Friday, June 26, 2009

Stimulus boosts income, consumer spending in May

According to the Financial Times, US incomes surge as stimulus kicks in.

Personal income in the US surged in May thanks to an infusion of government stimulus funds, while consumers raised their spending modestly as confidence about the state of the economy continues to improve.

However, most of the monthly rise was the result of Federal benefit transfers and lower taxes. Americans, still facing rising job cuts and falling home prices, have been hoarding most of the additional funds, lifting the savings rate to a 16-year high in May....

The sharp rise in spending was mainly due to benefits payments doled out through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provides one-time payments of $250 to people who receive social security funds, veterans’ benefits or railroad retirement income. Although disposable personal income, which factors out taxes, rose by 1.6 per cent in May, it increased by just 0.2 per cent without the stimulus benefits.

Pity the poor conservatives. To a member, the house GOP voted against the stimulus and no Senator who is presently a Republican and comes from a state west of Maine voted for it. So it is clearly a Democratic bill, which means that Republicans are obliged to feel depressed every time a smivet of good news like this comes out.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Could Sanford affair be a cover for a more sinister rendevous?

It didn't take long for people to begin questioning whether South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was telling the truth when he told his staff he was going hiking for a few days on the Appalachian trail (including father's day when he didn't even bother to call home.) The obvious question to ask was whether he was having an affair.

If he was using the hiking story as a cover for an affair, and thinking that no one would ask why as a state governor and (at least until this week) likely 2012 Presidential candidate he was completely out of touch for almost a week then the guy is too stupid to be President. Even Eliot Spitzer was smart enough to fit in a trip to Washington at night and be back in the office the next morning (though that still wasn't smart enough.)

Unless of course that the truth is even more sinister than that, and the affair itself is a cover.

Why go all the way to Buenos Aires for an affair? If he wanted to have one he could surely have found someplace closer. But alone and unknown in a foreign capital he could meet foreign agents a lot easier. Governors get regular Homeland Security briefings and other intelligence data and it goes without saying that some of the information is stuff we don't share with a lot of foreign governments or organizations, especially those who may be hostile to the U.S.

Maybe he is smarter than we think, and having an affair would explain perfectly why he would go to Buenos Aires without telling anyone just in case his first cover story got blown, without divulging the real reason. In fact, for that matter, the woman could just be a 'throw in' if someone was wanting to use a state governor and possible President to get something 'done' within the U.S. (better keep an eye on his bank account.)

And even if he was meeting a woman, how do we know she wasn't a Chinese, Iranian or al-Qaeda agent? Possibly even without his knowlege, she may have been pumping him for information even as he was pumping something else.

This question needs to be definitively answered: Who is EVERYBODY he met down there, and who do they work for.

Monday, June 22, 2009

But he's saying they only committed a little bit of massive fraud.

After opposition candidates in Iran claimed that more than the number of eligible voters cast ballots in Iran's disupted election in as many as 170 cities, an official from Iran's Guardian Council, the organization charged with certifying the election returns, took umbrage.

“Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100 percent of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80 to 170 cities are not accurate — the incident has happened in only 50 cities,” Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, a spokesman for the Guardian council said.

OK, so their strongest defense is that they didn't commit quite as much fraud as they have been accused of.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ensign won't resign but he deserves to be called a hypocrite

After admitting an affair yesterday, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) resigned his leadership position as Chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee (the number four spot in the house GOP leadership) but declined to resign from the Senate.

As a matter of fact, I will say that I support his decision not to resign. That's because it is up to the voters of Nevada to decide whether they feel that whatever he may have done in his personal life disqualifies him from serving. I'm not endorsing his affair, but let's be honest here-- if all the adulterers in Congress were caught and resigned, it would be sort of like baseball without steroid users; the number of faces that'd be missing would likely be massive. However, I've never felt that what people do in their personal life has, or should have, any affect on how well they do their job. I disagree with almost everything that Senator Ensign stands for but that's a completely separate issue from his personal life.

