Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Last Call

With the House passing a stand-alone version of DADT repeal today, it's now up to Senate Republican moderates to toy with America before voting as homophobic assholes again make up for their failure earlier in the week and be attention whores for a couple news cycles discuss their support for the measure, which in theory only needs one more vote to pass a filibuster.  Naturally all eyes are on the Snowe Queen.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) pledged her support for the standalone bill to repeal the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy this afternoon. Cloture to pass a repeal as part of the defense authorization failed by a mere 3 votes last week.

Snowe was among several theoretical supporters of repeal who said she voted against cloture because of procedural issues: Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) objected to the time allotted to debate the underlying bill; and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that the timing for repeal was, in his view, not quite right.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) said, on the other hand, that she'd missed the vote because of a dental appointment. So, with Snowe's support, repeal supporters are within 1 vote of cloture -- and a repeal of DADT.

Who knows what Joe Manchin will do.  As Booman reminds us, he's not exactly on the side of actual Democrats.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

John Carney, who has to be my new favorite CNBC pinata, asks:

Is it really so bad if an elite cabal of bankers meets once a month in midtown Manhattan to conspire about the rules governing derivatives trading? 

Well gosh, what could possibly go wrong by letting financial institutions police themselves with no oversight playing Big Casino games with derivatives?

Oh right.  The entire friggin multi-trillion dollar financial crisis and the current near-depression we're in as a result while the top executives at the banks that both participate in this cabal and took trillions in taxpayer money to stay afloat turn around and take home tens of million of taxpayer dollars as bonuses.

Why would any thinking American possibly object to that, Mr. Carney?

Entirely new fields of mathematics need to be discovered just to properly quantify how much of a complete douchebag John Carney is.  "Infini-douche" doesn't begin to cover it.  We're talking astounding new uses for adaptive quantum matrices taken to imaginary exponents or something here.

Perhaps Bachmathenomics must be involved.

Non-Hypocrite Senate Republican Located, Loch Ness Monster Next?

Maybe the Higgs Boson will be discovered too along with the Grand Unifying Theory and that place where socks go in the dryer.  In any case, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch for a brief, shining moment, was not a complete hypocrite.  They do exist, according to TPM's Brian Beutler:

Republican Senators whose earmark requests pepper the much-maligned omnibus spending bill are having a really hard time explaining how they went from requesting earmarks earlier this year to decrying the legislation... because of all the earmarks. But never let it be said that those requests were baked into the spending package before the anti-pork wave hit in November.

After the Republican caucus voted to impose an earmark moratorium last month, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) -- who's likely to face a primary challenge from the right in 2012 -- asked Senate appropriators to strip his earmarks from the omnibus.

"I did," Hatch confirmed to me this afternoon after a Senate vote, "because I decided I voted for the moratorium, and I thought 'well, I need to do that.'"

Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster, a logical thought from a Republican in the Senate.  I voted against earmarks, therefore I should take my earmarks out of this spending bill.  Print this blog post up and frame it, kids.  You may never see its like again.

On Wednesday morning, in a tense exchange with reporters at a press conference, Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and John Cornyn (R-TX) swatted away tough questions about the tension between their positions on the bill, and the fact that the bill is loaded up with their earmark requests.

This afternoon, I asked Thune, a likely GOP presidential candidate, why he didn't do what Hatch did.

"I guess I hadn't thought about doing it," he confessed. "The resolution that we passed applied to the next two years, it didn't apply to this budget year [but] we are where we are now, the bill's on the floor, but I think that we have an opportunity to strip earmarks out on the floor, we will. And we may get that opportunity." 

See, that's normal for Senators in both parties, actually.  And here it's news that a Senate Republican is not a complete lying sack of horse manure.  America, breathe easier between your chronic bouts of despair.

Greek Fire, Part 24

Quite literal now with the Greek Fire part in Athens today.

Thousands of Greeks took to the streets of the capital on Wednesday for a protest against a fresh wave of austerity measures which was marred by violence as a general strike brought international travel and public services to a standstill.

The walkout — Greece’s seventh general strike this year — grounded flights, kept ferries in ports, halted train services and shut down government offices and schools while leaving hospitals to operate on emergency staffing and causing a news blackout as journalists joined the action. Public transport was operating for most of the day to enable Athenians to attend demonstrations in the city center.

Around 20,000 people answered the call of unions representing civil servants, private sector workers and the Communist Party for three separate demonstrations. The rallies were mostly peaceful until the early afternoon, when self-styled anarchists broke off from the crowd and attacked the police with firebombs and chunks of stone torn up from sidewalks.

Hundreds of youths clashed with the police outside Parliament and other central landmarks, smashing store facades, setting fire to garbage dumpsters and prompting officers to fire stun grenades and unleash thick clouds of tear gas that sent Athenians and tourists scurrying into side streets with their eyes streaming. 

The Greek austerity plan is crumbling along with Greece itself.  No doubt our own ruling class is very, very nervous today as they continue to convince us that everything is just fine here in Exceptional America if the bottom 98% of us just tighten our belts a few more notches...and cut taxes for the top 2% some more.

Florida's School Of Hard Knocks

Incoming Florida GOP Governor Rick Scott ended up the state's chief executive despite a long and ugly history of fraud and ripping off billions.  He still bought himself the Governor's mansion, first crushing GOP candidate Bill McCollum in the primary under $50 million in attack ads and then doing much the same thing to Democrat Alex Sink in November.

Now Florida's about to get a taste of education reform, Rick Scott style.  From Mojo's excellent Stephanie Mencimer:

Conservatives have been plotting for years to blow up the public school system. Now, Florida's incoming governor Rick Scott is poised to light the fuse.
During his campaign, Scott pledged to overhaul the state's schools while simultaneously reducing school property taxes by $1.4 billion. How to accomplish both? Privatization, of course. His plan, which promotes online schooling along with other educational options, may actually pave the way for the elimination of such pesky budget busters as buses, cafeterias, teachers, and, well, school facilities themselves.
According to various news reports, Scott is cooking up an education proposal that would expand an existing voucher program designed for low-income and disabled kids, opening it to all students. The result would be that instead of public school funds filtering through the unionized public bureaucracy, it would go with the students, who could use the money to enroll in the school of their choice—public, private, charter, or virtual. If parents are wealthy enough to pay for their child's education with their own funds, they can use the voucher money for laptops or school supplies, or even sock it away in a college fund. The proposed voucher amount, about $5500, is only 85 percent of the annual cost of educating a child in Florida.

School vouchers for everyone in Florida, eh?  I wonder who's set up to take advantage of those billions?

Even so, Scott appears ready to liberate public school parents to take their money anywhere they like, especially to online schools—a new cause célèbre for Jeb Bush, who recently launched an advocacy project called Digital Learning Now! to lobby against barriers to online public schools.

One of the hallmarks of Scott's education reform plan is the idea that many kids don't need to go to school at all; they can learn everything they need to in virtual classrooms. Online schools offer many cost-saving advantages, but unfortunately many of them are so bad that even the military won't take people who graduate from them. Online schools also seem even more vulnerable to fraud than regular old charter schools.

In June, Bush spoke at a graduation ceremony at Electronic Classroom for Tomorrow, Ohio's largest online school, which enrolls nearly 10,000 kids but only graduates 35 percent of them. ECOT didn't get off to a stellar start, demonstrating some of the pitfalls of such schools. In its early years, the management company running the school overcharged the state $1.7 million in teaching hours it couldn't document, as well as $500,000 in computer equipment that disappeared with students who never came back.

Scott's education "reform" plan seems be less about actually making Florida's schools better and more about paying private companies to run bad ones. On his transition team are a couple of CEOs of for-profit charter school companies with questionable track records, including the head of Imagine Schools, which runs underperforming charter schools in Ohio, Arizona, and Florida. Five of the 11 schools the company runs in Ohio are on an academic emergency list and another three are on an academic watch list. The Imagine School in Florida is on probation for its second consecutive "F" rating and at risk of being closed by the state. Charter schools figure prominently into Scott's reform plans.

Ding ding ding!  Privatize the schools and rake in the cash when you cut corners.  Get rid of teachers, principals, classrooms and hell, even schools, and pocket the difference.  Who cares if the kids graduate?  Who cares if parents get ripped off?  It's their fault for not doing their homework before signing their kids up for the new frontier in free-market economics.  Talk about the new dot-com bubble.

Cutting taxes only puts that much more pressure for counties to go along with Scott's cut-rate online scheme.  "Want to balance your budget?  What if you didn't have schools to pay for?"

I wonder if Scott will put those disclaimers on the inevitable commercials.  "Warning:  your child may not actually receive an education or even graduate.  Please consult prospectus before enrolling.  Enrolling does not guarantee success."

Doesn't hurt that his incoming staff is larded up with private school executives looking to turn Florida into a gold mine.  You figure 3.5 million schoolkids in Florida times $5,500 a year in vouchers is nearly $20 billion a year up for grabs, and this scam would be totally legal, especially with Florida's GOP supermajority in the state legislature.  Scott and the GOP can get literally anything they want passed, including this crackpot scheme.

And Florida will soon start paying the price.  The laboratory of democracy is open for business, and business is good.

New tag, because I think I'm going to get a lot of use out of it over the next four years: Galtian Republic Of Rick Scott.

You're Still Watching The FOX Still Not News Channel!

They decide the news for you and report, you decide to believe them.

In the midst of global climate change talks last December, a top Fox News official sent an email questioning the "veracity of climate change data" and ordering the network's journalists to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question."

The directive, sent by Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon, was issued less than 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was "on track to be the warmest [decade] on record." 

Bill Sammon is turning out to have sent more than a few memos on how the news should be reported at FOX.  I wonder what else will be uncovered.

Pesky liberal media.

Subordinate Clauses Meet The Elf-Destruct Sequence

This right here?  This should anger anyone with a heart left.

Santa Claus and his elves are seeing more heartbreaking letters this year as children cite their parents' economic troubles in their wish lists.
U.S. Postal Service workers who handle letters addressed to Santa at the North Pole say more letters ask for basics — coats, socks and shoes — rather than Barbie dolls, video games and computers.

At New York City's main post office, Head Elf Pete Fontana and 22 staff elves will sort 2 million letters in Operation Santa, which connects needy children with "Secret Santas" who answer their wishes.

Fontana, a customer relations coordinator for the Postal Service, has been head elf for 15 years.

"The need is greater this year than I've ever seen it," he says. "One little girl didn't want anything for herself. She wanted a winter coat for her mother."

Meanwhile, Congress is busy fighting over how much of a fraction of the top 1% of Americans should pay estate taxes on their seven-figure collections of wealth while the rest of us are told that "we can no longer sustain this way of life."  Awesome.

Congress has an approval rating of what, 4?  Here's why, guys.  Right here.  These are real people affected by your political posturing and your obstruction and your principles.

No wonder nobody trusts government.

Treading Water

Inflation numbers for November are in and they are just as flat as they have been for the last several months.

U.S. consumer prices rose slightly less than expected in November, while prices excluding food and energy edged up for the first time since July, according to a report on Wednesday that implied virtually no inflation pressures amid an anemic recovery.

The Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index nudged up 0.1 percent as energy prices rose by the smallest in five months, slowing from a 0.2 percent increase in October. Core CPI ticked up 0.1 percent as expected, after being flat for three straight months.

The fierce urgency of...nothing.

You'd think people in Washington would want to do something about the economy, but frankly nobody seems to give a damn one way or the other.

Commerce Clause For Alarm

Megan McArdle sees this week's ruling on the health insurance mandate as a victory for liberty, and has some questions about the Commerce Clause.

I have been reading a lot of well-meaning liberals who are befuddled by the notion that conservatives are going after the mandate, when that runs the risk of bringing on single payer.  Personally, I kind of doubt that, but this is completely beside the point.  On a reading of the commerce clause that allows the government to force you to buy insurance from a private company, what can't the government force you to do?

This doesn't seem to be a question that interests progressives; they just aren't very excited about economic liberty beyond maybe the freedom to operate a food truck.  And so they seem genuinely bewildered by a reading of the commerce clause that narrows its scope, or an attempt to overturn the mandate even though this might lead us into a single payer system.  If you view this solely as tactical maneuvering, perhaps it really is preposterous.

And of course, for some conservatives, these operations are tactical, but for a lot, it's an actual horror at the ever-expanding assertion of government powers.  I'd like it if they'd get equally horrified about, say, the TSA and the drug laws, but there you are: neither side is as consistently supportive of liberty as I'd like.

