Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Last Call

Rep. Chris Lee, we hardly knew ye.  And that's a good thing.

Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) has resigned from Congress, following a report in Gawker that the married politician had been seeking dates on Craigslist -- and sending photos of himself sans shirt, in order to demonstrate that he was a "fun fit classy guy" -- while falsely representing himself as a divorced lobbyist.
Lee said in a statement:
"It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.

"The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately."

So this story went from EPIC FAIL this morning to "Damn, he resigned over that?" this evening.

So, boom. Special election will be needed this spring. If this is the new bar for resignation in the House, there's going to be a lot of empty chairs.

Waging War On Wages

Whenever I see articles where businesses are moaning about not being able to find workers in this economy, my first thought is Econ 101:  what wages and benefits are you offering the prospective employee?

More and more hiring managers want employees who can do the jobs of two or three people and want to offer a fraction of the wages that companies offered people just a few years ago.  And frankly, businesses are of the mindset that they have all the time in the world to out-wait workers.

Getting laid off two years ago at company X and seeing company Y is now hiring for the kind of work you did, only offering 20%, 33%, 40% less for a salary and expectations of far more actual work is the new reality of the American job market.  Hey, there's 8.5 people for every job opening, counting underemployed Americans right now.

Employers will continue to cut wages in order to push productivity numbers and gain profits.  They have that luxury now.  They will have it for a long, long time to come.

Armchair Generals

One in 50 soldiers in Afghanistan is a robot.

There are now more than 2,000 ground robots operating in Afghanistan, and troops are demanding more.

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dave Thompson, project manager for the joint project office for robotics systems, said there has been an insatiable demand for this technology. Robots for the most part have been used to detect improvised explosive devices, but their missions are growing, Thompson said Feb. 1 at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International program review, in Washington, D.C.

“Robots are not just for explosive ordnance disposal teams anymore,” he said.

Ground forces are finding new applications for small robots that can be carried by dismounted troops. “They are using them in ways we never expected,” he said. One-third of the approximately 1,400 robots sent to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010 did not go to EOD teams, he said. Troops use the cameras for reconnaissance and surveillance. Military police are also finding utility for the robots, he added.

Many of the tactics being employed are classified. One popular application has been for entry control points, said Thompson. The robots are being sent out in front of checkpoints where they can look underneath or inside vehicles for bombs before the cars or trucks get too close, he said.

And these are good uses for the little guys to keep our flesh and blood troops safe.  Congress on the other hand wants to up that ratio to one out of three, and that means a whole new level of defense pork spending and defense contractor manufacturing, potentially trillions and trillions of dollars worth for fighting future wars...or hell, current ones.

Me, I got one word.  SkyNet.

A Bitter Pill To Swallow

Florida's Governor Galtie, Rick Scott, is at it again.  His crusade to prove that the business of the Florida state government is to do nothing extends to killing efforts to fight prescription drug abuse.

Gov. Rick Scott wants to eliminate a computer system aimed at curbing the illegal sale of prescription drugs at storefront pain clinics, a move that alarmed narcotics investigators, drug-treatment advocates and some lawmakers.

Just two years ago, state legislators approved the creation of a prescription drug monitoring program that would allow doctors to review the drug purchases of their patients, to prevent patients from seeking narcotics from multiple doctors -- a practice known as “doctor shopping.”

The Legislature approved the measure in response to an explosion of storefront pain clinics across South Florida, making the region the main supplier of black-market pills across Appalachia and the East Coast.

Now the governor wants to erase the database before it even gets off the ground. A proposed bill included in the budget package the governor unveiled on Monday would eliminate the database -- even though it won’t be financed with state money.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal.

The prescription database costs nothing in the state budget because lawmakers earmarked no funding for the program when they approved it in 2009. State officials must pay for the database with federal grants and private donations. The database is expected to cost about $1.2 million to assemble, and $500,000 a year to maintain.

