Friday, March 11, 2011

Last Call

Republicans looks like they will buy three more weeks of government operation at the price of $6 billion in cuts, and the Dems are all but thrilled to take it.

As the standoff continues over funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, both parties agreed on Friday to move ahead with a three-week stopgap bill that would cut an additional six billion dollars and avoid a potential federal shutdown.

The measure, introduced by House Republicans, eliminates or reduces money for 25 government programs, saving $3.5 billion. Republicans chose from a list of programs President Obama wants cut or eliminated his 2012 budget and from items Senate Democrats proposed in a bill that failed earlier this week.

The bill also rescinds funding that U.S. Department of Commerce never spent on the 2010 U.S. Census and eliminates $2.6 billion in earmarks that were extended in last year's spending bill.

The House is expected to vote on the bill early next week and send it to the Senate for a vote.

So what's getting cut now?

* Climate Effects Network – Science Application (U.S. Geological Survey) = -$10.5 million. This program to “provide data for forecasting the effects of climate change” was not funded in the President’s budget request.

* Greenhouse Gas Cap and Trade Funding (EPA) = -$5 million. This funding was provided by the last Congress for the EPA to assist Congress in enacting the Cap and Trade legislation. This program was not funded in the President’s budget request.

* Local Government Climate Change Grants (EPA) = -$10 million. This program was not funded in the President’s budget request. In addition, the Administration has indicated that this program lacks focus and effectiveness, and is too broad to allow fair competition for grants.

* Targeted Airshed Grants (EPA) = -$10 million. The program funds diesel retrofits and replacements for pollution reduction. Funding for similar programs is already available, and the program was not funded in the President’s budget request.

Surprise, a bunch of environmental programs.  Oh, and this:
* Corporation for Public Broadcasting = -$50 million. The bill terminates the “Fiscal Stabilization Fund” which provides funding increases to public broadcasting stations to offset reduced public donations. The bill also terminates the “Radio Interconnection” project that was completed in 2010. These programs were also terminated in the President’s budget request as well as the Senate Democrats’ most recent CR proposal.

Both the White House and Congressional Dems were curiously more than happy to put this on the block.

But hey, this way Democrats get...hey, what ARE Democrats getting out of this, anyway?

Does anyone in the Donks know?

Our Real Domestic Terrorist Problem, Part 2

One day after GOP Rep. Peter King created a circus by asking if American Muslims were a menace or a domestic terror threat, good old-fashioned police work turned up a real conspiracy bust in Alaska involving an actual threat, not just the condemnation of an entire religion.

Militia activist Schaeffer Cox and four associates who reportedly stockpiled weapons were arrested on Thursday for allegedly conspiring to kill multiple Alaska State Troopers and a federal judge.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the group -- Cox, Lonnie. G. Vernon and his wife Karen Vernon, as well as Coleman Barney of North Pole and Michael Anderson -- were taken into custody by state police. All five face several state charges, including "conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to commit arson, misconduct involving weapons in the third degree, hindering prosecution in the first degree and tampering with evidence," according to a press release by the Alaska State Troopers.

Only one of the individuals, Lonnie G. Vernon, has been charged on the federal level so far. He's alleged to have threatened to murder U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline from on or about Feb. 4, continuing through Feb. 16.

U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler, the top federal prosecutor in Alaska, confirmed to TPM on Thursday that Vernon was the only individual facing federal charges. "I can't really comment beyond anything else of what is publicly charged -- Mr. Vernon is charged with threatening to kill the judge and his family, and he was arrested on that. Everything else, all the other arrests, are state."

A calculated conspiracy to commit murder of a federal judge and Alaska State Troopers, possible kidnapping and arson and the weapons to get it done.  These guys?  An actual domestic terror threat.  Also, strangely not one of them is a Muslim.  What they are is a bunch of people who say that Obama isn't the President, and that the federal government is too big and too powerful, and that the rules don't apply to them because they are the true patriots.

Where have we heard that before?

Meanwhile, Republicans want you to be afraid of Muslims, because if people take too close of a look at the actual domestic terror problem in this country, they might see something the Republicans don't want you to see, and make connections they certainly don't want you to make.

Michael Moore Presents "400"

One-third better than "300" and yes, it features a handful of people standing at the gates against a horde or millions, only the horde are the good guys.

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore so admired the daily demonstrations against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that he traveled from New York to Madison for one on March 5, 2011.

The liberal firebrand opened his speech by heaping praise on those fighting the Republican governor’s efforts to take collective bargaining powers from state and local government employees.

But he put more firepower into bashing the nation’s rich.

"Right now, this afternoon, just 400 Americans -- 400 -- have more wealth than half of all Americans combined," Moore avowed to tens of thousands of protesters.

"Let me say that again. And please, someone in the mainstream media, just repeat this fact once; we’re not greedy, we’ll be happy to hear it just once.

"Four hundred obscenely wealthy individuals, 400 little Mubaraks -- most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion-dollar taxpayer bailout of 2008 -- now have more cash, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined."

PolitiFact then checks Moore's numbers, which he made available on his website to back his claim:

Since Moore’s statistics were for 2009, we sought figures for 2010.

The 2010 net worth of the Forbes 400 was $1.37 trillion, Forbes reported in September 2010. That same month, the total U.S. net worth was $54.9 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Board report cited by Moore.

Wolff hasn’t updated his 2009 figures. So we used his 2.3 percent figure again, multiplied by the 2010 total net worth of $54.9 trillion, and found that the net worth of the poorest 60 percent of U.S. households was $1.26 trillion in 2010.

That’s less than the 2010 net worth for the Forbes 400.

How could it be that 400 people have more wealth than half of the more than 100 million U.S. households?

Think of it this way. Many Americans make a good income, have some savings and investments, and own a nice home; they also have debt, for a mortgage, credit cards and other bills. Some people would still have a pretty healthy bottom line. But many -- including those who lost a job and their home in the recession -- have a negative net worth. So that drags down the total net worth for the poorer half of U.S. households that Moore cited.

We also want to add one cautionary note, from Mitchell of the Cato Institute, about Moore’s methodology: The Federal Reserve uses hard numbers to calculate the net worth of all households, but Forbes uses assumptions and interviews along with hard numbers in estimating the net worth of the Forbes 400.

There’s no way to know how the differences between the two affect the net worth numbers, but Moore used the data that are available and there’s no indication he "cherry-picked" figures for a desired result, Mitchell said.

With that caveat, our assessment indicates that as of 2009, the net worth of the nation’s 400 wealthiest individuals exceeds the net worth of half of all American households.

We rate Moore’s statement True.

Astonishing.  And it's not even close:  the wealthiest 400 Americans have a higher combined net worth than some 155,000,000 Americans combined, and the super-rich win this battle by some $90 billion.  The combined net worth of the super-rich has actually increased since "Socialist, redistributionist" Obama took office.

Let me put it to you another way.  From 2009 to 2010, the country's total net worth went from $53.1 billion to $54.9 trillion.  The entire United States added $1.8 trillion in net worth gains.  $100 billion of that $1.8 trillion growth went just to the richest 400 people in the country. 400 out of 308,000,000 got an extra $100 billion last year.  $250,000,000 a piece, on average.

What was your share of the remaining $1.7 trillion?

Let me put in another way.  The country's net worth grew by $1.8 trillion from 2009 to 2010.  That $1.8 trillion growth is more than the entire combined net worth of 50% of the country, and by some $600 billion.  If a rising tide lifts all boats, and the country's net worth grew by nearly $2 trillion, why aren't the least of us prospering?  That's enough to double the net worth of half the country.  America is doing great!

Until you realize that an overwhelming majority of that net worth growth went only to the richest Americans.  Meanwhile, the rest of us are told we have to tighten our belts because America is insolvent.  Where are these jobs that the rich are supposed to create with their investments?  Where's the shared sacrifice?  Where's the rising tide that lifts all boats?

Seems to me the "class war" the Village keeps talking about has been won a long time ago, and we lost so badly we don't even know that it's hopelessly over.  If .00013% of the country is getting 5.5% of the entire net worth growth of the country and the vast majority of us are losing money, exactly how is this a good thing?

Zombie Ants Are Real... And Icky

I had to share this, because I find it both disturbing and interesting.  What's amazing is that a special fungus can actually take over an ant's brain and they will go to a place that is idea for the fungus to flourish and then die, essentially feeding a new colony.

Check it out.  The article isn't kidding when it says it is not for the squeamish.  They're only ants but I feel bad for the little guys.

