Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Last Call

Julian Assange's defense fund:  $41,100.

Total number of credit and debit cards in US circulation:  1.1 trillion.

Pissing off the hacker community by refusing to process credit card donations for WikiLeaks any longer:  priceless.

For everything else, there's Operation Payback.

Yesterday, MasterCard Worldwide became the latest financial institution to face the wrath of online hackers acting to avenge secrets outlet WikiLeaks over the credit card provider's declaration that the site was engaged in "illegal" activities.

Not 36 hours after MasterCard froze payments to WikiLeaks, their website was down as hackers with the group "Anonymous" launched a new wave of cyberattacks. The company said its customers could still use their credit cards for purchases, but the PayPoint retail network told a BBC reporter that MasterCard's "SecureCode" service had been taken down, interrupting service all over.

The hackers also claimed responsibility for taking down the website for Swiss bank PostFinance, after it froze an account with over €31,000 set aside for site founder Julian Assange's legal defense.

Assange was arrested in London yesterday on an Interpol warrant out of Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning in an investigation of sexual assault.

"Anonymous" has dubbed their cyber warfare campaign "Operation Payback," threatening to "fire" on any entity that attempts to censor WikiLeaks.

Service to was unavailable at time of this writing. The website for the Swedish prosecutor's office was also offline, as was a site for the lawyer representing Assange's accusers.

Hack the planet, indeed.  Paging Neal Stephenson and William Gibson:  your next book just arrived.


The House is debating the DREAM Act currently, while it looks like the fate of the repeal of DADT is now in the hands of Maine Republican Susan Collins.  Brian Beutler:

Here's what Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that she needs to support a full Senate debate on the defense authorization bill (the vehicle for Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal): 15 guaranteed votes on amendments (10 for Republicans, and 5 for Democrats), and somewhere around four days to debate the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already promised her the 15 amendments, but his initial offer was for a day or two of debate. Here's her response to reporters tonight, after a Senate vote.

"The majority leader's allotment of time for to debate those amendments was extremely short, so I have suggested doubling the amount of time, assuring that there would be votes, and making sure that the Republicans get to pick our own amendments as opposed to the Majority Leader."

"If he does that I will do all that I can to help him proceed to the bill. But if he does not do that, then I will not," she added.

Late this evening, per Collins' request, Reid delayed a test vote he'd planned to hold tonight.

"Everyone on the Republican side wants to see the tax package completed first," Collins said. 

On the surface it looks like Collins is playing the same stall game that Senate Republicans perfected throughout the health care reform debate.  There's a reason that took a year plus to pass.  Josh Marshall thinks this is all noteworthy:

Collins has finally made her demands concrete and public. And they are not outrageous. At one point she wanted or was said to want two weeks of debate. Now she's asking for a manageable 4 days. Would we have gotten here anyway? Maybe. Did Reid's forcing the issue make the difference? Hard to say for sure, but probably.

This much is clear: the day started with DADT repeal looking completely dead and ends with a very plausible way forward to 60 votes in the Senate in this lame duck session. Not a done deal yet, but prospects for repeal are a whole lot better than they were 12 hours ago.

We'll see.  Since I believe the tax deal is going to fall apart, Collins hinging her support on the tax deal being completed means no DADT repeal and probably no DREAM Act either.  Frankly, nothing's changed as far as I'm concerned.  It's just a matter of how bad the resulting final emergency deal is.  Collins is playing her part.  She will stall, but she will never vote for either item.

There is no such thing as a moderate Republican in Congress, just varying methods of blocking Obama's agenda.

You May Say That I'm A Dreamer

But he wasn't the only one.

I remember being five when Lennon died, 30 years ago today.  Zandardad was pretty broken up over it, having grown up in Long Island in the 60's.  I remember him taking me and my brother to the post office the next morning before school and I was wondering why everyone was sad that day and he explained what happened.

World got a bit darker after that day.

He's Working For The Ramen Noodles Lobby, Clearly

I'm really not sure what the Daily Caller's Matthew Boyle is trying to do with this story that shows that yes, you can buy pricey Whole Foods stuff on SNAP assistance in DC and then not have any money left over for actual food for the rest of the month.  I'm not sure what the point of that is, since clearly Boyle didn't try to live on an entire month or two just using SNAP.

Kentucky at least has requirements that there are a number of things you can't buy on SNAP, especially requirements for having to purchase the least expensive dairy products the store offers and it cannot be used for deli and prepared foods.  If that was his point, that DC needs tighter rules on what you can buy under SNAP, that's fine.  But Boyle's approach seemed designed to be misleading at best and downright nasty (getting into welfare queen territory) at worst.

Sure, you can buy swordfish steaks and candy on SNAP.  You can also buy 4 cases of ramen noodles for about five bucks, too.  If you want to call that your food budget for the month and use the rest for Snickers bars, well there you are.  Boyle, by the way, was gaming the system and didn't really need food stamps (unless Tucker Carlson really doesn't pay his guys worth crap).

I love how the same conservatives who have no problem making shopping lists for SNAP recipients that they think should be mandated by law to prevent fraud are the same folks who then scream FOOD POLICE at Michelle Obama for being worried about the nation's health and vow to block the FDA's food safety bill as "government intrusion" and wave their little Gadsden flags.

No problems with the government being used as a cudgel against everyone else except themselves, then it's WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY time.

Asking The Right Questions

Both Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow ripped into the President last night on their respective shows.  Olbermann was brutal:

To paraphrase Churchill, again, let me begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing: "that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road. We should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of American politics and policy have been deranged, and that the terrible words have, for the time being, been pronounced against this Administration: "thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting." 

And even the reserved Rachel was grabbing for the nearest towel to throw.

Either the president of the United States matters or he doesn't. And if the president cannot win when his party is the majority in Congress, if no one can even conceive of the president winning fights when his party is in the majority, let alone the minority in Washington, then the presidency itself starts to atrophy. It starts to disappear.

But neither one of them was asking the right question.  Steve Benen on the other hand nailed the real issue (the one I brought up yesterday).  What's Plan B when this deal falls through?

What's Plan B?

I don't mean this to sound snarky and this isn't a rhetorical question; I'm genuinely interested in understanding the back-up strategy. When I posed this question yesterday to some Capitol Hill aides I know, they said they'd recommit to fighting even harder for the original Obama tax plan -- permanent breaks for those under $250k, Clinton-era top rates for those above $250k. If/when this week's compromise goes down, Republicans, they said, would likely cave and accept the Democratic approach. They'd be out of options -- it'd be a choice between the Dem plan and higher taxes for everyone. Dems would regain the leverage they lost before the midterms.

And that could work. The plan came seven votes shy of 60 the other day, but when push comes to shove, maybe those seven additional votes would come together, and Dems would win this fight over taxes.

But what then? How would extended unemployment benefits pass for the millions of jobless Americans who need them? What happens to the economic stimulus? What's the strategy for getting quick approval for an expanded earned-income tax credit and the continuation of a college-tuition tax credit? With almost no time left on the clock, after winning the fight on tax policy, is the plan to simply punt on New START ratification, DADT repeal, the DREAM Act, food safety, and health care for Ground Zero workers, hoping for the best in the next Congress?

I understand very well what opponents on the left want to do to the tax deal, and why. I'm less clear on what happens next.

That's what we should asking ourselves right now.  What's Plan B?  Because as I have been saying for days now, Plan A will never end up on the President's desk.  I don't want this plan to pass because I think it's a great plan.  I want it to pass because the alternatives are much worse in a number of ways.  Right now I don't see this having the votes to get through, and that's a shame.

Because there is no real Plan B right now.  Maybe Rachel and Keith should be asking that question instead.  I expect Olbermann to deliver a broadside, but Maddow should know better and start exploring the realities of what happens when this deal dies screaming.

To his credit, David Dayen does have an answer to the question.

So the choices are: a deal that extends Bush tax cuts and a lower estate tax than even Bush envisioned, basically forever, with a canceled-out stimulus in the exchange; or no Bush tax cuts, and no stimulus. In the alternative scenario, do Republicans still call for spending cuts? Probably. But the public finances look better in that scenario, and their energy would probably be dedicated to getting those tax cuts back instead. Republicans have signaled enough weakness on unemployment benefits that a short-term extension can probably get wriggled out. And crucially, you’d have a future tax base which can actually sustain a robust functioning government.

So you have to ask yourself is this the best possible deal for the future? Because there’s no question this is a deal for 2012. But endless low tax rates, on income and estates, basically ends progressive governance in America.

Is it the best possible deal?  No.  Dayen is 100% correct there.  He also has a very good point that by sacrificing the idea that any taxes can ever be raised that social spending is in dire peril and will be slashed in the future...but how does Obama get a better deal?

Nobody seems to have an answer to that.  My partial answer is that it has to begin with filibuster reform for the long term, and that we should take this deal in the short.  Will either happen?

I don't know.

Microsoft Dodges Privacy Issues With IE 9 Release

Microsoft is drawing fire, and rightfully so, for their new "approach" to privacy. Despite pressure to give consumers a "do not track" option, Microsoft has found a way to do that and still miss the mark. Their solution? You should add the websites yourself, of course, thereby removing any responsibility from their product.

The problem is that many people don't sit around and memorize logs of advertising sites, nor do people know which sites are the most dangerous. Loading a single web page can put a user into contact with literally dozens of advertisers whose purpose is to milk as much information as possible from this contact. Browser developers are caught between catering to the money or to the consumer. In this case, it's clear that Microsoft values the dollar more than the safety of their users.

To add insult to injury, the privacy option isn't turned on by default in the browser. Microsoft says they want to avoid judging which sites should be blocked, which is yet another washout answer. Are we to believe that the giant corporation doesn't have a clue which sites are engaged in the most devious of tracking? I was unable to find mention of any cooperation with privacy groups, or a call to action to weigh the risks and how to educate the public.

So in typical Microsoft fashion, they'll take the money and leave the work up to the suckers. I mean, consumers. This attitude is why I was so determined to move to Linux permanently, and why I smile every time I help another person move away from dependency on Microsoft. With the cloud and universal apps on the rise, we will no longer have to choose an operating system and these money grubbers will soon be replaced with a more ethically sound alternative.

The Bond Vigilantes Ride Again

Roubini is warning that the tax cut deal is going to bring the bond vigilantes down upon the US, and judging from yesterday's action on the 10-year T-note, he's right.

Bond vigilantes – the term was coined by economist Ed Yardeni in the 1980s to describe major investors who demand higher yields to compensate for the perceived risks resulting from large deficits - could derail the country’s precarious recovery, some economists say.

Roubini, who has been dubbed Dr Doom since he accurately forecast the latest financial crisis, said on Twitter: “Obama-GOP tax deal costs $900 billion over two years. US kicking the can further down the road. Are bond vigilantes starting to wake up?” 

Republican leaders and the White House agreed earlier this week to extend tax cuts on all income groups for two years and extend unemployment benefits in a deal which they hope will spur economic growth and cut unemployment.

Roubini is not alone in thinking the deal could worsen the US deficit and put the country at risk.

Rate went from 2.94% to 3.16% yesterday. Why are the bond guys up in arms?  There's something that was left out of Obama's tax deal: support for Build America Bonds.

Congressional Republicans will block any inclusion of Build America Bonds, a taxable bond program popular with states, cities and other muni issuers, in the tax deal they clinched with President Barack Obama, a Republican aide said on Tuesday.

"We have a very firm line on BABs -- we are not going to allow them to be included," a congressional Republican aide said.

And without those, you will see rates go up, up, up.  Republicans know damn well what they're doing here if they kill the BAB program.  The bond market will tank and so will any chance of recovery.

They're totally fine with that, of course.

Sausage Making For A Food Fight

The bill to give the FDA more power to regulate food safety passed...and didn't pass.  As a result, it's going to be included in the Big Ol' Everything End Of Year Bill.

Food safety legislation stalled by a constitutional snag could be revived as part of a giant year-end budget bill.

The bill to increase the Food and Drug Administration's powers to keep food safe stalled after overwhelmingly passing the Senate last week. House Democrats said after it passed that the bill contains fees that are considered tax provisions, which under the Constitution must originate in the House.

House Democrats are attempting to fix the problem by adding the legislation to a catchall spending bill unveiled early Wednesday.

I hope it works.  There's an awful lot of stuff going into BOEEOYB that Republicans can really, really permanently wreck if they run out the clock on it.  Having said that, I'm not sure the GOP leadership is this crazy.


How Is Unemployment A Tax Uncertainty Problem?

