Thursday, June 30, 2011

Last Call

As of Friday, all abortion clinics in Kansas will be shut down for failure to comply with the state's new building code regulations, which were released, oh, ten days ago.

It's official. Every abortion provider in the state of Kansas has been denied a license to continue operating as of July 1. As we reported last week, strict new laws put in place there this month threatened to close the three abortion clinics in the state. While at least one, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, thought it could survive the strict new standards, it too was denied a license to continue operating—effectively cutting off access to legal abortion in the state.

The new law, which takes effect Friday, sets strict new standards for abortion providers, requiring changes to the size and number of rooms, requiring them to have additional supplies on hand, and even mandating room temperatures for the facilities. Given that the rules were released less than two weeks before clinics were expected to be in compliance, many providers knew they weren't going to be able to obtain a license to continue operating. The laws, often called "targeted regulation of abortion providers," or TRAP laws, are an increasingly common legislative maneuver to limit access to abortion by making it difficult, if not impossible, for providers to comply.

With today's announcement that the Overland Park clinic was also denied a license, Kansas becomes the first state to effectively make the legally protected right to access abortion services unavailable in the state. One clinic in Kansas has already filed suit against the new rules, and a hearing on that suit is planned for Friday. Planned Parenthood is also expected to sue.

So unless there's some sort of injunction, Kansas will as of July 1 be the first abortion-free state in the nation.

To recap, the number one Republican legislative priority in state after state is not jobs, not the economy, not shrinking the size of government, not removing burdensome regulations, not saving us from the horros of having the state get between the doctor and their patients, but using the law strictly as a power grab over women for their own purposes of imposing their will upon the American people.

Smaller government means "As long as we can continue to use it against people we don't like."  Then it's a necessary function of the state.

[UPDATE] AP says one Kansas clinic will remain open, so that's something.  Hire their building contractors.

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, seemed to hold out some hope that its clinic could still obtain a license to continue operating, even as the organization sought an injuction to block the law from taking effect. "We have been targeted in this bill and Kansas women are the ones who will suffer if their health care is taken away," said Brownlie. "This is radical, extreme government intrusion into private health care."

Nice job, Kansas.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

Our media sucks.  We've got "liberal media" like Mark Halperin of Time, on MSNBC, calling President Obama a "real dick" on national TV for the mortal sin of calling out the Republicans on their intransigence.  But Republicans, they're such nice people, and Obama, well, you know how they are.

Asshole. I'm with Benen, he did this on purpose. He and Mika there had a good laugh about it. Halperin of course has been suspended from MSNBC, but that's treating the symptoms, not the cause.

Our press is broken beyond repair.

Land Of 10,000 Shutdowns

This being June 30 and all, it's the last day for fiscal 2011 for Minnesota.  And there's no budget for fiscal 2012, which starts tomorrow.  If you guessed that means "government shutdown chaos" then yes, you'd be on the right track.  And that's going to leave tens of thousands in the lurch.  Some functions will continue:

As Minnesota Public Radio reports, the court ruled that Minnesota is required to fulfill its obligations to the federal government, continuing to pay for programs like welfare, Medicaid and food stamps. Failing to do so would "violate the the constitutional rights of the citizens of Minnesota," the court said.

Beyond the "critical core functions," the court decided it doesn't have the authority to order more funding, as the Star Tribune reports.

But others will not.

If the state's government does shut down, state parks would close right before the Fourth of July weekend, and MPR reports that up to 22,000 state workers could be left without jobs.

Lawmakers have until the end of the week to avert shutdown. But with the deadline looming ever closer, the chances of reaching a deal before then seem to be fading.

Things are looking bad for a deal, too.  They've been at this for five months, but Minnesota Republicans say they'll keep the government shut down rather than raise a single additional dime of tax revenue, which is ridiculous.

How this plays out could have serious ramifications down the road at the national level.  If Minnesotans clearly side with Gov. Dayton or with state Republicans, it could weigh on our own national debt ceiling hostage situation.

Why The Sixth Circuit's Opinion On The Individual Insurance Mandate Matters

Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit court of appeals across the river in Cincy ruled 2-1 that the individual mandate provision in the Affordable Care Act was constitutional.  The reason why this matters?  The deciding vote and opinion was authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a Bush 41 appointee and former clerk to Justice Scalia, and he came out for the mandate.

The Sixth Circuit majority held that the mandate was “facially constitutional under the Commerce Clause” for two reasons.

“First, the provision regulates economic activity that Congress had a rational basis to believe has substantial effects on interstate commerce,” Judge Martin wrote. “In addition, Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in health care and health insurance.”

The court directly addressed whether a choice to go without health insurance qualifies as an “activity” that substantially affects interstate commerce, which is the standard set in prior Supreme Court decisions on the breadth of the Commerce Clause.

“The activity of foregoing health insurance and attempting to cover the cost of health care needs by self-insuring is no less economic than the activity of purchasing an insurance plan,” the opinion stated.
The majority emphasized that the case should not hang on distinctions about whether the failure to buy insurance should be defined as activity or inactivity, a question the Supreme Court has never considered. “The constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision cannot be resolved with a myopic focus on a malleable label,” the judges said.

In his concurrence, Judge Sutton added, “Inaction is action, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, when it comes to financial risk.” Whether an individual buys an insurance policy or not, the judge wrote, “each requires affirmative choices; one is no less active than the other; and both affect commerce.” 

In other words, despite all the silliness that by affirming the ACA that Congress will be able to compel Americans to buy green socks or force Americans to take up subsistence farming or face penalties that you would expect from a Scalia disciple (and indeed, the minority opinion was centered around the idea of an unlimited Commerce Clause) but Judge Sutton did not bite.

It bodes very well for the real battle at the Supreme Court.

Like The Wonder Twins, Just A Lot More Stupid

Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have tackled the hard issues, like mud wrestling and bus tours.  Check this article out.  From the safely conservative look, the similar outfits, and identical slightly puzzled looks, these two surely can't think anyone can take them seriously.

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann reportedly told a voter Wednesday that the media want her to get into a "mud wrestling fight" with potential presidential rival Sarah Palin.
"They want to see two girls come together and have a mud wrestling fight," the Minnesota congresswoman said in South Carolina, according to CNN, "and I am not going to give that to them."
Way to hold to your morals, babe.  I am very glad you will milk publicity and hem and haw around technical answers, but I am greatly relieved you will not mud wrestle.  I know Zandar has thoroughly covered this, but once in a while I am so disgusted I have to vent a little. 

Bachmann also said there was room for both her and Palin in the presidential race, arguing that Republicans should remember to keep focused on "the ultimate goal" of defeating President Obama next year.

To me, that sums up the entire problem right there.  For them, it's about winning and defeating when it should be about rebuilding and renewing.  Our country's future is just a game to them, more like competing for prom queen than managing the needs and course of millions of people.  Here is her attempt at being serious, and revealing she had a miscarriage, conveniently stirring sympathy and providing a chance to use this private matter to get in a good abortion quote.

