Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Last Call

Some perspective for you tonight.

Wisconsin's budget shortfall for June 2011-2013 is expected to be $3.6 billion dollars.  That's for two years worth of budgeting.

Today, in after hours trading, Hewlett-Packard lost about 3 times that in market capitalization.  On one idle Tuesday, poof, $10 billion goes away.  That's a couple hours of trading.  So yeah, HP's total market cap ($110 billion or so) is still 4 times as much as the entire state of Wisconsin spends in its state and local budget in one year, or twice as much in two years. ($53 billion).

The entire state.

We have odd priorities.

Don't Mess With Texas...Colleges

Ahh, Texas Republican supermajority, you are anything if completely predictable.

Texas is poised to approve a measure allowing college students and professors to carry guns on campus, an initiative with strong support in the state legislature that critics concede they probably can't stop.

The legislation has been championed by Gov. Rick Perry, co-sponsored by over half the lawmakers in the state House, and approved two years ago in the Senate. Texas would follow Utah, the only state in the nation to have a similar law.

"It's strictly a matter of self-defense," state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a Republican, told The Associated Press. "I don't ever want to see repeated on a Texas college campus what happened at Virginia Tech, where some deranged, suicidal madman goes into a building and is able to pick off totally defenseless kids like sitting ducks."

The measure's supporters commonly argue that it would make campus shootings less likely, not more, wading into a key point of contention between opponents and proponents of looser gun laws.

College leaders across the nation have criticized the idea as dangerous, dismissing the view that a filling up the classrooms and dorm rooms with weapons would make inhabitants safer.

I'd dispute that allowing concealed carry on Texas college campuses would prevent another Virginia Tech incident.  At the same time, hey, voters overwhelmingly approved Republicans at the state level in Texas, so this is the kind of legislation they feel is important to Texas right now.  I have one good friend on a Texas college campus right now for grad school that most likely would agree wholeheartedly with Texas Republicans on this, but then again he's my age, married, and responsible and not 19 and stupid.

My personal view on concealed carry is, as with driving during snow and ice, all the other idiots out there who are going to get someone killed.  We don't trust college kids with booze for a reason, and you want them packing on campus?

Not terribly fond of the idea, but then again, not my state, not my legislature.

Spiked Again

Oil prices were up substantially today as chaos rules in Libya.

The price for a barrel of crude oil for April delivery shot up $5.71 in Tuesday trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, settling at $95.41, its highest in more than two years. In overseas trading, Brent crude oil on the London Intercontinental Exchange settled up almost half a percentage point at $106 a barrel.

Rising oil prices will have an immediate impact on U.S. gasoline prices, another headache for weary consumers already facing rising food prices amid a sluggish economy.

"You'll probably see the price of gas increase this week because of the unrest," said Troy Green, a spokesman for the AAA auto club.

How much is an open question.

Not really.  Yesterday here in the NKY gas was $3.09 a gallon.  Sure enough on the way home I saw a string of $3.29 prices.   Expect about a 20 cent rise in gas prices, possibly more by Monday.

Funny how a six percent rise in oil equals about a six percent plus rise in gas prices within hours, but falls, well.  Those take a while.

Badgers To Hoosiers

Looks like Indiana Dems are following the same game plan as Wisconsin to stop a much worse bill that would dismantle all employee unions and all collective bargaining, public and private sector as I mentioned this morning.

The Indianapolis Star reports that Democratic members of the state House are heading out of state to prevent the Republican majority from moving forward on a bill "that would bar unions and companies from negotiating a contract that requires non-union members to kick-in fees for representation."

In scenes reminiscent of those in Wisconsin, the Indiana Democrats are using the legislature's quorum rules to stop the GOP, despite being outgunned in the legislature and in the governor's mansion, where potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitch Daniels currently resides.

The breakdown of the quorum rules and the battle in the state House, from the Star:
The House was came (sic) into session this morning, with only two of the 40 Democrats present. Those two were needed to make a motion, and a seconding motion, for any procedural steps Democrats would want to take to ensure Republicans don't do anything official without quorum. 
With only 58 legislators present, there was no quorum present to do business. The House needs 67 of its members to be present.
A source told the paper Democrats "are headed to Illinois, though it was possible some also might go to Kentucky."

