But after meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner Monday afternoon, one half of the Maine option apparently is back in play.
While Susan Collins appears to be out - at least for now - Olympia Snowe said she was optimistic that Democrats would modify their current bill to make it more palatable to moderate Republicans. She added that there wasn't "that much of a gap" between the sides.
"I encouraged [Geithner] on the issue of bipartisanship and he was optimistic on that issue. I don't think it will be impossible, but as I urged the Secretary today, it is vital we ensure that the broad strokes of a bipartisan agreement are reached prior to debate on the Senate floor. We need to address the proposed consumer protection bureau and the best way to avoid another taxpayer-funded bailout, among other things. I also shared my deep concern that we push the vast derivative trading market onto transparent exchanges and we eliminate any chance that taxpayers money will be used to support misplaced bets.Snowe also repeated the standard Democratic line about the need to take "drastic steps to rein in reckless Wall Street practices" to prevent a repeat situation where financial institutions again wind up at the brink.
A bi-partisan charade or an expression of serious intent to cross party lines? Left wing Dems still nurse bruised feelings incurred during the health care reform battle. That's when Democrats thought they had won Snowe's support and they remain convinced she played them. But considering Wall Street's plunging public popularity, it might be easier for Snowe to trade her vote in return for winning a compromise that Democrats can still live with.
That's assuming, of course, she can hold out against Mitch McConnell and his posse. Deja vu all over again, as the immortal Yogi Berra was reputed to have put it? We'll see.
"Very few sanctions regimes have actually produced regime change or altered regime behavior. The US could not even accomplish this goal with regard to a small island 90 miles off its shores, Cuba. That an oil giant half way around the world with a population of 70 million that is as big as Spain, France and Germany can be effectively bludgeoned with sanctions is not very likely."That doesn't mean the U.S. won't still press ahead with sanction plans. But arm-twisting other nations and firms not to buy Iranian petroleum and gas may be a lot harder than it seemed only a few months earlier. For comparison purposes, check out the conclusions of this earlier GAO report measuring the effectiveness of the ban on U.S. trade and investment with Iran between 2003 and 2007.
"The US needs to engage in comprehensive security talks with Iran, in hopes of striking a grand bargain. Because as Admiral Mullen rightly says, there are no good military options here."
How far up the ranks did this go? So far, only company vice-president Fabrice Tourre has beenv named in the complaint, but the Times article suggests that the affair goes right to the top of the company org chart. According to the piece, it include:
...executives up to and including Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive, took an active role in overseeing the mortgage unit as the tremors in the housing market began to reverberate through the nation's economy. It was Goldman's top leadership, these people say, that finally ended the dispute on the mortgage desk by siding with those who, like Mr. Tourre and Mr. Egol, believed home prices would decline. (Egol refers to Jonathan M. Egol, whom the Times describes as "the mastermind behind the controversial mortgage deals known as the Abacus investments.")
By early 2007, the Times says that Goldman's mortgage unit "had captured the attention of senior management" including Blankfein, Gary D. Cohn, the company's president, and David A. Viniar, the chief financial officer, who reported visited the mortgage unit often.
Such high-level involvement was unusual elsewhere on Wall Street, where many executives spent little time learning the workings of their mortgage businesses or how those businesses might endanger their companies. The decision to get rid of positive bets on mortgages turned out to be prescient. Unlike most other Wall Street banks, Goldman profited from its mortgage business as the housing bubble was inflating and then again when the bubble burst.
Separately, Vanity Fair contributing editor Vicky Ward came up with a related news nugget to add to the Goldman file: Apparently, the former head of asset manager ACA Capital, one of the key players in the SEC's Goldman chronology, shared a house purchased with the investment bank's deputy general counsel. The question Ward raises is whether the relationship was disclosed to any third parties. Is that an important fact or just a curiosity? Beats me, though the SEC claims that ACA was involved in selecting the securities which went into the CDO known as Abacus 2007- AC1 - along with hedge fund manager John Paulson, who decided what investments should go into the offering. As has been chronicled elsewhere, Paulson went on to make a small fortune by shorting the trade.
