Friday, November 19, 2010

Last Call

And here in Cincy, city worker pensions are on the block as the Queen City balances its bilion dollar shortfall on the backs of employees.

Current and former city workers crowded Cincinnati council chambers today to hear how the Retirement Board plans to deal with a looming $1 billion shortfall.
Recommendations include raising retirement ages, reducing pension rates and cost of living adjustments, lowering and eliminating death benefits, and restructuring healthcare plans. Actuary and board member Bill Partridge says the proposals add up to nearly a half billion dollars in savings.

But retiree Tom Koch says it’s not right to take away benefits people were promised. “What are my thoughts about that,” he asks. “It sort of sucks because I had to sign a contract and everything and the city says this is what I’m going to have and now they want to take it from me. They sent me to meetings and told me ‘This is what you’re going to have, Mr. Koch” and I said, ‘Fine, I’ll take it. I worked for it. You’re going to give it to me. Thank you.’ And now they say, ‘It’s over.’”

At least one union has threatened legal action if the city attempts to change pension benefits.

Yep.  It's over there Tom,  your pension and health benefits never meant a damn thing.  Someone's got to pay to shortfalls like this all over the country, and it's sure not going to be voters, hell no.  Just blame it all on city and county employees and make them pay for the budget problems.  Can't raise fees for the city or county, that's unconstitutional or something.  Instead we'll just rob local government employees, because they're all overpaid leeches anyway, right?

And hey, that's only half the shortfall.  Going to have to make cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts...who raises taxes anymore?  Soon to be unemployed county commissioners and city council members if they try.  Naah, better to stake out the lambs so the goats live another day.

I understand Wal-Mart needs greeters.  Who'd want to work for a local government anyway?  They'll just slit your throat the second it becomes politically expedient to do so.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 42

The battle for MERS is underway, and if the banks win, they will walk away from hundreds of billions of dollars worth of fraud scot-free.

The companies have opened wide their wallets for lobbying and are flying top executives to Washington for one-on-one meetings with lawmakers. They are holding briefings for key staffers, including an event last week that drew more than 60 aides. And they are blanketing Congress with white papers, memos and other documents that lay out their arguments.

The focal point of their efforts is Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS, the controversial, privately run electronic database that is used by practically every lending institution and investment company to track the transfer of the ownership of mortgages as they are packaged into securities and traded at lightning speed around the globe.

But MERS does more than just track the trading of loans. In the vast majority of mortgage documents at local courts and offices across the country, it is listed as the holder of the loans. That allows the financial industry to trade mortgages as much as it wishes without spending the time and money to refile the paperwork.

The industry is seeking legislation that would effectively affirm MERS's legality and block any bill that would call into question what MERS does. MERS has spent more than $1 million in lobbying since fall 2008, when lower courts around the country began to rule against it. But MERS had kept its name under the radar until the recent uproar over foreclosures revealed broad problems in mortgage paperwork.

If successful on Capitol Hill, the industry could in one quick swoop make all lawsuits related to MERS across the country moot and remove one of the key uncertainties dangling over the mortgage industry. On the flip side, lawmakers could create a new federal registry, effectively killing MERS's business and forcing the industry to submit to greater oversight. 

Why are the banks going to all this trouble to lobby Congress to adopt MERS as the new national standard?  Two reasons:  one, to make all MERS fraudulent paperwork legally official, and two, to get the banks off the hook for hundreds of billions.

In recent years, MERS has become the target of numerous legal challenges from homeowners in foreclosure who allege that mortgage transfers made through the system are invalid because they bypass local recording laws. MERS, the lawsuits contend, does not have standing to foreclose because it is only a database and not the actual holder of the mortgage.

The liabilities could be astronomical for MERS. One lawsuit in California alone is seeking recording fees that could cost the company from $60 billion to $120 billion. But the consequences for the financial industry are even greater, as challenges to the validity of transfers done by MERS call into question the entire process of how loans were securitized and could render the 66 million mortgages in its system foreclosure-proof. 

In the wake of such controversies, lobbyists for Reston-based Merscorp, which runs MERS, have been floating the idea of legislation that would establish the firm as the national registry to track the transfer of mortgages. 

Are we finally understanding what's at stake here?   The foreclosure liability vanishes for the banks.  The paperwork MERS has becomes 100% legal.  And the banks can happily keep foreclosing on any home they want to because there would be no way to challenge MERS paperwork, even though in millions of cases it's fraudulent and in some cases completely fabricated.

In short, the banks would be rewarded for stealing millions of mortgage titles, worth hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars.  And they could then play all the mortgage securitization games they want to.  Unlimited credit line at the Big Casino, courtesy Uncle Sam.

Your mortgage and your home becomes subject to whatever MERS says it is.  And their word would be law.

