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Trouble Ahead

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I find it very amusing that we are being bombarded with so many absurd election year “talking points” and none of them concern the risk of a 2012 economic recession.  The entire world seems in denial about a global problem which is about to hit everyone over the head.  I’m reminded of the odd brainstorming session in September of 2008, when Presidential candidates Obama and McCain were seated at the same table with a number of econ-honchos, all of whom were scratching their heads in confusion about the financial crisis.  Something similar is about to happen again.  You might expect our leaders to be smart enough to avoid being blindsided by an adverse economic situation – again – but this is not a perfect world.  It’s not even a mediocre world.

After two rounds of quantitative easing, the Kool-Aid drinkers are sipping away, in anticipation of the “2012 bull market”.  Even the usually-bearish Doug Kass recently enumerated ten reasons why he expects the stock market to rally “in the near term”.  I was more impressed by the reaction posted by a commenter – identified as “Skateman” at the Pragmatic Capitalism blog.  Kass’ reason #4 is particularly questionable:

Mispaced preoccupation with Europe:  The European situation has improved.   .  .  .

Skateman’s reaction to Kass’ reason #4 makes more sense:

The Europe situation has not improved.  There is no escape from ultimate disaster here no matter how the deck chairs are rearranged.  Market’s just whistling past the graveyard.

Of particular importance was this recent posting by Mike Shedlock (a/k/a Mish), wherein he emphasized that “without a doubt Europe is already in recession.”  After presenting his readers with the most recent data supporting his claim, Mish concluded with these thoughts:

Telling banks to lend in the midst of a deepening recession with numerous austerity measures yet to kick in is simply absurd.  If banks did increase loans, it would add to bank losses.  The smart thing for banks to do is exactly what they are doing, parking cash at the ECB.

Austerity measures in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and France combined with escalating trade wars ensures the recession will be long and nasty.

*   *   *

Don’t expect the US to be immune from a Eurozone recession and a Chinese slowdown.  Unlike 2011, it will not happen again.

Back on October 8, Jeff Sommer wrote an article for The New York Times, discussing the Economic Cycle Research Institute’s forecast of another recession:

“If the United States isn’t already in a recession now it’s about to enter one,” says Lakshman Achuthan, the institute’s chief operations officer.  It’s just a forecast.  But if it’s borne out, the timing will be brutal, and not just for portfolio managers and incumbent politicians.  Millions of people who lost their jobs in the 2008-9 recession are still out of work.  And the unemployment rate in the United States remained at 9.1 percent in September.  More pain is coming, says Mr. Achuthan.  He thinks the unemployment rate will certainly go higher.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes back up into double digits,” he says.

Mr. Achuthan’s outlook was echoed by economist John Hussman of the Hussman Funds, who pointed out in his latest Weekly Market Comment that investors have been too easily influenced by recent positive economic data such as payroll reports and Purchasing Managers Indices:

I can understand this view in the sense that the data points are correct – economic data has come in above expectations for several weeks, the Chinese, European and U.S. PMI’s have all ticked higher in the latest reports, new unemployment claims have declined, and December payrolls grew by 200,000.

Unfortunately, in all of these cases, the inference being drawn from these data points is not supported by the data set of economic evidence that is presently available, which is instead historically associated with a much more difficult outcome.  Specifically, the data set continues to imply a nearly immediate global economic downturn.  Lakshman Achuthan of the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) has noted if the U.S. gets through the second quarter of this year without falling into recession, “then, we’re wrong.”  Frankly, I’ll be surprised if the U.S. gets through the first quarter without a downturn.

At the annual strategy seminar held by Société Générale, their head of strategy – Albert Edwards – attracted quite a bit of attention with his grim prognostications.  The Economist summarized his remarks this way:

The surprise message for investors is that he feels the US is on the brink of another recession, despite the recent signs of optimism in the data (the non-farm payrolls, for example).  The recent temporary boost to consumption is down to a fall in the household savings ratio, which he thinks is not sustainable.

Larry Elliott of The Guardian focused on what Albert Edwards had to say about China and he provided more detail concerning Edwards’ remarks about the United States:

“There is a likelihood of a China hard landing this year.  It is hard to think 2013 and onwards will be any worse than this year if China hard-lands.”

*   *   *

He added that despite the recent run of more upbeat economic news from the United States, the risk of another recession in the world’s biggest economy was “very high”.  Growth had slowed to an annual rate of 1.5% in the second and third quarters of 2011, below the “stall speed” that historically led to recession.  It was unlikely that the economy would muddle through, Edwards said.

So there you have it.  The handwriting is on the wall.  Ignore it at your peril.


 

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Tool-Trashing Time

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I never liked Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  If you run that name (nickname included) on the search bar at the upper-right corner of this page, you will find a total of 13 previous entries wherein I discussed him in uncomplimentary terms.  What bugs me most about Lieberman is that so many people consider him as the personification of centrism.  I believe that Lieberman gives centrism a bad name because he is simply an opportunist.    The guy doesn’t really appear to stand for anything in particular – he is simply a tool for whatever lobbyist or other interest group is willing to play his quid pro quo game.  After Lieberman lost the Democratic Primary for his Senate seat in 2006, he chose to run as an Independent and in the process, he betrayed those individuals who contributed to his election campaign, believing that Lieberman would champion the causes he advanced before he had to sell his soul to Bush and Cheney in order to save his political hide.  It was only because Ned Lamont (the man who defeated him in the Democratic Primary) came down with a bad case of  The Smug – spending more time vacationing than campaigning for the November election – that Lieberman managed to win a fourth term as junior Senator from Connecticut.

