2010 - %3, April

Corker: "Very Good Chance" on Wall St. Bill

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 4:20 PM EDT

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a top GOP negotiator on the Senate's financial reform bill, says the odds for a bipartisan bill are "still very, very good." In remarks to reporters today, Corker, who spent weeks this winter as the top GOP negotiator alongside Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), added that while no agreement between the two parties had been reached—and that differences remained within the parties as well—he was still optimistic about passing a financial reform bill with bipartisan support.

Asked about reports of an alternative GOP financial reform bill, Corker seemed to scoff at the idea, saying he was "not sure about that" and hadn't seen the bill yet. The day's financial-related happenings will come to a head around 5 pm, when the full Senate has a cloture vote (a vote to begin debate on the bill). Democrats and Republicans have spent much of the day in closed-door negotiations trying to resolve differences on the bill. Those disagreements concern parts of the bill on unwinding too-big-to-fail banks and regulating derivatives, the complex financial products that amplified the housing meltdown and spread losses throughout the global economy. But there haven't been any breakthroughs reported yet, setting the stage for a party line vote this evening in which 59 Democrats are anticipated to vote for beginning debate and 41 Republicans will block that debate.

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Climate Bill Damage Control

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 4:08 PM EDT

Democrats were in damage control mode Monday afternoon, trying to keep climate and immigration reform—their two biggest legislative priorities after financial regulation—from imploding before they even make it to the floor.

Climate bill cosponsor Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) appeared on MSNBC this afternoon to try to allay concerns that a deal he has been working on for months with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is in peril. Lieberman maintained that Graham is still working with them on a climate and energy bill. "This is his priority," said Lieberman (via the Washington Independent), adding, rather inscrutably, "Lindsey Graham will come back to where he is and never left."

Lieberman also said that he had spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday who said "explicitly" that he remains committed to a vote on a climate and energy bill, and expects it to come ahead of immigration. "He assumes that will be before the immigration reform bill is ready," said Lieberman."He knows our bill is ready and the immigration reform bill is not."

Senate Democratic staffers are also dismissing the dust-up, saying that Graham and the press are blowing the matter out of proportion. "I haven't seen anyone locate any quote by Reid where he said he was going to do one before the other," said a Democratic aide, speaking on background. "Neither of them have 60 votes. Those are the facts. Should that math change in favor of one issue or the other, than we'll obviously take that particular one up first."

John Brown's Jazz Opera

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 3:58 PM EDT

Yesterday, because it was within walking distance of my house, and because I have an unhealthy fixation with the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre, I checked out the San Francisco Community Music Center's production of John Brown's Truth, the world's first-ever improvised jazz opera about the 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry. While I don't want to give away the ending, suffice to say, the main character dies in the end. It was a novel concept, and one which I'm hardly qualified to critique the musical merits of, but I will say that the audience seemed to enjoy it, and the little girl with the jump rope—who periodically invited the audience to join her rhymes about Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X—deserves her own solo act.

It was tough to really appreciate John Brown's Truth, though, because it didn't seem particularly concerned with the truth about John Brown. Pottawatomie Creek, where Brown presided as five pro-slavery Kansans were hacked to pieces in 1856, goes unmentioned. I know, I know: Let he among us who hasn't been implicated in a quintuple homicide cast the first stone. Instead our story picks up in 1859, when Brown gets a message from God to become a martyr for the anti-slavery cause, so Brown becomes something of a one-dimensional hero.

But I don't mean to pick on the performance, because 150 years (and change) after his death, no one really knows what to make of Brown.

Arizona's Other Crazy New Law

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 3:41 PM EDT

In an attempt to preserve all that they believe is great about a free and just America, Arizona has opened US culture to two words that previously were the exclusive province of Nazi Germany and the communist bloc: "Papers, please."

You may have heard last week about Arizona's latest bout of nostalgia for a never-was White America, in the form of a draconian "illegal immigration" law that effectively lets police stop anyone and haul them in if they can't prove their Americanness on the spot. (Just a few months ago, MoJo exposed how Texas peace officers were using petty drinking misdemeanors to round up undesirables; Lone Star State cops must be jealous of Arizona now. No more red tape to cover your penchant for profiling!)

But guess what? Arizona's got other new crazy laws! Just a week before criminalizing trips to the supermarket sans birth certificates, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a decree that empowers state residents to carry a concealed weapon with no license, no registration, and no questions asked. Exciting, right? But wait—there's more! If your gun was made in Arizona, you don't even need to submit to a federal background check to buy it.

The nice thing about concealed-carry permits—which most states have—is that they require the applicant to go through some sort of weapons training proving that they can, you know, not kill the wrong people with their lethal firearm. That had been the case in Arizona. But now, for citizens who opt to get the state's now-pointless permit, "classes are no longer required to be a set number of hours or include any hands-on use of the weapon," according to the Arizona Republic. What's more: "Those who don't get a permit would not be required to get any training or education."