They would win completely.  And right now they are buying every member of Congress they can find in order to get this law passed.  The banks are now bringing the full power of Wall Street's lobbying grand masters to bear upon lawmakers, and they will spend whatever it takes to make this the law of the land.

And yes, that means the President will sign the bill, or there will be a veto override.  You can bet every single Republican will be on board in the House.  You can bet they will find 60 Senators too.  That leaves the President.

And even then, the banks will buy as many members of Congress as they need to in order to override Obama's veto, or they will simply threaten to cut off anyone who doesn't vote for it and see them annihilated in 2012.  This is a potentual world-breaker for the banks and they know it.  Their survival is at stake.  They will do what it takes to survive.

And that will mean taking over every mortgage in America and holding it hostage.  This is their endgame.  And I just don't see how the American people can win.

Trumping Up 2012

Because you just can't have a good clown circus without a leader, Donald Trump has now said he would consider running for president in 2012, and plans to let us know in June.

Trump says he thinks Obama is a nice man, but is in over his head, thus implying he would be better suited for the job. I beg to differ. Obama's failing is in catering to a society that wants to be tickled and amused. Considering the mess he has inherited, not only from Bush but from presidents going back 20 years, he's doing pretty good in my book.

My greatest fear is Trump's ego and knowing he would be crooked as hell when it came to big business. The conflict of interest is too great, and so is the worry that he would utterly fail to see the effects on the working class. Trump is out for his own sake, and he has never tried to tell us otherwise. I am afraid to think of what would happen if our interests were in opposition of his.

But hey, he can't win, right? Why do I feel a tiny shudder of alarm at the notion? If we're going to run through the Screen Actors Guild for candidates, why not bring in Jesse Ventura? Or better yet, let Vince McMahon have a crack at it so we get the full entertainment factor.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Digby asks:

How long before all presidential campaigns become Reality TV shows, with primaries voted on through through texting and twitter? Isn't it inevitable?


Republicans would never go for that.  Poor people might use one of those two methods to cast ballots, and we can't have that.  On the contrary, Republicans will continue to make the act of voting as difficult as possible for anyone who isn't an elderly white person.  And they will continue to fight as hard as they can to institute state voter ID laws that will have increasingly more difficult and expensive requirements.

YouCut will never become YouVote.

Cold START Makes Me Hot Under The Collar

At this point "fiscally responsible" Republicans should just be publicly laughed at.

In the absence of a U.S.-Russian arms control treaty, the U.S. intelligence community is telling Congress it will need to focus more spy satellites over Russia that could be used to peer on other sites, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, to support the military.

The demand for these satellites - one component of the "national technical means," or NTM - has increased the urgency for the Obama administration to get the Senate to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in its lame-duck session.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, U.S. spy satellites began to shift focus from Russia onto sites such as Iraq, China, Pakistan and India. Today, spy satellites are trained on Iraq and Afghanistan.

"As the proliferation threat has grown over the past decade, as the terrorism threat has grown over the past decade and as the United States has been deploying troops in harm's way over the last decade, there has been a decline in the priority assigned to Russian strategic forces by national technical means and at the same time there has been a decline in our overall NTM capabilities," said Paula DeSutter, former assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation between 2002 and 2009.

To recap, we need more expensive spy satellites to watch Russia because Republicans refuse to sign on to the New START we can put observers on the ground to watch Russia.   We'll need to spend more money on satellites instead of reducing our nukes, which will save on defense maintenance costs.  but who cares, Obama might look Presidential if he signs a treaty.  We won't do it!

The Republican scorched earth strategy has real costs, people.

Stomp Out Loud, Part 2

Meanwhile here in Kentucky, headstomp guy Tim Profitt has his day in court yesterday.

Profitt appeared in a Lexington, KY court and pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from the incident, which briefly defined the Kentucky Senate race before Paul, the Republican nominee, won in a landslide Nov. 2. 
The court was packed with folks trying to catch a glimpse of the Kentucky Stomper, according to reports from the ground. And though Profitt's been willing to discuss the incident before (like that time when he blamed a bad back for stepping on a woman that was being held down on the ground,) in court and afterward he kept his mouth shut.

His lawyer, however, laid out a defense of the charges that he said hinged on the video that got Profitt in trouble in the first place.

"Admittedly if you look at the video on the internet and TV and don't see anymore than what was shown it looks like he may have gone out of line," attorney Michael Dean told reporters. "But if you look at the rest of the video of what she was doing before hand and get the whole story, I think you will see my client is justified."

