Friday, December 3, 2010

Last Call

The Catfood Commission may have not gotten 14 of 18 votes, but as I said yesterday, that was never the goal.. That 14 is not the group of 14 that matters.

Fourteen Democratic Senators have asked Harry Reid for action on reining in the budget deficit, on the same day that the Catfood Commission failed to reach the threshold to deliver an official report.

The number – 14 – is incredibly significant. Democrats will have 53 members next year. 13 of the 14 members who signed this letter will be back next year, and the letter didn’t include Dick Durbin or Kent Conrad, who voted for the Catfood Commission plan. That would mean that, if every Republican wanted a deficit reduction plan, there would be a filibuster-proof majority to do something. There may not be such a majority on the specifics, but in a general sense, there will be some kind of deficit reduction action next year.

It never really mattered what the full commission thought or even did. Once Alan Simpson shot his wad and gave away the plan, this was inevitable.

The 14 signatories were: Mark Warner, Evan Bayh, Mark Begich, Michael Bennet, Tom Carper, Dianne Feinstein, Kay Hagan, Amy Klobuchar, Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Claire McCaskill, Jeanne Shaheen, Jon Tester and Mark Udall.

I think it’s clear that the Catfood Commission, while “failing” in the technical sense, did its job. It created a report that people can label “bipartisan” moving forward, and it put deficit reduction – when there are 15 million Americans out of work – at the top of the agenda.

And that's the rub. They have successfully framed the argument as "how much deficit reduction and how painful to make it" as the only discussion, not whether or not we should be cutting spending during a prolonged recession.

And now if all the Republicans join in on piling on the pain, there will be enough votes to send this to Obama's desk.

Given his record, what do you think the result of that would be?

Even More Food Stamps For Thought

Via Zero Hedge, the September SNAP numbers are out and quite depressing.

Some 42.9 million Americans are now on the program, up half a million from August and of course a new record. The montly cost (also a record) of $6.6 billion for the month.  A full 5% of the US population is now on SNAP compared to when the recession began in December 2007.

The misery continues.

Full PDF of the numbers here.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Count Out...Scott Brown?

Looks like Greg Sargent called Robert Gates's move this week as GOP Sen. Scott Brown is coming out for a DADT repeal.

A few quick points on this. First, it shows beyond doubt -- as I thought would happen -- that Robert Gates's handling of this whole affair was calibrated precisely to give GOP moderates the cover they needed to support repeal. Specifically, Gates' repeated assurances that he would have control over the pace of implementation shrewdly removed one of the last pretexts GOP moderates had to oppose lifting the policy.

Second, it shows that Gates has been actively working these moderates behind the scenes, offering them personal reassurances. This seems to reflect well on the White House's commitment to making repeal happen. Third, this could open the door for other GOP moderates to step forward and do the same.

One important question: How does this square with Mitch McConnell's letter vowing that the entire GOP caucus would stand in unison against DADT repeal and everything else Dems want until the standoff over the Bush tax cuts and funding the government are resolved? If Brown confirms he will vote for cloture on the Defense Authorization Bill containing DADT repeal, irrespective of whether a deal is reached on the tax cuts, it makes McConnell's threat look pretty empty.

Another important question is why John McCain continues to hold on to defeating this repeal legislation with an iron grip.  He's about to end up permanently on the wrong side of history here on a bipartisan effort to get rid of an overwhelmingly unpopular and morally wrong policy.  Younger, shrewder McCain would be in Scott Brown's shoes right now, at least being a useful political creature.  Now?  He's just a bitter, sad old man.

But the more important point is that DADT looks increasingly done for.

Gatekeeper, Meet The Keymaster

I talked about the FCC's pending net neutrality rules yesterday and noted how a prime example of a corporate conflict of interest created by these rules was Comcast charging internet backbone providers for streaming video through Netflix while Comcast is slated to complete its merger with NBC/Universal and gain its own streaming video service in Hulu.

Apparently the FCC more or less completely folding on net neutrality is not enough for the Washington Times, proclaiming in an unsigned editorial the end of the internet unless the FCC is completely removed from the oversight process.

It's not clear why the FCC thinks it needs to intervene in a situation with obvious market solutions. Companies that impose draconian tolls or block services will lose customers. Existing laws already offer a number of protections against anti-competitive behavior, but it's not clear under what law Mr. Genachowski thinks he can stick his nose into the businesses that comprise the Internet. The FCC regulates broadcast television and radio because the government granted each station exclusive access to a slice of the airwaves. Likewise when Ma Bell accepted a monopoly deal from Uncle Sam, it came with regulatory strings attached.

No such rationale applies online, especially because bipartisan majorities in Congress have insisted on maintaining a hands-off policy. A federal appeals court confirmed this in April by striking down the FCC's last attempt in this arena. "That was sort of like the quarterback being sacked for a 20-yard loss," FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell told The Washington Times. "And now the team is about to run the exact same play. ... In order for the FCC to do this, it needs for Congress to give it explicit statutory authority to do so."

Freedom and openness should continue to be the governing principles of the Internet. That's why Mr. Genachowski's proposal should be rejected and Congress should make it even more clear that the FCC should stop trying to expand its regulatory empire.

So Comcast will lose customers and they will go to another broadband provider if that happens, is the argument.  The problem with that is for millions of Americans there's no competition to go to, especially for businesses who are increasingly turning to telecommuting and teleconferencing to save money.

Small businesses want choice and competition in the broadband service market, according to a new government report, but unfortunately they aren’t getting either.

A report from the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy also found that there are statistically significant differences between metro and rural areas in terms of broadband speed, availability and price.

About one-third of small businesses surveyed for the report indicated a need for broadband service requiring greater capacity networks than currently exist.

So the question then becomes "who pays for the needed infrastructure to increase availability, competition, and lower prices?"  Remember, the "free market solution" says that anyone who charges fees to cover the cost of infrastructure will lose customers.  Remember also that the government's not allowed to do it either because it's a "technological boondoggle for taxpayers" because after all government infrastructure is evil.

The result is exactly what we have now:  a system where nobody will pay for the infrastructure and as a result broadband remains unavailable to millions, and millions more are locked into a monopolistic situation where there is only one provider of broadband that serves the area.

Never mind that broadband providers already get subsidies from the government.  The solution really is obvious:  a system where the government provides the infrastructure and the broadband companies then maintain it and provide service at a fair price, the way water and power utilities work today.  It would create jobs for the construction of the network, and keep creating jobs as the barriers to providing broadband service and entering the market as a provider fell...creating competition, benefiting the end consumer with lower prices, not to mention the country would have broadband access.  Seems like a solid investment in our technology base to me.

But no, the only acceptable path is to rid ourselves of the FCC and hope the billion-dollar corporations "work something out" magically.  The rationale to protect the consumer?  Who cares about that in 2010?

Privacy, Who Needs Privacy?

In this article, a sociologist and professor of international relations at George Washington University points out that our privacy is at risk, and explains how companies actually take our information and matches it with other sites, in a horrible violation of privacy. Who are the people buying this information? According to the article, "the Department of Justice, and through it, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS and the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services."

We have to take a stand against this stupidity. What this means is through an anonymous interface, there exists the ability to harvest a person's life and all of their contacts, all correspondence and shopping habits. Google searches, Amazon book lists, message boards and instant messages, all with the ability to be trapped and kept forever. Obama has failed miserably in protecting our privacy, but let's not forget it was George "Warrants Are For Losers" Bush who started this in the first place. This has to stop, and now. How abusable is it that a message board post or email can be used as reasonable grounds for a warrant and even greater intrusion?

The ISPs of the country should have to protect their customers. Customers should be made aware of this, and should take responsibility for their burden of knowledge. The government can't be trusted to do the right thing here. Just because you don't have anything to hide doesn't mean that you should be profiled and your movements recorded. People who don't protect their privacy will become a liability to those who do. What will happen when there is no judge to oversee this practice, and no branch of government that doesn't directly benefit from this intrusion?

I write for several sources, as well as freelance (both fiction and non). This week, my most interesting Google searches were:

child abuse internet message boards (article on Internet predators)
ghost science measurements
meth laws missouri otc drugs used to make (in response to a local op/ed piece)
murder crime methods (always good to browse for crime story inspiration)
tracking family relatives (good Private Investigation story brewing)
hair extensions wigs (just curious, really)

Try reading that without the comments, and see how easily lack of context can make the most legal and legitimate actions appear suspicious. What if a woman wore a wig and robbed a store for over the counter medicines to make meth? That happens all the time in Missouri. Think about that the next time you go to a search engine. Don't look at it through the eyes of someone who wants to know who you are, but someone who wants to find a reason to dig for more dirt, or just needed a direction to dig in.

There are three reasons to lose a little sleep tonight. One, this is happening right now. Two, months of Internet traffic is being sifted and recorded for this use. Three, there is nobody who can make this stop, and even the professor who wrote the article points out that it is the very government who benefits from this behavior that has the best chance of protecting us.

All together now: "Yeah, right."

Real Money Even By Helicopter Ben Standards

How bad off were the banks in 2008?  The Fed's overnight loan window provided...get this now...nine trillion dollars in loans to banks during the financial crisis.

The loans were made through a special loan program set up by the Fed in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse in March 2008 to keep the nation's bond markets trading normally.

The amount of cash being pumped out to the financial giants was not previously disclosed. All the loans were backed by collateral and all were paid back with a very low interest rate to the Fed -- an annual rate of between 0.5% to 3.5%.

Still, the total amount was a surprise, even to some who had followed the Fed's rescue efforts closely.
"That's a real number, even for the Fed," said FusionIQ's Barry Ritholtz, author of the book "Bailout Nation." While the fact that the markets were in trouble was already well known, he said the amount of help they needed is still surprising.

"It makes it very clear this was a very serious, very unusual situation," he said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who had authored the provision of the financial reform law that required Wednesday's disclosure, called the data that was released incredible and jaw-dropping.

"The $700 billion Wall Street bailout turned out to be pocket change compared to trillions and trillions of dollars in near zero interest loans and other financial arrangements that the Federal Reserve doled out to every major financial institution," Sanders said.

Granted, the banks paid these loans back, but the collateral they put up to back these loans were again, worthless paper.

Tyler Durden -- and Rep. Alan Grayson -- noticed this missing $9 trillion back last year. Makes you wonder just why Grayson was successfully zapped as the "GOP's Number One Target" in the House.  A whole lot of money from outside Orlando went into that race to get a win for Daniel Webster.  Here's what the banks got, by the way:

Some two trillion a piece for Merill, Citigroup, and Morgan.   Nearly one trillion in a losing effort to save Bear Stearns.  The Fed was the only liquidity game in town on the bond side for months.  And in return, what did the taxpayer get?

Record profits for banks.

Now you know why.  While America was worried about the stimulus bill, the real show was going on behind the scenes at the Fed.  The only reason we even have these major banks is due to these near zero-interest loans based on worthless collateral.  Nine trillion bucks worth.  And these guys think they deserve bonuses this year, while the rest of us are told we must tighten our belts.

That's fair, right?  Washington seems to think so.  Both parties.  Any who object, well, ask Alan Grayson what happens.

Getting In The Chrismoose Spirit

As Sarah Palin makes a book tour stop here in Cincy today, here's a reminder of how she treats the media covering her publicity maneuvers.

CNN's Jim Acosta and his camera crew were invited to attend a Palin book signing in a Spirit Lake, Louisiana Wal-Mart. But one of Palin's handlers put a hand in front of the camera before Acosta could finish his questions.

The Queen Moose does not answer your questions, peon.

Acosta asked Palin for a reply to Mitt Romney's comment on the Tonight Show that he wouldn't have quit his job as governor of Massachusetts like Palin did in Alaska.

"It's hard to imagine a circumstance where I'd have quit," Romney had told Jay Leno. "It's a great job. I loved it. But [Palin] had her reasons."

As the loud music returned to the book signing, an unhappy Palin answered the question about Romney's comments. "He probably had some different conditions," she said.

Before Acosta could get out another question, one of Palin's handlers put a hand in front of the camera and the CNN crew was forced to leave.

It's not like this is the first time this has happened, either.   If Palin is asked questions by the media (and remember she invited them to her book signing in the first place) well then that's unacceptably intrusive on the woman making a national public book publicity tour.  Thne of course the media isn't doing its job by asking tough questions of President Obama, like where his birth certificate is.  Merry Christmas.

Looking forward to seeing everyone but FOX, Newsmax, and World Net Daily kicked out of Palin's press conferences in the future.

The Pain In Spain Remains

Spain continues down the same road to hell that Ireland paved with its good intentions of austerity.

The Spanish government approved new austerity measures and a limited economic stimulus package Friday to ease investor fears about its debt -- and insisted again it was taking strong steps to right its ailing economy.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero canceled a trip to an Iberoamerican summit in Argentina just to over see a cabinet meeting where the reforms were passed.

The moves include plans to sell off a 30 percent stake in the government-owned national lottery, the partial privatization of airports, cutbacks to a key jobless benefit, tax cuts for small businesses and an increase in the tobacco tax.

And surprise, surprise!  The austerity measures that Spain enacted earlier this year have done nothing to stanch the bleeding.   Cutting jobless benefits and small business does that sound familiar?

In May, when markets were spooked by the near-bankruptcy of Greece, Spain cut wages for civil servants, froze most retirement pensions, and made it easier and cheaper for companies to lay people off.

