Monday, January 31, 2011

Last Call

A pretty laughable decision today on Obamacare from Federal Judge Roger Vinson of Florida:

US District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida, a Reagan appointee, agreed with the 26 states that brought the lawsuit, and said Congress cannot penalize individuals that do not buy insurance by 2014.

"Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void," he declared in the ruling.

The entire law.   But, he's not an activist judge or anything.  The ruling itself is a joke, but it serves to assure the ruling will end up in front of the Supreme Court sooner rather than later.

In the end, this will all come down to what Anthony Kennedy feels like thinking one day.  But I never want to hear the words "activist judge" out of another conservative's mouth when one man decides he can overrule Congress and the President after a year plus of deliberation and town hall meetings across the country.

Steve Benen says it best:

Indeed, overall, about a dozen federal courts have dismissed challenges to the health care law.

In other words, when you hear on the news that "courts" have a problem with the Affordable Care Act, remember that it's actually a minority of the judges who've heard cases related to the law.

Only 2 out of over a dozen judges have a problem with the law.  Still, the only opinion that will count belongs to the Supreme Court.

Anarchy On Your Tea Vee Screen

It's finally hit me that the Tea Party objects most to government itself...they're anarchists.

A state lawmaker from Marietta is sponsoring a bill that seeks to do away with Georgia driver's licenses.

State Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, has filed House Bill 7, calling it the "Right to Travel Act."In his bill, Franklin states, "Free people have a common law and constitutional right to travel on the roads and highways that are provided by their government for that purpose.

Licensing of drivers cannot be required of free people, because taking on the restrictions of a license requires the surrender of an inalienable right."Franklin told CBS Atlanta News that driver's licenses are a throw back to oppressive times.

“Agents of the state demanding your papers," he said. "We’re getting that way here.”

So, I'm assuming that Rep Franklin here will be resigning, because the logical endpoint of his argument (not everyone agrees with the rules in a democracy, ergo some people are being disenfranchised, ergo it's unconstitutional) is of course no government at all.

Tea Partiers are anarchists.  They're opposed to governance, period.  Because if they can't be in power all the time, they'll be damned sure to make it so that no one else will be able to govern.

Our way or scorched earth.  Those are your choices, America.

Very Strange Bedfellows Indeed

The two countries screaming the loudest for the world (and especially the United States) to back off of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt are Saudi Arabia...and Israel.

Israel called on the United States and a number of European countries over the weekend to curb their criticism of President Hosni Mubarak to preserve stability in the region.

Jerusalem seeks to convince its allies that it is in the West's interest to maintain the stability of the Egyptian regime. The diplomatic measures came after statements in Western capitals implying that the United States and European Union supported Mubarak's ouster.

Israeli officials are keeping a low profile on the events in Egypt, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even ordering cabinet members to avoid commenting publicly on the issue.

Senior Israeli officials, however, said that on Saturday night the Foreign Ministry issued a directive to around a dozen key embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries. The ambassadors were told to stress to their host countries the importance of Egypt's stability. In a special cable, they were told to get this word out as soon as possible. 

Israel especially is pulling the hard line that they don't really give a damn about Egypt's democracy or freedom or whatever the hell if there's a chance that whomever replaces Mubarak may become a problem on Israel's western border.

"The Americans and the Europeans are being pulled along by public opinion and aren't considering their genuine interests," one senior Israeli official said. "Even if they are critical of Mubarak they have to make their friends feel that they're not alone. Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications." 

Democracy is relative, apparently.  It usually is when it comes to strongman secular regimes clamping down on a Muslim nation, but Egypt isn't terribly religious to begin with, not after 30 years of Mubarak.  The truth is Israel was more than happy to have Mubarak be a ruthless bastard to his own people:  it saved Israel the trouble of having to mess with the western border into Gaza.

Now the Israelis and the Saudis are nervous, and any time both of them are on the same side on an issue, you can bet the US will follow.  Don't count on the US helping to oust Mubarak, either.

The Tea Party Has Officially Taken Over The GOP

According to the latest numbers from Gallup even a majority of Democrats say the Republicans should listen to the Tea Party.


Even Gallup's flustered by this.

Although few Democrats (6%) are supporters of the Tea Party or even have a favorable view of it (11%), more than half say it is important that the Republican Party take the Tea Party's positions into account. Why this is the case is unclear, although Democrats may simply feel that the opposing party should pay attention to all of its constituencies.

Well, maybe it's because there's a number of folks like myself who think the Republicans should embrace the crazy as tightly as possible heading into the 2012 elections, and do it as often as possible.

By all means, count me in that "very important" group.

Issa Gonna Be A Long Two Years

GOP Rep. Darrell Issa has been House Oversight chairman for less than a month, and he's already breaking out the intimidation stick.  His first target:  dragging everyone in the financial crisis Inquiry Commission up before Congress to explain why anyone would dare place even partial blame on the banks that donate big money to guys like Issa.

The conservative Republican has decided the investigation needs an investigation, and according to the Financial Times, has demanded that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission turn over its emails and related records to the committee for review.

Keep in mind, there have been no accusations of wrongdoing on the part of the commission; Issa says he just wants to look around and see what, if anything, he can turn up.

He's just going after them because he has the power to do so.  And of course, it gets worse:

This is, by the way, the same Issa who, just three weeks on the job, announced that he wants his committee to have a running list of everyone who files Freedom of Information Act requests. If this makes you uncomfortable, you're not alone -- it "just seems sort of creepy that one person in the government could track who is looking into what and what kinds of questions they are asking," said David Cuillier, a University of Arizona journalism professor and chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. "It is an easy way to target people who he might think are up to no good."

For a guy who promised a "new era of Washington transparency" he sure is transparently trying to play power games, huh.

Profit Motive De-Motivator

Meanwhile significantly higher oil prices (roughly $90 a barrel) in 4Q 2010 compared to 4Q 2009 means energy company profit margins are also significantly higher.

Exxon Mobil Corp reported a better-than-expected 53 percent increase in quarterly profit as an improving world economy sparked higher demand for fuel and chemicals as crude oil prices rose.

It reported a fourth-quarter profit of $9.25 billion, or $1.85 per share, compared with $6.05 billion, or $1.27 per share in the same quarter a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of $1.63 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Oil-equivalent production rose 19 percent from the year-ago quarter, lifted by liquefied natural gas operations in Qatar, the Irving Texas company said on Monday.

Big money in big oil, and increasingly bigger money in natural gas.  If you think companies like this are looking at Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen and are seeing nothing but larger and larger dollar signs, you're right on the money.   If anything happens to the Suez Canal in Egypt, well...let's just say energy companies aren't going to be hurting.

American De-Nile Of Mubarak

Not all the protests against Mubarak are being held in Egypt.

Hundreds of opponents of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak called at a rally in Washington for his overthrow and urged Washington to "stand on the right side of history" and cut off aid to his regime.

Amid a sea of Egyptian and American flags and protest placards in English and Arabic with slogans including "Pharaoh no more" and "Overthrow Mubarak," the crowd, estimated at between 900 and 1,000, took turns leading chants in front of the Egyptian embassy.

"Mubarak has to go," shouted Ayman Hodhod, standing atop snow-covered security barriers.

