Thursday, February 3, 2011

Last Call

Your quotes of the evening:

"If I resign today, there will be chaos."
--Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

"The hell do you call what's going on in Egypt now?"
--The Rest Of The World

Home, Home I'm Deranged Part 17

The Forbes annual list of the Top 20 Most Miserable Cities in the US is out, and for the first time the list includes foreclosure rate and median home prices as criteria.  That puts Stockton, California on top for the second time in three years.

Located in the state's Central Valley, Stockton has been ravaged by the housing bust. Median home prices in the city tripled between 1998 and 2005, when they peaked at $431,000. Now they are back to where they started, as the median price is forecast to be $142,000 this year, according to research firm, a decline of 67% from 2005. Foreclosure filings affected 6.9% of homes last year in the Stockton area, the seventh-highest rate in the nation, according to online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac.

Stockton's violent crime and unemployment rates also rank among the 10 worst in the country, although violent crime was down 10% in the latest figures from the FBI. Jobless rates are expected to decline or stay flat in most U.S. metro areas in 2011, but in Stockton, unemployment is projected to rise to 18.1% in 2011 after averaging 17.2% in 2010, according to

"Stockton has issues that it needs to address, but an article like this is the equivalent of bayoneting the wounded," says Bob Deis, Stockton city manager. "I find it unfair, and it does everybody a disservice. The people of Stockton are warm. The sense of community is fantastic. You have to come here and talk to leaders. The data is the data, but there is a richer story here."

The richer story is of course that eight California cities made the list, followed by three in Florida and three here in Ohio (sorry Cleveland, Youngstown and Toledo.)  And hey, pretty soon we're all going to be miserable, so it'll be relative.

Lie To Me Sumo, Baby

And you thought pro athletes in the US were crooked.

Japan's latest sumo scandal widened Thursday as two wrestlers and a coach admitted fixing bouts, broadcasters pulled their support from telecasts and the nation's prime minister accused the ancient sport of betraying the public's trust.

Media reports said police are also now investigating whether active wrestlers bet on the outcome of bouts, deepening concerns that gangsters — who allegedly played a role in an earlier gambling scandal — may again be involved.

The widening scandal has become a national embarrassment to Japan, where the sport is followed by millions of fans and considered an important part of the country's cultural heritage.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan told parliament he felt betrayed and angered by the scandal.

"If it is true, it is a very serious betrayal of the people," he said.

Sports minister Yoshiaki Takaki told a parliamentary panel on Thursday the Japan Sumo Association had confirmed wrestler Chiyohakuho and sumo coach Takenawa admitted to bout fixing after police found suspicious text messages on their cell phones.

Lower-ranked wrestler Enatsukasa also admitted to fixing matches.

The three are seen as the tip of the iceberg. All told, more than a dozen wrestlers or coaches have been implicated in the scandal, and all top competitors are being questioned in an internal investigation launched by the sumo association.

Just goes to show you where there's sports and money, there's crime.  Always will be.

Denial Really Is A River In Egypt, Part 4

Steve M. points out the clear double standard on Obama and Egypt:  no matter what the President is doing on Egypt (or not doing), he's getting attacked by the right.

And then, in America's media, will the usual hypocrisy kick in? Over in Murdoch Land, Obama is being accused of giving aid and comfort to evil Satanic Islamicists -- here's Sean Hannity trotting out Anjem Choudary, an Islamicist who has nothing whatsoever to do with Egypt (he's British born and lives in the U.K. today) so that Hannity can rail against sharia and play right-wing Geraldo ("You're one sick, miserable, evil S.O.B but thank you for coming on anyway"). Oh, and here's Hannity again, trying to goad John McCain into saying that Islamicism is imminent in Egypt and it's all Obama's fault. And here's Dick Morris on Bill O'Reilly's show saying,

"Clearly, President Obama, whether it's because of his words about radical Islam, his failure to condemn it, his failure to name terrorism as Islamic terrorism, and his appeasement and very possibility his outright efforts to encourage people to destabilize the Mubarak regime, broke Egypt and he now owns it."

But what if Mubarak allies cling to power, or Mubarak himself? Will these same Foxsters be able to turn on a dime and say that Obama failed if that's the outcome, because he didn't sufficiently support Bush's "freedom agenda"? Can they be that blatant?

Yeah, probably. They may need to give it a bit of a rest, though. They may just decide to come back with that line a year or so from now, during the presidential race. We'll be told that people yearning to breathe free rose up in Iran, and then in Egypt -- and Obama failed them. And the hypocrisy will mostly pass unremarked.

That's exactly what will happen.  If Mubarak stays, it'll be Obama's fault for not forcing him out of power sooner.  If Mubarak is replaced by another strongman (our man Mohamed Elbaradei perhaps) Obama will be attacked for not personally installing a democracy.  If Mubarak is somehow replaced by an actual democratic state, Obama will get pummeled for backing Mubarak in the first place.  And if Egypt falls under the sway of Islamists, well that will be Obama's fault too.

I would say that Obama should have been smart enough to stay out of the Egypt mess to begin with...but he would have been attacked for that too from the right.  That's how it works with our intellectually indifferent friends:  no matter what Obama is doing precisely at this moment, attack him for not doing something different.

We've got another two years of this idiocy ahead of us, no matter what the actual outcome in Egypt is.

Enough Messing Around, Says Virginia

On the heels of the Florida decision nullifying the health care reform law, Virginia wants to take the matter directly to the Supreme Court and get this over with, one way or another.

Virginia said on Thursday it would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state's challenge to President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law, a rare legal request seeking to bypass the appeals court.

A federal judge in Virginia ruled the requirement that Americans must buy health insurance was unconstitutional but he declined to strike down the entire law. A federal judge in Florida ruled similarly earlier this week but struck down the entire law.

Virginia argues that the judge should have struck down the full healthcare law which has been championed by Obama and opposed by most Republicans. Obama's Justice Department has appealed the ruling as well, saying the law was constitutional.

"Given the uncertainty caused by the divergent rulings of the various district courts on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we feel that it is necessary to seek resolution of this issue as quickly as possible," Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said.

And that's the first eminently reasonable thing Cuccinelli has said in this entire proceeding.  Let SCOTUS decide this already, absolutely.  Looking forward to it, because nothing else is going to be productive at this point short of a Supreme Court decision.

Florida's Press Corps, Pressed And Cored

The Galtian Republic of Rick Scott apparently supports an adversarial press, mainly by Gov. Scott doing everything he can to piss off reporters and doing it whenever possible to the point where even Politico is calling him on it.

Early skirmishes between statehouse reporters and new governors are routine, a standard matter of prerogatives and turf. But the Florida fracas has been unusually heated, and it has particular import because Scott is perhaps the most ambitious and unconventional of a new wave of conservative leaders eager to flex executive muscle, and because the contrast with Crist is particularly “neck-snapping,” as a reporter put it.

Crist opened his term by fulfilling a promise to loosen the strictures that his predecessor, Bush, had put on public access, making information and aides unusually accessible by the standards of modern government. Crist — an obsessive follower of the press and of his own image – gave his personal cell phone freely to members of the Tallahassee media, and projected a personal warmth and interest in endless conversations with the press. He freely answered questions about everything from local business to national politics to his own sexuality. He made a point of keeping reporters’ favorite brands of beer in his office fridge.

To Scott’s allies, it was untenable.

“Some in the press corps were spoiled” by Crist, said Alberto Martinez, a Republican strategist and Crist critic. “He showered them with access and attention bordering on the ridiculous in order to win favorable coverage.”

Scott still offers gaggles, but rarely goes off message. He prefers local television stations around the state to Tallahassee’s correspondents, and will even roll out his budget plan outside the capitol, where reporters are still adjusting.

“They’re new at running a state, particularly Florida that’s had this tradition of openness,” said David Royse, executive editor of the News Service of Florida. “He came in saying he’s going to be an outsider and he has been.”

Scott is no stranger to corporate hardball. He left his post as a health care executive in the 1990s when his company, now known as Columbia HCA, rejected his plan to fight federal fraud charges it later settled for more than $1 billion. He once invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 75 times in a civil deposition. But he was visibly unprepared for the mob scene that greeted him when he filed his candidacy on June 17. Scott unhappily answered 20 minutes of questions from a gaggle of reporters before making his escape.

“Unaccustomed to questions from people he can’t fire, the wealthy Naples businessman had no idea elected officials are regularly waylaid in elevators, parking lots and lobbies by Tallahassee journalists,” wrote the dean of the statehouse press corps, the Tallahassee Democrat’s Bill Cotterell.

Well, there's that and the fact the press might actually say something the Rick Scott doesn't like, and by God in America we don't put up with that, or something.  Keep making friends, Ricky.

Commodity Oddity

Commodities are skyrocketing again, prices for raw materials and basic foodstuffs are higher now than they were at the height of the housing bubble.

Commodities have risen for five consecutive months, the longest winning streak since 2004, bolstered by an improving economic outlook. Raw materials also advanced as drought in Russia, flooding in Canada and a cyclone in Australia ruined crops and as protests across the Middle East spurred concern about supply disruptions.

“What is new is that the fundamentals are getting tighter and the political risk premiums are increasing for energy and agriculture,” said Jean-Marc Bonnefous, a co-founder of London- based Tellurian Capital Management LLP, which invests in energy, metals and agriculture.

Copper for delivery in three months rose as much as 0.6 percent to $10,000 a metric ton on the London Metal Exchange today, extending this year’s advance to 4 percent. Aluminum, zinc, tin, lead and nickel also gained.

Supplies of copper, nickel and tin will all fall short of demand this year, according to Barclays Capital. A decade-long boom in commodities may last “a couple of years” longer before supply catches up with demand, billionaire investor George Soros said in an interview in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 27. 

And we're already seeing the results of staples like wheat, corn, and rice being priced out of reach of the poorest.  The question is why haven't we seen huge price spikes here?

You will, just not spikes.  More like "steady boiling of the frog in the pot."

If It's Thursday...

Last week's jobless clams dropped after a bad weather spike, down 42k to 415k.

The bad news is tens of thousands of Americans have fallen off the 99-week cliff in the last month, and that's starting to accelerate as Congress still refuses to do anything about it.  Tens of thousands a month will become hundreds of thousands very, very soon.

Tough Crowd In Here

Kentucky House members are skeptical of state Senate Republicans' immigration bill that would cost the state tens of millions of dollars it doesn't have.

House Democrats on Wednesday began the process of talking Senate Republicans' illegal immigration bill to a standstill, with much discussion about its potential cost but no vote scheduled.

"We can't just be emotional and have vile hatred at work. We have to look at the fiscal implications, that's what we're required to do," said Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, chairman of the House Committee on Local Government, which held its first discussion-only hearing on the bill.

Another discussion-only hearing is planned next week, featuring the concerns of law enforcement, but it's "unknown" whether the committee ever will vote on the bill, Riggs said.

Senate Bill 6 would make it a state crime — a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances — for illegal immigrants to enter Kentucky, or for anyone to harbor or transport them or encourage their residency in the state.

It would authorize police to approach people in public and ask about their immigration status.

The resulting arrests would burden local jails already running out of funds, jail and county officials told the House committee. Kentucky has about 19,200 jail beds, 98 percent of which were occupied as of last week, they said.

"I definitely think that Senate Bill 6 has an unfunded mandate to it," said Richard Tanner, executive director of the Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association. "We don't know how much the costs would be. We just know we're at the breaking point now."

It's pretty clear that even if the bill wasn't wildly unconstitutional, the state couldn't afford it anyway, but neither matters to Kentucky Republicans when it comes to scapegoating the less than 1% of the state's population that's Latino.

We've got bigger problems here in the Bluegrass State.


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