Thursday, February 24, 2011

Last Call

Goldman Sachs says straight up that the GOP's planned budget cuts will wreck the economy and cut GDP growth in half.  Suddenly Republicans have a new enemy in their sights, and I'm laughing my ass off.

A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said the Goldman Sachs report represented "the same outdated Washington mind-set," comparing it to the thinking behind the 2009 Recovery Act that released federal funds to counter the effects of the recession.

But Democrats seized on the report as a validation of their arguments against the Republican cuts.

"Just as the economy is beginning to pick up a little steam, the Republican budget would snuff out any chance of recovery," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Congressional Democrats and Republicans are near deadlock on the spending issue, with their positions hardening this week.

Democrats have rejected the $61 billion in reductions, which would affect every state and virtually every domestic aspect of federal government operations, as too severe. Instead, they have proposed a temporary spending freeze as they negotiate deeper cuts.

Congress must pass a spending bill by March 4, when a stop-gap funding measure expires, to avoid a shutdown. But House Republican leaders are under pressure from their conservative base not to give in.

And it's Orange Julius's lack of leadership that Jonathan Bernstein says will assure a long-term government shutdown.

But, when it comes to the policy fights over health care reform, environmental regulations, Planned Parenthood, and other issues, there aren’t partial victories available. Democrats won’t give in, and House Republicans won’t either, at least not easily. To take just one example: If you’re a Republican congressman, once you’ve said that allowing funds to go to Planned Parenthood is basically just funding abortion (even if it’s not), how do you reconcile a “yes” vote on a compromise bill that allows funding for that organization? (Indeed, will strongly pro-life members of Congress even be willing to vote for a two-week extension if it fails to prohibit Planned Parenthood funding?)

Boehner had the chance to make this battle about just spending levels. In that case, a shutdown could still have happened. But, instead, the speaker allowed the fight to become about so many policy issues that it’s hard to keep track of them all. He can neither win nor abandon the amendments he let pass, meaning an ugly shutdown is all but certain.

Republicans are literally willing to wreck the country in order to "win".   And come a week from tomorrow, we'll all be losers.

Rhode Island's School Of Hard Knocks

Providence, RI officials don't know how many teachers they'll have to cut at the end of the school year, so just be safe they're notifying every single one of them that they could be fired.

Each one of the 1,926 teachers working for the Providence School Department was sent a dismissal notice this week, in a move officials say was necessary to deal with a projected deficit of almost $40 million next year.

According to The Providence Journal, "[s]chool and city leaders said they were forced to issue the mass dismissal notices because of a state law that says teachers must be notified about possible layoffs or terminations by March 1." In a statement, Mayor Angel Taveras said that because the deadline for informing teachers about employment changes came before the budget for next year could be determined, the move was necessary.

"Providence faces significant challenges in getting its financial house in order," Taveras said in the statement. "Spending reductions are inevitable. It is also inevitable that some portion of cuts will come from the school budget. This is why we faced the difficult decision of sending letters to all teachers: we do not yet know what actions will be required and believe it was only fair to let all teachers know about the severity of the situation."
Taveras told the Journal that there would be fewer schools open, and fewer teachers teaching, in Providence next year -- he just couldn't yet say how many.

"To be clear about what this means," Superintendent Tom Brady wrote in an email to teachers, "this action gives the School Board the right to dismiss teachers as necessary, but not all teachers will actually be dismissed at the end of the school year."

Not all of them, of course.  Just enough that it was safer to threaten all 1,926 of them with pink slips.

If even a hard blue union state like Rhode Island is saying "screw it" and serving up public employees on a platter to satisfy voters, then there's really not too much hope left in this country.

Didn't you know taxes are unconstitutional?

From Badgers To Buckeyes

Wisconsin's public employees continue to fight the good fight with Wisconsin Dems continuing their 24/7 filibuster of the bill to strip most public employees of most bargaining rights.  A bill in Indiana to do the same has been defeated, but Ohio now faces a similar measure.  When faced with protesters, Ohio Republicans locked the people out.