If more stories like this come to light, a heretofore little-known Goldman vice-president will not be the only company exec facing the fire.
Starting with his polling work for the GOP's Contract with America,, Luntz has been giving Democrats fits for years. Even more so since the Democrats regained the White House following the 2008 elections. You can see his influence in the language which dominated the health care reform debate. His influence is also apparent in the impasse over financial regulation reform.
Video: Frank Luntz on Voter Anger Continue »
Not all people who identify themselves as Tea Partiers are ethnocentric wingnuts who get their information about the world spoon-fed to them by televised talking heads. But apologists for this movement are going to have a hard time explaining away the fact that a sizable minority qualify for that very description.
The latest CBS News/New York Times poll presents a picture of an aging cohort of pessimistic white folks, rattled by economic and cultural changes which have rocked their increasingly Twitter-fied, multicultural and multi-polar world (one led by a charismatic black guy who can swoosh 3 pointers with the best of them.) And their unhappiness with the verdict of the 2008 presidential election has led them down the rabbit hole.
More from the Poll:
Tea Party Supporters: Who They Are and What They Believe
Most Tea Partiers Believe Too Much Made of Problems Facing Blacks
Tea Partiers View Palin, Beck and Bush Favorably
Tea Party Activists Small but Passionate Group
"Birther" Myth Persists Among Tea Partiers, All Americans
Most Tea Party Supporters Say Their Taxes Are Fair
Read the Complete Poll on Who They Are (PDF)
Read the Complete Poll on What They Believe (PDF)
Everything else flows from this bogus controversy. It so happens that I have it on good authority that the birthers were dropped off on Planet Earth from an asteroid penal colony near the farthest rung of Saturn. Prove it, you say? Au contraire; first they prove they're not from outer space and then perhaps I'll reassess my suspicion. Yes, that's how insane it is.
Some other gems:
- 75% don't believe that the president shares the values of most Americans. Fascinating. I'd pay money to sit down with these folks to learn more about their belief system. They must think of Obama as something of a cross between Eldridge Cleaver and a Maoist Mao-Mao. As for the over-achieving, doting wife and those ridiculously cute kids? Obvious stage props to divert attention from the revolutionary hordes massing on the other side of the Rio Grande.
- 88% say the economic stimulus has had no impact on the economy. Two possibilities here. Either they aren't paying attention or they the tea partiers are so ideologically blinkered that it really doesn't matter what the facts are. By any measure except one - jobs - the economy is demonstrably stronger than it was when George W. Bush left the White House. We can argue about economic theory but data remain immune from ideology and they are beyond contestation.
- 92% say that Obama is moving the country toward socialism. I'll wager two means of production and one Saul Alinsky union card that most of these folks never read Das Kapital and wouldn't know a Hegelian dialectic from the man in the moon. Obama, a bourgeois intellectual who has surrounded himself with mainstays of corporate capitalism, has a plan to take us to the socialist paradise? Yeah, and I suppose the New York Mets are a lock to win the World Series this year.
- 54% identify as belonging to the GOP while 41% claim to be Independents. Just 5% are Democrats. This isn't surprising. Nor is it any shock to learn that 57% have a favorable view of George W. Bush. It apparently did not register that the Great Recession began under Dubya's watch (as did the haphazard Wall Street bailout.)
- Asked what they liked least about Obama, 19% simply don't like him. Another 11% say he is turning the U.S. more toward socialism, and 10% mentioned health care reforms. (9% said he was dishonest.) I'm not sure how far to extrapolate but 89% of these folks are white and a majority feel that too much has been made of the problems facing blacks.
At least they're being honest.
Against a backdrop of ballooning deficits, soaring entitlement costs and an ageing population, the new conventional wisdom is that hard choices are around the corner. Of course, that doesn't mean anything's going to happen but there's a new meme in the neighborhood. In the last week, three influential voices in economic matters have sounded off on why big course corrections are due sooner, rather than later.
