Thursday, February 9, 2012

Last Call

My Senator at CPAC today:

Sen. Rand Paul at CPAC on Thursday asked President Obama: "Do you hate poor people, or do you just hate poor people with jobs?"

Paul later in his speech admitted he doesn't actually think President Obama hates poor people.

Rand Paul however isn't sure if he hates poor people or not.

Rubio Shows The GOP Hand On The War On Women

MoJo's Nick Baumann puts the various GOP birth control freakout stories in perspective as he catches "moderate" Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida dropping this bombshell of a bill: the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

What does it do?  Why, it ends birth control insurance coverage for women, of course.

Rubio has sold his proposal—introduced Jan. 31 as the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," or S. 2043—as a way to counter President Barack Obama's controversial rule requiring even religiously affiliated schools and universities to offer copay-free birth control to their employees. But health care experts say that its implications could be far broader.
If passed, the bill would allow any institution or corporation to cut off birth control coverage simply by citing religious grounds. (You can read the bill here or in the DocumentCloud embed below.) It has 26 cosponsors in the Senate; a similar proposal sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has 148 cosponsors in the House. On Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed to repeal Obama's rule, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed to Rubio's bill as a potential model for doing so.

In English, this means that no entity has to cover birth control in a health plan if it can point to a religious reason for not doing so. And the entity itself is not required to have any religious affiliation. It could just be a plain old corporation. That means that if the middle-aged white guy who runs your company is religiously opposed to birth control, he can have it stripped out of your insurance plan—even if his Viagra is still covered. You could wake up the next morning and find you're paying full price for drugs that you once got for free or at much-reduced prices.

Endgame.  As I said earlier this morning, guess what the price of President Obama's payroll tax cut extension will be?

Within about a week, we've gone from a measure that Republicans supported in 2004 on birth control to now basically the end of birth control being covered by employee health plans.  And I expect this will only be the first of as many poison pill/hostage crises as the Republicans can jam into the Affordable Care Act as they can.

They were never going to repeal "Obamacare", they were going to make it so awful that the American people would demand the old broken system back.  Getting rid of employee birth control coverage is just the start.

Oh but here's the worst part.  Rubio is getting backup from Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin.

“Under our Constitution, religious organizations have the freedom to follow their beliefs, and government should honor that,” Senator Manchin said. “The Obama Administration's position on this mandate is wrong and just doesn't make any sense to me. I'm proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Rubio, which will ensure that the First Amendment rights of religious employers are afforded the respect they deserve.” 

The Village "firestorm" over the "birth control controversy" is having the desired effect.  The Dems that never had the President's back and never will?  Off to the races they go.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 86

Foreclosuregate rattles on, and it looks like the banks are going to lose their pound of flesh, in this case, $25-$26 billion over three years, in order to get off the hook for roughly 100 times that in real damage to the economy.

The final details of the pact were still being negotiated Wednesday night, including how many states would participate and when the formal announcement would be made in Washington. The two biggest holdouts, California and New York, now plan to sign on, according to the officials with knowledge of the matter who did not want to be identified because the negotiations were not completed. 

The deal grew out of an investigation into mortgage servicing by all 50 state attorneys general that was introduced in the fall of 2010 amid an uproar over revelations that banks evicted people with false or incomplete documentation. In the 14 months since then, the scope of the accord has broadened from an examination of foreclosure abuses to a broad effort to lift the housing market out of its biggest slump since the Great Depression. Four million Americans have been foreclosed upon since the beginning of 2007, and the huge overhang of abandoned homes has swamped many regions, like California, Florida and Arizona. 

In New York State, more than 46,000 borrowers will receive some form of benefit, with an estimated 21,000 expected to see what they owe reduced through a principal reduction, according to estimates by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

The five mortgage servicers in the settlement — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial — have largely set aside reserves for the expected cost of the accord and investors are likely to cheer its announcement because it removes one more legal worry for the industry, analysts said. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s a panacea for the housing industry but it is good for the banks to get this behind them,” said Jason Goldberg, an analyst with Barclays. 

