Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Last Call

Obama's prime time speech was pretty good, but not the home run on climate that we needed.
You know, when I was a candidate for this office, I laid out a set of principles that would move our country towards energy independence. Last year, the House of Representatives acted on these principles by passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill, a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses.

Now, there are costs associated with this transition, and there are some who believe that we can't afford those costs right now. I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy, because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security and our environment are far greater.

So I'm happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party, as long as they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels. Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings, like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power. Others wonder why the energy industry only spends a fraction of what the high-tech industry does on research and development, and want to rapidly boost our investments in such research and development.

All of these approaches have merit and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet.

You know, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon.

And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom.
...And yet settling for conventional wisdom is exactly what he's doing.  Sigh.

Rotten Apple

I'm not the only guy who had zero luck trying to pre-order an Apple iPhone 4 today.  Gizmodo reports a cavalcade of errors, crashes, botched orders, and complete server shutdowns for anyone trying to renew an AT&T contract.  Apple stores themselves had to resort to pen and paper tickets.  It was a complete clusterfrak.

Worst part?  Security breaches in the ordering system exposed some people's information.
This is how it happens: A customer tries to log into their AT&T account to order a new iPhone 4 upgrade. Despite entering their username and password, the AT&T system would take them to another user account. This gives access to all kinds of private information about the mistaken customer: Addresses, phone calls, and bills, along with the rest of private information, becomes exposed to random strangers.
The AT&T servers are so broken right now nobody can order anything.

Me?  All of a sudden, I'm thinking a Blackberry Storm sounds infinitely better.

On another carrier besides AT&T.  Hey Apple, AT&T?  You're about >< close to losing a 4 year plus customer for good.  Get it together.


Go With The Flow

Ahead of the President's speech tonight, the Coast Guard, Energy Department, and Interior Department have put their heads together and come up with a new oil flow estimate: 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day.
Today’s improved flow rate estimate brings together the work of several scientific teams and is based on a combination of analyses of high resolution videos taken by ROVs, acoustic technologies, and measurements of oil collected by the oil production ship together with pressure measurements inside the top hat.  Over the weekend, at the insistence of Secretary Chu and the science team, pressure meters were added to the top hat to assist with these estimates.

The scientists stressed the need for continued and refined pressure measurement, but emphasized that today’s improved estimates have a greater degree of confidence than estimates that were possible prior to the riser cut.  There are several reasons for this, including:
  1. More and different kinds of data is available now: The improved estimates are informed by newly available, detailed pressure measurements from within the Top Hat taken over the past 24 hours. In addition, scientists could draw on more than a week of data about the amount of oil being collected through the top hat.
  1. A single flow is easier to estimate: Prior to the riser cut, oil was flowing both from the end of the riser and from several different holes in the riser kink.  This made estimates – particularly based on two dimensional video alone – more difficult. 
“We need to have accurate and scientifically grounded oil flow rate information both for the purposes of the response and recovery and for the final investigation of the failure of the blowout preventer and the resulting spill,” said Interior Secretary Salazar.  “This estimate, which we will continue to refine as the scientific teams get new data and conduct new analyses, is the most comprehensive estimate so far of how much oil is flowing one mile below the ocean’s surface.”  
In other words, the good news is they can clearly see the damn thing now and estimate correctly.  Even better, some of that oil is being captured. The bad news is that any dangerous and stormy weather shuts down all collection and all that oil goes free whenever that happens.  The worse news is that means if those estimates are right, we're looking at a total of anywhere from 75 to 135 million gallons of oil that has leaked, splitting the difference and calling it 100 million or so still means this is roughly an order of magnitude worse than Exxon Valdez.

And it's still going.  Two million gallons a day is still a new Exxon Valdez every five and a half days or so.  There's little we can do to stop it anytime soon, and all we can do at this point if pray the containment options start working.

The Gulf Coast is screwed.

World Cupdate

And the draws continued today as we go to Group F and Slovakia and New Zealand, two teams who frankly don't have a chance to advance out...or wouldn't have, except for the fact that all four teams in Group F are knotted up at one point a piece after Slovakia blew a huge opportunity to lead the group.  That draw pretty much doomed them in the group now, and the match itself was all Slovakia until the All Whites scored in the last minute to draw it up.  New Zealand is frankly happy to have the point.  Slovakia on the other hand just ended their chance to advance.

