Friday, April 22, 2011

Last Call

You can always count on Republicans to seize on any opportunity to destroy unions and lower American worker's wages.  This time around, they have air traffic controllers on the radar and are eager to privatize yet another workforce.

An uproar over lapses by U.S. air traffic controllers will spill into Congress where critics of organized labor see an unexpected opening to push their agenda into sweeping aviation legislation.

Embarrassing disclosures of controllers sleeping on duty -- even allowing first lady Michelle Obama's plane to fly too close to another jet -- have heightened scrutiny of the Federal Aviation Administration and raised questions about the agency's ability to manage its workforce and ensure safety.
Republicans see the furor as a way to force certain proposals into a final version of a $59 billion aviation bill that lawmakers will thrash out when Congress returns in May.
These include proposals to privatize more airport towers, consolidate facilities and give FAA management more flexibility in running the sprawling air traffic system. All are part of a larger Republican effort to cut FAA spending by $4 billion.
"Sleeping on the job, near misses - those give me more ammunition when I go into negotiations," John Mica, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee, told Reuters in an interview.
"I think this will affect it," Mica said of the air traffic control controversies, adding that he may seek new provisions in the bill on disciplinary remedies for the worst types of mistakes made by controllers.
Lobbying on the $59 billion aviation bill will heat up in coming weeks. The legislation is already under a White House veto threat due to a provision that would to make it harder for airline and railroad unions to organize.
The House and Senate have approved different versions of the bill and will try to reconcile them in negotiations. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association and its Democratic supporters believe Mica's cost-savings agenda is anti-union.

So when Republicans succeed in destroying unions and prohibiting all collective bargaining in the country, do you think you'll earn more money as a result?  Do you think by forcing concessions and lowering benefits and wages, you'll get better, more qualified air traffic controllers, pilots, teachers, police officers, firefighters, etc?  After all, since we're playing the Republican Galtie game, we're assuming that the very idea of these professions themselves are detrimental to society, otherwise why would we be seeking to punish them?  If we cut teacher salaries, who's going to want to be a teacher?

Does anyone here think Republicans slagging these union professions will make America's students become more likely to say "Boy, I want to be a teacher, even though my parents think I'll be an over-educated ivory tower elitist working to indoctrinate America's youth!" 

I really do want someone to explain to me how singling out unionized employees as lazy, evil, moochers and looters and doing everything in our power to make people not want to join these professions or want to stay in them at all will magically give us better people in these professions.

Or gosh, is this just a ploy to destroy labor rights that our great grandparents fought for, in order to complete the transformation of America into a corporate state?

A Big Inflation Nothing Burger

Want to know where 2011's next big economic slowdown is coming from?  Go no further than your local Burger King.

In 2007, Burger King and McDonald's went head to head trying to attract cash-conscious folks with both fast food giants selling a double cheeseburger for just $1.  Both had two beef patties and two pieces of cheese on a bun and as the economy cratered, both restaurants sold a ton of them.

McDonald's blinked first by raising the double cheeseburger to $1.19 and introducing a one slice of cheese, two patty burger called the McDouble a year later.

But Burger King had to follow suit.  Their franchisees sued them, claiming Burger King was making them sell their double cheeseburger at a loss at that $1 price, and Burger King raised the price of their double cheeseburger to $1.29 and introduced their version of the "one slice of cheese, two patty burger" called the Buck Double.

Now last month, Burger King has been the one to blink.  They've dropped the Buck Double completely and now have introduced the Single Stacker for $1...a single patty with cheese, sauce, and bacon, far more profitable for the company to sell.  How will McDonald's counter?

That's the wrong question, of course.  The real riddle is why.

McDonald's and other restaurant operators are getting squeezed by accelerating food costs and must figure out how to raise prices without scaring away already skittish diners.

"It's very hard to pass through price increase right now," said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Steve West.
McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner said customers are getting "pinched everywhere. They should not suffer the same fate at McDonald's."

Chief Financial Officer Pete Bensen said the company would sacrifice some short-term margin to protect long-term growth. He added that McDonald's has experience finding the right recipe for price increases in fragile economic times.

McDonald's now expects food costs to rise between 4 percent and 4.5 percent in the United States and Europe this year. That is up from its prior call for a rise of 2 percent to 2.5 percent in the United States and an increase of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent in Europe.

The answer of course:  skyrocketing commodity prices.   Corn, wheat, oil, all up huge in the last 12 months.  Those price increases are now being passed along to consumers at the fast-food place and the grocery store (as well as the gas station).  Consumers are going to tighten up...and that's going to cause these prices to have to fall again if nobody's buying.

I expect another commodity crash as consumers skip the burgers.  It's 2008 all over again.  Don't believe the inflation hype.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

DougJ at Balloon Juice ruins my weekend.