The Democrats "need to go to a state with a Democratic governor to avoid being taken into police custody and returned to Indiana," the paper reports. 

C'mon over, Indiana Dems.  We'll leave a light on for you.

A Little Ray Of Sunshine

Again, I've had it with all the depressing news and stupidity.  Please enjoy this video of a dog rescue.  He had been underground for 19 hours, and I feel a lot better having seen the poor fellow out and drinking water, wagging his tail with gratitude.

The Worst Thing I've Heard All Year

HICKORY, N.C. – The stepmother of a 10-year-old disabled girl was indicted Monday on charges she killed the freckle-faced child and then desecrated her remains to cover up the slaying, according to court documents.
A grand jury in Catawba County charged Elisa Baker with second-degree murder in the death of Zahra Baker. Authorities planned to discuss the case at a news conference later in the day.

Zahra, who used a prosthetic leg and hearing aids after being stricken with cancer, disappeared four months ago. No one had been charged in her death, though Elisa Baker had been charged with obstructing justice in the investigation. Police eventually found the girl's remains in different locations around western North Carolina. Authorities still have not said how the girl died.

 No matter what details come to light, the tragedy has already befallen Zahra.  I spent years working with handicapped and long-term disabled children, and  I understand the strength it took for her to fight for her life.  My heart goes out to this poor little girl, who survived cancer only to be stricken with something far worse.

The State Of Unions: What's Next

Kay at Balloon Juice reminds us of why the union protests are spreading to other states as Republicans at the state level are doing everything they can to break up all unions, not just public employee ones.  The battle continues in Indiana:

Over the protests of thousands of labor union members who filled the Statehouse, a House committee voted on party lines today to send a bill that would bar unions and companies from negotiating contracts that require all employees to pay fees for representation.
House Bill 1468 — which supporters call the “right to work” bill and which opponents call the “right to work for less” bill — passed the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee on an 8-5 vote and now goes to the full House for debate.

In other words, unions that collect dues would be barred from any collective bargaining in Indiana.  All unions, public and private.  A number of states have these right-to-work laws, Kentucky is one of them. And this is happening in Indiana despite Gov. Mitch Daniel's disastrous plan to outsource social services to a private company.

Indiana and former outsourcing partner IBM sued each other Thursday, May 13, the latest chapter in an increasingly sour relationship that went bad when the state decided last year to cancel an ambitious social services system. In October 2009, Gov. Mitch Daniels pulled the plug on Indiana’s 10-year, $1.6 billion outsourcing contract with IBM to streamline welfare eligibility in the state. Launched in 2007, the new system let citizens apply for welfare benefits online, in person or via telephone, and it implemented process changes designed to speed up and standardize eligibility determinations. Daniels called the concept—which drew criticism for high error rates and slow processing of eligibility requests—unworkable.

It lost money, cost state taxpayers millions of dollars more than having state social workers, and failed in nearly every aspect.

This is what Republicans want to do, to attach profit motive to government services and send taxpayer money directly to the pockets of business interests in the name of the "free market".

On The Ground In Mad Town

A week's worth of protests in Madison, Wisconsin has drawn both sides into a stalemate.  Gary Farber at Obsidian Wings has an impressive recap of what's going on right now in the state.  "Moderate" Republicans are backing a plan to reinstate collective bargaining rights in two years, but:

One hardly need point out that a proposal to wipe out union rights, and then "reinstate" them:

a) makes no sense: either it's a good idea, or it's a bad idea (and it's a horrific idea), and that it would:

b) work exactly like the Bush tax cuts.  Once in place, these rights will never be restored, as the same interests will press against them, and the status quo is always easier to maintain in politics.  Which is precisely why this maneuver is both being attempted, and is so crucial both to those interested in the rights of workers, ordinary middle-class people, against the increase of income inequality, and who oppose what communist Teddy Roosevelt called the malefactors for great wealth:
Too much cannot be said against the men of wealth who sacrifice everything to getting wealth. There is not in the world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, insensible to every duty, regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a fortune, and putting his fortune only to the basest uses —whether these uses be to speculate in stocks and wreck railroads himself, or to allow his son to lead a life of foolish and expensive idleness and gross debauchery, or to purchase some scoundrel of high social position, foreign or native, for his daughter. Such a man is only the more dangerous if he occasionally does some deed like founding a college or endowing a church, which makes those good people who are also foolish forget his real iniquity. These men are equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil. There are not very many of them, but there is a very great number of men who approach more or less closely to the type, and, just in so far as they do so approach, they are curses to the country.

