Friday, April 8, 2011

Last Call

As I have been predicting, the news at this late hour is that both sides in the shutdown showdown have -- surprise! -- come to a deal in theory and will sign a three day extension costing Dems another $2 billion in cuts while they iron out all the details.

Democrats and Republicans narrowly averted a partial shutdown of the federal government Friday night, agreeing on a budget deal and a short-term funding extension little more than an hour before the clock struck midnight and time ran out. 
The new funding extension, which cuts spending by $2 billion, will last through next Thursday.
"The government will be open for business," President Barack Obama said.
"In the final hours before our government would have been forced to shut down, leaders in both parties reached an agreement that will allow our small businesses to get the loans they need, our families to get the mortgages they applied for, and hundreds of thousands of Americans to show up at work and take home their paychecks on time."
Negotiators capped days of frantic closed-door talks and public recriminations by agreeing on a framework for a package of $38.5 billion in spending cuts covering the rest of the fiscal year, which expires September 30.
Republicans, bolstered by their capture of the House of Representatives in last November's midterm elections, had initially pushed for $61 billion in cuts.
And actually that's a lie.  Republicans in the House Appropriations committee initially pushed for $32 billion in cuts.  That was their opening bid.  They got $38.5 billion...more than their initial offer.

As I have said time and time again, a GOP deal at this point is a 100% win for them.  Take the victory and move on to the debt ceiling battle, where they can bleed unlimited concessions from the Democrats over the next several months.  The Dems may have saved Planned Parenthood funding for now, but as long as the GOP controls the House, they can simply go through all this again, only with the debt ceiling and FY12 fights, they can ask for much higher stakes playing their "bad cop, insane cop" game.  We're already up to the Village cheering Paul Ryan on for destroying Medicare and Medicaid, and disappointed he's not going to do the same to Social Security.

Do you think Obama's going to be able to hold the line, even with our help?  So far the Dems have done nothing but cave on the economic front.

We'll see what the details are next week, but the GOP now knows it can hold the country hostage and get concession after concession from Democrats.

And the concessions they are going to get may end up costing working class Americans nearly everything.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Real people are going to be hurt by this shutdown, folks.

"It's basically like headless chickens, on fire, in a train, also on fire, careening towards a cliff, on fire," wrote one TPM reader who works in the "executive offices of a significant government agency."

The reader said "stress levels this week have been off the chart" and that preparations for shutdown "have almost totally derailed any possibility of doing real business and nobody seems able to talk about anything else anyway."

"Quite honestly the whole thing has been a bit chaotic," one government contractor wrote. "Because of the uncertainty around whether there would actually be a shutdown or what would happen if there was, no one knew what to do other than to just keep doing their jobs."

"It pisses me off because I will be burning my leave/vacation time while the GOP plays games trying to score points with its constituencies," they added.

Another contractor spoke of similar "madness" at their workplace.

"They are just telling everyone to prepare not to be here on Monday. But it's crazy because no one can use government computers or Blackberries to send out communications, so how are people supposed to know?" they wrote.

A contract worker at a federal research agency wrote that none of the contract employees who work in their animal labs have been notified of their "essential" status, leading to concern for the creatures in their care.

"There have also been rumors that only 1/3 of the labor requested by vets and facility managers will be permitted to work, and that only 'essential' tasks will be permitted," they wrote. "I'm trying my best not to be cynical, but it's starting to feel like a lot of animals will be put at risk by this shutdown as well." 

It's gotten so bad for the GOP at this point on the optics that even the Tea Party nutjobs are saying "You know, this makes us look like total douchebags.  Let's not do this.  Instead we'll pick a bigger fight over the debt ceiling and really get the Dems to cave!"

I still expect a deal, folks.  We'll see.

America Still Getting Shopping Mauled

Hey folks, let's not forget the collapsing commercial real estate market along with the residential one.  Vacancies at strip malls and your local galleria are up big in 2011 and as gas and food prices continue to rise this spring and choke what little discretionary income we have left in this country, it's going to get a lot worse for retailers and fast.

Mall vacancies hit their highest level in at least 11 years in the first quarter, new figures from real-estate research company Reis Inc. showed. In the top 80 U.S. markets, the average vacancy rate was 9.1%, up from 8.7%.

The outlook is especially bad for strip malls and other neighborhood shopping centers. Their vacancy rate is expected to top 11.1% later this year, up from 10.9%, Reis predicts. That would be the highest level since 1990.