Zapatero's Socialist government also pledged to reform the pension system by Jan. 28, and is likely to raise retirement age from 65 to 67, an unpopular move that sparked a nationwide strike in September.

Cutting pay for government workers and raising the retirement age...also a familiar song here on our own shores.  Austerity is on the way for all it seems, only austerity in this case means the least able having to foot the bill for the wealthy, time and time again.

[UPDATE] In response to the latest austerity plan, Spanish air traffic controllers have gone on strike, closing Spain's major airports.  The Spanish military is now threatening to take over control of the country's airspace.

Newt So Fast, Mr. Gingrich

Republicans are increasingly realizing that they have a serious problem with Latino voters.  The far right nationalist Tea Party has no problem with demonizing tens of millions of Latinos (or any minority for that matter) and wants to deport "all the illegals".  But the corporate wing of the party wants a steady supply of cheaper manual labor and has no problem with taking advantage of undocumented workers either.  The two goals are fundamentally incompatible.

That brings us to Newt Gingrich, trying to thread the needle while riding the rapids.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a bold goal for the next decade: Overhaul the country's immigration system so that every worker in the United States is legal.

"We are not going to deport 11 million people," Gingrich said Thursday as he kicked off his first forum on Latino issues. "There has to be some zone between deportation and amnesty." 

The problem is of course that to the binary worldview Tea Party, there is no zone between deportation and amnesty.  That's illustrated best by Gingrich's own words.  In 2006:

Culturally we have shifted from an integrating, English-speaking American citizenship focused model of immigration to an acceptance of foreign habits (which are going to include corruption), foreign loyalties (illustrated by the waving of foreign flags by many of the marchers, some with attitudes of contempt) and the insistence (not necessarily by immigrants) on creating non-English speaking legal and educational structures.

In 2009:

What I said was that we should have a program to have a legal guest-worker system. We should be very clear that we want to increase legal immigration…I think symbolically, you know, the McCain-Kennedy bill said you have to pay a $5,000 fine to the U.S. government. You can fly home, get the visa, and come back for less than $5,000. So you’re asking me — is it possible over a 2-3 year period that every person at some point go home and get the guest-worker permit — because you couldn’t do this in week. This would have to be a transition of 2-3 years. I think virtually everybody would it if they knew we were serious…

Earlier this year:

“What I’m opposed to is the federal level passage of a single bill that pretends it does all the right things, but is actually designed to ensure that millions of people get to be American citizens in hopes that they will vote Democrat, which I think is the Obama plot,” Gingrich said.

And now he's back to wanting comprehensive reform and not deporting people.  He's been all over the map on this, jumping from deportation to cultural attacks on immigrants to turning processing immigrant labor into a lucrative corporate contract to now pandering to the Latino voter that there has to be a third way.

The bigger problem of course is that Newt Gingrich doesn't make any sense on immigration because the Republicans don't make any sense on immigration.  They're trying to demonize immigrants enough to keep their virulently bigoted base on board, and have to try to then pander enough to not lose too many Latino votes.  It's a train wreck either way.

It's finally dawning on some GOP hopefuls that a serious immigration policy is needed, one that consists of more than screaming "NO SHAMNESTY!" at the nearest TV camera.

The Tea Party will of course prevent any conversation on that.  Newt's going to get fried for even suggesting there's another option than the Tex-Mex version of Kristalnacht ahead for America.


A major miss on the November unemployment numbers as the economy only added 39,000 jobs.

Employers added fewer jobs than forecast in November and the unemployment rate unexpectedly increased, vindicating the Federal Reserve’s decision to pump more money into the economy to spur growth.

Payrolls increased 39,000, less than the most pessimistic projection of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, after a revised 172,000 increase the prior month, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The jobless rate rose to 9.8 percent, the highest since April, while hours worked and earnings stagnated.

More jobs are needed to sustain the holiday-season gains in consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, into the new year. Payrolls aren’t growing fast enough to lower the jobless rate, one reason why Fed policy makers announced a new round of monetary stimulus. 

We're starting to see the effects of Foreclosuregate on the economy as the Republicans have picked a wonderful time to cut off 2 million Americans from unemployment checks this month.  The best part is that ending unemployment benefits right now will only cause even more jobs to be lost in 2011.  It's not like people were sitting on unemployment money and not paying the bills with it, putting that money directly in the pockets of grocery stores, gas stations, and other local businesses.  Now, that's drying up.

We're sliding down the slope and picking up speed.


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