Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Last Call

So Mittens had the Florida primary sewn up by 8 PM apparently, and now we have a month with no debates and several smaller caucuses up until Arizona and Michigan at the end of the month, and Super Tuesday on March 6th.

I don't see the Non-Romneys going too much further past Super Tuesday, frankly.  Shame too.  I was really hoping for an ugly primary season.

Now it's still possible that it could go on.  Newt especially has a lot of ego and could get the fundraising once Santorum leaves...but I doubt it.  Mitt just has too much money and he sent a clear message that he has the juice to swamp anyone who goes up against him in the primary.

On the other hand, it's looking like Romney can't top 50% even when he's basically running unopposed.  Santorum and Paul left the state days ago, and Mitt outspent Newt by more than 6 to 1.  Mitt still couldn't crack 50%.

He should get used to that 47% number in Florida, I think.

Mitch Turtles Up, Part 2

My own Senator, Mitch The Turtle McConnell apparently has some sort of mild dementia or something, because he just can't remember his own massive obstruction of any of President Obama's agenda over the last three years.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has embraced the argument that President Obama was able to pass every bit of his legislative agenda in his first two years thanks to large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. It’s intended as a counterpoint to the President’s re-election strategy of attacking the congressional GOP as do-nothing obstructionists. But it’s also a revisionist history of the 111th Congress, during which McConnell more than any other Republican in Washington stood athwart Obama’s agenda to great effect.

The White House has “been trying to pretend like the President just showed up yesterday, just got sworn in and started fresh,” McConnell declared Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “In fact, he’s been in office for three years. He got everything he wanted from a completely compliant Congress for two of those three years… We are living in the Obama economy.”

This isn’t a new claim for McConnell, but it’s audacious even by Washington’s lax standards. It was McConnell, after all, who led Senate Republicans in serial filibusters — a record-setting numbersuccessfully thwarting large chunks of Obama’s agenda.

Mitch pretending like Republicans had nothing to do with Congress for the last three years is insulting and stupid.  Senate Republicans filibustered the DREAM Act, the American Jobs Act, The Paycheck Fairness Act, climate change legislation, immigration reform legislation, they blocked the President's appointments to the bench and to cabinet positions, and they stripped provisions from the stimulus, the budget appropriation bills, held the country hostage over payroll taxes, unemployment benefit extensions and the debt ceiling.  Multiple times.

But President Obama "got everything he wanted"?  Really?  That's ridiculous on a number of levels...just like McConnell is.  McConnell owns a big chunk of Congress's 9% approval rating, and he knows it.

Underpants Gnomes

Remember when Democratic party operatives made up crazy British news stories about Laura Bush, Barbara Bush, and Nancy Reagan buying 50 grand in lingerie?  No?  I guess for some reason that sort of thing only happens when Republicans warm up the Pretty Hate Machine for Michelle Obama.

Several funny “news” outlets published claims that our fancypants Michelle Obama spent what we guess is about $50,000 on actual fancy pants.
Michelle Obama is reportedly sexing up the White House after blowing £32,000 on saucy underwear.
America’s First Lady splashed the cash in ONE DAY during a shopping spree in New York’s Agent Provocateur store.
She bought posh pants and a £900 corset while out with the Queen of Qatar, Sheikha Mozah.
We can just imagine all the fun they must have had in the dressing room, giggling about cosmopolitans and Sharia law! The White House is rejecting the story, but it would make for an excellent plot line in an eventual FLOTUS comic series, in which she would most likely be dressed in lingerie (and a cape) and fighting off Rush Limbaugh with her magic garden shears. [The Mirror]

It really does get terribly old.  But she's fair game, of course.  Why, First Ladies have always been fair game, right?

Local Stupidity: Drinking Game Fail

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — A Joplin man who was accused of challenging his 11-year-old nephew to a drinking game has pleaded guilty in the boy’s alcohol-poisoning death.

Twenty-nine-year-old Dale Phillips had been scheduled for trial next month on charges of second-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child. KOAM-TV reports (http://bit.ly/xwUzb8 ) that Phillips pleaded guilty to those charges Monday.

Phillips’ nephew, Tyler Fecko, was found dead in July 2009 at his uncle’s apartment, where the boy had been staying. Authorities said the boy died after taking part in a drinking game with Phillips and his girlfriend.
This stupid crap happens everywhere.  Adults are no smarter than kids.  You can lay out the rules, explain why it's a bad idea, and you will still have some freaking idiot who has no better judgment than this.  That little boy (wrongly) assumed this man wouldn't let any harm come to him, and he died an ugly death at age eleven.  Eleven.

Santorum Fails Simple Ethics And Vocabulary Test

Rick Santorum is saying medical malpractice payouts should be capped at $250,000.  He says anything more "unnecessarily" drives up health care costs.  There's just one problem: he testified on behalf of his wife when she tried to sue for $500,000.  For whose who can't do math any better than he can, that's twice what he thinks our pain and suffering is worth.

Then taking a routine fail to epic levels, he than argues that his wife didn't sue for pain and suffering, which is what he wants to cap.  Well um, not quite.  The judge in their case called the $350,000 payout the eventually got excessive, and in fact it was for pain and suffering.  Santorum calls it "emotional and physical toll" instead of pain and suffering, because he can't add any better than he can utilize a thesaurus.

And in a final death rattle of stupidity, he says there is no conflict in his testimony on his wife's behalf and the cap he intends to push.  Which is just another way of saying when it's him it matters, when it's the common folk then he can't be bothered.

Phones Ring Down Mexico Way

Here in the states they tell us "Bigger is better!" when it comes to mobile phone carriers.  AT&T found out the hard way that there is such a thing as too big, and if you want an example of what lack of competition means to consumers, you have to look no further than Carlos Slim, the world's richest man, and what his domination of Mexico's mobile industry has wrought.

Mexico’s phone industry, dominated by billionaire Carlos Slim’s carriers, overcharged customers $13.4 billion a year from 2005 to 2009, hurting the nation’s economy, according to a report.

The overcharging combined with the potential loss of business caused by high prices equaled 1.8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development said today in a report.

Latin America’s second-biggest economy should eliminate restrictions on foreign investment in telecommunications and should strengthen the powers of its phone regulator, the OECD said. The 70 percent market share of Slim’s America Movil SAB (AMXL) in the mobile-phone business is “extremely high,” the OECD said. 

Yeah.  One guy's company owns 70% of Mexico's entire mobile industry.  As a result,  Mexican mobile users were overcharged to the tune of nearly 2% of the country's entire GDP.  In US terms, that would be like Wal-Mart buying out AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, then doubling America's mobile phone bills or something and then overcharging us 1.8% of our GDP or so, the equivalent being $270 billion a year, give or take.

You think those kind of numbers would get attention here in the states if one guy had that kind of power here?  And yet that's exactly the endpoint of the GOP model, Mexico today.  Eliminate "burdensome" regulation and oversight and let the market leverage the power of networks and technology, right?  Enough to give one massive conglomerate 70% of the US mobile market share?

Capitalism does have its drawbacks at the extremist end, you know.

Texas Is All Hot, No Cattle

Once again the inconvenient specter of climate change rears its ugly head deep in the heart of you-know-where as year number two of the Lone Star State's worst drought in a century is forcing cattle ranchers to drive their herds out of the state to find pasture in numbers that are redefining the country's entire cattle industry. 

While some Texas ranchers hang on, selling off their stock at an unprecedented pace that has reduced America's cattle herd to the smallest in 60 years, many are carving new homesteads out of some of the richest grassland in North America, a bid for survival that falls somewhere between surrender and hope.

