Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Last Call

Bye, Glenny.

Fox News and Mercury Radio Arts, Glenn Beck’s production company, are proud to announce that they will work together to develop and produce a variety of television projects for air on the Fox News Channel as well as content for other platforms including Fox News’ digital properties. Glenn intends to transition off of his daily program, the third highest rated in all of cable news, later this year.

So "transition off" is the new "rightsizing" for FOX News.  Question is, where will he end up?  Maybe he's taking a cue from Olbermann...

An Oily Predicament

So, last week, Saudi Arabia continued to assure the world (and the US) that they could maintain oil export capacity to handle reduced OPEC exports from Libya in order to keep the world economy from flagging due to high oil prices, and to avoid another oil crash.

Two Saudi officials told Reuters on Tuesday that the extra rig activity would maintain rather than increase the kingdom's oil capacity. It completed a multi-year expansion in 2009 meant to boost spare capacity by more than 3 million barrels per day.

"It's not to expand capacity. It's to sustain current capacity on new fields and old fields that have been bottled up," one of the officials said.

State-run oil giant Saudi Aramco met leading oil service companies including Halliburton over the weekend to discuss plans to boost the country's rig count this year and next to 118, from around 92 now, Simmons & Co analyst Bill Herbert said on Monday.

Saudi Arabia increased its output to around 9 million bpd this month to help compensate for disruption of supply from fellow OPEC producer Libya.

That was last week.  This week, OPEC actually can't help with oil prices.

OPEC ministers on Wednesday brushed aside worries that inflated fuel prices will slow economic growth, saying there was little more they can do to rein in $120-a-barrel crude.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussain al-Shahristani, a former oil minister, said OPEC had done all it could to calm the rally.

"All that OPEC can do is provide the market with the oil it needs and it is doing that," he told reporters at a Paris oil conference. "We have not seen any slowdown in growth."

Oil on Wednesday traded above $123 a barrel for Brent crude, its highest since August 2008, prompting another alarm call from the International Energy Agency, oil watchdog of the industrial economies.

"Oil at $120 or more has an effect on economic activity. We have seen similar levels during times of economic slowdown if not recession," its Deputy Director Richard Jones told Reuters in Dubai.

So, this should be fun.  OPEC is blaming speculators, the IMF is blaming Asian growth, and the world is blaming OPEC in return.  Meanwhile, West Texas Intermediate crude is pushing $110 a barrel (and Brent Sea crude is pushing $125.)

Oiled up, indeed.

The Kroog Versus Cruelty And Wishful Thinking

Paul Krugman does not like Paul Ryan's budget, the way cops don't like naked arsonists running around elementary schools.

So Ryan is claiming that unemployment will plunge right away; that by 2015 it will be down to the levels at the peak of the 1990s boom (and far below anything achieved under the sainted Ronald Reagan); and that by 2021 it will be below 3 percent, a level we haven’t seen in more than half a century. Right.

Then there’s the Medicare business. According to the CBO analysis, a typical senior would end up spending more than twice as much of his or her own income on health care as under current law. As Dean Baker points out, this means that seniors would end up paying most of their income for health care. Again, right.

But in a way, the worst part isn’t the Medicare plan: it’s the fact — which so far has not penetrated the debate — that the biggest source of supposed savings in the plan isn’t actually health care, it’s an assumption that federal spending on everything except health and Social Security can somehow be squeezed, as a percent of GDP, to a small fraction of current levels.

And by "fraction" Ryan apparently means basically cutting discretionary spending in half, from 12% GDP to 6% of GDP, in 10 years...and continuing to shrink it.  (Or, keeping spending where it is and doubling the GDP in 10 years, but Ryan assumes only mildly fantastical GDP growth, so he just wants to slash everything.)

Either way, Ryan is full of crap.  Kroog calls him out.

That’s bigger than the assumed cut in health care spending relative to baseline; it accounts for all of the projected deficit reduction, since the alleged health savings are all used to finance tax cuts. And how is this supposed to be accomplished? Not explained.

This isn’t a serious proposal; it’s a strange combination of cruelty and insanely wishful thinking.

And that's the best summation of Republican economics I've heard in a very long time.  Cruelty and insanely wishful thinking, indeed.