Dean's defense is not so different from the one broadcast by Paul supporters in the wake of the stomping. They pointed to Valle's paid role with MoveOn and a video showing her trying to get a picture with the now Sen.-elect right before the stomping to suggest that Valle was a paid agitator who helped instigate the incident.
After the incident, Valle told TPM the opposite was true -- Profitt and other Paul volunteers on the ground recognized her, she said, and set out to physically remove her from Paul's path that night.

Profitt's lawyer is so sure of his defense he intends to take the misdemeanor case to a full jury trial. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Amazing.  We're going to get a full jury trial out of this, and if Profitt's lawyer Mike Dean is any good, he'll find 12 people in Fayette County that will completely buy the "She's a liberal, she had it coming" defense.  Hell, he only really needs one, doesn't he?  Damn smart play by Dean.

Profitt walks.  I'm calling this now.  And I bet the state Republican Party machine gives him a job.

Watching Reruns Of Barmy Miller, Part 5

Joe Miller refuses to admit the race is over.  Even though Lisa Murkowski has a greater lead than the number of ballots Miller has challenged, he is still trying to keep her out of the Senate because he wants a do over.

Murkowski has a lead of about 10,400 votes. Miller had challenged 8,153 of the ballots counted for Murkowski, but he would still be behind even if he won every challenge.

However, Miller, in an affidavit Thursday, said the Division of Elections began its hand count of write-in ballots a week earlier than scheduled.

"Consequently, my campaign team and I were forced to pull together volunteer observers at the last minute, and did not have time to adequately and fully recruit and train them before counting began," he said. "As a result, an indeterminate number of ballots with candidates' names misspelled were counted without being challenged during the first several days of counting."

Miller said he intends to request a recount.

Miller attorney Thomas Van Flein also said the state's policy is a departure from past practices of rejecting such write-in votes.

Van Flein filed an affidavit from former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, who served under Murkowski's father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Leman said he would not have accepted misspelled names on write-in ballots.

"If an election had been held during my tenure as lieutenant governor in which write-in votes had to be counted, I would have directed the division director to follow a strict interpretation of election law, and let a court direct otherwise if a candidate and the court disagreed with the division's analysis," he said.
Miller's campaign filed the lawsuit last week as hand counting of write-in ballots began.

And Joe Miller will continue to sue for recount after recount claiming "his team wasn't ready to challenge all the votes" until he wins.  If Republicans don't like the facts of the matter, then the facts must be wrong.  You thought Al Franken-Norm Coleman was a colossal waste of time?

This one's just beginning.  Murkowski will not be seated for a long, long time.

Once again I stand by my theory that Joe Miller is really campaigning for the abolition of the 17th Amendment.  He's going to bring it up eventually in this matter.

Shutdown Countdown, Part 5

Me, two weeks ago on Tea Party Republican efforts to threaten default on the debt ceiling:

Here's the problem with this particular game of chicken:  The people that stand to lose the most here, especially from the threat of a sovereign debt default, are the investor class.  They are the ones who spent billions to get the GOP into power, and the threat of default will annihilate the bond market.  The big players, especially the hedge fund giants, stand to lose hundreds of billions from a treasury meltdown as interest rates on long bonds skyrocket and yields drop like lead elephants on gravity steroids.

They will not allow the Republicans to toss satchel charges into their cathedral of cash.

Obama can win this battle if he holds his ground.  Eric Cantor is bluffing and he knows it.  I figured it would take far longer for the Tea Party to march out onto the rope bridge and begin cutting, but they're talking about doing it within a week of winning the House.

The Republicans will get reined in on this one damn quick. Count on it.  This is not a card Cantor and the Tea Party crazies will ever, ever be allowed to useAll Obama has to do is ask Wall Street's big boys to remind Cantor who is in charge here, and while it's not Obama, and it sure as hell isn't Eric Cantor either.

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner, yesterday:

“I’ve made it pretty clear to them that as we get into next year, it’s pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with this,” Mr. Boehner, who is slated to become House speaker in January, told reporters.

“We’re going to have to deal with it as adults,” he said, in what apparently are his most explicit comments to date. “Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part.”

Called it.  Blowing up the debt ceiling and risking default?  Never, ever going to happen, people.  And Orange Julius damn well knows it.

[UPDATE]  Alan Simpson, of Simpson-Bowles Austerity Plan fame, is betting that the Republicans will indeed destroy America's economy by refusing to raise the debt limit and use it for blackmail to get "significant spending cuts", the kind of draconian cuts that Simpson recommends, of course.

[UPDATE 2] And as a matter of fact, Republicans using the debt ceiling as a hostage to force the Simpson-Bowles plan is exactly what Alan Simpson is counting on happening.


