Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I can hardly believe we’re headed into the last quarter of 2011.  Such  a year we’ve had!

So, the GOP is going after some of the things for which I will happily contribute tax dollars.  They’ve got some pretty whacked values as far as I’m concerned.

Setting a collision course with Democrats that could drag out for months, House Republicans on Thursday unveiled plans to cut federal money for job training, heating subsidies and grants to better-performing schools.

The draft measure for labor, health and education programs also seeks to block implementation of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, cut off federal funds for National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood, and reduce eligibility for grants for low-income college students.

Democrats and tea party Republicans opposed the bill, blocking it from advancing through even the easy initial steps of the appropriations process on Capitol Hill. Instead of moving through the Appropriations Committee and the House as a whole, the $153 billion measure is instead expected to be wrapped into a larger omnibus spending bill this fall or winter that would fund the day-to-day operating budgets of Cabinet agencies.

Negotiations between Republicans controlling the House, the Democratic Senate and the White House are sure to be arduous. The measure is laced with conservative policy “riders” opposed by Democrats that would affect worker protections under federal labor laws and block the Education Department from enforcing rules on for-profit colleges that are often criticized for pushing students to take on too much debt.

“It looks like we’re in for a long, difficult process,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said excessive and wasteful spending over the years had put many programs and agencies on “an irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal path.”

Actually all of those Dubya Tax cuts and wars and letting Wall Street Run amok with speculation instead of investment is what put us on that “irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal path” and most of them voted for all of it.  I’m not willing to bail out any more of their donor base with my hard earned dollars by defunding the future of our children.  What on earth can we do about these evil people and the feckless dems that won’t fight them?

The court fights over the new health care law have been stepped up and SCOTUS has come into play in a big way.  Which of the justices are likely to uphold AEIcare-cum-ChafeeCare-cum-DoleCare-cum-RomneyCare-cum-Obamacare?

The four more liberal justices on the court — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Obama appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — should have no trouble reading the Constitution as bestowing broad powers on the federal government to regulate all manner of commerce. Although the court in recent years has pinched back congressional efforts to use the Commerce Clause to promulgate laws prohibiting guns near schools and those targeting violence against women, these were clearly non-commercial activities and quite different from the health-care law and its regulation of the medical insurance marketplace. Stronger and more directly applicable precedents remain, in which the court blessed the government’s regulation of wheat and marijuana production because these activities had an impact on interstate commerce.

The marijuana case (known formally as Gonzales v. Raich) may be particularly important because two of the more conservative justices — Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy — joined with their more liberal colleagues to uphold the law under the government’s Commerce Clause powers.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito — both George W. Bush appointees — shouldn’t be counted out either. Roberts and Alito joined an opinion in 2010 that recognized the government’s “broad authority” to enact a civil detention scheme for sexual predators under a different constitutional provision. This provision allows federal lawmakers “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper” to uphold the powers assigned to Congress — including the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Michelle Bachmann’s campaign is running out of cash.  Even the NY Post thinks she may not make it to the Iowa Caucuses.

Will Michele Bachmann make it to Iowa? Insiders are whispering that the Tea Party darling’s financials are grim and she may be out of the race before she makes it to the Iowa caucus in February, even though she has a strong base in the state. Sources tell us say Bachmann’s skeletal staff are holding their collective breath until the deadline to disclose her fundraising report on Oct. 15. Meanwhile, we hear a computer vendor has called her campaign headquarters threatening to shut down the power due to an outstanding bill. Sources say she had about $400,000 at the beginning of September, but also stacks of bills. “She does not like to ask for money. She should have been focusing on big donors about three months ago,” a source said. “She’s only cultivated low dollar donors with direct mailings and that’s hurt her.” But at a rally in Virginia yesterday, Bachmann declared that she does not intend to back out of the race. “We intend to be the comeback kid in this race,” she said. Her rep said, “None of that is true.”

There’s a two part series at Bloomberg written by Collin Woodard on how the U.S. is really a country of regions.  Part One is here.   Part Two is here.  It’s a really interest read and something I have thought about for some time as I’ve tried to find some place in this country where I can live in peace.  For one, I’m trying to leave any region that’s described as bible buckle, bible belt, or bible anything!