Otherwise, Greece, here we come.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that it's going to come down to a question of cutting entitlements or jacking up taxes. Here's the money quote:
Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker used an address to the New York Historical Society to float the possibility of a value added tax (If there's a need to raise taxes, he said, then we should raise taxes.)
The arithmetic is, unfortunately, quite clear. To avoid large and unsustainable budget deficits, the nation will ultimately have to choose among higher taxes, modifications to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, less spending on everything else from education to defense, or some combination of the above. These choices are difficult, and it always seems easier to put them off--until the day they cannot be put off any more. But unless we as a nation demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, in the longer run we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.
Congressional Budget Office head Doug Elmendorf offered the gloomiest assessment, concluding that the nation's fiscal path is simply "unsustainable."
If Messrs. Bernanke, Volcker and Elmendorf intended to seed a debate in advance of an action by the President and Congress, call this one Mission Accomplished. (Though they got an earful for their troubles. Here's a sampling:)
- The Heritage Foundation shot down Volcker's trial balloon as "the liberal solution for unsustainable deficits that threaten the stability and very future of our economy."
- Larry Kudlow, who worked for Volker more than three decades ago, slammed his former boss's idea as nuts. " The last thing we need right now is more tax hikes. There are a dozen new tax hikes already squirreled away inside President Obama's health-care law. Medicare payroll taxes are going to be imposed on capital gains and dividends. Investor taxes are going way up when the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year. And to top it all off, half the states in the country are raising taxes."
- National Review's Daniel Foster titled his post "Doug Elmendorf's Brain in a Vat."
The federal budget deficit in the first half of fiscal 2010 was $714 billion. That's about $67 billion less than the year-earlier period, but that's a reflection of a sharp drop in outlays for the Troubled Asset Relief Program as well as a fall in spending for federal deposit insurance. That was the good news. Here's the not-so-good news on spending:
Unemployment benefits: Up $39 billion, or 83 percent
Medicaid: Up $17 billion, or 15 percent
Social Security: Up $23 billion, or 7 percent
Medicare: $12 billion, or 6 percent
Net interest on the public debt: Up $26 billion, or 31 percent
If the economy's growth accelerates, those numbers become more manageable. In a discussion of Greece's predicament, Paul Krugman notes that the U.S. ran up a federal debt equal to 122 percent of gross domestic product. "Yet investors were relaxed, and rightly so: Over the next decade the ratio of U.S. debt to G.D.P. was cut nearly in half, easing any concerns people might have had about our ability to pay what we owed. And debt as a percentage of G.D.P. continued to fall in the decades that followed, hitting a low of 33 percent in 1981."
But what if the economy doesn't move into 5th gear any time soon? What if we're stuck in 2nd for an uncomfortably extended period? President Obama has appointed a Continue »
But we live in the real world, where political charlatans and radio and cable television blowhards often don't let facts interfere with a good yarn - especially if it translates into votes or higher ratings. I mention this because it was only a couple of months ago that global warming skeptics seized upon February's heavy snowstorms in Washington D.C. to declare point, set, match.
"It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries "uncle," South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. Virginia's Republican Party used the same snowstorm to compile a mocking Continue »
In normal times, this wouldn't merit more than casual comment. But these are decidedly not normal times. After a bruising fight over health care reform legislation, left and right in this country are so polarized that they are more likely to eye each other as the detested enemy than as members of a loyal political opposition.
So when Larry Kudlow, Mr. Free Market Capitalism himself, warns that the right's drumbeat of dismissal of positive economic data has put "conservative credibility" on the line, it's worthy of attention.
I'm watching many of my friends on certain cable stations attempt to trash the March employment numbers released last Friday. Don't do it, folks. The numbers were solid. In fact, while everyone keeps saying that small businesses are getting killed from taxes and regulations out of Washington, the reality is that the Labor Department's household survey has produced 1.1 million new jobs in the first quarter of 2010, or 371,000 per month. If that continues, the unemployment rate will be dropping significantly.