It seems it takes losing 60+ seats in the House to get the Dems to rediscover their spines, but they are off to the races this week.  Democrats are planning to hit Republicans hard on a number of issues during this lame duck session of Congress.  They say they have the votes in the Senate to repeal DADT and want a vote on it as part of the military appropriations bill.  They are now willing to force a vote on just middle class tax cuts and letting the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy get a separate vote, both painful issues for the Republicans to go on record. And now the Democrats are fighting back on the New START treaty with Russia, accusing Republicans of being soft on national security (finally!)

Just two weeks after an election that left him struggling to find his way forward, President Obama has decided to confront Senate Republicans in a make-or-break battle over arms control that could be an early test of his mettle heading into the final two years of his term.

He is pushing for a vote on a signature issue despite long odds, daring Republicans to block an arms-control treaty at the risk of disrupting relations with Russia and the international coalition that opposes Iran’s nuclear program. If he succeeds, Mr. Obama will demonstrate strength following the midterm election debacle. If he fails, he will reinforce the perception at home and abroad that he is a weakened president.

“It’s really high stakes,” said Geoffrey Kemp, a former national security aide to President Ronald Reagan and a scholar at the Nixon Center, a research group in Washington. “I would say it’s the biggest gamble he’s taken so far, certainly on foreign policy.”

After months of quiet negotiations blew up this week, Mr. Obama on Thursday escalated ratification of the agreement, the so-called New Start treaty, into a public showdown, enlisting former Republican officials and assigning Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to work on it “day and night.” An allied group, the American Values Network, kicked off a television and e-mail campaign.

“It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New Start treaty this year,” said Mr. Obama, flanked by Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III and Brent Scowcroft, all of whom served Republican presidents. “There is no higher national security priority for the lame-duck session of Congress.” 

These are the fights he needed to pick before the midterms.   Why Democrats refused to go to the mat on these issues three months ago, I'll never understand.  But there are a lot more fights ahead, including unemployment benefits and the final approval of the budget, not to mention next spring's debt ceiling battle.  These are fights Obama can win, needs to win, and should win.

It's good to see fighting Obama back.  I've missed him over the last 12 months.

Dead Air, Hot Air

As promised, House Republicans forced a vote to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides a whole 2% of NPR's money.  As expected, the vote failed miserably.

House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding  to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.

Republicans in the House tried to advance the defunding measure as part of their “YouCut” initiative, which allows the public to vote on which spending cuts the G.O.P. should pursue. But their push was blocked, 239 to 171, with only three Democrats voting with a united bloc of Republicans.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican who is set to become majority leader in the next Congress, said the vote showed Democrats had failed to learn the lessons of this month’s midterm elections.

“Today’s vote was just the latest common sense YouCut to cut spending and save taxpayer dollars, and again Democrats showed that they just don’t get it,” Mr. Cantor said in a statement.

For his part, Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, who formed the Congressional Public Broadcasting Caucus, called the Republican effort cynical and politically motivated.

“I urge members of both parties to focus our efforts on the urgent priorities facing this Congress and stop playing political games with public radio stations,” Mr. Blumenauer  said in a statement.

Republicans?  Playing political games with cynical efforts to make meaningless cuts in order to rile up their rabid base?  Gosh, that never happens.  Eric Cantor is promising once the new Congress is seated, this vote will pass the House.  It won't go anywhere in the Senate and won't reach the President's desk, but it's nice to know that the Republicans are so focused on jobs and not petty vengeance against anyone who might be to the left of FOX News.

Of course, it's not like Republicans actually care about the unemployed, either.

Kentucky Fried Insurance

Here in the Bluegrass State, health insurers stopped issuing child-only policies in response to the new health care law provisions that took effect in September that prevents insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.  Kentucky's Insurance Commissioner has put an end to that noise quickly.

Kentucky Insurance Commissioner Sharon Clark has ordered all individual health insurers selling in Kentucky to offer an open enrollment period in January for Kentuckians younger than 19, effectively requiring balking insurers to resume sales of "child-only" policies.

The state Public Protection Cabinet had ordered the change as a result of an Oct. 13 hearing in which insurers were asked to explain why they stopped writing "child-only" policies Sept. 23. That was the date when the companies no longer could deny coverage because of a pre-existing health condition under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The state insurance department said the decision by insurers to stop offering such policies was a violation of state law and discriminated against those younger than 19 who need individual health insurance.
Clark said Thursday she was concerned that families needing a "child-only" policy would be forced into the Kentucky Access high-risk pool.
Thursday's order makes annual open enrollment available each January beginning in 2011 and running through 2013. Federal health care reform will prohibit insurers from denying coverage, regardless of health status, in 2014.

And forcing all kids with medical conditions into expensive high-risk insurance plans would of course be bad for the families, the kids, and the state of Kentucky having to foot the bill.  The state did the right thing here.  More states will follow Kentucky's lead (and how many times do I get to type THOSE words?)


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