"America should get on the right side of history and stop giving financial aid to Mubarak because he uses it to abuse his own people," said Hodhod, who had traveled from the midwestern state of Minnesota for the rally.

Mohammed Eid grabbed a megaphone, pointed it toward the embassy and led the protesters in chants in Arabic of "Down, down Mubarak" and "Seven million jobless in Egypt."

As that round of noise stopped, an emotional Amal el Bahi took up a new mantra of "Mubarak must go," shouting to the edge of hoarseness as the crowd joined in.

A pretty interesting sight here in the States, and a not-so-gentle reminder that yeah, a lot of folks are serious about Egypt being an actual democracy.  Hey, after all, you can peaceably assemble here for purposes like this, especially if you don't agree with folks.

Such Concern Etched In Their Faces

In their zeal to restrict abortions in the country, House Republicans (and the remaining Blue Dog Dems) are taking to the repugnant tactic of wanting to redefine what constitutes rape in order to define what qualifies as an exception for allowing abortion funding.

For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, with another exemption covering pregnancies that could endanger the life of the mother.

But the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to drastically limit the definition of rape and incest in these cases. The bill, with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors, has been dubbed a top priority in the new Congress by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to "forcible rape." This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible.

For example, if a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. Rep. Smith's spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.

Given that the bill would also forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old's parents would also not be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn't be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense. 

Statutory rape?  Too bad...wingers want you to have the kid.  So why the "forcible rape" provision?

Laurie Levenson, a former assistant US attorney and expert on criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, notes that the new bill's authors are "using language that's not particularly clear, and some people are going to lose protection."

Other types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes in which the woman was drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes.
"There are a lot of aspects of rape that are not included," Levenson says.

As for the incest exception, the bill would only allow federally funded abortions if the woman is under 18.

The bill hasn't been carefully constructed, Levenson notes. The term "forcible rape" is not defined in the federal criminal code, and the bill's authors don't offer their own definition. In some states, there is no legal definition of "forcible rape," making it unclear whether any abortions would be covered by the rape exemption in those jurisdictions.

Ding ding ding!  Once again the goal is to make abortions impossible to get under any circumstances.  Who cares about the woman being raped?  Republicans certainly don't give a damn.

And remember, this is a "priority" now among House Republicans.  What happened to jobs, housing, and the economy, guys?  Too bad, we've got a whole lot of wombs to regulate!

A Price Tag Question

Kentucky Democrats in the State House are attacking Senate Republicans' controversial immigration proposal on its price tag.

House Local Governments Chairman Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said the Senate might have approved Senate Bill 6 earlier this month "as a symbolic vote to deal with illegal immigrants.

"What I wonder about is if they considered how practical it is to implement," he said.

The bill would allow police to ask about an immigrant's legal status during a "lawful contact" such as stopping a vehicle for having a taillight out. It also would create crimes for smuggling illegal immigrants for profit and "aiding and abetting" illegal immigrants to come to Kentucky.

Riggs said he wants to know where illegal immigrants would be jailed. He said about 98 percent of Kentucky's 17,700 jail beds are filled.

"That means we have about 250 beds open in our county jails," he said. "It's been estimated that we have 30,000 to 50,000 illegal immigrants — about 1 percent of the state's population.

"If we did round up all the illegals, where would we put them?" 

Riggs also said he wants to know what effect the bill would have on business.

"It's been estimated that Arizona, with its strict immigration bill, is going to lose $120 million in revenue from businesses that are boycotting the state with their conventions," he said.

These are practical questions that state Republicans have refused to answer so far, and there's not going to be a good answer for them, unless you think the image of rounding up folks and putting them in "emergency immigration camps" is a good one for the state.

So far Kentucky looks like it's going to resist Arizona style immigration insanity...for now.  Things may be far different after November should the state get a Republican Governor to replace Democrat Steve Beshear.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Last Call

Years of right-wing scapegoating American Muslims as the enemy would never have any harmful effects, they tell me.

Roger Stockham, a 63-year-old Army veteran from California who was reportedly angry at the U.S. government, was arrested by police in Michigan and charged with allegedly threatening to blow up a Mosque in Dearborn.

Dearborn police allegedly found Stockham inside his vehicle outside the Islamic Center of America with a load of M-80s in his trunk and other explosives, the Detroit News reported.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Counsel on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), told the newspaper that police told him the suspect was drinking in a Detroit bar on Monday and threatened to do harm to a mosque in Dearborn. An employee at the bar followed the man outside and wrote down his license plate, which he reported to police, Walid told the newspaper.

The 63-year-old grandfather is charged with one count of a false report or threat of terrorism and one count of possession of bombs with unlawful intent, according to the newspaper.

"He's very dangerous," Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad told the Free Press. "We took his threat to be very serious."

But we don't have a right-wing anti-Muslim, anti-minority domestic terror problem in the US.  Anyone who says otherwise is an enemy of the state, and we have "Second Amendment remedies" for those types of problems...

So they tell me.

[UPDATESteve M. says the story here is a lot more complex (it often is) but still this guy was running around free for quite some time despite having been treated for mental problems on and off for nearly three decades.

Don't Make Us Hurt The Hostage

Republicans agree on two things:  one, that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be a economic catastrophe for the country...and two, in order to prevent that catastrophe, Obama better give Republicans 100% of their demands, or else.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says it's not a threat.

Even as he admitted that not raising the debt ceiling would mean a "financial disaster" for the US and the world, the Speaker said Sunday that Democrats must agree to big spending cuts before the GOP-controlled House will support the Obama administration's spending plans.

"I know you're not threatening to default, but do you agree with administration officials and other economists that defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States would be a financial disaster?" Fox News' Chris Wallace asked Boehner.

"That would be a financial disaster," the Speaker agreed. "Not only for our country, but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on election day said we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs. You can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."

"Listen, there has been a spending spree going on in Washington the last couple of years that is beyond control," he added. "And the president is going to ask us to increase the debt limit, he's going have to be willing to cut up the credit cards. We've got to work together by listening to the American people, and reducing these obligations that we have."

"So, defaulting on the full faith and credit is unacceptable to you?" Wallace pressed.

"I don't think it's a question that is even on the table," Boehner replied.

Sure, it's "not on the table".  But the President has to give Boehner exactly what he wants or he'll destroy our economy.   "It would be a shame if anything happened to your recovery there, Mr. President."   The self-fulfilling prophecy of doom that Republicans keep promising will come to pass if the House fails to raise the debt limit.

Boehner knows he can ask for everything he wants, from Social Security cuts to the full repeal of Obamacare to drastic reductions in anything he wants to get rid of.  They'd hate to let the country default, but...well, let's just say earlier I was convinced that the powers that be would never let the Republicans wreck the financial markets.

Now?  Now I'm not so sure.

Pay That Tiger!

The Cincinnati Bengals, like most pro sports franchises and their corresponding cities, are finding out the sweetheart franchise deals of the last two decades are very much over

Commissioners in the county that includes Cincinnati say the county can't afford the $43 million the Cincinnati Bengals want for repairs and upgrades at their football stadium over the next decade.

