Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Last Call

Keep working on that jobs legislation, Republicans.

An effort spearheaded by Republicans to repeal the new health care law collapsed Wednesday evening after the Senate refused to ignore its adverse impact on the deficit.

By a vote of 47-51, the Senate sustained an objection to the legislation on the grounds that it does not comply with congressional budget rules. Because a full repeal of the law is projected to increase the deficit, waiving that point of order would have required 60 votes.

But even if Democrats had allowed a straight up or down vote on the amendment, it likely would have failed. No Democrats voted with the GOP to remove the objection, giving them fewer than the 51 they'd need to successfully repeal it. Republicans -- and, really, everyone else -- have been expecting this outcome for months. And while this blunts their head-on efforts at repeal, they've always expected that their best chances to destroy or chip away at the law will come either via the courts, spending bills or amendments to the law meant to weaken it.

Pointless, as predicted.  Kabuki.  Showmanship.  Hooray, you have registered your objection, as you have chosen to do so many, many times.

Now how about fixing the damn economy?  Republicans attacked Democrats by saying they passed a health care bill when they should have been working on jobs.  What do Republicans spend the first month of the 112th Congress doing?  Re-fighting and re-losing the same health care debate (and bizarrely redefining rape.)

We have bigger problems to worry about, folks.

Tent cities don’t typically enjoy a warm welcome anywhere. But in Seattle, where Tent City 3 and other similar camps have operated in an uneasy truce with officials for nearly a decade, there’s a plan to institutionalize the concept.

Seattle officials are considering setting up encampment on city property. Unlike current tent cities that are required to move every three months, this one would stay in one place, operate with the city’s approval and feature storage lockers and trailer-style facilities for showers and cooking. The proposal reflects the scope of Seattle’s homelessness problem and heightened political tension over the issue, which came to a head with the establishment in 2008 of an encampment dubbed Nickelsville – after former mayor Greg Nickels, who was criticized for his homelessness policies. Current Mayor Mike McGinn, who was elected in 2009, acted on the recommendation of a citizens review panel to propose a permanent encampment.

And you know, Republicans don't seem to mind about the permanent American underclass.  Hey, Republicans are trying to do everything they can to keep folks like this down anyway.  Hard to vote without a permanent address in a red state, so in the end, they don't matter.  They're not "constituents".

Maybe we should be doing something about the millions of Americans dying by inches each day.  But no, we've got to cut taxes on the wealthy.

When Republicans said they had job growth as a priority, they didn't mean you.  Complain and blame Obama for two years, and obstruct all legislation.  Heck of a plan, GOP.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

In this case, Rand Paul has serious trouble defining the term "compromise."

"Many ask will the Tea Party compromise? Will the Tea Party work with others to find a solution?" the senator asked in a speech that was part history lesson and part Socratic inquiry.

Paul explained his Senate desk was once occupied by Henry Clay, a former Kentucky senator and secretary of state known as the "Great Compromiser." But in his speech, Paul questioned whether the compromises Clay made on slavery proved it was more important to firmly support what is right than to try to find common ground.

Instead, Paul pointed to Clay's cousin Cassius, a fierce abolitionist and fiery character who refused to budge on the issue of slavery.

"Now, today we have no issues, no moral issues that have equivalency with the issue of slavery. Yet we do face a fiscal nightmare, potentially a debt crisis in our country," he said. "Should we compromise by raising taxes and cutting spending as the debt commission proposes?"

The answer?

"Of course there must be dialogue and ultimately compromise, but the compromise must occur on where we cut spending," Paul said.

In other words, there will be no debate on deficit reduction as being the only legislative goal worth worrying about, and no debate on cutting spending versus raising taxes and cutting loopholes to increase revenues in order to reduce the deficit.

The only debate is who gets hurt by spending cuts.

To Rand Paul, this is "compromise".  It's only a matter of by how much Rand Paul and the Tea Party "wins" the deficit argument that will even be allowed to be discussed.  He's not framing the argument, he's hijacking it.

We Never Liked You Anyway

You know that panhandle chunk of West Virginia that's basically Maryland without the infrastructure?  Seems the state lawmaker in charge of that part of the state really would rather be anywhere other than West Virginia, and he wants to take those three counties with him next door to a real state.

First Tunisia, then Egypt, now...West Virginia? Well, no, not exactly. But delegate Larry Kump has had it up to here with his state's government. "I take pride in being a Mountaineer," says the freshman legislator—but he'd rather break his beloved state apart than see it suffer on as an economic backwater.

"Our per capita income in West Virginia is 47th in the United States; it's one of the few things we're not 50th in," Kump says. "We've lost 10,000 manufacturing jobs over the past three years. Gross Domestic Product is 49th in the nation."

