Friday, February 20, 2009

A Friday Repug Recession Roundup

(And I posted here too, as usual.)

To begin, Kimberly A. Strassel of the Murdoch Street Journal draws a contrast today here between two Repug governors: Charlie Crist of Florida and Mark Sanford of South Carolina (I may end up repeating myself about Sanford from this prior post)…

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is mooted as a GOP presidential contender. During the stimulus debate he told President Barack Obama, to his face, that the Palmetto State wanted no part of a spending blowout that would be harmful to the economy, to taxpayers, and to the dollar. He even traveled to Capitol Hill to stiffen Senate Republicans against the plan.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is mooted as a GOP presidential contender. During the stimulus debate, he made clear the Sunshine State couldn't wait to get its hands on the stimulus booty and joined Democratic governors to push the bill. He even campaigned with Mr. Obama in support of the $787 billion extravaganza.

As contrasts go, it doesn't get better than this. The Republican Party is locked in a debate over how it ever fell so low and what it needs to become in the future. Mr. Sanford and Mr. Crist vividly capture the divide. They also capture how the economic downturn is already forcing Republicans to choose a side.
To get an idea of what is playing out in Florida, by the way, here is an extract of a story in The New Yorker by George Packer, which tells us, among other things, that…

…Gary Mormino, a professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, tells the writer that, “Florida, in some ways, resembles a modern Ponzi scheme. Everything is fine for me if a thousand newcomers come tomorrow.” The state depends for revenue on real-estate deals and sales taxes. By 2005, the housing market in Florida was hotter than it had ever been. Flipping houses and condominiums turned into an amateur middle-class pursuit…Floridians with modest incomes…made money buying and selling real estate. (Packer’s story) mentions one case in which a house appreciated in value by almost fifty per cent overnight. According to an investigation by the Miami Herald, government oversight of the real-estate market was so negligent that more than ten thousand convicted criminals got jobs in the mortgage industry. Flipping and fraud burst the bubble.
And yes, malls in Orlando are feeling the pinch, as noted here, and even The Mouse Itself has had to do the following, as noted here…

(Disney’s) ABC network cut 200 jobs and eliminated 200 that hadn’t been filled. ABC’s TV studio and programming divisions are merging. ESPN, Disney’s cable sports channel, said it won’t fill 200 vacant positions, froze hiring through September 2010 and halted executive pay raises.

The company is making “significant” cost cuts at every division and will continue to make reductions, Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger said on a Feb. 3 conference call. The cuts go beyond responding to the economic downturn, he said.

Disney this month reported a 32 percent drop in fiscal first-quarter profit and said it would cut more jobs in response to the deepening U.S. recession.

Theme-park profit in the period declined 24 percent to $382 million on a 3.9 percent drop in revenue. Disney is offering three nights free and a $200 credit for food and merchandise with a four-night reservation in Florida and Southern California.
Given all of this, I think the following should be noted when comparing Crist to Sanford (with Crist due to roll out his state budget soon), in particular, this story about the state’s deal with U.S. Sugar last November (noted by Strassel)…

The company's 181,000 acres would go to South Florida water managers, who would draw up plans for re-creating the historic flow of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. If planning takes longer, the state may allow U.S. Sugar to rent the land past seven years.

All of the company's roughly 1,700 employees would keep their jobs indefinitely. That's a major shift from the original $1.75 billion, 187,000-acre deal that Gov. Charlie Crist trumpeted in June, which called for the state to buy out U.S. Sugar entirely while forcing it to close in six years.

"We've had a nervous bunch of employees for the last 10 months, particularly since June," said Robert Coker, a U.S. Sugar senior vice president. "Every employee we have today, we intend to keep employed right on."

Crist remained intimately involved in a 4 1/2 -hour session (around November) as the two sides wrangled over the new price, according to (J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, the lobbyist brokering the deal for U.S. Sugar). Opposite him during that meeting sat Mike Sole, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the governor's chief of staff, Eric Eikenberg. The two stepped out of the room about five times to call Crist and consult about each offer and counter-offer, Stipanovich said.