In cattle-car convoys that wind along routes cowboys used in the 1800s, this migration is also a stark illustration of the myriad threats facing the world's future food supply: intense competition for land; increasing demands on limited water resources; and the growing threat of volatile weather.

The size and speed of the shrinkage in the U.S. cattle herd has left the industry reeling. As the national cattle and calf inventory fell 2 percent from a year ago to its smallest since 1952, the herd in Texas dropped 11 percent or 1.4 million head, the biggest decline in nearly 150 years of recorded data.

But Nebraska's herd increased 4 percent or 250,000 head in the year to January 1, the most of any state, placing it ahead of Kansas as the country's second-largest cattle producer, according to the Department of Agriculture's bi-annual survey released on Friday.

Today, 7.1 percent of the country's cattle is in Nebraska - the state's largest share of the national herd since the federal government began collecting data in 1867. At 13 percent, Texas now has the smallest share since 1986.

And as climate change continues to play havoc with water systems, grassland expanses and just-in-time delivery to the supermarket shelf, this is only going to get more convoluted, more dangerous, and more expensive for Americans to consume.  Big Ag has already hyper-automated the meat process in this country to ludicrous levels.  With Mother Nature deciding not to play ball, all those plans are starting to come apart.  What's going on in Texas is going to be repeated in places across the world as more extreme weather events and climate patterns change the entire planet.

Earth of course will survive.  Whether or not we will is the question.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Last Call

Having taken over Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog for Steve Benen (now part of the Maddow team at MSNBC, and more power to him there, he's badly needed), Ed Kilgore is doing a pretty solid job so far.  He flags this article from The Hill written by FOX News punching bag Juan Williams and immediately asks the correct question: How long will Juan Williams now last at FOX after stating the obvious about the network's racial dog-whistle language?  Williams states:

The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are “entitlement society” — as used by Mitt Romney — and “poor work ethic” and “food stamp president” — as used by Newt Gingrich. References to a lack of respect for the “Founding Fathers” and the “Constitution” also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core “old-fashioned American values.”

One has to wonder then why Williams is hanging out at FOX News, arguably the number one source for disseminating these code words.  I have zero sympathy for the guy, he made his choices and he has to live with them.  But Kilgore immediately grasps the issue:

When Newt Gingrich turned Juan Williams into the perfect foil during the January 19 Republican candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, SC, ironic symbolism certainly abounded. Aside from the fact that Newt vaulted himself into the lead by beating up on an African-American journalist on MLK Day in the Cradle of the Confederacy, there was the additional fact that Williams is a Fox News panelist who briefly became a conservative celebrity after NPR fired him for on-air remarks deemed insensitive to Muslims. The debate audience didn’t know or care, presumably viewing Williams as just another “race-card” player who needed to be slapped down for suggesting anyone railing against the work ethic of food stamp recipients might be appealing to atavistic motives. 

Now, I think Kilgore is on the right track, but my cynical side wants to move the grubby, Cheeto crud-covered GOP chess pieces forward a few moves and says Williams lobbed such a fat, tasty curveball over the plate of Gingrich in South Carolina for a reason, and that is to make a horse race out of the coronation of Marquis du Mittens as long as possible to keep the faithful glued to the primary noise machine.  With Newt down in Florida and big by most accounts, he's pitched another juicy one right into Gingrich's ego wheelhouse with the primary just hours away.

Just the kind of scrum FOX excels at creating and running with.  Williams knows damn well what he's doing now, just like he damn well knew what he was doing in South Carolina, people.

Like I said, zero sympathy for this phony simp's symphony.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 85

Foreclosuregate is the hell that remains fresh each new day, it seems.  ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger and NPR's Chris Arnold drop this bunker buster on Freddie Mac, and there are some ugly, ugly questions that need to be answered as a result.

Freddie Mac, the taxpayer-owned mortgage giant, has placed multibillion-dollar bets that pay off if homeowners stay trapped in expensive mortgages with interest rates well above current rates.

Freddie began increasing these bets dramatically in late 2010, the same time that the company was making it harder for homeowners to get out of such high-interest mortgages.

No evidence has emerged that these decisions were coordinated. The company is a key gatekeeper for home loans but says its traders are “walled off” from the officials who have restricted homeowners from taking advantage of historically low interest rates by imposing higher fees and new rules.

Freddie’s charter calls for the company to make home loans more accessible. Its chief executive, Charles Haldeman Jr., recently told Congress that his company is “helping financially strapped families reduce their mortgage costs through refinancing their mortgages.”

But the trades, uncovered for the first time in an investigation by ProPublica and NPR, give Freddie a powerful incentive to do the opposite, highlighting a conflict of interest at the heart of the company. In addition to being an instrument of government policy dedicated to making home loans more accessible, Freddie also has giant investment portfolios and could lose substantial amounts of money if too many borrowers refinance.

“We were actually shocked they did this,” says Scott Simon, who as the head of the giant bond fund PIMCO’s mortgage-backed securities team is one of the world’s biggest mortgage bond traders. “It seemed so out of line with their mission.”

The trades “put them squarely against the homeowner,” he says.

Those homeowners have a lot at stake, too. Many of them could cut their interest payments by thousands of dollars a year.

Even if Freddie Mac was following its charter, the optics on this are pretty much "salted and scorched earth after getting blasted into glass craters" where the American housing market used to be.  If the entire reason the housing depression has continued is because Freddie Mac is making it so homeowners can't refinance, then it's not that somebody's head will roll, it's a question of whose cranium goes for a spin 'round the block.

HousingWire's Jacob Gaffney is already calling the piece a "witch hunt", saying that there's "no new evidence" that Freddie is doing anything bad, and that the entire point of Fannie and Freddie existing is to make money in order to stay in business, they're just hedging their bets that the credit markets will remain tight for the foreseeable future.

So far, that's been a very profitable bet.  But that still brings us back to the optics question and in an election year to boot, and the reason why the optics are bad is that Freddie is big enough to influence the entire mortgage market into something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially given the rule changes Freddie has made to issuing mortgages, making them tougher to refinance.

The much larger issue is that in order to fix the housing depression (now in year number five) we need something outside the current Fannie/Freddie/Ginnie Mae system, and that's for Congress and the President to step in with principal reductions and cramdowns.  There's still millions of foreclosed homes on the market, with another 1.9 million new foreclosures in 2011.  While that's down from earlier highs, 2012 is expected to be over 2 million more easily.

It's going to take decades at this rate to work through the foreclosures.  And Freddie Mac isn't helping in the least.  But the bigger problem is until something massive is done about the equally massive bloc of foreclosures on the market, the economy will continue to do the dead, smelly fish thing all over the country.

Getting Serious On Syria, Part 4

The UN is apparently looking to play the power sharing card in Syria, with a draft resolution that would reportedly ask President Bashar al-Assad to step down peacefully.  As fighting intensifies on the streets of Damascus, the push to get Assad to exit is gaining steam.

The U.N. Security Council will take up a draft resolution this week that calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and transfer power.

The move follows news that the Arab League suspended a mission to monitor whether al-Assad was abiding by an agreement to end a brutal crackdown against anti-government protesters.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby arrived Monday in New York where he was scheduled to deliver the monitoring mission's findings to the Security Council the following day.

The news came amid opposition reports of renewed fighting Monday between Syrian forces and the rebel Free Syria Army in suburbs of the capital city of Damascus, where Syria forces have been battling to take back neighborhoods in Saqba and Maleiha.

The question then becomes "what's the motivational mechanism to enforce this", but given the Arab Spring so far, things may get far bloodier before they get better.