Of course it is.  And yes, about a million underwater homeowners will get some relief.  But ten million will not, and the housing depression will remain for another 3-5 more years at the minimum.  There's still hope that the robosigning outfits like MERS are going to still face legal action, but for the most part, the banks are getting away with murder, the housing depression is going nowhere, and the bulk of homeowners won't see a dime from this settlement.

Is it better for the million or so homeowners who will see something get that money?  Absolutely.  But the cost is brutally high for that aid and the people responsible for this mess still won't face prison.

And yet...given the circumstances, it was the best we could hope for.  Yves Smith gives us a dozen reasons why the deal should depress you.  The biggest one?

We’ll now have to listen to banks and their sycophant defenders declaring victory despite being wrong on the law and the facts. They will proceed to marginalize and write off criticisms of the servicing practices that hurt homeowners and investors and are devastating communities. But the problems will fester and the housing market will continue to suffer. Investors in mortgage-backed securities, who know that services have been screwing them for years, will be hung out to dry and will likely never return to a private MBS market, since the problems won’t ever be fixed. This settlement has not only revealed the residential mortgage market to be too big to fail, but puts it on long term, perhaps permanent, government life support. 

There's a reason I think the housing depression will last into 2017 or longer. Foreclosures will continue to pile up, and home prices will continue to drop.  And all the while, the banksters are making out like bandits.  As Matt Taibbi says, Wall Street should stop whining.

The financial services industry went from having a 19 percent share of America’s corporate profits decades ago to having a 41 percent share in recent years. That doesn’t mean bankers ever represented anywhere near 41 percent of America’s labor value. It just means they’ve managed to make themselves horrifically overpaid relative to their counterparts in the rest of the economy.

A banker's job is to be a prudent and dependable steward of other peoples’ money – being worthy of our trust in that area is the entire justification for their traditionally high compensation.

Yet these people have failed so spectacularly at that job in the last fifteen years that they’re lucky that God himself didn’t come down to earth at bonus time this year, angrily boot their asses out of those new condos, and command those Zagat-reading girlfriends of theirs to start getting acquainted with the McDonalds value meal lineup. They should be glad they’re still getting anything at all, not whining to New York magazine.  

And our economy gets to foot the bill.  Nice.  Is this Obama's fault?  No.  Congress, Washington, lobbyists, Fannie, Freddie, the banks, MERS, all this was put into motion well before Barack Obama ever set foot in the Oval Office.  I'm not expecting this to be fixed in 3 years, hell it'll take 3 decades before home prices are back to 2006 levels...if then.  And it's not like bankrupting the banks and putting hundreds of thousands of bank employees who were not responsible for this disaster out of work is a viable solution either.

Is this the best we can hope for right now?  Unless the makeup of the House and Senate changes substantially in the "let's clone Elizabeth Warren a couple hundred times" direction, yes.  Political reality is political reality, just like the economic reality of the housing depression is reality.  Some homeowners are getting help, and the banks are paying for it.  McCain would have done nothing.  Certainly his DoJ would have done everything possible to insulate the banks from any settlement.  (PS, the one state not joining?  Oklahoma.  Their AG says the banks should not be held liable at all.  Period.)

But this is a win for the forces of greed and evil, because they set all this up as legal well before it happened.  It's depressing and I hate it.  But we know how to fix it.  We can start in November.

Making Medical Sense, Michigan Style

A new Michigan-based, national coalition of medical marijuana advocates is coming together to defend the rights of patients and dispensaries.

The National Patients Rights Association (NPRA) will lobby legislators, prosecutors and local governments to uphold medical marijuana laws in 16 states and Washington, D.C.

Michigan voters legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes in 2008 with the passage of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. There are now more than 100,000 registered patients in the state.

Although there have been legal challenges to the use of medicinal marijuana since California first legalized its use in 1996, opposition in Michigan has been especially strong under the state's current attorney general, Bill Schuette.

Again, we have legislature at odds with facts.  Right now, marijuana is classified as being incredibly harmful (not so) with no medical benefits (not so).  These things are known, and anyone who knows a pothead and a drunk can tell you there is no question which is more dangerous.

But we're not talking about recreational use, we're talking about relieving the pain and suffering of people who are facing life-threatening illness or death.  Just like those who can't separate "those sluts getting abortions" from women who face death from danger of pregnancy or the horror of rape, the ignorance of the voting majority may cripple common sense.

Medical rights trump personal beliefs.  Every time.

It's too bad the wrong people pay the price for their stupidity.

Fark & Obama Team Up To Bring You Today's Lunchtime Treat

I love Fark.  I love Obama.  And thanks to them, I laughed and clapped at a young boy's success.

Showing his dedication to science, innovation and plain old curiosity, Obama has a young boy demonstrate his air cannon, firing a marshmallow to see the results at 30 psi. The boy keeps a remarkably straight face but struts at the end, pleased with the results and the recognition.

Washington Leading The Way, Part 2

As expected, Washington State's House has just passed the state Senate's same-sex marriage bill, and the measure is expected to be signed into law soon by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a gay lawmaker from Seattle who has sponsored gay rights bills in the House for several years, said that while he and his partner are grateful for the rights that exist under the state's current domestic partnership law, "domestic partnership is a pale and inadequate substitute for marriage."

Pedersen cited Tuesday's ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals during his remarks on the House floor.

"The court addressed the question of why marriage matters directly," he said, and read a section from the ruling that stated "marriage is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults."

"I would like for our four children to grow up understanding that their daddy and their poppa have made that kind of a lifelong commitment to each other," he said. "Marriage is the word that we use in our society to convey that idea."

Several Republicans argued against the bill, saying that it goes against the tradition of marriage.

Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, said that the measure "severs the cultural, historical and legal underpinnings of the institution of marriage."

"This bill is really an exercise of raw political power," he said. "It contravenes human nature and it will hurt families and children."

Yes, New York is suffering terribly, isn't it?

You know, I really am sick of people acting like same-sex marriage is worse for the sanctity of the institution than divorce or domestic violence.  Your right to discriminate against people is not enshrined in the Constitution, people.  It's stupidity at its finest, and good for Washington State to do the right thing.

Orange Julius, Over His Head

House Speaker John Boehner is picking a fight he won't win, vowing to force the President to overturn his decision to require insurance companies to provide birth control to women, and going against the will of the American people.

“If the president does not reverse the Department’s attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must,” Boehner said. “This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand.”

The Speaker said the House would take matters into its own hands with committee hearings and legislative action to push back if the administration declines to act.

“In the days ahead, the House will approach this matter fairly and deliberately, through regular order and the appropriate legislative channels,” Boehner said. He called on the Energy & Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue, to take steps against the rule and “consider all possible options.”

Translation:  Gentlemen, we just found our new hostage for the payroll tax cut!  Only...the support might not be there for Johnny.

Pro-choice Republicans are begging their party to drop this fight over contraception before it’s too late. Turning to a discussion about access to birth control will be nothing short of a disaster, they say.

The new and unexpected war over contraception may not end up as only a battle between the White House and the Republican party. It could end up as a fight between the GOP and itself. As we saw during the 2011’s push to defund Planned Parenthood — when some Republican Senators rebuked their colleagues in the House for attacking the organization — Republicans on Capitol Hill do not speak with one voice on matters of women’s health. Now, as Speaker John Boehner seemingly prepares to turn the House GOP’s attention to contraception, pro-choice Republicans are warning that the GOP may become the next Komen For The Cure.

The Tea Party wing of the GOP is counting on it, I'd say.  "Sorry ladies, you can have birth control or your payroll tax cut.  And we're making that choice for you!"

By all means, GOP, continue to drive younger, secular women into the voting booth for President Obama.


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