Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Last Call

If it's summer, it must be time for the Governator to declare a state fiscal emergency and take it out on California state employees.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency over the state's finances on Wednesday, raising pressure on lawmakers to negotiate a state budget that is more than a month overdue and will need to close a $19 billion shortfall.

The deficit is 22 percent of the $85 billion general fund budget the governor signed last July for the fiscal year that ended in June, highlighting how the steep drop in California's revenue due to recession, the housing slump, financial market turmoil and high unemployment have slashed its all-important personal income tax collection.

In the declaration, Schwarzenegger ordered three days off without pay per month beginning in August for tens of thousands of state employees to preserve the state's cash to pay its debt, and for essential services.
Yeah, because it's all the employees' fault, not Arnold's or the Assembly's.  Let's make them take three days off without pay.  That'll improve the situation, right?  And hey, the next stop on this road should be familiar to long-time readers:  the IOUs are back.
Schwarzenegger's declaration noted State Controller John Chiang has said he could be forced to issue IOUs as early as next month because of the budget impasse.
The only thing I'm surprised by at this point is that more states aren't turning to California's slash and burn style to punish those evil, evil government employees who all get paid in your taxpayer money, the bastards.  Oh, but remember, Arnold is a GOP moderate.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Not sure which is more fun, StarCraft II or #Wookieleaks.

Admittedly, the latter is somewhat less expensive, giving it something of an advantage.

Location, Location, Location

The NY Times.  Bringing you hard hitting headlines like this:
If It Causes Stress, Is It Really a Vacation Home?
The dynamics of second homeownership often conspire against this, said Milton F. Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, an organization that does research on wealthy consumers. “People become slaves to their homes. They buy into the headlines and that makes them pretty miserable with their vacation homes.” 
 With the residential housing market collapsing and jumbo mortgages (you know, the kind you find on over-priced vacation homes) defaulting at a far greater rate than standard middle-class mortgages, it's nice to know that the Times is sensitive enough to cover the unbearable lightness of being that must accompany the dilemma faced by what must be trillions of Americans over the agonizing decision to purchase that second vacation home (or in John McCain's case, number 8.)

Integrity you can taste!

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Via BlueGirl at They Gave Us A Republic, the AJC's Jay Bookman asks:
Let me see if I’ve got this straight:

Here we are in the smoldering ruins of an economy recently wrecked by Wall Street greed, in a country where for 30 years almost all income growth has been concentrated among the richest 1 percent of Americans (See graph to right). Rising populist anger, massive long-term unemployment and record home foreclosures serve as counterpoints to soaring corporate profits, while the Supreme Court rules that corporations are people and can spend limitless amounts of money trying to elect candidates willing to serve their interests.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party defends massive tax breaks for the wealthy while blocking aid to the unemployed, fights bitterly against regulations designed to prevent a repeat of the Wall Street meltdown, blocks legislation that would at least require corporate and special interests to identify themselves when they invest in elections and does all that while proclaiming itself to be the party of the little people.

Do I have that right?
Not only do you have that right, but the Republicans believe they are going to pick up a 100 seats in the House and take over the Senate because the American voter will reward them for the last thirty years of this.

So yes, if this comes true then we absolutely deserve nothing more than serfdom in fealty to our corporate lords and masters.  We have seen the enemy and they are us.

As BlueGirl points out:
"Then you're more stupid for voting for Republicans than you are for using your houses as credit cards, and I'm gonna keep believing it. You've been so played for so long by god, guns, abortion and gays that you don't even realize you're being reamed without lube. There was a class war, and we lost, because you and people like you were coopted by the enemy."   
Amen, sister.  And now comes the shock and awe, sans lube.

Senate Rule Changes Fili-Busted

The Senate is full of Vitamin Awesome.
Senate Democrats do not have the votes to lower the 60-vote threshold to cut off filibusters.
The lack of support among a handful of Senate Democratic incumbents is a major blow to the effort to change the upper chamber’s rules. 

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate are pushing for filibuster reform at the start of the new Congress next year. 
 Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation. 
 Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant to support it.

 A 10th Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said he would support changing the rule on filibusters of motions to begin debate on legislation, but not necessarily the 60-vote threshold needed to bring up a final vote on bills. 
Well of course not.  People forget that in all this "The problem is the filibuster" talk that the real problem is the Senators who have come to rely on it as the ultimate escape hatch for Senate Dems.  "Hey, we all tried voting for your progressive legislation X but, well, the filibuster stopped us."