The Cincinnati Enquirer obtained the plan through a public records request. It says the Bengals want four times the amount Hamilton County expected to spend. The county owns the stadium and must pay for improvements under the lease terms.

The team says the total includes $8 million for a new scoreboard within two years. Most of the money would be for maintenance and improvements to keep the decade-old Paul Brown Stadium from deteriorating like the one before it.

And the relatively new Paul Brown stadium is quite nice, but Hamilton County doesn't have $4.3 million a year to fork over to the Bengals.  Not anymore.  Not without raising revenues.  And no lawmaker in the Midwest will win re-election on raising taxes, fees, or levies a dime here in the Tea Party Teens.  They'd get run out of town on a rail.

Cincy is no different.  So the question is, who's going to pay for the stadium, and what happens if the city doesn't give the Bengals what they are looking for?  After all, who's going to build a new stadium to attract a football franchise thee days?  Who would be allowed to?

A lot of cities and a lot of franchises are going to be hurting over the next decade.  It really wouldn't surprise me at all if at least one of the big four pro sport leagues, the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL went under before 2020.

It's the NFL that will face the next major contract test after next week's big game if there's no agreement by March 3, there may not even be a 2011-2012 season. 

A lot of cities are going to want to seriously redo their sports franchise deals over the next several years, and I foresee a number of teams folding altogether.  The nexus of sports, economics, and politics is going to be a messy one for dozens of major US cities.

Stuck In The Pyramid-dle With You

President Obama is in a no-win situation.  Notice that when Iran's Green revolution happened last year, Obama took heavy flak for not coming out forcefully enough for regime change.  The opposite has happened in Egypt. Now Republicans are lighting Obama up for "destabilizing a secular ally and handing it over to Islamist terrorists."

The concern is that both Israel and Saudi Arabia want to see Mubarak stay right where he is, and both countries have made it clear to the United States that neither one will allow Islamists to gain power in Cairo.  Better the dictator you know than the Muslim Brotherhood fanatics you don't.  They are worried about their own countries, Israel because of yet another front on its seemingly endless war with everyone in the neighborhood and its Sinai Peninsula border with Egypt, and Saudi Arabia doesn't want anyone to start calling for King Abdullah's removal either.

So, on the one hand, Obama has been going all out this weekend urging Mubarak to listen to protesters and heed their calls for his removal, and warning him not to use the military to crack down.  (The Egyptian military seems to be spending the weekend going "meh" anyway and hasn't seemed to have picked a side yet.)  On the other hand, Israel and Saudi Arabia and the oil emirates want this Mubarak noise over and the country back under some sort of stability yesterday, and they clearly expect Obama to make this happen or else.

Thing is, it's not up to Obama.  It's not up to Israel or Saudi Arabia, either.  We'll see.  Egypt has shut down Al Jazeera in the country, so getting information out may become more and more of a problem.

Who's In Charge Here, Anyway?

Frank Rich figures the Tea Party rump of the GOP is having a grand old time driving the station wagon through every plate glass window they can find.

Obama must be laughing about how the party that spent a year hammering him for focusing on health care over jobs is now committing the same supposed sin. And one can only imagine his astonishment on Tuesday night, when the G.O.P. respondents to his speech each played Jimmy Carter to his Reagan by offering a grim double-feature of malaise and American decline. Hardly had the president extolled record corporate profits and a soaring stock market in his selectively rosy spin on the economy, than Ryan, who has the television manner of a solicitous funeral home director, was darkly warning that America could be the next Greece. Bachmann channeled Glenn Beck to argue that we are living in a nascent police state where government “tells us which light bulbs to buy” (G.E.’s, presumably).

The most revealing moment in either Republican response, though, came from Ryan, who, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, implicitly threatened another government shutdown, or catastrophic fiscal meltdown, if the House majority doesn’t get its way. “The president is now urging Congress to increase the debt limit,” he said with distaste, referring to the vote required possibly as soon as March to allow the Treasury to keep paying its bills. Should the House majority hold that vote hostage to its vision of the budget, it will throw the markets into turmoil and upend our still-embryonic recovery.

It tells you all you need to know about Ryan’s tilt to the right that, for all his professed disapproval of increasing the debt limit during an Obama administration, he voted to do so twice himself during the gushing deficits of the Bush years. Funny he didn’t mention that Tuesday night. It tells you all you need to know about the G.O.P.’s overall tilt to the right that not just the Tea Party is making barely veiled threats to play dangerous political games with the debt limit. Mitch McConnell and Cantor did so last weekend, as have a plethora of potential 2012 presidential candidates, from Tim Pawlenty to Gingrich. The Bachmann-Beck-Palin tail is now firmly wagging the Republican dog.

Like virtually every other week since the shellacking, the State of the Union week was another salutary one for Obama. But the state of the union itself could yet be in the hands of radicals whose eagerness to see the president fail is outstripped only by their zeal to make an ideological point, even if it forces America into default. 

But let's face it, we're seeing those same 20% of the country that is the Tea Party manhandling the other 80%, not just the dwindling Republican center.  2010's primaries made clear what happens if the base doesn't think you're crazy enough, so yes, Michele Bachmann continues to speak of coming revolution and Paul Ryan warns of imminent disaster, and it simply hasn't occurred to them that the Tea Party will be the cause of both.

They have no choice but to ride this crazy train off the rails.  The problem is when it happens and the GOP shuts the government down, it'll blow a hole in the economy wide enough to sink all of us...and it's no guarantee it'll get rid of the Tea Party either.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Marching Orders

I've noticed when President Obama meets with billionaires, they have the good grace to pretend like they're human beings (plus it's good press.)

The ones who want to talk to the Republicans instead, well they don't have time for niceties, apparently.  They just want their orders followed.  Forget Davos, the real deal this weekend is in Palm Springs.

This weekend, at a posh resort near Palm Springs, California, two billionaire corporate titans will convene a semi-annual meeting of a politically well-connected set. It will include wealthy donors and powerful Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

At David and Charles Koch's meeting, attendees will discuss items like how best to promote free markets and how to help elect conservatives. Donors are expected to be asked to donate to conservative causes.

It will be conducted virtually in secret, with no press or public allowed and many attendees keeping event details on the hush.

That's fueled criticism that this gathering is a sort of secret cabal - a "Billionaires Caucus," critics say. Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration, even said that the Koch brothers' meeting represents "a threat to our democracy."

Those and other criticisms were leveled during a Thursday telephone press conference for reporters organized by the liberal-oriented, nonprofit group, Common Cause. On Sunday, the group will hold events to counter the Koch's weekend conference: hosting a panel discussion titled, "Uncloaking the Kochs" and spearheading a protest rally, both near the Rancho las Palmas resort, the site of the Koch meeting.

A central issue inflaming this debate: the role of corporate money in politics, especially after last year's landmark Supreme Court campaign finance ruling. That decision, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, found that the "government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker's corporate identity." 

Hey, these guys already bought the ability to use their nearly unlimited financial influence on campaign politics.  I wonder what else they are getting for their "donations" to Republicans this weekend?  Make no mistake, the GOP leadership is getting their marching orders for 2012 from the people really in charge in America.

Tea Party populism will only go as far as the Koch Brothers allow it.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day Taco Bell's meat 88% beef, 35% beef, or what?

