Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Last Call

Republicans forget (or cannot care enough to grasp) that Americans are not the only people affected by childish GOP intransigence towards President Obama's New START treaty.  Daniel Larison:

One of the things that that has not received very much attention in connection with New START is the probable reaction to the treaty’s failure in Europe. European governments support U.S. and Russian arms reduction, and as the quote from August indicates it did not seem possible to them that the treaty might not succeed. The treaty was particularly important to non-nuclear European states that want to remove remaining U.S. nuclear weapons from their countries. As Bruno Lete’s report for the German Marshall Fund explained:
Any U.S.-Russian arms control agreement brings new opportunities to denuclearize the European continent. The strongest advocates of this idea are the European “non-nuclear weapon states” who are hosting U.S. warheads under a NATO flag. These countries—Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Turkey—together host an estimated total of 150 to 220 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. In 2006, the Belgian Senate passed a bill to remove U.S. weapons from Kleine Brogel Air Force Base. Last year, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle singled out the issue of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Germany during his first visits to NATO and the United States. Parliamentarians of all host countries have urged Obama to withdraw U.S. warheads from Europe, and foreign ministers have written to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asking for the issue to be placed higher on the alliance’s agenda. These European “abolitionists” fear that, without New START, Russia will be more reluctant to negotiate further arms limitations, giving fewer reasons for Washington to remove its weapons from Europe.
The news that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons will remain in Europe means that relations with these governments are about to become more difficult. The leaked document ahead of the Lisbon summit means that the Europeans that had hoped New START would lead to the withdrawal of these weapons would have been disappointed no matter what happened in the Senate here. 

But it's made all the worse by Republicans acting like fools.   Their nihilism has a price, ladies and gentlemen.

Played For A Fool

If Richard Wolffe's account of the health care battle is accurate, Obama really does need to fire his entire brain trust.  Sen. Chuck Grassley showed his hand early:

Just before [Grassley] returned to Iowa, he met with [Nancy] DeParle for another strategy session.
"If we do everything and resolve all the policy issues the way you want, with no public plan, do you think you'll be able to support the bill?"

Grassley looked away. "I don't know."

Grassley went to the Oval Office for a similar conversation with the president and his fellow Republican and Democratic negotiators. He asked Obama to say publicly that he would sign a bill without a public option of a government-run plan. Grassley believed this would be a reasonable, minimal demonstration of Obama's desire for a bipartisan deal. But the president declined to confront his own party base so explicitly. Obama asked Grassley the same question DeParle had posed: With every concession he wanted, could he support the bill?

"Probably not."

"Why not?" asked an exasperated Obama.

"Because I'd have to have a number of Republicans," said Grassley. "I'm not going to be the third of three Republicans. I've defined a bipartisan bill as broad-based support."

To recap, Chuck Grassley was never going to vote for health care reform, ever.  Obama spent months chasing Grassley's vote anyway.  The rest of the President's agenda fell by the wayside.  Obama let himself get played by the Republicans...and Obama's advisers let Obama get played too.  Literally, maybe a third of America is happy with the bill.  I'm not.  It could be better.  Knowing Obama wasted time pretending the GOP was ever going to accept the bill makes me all the more angry.

For God's sakes, man.  Wake up.  They want to expunge you from history.  There's no compromising with that.

Mister Eleven Of Thirteen

Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel has been found guilty of 11 of the 13 ethics violations he faced, along with an uncertain future.

An eight-member congressional panel found Rangel, 80, guilty of 11 counts, including failing to report rental income, improper use of a rent-stabilized apartment and soliciting charitable donations from people with business before Congress.

The House of Representatives ethics committee will now consider punishment, which will likely be a public denunciation by the full House, possibly this week.

Rangel, of New York, resigned in March as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee after being admonished for corporate-sponsored trips in violation of House gift rules.

Before giving up the gavel, he helped craft President Barack Obama's overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.

Despite his ethical problems, Rangel's constituents want to keep their popular congressman, a former U.S. prosecutor and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus first elected to the House in 1970.