“At that moment, we didn’t think of ourselves as overly career-minded or overly materialistic but when we lost that child, it changed us, and it changed us forever,” she said. “We made a commitment that no matter how many children were brought into our life, we would receive them because we are committed to life.”
I'm not immune to the tragic side of her comment,  but her emotional and personal response tells me how she would lead, and how she views the world.  Neither of these twits show the least bit of consideration for allowing people to make life decisions for themselves.  There is no respect for the Constitution.  There is only the notion that we need to be raised and taught how to be better, more like them.  If you're not their kind, you don't belong in their America.

Now there's two of them.  It's like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie had a mid-life crisis and decided to lead the country.  If pressed, they can always fall back on mud wrestling or crying that they are bullied. 

A Story About A Singing Penis

Yeah, I had to read it as well.  This is a clear case of an article's subject making it a requirement.  

Scientists from France and Scotland recorded the aquatic animal "singing" at up to 99.2 decibels, the equivalent of listening to a loud orchestra play while sitting in the front row.
The insect makes the sound by rubbing its penis against its abdomen in a process known as "stridulation".
Researchers say the song is a courtship display performed to attract a mate.

And single guys thought they had it hard.   I can't decide if that pun is intended, I'll leave it hanging.

Colbert's Joke Is On Us, Apparently

Campaign finance reform advocates are worried that Stephen Colbert's SuperPAC shtick may open the door to some real abuses by the corporate-owned press depending on how the FEC rules.

For its part, the commission has been treating Colbert's request like any other. It's created some quirky moments, like when Colbert had to assure the commission that the cash he collected outside their office was "received by Mr. Colbert personally as payment for shaking his hand" and wasn't going to his yet-to-be-formed "super PAC."

Ultimately, if they follow the suggestions of their staff, the FEC seems set to let the Colbert Super PAC go forward one way or another. The commission will consider one of three draft opinions authored by their staff, all of which appear to let Colbert's parent company Viacom pay for the Colbert Super PAC's expenditures without having to publicly report their donations.

That's a move that has campaign finance reformers worried. Public Citizen wrote a letter to the FEC on Wednesday calling on the commission to reject the request.

"This would carve out a gaping loophole in campaign finance laws, allowing any company involved in media to foot, in secret and without limit, the electioneering expenses of political committees," Public Citizen's government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman said in a statement.

Holman warned that if the FEC granted Colbert's request, "the next request will be for media companies to directly finance unlimited candidate campaigns under the press exemption - an abuse that is already being advocated in some quarters."

Now, nobody does satire like Colbert.  The whole point of satire is to play the absurd straight and let the unintentional humor shine through.  And I honestly think Public Citizen is overreacting.  Colbert is clearly drawing attention to corporations and their control over media influence and elections, which seems to be the entire point of the exercise.   Yes, if media corporations are allowed to use the press exemption to get around campaign finance laws, it would be a disaster (what campaign finance laws we have left, anyway.)  But there do seem to be some potentially ugly ramifications here if the FEC approved Colbert's PAC as is.

I personally think the FEC understands this and will not approve Colbert's request for precisely that reason.  The press exemption is pretty ludicrous, and needs to be examined.  Colbert I believe is using this farce to force the FEC to erect some strict barriers on using the press exemption and spell them out in the campaign finance rules.  The whole point is for Colbert to play all this out by drawing attention to just how ludicrous it all is on its face.  He does it daily.

At least, I hope that this is where all this is going.  If the FEC says "Hey sure, press exemption, whatever, go for it media conglomerates!" then the joke's truly on us.

Not So Slick Rick

Word is Rick Perry will announce his candidacy for President...sometime...maybe...kinda.  We're not sure.  But the latest poll from Public Policy Polling actually has Perry losing Texas to Obama right now.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the weakness of the Republican field is
their performance in ruby red Texas. Texas wants to be rid of President Obama with only
42% approving of his performance and a 55% majority disapproving. However, it would
be a single digit race against any of Obama’s perspective Republican opponents. Obama
performs weakest against Mitt Romney, trailing 42-50 (49-42 in January). Obama trails
native son Ron Paul 40-45, Michele Bachmann 44-47, and Tim Pawlenty 43-44. Obama
ties Herman Cain 43-43, and leads Sarah Palin 46-44 (46-47) and Texas Governor Rick Perry 47-45 (45-45).

Anyone still wondering why Palin and Perry haven't announced yet?  Not me.   Yes, Obama loses to Romney and Ron Paul, but everyone else would make Texas a battleground state, and even then Obama's competitive.

But if Perry can't even muster a win in Texas, he's done.

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 24

And now the GOP games on the debt ceiling just got serious.

Standard & Poor's will drop the U.S.'s credit rating from its current triple-A to a D if the government misses its debt payment on August 4, Reuters' Walter Brandimarte reports. S&P's managing director John Chambers explained, "If the U.S. government misses a payment, it goes to D. ... That would happen right after August 4, when the bills mature, because they don't have a grace period." The company would downgrade Treasury bills unaffected by the blown deadline, but not as much.

The Treasury Department says that the federal debt ceiling must be raised by August 2. Two days later, the department must pay $30 billion in short-term debt. But negotiations between the White House and Congressional Republicans have broken down to the extent that some Democrats are debating whether to just declare the debt limit unconstitutional and ignore it.

Say goodbye to the economy.   Say hello to interest rates in the double digits.  This is what the GOP is risking now with their hostage nonsense, and the American people are going to pay dearly for decades for their stupidity.

What will happen of course is that our debt payment will be made.  It will come at the expense of government workers, or soldier's paychecks, or Social Security checks for the month.  But that $30 billion will get paid.  The American people on the other hand...well...

So where do we go from here?  Ezra Klein notes yesterday's presser signifies the negotiations are done.

The best advice I’ve gotten for assessing the debt-ceiling negotiations was to “watch for the day when the White House goes public.” As long as the Obama administration was refusing to attack Republicans publicly, my source said, they believed they could cut a deal. And that held true. They were quiet when the negotiations were going on. They were restrained after Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl walked out last week. Press Secretary Jay Carney simply said, “We are confident that we can continue to seek common ground and that we will achieve a balanced approach to deficit reduction.” But [Wednesday] they went public. The negotiations have failed.

I still think the economic and financial powerhouses and Wall Street tycoons are going to step in and get something done.  Ezra believes differently.

What the two parties are really doing is trying to position themselves politically to survive the consequences of their failure. We don’t yet know if we’ll get to the point where the market will panic, but it could. We’re very likely to get to the point where we have to stop funding certain government services, which could mean as little as delaying payments to military contractors and hospitals or as much as halting Social Security checks. Either way, the public is likely to ignore the political breakdown until the consequences begin. At that point, both parties are hoping they will have framed the debate such that the electorate’s fury falls squarely on the other’s shoulders. That’s what today’s news conference was about.

Who will take the blame for the default?  If we're really down to that question, then we're all screwed.

[UPDATE]  Sen. Reid has just canceled the July 4th Senate recess to work on the debt ceiling idiocy.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last Call

President Obama finally went on offense today, and it's about damn time.