"Our reputation's been falsely tarnished," said Greg Creed, Taco Bell's president. He told CNNMoney that he's meeting with outside counsel to possibly take legal action on these "egregious" accusations against his beef.

"We clearly take this very seriously," he said, noting that a decision on legal action will be made in the next week. "We're reacting to this onslaught against our food and reputation."

The fast-food company said that its beef is "100% USDA inspected," and insisted that its meat mix is "88% beef and 12% Secret Recipe." But the lawsuit, filed in federal court within the Central District of California, claims that the mix is about one-third beef.

"We would like Taco Bell to stop referring to its products as beef products, when in fact they're not beef products," said the plaintiff's lawyer, Dee Miles, to CNN's Jeanne Moos.

Based on lab tests, the law firm said that Taco Bell's "beef" was actually less than 35% beef.

"Their number is so wrong, it's ludicrous," Creed said.

Well, somebody's certainly 100% full of crap here.   On one hand, considering Taco Bell makes millions of products daily, it's not like they can hide if somebody wanted to test it.  On the other hand, the thought of "besmirching Taco Bell's reputation" is equally laughable when the whole point of the chain is to sell cheap, mass-produced Mexican food.

It'll be interesting to see who's telling the truth.

Jeddah Gotta Be Kidding

As I said yesterday, the biggest, fattest domino at the end of the Tunisia-Egypt revolution chain is Saudi Arabia, and Saudi King Abdullah has just backed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Saudi Arabia’s state news agency reported that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud criticized the protestors (claiming they are instigated by "infiltrators") and strongly backed Mubarak.

The king said protesters were "exploited to spew out their hatred in destruction . . . inciting a malicious sedition” and that outside agitators “infiltrated into the brotherly people of Egypt, to destabilize its security."

"No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred," King Abdullah was quoted as saying. 

Needless to say, that's not going over well with the Saudi people.

Saudi authorities detained dozens of demonstrators yesterday who gathered in Jeddah to protest against poor infrastructure after deadly floods swept through Saudi Arabia's second biggest city.

Mass messages were sent over BlackBerry smart-phones calling for popular action in response to the flood, an unusual move in the Gulf state.

Protesters gathered for about 15 minutes after Friday prayers on a main shopping street and shouted "God is Greatest" before authorities broke up the protest and detained participants.

If things go casters up in Riyadh and Jeddah, then you can kiss any hope of recovery goodbye here in the US, folks.  Five, six dollar a gallon gas is not exactly going to endear the American people.  After that, all bets are off.  Things at this point have the potential of getting very ugly, very quickly.

Be aware.

StupidiNews! Five Crazy Things Edition


Molly DeWolf Swenson is making news.  She was an intern for the Obama administration, and apparently sings pretty well, too.  Make your own jokes about her changing her tune, I was on punchline overload.  But good luck to her, she earned her way before the fact was known.

So Facebook has sidestepped the problem of how to control your mind and get you to buy things or recommend them to your friends. They don't need to control your brain to get you to advertise for them. They just need to know who your friends are, and what you're saying to them. Their ad placement algorithm does the rest.

The science of advertising is still scary, even if it isn't as effective as they would like.


A ten-year-old girl won a spelling bee without uttering a sound.  Tanu Shivaswamy suffers from cerebral palsy but her mind is in top shape.  With the help of an interpreter, she spells out her words using sign language.  It's cool if you teared up a little after reading the article.  I did.


"Your honor, my best guess is that he was either a dog in a former life, or never learned the art of shaking hands."  This is the best possible defense for a man who apparently tackles women joggers and buries his nose in their... rear.

The nonprofit Consumer Wellness Center reported Thursday that its investigation found "blueberries" that were nothing more than a concoction of sugar, corn syrup, starch, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors and -- of course -- artificial food dye blue No. 2 and red No. 40. The offenders are well-known manufacturers such as Kellogg's, Betty Crocker and General Mills, and the fakes were found in bagels, cereals, breads and muffins. Some products contain real blueberries mixed with fakes.
This is disheartening on so many levels.  Blueberries have been popular for their antioxidants and other health benefits, and some of our largest food providers have been purposely covering this up.

Denial Really Is A River In Egypt

Lot of stuff this morning on Egypt to discuss.  First, President Obama has made his official statement on the matter, saying "All governments must maintain power through consent, not coercion."

Second, a report from the UK's Telegraph newspaper indicates America has been secretly backing regime change in Egypt for the last three years as part of the trove of WikiLeaks State Department cables.

In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year.

The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.”

It said the activist claimed “several opposition forces” had “agreed to support an unwritten plan for a transition to a parliamentary democracy, involving a weakened presidency and an empowered prime minister and parliament, before the scheduled 2011 presidential elections”. The embassy’s source said the plan was “so sensitive it cannot be written down”.

Ambassador Scobey questioned whether such an “unrealistic” plot could work, or ever even existed. However, the documents showed that the activist had been approached by US diplomats and received extensive support for his pro-democracy campaign from officials in Washington. The embassy helped the campaigner attend a “summit” for youth activists in New York, which was organised by the US State Department.

Cairo embassy officials warned Washington that the activist’s identity must be kept secret because he could face “retribution” when he returned to Egypt. He had already allegedly been tortured for three days by Egyptian state security after he was arrested for taking part in a protest some years earlier.

Finally, protests continue today as demonstrators are not happy at all with Mubarak remaining in power in any way.

Thousands of anti-government protesters clashed with police in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria on Saturday after President Hosni Mubarak spurned demands that he end his 30-year authoritarian rule.

A Reuters witness said police used teargas and live ammunition against demonstrators in Alexandria. Protesters also gathered on a main square in the capital Cairo in defiance of military orders for them to disperse.

The fresh unrest broke out as Mubarak clung to power, replacing his cabinet in an effort to appease angry Egyptians, complaining about poverty, corruption and unemployment.

The president ordered troops and tanks into Cairo and other cities overnight and imposed a curfew in an attempt to quell the protests that have shaken the Arab world's most populous nation, a key U.S. ally, to the core.

Despite dozens of deaths in clashes on Friday, Egyptians said they would press on with protests until Mubarak quits.

"We are not demanding a change of cabinet, we want them all to leave, Mubarak before anyone else," said Saad Mohammed, a 45-year-old welder who was among about 2,000 people gathered in Cairo's central Tahrir Square.

Needless to say, things are getting deadly and quite serious in Egypt this weekend.  I'll continue to keep an eye on the news.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Last Call

Republicans have found a fun new game to play.  Find a government-provided service, point out that it wasn't in the Constitution, declare it unconstitutional, demand it be eliminated, then when somebody calls you on your logic, twiddle your thumbs.  You too can be an idiot.

In an interview about federal transportation issues, Streetsblog asked Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) about supporting legislation that would support things like bike trails. Hunter responded by saying that he doesn’t “think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the transportation committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because you have us mandating bike paths, you don’t want either.”

Streetsblog followed up by asking if he was okay with “mandating highways.” Hunter responded by saying that he doesn’t “see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane” because “it’s more of a recreational thing

Right.  Bikes aren't transportation, you don't actually go anywhere on one.  Hurr, stupid hippies, get an SUV!

