Every two years, when the Senate’s newly-elected members take office, the Constitution opens up a brief window when the Senate’s rules can be changed with just 51 votes — the rules typically require a two-thirds majority to make any changes. Last year, several senators proposed taking advantage of this window to reform the filibuster rule and prevent Senate Republicans from continuing their unprecedented campaign of obstruction of bills and nominees. Ultimately, however, these reforms failed because too many Senate Democrats were unwilling to move forward with them.
Yesterday, in a floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) admitted that the reformers were correct, and that the senators who kept the filibuster intact were wrong:
If there ever were a time when Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley were prophetic, it’s tonight. These two young, fine senators said it was time we changed the rules in the Senate, and we didn’t. They were right. The rest of us were wrong — or most of us now anyway. What a shame. So here we are, wasting time because of the Republicans. … And then, to top it off, one of the finest members of the Senate we’ve had, ever, was defeated yesterday by a man, listen to this, Mr. President, who campaigned on the platform that there’s too much compromise in the Senate. And he’s going to come back here and not compromise with anybody on anything. Now that’s what we need in the Senate, more people who are willing to do nothing but fight.
Reid’s frustration with the result in the Indiana GOP Senate primary closely maps concerns that ThinkProgress raised shortly after Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock defeated long time incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN). In the wake of Mourdock’s success running on a platform of uncompromising obstructionism, it is unlikely that any Republican senator will be willing to cross party lines in order to pass even the most essential legislation or to fill crucial jobs such as a seat on the Supreme Court. As Reid now seems to recognize, the choice facing Senate Democrats is whether to dramatically reform the Senate rules or leave America completely unable to govern itself.
Despite their unwillingness to do so last year, however, they will have another opportunity to do so very soon — provided they have at least 51 votes in favor of reform. Next January, when the 113th Congress convenes, another window opens enabling the Senate’s rules to be changed by a simple majority vote.
– The House Republicans’ passed their plan to avoid defense cuts, although it’s likely to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which would make deep cuts in antipoverty programs and other domestic programs in order to protect the defense budget from automatic spending cuts.
– Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta criticized House Republicans for approving the bill and ignoring the strategic review which was the basis for the 2013 budget proposal and budgeting $8 billion more than what Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to last summer.
– The Yemeni branch of al Qaeda now has “a whole outfit designated to target the U.S. homeland” and the U.S. now believes Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is working on “several type of bombs” that could get past airport screening machines, a source working with U.S. intelligence agencies and the military tells CNN.
– The supposed suicide bomber — actually a Saudi spy whose information allowed the U.S. to disrupt another “underwear bomb” — held a European Union passport and grew up in the West, making him attractive to Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate because of his freedom of movement in the U.S. and Europe.
– Another Afghan soldier opened fire on Western troops, killing one, NATO reported on Friday, while Afghan officials reported that two Western soldiers were wounded in addition to the one killed.
– A monitoring group consisting of Afghan and international officials cited what it called a “pattern of bad behavior” at a U.N.-administered fund that pays to train and maintain Afghanistans national police force.
– As the U.S. grows closer to giving up on the faltering U.N.-backed peace plan in Syrian and seeking other options, a suicide bomb in the capitol could hold back multilateral action by raising concerns among powerful international players China and Russia.
– Some European countries want to scale back an aspect of the impending oil sanctions on Iran to allow European insurance of ships carrying Iranian oil — a move that would likely be welcome in Iran and other non-European countries that buy Iranian oil.
More high school classmates of Mitt Romney have come forward in the wake of a blockbuster Washington Post story on his bullying of a presumed gay classmate, with one telling ABC News that Romney engaged in “bullying supreme”, and saying that he witnessed one event that could be considered “assault and battery.” He described Romney and his friends as a ?pack of dogs” who targeted other victims.
Super PAC expenditures are expected to hit the $100 million mark this week, proving that outside spending in the 2012 election will far surpass any previous election cycle.
JP Morgan revealed yesterday that it lost $2 billion over the last six weeks, and regulation advocates see it as proof that big bank regulations are necessary. CEO Jamie Dimon said on a call with investors yesterday that the loss “plays right into the hands of a bunch of pundits out there” who support the Volcker Rule, which regulates how banks invest.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, will be stepping down at the end of this year. In an interview with the Washington Post, Keenan, who has headed up the organization for the last eight years, said she thinks it’s time for someone younger to lead the pro-choice movement. ?People give a lot of lip service to how we?re going to engage the next generation,? Keenan said, ?but we can?t just assume it will happen on its own.?
In Arizona, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (R) dropped his bid for U.S. House and announced he will seek re-election to his current position. A strong conservative, anti-immigration activist, and former Romney campaign state co-chair, Babeu was outed as a gay man when a former partner accused him of blackmail.
