Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Last Call

Dennis Kucinich feels like a man with a bullseye on his forehead.  As they say, it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

The state of Ohio will lose two congressional seats thanks to the latest U.S. Census figures, and liberal stalwart Dennis Kucinich is worried his seat is on the chopping block.

In an e-mail to supporters Wednesday, the seven-term Democratic congressman and two-time presidential candidate says the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature is likely to eliminate his heavily Democratic Cleveland-area district.

But Kucinich says he’s not just going to stand by while that happens.

“I will not wait until a new Ohio map is produced to begin this crucial discussion of the consequences of congressional redistricting,” writes Kucinich. “I will not wait until the Ohio Legislature produces a new map to start thinking of the options. The question will not be: Who is my opponent? The question will be: Where is my district? Seriously.”

If Ohio was going to lose only one district, I figured Kucinich would actually be okay.  (First target would actually be Tim Ryan in OH-17), but with two going, Kucinich's digs will be folded into Marcia Fudge's heavily urban Cleveland district, OH-11 and you have to figure Betty Sutton and Tim Ryan will see theirs folded together too.

No doubt in my mind that Ohio will get rid of two Democrats, and phasing out Kucinich would be a big symbolic head to collect.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 54

Today's Foreclosuregate story comes from Barry Ritholtz.

In one of the more bizarre foreclosure cases, Bank of America is threatening to throw a West Hartford family out of their home even though the couple never missed a mortgage payment.
The largest bank in the United States earlier this month notified Shock Baitch and his wife Lisa (Friedman) Baitch that foreclosure action will start today – Christmas eve – unless the couple agrees to put their home up for a forced sale.
Why? Because another unit of Bank of America erroneously reported to credit agencies that the family was seeking a loan modification, ruining their credit rating and as the result putting their mortgage into default.
All this is happening even though the bank – after admitting it erred and sent a letter of apology in September – handed this case to a special unit at Bank of America that is charged with dealing with severe customer issues. It promised to notify the credit reporting agencies that the couple were not deadbeats, but were good credit risks.

This is the nightmare scenario for both the banks and for mortgage holders.  Banks foreclosing on people on Christmas Eve because the bank can't get their own paperwork straight?  Exactly how many people will that motivate to try to buy or sell a home in 2011?  Would you, knowing that foreclosure paperwork is so badly fraudulent that a bank will foreclose on somebody who was never even late on a payment?

Barry breaks down the cause of the problem quite effectively:

The obvious answer is the illegal processing of foreclosures. When lawyers, bank executives and there outside contractors are paid to violate the law, the local State Attorney General needs to prosecute these felons. Where Lawyers perjure themselves, swearing they have verified, reviewed and confirmed foreclosure files they never so much have looked at, they need to be disbarred.

Its called the rule of law, and its long past time we actually enforced it.

The legal and economic chain reaction from Foreclosuregate is the number one reason why 2011 is going to be a nightmare year for a whole lot of Americans.  It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black.  No wonder today's third quarter 2010 foreclosure numbers are so dismal.

Newly initiated foreclosures increased to 382,000 in the third quarter, a 31.2 percent jump over the previous quarter and a 3.7 percent rise from a year ago, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision said in their quarterly mortgage report.

The number of foreclosures in process increased to 1.2 million, a 4.5 percent increase from the second quarter and a 10.1 percent increase from a year ago, according to the regulators. 

The housing depression continues unabated. Gary Shilling now says another 20% housing price drop is in the works by 2012.  If he's right, America is in serious trouble.  You think there'd be a sense of urgency in Washington but...naah.

The Bite Was Worse, Actually

In the New York Times, Michael Shear hails Obama for thanking the Eagles for giving Michael Vick a second chance.  Vick did his time, and this was a public demonstration of forgiveness to those who have paid their debt to society.  It is not clear whether Obama knew his words would be published (though I'm sure he realized the likelihood).  The article praises Obama for speaking up on social issues, even awkward ones that may not benefit him.  I agree that this is a good thing, and Obama did it in a way that did not trivialize the seriousness of Vick's crimes, but focused on the positive.