The primary goal of President Obama’s presser, which just wrapped up, was obvious: He was clearly out to pick a major public fight with Republicans over tax cuts for the rich. Obama mounted a surprisingly aggressive moral case for ending high end tax cuts, casting it as a test of our society’s priorities, and argued — crucially — that anyone who fails to support ending them is fundamentally unserious about the deficit.

He also went out of his way to highlight GOP opposition to raising revenues by ending a perk for corporate jet owners. This proposal would raise only $3 billion, which means it’s trivial in the larger scheme of things, and Obama’s mention of it seemed deliberately designed to provoke howls of outrage and cries of “class warfare” from Republicans — with the obvious goal of maneuvering Republicans into the role of arch defenders of the interests of the wealthy.

Obama is picking this fight in order to reframe the deficit and debt ceiling debate as a battle not over government spending — losing turf for Dems — but over who has the most balanced priorities and who is really working in the interests of the whole country.

And it's long time past for this as well. These are the arguments Obama should have been making in January, and making them at this volume.  Republicans don't care about the deficit.  They care about transferring money for social programs to the poor and for seniors to create more tax cuts for the rich.  That's it.  That's the whole damn thing.

So now, finally, Obama has thrown this gauntlet in the face of the Republicans who walked out like petulant babies from debt ceiling talks.  Good.  They only deserve national scorn right now.

More of this, Democrats.

The Butcher's Bill Arrives

A new study shows the total monetary cost of our adventures in the Middle East could hit $4.4 trillion. The human cost is just as terrible.

When President Barack Obama cited cost as a reason to bring troops home from Afghanistan, he referred to a $1 trillion price tag for America's wars.

Staggering as it is, that figure grossly underestimates the total cost of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project "Costs of War" by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. (

In the 10 years since U.S. troops went into Afghanistan to root out the al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, spending on the conflicts totaled $2.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion.

Those numbers will continue to soar when considering often overlooked costs such as long-term obligations to wounded veterans and projected war spending from 2012 through 2020. The estimates do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments coming due and many billions more in expenses that cannot be counted, according to the study.

In human terms, 224,000 to 258,000 people have died directly from warfare, including 125,000 civilians in Iraq. Many more have died indirectly, from the loss of clean drinking water, healthcare, and nutrition. An additional 365,000 have been wounded and 7.8 million people -- equal to the combined population of Connecticut and Kentucky -- have been displaced.

But we got Saddam, the man behind 9/11, or something.  And any member of Congress who has been there for more than a half-dozen years will tell you it was worth every dime and every drop of blood to defend "American freedom."

Keep that $4 trillion price tag in mind when the austerity hacks proclaim it was social spending that broke our economy, and that we have to cut millions of poor and elderly Americans loose to save "the greater good."

Taxing Bachmann's Logic

The ad infinitum goes something like this:  If cutting taxes causes job growth, then eliminating taxes should cause infinite job growth.  Sadly, that's what President Michele Bachmann thinks is a "great idea."

Her comments on the income tax came in response to a question from Don Gorman, a former New Hampshire state representative from the Libertarian Party. Gorman asked Bachmann to comment on his suggestion to improve the economy: “Put a moratorium on the entire income tax for one year for every citizen in this country and watch this country take off.’’
“That’s awesome,’’ Bachmann responded. “You will be happy to know that a colleague of mine from Texas, [Representative] Louie Gohmert, gave that suggestion.’’
Bachmann said Gorman’s prediction about the proposal’s effect on the economy was on target. “If we would have allowed every American to take that much more money home in their pockets, what would they have done?’’ Bachmann said. “They would have paid their bills. They would have spent it. They would have grown their businesses. They would have grown the economy.’’

We have evidence of course that this is a crock.  There are plenty of major corporations that don't pay income taxes, and they're not exactly helping the economy.  Well gosh, we know what corporations who pay zero taxes do:  they sit on their cash and don't spend it, and don't grow their businesses, and don't grow the economy, and don't hire people.

There's also the fact that eliminating income tax for a year would add to the deficit, big time.

Curtis Dubay, senior tax policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said advocates of a tax moratorium in 2009 said it might have stimulated the economy more than a stimulus program, but today the idea of a one-year income tax holiday is not being discussed because of its cost. Without the tax, the deficit would rise from $1.7 trillion to $2.7 trillion this year, Dubay said. Bachmann has been a leading advocate for cutting the debt and deficit. Her campaign did not respond to a request to clarify her stance on the income tax.

A trillion bucks added to the deficit.  Yes, that would qualify as a "revenue problem."  But hey, since Bachmann wants to get rid of the minimum wage and wants as many Americans as possible earning under the amount where they would have to pay taxes on it in the first place, exactly who would this tax moratorium help?

Here's a hint:  not the poorest 50% of Americans.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 72

Bank of America not only admits to mortgage fraud in Foreclosuregate, but will pay $8.5 billion dollars to settle with the big hedge fund lords that took it in the shorts on CDOs.

Bank of America and its Countrywide unit will pay $8.5 billion to settle claims that the lenders sold poor-quality mortgage-backed securities that went sour when the housing market collapsed.

The deal, announced Wednesday, comes after a group of 22 investors demanded that the Charlotte, N.C. bank repurchase $47 billion in mortgages that its Countrywide unit sold to them in the form of bonds.

The group, which includes the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Pimco Investment Management, and Blackrock Financial Management, argued that Countrywide enriched itself at the expense of investors by continuing to service bad loans while running up servicing fees.

Bank of America, which bought Countrywide in 2008 for $4 billion, has denied those claims.
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said Wednesday that the settlement would minimize "future economic uncertainty" in the banking business and "clean up the mortgage issues largely stemming from our purchase of Countrywide."

Expect more banks to choose to settle with Pimco and the other hedge fund giants.   More importantly, this could be the crack in the dam that leads to all kinds of other legal actions against the mortgage banks.  Granted, BoA is getting away with less than 20 cents on the dollar here, but considering there's trillions of bad loans out there overall, expect to see a lot more settlements like this.

And soon.  Oh, and BoA doesn't have the $8.5 billion in cash laying around, either.  Things ought to get very very interesting.

This Week's WTH - A Collection

A Melbourne youth church leader who raped a 14-year-old girl, poured petrol on her and set her alight has been jailed for 21 years.

Michael Tuano Hermogenes, 25, plied the girl with alcohol before choking her with one of her stockings, raping her, taking photos of her while she was naked and unconscious, then setting her and her house alight to hide his crimes.

She suffered permanent injuries including burns to half her body, amputation of her right toes and spent almost a year in hospital.
This is when a good old mob scene (I just see the Simpsons over and over) is worth it.  I cannot verify much, there is video goodness to enjoy if you want the full story.  Believe it or not, it gets weirder.

Tracy Morgan just doesn't know when to shut up.  He went on a verbal rant on gays earlier this month, and in what I thought (at the time) was a real act of coolness, went back to apologize.  Now he has made fun of mentally challenged kids and the handicapped to a degree that he has angered people yet again.  I'm not saying humor should be sanitized, but I'm saying if you don't want mean snarks and insults, this may not be your show.  Morgan has always pushed the envelope, but he has crossed a line that his main audience doesn't appreciate, and there will be an adjustment.  

A 21-year-old Madison man went a little overboard Monday morning while using a razor-sharp Japanese sword for a video project, puncturing holes in his apartment wall all the way through his neighbor's bedroom wall.
What's great for me is that I know so many guys like this nerd that I checked in with a couple of folks that fit the general description.  Now back to your busy day, and keep your swords to yourselves... 

Greek Fire, Part 36

The Greek parliament has passed the five-year austerity measure, 155-138.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou won a parliamentary majority in favor of a five-year austerity plan on Wednesday, clearing a major hurdle in Greece's bid to win access to international funding to avoid default.

With voting still continuing, Papandreou's Socialist government had already reached the 151 votes it required in the 300-seat chamber to secure the passage of the framework law.

It must now win approval on Thursday for legislation detailing specific implementation measures for the 28 billion austerity package.

From here it seems the Greek people are now stuck with the bill.  Judging from the protests in Athens today, they're not happy about this vote either.

The Kroog Versus Sovereign Default

Paul Krugman reminds us of what's at stake in the debt limit hostage situation, and they don't get much higher.

Think about it. There’s a significant chance that failing to raise the debt limit could provoke a renewed financial crisis — and Republicans would rather take that chance than allow a reduction in tax breaks on corporate jets.

What this says to me is that Obama cannot, must not, concede here. If he does, he’s signaling that the GOP can extract even the most outrageous demands; he’s setting himself up for endless blackmail. A line has to be drawn somewhere; it should have been drawn last fall; but to concede now would effectively mean the end of the presidency.

Quite frankly, that's what the GOP wants.  Sen. Mitch McConnell has said in the past that the GOP's number one priority is not jobs, not the economy, not the American people, but limiting Obama to being a one-term President.  He freely admitted as such.  They figure if Obama capitulates, the GOP gets everything they want and Obama gets blamed for it, and if he doesn't then the economy goes into recession or possibly a depression and the country votes him out.

Either way, they're perfectly okay with this.  So when a Republican says "our top priority" is anything but getting Barack Obama out of office, know they are lying to you.

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 23

The most mendacious argument the Republicans have been making on the debt ceiling hostage situation is that there is no hostage situation, that is a default scenario will have "minimal" effect on the economy, the day-to-day operations of the federal government, and lives of American citizens.

It's a massive lie, of course.

New analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) which has been shared extensively with members of Congress estimates that the Treasury Department would not be able to pay all its bills and would need to implement an immediate 44 percent cut in federal spending in the event of the debt ceiling is exceeded.

On an annualized basis, the cut in spending alone is a 10 percent cut in GDP, BPC scholar Jay Powell told reporters.

A 44% immediate spending cut, as the money simply wouldn't be there.  A massive 10% GDP cut, the equivalent of an instant recession.  Absolute chaos would reign.

In one scenario, if the administration tries to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense contracts and unemployment insurance, then no military pay, tax refunds, federal civilian pay or welfare payments can be made that month.

Protecting the social safety net including Pell Grants and welfare along with the big entitlement programs still means that no federal workers would be paid in August and no tax refunds will be issued.

In both scenarios the entire budgets of the Justice, Labor, Energy, Interior, Health and Human Services, and Commerce departments are zeroed out, as are the budgets of NASA, EPA, Federal Transit Administration and Federal Highway Administration. 

Millions of Americans would lose their paychecks.  Entire cabinet departments would be shut down. And given the already weak economy on the edge of a second recession, we would be plunged into a complete depression nightmare.

But Republicans are willing to risk a massive hit to the US economy just to "win" politically.  At some point, trying on purpose to destroy the country has to be dealt with.  We used to have a word for it.  None dare use it now.

Perhaps the President, himself a Constitutional Law scholar and professor, will get to test the fourteenth amendment.

Selling Snake Oil

Josh Marshall notes that Republicans are completely uninterested in jobs right now.

We know that congressional Republicans are saying they won't allow any more stimulus spending. That's been more or less clear since last November's election. And that doesn't surprise anyone much since, while it prevents any real action to boost the economy, it's also in line with Republican economic doctrines. The tell came when the White House pushed for a tax cut -- something which likely would not boost jobs as efficiently as direct spending but would pass Republican economic orthodoxy. That was rejected too. 

Of course Republicans aren't going to let anything pass that will improve the economy for working-class Americans.  That's a given. If they can't rule, they'll burn down the country until they are given what's left to lord over.   This isn't anything new.  Marshall goes a bit further.

Boil these statements down and they amount to: we're interested in long term structural changes to the economy not short term measures to boost jobs or growth. Nothing wrong with wanting long-term structural changes. Democrats want those too, just different ones. But I don't think anyone could get elected today in anything close to a competitive state or district writing off any kind of immediate effort to create jobs and economic growth. But that's what they're saying. 

And while this is true, the much deeper question to explore is why the Republicans are allowed to get away with this.  They ran in September on JOBS JOBS JOBS but have done nothing since being elected.  You can make the very strong case as a matter of fact that the legislation Republicans have passed in the House would only serve to cost America millions of jobs.

So again, why are Republicans allowed to get away with this?  The answer is that Republicans are now arguing that only long term structural austerity cuts, coupled with massive tax cuts for the rich, will solve our unemployment problems.  Republicans have been making this argument since 2009.  It won them the House in 2010.  They figure they can win the whole ball of wax in 2012.

The far larger problem?  The number of Democrats that agree with the above statement.  We know that cutting spending at the state level has on average cost jobs, while the states that increased spending on average gained jobs.  But you're not seeing Democrats make this argument.  Instead, they are agreeing with Republicans on the basic principle that cutting spending during a recession will improve the economy.  It won't.

We also know that cutting taxes on the rich doesn't create jobs either.  Republican economics has failed the country on jobs time and time again.  But they continue to be treated as serious policy wonks with viable economic policies.  The numbers don't lie:  unemployment is higher when spending is cut, and it's higher when taxes on the rich are cut.  The best empirical example of this was Bill Clinton's second term, when a balanced budget was created through revenue and the country was adding millions of jobs.  But the Republicans are going to try the opposite of that.

The best part?  When it fails to work, Republicans will simply say more cuts were needed.  Until the Democrats stop agreeing with the Republicans on this, the Republicans will be able to get away with the austerity snake oil again and again.  And because Americans want results and don't care who is actually responsible for tanking the economy but will judge Obama on it anyway, Republicans look like they're going to get away with doing just that.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Last Call

As Greg Sargent points out, it's not Bachmann's idiotic comments on John Quincy Adams and the Founding Fathers that are the problem, it's her belief that getting rid of all government regulations including the minimum wage should be the solution to our problems.

Pressed repeatedly by George Stephanopoulos to say whether she stood by her 2005 claim that nixing the minimum wage “could potentially wipe out unemployment because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level,” Bachmann did not back away from it, and seemed to confirm that ending the minimum wage should remain on the table.

“I think we need to look at all regulations--whatever ones are inhibiting job growth,” Bachmann said. “All regulations, George. I think every department.”

It has often been speculated that Bachmann may drag the 2012 GOP field to the right by forcing other candidates to try to match or even outdo her crowd-pleasing bumper-sticker extremism. Here’s a case in point. Bachmann thinks doing away with the minimum wage permanently could represent a legitimate solution to our economic problems and should be considered seriously. She thinks literally all regulations should be on the table. What does that mean? Do her rivals agree?

Does anyone in America honestly believe the real problem with our country's unemployment is that the people making minimum wage are making too much money?  Michele Bachmann does.

That might be a problem.  And it's far more dangerous than her feeble foibles.

Greek Fire, Part 35

As the Greek government prepares to vote on the bailout/austerity package tomorrow, a 48-hour general strike begins today by Greek citizens and that has the entire country on edge as the Greek Fire burns.

Greek riot police fired tear gas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators Tuesday, as thousands marched to protest proposed austerity measures on the first day of a two-day strike.

CNN reporters at the scene said they witnessed police firing tear gas cannisters into the crowds as protesters threw rocks at security forces, but no casualties were visible.

The protesters are rallying outside the Greek Parliament building in the center of the Greek capital, where lawmakers are set to vote Wednesday on a tough five-year package of tax increases and spending cuts.

Police in riot gear manned barricades outside the building, as the latest of a series of rallies over the past several weeks heated up.

Live television footage showed clouds of tear gas and black smoke from small fires billowing through the streets.

Police appeared to be trying to force protesters out of Constitution Square, CNN reporters said, but some demonstrators were returning and others were gathering in side streets ready to move back in.

Tomorrow's vote is the key, and the protesters have made it clear that the pain of austerity will not all be suffered by the people, but by the government as well.  With unemployment over 16 percent, I don't blame them.

And yet the same austerity is coming the the US sooner than you think.  What will our response be?

Loan Sharkin' In New Jersey

On Sunday I discussed the real reason why Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels wasn't running for 2012: his disastrous failure in attempting to privatize the state's public assistance programs.  Now we get word of why New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie has turned down the 2012 Clown Car Circuit.  His term as Governor has been mismanaged to the point where "Mr. Fiscal Responsibility" may have no choice but to take a $2.25 billion dollar loan from the bank.  Zero Hedge:

Is New Jersey the canary in Meredith Whitney's coalmine? According to the WSJ, New Jersey may be the first state to use the highly unconventional approach of using a commercial bank funded bridge loan as large as $2.25 billion to "plug a cash shortfall." The loan raised by Chris Christie's state, "would cover bills the state will need to pay as its new fiscal year begins July 1. Normally, states have some cash available as they finish one fiscal year and begin the next, while gearing up for a bond offering based on the new budget...Terms of the loan, also known as a credit line, haven't been finalized and negotiations could fall apart, according to the people familiar with the matter." And since this will likely be a benchmark loan whose term sheet will be promptly circulated to other cash-strapped states, it will be all the more important in defining such key term components as subordination, collateralization, and general interest rates.

And who would give the Garden State a loan?  Why, JP Morgan Chase. But isn't Christie the GOP's poster child for how to run a blue state?  If he's so good at it, why is New Jersey going to be broke on Friday?  Still wondering why Christie decided not to run for the White House?  Not me.  New Jersey's short because the state's had revenue problems caused by a stagnant economy that has slowed down because Christie's spending cuts aren't creating jobs, and fewer jobs means fewer people paying taxes into the system.

Worse, his plan to raise taxes on working-class New Jersey families, to slash Medicare and family planning funding, and to gut education in order to save money was offset by a billion dollar tax cut for families making over $400,000.  Christie's half a billion in cuts to education were overturned by the state's supreme court, but that fight continues.

Meanwhile, the state runs out of money end of the week.  And you wonder why Christie's not running. Somebody might notice that the GOP tax cut for the rich plan is failing miserably, and the GOP can't have the national spotlight on that.

Herman, Caned

This is starting to look depressingly familiar for the 2012 Clown Car Crew.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s New Hampshire state director, his only staffer in the state, as well as a Cain campaign regional director have both resigned.

Matt Murphy is the former state director and Jim Zeiler is the former regional director. Both defections raise the question of whether or not the Cain campaign is facing some trouble.

Ellen Carmichael, a spokeswoman for the businessman and former radio host, confirmed to CNN the story that was first reported in the New Hampshire Union Leader. She smacks back any notion that this spells trouble for the campaign.

“We have hired a new New Hampshire director already, who we will announce in the coming days,” Carmichael said.

When asked why Murphy resigned, Carmichael said, “I’m not sure. I mean, it was very amicable, we still correspond with him.” She said that Murphy had another opportunity with another organization.
As for Zeiler, Carmichael said she does not know why he left the campaign.

I'm going to venture an educated guess and go with "Herman Cain is a batshit crazy liar who I wouldn't trust to run a flashlight."  At this rate, all the campaign people for all these wingers will have resigned by October or so.  Maybe if they all banded together in one giant campaign, they could share a staffer.

The Big(ger) Payback

Looks like Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, the man who took down Russ Feingold last year, has yet to answer some extremely interesting questions as to how he did it and with what money.

Last week the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel started asking uncomfortable questions about $10 million in deferred compensation Johnson received from his former company, Pacur, weeks after his $9 million self-financed successful 2010 campaign came to an end.

For those of you playing the home version, even in a post Citizens United world, direct corporate contributions to a candidate is a no-no, especially when the corporation in question employs the candidate.  The $10 million just happened to cover the cost of Johnson's campaign, which Johnson says is a complete coincidence.  If that's true, then Johnson surely has a written agreement with the company covering the deferred compensation, yes?

So far Johnson has not produced a written deferred compensation agreement that was signed and dated before he launched his campaign. Absent such an agreement, Johnson could face serious charges that he violated campaign-finance laws barring direct corporate funding of federal candidates, election law experts tell TPM.
Arent Fox's Brett Kappel, an election law attorney, said evidence of a written agreement before Johnson ran for the Senate is critical to prove he did not rely on corporate funds for his campaign.

Well then, that might be a problem if the FEC takes a look at...

Even though watchdogs are raising serious red flags over Johnson's deferred compensation, they're not counting on the FEC, a broken agency that either deadlocks over critical and controversial decisions or fails to take up cases at all.

Never the hell mind.  This ledger domain legerdemain is just how the Galt's Gulch Bandits operate. Any of them will tell you the real problem would be the FEC existing at all.  Smaller government means there's nobody to complain to...well, unless a Democrat gave the appearance of conflict of interest, that is.

Best part is the guy who had $9 mil to spend on his own Senate seat and getting $10 mil payback is a real salt-of-the-earth, Real 'Murican hero.  Didn't Blago just get convicted of trying to sell a Senate seatBuying one seems to be pretty okay by comparison, IOKIYAR.

A Shocking Discovery

For many of us, static electricity is one of the earliest encounters we have with electromagnetism, and it’s a staple of high school physics. Typically, it’s explained as a product of electrons transferred in one direction between unlike substances, like glass and wool, or a balloon and a cotton T-shirt (depending on whether the demo is in a high school class or a kids’ party). Different substances have a tendency to pick up either positive or negative charges, we’re often told, and the process doesn’t transfer a lot of charge, but it’s enough to cause a balloon to stick to the ceiling, or to give someone a shock on a cold, dry day.

Nearly all of that is wrong, according to a paper published in today’s issue of Science. Charges can be transferred between identical materials, all materials behave roughly the same, the charges are the product of chemical reactions, and each surface becomes a patchwork of positive and negative charges, which reach levels a thousand times higher than the surfaces’ average charge.
This could lead to a new understanding of charge, power... and power sources. 

Rotten Peachtree

As expected, a federal judge has blocked parts of Georgia's immigration law from taking effect.

Judge Thomas Thrash also granted a request from civil liberties groups to block a part of Georgia's law that penalizes people who knowingly and willingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing another crime.

"The defendants wildly exaggerate the scope of the federal crime of harboring under (the law) when they claim that the Plaintiffs are violating federal immigration law by giving rides to their friends and neighbors who are illegal aliens," he said.

The judge was especially critical of that provision, blasting the state's assertion that federal immigration enforcement is "passive." Thrash noted that federal immigration officers remove more than 900 foreign citizens from the country on an average day.

He also wrote that the state measure would overstep the enforcement boundaries established by federal law. Thrash noted that there are thousands of illegal immigrants in Georgia because of the "insatiable demand in decades gone by for cheap labor" in the agriculture and construction industries. But he said the federal government gives priority to prosecuting and removing illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.

The civil liberties groups had sued to have those and other provisions blocked before they took effect Friday, though Thrash did toss parts of that lawsuit. The groups had argued that the law allows unreasonable seizures; blocks a constitutional right to travel; and restricts access to government services on the basis of national origin. The judge dismissed those claims, along with allegations the measure violates property rights and the state constitution.

So it's a partial victory, mostly on grounds that the state is stepping in on what should be a purely federal duty, and that's in line with other similar provisions partially blocked by federal judges in other states besides Georgia.  Again, completely expected, and until one of these state cases reaches SCOTUS, it will be repeated in red state after red state as they all vie to become the State That Hates Brown People The Most.

The endless war against people who are not white males is the GOP's top priority at the state level.

It's Over Ten Thousaaaaaaaaaaaaand!

Sometime over the weekend we hit 10,000 posts.

That's a lot of The Stupid to be versus, you know.

What Digby Said

On Breitbart and the Village:

But it's a mistake to only focus on Breitbart. As Perlstein writes, this journalistic convention is one of the things that's killing us. They are legitimizing anti-social political behavior to the point where the depraved Ann Coulter -- featured in a cover story in TIME magazine just a few years back --- is still considered an acceptable guest on a staid political round table hosted by Fareed Zakaria. Indeed, there's an entire generation of these hideous right wing destroyers of any and all rules of engagement who are treated as perfectly normal political players by the mainstream press

Worse, these non-rational actors are held up as the ultimate defense in the "Earth is flat, views differ" argument.  If anyone to the left of these nutbars says "Hey, you shouldn't be justifying this nonsense by giving them a legitimate platform" then it's "But they are no different from you, both sides do it" and the argument immediately ends.

Attacking the Village on its lack of objectivity only makes them cleave more tightly to the conservative side because in a post 2008 election world, being a liberal is the kiss of death.  Even more than politicians (who accept freely that not everyone's going to like them) the Villagers can't comprehend how anyone would be angry at them, so all the sturm und drang from the Right about bias and victimization is their weak point as the Villagers know it.

And so it goes.  Meanwhile, the Villagers and Congress play softball together for good causes, so why would our press be adversarial or even objective with people they see as friends with benefits?


Monday, June 27, 2011

Last Call

In another 5-4 decision where Justice Kennedy sided with the Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Scalia bloc as the deciding vote, SCOTUS struck down Arizona's campaign finance provision designed to even the playing field between privately funded candidates and publicly funded ones.

The law allowed candidates who qualified for public financing to receive a lump sum grant from the government if they refused to accept private contributions. It also allowed participating candidates to qualify for additional matching government funds if their opponents who chose not to participate in public funding spent more than the initial grant.

In its opinion, the majority targeted the so-called "trigger mechanism," which aimed to direct more public money to qualified candidates, and found that it violated the free speech rights of nonparticipating candidates.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for himself and the four other conservatives on the bench, stated that the matching funds provision "substantially burdens the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups without serving a compelling state interest."

He said that laws "like Arizona's matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand."

In other words, evening up the playing field between privately funded campaigns and publicly funded ones is a violation of the first amendment rights of the privately-funded candidate, that inhibits their right to use money as free speech.

If that seems counter-intuitive and even downright fishy, it's because it is:  it's the same argument used in Citizens United, that any government limits on private campaign money use is an inhibition of free speech.  Yes, the first amendment absolutely exists to protect free speech from government interference, but this ruling basically says that not only is campaign money equivalent to free speech to the point it garners first amendment protections from the government regulation of it, but that only private campaign money gets this protection.

Chief Justice Roberts completely threw out the argument that the candidate who didn't have the resources was at the disadvantage, rather the candidate with the far greater amount of private money donations was in fact the one needing the protection.

Taking this argument to its endpoint is a rather frightening exercise.  Those who have money have more free speech rights than those who don't, and they have every right to exercise its use as they see fit in order to influence political contests.  The ruling leaves public financing of campaigns intact...for now.  But I'd have to say that we can't be far away from the day where a publicly financed candidate who wins an election is sued over this by their privately funded opponent, claiming that public campaign funding of any type is unconstitutional.

When that happens, the corporations really will own the country.

[UPDATE] In completely non-related news, I'm guest blogging for DougJ this week over at Balloon Juice.  Do behave yourselves over there.


Former Dem Gov. of Illinois and national embarrassment Rod Blagojevich got the hammer dropped on him today in his bribery and extortion retrial: Guilty on 17 of 20 counts.

The jury acquitted Blagojevich on one count of bribery and was unable to reach verdicts on two counts of attempted extortion.
The charges against Blagojevich included trying to peddle the U.S. Senate seat held by Barack Obama before he resigned to become president. Blagojevich has denied any intention of bribery.
Last August, after a two-month trial and 14 days of deliberation, jurors deadlocked on 23 of the 24 charges Blagojevich had faced. They found him guilty on one count of lying to FBI investigators, a conviction that could carry a prison sentence of five years.
The accusation that Blagojevich tried to profit as he considered whom to appoint to succeed Obama, among other allegations, prompted his impeachment by Illinois' House of Representatives and his removal from office by the state Senate in 2009.
Ten of the counts against him in the current trial are wire fraud. The other 10 involve extortion and bribery. Most of the counts have a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Blago will certainly appeal, but at this point it's up to a judge to see how long he spends in jail.  He's pushing 55 as it is, so he could conceivably get a Madoff special and hundreds of years in jail, or something much shorter.  Dunno.

Either way, I am neither surprised or saddened by this.

Shot In The Dark

Earth suffers a near-miss from an asteroid today.  A near-miss as far as astronomy goes, anyway.

Astronomers have just discovered an asteroid that is expected come close enough to Earth Monday that it will be visible with amateur telescopes.

The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research centre (LINEAR) spotted Asteroid 2011 MD on June 22. It has an orbit similar to Earth's.

The asteroid will be visible from parts of South Africa and Antarctica when it makes its closest approach at 1:14 p.m. EDT (1714 GMT), passing just 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers) from the Earth's surface. The rock will be so close that its trajectory will be sharply altered by the Earth's gravity.

"There is no chance that 2011 MD will hit Earth but scientists will use the close pass as opportunity to study it w/ radar observations," NASA's @AsteroidWatch tweeted last week.

Scientists say there is no danger of the bus-sized object striking Earth this time, but an impact is possible when it makes the next pass in 2022.

Hey, maybe we'll have a space program by then too.  That would be nice, in case the thing, you know, is going to plow into a major population center 11 years from now.  If Republicans are in charge, well it'll be your fault for living in an asteroid-prone area without insurance.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

So in the space of 24 hours, FOX News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked if Michele Bachmann was a "flake", Wallace apologized yesterday evening, and Bachmann told him this morning to go to hell.

Via POLITICO's Jennifer Epstein, Michele Bachmann isn't accepting an apology from Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace for asking her yesterday, "Are you a flake?"

ABC News' Jon Karl, who's been getting face-time with Bachmann in Waterloo in advance of her formal campaign announcement, played a clip of the web video in which Wallace said, "I messed up. I'm sorry."

When Karl asked if she accepts the apology, Bachmann brushed aside the question this way: "I think that it's insulting to insinuate that a candidate for president is less than serious."

Trying the question again, Bachmann replied, "Those are the small issues. I'm focused on the big ones."

Steve M. asks today:

The only thing I can't figure out is whether this is all theater -- Wallace and Bachmann creating a phony controversy just to give her hero status. It seems unlikely -- Wallace, if anything, sullied the Fox brand by launching a red-on-red attack, though he sure directed some eyeballs to Fox, which may be the point. And I'm not sure whether Murdoch and Ailes want to pump Bachmann up (because the core audience needs a new hero), or would rather steer the rubes toward someone more electable (even at the expense of not giving the punters someone to cheer for). I'm going to guess that Wallace just went rogue here, and that his bosses like the attention but don't really want this Bachmania to get out of hand (she can't win and she hasn't been on the payroll) -- but I'm really not sure.

... Or maybe the whole sequence -- question, reaction, apology, refusal to accept apology -- is a staged, eyeball-grabbing, pro-wrestling-style scripted feud. You think? Am I being too cynical?

No, old friend, you're not.  The simple fact that this is bouncing off FOX, ABC, and pretty much confirms this is most likely a Village snow job with Ed Rollins's stinky fingerprints all over it.  This is straight out of the Palin Victim playbook, only it's being controlled by FOX.

It's a loud a clear message that red on red violence against Bachmann will not be tolerated and I absolutely see this as scripted as an episode of WWE RAW.  It's not the people that watch MSNBC that Ailes and Rollins are trying to reach here with this little poutrage bomb.  And better yet, FOX can just shift from "Chris Wallace said this" to "the mean old media said this" and get him off the hook too, all in time for her official campaign kickoff.

With all this violin-playing, somebody needs to be looking for the conductor.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible Bachmann is just stupid, petulant, ignorant, and thin-skinned too.

Murder With A Twist

A 13-year-old boy is in custody following the death of a woman in South Lanarkshire, Strathclyde Police have confirmed.
Police and ambulance services were called to a flat in Deveron Crescent, Hamilton, at about 2010 BST on Friday, where 34-year-old Dawn McKenzie was found seriously injured.

Not many details are out, but it is becoming a strange pattern to see kids involved in serious crimes.  I've read about several lately, and it does seem to be happening in a cluster.

Expect a follow-up to clarify as soon as more becomes known. 

And thus, an International Stupidity tag was born.  It's a good day to be a tag.

Billy The Kid Is Laughing

"The" Billy The Kid picture was auctioned for $2.3 million in Denver.  It's the only known picture, and the one used in every documentary, book and film.  He is reported to have paid a quarter for the picture.  He would be thrilled to know the return on his investment.

"When the bidding ended, the whole room erupted in clapping and people leapt to their feet," said Melissa McCracken, spokeswoman for the auction. "I've never experienced anything like this before."
The winning bidder was billionaire William Koch who founded Oxbow Carbon, with reported sales of $4 billion annually. Koch comes from a well-known family whose last name has made headlines in the past year for their political involvement.

Thus, the  Spiffy tag was born.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

If you're wondering why we can't afford a space program, it's probably because of things like...air conditioning our military in Afghanistan.

No, seriously.

The United States spends $20.2 billion annually on air conditioning for troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan — more than NASA's entire budget, NPR reported.

In fact, the same amount of money that keeps soldiers cool is the amount the G-8 has committed to helping the fledgling democracies in Tunisia and Egypt.

The necessary cooling costs so much because of the remote locations and danger involved in delivery equipment and fuel, Steven Anderson, a retired logistician who served under Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

"When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion," Anderson told NPR. "You've got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way."

And it's a long way to move the fuel: 800 miles of "improved goat trails" separate Karachi, where the fuel is shipped in, to Afghanistan. The transport takes 18 days. 

That's right, we spend more money on air conditioning in Afghanistan than we do on NASA.  Not "Our military budget is more than NASA" or "Our Afghanistan budget is more than NASA" or "Our vehicle budget is more than NASA" or "Our food bill in Afghanistan is more than NASA" but just the freakin A/C bill.

Makes me mad enough to put my fist through the monitor almost.  Air conditioning for a war of choice where billions and billions are wasted and stolen, not to mention the human cost.  And this is why we've shelved our space program.

Air conditioning.  America the Beautiful.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

The "Obama's just not like us" meme continues into the realm of dangerous "otherism" as over the weekend now one but two national newspaper op-eds ran full tilt with this nonsense.  I've talked about Obama As The Other before, and David Corn summed it up expertly:

Anti-Obama otherists have wrapped themselves in the flag of American exceptionalism, contending that Obama is different because he doesn't believe that the United States is special and superior to other nations. Last summer, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who at the time was mulling a bid for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination, told Politico that Obama's "worldview is dramatically different than any president, Republican or Democrat, we've had… He grew up more as a globalist than an American. To deny American exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation." (In March, Huckabee, à la Gingrich, claimed, wrongly, that Obama had grown up in Kenya and had thus absorbed an anti-colonialist sentiment that prompted him to have a "very different view" of the British than "the average American.") In November, former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum, another 2012 wannabe, told College Republicans at American University, "America is exceptional, and Americans are concerned that there are a group of people in Washington who don't believe that any more."

Over the weekend both Maureen Dowd and Michael Barone got into the Cult of the Other.  Dowd was especially repugnant:

On the budget, he wants to cut spending and increase spending. On the environment, he wants to increase energy production but is reluctant to drill. On health care, he wants to get everybody covered but will not press for a universal system. On Wall Street, he assails fat cats, but at cocktail parties, he wants to collect some of their fat for his campaign.

On politics, he likes to be friends with the other side but bash ’em at the same time. For others, bipartisanship means transcending their own prior political identities. For President Obama, it means that he participates in all political identities. He does not seem deeply affiliated with any side except his own. 

And lo and behold we're right back to Obama the self-obsessed narcissist again.  Not one of us.  Not American.  Not human.  A mysterious cypher.  Too "other".  Michael Barone isn't much better:

Conservative critics have taken to comparing him, as you might imagine, with Jimmy Carter. The more cruel among them, like the Weekly Standard's Jay Cost, say the comparison is not to Obama's advantage.

But there is another comparison I think more appropriate for a president who, according to one of his foreign-policy staffers, prefers to "lead from behind." The man I have in mind is Chauncey Gardiner, the character played by Peter Sellers in the 1979 movie "Being There." 

As you may remember, Gardiner is a clueless gardener who is mistaken for a Washington eminence and becomes a presidential adviser. Asked if you can stimulate growth through temporary incentives, Gardiner says, "As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well in the garden." 

"First comes the spring and summer," he explains, "but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again." The president is awed as Gardiner sums up, "There will be growth in the spring."

Kind of reminds you of Obama's approach to the federal budget, doesn't it? 

Clueless.  Stupid.  Aloof.  Arrogant.  Undeserving.  Unqualified.  Not like us.  The "He's only President because of white guilt and affirmative action" is merely implied.  And it's still 17 months to go until the election.

The Siege Of Fort Calhoun

Given my extensive coverage of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and subsequent cover-up by TEPCO and Japan's government, we know the exactly the lengths to which a government will go to -- even a "democracy" will go to -- in order to try to hide a nuclear disaster from the world.

As the disaster in Japan continues to unfold, people here in the US have asked if any American nuclear plants are at the same risk of flooding or earthquakes, with a similar design to the Fukushima Daiichi plant.  The answer unfortunately is yes, there are several nuclear power plants in flood zones and quake zones in the US.  One of them, in a flood zone, is the plant at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, some twenty miles north of Omaha.

If you've been paying attention to the news, you know that flooding along the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers has been devastating this spring and continues into the early summer.  Fort Calhoun is on the Missouri River.

And the Missouri River has flooded the nuclear plant this weekend.

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station turned to diesel-powered generators Sunday after disconnecting from the main grid because of rising floodwaters.

That move came after water surrounded several buildings when a water-filled floodwall collapsed.
The plant, about 19 miles north of Omaha, remains safe, Omaha Public Power District officials said Sunday afternoon.

Sunday's event offers even more evidence that the relentlessly rising Missouri River is testing the flood worthiness of an American nuclear power plant like never before. The now-idle plant has become an island. And unlike other plants in the past, Fort Calhoun faces months of flooding.

This can't be a good thing.  Months of flooding?  Is the plant designed to handle that?  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission of course says everything is fine.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is monitoring the Missouri River at the plant, which has been shut down since early April for refueling. The Fort Calhoun plant will remain surrounded at least through August as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues dumping unprecedented amounts of water from upstream dams.

The 2,000-foot berm collapsed about 1:25 a.m. Sunday due to “onsite activities,” OPPD officials said. The Aqua Dam provided supplemental flood protection and was not required under NRC regulations.

“We put up the aqua-berm as additional protection,” said OPPD spokesman Mike Jones. “(The plant) is in the same situation it would have been in if the berm had not been added. We're still within NRC regulations.”

And that's exactly what TEPCO officials said three months ago.   Worth keeping an eye on this story, especially if you have friends or family near Omaha or Lincoln.  The news has gone out of their way to in fact stress that nobody's worried.

Just like Japan.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Last Call

Want to know the real reason Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels isn't running for President?  Here's a hint:  it has everything to do with the absolute failure of the central Republican argument of the last several years -- that privatization of vital government services is the only way to save these services.  Under Mitch Daniels, Indiana privatized the state's public assistance services.  The results were nothing short of horrific.

Though the $1.37-billion project proved disastrous for many of the state's poor, elderly and disabled, it was a financial bonanza for a handful of firms with ties to Daniels and his political allies, which landed state contracts worth millions.

The disparate effects underscore the risks of handing control over public services to the private sector. Whether the approach will ultimately improve services and save money remains a matter of fierce debate in Indiana. But the state's experience shows that without adequate safeguards, privatization can compound the very problems it is designed to correct: bureaucratic burdens, perceptions of influence-peddling and a lack of competition.

It's an issue that is likely to persist, as Republicans in statehouses nationwide turn to private companies as they seek to shrink government and weaken the hold of public-sector unions. One of the main proponents has been Daniels, who privatized a prison and a major toll road and sought unsuccessfully to lease out the state lottery, cultivating a reputation for fiscal discipline that led major party figures to urge him to run for president in 2012. He recently declined, but retains considerable influence in his party.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is seeking to privatize aspects of his state's welfare programs, much as Daniels did — an idea that has drawn warnings from federal officials who noted the problems Indiana encountered.

That's right: under the state's privatization program, tens of thousands of Indiana's citizens lost their public assistance, while the companies that administered the program made millions at taxpayer expense.  Worse, those same companies were -- you guessed it -- major donors and friends to Indiana Republicans like Mitch Daniels.

Critics say that in Indiana, the privatization process barreled forward with little public input and was marred by the appearance of conflicts of interest. Despite the massive nature of the changes he was proposing, Daniels insisted he did not need legislative approval. And the only public hearing occurred after he announced he would proceed with the project.

Key players involved in the process had ties to Affiliated Computer Services, the company that benefited the most from the deal. Mitch Roob — a Daniels appointee who ran the state's Family and Social Services Administration when it awarded the contract — was a former ACS vice president. As the state began the project, Roob occasionally sought advice from former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a political ally of Daniels and fellow privatization advocate who also had been an ACS vice president.

It proves that the whole "free markets" and "privatization" scheme is nothing more than another avenue for the GOP to give taxpayer money to their corporate owners.  Imagine that.  Oh, but let's remember this is exactly what Republicans want to do at a national level with their plan to "reform" Medicare and Medicaid.  Scott Walker is trying the exact same plan in Wisconsin next.  And if Republicans get control of the White House and the Senate in 2012, then they'll do the same thing to the entire country.

Republicans don't want anyone taking a look at Mitch Daniels' record too closely.  There's a reason why he suddenly decided he wasn't going to run in 2012, and I guarantee you this disaster of a privatization program is exactly why.

They have to screw the entire country over before Mitch Daniels gets too much attention in the press.
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