It's A Gas Gas Gas, Part 2

The AAA Fuel Price Report shows the national average is $3.54 a gallon today, it's $3.59 in the NKY.  Keep in mind three weeks ago, gas was $3.09 here.  Diesel is pushing $4 a gallon already.  We were facing a national trucker's strike in the summer of 2008 over $4-$5 diesel before the bottom fell out of the oil market as part of the crash.

Three years later we're right back over that barrel.  Oil barrel, that is.  And we don't even get oil from Libya.  Funny how that works.

Epic Fail: Worst Robbery Ever

It's every shop owner's worst nightmare.  A customer comes in and approaches the counter.  He is dressed a little strange, but that is normal for the regular crowd around this place.  Then he hands you a list of items and tells you he has a bomb strapped to him.  If he doesn't leave the store right now with the items, he'll explode.

Only thing is, this was a comic book store.  The list was valued at between $500 and $1,000 dollars and consisted primarily of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards.  The bomb was an obviously fake getup.  The store owner had an understandable concern about a young fellow who was nuts enough to walk in, shoot their attempt in the foot by saying upfront they were being forced to steal for fear of being blown up by their uncle, reveal a "bomb" while dressed in a strange wig and acting jittery as hell.  Common sense and this 17-year-old have failed to meet in his short and interesting life.

The next time you're telling a story at the water cooler and you say, "surely nobody is that dumb" just think of this story and realize you're wrong. Enjoy!

Financial Tsunami

Although the footage and the numbers continue to come in from Japan on today's massive 8.9 quake and 30-foot tsunami wave, Tyler Durden argues that the real wave felt 'round the world may be the financial devastation, and it could not have come at a worse time.

Two months ago many were scratching their heads when Japan announced it was buying Eurozone bonds.  After all - why would Europe want to have a marginal buyer (or as the case may be seller) of its debt be the country that is known by all to be the most indebted entity in the world? Of course, it became promptly clear that it was not the Japanese government doing the buying, but mostly its financial companies, with an emphasis on its insurance and reinsurance companies.

Fast forward to today when Japanese insurance companies are getting pummeled in local trading on concerns the payoffs to the decimated Japanese infrastructure will be unprecedented. So what will happen? Why a scramble for liquidity of course, just like we saw back in September 2008, when cash stricken companies sold all their liquid assets first, resulting in a toxic loop of self-fulfilling prophecy selling which almost tobbled the $25 trillion shadow banking system.

And what will said Japanese insurance companies sell first? Why the very same Eurozone bonds they acquired with so much pomp and circumstance, by the minions of the insolvent Eurozone, back in January of course. Furthermore, now that Japan will have no choice but to launch a mini round of Quantitative Easing and flood the market with JGBs, there will be a dramatic spike in supply for sovereign paper, which of course means yields across the board will rise. 

Japanese insurance and reinsurance companies will need to raise a lot of cash, quickly.  They're going to sell Eurozone bonds in order to do it, and as Europe faces this one-two punch of a bond market blowout and oil prices through the roof, it may simply be too much for the EU to handle.  Even though Japan takes disaster preparedness seriously and has invested hundreds of millions in quake-proofing the country, this one was so bad that the damage is still going to be in the billions if not tens of billions of dollars, not to mention the major loss of life.

The upshot is Europe just got kicked when it was down and the double barrels of a Japan sell-off and Libyan turmoil may break the system.

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 65

Foreclosuregate?  What's that?  The Fed's never heard of it.  There's no such thing as an erroneous foreclosure.

A months-long internal investigation into abusive mortgage practices by the Federal Reserve found no wrongful foreclosures, members of the Fed's Consumer Advisory Council said Thursday.

During a public meeting attended by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, consumer advocates on the panel criticized the central bank's examiners for narrowly defining what constitutes a "wrongful foreclosure." At least one member of the panel, comprised of consumer finance experts not employed by the Fed, voiced concerns that the public would not take the Fed's findings of improper practices seriously, since the wide-ranging review did not find a single homeowner who was wrongfully foreclosed upon.

That's hysterical.  Anyone who's been reading the Roaches series here knows that's demonstrably false, because the MERS system is fundamentally flawed and banks will foreclose on homes without giving people a chance to challenge their bad paperwork.

But there's no problem, MERS is 100% accurate and so are the banks and shut up, that's why.

Kirsten Keefe, a member of the Fed consumer panel and an attorney at the Empire Justice Center in Albany, New York, said the Fed's report defined "wrongful foreclosures" as repossessions of borrowers' homes who were not significantly behind on their payments.

