Friday, December 17, 2010

Last Call

And here's President Obama's reward for working with the Republicans on that tax cut deal.

The $858 billion tax deal approved by Congress Thursday is "all candy and no spinach," but at least it shows that President Barack Obama and Republicans can cooperate on fiscal issues.

But their new detente will be tested early next year when the budget deficit looms larger on the political landscape.

Analysts are skeptical this week's pact can be leveraged into a broad deficit-cutting program, and fear the deficit issue could be kicked forward to the 2012 election.

The tax deal makes the deficit bigger — just the opposite of what bond markets want — and it threatens to move taxes off the bargaining table in next year's struggles over federal spending and raising the government debt ceiling.

At the same time, it was expected to give the economy a boost, and if that gets more Americans working, meaningful deficit reduction could be a little easier.

A presidential commission's aggressive plan to slash the $1.3 trillion deficit earlier this month won more bipartisan support than expected.

"It's very likely that parts of the commission's plan end up in the president's budget... Otherwise, he sends some very disturbing signals," said Maya MacGuineas, fiscal policy director at the New America Foundation think tank.

For the record, now Obama has to go along with massive spending cuts as outlined by the Catfood Commission, or he's not a serious President.  The ink isn't even dry on the tax cut deal.  And now he's already taking the blame for not cutting the deficit.

Not even a "thank you" from the rich.  Nope, it's right into "we expect to see the Catfood Commission's economic plans in the President's budget or else."  Not even 24 hours before we're back to HE MUST CUT SPENDING NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW.

Good work on that, big guy.

Unintended Consequences Of Complete Collapse

So the first casualty of the Dems folding on the omnibus spending bill?  Food safety legislation.

Earlier this month, Congress managed to pass the bill with strong bipartisan support—and over the objections of both tea partiers afraid the bill would send the government after their seeds and leftie foodie types who feared the bill would squash small farms and artisanal cheese makers. The bill was a decade in the making, despite record numbers of food borne illness outbreaks, from E. coli in spinach to salmonella in peanut butter that killed nine people. A day after the bill passed, however, news broke that language in the bill had been screwed up, rendering it unconstitutional.

Supporters had hoped that a repaired bill would still land on the president's desk this year if it could pass along with a big omnibus spending bill slated for a vote this week. But after Republicans defected in the face of pressure from tea party activists opposed to $8 billion in earmarks buried in the bill, Democrats were forced to withdraw the spending measure, taking the food safety bill along with it. Democrats also tried attaching the food safety bill to a continuing resolution that would have funded the federal government until September. But Republicans have also opposed that measure, leaving Democrats with a scaled-down resolution that would merely keep the government open until February, when the new Congress can deal with the rest of the issues.

So right now the landmark legislation to modernize the FDA for the first time in several decades is dead, because Republicans are a bunch of lying assholes who will stab anyone and everyone in the back in order to "win".

Remember that next time you read about the next time millions of pounds of meat or produce are recalled or a bacteria outbreak in our food supply is killing people.  Remember that the Republicans scrapped this because they aim to make sure government can never do anything good.

Funny how that works, huh.

Derailing That Train Of Thoughtlessness, Part 2

Add Florida's Rick Scott to the growing list of GOP Governors looking to kill thousands of rail jobs in a state suffering from high unemployment.

Florida's $2.6 billion high-speed project would be paid for almost entirely by the feds. Washington has agreed to send Florida all but $280 million of its cost. And some companies vying to run the trains indicate they'd cover the state's share. They're willing to do that because they believe running the Orlando-Tampa route would give them a leg up on operating a second high-speed rail line from Orlando to Miami — and other fast trains outside Florida.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he feared his state would have to pay for costly rail-project overruns. But meetings last month between Florida transportation officials and companies wanting to operate the trains reportedly revealed the companies' willingness to cover any construction overages.

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker said his state would have had to pay too much to operate and maintain its rail line. But the company that runs high-speed trains in Florida would have to operate and maintain them for 30 years. The state, Florida DOT's Kevin Thibault told us, wouldn't have to pick up the cost.

Florida would need 23,000 people to build the rail line, and to find as many as 1,000 workers to operate it. The train would stimulate businesses along the line and help turn Orlando and Tampa into a single market that attracts entrepreneurs eager to reap the benefits of the nation's most advanced transit system.

And it would offer commuters and tourists an alternative to an increasingly gridlocked I-4. It also would prove cheaper than the alternative: Building another lane of Interstate 4 — just from Tampa to Lakeland — would cost $3 billion.

Why would Rick Scott oppose such a system? Because President Obama's stimulus program, which he savages, underwrites so much of it? Because it has become a badge of honor among conservative governors to reject federally funded rail projects? Because, even though it would better connect Floridians and deliver all those jobs, Mr. Scott thinks opposition would somehow help him among his conservative constituency?

