Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last Call

And the Senate GOP kills the omnibus spending bill, forcing the Dems to give on short-term legislation that will keep the government running just long enough for the new GOP House in January to hold the country hostage all over again (and most likely eliminate funding for everything the Democrats passed over the last two years.)

On Thursday night, Senate Republicans killed must-pass legislation to fund the government, and forced Democrats to accept GOP spending demands to avert a federal shutdown. The development infuriated Democratic members and led to unusually angry, churlish exchanges on the Senate floor. But as a consolation prize for defeated Democrats, they'll have a real shot at finally repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell on Sunday evening.

After long deliberations with Republican principals Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on the Senate floor that nine GOP members had reneged on their pledges to vote for the omnibus spending bill, which reflected months of bipartisan negotiations, and included earmarks benefiting both parties.

That left Reid several votes shy of the 60 he'd need to overcome a filibuster and essentially vaporized a year's worth of work by the Appropriations Committee.

Democrats on the floor -- including Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye -- were visibly wounded by the development, and were unable to contain their anger after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rubbed in the salt. "There is only one reason cloture is not being filed," McConnell said. "They don't have the votes. And the reason he doesn't have the votes is because members on [the Republican] side of the aisle increasingly felt concerned about the way we do business."

Surprise!  The Republicans were lying the entire friggin' time and never intended to keep their promises, never intended to negotiate in good faith, and never intended to let anything pass but 100% of what they wanted.

The best part is Reid still trusts these assholes on DADT and START votes on Saturday.  These votes too will fail.   No, I take that back.  The best part is nobody will call the GOP on this, and the Democrats will take the blame for failing to get things passed once again.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

What Atrios said.

Time's person of the year should have been the fail whale.

Beats that dumbass they chose in 2006.

A Scam As Old As Time

Which, if you ask the Ark Encounter people, is 6,000 years.  Via Yellow Dog, Joe Sonka crunches the numbers on just how many visitors the Yabba Dabba D'oh park is going to get (and its expected tax revenue base as a result).  Turns out not only does the Yabba Dabba D'oh feasibility study stink like a load of T-Rex dung (it was performed by the park owner's business partner!), but the estimate they came up with (1.6 million people per year, 80% from outside Kentucky) is also total dino poop compared to other attractions in the area.

But speaking of "feasible numbers", let's take a look at other parks in the area, and whether ARG's estimates seem feasible.

The Creation Museum averages over 300,000 visitors per year. And this is an all year round attraction, as the exhibits are inside no matter what the weather, unlike Ark Encounter. In fact, the major differences between the two are:

1) Ark Encounter is an outdoor attraction, meaning that this will be a mostly seasonal attraction
2) Ark Encounter has a giant boat, whereas the Museum has animatronic dinosaurs. I wonder which one kids will like more.
3) The Creation Museum is right next to 2,000,000 people. Ark Encounter is in the middle of nowhere.

Yet "ARG" expects us to believe that Ark Encounter will get 6-7 times the visitors that the Creation Museum gets. Interesting.

OK, how about King's Island? King's Island, which is nearing it's 40 year anniversary, had 3 million visitors in 2009. King's Island, of course, has about a million rides and a water park for kids to go nuts in. And despite the fact that Ark Encounter has no rides (just a giant boat), ARG expects people to believe that it will receive over half the annual attendance of King's Island in it's first year, and then 2/3 of its attendance in the following years.

Does this even pass the smell test?

How about the Cincinnati Zoo? In 2008, this zoo in the heart of a city of 2,000,000 people had 982,043 attendees. Yet ARG expects us to believe that Ark Encounter in Grant County will double the zoo's attendance in it's second year.

Have Steve Beshear's people really seen these numbers?

How about Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville? Before rides starting chopping little kids' legs off recently, in 2005 it had 850,000 visitors. So a park with tons of rides and water park in the middle of a metropolitan area of over 1,000,000 people had 850,000 attendees a year, but ARG expects a park with a giant boat to have twice that amount in it's first year.

If you believe that the Yabba Dabba D'oh is going to attract that many visitors, I have a six thousand year old picture of cavemen riding dinosaurs to sell you too.  My tax money is paying for this?  Really?  For a big boat, a petting zoo, and a soul-crushing miasma of science-killing ignorance?

