Friday, June 10, 2011

Last Call

Regular readers know I've been talking about the "GOP Plan" for years now:  when Republicans are out of power, make the country ungovernable and do everything possible to destroy the place until the voters put them back into power.  The Republican Party has been going full-bore on this track since Obama's election, and the recent debt ceiling hostage taking is just the latest example of this ploy.

AlterNet's Robert Parry honestly believes the GOP is trying to destabilize America in order to get back into power, and frankly he has a convincing argument.

So, Obama and the Democrats face another conundrum. If they slash spending too much, they will further stall the recovery. However, if they refuse to submit to this latest round of Republican blackmail, they risk a debt crisis that could have devastating consequences for the U.S. economy for years – even decades – to come.

Either way, the right-wing media and much of the mainstream press will put the blame on Obama and the Democrats. They will be held accountable for failing to govern.

The Republican propaganda machine will tell the American people that they must throw Obama and the Democrats out of office for stability to return. There will be assurances about how the “magic of the market” will bring back the bright days of prosperity.

Of course, the reality of a new Republican administration, especially with a GOP Congress, would be the return of the old right-wing nostrums: more tax cuts for the rich, less regulation of corporations, more military spending, and more privatization of social programs.

Any budget balancing will come at the expense of labor rights for union employees and shifting the costs for health care onto the backs of the elderly. Yet, all this will be surrounded by intense propaganda explaining the public pain as a hangover from misguided government “social engineering.”

There is, of course, the possibility that the American people will see through today’s Republican CIA-style strategy of “making the economy scream.” Americans might come to recognize the role of the pseudo-populist propagandists on Fox News and talk radio.

Or Republicans might have second thoughts about playing chicken on the debt limit and running the risk of a global depression. Such a gamble could redound against them. And, it’s hard to believe that even their most ardent billionaire-backers would find destruction of their stock portfolios that appealing.

But there can be a momentum to madness. We have seen throughout history that events can get out of hand, that thoroughly propagandized true believers can truly believe. Sometimes, they don’t understand they are simply being manipulated for a lesser goal. Once the chaos starts, it is hard to restore order.

And if that doesn't explain beautifully the modern Republican party, I don't know what does.  If they can't have power, then destroy the country's economy, destroy its social safety net, destroy its civility, destroy its traditions, and win at all costs.

None dare call it treason, of course.

Get On The Party Bus

Gallup's monthly poll of political party affiliations shows Democrats have increased their lead to six points over Republicans in May.

Recent Trend in Party Affiliation, 2010-2011

Gallup figures everyone likes to be on the winning side, so the better President Obama's poll numbers, the larger the gap Democrats will have in the party affiliation spread, from a general point of view.  Makes sense to me.  Still, the rend clearly shows Democrats are doing better than they were ten months ago, and have steadily been increasing the gap, especially since February.

It's a good long-term trend for the donks...if it lasts.  That will depend heavily on the economy.

Overwhelmed By Beshear Numbers

Kentucky is one of the few states electing a Governor this year, and Democrat Steve Beshear (who in any other state would be a Republican) is up for re-election.  The rule of thumb here in the Bluegrass State is local Democrats, national Republicans, and Beshear is no different.  The first real poll since the primaries sealed the fact Beshear's GOP opponent is former basketball star David Williams is out, and it's terrible news for the Republican.


After airing ads for the last three weeks, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear posted a 21-point lead over the Republican challenger David Williams, according to the latest cn|2 Poll.

Beshear and his running mate, Jerry Abramson, received 51% of support compared to just under 30% for Williams and his running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer. The independent ticket of Gatewood Galbraith and Dea Riley polled at below 6%, and nearly 14% said they were undecided.

With a lot of time and ad money to be spent before November, Galbraith and Williams have room to grow their support.

Nearly 30% of respondents didn’t have an opinion of Williams, indicating that he still can define himself for a large chunk of voters. But the numbers also show that at least for this snapshot in time, Beshear has accrued goodwill among likely voters.