Needless to say, Emily Bazelon’s recent article for Slate, “Good Riddance, Joe Lieberman – Why I loathe my Connecticut Senator” was a real treat.  It was nice to see that a good number of people were as thrilled as I to hear that The Tool was calling it quits.  While discussing the celebratory outpouring of enthusiasm by anti-Lieberman-ites Ms. Bazelon mentioned this:

Another friend, Judy Chevalier, burned up her iPad tonight when I asked her to enumerate why she hates Joe Lieberman.  She ticked off a half-dozen reasons and then said, “The thing is, I did not come up with most of these myself.  They come from many rounds of playing the peculiar Connecticut liberal cocktail party game ‘I hated Joe Lieberman before you hated Joe Lieberman.’ ”  Longtime Lieberman haters, she says, look all the way back to 1993, when Lieberman led a hedge-fund-friendly charge in the Senate against the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which at the time wanted to close the accounting loophole that let corporations duck the recording of stock options on their balance sheets.

As an aside, the first half of that passage was characterized as “the money quote” by the Red State blog and other far-right commentators, anxious to avenge Sarah Palin since her “crosshairs” SarahPac campaign ad was criticized after the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  The magic word, “hate” gave the hard right the opportunity to argue that “liberals hate politicians, too”.  Actually, the real “money quote” can be found by clicking on the highlighted language discussing the fight over the Financial Accounting Standards Board rules:

Corporate America aligned with the accounting industry to fight the FASB proposal, with the result that in 1994, the Senate, led by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), passed a non-binding resolution condemning the proposal by a vote of 88-to-9.

“It wasn’t an accounting debate,” says Jim Leisenring, the vice chairman of FASB from 1988 to 2000.  “We switched from talking about, ‘Have we accurately measured the option?’ or, ‘Have we expensed the option on the proper date?’ to things like, ‘Western civilization will not exist without stock options,’ or, ‘There won’t be jobs anymore for people without stock options.’ … People tried to take the argument away from the accounting to be just plainly a political argument.”

Does that rhetoric sound familiar?

After his 2006 victory, Lieberman continued to betray the people of Connecticut by abandoning his duties in the Senate to follow John McCain all along the 2008 campaign trail (including McCain’s trip to Afganistan) in the hope of securing a place for himself in the would-be McCain administration.  The Tool knew he would never win a fifth term in the Senate.  His only hope was to latch on to McCain’s pantsleg and hang on for dear life.  In the wake of that fiasco, The Tool’s approval rating continued to slide and by October of 2010, it was down to 31 percent.  A fifth term in the Senate was definitely out of the question.  His campaign war chest could be put to better uses – such as buying “friendships” before beginning a new career as a lobbyist.

Despite Lieberman’s crucial effort in the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy, it is interesting to observe how many gay people are willing to overlook that good deed while celebrating Lieberman’s retirement.  A review of the comments at the joemygod blog exposes these reactions:

Good riddance.  DADT capped an otherwise awful career as a spoiler.

*   *   *

Thanks for DADT, but not terribly sorry you’re leaving the Senate.  And I really didn’t want the anxiety of watching a 3-way race in CT, which might have sent a wingnut from the Right to the Senate.

*   *   *

good riddance to the man who killed the public option to satisfy his insurance industry friends in Connecticut. a terrible person

So much for that legacy thing   .   .   .

Daniela Altimari of The Hartford Courant’s CapitolWatch blog, revealed a wide spectrum of reactions to Lieberman’s announcement.  As one might expect, the remarks from politicians were painfully cordial, polite and not worth our time here.  I’ll provide you with two of the more interesting quotes:

“Joe Lieberman took millions from insurance companies, Wall Street banks, and other corporate interests – and then did their dirty work in Congress, including killing the public option.  As a result, Lieberman’s poll numbers were disastrous in Connecticut.  His decision to quit in the face of assured defeat is a huge victory for the progressive movement and all Americans who want Democrats to put regular families ahead of corporate interests.”

—  Keauna Gregory, Progressive Change Campaign Committee

*   *   *

“Of all the horrible things Joe Lieberman has done in his hideous career, depriving everyone of the joy at seeing him lose is near the top”

—  Glenn Greenwald of Salon (via Twitter)

The Connecticut Mirror provided these reactions:

“It’s the first thing he’s done in 10 years to make Connecticut Democrats completely happy.”

—  Bill Curry, former state comptroller, as quoted in The New York Times

*   *   *

“He couldn’t leave the Senate fast enough as far as I’m concerned. He’s not only driving Democrats nuts down here, but he’s become a right-wing extremist on everything except the environment and gay rights.”

—  Ralph Nader, as quoted in The Hartford Courant

*   *   *

“He will leave behind a long list of achievements, from helping to consolidate the nation’s intelligence gathering services in a way that appears to make it more difficult to gather intelligence, to threatening to filibuster the health care reform act until it had been watered down to suit his own high principles.  You will find it all in my upcoming book, ‘Everything Bad Is Joe Lieberman’s Fault.’ ”

—  Gail Collins, writing in The New York Times

As we approach The Tool’s final days in the Senate, I will be looking forward to similar tributes.


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The GOP Is Losing Centrists

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March 23, 2010

David Frum’s Sunday afternoon blog posting, “Waterloo” has been receiving praise for its painfully accurate diagnosis of what ails (or should I say, “Ailes”) the Republican Party.  Among his important points were these:

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

*   *   *

The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government.  Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination.  When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests.  What he omitted to say — but what is equally true — is that he also wants Republicans to fail.  If Republicans succeed — if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry.  And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry.  Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio.  For them, it’s mission accomplished.  For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right:  ours.

On the following evening, Frum appeared on ABC’s Nightline with Terry Moran and this exchange took place:

Moran:   “It sounds like you’re saying that the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, hijacked the Republican party and drove it to a defeat?”

Frum:   “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.  And this balance here has been completely reversed.  The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.”

