Friday, April 23, 2010

Last Call

This is Alabama.  We speak Wingnut here.

That's Republican Tim James, who if elected as Governor, will stop giving state driver's license tests in languages other than English to save money.

What, you thought Arizona was alone out there with the overt immigrant hate?  Hey guess what?  If you're not Caucasian, you don't count for jack in Wingnut territory.  They're taking their country back, dammit.

Right back to 1861.

This Week's Busted Banks

Seven more banks went under today in the Chicago area, including one that's tied in with current Senate Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias.
Broadway Bank, the family-run lender that helped launch U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias' political career, was one of seven Chicago-area institutions seized by the U.S. government Friday and sold to healthier companies.

The failure of Broadway, which was unable to raise the $85 million it needed to remain independent, will cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. $394.3 million.

Giannoulias worked for his father at Chicago-based Broadway before entering politics, and the bank's struggles in recent years with real estate loans gone bad have weighed on Giannoulias' Democratic bid for Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

During Giannoulias' successful run for state treasurer in 2006, he used his banking experience as one of his chief qualifications. But in the Senate race, he has tried to distance himself from the bank's troubles.

"This is a difficult day for bank employees, for my family, for this community and for all those who built businesses and protected their savings with the help of this bank," Chief Executive Demetris Giannoulias said in a statement. "We fought to carry out the vision my father had when he founded Broadway Bank 30 years ago, but our bank -- like many businesses -- has struggled during these challenging times."
That brings 2010's total to 57 banks in 4 months.  There will be a lot more in the coming months and probably years.  Meanwhile, this is not really good for the Dems in Illinois.  Republican Mark Kirk will have a field day with this, and he deserves to.

Hell I'm not sure I would vote for a Democrat from a busted bank like that, not when I know how banks get busted.

Governor General Shatner?

Hey, why not.
Mr. Spock says it's about time Capt. Kirk got off his “butt” and got a real job.

Leonard Nimoy, who played the pointy-eared Vulcan in the original “Star Trek” series, is backing a bid to have his Canadian co-star William Shatner picked as Canada's next governor general.

A Facebook group touting the original James T. Kirk for the post has nearly 20,000 members.

Nimoy, who was in Alberta for a comic convention, says the job would be perfect because Shatner has just been “sitting around twiddling his thumbs” recently.

He says the job would give Shatner a sense of “self worth” and allow him to “get out and do something.”

Michaelle Jean's five-year mission as governor general will soon expire and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will pick her replacement.

Other names being bandied about as possible candidates include wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen, former top soldier John de Chastelain and Reform party founder Preston Manning.
Apparently GG is a ceremonial post with great prestige that happens every five years, much like being one of Liz Taylor's husbands here in the States. Hey, why not?  I bet Shatner will get a neat hat.

Your Papers, Please, Phoenix and Flagstaff, Part 4

Gov. Jan Brewer has indeed signed Arizona's crazy immigration bill into law.
Gov. Janice Brewer (R-AZ) this afternoon signed the controversial immigration bill passed by the state legislature.

"For weeks this legislation has been subject of vigorous debate and intense criticism, and my decision to sign was by no means made lightly," she said after signing.

"Though many people disagree, I firmly believe it represents what's best for Arizona," she added. "There's no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona. We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels."

The legislation requires law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone who they have a "reasonable suspicion" is in the country illegally.

She said she will not tolerate racial discrimination or profiling. Brewer also said she had worked with legislators to make sure the bill protects civil rights.

"We must enforce the law evenly and without regard to skin color, accent or social status," she said, adding that the bill's opponents are "over-reacting." 
The overwhelming number of arrests from this law won't be Latinos.  Nope.  That's a total coincidence.

Another solution to this. You know what?  Arizona has a pretty good tourism industry.  There are franchises from all four major professional sports in Phoenix, the Suns, the Diamondbacks, the Coyotes and the Cardinals.   If I'm a player heading to a game in Phoenix, I boycott, especially if I'm Latino or black. I don't get on the team bus/plane.  If I'm a fan, I don't go to home games.  Hey, what if I forgot my papers?

Rep. Raul Grivalja says boycott the state?  Not sure if that's the smart thing to do, the first people who are going to get fired are going to be Latinos and blacks in Arizona doing the "jobs Americans won't do" as Bush put it or whatever.

