks are continuing to grab homes while the grabbing is good...or surprise!  They're lying about the numbers again.  They truly believe they are going to be allowed to walk away from this scot-free.

More than likely it's a combination of both.

If It's Thursday...

Jobless claims this week down to 435k and the four week moving average down to September 2008 levels, but those revisions every single week are adding up.

The real problem:  just this week alone some 285,000 Americans fell off the 99-week benefit cliff.  People who've been out of work since Christmas 2008 are now falling through the cracks here for Christmas 2010.  In a few more weeks you're going to start seeing the big chunks of 99-ers fall into the abyss as the January 2009 era layoffs expire their benefits...just in time to ruin the holiday shopping season this year.

A Bachmann Termer Overreach

Rep. Michele Bachmann is out for the race for GOP House Conference chair and has admitted defeat to GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Bachmann said that Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling has her “enthusiastic support for his candidacy” for the top messaging post in the GOP. Bachmann's decision means there will be no contested positions for Republican leadership jobs as the party prepares to take control of the House.

“Jeb has demonstrated his commitment to limited government, reduced spending and lower taxes and he will be a strong voice for the Tea Party’s call for these values,” according to Bachmann’s statement, sent by spokesman Sergio Gor. 

Even though Bachmann's bid only lasted about a week, it serves to illustrate the headwinds a tea party candidate could face in official Washington. Hensarling worked hard to show he was the true conservative in the race and that he was a tea party sympathizer. But Hensarling also played the insider game effectively, rounding up and announcing key endorsements day after day to send the message that the had the race locked up.

Bachmann said she had support from the tea party movement, not to mention conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, but it never appeared to gain traction with House Republicans.

Gosh, I wonder how that possibly could have happened. You mean the GOP establishment is trying to everything they can to keep the Tea Party crazies as legislative backbenchers so they can do as little damage as possible?

Nobody could have seen that one coming.  If you thought it was ugly between the Progressive Caucus and the Blue Dogs on the Dem side, you've not seen anything yet.  The Tea Party Caucus probably isn't going too many of these rejections lying down, and when it comes to actual legislation come January, they're going to expect Speaker Orange Julius to bring their special brand of crazy up for a series of very visible votes.

I'm guessing things are going to get nasty by Easter or so, if not sooner.  There are only so many career Republican lawmakers who happen to be Tea Party friends that the freshman bloc of House Republicans are going to tolerate.

StupidiNews, Veterans' Day Edition!

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