He won a 21st two-year term with 80 percent of the vote in the November 2 election -- even as his fellow Democrats lost control of the House to Republicans.

Stranger things have happened.  It depends on what the ethics committee decides should be his punishment.  I think after 40 years however it's time for him to go...but I doubt he's going much of anywhere.

Black Ink, Red Ink, And Grey Ink

America's seniors voted overwhelmingly for "fiscal and social conservatism" from the Tea Party.  Well, it turns out the generation that stuck us with a bunch of Republican revanchists plans on leaving us a lot of other things too:  like their bills.

Retired Americans are racking up credit-card debt like never before, be it for vacations or medical expenses, and a surprising number have no intention of paying it off before they die.

Nearly 40 percent of retired Americans said they’ve accumulated credit-card debt in their twilight years — and aren’t worried about paying it off in their lifetime, according to a survey released by CESI Debt Solutions.

“At the end of the day, some people of a certain age say, ‘It’s too late in the game for me to do anything about it. I can’t win. So I’m just going to stop playing the game,’” said Neil Ellington, executive vice president at CESI.

This may come as a surprise to younger generations who thought their parents, the so-called Greatest Generation, were more responsible than youngsters raised in an era of easy money, a culture of credit. 

Why would this come as a surprise?  A bunch of people puttering around in their Medicare scooters screaming "Hands off my government checks!" and voting for Tea Party Republicans, and anyone's surprised that two in five of them plan to stick their kids with the bills?

That's the American Way, baby.

Hard Core GOP Economics

This month's core inflation numbers show -- surprise! -- continued deflation on big ticket items despite QE2.

The producer price index climbed 0.4 percent from the prior month, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Economists projected a 0.8 percent rise in October, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. The so-called core measure, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, decreased 0.6 percent, the most since July 2006.

Companies have little scope to raise prices to recoup higher commodity costs as the expansion has cooled from the first half of 2010 and unemployment is stuck near 10 percent. The figures underscore the Federal Reserve’s decision this month to purchase another $600 billion in assets to help spur growth and reduce the risk of deflation, or a prolonged drop in prices.

“Wage pressure is very little and this has only limited potential for boosting price levels,” said Robert Dye, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh, who correctly forecast the gain in the PPI. “If you look at specific sectors like commodities, we are seeing some inflation.”

Producer prices were projected to rise 0.8 percent, according to the median of 76 forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from gains of 0.4 percent to 1.4 percent, after a 0.4 percent rise in September.

Excluding volatile food and energy costs, economists in the survey had forecast a 0.1 percent gain for a third month. 

People aren't buying.  Demand will only be created by lowering unemployment and creating jobs.  And jobs will only be created if there's demand for products.  We're stuck in a spiral and the government's not going to be allowed to do much more of anything.

But think where prices would be without stimulus right now.  We'd be sliding down a deflationary slope if it wasn't for the additional money we've spent.  Meanwhile, companies continue to hoard cash.  Something's got to give, and soon.

So what does this mean politically?  There's no inflation.  There's plenty of speculation in commodities right now, just like 2 years ago (Remember $4 a gallon gas?) but that's being kept in check by the lousy economy.

Most importantly, it reveals what the GOP jobs plan is.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is so displeased, in fact, that he plans to introduce legislation today that would entirely remove the Fed’s mandate to ensure full employment:
Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, a top House Republican, said he plans to introduce legislation Tuesday to end the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate, which requires the central bank to balance both employment and inflation concerns in its monetary policy…“The Fed’s dual mandate policy has failed,” Pence said in a statement. “For a record 18th straight month the nation’s unemployment rate is at or above 9.4 percent. It’s time for the Fed to be solely focused on price stability and not the recently announced QE2 which will monetize our debt and trigger inflation.
Pence is joined in his push by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who released a statement today saying, “It is time that we work to clarify the mandate of the Federal Reserve. Providing our central bank with a clear and explicit focus on keeping inflation low will serve America better than the broader mandate approach we have today.”

The problem is inflation is so low that we're risking deflation, so the GOP argument is failing on its own numbers.  The argument is that inflation risk means we can't do anything for the unemployed...but there's no inflation.