In 2005, the mall-vacancy rate hit a low of 5.1%. For strip centers the boom-time low vacancy rate was 6.7% that same year.

Combine that with the growing number of grocery store bankruptcies, restaurant chains folding, and the death of the strip mall video store, and you have the recipe for a major disaster.  That's right, folks:  in just six years, retail vacancies have basically doubled, and as millions of square feet of brand new retail space continues to be created, we're reaching a point here where the entire game breaks down.  Remember, retail vacancies now are higher than they were when the recession supposedly "ended" in 2009 and they continue to increase as more supply is added and more retailers go under.

Another wave of restaurant closings is on the way this summer as gas and food inflation hit your favorite watering hole.  Remember Bennigans and Steak & Ale?   Mervyn's and Linens N' Things?  Circuit City?  They were nuked by $4 a gallon gas.  This time around they will be joined by a whole lot more places to eat and to shop as inflation and competition get ugly this summer.

And remember, these retailers and restaurants provide jobs.  Not high-paying ones by any means, but jobs.  Even those are getting swept away in the flood.

No folks, it's going to be a long, hot summer.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

Gold continues its march towards $1,500 an ounce, silver has crossed the $40 resistance point, and oil is $111 and rising.  Asariel notes the UN's world food price index was up 2.2% in February.  That was really before the mess in MENA.

Meanwhile on the way into work this morning I'm listening to an interview with Social Security trustee and former Bush econ adviser Chuck Blahous on Sirius/XM POTUS.  Chuckles there basically said the because the President hasn't fully backed the Catfood Commission's report, that the Ryan Unicorn Plan 2012 is the only game in town, and that if Democrats want to have any say in this, they'd better get behind their own plan to cut taxes on the rich and declare war on the middle class, and destroy the poor, or they might forfeit their right to be at the Big Boy's Table.

Oh, and today's shutdown drama continues.  The Dems have offered up more billions in cuts, but the Tea Party is now in control over Orange Julius and is basically going to shut the government down over Planned Parenthood.  Amazingly enough, Amanda Marcotte called this exact scenario six weeks ago over at Alternet.

This time around, anti-choicers have quite the laundry list of Democratic concerns they can hold hostage. On top of defunding Title X, the continuing resolution also zeroes out the funding for health care reform and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as cutting the EPA’s budget by a third. Considering how Democrats gave in to severe restrictions of reproductive rights before to save health-care reform, the obvious play from Republicans here is to secure the cuts to family planning in exchange for funding health care reform, and most importantly, not shutting down the government in the midst of a terrible economy, which would send the already mind-boggling 10 percent unemployment rate up even further. If Republicans use the economy, the government, and health-care reform as blackmail to get rid of Planned Parenthood, it’s not hard to see Democrats accepting the compromise. Especially if you consider how easy it would be for Democrats to convince themselves that expanded insurance coverage would negate the need for Planned Parenthood, though it very likely wouldn’t. But most importantly, it’s hard to hardball an opponent who is practically begging you to do your worst. And there's a long list of Republicans who’ve indicated they welcome this idea of taking the fight to a government shutdown.

It's getting mildly scary out there.  Just saying.

There's Still Something In My Eye

I'm a sucker for a happy ending.  Here's hoping this will put a smile on your face.

David Loomis lost his job last year, and his unemployment benefits were about to expire. But while Beth Loomis was walking their dog Tuesday morning, she found a dollar and thought, "I guess this might be our lucky day," she told CNN affiliate WBNS.

Ohio Lottery officials had invited the couple to come to lottery headquarters to pick up a hat and cup consolation prize from a 2010 drawing.  What they didn't tell the Loomises was that there also was a $150,000 check waiting for them from a lottery ticket David Loomis had bought last year.

This almost makes up for the Wal-Mart story.  Almost.

Signs Of The Apocalypse

For once, I agree with Wal-Mart.  I know, it surprised me too.  If the Cubs win the World Series, our time has come.  I was browsing Fark, and came across this.

CHICAGO — Wal-Mart was within its rights to fire a Joliet store employee who told a lesbian co-worker that she would go to hell because God does not accept gays, and the dismissal was not religious discrimination, a federal appeals court has ruled. 

Tanisha Matthews began working as an overnight stocker at the Joliet Wal-Mart in 1996, according to court documents. In September 2005, during a break in the shift, Matthews took part in a conversation about God and homosexuality. 

Wal-Mart fired Matthews after concluding she had engaged in behavior that violated the company’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy. The policy, which the court said Matthews was aware of at the time of the incident, prohibits employees from engaging in conduct that could reasonably be interpreted as harassment based on an individual’s status, including sexual orientation, and says they can be fired for such conduct.

I have always been a strong advocate for religious freedom.  I realize that over the years those rights have eroded, and I am always sad to see it happen.  But I despise it when religion is used as a hammer to take away from others, and that's what happened here.  Her comments were inappropriate and completely voluntary.  Religious freedom doesn't override common decency and fair treatment, and it's disappointing when this type of thing happens.  Matthews was not fired for her beliefs, only for choosing to demonstrate them at the expense of another human being.  This happened in 2005, so it was a decision that was long overdue.

I'm 100% on Wal-Mart's side. I'm going to go hug some kittens or something.  I feel so... dirty.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 23

Another major aftershock rocked Japan yesterday, knocking Sony and other chipmakers offline in Northern Japan again as the nation's power grid suffered another wave of rolling blackouts.

The stoppages are the latest blow to manufacturers, who had hoped to quickly restore supply chains after the devastating earthquake and tsunami last month savaged the region and halted distribution.

"It (an earthquake) could happen again and that means you can't really proceed with reconstruction," said Yuuki Sakurai, CEO of Fukoku Capital Management, adding that many firms were hesitant as to how to proceed.

"They have to be very careful. They need thoughtful planning. They need to be doubly, triply solid against the next earthquake. So it will cost a lot and you have to consider whether it is worth rebuilding," he said.

Renesas, the world's largest maker of microcontroller chips and a supplier to the auto industry, said four plants in northern Japan, including two microcontroller factories, had been halted by the power blackout.

A company spokeswoman said it was not clear when manufacturing would resume, although power had been restored to one plant.

Japanese automakers however are eager to get production restarted.  The problem is that as Japanese production continues domestically, over here in the US, that means fewer parts available abroad and more chance of work stoppages.

Oh yes, and Japan is heading back into a major recession as a result of the triple whammy of the quake, the tsunami, and the continuing nuclear crisis.  Have a nice day.

Well Ain't That A Cowinkydink

So Wednesday morning in Wisconsin, JoAnne Kloppenburg had declared victory in a hotly contested Wisconsin Supreme Court race.  She was ahead by 200+ votes, a very narrow total, and under Wisconsin state law, the margin of difference being under half a percentage point, an automatic recall was certain.  With turnout of nearly 1.5 million voters, the margin was microscopic, some .015%.

At stake:  the 4-3 conservative to liberal balance on the State Supreme Court.  Incumbent David Prosser, a conservative, was up for another ten year term.  He was expected to cruise to victory, but then GOP Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting activities began in earnest.  Suddenly the vote became a referendum on Walker and it seemed the voters may have given him the thumbs down.

That was until Thursday afternoon, some 29 hours after the election.  Because 11,000 additional votes were found for David Prosser in Waukesha County.

In a stunning turnaround, the county clerk for Waukesha County, a heavily Republican district in southeast Wisconsin, announced on Thursday evening that she'd failed to count more than 14,000 votes cast in Tuesday's state Supreme Court election. The error, disclosed by a former state GOP lawmaker who's been criticized for her handling of local elections, handed conservative incumbent David Prosser a lead of 7,582 votes, flipping the result of the race after an initial tally put liberal JoAnne Kloppenburg ahead by a mere 204 votes.

The Waukesha clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, a Republican, said in a press conference that the new votes, all of which were cast in the city of Brookfield, were missed because of human error that's "common in this process." Nickolaus apologized for the mistake, saying, "The purpose of the canvas is to catch these kind of mistakes."

An election that drew national attention from observers and political figures, and suddenly not only does the conservative find enough votes to take a commanding lead, but he finds enough votes to take a commanding lead that's more than half a percentage point.

That's right.  No recall.  Prosser's lead is now .51%.  There will be no automatic recall unless JoAnne Kloppenburg pays for it herself.  As things stand right now, Prosser is the clear and uncontested winner unless something else happens in the canvasing, after finding just enough votes to win without triggering a recall.

What an astounding coincidence that is.  Everybody watching the election, the observers, the Associated Press, both parties, everyone involved happened to miss an entire town of 40,000 people and their voting results until more than 24 hours after the election.

It was a computer glitch by the Republican county official.  Just enough of an oversight to give the conservative the lead without a recall, when a recall was assured on Wednesday, in a race that would decide the fate of public unions in the state of Wisconsin and possibly affect the entire country.