That's so crazy, even gun enthusiasts are aghast. Ex-cop and firearms-safety instructor Dan Furbee says the law won't just kill off his business—and that of every other weapons instructor in Arizona—but it could literally kill off Arizonans:

Can Reconciliation Rescue the Climate Bill?

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 3:19 PM EDT

When health care reform seemed to be headed for disaster, Democrats got around the 60-vote obstacle in the Senate by using reconciliation. With climate and energy legislation in a tailspin, can reconciliation come to the rescue again?

Yes—but it probably won't happen. And a number of Democrats had a hand in keeping that option off the table.

Last April, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) tagged an amendment onto the budget bill barring the "use of reconciliation in the Senate for climate change legislation involving a cap and trade system." Reconciliation requires only a simple majority vote in both chambers, nullifying the filibuster in the Senate and making it possible for Democrats to pass legislation without any Republican support. Obviously, Republicans like the idea of denying Democrats this option. But 26 Democrats joined Johanns to prevent the use of reconciliation for a cap-and-trade law.

Last week, the Senate Budget Committee reaffirmed that stance, voting 16-6 in favor of an amendment from ranking minority member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would effectively prevent the use of reconciliation for climate policy. Seven Democrats voted for that measure in committee: Kent Conrad (N.D.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Russ Feingold (Wisc.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), and Mark Warner (Va.).

A few Democrats have tried to keep the idea of using reconciliation alive for energy and climate legislation. But it seems like a long shot given how many Dems are on the record as opposing it. Will the departure of the lone Republican working openly with John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a comprehensive bill change their calculation? Hard to say. There are still plenty of extremely contentious issues on climate and energy even among Democrats. Even if Dems changed their mind on reconciliation, the climate bill would be far from a cakewalk.

Palin Inc.

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 3:05 PM EDT

Gabe Sherman writes in New York magazine about Sarah Palin's constant money worries during and after her vice-presidential campaign:

Palin knew there were ways to solve her money problems, and then some. Planning quickly got under way for a book....Two former Palin-campaign aides — Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin — were hired to plan a book tour with all the trappings of a national political campaign. But there was a hitch: With Alaska’s strict ethics rules, Palin worried that her day job would get in the way. In March, she petitioned the Alaska attorney general’s office, which responded with a lengthy list of conditions. “There was no way she could go on a book tour while being governor” is how one member of her Alaska staff put it.

On Friday morning, July 3, Palin called her cameraman to her house in Wasilla and asked him to be on hand to record a prepared speech. Around noon, in front of a throng of national reporters, she announced that she was stepping down as governor. To many, it seemed a mysterious move, defying the logic of a potential presidential candidate, and possibly reflecting some hidden scandal — but in fact the choice may have been as easy as balancing a checkbook.

The whole thing is worth a read.

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Finance Reform: Inches or Miles Away?

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 2:16 PM EDT

A key vote on the fate of financial reform legislation looms today, when the Senate holds its cloture vote (a vote, that is, to begin debate on the bill) at around 5 this evening. Right now, it seems that all 41 Republicans are united against the bill, while most, if not all, Democrats are onboard. Top senators like Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) continued closed-door negotiations on the bill over the weekend, but it's pretty apparent that they gained little ground, and that the two parties still have a ways to go before reaching a compromise. While Shelby suggested an agreement wasn't far off during a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press, he added, "inches are sometimes miles."

Over the weekend, Dodd, the architect of the current version of financial reform, agreed to beef up his bill's crackdown on derivatives, the opaque products whose value is derived from an underlying source (anything from the cost of wheat to a mortgage's price). The derivatives agreement—which would force them to be traded on a transparent exchange, cleared through a central clearinghouse, and would spin off derivatives trading desks from their larger firms—was partly a move to win over two GOP senators, Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Me.), who are both staunch proponents of reining in derivatives. The derivatives changes in Dodd's bill mostly incorporate ideas from a separate derivatives overhaul passed last week by the Senate agriculture committee, a bill Grassley supported. (He was the only Republican on the committee to vote for it.)  Whether Dodd won over Grassley, Snowe, or any other Republicans with the derivatives tweaks remains to be seen.

The real crunch time will come this evening, when the full Senate votes on whether to move ahead with the debate or not. Until then, senators will be making brief statements on the floor for and against the bill (C-SPAN 2, if you're interested). If they pass it, you'll see a feverish battle on the floor by Democrats to win over a Republican or two and pass the bill. If not, the behind-closed-doors debate will stretch on.

 

Gay Parents and Catholic Schools

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 2:15 PM EDT

In Boulder, Colorado, a same-sex couple recently went to register their children for a new school year at the local Catholic school. Instead of being allowed to re-register, the parents were asked to decide whether the school was a "good fit" for their daughters. The message was clear: because of their parents' relationship, the girls were no longer welcome. The matter made its way up the Church hierarchy, and Charles Chaput, the very conservative archbishop of Denver, eventually issued a statement on the controversy:

If parents don’t respect the beliefs of the Church, or live in a manner that openly rejects those beliefs, then partnering with those parents becomes very difficult, if not impossible. It also places unfair stress on the children, who find themselves caught in the middle, and on their teachers, who have an obligation to teach the authentic faith of the Church.... Persons who have an understanding of marriage and family life sharply different from Catholic belief are often people of sincerity and good will.  They have other, excellent options for education and should see in them the better course for their children.

Commonweal magazine, which my dad edits, has published a beautiful essay riffing off these events. It's written (anonymously) by a lesbian parent who sends her kids to Catholic school. In addition to being well-written, it's the biggest piece of Andrew Sullivan bait I have ever read in my life. Take this, for example, about coming to terms with being gay and (very) Catholic: 

During my years in Boston I dated a couple of guys, one of them a former seminarian and fellow theology student. He and I attended a talk by Andrew Sullivan, then the editor of the New Republic and an out gay Catholic. I sat and listened, and knew for the first time with a semblance of peace what I had come to know in recent years in more conflicted fashion: that I was, and would always be, a gay Catholic.

And this:

Although many have tried to show me the door out of the church, I never, in my first years with my partner, pondered leaving. Like Andrew Sullivan, I think that "the issue of eros is trivial in the face of consecration, prayer, and meditation." I thought less and less about "being gay," per se, and continued the practice of my faith. In my work life and my home life I strove to be more loving and that itself was struggle enough. During this time the local diocese saw fit to recognize my professional work with an award at their annual prolife banquet. With some dismay, I dutifully accepted the award and shook the hand of the bishop, who is, in many respects, Archbishop Chaput’s twin, and pondered the irony of it all.

I really am eager to read what Andrew has to say about the essay, so I'm writing this to prod him to read it and respond. AND..... FAIL. Sullivan linked to it last week. But I also want to just point you in its direction. It's a great piece of writing. Check it out.

Greece Update

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 1:14 PM EDT

After Greece officially requested financial help on Friday, markets responded favorably. But that lasted no more than a few hours. Here's today's news:

Financial markets upped the pressure on debt-ridden Greece, as investors remained skeptical about its long-term solvency despite assurances that a rescue loan will help pay off a chunk of its crushing debts in coming weeks.

....Analysts had said they expected the euro's bounce to be short-lived. Now it appears the so-called relief rally after Greece on Friday formally requested financial aid has already run its course....Underscoring those worries, Greek 10-year bond yields soared to 9.60%, from 8.70% late Friday, as the yield premium over comparable German debt, the euro-zone benchmark, widened to 6.55 percentage point, from 5.63 percentage point late Friday.

This is just FYI. I continue to think that Greece's prospects look very grim, IMF bailout or no.

Inside the Cocoon

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 12:56 PM EDT

Is the conservative noise machine good for conservatives? Ross Douthat suggests that while it might be good politically, it hasn't been very effective at getting conservative policies enacted:

The presidency of George W. Bush, the first Republican to govern in the age of Fox News, represented a political high-water mark for modern conservatism: For the first time since, well, ever, a right-wing Republican Party controlled the House, the Senate and the presidency all at once. But nobody on the right regards the Bush era as a golden age of conservative policymaking.

....In the age Before Fox News, on the other hand (B.F.N., to historians), the American Right managed to lower taxes, slow government’s growth to a crawl, whip inflation, and deregulate important swathes of the American economy, among other Reagan-era accomplishments. The Berlin Wall came down, and then the Soviet Union fell, even though conservatives were forced to follow both stories in the mainstream media, rather than hearing about them from Sean Hannity.

There are some caveats to this, which Douthat notes, but he suggests that the noise machine, overall, has made conservatism flabbier by making it unnecessary for them to really engage with the outside world:

Given the trajectory of conservatism across the last thirty years, I think the burden of proof here is on the partisans of Fox News and talk radio: It may be that conservative politics have benefited dramatically from the rise of a right-wing media-industrial complex, but there’s plenty of evidence pointing the other way....Conservatives had a real intellectual advantage in the days when they had to engage with the mainstream media....In the age of Fox News they’re giving this advantage up.

As it happens, I think this goes a little too far. Conservatism was largely successful in the 80s because it was primed for a backlash against the previous two decades of liberalism. But then conservatives won: taxes went down, the Soviet Union fell, the economy surged, and social liberalism, if not defeated, was at least slowed down. Frankly, by the time George Bush was elected in 2000, they didn't have all that much left on their plate. Liberals, conversely, by 2008 had a backlog of several decades' worth of ideas they wanted implemented, so it's hardly surprising that they came out of the gate pretty strongly after Obama was elected.

Still, there's a worthwhile point here. The Fox cocoon may be good for stirring up the troops, but it's almost certainly not good for the intellectual development of new ideas. And eventually that catches up to you. If modern conservatism is simultaneously politically vigorous but intellectually enervated, Roger Ailes and Rush Limbaugh probably deserve both the credit and the blame.