Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Last Call

Me, eleven days ago:

The bigger picture is nearly all of North Africa is facing something of a domino effect right now, including food riots in Tunisia's neighbor Algeria, and crackdowns in Algeria's neighbor, Morocco.

There's also the possibility that WikiLeaks releasing cables showing the State Department's brutally frank assessment of the corruption of the now crumbling Ben Ali regime may have contributed to the unrest.

North Africa is in real trouble at this point, and if problems spread eastward into Libya, Egypt, and Jordan then things could get very nasty indeed.  Keep an eye on the region

Cairo, Egypt, today:

Thousands of protesters spilled into the streets of Cairo on Tuesday, an unprecedented display of anti-government rage inspired in part by the tumult in the nearby North African nation of Tunisia.

Throngs in the sprawling city marched from the huge Tahrir Square in Cairo toward the parliament building, according to CNN reporters on the scene.

Demonstrators threw rocks at police and police hurled rocks back. Tear-gas canisters were shot at demonstrators and the protesters threw them back.

Protest organizers said they hope to capture the regional momentum for political change set by Tunisians, who 10 days ago forced the collapse of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule.

The grievances were foreshadowed after several Egyptians set themselves or attempted to set themselves on fire earlier this month, mirroring the self-immolation of a Tunisian man whose action spurred the uprising there.

The Tunisian uprising was the most successful revolt in the region since 1979, but it is anybody's guess whether uprisings will spread to other Arabic-speaking lands.

Don't say you weren't warned.

Animal Farce

American Spectator's Jeffrey Lord is apparently very angry that Rep. Giffords got really good health care and is getting rehabilitated and cites her treatment as exactly why we need to (surprise!) repeal Obamacare.

If Gabrielle Giffords were not part of the governing elite -- the Ruling Class -- with this serious of a wound, a gunshot to the brain -- under ObamaCare would she be receiving this kind of A-triple plus treatment?
Or, would she instead be receiving the treatment President Obama himself insisted must be required for average Americans when he said:
"I don't think that we can make judgments based on peoples' spirit. That would be a pretty subjective decision to be making. I think we have to have rules…"
Rules. Government rules. And it is precisely Gabby Giffords' "spirit" that is being cited in news stories as evidence of her progress. A clear violation of the President's insistence that medical decisions can't be "based on peoples' spirit…we have to have rules." Unless, apparently, one is Gabby Giffords -- or, in fairness to Giffords -- Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Member of the Ruling Class Gabby Giffords.

So let's ask the question that is at the moment too challenging for some.. The question that went straight to the heart of Orwell's Animal Farm warning.

If Congresswoman Giffords were not a 41-year-old Ruling Class Member of Congress but, say, an 81-year-old unknown middle-class woman in otherwise good health living in the Bronx and hit by the same gunshot wound to the head in a robbery, would she not be at risk of facing what Sarah Palin calls the "death panels" of Obamacare? Which is to say, government rationing? Instead of being transferred on an Air Force jet to Houston, accompanied by her surgeon, for decidedly expensive treatment (not to mention the transfer itself and the care already received) under Obamacare, wouldn't she or her family be facing the decision that is implicit in President Obama's own words that, well, there have to be rules about this kind of thing?

Three reactions to this:

1) Ass.  Do the words "too soon" mean anything to you?  The woman was shot in the head by a madman.  Have some semblance of respect.

2) Wouldn't a member of Congress be getting this same exact level of treatment if Obama had never passed Obamacare, or if Obamacare was repealed tomorrow?

3) Congratulations!  Considering #2 there, you've made the perfect argument as to why we need the public option, and it's one liberals have used before.

Seriously, this is like saying "Boy the fire department sure reacted quickly to the blaze at the Mayor's house.  Would you have gotten the exact same level of response?  Of course not.  As a result, we should privatize  fire departments because fire response time is inherently unfair.  The fire department is making life and death decisions about people's lives!  We can't have that.  You want better fire service?  Pay for it!"

Here's the problem:  health care is already rationed in this country by the ability to pay for treatment, or more specifically, getting your insurer to pay for itYour health insurance provider is your death panel.  They always have been.