For comparison's sake, read this blog post the Republican National Committee put up on its Web site following Friday's employment numbers. Under the heading "Unacceptable," the blog paints the White House's jobs policy as feckless and generally paints a picture of an economy in crisis. That may have resonated more loudly in April 2009 but a year later, the data suggest a different outlook - and that's where Kudlow believes his ideological comrades are getting it wrong. Kudlow has hardly morphed into a Keynesian. For instance, he still frets about the potential impact of tax and regulatory policy pursued by the Obama administration. But those are future worries. More immediately, he says, there's an upbeat story to tell:
The current reality is that a strong rebound in corporate profits (the greatest and truest stimulus of all), ultra-easy money from the Fed, and some very small stimuli from government spending are all working to generate a cyclical recovery in a basically free-market economy that is a lot more resilient than capitalist critics would have us believe. So conservatives should not lose their cool and blow their credibility over a cyclical rebound that is backed by the statistics.
That was just the warm-up act for this stunner from Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who defended Pelosi as "a nice person" and went on to lecture the crowd not to drink the kool-aid served up by cable television - in particular, Fox News.
"Come on now. [Pelosi] is a nice. How many of y'all have met her? She is a nice person. She's a nice person. You know, let me give you a little lesson here. I hope you will listen to me. Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn't mean that they're not a good person. And I want to tell ya, I've been in the Senate for five years and I've taken a lot of that because I've been on the small side, both in the Republican Party and the Democrat Party. Just because I don't agree with them, it doesn't mean I'm bad. It means I have a legitimate point of view that's different than theirs. And what we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what's going on and make the determination yourself. So, don't catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody's no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don't know what they don't know."
So far, no response from Fox. The network doesn't have a history of turning the other cheek so I assume that one of their talking heads is going to have something to say about the affair before too long. (In the meantime, you can find conservative reaction from Riehl World View, National Review and Weekly Standard as well as the full gamut of opinion to Coburn's call for civility.
None of this suggests that Coburn is about to turn into the liberals' favorite conservative (the position has remained open since former title holder John McCain abdicated in time for his 2008 presidential run.) But if a step back from the brink is a harbinger of a different tone to the D.C. conversation, then more power to him.
"That's a fairly silly comment to make," Gibbs told reporters. "I think Michael Steele's problem isn't the race card, it's the credit card."
Gibbs was probably thinking all weekend how to slip in a reference to "Bondage-gate," the racy tale which surfaced last week in which a Republican contributor was reimbursed by the RNC after spending almost $2,000 during an outing at a West Hollywood bondage-themed lesbian nightclub. (The staffer who organized the event was fired.)
Up until now, the GOP establishment has looked the other way at Steele's sometimes antics. But goofiness comes with a price: today comes word that the RNC has lost one of its top fund raisers. His latest outburst left conservative commentators in the blogosphere flummoxed.
- William Jacobson at Le-gal-in-sur-rec-tion: "Such comments do infinitely more damage than any excessive spending ever could do. Suggesting racial motivations in others merely because they disagree with you has become the dominant theme of the attacks on opponents of Obamacare. By using the race card himself, Steele has given indirect aid and comfort to those behind the smears of the Tea Party movement."
- Ed Morrissey of Hot Air: "...the issue people have is that the money is being spent by the RNC on corporate jets and lesbian-bondage-themed nightclubs under his leadership. Would an RNC chair of a different ethnicity face calls to resign after those expenditures got exposed? I'd guess yes, especially in this economy and with the RNC needing every dollar to drive turnout in November."
- Michelle Malkin: "A small number of readers have e-mailed to complain that I criticize the GOP too much. The vast majority of readers, however, have been disgusted with the Beltway Republican (un)leadership for a long time. And the rejected RNC solicitation forms keep coming in. There are so many that I've created a whole new blog category for them... I'm sure the latest race-card lamentation of Michael Steele will result in another avalanche of rejected RNC donor forms. How much longer will the hemorrhaging continue?"