Don’t look now, but the number one best-seller at Amazon is Jerome Corsi’s birther manifesto, which promises to reveal Barack Obama’s true identity.

Yet another poll shows that only about a third of Republicans believe Obama was born in the United States.

Sooner or later some form of serious person is going to express some sympathy for birthers. My money is still on Charles Lane.

The book isn't out for another four weeks or so and it's already a best-seller.  Between Trump and Corsi, I am 100% convinced that whomever is the 2012 GOP candidate, they will be a birther.  Period.  No non-birther will survive the primaries, period (and that could make the 2012 GOP Convention real interesting.)

As far as which Villager validates the whole Birther thing, I'm going to go with Peggy "Is it irresponsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to" Noonan, myself, although I'm keeping a long-shot bet on Sully blowing his circuits the way he's going on the "Obama took my penis" thing since he moved to the Daily Beast.

Bite Out Of The Apple

The story about Apple gadgets consolidating personal information into a handy file that records location and other details has made major news.  I waited to see what would actually come to light after a little research had been done.  At first, I thought the story was being blown out of proportion.  CNN ran a helpful "what you need to know" article, and after reading it over I am reconsidering my original "meh" reaction.

Though nothing was being done with the data and it doesn't appear that Apple accesses or uses that information, the company has been strangely quiet about their reasons.  While not always on target, Apple is usually pretty fast to speak up.  That leads to two possible outcomes that I can think of: either they really had no clue at all or they don't know how to answer truthfully and keep a good spin on it.  I can't think of a good reason for them to have remained quiet.

Though the data wasn't currently being used, the justified concern is how exploitable the information is.  Tracking whereabouts and time stamping is bad juju.

Mobile phone companies also collect this type of data, but, as the researchers point out, that data "normally requires a court order to gain access to it, whereas this is available to anyone who can get their hands on your phone or computer."
The location file is unencrypted, so anyone with access to your phone or computer could, in theory, get access to it and know where you've been. The researchers, in their report, say Apple has "made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements."

I am still holding out on the hope that there is something that will make this all come together into a logical train of thought.  But it would have to be darned good at this point, because this is shaping up to be a stinker.  At best it is a gross oversight, at worst it is a new low for consumer privacy.

Oops! That Was Dumb, Eh?

LONDON, Ont. - A memory stick containing the records of 4,500 kids has gone missing from a speech and hearing clinic at UWO, a thumb-sized example of how ever-smaller digital technology is heightening security risks.
Included among the records on the tiny storage device are 11 years worth of names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, doctor information, school and child-care information.  Also on the stick are 142 OHIP numbers.
The privacy breach should "never, ever, ever" have happened, said Ontario's information and privacy commissioner.

The clinic waited around two months before deciding to contact parents and employees.  Even more disturbing than their children's medical information being in a stranger's hands is the fact that they were not made aware immediately.   That is what takes a simple mistake and escalates it to unforgivable.

There are a million products that can keep your data secure.  The fatal flaw is that any system is only as strong as their weakest link.  You can have titanium Rambos and pirate ninja assassins every three feet, but it just takes one idiot who thinks they are smarter than the rules to bring it down.  The larger the institution, the more chances for an idiot to emerge.

Tennessee's State Of Denial

With all the problem facing Americans at the state level, you would think state legislatures would be focused on tackling fiscal and employment problems.  Not in Tennessee, anyway.  The top agenda item this week?  Keeping kids from finding out gay people exist, or something.

A bill popularly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advanced yesterday out of the Tennessee Senate Education Committee. The bill would prohibit teachers from discussing of any sexuality except heterosexuality in grades K-8,” even with students who may be gay or have gay family,” according to Ben Byers of the Tennessee Equality Council (TEP). The committee amended the bill to require the Board of Education to study whether homosexuality is actually being taught in schools, but it will still institute a ban in February of next year.

Sen. Stacey Campfield (R) is passionate about this legislation, which he previously sponsored unsuccessfully in the state House for six years. In 2009, Campfield explained that he’s not homophobic; it’s just that the issue is “complex.” He clarified this past September that he supports promoting tolerance, but not acceptance:
You can talk about TEA and NEA resolutions talking about how they think there should be not just tolerance of the lifestyle, but acceptance of it. That flies completely in the face of a lot of people. A lot of people say, hey, I understand tolerance. I’m all for tolerance. I’ve co-sponsored the anti-bullying bill. But to say we have to go to acceptance, that’s something completely different.
He also thinks teachers don’t have enough time to teach core subjects:
If I can take one thing away and say, hey, you don’t have to teach about homosexuality to your second-graders, you can spend more time on arithmetic.

Lord knows kids in the Volunteer State find out about gay people.  It might destroy Tennessee or something.  And even on the chance that you actually agree with this (and Tennessee law already prohibits teachers from teaching any sexuality courses to any kids between Kindergarten and 8th grade, so it's not like this law is even needed other than to persecute the LGBT community)  don't you think the state has bigger problems to worry about?