I really don't understand how Larry Kudlow's brain functions.  He knows full well that businesses had record profits overall last quarter according to the Commerce Department and productivity numbers were up, but he's still claiming "tax uncertainty" is keeping businesses from hiring.

This is the nineteenth straight month with unemployment above 9 percent.

Now, after the severe financial panic of two years ago, it seems clear that too many tax and regulatory obstacles are blocking satisfactory job creation. And it also seems clear that a number of fresh new incentives will be necessary to spur the kind of prosperity that Americans desire. Following the deep recession, we need shock-therapy, pro-growth, tax-cut and deregulatory incentives. 

Post-election, is the Washington war on business really over? Has the war on successful earners and investors truly ended? Is the class war against capital still being waged by the White House? 

Will Obama bring senior business people into his inner circle? Are we going to get pro-growth tax reform for individuals and corporations? Are we truly going to limit government spending in order to reduce the onerous budget deficit? Is King Dollar currency stability on the table? 

These are all key questions for the economy’s future and the murky unemployment outlook. 

First of all with businesses making record profits, they are finally starting to hire again.  Job openings are up sharply this month. So maybe it's not so dire for employers as everyone thinks.

Second of all, I'm assuming Kudlow hates the new tax cut deal because it's going to add some $900 billion to the national debt, right?  It's got everything he wants, estate tax capitulation, a payroll tax cut for workers, business tax cuts and extensions, and the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy...but it's going to blow a hole in the deficit, which Kudlow warns us will kill King Dollar.

So Larry, do you like this deal or not?

It's Not The Dems Who Will Kill The Tax Cut Deal

I've been saying this for a couple days now:  there is no way the Tea Party is going to accept a $900 billion (by some measures) increase the deficit that allows President Obama to take Sensible Centrist credit for saving the economy and working across the aisle with the Republicans.  Jim Pethokoukis finds that the Tea Party wing of Senate Republicans headed by Sen. Jim DeMint are absolutely against this.

For many conservatives, the thumbs-up from Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is reason enough to support the Obama-GOP tax deal — well, that and the fact so many liberals are in a purple rage about it. And certainly there is nothing wrong about letting individuals and businesses keep more of their money — even for a little while. But Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, another lover of tax cuts and hater of bloated big government, says he will oppose the ginormous stimulus package. Here is DeMint on the Hugh Hewitt radio show:
I’m glad the President recognizes that tax increases hurt the economy. I mean, I guess that’s progress. But frankly, Hugh, most of us who ran this election said we were not going to vote for anything that increased the deficit. This does. It raises taxes, it raises the death tax. I don’t think we needed to negotiate that aspect of this thing away. I don’t think we need to extend unemployment any further without paying for it, and without making some modifications such as turning it into a loan at some point. It then encourages people to go back to work. So there’s a lot of problems with it. I mean, and frankly, the biggest problem I have, Hugh, is we don’t need a temporary economy, which means we don’t need a temporary tax rate. A permanent extension of our current tax rates would allow businesses to plan five and ten years in advance, and that’s how you build an economy.
DeMint might have a point, several actually – and the implications are huge. The perceived failure of the 2009 Obama stimulus plan has again discredited the idea that government can spend America back into prosperity. But liberals, including many in the White House, protest that conclusion. They argue that the $900 billion package was both clumsily designed and too small given the depth of the Great Recession. But sorry big spenders, you only get one chance to fire a trillion-dollar bullet.

Jimbo here's got it figured out that Obama got the far better end of this deal, as has DeMint.  Republicans get the tax cuts for the wealthy, sure.  But Obama really did get a second stimulus package out of this and said as much at the press conference yesterday.

DeMint's argument that the tax cuts need to be made permanent aside, he's got Obama pegged on this one.  This is a major win for the President and he knows it.  The only folks that haven't figured this out yet are on the left.

So it's a race to see who will figure out Obama won here first, the left or the right.  I'm hoping it's the left, because this deal will be far, far better than anything else we're going to get out of the Republicans at this time.  If it's the right, they will completely kill this.

Luckily the outrage from the left, as Pethokoukis mentioned above, really is making it easier for Obama to sell this.  Fair or not.

[UPDATEClub For Growth wants this deal dead as well.  That should tell you everything.


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