If that goes away, if things can pass with 51 votes, or 50 + the Vice President, then all of a sudden whichever party is in charge of the Senate will actually have to produce legislation or be the bad guys.  Right now as far as the Senate Dems are concerned, the bad guys are the Republicans.  If that 51 majority vote thing kicked in well, the bad guys when these progressive laws mysteriously fail to pass will become the Dems who will now HAVE to vote against those Dirty F'ckin Hippies.  And no, they're not even pretending anymore.
Senior Democrats say Reid will not have the votes to change the rule at the beginning of next year.

“It won’t happen,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who said she would “probably not” support an effort to lower the number of votes needed to cut off filibusters from 60 to 55 or lower.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) echoed Feinstein: “I think we should retain the same policies that we have instead of lowering it.

“I think it has been working,” he said.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said he recognizes his colleagues are frustrated over the failure to pass measures such as the Disclose Act, campaign legislation that fell three votes short of overcoming a Republican filibuster Tuesday.

 “I think as torturous as this place can be, the cloture rule and the filibuster is important to protect the rights of the minority,” he said. “My inclination is no.”
You see?  As far as our Senators are concerned the filibuster is working as intended.   But then again, as far as a lot of "progressive" Dems in the Senate are concerned, it always has been.

BREAKING: Judge Issues Injunction Against Arizona Immigration Law

Breaking at this hour:  Federal Judge Susan Benton has blocked two key provisions in Arizona's "Papers, please" law, SB1070, before the law is scheduled to go into effect tomorrow.  Benton's injunction covers both the part of the law that requires police to ask for citizenship information whenever stopping anyone and the part that deems failure to have such information on hand at the time of a stop as a state crime.

PDF of the ruling is here.

More as it comes in.

[UPDATE]  As Bob Cesca points out:
Meanwhile, the section of the law that allows citizens to sue law enforcement wasn't blocked. This is one of the weirdest and most ridiculous provisions of the legislation. Not just the Arizona legislation -- all legislation. Ever.
Expect those lawsuits to be filed very very soon.   How the hell does that crazy-ass provision work?  "I saw me one of them illegals today, therefore you're not enforcing the law, therefore I'm going to sue the pants off you!"

Really?  I bet that's going to help.

[UPDATE 2]  More on Judge Benton's decision from the NY Times:
“Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely pre-empted by federal law to be enforced,” she said.

“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens,” she wrote. “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.” 
My favorite right-wing reaction?  Col.  Mustard.
The decision was a surprise to me in that it struck the provision -- which was most controversial -- as to checking immigration status of persons already arrested or stopped for some other offense if there were a reasonable suspicion that the person was in the country illegally.
The most controversial and unconstitutional part of the law gets struck down because of the patently ridiculous and unenforceable burden on Arizona's cops as to what constitutes a "reasonable suspicion" of a person being in the country illegally, without that suspicion being able to be applied in any sane or reasonably consistent way short of A) racial profiling, B) asking everybody for documentation, also stuck down, or C) the person wearing a t-shirt that reads "Undocumented and proud of it" while dragging an unconscious Border Patrol agent around behind them, and the law professor finds it a "surprise".

This guy?  Awesome.

Giving Conway And Chandler The Coaled Shoulder

Via Memeorandum, here in Kentucky the practical upshot of the DISCLOSE Act getting killed yesterday is simple:  Big Coal is going to throw as much money as they can now to buy Rand Paul a Senate seat.
Several major coal companies hope to use newly loosened campaign-finance laws to pool their money and defeat Democratic congressional candidates they consider "anti-coal," including U.S. Senate nominee Jack Conway and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler in Kentucky.

The companies hope to create a politically active nonprofit under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, so they won't have to publicly disclose their activities — such as advertising — until they file a tax return next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last winter that corporations and labor unions may pour unlimited funds into such efforts to influence elections.
"With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard," wrote Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group of Scott Depot, W.Va., in an undated letter he sent to other coal companies.

Nicholson declined to comment on his letter Tuesday, after the Herald-Leader obtained it.

"A number of coal industry representatives recently have been considering developing a 527 entity with the purpose of attempting to defeat anti-coal incumbents in select races, as well as elect pro-coal candidates running for certain open seats," Nicholson wrote. "We're requesting your consideration as to whether your company would be willing to meet to discuss a significant commitment to such an effort."
Yeah, who will speak for our poor, downtrodden, energy companies in states like kentucky?  Who will represent their interests as they continue to be downtrodden until the Supreme Court wisely allowed them to spend unlimited money on elections and our Senate concurred...

To be honest, a Ben Chandler win wouldn't be so bad for the coal companies either, but Rand there and his wonderful attitudes on government regulation in worker safety are exactly what the Big Coal guys are looking for in a bought and paid for Senator: effectively zero regulation of the industry and no responsibility or liability for accidents that may kill dozens or more at a time.