“There’s been a debate about whether the TV is effective. I don’t think it’s winning any votes to speak of, but it’s helping him with the perception battle,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and former political writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal

Beshear having 51% at this point means independent Foghorn Leghorn Gatewood Galbraith is only making Williams' margin of loss larger.  Most interesting cross-tab?  Some 20% of self-identified Tea Party voters are still backing Beshear, even with two more conservative candidates in the race, which tells you pretty much all you need to know about Kentucky Democrats.  Beshear's favorability ratings are 68% compared to Williams's 40%, so unless something major happens here in the next couple months, Beshear's going to walk away with this.

Joe Sonka has more at B&P.

Getting The Coaled Shoulder

A new study is warning that new Obama EPA regulations will cost power producers $180 billion dollars, cause electricity rates to jump 25%, and will cost America four jobs for every green job created.  The right is vowing the EPA will be dismantled.

Two new EPA pollution regulations will slam the coal industry so hard that hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost, and electric rates will skyrocket 11 percent to over 23 percent, according to a new study based on government data.

Overall, the rules aimed at making the air cleaner could cost the coal-fired power plant industry $180 billion, warns a trade group.

“Many of these severe impacts would hit families living in states already facing serious economic challenges,” said Steve Miller, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “Because of these impacts, EPA should make major changes to the proposed regulations before they are finalized,” he said.

But wait, where did this study come from?  Why, it was bought and paid for by -- wait for it -- the same "clean coal" trade group!

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a trade group including coal companies and coal-heavy utilities such as Southern Co. and American Electric Power Co. Inc., paid for the study by New York-based National Economic Research Associates Inc.

NERA analysts concluded that those new costs would lead to a 13 percent drop in coal-fired generation and a 26 percent increase for natural gas. Electricity prices would rise by an average of 11.5 percent across the country, with double-digit hikes for ratepayers in 21 states.

On balance, those increases would cause the economy to shed about 144,000 jobs for the next decade, the study says, despite claims from supporters that the rules will create construction work. EPA estimated that the rules would have little effect on jobs, and might increase total employment in the long run.

The new study was welcomed by lobbyists for coal-heavy utilities, who are hoping to derail the rules on Capitol Hill by arguing that they will hinder an economic recovery. They are looking to lawmakers such as Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Clean Air Act, who is crafting a bill to that effect. 

Next you'll be telling me studies bought and paid for by cigarette makers showed smoking is safe, too.  So when you inevitably hear the right wing noise machine and Republicans say "this new study shows it'll cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and jack up your power bill!" what they will never mention is that the coal trade group bought themselves a study that said exactly what they want you to hear.

By the way, the EPA says differently:

The EPA, however, tells Whispers that the hit the industry will suffer is worth the health benefits. “EPA has taken a number of sensible steps to protect public health, while also working with industry and other stakeholders to ensure that these important Clean Air Act standards—such as the first ever national Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal-fired power plants—are reasonable, common-sense, and achievable,” said spokesman Brendan Gilfillan.

What’s more, officials said that just one of the rules to cut sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions will would yield up to $290 billion in annual health and welfare benefits in 2014. They say that amounts to preventing up to 36,000 premature deaths, 26,000 hospital and emergency room visits, and 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma. “This far outweighs the estimated annual costs,” says an official on background. 

Seems like a massive net boost to the economy in lower health care costs and will help save tens of thousands of lives per year thanks to cleaner air and water. 

The real issue is that the coal industry doesn't want to clean up their act.  They profit mightily by cutting corners.  Here in Kentucky our politicians are bought and paid for by the coal industry anyway, so we're used to it.  But good for the EPA to stick to their guns.

One Up On Arizona

The state with the toughest immigration laws?  No longer Arizona but Alabama as Republican Gov. Robert Bentley signs into law a measure that forces not only cops to check resident status on everyone they deal with, but schools and landlords as well.  The goal:  to force the Supreme Court to reconsider precedent striking down exactly what Alabama has signed into law.