However, where he does deserve a box on the ears for this is in the personal hypocrisy department. In fact, (as Nate Silver points out) Ensign has in the past called for Bill Clinton and Larry Craig to resign after they got in trouble for their sexual exploits.

Not that Ensign is the first Republican to engage in this kind of hypocrisy of course. Remember that the impeachment charge against Bill Clinton was led in the House by Speaker Newt Gingrich and pit-bull hatchet man Dan Burton. As we now know, both Gingrich and Burton were covering up their own affairs at the same time they were moralizing about Bill Clinton's. And let's not forget Republicans like Larry Craig and David Vitter who got where they were precisely by preaching about morality.

Yes, Democrat Eliot Spitzer became Governor of New York the same way, but he got what he had coming-- Spitzer could have ridden out getting caught doing a one-night stand with a prostitute but the hypocrisy of a guy who had run on his record as a prosecutor of sending other people to prison for the same thing pretty much guaranteed that he had no other option than to resign.

Ensign hasn't sent anyone to prison but he has certainly preached about morality and for that he deserves to be branded as a hypocrite.

Say what you will about Bill Clinton, but at least he never criticized anyone else's sex life.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Republican demolition derby

You'd think that with one-party rule in the legislature and the Governor's office, Arizona Republicans wouldn't have any trouble getting a budget together. After all, the legislature was continually at loggerheads with former Governor Napolitano, a Democrat, and you'd think they'd welcome an opportunity to make their case to voters that they can get things done without having to inconveniently involve Democrats.

Well, that's half right. They have in fact shut Democrats out of the process, but it seems like this Republican leadership is truly disfunction on display.

After having to go to a three A.M. vote in the Senate just to force together an atrocious budget bill that they could send to the Governor (and in the process, there were several Republicans who crossed party lines in the house to vote against it,) the GOP leadership haven't sent the budget bills to her yet because she said she will veto it. So they are holding it back, presumably so if she vetoes it then there won't be another bill ready by June 30 (certainly not one she will sign) and she will have to shut down state government.

With negotiations at an impasse, the Governor is now going to court to try and force the legislative leadership to send her the bill now, so she can veto it.

Keep in mind too that the legislature has been in session since January and they spent five full months doing practically nothing, so they could force everything through this month-- so if there is a time crunch then perhaps it means that we should reduce the legislative calendar to just a month, with perhaps one more month for committee hearings. After all, if they are going to sit on their hands anyway for five months just to bring time into play, they could do that just as easily in February as they could in June.

It's hard to know where this is going, this battle between a bunch of ideologically driven loony tunes who run the legislature and a weak, unelected Governor, but one thing is for sure:

The favorite refrain of Republicans when they don't get the job done of 'blame the Democrats' won't work this time, with Republicans fighting it out with other Republicans.

As viscious as it's getting, I wonder if Michael Vick's next project will be to collect a stable full of Arizona Republicans to go at each other and fight it out to the end.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

McConnell way off on Sotomayor timeline

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was a little upset that Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) scheduled the confirmation hearing for Sonia Sotomayor to begin on July 13. McConnell wants to do it in September.

Fair enough, he wants more time to dig for dirt and/or drag it out in order to clog up the calendar and slow down other Democratic agenda items, especially health care overhaul. I don't blame him for wanting to do that, as the minority leader he's expected to try and do things like that. Harry Reid would want the same thing if their shoes were reversed.

But McConnell, never satisfied with just making his case, told a bit of a nose-puller. He said that Sotomayor's proposed nomination timeline would be the shortest in recent memory.

Yes, that's what he said.