President Oil-Bama

The President wants to know what's up with oil and gas prices skyrocketing.

"We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain," Obama said at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nev.

He vowed that a broad government task force under Attorney General Eric Holder would "root out any cases of fraud or manipulation" in gasoline prices — "and that includes the role of traders and speculators."

Financial speculation is widely considered to be a possibly prime factor driving up global oil prices. Despite turmoil in the Middle East, there's been no significant interruption of oil production, and supplies remain abundant. Meanwhile, financial institutions have been purchasing contracts for future oil delivery as an investment strategy, driving up prices.

Other factors believed contributing to the rising prices are fear of future supply interruption rising from Middle East turmoil and projections of rising oil demand as the global economy recovers.
Obama's under political pressure to address gasoline prices that are nearing an average of $4 a gallon. The average price of regular this week hit $3.84 per gallon, according to AAA, up 30 cents in a month and almost a dollar from a year ago.

A McClatchy-Marist poll this week showed that only 11 percent of drivers blame Obama and the Democrats. Still, the sticker shock at the pump likely contributed to a drop in Obama's overall job approval and a big increase in the ranks of Americans who feel the country's headed in the wrong direction — a significant political barometer now at the worst level since November 2007.

Yeah, even I believe that this is almost solely motivated by Obama swinging into campaign 2012 mode.  But it doesn't mean there's not a legitimate concern here.  Gasoline stockpiles are well within normal ranges and in fact were at much higher than normal levels this Spring.  If anything, oil companies, seeing the high stockpiles of gasoline, have idled refineries this month in order to work through the oversupply.

Yet gasoline prices have jumped by almost a third in two months.  Funny how that works.  The last time gasoline inventories were dropped this much?  You guessed it, Summer 2008's record gasoline prices as oil companies tightened supplies to raise prices even more before the whole speculation pyramid caved in.

I fully expect another oil crash this summer...right about the time we run into a larger financial crash.  If Obama wants to really investigate the oil companies, let's start with getting serious about the billions in taxpayer subsidies they get while making tens of billions in quarterly profits.

Chasing Paper

For years now conservatives have been railing against New England and mid-Atlantic states with separate tax brackets for millionaires, saying these higher tax rates simply chase the rich away from those states, reduce revenues and cause budget shortfalls.  It's the main argument conservatives warn for why we can never, ever raise taxes on the rich ever at the federal level, or they'll just leave the country altogether...despite the fact the marginal tax rate on the richest individuals has been at historic lows for a decade now and as a result, our national debt has skyrocketed.  The last time taxes were this low?  Right before the Great Depression...and the Ryan Unicorn Plan wants to return to that 25% pre-Depression rate.

But hey, it turns out that whole "the rich have left those states in droves!" argument?  Complete hogwash.

The study, by sociologists Cristobal Young at Stanford and  Charles Varner at Princeton, studied the migration patterns of New Jersey’s millionaires before and after 2004, when the state imposed a “millionaire’s tax” that raised rates on those earning $500,000 or more to 8.97% from 6.37%.

The study found that the overall population of millionaires increased during the tax period. Some millionaires moved out, of course. But they were more than offset by the creation of new millionaires.

The study dug deeper to figure out whether the millionaires who were moving out did so because of the tax. As a control group, they used New Jersey residents who earned $200,000 to $500,000–in other words, high-earners who weren’t subject to the tax. They found that the rate of out-migration among millionaires was in line with and rate of out-migration of submillionaires.  The tax rate, they concluded, had no measurable impact.

“This suggests that the policy effect is close to zero,” the study says.

Of course, not all millionaires are the same, and some are more likely to leave than others. The study found that New Jersey millionaires over the age of 65 and who live off their investments are the most likely to leave. Among those who earned their money  from investments, the tax raised migration rates by 27 people per thousand among the top 0.1% of earners.

Yet those who own their own businesses or earn their money in New York–groups that account for a large share of millionaires in New Jersey–are less likely to leave.

The study also found that New Jersey millionaire-earners are an ever-changing group, with people constantly moving on and off the top rung of the income ladder. Since there is no permanent top-earning class, the occasional top earners have less incentive to leave because of the tax.

In summary, the new tax did not appreciably increase out-migration,” the study concluded.

Gosh, you mean that doing what Clinton did at the national level to balance the budget didn't cause a massive outflux of America's precious millionaires?   That the country only got in real trouble when Bush and the Republicans cut the top tax rate and piled on trillion dollar wars that last nine years or more?

It's like mathematics works or something.  Go figure.

Can we raise taxes on the people who have seen their incomes quadruple since the start of the millennium, please?

StupidiNews, Good Friday Edition

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