Searching For Answers

Looks like the Obama administration may be going after the Big G.

 U.S. antitrust regulators may investigate Google Inc's dominance of the Web search industry, and will settle on the agency to launch a probe once scrutiny into the company's plan to buy ITA software is done, a source told Reuters on Tuesday.

The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department will decide which has more expertise and whether to launch a formal investigation once the latter wraps up the ITA probe, the source said.

"They're waiting for ITA to pop," said the source, who spoke anonymously to preserve business relationships.
Shares of Google fell more than 3.2 percent on Tuesday, following a Bloomberg report that the FTC is considering an antitrust investigation.

The FTC and Justice Department declined to comment.

Google's proposed acquisition of ITA for $700 million has sparked worries in the tech world that travel websites such as Orbitz Worldwide Inc, Kayak and TripAdvisor could be deprived of ITA's software. Google announced plans to acquire ITA Software for $700 million in cash in July.

Google is definitely big enough to throw its weight around these days, and fair is fair.  If practically every search algorithm on the net is controlled by Google, well, that's not exactly a competitive situation.  Ironically, Google's biggest ally right now is probably Microsoft and its Bing engine, which is why I think nothing will come from this probe...if there even is one.

Still, we'll see.

I Like My Sinners Charred, With A Little Irony On The Side

Be careful what you wish for.  You just might get it, and then be held accountable for it.

Reprinted in its entirety from the Clarke County Democrat:

In a small Texas town, ( Mt. Vernon ) Drummond’s bar began construction on a new building to increase their business.. The local Baptist church started a campaign to block the bar from opening with petitions and prayers. Work progressed right up till the week before opening when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, until the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means.
The church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise in its reply to the court.

As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork. At the hearing he commented, “I don't know how I’m going to decide this, but as it appears from the paperwork, we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not.” 

Massive Breach? Fuggedaboudit.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Customers of Verizon Communications had their email addresses exposed in a massive online data breach last week, according to an email to customers obtained by Reuters.

In what could be one of the biggest such attacks in U.S. history, a computer hacker penetrated the online marketer Epsilon, which controls the customer email databases for a broad swath of companies.

This was bound to happen.  It's a pretty big score for the bad guys.  The natural spike in phishing scams is soon to come, and so far there hasn't been any indication that they have any leads.  They are going to slam the lid down tight on this one, but the damage is already done.

This is why I take those extra few seconds to type in my credit card numbers and don't store any information online.  One has to consider the thousands upon thousands of hacking attempts that are deflected every single day, and put this into perspective.  This was inevitable, and it will happen again.  It was just our bad luck that they happened to score off a major database.  There is no word as to what damages Epsilon may be responsible for, or how they plan to handle this publicity nightmare.

Another One For The Fire

Add Spain to the growing list of European countries where crippling austerity cuts are only making things worse.

The number of people registering for jobless benefits in Spain rose by 34,406, or 0.8%, from February to 4.33 million, the Labour Ministry said in Madrid. Youth unemployment, up to 24 years, reached an impressive 43.6%.

Spain’s unemployment remains at more than 20%, while the number of Germans out of work dropped to the lowest since 1992 last month. Spain’s economy emerged from an almost two-year recession in 2010 before contracting again in the third quarter as austerity measures undermined the recovery.

As part of efforts to tackle the highest jobless rate in Europe, the Socialist government will present a plan this month to encourage unregistered jobs to be declared, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said last week.

The measures will offer short-term incentives for underground workers to be legalized and will toughen penalties on illegal labour and on people claiming unemployment benefits while working for cash. As many as 500,000 informal jobs may be registered, Expansion newspaper reported on March 31, citing government advisers.

The doubling of the unemployment rate since the collapse of the decade-long property boom and the deepest budget cuts in at least three decades have eroded support for Rodriguez Zapatero, who said on April 2 that he won’t run for a third term in elections scheduled for 2012.

Three out of seven Spaniards under 24 are out of work.  That's basically the same time bomb level of youth unemployment that set off the MENA countries into full revolution:  Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, just for starters have youth employment numbers ranging from 30 to 50 percent.  Spain's 43% is certainly a big, huge danger flag, especially with massive austerity cuts making the situation worse.