While I agree with Megan that draconian TSA and drug law provisions are harsh, there are far worse things our government does now (up to and including assassination of US citizens without due process in the name of Warren Terrah).  A provision to buy health insurance is driving conservative-minded libertarians crazy, but the power to declare war, wiretap our citizens, turn our schools into joyless boxes where kids have no rights, causes nary a blip on the radar.

I'm supposed to believe that the Commerce Clause is the worst thing the government has ever done?  It's not even the worst thing the government has done this year.

Please, save your outrage for things that matter.  The government can already compel citizens to do anything it wants.  Equating the health insurance mandate with the far worse things done in our name is what's truly preposterous.

Important Personage

TIME has named Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as their 2010 Person of the Year.  So, why him?

It's a fair question. Almost seven years ago, in February 2004, when Zuckerberg was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard, he started a Web service from his dorm. It was called, and it was billed as "an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges." This year, Facebook — now minus the the — added its 550 millionth member. One out of every dozen people on the planet has a Facebook account. They speak 75 languages and collectively lavish more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month. Last month the site accounted for 1 out of 4 American page views. Its membership is currently growing at a rate of about 700,000 people a day.

What just happened? In less than seven years, Zuckerberg wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the U.S. If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest, behind only China and India. It started out as a lark, a diversion, but it has turned into something real, something that has changed the way human beings relate to one another on a species-wide scale. We are now running our social lives through a for-profit network that, on paper at least, has made Zuckerberg a billionaire six times over.

Facebook has merged with the social fabric of American life, and not just American but human life: nearly half of all Americans have a Facebook account, but 70% of Facebook users live outside the U.S. It's a permanent fact of our global social reality. We have entered the Facebook age, and Mark Zuckerberg is the man who brought us here.

It's a pretty fair assessment on TIME's part.  Facebook is ubiquitous (and a smash movie about Zuckerberg this year didn't hurt popularity either.)  It seems that for now, Facebook has weathered privacy backlashes and productivity draining accusations as well as any major scandals or massive drama.

Zandarmom has a Facebook account, for crying out loud.  That's real impact if you can get my mother to adapt to internet technology.  It's gotten to the point where, like cell phones, e-mail, microwave ovens and flat-screen TVs, we take it for granted.

Also, it doesn't hurt that Zuckerberg is a far less political choice than Julian Assange, the Tea Party Voter, President Obama, or Moose Lady (and come to think of it, hasn't Zuckerberg made Sarah Palin's Presidency By Facebook possible in the first place?  Thanks for that, Mark.  Nice.)

Anyway, TIME has an excellent point.  Zuckerberg really is the obvious choice this year.

From The Battle To The War

Democrats have all but given up on the tax deal, and as a result Washington is moving on to what was always going to be the real conflict in the lame duck session:  the $1.1 trillion end of year omnibus spending bill.  Republicans are going berserk, naturally.

Senate Democrats have filed a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that would fund the government through fiscal year 2011, according to Senate GOP sources.

The 1,924-page bill includes funding to implement the sweeping healthcare reform bill Congress passed earlier this year as well as additional funds for Internal Revenue Service agents, according to a senior GOP aide familiar with the legislation.

The package drew a swift rebuke from Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

"The attempt by Democrat leadership to rush through a nearly 2,000-page spending bill in the final days of the lame-duck session ignores the clear will expressed by the voters this past election," Thune said in a statement. "This bill is loaded up with pork projects and should not get a vote. Congress should listen to the American people and stop this reckless spending.”

Thune has called for a short-term funding measure free of earmarks to keep the government operating beyond Dec. 18, when the current continuing resolution expires.

Despite strong opposition from Thune and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), several Senate Republicans are considering voting for the bill.

“That’s my intention,” said retiring Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) when asked if he would support the package.

Bennett, George Voinovich and Kit Bond, all outgoing GOP Senators, have no problem voting for this bill, apparently.  Republicans will put on more kabuki, but it will pass just like the tax deal.  Must be a little depressing for the Tea Party folks to see Republicans in Congress completely ignoring them and going right back to where they left off as Dubya Republicans.

I thought the Tea Party honestly had more clout.  It appears they do not.


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