During the days leading up to the vote on the healthcare bill, the rallying tea party activists exhibited the behavior of a lynch mob.  Their rhetoric was curiously extreme and anyone with a neutral point of view on the issue had to wonder what was pushing those people to the edge.   Following up on Frum’s thesis, Thomas Frank of The Wall Street Journal seemed to have the right idea:

It is tempting to understand the tea party movement as a distant relative of the lowest form of televangelism, with its preposterous moral certainty, its weird faith in markets, its constant profiteering, and, of course, its gullible audiences.

Tea partiers fancy themselves a movement without leaders, but this is only true in the sense that, say, the nation’s Miley Cyrus fan clubs don’t have a central leader.  They don’t need one — they have Miley Cyrus herself.  And the tea partiers, for their part, have Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the various personalities of Fox News, whose exploits were mentioned frequently from the speaker’s platform on Saturday.  But it was only after I watched an online video of Capitol Hill protesters earnestly instructing one another in what sounded like Mr. Beck’s trademark theory of progressivism that I understood:  This is protest as a form of fandom.

These are TV citizens, regurgitating TV history lessons, and engaged in a TV crusade.  They seem to care little for the give and take of the legislative process.  What seems to make sense to them is the logic of entertainment, the ever-escalating outrage of reality TV.

But maybe, one of these days, the nation is going to change the channel.

That change of the channel is exactly what the Republicans need to worry about.  Karl Rove’s trademark strategy of pandering to the so-called “base” of the party failed in 2006 and it failed again in 2008.  Nevertheless the GOP continues with a tone-deaf strategy, focused on the manipulated emotions of the tea partiers.

As I observed when I started this blog two years ago, a decision by John McCain to continue pandering to the televangelist lobby after winning the Republican Presidential nomination, would make absolutely no sense.  McCain now finds himself struggling against an ultra-conservative tea partier for the Republican nomination to retain his Senate seat.  He has again chosen to pander to the base and in the process, he has painted himself into a corner — boosting the chances for victory by the Democratic nominee in November.

The Republicans just don’t get it.  John “BronzeGel” Boehner’s decision to ally himself with the banking lobbyists has given another black eye to the Republican Party.   Although the voting public has become increasingly educated and incensed about the bank bailouts as a form of “lemon socialism” BronzeGel decided to give a pep talk to the American Bankers Association, advising them:

“Don’t let those little punk staffers take advantage of you and stand up for yourselves.”

Who is going to stand up for the taxpayers (and their children) who have been forced to support the welfare queens of Wall Street?  Certainly not the Republicans.  BronzeGel Boehner has promised to fight a protracted battle against financial reform.  In the process, he and his party are throwing the centrist voters (and the educated conservatives) under the bus.  What a brilliant strategy!



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Awareness Abounds

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November 12, 2009

When I started this blog in April of 2008, my focus was on that year’s political campaigns and the exciting Presidential primary season.  At the time, I expressed my concern that the most prominent centrist in the race, John McCain, would continue pandering to the televangelist lobby after winning the nomination, when those efforts were no longer necessary.  He unfortunately followed that strategy and went on to say dumb things about the most pressing issue facing America in decades: the economy.  During the Presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, James Carville was credited with writing this statement on a sign in front of Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Little Rock:  “It’s the economy, stupid!”  That phrase quickly became the mantra of most politicians until the attacks of September 11, 2001 revealed that our efforts at national security were inadequate.  Since that time, we have over-compensated in that area.  Nevertheless, with the demise of Rudy Giuliani’s political career, the American public is not as jumpy about terrorism as it had been — despite the suspicious connections of the deranged psychiatrist at Fort Hood.  As the recent editorials by Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune and Vincent Carroll of The Denver Post demonstrate, the cerebral bat guano necessary to get the public fired-up for a vindictive rampage just isn’t there anymore.

President Obama’s failure to abide by the Carville maxim appears to be costing him points in the latest approval ratings.  The fact that the new President has surrounded himself with the same characters who helped create the financial crisis, has become a subject of criticism by commentators from across the political spectrum.  Since Obama’s Presidential campaign received nearly one million dollars in contributions from Goldman Sachs, he should have known we’d be watching.  CNBC’s Charlie Gasparino was recently interviewed by Aaron Task.  During that discussion, Gasparino explained that Jamie Dimon (the CEO of JP Morgan Chase and director of the New York Federal Reserve) has managed to dissuade the new President from paying serious attention to Paul Volcker (chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board) whose ideas for financial reform would prove inconvenient for those “too big to fail” financial institutions.  As long as JP Morgan’s “Dimon Dog” and Lloyd Bankfiend of Goldman Sachs have such firm control over the puppet strings of “Turbo” Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke, why pay attention to Paul Volcker?  The voting public (as well as most politicians) can’t understand most of these economic problems, anyway.  I seriously doubt that many of our elected officials could explain the difference between a credit default swap and a wife swap.

Once again, Dan Gerstein of Forbes.com has directed a water cannon of common sense on the malaise blaze that has been fueled by a plague of ignorance.  In his latest piece, Gerstein tossed aside that tattered, obsolete handbook referred to as “conventional wisdom” to take a hard look at the reality facing all incumbent, national politicians:

It’s the stupidity about the economy in Washington and on Wall Street that’s driving most voters berserk.  Indeed, the financial system is still out of whack and tens of millions of people are (or fear they soon could be) out of work, yet every day our political and economic leaders say and do knuckleheaded things that show they are unfailingly and imperviously out of touch with those realities.

Gerstein’s short essay is essential reading for a quick understanding of how and why America can’t seem to solve many of its pressing problems these days.  Gerstein has identified the responsible culprits as three groups:  the Democrats, the Republicans and the big banks — describing them as the “axis of cluelessness”:

We have gone long past “they don’t get it” territory.  It’s now unavoidably clear that they won’t get it — and we won’t get the responsible leadership and honest capitalism we want–until (as I have suggested before) we demand it.

