Audit Notes: BW on Issa; NYT Probes Long-Term “Care”; Eye on CDS; Extreme Tealeaf Reading, etc.

BusinessWeek has the very good idea to profile Darrell Issa, the California Republican (and wealthiest member of Congress) whom it dubs “Tim Geithner’s Tormentor.” From his perch on the Oversight & Government Reform Committee, Issa has been getting a lot of information on the treasury secretary and his role in the AIG bailout into the public record—plus, he knows how to work the press. In a good way, we mean.

His investigations rarely turn up smoking guns, but that’s not the point. Instead he ties up his targets for months with hostile questions and subpoenas. Strategic leaking is also part of the package. The panel’s investigative reports and subpoenaed documents often hit the news shortly before a hearing. “You in the press are our greatest resource,” says Issa.

But here’s the best part. Directed Electronics, the company Issa started, makes the Viper car alarm. That “Please step away from the car” voice? Yeah, that’s his. Now we know.

Long-term care hospitals have become big business. But in one of those tough-to-read-but-important investigative pieces, The New York Times shows how little scrutiny they receive. It’s scary stuff.

Then, around 5 a.m. on Oct. 8, a nurse at Select called Ms. Stagg, telling her that her brother had died of a heart attack. Sheryl Laing, who was the hospital’s director of quality, later told Ms. Stagg that a nurse had turned off Mr. Borum’s heart monitor because the nurse was tired of listening to the monitor beep.

We appreciate Bloomberg keeping an eye on CDS. Somebody has to. As we’ve seen, they’re a good alternative measure of how risky things are.

The Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index, a benchmark of credit-default swaps that investors use to hedge against losses on corporate debt, declined for the first time in four days yesterday, dropping 4.25 basis points to a mid-price of 102.75 basis points, according to Phoenix Partners Group. The decline, the biggest since Nov. 9, came as European officials said they may help Greece contain its budget deficit, the biggest in the European Union.

One day, we hope, the bond market will be as transparent as the stock market. But until then we’ll rely on the people of the Twin Tubes.

Donald Luskin’s WSJ column takes Wall Street tea-leaf reading to unusual extremes, blaming the stock market’s recent turn on Scott Brown’s election to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat and the populist response it triggered.

From the beginning of this historic rally—up 73% over the 316 days since last March’s market bottom—politics has been an important theme. That horrific bottom was reached after Democrats in Congress rammed through a $787 billion stimulus bill so quickly that no senator or representative could have possibly read all 1,073 pages of it. That hastily concocted porkfest should not be credited with turning stocks around. Rather, it should be blamed for the more than 18% loss that stocks suffered in the 24 days from the date of its enactment to the day of the March bottom.

Got that? Us neither.

The Atlantic takes a long hard look at what it calls our “new jobless era,” and the picture isn’t pretty.

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.

Sound alarmist? Read the piece.

Finally, Steve Pearlstein uses the snow that’s gripped the Washington area, and a little “snow insurance” thought experiment, to make a powerful point about the current state of American politics.

It is a measure of the dysfunction of our political system that we can no longer rationally debate whether it is penny-wise and pound-foolish not to spend a little more to try to keep the Capital of the Free World from grinding to a halt every time a snowflake descends from the heavens.

Here’s hoping we dig out of both messes soon.

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Dean Starkman and Holly Yeager are CJR staffers. Starkman edits The Audit and is CJR's Kingsford Capital Fellow; Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy.