Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to effect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security. Bill Scher will return on Wednesday.
MORNING MESSAGE: China Cheats—Push May Come To Shove
OurFuture.org’s Robert Borosage: China cheats and everyone knows it. Pressures are building on the administration to start enforcing our trade laws. Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney says he’ll cite China as a currency violator on day one of his presidency. In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced he would set up a special unit to enforce trade laws, calling out China by name. Now a coalition of unions led by the United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers, along with allied organizations are joining with Senators Sherrod Brown and Debbie Stabenow to call the question.
Trade Battles with China
TPM’s Josh Marshall reports: On Monday, the U.S. Commerce Department announced it had found “reasonable basis to believe or suspect” that Chinese subsidies of solar panels imported to the U.S. were in violation of international trade agreements. … A big part of the reason the Commerce Department announced its decision today is precisely because it observed the Chinese manufacturers drastically increasing the volume of imports to the U.S. over the past few months — up nearly 15 percent in the case of at least two companies — following the original complaint from U.S. solar panel companies in October of dumping by Chinese manufacturers.
World Trade Organization orders China to stop export taxes on minerals. New York Times: “The legal setback for Beijing could set a precedent for the West to challenge China’s export restrictions on other natural resources, including rare earth metals that are crucial to many modern technologies, trade experts said.”
Florida Vote: From SuperPACs to Super Crash
Political spending shifts from campaigns to superPACs, reports Jed Lewison at DailyKos: “… A new study shows that while the amount of advertising so far in the Republican presidential primary is on the same level as 2008, a much larger portion of it is now being funded by outside groups. in 2008, 97.4 percent of the money was spent by campaigns themselves—just 2.6 percent by outside groups. In 2012, 56.4 percent of the money was spent by campaigns—43.6 percent by outside groups, a nearly 17-fold increase for outside groups as a share of total ad spending. Even though total spending decreased by 42 percent, spending by outside groups increased 1,281.8 percent.”
Who’s behind all of this superPAC spending? As Christian Science Monitor reports, “The secret donors funding a flood of negative ads in the 2012 presidential race are supposed to go public Tuesday. But loopholes in federal disclosure rules mean that Americans will still be left largely in the dark about who is financing what.”
The super crash in housing a big issue in Florida. Bloomberg Businessweek: “Twenty-three percent of mortgaged homes in Florida, the fourth-most populous state, are delinquent or foreclosed upon, more than in any other state, according to Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services. Florida ranks third in the portion of homeowners with underwater mortgages — with 44 percent of properties valued at less than the loans — according to Santa Ana, California-based CoreLogic data from the third quarter. In a state that helped elect President Barack Obama in 2008, home prices declined 22.5 percent from the first quarter of 2009, when he was inaugurated, through the third quarter of 2011, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States index.”
Who will win Florida tonight? Steve Singiser at DailyKos does a polling roundup. “Well, maybe it is tightening, and Newt Gingrich is back within the margin of error. Or maybe Mitt Romney is now staked to a 20-point advantage. As has happened fairly often in this bizarre primary cycle, there is a poll out there on election eve to suit your favored meme.”
The American Prospect’s Bob Moser on “Newt’s fatal flaw”: “Gingrich’s only chance to take the nomination is as the leader of a movement—loosely defined, the Tea Party movement—and he spoke to its anti-elitist streak powerfully in his dramatic victory in South Carolina. But you can’t lead a movement when everything you say eventually comes back to you, above all else. It can’t be my outrage; it has to be our outrage. But instead of effectively casting the Romney campaign as the enemy of all anti-establishment conservatives—as Sarah Palin and Herman Cain tried to do for him over the weekend—Gingrich seems incapable of putting the brakes on his megalomania.”