Hell, Sen. Rand Paul would be a dream come true for these guys and they know it.  They're going to bury this state under ads to try to annihilate Conway, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

One Person, One Vote

Unless you're poor, in which case that whole "you're a citizen and you get a vote thing" is apparently variable if you ask Steve Doocy of FOX.

The whole "47% of people don't pay income taxes" thing was put to bed months agobut that doesn't stop Doocy from lying about it, and now here he is intimating that people who don't pay income taxes because they're too poor shouldn't be allowed to vote.

I bet a whole lot of Republicans would be thrilled to take the vote away from those who couldn't "afford" it.

Play those class cards, Steve.  Make sure you spread them out so you can hide the race card underneath.

The Heart Of The City

Local city and county governments across the country are starving for cash, and many tough choices are going to have to be made on employment.  With falling home prices and commercial real estate floundering, draining property tax revenues and requiring local governments to pay to clean up the mess from foreclosures, the easy cuts have been long ago been made.

Now the bloody ones are coming.
Local government revenue has dwindled so severely that U.S. cities and counties will have to cut hundreds of thousands of jobs in the coming months, leaving communities without basic services and pressuring jobless rates, according to a new survey.

The survey, released on Tuesday by three government associations, aims to press Congress on pending legislation that would give them $75 billion over two years to preserve jobs.

Local and state government employment accounts for more jobs in the United States than construction and manufacturing combined. The survey by the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties and U.S. Conference of Mayors found that they are the primary employer in many communities. 

Those surveyed—214 cities with populations of more than 25,000 and 56 counties of more than 100,000 people—reported they will cut 8.6 percent of their full-time positions from 2009 through 2011. 

"If applied to total local government employment nationwide, an 8.6 percent cut in the workforce would mean that 481,000 local government workers were, or will be, laid off over the two-year period," the report said.
Some of those cuts have been made.  Thousands more are coming.  That means more cops, teachers, firefighters, city workers, hell entire departments are on the block.  The cuts will not make our country safer or more efficient, after all these employees spent money in their communities too and in a real sense it was stimulus spending by local governments and always has been.

Now that's being lost.  Most likely these jobs aren't ever coming back either...especially if anti-government Republicans have their way.

Hey, all those laid off cops should join private security firms protecting rich clients, right?

Where Firebagging Is Going

Just as it's predictable that a GOP Congress would attack Obama from the right,  it's entirely predictable that the Royal Order Of Those Who Think Obama Is Just Not Progressive Enough will go after him from the other direction.  With Pennsylvania Dem Gov. Ed Rendell openly saying that a deteriorating situation inf Afghanistan may lead to an Obama primary challenge in 2012, it's important to put the Useful Idiocy in perspective.  Steve M:

I understand the disgruntlement. I just wonder if there's any chance whatsoever that a primary challenge will either get a more progressive person elected or push Obama leftward and then get him elected. I really can't imagine either of those things happening.

But there will be a clamor. And my guess (as I said a while back) is that Russ Feingold, integrity narcissist, is the guy who'll be urged to run. I could see him going for it (even though, yeah, I know, he may not even win his own race this year).

Whoever it is -- if not him, maybe the primary fans will rally around Howard Dean, or Dennis Kucinich -- I think Obama will win the nomination, possibly quite bloodied. And then I think Ralph Nader -- who you just know is going to run yet again -- is going to start looking surprisingly good to a lot of disgruntled lefties. But, hell, I think we could a Constitution Party candidate (especially if Romney gets the GOP nomination) and a Bayh/Bloomberg ticket and Lord knows what else, so this really could be a free-for-all.

I'd be more sympathetic to this course of action if I felt that a strong and durable sense of progressivism had started to spread in the heartland. But that hasn't happened -- every liberal can be demonized as a liberal, and even heartlanders who've been favorably disposed to that person will inevitably begin to flee when the anti-liberal propaganda gets cranked up. That's because, at best, we get heartlanders to vote Democratic, but we don't get them to understand and embrace liberalism (even though many of them have skepticism about the power structure that we could tap into). Even Obama has suffered because of the public's unwillingness to rally around liberal ideas. That's what we have to reverse.

In other words, 2012 is going to be a glorious disaster.   Personally you have to like Obama's chances to come out ahead against the likes of Evan F'ckin' Bayh, Moose Lady, Russ Feingold, Newtie, and Ralph Nader (The King Of All Useful Idiocy).  But yes, I certainly expect some sort of primary challenge and while Steve thinks it will be Feingold, I have to say that Hillary's name will be the one thrown around the most by the Village.

Still, Steve has two valid points:  Obama will not be pushed further to the left, and people have to believe in progressive ideas as the solution, not the problem.  30 years of "godless, commie liberals" is not going to be easy to undo.

Stacked Deck On Credit Card Fees

Didn't catch this K-Drum piece until this morning, but it's a vital read.
Adam Ozimek is obviously trying to make my head explode this morning. Today he points to a new paper from the Boston Fed that investigates the consequences of credit card interchange fees. The basic background is this: (1) card companies charge merchants a 1-2% interchange fee on all credit card purchases, (2) merchants raise the prices of all their products slightly in order to cover this cost, and (3) because most merchants charge everyone the same price, regardless of whether they use cash or credit, cash users end up paying a little more than they should while card users pay a bit less than the actual cost of the interchange fee they incur. So what does it all mean?
On average, each cash-using household pays $151 to card-using households and each card-using household receives $1,482 from cash users every year. Because credit card spending and rewards are positively correlated with household income, the payment instrument transfer also induces a regressive transfer from low-income to high-income households in general. On average, and after accounting for rewards paid to households by banks, the lowest-income household ($20,000 or less annually) pays $23 and the highest-income household ($150,000 or more annually) receives $756 every year.
Isn't that peachy? This is the result of allowing an effective monopoly in the card business, thus giving network providers the power to force merchants to keep interchange fees hidden instead of charging them directly to card users. Vast masses of poor and middle income families end up paying a few dollars into the system every year while a small number of upper income families reap the benefits.
In other words, the more you use cash in America, the more you're paying into the credit card interchange fee pot.  Credit card users actually cost merchants more, but they make it back up by charging cash users too with a higher price.  The bottom line is if you use only credit/debit cards, you're not paying as much as you should at the store...and the cash users are picking up your tab.

They've been doing this for years.  Nice, eh?  There's a even a chart.

Your average middle class American is dumping in, and the wealthy are avoiding paying all the interchange fees they rack up when using cards, even though A) they're using the cards and B) they can afford to pay the fee.

After all, who would use credit cards at all if it was more expensive to do so at the store?  (Sure, it's more expensive in the long run with interest and fees, but if it cost 2% more to the store price on top of that to use the card rather than cash, especially on a big purchase, you'd not do it.)

And the rich have been dodging that 2% fee or so for years.

More Loud Noises On Wikileaks

It's depressing to see Republicans like New York's Peter King, constantly calling this administration corrupt and the most secretive in history and worse than Bush and Obama probably stomps kittens in his spare time on Sundays and everything, turn around and say that Wikileaks is tantamount to treason.
The ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee has called for the prosecution of the source of the Wikileaks controversy, saying that the leak amounts to a treasonous act and has put the lives of Americans at risk.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told Don Imus on “Imus in the Morning” that the recent leak of more than 93,000 sensitive documents on the site was “disgraceful.”

“It violates espionage laws. I consider it treason,” said King. “The fact is, whatever happened here and whoever gave them that information is guilty, to me, of the most detestable, contemptible crime, and we have to take it seriously.

“We're not going to allow it to happen again. And this guy, whoever he is, a staff sergeant or whoever it is, but whoever they find out did it has to prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law. I mean, it's not funny business. This is for real.”
Keep in mind this blustering twit would presumably be getting the gavel for the House Homeland Security Committee if the Republicans take back the House this fall, and if you think King's investigations would stop at just the military and that he wouldn't go after Wikileaks itself and President Obama to boot, you're crazier than he is.  For King and the Republicans this is all about Obama and will be until we get a new President.

Look, if our media isn't going to keep the US Government honest, outfits like Wikileaks will have to as Double G points out.
Whatever else is true, WikiLeaks has yet again proven itself to be one of the most valuable and important organizations in the world.  Just as was true for the video of the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, there is no valid justification for having kept most of these documents a secret.  But that's what our National Security State does reflexively:  it hides itself behind an essentially absolute wall of secrecy to ensure that the citizenry remains largely ignorant of what it is really doing.  WikiLeaks is one of the few entities successfully blowing holes in at least parts of that wall, enabling modest glimpses into what The Washington Post spent last week describing as Top Secret America.  The war on WikiLeaks -- which was already in full swing, including, strangely, from some who claim a commitment to transparency -- will only intensify now.  Anyone who believes that the Government abuses its secrecy powers in order to keep the citizenry in the dark and manipulate public opinion -- and who, at this point, doesn't believe that? -- should be squarely on the side of the greater transparency which Wikileaks and its sources, sometimes single-handedly, are providing.
Since most of our watchdog press is asleep anyway, it's good to see someone doing the job.


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