Based on that definition -- the homeowners were already in default -- the Fed found the foreclosures to be justified, members said.

But Keefe, who represents troubled borrowers, argued that the definition should be expanded to include foreclosures in which the wrong party brought the foreclosure action or cases that involve significant errors in foreclosure documents, like an inflated past-due amount, for example. Other consumer advocates at Thursday's public meeting appeared to agree.

"It is so dangerous to make the conclusion that we heard yesterday that there were no wrongful foreclosures," said Mark Wiseman, a former principal assistant attorney general in Ohio who oversaw consumer protection matters.

"That homeowners were not delinquent has never been our contention," said Rashmi Rangan, a member of the panel and the executive director of the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council. "Our contention is that many of these foreclosures were avoidable."

Mary Tingerthal, the Fed council's vice chair and the commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, worried that the public would only pay attention to the report's "headline" finding, she said, which is that bank examiners did not find improper foreclosures. The Fed did find significant problems in banks' mortgage operations, she said.

The Fed reviewed just 500 loan files, said Rangan, citing Wednesday's briefing.

500 loans out of what, millions?  Yeah, everything's hunky-dory.  Way to go, guys.  The banks are going to walk away with billions in free houses, folks.  Watch.

Power Tripping 101

When you have a GOP super-majority, you use it to remove as many minority voters from the rolls as possible.  Florida's GOP Gov. Rick Scott knows how to play this game.

In less than an hour yesterday, Florida Governor Rick Scott denied the right to vote to hundreds of thousands, maybe as many as a million, Florida citizens, turning back the clock decades and making Florida the most punitive state in the country when it comes to disenfranchising people with criminal convictions in their past.

The Florida constitution denies the right to vote for life to anyone with a felony conviction, unless he is granted clemency by the governor. Essentially it gives the governor, an elected official, the power to decide who will (or won't) be allowed to vote in the next election. 

The new clemency rules not only roll back reforms passed by former Governor Charlie Crist, they are far more restrictive than those in place under former Governor Jeb Bush. Under the new rules:
  • People with even nonviolent convictions must wait five years after they complete all terms of their sentence before even being allowed to apply for restoration of civil rights.
  • The clock resets if an individual is arrested for even a misdemeanor during that five-year period, even if no charges are ever filed.
  • Some people must wait seven years before being able to apply, and must appear for a hearing before the clemency board.
  • A provision allowing people to apply for a waiver of the rules, in place under Bush and Crist, was eliminated.
  • Everyone applying for clemency must provide various documents with their application - Bush and Crist had made an exception for those applying for restoration of civil rights.
All of this has to happen just to have the opportunity to ask for one's rights back. Even after the waiting period, the application, and the hearing, anyone could be summarily denied with no reason or explanation. And if that happens, he would have to wait another two years before he can start the process all over again.

And considering African-Americans make up more than half of Florida's prison population as well as more than half of Florida's ex-cons and 16% of Florida's overall population, well you see why southern states have traditionally made it impossible for felons who have served their time to be able to vote, the practice stretches back to Jim Crow days.  Scott's just going back to what works as far as being able to legally disenfranchise the black vote in the state, particularly the black male vote in the state.

Gotta keep that super-majority in any way possible, you know.

Completely Moosed Up This Time

I'm still absolutely convinced Sarah Palin will run for President out of sheer ego, but if she actually does she's going to have a miserable time of it.

Sarah Palin’s unfavorable rating is off the charts.

The former Alaska governor’s numbers are astonishingly upside-down, according to a new Bloomberg poll showing a 32 percentage point spread between those who have an unfavorable rating of Palin and those who view her favorably.

Of the 60 percent in the poll who have an unfavorable opinion of Palin, more than half of them – 38 percent among the whole survey – said they have a “very” unfavorable view of Palin.

Her “very” unfavorable rating is higher than the total favorability ratings of Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump and Chris Christie.

The new poll is a dip from a December Bloomberg poll showing Palin with a net favorable rating of 33 percent and a net unfavorable rating of 57 percent.

Now granted, I think the second she announces her 2012 run her numbers will improve noticeably.  They will not improve to the point where she would actually have a shot of winning, however.  I'm also solidly convinced that her favorable ratings will never go below 27% either, so this is about as bad as it's going to get for her.

Either way, I think America is largely over Sarah Palin at this point.  No doubt she'll find some way to get back to being the center of the universe again quickly.


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