Thursday, April 22, 2010

Last Call

And taken first in this year's NFL draft?

Not Tim Tebow!

Life is good.

Belgian Burqa Ban Backlash

Try saying that five times fast.  It seems the backlash against Belgium's law to impose fines on wearing a burqa or other headscarf in public that "conceals identity" has in fact brought down the Belgian parliament.
The collapse of the Belgian government has thrown into doubt plans to pass a law that would ban Islamic veils in public.

The government, led by the prime minister, Yves Leterme, fell after the centre-right Flemish liberal party Open VLD pulled out of his five-month-old coalition. Leterme tendered his government's resignation to King Albert after an emergency cabinet meeting, but the monarch did not immediately decide whether to accept it.

"I doubt that they will debate this law as they have other things on their minds," said a Belgian official in London.
MPs had been expected to pass a law today that would have made Belgium the first European country to ban the wearing of the burqa, which covers the face and body, or the niqab, which covers the face.

The bill, which has been criticised by human rights campaigners as a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of religion, was approved unanimously by the lower chamber's home affairs committee last month.

The law would make it a crime to be in a public place with one's face partially or wholly concealed in a way that would make identification impossible. Violators would be subject to a fine of €15-€25 (£12-£21) with a possible prison sentence of one to seven days.

There are no official statistics on how many women wear face-covering veils, though analysts agree it is a marginal phenomenon among the roughly 400,000 Muslims living in Belgium (about 4% of the country's population). In 2009, 29 women were stopped by police in eight municipalities in the Brussels region that already ban the full Muslim veil.
You have to hand it to the Belgians, they have principles.   Would that we had even questioned our lawmakers for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or for torturing suspects, or for running rampant over our Constitution.  What DO we protest against?  Making health insurance more affordable.

It actually pains me some days to think about it.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

After careful consideration, I have determined that "freedom" to a wingnut means "I demand strict enforcable limits on everyone other than people like me."

Orange You Glad He's A Liar?

GOP house minority leader John Boehner penning an op-ed in Investor's Business Daily on Wall Street reform?  Oh man, I must have been an extra-good Zandar this week, cause somebody up there likes me.  Let's check in with ol' Orange Julius in the Land of Make Believe, shall we?
We cannot restore confidence in our economy unless we fully address the root causes of the financial crisis and take definitive steps to ensure that taxpayers are never again forced to pick up the tab for bad bets on Wall Street. The legislation President Obama is promoting, however, does neither of these things and actually makes matters worse.

President Obama talks a big game when it comes to Wall Street, but his newest job-killing initiative would provide the nation's largest financial firms with permanent bailouts ordered and overseen by unelected federal bureaucrats.
OK, two paragraphs in and we're already into total fabrication.  Once again, the banks would be required to front money for a fund that would be used to unwind and dissolve a busted bank peacefully, when decided by regulators who are in fact appointed by people who are elected, and would not cast taxpayer money.  It is not a bailout fund, the same way asking hospitals to keep blood supplies on hand in case of disaster is not a permanent phlebotomy bailout to keep the autoclave manufacturing industry in business.  It's a break glass in case of emergency thing.

Oh, but he gets worse, folks.

Your Papers, Please, Phoenix and Flagstaff, Part 2

Always eager to show Arizonans that he's deserving to be Arizona's senator for the sole reason that he's more insane than John McCain is, J.D. Hayworth is doubling down on the state's Birther bill fiasco by demanding it be extended to all voters and all candidates.  Eric Kleefield:

"He believes that that legislation is drawn too narrowly," said Hayworth communications director Mark Sanders, when TPMDC asked for Hayworth's position. "And his thinking on it is that we require every voter when they go to the polls to prove who they are and prove that they are eligible to vote, so we should require that not only of presidential candidates but also every candidate on the ballot."

So does Hayworth think we should demand birth documentation for every candidate for public office, I asked?

"No, that's not what I'm saying," said Sanders. "I'm not addressing birth documentation. I'm addressing eligibility to vote, and that could apply to a lot of different things."

So what is Hayworth demanding proof of, exactly?

"I'm saying in terms of proof of everything," said Sanders. "You can't be a convicted felon and vote. There are requirements that you have to meet in order to vote, and those same requirements should be met by every candidate for every office."
Too narrowly?  Really?  It seems the intersection of Birther lunacy and Immigration derangement is mass deportations from a police state.  Why stop at voting?  Why stop at cops pulling people over because they may be in the state illegally?  Hey, require papers all the time, proof of citizenship and everything else, for every aspect of life in Arizona, from every citizen.

Once again, I'm waiting for this law to pass and to see some wealthy couple from a gated retirement community face possible deportation proceedings for forgetting a driver's license.  Arizona may end up doing so much good for immigration reform, it's amazing.  I can see the campaign now..."The Republicans want to turn your state into a police state like Arizona."

That'll solve your enthusiasm gap problems, Dems.

A Big VAT Of Trouble

If Obama's serious about a national Value Added Tax to close the deficit, then somebody needs to quickly disabuse him of the notion.
President Barack Obama suggested Wednesday that a new value-added tax on Americans is still on the table, seeming to show more openness to the idea than his aides have expressed in recent days.

Before deciding what revenue options are best for dealing with the deficit and the economy, Obama said in an interview with CNBC, "I want to get a better picture of what our options are."

After Obama adviser Paul Volcker recently raised the prospect of a value-added tax, or VAT, the Senate voted 85-13 last week for a nonbinding "sense of the Senate" resolution that calls the such a tax "a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America's economic recovery."

For days, White House spokesmen have said the president has not proposed and is not considering a VAT.
"I think I directly answered this the other day by saying that it wasn't something that the president had under consideration," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters shortly before Obama spoke with CNBC.

After the interview, White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki said nothing has changed and the White House is "not considering" a VAT.
For once, the Senate's actually right.  A VAT tax right now really would smash any hope of a recovery on the consumer end, not to mention make pretty much everything your average American buys cost more, from food to clothes to other necessities.  Yeah, I understand the need to raise some taxes and end some spending, but taxing milk, bread, socks and pencils isn't the way to do it.  but the reality is this is a consumer driven economy, and a VAT will lower consumption even more.  This is about as regressive as it gets, tax-wise.  it's going to really, really hurt anyone on a fixed budget, which these days is, oh, tens of millions of Americans.

Also, there is that little matter of it being total and complete political suicide for the Dems.  If this is another one of Obama's famous trial balloons, it just turned into a metric ton of lead and landed on his own foot.  The White House is denying the bejeezus out of this and rightfully so.

However, VAT-mania is just the kind of distraction the Republicans are looking for to take the heat off their own desire to block financial reform, and Obama's practically handing them the ammunition to take shots at him in the press.  Obama just hit the start button on the TAXEN CUTTEN UBER ALLES machine, and that's all the GOP will be talking about until Obama regains control of the narrative and the Village stops chasing the shiny VAT ball.

The hell is Obama thinking by saying that?

Renting A Dream

While I talk about the housing depression often and how it will continue to affect our economy, it's not just homeowners who are finding themselves in real trouble here.  People who can't afford homes have to live somewhere, and that means there's increased demand for rental living in apartments.  Even worse, the number of apartments is going down in many places in the country because of the commercial real estate bust.

Whether it's rising demand and falling supply, or landlords having to raise more money to cover their own commercial loans, rent is going the same time that wages and hours are falling for many Americans.
On average, a family must earn $38,355 a year, $18.44 an hour, to afford a simple two-bedroom apartment at the 2010 national average fair market rent of $959.

However, the average wage for U.S. renters is $14.44 an hour, down from $14.69 last year. Further, more than 60 percent of U.S. renters live in counties where even the average one-bedroom fair market rent of $805 isn't affordable for average wage earners, the study found.

Minimum wage earners are at the greatest disadvantage. Under the standard measure of affordability — housing costs should account for no more than 30 percent of income — full-time minimum wage earners can't afford one-bedroom apartments in any county in the country, even though Congress increased the minimum wage from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 last year.

When adjusted for inflation, though, the average hourly wage fell by half a percentage point last year and probably will stagnate for the next few years, said economist Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

"So the ability of people to be able to afford decent housing is not likely to get any better" in the next few years, Baker said. "It's more likely to be worse than better. We aren't on a good path."

The findings help explain why the number of renters who moved in with family and friends, or "doubled up," increased by 25 percent from 2005 to 2009.

So-called affordable housing is becoming harder to find. Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies has estimated that 200,000 such apartments, for which tenants pay less than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities, are lost each year in the U.S.

For every new affordable-housing unit that's constructed, two are demolished, abandoned or converted to condominiums or expensive rentals, according to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
That's pretty rough.  I'm lucky that Kentucky rent is relatively cheap, even this close to Cincy, but there are a lot of places where an apartment like I have now would easily cost twice as much or more.  If you have a job, you should be able to afford a place to live.  Increasingly, that's not the case.  We're not talking about giving away free apartments, we're talking about working people who can't even afford to live where they work.

And this is increasingly getting worse.  Apartment owners are in the business of making money off the rentals, not providing affordable living space.  Many states have some laws to redress this, but there's still the basic economic fact that you have to pay for shelter in America.  Increasingly, that's getting harder and harder.

And it will only get worse.  This is one of those situations where government can and should do some good here.

If It's Thursday...