Ivory Coast played amazingly well even without Didier Drogba anywhere near the first half and coming in only late in the second with his arm in a cast. The 0-0 result against Portugal in Group G was impressive and suddenly we have a real competition here.  Ivory Coast definitely outplayed Portugal for all 90 minutes, and Drogba wasn't even a factor when he was in.  Portugal gets credit too for not making any costly mistakes, something several other teams in this World Cup cannot say.  As far the Group of Death however, this one was all work and no play and a rather dull affair.  Still, if Drogba gets his groove back, Ivory Coast may be surprisingly dangerous.

The big match of course was Brazil taking on North Korea. All indications were that the Canarinhos were going to cause carnage as the heavy favorites, but North Korea clearly came in playing turtle and trying to frustrate Brazil into making a mistake.  With huge amounts of pressure on Brazil to not just win but dominate by several goals, they had to push forward but North Korea walled Brazil out time and time again with five men back on defense. The first half absolutely belonged to the North Koreans by simple dint of not getting scored upon and the Koreans even had a couple of offensive chances as well.

But the second half was all Brazil, as Maicon finally broke the Korean bunker at 55 with a wicked bender.  Elano at 72 iced the game, but North Korea put one on the board at 89 as Yun Nam Ji flat out beat Julio Cesar.  Say what you will, these guys get respect in the best match of the tourney so far.

A Stimulating Debate, Part 3

President Obama's call for more job stimulus spending fell on deaf ears n Washington this week as even Democrats are now convinced more spending is bad (as opposed to, you know, higher unemployment.)
Republicans aren't the only ones saying no to more spending. Late last week, several Democrats said they were unwilling to support the jobs package before the Senate, which includes several administration priorities. Among them: provisions to revive emergency benefits for unemployed workers, which expired June 2, as well as $24 billion in state aid that Obama has called critical to averting "massive layoffs" of public-sector workers.

But the package also would increase budget deficits by nearly $80 billion over the next decade. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said that's too much at a time when the total national debt is $13 trillion and rising. "The more we borrow on these important areas," he said last week, "the more I think we will retard the recovery period dramatically because of more deficit and debt." 
Ahh, good ol' Ben Nelson.  You know, for once I can actually understand his ground game on this, Nebraska's unemployment rate is only 5.0%, half the national number, so why should he go out on a limb for Obama?  You know, other than it's the right thing to do.

Kent Conrad of North Dakota is at least more honest.
"If the White House wants this stuff," said a House Democratic aide, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about intraparty affairs, "they actually have to fight for it."

The administration has offered other, more popular ideas for combating a 9.7 percent unemployment rate, including a fund to promote small-business lending that the House is likely to approve this week. Unlike the state aid package, that measure has a designated funding source and will not increase deficits.

With Republicans hammering Democrats over the tide of red ink, paying for jobs bills may be the only way to pass them in advance of this fall's midterm elections, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Monday.

"The problem is what's necessary in the short term and what's necessary in the long term are directly contradictory," said Conrad, a deficit hawk who pushed hard to create a special commission to address the nation's soaring debt. "In the short term, however, I believe we need more stimulus, unpaid for, because we continue to have weakness . . . But politically, unless things are paid for, it's going to be hard to get them through.
The GOP has no intention of paying for it politically.  they win if the unemployment rate goes up because hey, they're not in charge.  Why should they lift a finger when they can blame the Dems?  It amazes me that the people who say "We can't rob from our children's plates" on the deficits are the ones seeing families and children have to go on food stamps and welfare rather than spend money on job stimulus.

Sadly, it's the Democrats saying it.

Playing The Paranoia Angle, Part 2

The Nevada GOP is shipping Sharron Angle to Washington to make the rounds and meet her putative colleagues in the Senate should she beat out Harry Reid.  I personally think she's being read the Riot Act and being told in no uncertain terms that she needs to ixnay on the spending cuts, but it could be to get some bitchin' recipes from Lindsey Graham.

Since Angle’s victory in last Tuesday’s primary, Republicans in Nevada and Washington have become increasingly concerned that the former assemblywoman has not responded aggressively enough to attacks Reid began only minutes after the polls closed. They said that unless she does, Reid could create an indelible image of someone too “extreme” for the independent voters in Nevada who will quite likely determine November’s election results.

“If you start off in a hole, it’s really hard to dig your way out of it,” said Chuck Muth, a former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party.

Several Republicans also told POLITICO that Angle’s decision to do selected interviews with conservative media outlets — avoiding even the local press in Nevada — is creating the impression that she is nervous about some of her more conservative views being picked apart. 
This is one of those rare instances where Politico is accidentally telling the truth.  But as Steve M. pointed out yesterday, this whole "only talking to right wing media outlets" is now par for the course for Republicans.
I'm not sure this can possibly ever work for liberal candidates, or even centrist candidates -- lefties and even media mainstreamers like to ask tough questions once in a while -- but I absolutely think it's the future for the right. I think we're going to look back in ten years and be amazed that back in the '00s and the twentieth century right-wing pols actually gave interviews to journalists who weren't part of their own noise machine; in the future, it simply won't happen.
And he's got a point.  The Angle angle is simply that mainstream media is illegitimate and only Rush, Glenn Beck, FOX News, Sean Hannity, etc. are the only sources of news left.  Angle playing the victim card is just as important to her campaign as it is to the right-wing media outlets, which run on nothing but outrage and Cavuto marks.

The plan almost worked with Sarah Palin.  It has been refined and improved for a whole slew of candidates in 2010.

I Can Haz Internetz Business Model?

You know LOLCats has made it big when they get a profile in the NY Times Technology section.
Three years ago Ben Huh visited a blog devoted to silly cat pictures — and saw vast potential.

Mr. Huh, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, first became aware of I Can Has Cheezburger, which pairs photos of cats with quirky captions, after it linked to his own pet blog. His site immediately crumbled under the resulting wave of visitors.

Sensing an Internet phenomenon, Mr. Huh solicited financing from investors and forked over $10,000 of his own savings to buy the Web site from the two Hawaiian bloggers who started it.

“It was a white-knuckle decision,” he said. “I knew that the first site was funny, but could we duplicate that success?”
Mr. Huh has since found that the appetite for oddball Internet humor is insatiable.

Traffic to the Cheezburger blog has ballooned over the last three years, encouraging Mr. Huh to expand his unlikely Web empire to include 53 sites, all fueled by submissions from readers. In May, what is now known as the Cheezburger Network attracted a record 16 million unique visitors, according to the Web analytics firm Quantcast.

A more recent success for the company is a site called Fail Blog, which chronicles disastrous mishaps and general stupidity in photos and video. The network’s smaller sites include Daily Squee, with pictures of cute animals, and There I Fixed It, for photos of bad repair jobs.

Mr. Huh said his company, which makes most of its money from Web advertising, has been profitable since Day 1.

“Then again, it was just me and Emily in the beginning,” he said referring to his wife, who also works at the company. Cheezburger now has more than 40 employees and has not sought additional investment. 
Our economy may be screwed, our political system broken, our social compacts unraveling and our society as a whole a hyperpartisan mess, but we lead the world in cats doing funny things with inane captions and Ben Huh now runs a business empire because of it.

America is truly great.

Upon Further Review, The Statue Is Overturned

The big story here in Cincy this morning is the Touchdown Jesus statue up in Monroe got struck by lightning and destroyed.
The statue, built in 2004 and dubbed ‘Touchdown Jesus’, was a feature on the grounds of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe. Standing six stories high, the statue was named “King of Kings” but colloquially became called “Touchdown Jesus” — the arms approximate the signal a referee makes for a touchdown in professional football.
TDJC there is something of a landmark around here.  Or...was...something of a landmark.

Personally I think the Powers That Be missed the Creation Museum about 45 minutes southwest, but I am but a mortal man, humbled by the power of nature to destroy a really big statue of Jesus.

Make of this what lesson you will.

The Republican Default Mode

Bruce Bartlett over at CG&G argues that if the Republicans make big gains in 2010 they will start exploring the possibility of refusing the raise the debt limit and defaulting on our debt in 2011 in order to force Austerity Hysteria (emphasis mine):
To be sure, the debt limit has always been raised in time to prevent a default, although Treasury sometimes had to push the limits of the law to move money around to pay the government’s bills. However, I believe the game has changed because Republicans have become extremely bold in using the filibuster to make it extraordinarily difficult to pass any major legislation without at least 60 votes in the Senate.

