01/04/2012 archive

Congressional Game of Chicken: More Recess Appointments

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post reports:

Obama is set to appoint Sharon Block, Terence Flynn, and Richard Grifin to the board – something unions have made a big priority for them in the new year. Senate Republicans have opposed the recess appointments to the NLRB on constitutional grounds, but unions charge that Republicans are only interested in rendering the agency inoperative.

Obama’s move, which will help energize unions in advance of the 2012 election, is yet another sign that he is determined to circumvent GOP opposition and make government functional again by any means necessary. It’s another sign that the White House and Dems have abanoned the illusion that anything can be done to secure bipartisan compromise with Republicans on the major items on Obama’s agenda.

From Think Progress:

All 47 Senate Republicans have warned Obama of a “constitutional conflict” should he choose to use his recess appointment powers – authority he is well within his right to use, as ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser noted yesterday – but it was Chief Justice John Roberts, a noted conservative, who said the president should make recess appointments to keep the NLRB functioning, as ThinkProgress reported in 2010.

Obama’s appointment of Block, Flynn, and Griffin is important, too, because it boosts the board’s membership to five, protecting its quorum even if member Brian Hayes follows through on his threats to quit. Preserving its right to quorum ensures that its rulings will not be thrown out on legal challenges, as more than 600 cases were by the Roberts Court in 2010.

70% of the Economy

Green Shoots.

And read the URL, not the Headline.

For 2012, Signs Point to Tepid Consumer Spending


Published: January 2, 2012

Even the seemingly robust holiday shopping season is raising concern. After a strong start on Thanksgiving weekend, a pronounced lull followed, causing retailers to mark down products heavily in the week before Christmas. While final numbers for the season are not in, analysts say they are worried that retailers had to eat into profits to generate high revenues.

Even some growth areas in the economy can be explained by tapped-out consumers. Take auto sales, which rose about 10 percent nationwide in 2011 from a year earlier.

“People can only hold onto their cars for so long,” said Romolo Debottis, new-car sales manager at Mike Bass Ford in Sheffield Village, a suburb of Cleveland. He said sales at the dealership should increase this year to 2007 levels, the prerecession peak. “A lot of them have done that above and beyond what they normally would, and they’re just ready to spend money and buy a new vehicle.”

Chrysler, Ford and General Motors report December vehicle sales

by CalculatedRisk

1/04/2012 10:25:00 AM

The key number for the economy is the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate (SAAR) compared to the last few months, not the year-over-year comparison provided by the automakers. Once all the reports are released, I’ll post a graph of the estimated total December light vehicle sales (SAAR) – usually around 4 PM ET.

The consensus is for sales to be unchanged from November at around 13.6 million SAAR.

Congressional Game of Chicken: Obama Ends The Farce

It was announced by the White House that President Barack Obama will make a recess appointment of former Attorney General of Ohio, Richard Cordray to head the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):

President Barack Obama installed Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with a recess appointment today, testing the limits of his executive authority to fill the post without Senate approval.

Obama nominated Cordray to be the bureau’s first director in July, almost one year after enactment of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law creating the agency. Republicans blocked Cordray’s confirmation by the Senate last month. Putting him in the job today may set up an election-year court fight between the White House and Congress.

Even thought the Senate has been under Democratic control since 2006 when the tactic of pro forma session was first employed to keep President George W. Bush from making recess appointments to the bench, there have been questions by legal scholars about the constitutionality about their use. It has since been used to placate the Republicans in hopes of winning their cooperation, obviously to no avail.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called President Obama move “arrogant”, saying that “Breaking from this precedent lands this appointee in uncertain legal territory, threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress’s role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch.”

House Speaker John Boehner had a similar reaction calling the appointment an “extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab” by the president.

The legal precedent for these sessions is on very shaky ground. In a 1993 court case involving the Postal Service Board of Governors, Justice Department lawyers argued in court papers that presidents can make recess appointments when the Senate is out of session for more than three days.

The brief suggested that a president might lack that authority during shorter breaks. Pointing to the constitutional requirement that the Senate and House get one another’s consent before adjourning for more than three days, the Justice Department said the constitutional framers might not have considered shorter recesses to be significant.

“If the recess here were of three days or less, a closer question would be presented,” the Justice Department argued.

However, lawyers who advised President George W. Bush on recess appointments wrote that the Senate “cannot use sham ‘pro forma’ sessions to prevent the president from exercising a constitutional power.”