The governor also wants to eliminate the Office of Drug Control, the office charged with raising the private money for the database. Scott dismissed the head of that office, Bruce Grant, last month.

Gosh, what happened to Republicans being the law and order party?  It's not the money issue, the state wont pay a dime for the database.  But all of this makes perfect sense if you remember that Rick Scott made his billions as president of a Florida hospital chain that made tons of money off of Medicare fraud.

Ricky there knows exactly the kind of people that this database would potentially embarrass:  doctors, big pharma executives, hospital administrators, and those who can afford refilling old prescriptions to "give them a boost" through the day or night.  The last thing Rick Scott wants is a database full of white-collar criminals that might be tracked back to Rick Scott's hospital fraud days.

So yes, without explanation, Scott has axed the head of the department that would create the database and is moving to dismantle the database itself.  But you don't need to hear the explanation from Scott to know what's going on here.  The health care industry wants this thing gone, and Rick Scott does too.

Rick Scott is covering his own ass, and he doesn't care how many Floridian lives that might have been saved by this database.  Law and order doesn't apply to people like Rick Scott.  Silly Florida voters.

Fried Irony WIth A Side Of Irony, and Irony Gravy

At first, I wanted to call BS after reading that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was being stalked via creepy messages on Facebook.  The timing seemed too concidental, after Facebook taking a beating in the press for its repeated invasions of privacy.  TMZ also ran some details that explain how Zuckerberg has received messages from a desperate young man begging for money for his family.

Zuckerberg has a chance to buy some good publicity and gain some ground with the press if he puts the right spin on these events.  There is a chance to show unhappy users that he knows how they feel and use this newfound perspective to gain some trust.  There is currently a restraining order against Pradeep Manukonda, but a savvy player knows when an opportunity opens up.  The bad news is, if this distraction keeps Mark from tending to business, his crops could be ruined.

Hukd On Fonix Werked Fer Me

In a hilarious goof, a phonetic mistake led to a correction that cracked me up.

What Baralaba piggery-owner Sid Everingham actually said was "30 sows and pigs", not "30,000 pigs"

— The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton, 7th January, 2011

For sprinkles on the cupcake of my amusement, his name ends in ham.  Have a nice day, now.

A Desire For Streetcars

Cincy Mayor Mark Mallory made his case to start the city's streetcar project downtown, the voters approved it two years ago.  But City Council Republicans say the times have changed and despite the voters, they want to put the measure to another vote in May or November, and barring that they want Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich to block all funding for the project.

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney today called together panel of local media to plead their case for a streetcar system in Cincinnati.

City officials have estimated the first phase of the streetcar project would cost $128 million and would consist of a 4.9-mile loop connecting Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Clifton. The project is expected to break ground this spring.

In the briefing with reporters, Mallory said the streetcar project could increase property values along the route by as much as 8.8 percent. He based on results from other cities that have streetcars, including places like San Diego and Dallas.

"There is an absolute wave out there of cities who are trying to build streetcar systems," Mallory said.
He estimated that 1,300 new residential units could be developed along the route and said the potential exists for the redevelopment of 90 acres of existing parking lots.

Mallory also said no fewer than 14 studies over the last 15 years to 20 years have recommened that the city connect its two largest employment centers to encourage economic development. And that's what the streetcar will do, he said.

But Republicans want to send the measure back to the voters, the most surprising group supporting that measure is the Cincy NAACP, who says that the streetcar project will take money for police, fire, schools, and basic services away from the minority parts of the city where the streetcar won't reach.

A news release from Cincinnati NAACP President Christopher Smitherman said the groups are confident they will be able to collect the signatures they need to place the measure on the ballot.

“This is about protecting the city’s operating budget that supports basic services like police, fire, sanitation and health clinics,” he said in the release. “Council continues to push a project while the city is facing the largest financial crisis of its time. It is time to put the brakes on this project.”

Opponents are asking Gov. John Kasich to pull $50 million in state money for the project and are circulating petitions to place a charter amendment on the ballot to stop the project.
Odds are pretty good that Kasich will step in and do precisely that.  After all, this is a guy who turned down hundreds of millions in federal dollars for rail in Ohio (not to mention thousands of jobs) because he doesn't like trains.  I'm honestly surprised he hasn't personally shown up to tell Mark Mallory that "The streetcar is dead!"

Something tells me he will, and soon.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

Via Steve M. we have this video of Sean Hannity's show Monday night:

Hannity's talking to a bunch of Frank Luntz selected Iowans in a Republican caucus focus group.  The discussion eventually turns into "Is Obama an existential threat to our America because he's a secret Muslim, or is Obama an existential threat to our America because he's a secret liberal, and which scenario is worse?"

The group appears to be split 50/50 or so on this question.  It's an honest toss-up to see which group these folks despise more.  We've gotten to the point where FOX is openly equating Muslim "terrorists" with liberal "traitors" and daring people to guess which one the President of the United States really is, and these are the people who will decide who Obama's opponent is in November 2012, some 20 months away.

More than a year and a half to go, and the question is whether the President is a terrorist or a traitor (and which is worse.)

And people believe there is still sanity and reason left in the Republican party at the national level?

It's 20 months before the elections and we're already at this point.

Jesus wept.

Shutdown Countdown, Part 7

TPM's Brian Beutler is normally completely on the ball when it comes to the Capitol Hill beat, but he's wrong about this.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says upcoming spending legislation will forbid the White House from using any federal dollars to pay to implement the health care law.

"I expect to see one way or the other, the product coming out of the House to speak to that and to preclude any funding to be used for [ObamaCare]," Cantor told reporters at his weekly press availability Tuesday.

Notice he refers to the "product coming out of the House." Implicit in this is an acknowledgment that the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House will fight them bitterly, and somebody will have to tap out. Indeed, it almost suggests that Cantor knows the House will be out-muscled. So it's not exactly a line in the sand -- it's more like a high opening bid, but more evidence that this will be a chronic fight between the parties.

Exactly what makes one think that the GOP will have any choice from the Tea Party folks to not shut down the government?  Do you really think Eric Cantor and John Boehner will be able to say "Well, we tried to defund and repeal Obamacare but we couldn't."  As much as I would love to see that happen (it would guarantee the civil war in the GOP would explode) it would also lead to economic chaos overnight.

Beutler is counting on the marginally sane wing of the party to take control of the defunding/debt ceiling fight.  Certainly the corporate section of the party will be out in force warning (rightfully) of economic disaster.

But I don't think that section of the party is in charge anymore.  Two months ago, sure.  Now?  Now not so much.

House Republicans Tuesday night got a harsh introduction to the majority, as more than two dozen rank-and-file GOP lawmakers voted against reauthorizing the Patriot Act.

And just hours before the vote on the Bush-era homeland security measure, GOP leaders yanked a trade bill from consideration as the Ways and Means Committee is “working through issues.”

There was no sign that the leadership saw the setbacks coming. The Patriot Act was moved to the floor under suspension of the rules — a provision that requires two-thirds majority (290 votes) to pass and is often used for noncontroversial legislation. After holding the vote open well past the 15-minute window, it failed 277 to 148 with five Republicans and four Democrats not voting.

Republican leaders will bring the bill back to the floor under a rule, where it will almost certainly secure the 218-vote threshold.

Yes, the Patriot Act will pass, but this was a message pitch to the House GOP leadership. The Tea Party will get 100% of what they want in the House or they will hold the business of the country hostage until they do. The discipline and unanimity of the GOP over the last two years is gone, folks.

Like I said, two months ago I would have agreed 100% with Beutler. Today? I don't honestly know what kind of damage the Tea Party will do to our country given they chance, and shutting down the government and defaulting on the country's debt payments unless they get everything they want is their best chance to not only get everything they want from the Democrats, but everything they want from Orange Julius.

It's on, folks. And we're all caught in the middle.


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