You know, comrades," says Stalin, "that I think in regard to this: I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.

Prime example of that maxim happened today, folks.

Prior to the election, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus was heavily criticized for her decision to keep the county results on an antiquated personal computer, rather than upgrade to a new data system being utilized statewide. Nickolaus cited security concerns for keeping the data herself — yet when she reported the data, it did not include the City of Brookfield, whose residents cast nearly 14,000 votes.

Yep.  Just an honest mistake, folks.  Nothing to see here.  Please go about your business, Wisconsin...

Oh, and ACORN BLAH BLOOGITY UNION THUGS BLAH BLAH BLOOGITY BLOO.   This was the Right Wing Noise Machine on Wednesday:  a recount will clear up this Democrat voter fraud!

As noted yesterday, Kloppenburg is up only 204 votes based on the AP count (not yet official).  This is a fight worth fighting, particularly given all the anecdotal evidence of Democratic Party shenanigans (I don't call it "fraud" yet), miscalculations, ineligible voters, car trunks filled with ballots yet to be discovered, and all the other tricks in the Democratic Party bag which were pulled out in Minnesota.

We'll fight this until the end!  Justice must be served!  Fraud!  Cheating!  A trunk full of votes will be found!

So when a trunk full of votes were found (just for the incumbent conservative) this is the Right Wing Noise Machine today

But this is not a time to gloat.  If Prosser wins, it is not a win for Prosser or for a particular political party.  What is important is that every vote counts and every vote was counted.  This is a victory for the democratic process.

So, no need for a recount.  Every vote was counted.   No fraud here.  Accept Prosser's clear win and move on, whiny Libs.  Unions are dead, blah blah blah, revenge for your cheating in Al Franken's race, no liberal can possibly win an election fairly.  If the conservative does, it's truth and justice and every vote was counted.

Please ignore the Republicans behind the curtain with the Excel spreadsheet and the 14,000 votes on it.

More on this at Brad Blog.

Shutdown Countdown, Part 16

As the specter of a government shutdown looms, let's keep in perspective what the Democrats have done:  given up some $33 billion in spending, matching the GOP House Appropriations Committee and their original proposal some 2 months ago.  The problem is not the money.  It never was.  The problem is the Tea Party wants to punish everyone who does not believe as they do, and they are now willing to close the government indefinitely to do it.

Ezra Klein argues that we even know pretty much what the final 2010 funding deal will look like.

Eventually, a deal will be struck. It will either come in the next few hours, or after the federal government shuts down for some period of time. What makes the possibility of a shutdown so baffling is that we not only know what’s going to be in this deal, but approximately what it will look like. Here are the three elements:

1) the quantity of cuts, which most observers expect to fall between $33 billion and $40 billion when added to the $10 billion in cuts that have already passed;

2) the location of the cuts, which Republicans hope to concentrate in the 12 percent of the budget known as non-defense discretionary spending (here’s a useful guide to that category of spending), and which Democrats want to spread more widely across the federal budget;

3) the policy riders House Republicans attached to H.R.1, and in particular, the riders relating to abortion and the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate carbon.

From talking to people involved in the negotiations, I’d say it’s a safe bet that the final deal will include about $35 billion in total cuts, a lot of which will come from non-defense discretionary spending but a fair amount of which won’t, and some sort of policy rider wherein Planned Parenthood can’t use the federal money it gets for abortions, but it can still receive federal money. This would be similar to the deal we saw on abortion funding in the health-care law.

To put that prospective package in context, the Republican leadership originally asked for $32 billion in cuts with no policy riders — they only upped their bid after conservatives in the House threatened to revolt. The deal they’re rejecting now far exceeds their opening bid — a very rare outcome in Washington

Ezra's nice about it.  I'm not.  The Dems have caved far enough that they have given the Republicans more than their original demands.  And considering the Republicans have already made their opening bid on 2012 that includes ending Medicare and destroying the social safety net in order to give a massive, multi-trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthiest Americans over the next decade, one has to wonder just how good of a deal the Republicans are going to get on next year's budget.

Yeah I know, it's getting close to firebagging territory here, but it's a legitimate question.  On the other hand, if the Democrats wanted to prove that the Republicans have no intent of negotiating in good faith, they've done a spectacular job in proving that as an absolute truth.  The Republicans are getting more than their original demands and saying no to the deal.  They cannot be considered rational at this point.

Keep that in mind today as they crawl towards putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work in this economy.


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