Let me be perfectly clear when I say I am an animal lover.  I've sacrificed to feed and heal animals who have been mistreated.  My husband lovingly refers to our property as "Bambi's hideout" because I feed squirrels and birds, and make sure the bunnies have food in the winter.  I felt sick to my stomach when I watched Vick's half-assed-at-best "apology" before he was sentenced to do time.  But when he came out, he was different. Not a changed man, no complete reform or grand awakening.  But he had finally realized the seriousness of his actions, and showed a little humility and compassion in following interviews.  It's hard to tell truth from publicity, but it even appears he has gone above what was required of him to speak out about animal cruelty and make amends.  The self-serving guy who wasn't sorry, just sorry he got caught seemed changed.

Should Vick have a second chance?  Yes.  When you pay your debt, you owe no more.  I'm of the opinion that he owed more, considering the crimes he committed, but I also keep in mind that his crime was in no way relevant to his job.  If he had owned a kennel, it would be different.  Vick is where he should be, and Obama did a good thing for the social stigma of having been in jail, something that touches an astonishing number of families.  PETA will be ticked, and I can't say that I blame them for that.  In the end, this whole situation has shed light on a troubling problem, and I think the publicity from Vick's fall from grace did a lot of good for the cause.  Now Vick gets a second chance.  I hope for his sake that he makes the most of it.

By The Time I Get Out Of Arizona

Looks like Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's immigration law has cost the state hundreds of millions in federal dollars as the state's 2010 Census numbers are far below predictions, meaning less federal money for the Grand Canyon State.

Michael McDonald of George Mason University explains.

The federal government uses these population counts to distribute federal dollars to the states. According to Andrew Reamer at the Brookings Institution, in 2008 the federal government distributed $866.5 billion in funds to the states based on the census population counts. Your state gets its share of the federal pie based on the number of people that are counted by the census. If there were $866.5 billion in funds to disperse in 2010, each person would be worth $2,807 in federal money to your state.

Note that I say "people" not "citizens." This is where Arizona may have lost as much as three-quarters of a billion dollars annually in federal funding. The Arizona state government could have easily put this money to good use, as according to the New York Times, the state faced a $2.6 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2011.

I come to this conclusion by comparing what the Census Bureau expected Arizona's population to be and what it really was -- or at least who was counted. Throughout the decade, the Census Bureau demographers estimate each state's population. The most recent estimates give a sense of what the Census Bureau thought the April 1, 2010, population of Arizona would be.

So, the Census Bureau demographers projected Arizona's population to be 6,668,079 but the actual number was 6,392,017 or 276,062 fewer people than what the Census Bureau expected to find. This was the largest shortfall of any state in absolute numbers. Since Arizona is a mid-sized state, as a percentage of the population this shortfall was nearly twice that of the next nearest state, Georgia.

So why was the Census Bureau wrong? Or were they wrong? It is not unreasonable to surmise one of two things were contributing factors: Either Arizona's undocumented population did not want to stick around in the state or they did not think it was wise to fill out a government form -- even if their confidentiality is strictly guarded by the U.S. Census Bureau. If the shortfall was due to the latter, then at $2,708 a person, Arizona lost out on $775 million in federal grants per year.

Arizona's Census estimates were short by more than twice any other state?  Seems to me the state just found out the price for driving people away with an odious, draconian law.  And considering Arizona's $2.6 billion budget hole, well this is bad, bad news.

So who's going to pay the price for Arizona's immigration law?  Arizona taxpayers just lost $120 in federal dollars per person.

How's that "tough law" working out for you guys now?

Dreams Of A Moose Cut Loose

From the Well Duh department:

Washington (CNN) – As the start of the next presidential campaign nears, a new national poll suggests that President Barack Obama's tax-cut compromise with congressional Republicans did not hurt his standing among Democrats, while former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin may be dropping in the eyes of Republicans.