I expect that kind of argument from the peanut gallery, not Congress.

Chickens Coming Out Swinging

And so it goes like this: Chick-fil-A is a restaurant where franchises frequently donate to anti-gay organizations like the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Focus on the Family and others. The restaurant's charitable arm, WinShape, holds conferences for opponents of gay marriage and praises their work. And this charitable arm's Retreat program puts a blanket ban on gay couples using their facilities, because they "do not accept homosexual couples."

Yet the President of Chick-fil-A still says that all people, including LGBT people, are treated with respect by the restaurant? Huh, what a funny definition of respect.

I heard rumblings weeks ago, but I waited to see if a fuller picture developed.  Businesses have the right to donate and operate within the boundaries of the law.  It becomes hypocrisy only when they try to deny the left hand knows who the right hand is flipping off. It's the same dilemma that challenges pharmacies whose owners don't want to sell birth control: when you operate a business that serves the public, it isn't wise to alienate your customers.  Especially by denying services or supporting charities that don't actually enhance society but merely try to control it.

Oppressed So Hard They Could Not Stand...

Let my people go.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he has asked the government to resign, and that he will appoint a new government Saturday. He gave no indication that he would step down or leave the country. 

Talk about as stubborn as Pharaoh.   Somehow I don't think Mubarak is going to remain in power much longer.  He hasn't got a friend in the world right now and if he thinks people are going to settle for him remaining in power, well.

Meanwhile, protests are spreading east to Yemen and Jordan, where the people are demanding Prime Minister Samir Rifai step down.

In the third consecutive Friday of protests, about 3,500 opposition activists from Jordan's main Islamist opposition group, trade unions and leftist organisations gathered in the capital, waving colourful banners reading: "Send the corrupt guys to court".

The crowd denounced Samir Rifai's, the prime minister, and his unpopular policies.

Many shouted: "Rifai go away, prices are on fire and so are the Jordanians.''

Another 2,500 people also took to the streets in six other cities across the country after the noon prayers. Those protests also called for Rifai's ouster.

Members of the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jordan's largest opposition party, swelled the ranks of the demonstrators, massing outside the al-Husseini mosque in Amman and filling the downtown streets with their prayer lines.

King Abdullah has promised some reforms, particularly on a controversial election law. But many believe it is unlikely he will bow to demands for the election of the prime minister and Cabinet officials, traditionally appointed by the king.

Rifai also announced a $550 million package of new subsidies in the last two weeks for fuel and staple products like rice, sugar, livestock and liquefied gas used for heating and cooking. It also includes a raise for civil servants and security personnel.

Things are getting ugly, folks.  The big fat domino at the end of this 2,500 mile chain that started in Tunisia is Saudi Arabia and our oil producing OPEC pals.  If the unrest goes that far, we're going to have all kinds of problems on our end and damn soon.  Last thing you want to see is Zimbabwe style hyper-inflation in an OPEC exporter.

Tunisia's down, Egypt's on the brink.  The whole of North Africa into the Middle East is looking bad. Stay tuned, folks.  This isn't one song on the jukebox, it's a symphony of chaos and it's been warming up for years.

Challenging The Stars

Some 25 years ago today, a knuckle-headed elementary school Zandar was watching the launch of the shuttle Challenger, just like every other schoolkid in the country.  Hey, we were going to get lessons from a teacher in space.  How awesome was that going to be?

Turns out it was awesome, but in the literal sense.

Seventy-three seconds.

That's how long NASA's space shuttle Challenger was in the air before an O-ring failure turned a routine mission into space into a tragedy on January 28, 1986.

Twenty-five years after NASA's first fatal in-flight accident, the memory of the Challenger disaster is still strong.

CNN's John Zarrella was at Kennedy Space Center to cover the launch - the first from NASA's new launchpad 39B. "I just remember seeing the cloud of smoke and what looked like fireworks coming out from the vehicle," says Zarrella. "We were all just looking at each other wondering 'OK, what's happened here?'"

CNN, still in its early years, was the only network to carry the launch live that Tuesday. Among those tuning in were children in classrooms across the country, watching what was to be a milestone: Christa McAuliffe, the program’s first teacher in space, lifted off as a member of the crew.

And we watched it live, and we all looked at each other, and asked the teacher what happened, and she shushed us, because she didn't know either.  None of us did.  I remember watching the booster rockets fork off in a V, going in different directions, and the thing cracked up.

And they were gone, the whole crew.  Just like that.  That was my first introduction to the concept that really, really bad things happen to really nice people, and there's not anything you can do about it.  Sometimes, things just go horribly wrong in life and people don't come home again.  Ever.

Yeah, by February we were all fine, cracking really bad jokes about the accident ("No, I said BUD LIGHT!") and dreading Valentine's Day.

But I remember my mom asking me if I was okay when I came home from school, and I said that I was okay, and I did my homework and ate dinner, and I remember thinking "Well, I guess there is a reason bad things happen" but for the life of me I still haven't quite figured out why that is.  Anybody in my generation, that was the event you remembered from school, you remember seeing it unfold live on TV and the entire country going..."Crap."

Now, 25 years later, I'm reminded the space shuttle program is all but over.  We thought it was over back then, too.  Life goes on.

But you remember that for some, life doesn't go on.

The Damn Hippie Scientists Save The World

UK-based Cella Energy has developed a synthetic fuel that could lead to US$1.50 per gallon gasoline. Apart from promising a future transportation fuel with a stable price regardless of oil prices, the fuel is hydrogen based and produces no carbon emissions when burned. The technology is based on complex hydrides, and has been developed over a four year top secret program at the prestigious Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford. Early indications are that the fuel can be used in existing internal combustion engined vehicles without engine modification.

Add to that Volkswagen's development of a car that can get over 235 miles per gallon, and advancements in carbon fiber technology that lets lightweight cars take the advantage back with consumers.  They are also able to learn how to make them more affordable, a bonus for the automobile industry that has struggled to turn a reliable profit.

NBC Snatches Up New Shows

It's Showtime at NBC: The Peacock late Friday picked up two big, bold pilots -- one a musical, the other a lesbian love story -- that very clearly seem to be the work of incoming chief Bob Greenblatt.

It's about time networks launched a show that represented the gay population. Ellen broke the ice, and Will And Grace opened a potential that was never fully realized. The best part of the concept, according to one source, is the  "opportunity to approach and break down stereotypes in a thoughtful manner. For example, there really ARE very nice, funny lesbians out there. The scowling, cargo-short-wearing dyke is just as reductive a stereotype as the hot pants/mesh shirt-wearing gay man."

Meanwhile, NBC yesterday also gave the thumbs-up to a half-hour romantic comedy pilot called I Hate That I Love You. It's from Will and Grace alum Jhoni Marchenko, and the logline is certainly eye-catching: "A straight couple introduces two of its lesbian friends to one another and what results is both instant attraction and a pregnancy."

It's already sounding better than more tired cop shows and "reality" programming.  It will surely take some time to develop, but really, this was long overdue.

Under The Radar, Over The Border

So, Mythbusters...what kind of catapult specs would you need to chuck bags of pot over the border, anyhow?

Mexican and American officials have foiled a scheme where smugglers tried to fling marijuana across the Arizona-Mexico border using a catapult.

National Guard troops operating a remote video surveillance system at the Naco Border Patrol Station say they observed several people preparing a catapult and launching packages over the International Border fence last Friday evening.

According to CBS affiliate KOLD, Border Patrol agents working with the National Guard contacted Mexican authorities, who went to the location and disrupted the catapult operation.

The 9-foot-tall catapult was found about 20 yards from the U.S. border on a flatbed towed by a sport utility vehicle, according to a Mexican army officer with the 45th military zone in the border state of Sonora.
The catapult was capable of launching 4.4 pounds of marijuana at a time, the officer said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Part of me is going "wow, not really smuggling if you're tossing weed over the wall with a 9 foot catapult in the back of a pickup."   That kind of thing gets noticed, people.  Get a damn tunnel like everyone else.

On the other hand...these guys had a 9-foot catapult in the back of a pickup truck.  Science, it works, bitches! 

StupidiNews Focus: Egypt Me Out Of My Internet, Or A De-Nile Of Service Attack

Ahead of today's planned protests in Egypt, several news sources are reporting that President Hosni Mubarak has either ordered the internet cut off or severely limited in functionality in order to stop protesters from using Twitter and Blackberries to coordinate.  Josh Marshall reflects on what this means.

We've now seen a series of waves of popular unrest which were, if not triggered by, at least accelerated and sustained for a period of time by social media, text messaging, easily-distributed digital imagery and all the rest of systems of our wired world. The latest reports out of Egypt are that the state has either disrupted or shutdown key social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as text-messaging and Blackberry service. It's unclear to me in this report from the AP whether Internet connections themselves have been blocked; but clearly access to the Internet has been significantly curtailed.

On its face, this seems like an obvious step for any embattled regime to take. Taking a whole country off the grid for any period of time would likely be catastrophic in the early 21st century. But surely an authoritarian or episodically repressive regime could disrupt connectivity for some period to prevent its overthrow and not have it do too much damage to the economy.

So two questions occur to me. One is just how much digital media really plays into these episodes of popular unrest in Iran or Tunisia or Egypt. It seems clear to me that it plays a role -- just as print played an important role in creating a popular self-consciousness among hitherto scattered and isolated communities and in facilitating communication. But just how much is unclear to me. Does digital communications really make spontaneous organization and collaboration possible or does it just give us a window into a process that's taken place with less technology in countless popular revolts over the last few hundred years? I don't have an answer to that. But I think it's worth reminding ourselves that it's still an open question.

My personal thoughts are that, especially for those my age and younger, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks allow for nearly instant mass communication with not just people inside the protest zone, but outside as well.  Knowing that a world community has your back is a powerful incentive, and getting real-time updates from protests is powerful information, information that a regime cannot always control.

So yes, authoritarians have much to fear in tweets and texts.  Egypt's crackdown on the net ahead of today's protests are certainly a sign that the Mubarak government is very, very scared.

The question is, could it happen in the US.

Barack For A Benjamin For A Birther

Visibly annoyed Hawaii Democrats in the state legislature want to put an end to the whole President Obama birth certificate idiocy, and they're willing to make the state some money on the side.

Imagine: Your very own, handsomely embossed official Barack Obama birth certificate. It could soon be yours!! A bill introduced in the Hawaii state legislature would allow anyone to get a copy of the president's Hawaii birth records for just $100.

Now that Hawaii's governor, Neil Abercrombie, has officially confirmed the existence of Obama's birth records there, five Democrats have introduced the bill to "end skepticism over Obama's birthplace while raising a little money," according to the AP. It would change privacy laws to allow any American to get a copy of Obama's birth records, for a $100 processing fee.

Brilliant.  Hey legions of Birthers, put your money where your Obama Derangement Syndrome is and buy a copy.  I hope the state does pass this law. I'm sure they could use a couple million bucks or more from some fools who really do need to be parted from their money.  And hey, not stopping any Obama supporters from buying one in solidarity, too.  Certainly Hawaii could use the revenue.

Seems to me this is a novel idea.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Last Call

He's back, you $%#@*& bunch of %#$*&^!

Rahm Emanuel can run for mayor of Chicago. The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that Emanuel is eligible, overturning an appellate court decision, and ending months of legal back-and-forth.

In the decision, the higher court offered this criticism: "the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law."

Cannot wait for the acceptance speech, where he thanks every last %#*&$% one of us.

That's My Junior Senator, Folks!

Via Memeorandum I see my junior Senator Rand Paul is making friends all over the world...

Rand Paul (Ky.) and David Vitter (La.) are introducing a resolution this week that would amend the Constitution so that a person born in the United States could only become an American citizen if one or more of his or her parents is a legal citizen, legal immigrant or member of the armed forces, according to a joint press release Thursday.

Good luck amending that, boys.

"Citizenship is a privilege, and only those who respect our immigration laws should be allowed to enjoy its benefits," Paul said. "This legislation makes it necessary that everyone follow the rules, and goes through same process to become a U.S. citizen."

Which is funny, because right now the process is the same for everyone:  if you're born here, you're a US citizen.  When he says citizenship is a privilege, it's one he only wants to extend to certain people.  Meanwhile, there's a whole other demographic Rand's making friends with.

"Well, I think what you have to do is you have to look," Paul said. "When you send foreign aid, you actually [send] quite a bit to Israel's enemies. Islamic nations around Israel get quite a bit of foreign aid, too.

"You have to ask yourself, are we funding an arms race on both sides? I have a lot of sympathy and respect for Israel as a democratic nation, as a, you know, a fountain of peace and a fountain of democracy within the Middle East."

Blitzer pressed, "End all foreign aid including the foreign aid to Israel as well. Is that right?" he asked.

Paul answered, "Yes."

So really at this point Rand Paul's foreign and immigration policy is isolationism wherever possible, for both our enemies and allies.  Apparently he didn't get the standard "America is a leading force for good in the world" memo from the Bush years.  Rand here want us to pick up our ball and go home.

I wonder what Kentucky's other senator has to say about that.

Ground Control To Major Moose

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.

Sarah Palin thinks President Barack Obama needs a history lesson on the space race between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

"He needs to remember that, uh, what happened back then with the communist U.S.S.R. and their victory in that race to space," the Fox News contributor said Wednesday night, reacting to Obama's reference to Sputnik in his State of the Union speech. Palin called the Sputnik name drop one of the "W.T.F." moments in the speech, a play of the President's call for "winning the future."

"Yeah, they won but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union," Palin said.

The Russians won the space race?  And that caused the demise of the Soviet Union some 25 years later?  And people think she'd make a good President?

Not me.

Well Yes, If You Don't Pay For The Bush Tax Cuts, The Deficit Goes Up

Steve Benen discovers Republicans are surprised by math.

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office warned lawmakers that the budget picture was poised to get worse again, projecting a $1.5 trillion deficit this year.

Summarizing the thoughts of many, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told Roll Call, "I think everyone is in a collective state of shock right now over the CBO numbers."

Really? Why is Congress so surprised? Frankly, I'm a little shocked by their collective state of shock.