Keep up the good work on this, Joe.

New tag for this national friggin' embarassment:  Yabba Dabba D'oh.


Three of five Americans say the Warren Terrah in Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting.

A record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, a grim assessment -- and a politically hazardous one -- in advance of the Obama administration's one-year review of its revised strategy.

Public dissatisfaction with the war, now the nation's longest, has spiked by 7 points just since July. Given its costs vs. its benefits, only 34 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the war's been worth fighting, down by 9 points to a new low, by a sizable margin.

Gosh, I wonder why.

The public's increasingly negative assessment comes after a new strategy, including a surge of U.S. and allied forces, led to the Afghanistan war's bloodiest year. According to, nearly 500 U.S. soldiers have been killed and 4,481 wounded in 2010, compared with 317 killed and 2,114 wounded in 2009, and 155 killed, 793 wounded in 2008.

While opposition to the war has grown, Obama himself gets more mixed reviews for handling it. This survey, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that 45 percent approve of Obama's work on Afghanistan, matching his low, while 46 percent disapprove, a scant 2 points from the high. Still, that's considerably better than Bush's ratings for handling Iraq in his second term -- on average, 63 percent disapproved of how he did.

One apparent reason is Obama's pledge to start withdrawing U.S. forces next summer. Fifty-four percent of Americans support that time frame -- up by 15 points since it was announced a year ago. An additional 27 percent say the withdrawal should begin sooner; just 12 percent say it should start later, down 7 points from a year ago.

Increasingly it's looking like whether or not Obama keeps his promise to get us out of Aghanistan that will determine his re-election chances in 2012.  Sure, I'm expecting the economy to also play a huge part in that, but if he postpones the withdrawal next year, he's in real, real trouble.

Also, there's the matter of us leaving Afghanistan being the right thing to do.  In nine years we've managed to make a slightly less bombed place in Kabul.  Yay us.  Obama's mini-surge?  Accomplished squat.

Declare victory, go home.

Commerce Clause For Alarm, Part 2

This week's ruling on the health insurance mandate wasn't the win the Republicans were looking for.  Virginia Federal Judge Hudson found the mandate unconstitutional, but he also specifically refused to throw out the entire health care reform law, as Ezra Klein reminds us.

Hudson pointedly refused. "The Court will sever only Section 1501 [the individual mandate] and directly-dependent provisions which make specific reference to 1501." That last clause has made a lot of pro-reform legal analysts very happy. Go to the text of the health-care law and run a search for "1501." It appears exactly twice in the bill: In the table of contents, and in the title of the section. There do not appear to be other sections that make "specific reference" to the provision, even if you could argue that they are "directly dependent" on the provision. The attachment of the "specific reference" language appears to sharply limit the scope of the court's action.

As a result, GOP State Attorneys General are now shopping around their various flood of lawsuits against the law in order to find someone who will throw out the entire law.  They are turning to a Florida federal judge to do just that.

Attorneys for 20 states fighting the new federal health care law say it will expand the government's powers in dangerous and unintended ways.

But U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson questioned at a hearing in Florida on Thursday how the government can halt massive changes to the health care system that have already begun.

Earlier this week, a federal judge in Virginia ruled in a separate case that citizens can't be forced to buy health insurance. That case is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The states in the Florida case are asking Vinson to issue a quick ruling in their favor.

Judge Vinson doesn't look like he's going to bite either.  So far of the 3 cases decided, 2 have gone in the government's favor, and the most recent only has struck down the mandate.  The law itself remains.  It's pretty clear that Republicans will sue until they find a judge who's activist enough to strike down the entire law, and then force the Obama administration to appeal the case to the Supreme Court directly and immediately.  They will keep shopping around until they get a judge who will play ball.  Rule of law doesn't matter, nor does precedent.  We've already proven that.

Remember, the larger issue here is to get SCOTUS to issue such a narrow interpretation of the Commerce Clause (that ignores the Elastic Clause) that federal government oversight is all but impossible, and that Republicans can immediately challenge just about every piece of social and labor legislation in the last century that depends on using the Commerce Clause.

A whole hell of a lot is at stake here, far more than just who has to buy health insurance.

