2009 - %3, October

The Mommy Option: 1 in 4 Moms Stay-at-Home

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 11:31 AM EDT

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released its new report on stay-at-home moms, one that's now being hailed as proving the myth of the "opt-out revolution." The opt-out theory goes like this: high wage earning, highly educated women land promising and high paying jobs, only to leave them once they have babies. The trend has been debated, and now, if you believe The Washington Post, has been debunked.

This is seen as either a good thing, read: women are able to balance work and motherhood and carry on doing both without having to make tough choices to leave or give up parenting. Work/life balance problem solved, strong feminists can have their job, and baby too. Or, the report's results are actually much more complicated than that and mean that women who want to choose to stay home can't now for a host of reasons, that those who do have little choice in the matter (many of whom are also feminists, and all of whom are feminine), that more women are actually just losing their jobs, and that the data doesn't capture the true state of stay-at-home motherhood.

I open door #2:

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Max Baucus Hearts Lobbyists (397th Edition)

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 11:12 AM EDT

Money buys results in Washington. And health insurance companies and their lobbyists are spending a lot of money trying to buy results from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus is playing a key role in writing health care reform legislation. The health insurance industry has all the reasons in the world to make sure they're on his good side. That's probably why, as an investigation by the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics recently revealed, it's not just health insurance companies giving Baucus money—it's their lobbyists, too:

From January 2007 through June 2009, Baucus collected contributions from 37 outside lobbyists representing PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry's chief trade association, and 36 lobbyists who listed drug maker Amgen Inc. as their client.

In all, 11 major health and insurance firms had their contributions to Baucus boosted through extra donations from 10 or more of their outside lobbyists. (See chart here and full list here.)

Of course, it's considered impolite in Washington to point out, as Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor once delicately did, that no one except politicians seems to understand the difference "between contributions and bribes."

GOP Unites Against Kerry-Boxer, But for Wildly Different Reasons

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 10:46 AM EDT

Republicans, as usual, were fairly unified in their opposition to the Senate climate bill released Wednesday. But things got awkward when they attempted to describe why they're against it—because the party is divided between those who think action will destroy the economy and those who still question whether climate change is occurring at all.

On Wednesday afternoon a handful of Republican senators hosted a press conference following the release of the Boxer-Kerry bill. The assembled lawmakers included a few, like Alaska's Lisa Murkowski and Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, who do acknowledge that climate change is a) real, b) caused by people, and c) a problem. But they were joined by climate change deniers James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Kit Bond of Missouri, and Mike Barrasso of Wyoming, who trotted out the usual skeptic talking points.

Inhofe, as usual, did not disappoint. "We've asked that question of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, and the answer is no," he explained. "They're feeling is that God is still up there, we go through cycles, and there's not that strong of a relationship between anthropogenic gases and climate change."

Bond placed similar faith in farmers from his home state. "None of the farmers I have talked to in Missouri have expressed concerns about human-caused global climate change," he said. "We have seen in Missouri the benefits of the cooling that started in '98. We've had ample rain. We are right now worrying about making sure the growing season is long enough."

Chart of the Day

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 10:38 AM EDT

The Office of the Speaker of the House emails to nominate this for chart of the day.  Sure.  Why not.  It's a good chart.  Bottom line: the public really likes the idea of having a choice between either a private or a public health insurance plan.

In case you missed it, Jon Stewart had a good riff on this last night.  His question: Why are Democrats so lame?  It's a good one!  They have a huge majority in the Senate, the public is strongly in favor of a public option, and yet....for some reason they can't round up the votes to pass it.  Hell, they can't even round up a normal majority to pass it out of the Finance Committee, let alone a supermajority to overcome an eventual filibuster.

If Democrats really do lose the House next year (about which more later), this will be why.  If they don't pass a healthcare bill at all, they'll be viewed as terminally lame.  If they pass a bill, but it doesn't contain popular features that people want — like the public option — they'll be viewed as terminally lame.  At a wonk level, a bill without a public option can be perfectly good.  But wonks aren't a large voting bloc, and among people who do vote, the public option is very popular.  So, um, why not pass it?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 1, 2009

Thu Oct. 1, 2009 6:59 AM EDT

U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph Saladin leads the rear element as he patrols an alleyway in the Rusafa neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, on Feb. 17, 2008. Saladin and his fellow soldiers are from the Army's 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Jason T. Bailey, U.S. Air Force.)