Better to do this the Obama way:  now Democrats have every reason to push comprehensive immigration reform.  But congrats again, Grand Canyon State.  Make that the Racial Profiling State.

Your papers, please...

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Marc Ambinder asks:
Have Conservatives Gone Mad?
Short answer?  Yes.   Long answer, well, let's look at Ambinder's argument:
I want to find Republicans to take seriously, but it is hard. Not because they don't exist -- serious Republicans -- but because, as Sanchez and others seem to recognize, they are marginalized, even self-marginalizing, and the base itself seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking, and that therapy is a substitute for thinking.

It is absolutely a condition of the age of the triumph of conservative personality politics, where entertainers shouting slogans are taken seriously as political actors, and where the incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance, causing experimental voices to retrench and allowing a lot of people to pretend that the world around them is not changing. The obsession with ACORN, Climategate, death panels, the militarization of rhetoric, Saul Alinsky, Chicago-style politics,   that TAXPAYERS will fund the bailout of banks -- these aren't meaningful or interesting or even relevant things to focus on. (The banks will fund their own bailouts.)
And the answer to that is simple:  as long as the rest of the Village and Washington continue to take this idiotic arguments seriously, then they will continue to dominate our politics.  They dominate our politics because we allow them to. As I have said over and over again, we need a better pundit class to get better discussions.  And until the right's answer to the arguments that Maddow, Greenwald, and Olbermann bring up is something other than "Glenn Beck is killing all three in the ratings combined!  We win!" then we'll never improve.

Conservatives don't want a better argument.  They just want to win and control the country.  The end justifies the means every single time when you think like that.  Sun Tzu:  if you bind yourself with rules and codes when your enemy is unfettered by them, then you will be defeated.

Your Papers, Please, Phoenix and Flagstaff, Part 3

President Obama is stepping in on Arizona's racial profiling immigration law.  Greg Sargent:
This is pretty big: Obama just now sharply condemned the controversial anti-illegal immigration effort in Arizona, calling it “misguided” and “irresponsible” — and even said his administration could insert itself into the fight if civil rights are found to be violated.

This could cause the issue to heat up to full boil on the national level, with untold consequences for the midterm elections.

The effort in Arizona would require anyone suspected of being in the country illegally to produce “an alien registration document” or other proof of citizenship. The Governor of Arizona is expected to decide within days how to act on the legislation — and Obama today pushed the issue hard.

“Our failure to act responsibly at the Federal level will only open the door to irresponsiblity by others,” Obama said. “That includes for example the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

Obama added that his administration could join the fight. “I’ve instructed members of my admininstration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation,” he said, adding that it was “misguided.”
This is a very, very shrewd play by Obama and well timed to boot:  Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has until tomorrow evening to sign the bill, veto it, or do nothing (in which case it becomes law anyway).  This puts tremendous pressure on Brewer to veto this, or else she becomes the national face of GOP racial profiling efforts.

And the keyword here is "national".  Obama is clearly setting the bar of a federal response to state bills like this as a priority in his administration, and that means Democrats can then turn this into a pressing reason to lead an effort to pass immigration reform at the federal level.  As I've said before, this is a massive wedge issue that will split the Chamber of Commerce Republicans from the Tea Party...and it risks painting all the GOP as anti-immigrant and even racist.

It's looking like Obama is taking the advice to follow up health care reform with two winning issues for Dems:  financial reform and immigration reform.  There are Republicans who want to be on the right side of both of those issues, especially in an election year.  There are also a lot of factors here:  the GOP treatment of Sonia Sotomayor last year and the treatment of Latinos in general being just a few of them.

We'll see how this shakes out.

I Got Your Death Panels Right Here

Via Balloon Juice, this Murray Waas piece is today's must-read.
One after another, shortly after a diagnosis of breast cancer, each of the women learned that her health insurance had been canceled. First there was Yenny Hsu, who lived and worked in Los Angeles. Later, Robin Beaton, a registered nurse from Texas. And then, most recently, there was Patricia Relling, a successful art gallery owner and interior designer from Louisville, Kentucky.

None of the women knew about the others. But besides their similar narratives, they had something else in common: Their health insurance carriers were subsidiaries of WellPoint, which has 33.7 million policyholders — more than any other health insurance company in the United States.

