Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Last Call

The great thing about the Tea Party is they're simply not shy about stating the fact that they honestly believe that rule of law should only apply to everyone but themselves.  This makes them patriots following the true intent of the Founding Fathers, or something...hence the preoccupation with simply getting rid of the parts of the Constitution they think are unconstitutional.

Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is part of a class of Republicans who say they want to change the country fundamentally -- and to that end, Cantor isn't dismissing a plan by legislators in his home state of Virgina to blow up the Constitutional system and replace it with one that would give state governments veto power over federal laws.

For several weeks now, conservative legal circles have been buzzing with Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell's plan to amend the Constitution so that a 2/3 vote of the states could overturn overturn any federal law passed by the Congress and signed by the President. Howell first floated the idea in a September Wall Street Journal op-ed he co-wrote with Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett.

"At present, the only way for states to contest a federal law or regulation is to bring a constitutional challenge in federal court or seek an amendment to the Constitution," the pair wrote. "A state repeal power provides a targeted way to reverse particular congressional acts and administrative regulations without relying on federal judges or permanently amending the text of the Constitution to correct a specific abuse."

The pair say the plan is a response to the federal overreach created by "two 'progressive' constitutional amendments adopted in 1913" -- the 16th Amendment creating a federal income tax and the 17th Amendment allowing for the direct election of U.S. Senators, which were previously appointed by state legislatures.

Undoing both those amendments has been a key tenet of tea party rhetoric for a while now. 

To recap, these jokers want to give final real ultimate super ultra omega veto power to state legislatures in a Tea-ranny of the Majority situation, so they can just whip up enough of an angry mob to get rid of anything they don't like, federal legislative, judicial, and executive be damned.

Of course, the logical endpoint of all this is that state voters be allowed to recall the entire state legislature in case that they do not agree with the will of the people, right?

And the point isn't to get this passed into the Constitution, the point is to create a completely unattainable goal and use it as a tool to rally the base whenever conservatives suffer defeat.  Time and time again conservatives say they want to completely rewrite the Constitution the way "the Founding Fathers" intended to be and complain bitterly that the rest of the country thinks this is a stupid, naked power grab.

It's how politics works.  This too will become a useless talking point and a litmus test.

But The Catfood Commission Came Back, The Very Next Day

The Catfood Commission came back, we thought it was a goner, oh the Catfood Commission came back, it just wouldn't stay awaaaaaaay...

The leaders of President Obama's debt commission said Tuesday that they would delay a vote on final recommendations until Friday.

The vote was originally scheduled for Wednesday.

The commission's co-chairmen, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, said they would still release the panel's report on Wednesday so the members can review it. It will be an amended version of a plan Bowles and Simpson put out three weeks ago.

And the vote, which should have been tomorrow (so it would not collect 14 votes and therefore not get a vote in Congress whatsoever and the whole thing would just die screaming) is now set for Friday.  And I'm betting it will be delayed again and again until the requisite 14 votes for killing social spending to pay for tax cuts for the rich can be garnered.

Won't that be fun?

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 44

As expected, Foreclosuregate is killing home sales across the country as banks, mortgage lenders, homeowners, and courts have no idea how to proceed when the validity of the paperwork of millions of mortgages is now potentially suspect.  The result is a steep decrease in foreclosed home sales.

Big banks are having trouble restarting the foreclosure process after this fall's "robo-signing" scandal, and the once booming market for foreclosed homes has been hit hard as a result.

According to ForeclosureRadar, the number of properties coming to auction in hard-hit western states -- Arizona, California and Nevada -- has dropped more than 30%.

In San Diego, according to broker Scott Cheng of Cheng Realty, who puts investors together with foreclosed properties, the number of auctions scheduled has fallen from 500 a day, to 300. "That part of my business has dried up," Cheng said. "A lot of my investors have stopped looking."

Cheng used to be able to find about three or four suitable homes a month for investors looking for a bargain. Now, he hasn't done one of these deals since August.

"The ones who are really upset are the investors, who buy on the courthouse steps," said Kevin Berman, a broker with Bankers Realty Services in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "There used to be sometimes 700 sales a day. Now there are like, seven."

We know that when buyers aren't buying a product and that the supply is too great, prices must go down until the buyers will start buying again.  But what happens when there are millions of homes on the market that cannot be sold at any price because of the legal concerns of paperwork and questions about who owns the note?

That's a recipe for complete disaster, a breakdown of the market in question.  And considering the real estate market in this country is worth trillions, you have to assume that the outcome of this mess will affect everything else.

Here there be dragons, folks.  Strap in.

I Apologize For Not Giving You Everything You Wanted When You Lost

President Obama, negotiating from a position of strength:

President Barack Obama told GOP leaders behind closed doors Tuesday that he had failed to reach across party lines enough during his first two years in office, a senior administration official told CNN.

He promised to do a better job of bipartisan outreach in the days ahead, the official added.

"The president said he had to do better, and the president is ready to do his part," the official said.

No mention in the article whether or not Orange Julius actually used the words "Kneel before Zod, son of Soetoro!" 