Forget the state boundaries. Arbitrarily chosen, they often slash through cohesive cultures, creating massive cultural fissures in states like Maryland, Oregon and New York. Equally burdensome are the regional designations with which we try to analyze national politics — the Northeast, West, Midwest and South. They’re illusions masking the real forces driving the affairs of our sprawling continent: the 11 regional cultures of North America.

These 11 nations — Yankeedom, Tidewater, New Netherland, New France, Deep South, Greater Appalachia, the Midlands, First Nation, the Far West, the Left Coast, El Norte — have been hiding in plain sight throughout our history. You see them outlined on linguists’ dialect maps, cultural anthropologists’ maps of material culture regions, cultural geographers’ maps of religious regions, campaign strategists’ maps of political geography and historians’ maps of the patterns of settlement across the continent. I’m not the first person to have recognized the importance of these regional cultures. In 1969, Kevin Phillips, then a Republican campaign strategist, identified the distinct boundaries and values of several of these nations and used them to accurately prophesize the Reagan Revolution in his “Emerging Republican Majority,” a political cult classic.

More and more groups are joining the move to take on and occupy Wall Street. The New York Transportation Workers are the latest to announce they will join the protest today.

Occupy Wall Street has been picking up some decent support from unions in the past few days. Yesterday we reported that the Teamsters Union declared their support for protestors, and we also found out that the United Pilots Union had members at the protest demonstrating in uniform.

Today we learned the Industrial Workers of the World put a message of support on their website as well.

UPDATE: Verizon union workers have joined the protestors in NYC.

McClatchy reports that mortgage modification are still a mess even after four years. Quelle surprise!

Today there are at least 4.2 million homeowners who, like Palomo, are late on their mortgage payments or somewhere in the delinquency and foreclosure process. The first wave of foreclosures came during the 2008 financial crisis as subprime mortgages given to weak borrowers imploded. Now the subsequent economic downturn and high unemployment keep housing depressed.

The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both offered incentives for lenders to help homeowners modify their mortgages. Those efforts haven’t achieved much.

And four years into the housing crisis, banks and their bill collectors, known as mortgage servicers, are still under fire for their response to troubled borrowers.

“I would say they are somewhat better than they were three years ago, but still woefully inadequate to meet the demand, given the still remarkably high levels of distressed borrowers they are attempting to deal with,” said Paul Leonard, director of the California office of the Center for Responsible Lending, a Durham, N.C.-based advocacy group.

From December 2009 through June, more than 1.6 million government-backed mortgage modifications had been started, but only 791,000 became permanent. These numbers remain well below the goal of 4 million modifications that the Obama administration set for itself.

That should give you a few juicy bits to chew on with some coffee!! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Live Blog: Negotiating with Tea Party Terrorists

And the worst Tea Party Terrorists are in the White House “negotiating” with themselves. The only explanation for the way Obama is acting is that he doesn’t want a second term. I just don’t see how he can think he’s going to be reelected either way–whether the U.S. defaults on its debts or Congresses passes one of the austerity plans, Obama is toast.

I guess he can’t wait to start raking in the millions he’ll get from the sitting on bank boards after this is all over. I used to think he was looking forward to making big bucks on the lecture circuit, but who will want to hear him speak about how he destroyed the social safety net and brought down the U.S. economy?

I thought I’d put up a post for those of us who want to keep tabs on what the Senate is doing this afternoon. I’ll have more info shortly, but feel free to document the ongoing slow-motion nightmare in the comments while I set up my laptop in front of the TV and turn on C-span.

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The Reid plan failed to achieve cloture in the Senate, so it’s looking like whatever McConnell, Boehner, and Obama are cooking up is what we’ll get stuck with. Here is what is known about the plan that is on the table right now.