He adds, "I'd prefer West Virginians stay together and just get their act together—but if they don't, I think it's a good idea to go elsewhere."

Elsewhere, in this case, means moving back in with the ex. Last week, Kump, a self-identified "libertarian grassroots populist" with tea party ties, introduced a bill in the state legislature calling for a non-binding referendum on secession. Specifically, Kump suggests that the three counties of the state's eastern panhandle break away from the mother ship and become a part of Virginia (as they were prior to 1863). His reason is simple: Kump believes the state government has created an economic climate that's holding its citizens back. West Virginia's almost heaven, in other words, but it's an awful big "almost."

What makes this guy think Virginia wants to put up with him, anyway?

Seriously folks, what is it with then entire philosophy that governance isn't about improving the lot of all citizens, but only looking out for those at the top who deserve it?  This clown basically sees the rest of the state of West Virginia as a burden to his state legislative district.  No offense, but I'd rather have my state legislators work on making the state better instead of pulling nonsense like this.

I mean should we all break up into city-states like ancient Greece?  Geez.

You're Kidding... Right?

In Hawaii, it is now illegal to sell toy guns to minors.  Because, of course, selling them to adults is better.  The crime is worth a $2,000 fine or up to 90 days in jail, or both.

This is ridiculous.  Not long after a first grader is kicked out for making a gun with his hand, kids will now not be able to buy super soakers or cap guns.  Can someone please explain what wrong this is making right?  I'm just a little baffled over here.

Thunder Snow!

For those of you who haven't seen lightning go off while snow drives down, you can check this link and enjoy.  It's what kept us in for a couple of days and without power for some.

I'll be back this afternoon with more, but I figured I would share what we saw during the great blizzard of 2011.

Denial Really Is A River In Egypt, Part 3

David Goldman argues at the Asia Times that it was wheat prices that did Mubarak in and he has a very valid point:

In this case, Asian demand has priced food staples out of the Arab budget. As prosperous Asians consume more protein, global demand for grain increases sharply (seven pounds of grain produce one pound of beef). Asians are rich enough, moreover, to pay a much higher price for food whenever prices spike due to temporary supply disruptions, as at the moment.

Egyptians, Jordanians, Tunisians and Yemenis are not. Episodes of privation and even hunger will become more common. The miserable economic performance of all the Arab states, chronicled in the United Nations' Arab Development Reports, has left a large number of Arabs so far behind that they cannot buffer their budget against food price fluctuations.

Earlier this year, after drought prompted Russia to ban wheat exports, Egypt's agriculture minister pledged to raise food production over the next ten years to 75% of consumption, against only 56% in 2009. Local yields are only 18 bushels per acre, compared to 30 to 60 for non-irrigated wheat in the United States, and up 100 bushels for irrigated land.

The trouble isn't long-term food price inflation: wheat has long been one of the world's bargains. The International Monetary Fund's global consumer price index quadrupled in between 1980 and 2010, while the price of wheat, even after the price spike of 2010, only doubled in price. What hurts the poorest countries, though, isn't the long-term price trend, though, but the volatility.

People have drowned in rivers with an average depth of two feet. It turns out that China, not the United States or Israel, presents an existential threat to the Arab world, and through no fault of its own: rising incomes have gentrified the Asian diet, and - more importantly - insulated Asian budgets from food price fluctuations. Economists call this "price elasticity." Americans, for example, will buy the same amount of milk even if the price doubles, although they will stop buying fast food if hamburger prices double. Asians now are wealthy enough to buy all the grain they want.

If wheat output falls, for example, due to drought in Russia and Argentina, prices rise until demand falls. The difference today is that Asian demand for grain will not fall, because Asians are richer than they used to be. Someone has to consume less, and it will be the people at the bottom of the economic ladder, in this case the poorer Arabs. 

So what can President Obama do?  A major, immediate shipment of food aid to Egypt may be just the thing the US needs to look like heroes.

The best thing the United States could do at the moment would be to offer massive emergency food aid to Egypt out of its own stocks, with the understanding that President Mubarak would offer effusive public thanks for American generosity. This is a stopgap, to be sure, but it would pre-empt the likely alternative. Otherwise, the Muslim Brotherhood will preach Islamist socialism to a hungry audience. That also explains why Mubarak just might survive. Even Islamists have to eat. The Iranian Islamists who took power in 1979 had oil wells; Egypt just has hungry mouths. Enlightened despotism based on the army, the one stable institution Egypt possesses, might not be the worst solution. 

But here's the problem, as China's growing middle class goes from rice to beef, it's putting grain prices out of reach for many in Africa and the Middle East.  It's all about food, folks, and the latest spike in food prices worldwide has already toppled a couple of regimes.

More will follow.  How will the US and the EU respond?  More importantly, how will China and India respond?  Certainly much less beef is eaten in India, but the two countries are responsible for a third of the world's people, and their growing food bill is being paid for by countries like Egypt.  Americans may eat a lot, but they can't compare to over 2.5 billion Chinese and Indian mouths to feed, and the entire planet is seeing a shift in food consumption habits now.

Hamburgers in Beijing brought down Mubarak.  A sobering thought.

Home, Home I'm Deranged, Part 16

It's not just homeowners who are in real trouble, but some seven million low-income renters are facing being trapped in apartments they can't afford, or that should be condemned.

Rising rents, stagnant wages and high unemployment led more than 7 million U.S. households either to live in substandard dwellings or pay more than half their monthly incomes for rent in 2009, according to a federal report delivered to Congress on Tuesday.

During the height of the Great Recession, the number of low-income households with "worst-case housing needs" increased by nearly 1.2 million, or 20 percent, from 2007 to 2009. That's the largest two-year increase since the Department of Housing and Urban Development began tracking the data in 1985.

Very-low-income renters who don't receive government housing assistance are considered to have "worst-case housing needs" if they live in poor conditions or their rent consumes more than half their incomes.

All family types, all racial and ethnic groups and all regions of the country saw an increase in these distressed renters in 2009, said Raphael Bostic, HUD's assistant secretary for policy development.

"The loss of income, the general lack of affordable housing and the increased monthly rent burden are clearly putting a lot of stresses on unassisted families at the lower end of the income spectrum," Bostic said.

The data for HUD's report, "Worst Case Housing Needs 2009," were gleaned from Census Bureau surveys conducted in May and September of 2009.

Combine that with higher gas prices and food prices on the way and you can see we have a real problem shaping up for millions of Americans in 2011.

The New Death Panels

Keep an eye on Republican controlled-states who are using Monday's ruling against health care reform as an excuse to refuse to implement the law, starting with Wisconsin.  Greg Sargent:

The office of Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, one of the states suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act, sends over this statement flatly declaring the law "dead" for his state unless it's revived by a higher court, and asserting that this relieves state government of any and all its responsibiilties to implement the law:
"Judge Vinson declared the health care law void and stated in his decision that a declaratory judgment is the functional equivalent of an injunction. This means that, for Wisconsin, the federal health care law is dead -- unless and until it is revived by an appellate court. Effectively, Wisconsin was relieved of any obligations or duties that were created under terms of the federal health care law. What that means in a practical sense is a discussion I'll have in confidence with Governor Walker, as the State's counsel."
It's unclear what this means in practice; a spokesman for the attorney general declined to detail what this might mean for Wisconsin residents. But it seems likely that other state officials hostile to the law may follow suit. My understanding is news organizations are canvassing state governments around the country to see if they're going to threaten to stop implementing the law in the wake of Vinson's decision. So we'll soon get a better sense of how widespread this will be.

I'm betting it will be very widespread right up until a higher court overturns Vinson's decision.  Remember the stated goal by Republicans:  to throw as many wrenches in the works as possible to see the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act to fail at the state level.  Looks like states refusing to implement the law in the wake of Judge Vinson's decision is the excuse they need to trash the law.

The question is, will they give the federal money back, and who will lose their health care now?

This hints at a new line of criticism Dems can use, should other state governments do as Wisconsin is doing. The Affordable Care Act has already resulted in nearly $40 million in federal grant funding to Wisconsin. Now that the law is "dead," will Wisconsin return the money or rebuff any other federal grant money? Will other state governments declaring the law dead do the same? If so, how much money do they stand to lose? How will this impact their consistuents? It's a pretty worthwhile line of inquiry.

Is Wisconsin going to end Medicaid, for example?  The next battlefield for Obamacare is taking shape, and this time people's lives are at stake.

Tunisia, Egypt, And Now Yemen

Yemeni President Saleh announced today he will not seek re-election in 2013.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key U.S. ally against Al-Qaida, said on Wednesday he will not seek to extend his presidency in a move that would end his three-decade rule when his current term expires in 2013.

Eyeing protests that swept Tunisia's leader from power and threaten to topple Egypt's president, Saleh also vowed not to pass on the reins of government to his son. He also appealed to the opposition to call off protests as a large rally loomed.

"I present these concessions in the interests of the country. The interests of the country come before our personal interests," Saleh told his parliament, Shoura Council and members of the military.

"No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock," he said, making reference to ruling party proposals on term limits that had been seen as designed to enable him to run again.

Meanwhile in Egypt,  it's becoming increasingly clear that Mubarak won't last until September to the point that even President Obama is calling for a peaceful transition to a new government "now".  The US is evacuating non-government personnel from Egypt as well as clashes continue.

More as it comes in.


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