David Dayen at FDL points out the Constitutional argument that there is no time requirement in the Constitution for Congress to be in recess before the president can make recess appointments:

As for the judicial question on whether pro forma sessions count as keeping Congress in session, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled back in 2007 that “The Constitution, on its face, does not establish a minimum time that an authorized break in the Senate must last to give legal force to the President’s appointment power under the Recess Appointments Clause.” On the other side of this, Solicitor General Neal Katyal, in a 2010 case, argued that the Administration recognized that a 3-day recess was “too small,” in their understanding, to make appointments.

While the Republicans will very likely mount a court challenge, claiming past precedent, it may well fail since the president has the power to make recess appointments under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution which states, “the President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” It can be argued that Congress is in recess when they gavel out at the end of each day or whenever there is no quorum, which goes to the constitutional argument about pro forma sessions.

The other issue is why didn’t he appoint Elizabeth Warren who is eminently more qualified than Cordray to head the CFPB? It is most likely because of objections from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s objections and her memo to the the state attorney general’s who are negotiating a settlement with the big banks over mortgage fraud.

Make no mistake, Obama is doing this now for purely political motivations. It emphases Republican obstructionism and as a ploy to win back the disenfranchised left wing of the Democratic Party, as well as, the Independent voters who believed in all his “hopey, changey” campaign rhetoric.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Voting Rights, Super PACs and the Media Cloud the Election

Does Iowa matter? Maybe, maybe not. From the round-the-clock polling analysis, detailed delegate projections, and tweeting and retweeting, you’d think the political press corps was readying for the first leg of the Triple Crown. My advice for Tuesday and in the weeks to come: Don’t let the giddiness of the coverage distract from what will matter far more than whether Michele Bachmann beats Rick Perry for the fifth-place slot.

Instead, pay attention to three issues that could affect the outcome of the election, even though they have nothing to do with the campaigns themselves:

First, a surge in voting restrictions [..]

Second, the rise of super PAC spending [..]

Third, the media’s obsession with false equivalence: How the election is covered will almost certainly have a measurable impact on its outcome.

Dean Baker: Climate Change – Our Real Bequest to Future Generations

Deficit hawks try to scare us about the debt we’re leaving. That’s economic nonsense – unlike the costs of global warming

It is remarkable how efforts to reduce the government deficit/debt are often portrayed as a generational issue, while efforts to reduce global warming are almost never framed in this way. This contrast is striking because the issues involved in reducing the deficit or debt have little direct relevance to distribution between generations, whereas global warming is almost entirely a question of distribution between generations.

Seeing the debt as an issue between generations is wrong in almost every dimension. The idea that future generations will somehow be stuck with some huge tab in the form of the national debt suffers from the simple logical problem that we are all going to die. At some point, everyone who owns the debt being issued today, or over the next two decades, will be dead. They will have to pass the ownership of the debt to someone else – in other words, their children or grandchildren. This means that the debt is not money that our children and grandchildren will be paying to someone else. It is money that they will be paying to themselves.

Harold Meyerson: No longer the land of opportunity

“Over the past three years, Barack Obama has been replacing our merit-based society with an Entitlement Society,” Mitt Romney wrote in USA Today last month. The coming election, Romney told Wall Street Journal editors last month, will be “a very simple choice” between Obama’s “European social democratic” vision and “a merit-based opportunity society – an American-style society – where people earn their rewards based on their education, their work, their willingness to take risks and their dreams.”

Romney’s assertions are the centerpiece of his, and his party’s, critique not just of Obama but of American liberalism generally. But they fail to explain how and why the American economy has declined the past few decades – in good part because they betray no awareness that Europe’s social democracies now fit the description of “merit-based opportunity societies” much more than ours does.

Matt Taibbi: Iowa: The Meaningless Sideshow Begins

The 2012 presidential race officially begins today with the caucuses in Iowa, and we all know what that means …


The race for the White House is normally an event suffused with drama, sucking eyeballs to the page all over the globe. Just as even the non-British were at least temporarily engaged by last year’s royal wedding, people all over the world are normally fascinated by the presidential race: both dramas arouse the popular imagination as real-life versions of universal children’s fairy tales.

Instead of a tale about which maiden gets to marry the handsome prince, the campaign is an epic story, complete with a gleaming white castle at the end, about the battle to succeed to the king’s throne. Since the presidency is the most powerful office in the world, the tale has appeal for people all over the planet, from jungles to Siberian villages.

Paul Krugman: When Economics Gets Political

David Warsh finally says what someone needed to say: Friedrich Hayek is not an important figure in the history of macroeconomics [..]

These days, you constantly see articles that make it seem as if there was a great debate in the 1930s between the economists John Maynard Keynes and Mr. Hayek, and that this debate has continued through the generations. As Mr. Warsh says, nothing like this happened. Hayek essentially made a fool of himself early in the Great Depression, and his ideas vanished from the professional discussion.

Ari Berman: Romney Narrowly Wins First GOP Contest, But Obama Has Advantage in Iowa

In the end, Mitt Romney won Iowa by a staggeringly close eight votes and will likely be the GOP presidential nominee. But we already knew that heading into last night. How Romney gets the nomination, and what shape he’s in when he faces off against Barack Obama, will be the real story of the GOP race. Based on his performance last night, Romney’s showing in Iowa doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his campaign.

Fawaz Gerges: Debunking the Terrorism Narrative

The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda

The popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain have not only shaken the foundation of the authoritarian order in the Middle East, but they have also hammered a deadly nail in the coffin of a terrorism narrative which has painted Al-Qaeda as the West’s greatest threat. At least, they should have.

Yet despite Osama bin Laden’s killing in May, the dwindling of his group to the palest shadow of its former self and the protest of millions across the Arab world for whom the group never represented, Al-Qaeda holds a grasp on the Western imagination. Few Americans and Westerners realize the degree to which their fear of terrorism is misplaced, making closure over to the costly War on Terror difficult, if not impossible. Shrouded in myth and inflated by a self-sustaining industry of so-called terrorism “experts” and a well-funded national security industrial complex whose numbers swelled to nearly one million, the power of Al-Qaeda can only be eradicated when the fantasies around the group are laid to rest.

Maureen Dowd: Oedipus Rex Complex

American politics bristles with Oedipal drama.

Sons struggling to live up to fathers. Sons striving to outdo fathers. Sons scheming to avenge fathers. Sons burning to one-up fathers. Sons yearning to impress fathers who vanished early on. Sons leaning on fathers. Sons using fathers as reverse-play books.

John McCain was the raffish and rebellious Navy flier son of a stern four-star admiral who commanded the Vietnam theater where McCain was a P.O.W. Al Gore was the wooden good son of a Tennessee senator who was a fiery orator.

Fracking Idiots

I don’t know about you but I’m plenty tired of horseshitrace politics for the moment.

Well, since you insist.

Paul did not do as well as I expected last night, but still about 150% better than last cycle.  Twitter rumors reported by desperate and stupid MSNBC Teleprompter Readers that Johnson was dropping his Libertarian Party candidacy (leaving it available for a Paul Third Party run) were a HOAX!

Way to go “professionals”.

Santorum “won” by a whole 8 votes which means it’s time to start Google bombing again.  Romney didn’t disqualify, picking up that all important “Crash” McCain endorsement.

Losers– Bachman, hard to see how she can stay with no money and no votes.  Perry, outspent Romney by 3:1, now returning to Houston to “re-evaluate” despite strong polling in South Carolina.  Gingrich, may stay in out of pure spite and meanness, but almost sure to lose his South Carolina standing.

Now, about entropy and the heat death of the Universe.


Ohio Earthquake Linked To Fracking Injection Wells

Think Progress Newsflash


On New Year’s Eve, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck northeastern Ohio, the second quake to strike the region in a week. Saturday’s earthquake, which occurred in an area not typically known for this type of natural disaster, is being traced back to fluid injection wells at a Youngstown fracking site. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, “the quake was the 11th over the last eight months in Mahoning County, all within two miles of the injection wells.” They also point out that injection wells have been linked to earthquakes in other states as well, including Arkansas, West Virginia, Colorado and Texas. Two of the Ohio injection wells in question are now being shut down.

Fracking Linked to Earthquakes in Ohio; Wells Indefinitely Shut Down

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Monday January 2, 2012 9:00 am

This is not the first time that fracking has been linked to earthquakes. Earlier this year, unusual earthquakes in Oklahoma were seen by many as helped along by fracking. The scientific consensus on that incident was that fracking can cause small tremors, but nothing of the scale as seen in Oklahoma, which did follow a natural fault line.

But Ohio doesn’t have as much history with earthquakes, though there are faults in the region. The frequency of the quakes is definitely unusual; there have been 11 in the past eight months within two miles of the wells. And the correlation between increased oil and gas exploration and increased seismic activity is becoming more widespread. It’s not that fracking releases so much energy underground into the faults, it’s that they place just enough pressure to trigger stronger quakes than we would otherwise see. Plus, scientists and not just state officials in Ohio participated in the shutdown of the fracking wells, seeking more information.

Expert Believes Wastewater Fracking Wells Causing Earthquakes in Ohio

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Tuesday January 3, 2012 9:35 am

(O)ne expert has narrowed down the cause of the earthquakes, and he points to a wastewater well.

Both are wells used in the fracking process. One gets used for drilling and the other for injecting wastewater, but they are at root fracking wells (they dispose of wastewater for oil wells as well, but fracking uses a much larger quantity of fluids). If there were no fracking, there would be no wastewater and thus no wastewater wells. And according to John Armbruster, no earthquakes.

The earthquakes have been small and haven’t yet caused massive property damage. But according to Armbruster they will continue for at least a year. And causing pressure to a fault line gives the impression of needlessly stirring up a hornet’s nest. And of course, this is not nearly the only environmental problem associated with fracking. The quality of drinking water and air around well sites also draws much concern.

Ohio quakes could incite fracking policy shift

By JULIE CARR SMYTH, Associated Press

Tue Jan 3, 5:33 pm ET

(Ohio Governor John) Kasich told reporters over the weekend that he doesn’t believe the energy industry should be blamed for issues arising from disposal of their byproducts. That would be like blaming the auto industry for improper disposal of old tires, the first-term Republican said.

Scientists have known for decades that drilling or injecting water into areas where a fault exists can cause earthquakes, said Paul Hsieh, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif.

“That’s widely documented and accepted within the science community,” he said. “It’s seen all over the world.”

Oklahoma’s sharpest earthquake on record, of magnitude 5.8 on Nov. 5, was centered on a county that has 181 such wells, according to Matt Skinner, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees oil and gas production in the state and intrastate transportation pipelines.

On this Day In History January 4

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 4 is the fourth day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 361 days remaining until the end of the year (362 in leap years).

On this day in 1987, Spanish guitar great Andres Segovia arrives in the United States for his final American tour. He died four months later in Madrid at the age of 94.

Segovia was hailed for bringing the Spanish guitar from relative obscurity to classical status. Born in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia–the original home of the guitar–Segovia studied the piano and cello as a child but soon became captivated with the guitar. Knowing of no advanced teachers of an instrument that was generally banished to the cafes, he taught himself and in 1909 gave his first public performance at the age of 15. To successfully render classical material, Segovia invented countless new techniques for the guitar, and by his first appearance in Paris in 1924, he was a virtuoso. His American debut came four years later in New York City.

Iowa Caucus Open Thread

Now many may disagree with me (including TheMomCat and we have discussed this lots of times) but I think the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary serve a valuable role by forcing the .01% political elite to slum amongst us 99.99% rabble and kiss ass for votes instead of simply holding an auction.

Each one tests a different aspect of a candidate’s campaign.  In Iowa the test is organization, getting your votes to the poll and keeping them yours.  In New Hampshire it’s a test of campaigning, developing a message of broad appeal and delivering it.  Not so easy in a State with no big cities, no dominant newspapers (the Union Leader is a mere pretender) and only 1 TV Station.  It’s also a test of finances since you have to shop in Massachusetts where the prices are much higher, not because of taxes but because the market is bigger.

That said I thought no one could care less about the results of the Republican Caucuses than me.  I am proven wrong by Rick Perlstein

(Y)ou probably couldn’t find a political junky in America less interested to the supposedly hotly contested race for the Republican nomination. I called it for Willard “Mitt” Romney well over three years ago-the day he finished second to John McCain in 2008. That made him “next in line;” and our modern Republican Party pretty much always nominates the next in line, or at the very least The Logical Choice Of The Party Establishment. In 1968, it was Nixon, the former vice president. In ’76 it was the accidental president, Gerald Ford. The guy who came in second in ’76, Ronald Reagan, was nominated in 1980; Vice President Bush, the man who finished second in ’80, in ’88. Old Man Dole in ’96. Son of Bush in 2000. Mighty McCain in 2008.

Matt Taibbi’s critique is a bit more far reaching and less petty-

It takes an awful lot to rob the presidential race of this elemental appeal. But this year’s race has lost that buzz. In fact, this 2012 race may be the most meaningless national election campaign we’ve ever had. If the presidential race normally captivates the public as a dramatic and angry ideological battle pitting one impassioned half of society against the other, this year’s race feels like something else entirely.

In the wake of the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, and a dozen or more episodes of real rebellion on the streets, in the legislatures of cities and towns, and in state and federal courthouses, this presidential race now feels like a banal bureaucratic sideshow to the real event – the real event being a looming confrontation between huge masses of disaffected citizens on both sides of the aisle, and a corrupt and increasingly ideologically bankrupt political establishment, represented in large part by the two parties dominating this race.