Furthermore, a growing number of conservatives have suggested that default on the debt wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It is often said that default would lead to an instantaneous balanced budget because no one would lend to the U.S. government ever again. Therefore, spending would have to be cut to the level of current revenues.

Writing in Forbes last month, the Cato Institute’s John Tamny was enthusiastic about the prospects of default. Said Tamny, “It’s time we learn to love the idea of a U.S. default . . . For Americans to worry about a debt default is like the parent of a heroin addict fearing that his dealers will cease feeding the addiction.” While acknowledging there might be some pain from default, he dismissed it as trivial compared to the enormous blessing of a massive reduction in federal spending.

Tamny is not an isolated crackpot; reputable conservative economists have been writing sympathetically about the idea of default for decades. These include Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan, whose 1987 essay, “The Ethics of Debt Default,” defended the morality of default on the grounds that deficits weren’t financing public capital but current consumption, with the bills being passed on to future generations.

Other prominent conservatives who have been favorable, even enthusiastic, about debt default include Murray Rothbard, Dan Pilla, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, and Christopher Whalen. In 1995, then House speaker Newt Gingrich publicly warned the Public Securities Association that he was prepared to default on the debt unless Bill Clinton acceded to Republican demands for budget cuts. “I don’t care what the price is,” Gingrich said.

Consequently, it is becoming increasingly common for the idea of default to be discussed as a realistic possibility even by responsible analysts. Last year, The Economist’s Greg Ip wrote an article in the Washington Post saying that financial markets were placing the risk of default at 6 percent over the next 10 years. “Default is unlikely,” he said. “But it is no longer unthinkable.”

My purpose today is not to make the case against default or explain all of its ramifications — that would require a separate column. Rather, my purpose is simply to alert readers to the consequences of increased Republican membership in the next Congress, a Democratic administration, the need for 60 votes in the Senate on major bills, and a debt limit that will run out early next year. I believe we could be in for the biggest debt crisis we have seen since Alexander Hamilton was Treasury secretary.
In other words, Republicans could simply hold the country hostage over the debt ceiling and get whatever they want.  Either Democrats make massive cuts in social spending and we end up in a depression in the medium-term, or the Republicans destroy our economy overnight and force even larger cuts as we end up in a depression in the short-term.  It's that short-term feature that comes in handiest for the Republicans as they'd get to blame Obama.

I don't think the Republicans would pull the trigger on default.  It would functionally annihilate our stock market and would almost certainly trigger another global economic crisis that would ensure everyone hated us for decades.  But they could certainly gain serious concessions from scared Dems.

Bartlett is frankly on to something given all the bold talk of massive spending cuts by election-year Republicans, who seem to have no problem with publicly declaring they will tear up the New Deal's social compact.

That Poll-Asked Look

NPR has conducted a poll of likely voters in 70 battleground House districts, the ones where Democrats hold the seat where the district voted for McCain in sixty of them, and ten more where Republicans hold the seat, but the district voted for Obama.

The results are somewhat depressing for the Donks.
These are this year's swing seats — the political terrain where the battle for control of the House of Representatives will be won or lost. In this battleground, voters are choosing Republicans over Democrats 49 percent to 41 percent. 
A +8 for the GOP in those districts is bad, bad news, but not surprising.  These are Republican districts for the most part, the places where a Democrat won locally but McCain won nationally.  However, odds are very good that a lot of these seats are going to go back to the GOP.  The question is will it be more than a net gain of 40 for the Republicans where they get control of the House back?

The other problem with this poll is that there's a pretty high margin of error, anywhere from 3.5% to 6.5% based on the district and question, so odds are good that the 8-point GOP lead is closer to 4 or 5.  But 4 or 5 points for the Republican on a generic ballot still means significant losses for the Dems in November.

The final note is that nearly all of the sixty Dems in these districts are by definition Blue Dogs.  And for the most part, they operated as Republicans, not faithful Democrats.  They will not get too much defense from Dem voters this year.  There's a lesson there.


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