The courts will likely find even more issues with the law Alabama just passed. Under this law, Alabama schools will now have to collect student citizenship information. The lawyers behind this type of legislation have already made clear that their goal is to “take onPlyler v. Doe, a Supreme Court decision which struck down a state statute denying education funding to undocumented children.

In the majority opinion, Justice William Brennan wrote that the “denial of education to some isolated group of children poses an affront to one of the goals of the Equal Protection Clause: the abolition of governmental barriers presenting unreasonable obstacles to advancement on the basis of individual merit.” The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has already made clear that “student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage” school enrollment based on immigration status is a violation of federal law.

Many Alabama school officials are worried that the new law will do just that. “Once you start asking that question, you get to the point where you’re tacitly trying to deny access to school,” explained an attendance coordinator for Elmore County Public Schools. Even in Arizona, an attempt to institute this policy failed miserably.

Yep, they're going after kids.  After all, education is key, and Alabama is drafting teachers, principals and school administrators into being their ICE cops.  And if scaring away Latinos from schools doesn't work, well just go after where they live.

In addition, Alabama has made it illegal for landlords to “knowingly” rent housing to undocumented immigrants. The Third US Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a similar law from going into effect in Hazleton, Pennsylvania on the basis of federal preemption. The Supreme Court recently vacated the decision, but that likely has more to do with the Hazleton law’s E-Verify provisions which mirror the Arizona law that the Court recently reviewed.

So in Alabama not only are local and state law enforcement officials now federal ICE cops, but school officials and landlords too...and the state knowingly crafted a law that the courts have struck down time and time again as unconstitutional.

But remember, Republicans are against intrusive government that unfairly monitors the people, are against wasteful government spending and bureaucracy and government power, and are firmly against judicial activist courts legislating from the bench and making decisions on laws.

You know, unless all that interferes with harassing people they don't like and want to see rounded up.

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 17

And today the Republican refusal to raise the debt ceiling just got real.  First, Chinese bond rating agency Dagong dropped this bombshell:

A CHINESE ratings house has accused the United States of defaulting on its massive debt, state media said on Friday, a day after Beijing urged Washington to put its fiscal house in order.

'In our opinion, the United States has already been defaulting,' Guan Jianzhong, president of Dagong Global Credit Rating Co Ltd, the only Chinese agency that gives sovereign ratings, was quoted by the Global Times saying.

Washington had already defaulted on its loans by allowing the dollar to weaken against other currencies - eroding the wealth of creditors including China, Mr Guan said.

Second, German ratings firm Feri became the first agency to officially drop the US from AAA to AA status.

The Bad Homburg Feri EuroRating & Research AG downgraded the first credit rating agency's credit rating for the United States from AAA to AA. Feri analysts justify the downgrade by the continuing deterioration of the creditworthiness of the country due to high public debt, inadequate fiscal measures, and weaker growth prospects.

"The U.S. government has fought the effects of the financial market crisis primarily by an increase in government debt. We do not see that there is sufficient attention being paid to other measures, "said Dr. Tobias Schmidt, CEO of Feri Rating & Research AG. "Our rating system shows a deterioration in economic health, so the downgrading of the credit ratings of U.S. is warranted."

For the third consecutive year the deficit of the United States is in double digit percentages relative to gross domestic product (GDP). "Deficits of such magnitude are not a sustainable fiscal policy. We would reconsider the rating when the U.S. government creates a long-term sustainable budget," said Schmidt. 

Things just got ugly, folks.  If foreign credit agencies are staring to seriously dump on US treasuries and the Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling, people are already starting to bet on Washington going over the cliff and taking us with it.

Paging the financial Powers That Be:  the Republicans are starting to cost you money.  Might want to do something about them, thanks.

Lavern: 1 Tornado: 0

Sometimes you just take the good when you can.  Grab a tissue and enjoy the story of a woman who thought she lost everything in the tornado, including her  beloved cat.