The auctioned election process is designed to reduce the field to two candidates who will each receive hundreds of millions of dollars apiece from the same pool of donors. Just take a look at the lists of top donors for Obama and McCain from the last election in 2008.

Obama’s list included all the major banks and bailout recipients, plus a smattering of high-dollar defense lawyers from firms like WilmerHale and Skadden Arps who make their money representing those same banks. McCain’s list included exactly the same banks and a similar list of law firms, the minor difference being that it was Gibson Dunn instead of WilmerHale, etc.

Those numbers tell us that both parties rely upon the same core of major donors among the top law firms, the Wall Street companies, and business leaders – basically, the 1%. Those one-percenters always give generously to both parties and both presidential candidates, although they sometimes will hedge their bets significantly when they think one side or the other has a lopsided chance at victory. That’s clearly what happened in 2008, when Wall Street correctly called Obama as a 2-1 (or maybe a 7-3) favorite to beat McCain.

The 1% donors are remarkably tolerant. They’ll give to just about anyone who polls well, provided they fall within certain parameters. What they won’t do is give to anyone who is even a remote threat to make significant structural changes, i.e. a Dennis Kucinich, an Elizabeth Warren, or a Ron Paul (hell will freeze over before Wall Street gives heavily to a candidate in favor of abolishing their piggy bank, the Fed). So basically what that means is that voters are free to choose anyone they want, provided it isn’t Dennis Kucinich, or Ron Paul, or some other such unacceptable personage.

If the voters insist on supporting such a person in defiance of these donors – this might even happen tonight, with a Paul win in Iowa – what you inevitably end up seeing is a monstrous amount of money quickly dumped into the cause of derailing that candidate.

The reason 2012 feels so empty now is that voters on both sides of the aisle are not just tired of this state of affairs, they are disgusted by it. They want a chance to choose their own leaders and they want full control over policy, not just a partial say. There are a few challenges to this state of affairs within the electoral process – as much as I disagree with Paul about many things, I do think his campaign is a real outlet for these complaints – but everyone knows that in the end, once the primaries are finished, we’re going to be left with one 1%-approved stooge taking on another.

The only place we can be absolutely sure this battle will not be found is in any national presidential race between Barack Obama and someone like Mitt Romney.

The campaign is still a gigantic ritual and it will still be attended by all the usual pomp and spectacle, but it’s empty. In fact, because it’s really a contest between 1%-approved candidates, it’s worse than empty – it’s obnoxious.

It was always annoying when these two parties and the slavish media that follows their champions around for 18 months pretended that this was a colossal clash of opposites. But now, with the economy in the shape that it’s in thanks in large part to the people financing these elections, that pretense is more than annoying, it’s offensive.

And I imagine that the more they try to play up the drama of these familiar-but-empty campaign rituals, the more irritating to the public it will all become. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, before the season is out, the campaign itself will become a hated symbol of the 1% — with the conventions and the networks’ broadcast tents outside the inevitable “free speech zones” attracting protests the same way the offices of Chase and Bank of America did this fall.

Speaking of Matt Taibbi, Rajiv Sethi has an interesting piece up over at Yves place speculating on a Goldman-style ‘Pump and Dump’ in the Intrade prediction market driving the Santorum Surge (minds out of the gutter folks) and Romney’s enhanced chances of victory.

Public Policy Polling which has proven remarkably accurate recently predicts a Photo Finish with Ron Paul at 20%, Mitt Romney at 19%, and Rick Santorum at 18%; and as if you haven’t had enough Horse Race metaphors, John Aravosis points out this interesting graphic at Slate.

Jon Walker likes gambling on Poker better-

The Wild Card Factors

Probably the two biggest wild cards are turnout and whether Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are able to hold their support. It is possible some of their socially conservative supporters might at the last minute move strategically to Santorum, because they see his momentum making him the strongest anti-Romney.

Similarly it is possible the Paul campaign could bring in a significant number of new, unlikely caucus voters tipping the balance for him. It is possible a large number of anti-war and/or anti-drug war independents will choose to show up at the caucus, change their registration to GOP, and vote for Paul. With overall turnout likely to be about only 130,000, as little as a few hundred votes could make a difference.

Now you can find a live blog almost anywhere except here.  Not only am I uninterested in any of the above (call me Uncommitted though some think I should be), I am also still visiting my TVless friend and if I want to watch the results at all I’ll have to do it through CurrentTV’s livestream and sadly my laptop lacks to horsepower to stream and blog at the same time.

However if you have any observations you’d care to share please do so below.

It is, after all, an Open Thread.