Teddy knew what he was talking about.  Gov. Scott Walker may have fatally weakened his case in his television appearances yesterday, as Josh Marshall suspects Walker is in trouble and his own party is bolting from the bad press.

Walker's position was best captured by the litany he used in his appearance this afternoon. He threatened that over a thousand state employees would need to be laid off if the budget bill isn't passed. He accused the Democrats of shutting down the government. And on and on. He's not acting like someone who thinks he has the strong hand.

Political opinion is often more driven by power and impotence than we believe. On the merits, I think Walker's probably on the wrong side of public opinion in his state on the collective bargaining issue. But quite apart from that, he's out giving press conferences daring his opponents to come back to the state and give him what he wants. But they're not. And his top legislative ally seems to be signaling that he doesn't have another card to play. Whatever you think on the merits of the question, that makes him look weak. And weakness is demoralizing. He's lost the initiative.

George Will says Walker is a Reaganesque figure who holds all the cards in his hands. He sees him heading toward a Reagan with Patco type moment. And the audacity of such a step might perhaps help him. Unfortunately for him though the dynamics of this situation don't give him the opportunity for such decisive action. He's lost the initiative. I confess without more polling information, I really have no more to go on than my gut. But I think Walker's political hand is a good deal weaker than Will thinks.

I'd have to agree.  Wisconsin Senate Dems say they want to come back to negotiate.  Wisconsin Senate Republicans say they want to negotiate.  But Gov. Walker says there will be no negotiations, period, calling them a "non-starter".  Early last weekend I would have said Walker had the upper hand.  Now, he has a major problem.  In a month where democracy is spreading across the dictatorships of North Africa and the Middle East, Walker is showing that his idea of democracy is dictatorship.

He's losing this battle, and deservedly so.

What Up With What's Going Down In Libya?

A metric crapton of second-hand reports and dispatches from brave journalists still in country are coming out of Libya as foreign nationals and citizens alike flee the country eastwards to Egypt.  Many point to the same thing, that Qaddafi's military crackdown has extended to using air strikes against protesters, and that in eastern Libya, protesters are in control of the country.  Meanwhile both the Arab League and the UN Security Council are meeting to determine how to move forward.  Foreign nationals are bugging out, big time.

A BBC correspondent in Tripoli says that while there is a heavy police presence in the capital, the second city, Benghazi, is in opposition control and there is no sign of security forces.

"People have organised themselves to get order back to the city. They have formed committees to run the city," said eyewitness Ahmad Bin Tahir.

Reports that military aircraft had fired on protesters in Tripoli on Monday have been backed up by Libyan diplomats who have turned against the leadership.

But Col Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam said the aircraft had been used only to bomb army bases which had defected to the opposition.

The BBC's Jon Leyne, in western Egypt, says the regime now seems to be fighting on multiple fronts, trying to put down the protests and fighting a bitter battle against a growing number of army units that have risen up against the Libyan leader.

Libya's diplomats at the United Nations in New York called for international intervention to stop the government's violent action against street demonstrations in their homeland.

Deputy Permanent Representative Ibrahim Dabbashi said Libyans had to be protected from "genocide", and urged the UN to impose a no-fly zone.

Ali Aujali, Libya's most senior diplomat in the US, also criticised the country's leader. He told the BBC he was "not supporting the government killing its people".

Meanwhile Libyan state TV denied there had been any massacres, dismissing the reports as "baseless lies" by foreign media.

Qaddafi has lost the people for sure.  Outside the country, Libyan diplomats and officials are resigning in protest, saying Qaddafi needs to go.  The reports leaking out of Tripoli paint a brutal picture of armed squads of still-loyal Libyan forces going after everyone and anyone still in the streets with deadly force, and entire platoons of military forces switching sides to join the people, especially in the east near the Egyptian border.  The wild card in all this?  Islamist forces looking to take advantage of the chaos.

Brent oil prices are up sharply, and will continue to rise.  We'll see where this goes.


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