This was an idiotic argument two years ago, it's idiotic now.

What People Really Hate Is Not Obamacare, It's The Insurance Mandate

Yet another poll shows that Americans, Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike, overwhelming support the individual pieces of health care reform.  What they don't like is the mandate to buy insurance.

As has been the case in poll after poll, people like certain parts of the law.

Some 85 percent liked the discount on brand-name prescription drugs for certain Medicare recipients, while 79 percent backed subsidies for low and middle income people to buy coverage. Also getting more than two-thirds support was the law’s voluntary long-term care insurance program and expanding Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for lower-income people.

There’s also strong opposition to a favorite Republican tactic: Not providing funds to implement the legislation. Sixty two percent disapproved of that strategy.

However, Republicans enjoy strong support for one of their major targets; only 23 percent back the mandate that most people must buy coverage by 2014.

So no, people overwhelming support the health care bill's individual provisions, and they don't want the Republicans to defund it.  When you hear "the people are against Obamacare" they are not...they are against the mandate forcing them to purchase health insurance.

There's a difference.  The argument to replace the mandate with the public option instead would make tremendous sense.

Playing The Angles

Santa Barbara - Officials hope to realign sidewalk benches so that pedestrians can avoid encounters with the homeless. Some say the money would be better spent on aiding the needy.

To keep the homeless from accessing so many people in Santa Barbara, they are spending $50,000 on a project to angle the benches so that it is difficult to see everyone.  When you reduce the contact, it may not be profitable enough to go there.

Would this money be better spent helping the homeless?  Perhaps.  While at a glance this article seems a bit shallow, there may be benefits in encouraging the homeless population to take advantage of the services available.  It's not a matter of them ruining the shopping experience (at least in my book) as it is about driving them to shelter and nutrition instead of exposure and drug use.  You can only lead a horse to water, I know.

Speaking of that, Ted Williams, the "man with the golden voice" has left rehab against doctor's advisement.  This isn't the end for him, but the inevitable cycle an addict has to follow before they get help and it sticks.  I hope that Williams is back in rehab soon, because without it he won't fare well.  There's a hero in there, I can just see it.

Do Not Track Button Is Hollow Comfort

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Mozilla and Google on Monday took steps toward giving people more online privacy but each said hurdles remain to creating simple "Do Not Track" buttons for Web browsing software.
The only problem is that the action is without teeth.  Websites, when presented with a user who asks for the privacy option, get to decide if they will cooperate or continue to track website usage.  There is also the "risk" of seeing ads that aren't relevant to you, which I'm sure most people can survive.  Let's face it, websites are not going to voluntarily participate in a project that will hinder their ability to track users.

This is a first step in the right direction, but right now it is a hollow promise.  Internet privacy is going to become even more important over time, so a system should be put into place now to allow users to control over or at least have an understanding of their level of privacy.  Google is definitely trying to put their best face on whenever privacy is involved, the press has been nasty to them over the years for their many lapses and intrusions.  Facebook should take notice of how even a monster like Google can be rocked when users tire of fighting for basic privacy.

Simply giving users a choice and clearly defined levels of privacy should be enough.  However, that could be a long time in coming because there aren't many willing to jump in and get this started.

Lucky Strike

A woman who fell 23 stories after an apparent suicide attempt landed on a cab... and lived.  The 30-year-old woman was being treated for broken ribs and internal bleeding.  Whatever was so wrong that she jumped, she must surely know that she has to give life a second chance after this.


Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 60

The big Six-Oh on the Foreclosuregate fiasco is a big one:  A group of insurance companies has just dropped the hammer on Bank of America, after finding some 91% of the 19,000 securitized mortgages the insurance giants reviewed had some sort of paperwork problem.

Ninety-one percent.  Needless to say, the lawsuit flat out accuses BoA of "massive mortgage fraud".

Tyler Durden:

To wit, from the lawsuit: "In carrying out its review of the approximately 19,000 Countrywide loan files, MBIA found that 91% of the defaulted or delinquent loans in those securitizations contained material deviations from Countrywide’s underwriting guidelines.