The women all paid their premiums on time. Before they fell ill, none had any problems with their insurance. Initially, they believed their policies had been canceled by mistake.

They had no idea that WellPoint was using a computer algorithm that automatically targeted them and every other policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The software triggered an immediate fraud investigation, as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies, according to government regulators and investigators.

Once the women were singled out, they say, the insurer then canceled their policies based on either erroneous or flimsy information. WellPoint declined to comment on the women's specific cases without a signed waiver from them, citing privacy laws.
Story continues below ↓
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Rescission by computer.  You don't get more "death panel" then that, folks.  A computer flagged their insurance as soon as they were diagnosed with breast cancer and then canceled their insurance automatically.  That practice is supposed to end with the new health care reform law.

Don't count on it.
"People have this idea that someone is going to flip a switch and rescission and other bad insurance practices are going to end," says Peter Harbage, a former health care adviser to the Clinton administration. "Insurers will find ways to undermine the protections in the new law, just as they did with the old law. Enforcement is the key."
And it's that enforcement that will be neutered whenever possible, especially if the Republicans get back in charge.  After all, they want to repeal the whole thing, including the parts that stop insurance companies from immediately targeting your wife or your daughter or your mother and canceling their insurance as soon as they are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Repeal is going to be a big loser for the Republicans, but only if Democrats enforce the new laws instead of writing in loopholes big enough to kill thousands of people with rescission each year.

Money For Justice

Los Angeles County literally cannot afford to keep open its courtrooms open much longer because California's tax laws are broken.
The Los Angeles court system has already closed 17 courtrooms and another 50 will be shut down come September unless something is done to find more money. The closures have disrupted everything from divorce and custody proceedings to traffic ticket disputes.

The judicial council scheduled a meeting Friday to deal with the request from presiding Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy Jr. to divert $47 million in funds from the courthouse construction budget to help stave off more courtroom closings and staff layoffs.

McCoy predicts chaos and a logjam of civil and family law cases if additional funds are not found.
He said the Los Angeles court's budgetary shortfall is $133 million which will be permanent each year unless there is an influx of funds from somewhere.

The Los Angeles system has already laid off 329 workers – about 6 percent of its 5,400-person work force. About 500 more jobs are at risk later this year. McCoy raised the prospect of a cumulative cut of 1,800 people from the 5,400-member work force over two and a half years.

With resulting cutbacks in services, he said, "confidence in the courts would be lost."

"It's unprecedented," said McCoy. "Even during the Great Depression we did not close down court operations. We kept the courts open."

The crisis results from the financially troubled state's decision to slash $393 million from state trial courts in the budget this year. The state also has been closing all California courthouses on the third Wednesday of every month, with employees unpaid for those days.
And that $393 million budget cut from the state is directly because it is impossible to raise a dime in taxes in California.  The state's budget at this point has been cut so dramatically that basic government functions are starting to fail.

Sometimes you have to raise taxes if you want a government, people.  That's how it works in a democracy.  But California is literally unable to do it because of their 2/3rds majority in both the state Assembly and the Senate in order to raise a single extra tax dollar for anything.  That means all they can do is cut, cut, cut.  And you can only cut so much before you start suffering from blood loss.

California's literally coming apart, but that's exactly what the Club For Growth people want.  The solution they will want is of course a private sector one.  But how do you privatize a court system and still expect justice?

But that's the rub:  cripple government until it cannot work, and then say we need free market solutions to take over government functions.  You may not be able to raise taxes to fund the courts in California, but you can certainly charge anyone in the courts a hefty and profitable fee for their use and raise that fee as necessary.

Same goes with every other piece of government infrastructure that corporations are salivating over profiting from:  water, power, roads, public safety, and now courts.  The slow death of one-seventh of America's state government continues unabated.