More Mortgage Fraud Settlement Fears
Nevada’s attorney general is pushing back with concerns and questions about a settlement over allegations of widespread mortgage fraud, HuffPo’s Loren Berlin reports. “In a letter sent Friday, emailed to federal officials and obtained by The Huffington Post, Nevada’s attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, asked 38 questions relating to a variety of concerns, including fears that states would play second fiddle to the federal government in making decisions. She also questioned if states would lose their ability to pursue certain types of lawsuits against banks and whether states would get their fair share of the housing assistance for their borrowers. “
California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris seeks “edge” in settlement talks, according to Bloomberg. “By Harris’s own reckoning, her reluctance to sign onto a deal and any investigation she might pursue risk deepening the “blight and despair” for many of the 2.2 million California homeowners whom she has said are “holding on by their fingernails.” Still, she is pushing a broader probe of banks’ mortgage practices, including securitization of the loans. … She spoke of having an investigator’s penchant to leave no stone unturned in learning what banks told homeowners when they entered into loans, and how documentation of the transactions measured up to what mortgage holders believed to be the terms of the agreement.”
USA Today offers a Q&A on the issues surrounding the mortgage settlement.
Freddie Mac’s Bets against Homeowners
ProPublica/NPR follow-up to story that Freddie Mac was buying securities that served as an incentive against helping homeowners get out of high-interest-rate loans. “Freddie Mac agreed last month to stop making new bets against American homeowners after its regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, raised concerns … Separately, the White House said the Department of the Treasury is “looking into” Freddie’s investments, and at least three senators called on Freddie not to bet against struggling homeowners.”
Felix Salmon: “The Freddie Mac rule certainly maximizes Freddie Mac’s income, but it’s dreadful and unfair public policy. At the same time, it’s also policy which is very much in line with the FHFA’s stance on principal reduction, or anything else which might help homeowners. Given the choice between extracting short-term cashflows from homeowners, on the one hand, and improving the all-over health of the housing market, on the other, the FHFA will always choose the former.”
Contrarian view from Yves Smith: “The storyline in this piece is neat, plausible, and utterly wrong. And my e-mail traffic indicates that people who are reasonably finance savvy but don’t know the mortgage bond space have bought the uninformed and conspiratorial ProPublica thesis hook, line, and sinker.”
Unemployment Compensation Fight
States now paying the price for not collecting enough from businesses to pay unemployment claims. Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: “Businesses in 20 states must make the first payment [today] on about $35 billion that these states have borrowed from the federal government in recent years to help pay unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Most of this borrowing happened because many states kept the business taxes that fund UI benefits too low before the recession, leaving their UI reserves ill prepared for an economic slump.”
House to vote this week on extending a federal pay freeze to help pay for extension of unemployment benefits. The Washington Post: “The vote comes as a new government report shows that federal employees on average earn about 2 percent more than private sector employees in a comparable profession. When pension and health benefits are factored in, federal employees earn about 16 percent more in total compensation than private sector workers, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”
Mitch McConnell’s revisionist history: Congress gave President Obama everything he wanted in 2009-2010. False, says Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo: “This isn’t a new claim for McConnell, but it’s audacious even by Washington’s lax standards. It was McConnell, after all, who led Senate Republicans in serial filibusters — a record-setting number — successfully thwarting large chunks of Obama’s agenda. By forcing Democrats to find 60 votes to nearly every action, McConnell and his members were able to block major initiatives including climate change and immigration reform bills, various appropriations bills, myriad presidential appointments, and arguably also a Democratic effort to let the Bush tax cuts expire for high incomes. Meanwhile, big legislative items that did pass, such as health care reform and the economic stimulus package, were notably scaled back as a result of the GOP filibusters.”
Is your local weathercaster peddling the right-wing line against climate change? Huffpo’s Lynne Peoples reports: “Recent studies have found that more than half of the reporters relaying weather on television do not believe humans are the primary drivers of global warming — despite a consensus among scientists who specialize on the topic. … A new campaign called “Forecast the Facts,” begun by Citizen Engagement Lab with the support of the League of Conservation Voters and the climate advocacy group 350.org, aims to call out on-air climate deniers.”
Mother Jones examines the Tea Party plan to save Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from defeat in a recall. “Tea partiers at the state and national levels are rallying around Walker’s recall defense, hoping a victory could bolster the movement in a critical election year. … In recent months, the Tea Party Express, a national organization, and the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, a tea party-linked political action committee, have waded into the recall fight, blasting out more than a dozen emails to supporters and launching a $100,000 “money bomb” fundraiser to help defend Walker.”