Because it's all about making sure that a Democrat in the White House can never get credit for doing anything good.  After all, if this was a Bush initiative, battleground state Republican governors in places like Ohio and Florida would be lining up for "job creating business expanding technology of the future".  Instead it's turn the projects down and blame Obama for not creating jobs.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 50

A dubious milestone as the Roaches series on Foreclosuregate hits the big five oh.  Today's news: the SEC is officially issuing subpoenas to the big banks to see if they tried to have their cake and eat it too on mortgage notes.  Reuters:

The Securities and Exchange Commission launched the new phase of its investigation by sending out a fresh round of subpoenas last week to big banks like Bank of America Corp, Citigroup Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Wells Fargo & Co, the sources said.

The subpoenas focus on the earliest stage of the mortgage securitization process, said the sources, who requested anonymity because the probe is not public.

The sources said the SEC is asking for information about the role of so-called "master servicers" -- specialized firms that oversee the selection and maintenance of the large pool of home loans that go into every mortgage-backed bond.

In many cases, Wall Street banks that underwrite mortgage-backed securities either own their own master servicing firms or are closely aligned with one.

In the fall, the SEC began looking into the banks' foreclosure practices following allegations that mortgage servicers like Bank of America were using shoddy paperwork to evict delinquent borrowers from their homes.

The Justice Department, banking regulators and the attorneys general in all 50 U.S. states are also probing potential wrongdoing.

One of the sources said the SEC is seeking information about the role banks had in mortgage securitization. The regulator is also looking at the role trustees for the trusts that issued the mortgage-backed securities had in monitoring the performance of the underlying loans.

The SEC is looking at whether loans were properly transferred to the trusts that issued the securities, the source said.

It's that last sentence that should be giving the banksters serious agita.  There's plenty of evidence that the banks have not done this, possibly for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of mortgages.  When they turned these mortgages into securities products, they were supposed to sign the notes over to these trust companies.  It's looking like the banks never actually did this.

They kept the note and turned around and foreclosed on the owners even though they don't technically own the property anymore.  The problem is because all these notes supposedly got bundled up into securities and sold to investors, nobody knows who actually owns the notes.  If the banks don't own them, they can't count them as assets on the books.

And from there, it goes straight into another financial crisis as the Mother Of All Bank Runs shapes up.

If the SEC is now looking into the issuing trusts, the banks are in deep, deep doodoo (and they know it).  How long do you suppose it will take for the new Congress in January to come up with legislation that absolves the banks of this, get it through the Senate, and onto the President's desk?

There's several trillion reasons why I think that will happen, and soon.  The jig is almost up.

Tax Break Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Part 3

If you're near Grant County, Kentucky and want a job, the Yabba Dabba D'oh is looking for you...

...if you're a Christian, that is.  Others need not apply.  PZ Myers:

There is some faint concern from the Kentucky governor that the Ark theme park will discriminate in hiring — I doubt that it will become a major sticking point. But still, it's true, they will be selective in their hiring based on religious belief. They say that isn't true, but one thing we know about creationists is that they lie.
"There will be positions that will require Bible knowledge because...we have certain things in there that are requiring biblical knowledge," he explains. "That doesn't mean, though, if you don't have that you can't work over in the restaurant or some other part of the facility."
Oh. Since atheists tend to know more about religion and the Bible than Christians, can we expect a larger proportion of them to show up in those jobs requiring biblical knowledge? No. Because they have a requirement that people sign a testimonial of their faith, which means they're actually going to discriminate on the basis of whether you agree with them or not.

Liars. Like I said.

OK, so you can apply to flip burgers, but you have to sign a document saying you're a believer.  And my tax money is going for this.

We deserve being a national joke, frankly.

AIDS Breakthrough Gives Hope

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – German researchers who used a bone marrow transplant to treat a cancer patient with the AIDS virus, have declared him cured of the virus -- a stunning claim in a field where the word "cure" is barely whispered.

A bone marrow transplant in a patient who had both AIDS and leukemia has resulted in a four year relief from the AIDS virus.  It does not appear to be hiding in his body, and there have been no signs of relapse.  However, doctors caution that this is not the mainstream cure that the population needs.  This marrow came from a donor who had a genetic disposition that gives resistance or immunity to the virus.  This is not the endgame, it is merely a first step in a new direction.

Marrow transplants are a last attempt at saving a patient, and the process itself is both destructive and potentially fatal.  But this does give researchers insight into AIDS resistance and immunity, and that is the first step towards a true cure for all, administered in a way that is safer and more effective that current drug therapy that only suppresses the symptoms.  It has been noted that certain populations are more immune to infection, but only now are we able to find a way to share that with the infected or the likely to be infected.  The chance is slim that this discovery will lead to a vaccine, but may pave the way to effective treatment.