If Democratic and GOP leaders finalize a deal, they would still face the tough task of convincing their rank and file to swallow a compromise. Fervent liberals and conservatives could scuttle any deal between the White House and congressional leaders. Here are the details of the tentative pact, according to several sources who spoke to NJ on condition that they not be identified:

•$2.8 trillion in deficit reduction with $1 trillion locked in through discretionary spending caps over 10 years and the remainder determined by a so-called “Super Committee.”
•The Super Committee must report precise deficit-reduction proposals by Thanksgiving.
•The Super Committee would have to propose $1.8 trillion in spending cuts to achieve that amount of deficit reduction over 10 years.
•If the Super Committee fails, Congress must send a balanced-budget amendment to the states for ratification. If that doesn’t happen, across-the-board spending cuts would go into effect and could touch Medicare and defense spending.
•No net new tax revenue would be part of the special committee’s deliberation.
That last item remained a potential sticking point. Obama’s advisers insisted on the Sunday talk shows that the president expected tax increases to be part of the Super Committee’s plan. “I think any long-term deficit-reduction is going to include revenues,” Obama adviser David Plouffe told ABC’s This Week.

Yet Plouffe was unwilling to commit that revenue increases would automatically kick in — along with spending cuts — if the Super Committee doesn’t hit the $1.8 trillion target. McConnell bluntly said that “job-killing tax increases” are off the table.

The ever-hopeful Ezra Klein says Dems will lose now but could win later.

Democrats are going to lose this one. The first stage of the emerging deal doesn’t include revenue, doesn’t include stimulus, and lets Republicans pocket a trillion dollars or more in cuts without offering anything to Democrats in return.

The second stage convenes a congressional “Supercommittee” to recommend up to $2 trillion in further cuts, and if their plan doesn’t pass Congress, there’s an enforcement mechanism that begins making automatic, across-the-board cuts to almost all categories of spending. So heads Democrats lose, tails Republicans win.

It’s difficult to see how it could have ended otherwise. Virtually no Democrats are willing to go past Aug. 2 without raising the debt ceiling. Plenty of Republicans are prepared to blow through the deadline. That’s not a dynamic that lends itself to a deal. That’s a dynamic that lends itself to a ransom.

But Democrats will have their turn. On Dec. 31, 2012, three weeks before the end of President Barack Obama’s current term in office, the Bush tax cuts expire. Income tax rates will return to their Clinton-era levels. That amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years, three or four times the $800 billion to $1.2 trillion in revenue increases that Obama and Speaker John Boehner were kicking around. And all Democrats need to do to secure that deal is…nothing.

The only thing that can prevent increased revenue, says Klein, is the Obama administration. That’s pretty pathetic. Even Klein isn’t sure Obama will let the Bush tax cuts expire.

For more background, see my and and Dakinikat’s posts from last night.

I’ll put further updates in the comments.

Capital on fire


Our Contrived Fiscal Crisis and the President who buys into it …

Federal deficits always go up big and automatically during two events.  That would be wars and recessions.  We have had two wars going on for about 10 years now and we’ve had the deepest recession since World War 2.  Getting rid of the two wars and solving the residual problems of unemployment would eliminate any potential future fiscal crisis.  Any economist will tell you this.  It’s not a secret we keep from the world.  Passing huge tax cuts and laws that remove nearly all capital and all types of businesses incomes from the pool of revenue sources only exacerbates the revenues problems you get during recessions and expenditure run-ups that come from running wars.

We’ve had excessive war spending before.  Our country was born with a lot of money borrowed from the Dutch.  The Civil War and both World Wars–especially number two–placed our federal deficit and debt at astronomical levels of GDP.  Did our country crash and burn because of the actions of John Adams, Abraham Lincoln or the spending during World War 1 or World War 2?  Did you feel that life in the 1950s and 1960s and the children born then were oppressed by excessive debt?

Of course not.