Yesterday I was in Columbus to join in the rally against SB 5, the Ohio GOP’s implementation of the assault on collective bargaining. Even before we got there it was clear Republicans were trying to discourage attendance: as the bus approached Columbus we were told the doors to the Senate building had been locked.
The trooper presence was overwhelming; far beyond what public safety required. There was a riot truck, canine, and a couple troopers were actually wearing full riot gear.
Since our trip was sponsored by the county Democratic party our trip coordinator was in contact with a few of the state senators. Getting inside from the front was not going to happen, so we were directed to the parking garage. Once we got there we were turned away by state troopers. Phone calls ensued; we were told to go to the rear of the building for admittance.
We slowly started up the stairs, and as the first of our group got to the top we were greeted by security. This was in an outdoor area; it was on the way from the parking garage to the outdoor entrance of the building. Yet we were stopped on a single flight of outdoor concrete steps and told we would have to turn back. When we got to the top of the stairs there was another delay as troopers told us no one was allowed to go in. More phone calls, this time around fifteen minutes.
Finally State Representative Teresa Fedor, the most fabulous person in the world, showed up, opened the doors, and told the troopers “This is the people’s house. Lobbyists use this door. Arrest me if you want.”

Republicans are doing everything they can to break Democratic party power for good.  They know they can do whatever they want to if there's no organized opposition against them.  It doesn't matter if they burn the country to the ground if there's only one party to run.

GOP Misogyny For You And Me

Our friend Georgia Republican state Rep. Bobby Franklin (who already thinks drivers licenses are too much of a government imposition) is back, this time with a bill so terribly written that under the legislation a woman who has a miscarriage could face the death penalty.

As Bon would say, I kid you not.  MoJo's Jen Phillips:

Under Rep. Franklin's bill, HB 1, women who miscarry could become felons if they cannot prove that there was "no human involvement whatsoever in the causation" of their miscarriage. There is no clarification of what "human involvement" means, and this is hugely problematic as medical doctors do not know exactly what causes miscarriages. Miscarriages are estimated to terminate up to a quarter of all pregnancies and the Mayo Clinic says that "the actual number is probably much higher because many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy that a woman doesn't even know she's pregnant. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing normally."

Holding women criminally liable for a totally natural, common biological process is cruel and non-sensical. Even more ridiculous, the bill holds women responsible for protecting their fetuses from "the moment of conception," despite the fact that pregnancy tests aren't accurate until at least 3 weeks after conception. Unless Franklin (who is not a health professional) invents a revolutionary intrauterine conception alarm system, it's unclear how exactly the state of Georgia would enforce that rule other than holding all possibly-pregnant women under lock and key.

It's crazy.  This bill shows complete disregard for logic, medicine, and more importantly a complete disregard for women as anything more than birthing tanks, a bill that simultaneously says "We must do everything we can to protect our precious fetuses" and then treats women as potentially faulty equipment that must be repurposed if they fail at their only duty of reproduction.

Pro-life (because all abortions are murder and murder is bad) and the death penalty (because a miscarriage is a sin and you must pay with your life) in the same bill, a healthy dose of tenth amendment nullification nonsense!

The bill contends that Georgia is exempt from upholding Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade because the Constitution's Article I only governs five crimes: counterfeiting, piracy, high seas felonies, offenses against the law of nations, and treason. According to the bill, since murder is not one of those five crimes, it should be solely governed by the state.

It's the perfect wingnut bill.   Perfectly insane, that is.

Local Celebrities Huffin' And Puffin'

Sometimes, it's fun to do this job.  While looking up another topic, I became familiar with Patrick Tribett.  This man is a regular with the cops, and his record for arrests for huffing fumes is a legacy that will forever remain on the WTOV Channel 9 website.

Parents (or if you know parents) who want to scare their kids should click that link.  Don't be that guy.  This public service message was brought to you by ZVTS.

Follow Up: About That Kidney...

In a Last Call a while back, I posted about two sisters who were released from jail for an $11 robbery on the condition that one sister donate a kidney to her sister.  It's a pretty cool story, click here to refresh your memory.

MSNBC has updated the story, explaining that the sisters have to lose a combined 160 pounds and one sister must quit smoking before they will be considered as candidates for the surgery.  The judge doesn't seem to be concerned.  Even though he gave a year's deadline for the transplant, he acknowledges this is a medical call and discussion of a return to jail is "purely hypothetical" for the sisters.  Meanwhile, the two women are by all accounts turning their life around and appreciating the second chance they've been given.  Illness has hindered one sister, but at least they are together, and with family.

All at once, now.  Awwwww.

Anarchy On Your TV Screen, Part 3

Yesterday's article by Townhall blowhard Terry Jeffrey called public employee unions and in particular teacher's unions "parasitic" and that Wisconsin citizens should demand the firing of all unionized teachers because of lousy test scores.

Well, if Jeffrey is right, then states without unionized teachers should have much better test scores.  Luckily, there are five states where teachers are denied collective bargaining rights:  NC, SC, VA, TX and GA.  So, if we take a standardized national test like, say, the SATs and ACTs and compare those scores, these non-union teacher states should come out on top.