Surprisingly, public awareness concerning the root cause of both the financial crisis and our ongoing economic predicament has escalated to a startling degree in recent weeks.  This past spring, if you wanted to find out about the nefarious activities transpiring at Goldman Sachs, you had to be familiar with Zero Hedge or GoldmanSachs666.com.  Today, you need look no further than Maureen Dowd’s column or the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live.  Everyone knows what the problem is.  Gordon Gekko’s 1987 proclamation that “greed is good” has not only become an acceptable fact of life, it has infected our laws and the opinions rendered by our highest courts.  We are now living with the consequences.

Fortunately, there are plenty of people in the American financial sector who are concerned about the well-being of our society.  A recent study by David Weild and Edward Kim (Capital Markets Advisors at Grant Thornton LLP) entitled “A wake-up call for America” has revealed the tragic consequences resulting from the fact that the United States, when compared with other developed countries, has fallen seriously behind in the number of companies listed on our stock exchanges.  Here’s some of what they had to say:

The United States has been engaged in a longstanding experiment to cut commission and trading costs.  What is lacking in this process is the understanding that higher transaction costs actually subsidized services that supported investors.  Lower transaction costs have ushered in the age of  “Casino Capitalism” by accommodating trading interests and enabling the growth of day traders and high-frequency trading.

The Great Depression in Listings was caused by a confluence of technological, legislative and regulatory events — termed The Great Delisting Machine — that started in 1996, before the 1997 peak year for U.S. listings.  We believe cost cutting advocates have gone overboard in a misguided attempt to benefit investors.  The result — investors, issuers and the economy have all been harmed.

The Grant Thornton study illustrates how and why “as many as 22 million” jobs have been lost since 1997, not to mention the destruction of retirement savings, forcing many people to come out of retirement and back to work.  Beyond that, smaller companies have found it more difficult to survive and business loans have become harder to obtain.

Aside from all the bad news, the report does offer solutions to this crisis:

The solutions offered will help get the U.S. back on track by creating high-quality jobs, driving economic growth, improving U.S. competitiveness, increasing the tax base, and decreasing the U.S. budget deficit — all while not costing the U.S. taxpayer a dime.

These solutions are easily adopted since they:

  • create new capital markets options while preserving current options,
  • expand choice for consumers and issuers,
  • preserve SEC oversight and disclosure, including Sarbanes-Oxley, in the public market solution, and
  • reserve private market participation only to “qualified” investors, thus protecting those investors that  need protection.

These solutions would refocus a significant portion of Wall Street on rebuilding the U.S. economy.

The Grant Thornton website also has a page containing links to the appropriate legislators and a prepared message you can send, urging those legislators to take action to resolve this crisis.

Now is your chance to do something that can help address the many problems with our economy and our financial system.  The people at Grant Thornton were thoughtful enough to facilitate your participation in the resolution of this crisis.  Let the officials in Washington know what their bosses — the people — expect from them.



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A Question Of Timing

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May 11, 2009

Josh Kraushaar has reported for Politico that on Tuesday, May 12, Florida Governor Charlie Crist will announce his intention to run as the Republican candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez.  Kraushaar explained that Crist would become the Republican Party’s “most high-profile recruit of the 2010 election cycle”.  He went on to point out:

Crist’s decision puts Republicans in strong position to hold onto the seat held by retiring Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.).  Crist holds high approval ratings among both Republicans and Democrats, according to statewide polling, and has forged a moderate governing style that has won him widespread support.

His decision to run came as little surprise to political observers, with the governor and his allies hinting of his interest in running for Congress over the last several months.

The timing of Crist’s announcement is rather interesting, in light of the fact that he is prominently featured in Kirby Dick’s new documentary film, Outrage, which opened on Friday.  Andrew O’Hehir interviewed Kirby Dick for Salon.com.  This is what the filmmaker had to say about his new movie:

My film is not about outing closeted politicians.  It’s about reporting on the hypocrisy of closeted politicians who vote anti-gay.  That’s the bright line that I draw.  In many cases, these politicians would normally vote pro-gay.  But because of the rumors swirling around them, they run in the opposite direction.  Their votes not merely harm millions of gays and lesbians across the country, but they’re also voting against their own beliefs, solely to protect the closet.  That’s contorting the American political process.

Rumors about Governor Crist’s lifestyle have circulated here in Florida for many years.  Many of my conservative Republican friends have always believed those rumors, although the issue never stopped them from voting for Crist.  Once he became identified as a potential running mate for John McCain in the 2008 election, Governor Crist got married.  The timing of that event made many people suspicious.  With Crist’s imminent announcement of his intention to run for the Senate, the question of timing has come up again.  Will he distract attention away from the questions raised by the film, Outrage . . .   or will the timing of his announcement enhance the magnitude of those concerns?

Bob Norman is the writer for the Broward and Palm Beach County edition of the New Times who was interviewed by Kirby Dick for the movie.  The filmmaker retraced some of the reporting done by Norman about Charlie Crist back in 2006.  Norman’s reports were based on information provided by two campaign staffers for the infamous Katherine Harris:  Jason Wetherington and Bruce Jordan.  In his recent New Times article about the film, Mr. Norman was careful to point out that the claims concerning Governor Crist’s preferences remain open to question:

I’ll never shy away from that reporting.  There is no question that both Wetherington and Jordan boasted of having affairs with Crist and there is no question that both men had met the man.  One woman, Dee Dee Hall, even gave a sworn statement detailing Jordan’s claims about his relationship with Crist.

But the fact remains that it’s possible both men were lying.  It may not seem likely, but it’s possible.

*    *    *

As well-known outer Michelangelo Signorile put it, there is no “smoking dick” here.  But it’s compelling stuff that’s worth reporting.