At this point I'm done wondering if this is a clever eleven-dimensional chess move that will make the GOP overplay their hand, and I'm on to wondering just how much we'll fondly look back at the damage Obama will do to the country by signing off on the Republican agenda for everything over the next two years as "the good times" before he's replaced by a Republican in 2012 and the real cornholing begins.

I honestly have to ask if everybody on Earth is aware of the GOP Plan to destroy Obama at all costs except for Obama himself.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

Hey there House Republicans!  You know, when you get tired of directly referring to President Obama as Hitler, you can go for the "our side is waging war on him just like Patton, Bradley and Eisenhower!" roundabout approach here like Rep. Joe Barton as he campaigns to be chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee.  He's got a slide show full of awesome to prove it, too.

Then comes the money slide, titled: "What's in Store for the Obama Administration," with photos of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Generals Omar Bradley and George Patton in uniform.

"Speaker Boehner is our Dwight Eisenhower in the battle against the Obama Administration. Majority Leader Cantor is our Omar Bradley. I want to be George Patton - put anything in my scope and I will shoot it." 

Bonus points for that particular reference there, Joey Bag Of Crazy.  No word on if elected San Dimas High School Football Captain chairman he'll put in an arcade version of Castle Wolfenstein in the committee room where you get to put You Know Who in your scope and shoot it.

The Properties Of Crazy

Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips apparently wants to bring America back to the days of the Founding Fathers.  You know, when only property holders were allowed to vote.

PHILLIPS: The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn’t you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.

It certainly seems like Phillips is advocating mass disenfranchisement to me.  Sure, let's disenfranchise the voting rights of the least wealthy, and those who live in urban centers where property values are at a premium and larger numbers of people rent rather than own.  Gosh, I can't imagine a single reason why a Republican would want to take the right to vote away from primarily poorer people and urban city dwellers other than you know, they tend to vote Democratic.

By Phillips's logic, let's restrict the vote only to those making $1 million or more a year.  Don't they have more of a "vested interest" in America than the rest of us, quite literally?

This kind of thing is so transparent that it should be criminal (indeed, such voter "tests" are no longer legal) but that's the kind of "democracy" the Tea Party believes in...one strictly limited to the "right" people.

Houses Of Pain

Case-Shiller numbers for September are out, and they show the beginnings of the Foreclosuregate price drop.

The prices of single-family homes in 20 major cities fell a non-seasonally adjusted 0.7% in September, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday by Standard & Poor's. Prices have moved up 0.6% in the past year, down from 1.7% in August. This is the fourth consecutive month where annual growth rates moderated from the prior month's pace, confirming a "clear deceleration in home price returns," S&P said. Home prices decreased in 18 of the 20 metropolitan areas tracked by Case-Shiller in September compared with August.

Not good.  Again, these are September numbers, which is the relative crest of the hill.  Anything after this is bound to be pretty gruesome.  More on this at The Great Redoubt.

The Million Dollar Question

Conservative Democrats in the Senate want to draw the line against tax cuts for the "wealthy" but they want to extend the definition of wealthy to be solely the 300,000 plus American households earning $1 million a year rather than the six million or so folks earning $250,000 or more a year.  Jon Cohn investigates the numbers:

OK, so what would the fiscal impact of this switch be?

When this idea first surfaced a few weeks ago, I put that question to researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Using very rough, preliminary numbers, they concluded that the ten-year cost of extending tax cuts for incomes below $250,000 was $3.2 trillion and that the cost of extending cuts for incomes less than $1 million was $3.6 trillion. In other words, the higher threshold would cost an additional $400 billion over ten years.

That's a lot of money, particularly at a time when, in theory, we're trying to come up with ways of improving the government's long-term finances. Then again, it's also better than extending all of the tax cuts permanently, which would cost the government roughly an additional $400 billion over the next ten years.

Keep in mind that everyone would get the tax cuts on that first $250,000 a year anyway, but the higher plan would eliminate some $400 billion in revenue over ten years.  As Ezra Klein points out, Dems would effectively be extending $3.6 trillion of the $4 trillion Bush tax cuts...90% of them.

If that's the ultimate agreement we see on the Bush tax cuts, it'll be worth taking a moment to appreciate how far Democrats have backslid on this issue since BIll Clinton. Clinton, of course, raised taxes in the face of large deficits. The Obama campaign, by contrast, swore not to raise taxes on any family making less than $250,000, and Democrats might now effectively raise that to $1,000,000. In setting up the expectation that taxes can't go up for anyone but millionaires, Democrats take most of them off the table. And given that Republicans have no interest in taxes, either, that basically removes them as a tool of fiscal policy going forward.

Which is exactly what the Republicans want to do:  California-ize the federal budget where any increase in taxes is automatically eliminated.  Republicans are quite serious about eliminating all other options but cutting government spending on non-military programs...in fact they're quite serious about eliminating all other federal government period other than military spending.

And they're doing it with the help of the Democrats.

Korean-ing Off The Rails, Part 2

Will somebody please figure out what North Korea wants and convince them to stop acting like three-year-olds?

North Korea warned Tuesday that the continuing military drills by the United States and South Korea could lead to "all-out war any time."

The firmly-worded message was published by North Korea's state-run KCNA news service.

"If the U.S. and the south Korean war-like forces fire even a shell into the inviolable land and territorial waters of the DPRK, they will have to pay dearly for this," the news service report said. The DPRK is the acronym for North Korea's formal name -- the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

This comes after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak warned Monday that North Korea would face severe consequences if it launched another military attack across its southern border.

"If the North commits any additional provocations against the South, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail," Lee said in a nationally televised address. North Korea stepped up its threats recently on its southern rival, as well as the United States, warning that military activities must not infringe on what the communist nation considers its territory.

The crisis is top priority for Seoul.

Someone's going to get hurt here if this keeps up, and frankly it's getting more than a little ridiculous.  I'm not sure what Hillary is doing right now about this (I admit, the State Department kind of has their hands full this week and all) but it's pretty clear North Korea wants something.

It would be nice if they told us what it really is.

Midnight At The Oasis

Unemployment checks for 800,000 Americans run out at midnight tonight.  Another 1.2 million lose benefits at the end of next month.  Republicans have successfully blocked extending benefits to those out of work for 26 to 99 weeks and completely destroyed any chance of benefits after 99 weeks, saying every dime of it must be paid for in federal spending cuts elsewhere (unlike, say, tax cuts for the wealthy that the Republicans want extended.)

The real problem is that these federal programs are helping cash-strapped states out, and the states have no extra money.  As it is they're borrowing from the feds for unemployment for the first 26 weeks.

State unemployment agencies are very concerned about the impending end to these extended jobless payments, which they say people depend on to cover their rent and buy food.

"It's a critical safety net program," said Nancy Dunphy, New York State's deputy commissioner of labor for employment security. "This is the worst time of year to be running out of benefits."

Federal jobless payments, which last up to 73 weeks, kick in after the state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. These federal benefits are divided into four tiers of emergency unemployment compensation, which last between six and 20 weeks, followed by up to five months of extended benefits. The jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

Unemployed Americans who've just exhausted their state benefits are already blocked from entering the federal system in most states. They would have had to file their initial federal claim by this past weekend.

Those already in a federal emergency benefits system will not be able to move to the next tier after this coming weekend. However, they can continue to collect the benefits available in their current level. So those who just entered a tier could continue receiving benefits for awhile, but those who are near the end of their tier will see payments dry up sooner.

This is going to continue to be a problem, and will only get worse as the Republicans take over in January.  Unless a major extension can be worked out soon, millions of Americans are going to be facing a very long winter.

In Other News We Knew, Seymour Hersh Was Right

Raw Story is reporting that the WikiLeaks cables seem to support Seymour Hersh's reporting from 2006 that Israel believed Iran was only a year or two away from a functional nuclear weapon and that regime change in Tehran was necessary.  The cable in question involved Undersecretary Nicholas Burns from the State Department and Israeli Mossad head Meir Dagan.

The classified diplomatic cable outlining the meeting is part of a large cache of documents leaked to the whistleblower website Wikileaks, and released to the public on Sunday via several international newspapers, including The Guardian and The New York Times.

Dagan began the meeting by thanking the US for its support of Israel, as well as for a recent $30 billion aid package.

The Mossad chief then conceded that US analysis of Iran's alleged nuclear capabilities differed from Israel's, but remarked that such differences were essentially irrelevant and that if need be Israel would take action alone.

"The threat is obvious, even if we have a different timetable," he said. "If we want to postpone their acquisition of a nuclear capability, then we have to invest time and effort ourselves."

Philip Giraldi, a former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and the Central Intelligence Agency, who served for eighteen years in Turkey, believes Dagan's comment that Israel will have to "invest time and effort ourselves” in dealing with Iran was, in essence, a veiled threat.

"It is essentially setting up a situation in which the threat of Israel acting alone becomes a wedge issue to force the US to do something so that it will be able to manage the situation rather than respond to Israeli initiatives," Giraldi told Raw Story on Sunday. "It pushes Washington into planning a military strike to force the Israelis to stand down on their own plans."

The differences between how each nation viewed the Iranian nuclear program were not discussed by either the US or Israeli officials in the cable.

R. Nicholas Burns, the U.S. envoy at the meeting -- who is now the Sultan of Oman Professor of the Practice of International Relations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government – did not respond to requests for comment.

The Israeli embassy also did not respond to request for comment.

Again, anyone who was paying attention to Hersh's reporting in the New Yorker knew Israel was angling for getting the US to take care of their Iran regime change problem for them.  This isn't new information.  But the cables do solidly back up Hersh's story.  Israel was basically telling Bush that if we didn't act, Israel would.  The approach to destabilize Iran described in the cable is what our eventual plan came to be.

According to Hersh, in late 2007, "Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country's religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons program."

This is precisely the approach Dagan and Burns discussed at August 2007 meeting, as described in the leaked cable.

And it looks like this strategy was discussed in this cable between Burns and Dagan.  If anything, this cable strongly suggests more Americans should have been listening to Seymour Hersh.  He knew exactly what he was talking about.


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