Republicans just don't want to spend money on jobs.  That's their jobs program:  do nothing.  Refuse to do anything in Congress about unemployment, tie the Fed's hands so they can't do anything about unemployment, and then blame Democrats when unemployment fails to improve.

Keep that in mind.  No monetary policy, no fiscal policy, just tax cuts for the rich.  That'll solve everything.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

So, not a couple days after authoring a controversial op-ed piece with the crazy advice to Obama that he should just refuse to run for re-election and "transcend partisan politics" by giving the Republicans 100% of what they want, Doug Schoen's polling outfit just happens to have a poll showing that only 26% of people think Obama will win re-election, prompting yet another op-ed from his partner Mark Penn that implores Obama to give Republicans 100% of what they want.

Funny how that little self-fulfilling narrative is shaping up there with the op-ed coming first, then the poll backing up their conclusions.  How convenient for them.

Great Murrow's Ghost!

Keith Olbermann's special comment in response to Ted Koppel is actually one of his better rants.

And therein lies the final irony to what Mr. Koppel wrote yesterday. We got here organically in large part because of Mr. Koppel. His prominence, you will recall, came when ABC News and Sports president Roone Arledge who never permitted business or show-business to interfere in his judgments and journalistic pledge of allegiance - when Arledge made the subjective, and eminently correct, decision that the hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran merited half an hour or more each night of the network's time in 1979.

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This was not the no-brainer retrospect may suggest. CBS and NBC and PBS certainly did not do it. Even when CNN signed-on in the middle of the next year, it did not do it. Arledge made his decision just four days after the hostages were seized, and stuck with the story until it ended, defying the conventional television wisdom and constantly pressing the government and questioning the official line.

And even after those hostages were freed more than a year later, the half an hour of news, now called "Nightline," continued. And each night, for 26 years, Mr. Koppel and his producers and his employers subjectively selected which, out of a million stories, would get the attention of his slice of American television for as much as half an hour at a time. Which story would be elevated and amplified, and which piles upon piles of stories would be postponed, or tabled, or discarded, or ignored.

Just as the story of Mr. Murrow's career emphasizes McCarthy but not the fact that the aftermath of McCarthy buried Murrow's career, the stories of Mr. Koppel's career will emphasize the light he so admirably shone on the Irahn hostages. Those stories will probably not emphasize that in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005 Mr. Koppel did not shine that same light on the decreasingly coherent excuses presented by the government of this nation for the war in Iraq.

Fourteen consecutive months of nightly half-hours on the travesty and tragedy of 52 hostages in Iran, but the utter falsehood and dishonesty of the process by which this country was committed to the wrong war, by which this country was committed to dishonesty, by which this country was committed to torture — about that Mr. Koppel, and everybody else in the dead "objective" television news business he so laments, about that Mr. Koppel could not be bothered to speak out. Where were they?

Worshiping before the false god of utter objectivity. The bitter irony that must some day occur to Mr. Koppel and the others of his time was that their choice to not look too deeply into Iraq, before or after it began, was itself just as evaluative, just as analytically-based, just as subjective as anything I say or do here each night.
I may ultimately be judged to have been wrong in what I am doing. Mr. Koppel does not have to wait. The kind of television journalism he eulogizes, failed this country because when truth was needed, all we got were facts most of which were lies anyway. The journalism failed, and those who practiced it failed, and Mr. Koppel failed.

I don't know that I'm doing it exactly right here. I'm trying. I have to. Because whatever that television news was before we now have to fix it.

Not too many journalists would have called Koppel out like this, and Olbermann is right about it being self-serving.  But Olbermann is certainly one who qualifies as being able to do so, especially on Iraq.  Using "We were just reporting the facts" as cover for Iraq is not anything that can be allowed to be repeated.

Just a little reminder about the Village.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 40

Hey Congress?  Welcome to 40 posts ago in this series.  Glad you could join us.

The Congressional Oversight Panel reports that the effects of the current foreclosure documentation crisis may have been underestimated.

