Sunday, February 20, 2011

Last Call

Meanwhile, let's not forget the European debt crisis is far from over, and German voters aren't going to pick up the tab for the euro any longer if today's election results are going to be typical of what's ahead.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party suffered its worst defeat since World War II in Germany’s richest state, losing control of Hamburg in the first of seven state elections this year that threaten to limit her scope to tackle Europe’s debt crisis.

The result in Hamburg, the city-state of Merkel’s birth, underscores the challenge she faces trying to balance public opposition to bailouts for debt-wracked states against pressure from investors and fellow euro countries to lead the way in stemming the debt contagion. She faces three more state ballots next month on either side of a March 24-25 European Union summit called to form a comprehensive plan for the crisis.

“It’s a warning to Merkel,” said Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING Groep NV in Brussels. “If she has to draw any lesson, it probably will be to get tougher at the European level to show something to German voters,” he said. “There is no room for Merkel to come home from Brussels on March 25 with anything that could look or smell like a defeat.”

Portuguese government bonds declined for a second week before the vote, leading securities of high-deficit countries including Greece lower. Yields on Portuguese bonds rose to within five basis points of the most since the euro’s inception in 1999, while faster inflation risks unsettling German voters. Portugal’s 10-year yield has stayed above 7 percent the last 11 trading days. 

If German voters aren't going to play ball with the bailout plans for countries like Greece and Ireland, and as Portugal and Spain continue to teeter on the edge, it's going to get really bad, really fast.  Merkel's in bad shape here, and the German opposition is running on a platform to tell the rest of the European Union to stuff it where the sun don't shine.

Could we be seeing more demonstrations in Europe soon?  I think it's quite likely.

Re-Railing The Derailed Florida Rail Project

GOP Gov. Rick Scott has killed the high speed rail project in central Florida, but that doesn't mean it's dead.  House Republicans and Democrats from along the I-4 corridor are trying to do everything they can to get the money and create badly needed jobs in their districts.

Advocates for high-speed rail in Florida were hustling to keep it alive late Friday, cobbling plans to accept the federal money Gov. Rick Scott rejected this week.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, floated a proposal to dramatically shrink the project to an Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World link, cutting Tampa and Lakeland out of the mix, for now.

Mica, who chairs the House transportation committee, said an initial 21-mile starter train, with a stop at the Orange County Convention Center, shows the best ridership potential and could even turn a profit. Some portion of the $2.4 billion in federal grant money would flow to Orange and Osceola counties and the city of Orlando. The three governments would forge a compact to solicit bids and oversee construction of the project and other partner governments could be added later, he said.

The shorter distance likely would take much of the high speed out of high-speed rail in Florida. The trains have to travel several miles to reach speeds of 160 mph or more and slow down well in advance of stops.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, shared a legal opinion from Tampa City Attorney Chip Fletcher. It contends that there are a variety of ways local governments could team up to create an umbrella government to accept grant money and oversee the rail project. And Fletcher’s opinion states that either the Florida Department of Transportation or the Legislature could assign the federal grant money over to the newly created agency.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave state lawmakers a week to come up with a plan to keep the money from going to other states.

“And since Secretary LaHood gave us one week from today, everyone went to work today,” Castor said.

Needless to say, the jobs these Representatives want to save include their own.  GOP Rep. John Mica is especially vulnerable.  What's the point of being in charge of the House Transportation Committee if you can't deliver on infrastructure jobs?

Rick Scott might not give a damn about rail in Florida, but John Mica's been in Congress for almost 20 years and I'm betting he wants to still be in Congress after Scott has burned down Tallahassee.  Odds are pretty good that won't happen if they can't sell Ray LaHood on a new plan by Friday.

The bigger issue is that there's already bipartisan support for telling Rick Scott to go to hell.  Going to be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

What Wisconsin's Public Employees Are Fighting For

Josh Marshall parses Scott Walker's actions.