You get the drift. Of course, none of this should shock Steele. He reads his press clippings and knows what the Republican rank-and-file are saying about him. From the outset, this has been an uncomfortable. But as one of the very few senior-level African-Americans in the GOP hierarchy, Steele's decision to play the race card wasn't a bad idea, as far as professional longevity goes. Barring some other gigantic embarrassment, he probably bought himself a little extra time on the job. Assuming he still wants it. (Interesting side note, courtesy of the Atlantic's Joshua Green, Steele only got the nod to head the RNC because the then-frontrunner, Katon Dawson, once belonged to a )
Watching the reports of threats and violence against Democrats pile up, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) did what any self-respecting Republican politician in a similar situation might do: He changed the narrative.
On Thursday, Cantor claimed that someone had fired a bullet through the window of his Richmond, Va. campaign office. If true, that would mark a shocking escalation of the ugliness which has accompanied the battle over health care reform legislation. Cantor got what he hoped for as the first round of media stories bought the spin. But Talking Points Memo got a hold of this statement from the Richmond, Va. police and it's worth a read:
"The Richmond Police Department is investigating an act of vandalism at the Reagan Building, 25 E. Main St., Richmond, Virginia. A first floor window was struck by a bullet at approximately 1 a.m. on Tuesday, March 23. The building, which has several tenants including an office used by Congressman Eric Cantor, was unoccupied at the time A Richmond Police detective was assigned to the case. A preliminary investigation shows that a bullet was fired into the air and struck the window in a downward direction, landing on the floor about a foot from the window. The round struck with enough force to break the windowpane but did not penetrate the window blinds. (My emphasis.) There was no other damage to the room, which is used occasionally for meetings by the congressman."
So someone fired a bullet which followed a parabola-like trajectory and then landed "about a foot" away from the window. Serious stuff, but there's a world of difference between the police statement and Cantor's assertion. The investigation may ultimately find that the shooter had a political motivation, but the authorities haven't made that claim. There's no evidence suggesting that Cantor's trying to pull an Ashley Todd but he is playing for sympathy.
The White House today unveiled its long-awaited proposal for reforming health care to the uniform disapproval of conservatives. Among other things, the bill includes tougher provisions against fraud as well as calls for government review of insurance increases (the industry can thank Anthem Blue Cross's recent tone-deafness for that insertion.) The price would be some $950 billion in spending - about $75 billion more than previous estimates. I'm still picking through the details but here's an initial rundown of the plan from the left and from the right.
Why now? Maybe the better question is why not now? In Washington, where perceptions have a way of becoming reality, this president could use a victory - any victory - and soon. On Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson bluntly advised Obama to "rapidly decide what we're doing on health care and then move to jobs and the economy." He added: "We need a national economic strategy." The president apparently agrees. The White House backed the $15 billion jobs bill which also won the support of five Senate Republicans when it came up for a Monday vote. A minor achievement, perhaps, but a sign that this president can push his agenda forward in the face of political opposition.
Makes your head spin. The Democrats were too feckless to pass health care reform legislation even when they enjoyed a 60-vote super-majority in the Senate. And now that they are weaker after Scott Brown's surprise victory in Massachusetts and an increasingly demoralized liberal base, they decide that it's the right time to get back into the ring?
It could be that the blabosphere prematurely concluded that the White House had little heart left for the fight. Maybe Rahm Emanuel passed around DVDs of the movie "Patton" because Democrats also are talking publicly about using the budget reconciliation process to pass the proposal into law. So far, 18 senators have signed a petition calling on Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid to use reconciliation to push health care reform through the chambers.
Asked by Cavuto to comment on anti-government messages apparently left by Joseph Stack before his plane plowed into an Austin building with roughly 200 federal tax employees earlier in the day, Brown offered the usual platitudes. Then his mouth started racing faster than his brain and he veered into the weeds of weirdness. Here's the relevant snippet.
CAVUTO: We have a guy who is just ranting at the system, ranting at the IRS, ranting at big government, the need for health care, not the need for unions – I mean really crazy stuff. I would just be curious of your reaction to all that.
The reason: We're Americans and we get distracted.
Earlier this morning, the blogosphere was obsessing incredibly inane flap over Michelle Obama's supposed stocking of the White House library with Communist readings. By this evening, it will be all about the next skater to pull off a triple lutz.
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