Counting Your Chickens

TPM does the math on "Chickens For Checkups".
  • Total U.S. health care costs in 2008: $2.3 trillion
  • US population: About 300 million
  • Average cost of health care per person: $7,681
  • Average weight of a chicken: 5.9 lbs
  • Market price per pound: 85 cents
  • Average spot price per chicken: $5.02
  • Average number of chickens per resident needed to cover health care costs: 1,530 chickens
  • Total number of chickens needed to cover United States health care costs: 459 billion chickens
  • Estimated worldwide chicken population: 16 billion chickens
  • Current worldwide chicken shortage to cover U.S. health care: 443 billion cluckers 

Of course, it should be noted that chickens are only one of many commodities, and are thus only one component of a barter economy -- for example, Tennessee state Rep. Mike Bell (R) has referred to Mennonites paying for health care with vegetables. There are also the options of beef, pork, turkeys, sugar, metal ore, or even finished products like iPods or gasoline. What would really help here is if there were some kind of single, universally accepted commodity, which could be used as a medium of exchange for all the others...
The problem with a chicken based economy is the fact that most Americans don't have a whole lot of chickens in this economy either, much less health care dollars.  The idea of barter has been around since ancient times, but the fact of the matter is what makes "Chickens For Checkups" such a silly idea is that A) Americans are not flush with poultry and B) bartering doesn't lower costs unless one party takes a huge hit on the value scale, and all that does is cause problems down the road.  That's why money was invented.

Also, 459 billion chickens is a lot of chickens.

A Militant Response

Newt Gingrich describes the Tea Party perfectly.
While speaking last night in Pennsylvania, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) predicted that the Tea Party movement would be an important part of the Republican party -- the "militant wing," in fact.

Gingrich said that the Tea Party movement is a "natural expression of frustration with Republicans and anger at Democrats," the York Dispatch repots. However, he said that it would not turn into a third-party movement, but is instead "more likely to end up as the militant wing of the Republican Party."
End up as?  I'd say they are already there.  Still, "militant wing of the GOP" really does describe the Tea Party movement on a number of levels.  Certainly some have called for revolution, other have rallied around open carry laws, others have recruited from the ranks of the military who are dissatisfied with the country and its Commander-in-Chief, others have referred to themselves in the Tea Party as members of an army or mob, have talked about marching on the capital, etc.

The word "militant" is an entirely appropriate adjective on a number of levels.  Some of those levels should be raising alarms as well.

The Kroog Versus The Tender Feelings Of Bankers

Paul Krugman has no sympathy for Wall Street and wishes President Obama would have been more aggressive in yesterday's speech in New York.
Remember the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” in which Gordon Gekko declared: Greed is good? By today’s standards, Gekko was a piker. In the years leading up to the 2008 crisis, the financial industry accounted for a third of total domestic profits — about twice its share two decades earlier.

These profits were justified, we were told, because the industry was doing great things for the economy. It was channeling capital to productive uses; it was spreading risk; it was enhancing financial stability. None of those were true. Capital was channeled not to job-creating innovators, but into an unsustainable housing bubble; risk was concentrated, not spread; and when the housing bubble burst, the supposedly stable financial system imploded, with the worst global slump since the Great Depression as collateral damage.

So why were bankers raking it in? My take, reflecting the efforts of financial economists to make sense of the catastrophe, is that it was mainly about gambling with other people’s money. The financial industry took big, risky bets with borrowed funds — bets that paid high returns until they went bad — but was able to borrow cheaply because investors didn’t understand how fragile the industry was.

And what about the much-touted benefits of financial innovation? I’m with the economists Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny, who argue in a recent paper that a lot of that innovation was about creating the illusion of safety, providing investors with “false substitutes” for old-fashioned assets like bank deposits. Eventually the illusion failed — and the result was a disastrous financial crisis.

In his Thursday speech, by the way, Mr. Obama insisted — twice — that financial reform won’t stifle innovation. Too bad.

And here’s the thing: after taking a big hit in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, financial-industry profits are soaring again. It seems all too likely that the industry will soon go back to playing the same games that got us into this mess in the first place.
With banks responsible for a third of the country's domestic profits, and that profit based on smoke and mirrors, we were lucky that we didn't take even more economic damage when the bubble exploded.  Even worse, Republicans keep insisting that a third of the profits we make in this country, with risky bets with other people's money, remain largely unregulated in all ways.

That's a problem.  Banks aren't just too big, the real problem is that the banking industry is too big.  No single industry should have that kind of power over America's economy like that, and Krugman's right:  given just 18 months or so, the banks are doing even better than they did before, still taking huge bets and playing with trillions in derivatives over an open flame because financial reform STILL hasn't passed yet.

Some reforms are better than nothing, but like HCR, we can't just walk away and say "OK we're done here, banking is perfect now!"


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