This really isn't complicated. The deficit picture was starting to improve, but congressional Republicans insisted that Bush-era tax breaks get extended for another two years. How did Republicans propose paying for these tax cuts? They didn't -- the GOP said the price tag should just be added to the deficit.

And wouldn't you know it, that means ... I hope you're sitting down ... the deficit will go up, just as lawmakers were told it would if they cut taxes without paying for them.

Indeed, the CBO's estimate of the deficit with all the tax deals President Obama cut with Republicans added another $414 billion to the deficit for 2011, bringing the estimate now to over $1.5 trillion in the hole.  You give the wealthy tax cuts, you don't cut spending or raise taxes elsewhere to pay for them, the deficit goes up.

It's not rocket science.  It's exactly what both the Republicans and President Obama meant to happen.  No use acting all surprised, GOP.

SHAC Up With Mini-Moose

Bristol Palin has been selected as keynote speaker for this year’s Sexual Responsibility Week at Washington University. Student Union Treasury on Tuesday approved a $20,000 appeal by the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) to sponsor a four-person panel featuring Palin. The appeal was initially set at $25,000 and renegotiated.

Bristol is going to speak regarding abstinence.  Not since Madonna sang Like A Virgin have they missed the mark by so far.

Privacy, Who Needs Privacy? Part V

The House Republicans' first major technology initiative is about to be unveiled: a push to force Internet companies to keep track of what their users are doing.  A House panel chaired by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow morning to discuss forcing Internet providers, and perhaps Web companies as well, to store records of their users' activities for later review by police.
This, brought to you by the same guys who started snooping on your calls without a warrant.  There is no longer a need for the police to show evidence to snoop calling records, this will go much the same way.  You don't even have to be tied directly to a crime or suspect to be a person of interest, as long as you really are a person of interest. 

Yes, child porn and other scams are frustrating.  They are not, however, a reason to abandon our rights.  In the history of this country, when has government ever given back to the people or willing reduced its power?  Any ground we lose is gone for good.

Too Crazy (Like A Fox) To Stand Trial

Sir Allen Stanford, the Texas multi-billionaire who supposedly bilked a healthy chunk of that in a massive offshore Ponzi investment scheme, has been deemed incompetent to stand trial.

"In light of the testimony presented and the reports submitted by the three psychiatrists - including the Government's own expert, Dr. Rosenblatt - the Court has no viable alternative but to find that Stanford does not have the present mental capacity to effectively assist his attorneys in preparing his defense," writes Hittner.

Stanford wouldn't be released to a mental facility, as his lawyers had requested. Instead, U.S. District Judge David Hittner recommended that the Attorney General have Stanford moved to a federal facility with suitable medical capabilities to deal with his reported traumatic brain injury, addiction to an anti-anxiety medication and major depressive disorder.

"It is not lost on the court that Stanford's motion to be released to a local mental facility for treatment may be yet another attempt by Stanford to be released on bond," Hittner writes. "The Court's finding that Stanford is incompetent, however, does not alter the Court's finding that Stanford is a flight risk and that no combination of conditions of pretrial release can reasonably assure his appearance at trial."

Hittner recommends that "the Attorney General send Stanford to a medical facility within the Bureau of Prisons, such as the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina or to another suitable facility."

The judge also admonished both federal prosecutors and Stanford's lawyers "to diligently prepare this case to proceed to trial notwithstanding Stanford's absence."

A guy accused of a massive international con job is too depressed to face a trial?  A bravura performance, for sure.  Pay your defense team extra, my good man.  Both they, and you, Sir Allen, have earned it.

Home, Home I'm Deranged, Part 15

New home sales for 2010 hit the lowest level in almost five decades.

Sales for all of 2010 totaled 321,000, a drop of 14.4 percent from the 375,000 homes sold in 2009, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the fifth consecutive year that sales have declined after hitting record highs for the five previous years when the housing market was booming.

The year ended on a stronger note. Buyers purchased new homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 329,000 units in December, a 17.5 percent increase from the November pace.

Still, economists say it could be years before sales rise to a healthy rate of 600,000 units a year.

"The percentage rise in sales looks impressive but 10 percent of next-to-nothing is still next-to-nothing," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, referencing the December increase. "New home sales are bouncing around the bottom and we see no clear upward trend in the data yet."

Builders of new homes are struggling to compete in markets saturated foreclosures. High unemployment and uncertainty over home prices have kept many potential buyers from making purchases.

Home prices fell in November in 19 of 20 major cities measured by the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index, and nine of those cities fell to their lowest point since the housing bust.

Economists expect prices will keep falling through the first six months of this year.

Gosh, of course I was saying that 2010 was going to be a dismal year for home sales back in 2009, just like I said home sales in 2011 would continue to be dismal back in 2010.  I stick by that now.   There's a pretty good chance 2011's new home sales will come in under 2010's 321k, because 321,000 new homes is about 320,000 too many new homes being built with millions of existing homes clogging the market.

And more homes will be adding to that glut as the housing depression continues and layoffs and Foreclosuregate rolls on.  Home prices fall, homeowners end up underwater and they cut back on spending, the economy sputters, people lose their jobs, people lose their homes and add to the supply, and home prices fall.

We're approaching the fourth iteration of this cycle now, which appears to take about 9-12 months.  It's now self-sustaining and attempts to break the cycle by the Obama administration have failed.  Foreclosure activity has now spread into markets at all levels, places like Houston and Atlanta that didn't see big bubble gains in 2006-2007 are now seeing double digit decreases in housing prices.  As the fourth wave of foreclosures begins, we're seeing now evidence that housing prices will remain depressed in places like Las Vegas and California's San Fernando Valley for a generation or more.

In other words, housing prices in several areas of the country are effectively permanently broken for decades.  There will be no economic recovery for these areas.  They've become the ghost towns of the 21st century.

And each new cycle will drop more areas into this semi-permanent limbo state.  Some places in the country are now beyond any help.  More will be written off as the housing depression continues well into 2012.  And as housing prices and property tax revenues fall, more and more cuts will be made to local services, more city and county workers will be laid off, and more damage will be done to the economy.

With the stimulus now used up, the real long march begins for America.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Have A Plan

The Pentagon is expected to roll out its formal plan for integrating gay servicemembers into the armed forces on Friday.

Officials say Pentagon leaders will roll out a plan Friday that is expected to give the military services about three months to train their forces on the new law allowing gays to serve openly.

The plan will outline the swath of personnel, recruiting and other regulations that must be changed, And it will describe three levels of training for the troops, their commanders and the key administrators, recruiters and other leaders who will have to help implement the changes.

Officials familiar with the plan described it on condition of anonymity because it has not been finalized or made public. 

That's good news, that means hopefully by the end of April/early May we'll have openly serving gay and lesbian service members like gosh, all our major democratic military allies do.  Their militaries haven't exploded, and if the Brits, Israelis, and Canadians can survive it, so will we.

I look forward to seeing what the Pentagon has planned, and I keep shaking my head, wondering why it took so long.  "The Americans will always do the right thing," Winston Churchill once said, "after they've exhausted all the alternatives."


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Last Call

That MLK Day terrorist bombing attempt story nobody's talking about?  Keeps getting worse.

The bomb found along a Martin Luther King Day parade route in Spokane, Wash., may have been packed with a blood-thinning chemical that's found in rat poison in an effort to inflict worse injuries.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich told the Spokesman-Review that the bomb -- which officials have already described as sophisticated, with the potential to be devastating -- had some sort of chemical in it, and authorities have speculated that it may be a chemical found in rat poison. The bomb, which was defused without incident last Monday, has been sent for testing to a lab at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va..
The FBI and other officials have declined to release any information about the bomb's makeup. Knezovich said, though, that the bomb was also packed with shrapnel.

The theory is that someone hit with a piece of shrapnel covered in an anti-coagulant is more likely to bleed to death. Israeli officials have claimed in the past that Palestinian terrorists were using rat poison to make their bombs more deadly. 

Yeah, see, this bomb was designed to inflict as many injuries and deaths as possible at a MLK Day parade, and yet we continue to hear nothing about it.  No suspects, no leads, just that it was domestic terrorism...and that apparently it's not worth giving a damn about.

We had near national manhunts on our hands after other bombing attempts.  The Spokane bombing attempt?  Nothing.  This story continues to be spiked for reasons unknown.

I don't like thinking about the possibility that the story's being spiked to protect the suspects, or to ignore the victims.  Either one of those is repugnant.  We'll see.

The Birthers Reveal Their Cards

If you thought the embarrassing nutjob Birthers went away just because Obama got elected, you've got another thing coming.  Under the guise of "Obama's not a US citizen" these racist clowns won't rest until Obama is magically rendered ineligible for President, and they've signaled how they are going to try to do that.

Naturally the latest state to join the Birther train guessed it...Arizona.

An Arizona legislator has revived her effort to require presidential candidates to show their birth certificate if they want to get on the state's ballot.

State Rep. Judy Burges submitted a new version of the "Birther Bill" on Tuesday, even though a similar bill failed to gain support last year.

This new legislation is extremely specific, seeming to target each of the issues "birthers" have continued to raise regarding President Obama.

Members of the fringe group who believe Obama is not eligible to be commander in chief have argued he was not born in Hawaii, has dual citizenship, or is simply not a "natural born citizen."

Burges' HB 2544 would address each of these concerns by requiring any and all candidates to provide "an original long-form birth certificate that includes the date and place of birth, the names of the hospital and the attending physician and signatures of the witnesses in attendance."

The scheme is of course that anything Obama submits under this law (and Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania and Montana have similar legislative pushes) will be called a fraud, and the Birthers will hope that means that the question of Obama's eligibility will go to the Supreme Court or something, where they have fever dreams of a 5-4 decision that renders the President ineligible and nullifies all the laws he's signed, etc, leading to mass chaos.

It's purely ridiculous, but this shows you just how far Republicans (and some Democrats) are going to try to rid the country of President Obama.  These people are crazy mean, well beyond anything ever thrown at Clinton or Bush.  They're willing to literally throw the country into anarchy in order to get rid of current Oval Office occupant.

Do not underestimate them.  They will destroy the country to destroy Obama.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Apparently the only thing America was paying attention to last night in President Obama's speech was his salmon joke.  The word cloud:

We asked our listeners to describe President Obama's State of the Union address in three words. This is a word cloud of the more than 12,000 words we received.

Why is "salmon" so big? As The Two-Way explains, NPR's Facebook followers were referring to one of the night's humorous moments — when the president joked about the complicated and convoluted way the government regulates salmon.

"The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater," Obama said. "I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked." That last line drew big laughs from lawmakers in the Capitol.

Politics?  Boring.  Fish jokes?  Funny!

Meanwhile, here's Bachmanniac's six minutes of crazy response.

You know, just in case you think any bipartisanship is possible with people like this.

I Hear Trouble Coming

Two strangers are profiled in a New York Times article.  They are both very different people, from different backgrounds.  They have nothing in common, really.  Except for one small thing:

About the only thing these strangers have in common is the prospect that by spring, they could each be sent to prison for up to 15 years.  “That’s one step below attempted murder,” Mr. Drew said of their potential sentences.  The crime they are accused of is eavesdropping.

These two individuals recorded the officers who they spoke with, and did not get their permission.  There's a few things I think are a little off about this, and the article itself makes many good points.  Police don't have to tell us that we are being recorded, and their cars run video and often audio.  The article mentions that years ago when these laws were written, it wasn't common for people to have recording devices available.  It is completely normal to carry a cell phone, so if the police were to argue that being recorded from the front of a cop car is common knowledge, these two can argue the same case.

Mark Donahue, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said his organization “absolutely supports” the eavesdropping act as is and was relieved that the challenge had failed. Mr. Donahue added that allowing the audio recording of police officers while performing their duty “can affect how an officer does his job on the street.”

That's sort of the point.  It's hard to fake video, and this is a new level of accountability.  If officers are conducting themselves properly, then the tapes would just reveal that and offer backup for any cops who found themselves on the stand.  Because they are public officials, and the fact that their job is often done in public, it stands to reason that they shouldn't have an expectation of privacy. 

Regardless of which way you fall on the topic, it makes sense that expectations of privacy should be redefined.  However, it shouldn't be redefined by law enforcement.  I'm a little afraid of how it would go down, but at least we would know where we stand.

Doing It Texas Style

Texas does everything big... including stupidity.  They've forced me to weigh in on a topic that I usually avoid with every fiber of my being, abortion.  I'm keeping my personal thoughts on the topic quiet intentionally, because they have no place in this article. 

John Seago, Senior Legislative Associate with Texas Right To Life, says with the Republican supermajority, the bill has a strong chance of becoming law.  “We do have a pro-life majority in the House,” says Seago. “We know that it’s the personal agenda of several legislators to get important pro-life legislation passed in this particular session.”

The purpose of the bill?  To force women to look at a sonogram of their fetus before performing the procedure.  This is the equivalent of torture, without medical need and is being pushed purely as a punitive action against women undergoing a legal procedure.  To attack the procedure itself is one thing, but this isn't the way to make this particular point.  This is a sour grapes reaction to failure to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and it was surely no coincidence that it was released on the 38th anniversary.

“If an ultrasound is required and medical necessary, we will absolutely provide that information, as would most physicians,” Tafolla (Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Spokesperson) says. “Politicians really have no business telling doctors how to practice medicine.”  In addition to the sonogram, the bill would require women to hear a doctor explain the physical characteristics of the fetus as well as listen to audio of the heartbeat.
This is as wrong as it gets in my book.

Security's Weakest Link

An American man is suspected of smuggling 80 weapons into the UK by hiding them in his suitcases.  Former U.S. marine Steven Greenoe, who holds British citizenship, apparently strolled through airport security in both Britain and America with dozens of handguns stashed in his suitcases on ten flights last year.
At one point (on a completely different trip), he was stopped in Atlanta, but allowed to proceed when he declared he was an international security consultant.

This is why we'll be attacked again successfully.  Not because your body cavity search failed, or your scan failed to pick up something.  It will be because of an idiot like that, who lets a man walk through with sixteen disassembled guns. They suspect he took ten different trips and was not stopped or held. 
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