Federal Debts and Deficits are functions of the size and health of the economy underlying the obligations.  We have plenty of taxable assets and businesses making money.  You can tell how risky the market for our Federal debt is by looking at the yields on Government bonds and Treasuries.  The current yields for Treasuries are listed right here. They are at near historic lows and they are still selling.  Nothing in that market indicates any reticence by any participant to buy American Debt obligations.  The ability to tax and raise taxes as well as print money is a unique function of government.  We can do both.  If we’d have let the Dubya Bush tax cuts just expire we would’ve closed the deficit gap and reduced the debt by more than anything than is on the table right now.  That would include the disingenuous and malfeasant Ryan plan. It also includes the the one that will come from the White House today at 1:35 est.

We need to put taxing capital back on the table.  That includes dividends, capital gains, and vast inheritances and trust funds.  We need to remove tax loopholes and subsidies to corporations.  We do not need to remove the last vestiges of safety nets standing.  There appears to be no one brave enough in Washington DC to say that but I will join the bow tie set in shouting just that.  It is time to stop subsidizing incompetent business owners and time to invest in the country and its people.  Washington DC has the nation’s priorities all wrong.

The White House provided no more specifics on the four steps to be offered in his afternoon speech at George Washington University. But an official said his plan would “borrow” from the recommendations of the 2010 fiscal commission that Obama empaneled, but whose proposals he never fully embraced.

“The president will make clear that while we all share the goal of reducing our deficit and putting our nation back on a fiscally responsible path, his vision is one where we can live within our means without putting burdens on the middle class and seniors or impeding our ability to invest in our future,” the official said.

Republicans–as eloquently stated by former budget Director David Stockman–have a tax fetish.   Republicans are refusing to put any taxes on the table.  Rand Paul is considering filibustering the increase in the debt ceiling. It appears some of these folks are so disturbingly ideological and economics-disabled that they will let the US go “bankrupt” in the only way possible it could do so.  They will allow the US to default on its debt obligations.  The Republican Party seems ruled by insane people at the moment.  The Democrats, however, are ruled by folks that appear to be playing into right wing memes to appeal to some independents.  So, why are we only left with poisonous choices?

Some of the Democratic base is finally waking up to the truth about Obama. He has no core Democratic values.  We’re about to see a Democratic president put the cornerstones of Democratic policy on the bargaining table in an effort to appease some folks during the re-election cycle.  I’m wondering if it’s all not just a little too late.  Ever since the real economists left the building, White House Policy has grown more and more Republican.

Key liberal groups, which helped elect Obama in 2008, are raising concerns that he has given up political ground to Republicans, allowing the message of reducing government to trump that of creating jobs and lowering the unemployment rate.

Seizing on Friday’s deal, which would cut $38.5 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget, activists on Tuesday threatened to sit out the 2012 presidential campaign if Obama goes too far with further cuts.

“The fundamental problem in our country right now is unemployment and a jobs crisis, not a deficit crisis,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, an advocacy group for the poor. “It appears the president is fighting on the wrong terrain and is conceding that the only thing we should be talking about is how to bring down the deficit.”

The clash over government spending — coming as Obama prepares to make a major speech on fiscal discipline Wednesday — is the latest example of the frayed relations between the president and a broad coalition of union and activist groups.

The details of the budget compromise as well as the way that the Health Care Reform act was rammed through congress have shown that Obama is more than eager to get something, anything passed than to fight for reform that would actually reflect either public opinion or traditional Democratic Values. Poor black women from the District of Colombia were  nearly the first ones thrown under the budget cutting bus.  Which previous US Democratic President would have sold them out?

To get the trade-off on the policy riders, Democrats had to give on spending — to the tune of the largest budget cuts ever. There’s a $1.1-billion cut across the board for discretionary spending and dozens of nips and tucks all over government, from Justice Department programs to subsidies for co-ops in the new health care law to the Pell Grant program for low-income college students.

I am going to watch this speech.  I’m only hoping some of the disgruntled chat coming from real Democrats materializes into something substantive after it happens.

DeFazio said Monday that Democrats haven’t put enough pressure on Obama.

“That’s what the House did wrong in the last Congress, and in part why we lost is we never pushed back, no matter how wrong he was or how off-base he was; we never pushed back,” DeFazio told MSNBC.

“There are a number of us in the caucus now pushing back very hard on our leadership,” DeFazio said. “Who knows where they’ll end up, but maybe we can take enough D’s with us to make them uncomfortable and to make them stick with making the president act like a Democrat.”

