Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Last Call

It's nice to know that Americans do finally have a limit, at least they do in Wisconsin.

Demonstrators gathered in large numbers at the Wisconsin state Capitol on Tuesday, to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal to help close the state's shortfall by removing nearly all collective bargaining rights for public employees.

As the Wisconsin State Journal reports, over 10,000 protestors gathered at the state Capitol building Tuesday, with thousands also crowded inside the building itself.

A video of the demonstration is available here.

Under Walker's plan, as TPM has previously reported, most state workers would no longer be able to negotiate for better pensions or health benefits or anything other than higher salaries, which couldn't rise at a quicker pace than the Consumer Price Index. According to the Associated Press: "The proposal would effectively remove unions' right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt."

Members of the firefighters union appeared in solidarity at the Capitol event, as well, even though Walker's plan has exempted them.

Walker has previously said that he had alerted the National Guard, in case of unrest or if crucial state services are disrupted, but he has not called them into action yet.

Hey Gov. Walker, your constituents are trying to tell you something, even if you are trying to sic the National Guard on protesters.  You and Orange Julius are on the wrong side of history if you think you can sacrifice the jobs of millions of state and federal workers to pay for tax cuts for the rich.

"So be it."

That's what House Speaker John Boehner said today when asked about the possibility of federal job losses as a result of the Fiscal Year 2011 funding bill that is currently being debated on the House floor.

In a GOP leadership press conference, Boehner was asked if he had an estimate on how many jobs could be lost as a result of the spending cuts House Republicans are seeking to various government programs.

His response: "Over the last two years since President Obama has taken office the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs. And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We're broke. It's time for us to get serious on how we're spending the nation's money."

Democrats quickly seized on the remarks by Boehner, who during the 2010 midterm season constantly hurled this phrase at Obama and the Democrats: "Where are the jobs?"

And if Republicans wreck the economy to give their corporate masters more money, well, so be it, Orange Julius says.  Boehner and his clown car full of buffoons think it's okay to screw millions of government employees out of jobs because...it'll magically create jobs!

Not everyone is okay with that, it seems.

Sherman, Set The Wayback Machine For October 2001

As the nation, still reeling from 9/11, was further terrorized by the infamous Anthrax Letters.  Almost ten years later, the National Academy of Sciences report on the case reveals that from a scientific perspective, Bruce Ivins, the man suspected of the crime, may not have been the culprit.

An independent panel of scientists has determined that the FBI did not have enough scientific evidence to produce a conviction in the case of the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people.

The National Academies of Sciences released a review Tuesday of the science used in the investigation. The $1.1 million report, which was commissioned by the FBI, concluded that the man accused in the case, Bruce Ivins, could have carried out the attacks, but the science alone did not prove it.

In October and September of 2001, letters containing anthrax killed five people and infected 17 others. Recipients included NBC News, The New York Post, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Even after over 600,000 investigator work hours spent by the FBI's "Amerithrax Task Force," the case against Ivins was largely circumstantial.

Ivins killed himself in 2008 just as the government was prepared to indict him. The Justice Department closed the case last year, concluding Ivins had acted alone in stealing the spores from the government lab where he worked.

The report released Tuesday questioned the link between a flask of anthrax found in Ivins' office and the letters.

"The scientific link between the letter material and flask number RMR-1029 is not as conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary," the report said.

The panel added that another explanation for the link "was not rigorously explored" by the FBI.

The case was closed when Ivins killed himself three years ago.  There were plenty of questions then about Ivins and his sudden death, and what the FBI was trying to prove.  Now, it seems, somebody has the courage to point out that the case against Ivins wasn't as airtight as the country was led to believe.

Will Eric Holder re-open the case?  Doubtful.

Tehran Calling, Once Again

Meanwhile, as Egyptian opposition leaders and the military try to figure out what to do now, in Iran, tensions are mounting as another round of national protests are growing in force.

Iranian lawmakers urged judiciary on Tuesday to hand out death penalties to opposition leaders for fomenting unrest in the Islamic state after a rally in which one person was killed and dozens were wounded, state media said.

Clashes broke out between security forces and protesters when thousands of opposition supporters rallied in sympathy for popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia on Monday, reviving mass protests that shook Iran after a presidential vote in 2009.

"(Opposition leaders) Mehdi Karroubi and Mirhossein Mousavi are corrupts on earth and should be tried," the official IRNA news agency quoted lawmakers as saying in a statement.