The bigger problem is that Spain is yet another country that proves that austerity is failing.  Greece, Ireland, Portugal, the UK, and now Spain are all countries that have made draconian budget cuts in the last 12 months.  Greece and Portugal will almost certainly need another bailout.  Ireland is teetering even after its bailout.  Britain is plunging into recession, and now Spain has 20% national unemployment and rising.

If you're wondering, the youth unemployment numbers for the US are around 18-20%, but for African-Americans age 18-24, that number is 30-33%.

Have a nice day.

That Was Easy

How do you know that the Ryan budget roadmap to Medicare elimination is not only ridiculous, but truly dangerous?  Because Jim Pethokoukis is in need of a post-coital cigarette at the prospect of throwing Grandma out into the street to pay for cutting taxes on our most precious resource, the millionaire.

Is Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” potentially the most important and necessary piece of economic legislation since President Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981? Quite likely. The blueprint embraces free markets and individual choice to radically reshape America’s social welfare state for the 21st century and shrink government. Instead of looking for ways to finance an ever-expanding public sector, it would prevent Washington from growing to a projected 45 percent of GDP by 2050 (vs. 24 percent today) and instead reduce it to just under 15 percent by that year. Ryan would downsize government to its smallest size since 1950 and prevent the Europeanization of the American economy. The Ryan Path embraces dynamic growth, not managed decline and stagnation.

Yes, dynamic growth for the top 1% of Americans, and dynamic growth in poverty for just about everyone else.   And by "radically reshape America's social welfare state" he means anybody under 55 who has been paying Medicare taxes for decades as an American worker will get shafted.

That's not the funny part.  This is.

The risk is that Paul Ryan has created a plan only Paul Ryan can sell with his passion and deep expertise. He does make political concessions. The plan doesn’t, for instance, cut Medicare spending on current retirees or older workers. But austerity of that sort probably isn’t needed yet. Current trends, though, are leading toward a fiscal crisis that would result in both extreme and immediate benefit cuts and higher taxes.

And that, ultimately, is how the political case is made. The alternative to the Ryan Path isn’t the fiscally unsustainable status quo, but a future of harsh austerity beset by financial crisis, stifled by higher interest rates and marred by a lower standard of living. In short, the death of the American Dream and  the collapse of any social safety net.

So, we collapse the social safety net for anyone born after 1960 in order to save it for everyone older.  This is "shared sacrifice".  And Paul Ryan only has deep expertise in conning idiots like Jimbo here.  But he's right about one thing:  this budget would indeed finish what Reagan started, the end of the American middle class and the descent into social Darwinism.

The herd of Americans who are not millionaires ain't gonna cull itself, you know.  There's a reason it's called a budget axe.  At every juncture, at every opportunity, every Democrat in Washington should be saying "The Republicans are going to eliminate Medicare in order to give a massive tax cut to the wealthy."  Every Republican behind the Ryan plan should be forced to defend that point.

It's so bloody simple, the Democrats will find a way to foul it up.

Like Moose Lady, Like Daughter

More power to Bristol Palin, as far as I'm concerned.  If she wants to grift the hell out of the rubes like her mom, go for it.

In 2009, Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol joined a teen pregnancy prevention nonprofit called the Candie’s Foundation. Today, the Associated Press reported that the Candie’s Foundation released its 2009 tax information, revealing that Bristol was paid a salary of $262,500. But a closer examination of the tax form by ThinkProgress shows that the group disbursed only $35,000 in grants to actual teen pregnancy health and counseling clinics: $25,000 to the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center and $10,000 to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Nice work if you can get it.  Teach the young useful skills like wingnut welfare from non-profits early and they can ride that gravy train throughout life.  How many other teenagers you know can pull down a quarter-million plus a year without, you know, any discernible skills?  Hey, it works for the staff of National Review...

Notably, Bristol’s Candie’s Foundation group is run by Neil Cole, an executive at the teenage clothing company Iconix Brand Group. Many critics have pointed out that the Candie’s Foundation appears to be geared towards improving the public image of Cole’s company rather than reducing teen pregnancy. 

Famous for being famous and raking in the dough.  Nothing more American than that.


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