The Democrats’ frustration with Obama is hardly new. Liberals were furious in December when the president caved to GOP demands that Congress extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. More recently, many liberals have questioned the wisdom and constitutionality of launching military attacks on Libya with prior approval from Congress.

Behind closed doors, Democratic leaders are frustrated that Obama hasn’t been more involved in the big policy fights of recent months, including the spending battle.

The way to get to this President is through his re-election efforts and his ego.  Hopefully, a few groups will stop facilitating the cave-ins and start fighting for the country’s interests.   You can watch the President’s speech on CSPAN at this link. I have my bucket o’ Nerf balls ready and I’m warming up for the first pitch of the 2012 presidential campaign season.  Join me as we share the pain and none of the gain.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’m going to start out with a feel-good story this morning. I can’t find a print story about it, but you can watch video at the Weather Channel website.

A mother was driving in icy weather in Iowa, and ended up crashing. The car rolled over a couple of times and the woman was stuck, unable to check on her two children, ages one and four. Avery, the four-year-old girl got out of the car and walked up the road to a house where she found help. All three are OK now. Isn’t that an amazing and wonderful story? Watch the video and you’ll start the day with a smile.

Have you heard that President Reagan Obama plans to cut billions from the program that provides energy assistance to poor people?

President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget will cut several billion dollars from the government’s energy assistance fund for poor people, officials briefed on the subject told National Journal.

It’s the biggest domestic spending cut disclosed so far, and one that will likely generate the most heat from the president’s traditional political allies. Such complaints might satisfy the White House, which has a vested interest in convincing Americans that it is serious about budget discipline.

One White House friend, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier today that a Republican proposal to cut home heating oil counted as an “extreme idea” that would “set the country backwards.” Schumer has not yet reacted to Obama’s proposed cut. On Wednesday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., declared: “The President’s reported proposal to drastically slash LIHEAP funds by more than half would have a severe impact on many of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens and I strongly oppose it.” A spokesman for Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., declared similarly: “If these cuts are real, it would be a very disappointing development for millions of families still struggling through a harsh winter.”

In a letter to Obama, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., wrote, “We simply cannot afford to cut LIHEAP funding during one of the most brutal winters in history. Families across Massachusetts, and the country, depend on these monies to heat their homes and survive the season.”

No matter how bad you think this President is, he can always get worse. I don’t know how we’re going to survive his incompetent administration.

Here’s another bill to eliminate abortion for all practical purposes. This time it’s in Ohio.

Republican lawmakers in Ohio unveiled legislation Wednesday that would ban abortions of any fetus found to have a heartbeat, a move that could ban most abortions in the state.

Under legislation sponsored by State Representative Lynn Wachtmann, doctors would be forbidden from performing an abortion the moment a heartbeat is detected in the fetus. Fetuses generally develop a heartbeat within six weeks of conception, and in some pregnant women a heartbeat can be detected within 18 days.

The Youngstown Vindicator describes the bill as “the most restrictive abortion ban in the country” and potentially “a precedent for other states eyeing comparable restrictions.”

Robyn Marty at Alternet reports that the “heartbeat bill” amounts to an almost total ban on abortion.

Republicans are determined to turn women into forced breeders with no control over their own bodies. It’s an outrage.

Newly leaked cables from Wikileaks suggest that peak oil is a lot closer than most people think.

The documents, dated between 2007 and 2009, point to a phenomenon known to many as “peak oil,” or the point of production where you cannot continue producing more, leading to a decline in availability and a spike in prices.

But far from being a mad prophet of doom, the US cables’ source is not someone whose credibility is easily questioned.

His name is Dr. Sadad al-Husseini, the former head geologist in charge of exploration for the Saudi oil firm Aramco. He retired in 2004, but stayed in touch with US officials.

According to al-Husseini, Saudi Arabian reserves may be smaller than thought, even though the Saudis are on a growth cycle aimed at pumping out over 12 million barrels a day over the next several years. But, al-Husseini warned, global output would likely peak before then, and potentially starting in 2012

That will coordinate perfectly with Obama’s cuts in aid to poor people who can’t afford to heat their homes.