"We decided we were going back one more time," Cruse said.
She said she was standing at the site talking with her sister, Suzi Hoskins, when they heard meowing. Then more meowing.
"I thought it was the neighbor's cat," Cruse said. She hadn't seen her family's cat, Lavern, since the tornado. She said that after several attempts to find the 13-year-old cat, she didn't think there was much chance Lavern would be found.
She said she and her sister followed the meowing and started digging through the rubble. The meowing stopped.
"I said a little prayer that she would meow one more time," Cruse said. Then she heard another meow. She and her sister began digging just a little way from their original spot. After more rubble and plaster were removed, Lavern's head emerged. They dug a little more to free her.

Lavern is expected to make a full recovery.   

[UPDATE from Zandar:] We could sure use some more good news like this from Joplin, especially in the wake of bad news like this.

All Dogs Go To Heaven

Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean, has Trouble again.  She left her entire fortune to her dog, and though that didn't quite go as planned, she made sure the dog lived in splendor.  However, after a long illness, the inevitable came.

It's delightfully kooky, and considering the way people treated the old broad, she went out in style.  So will Trouble, RIP.

Epic Beer Me, Mate Win

Well, maybe not this early, but you can always enjoy a beer commercial full of awesome and win, from that "other" Australian brewery.

Santorum Sanctum

Rick "The Froth" Santorum went on El Rushbo's radio show on Wednesday and called global climate change a "patently absurd" hoax and conspiracy perpetrated by eeeeeeeevil liberals.

Santorum was on Rush Limbaugh's radio show Wednesday, where he was asked whether he agrees with Mitt Romney's comments from last Friday, embracing the universally accepted science of man-made climate change.

Santorum replied:
I believe the earth gets warmer and I also believe the earth gets cooler, and I think history points out that it does that and that the idea that man, through the production of CO2 -- which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the manmade part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas -- is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd.
Santorum continued that the idea of man-made climate change may be part of a liberal conspiracy: "To me this is an opportunity for the left to create -- it's really a beautifully concocted scheme because they know that the earth is gonna cool and warm. It's been on a warming trend so they said, 'Oh, let's take advantage of that and say that we need the government to come in and regulate your life some more because it's getting warmer.'"

"It's just an excuse for more government control of your life," he added, "and I've never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative."

The Froth here is a serious candidate for President who thinks climate change is an excuse for more government control of your life, but he has no problem with much more government control regulating women's vaginas, much more government control over who is allowed to get married, and government control over who can and cannot worship in America.

But climate change is just a hoax for more government control over how we live.  Sure.

Stupid reality and its liberal bias!  New tag:  Rick The Froth Santorum.

Home, Home I'm Deranged, Part 23

Economist Robert Shiller, of the Case-Shiller housing index, is warning that we have a long way to go until bottom in the housing depression.

"My gut feeling is we might see a continuation of the decline (in home prices)," Shiller said.

He added that a 10 to 25 percent slump in real home prices "wouldn't surprise me at all," though he cautioned that was not a forecast.

Speaking at the Standard & Poor's housing summit, Shiller said recent data showing U.S. home prices fell into a double dip in March could prove to be either a seasonal effect over the winter months or part of a downward trend.

Another uptick in the unemployment rate might also start to point to a double-dip recession, he said.

Real median housing prices are already coming apart.

Housing prices have dropped to 1990 levels now in real terms.  A 10% drop in median housing prices would put them at 1978 levels or so.  A 25% drop from this point?  You'd have to go back to the 1960's.  We're talking housing prices cut by more than half from their peak in 2005, and everyone who bought a house in the last 35 years losing money on it.

The real estate bubble has detonated, and we're now right back to where we were before the bubble started.  We now have the crash part to retrace, and that's going to put millions more Americans underwater on their mortgages, causing millions more foreclosures to flood the market, causing housing prices to drop even more...

Eventually housing prices will bottom out.  But it will be years before that happens.


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