Jobless claims down to 456k, a good thing.  Continuing claims at 4.65 million however, and that's not good.  We really do need to get under the 400k hump on the weeklies to even start having a fighting chance at job recovery.

I just don't see that happening in 2010, and it may very well get worse in 2011.

Unleash Joe Biden, Happy Earth Day Edition

The 40th anniversary of Earth Day is today, and the White House is kicking off environmental efforts by announcing green projects across the country as part of the stimulus bill.
The White House is gearing up for five days of events to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and they're starting big. Vice President Joe Biden announced today a plan to invest $452 million in Recovery Act funding to go toward energy-efficient building retrofits in 25 communities.
"For forty years, Earth Day has focused on transforming the way we use energy and reducing our dependence on fossil fuel - but this year, because of the historic clean energy investments in the Recovery Act, we're poised to make greater strides than ever in building a nationwide clean energy economy," Biden said in a statement. "This investment in some of the most innovative energy-efficiency projects across the country will not only help homeowners and businesses make cost-cutting retrofit improvements, but also create jobs right here in America."
The 25 projects, which will begin in fall 2010, will also gain an estimated $2.8 billion from other sources over the next three years, which will go toward retrofitting hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the U.S. 
Locally, Cincinnati will get $17 million and Toledo $15 million for green energy projects and helping homeowners save money and reduce carbon emissions by using less energy.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on Wednesday announced the Cincinnati grant and another $15 million award for a Toledo energy efficiency project as part of $80 million in federal recovery act funds in the DOE's "Recovery through Retrofit" initiative to develop self-sustaining energy efficiency projects.

"These funds will help Toledo and Cincinnati make much-needed advances in energy efficiency," Brown said in a statement. "Investing in these projects supports communities across our state and will create more clean energy jobs locally."

The energy alliance, which has already raised more than $1.6 million in public and private funding is backed by Duke Energy, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and local governments in Hamilton, Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties. It is enlisting volunteers to knock on doors in neighborhoods to recruit homeowners to sign up for energy audits that would show them how they can cut their energy bills. The alliance also will provide information on low-cost financing for energy-saving improvements.
That means energy savings where I live, and far more importantly, more jobs.  Happy Earth Day indeed.

George Washington And Israel

Daniel Larison details a classic example of intellectual dishonesty in the modern conservative movement, covering the rather nasty winger response to Ross Douthat's argument that Glenn Beck and friends are entertainers more than anything else, and that some criticism of these conservative political figures is not only allowable but badly needed.  (There I go agreeing with Douthat again.  Go figure.)   However, there's a larger point here:
The other day, Ross called for other conservatives to be more critical of Republican politicians and conservative “entertainers,” and Jim Manzi made the mistake of taking up this challenge and applying intellectual rigor and honesty to a prominent conservative radio host’s book on a subject he understands fairly well. The inevitable circling-of-the-wagons that has followed illustrates perfectly the problem Manzi was trying to address in Levin’s work. Not only do Manzi’s colleagues automatically defend Levin’s sub-par arguments, but they regard it as horribly bad form to dare criticize those arguments with the vehemence that their poor quality would seem to merit. Small wonder that there are so few “magazines and conservative columnists…willing to call out Republican politicians (and, to a lesser extent, conservative entertainers) for offering bromides instead of substance, and for pandering instead of grappling with real policy questions.”
One need only quickly read Levin’s chapter “On Self-Preservation” to find that the sloppiness Manzi skewers so effectively is not limited to the discussion of climate change. In the early part of the chapter, Levin begins by misrepresenting the content of Washington’s Farewell Address:
The address makes clear he did so not because neutrality was an end in itself, but because he feared that taking sides could split the country apart. (p.177)
Now, Larison is certainly right here, but that farewell address by our first President is deserving of a second look.
This is a good example of a deeply misleading half-truth. Washington was concerned about passionate attachments to other countries partly because of the domestic political effects, but he also explicitly argued that the American interest dictated that we remain free of foreign political attachments for many other reasons:
Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
And what George Washington said over 200 years ago still applies to modern politics today, especially with countries like Israel.  Washington wasn't afraid of splitting the country, he was afraid that we'd get into an entanglement that threatened our national security when an ally inevitably decides to do what they see is best for them, and not us.  Washington's words still ring true today in the 21st century.  We've literally gone to war because of our relationship.

Will Iran be the next war we fight on behalf of Tel Aviv?  The same intellectual dishonesty that prevents criticism of conservative leaders prevents criticism of Israel as well, and it prevents any sort of substantial policy discussions as Larison says.  For his part, President Obama is resisting calls to give in to Israel.  The grumbling that Israel will soon have no choice but to go to war with Iran is exactly what George Washington feared the most and warned America about so many years ago.


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