They want the shortest confirmation timeline in recent memory for someone with the longest record in recent memory,

Recall that Sotomayor was nominated on May 25. So if her nomination were processed through the committee and voted on all on the same day, July 13, her timeline would be 49 days. But in fact the hearing, committee vote, and then floor debate and vote by the full Senate will take a couple of weeks beyond that, so figure her timeline will actually be about 60 days. However, whether you figure 49 days or about 60 days, if you read further down in the link we find that it would be very typical of what these things seem to take:

• Samuel Alito: 70 days

• John Roberts: Seven days after announced as chief justice replacement; 55 days after initial nomination

• Stephen Breyer: 60 days

• Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 36 days

• Clarence Thomas: 71 days

• David Souter: 52 days

• Anthony Kennedy: 33 days

• Robert Bork: 76 days

• Antonin Scalia: 49 days

• William Rehnquist: 42 days

• Sandra Day O'Connor: 64 days

• John Paul Stevens: 10 days

• Rehnquist (nominated by former President Nixon to replace Associate Justice John Harlan): 13 days

What would be unusually long would be if the Senate did wait until after the August recess and begin the hearing when they return after Labor Day, probably the next day, September 8. If that were the date the hearing began, the timeline would be a minimum of 106 days and more likely close to 120.

Well, if the facts are not on your side, apparently Mitch McConnell thinks the way to fix that problem is to make up some new facts.

Sticks and stones-- the sequel

Several days ago I published a post titled sticks and stones about the rising tide of violence from the far right.

And sure enough, today we had another such episode, a gunman who attacked the Holocaust Museum in Washington and killed a security guard.

The gunman is identified as James von Brunn, a well-known white supremacist who has claimed that the Federal Reserve is part of a conspiracy run by Jews to control the world's wealth. In 1981, von Brunn tried to arrest the entire Federal Reserve Board.
Besides denying the Holocaust, von Brunn is also a 'birther,' one who claims that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

The attack highlights the increasing willingness of those on the far right to use violence. And just as Scott Roeder, Dr. Tiller's murderer, was once an anti-tax protester, so too von Brunn has ties to several facets of the extreme right.

I've found that there is in fact a shadowland out there consisting of extreme anti-tax, anti-government fanatics who are also tied in with single issue fanatics (such as abortion and anti-immigration fanatics). Some, but not all are also white supremacists and members various hate groups, but even among those who are not it is easy for conspiracy theories to gain a foothold (be it 'birthers,' who deny Obama is a U.S. citizen, 'truthers,' who think the government planned and carried out 9/11 or whatever.) They meet up through networking, and have clearinghouse websites like American Patriot Friends Network with links to whatever nutty right wing idea you are looking for.

Where possible they try to influence public policy by getting members ('true friends' as they call them) elected to public office. But increasingly they seem to be turning to violence-- and yes, they are almost always well-armed.

This is not to suggest that many, or even more than a small minority-- of conservatives who hold strong views on topics like taxation, immigration or abortion, are members of this shadowland (though the dividing line between conservatism and 'off the deep end' does at times seem like a very fine one.) But their numbers are hard to define (just like any such organization they seem to have a core of true believers, then layers of people they want to draw in but who may run the gamut from hardcore converts to casual contacts.) What we do know is that they are dangerous and becoming more so.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Presidential approval holding steady at 60%

Lately the conservative side of the wonkisphere has been all a-twitter (literally).

Note: I'm not sure if anyone else has used the term 'wonkisphere' yet but if not I will use it to describe those of us who look forward to the release of every new poll the way a loyal fan of Star Trek waits for the newest commercial just to see something new, and read political tea leaves the way an archeologist reads pottery shards.

They are feeling blessed with new life since this week the Realclearpolitics Presidential approval poll average dipped below 60%. Right now it registers at 59.6% (that's right, whole numbers just are so pedestrian for us denizens of the wonkisphere.) The RCP average is an average of several of the most recent polls taken on approval of the President.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what 60% is supposed to mean. To me it's just a number. But when a President is above that number he is perceived to be a Goliath, perhaps vulnerable to a single well placed stone but otherwise crushing any who dare to get in his way. Below 60%, all of a sudden the armor comes off and out steps a mere mortal. That's when the other side doesn't just sling an occasional 'test-stone,' to try and find the chink in the armor, but out come the rhetorical darts and arrows and the poisoned pens for a full out frontal assault.