Need To Read: October 1, 2009

Thu Oct. 1, 2009 6:33 AM EDT

Today's must-reads are thinking about the costs of becoming a journalist:

Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

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Pornography at the National Science Foundation

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

The National Science Foundation, a government outfit responsible for doling out billions annually in grants, has a porn problem, and it's costing taxpayers money. In its 2010 budget request document, the federal agency's Office of Inspector General alluded to the embarrassment, without getting into the icky specifics:

With increasing frequency, OIG has been called upon to investigate instances of employee misconduct within the agency. The urgency of these investigations has required the reassignment of staff focused on the core areas of our investigative program: research misconduct and fraud. In 2008, we experienced a 6-fold increase in employee misconduct cases and associated proactive and management implication report activities. To manage this dramatic increase without an increase in staff required us to significantly reduce our efforts to investigate grant fraud. We anticipate a significant decline in investigative recoveries and prosecutions in the coming years as a direct result.

For those of you who aren't particularly familiar with what the NSF is or does, here's what its website boasts:

With an annual budget of about $6.06 billion, we are the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

So, to recap: These people handle TWENTY PERCENT of all federally supported research in all American colleges, and some of them, instead of reviewing grant applications, are sitting at their cubes, having a grand-old time surfing porn.

The story, first reported in The Washington Times, hasn't gotten the sort of pickup one would expect for something involving such a gross misuse of taxpayer time, money, trust, and, hello, porn. There are even juicy details about horny old men.

One senior NSF executive apparently spent "at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer and chatting online with nude or partially clad women without being detected." When he was finally caught, he retired, but also offered this humanitarian defense of his behavior: "he frequented the porn sites to provide a living to the poor overseas women."

Memos from the investigators estimated that the porn surfing of this senior official alone cost taxpayers anywhere from $13,800 to $58,000.

And finally, did I mention that the NSF is in charge of giving out American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars? $3 billion. On the NSF website, so far it looks like they've funded a grand total of one project with that money. That was back in May.

Definitely not the right kind of stimulus going on here, if you ask me.

Alan Grayson Gives GOP an Apology, Of Sorts

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 1:17 AM EDT

So yesterday, as you've likely heard, hot-rod Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) says the Republican health care plan is one that encourages people to "die quickly." The GOP takes offense and demands an apology.

So this afternoon he does, apologize. To the dead.

From Roll Call:

Citing a statistic that 44,789 Americans die each year because they don’t have health insurance, Grayson said, “That is more than ten times the number of Americans who died in the war in Iraq, it’s more than ten times the number of Americans who died on 9/11. …It happens every year.”

Grayson added in another apparent dig at the GOP, “We should care about people even after they are born.”

Of course, Grayson's real target is the Fed, Bernanke et al. He's just getting warmed up.

Wall Street's Latest Trick

| Thu Oct. 1, 2009 12:44 AM EDT

As you probably know by now (you have been paying attention, haven't you?), banks are required to retain a certain amount of capital on their books.  The capital is there to keep them solvent even if their assets lose value, so the amount they're required to have depends on how risky their assets are.  If they have, say, a bunch of crummy C-rated securities on their books, they have to maintain a full load of capital to back them up.  But A-rated securities are less likely to lose value, so for those they only have to maintain 50% of the normal capital levels.  And for AAA securities, they can get by with only 20% or less.  After all, AAA securities are pretty unlikely to lose value.  Right?

This was one of the reasons behind the CDO frenzy of the past few years.  If you slice and dice a bundle of securities so that most of them are AAA-rated, then you can reduce the capital you need to back them up, which frees up that capital for other uses.

But then everything came crashing down, the ratings on those bundles tumbled, and suddenly banks had to pony up more capital to back them up.  What to do?  Answer: slice 'em and dice 'em all over again.  Welcome to the re-remic:

The way it works is that insurers and banks that hold battered securities on their books have Wall Street firms separate the good from the bad. The good mortgages are bundled together and create a security designed to get a higher rating. The weaker securities get low ratings.

....A hypothetical example cited in research by Barclays Capital said that a $100 million asset that required $2 million in capital at a triple-A rating may require $35 million if downgraded to double-B-minus. At triple-C, the capital requirement might rise to 100%, or $100 million.

In a re-remic, three-fourths of the same asset may regain a triple-A rating, requiring just $1.5 million in capital, Barclays said. The remaining one-quarter may require 100% capital, but the total capital requirement would fall to $26.5 million.

...."There is $350 billion to $400 billion in market value of securities with no natural buyer due to their rating," Barclays said in a June report. "The re-remic market provides a way out of this gridlock by creating new AAA securities, which are likely to be viewed as attractively priced."

Shiny new AAA securities!  Hooray!  And there's more!  Ratings for re-remics come from the same ratings agencies that bollixed up the original ratings.  And investment banks pocket fat fees for performing the financial alchemy.  What could possibly go wrong?