Honor: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Mohammed Shafia, 58; his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42; and their son, Hamed, 21, were found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Shafia's three teenage daughters and his first wife in his polygamous marriage. Sunday's verdicts followed a three-month trial, in which jurors heard wiretaps of Shafia referring to his daughters as "whores" and ranting about their behavior.

All three were sentenced to life in prison immediately after their convictions, with no chance of parole for 25 years.

"This is a good day for Canadian justice. Our democratic society protects the rights of all," Gerard Laarhuis, the chief prosecutor in the case, told reporters outside the courthouse in Kingston. "It's a very bad day, because this jury found that four strong, vivacious and freedom-loving women were murdered by their own family."

Shafia and Yahya admitted on the stand that they were upset with Zainab for running off to marry a Pakistani man they hated, that Sahar wore revealing clothes and had secret boyfriends, and Geeti was failing in school and calling social workers to get her out of a home in turmoil.

In the three-month-long trial, Shafia testified, "My children did a lot of cruelty toward me," as he wept openly on the stand. He went on to say he believed his children "betrayed" him by dating and he did not hide his anger, saying a father would never expect that kind of behavior from this daughters.

In taking the stand, Shafia swore to tell the truth on the Quran and he again invoked the holy book to say Islam does not condone killing people to preserve a family's honor.

In a direct response to a question from prosecutor Laurie Lacelle, Shafia said, "To kill someone, you can't regain your respect and honor. Respected lady, you should know that. In our religion, a person who kills his wife or daughter, there is nothing more dishonorable. How is it possible that someone would do that to their children, respected lady?"

"You might do it," Lacelle calmly replied, "if you thought they were whores."

I'm not even going to write too much about this. As intelligent folks, you can see the obvious. I do want to say that as much as I complain about gender equality, I am again reminded how lucky I am to be from the United States, where I can control my own destiny. These people's last thoughts revolved around knowing their own husband / father was killing them. Death is awful, death at the hands of someone that is supposed to love you is as bad as it gets.

Though, they surely knew he was a bastard, I doubt they knew just what kind of a bastard until it was too late.

Science Awesomeness

One of our readers linked to this, and it was too good not to share.

A ten-year-old girl randomly arranged some oxygen, carbon and nitrogen atoms.  In the process, she discovered a new molecule, one that has the ability to store and release energy in ways they haven't fully explored.  The girl, Clara Lazen, has been credited in the paper on the discovery.  The school is in Kansas City, Missouri.

This is what makes science so exciting.  Anyone who works hard can wow the entire world.  Some of our most amazing discoveries have come from the well studied, polished minds of disciplined science.  Others come from accidents or random observations that reveal something new.  Clara has accomplished the latter, let us hope she pursues science so she can continue to surprise us.

Home, Home I'm Deranged, Part 28

President Obama is finally relaxing requirements for federal aid to underwater mortgage holders, and it couldn't come any sooner.

The Obama administration, seeking to help more homeowners lower their interest rates and shed mortgage debt, will relax the rules on a federal loan- modification program and triple its incentives to banks.

The revised Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, also would pay Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (FMCC) to forgive debt on homes that have lost value. The government-owned companies, citing cost, don’t reduce principal, a policy that has limited HAMP’s reach because they own or guarantee nearly half of U.S. home loans.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Assistant Treasury Secretary Tim Massad, and White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling announced the program changes yesterday in a phone call with reporters.

“This will expand the reach of HAMP,” Massad said.

The HAMP program changes are separate from a new refinancing plan that President Barack Obama promised to deliver in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 24, Sperling said. That effort will be detailed in coming weeks. 

It took an election year to do it (not to mention several false starts) but it looks like the President is pushing ahead with refinancing aid to those who need it, and many more homeowners will qualify than the pitiful percentage when HAMP was first announced.  The problem remains however that any meaningful amount of homeowner mortgage relief will be completely blocked by the GOP.

One has to wonder if that's the point.  If anything is to improve, you'd better make your voice known in November for a Congress not controlled by the Republicans.

Greek Fire, Part 49

After months of meetings, it appears European leaders finally have an agreement on bailouts and a permanent EU facility fund, Reuters reports...and it will include a balanced budget for all Eurozone countries.  But the question of Greece is still very much up in the air.

Negotiations between the Greek government and private bondholders over the restructuring of 200 billion euros of Greek debt made progress over the weekend, but are not expected to conclude before the summit begins at 9:00 a.m. EST.

Until there is a deal between Greece and its private bondholders, EU leaders cannot move forward with a second, 130 billion euro rescue program for Athens, which they originally agreed to at a summit last October.

Instead, they will sign a treaty creating the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a 500-billion-euro permanent bailout fund that is due to become operational in July, a year earlier than first planned. And they are likely to agree the terms of a 'fiscal treaty' tightening budget rules for those that sign up.

The larger issue of course is the balanced budget requirement.  This means that the individual Eurozone countries would have to give up individual sovereign budget control to the EU in order to meet the new rules.  And of course the first country that everyone wants to cede budgetary control to the EU is Greece.

Greece must surrender control of its budget policy to outside institutions if it cannot implement reforms attached to euro zone rescue measures, the German economy minister was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Philipp Roesler became the first German cabinet member to openly endorse a proposal for Greece to surrender budget control after Reuters quoted a European source on Friday as saying Berlin wants Athens to give up budget control.

"We need more leadership and monitoring when it comes to implementing the reform course," Roesler, also vice chancellor, told Bild newspaper, according to an advance of an interview to be published on Monday.

And if you think Greece is the only country that will have to give up control of their budget to the EU, you haven't been paying attention.  The Greek Fire is unquenchable, and it may burn through the fiscal sovereignty of the entire eurozone before it's done.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Last Call

In all seriousness, if you still actually believe that Ron Paul was somehow unaware of the awful racist things being said in his own newsletter, you deserve the grifting you get from people like him.

The Republican presidential candidate has denied writing inflammatory passages in the pamphlets from the 1990s and said recently that he did not read them at the time or for years afterward. Numerous colleagues said he does not hold racist views.

But people close to Paul’s operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day.

“It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it,’’ said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul’s company and a supporter of the Texas congressman’s.

The newsletters point to a rarely seen and somewhat opaque side of Paul, who has surprised the political community by becoming an important factor in the Republican race. The candidate, who has presented himself as a kindly doctor and political truth teller, declined in a recent debate to release his tax returns, joking that he would be “embarrassed” about his income compared with that of his richer GOP rivals.

Yet a review of his enterprises reveals a sharp-eyed businessman who for nearly two decades oversaw the company and a nonprofit foundation, intertwining them with his political career. The newsletters, which were launched in the mid-1980s and bore such names as the Ron Paul Survival Report, were produced by a company Paul dissolved in 2001.

He's a snake oil salesman just like the rest of them.  And like every other hack, huckster, cheat and thief, his message is tailored to the gullible and those who want to believe.  Whether or not Ron Paul actually believes that racist nonsense isn't the point: the point is he was willing to use it in order to reach a particular demographic of people who did, and he purposefully sought their political and financial support in order to win.

That makes him a complete scumbag in my book.  Period, point blank.  He traded on the politics of hate for years.  The 2012 race was made for him, and lo and behold, he's getting enough attention now to be considered a threat.  He's either a liar willing to push racism and bigotry as a fundraising tool, or he actually believes this foul idiocy.  I'm not sure which one is worse overall, because either way the poison he's infected this race with will ravage the body politic for a long, long time.

There is nothing that Ron Paul can possibly say that qualifies as "a good point" while he's pushing garbage like this.  And if he is saying things that you believe America needs to hear, then you had better find another messenger than this fool, because American will rightfully never take that message seriously as long as Ron Paul is the voice of that message, and with ample cause.  He's too tainted.  End of story.

Weezing The Juice

Orange Julius begins the 2012 election year hostage-taking in earnest by playing Keystone XL Or Nothing with the next round of jobs and infrastructure legislation, including the payroll tax cut that will expire next month.

House GOP leaders are preparing to release a top Boehner priority: Legislation that would generate revenue for improving the nation’s aging infrastructure through expanding domestic energy production.

“If it’s not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it’ll be part of it,” Boehner said of the Keystone pipeline bill on ABC’s “This Week.”

Some Republicans also want the Keystone pipeline to be part of a final deal to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. Democratic leaders oppose its inclusion, and a Boehner spokesman said that would be decided by members of the House-Senate conference committee.

On the payroll tax, Boehner said he was “confident that we’ll be able to resolve this fairly quickly.” The tax cut and unemployment benefits expire at the end of February.

The message is clear:  Boehner and his energy company cronies will get the pipeline, or middle-class America gets a spear to the guts during an election year.  Why is the Keystone XL pipeline Orange Julius's hill to die on?  Perhaps it's because the House Speaker has substantial investments in several Canadian tar sands firms that would greatly benefit from the deal, and Boehner will directly benefit from it if it's passed.  And by doing so, he may have broken SEC rules by lying about the numbers:

It is an ethics violation for elected officials to use their political office to perform official acts on behalf of special interests, and particularly when special interests are campaign donors. There is also a serious problem when a sitting congressional representative performs official acts for personal financial profit by promoting a project the representative has a financial stake in. The problem becomes egregious when the elected official lies about a project to profit himself and campaign donors and our current Speaker of the House has taken those issues a step farther. On Thursday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) received a complaint from an environmental group with accusations that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s owners (TransCanada) are in violation of SEC Rule 10b(5) – Employment of Manipulative and Deceptive Practices to bolster stock prices.

The complaint sent to the SEC said TransCanada is using “false or misleading statements about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline” and that they “consistently used public statements and information it knows are false in a concerted effort to secure permitting approval of Keystone XL from the U.S. government.” The complaint continues that the fallacious information misleads investors, U.S. and Canadian officials, the media, and the public “in order to bolster its balance sheets and share price,” and who is the point-man pushing the Keystone XL pipeline with lies and misinformation? Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Republicans, including Boehner, have greatly inflated the jobs numbers that the pipeline would create.  The actual number of permanent jobs created as determined by the State Department?  Twenty.  Not twenty thousand.  Twenty.  The share price of those companies went up because the Republicans made false statements, and Boehner will profit personally if the project is approved.

You don't get much more crooked than that.

And so it begins again.

GOP Gets That Poll-Asked Look Again

The latest NBC/Marist poll in Florida this weekend finds Mitt Romney up big over Newt Gingrich now, 42%-27%.  That's not the big news.  This is, buried at the ass end of the article:

Romney and rest of the candidates, however, continue to trail President Obama in Florida among all voters. Romney does best, but loses 49-41 percent, a point worse than a month ago.

As in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, Gingrich fares the worst of the entire GOP field against Obama, worse even than Santorum or Paul. Obama beats Gingrich, 52-35 percent, a five-point wider advantage for Obama from December.

Obama, whose approval rating in Florida is 46 percent, has a lead over Romney, in large part, because of independents. Independents sided overwhelmingly with the president -- 50-36 percent over Romney, and by 20 points or more over Gingrich, Santorum and Paul.

And everyone on Earth should have seen this coming.  The longer and uglier the GOP primary becomes, and the further Mitt Romney has to pivot to the right during the primary season, the more independent voters he'll lose in the general. 

Another reason that POTUS is leading in Florida is Gov. Rick Scott.  Independents are utterly furious with him and that's reflected in that general independent disgust with all four GOP candidates.  The same scenario is playing out in the other two big traditional swing states, Ohio with John Kasich, and to a lesser extent, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania.

And yes, ten months is a universe in political time, but the seeds for the GOP defeat in November are being planted now by Romney trying to out-wingnut the wingnuts.

StupidiNews! WTH Edition

This one got me.  I really thought this story was going to go in a different direction, and was so surprised that I had to sit and just think this one through.

You have a mother in Portland, Oregon.  She had a child in a carriage, and somehow a scene broke out in which kids were kicking her carriage and an eleven-year-old boy flashed a gun at her.  She froze and then backed away, and he did not draw the gun.  Her quote was a little fuzzy, and I was really prepared to hear that it was a water gun, or some Harry Potter paraphernalia.  Maybe even a cell phone.

But no.  The cops caught him with her cooperation and the boy had a loaded gun.  On a public train.  Pointed at a mother and her infant.  Another member of this gang had a BB gun.

What.  The.  Hell.

The boy faces six charges, and will be held over the weekend.  There is no statement about his parents, or information on where the gun came from.  That's upsetting on so many levels.  I'm sure more will come out, of course expect an update.

Teaching Compassion: Epic Fail

Charter schools accept public money but are not subject to all the regulations of public schools.  For example, they are allowed to enforce a dress code that is meant to ensure a clean and groomed student body, but is backfiring in this particular case.  As I go on, please know I understand the school has the right to make those decisions.  I'm pointing out why this case is important and achievable with concessions from both sides.

J.T. Gaskins is 17 years old, but he is lucky to be alive.  He has survived leukemia, and has fought cancer repeatedly for most of his life.  He has been the recipient of charities, including Make A Wish.  He has seen firsthand how much gifts and caring can change lives.  Therefore, when he found out a friend's sister has cancer he was inspired to give something of himself, literally.  Graced with beautiful brown locks, he has decided to grow his hair out and donate to Locks of Love.

Except his school has a policy about hair length, and because his is past his collar he has been suspended.

The school has the right to enforce this, but is that the right way to handle it?  This is an act of giving, and could be a great thing after parents sign a pledge that kids will donate the hair and showing proof of donation.  The reality is, Locks of Love is pretty awesome.  I am growing my hair out to do the same thing, so I admit I am biased towards the charity.  We're talking about teaching kids the gift of giving, and this is a lesson that should be encouraged.  If parents vouch for it, you have to hope they will make sure their children honor their word.

The school doesn't have to.  But they could, and in my teeny little opinion, they should.

Sex And The Cindy

It seems Cynthia Nixon has ruffled feathers by saying she chose to be gay.  I don't get the backlash.  There are many ways to be straight, there surely must be many ways to be gay.  I have known people who would easily fall into either class.  When it comes to a group so large and diverse, it's safe to say there are no blanket rules.

Nixon's reply was awesome:

"I understand that for many people it's not, but for me it's a choice, and you don't get to define my gayness for me," Nixon said while recounting some of the flak gay rights activists previously had given her for treading in similar territory. "A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it's a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn't matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not."

This doesn't make it right to claim that all gay men and women choose to be gay.  It doesn't make it right to claim that it's always genetic or physically rooted.  She rightfully gets to tell her truth and contribute towards the understanding of who she is.  This doesn't lessen the stupidity of those who think there is a "cure"or that being gay is a disease that could / should be fixed.  Stifling truth is never right, that I know.  

It's important the gay community pull together and support the larger cause.  For example, education that is honest and says that you don't have to fit a certain criteria to be considered "really" gay.  It is unfair to deny that people can choose their lifestyle, and is equally asinine to deny homosexuality may involve a genetic or physical component.  The two may coincide, where a genetic predisposition comes down to environment and choice, another version of nature vs. nurture.  What is obvious is that the squabbling isn't helping anyone, and may even be an obstacle for learning more and understanding this growing segment of our population.

The Sport Of Kings

In case you missed it (and if you were in the US, you did) Novak Djokovic just outslugged Rafael Nadal in a six hour record-setting Australian Open final.  When these two get together in a Grand Slam final, and they have now three times in a row stretching back to last year's Wimbeldon and US Open, some of the best tennis in history has been made.

Djokovic proved once again why he's the world number 1, as he's beaten Nadal now seven straight times to win a tournament final.  But this relationship has already eclipsed Courier-Sampras, Agassi-Becker and Roddick-Federer and I dare say the two of them are now well-ensconced in McEnroe-Connors territory, mainly because McEnroe and Connors played their best matches not against each other (but Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl, respectively.)  These two prove time and time again when they meet in a Grand Slam that magic will happen.

What really gives these two the staying power in Great Men's Tennis Rivalry History is compared to the rest of men's tennis right now, the two of them are on a level utterly dominant and by themselves.  We've come to expect Djokovic-Nadal in the finals now, and we expect Djokovic to win.  To really take this to the next level however, Rafa is going to have to get the better of the Djoker one of these days.

It'll happen one day.  But it may take until the French Open, where Nadal has been dominant on clay.  We'll see.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Last Call

AT&T is still acting like a spoiled brat over the failed T-Mobile merger.  They are still taking shots at the Department of Justice and FCC, and in general bringing about some bad press with their whining and moaning.  The truth is, they were stupid to put up the earnest money for the deal, and their display of (over)confidence backfired in a most ugly way.

So why are they insisting on making it worse?

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke of higher rates and more restrictions on data users.  The FCC did its job, and protected the market.  AT&T got caught being shady a couple of times, and it cost them dearly.  The failure was not the FCC's fault.  And it sure as hell isn't the fault of the customers, who pay for a service and expect to receive what they pay for.  Stephenson pretty much said tough luck to the customers, they are going to foot the bill for the failed deal.  As contracts expire, T-Mobile may come out a winner after all.  When AT&T starts putting the squeeze on aggravated customers, the more affordable T-Mobile will attract many customers.  Sprint will win over the power users who can't bear throttling.

Like many industry dinosaurs, AT&T may be taking themselves a bit too seriously.  With competition ready to snap up customers, they are doing little to improve their service.  In fact, they're pissing people off in large numbers.

A Texas-Sized Surrender

Now this is very good news if it plays out the way The Hill seems to think it will:  Texas Republicans are basically looking to settle their redistricting case with the DoJ, which would have to include approval by the minority representation groups that are the plaintiffs, that would give the state a number of new districts that would be won by Dems.

“They’re backed up against the wall and have to come to some agreement and it’ll be awfully favorable on our end,” said one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Another plaintiff agreed.  “It’s clear they know they’re in a vulnerable position and that’s why they want to settle,” he said.
Any settlement would need to get the multiple minority group plaintiffs on board, and would create more majority-Hispanic and majority-African American congressional districts. Two of the plaintiffs predicted that an agreement will be reached early next week.

That's pretty much a massive capitulation by Republicans in the state, who purposely drew the four new districts in the state legislature to favor Republicans precisely by splitting Latino and African-American neighborhoods across district lines and using pencil thin lines to connect them to overwhelmingly red districts, assuring that at least three of the four new districts would be safe GOP seats for the next decade

But the DoJ gets ultimate veto power over this sort of thing for states like Texas, and that decision by a three-judge panel is expected soon.  Texas Republicans are apparently so terrified of this that (especially after the Supreme Court punted the map back to Texas to work it out as a state issue) they are begging for a settlement before the DoJ takes them out back with a two by four and a grim expression.

If the state of Texas and the plaintiffs in the case reach an agreement it would solve a drawn out process with two separate lower court battles and a Supreme Court opinion already on the books.
Texas is gaining four seats in Congress and will have 36 total House seats next election.  Most of the state’s population growth has come from African Americans and Hispanics, but the Republican state legislators who drew the maps gave the groups few new opportunities in the state. 
Any agreement would lead to a minimum of 13 Democratic-leaning seats, and possibly a fourteenth seat depending on how the districts in Fort Worth are drawn.
With conservative former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) running for a Galveston-area seat, Democrats could win as many as 14 or 15 seats in the state, up from the nine seats they currently hold. Republicans would hold 21 or 22 seats, down from the 23 they currently have.

Dems picking up 5 to 6 House seats in Texas would go a long, long way towards regaining the House in 2012.  Republicans know this and they're looking to settle anyway, which shows you just how bad they think their position is in respect to the three-judge pre-clearance panel.

On the other hand, the districts that Texas is gaining is coming at the expense of states like Ohio and New York, and ultimately one of the reasons that I think the GOP is looking to take the settlement here is that they know redistricting Dem districts out of existence in other states they control like Missouri and Louisiana (and in Ohio especially) will make Texas into a wash at best for the Donks, especially given that GOP-controlled SC and Georgia are getting a new district and Florida two.  They were going for all the marbles in the redistricting pile, and they'll have to settle for merely half as a losing proposition, which was the point of the entire exercise given the level of state control handed to the GOP in 2010.

And once again we come back to the fact that voters picked a really awful time to give the Republicans more power by deciding President Obama and the Dems hadn't moved fast enough in Operation Ponycorn With Sprinkles.  The repercussions of that nonsense will be felt for, well, a decade.

War On Privacy: Where We Stand

Don't get me wrong  the CNN piece you can find here does a great job of covering privacy concerns.  It's well written and square on all counts.

But not to toot our own horn or anything, we've covered 99% of it right here already on Zandar VTS.

We are losing our rights to electronic privacy.  Ambiguous laws and fear tactics have cost us many levels of privacy.  There is a pressure on some services to comply, such as phone companies and Internet providers.  Well, there was right up until they were absolved of all repercussions for complying with a government order.  Now they have no fear of customer reaction, if those customers are even notified.  Right now, we are in danger from our own government thanks to the Patriot Act.  We can be snooped without a warrant, and our correspondence is monitored without or knowledge.

Most of what we do know is thanks to whistle-blowers, activists, academics and a few committed journalists. In 2004, Mark Klein, a technician who had just retired from AT&T, disclosed that in 2003 the National Security Agency built a secret room at the San Francisco facility where he worked, routing all e-mail and phone traffic through it.

Another whistle-blower, Justice Department attorney Thomas Tamm, confirmed that similar interception points were set up around the country to gather and analyze the e-mails and phone calls of Americans who were not suspected of any crime.

While the federal government is required by law to document publicly its wiretapping of phone lines, it is not required to do so with Internet communications. Over 50,000 National Security Letters, a kind of administrative demand letter requiring no probable cause or judicial oversight, are issued each year. Yet we know few details. Companies complying with these secret letters were barred from even informing customers about them until 2009 when Nick Merrill, an entrepreneur who ran a small New York-based Internet service company, successfully enlisted the help of the ACLU in challenging a blanket gag provision of the Patriot Act.

Please read the rest of this article. There is so much information here that we can't afford to forget. My prayer is that Obama made a good choice to put off some battles until his second term, when he can right some serious wrongs (like the Patriot Act).

One final portrait of why Google users should be concerned.  Google can't be held accountable if the government decided to snoop your email.  But it doesn't stop there.  Now they can see your text messages and call logs if you use Google Voice.  Your work can be checked if you use Google Docs. Your pictures through Google+ and Picasa.  Your GPS location if you use Google Maps or Latitude.  Your website information and hidden content can be viewed, including past versions, if you use Google Sites.  Your shopping habits, books you're reading, searches you are running, blogs you are writing, instant messaging and social activities can all be monitored through common Google services.  You can't opt out of this, and once that precedent is set it will fall rapidly across other service providers.  You still don't have to be alerted to the fact, and you can't even be pissed about it until you can prove you were snooped, which you can't.

Well, played, old chap.  Well played.

Don't you move mother f*****, I will shoot you!

A criminal on the run took a shortcut through Karen Granville's yard.  And he is very, very sorry he did that.

The 64-year-old woman loves John Wayne and has a permit to carry a concealed weapon.  The criminal was surprised to find himself looking down the barrel of her gun while she barked, "Don't you move, motherfucker!  I will shoot you!  I will shoot you where you stand!"  As the criminal moved and wiggled, she held the trigger steady and detained him until the police caught up with him.

This week has taught me a whole new respect for grandmas.  Thank you ladies, for keeping us safe.

Jim Pethokoukis And The Temple Of Doom

Having been booted from both US News and World Report and Reuters, my favorite econ blogger punching bag Jim Pethokoukis has given up any pretense of being balanced and credible and is now working directly for the right-wing Death Star of financial think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute.  And as usual, he's heralding the end of the Obama presidency.

In his State of the Union response the other night, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels neatly summed up Mitt Romney’s (who has a roughly 90 percent chance of being the GOP nominee according to Intrade) economic case against President Barack Obama: “The president did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight, but he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse.”

In other words, the Obama Recovery stinks. Even if today’s GDP report—for the fourth quarter of 2011—shows 3 percent growth or better, it would be just the fourth time that has happened since the economy began turning up in June 2009: 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, 3.9 percent in the first quarter of 2010, and 3.8 percent in the second quarter of 2010. But no 3 percent-plus quarters since then.

The first nine quarters of the Reagan Recovery, by contrast, looked like this:  5.1 percent, 9.3 percent, 8.1 percent, 8.5 percent, 8.0 percent, 7.1 percent, 3.9 percent, 3.3 percent, 3.8, percent, 3.4 percent. In fact, the Reagan Boom went from the first quarter of 1983 until the second quarter of 1986 without notching a sub-3 percent GDP quarter.

Fourth quarter numbers came in Friday at 2.8% growth.  But here's what we weren't doing during the Reagan years:  fighting two wars in the Middle East, keeping the top marginal tax rate at 35%, paying a trillion-dollar plus prescription drug benefit to Big Pharma, and paying a multi-trillion dollar bailout to banks in the US and around the world.  Considering what this President has inherited, the fact that we're still even having positive GDP growth is astounding.

Meanwhile Republicans want to cut, cut, cut federal spending.  Looking at what austerity cuts have done to Spain's unemployment rate -- now at a staggering 22.9% -- does anyone actually think Republicans will follow through on such a plan knowing full well what it will do to the economy here and the politics it means?

Then again, that explains all the laws disenfranchising poor voters, doesn't it?

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Last Call

I may have my problems with Alan Grayson's effectiveness as a member of Congress, but when his Republican opponent in Florida's newly hatched 27th district is using bizarre ads depicting President Obama as the captain of a slave ship, I hope the guy stomps his GOP opponent into the ground.

Featuring the "USS Obamaboat," the animated ad urges voters to “turn this ship around” and criticizes Obama's levels of government spending, including bank bailouts, healthcare and a loan to the failed solar company Solyndra.

Children rowing the USS Obamaboat are told to “Earn! Earn! Earn! Don’t you care about the banks? Don’t you care about the 99 percent?”

A woman in a bathtub on deck says, “This ship stimulated my husband’s solar company” and is then handed money by a man in an adjacent bathtub.

Screw this asshole.  Alan Grayson, you need to win.

Orange Julius Gives Away The Game

House Speaker John Boehner expects the GOP to not only maintain control of the House in 2012, but to keep a majority in that chamber for another decade.  How does he expect to do it?  The power of playing the incumbency game during redistricting.

“I think it will be nearly impossible” for Democrats to win back the House in November, Boehner said. “I think our freshman members are doing a good job preparing themselves for the upcoming election. I would also note that redistricting across the country has helped those freshman members and others in tough seats who will now have better seats. So I think we’re in pretty strong shape for the year ahead.”

He brings up a good point.  Redistricting is the key to controlling the House, and the GOP had an enormous advantage in controlling state redistricting processes in 2010.  But should he be bragging about it?  Steve Benen rightfully thinks Congress's single-digit approval rating is going to be far more indicative.

For the record, Boehner’s confidence may well be misplaced. If Democrats pick up 25 seats in November, Boehner will have to hand his Speaker’s gavel back to Nancy Pelosi. Given that Congress’ approval rating has reached depths unseen since the dawn of modern polling, it’s not unreasonable to think we’ll see some electoral volatility later this year.

For that matter, several recent polls show Democrats doing quite well on the congressional generic ballot, including a National Journal poll released yesterday that showed Dems with an 11-point lead on which party Americans want to see in control of the House.

And while we’re at it, both the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee believe a Dem majority is in reach this year.

I think it's more than just "in reach", especially if President Obama is able to inspire voters like he did in 2008.  His coattails were long then.  I think they'll be as long or better now.

Epic Fail: Taco, Anyone?

After a federal indictment regarding treatment of Latino abuse, the police chief has decided to make things even worse.  After having an opportunity to say anything, even the usual recycled crap (we are investigating, we take this very seriously, blah blah) he instead lets the people know how they really feel, and why the feds were most likely on the right track.

Chief Gallo was not charged, but was referred to in the indictment as “Co-Conspirator No. 1,” who, it said, tried to thwart investigations of his officers and tried to have a priest who protested their behavior removed from his parish.

But on Wednesday it was Mr. Maturo facing the most immediate criticism, as he quickly backpedaled from comments he made to a WPIX (Channel 11) reporter Tuesday.

Asked what he was doing for the Latino community in light of the indictments and accusation of harassment, illegal searches and seizures and assaults on Latinos, Mr. Maturo responded on camera: “I might have tacos when I go home. I’m not sure yet.

Facing a blizzard of criticism — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called his comments “repugnant” and said they represented “either a horrible lack of judgment or worse” — Mr. Maturo apologized, at first grudgingly and then with a long statement offering his “sincerest apologies” for what he called an “insensitive and off-collar comment.”

His apology is lame, and too late.  He didn't accidentally say this, he flew off the handle and exposed the ugliness that lies beneath.  Since this story broke, several things have come forth.  As is the nature of breaking news, some are accurate and some are not.  However, among all the rumors some surely must be true, and others contain a kernel of truth.  That's enough for us to call for change.  Crime is crime, and police have a difficult job.  Skin color, material wealth and intelligence are not measures of criminal nature.  Our law enforcement must know this, acknowledge it and demonstrate it.  Epic fail on all counts.

Calling BS On Ourselves

The snippet below is quoting an awesome article that refers to an awesome quote.  It also echoes something I've really been thinking about lately, but they were far more eloquent and concise.  Still, I want to lay the groundwork for some themes and ideas that will reappear.  We cannot afford to bullshit ourselves, and yet we all do a terrific job of just that.

We are our own best friends.  When it comes down to it, nobody has our interests and benefits in mind quite like how we look out for ourselves.  Yet we do it so wrong.  We lie to ourselves, and like parents who raise spoiled children, we do ourselves a disservice.  We act in direct opposition to what we know is good for us, and justify it with a permissive mental wave of the hand.  Some folks are self-destructive, some truly sell themselves that what they want is the right answer no matter what, some don't think at all but follow some whispering instinct that somehow turns into a compulsion.  It's human to do so, but it's the human challenge to make the most of ourselves, so we can make the most of our lives.  So we are also our own worst enemies, not as a choice but as a byproduct of our actions.

This is something all people do, regardless of age, period in history, culture or religion.  It may be the one thing that truly ties all human beings together.  Nobody is perfect all the time, but we are challenged to fight to be our best, not be content to wallow in our weakness. How many thousands, or even millions of things could we prevent simply by being good friends to ourselves and refusing to allow those lies to root and take hold?

The article is more lighthearted, but the implications just continue to more serious levels.  I smiled, but then I realized that this root problem has major implications for the world, from simple friendships to wars and global relations.

Sometimes we shove problems aside because we don't have time to deal with them. We've all been there. Or we come up with a change—like buying bigger pants—that makes a problem like sneaky weight gain less uncomfortable, but as Mr. Money Mustache reminds us, this is really no cure.

A better solution, he suggests, is to actually stare your problems in the face and not mask them:

My solution is the opposite: put those damned tight pants on and keep wearing them. When they bite at you, it's a reminder to take the stairs instead of the elevator, eat a piece of grilled salmon instead of a chocolate bar and bologna sandwich, and to start walking and biking more. Those tight pants are your biggest ally in addressing the underlying problem – if you give them up, you'll be allowed to forget what the real problem is: your lifestyle has become unhealthy and you're doing everything with a dull saw!
From tight jeans to civil rights to wars, being truthful to ourselves and overcoming our obstacles is what makes us better people.  Whether we try to be better or let ourselves drift and go along is what defines us.

I'll Take A D, Pat

D stands for drunk.

It appears Pat Sajak and Vanna White were tipsy on more than one episode of Wheel of Fortune.  Everyone is pretending to be shocked and appalled, but I am taking the "meh, whatever" approach.  It's Wheel of Fortune, not brain surgery.  If we couldn't tell, and Vanna never flipped the wrong letter (I mean, they lit them up for her, for Pete's sake!) then who really cares? Except that they may need treatment for drinking problems, it's not our business.  And seriously, if you flipped the same letters for multiple decades, wouldn't you be tempted to have a liquid lunch as well?

Just my two cents.  I'm not shocked, but I do hope they are not suffering from anything worse than poor work ethic.

A Troubled Bridge Over Water, Part 3

Yet another bridge in Kentucky is damaged, this time by a transport ferry that hit the Eggner Ferry Bridge over Kentucky Lake on US 68 near the Tennessee border.

No one was injured after a supply vessel struck the Eggner Ferry Bridge in Western Kentucky Thursday night causing a central portion of the bridge to collapse, according to a Kentucky State Police dispatcher in Mayfield.

The incident happened about 9 p.m. and there were no cars near the collapsed portion of the bridge, Lt. Ron Easley, public affairs officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Ohio Valley Sector, said late Thursday night.

He said the the motor vessel Delta Marine, a 312-foot supply ship carrying empty rockets and space hardware, struck the main channel of the span. Easley was unsure if it was NASA equipment.

A cause is under investigation, Easley said, and the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit as well as Kentucky Fish & Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and Marshall County emergency services were on the scene as of late Thursday night.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials were also en route to the scene late Thursday, the state police dispatcher said.

Easley said the Coast Guard has set up a “safety zone” on the Tennessee River between mile markers 41 and 43 to keep non-emergency boats away from the area.

It's another nasty wreck, with reports that heavy fog last night and the fact the bridge had no lights on it contributed.  A bit of prevention might have saved the bridge from millions in damage, but putting safety lights on the bridge would have of course cost money (unlike fixing the thing with a massive hole in it now.)

Meanwhile Republicans are too busy cutting programs and Democrats are too busy giving tax breaks to arks.  Gotta love this state.

The Big GOP Debate Thread: Flori-duh

Naturally, the big topic at the final Florida GOP debate before Tuesday's primary was immigration, and all four candidates traded shots on the subject.

Early in the evening, Romney drew frequent applause when he pushed back attacks by Gingrich over immigration.

Gingrich called Romney the most anti-immigrant candidate on the debate stage, repeating a charge in a campaign ad Gingrich eventually pulled after a complaint it was unfair by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Romney responded with outrage, accusing Gingrich of using "highly-charged epithets" irresponsibly and denying he wants to deport all of the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

However, Gingrich and Santorum also agreed with Romney that at least some illegal immigrants would be likely to "self-deport" if the government were to crack down on employers who hired illegal immigrants. All three men advocated a system of identification for immigrants that would help employers verify an employee's legal status.

Ron Paul chimed in with much the same, that if businesses made the economic climate uncomfortable for undocumented immigrants, they'd leave.  In a state where the Latino voting population could make or break a candidate, all four of these clowns agreed that the chief role of government as far as immigration was concerned was to make life as miserable as possible for Latinos, even Ron Paul.

Not a one of them noted that enforcement under President Obama increased deportations much higher than under previous Presidents either, they were all too busy attacking the President's "weak" immigration policy.

On the issue of health care, Gingrich didn't have too much ammunition.  Rick Santorum saw his chance and took it.

After Romney described his health reforms and noted his pledge to repeal Obamacare, Santorum shot back that Romney said “government-run top down medicine is working well in Massachusetts and he supports it.”

“That’s not what I said,” Romney replied. But Santorum kept rolling.

“Think about what that means going up against Barack Obama, who you are going to claim, ‘well, it doesn’t work and we should repeal,’” he said. “He’s going to say, ‘Wait a minute, governor. You said it works well in Massachusetts.’ Folks — we can’t give this issue away in this election. It is about fundamental freedom.”

Almost confirming Santorum’s point, Romney responded by defending the aspects of his own law that were most directly reproduced in the Affordable Care Act: a mandate to require people to have insurance and a subsidized exchange in which individuals can choose between private health care plans.

“Rick, I make enough mistakes in what I said not for you to add more mistakes to what I said,” he began. “I didn’t say I’m in favor of top down government-run health care…If you don’t want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill because under federal law if someone doesn’t have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. We said no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility.”

But given the fact that some 400,000 Floridians have already cast absentee ballots, the final debate may not have mattered much.  We'll see what happens on Tuesday.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Last Call

Reiuters conveniently gives the Republican party a way out of having to consider Sen. Marco Rubio for the Veepstakes later this year by noting of all things that like thousands of Floridians who are his constituents, Rubio is way, way underwater on his ritzy Miami mortgage.

In some ways, the story of Rubio's finances is similar to those of hundreds of thousands of his constituents in a state where more than 40 percent of homeowners are "underwater," owing more on their homes than the homes are worth.

It is a crisis driven by falling property values and ill-advised home equity loans that drove up homeowners' debts.

Rubio owes far more on his $384,000 Miami home than it is worth, and at times has had difficulty paying his mortgage.

He bought the home in 2005 for $550,000 with a $495,000 mortgage. He soon had it appraised for $735,000 and took out a home equity line of credit for $135,000.

In 2008, despite earning a declared $400,000 - including his $300,000 salary from the Miami law firm Broad and Cassel - Rubio failed to pay down the principal on his home for several months, according to Florida campaign finance disclosures.

During the same period he did not make payments on a $100,000-plus student loan from his days at the University of Miami, the disclosures said.

Rubio's spending habits also have gotten attention in Florida.

Before joining the Senate last year, he was caught up in an Internal Revenue Service investigation of the Florida Republican Party's use of party-issued credit cards. He frequently had used his party credit card for personal use, and later reimbursed the card company for about $16,000.

Rubio's handling of his personal finances contrasts sharply with the image of him on his Senate website, which highlights Rubio's efforts to prevent Washington from "piling up debt."

"We need a government that stops spending more money than it takes in," the website says.

Rubio's financial issues have led Florida Democrats to cast him as a hypocrite.

I'm honestly not sure whose neck Rubio would be a bigger anchor around:  Romney (who could pay off Rubio's debts with the collective change in his couch cushions in all of his many, many houses) or Gingrich (whose awful comments on Latinos "not understanding" wealth and entrepreneurship aren't exactly going to resolved by a guy who can't pay off his debts in a fiscally austere party of wackos.)

And that's before you factor in what race would mean to Republican voters with Rubio on the ticket.

On the other hand, counting anyone out when the party in question nominated Sarah Palin last time this happened is a huge mistake, frankly.  Guessing veeps at this point is an exercise in futility.  But I finally get to break out the Veeps tag again, huh.

Just The PolitiFacts, Ma'am

I tossed PolitiFact from this blog last month, and I'm glad to see others in the media finally getting sick of their "but we're a fact-check outfit that equivocates our judgment!" nonsense.  Rachel Maddow unloaded on them last night.

During the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Obama stated: “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.”

PolitiFact confirmed that both statistics were correct, only to rate Obama’s statement as “half true” on their Truth-O-Meter. The site said the statement was only half true because “he implicitly credited his administration.”

“PoiltiFact, what is wrong with you?” Maddow said. “You think the president calls himself ‘businesses?’ Like it is a nickname for himself?”

PolitiFact later revised its Truth-O-Meter rating to “Mostly True.”

Mostly true? PolitiFact, you are fired,” Maddow said. “You are a mess. You are fired. You are undermining the definition of the word ‘fact’ in the English language by pretending to it in your name.”

Ouch.  But she's right.  It took a completely awful spin in order to make a TV news host cast them out of the temple, but it's done.  I hope that others follow suit pretty quickly.  PolitiFact trades solely on its credibility and reputation in keeping that credibility, and they failed that smell test months ago.

They're done, hopefully.  Maybe they'll be replaced by an actual fact checking outfit, other than the Washington Post's even worse Glenn Kessler.

Dirty Art (Totally Safe For Work)

Who would have thought dirty cars would be so pretty?  This article has some awesome examples, but I wanted to share my two favorites with you.  I'm not sure if Scott Wade, the artist featured here, is the same guy I have seen in the past, but I saw one "car dirt artist" chased and assaulted by the car owner, who didn't understand what was happening.

Because I like the unusual, if any of our readers know of some great and unique types of art, please share them!

Heroes, Heroes Everywhere!

An 85-year-old woman saved her husband by beating a moose with a shovel.

I know, it's cool.  Roll that around and digest it slowly.  You read it right.  She heard the dogs barking, and knew her husband was outside.  She originally thought the moose was charging her pets, it wasn't until she had grabbed a weapon and been charged herself that she saw her husband in the snow, seriously injured.  She is only five feet tall and doesn't weigh a hundred pounds, but she didn't waste a second when it came to defending those she loved.

Everybody survives, including the dogs.  It's a feel-good story that reminds us that older people aren't shells of faded youth.  They are capable of mighty impressive things, and have the wisdom to back up their instinct.

Oh Google, How Could You?

Google's decision to unite user information across services isn't surprising.  It makes good sense, actually.  Instead of having to manage several sub-accounts, users can set one group of rules and their favorite services will fall into line.  Preferences, privacy controls, even color schemes can unite.

What is a big deal, however, is that you can't opt out of this information use.  It's mandatory, and that sucks.  Not because my color schemes is a moral dilemma, but the fact that users have no choice in how the information is used sure is.  While I can understand the benefit of selling the merged accounts, in the end users should be able to maintain their privacy, if they are willing to deal with the inconvenience.

I do understand the logic that says Google has the right to run their services however they wish.  After all, we don't pay for them, so we don't have a lot of say in how the business is run.  However, like paying customers, we directly control their future success.  If Google can take our info, tell us it's just the law, and flourish... well, we've voted in our own way to accept it.

I will begrudgingly accept it, but the first cloud service to dare break the mold and honor its customers requests will come through this like a wrecking ball.  I can't wait.

Timmy's Tentative Tenure

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says that he doesn't believe President Obama will ask him to serve again in a second term.

“He’s not going to ask me to stay on, I’m pretty confident,” Geithner said in an interview with Bloomberg Television yesterday in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m confident he’ll be president. But I’m also confident he’s going to have the privilege of having another secretary of the Treasury.”

Geithner, 50, has led President Barack Obama’s efforts to pull the U.S. economy out of the worst recession since World War II, including overseeing bailouts of automakers General Motors Co. (GM) and Chrysler Group LLC, which have since emerged from bankruptcy. Before joining the administration in 2009, Geithner was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, playing a key role in the government’s rescue packages for banks such as Citigroup Inc. (C) and Bank of America Corp. (BAC)
In the interview, Geithner said he would do “something else” after leaving the Treasury Department, without specifying what that would be. In August, an administration official said Geithner would stay in his job at least through this year’s presidential election.

Erskine Bowles, chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, and Democratic Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota could be among the potential candidates to succeed Geithner, said Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute in Washington. 

I have to say I'd rather have Geithner over anyone the Cato Institute would mention.   Both of those meatballs would be as bad as Larry Summers on deficits and cutting the safety net.  If Geithner is replaced, he needs to be succeeded by someone who actually got the last 3 years plus right financially and economically, but that's just my opinion.

The Odious Primary

Back home, I see my good friend The Odious Patrick McHenry has drawn a particularly mean primary challenger in Ken Fortenberry, who's wasting no time in attacking McHenry ahead of May's primary in NC-10 over ethics and his whole "lapdog to the banks" act.

“When I asked Rep. Patrick McHenry last week why he would not co-sponsor the STOCK Act, a bill that would prohibit insider stock trading by members of Congress, he replied that the legislation was the creation of  ‘liberal Democrats’ and not worthy of his support,” Fortenberry said.

“Restoring the public’s trust in government has never been a priority for McHenry, who turns everything into a petty partisan battle,” he added. “This is one of the reasons Washington is broken and not working for the people, and why we need to clean House on Election Day.”

“Members of Congress should play by the same rules as all Americans,” Fortenberry asserted. “McHenry is dead-wrong in putting his friends above the people he is supposed to represent.”

When asked for comment on these allegations, Ryan Minto, who handles press for the congressman’s office, offered a statement from McHenry to the Times-News on Tuesday.

“While I personally don’t trade stocks, I understand the concern over this issue,” McHenry said. “The STOCK Act does not address holes in the existing insider-trading law, which may allow lawmakers to improperly enrich themselves. It would not, for example, address the troubling practice of access to exclusive IPOs by high-ranking members.

“Members of Congress should have to report all of their stock trades publicly in every instance — period,” McHenry added. “Increased disclosure will add transparency to help enforce the current insider-trading law, and anyone guilty of committing a crime should be prosecuted.”
In his release, Fortenberry additionally stated that ethics and honesty in government should not be viewed as a partisan issue.

Furthermore, he also said he would introduce legislation, if elected, that would prohibit members of Congress and Cabinet-level officials from lobbying for four years after they leave their positions, in addition to requiring them to fully disclose all of their personal finances during that time period.

“It’s bad enough that Mr. McHenry ignores the shenanigans of the big banks and securities firms, but it’s made even worse when he turns a blind eye to the corruption among his colleagues,” Fortenberry concluded.

It's damn impressive to see with as many bank employees in the Charlotte suburbs of NC-10 that the Republican is attacking McHenry on being too friendly with banks and stocks.   It's entirely true, of course.  But it's interesting seeing the Republican challenger pull a Ron Paul and go after McHenry on this angle in arguably one of the reddest districts in the country.

We'll see how it turns out.
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