Dakinikat link to this story in comments yesterday, but it bears repeating. Cables released by Wikileaks show that Egyptian secret police were trained in torture methods by the FBI at Quantico.

Egypt’s secret police, long accused of torturing suspects and intimidating political opponents of President Hosni Mubarak, received training at the FBI’s facility in Quantico, Virginia, even as US diplomats compiled allegations of brutality against them, according to US State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.

Why am I not surprised?

In a 2007 report, Amnesty International accused the Egyptian government of turning the country into a “torture center” for war on terror suspects.

“We are now uncovering evidence of Egypt being a destination of choice for third-party or contracted-out torture in the ‘war on terror’,” Amnesty’s Kate Allen said at the time.

The Egyptian government acknowledged in 2005 that the US had transferred 60 to 70 detainees to Egypt since 2001.

Here is one of the cables linked in the story, posted by the Daily Telegraph.

I’ll end with some links to the latest news from Egypt.

From The New York Times: Wired and Shrewd, Young Egyptians Guide Revolt

They are the young professionals, mostly doctors and lawyers, who touched off and then guided the revolt shaking Egypt, members of the Facebook generation who have remained mostly faceless — very deliberately so, given the threat of arrest or abduction by the secret police.

Now, however, as the Egyptian government has sought to splinter their movement by claiming that officials were negotiating with some of its leaders, they have stepped forward publicly for the first time to describe their hidden role.

There were only about 15 of them, including Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who was detained for 12 days but emerged this week as the movement’s most potent spokesman.

From the Wall Street Journal: Rallies Fan Out as Regime Closes Ranks

Protest organizers say they aim to slowly extend the swath of real estate they control downtown, and to pull in the support of labor unions, which are historically Egypt’s most effective protesters.

Protesters set up camp outside the iron gate of the parliament building, and blocked the street; the occupation forced the relocation of a cabinet meeting from the Council of Ministers, on the same street, to the outskirts of Cairo, state television reported.

State television also showed footage of angry workers in the health, telecommunications and power sectors protesting at a number of locations across Cairo. Many were contract workers or part-timers demanding full-time work and benefits.

From Politico: White House, State Department move to end Egypt confusion

The White House is moving to stamp out reports that top officials — including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — are sending conflicting signals about how best to resolve the crisis in Egypt.

On Wednesday, the White House and the State Department staged a 50-minute conference call for reporters Wednesday to insist that the administration’s messages on the standoff between embattled President Hosni Mubarak and demonstrators demanding his ouster have been consistent both in public — and private.

Uh huh. That must be why there is so much “confusion.”

The Daily Telegraph: Egypt crisis: protesters reject smooth transition

On the 16th day of protests, street leaders were emboldened to take a more militant line against the regime than the opposition parties that have entered talks with Hosni Mubarak’s vice President Omar Suleiman.

Mr Suleiman, who held more talks on constitutional reforms yesterday, has increasingly emerged as the focus of popular anger. He enraged demonstrators yesterday by warning that the regime would not tolerate prolonged demonstrations, stating that the options were either “dialogue” or “coup”.

“He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed,” said Abdul-Rahman Samir, a Tahrir Square spokesman. “But what would he do with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward.”

Asia One: Google exec’s role in Egypt a corporate dilemma

Business experts said Ghonim’s high-profile role in the protests poses a dilemma for management, even for a company like Google that has not hesitated to take on countries such as China in the past.

“I’m sure Google is very nervous about having their employees publicly associated with politics,” said Charles Skuba, an international business professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

“It’s a slippery slope,” Skuba told AFP. “Whenever an employee of a company becomes publicly associated with a political situation there’s often more peril for the company than there is advantage.”

Google campaigned vigorously for the release of Ghonim, a 30-year-old Egyptian who is the company’s marketing chief for the Middle East and North Africa, after he went missing in Cairo on January 27.

Sooooo…What are you reading and blogging about today?