But there's another layer of the story that's only gotten cursory attention in the national media. Walker's proposal doesn't apply to all public sector unions in the state. Broadly speaking it targets unions that consistently support Democrats (teachers and other public employees) and exempts those that are often more friendly to Republican candidates (police and firefighters). Walker has been quick to point out that the statewide police and firefighters unions, as opposed to those in Milwaukee, both supported his opponent last year. He claims he makes the exception because the state can't afford any walk-outs from these public safety related employees.

But that doesn't really hold up.

It strains credulity to see this as anything but a political effort to destroy organizations that are critical foot soldiers for Democratic candidates at election time

This is why Republicans have been targeting unions, particularly teachers and state employees' unions, for some time now.  If unions are eliminated, Democrats at the state level will be severely weakened.  That's always what the end game was here, to rid the country of unions.  At the private sector level, unions have all but been eliminated in many states and replaced with "right-to-work" laws.

If public employee unions are eliminated, then the backbone of labor in this country will be broken for good, with American workers at the tender mercies of international corporations who simply do not see investment in the US middle class as a smart move when there's billions of Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and Indonesian workers forming a market ten times the size of the United States.  And they will not have the best interests of American workers at heart.

The goal here is to remove the unions as the last obstacle for the corporate takeover of the US in a post-Citizens United world where they can simply buy the races they want to win and the candidates who will do what they say.

And then our Democracy really is over.

[UPDATE]  And now Walker is hinting that as many as 12,000 state employee jobs will be eliminated as part of his budget plan...putting them on state unemployment is a much better idea than actually employing them as far as taxpayers are concerned, right?

Preventing The Panda-Monium Of The Jasmine Rebellion

China has decided to get out well ahead of all this North Africa/Middle East freedom crap and is cracking down now before things get out of hand.  The first target:  the Chinese internet.

After Internet messages calling for demonstrations in 13 cities surfaced on Saturday, apparently from overseas sites used by Chinese living abroad, there were reports of activists being preemptively hauled away.

Very few Chinese responded, and in only a couple of cities, but Beijing’s authoritarian regime still mobilized large teams of police to ensure all remained quiet.

The heavy response by Chinese officials was a reminder of the government’s low tolerance for any hint of political discord. The country’s combination of surveillance, sophisticated management of information, and a willingness to deploy large numbers of security forces has so far allowed it to cut off even the most remote of challenges to the Chinese Communist Party.

After online messages spread on Saturday using the phrase “Jasmine Revolution,” a reference to the unrest in Tunisia that ousted the president there and inspired uprisings across the Arab world, Chinese police beefed up their presence. Users on Chinese messaging sites, and those able to access Twitter through special software, posted notes saying that university students were warned to stay away from trouble.

In the previous two days, state media had signaled that the government is looking to further exert its considerable capacity to maintain order.

On Friday, a key architect of the country’s Internet monitoring software told a state newspaper that the program, already regarded as among the most stringent in the world, should be strengthened.

The next day, President Hu Jintao urged a conference of officials in Beijing to improve “social management.” The state news service Xinhua said that “Hu stressed the importance of information network management, urging an improved management of the ‘virtual society’ and a better guidance of public opinions on Internet.”

When Sunday came, the protests fizzled into almost nothing. The overwhelming majority of Chinese residents probably had no idea they’d even been called for -- the websites used to advertise the protests are either blocked or heavily censored in China.

I'll give the Chinese this much, they're not stupid.  They see the unmanaged, raw internet as a direct threat to Communist Party rule and they damn well know it.  If there ever is a revolution in China, it's not going to be one that gets too much traction on Twitter.  The events of the last month have not been lost on Party officials there.

New Comments, Same Snark, Less Stupid

In the process of switching over to DisqUS comments system.  Hopefully it will process and import all the old comments and now I have a whole lot more control over the the whole process.

Let me know if you have trouble with the system.

Thanks, Kitteh.

I feel a whole lot better now.

What The Duck?

A fun article on shows five things that the Duck family (Scrooge or Donald especially) did well before our generation.  The plot to Inception and Indiana Jones are listed among others. 

No learning, nothing dark or mysterious here. Enjoy!
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