Jason Bellini provided a video report on the release of Outrage for The Daily Beast, which included an interview with Kirby Dick.  Bellini also provided an analysis of the mainstream media’s reaction to the film’s focus on Governor Crist.  For the most part, the mainstream outlets wrote off the claims as unsubstantiated rumors.

Aaron Blake reported for The Hill, that Charlie Crist’s Senate campaign could threaten the Republican Party’s control in Florida because a “domino effect” would result if he were to vacate the Governor’s office.  The GOP managed to consolidate its power here in the 2008 election, despite the fact that Barack Obama won this state.  Blake provided this perspective from a Republican insider:

“It’s going to be a complete shakeup from top to bottom of the Florida political landscape,” said GOP fundraiser Ana Navarro. “The political season could be more active than our hurricane season.”

If allegations of hypocrisy and concealment of a secret gay lifestyle get serious attention in Charlie Crist’s 2010 Senate campaign, Ms. Navarro’s analogy might be very appropriate.

The Republicans Have No Choice

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March 2, 2009

Republican pundit Mike Murphy drove the message home on the March 1 telecast of NBC’s Meet The Press.  Demographics have changed since the Republican heyday of the Reagan era.  The Republican mission, message and strategy must adapt to our changing world.

On the other hand, last week brought us the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Convention) with its unique focus that has no relevance to current reality.  The Democratically-inclined pundits on MSNBC were delighted by the CPAC festivities. These commentators were left with visions of Sarah Palin as the 2012 Presidential candidate, dancing in their heads.

We’ve seen and heard plenty of opinions about the current leadership vacuum within the Republican Party.  Almost by default, he who makes the most noise, Rush Limbaugh, has found himself as the new, de facto leader of the Republicans.  Although he is not a candidate for anything, he enjoys more of a papal role with the diehard Republicans.  His message is amplified by people like Chris Matthews on MSNBC (who regularly discourses about how the Republicans always swing back to the “hard right”, when a moderate Presidential candidate fails).  Matthews then describes John McCain as the failed “moderate” and proceeds to (hopefully) set the stage for a “wing nut” Presidential candidate such as Sarah Palin or Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal.  In either case, Obama gets re-elected — even if unemployment is at 42 percent and the Dow Jones is at 369.

The problem with Chris Matthews’ logic is that McCain pandered to the hard-right “base” in his quest for the White House and could not really be considered as a truly moderate candidate.  The Republicans could wise-up and move toward the center by 2012.  Besides:  They have no choice.

Here in Florida, we have a fait accompli.  Our next Senator, replacing the retiring Republican Senator Mel Martinez, will be our current Governor, Charlie Crist.  Governor Crist is a moderate Republican who enjoys a 73% approval rating.  Crist’s support of President Obama’s stimulus bill resulted in his appearance in Ft. Myers on February 10, to introduce the new President to an adoring crowd.  Governor Crist took lots of heat for that, from know-nothing conservative pundits.   Charlie Crist is laughing all the way to the Senate.  As the February 24 article by Aaron Blake on The Hill website pointed out:  the Democrats don’t have any strong challengers.  It’s a lost cause.  Here, “on the ground”, everyone knows it.

Meanwhile the “liberal” media are busy snarking at Crist, repeating the “gay” rumors that circulated prior to his recent marriage.  This hostility is probably due to the fact that Crist is on the record as opposing any change to Florida’s existing ban on gay adoption.  Any useful resemblance to former Republican Senator Larry Craig’s hypocrisy on gay issues would be a convenient “G-bomb” to throw into an election campaign.   The Huffington Post is big on these “gay” rumors, as is the current incarnation of Wonkette.  What those people don’t know is that the rumors never seemed to matter.  For example:  I’ve known and worked with many conservative Republicans who assumed those rumors were true.  Nevertheless, they still supported and voted for Charlie Crist.  It didn’t matter to them, nor did the issue ever matter to any significant number of people in this State.  Governor Crist had been married to a woman named Amanda Morrow in 1979.  That marriage lasted one year.  On December 12, 2008 he married Carole Rome.  Many of the rumor-mongers claim that this was a “staged” marriage, to advance Crist’s political career.  Nevertheless, you can trust my opinion, as a heterosexual bachelor of approximately the same age as Governor Crist …  If he is trying to “fake” a marriage at this point in his life … You will see him running out of the Governor’s mansion within a very short time, yelling:  “All right!  I’m GAY!  I CONFESS!!!  I’m GAAAAAAAAAYYY!!!”

I don’t believe we will see that happen.  Beyond that, I’m really disappointed that purportedly “gay-friendly” media would be taking these cheap shots at Charlie Crist.  He is going to be our next Senator and he will win because a majority of Democratic voters will support his candidacy.  Deal with it.

The next question is whether the Republican party will finally figure out, after the 2010 election, that there is a trend here.  Republicans are faced with the likelihood that future campaign strategies will nullify the efforts of extremists whose political ambitions have been based on the existence of the political primary system.  As Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman has often discussed, the political primary system, by its nature, results in extremists from both sides getting much better traction than they would have in an open election.  Politicians are on to this.  Watch for more centrists running as independent candidates — and witness the disintegration of the “wing nut” dominance within the Republican Party.

Jackass Of The Year Award

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January 1, 2009

At year’s end, we see retrospectives of the most important events, numerous top ten lists and recognitions of achievement in one area or another.  2008 brought a record level of cynicism to the American people because of the economic catastrophe, the Bernie Madoff scandal and the cartoon-like escapades from the Presidential campaign.  Accordingly, it seems only appropriate to pay homage to the biggest Jackass of the Year.  Since I advertise this website as a “Blago-free zone”, the current Governor of Illinois is automatically disqualified from the competition.  So, let’s take a look at some of the runners-up and finally, the winner of the Jackass of the Year Award.