Egypt held the Arab World’s first presidential debate last night, marking a turning point in Egyptian politics after the past three decades of authoritarian rule under Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted after last year’s wave of protests.
A top NewsCorp insider offered “a rare glimpse into the personal relationship” between Rupert Murdoch and British politicians today. Ousted executive Rebekah Brooks testified “that that Prime Minister David Cameron and other leading figures sent her sympathetic messages through third parties after she resigned last year in the phone hacking scandal.”
And finally: In Italy, Fabio Borsatti entered the mayoral race in his town at the last minute, hoping to simply boost turnout in favor of the only real candidate. Naturally, even after his own family voted for the other guy, Borsatti won in a landslide.
According to a new report from the National Employment Law Project, 230,000 Americans will see their unemployment benefits vanish this weekend, even as the jobless rate remains stubbornly high. Nearly half of those losing their benefits live in California, where the unemployment rate is 11 percent:
Long-term unemployed workers in a growing list of states are being abruptly cut from federal unemployment insurance, a new analysis from the National Employment Law Project shows. Due to reductions Congress enacted earlier this year, more than 400,000 workers in 27 states will have lost between 13 to 20 weeks of federal unemployment insurance under the Extended Benefits program by Saturday, May 12th. The cuts come even though long-term unemployment remains near record highs. [...]
The latest round of cuts that take effect in eight states this Saturday will affect more than 200,000 long-term unemployed workers and account for the biggest number of workers to be hit so far, as states like California, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas are all being phased out at the same time. In California, nearly 100,000 workers are being cut from the extended benefits this week.
These cuts are occurring because the formula under which states receive federal funds for extended unemployment benefits stipulates that those funds disappear if the state’s unemployment rate stops increasing. So because California and other states have seen some improvement in their labor situations, their funds vanish. ?The Extended Benefits program is being phased out because state unemployment rates have stopped climbing, but unemployment is still exceedingly high in many places,? said NELP Executive Director Christine Owens.
There are still more than three job seekers for every available opening, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and more than 30 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for a year or more. Considering those numbers, it makes no sense to cut people off from unemployment benefits, which have ensured that millions of Americans don’t slip below the poverty line. According to the Government Accountability Office, 20 percent of those cut off from unemployment benefits by early 2010 fell into poverty.
President Obama came out in support of marriage equality on Wednesday, saying that it was important to him to “go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.” His position is also good for public health. Studies have shown that legalizing same-sex marriage helps improve mental health. In one Massachusetts study, it led to fewer visits to health clinics, and all gay men saw benefits, according to the Los Angeles Times:
A study published in February by the American Journal of Public Health found that gay men in Massachusetts were in better physical and mental health after that state became the first to recognize same-sex marriage in 2003. Researchers examined the medical records of 1,211 gay and bisexual men who went to ?a large, community-based health clinic? in a ?large metropolitan city? and compared the patients? use of medical services before and after the law went into effect. [...]
Overall, the number of visits to the clinic fell by 13% after gay marriage was legalized ? and both partnered and single gay men benefited, the researchers found. ?One mechanism that may explain these findings is a reduction in the amount and frequency of status-based stressors that sexual minority men experience when institutionalized forms of stigma are eliminated,? they wrote.
Researchers in California found that married gay men were more relaxed and less depressed than gay men in domestic partnerships. And legally married same-sex couples rely on welfare less than single people, according to another Massachusetts study. ?Marriage appears to confer a number of benefits, psychological and otherwise,? Letitia Anne Peplau, a social psychologist at UCLA, told Science. ?There isn?t anything in the scientific literature that suggests that gay or lesbian people would benefit less or differently than heterosexual people from access to the institution of marriage.”
Last night, an FDA advisory committee voted 19-3 to endorse the drug Truvada for use in controlling HIV infection among men who have sex with men, including preventive use by men who are partnered with someone who is HIV-positive. This would be the first drug ever marketed for HIV prevention, a process known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). FDA regulators still have to give final consideration to the recommendation before Truvada can be distributed.
Remember last month, when I wrote about JPMorgan Chase gambling heavily on high-risk credit derivatives, and Jamie Dimon said it was a "tempest in a teapot"?
JPMorgan Chase disclosed on Thursday that a trading group had suffered ?significant? losses in a portfolio of credit investments, with the chief executive, Jamie Dimon, estimating losses at $2 billion in a conference call.
?These were egregious mistakes,? Mr. Dimon said on the call. ?They were self-inflicted and this is not how we want to run a business.?