In a new study entitled “Examining the Consequences of Mortgage Irregularities for Financial Stability and Foreclosure Mitigation” the panel states that “companies servicing $6.4 trillion in American mortgages may in some cases have bypassed legally required steps to foreclose on a home. The implications of these irregularities remain unclear, but it is possible that `robo-signing’ may have concealed deeper problems in the mortgage market that could potentially threaten financial stability and undermine foreclosure prevention efforts.”

The panel believes that the trouble may be even worse than that. “The risk stems from the possibility that the rapid growth of mortgage securitization in recent years may have outpaced the ability of the legal and financial system to track mortgage loan ownership. In essence, banks may be unable to prove that they own the mortgage loans they claim to own.”
The Congressional Oversight Panel has been known to be harsh in its analysis, but that does not mean that its analysis is not accurate. The group says as many as 33 million mortgages could be affected, an avalanche almost beyond imagination.

Well gosh, no foolin' boys?  You reckon ya'll might want to do something about this problem I've been going on about for the last couple of months now?  A whole third of mortgages in this country have questionable paperwork and nobody's sure who owns the note on the house, gee that might cause some problems down the road.

However, the larger point is if Congress has finally gotten it through their thick skulls that something is badly wrong here and it's a time bomb waiting to wipe out the banks (and not to mention screw tens of millions of American homeowners), it means that what Congress is doing will get a lot of scrutiny, making it less likely they sneak a bill through.

Obama and company are going to have to tackle this one head on.  Trillions in mortgages are at stake here. And the solution needs to be rather elegant.

Good luck with that.

Microcosm Of Madness

Meet freshman GOP Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, who sums up the Tea Party movement better than I could ever do.

Maryland physician Andy Harris (R) just soundly defeated Frank Kratovil, one of the most endangered Democrats on Capitol Hill going into the November election. And he did it in large part by railing against 'Obamacare' and pledging to repeal Health Care Reform. But when he showed on Capitol Hill today for an orientation for incoming members of Congress and their staffs, he had a different question: Where's my government health care?

According to Glenn Thrush of Politico, Harris created a stir at the orientation meeting by demanding to know why he had to wait a month after he was sworn in in January for his government-subsidized health care to kick in. After responding in a huff, he even asked if there was some way he could buy into the government care in advance, seemingly thinking there might be a government program similar to the so-called 'public option' championed by progressive Democrats in 2009.

According to an unnamed congressional staffer quoted by Thrush, Harris stood up at the meeting "and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care." 

And I'm sure he has plenty of constituents who haven't had affordable health care in 28 months, or much longer.  The guy who ran against Obamacare has no problem with government health care if he gets it.  He's a Congressman, after all.  The rest of his constituents are just stupid schmucks, and health care is their own problem.

Andy Harris got his.  The rest of you?  Tighten your belts more.  We've got health care for Congress to pay for.  And that's your entire Tea Party mindset right there.  We hate government!  Now where's our entitlement money, Medicare, and monthly check?

No Longer Wearing The Pants In The Family

Seems my state's Senior National Embarrassment Of A Senator, Mitch McConnell, is finding out he's no longer in charge of Senate Republicans or even really in the leadership anymore.

Almost immediately after the midterms, a contingent of Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), set out to prohibit GOP members from using earmarks in the next Congress. Leading the other side was none other than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Publicly, McConnell was insisting (accurately, by the way) that eliminating earmarks would be a meaningless gesture that wouldn't actually save any money. He called the very debate "exasperating." Privately, McConnell was "maneuvering behind the scenes" to defeat DeMint's gambit.

This afternoon, McConnell, apparently unable to persuade the caucus he ostensibly leads, threw in the towel.

The earmarks thing is pointless theater.  But it's pointless theater that Mitch McConnell lost within two weeks of the elections.  And it's pretty clear that he's no longer calling the shots.  If the Senate Republicans can buck McConnell on this, he's got no control over anyone over there.

My question is of course how the Republicans are going to get around this.  They'll find a way, and pretending that earmarks are more than chump change in the grand scheme of things is funny.  Republicans will still find a way to earmarks done, they'll just call it something else.


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