A closer examination of the polls that are currently being used by the average suggests that they should go ahead and sheathe the darts and quiver the arrows and cap the pens. The seven polls in the current incarnation of the RCP average are the Gallup tracking poll, the Rasmussen tracking poll, and polls from Marist, Associated Press/GfK, Quinnipiac, USA Today/Gallup and Democracy Corps, which states up front that it is a Democratic polling firm (interestingly enough though Democracy Corps has often given Obama approval numbers below the RCP average.)

Of these polls, Marist actually shows that Obama actually went up a point from the last time they were polled. They showed he had approval of 55% on April 21-23 and this month that has gone up to 56%. Democracy Corps, the last time they polled (May 10-12) had Obama with an approval rating of 58% and it is now up to 59%. Quinnipiac shows the reverse numbers, with Obama falling from 59% on April 21-27 to 58% now. Obama's best marks come from the AP poll, at 64% approval, and that is also the same number where they had him on April 16-20. The only even marginally significant decline among the five standard polls is in the USA Today/Gallup poll. They have him at 61% today and his approval was 64% when they polled it at the end of March.

As for the tracking polls, it is true that Gallup (the same organization that showed Obama with a slight decline when they polled with USA Today) shows Obama's approval slowly going down. Or does it? It appears so, but then if you look back a little further, the 60% today is higher than it was near the end of March or beginning of April.

Rasmussen tracking has Presidential approval at 58%. However, Rassmussen has not showed it at 60% since March 4. So in fact 58% is good with this outfit.

Excluded from this average because their last polls are too old are several organizations that in the past have showed Obama with high marks for approval. These include CBS News, Pew Research, Ipsos/McClatchey, Fox News (!), CNN/Opinion Research, ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times(not the same as CBS News) and NBC/Wall St. Journal.

So it appears that this result is more a factor of the specific pollsters used this go around (and their differences in polling methods) than it is a function of any underlying trend.

Barack Obama has been remarkably steady around 60% for at least the past two months, and I believe this trend will continue.

Don't worry, Goliath is alive and well, which should make the right happy because they can go back to slinging stones.

Decision sends a clear message: violence works

The family of Dr. George Tiller announced today that his clinic in Wichita (one of less than ten in the country that perform late term abortions) will not re-open.

Just one question: Doesn't this suggest that violence works? Scott Roeder, though he attempted to drive away, probably was not all that surprised when he was caught. So even if he spends the rest of his life in prison or gets the death penalty, he will probably be satisfied, sort of like jihadists who praise Allah before blowing themselves up in a crowd, or before having their heads chopped off for acts of terror committed in Saudi Arabia.

Now I will grant that there are practical business reasons why the clinic will not reopen without its founder. For one thing there is certainly a limited supply of doctors who are willing to risk their lives to work there (even more so given that there is a limited supply of doctors anyway, in nearly all fields of medicine.)

However, not re-opening the clinic still seems to send a chilling message to those who contemplate any act of terrorism (be it against abortion, against taxes, against some racial or ethnic group, etc.) The message is that they can now not only carry it out, but if they do then they can actually succeed in changing things just as they wish to. This decision will lead to more domestic terrorism, not less.


This prediction didn't take long to become reality. Only one day later (today, June 10) a gunman carried out an attack at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We don't yet know the details but it is clear that now that they've seen violence work in Wichita, every kook out there with a cause will be coming out of the woodwork, armed and ready to wreak havoc.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Newt's latest attack on Sotomayor: Same as the last one, except with an appeal to nazis and klansmen

Last week Newt Gingrich referred to Judge Sotomayor as a racist. That didn't sit very well with his fellow Republicans, so he took the word back.

Then today on CBS's 'Face the Nation,' Newt added an extra syllable.

He called her a 'racialist,' apparently having read an anti-Sotomayor article in the right-wing National Review by Kathryn Jean Lopez that appeared last Wednesday.