Only...reality is a harsh mistress.

Those states and their ACT/SAT rankings are as follows:

South Carolina – 50th

North Carolina – 49th

Georgia – 48th

Texas – 47th

Virginia – 44th

Oh, well certainly Wisconsin is down there with its evil teacher's union, right?  I mean clearly Scott Walker is fighting to break unions in Wisconsin because of their terrible national scores.

If you are wondering, Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is ranked 2nd in the country.

Gosh, you mean the states without collective bargaining for teachers are the states with the worst ACT/SAT scores, including all 4 bottom states.  Yeah I know correlation does not equal causation, but damn that's a pretty crushing argument against removing collective bargaining for Wisconsin teachers, is it not?

Class dismissed.

If It's Thursday...

Jobless claims back under 400k again, that's some good news.

First-time applications for jobless aid dropped to 391,000 in the week ended Feb. 19, down from 413,000 a week earlier.

The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out volatility, dropped to 402,000, the lowest since mid-2008, before the financial crisis took a turn for the worse.

Claims have been bouncing around 400,000 for several weeks, having retreated sharply from peaks above 650,000 seen in early 2009.

The number of Americans remaining on the jobless rolls after the initial week of benefits declined by 145,000 to 3.79 million. The total number of overall benefit recipients, including those receiving assistance under an emergency federal program, edged down in the latest week but remained around 9.2 million.

However with oil prices up sharply, I don't expect the good news to last.   In worse news, capital goods took a nosedive too.  Deflation at the high end of prices, inflation at the low end, not a good sign at all.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 62

All of a sudden, the mortgage industry just got an exit pass from Foreclosuregate.

The Obama administration is trying to push through a settlement over mortgage-servicing breakdowns that could force America's largest banks to pay for reductions in loan principal worth billions of dollars.

Terms of the administration's proposal include a commitment from mortgage servicers to reduce the loan balances of troubled borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth, people familiar with the matter said. The cost of those writedowns won't be borne by investors who purchased mortgage-backed securities, these people said.

If a unified settlement can be reached, some state attorneys general and federal agencies are pushing for banks to pay more than $20 billion in civil fines or to fund a comparable amount of loan modifications for distressed borrowers, these people said.

Now keep in mind the $20 billion number is the industry-wide settlement figure.   In other words, this is the number the banks are supposed to take because the alternative is going to be much, much, much worse for them.  And hey, guess who would in charge of giving out the principal reductions?

The deal wouldn't create any new government programs to reduce principal. Instead, it would allow banks to devise their own modifications or use existing government programs, people familiar with the matter said. Banks would also have to reduce second-lien mortgages when first mortgages are modified.

Oh yeah, I see this working beautifully.  For the banks.

Under the administration's proposed settlement, banks would have to bear the cost of all writedowns rather than passing them on to other investors. The settlement proposal focuses on pushing servicers who mishandled foreclosure procedures to eat losses, by writing down loans that they service on behalf of clients. Those clients include mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as investors in loans that were securitized by Wall Street firms.

Bank executives say principal cuts don't necessarily improve payment patterns, and have told other parties involved in the talks that principal reductions could raise new complications. First, it will be difficult to determine who gets reductions and who doesn't. And even if banks agree to a $20 billion penalty, the number of mortgages that can be cured with that number is limited, one of these people said.

If a single settlement can't be reached, different federal agencies could seek smaller penalties through regular enforcement channels, and banks could face the prospect of separate civil actions from state attorneys general.

Any settlement could be one of the largest to hit the mortgage industry. In 2008, Bank of America agreed to a settlement valued at more than $8.6 billion related to alleged predatory lending practices by Countrywide Finance Corp., which it acquired that year. 

Yeah, you are beginning to see why the banks might actually jump at the $20 billion to forever be off the hook on these faulty mortgages.  This is the Obama administration bulldozing the mess under the carpet.   "Oh please don't make us pay $20 billion split among 14 servicers when each one of us would easily be facing that number or much more separately!"

Pretty smooth plan.  10 million homeowners get $2,000 off their mortgage, the banks get legal indemnity from the mess, and Obama looks like a hero.  Of course, when you're $50,000 underwater, two grand isn't a lifeline, it's only a slightly better toss of the life preserver that's now a 245 yard swim away rather than a 250 yard one.

I honestly hope the banks get all huffy on this and pass, because this is about the worst idea I've seen the Obama administration come up with so far.


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