2009 - %3, August

10 Signs That the Recession IS Over

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 2:49 PM EDT

Most people seem to think we've hit rock bottom, but signs of recovery are slamming me every day from all angles of media, pop culture, and word of mouth. Let's go David Letterman style with a list, starting at the bottom and working our way up.

Top 10 Signs That the Recession Really Is Over

10. Daniel Gross wrote a column titled "The Recession Is Over! (Technically.)" on Slate.

9. The housing market is making a comeback.

8. 'Cause Bloomberg said so.

7. There has only been one comment on the latest post at StuffUnemployedPeopleLike.

6. Goldman bankers have already returned to their lavish lifestyles.

5. I'm not getting friend requests on LinkedIn about 700 times a day from people I know who are hopelessly out of work. (I hate, hate, hate that useless site! No, I will not be your "LinkedIn" friend!)

4. This week's New York Times Magazine cover story had nothing to do with economics!

3. Being unemployed is no longer chic. And that "Now I have time to find myself" BS has become terribly cliche.

2. TIME overzealously ran a story 5 months ago called "Six Signs The Recession Is Ending," meaning they couldn't think of 10 signs. And now this list speaks for itself.

1. I was invited to a party celebrating the ultimate in douchebaggery: PocketChangeNYC's Fashion Meets Finance soirees are back on. The objective of these gatherings: To mate the men of finance with the women of fashion. Hand me my barfbag, now! Maybe I don't want the recession to end so soon after all...

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Deranged

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 2:45 PM EDT

Earlier this morning I talked about Obama Derangement Syndrome and Bush Derangement Syndrome.  Both involve lots of anger, but that's about where the similarity ends.  ODS is way more detached from reality, and that's no coincidence.  Bob Somerby reminds us today of the granddaddy of them all, Clinton Derangement Syndrome:

Is this attack on Obama “simply nuts?” Actually, yes — it is, quite sadly. But the last time a Democrat went to the White House, the following beliefs were widely asserted — and those beliefs were clinically crazy too....

 • As governor, Bill Clinton murdered many rivals.Hillary Clinton was involved.

 • As first lady, Hillary Clinton was involved in Vince Foster’s death.

 • As governor, Bill Clinton trafficked drugs through Mena, Arkansas.

 • Bill Clinton was himself a major coke user. It’s why his nose is so red.

 • As a graduate student, Bill Clinton visited Moscow because he was a Soviet agent (or something).

 • The Clintons decorated the White House Christmas tree with condoms and drug paraphernalia.

Those beliefs were also clinically insane; they were widely trumpeted and believed all through the 1990s. Indeed, one of the nation’s most famous “Christian leaders” actively pimped the lurid film which detailed the many murders. He remained a cable favorite — and a Meet the Press guest.

Good times.  When it comes to being unhinged, you just can't beat movement conservatism.

Bipartisanship and the Filibuster

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 1:13 PM EDT

Ezra Klein argues today that since minority parties in the U.S. have universally concluded that the best strategy for regaining power is to prevent the majority from ever passing anything important, we should take another look at the filibuster:

There's a good argument [] that eliminating the filibuster would make the Senate a more, rather than less, bipartisan institution. For many legislative efforts, it would remove the "no bill" outcome from the list of possibilities. That would leave minority legislators with one of two options. Vote against a bill that will pass, or work to change and improve and add priorities to a bill that will pass. You might imagine that if "no bill" is the first-best outcome, then a "no vote" would be the second-best outcome. But that's not always true: Voters aren't very interested in ineffectual opposition. They're interested in what you've "done." That can mean killing a bad bill or improving a successful bill. Voting no, over and over again, isn't a very impressive record in any but the most partisan districts.

Actually, this is a testable theory because there's one bill (or, rather, a package of bills) that's passed every year on a straight majority vote: the annual budget.  No filibusters are allowed on budget resolutions, so the question is whether constructing the budget tends to be a more bipartisan process than it is with other bills.  I'm not quite sure what the right metric would be for measuring bipartisan participation in the legislative process, but surely there's some smart political scientist out there who can propose something.  (Or already has.)  Anyone?

In any case, I continue to think the filibuster is unconstitutional.  The fact that certain types of legislation (treaties, constitutional amendments, veto overrides, etc.) specifically require supermajority votes is evidence that the framers assumed that ordinary legislation should be passed by majority vote.  Assumed it so strongly, in fact, that they never seriously considered the possibility that they had to spell it out.