The loose term "Corrupt on Earth," a charge which has been leveled at political dissidents in the past, carries the death penalty in the Islamic Iran.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei said: "Those who created public disorder on Monday will be confronted firmly and immediately."

Can't really blame the Iranian regime, after all.  If Mubarak can be shown the door, well...there's a reason why Iran's leaders are very, very quickly ramping this up to "death penalty for opposition leaders" and whatnot.

Can't wait for Friday.

Wanted, Dead Or Alive (But Apparently Dead)

South Dakota is trying to solve their pesky "Well we want to end all abortions but we can't kill all the abortionists in the state" dilemma by removing the restrictions on that latter half of the statement there.

A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus—a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. The Republican-backed legislation, House Bill 1171, has passed out of committee on a nine-to-three party-line vote, and is expected to face a floor vote in the state's GOP-dominated House of Representatives soon.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state's legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person "while resisting an attempt to harm" that person's unborn child or the unborn child of that person's spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman's father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one. 

Now, it's not like there are roving packs of abortion doctors lurking on the outskirts of Pierre or Sioux Falls, they've been gone since 94.  So, I really wonder who this legislation is aimed at, exactly.  Nevertheless, the bill would clearly make it legal to kill an abortion provider in the state as "justifiable self-defense."  But I believe the bill is aimed at women.

It's about power.

It's about saying to a woman "You will give birth when you get pregnant, and if you don't, well...you'll have the blood of a lot of people on your hands if you try to get an abortion.  You wouldn't want to be responsible for that, would you?  Of course not."

From a legal and moral standpoint, this is insanity.  But we've finally openly reached the point that we've been dancing around for decades now, is killing an abortion provider justified?  And as far as South Dakota Republicans are concerned, the answer is yes.

Tree of liberty, and all that.

Warrant Are For Losers, Proof Is For The Weak

"... the agency tried something it had never done before. It sought permission from a judge to search anyone and everyone who parked or set foot in the apartment complex parking lot.
More than a dozen officers and the city's SWAT team flooded the area. They had permission to detain and pat down anyone they saw in the area.  During the two-hour raid, a dozen people were searched and, even though officers justified the wide search by telling a judge no "innocent persons" congregated in the abandoned lot, only four people were charged with drug crimes. An 80-year-old man was among those detained, then released, during the operation.

The story explains this is in a bad neighborhood, known for drugs and petty crime.  Does this give cops the right to search a person for being in the area?  No.  I'm sorry, but this may make sense for a single event in context (though I still am against it) but is way too easy to abuse for it to pave the way for future warrants.

At least four people, including an 80-year-old man, were briefly detained and let go without a search. Five people were searched, as were two vehicles, and officers did not find drugs or evidence that they were involved in the narcotics trade.
 Steiner and Arend also said those searched were not necessarily "innocents" even if they were not carrying drugs.

So people can be searched under a warrant so broad it doesn't even list what is being done, and when the cops don't find drugs the citizens still aren't necessarily innocent.  I guess that "innocent until proven guilty" thing just got in the way, right boys? 

That's A Great Effin' Idea

DOVER — "I don't know any guy who doesn't swear during sports," said Mira Celikkol, owner of The Central Wave sports bar downtown.
Stationed just above the bar, Celikkol has placed an oversized pickle jar that she uses to collect monetary donations from patrons who cuss in her establishment. Since she created the swear jar, Celikkol has raised thousands of dollars in donations. None of it, however, has gone to her establishment.
That's a good drinking game to play.  The most recent donations went to a charity that helps young women make good life decisions, and she is planning to move on to another charity to spread the joy.  Hope that puts a perk in your day.

The Business Of America Is...Insurance And Guns?

Ezra Klein argues that if you look at the federal government's actual spending, that's exactly what the country does:  it's a heavily armed insurance company.

Two of every five dollars goes to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, all of which provide some form of insurance. A bit more than a buck goes to the military. Then there’s a $1.50 or so for assorted other programs -- education, infrastructure, environmental protection, farm subsidies, etc. Some of that, like unemployment checks and food stamps, is also best understood insurance spending. And then there’s another 40 cents of debt repayment. Calvin Coolidge once said that the business of America is business. Well, the business of the American government is insurance. Literally. If you look at how the federal government spends our money, it’s an insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army.

But you wouldn’t know it to listen to the debate over the budget. When House Republicans talk about cutting spending and the Obama administration talks about freezing spending, neither group is talking about the vast expanse of the government’s commitments. They’re looking at a small corner of the budget, the 12.3 percent known as non-defense discretionary spending. The stuff that’s not Medicare, not Medicaid, not Social Security or the military. It’s the odds-and-ends, so to speak.

If you look at Ezra's chart, he has a point:

Budget graphinsurance.png

It's that blue slice that both the Republicans and President Obama want to cut, it's just a question of how much.  So far, both sides are completely ignoring the yellow Social Security and Medicare part, and the orange Pentagon spending part.  In other words, all the cuts are coming out of just one-eighth of the total budget, and we're all acting like this is the only game in town.

Now, I don't want to see any cuts from the yellow section either, but you'd figure we could maybe start with the orange piece.

Just saying.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 61

Some big Foreclosuregate news today, via Barry Ritholtz.

Merscorp Inc., operator of the electronic-registration system that contains about half of all U.S. home mortgages, has no right to transfer the mortgages under its membership rules, a judge said.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Grossman in Central Islip, New York, in a decision he said he knew would have a “significant impact,” wrote that the membership rules of the company’s Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS, don’t make it an agent of the banks that own the mortgages.

“MERS’s theory that it can act as a ‘common agent’ for undisclosed principals is not supported by the law,” Grossman wrote in a Feb. 10 opinion. “MERS did not have authority, as ‘nominee’ or agent, to assign the mortgage absent a showing that it was given specific written directions by its principal.” 

Let's review.   This is massive.  Judge Robert Grossman's decision, in part:

MERS and its partners made the decision to create and operate under a business model that was designed in large part to avoid the requirements of the traditional mortgage-recording process. The court does not accept the argument that because MERS may be involved with 50 percent of all residential mortgages in the country, that is reason enough for this court to turn a blind eye to the fact that this process does not comply with the law.

So what does this mean?  Well, MERS, the Mortgage Electronic Records System, exists for the sole purpose of electronically recording mortgage transactions and transfers without all the messy paperwork.  Judge Grossman has ruled that MERS does not have the authority to do that, and that by skipping the paperwork and saying "trust us, we're the banks" MERS has broken the law.

Now keep in mind MERS is involved in half the mortgages in the United States.

Now you see what the problem is.  The legal status of half the mortgages in the country, and more importantly a whole crapload of foreclosures in the last three years, are now up in the air.  Judge Grossman's decision explicitly states that MERS does not have the ability to act as an agent of the banks as far as mortgages are concerned.  If that's true, then it means MERS doesn't have the ability to process foreclosures in the name of the banks either.

That means the foreclosures aren't legal.  It means that through MERS, banks took millions of homes from people illegally.  It means the banks are in staggering amounts of trouble.

So one of two things will happen now, either Congress and the President will create legislation giving MERS all the authority it needs to do that after the fact, getting them off the hook and screwing people who lost their homes, or the Supreme Court will overturn Judge Grossman's decision.  The latter is much more preferable to the politicians, as rescuing the banks again isn't going to get them votes in 2012.

But something has to give.  The alternative is that the banks have to unwind trillions in mortgages and are driven out of business.  Judge Grossman's decision means now that the federal government will have to act.  More importantly, it will now have to face MERS and millions of American families in full sunlight.

Fiscal Fakers, Fools, Frontmen And Fatheads

Within hours of President Obama's budget proposal on Monday, Tea Party jokes Jim DeMint and Mike Pence went berserk, saying the President's budget would doom the country because it doesn't cut the deficit enough.

They then proceeded to unveil their own plan to add trillions to the national debt.

Make permanent the 2001 and 2003 individual income tax relief for all hard-working Americans -- preserving the 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% income tax brackets, rather than allowing President Obama and Democrats to increase the top tax bracket to 39.6% and increase taxes on the lowest earning Americans in the bottom 10% bracket;
Permanently repeal the immoral and unfair death tax, which increases from 35% to 55% on Jan. 1, 2013. Permanent repeal of the death tax would increase GDP by $118.8 billion and lead to $23.3 billion per year in new federal revenue;
Prevent the tax increase on capital gains and dividends income for all Americans, rather than allowing the Democrats to increase the rates to 20% from the current 15%; and
Permanently patch the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

You got it.  Tax cuts, overwhelmingly for the wealthy.   Trillions of dollars in tax cuts that will magically raise federal revenue.  No mention anywhere in the plan how to pay for it.  But we have to eliminate $100 billion in spending right now or the country will implode.  Meanwhile, it's perfectly okay to add ten, a hundred times that to the national debt because tax cuts magically create more additional revenue than is lost through taxes not paid!

And we're supposed to take these clowns seriously?   Right.


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