Commerce Clause For Alarm, Part 3

Adam Serwer takes a crack at the Commerce Clause argument for the HCRA mandate.

The conservative argument against the individual mandate, a tax levied on people who avoid buying health insurance, is as powerful as it is simplistic: If the federal government can force you to buy health insurance, then it can make you do anything. It's a critique liberals need to answer more forcefully. The problem is that policy argument for the individual mandate -- that the only way a universal health insurance scheme works is with an federal mandate -- is closely related to the constitutional argument.

"The idea behind limited and enumerated powers is that the federal government can act when there's a genuinely federal problem," explains Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin. On the policy side, "what we're asking is whether [health care insurance] is a genuinely federal problem. And the constitutional question is whether it's a genuinely federal problem." 

Does health care of Americans fall into the "general welfare" of the people, in other words.  If it does, then health care is a federal issue, and so is mandating and regulating health insurance as a product.  So what about the argument that the "government can force you to buy anything now?"  Serwer addresses that as well.

That's not a trivial question. But recognizing that the Commerce Clause gives the federal government authority to regulate health insurance doesn't mean that Steve Jobs is the only thing standing between America and the great Microsoft Zune Mandate of 2015. Health insurance is a specific type of product. Without some kind of federal mechanism, you can't preserve the private insurance market and ensure affordable universal coverage. States that impose mandates will bear the costs of providing insurance for those that don't. This is why Hudson's argument that the Commerce Clause doesn't give the government the authority to regulate economic "inactivity" in this context rings hollow -- you can't actually choose not to participate in the health insurance market, because deciding not to buy health insurance drastically affects everyone else.

While the Framers may not have predicted the rise of a complex interstate health insurance market, that's no more an argument against the individual mandate than the failure to include thermal imaging devices in the 4th Amendment. "The Founders' logic was that the enumerated powers are to map on to areas where you need a federal solution," says Balkin. "You couldn't do this with cars, you couldn't do this with cell phones, you couldn't do this with Cuisinarts. [Health] insurance is special." Conservatives worried about a "food mandate" might remember that unlike health insurance, the price of food doesn't go up dramatically when someone waits until they're starving to eat

There are a number of factors that make mandating buying health insurance a unique situation that doesn't apply to computers or rutabagas or plastic flamingos.  Not buying health insurance affects the people who do.  The unique situation of health insurance itself makes the sufficiently narrow argument to pass the Commerce Clause.

Taking Stock

Bob Cesca puts into words how I feel this month.

You've probably noticed a lull in the volume of blog entries here. If so, you're not imagining things. I've been busy with work and travel, but also, I've been feeling especially disillusioned with progressives these days -- more so than usual -- as evidenced by the content of my Huffington Post column this week.

That said, I thought the blowback from the column would be significantly more vocal and angry. As it turns out, the level of support and kudos have far outweighed the negative mail. And of the dissenters, not one has been able to show me a quote from the president supporting this notion that the president thinks tax cuts create jobs. On the other side of the coin, it's clear that I'm not the only one who's disillusioned by all of the whining and non-reality-based petulance.

Like I said a couple weeks back, I've found myself looking for my firebagger card on more than a couple of occasions here in December.   Probably the usual holiday blahs I get, so it's good that news will most likely be light over the next 2-3 weeks.  I don't think I can take too much more in the Wacky Democratic Fun department.

I know the Dems can fight.  I've seen them do it.  The problem is I've seen them fold a lot more, and even I'm getting sick of trying to find the silver lining in this F4 tornado.

Rainbow Disconnection

America, your long national nightmare is over.  The wingers are coming to take the rainbow back from THE GAY.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute, which describes itself as "a project of the National Organization for Marriage." On its site, the group describes its mission statement as "to promote life-long married love to college students by creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage."
Becky Yeh of right-wing American Family News Network's OneNewsNow, a product of the American Family Association, writes that Morse says "the rainbow is a sign of God's covenant with man." Morse told ONN: "Proposition 8 was passed by a great grassroots coalition that included people from all across the religious traditions, and also people of every race and color. We are the real rainbow coalition. The gay lobby does not own the rainbow."
Morse continued: "We can't simply let that go by. Families put rainbows in their children's nurseries. Little Christian preschools will have rainbows...Noah's Ark and all the animals.... Those are great Christian symbols, great Jewish symbols." She also described how she wore a rainbow scarf to the Prop 8 hearings to show that anti-gay marriage activists still own the symbol. 

I understand that very soon these lovely people are going to try to take the phrase "human being" away from the LGBT community as well, citing the fact that most anti-gay crusaders can generally be described as such (most of the time, and in a strictly genetic sense) and that this really pisses them off having to share a genus and species with homosexuals.