Until I get the Supreme Court to agree with me, of course, this doesn't matter.  But I still think it's true.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias points out that Senate rules are a political question and therefore the Supreme Court can't rule on them.  I think that's probably true — but I'm not absolutely sure it's true.  In any case, I wouldn't mind forcing them to consider the question just to be sure.  Only a senator would have standing to bring a case, probably, but how hard is it to find one rogue senator willing to take a flyer?  Especially in light of this:

I would say the key piece of evidence for Kevin’s interpretation of this is that the initial draft of the rules allowed for cloture on majority vote. Then during an 1806 revision of the rulebook, the cloture motion was scrapped on the grounds that it was never used and therefore unnecessary. Nobody was contemplating the creation of a supermajority requirement.

Like I say, unconstitutional.  The framers quite clearly intended for congressional legislation to be passed by majority rule.

Flash Trading Finis?

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 12:41 PM EDT

The New York Times reports that Chuck Schumer has persuaded the SEC to ban one of the most controversial practices associated with high frequency trading:

The S.E.C. chairwoman, Mary L. Schapiro, said on Tuesday that she would push to eliminate a controversial high-frequency trading technique known as “flash orders,” which allow traders to peek at other investors’ orders before they are sent to the wider marketplace.

....In a flash order transaction, buy or sell orders are shown to a collection of high-frequency traders for just 30 milliseconds before they are routed to everyone else. They are widely considered to give the few investors with access to the technology an unfair advantage, even by some of the marketplaces that offer the flash orders for a fee.

Flash trading in an era of supercomputers and 10 millisecond latency is an abusive practive that should be eliminated without question.  The other aspects of high frequency trading are a little murkier: they clearly give an advantage to firms who have the money and connections to colocate massive server farms with the exchanges, but the question is whether these practices are unfair and potentially destabilizing, not whether they're flat-out corrupt.  That deserves further investigation, but getting rid of flash trading is a good start.

The Crazies

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

James Joyner admits that there are lots of conservative lunatics running around these days:

But here’s the thing:  There’s plenty of crazy to go around.  Remember Bush Derangement Syndrome?  The 9/11 conspiracy theorists who thought Bush and Cheney were in on the whole thing?  The Diebold plot to steal the 2004 election?  Should we judge the Left by the whackos that show up at the anti-trade rallies?  PETA?  Greenpeace?  Of course not.  Almost by definition, the people motivated and available enough to show up in the middle of the day to express their outrage about something are not like you and me.

Professional intellectuals surround themselves with likeminded folks and get the idea that they and their cohorts are the norm for their group whereas the crazies on TV are the norm for the opposition.  It just ain’t so.

Now, obviously there's some truth to this, but there are a couple of things that have struck me about the recent surge in conservative nutballs.  First: there's just a whole lot of them.  The Diebold folks couldn't even get a hearing at Daily Kos, let alone anywhere more mainstream.  The 9/11 truthers have always been a tiny band.  And most of the people who believed Bush "knew about 9/11" just thought he had been warned something was coming down the pike.  There was never more than a trivial handful who thought he literally knew the details and deliberately let the plot go forward.

Second: the conservative lunatic brigade appeared so goddamn fast.  It's true that some precincts on the left went nuts over Bush, but anti-Bush venom didn't really start to steamroll until late 2002 when he was making the case for war against Iraq.  Nobody drew BusHitler signs after he signed NCLB or called him a war criminal for signing a tax cut.  It took something really big to create a substantial cadre of big league Bush haters.

Conversely, the conservatives who think Obama is a socialist, or think Obama was born in Kenya, or think healthcare reform is going to kill your grandma, or think Obama is going to take all your guns away — well, that stuff started up approximately on January 21st, if not before.  And it's not just a weird 1% fringe.  There's a lot of conservatives who believe this stuff.  And there wasn't any precipitating cause other than the fact of Obama's election in the first place.

Every movement has its loons, but the current crop of conservative loons really isn't the same as the lefties who grew to loathe Bush over the years.  These folks were crazy from day one, they've become crazy in scarily large numbers, and their conspiracy theories are entirely untethered from actual events on the ground.  ODS is a whole different beast than BDS.

KRON 4's 'Best Of' Pay to Play

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 11:41 AM EDT

At the East Bay Express, the Oakland, California-based alternative weekly where I spent years as managing editor, few things annoyed our reporting staff more than the annual ritual known as Best Of the East Bay. That's the issue where we would corral them, along with scores of freelance contributors, to suss out and write up (without their usual cynicism) the area's most noteworthy people, places, activities, art, music, products, services, eateries, bars, and so forth. The freelancers were eager for the work; the staff was merely resigned, knowing that it was this issue that paid their salaries. These Best Of issues have long been a cash cow for alt-weeklies and regional lifestyle magazines, often tripling the average issue's page count. They are packed with advertising and are popular with readers. The Best Of formula has been such a winner that, over the years, daily newspapers and TV stations have attempted, mostly feebly, to replicate it. (Click here for our recent collection of snippets on the death of newspapers.)