And yet, apparently this is exactly how you run a business, Jamie! (Remember, this is the man who, not so long ago, was considered a shoo-in to replace Tim Geithner.) Ironic that JPMorgan Chase is considered the prudent bank, relatively speaking.
The troubles at the unit, the so-called Chief Investment Office, which makes trades to balance the bank?s assets and liabilities, are expected to weigh on the bank?s broader earnings.
For example, the corporate group, which includes the Chief Investment Office, is now expected to lose $800 million in the second quarter, the company said in a filing. Previously, JPMorgan had estimated that the group would report net income of roughly $200 million.
Ultimately, JPMorgan said, the final tally will depend on the markets and other actions by the bank. Mr. Dimon added that it could ?easily get worse.?
Shares of JPMorgan were down 5.5 percent in after-hours trading, dragging down other bank stocks.
The trading group has been a focus in recent weeks as questions surfaced about big bets the JPMorgan unit was reportedly making in credit default swaps. Reports emerged in April about a JPMorgan trader in London whose positions were so big that they were distorting the market.
Mr. Dimon played down the significance. In a conference call on April 13, he called the matter ?a complete tempest in a teapot.?
?Every bank has a major portfolio. In those portfolios you make investments that you think are wise to offset your exposures,? Mr. Dimon said in the April call. ?At the end of the day, that is our job ? is to invest that portfolio wisely, intelligently over a long period of time to earn income and to offset other exposures that we have.?
Now, the portfolio is wreaking havoc at the bank. In its filing on Thursday, JPMorgan pointed specifically to problems with its bets on credit.
Now remember, these are exactly the kinds of transactions the banking industry lobbied so hard to protect.
The Chief Investment Office ?has had significant mark-to-market losses in its synthetic credit portfolio, and this portfolio has proven to be riskier, more volatile and less effective as an economic hedge than the firm previously believed,? the company said in its regulatory filing.
?We have egg on our face,? Mr. Dimon said on Thursday. ?We deserve any criticism we get.?
So if I point out that you're a scum-sucking bottom feeder (or, as Max Keiser calls you, "a tapeworm") who helped crash the international economy, pushed millions of Americans into the poorhouse and that your attitude that moral hazard is only for the little people who bought the crap you so blatantly peddled to them, you're acknowledging that you deserve it?
No, what you "deserve" is to be impoverished, left homeless and facing a long prison term. But we have a two-tiered justice system and that ain't happening. At least now we're going to see a closer look at regulating derivatives:
JPMorgan Chase?s $2 billion trading loss, which was disclosed on Thursday, could give supporters of tighter industry regulation a huge new piece of ammunition as they fight a last-ditch battle with the banks over new federal rules that may redefine how banks do business...The centerpiece of the new regulations, the so-called Volcker Rule, forbids banks from making bets with their own money, and a final version is expected to be issued by federal officials in the coming months. With the financial crisis fading from view, banks have successfully pushed for some exceptions that critics say will allow them to simply make proprietary trades under a different name, in this case for the purposes of hedging and market-making. The missteps by JPMorgan could highlight that murky line between proprietary trading and hedging. The bank unit responsible for losses takes positions to hedge activities in other parts of the bank.
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If same-sex marriage will harm anyone in this election, it?s not President Obama; his position is supported by most Democrats and independents, as well as important portions of his liberal base. By contrast, Mitt Romney is in a serious bind. If he shifts his rhetoric to emphasize opposition to marriage equality, he could energize the conservative base, and deepen his support among evangelicals and other members of the religious right who doubt his commitment to the cause. Already, he?s made steps in that direction. Yesterday afternoon, Romney reiterated his stance on marriage:
?You don?t change your positions to try and win the states or certain subgroups of Americans, you have the positions you have,? Romney told Fox News?s Neil Cavuto on Thursday afternoon. ?And as you know, for a long time, I think from the beginning of my political career, I?ve made it very clear that I believe marriage should be a relationship between a man and a woman. ?
The problem, of course, is that?in the eyes of the public?continued emphasis could place him on the far right of the Republican Party, move the discussion away from the economy, and damage his moderate persona. The Obama campaign knows this, and American Bridge?the Obama-allied PAC?has released a video to pressure Romney on the subject:
If the attack on Romney?s record at Bain and in Massachusetts is about his competence as an economic manager, then the emphasis on his opposition to same-sex marriage is about his non-threatening appearance. The Obama campaign wants voters?and independents in particular?to see Romney as Rick Santorum in a nicer suit. A full court press on same-sex marriage, combined with Romney?s effort to please his base, might do the trick.
I spent most of yesterday afternoon laughing my ass off about Jamie Dimon's London Whale loss, but it's actually not all that funny.[...]
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