This will be followed up by the Campaign To Stop Those Who Must Not Be Named From Breathing Our Air.

It's all about the right to obliterate people you don't agree with from existing because they offend you, you see.

The Kroog Versus The Amazing Disappearing Crisis

Paul Krugman details the Republican efforts to absolve Wall Street of any and all wrong doing in the financial crisis by literally eliminating the words "Wall Street" from their report on the meltdown.  The Republicans on the government's Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission have decided to issue their own report, because how dare anyone blame our kindly banking overlords for the trillions they cost us?

Last week, reports Shahien Nasiripour of The Huffington Post, all four Republicans on the commission voted to exclude the following terms from the report: “deregulation,” “shadow banking,” “interconnection,” and, yes, “Wall Street.”

When Democratic members refused to go along with this insistence that the story of Hamlet be told without the prince, the Republicans went ahead and issued their own report, which did, indeed, avoid using any of the banned terms.

That report is all of nine pages long, with few facts and hardly any numbers. Beyond that, it tells a story that has been widely and repeatedly debunked — without responding at all to the debunkers.

In the world according to the G.O.P. commissioners, it’s all the fault of government do-gooders, who used various levers — especially Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored loan-guarantee agencies — to promote loans to low-income borrowers. Wall Street — I mean, the private sector — erred only to the extent that it got suckered into going along with this government-created bubble.

It’s hard to overstate how wrongheaded all of this is. For one thing, as I’ve already noted, the housing bubble was international — and Fannie and Freddie weren’t guaranteeing mortgages in Latvia. Nor were they guaranteeing loans in commercial real estate, which also experienced a huge bubble.

Beyond that, the timing shows that private players weren’t suckered into a government-created bubble. It was the other way around. During the peak years of housing inflation, Fannie and Freddie were pushed to the sidelines; they only got into dubious lending late in the game, as they tried to regain market share
But the G.O.P. commissioners are just doing their job, which is to sustain the conservative narrative. And a narrative that absolves the banks of any wrongdoing, that places all the blame on meddling politicians, is especially important now that Republicans are about to take over the House. 

Barry Ritholtz has the report here.  It's good old Soviet-style "truth", and it begins with a two-word sentence:

"Bubbles happen."

You can pretty much skip the rest of it.

Won The Battle, Lost The War

I was convinced that Republicans would kill the tax cut deal because they would never give Obama a win.  My problem was I was thinking too small.  They gave Obama the win on that battle and then stabbed the Democrats in the back on the larger war:  the 2011 spending omnibus bill.

After a bumpy ride, and a brief, unexpected revolt by rank and file Democrats, the House passed President Obama's tax plan late Thursday night by a vote of 277 to 148. The vast majority of the 'no' votes were cast by Democrats.

Because the package that passed the House is identical to the version that passed the Senate earlier this week, the bill will head directly to the White House for Obama's signature.

House Democratic leaders had planned to tie a bow around the Obama tax cuts early this afternoon. But a bloc of angry progressives scuttled that plan. In a move that surprised aides and members, they temporarily derailed a key procedural measure required to pass the bill. The tactic was meant to register their disapproval with the legislation, and the terms of the debate, both of which were designed without their input.

Their mini-rebellion threw the process into turmoil for several hours, until Democratic leaders devised a way to restructure the debate in a way that assuaged progressives enough to allow the package to proceed.

In exchange for stepping aside, restless Dems were given a chance to vote separately on an amendment to increase the estate tax. That measure, which once passed the House, failed tonight 194-233. Supportive members -- hesitant to scuttle the tax deal, and eager to head home -- voted "no" against their true preferences. 

So while Obama and the Democrats get some of what they wanted, and the Republicans got some of what they wanted, the GOP then turned around and killed the omnibus spending bill, which will shut the government down this weekend unless they get everything else they want as well.   What they want of course is just enough spending to get through January or February, when they can come up with their own budget, defund Obamacare and anything else they don't agree with over the last two years, and then hold the country hostage with another shutdown until they get it.

And both the House and the Senate Dems proved they're more than ready to give the Republicans whatever they want.  The best part is Senate Dems actually think that after the Republicans lied to them about the omnibus spending bill, that they will vote for anything else.

Ludicrous.  Not going to happen.  No reason for the Republicans to do this.

In the last 3 weeks the Democrats won the tax cut battle only to lose on pretty much everything else.  Way to go, Team Donk.

MJW Stickings thinks at least we'll get DADT repeal out of this.  I disagree.  The Senate GOP will screw us again, and we'll be stupid enough to continue to treat them as good faith negotiators when we should be getting out the pitchforks and torches.

So it goes.  And nobody will call the GOP filthy liars.  It's terribly frustrating.  The GOP Plan to destroy the country is proceeding apace.


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