While the hard-boiled news hounds found it beneath their dignity to cheerlead for local businesses, what resulted was at least a purely editorial product. We would run full-page ballots in the three preceding issues, as well as an online ballot, allowing readers to elect their own "reader's poll" winners—we took pains to eliminate ballot stuffing and we disqualified obvious cheaters. Neither the winners nor the paper's sales reps were alerted in advance as to who had won, nor did the ad reps have any part in selecting nominees. Allowing them to meddle would have destroyed the issue's credibility. Which is why I don't put much credence in "Best of the Bay Television," produced by KRON 4, a former San Francisco NBC affiliate that bills itself “the Bay Area’s News Station.”

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If Corn's the Joker, Limbaugh's the Penguin

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 11:13 AM EDT

Does David Corn look like the Joker? Or, for that matter, the man who was regarded by Democrats for eight years as the nation's arch villain (or at least one of them)—George W. Bush? Rush Limbaugh, for one, sees a striking resemblance. 

As David notes over at Politics Daily, Limbaugh was riffing yesterday on the posters that have been cropping up that depict President Obama as the Joker (Heath Ledger's version, not Jack Nicholson's). Some see the posters as overtly racist. Not Limbaugh, though. In fact, he thinks Obama and Batman's nemesis share a great deal in common:

[The Joker] had a big damn chip on his shoulder about his childhood and about a bunch of other things. His goal was to undermine the whole system. . . . And to effect the change that the people of Gotham City didn't want, the Joker created chaos upon chaos. The whole city was focused on him and what he was going to do next. He viewed crisis as an opportunity. So the Joker orchestrated crisis after crisis after crisis. And the Joker wore a mask. I mean whoever put this poster together is pretty smart because there are some similarities here to what the Joker did in that movie and what Obama is doing to this country.

Rachel Paulose at the SEC?

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 11:10 AM EDT | Scheduled to publish Wed Aug. 5, 2009 11:00 AM EDT

Out of the colorful cast of characters who brought you the US Attorneys scandal, one of the most memorable was Rachel Paulose, the young Bush loyalist installed as the head of the Minnesota federal prosecutor's office in 2006. A pal of Monica Goodling, Paulose quickly attracted attention for her swearing-in ceremony, which some observers compared to a coronation. (Although, would you feel properly sworn-in without a color guard and a choir?) She then proceeded to alienate many of the experienced lawyers in her office by quoting Bible verses and ruthlessly dressing down underlings; three senior lawyers in the office resigned their managerial posts in protest. Paulose herself departed her job in 2007; later, a DOJ Office of Special Counsel investigation found that she'd improperly fired one of her subordinates after he complained that she often left classified homeland security reports lying around on her desk.

Now, Joe Palazzo at the very useful Main Justice has spotted that Paulose is still drawing a government salary. She was hired by the Securities and Exchange Commission in March, and works as a senior trial counsel in its Miami office. From what I can tell, out of the most controversial figures in the US attorneys imbroglio, Paulose is the only one who still works for the federal government. A 'where are they now' roundup below the jump:

Healthcare Ad Wars

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 10:54 AM EDT

It's not an election year, but it sure feels like one:

Drugmakers, labor unions, both national political parties and the sector currently under the heaviest fire — health insurance companies — are all weighing in with significant ad buys. Nationwide, more than $52 million has been spent this year on health-care reform-related ads, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, setting the stage for what may be a record-breaking legislative battle.

Speaking of this, we'd like to track the advertising and campaigning around the health care bill over the August recess.  If you see or hear an especially egregious ad/robocall/flyer/etc. in your local area, can you let us know about it?  Or send us footage, if you have access to it?  We'd like to post as much of this stuff as possible.  The email address to send it to is scoop@motherjones.com.  Thanks!

Business As Usual

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 8:53 AM EDT

Among the feverish press reports of imminent economic recovery, there are two telling signs that it’s business as usual on Wall Street.

First comes the Treasury’s report Tuesday that less than 10 percent of borrowers eligible for loan restructuring under Obama’s program to stave off foreclosure have received any help.

Why? According to the Washington Post, the big banks just won’t budge: