Monday, November 29, 2010

Last Call

Assange's next WikiLeaks target is supposedly a major US bank.

In an interview with Forbes, Julian Assange says his next target will be an American bank.

"It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume," he said. "For this, there's only one similar example. It's like the Enron emails."

"It could take down a bank or two," he said.

Errm, Julian, bro...these guys have basically screwed the American public out of trillions and have essentially gotten away with it.  What are you sitting on that's so nasty?  CEOs calling each other jerks?  Helicopter Ben getting smashed out of his mind with the Goldman boys? 

Unless it's Jamie Dimon buying dozens of massive Dodge Ram trucks just to extract the Hemi engine blocks so he can lift them by helicopter and try to drop them on cardboard boxes full of shelter kittens for points, it's not going to matter much.   I'd like to see these cards.

The First Net Neutrailty Nuke Is Lobbed

To everyone who said "We should let the free market take care of net neutrality issues" then I hope you don't have Comcast as your internet provider.

Level 3 Communications, an Internet networking company that recently signed a deal to deliver movies to Netflix customers, said Monday that Comcast has effectively set up a tollbooth around its broadband Internet network.

Comcast demanded a “recurring fee” from Level 3 “to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content,” Thomas Stortz, the chief legal officer for Level 3, said in a statement Monday afternoon, seemingly alluding to the Netflix service. The action “threatens the open Internet,” Mr. Stortz added.

Comcast did not immediately respond to the company’s claims. A spokesman for Netflix declined to comment.

Worst case scenario, expect basically every other ISP to follow suit here pretty quickly as internet providers, net backbone companies, and content providers start charging each other fees for everything...and guess who these fees will be passed along to?

Unless we regulate and enforce an open internet, it will be taken from us.  The war has been on, but now the WMDs are loose.  This has the potential to get ugly, fast.

Birther Society Nonsense

The Supreme Court just ruined some birther's day.

The justices without comment Monday rejected a challenge from Charles Kerchner Jr., a Pennsylvania man who sought a trial in federal court forcing the president to produce documents regarding his birth and citizenship.

Kerchner's attorney, Mario Apuzzo, had argued in a petition with the Supreme Court that Obama did not fit the definition of a "natural-born citizen" required for the nation's highest office, as defined by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.

That clause states, "No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

Kerchner, a retired military officer who describes himself on his website as a "genetic genealogy pioneer," argues the framers of the 1789 document intended a "natural-born" citizen to mean someone born in the U.S. to parents who were both American citizens.

The high court and other courts had dismissed earlier, unrelated lawsuits from individuals questioning Obama's citizenship. State birth certificate records show he was born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother is a native of Kansas; his father was born in Kenya, which at the time was a British colony.

The argument is of course Obama is a British citizen and therefore ineligible for the office of President, to which the Supreme Court said "You sir, are a douchebag" and went and had lunch.  I'm sure Kerchner's next move will be to have the Founding Fathers exhumed and their ghosts summoned forth so that they can settle the question of intent once and for all (at taxpayer expense).

The Birthers will never, ever go away.  We need to institute some sort of public punishment when these suits are dismissed, preferably involving dropping these idiots off in Kenya with a map and a canteen and wishing them the best of luck.

Obama's Brain Freeze

Not sure I understand the politics behind this move.

President Obama on Monday will call for a two-year freeze in the wages of federal employees.

The freeze, which would save $60 billion over 10 years, would make a small dent in the nation's debt problem. The accumulated deficits are currently forecast to exceed $9 trillion over the next decade.

If this is designed to make the Republicans like him, that's not happening.  If this is some sort of bargaining tool for getting various vital bills through the lame duck session, again, I don't see how this is going to help.  The CNN article ominously makes this sound like some sort of reflexive Centrist Dalek junk.

According to the administration, the two-year pay freeze would save $2 billion for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 and $28 billion over the next five years.

The freeze would not apply to military personnel, but would apply to all civilian federal employees, including those in various alternative pay plans and those working at the Department of Defense.

Federal workers shouldn't feel singled out: The White House says more tough choices are on the way.

So again, what is Obama getting from the Republicans for suggesting and agreeing with one of their own talking points other than having the Republicans ignore it completely at best and attack Obama for doing it at worst?   From a macroeconomic standpoint, freezing federal worker pay is anti-stimulus.  It's low hanging fruit I guess, but I'm still not seeing why Obama's announcing this now.

Other than he's moving towards the center just for the hell of it, which is entirely possible.  But Greg Sargent points out that Obama's already losing the fight on this:

Indeed, in a statement just now, Eric Cantor, the number two in the House GOP leadership, seized on the news as proof that Republicans, not Obama, are setting the governing agenda. Cantor said he was "encouraged" by Obama's proposal, noting that House Republicans had already "offered the very same spending-cut proposal on the floor of the House." Cantor continued:
"We are pleased that President Obama appears ready to join our efforts. As the recent election made clear, Americans are fed up with a government that spends too much, borrows too much and grows too much."
In other words, Republicans simply pointing to this latest move as proof that Obama agrees with their interpretation of the elections and in response is now willing to follow their script.

So again, what does Obama get out of this eleven-dimensional chess match other than yet another wedgie from the GOP?

The Old Man Is Off His Meds

Dear The Village:  Can we stop taking John McCain seriously now?

John McCain has a plan for North Korea. To deal with the impudent northern half of the Korean Peninsula, McCain suggested yesterday that it might be time to dig into the Bush administration playbook for the Middle East, circa 2003. On CNN's State Of The Union, McCain called for "regime change" in Pyongyang as soon as possible -- though he didn't say how exactly anyone would go about it.

One option appears to be off the table in McCain's mind, a military strike like the one America used the last time "regime change" was bandied about by high-profile Republicans.

"I think it's time we talked about regime change in North Korea," McCain told CNN's Candy Crowley, "and I do not mean military action, but I do believe that this is a very unstable regime."

To recap, the McCain plan for North Korea:

  1. Get tough with Pyongyang.
  2. ???
  3. Regime change!

I mean honestly, he's not even worth having on the Sunday shows for unintentional comedy value anymore.  He's just a sad old man.

More Of A Small Hissing Sound Than A Bang

TPM's Megan Carpentier comes up with five things you need to know about Cablepalooza and really none of it is shocking if you've been paying any attention to various milblogs over the last couple of years. (Diplomats are socially agreed upon gossipy spies.  Also, the sun is hot.)  But three of the 5 items involve Iran.

First, heavily Shi'a Iran is not exactly liked by its Sunni neighbors and wanted Obama to deal with Iran's nuclear program using military force.

The Saudis, the Bahrainis and even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were all similarly inclined, as has been widely reported -- El Pais reported that Mubarak's hatred for Iran was called "visceral" and the New York Times reported the existence of cables referring to the Saudi king's "frequent exhortations" to engage in military action against Iran. The Bahrainis, too, are said to be keen to see Iran's nuclear program halted, and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa is said to have blamed problems in Iraq and Afghanistan on the Iranian government -- and both Kuwaiti and Yemeni officials reportedly told U.S. diplomats similar things about Iranian involvement in fomenting dissent in their own countries.

Secondly, Iran apparently got missiles from North Korea (who got them from Russia) and finally Iran used Red Crescent to move spies into Lebanon.  The thing is none of this is really new stuff here.  Shi'a and Sunni Muslims really, really don't like each other, and Iran is roughly 90% Shi'a.  Also, North Korea doesn't play fair and neither does Iran...well no kidding.

So far I'm not really impressed by this batch of leaks.

I'm At WMOOSE In Cincinnati

Guess who's back?  Back again?

Sarah Palin will bring her national book-signing tour to suburban Cincinnati Friday, with a stop at the Harper’s Point Kroger store.

It’s the next-to-last stop on a three-week tour that that included some early 2012 presidential primary and caucus states, such as Iowa and South Carolina, fueling speculation that the former Alaska governor is gearing up for a presidential campaign.

Palin will start signing her new book, “America By Heart,” at 11 a.m.; and the store will begin passing out wristbands for the signing at 8 a.m. Details on the signing can be found here. 

No word on whether or not she'll sign your gun stock, cuts of game meat, or small child.  Also, totally not a sign of running in 2012 by poking around a grocery store in the blood-red parts of Ohio either.

The Kroog Versus The Pain In Spain

Paul Krugman argues that the 2010 Eurozone crisis is all cape and no horns so far in the real bullfight:  Spain's overdue economic goring that could take out everything.

Why is Spain in so much trouble? In a word, it’s the euro.

Spain was among the most enthusiastic adopters of the euro back in 1999, when the currency was introduced. And for a while things seemed to go swimmingly: European funds poured into Spain, powering private-sector spending, and the Spanish economy experienced rapid growth.

Through the good years, by the way, the Spanish government appeared to be a model of both fiscal and financial responsibility: unlike Greece, it ran budget surpluses, and unlike Ireland, it tried hard (though with only partial success) to regulate its banks. At the end of 2007 Spain’s public debt, as a share of the economy, was only about half as high as Germany’s, and even now its banks are in nowhere near as bad shape as Ireland’s.

But problems were developing under the surface. During the boom, prices and wages rose more rapidly in Spain than in the rest of Europe, helping to feed a large trade deficit. And when the bubble burst, Spanish industry was left with costs that made it uncompetitive with other nations.

Now what? If Spain still had its own currency, like the United States — or like Britain, which shares some of the same characteristics — it could have let that currency fall, making its industry competitive again. But with Spain on the euro, that option isn’t available. Instead, Spain must achieve “internal devaluation”: it must cut wages and prices until its costs are back in line with its neighbors. 

In other words, Spain doesn't have any good options right now.  It doesn't even have any bad options right now like we do here in the US.  It only has terrible options.  That's the difference between Spain and the UK, which does have its own currency and can make central bank adjustments.  Spain doesn't have that ability short of an ugly structural unemployment path that keeps high numbers of Spaniards out of work.

We'll see how it goes.  But Spain is the big one.  If it goes under, Europe is toast.

So What's The Progressive Answer To The Catfood Commission?

Glad you asked.  We've seen the conservative plans and the Catfood Commission.  What do liberals want to do to fix our problems?  Not one but two plans will be unveiled over the next two days.

On Monday, the progressive policy organizations Demos, the Economic Policy Institute and the Century Foundation will unveil a liberal blueprint. Their report says that unlike the centrist plans, this version “stabilizes debt as a share of the economy without demanding draconian cuts to national investments or to vital safety net programs.” It would, however, leave the debt at a higher level as a share of the economy than the centrist plans.

On Tuesday, a separate coalition of liberal groups, economists and labor leaders — the Citizens’ Commission on Jobs, Deficits and America’s Economic Future — will release a similar outline.

Both plans are comparable to one recently proposed by Representative Jan Schakowsky, a liberal Democrat from Illinois who is a member of the Bowles-Simpson commission. Ms. Schakowsky opposed the chairmen’s draft as too hard on the middle class. 

There are a number of points to the plans:

  • Cuts wouldn't start until 2015, with near-term stimulus in 2012 and increased spending in infrastructure to directly attack unemployment.
  • Deeper military spending cuts after 2015.
  • Long-term savings from health care reform, including the public option to lower costs.
  • Raise the cap on Social Security taxable income to 90%.
  • Closing tax loopholes, a new surcharge on incomes above $1 million, cap and trade and a gas tax, and taxing financial transactions.
It wouldn't lower the deficit as quickly of course, but it would begin to do so by a combination of lower military spending and higher taxes.  It also accomplishes all this without Social Security benefit cuts too, but the gas tax is troubling.  Still, all the plans so far have called for raising the federal gas tax, so it's not like that won't happen.

I'm not excited about the plan (public option is nice however) but it's better than what we've seen so far.  Too bad the plan has zero chance.

Any Portugal In A Storm, Part 2

Roubini says Portugal should make a bailout deal now while the mechanism is in place, and the costs of doing so are lower than waiting to drag out the process out of pride.

Roubini, a professor of economics at New York University who predicted the financial crisis, told daily paper Diario Economico it is "increasingly likely" Portugal will require international assistance.

He said in an interview published Monday there are ample funds to shore up Portugal, one of the euro zone's smaller countries which contributes less than 2 percent to the 16-nation bloc's gross domestic product.

Roubini said Portugal is approaching "a critical point" due to it high debt load and weak growth.

All those Greek and Irish protestations and assurances that everything was fine ended up being pointless.  Portugal is clearly next on the list and moving to get ahead of the bond traders can get the country a better deal now rather than dragging it out and causing chaos.

Of course, Portugal won't do that.  They'll deny needing a bailout right up until the point they take it anyway.


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