Our first contestant is John Ensign.  He is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, representing the State of Nevada in the United States Senate.  On November 2, 2008 he appeared on the CBS television program, Face The Nation with Bob Schieffer.  Election day was two days away and Ensign found it necessary to blame the likely Republican losses on the economic downturn.  He described the Republicans’ fate in these terms:

“And we were starting to do very, very well, but when the financial crisis hit, that financial crisis really is — has been a — almost a body blow to Republicans.  And unfortunately, it was allowed to be portrayed that this was a result of deregulation, when in fact it was a result of overregulation.”

That’s right.  Ensign Douchebag thought he could convince the public that the economic crisis was the result of over-regulation of the financial system, rather than the deregulation described by everyone else in the world.  That noble statement certainly rates runner-up status for the Jackass of the Year Award.

Our next contestant is Reverend Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and embarrassment to Barack Obama.  Thank God Reverend Wright’s fifteen minutes of fame are finally over.  Although his infamous sermon with the less-than-patriotic remarks about America was given in 2003, by April of 2008, Rev. Wright made a point of resurrecting the controversy concerning his disappointing association with Barack Obama.   At that time Wright hit the road, appearing on Bill Moyers Journal, speaking before the NAACP and giving a grand performance before the National Press Club.  He made a fool of himself all three times and (perhaps to his disappointment) his bad karma never rubbed off on Barack.  The pastor has also been a disgrace to the name of the Right Reverend Carl Wright (comedic sidekick of Chicago blues maven, Pervis Spann).  Although Jeremiah Wright rated recognition, the competition for the Jackass Award was tough this year.

We cannot overlook the valiant efforts of Joe “The Tool” Lieberman to win this honor.  Although the people of Connecticut elected Joe to represent their state in the Senate, The Tool spent most of 2008 looking like a stray dog, following candidate John McCain around the campaign trial.  You can find my prior rants about Senator Lieberman here, here, here and here.

We must also give consideration to Christopher Cox, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  John McCain was on to him.  It just wasn’t fair that poor, old Senator McCain took so much heat for pointing out that Cox had to go.  McCain made the mistake of stating that he, as President, would have authority to fire Cox.  Although he was wrong about that, he was right about the notion that Cox had been a problem for the SEC.  On December 16, Jessie Westerbrook of Bloomberg news reported that Cox was blaming his subordinates for the enforcement lapses that allowed the scam, perpetrated by Bernie Madoff, to continue for several years after the SEC should have stopped it.  Cox apparently believes in the doctrine that “the buck stops” several levels below himself on the SEC food chain.  The environment at the SEC, with Cox at the helm, was best summed up in a December 27 article from the Los Angeles Times by Amit Paley and David Hilzenrath.  Here’s what they had to say about the tenure of Chairman Cox and his performance during the economic crisis:

Though Cox speaks of staying calm in the face of financial turmoil, lawmakers across the political spectrum counter that this is actually another way of saying that his agency remained passive during the worst global financial crisis in decades.  And they claim that Cox’s stewardship before this year — focusing on deregulation as the agency’s staff shrank — laid the groundwork for the meltdown.

“The commission in recent years has handcuffed the inspection and enforcement division,” said Arthur Levitt, SEC chairman during the Clinton administration.  “The environment was not conducive to proactive enforcement activity.”

*    *    *

But former officials said enforcement suffered during his tenure.  A pilot program begun last year required enforcement staff to meet with the commissioners before beginning settlement talks in certain cases involving nonfinancial firms.  Some former officials said the change was just one example of new bureaucratic impediments that slowed enforcement work.  The commissioners also made clear that they thought staff members were being too aggressive in some cases, the officials said.

”I think there has been a sentiment communicated to rank-and-file staff, lawyers and accountants that you don’t go after the establishment,” said Ross Albert, a former special counsel in the enforcement division.
*    *    *
An analysis by law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius showed that the SEC’s actions against broker-dealers, who serve as intermediaries in financial trades, dropped about 33%, from about 89 cases in fiscal 2007 to 60 cases in fiscal 2008.

Heckuva’ job, Coxey!   Nevertheless, you have been overshadowed in this year’s competition.

The winner of the 2008 Jackass of the Year Award is a professor from Russia, named Igor Panarin.  He is a former member of the KGB, who is apparently so upset over the breakup of the Soviet Union, that for the past ten years, he has been predicting that the United States would also break up.  On December 29, Andrew Osborn reported in The Wall Street Journal that Panarin has been doing two interviews per day, discussing how “an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S.”  The article explained:

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar.  Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces — with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

Worse yet, the other five parts of the country will supposedly become republics that will be part of or under the influence of Canada, the European Union, Mexico, China or Japan.  Osborn’s article included a picture of Panarin’s map, showing how the various segments of the country would be apportioned.  Panarin’s ideas have brought him quite a bit of publicity  . . . and TheCenterLane.com’s Jackass of the Year Award for 2008!  Congratulations, Jackass!

No Jews Allowed In Rick Warren’s Heaven

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December 22, 2008

There has been quite a bit of attention focused on Barack Obama’s choice of conservative evangelical minister, Rick Warren, to deliver the invocation at the Presidential inauguration ceremony on January 20.  Most of the outrage over that choice stems from the fact that Warren was actively involved in promoting Proposition 8, the controversial California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriages.

A large number of objections to Warren’s participation in this historic ceremony are coming from Hollywood.  As Tina Daunt reported in the December 20 Los Angeles Times, the entertainment community’s reaction to Warren’s role in the inaugural was “swift, angry and bitter”.  Her article quoted Hollywood publicist, Howard Bragman who said the following about Barack Obama:

“What he didn’t realize was how much untapped energy there was in the gay and lesbian community because of the passage of Prop. 8,” said Bragman. “Obama didn’t realize, after all the support he got from the gay and lesbian community, we feel betrayed right now.”

Meanwhile, back at the nation’s capitol, Barney Frank, the openly gay Senator from Massachusetts, had much to say about Warren’s role in the inaugural ceremony.  As Jason Blum reported on December 21 at the Bloomberg website, Senator Frank said this about the inclusion of Warren in the event:

“Giving that kind of mark of approval and honor to someone who has frankly spoken in ways I and many others have found personally very offensive, I thought that was a mistake for the president-elect to do.”

I particularly enjoyed the piece written by Christopher Hitchens for Slate on December 19.  I thought the televangelist lobby would have been run out of Washington in the wake of the 2008 elections.  Chris Hitchens appears to be sharing my disappointment over that group’s enduring presence on Capitol Hill, despite the efforts of many to preserve the separation of church and state.  The most impressive point made in this article concerned Warren’s insistence that there are no Jews allowed in heaven:

It is a fact that Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., was present at a meeting of the Aspen Institute not long ago and was asked by Lynda Resnick — she of the pomegranate-juice dynasty — if a Jew like herself could expect to be admitted to paradise.  Warren publicly told her no.

Similarly, Time magazine’s Joe Klein had this to say in his December 16 posting on his Swampland blog at Time.com, concerning Warren’s insistence that Jews can’t go to heaven:

I am not a big fan of Rick Warren’s.  He thinks I’m going to hell.  He said so in mixed company, at an Aspen Institute forum.  He was asked if Jews were going to hell.  He said yes.  He can go ahead and feed every poor child in Africa and I’m still going to think he’s a fool for believing that.  Reverend Rick is also not too big on gay or women’s rights.  (Indeed, if Jews–and all other non born-again Christians–homosexuals, feminists, and anyone who has either had an abortion, performed an abortion or reluctantly agrees that it’s none of our business who has abortions  …  if all those people are going to hell, then heaven’s got to be about as interesting as linoleum.)

Regardless of the controversies over Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage, is it really appropriate to have a man deliver the invocation at the Presidential inauguration ceremony, when that man professes that Jews are not allowed into heaven?  Does Warren believe that there is a big “No Jews Allowed” sign at the pearly gates?  Has heaven been getting away with something that American country clubs have not been able to do, since the 1970s?

There is obviously plenty wrong with having someone of Warren’s ilk speaking at the Presidential inauguration.  Gay weddings constitute just one of many issues these characters have on their list of things to not tolerate.  Chris Hitchens suggested three questions to be asked of the Obama transition team, before the inauguration proceeds:

— Will Warren be invited to the solemn ceremony of inauguration without being asked to repudiate what he has directly said to deny salvation to Jews?

— Will he be giving a national invocation without disowning what his mentor said about civil rights and what his leading supporter says about Mormons?

— Will the American people be prayed into the next administration, which will be confronted by a possible nuclear Iran and an already nuclear Pakistan, by a half-educated pulpit-pounder raised in the belief that the Armageddon solution is one to be anticipated with positive glee?

Remember John McCain’s old expression, “agents of intolerance”?  Who would have thought that one such agent would deliver the invocation when Barack Obama is sworn in as our next President?

Because He Is A Tool

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November 13, 2008

The “Tool Watch” continues.  In the days after the historic 2008 Presidential election, intrigue abounds as to the future political career of Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  Lieberman was re-elected to the Senate in 2006 as an Independent candidate (after having lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamot).  The Tool realized that his betrayal of the Democrats could result in the loss of his many important appointments, should Obama get elected.  Joe had already “sold his soul” to Bush, Cheney and Rove in his quest for re-election.  At that point, he had no choice but to “go for broke” by endorsing John McCain.  However, The Tool went beyond that.  He spoke ill of Obama at the Republican Convention.  He followed McCain around throughout the Presidential campaign, giving rally speeches himself, in addition to serving as McCain’s “nodder” when McCain would question Obama’s patriotism.  The Tool questioned Obama’s patriotism with his own allegations that Obama placed allegiance to the Democratic Party ahead of his allegiance to the country.  The Tool evoked further outrage from Democrats by campaigning for “down ticket” Republicans, while stumping around the country for McCain and Palin.  Now that Obama has been elected President, many Democrats are hungry to avenge The Tool’s malicious acts by stripping him of the appointments earned while in good standing as a member of the Democratic Party.  The most notable of these is his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  President-elect Obama has expressed his desire to see Lieberman remain in the Senate Democratic Caucus.  Obama has said nothing about The Tool’s numerous committee and subcommittee memberships or chairmanships.  In keeping with his “No Drama Obama” image, the President-elect appears to have distanced himself from any “blood feuds” involving Lieberman.

My animosity toward The Tool is based on the fact that he is a pathetic ass-kisser.  He knew that his committee appointments would be in jeopardy in the event of an Obama victory.  Accordingly, he didn’t simply endorse John McCain.  He followed McCain around as a stray dog, looking for a new home.  Those of us with the experience of having worked with such people, know that these individuals don’t deserve much in the way of respect.  One of the reasons we enjoy watching “action movies” is because the “ass-kisser” is usually the first person to get killed (by either the hero or the villain).  It seems as though justice and karma are well-served in these movies, when such cretins get their due.

Many people who consider themselves “liberal Democrats” seem anxious to make The Tool an example for future, would-be defectors.  On November 12, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow expressed her concern that the Lieberman case could set a precedent, regardless of what action the Senate Democrats might take in light of The Tool’s transgressions.  Her November 10 program included an interview with Steve Clemons of The Washington Note website.  Mr. Clemons suggested removing Lieberman from his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs because of the The Tool’s fear mongering on the subject of homeland security throughout the 2008 campaign.  Clemons emphasized the proposition that Lieberman should not be able to use homeland security or national security as a foundation to batter Democrats who want a smarter national security policy.

Rachel Maddow discussed this subject again on November 12, with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.  Senator Bayh discussed the possibility that Lieberman might be unwilling to suffer the indignity of being stripped of his appointments and thus relegated to the status of backbencher.  Bayh worried that under such circumstances, The Tool  might self-destruct:  resign from the Senate and allow Connecticut’s Republican Governor (Jodi Rell) to appoint a “pure Republican” to replace Lieberman.  To Bayh, this would be a more undesirable alternative than putting up with a traitor.  His logic seems based on the rationale that because Lieberman is such a tool, the Democrats could make him their tool once again.  Bayh suggested a two-part compromise.  First, Lieberman should be allowed to retain his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security with “oversight”.  Bayh pointed out that a committee chairman could be replaced at any time.  If those overseeing The Tool reached the conclusion that he should be ousted, it would only then become appropriate for such action.  The second part of Bayh’s proposed compromise would involve an apology from Lieberman for his antics during the 2008 campaign.  I would like to suggest another alternative.  In the event Lieberman might be unwilling to make such an apology, the Senate Democrats should demand that The Tool have the word “Craftsman” tattooed on his forehead.

Go Ask The Bullet

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November 10, 2008

Centrism has finally become trendy.  I always sensed some fear within the hearts of the more outspoken conservative pundits that an Obama Administration would usher in a neo-Camelot era of fashionable liberalism.  What we are seeing so far, is a movement toward Centrist Chic.  Everyone is getting on the bandwagon.  On Sunday’s Face The Nation, Bob Schieffer reported that President-elect Obama pulled the plug on a planned fireworks show in Grant Park for election night, to enforce his own “no gloating” rule.  Additionally, the Obama “inner circle” has assured us that we can expect some Republican faces in the next Administration, if not the Cabinet.

Prominent Republican leaders are repeatedly asked:  “Where does the GOP go from here?”  Their answer should be:  to the center.  I could never understand why the McCain campaign fought so hard to win over the “hard right” base, once the Republican nomination was secured.  In my posting “Which Way To The White House?” on June 16, I expressed my astonishment concerning McCain’s campaign strategy:

Much of the criticism directed against McCain’s campaign has concerned the slim turnouts at his rallies, his speech delivery and his failure (or unwillingness) to keep economic issues on the front burner.  Although quite a bit of criticism has questioned his ability to carry “the base” in November, precious little has been focused on how he expects to win over “undecided” voters and those from the center.  McCain has to face up to the fact that “the base” has no other alternative than to vote for him.  If he expects to win the election, he would be wise to distance himself from the policies of the Bush administration, rather than cling to them as some sort of political life-raft.

In response to the “Where does the GOP go from here?” question, we are finally hearing the right answer.  The most surprising response came from a gentleman who earned the nickname “Bullet” from his old boss, Karl Rove.  Steve Schmidt is a rather tall, yet stout, individual with a bald head, resembling a giant bullet.  He was appointed to the position of “senior strategist” for the McCain campaign on July 2.  Schmidt has been blamed for McCain’s strategic failures in this recent quest for the Presidency.  On November 9, The Daily Beast website featured an interview with Schmidt, conducted by Ana Marie Cox.  The Bullet made the following observations about the future direction for the GOP:

The party in the Northeast is all but extinct; the party on the West Coast is all but extinct; the party has lost the mid-South states—Virginia, North Carolina—and the party is in deep trouble in the Rocky Mountain West, and there has to be a message and a vision that is compelling to people in order for them to come back and to give consideration to the Republican Party again.

The Republican Party was long known as the party that competently managed government.  We’ve lost our claim to that.  The Republican Party was known as the party that was serious on national security issues.  The mismanagement of the war has stripped that away.  So there is much to do in rebuilding the brand of the party, what it stands for, and what it’s about in a way that Americans find appealing.     .  .  .   The Republican Party wants to, needs to, be able to represent, you know, not only conservatives, but centrists as well.  And the party that controls the center is the party that controls the American electorate.

In the Washington Post of November 9, another prominent conservative, George Will, expressed dismay over the misplaced deference granted to the “hard right” wing of the Republican Party:

Some of the Republicans’ afflictions are self-inflicted.  Some conservatives who are gluttons for punishment are getting a head start on ensuring a 2012 drubbing by prescribing peculiar medication for a misdiagnosed illness.  They are monomaniacal about media bias, which is real but rarely decisive, and unhinged by their anger about the loathing of Sarah Palin by similarly deranged liberals.  These conservatives, confusing pugnacity with a political philosophy, are hot to anoint Palin, an emblem of rural and small-town sensibilities, as the party’s presumptive 2012 nominee.

These conservatives preen as especially respectful of regular — or as Palin says, “real” — Americans, whose tribune Palin purports to be.  But note the argument that the manipulation of Americans by “the mainstream media” explains the fact that the more Palin campaigned, the less Americans thought of her qualifications.  This argument portrays Americans as a bovine herd — or as inert clay in the hands of wily media, which only Palin’s conservative celebrators can decipher and resist.

Most Republican pundits are acutely aware of the consequences resulting from further rampant inbreeding of the so-called “base” within their party.  A resulting blindness to the opinions of those outside “the family” could send the GOP on a path to oblivion.  The inability of the Republicans to “connect” with young people, to any measurable degree, was discussed by former Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, in the November 7 Wall Street Journal:

Though it is also true that many of the indexes for the GOP are dreadful, especially that they lost the vote of two-thirds of those aged 18 to 29.  They lost a generation!  If that continues in coming years, it will be a rolling wave of doom.

The Republican Party will survive the “Tragedy of 2008” because there are still a good number of Republicans with their heads properly screwed onto their necks.   Don’t take my word for it   .  .  .     Go ask The Bullet.