To which I can only say hallelujah, there is a glimmer of hope for us, ladies and gentlemen.  Obama is miles from perfect, but he's accomplished a hell of a lot in his time in office.  Palin is a quacking, evil little troll whose popularity depends on spin doctors and controlled interviews.

And by God, some people can see the difference.

Five. Five Dollar. Five Dollar Gas Bomb.

Former Shell Oil exec John Hofmeister is warning of $5 a gallon gas before the next Presidential election.

"I'm predicting actually the worst outcome over the next two years which takes us to 2012 with higher gasoline prices," John Hofmeister said in a recent interview with Platts Energy Week television.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with Oil Price Information Service, agreed that Americans would see $5 a gallon gas but told CNN that he did not believe it would happen in 2012. "That wolf is out there and it's going to be at the door...I agree with him that we'll see those numbers at some point this decade but not yet."

"The demand is still sluggish enough in some of the mature economies," he said.

Hofmeister also predicted that demand would outstrip supply before the end of the decade.

"When supplies run low and the demand is still high, many areas will start to run out, with gas stations having no supplies," World News Insight observed. "Ultimately rationing could then come into force. We could be looking at a return to the 1970's."

Scary stuff, but personally all I think $5 gas would do is lead directly to another economic crash.  It's no coincidence that $4.25 gas in July 2008 preceded the September 2008 meltdown by a matter of just months.  High gas prices took out billions from disposable income, which had a major ripple effect.  We're starting to see that same bubble build up again.  Granted, to get to $5 gas around here in the Cincy area, we'd have to see oil hit $175 a barrel or so.  Still, gas and oil prices have only gone up this winter, topping $90 a barrel on the way to $100.

We'll see where this goes.

The Future Of Israel

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg explores the endgame of the current political position of Israel towards Palestine, where a two-state solution is unacceptable.  What happens to the Palestinians absorbed by Israel's expansion into the West Bank and other areas?

Is it actually possible that one day Israelis -- Jewish Israelis -- would choose to give up democracy in order to maintain Israel's Jewish voting majority? Some people, of course, argue that Israel has ceased to be a democracy, because there is nothing temporary about the 43-year-old occupation of the West Bank. I believe it is premature to talk about the end of Israel as a democratic state -- mainly because the disposition of the West Bank is still undecided --  but I can't say that the thought hasn't crossed my mind that one day Israelis will make the conscious, active decision to preserve the state's Jewish character instead of its democratic character (I use the word "Jewish" in the demographic sense, not the moral sense, obviously).

As I wrote last week, there's very little Israel's right-wing government has done in the past year or so to suggest that it is willing to wean itself from its addiction to West Bank settlements, and the expansion of settlements bodes ill for the creation of a Palestinian state -- and the absence of Palestinian statehood means that Israel will one day soon confront this crucial question concerning its democratic nature: Will it grant West Bank Arabs the right to vote, or will it deny them the vote? If it grants them the vote, this will be the end of Israel as a Jewish state; if it denies them the vote in perpetuity, it will cease to be a democratic state.

The fact that anyone in the Village is even asking this question is something of a revelation.   It's such a basic, simple question that nobody bothers to ask it.  What democratic rights do Palestinians have in Israel?  If Israel refuses to even consider a two-state solution, then what of those rights?  Goldberg goes on to say that he believes that Israel will continue down this path, and may even declare that Palestinians are citizens of Jordan, and can vote there.

But for the life of me, I can't remember when any columnist in an American magazine actively questioned Israel's democratic future.  Commentary's Alana Goodman dismisses Goldberg's concerns about Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, rumored to be Israel's next hard-line PM.

Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

Which would be true, but again, that would involve the creation of a Palestinian state.  So far, that hasn't happened.  And I don't see it happening anytime soon, either.


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