To the uninformed it might have sounded like he was calling her a racist again, and in fact he was, but with a clear message by using a coded term for it.

If you look into the word, 'racialist,' it isn't just a mispronunciation (though its origin is that it is the British term for the word, 'racist.')

If you go to various white supremacist sites you'll see that they've been using the term as an alternative to 'racist' for years, such as on this neo-nazi website or this transcript of an interview from 'the Klan Show' on White Pride TV.

Among committed white supremacists the term 'racialist' is used and recognized by each other as meaning, 'racist' and in particular 'white nationalist' but being in less common usage (though Newt seems to want to change that) it is more specific to the extreme right.

Now, I can understand how Newt recognizes that the Republican Party's base of old, white conservative fundamentalists is declining and he needs to reach out beyond the party's collapsing tent and bring some new people inside, but I don't think he will save the GOP if the people he's reaching out to are skinheads, nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

Friday, June 05, 2009

That didn't take very long.

The Dow today closed at 8,763.13, which is up more than 10% from the 7,949.09 that it closed at on January 20 (inauguration day.)

This is day 136 of the Obama administration.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sticks and Stones

Remember just a few weeks ago when Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano was pooh-poohed for a memo in which she cited intelligence reports that there was a growing threat of violence from the far right, especially violent opponents of abortion?

As Sunday's events tragically showed however, her memo was accurate.

In a sort of a pre-emptive move, Bill O'Reilly, who often singled out Dr. George Tiller as a 'mass murderer,' made a defensive statement yesterday in which he attempted to turn the blame back on anyone who would dare accuse the right for the actions of a lone nut.

And if this was the only lone nut that had ever done something like this he might have a point.

However, here is a list of 'lone nuts' from the far right who have committed politically or ideologically motivated murder over the past couple of decades:

1. Michael Griffin
2. Paul Hill
3. John Salvi
4. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols
5. Eric Robert Rudolph
6. James Kopp
7. Jim David Adkisson
8. Thomas Destories
9. Scott Roeder

Maybe they acted alone (or in a small group in the case of the OKC bombers) but this list is starting to grow too long to explain away as 'isolated incidents' (and note I'm not even getting into racially, homophobic, anti-semitic, anti-muslim or otherwise motivated hate crimes here, nor the many crimes like this that did not result in homicide-- if I did that this list would scroll down several pages).

What about from the far left? You'd have to go back to the 1970's (SLA/Weathermen era) to find any examples. Even the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who wasn't caught until 1996, got his start during the 1970's.)

What is more troubling is that Adkisson, Destories and now Roeder have acted just within this past year.

What is more troubling is the ease with which some on the right seem to have murderous fantasies just roll blithely off their tongues. For example, if we begin with O'Reilly let's not forget that he is on record as saying, that we should allow Al-Qaeda to bomb San Francisco and that George Soros should be hanged. But that is mild compared to what others on the right have said, up to and including advocating the death of all liberals. here is a pretty good site that catalogues a lot of it, including people who have publically advocated the killing of elected leaders, others on the left and anyone who speaks out against the policies of the (then-Bush) administration.

Now, do I support banning anyone's first amendment right to say whatever they want to say?

No, I don't. Even if it is national talk show hosts like O'Reilly that can cause a mentally unstable person like Scott Roeder to go off the edge and murder someone, or local Phoenix talk show hosts that can do the same for a local problem like Destories, I don't suggest that we take away anyone's right to say what they want.

But just as Sheikh Omar-Abdul Rahman was put on trial after his anti-American diatribes (delivered in a mosque, no less) were cited as inciting the bombers in the First World Trade Center bombing to act, and just as Oliver Wendell Holmes argued more than a century ago that if someone yells, "fire" in a crowded theater the First Amendment offers no recusal from responsibility for any deaths that may be the result of such speech, we should make it clear that whoever may have incited Roeder (and Destories, and the rest of them) to act, bears responsibility for whatever the consequences of their inflammatory rhetoric may have been.
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