Serf And Turf

Jason Linkins takes Politico's Roger Simon apart on Simon's latest "Go screw yourself" to what's left of America's middle class:

Don't like the way wealth is distributed? Then you can join congressional Democrats and grump about it, or you can get some wealth for yourself.

Ahh, if only that were true.

   The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that real median household income in the United States in 2009 was $49,777, not statistically different from the 2008 median.

     The nation's official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008 — the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004. There were 43.6 million people in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase.

     Meanwhile, the number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009, while the percentage increased from 15.4 percent to 16.7 percent over the same period.

     These findings are contained in the report Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009. The following results for the nation were compiled from information collected in the 2010 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC).

 The median income in the last ten years has actually decreased.  Meanwhile, median CEO pay has gone up 350%.  It's awesome. Work harder, serfs.  Your lords need more loot.  Perhaps if you work hard enough, you can get promoted to Serf, First Class.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Have Time For It

The good news:  Joe F'ckin Lieberman may have actually come through on wrangling the votes for repealing DADT

Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) is backing the standalone Don't Ask, Don't Tell bill in the Senate, ABC News reports. Brown's vote puts the number of Senators publicly supporting the repeal bill at 61, enough to secure cloture on the bill and move it to almost-assured passage in the full Senate.

Brown joins Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Olympia Snowe (ME) in publicly supporting the measure. ABC News reports Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is also on board.

The bad news:  The Senate may not have time to vote on the measure because the rest of the homophobic GOP will simply run out the clock rather than give in to 70%+ of America who wants to see this repealed.

As for timing, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that's in the hands of the Republicans. In a strongly-worded statement released last night after the standalone vote, Reid expressed strong support for the standalone repeal measure (he's a co-sponsor) but also said that with Republicans threatening scheduling shenanigans to focus public attention on spending bills, he just can't be sure if there will be time for the Senate to take up DADT repeal again.

"We are very quickly running out of days in this Congress. The time for week-long negotiations on amendments and requests for days of debate is over," Reid said, referring to the protracted negotiations with Collins before the failed cloture vote on the defense authorization bill last week, which was the first time the Senate took up DADT repeal.

"Republican Senators who favor repealing this discriminatory policy need to join with us now to stand against those who are trying to run out the clock on this Congress," Reid said.

It may honestly already be too late for DADT repeal, which of course was the entire point of these same GOP senators refusing to vote for it last week when it was part of the defense spending measure.  They were never going to let it happen, and now they are off the hook.  Now they can say "We wanted to vote for it but there wasn't time.  We're not homophobic.  We'll bring it up next year."

Which with a GOP House will never happen.  Ever.

To recap:  Washington Republicans are gay-hating bigots and they always will be.  I refuse to get my hopes up that they will allow this farce to end.  Yes, Clinton created this mess.  It was the Republicans who then made it permanent law by passing it in Congress.  The Democrats are trying to end it.  It's the Republicans who are stopping them.

Period.  Either end it or don't.  But stop lying about wanting to end it then refusing to vote that way.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 49

Things are getting disastrous for the housing market.  It's looking like another housing price drop cliff is ahead because of a combination of two factors.  First, Foreclosuregate has all but stalled out sales of both first-time homebuyers and especially "move-up" homebuyers.

Robo-signing exposed sloppy industry practices that critics charged violated state laws and regulations. Some lenders froze the foreclosure process for all their loans until they could check whether their procedures were flawed and make any needed corrections.

The robo-signing moratoriums were responsible for the lion's share of the decrease in November filings, said Rick Sharga, spokesman for RealtyTrac.

"I wish the report was actually good news," he said. "But it's just an artificial drop. For most borrowers in foreclosure, it will be a temporary reprieve."

As evidence, Sharga pointed out that in judicial foreclosure states, ones where courts are involved and where banks are most vulnerable to scrutiny over their foreclosure practices, filings dropped substantially more than in states where courts do not usually participate in foreclosure actions.

There were 34% fewer auctions scheduled in judicial states, month-over-month, compared with a 7% decline in non-judicial states. Even that small drop was probably driven by an excess of caution among the banks, Sharga said.

Banks are going to restart foreclosure proceedings next month, but the uncertainty of who owns the note means that those proceedings are going to be very slow, challenged in courts, and will be lowered by buyers scared off by the reports of fraud.  It's not helping that people who have the legal right to ask where their note is before buying or selling their home are being retaliated against by banks dinging people's credit scores arbitrarily.  This too will only drive prices down and sales dry up.

That's going to cause tremendous downward pressure on prices in 2011.  The other problem:  the tax cut deal has pissed off the bond guys, and treasury rates are going up, pushing up mortgage rates in turn.

The negative convexity loop in mortgages is starting to see casualties left and right. The most recent read on the 30 Year Cash Fannie Mortgage rose by 11 bps overnight, and by a stunning 1% in the last month. At 4.703% the prevailing wholesale mortgage rate is back to the highest it has been since May 2010. And while some have speculated that this inflection in rates would have been sufficient to get Americans to jump on refinancing their mortgages, attempting to catch low rates while they can, the jump has been so powerful that to many the now incremental 10% loss in purchasing power does not make a purchase equitable any more. As a result, ceteris paribus, home prices will have to decline by about 10% to compensate for the pick up in rates in just the last month. And since the jump in rates on a duration adjusted basis is even more painful, there will be increase selling of comparable securities as managers look to shed a sudden surge in duration, leading to a further spike in yields, and so forth.

And this just turns into a vicious cycle.  I'm seeing the potential for a nasty drop in home values again in 2011.  That of course will only continue to wreck the economy.

No end in sight to the Great Recession.

If It's Thursday...

New jobless claims down a smidge, but that lowering was eaten up by the inevitable adjustment upwards in the estimate.  Tyler Durden shows us the real numbers in people seeking government assistance:

Up nearly 900K across all programs. Not good news at all.

Epic Better Bacon Through Technology Win

Japanese robots can process meat about twice as fast as a skilled worker can, meaning twice the delicious bacon.  Meet Hamdesu!


Shutdown Countdown, Part 6

I've been warning that the GOP may force a government shutdown as early as this month, and it looks like we're headed there pretty quickly.  Brian Beutler:

Before the midterms, conservative leaders were warning that they'd force a showdown over federal spending much earlier than expected: in the lame duck session, before the newly elected Republicans come to Washington.

They weren't joking. Republican and Democratic leaders are now engaged in a brinksmanship that could result in a temporary shutdown of the federal government. After the election, Republicans voted among themselves to eschew all earmarks for two years, and now they have to make good on their pledge.

Yesterday, Democrats' chief appropriator, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) unveiled what's known as an omnibus spending bill -- a bundled up package of appropriations legislation, earmarks, and other measures -- which would keep the government running for a year.

In response, most Republicans -- even those whose multimillion dollar earmark requests are included in the legislation -- are saying, "Hell no you can't!"

That puts them all in an awkward position. At a press conference this morning, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and John Thune (R-SD) were at pains to explain away why they requested earmarks that appear in the bill they're now railing against. But it also sets the two parties up for a standoff -- and one side must blink by this weekend, or the lights will start going out in the federal government.

Democrats will try to use the impending deadline to pass the omnibus. If it fails, they can take up a piece of legislation passed by the House known as a "continuing resolution," which will keep the government funded at current levels through next year.

Republican leaders reject both plans. They're demanding that Congress pass a short-term funding measure, which would expire early next year and give the incoming Republicans the power to cut spending significantly.

Republicans say the Democrats have forfeited the right to make a budget as they never got around to actually presenting one in 2010.  They also say they will accept nothing less than total capitulation, that they have no problem shutting the government down over Christmas and into the New Year, and that their first act in the new House in January would be to introduce a budget with significant spending cuts that they expect to be immediately approved...or they'll simply keep the government shut down until they get what they want.

Yes, it's Hostage Taking 101.  But you know what?  Democrats have folded on this kind of tactic before, and I expect them to do so again over the next month or so.  Republicans will be able to make their significant spending cuts into this recession, and of course when the economy and unemployment get worse in 2011, it'll be Obama's fault, because Republicans will abandon the "power of the purse" argument they've been using for the last four years.

Only question left is whether or not this will be repeated in March with the debt ceiling.  I don't think it will, but given the action in the bond market this month it may be a moot point.


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