MBIA’s report showed that the loan applications frequently “(i) lack key documentation, such as verification of borrower assets or income; (ii) include an invalid or incomplete appraisal; (iii) demonstrate fraud by the borrower on the face of the application; or (iv) reflect that any of borrower income, FICO score, debt, DTI [debt-to-income,] or CLTV [combined loan-to-value] ratios, fails to meet stated Countrywide guidelines (without any permissible exception)."

The plaintiff counsel is Bernstein Litowitz, which was made famous from the WorldCom litigation. We doubt they will settle for a few measily pennies on the dollar. As for the list of litigants, it is a veritable who's who of the insurance industry: Dexia Holdings, FSA Asset Management, New York Life Insurance Company, The Mainstay Funds, Teachers Insurance & Annuity, TIAA-CREF Life Insurance, and College Retirement Equities Fund. 

Bottom line:  when only one out of ten mortgages you sell in a AAA rated investment vehicle is actually even legal from a paperwork standpoint, you're in an egregious amount of trouble.  These are big-league institutional investors worth billions themselves, and they aren't going to just walk away here.  They know damn well they have BoA by the short and curlies.

And somehow, I don't think the insurance companies are going to run out of money fighting this before Bank of America does.  This one's going to go all 15 rounds, folks.  Pull up a chair.  If the government won't break up the banks, well the corporate shark feeding frenzy will.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day (Now With Tim Pawlenty)

Tim Pawlenty.  Governor.  Republican.  Minnesotan.  Carbon-based lifeform.  Action hero.

This fall, Tim Pawlenty is Tim Pawlenty in "The Tim Pawlenty Story With Tim Pawlenty And Also Special Guest Tim Pawlenty"  featuring:

  • Tim Pawlenty
  • The Tim Pawlenty Players
  • Bronson Pinchot
  • Musical Guest: The Tim Pawlenty Experience Featuring Tim Pawlenty
  • Paula Poundstone
  • The University Of Tim Pawlenty Marching Pawlentys Band
  • Tim Pawlenty in 3-D
  • Petting Zoo (Alpacas sponsored by Tim Pawlenty)
  • Charo
  • Via Satellite Tim Pawlenty
And Tim Pawlenty As "The Beaver"!

What, no O Fortuna for your background music?  Slacker.

Well, GOP presidential hopefuls?  Get to work.  You've got a hell of a bar to jump in the self-aggrandizing political commercial department.

How To Win Friends And Influence Supreme Court Justices, Part 2

Justice Clarence Thomas, to his credit, has come clean on his wife's employment.

"It has come to my attention that information regarding my spouse's employment required in Part III B of my financial disclosure report was inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions," Thomas wrote in a letter to the committee that handles the reports.

The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires all federal judges to disclose their spouse's employer. They are not required to list the total income.

Thomas' formal recognition of the errors follows a complaint filed Friday by the group Common Cause that had expressed concern about the "apparent gaps" in his disclosures as required by law.

"Justice Thomas sits on the highest court of the land, is called upon daily to understand and interpret the most complicated legal issues of our day and makes decisions that affect millions," Common Cause president Bob Edgar said after viewing the amendment. "It is hard to see how he could have misunderstood the simple directions of a federal disclosure form. We find his excuse is implausible."

Thomas amended the reports today noting that his wife, Virginia Thomas, drew income from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank where she worked from 1998 to 2003. Thomas also noted that she worked at Hillsdale College for three months in 2008.

None of Thomas' forms, covering activities through Dec. 31, 2009, mention his wife's work at Liberty Central, a conservative political education group she co-founded in January 2009 in part to energize Tea Party activists.

But the group did not officially launch until May 2010, which will only be covered during in the next disclosure period.

"We also continue to be puzzled by omission of Liberty Central as Virginia Thomas's most recent employer," Edgar said. 

You would think a Supreme Court Justice would be a skosh more detail-oriented and all, and would, I dunno, pay attention to the fine print on legal documents he'd been ignoring for years.

Silly me.  I'm sure it's totally normal for somebody on the Supreme Court to overlook the law.  (Again and again and again.)

Happens all the time, I suppose.  Dude should hire a few more clerks.


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