"He drove a hard bargain, I'm here to tell you," said Stipanovich.

As for the land, the state will probably sell or lease some back to growers to defray the cost. The water district's early plans call for turning 65,000 to 95,000 acres into reservoirs and marshes.
This to me sounds like Crist is actually doing his job (shocking for a Repug, I know) by looking out for his constituents to some degree. And while I’m sure there will be more than a bit of fudging with the budget numbers (here), particularly given projections for the stimulus that no one can completely foresee at this point, at least Crist is trying to retain services and hold down tax increases at once (God forbid a Repug would support any kind of “revenue enhancement”).

And Strassel also tells us the following…

Asked about Mr. Crist, Mr. Sanford was more direct. "I don't think that a lot of people down here would call him a fiscal conservative."
And I don’t think they would call him an idiot either, Mark, as opposed to you (God, I hope he somehow gets the nod for president in 2012 – it would be so much fun to watch him “crash and burn”).

You see, Sanford said here that he opposed both the stimulus itself and the money that would be released to South Carolina as a result (to the point where Dem House Majority Whip James Clyburn became so enraged over the possibility of losing out on the funds that he inserted language allowing state legislatures to overrule the governors on stimulus spending, as noted here – and actually, Sanford has even backpedaled on what he said previously, noted here… “all hat, no cattle” indeed).

And as noted here, Sanford considers business tax incentives to be “unfair meddling,” which probably isn’t a good thing when business leaders in his state are already mad at him for…

…vetoes of budget items like trade centers and tourism marketing. Even G.O.P. bosses charge that he is worse at economic development than at grandstanding, as when he visited the legislature last year carrying piglets to protest what he considered pork-barrel spending….” (here).
Just keep telling you that Kimberly A. Strassel considers Sanford to be a “fiscally responsible governor” - uh huh.

And speaking of the punditocracy, Michael Gerson of the WaPo weighed in today on how the Depression-era generation “controlled the things it could control -- including its own consumption and character,” and scolded as follows…

We see hints of this type of reaction to our current recession, which has such clearly moral causes -- the burst of a bubble inflated by irresponsible debt, consumerism and unaccountable risk-taking.
And as far as Gerson is concerned, that’s the pecking order, by the way; not the unscrupulous maneuvers of our supposed financial geniuses first and foremost, who concocted bogus securities and wrote mortgages for criminals, among other misdeeds, and in the process, to paraphrase Bob Herbert, brought the mightiest economic engine the world has ever seen to the brink of ruin.


During an economic crisis, Americans return to a language of morality. Perhaps excess and recklessness are vices that deserve social stigma. Perhaps frugality and prudence are personal virtues as well as practices that prevent economic collapse. Perhaps there is a distinction between securing our needs and being dominated by our wants.
Perhaps it would have been a good idea if you had spoken out years earlier concerning the fact that your presidential mentor decided to let the foxes run the proverbial henhouse on the economy, among other matters, back when it would have made a difference (which I realize is way too much to ask for a Bush acolyte like Gerson, who instead, casted aspersions toward Obama on the matter of poverty before he was even sworn in, as noted here – and to think this character claimed that Jimmy Carter was his childhood political hero, as noted here in a Gerson attack on Minnesota’s soon-to-be next U.S. Senator).

So, today will go down as yet another day of struggle as we grownups (with an assist from Charlie Crist) endeavor to dig our way out, while Sanford and many of the Repugs engage in the pointless, idiotic task of trying to concoct “values” issues from this crisis in lieu of performing the admittedly difficult work of actual governance.

And by the way, to find out the Sanford-esque tactics of the GOP are being received across the country, I think this tells the story pretty well.

Update 2/22/09: I don't like it when either party plays politics over the stimulus, but I have to laugh when Sanford says the following here...

"I think in this instance I would humbly suggest that the real fringe are those that are supporting the stimulus," Sanford said.
Really? And by the way, another Repug governor hasn't exactly "covered himself in glory" on this either (here).

Update 4/2/09: Welcome to "the fringe," Mark (here).

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