Thursday, April 28, 2011

Last Call

John Cole notes Rep. Paul Ryan is now calling for an end to oil company subsidies, something that means that A) Ryan isn't as stupid as he looks, and B) the Republicans will just create some other sort of back door to pay off the oil companies should subsidies go the way of the dodo.  Cole adds:

As a side note, every time I get frustrated with Obama and some of the things he is doing that I adamantly disagree with, I usually will pop off at the mouth here on the blog, and then a short while later cool down and realize the environment he is operating in. Only in our truly screwed up times could Ryan suggesting we end subsidies to oil be somehow considered courageous. Oil companies are wildly profitable, will remain so, all the while creating catastrophic disasters to our environment, and doing so producing a product we should be discouraging and will eventually be replaced. In no sane world would they ever be subsidized- it’s simply insane. And smarter folks have been pointing this out for quite some time, and are simply ignored.

But now that a Republican has suggested it, I guess it is “serious” enough that something might happen.

The something being point B) up there.  Same as it ever was, same as it always will be.

It's Not About Race, They Tell Me

You can call wingnuts who have a serious problem with the nation's first African-America President just about anything you want, but never, ever, ever call them racists.

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said minorities earn less than white people because they don’t work as hard and have less initiative.
“We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.
Kern said women earn less than men because “they tend to spend more time at home with their families.”

Never call them racists...

Yesterday during his press conference in New Hampshire –- after the cable news networks cut to President Obama’s remarks regarding the release of his long form birth certificate — potential GOP presidential candiate Donald Trump spent some time extolling infrastructure investments made by China and other countries, suggesting the U.S. should follow suit. This prompted Les Trent, a reporter for Inside Edition, to ask Trump: “Isn’t that what President Obama tried to do with his stimulus package?”

Trump’s response to Trent, who is African American, was “Look, I know you are a big Obama fan.” Trent replied, “Why do you say that?” 

...never call them racists.

The head of Orange County's Republican Party is vowing to keep up the pressure on a local GOP official to resign for sending an offensive email about President Barack Obama.

"This issue will not go away until she has taken 100 percent responsibility for sending out a racist email that offended millions," Chairman Scott Baugh said.

He commented by telephone on Wednesday after Marilyn Davenport, speaking for the first time, said she will not resign and had no racist intentions when she sent the email.

The message depicts Obama's face superimposed over a baby chimp's. The text under the image reads, "Now you know why — No birth certificate!"

 But it's not about race.

And if you think it's about race, you're the racist.

Trump said of Obama and race: "And he did it with (former President Bill) Clinton. Clinton was made into a racist by Obama, and he's never forgotten it. And there's nobody that's less of a racist than Bill Clinton… He did it with Bill Clinton, and with Hillary. He made them into racists. That's why I was amazed that Hillary went to work for him." He added that “the President is ‘probably’ trying to do the same to him, ‘and there's nobody who's less of a racist than me.’” More from Trump: "Here's two people, Hillary and Bill Clinton, who really devoted a lot to African-Americans. They did probably as much as anybody, and he made them into racists."

Because in the end, it's all the black guy's fault.

It's About Suppression

How bad is Florida's new voter identification suppression bill?  This bad.  Kay at Balloon Juice:

When I reached this section of the linked article, I went to the text of the bill because I honestly did not believe it (pdf):
A new provision added last night would now require voters whose legitimacy is challenged by poll watchers to cast provisional ballots with no opportunity at the polls to defend themselves and cast a regular ballot.
Yup. It’s in there.
The clerk or inspector shall immediately deliver to the challenged person a copy of the oath of the person entering the challenge, and the challenged voter shall be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.
Alternatively, a challenge in accordance with this section may be filed in advance with the supervisor of elections no sooner than 30 days before an election. The supervisor shall promptly provide the election board in the challenged voter’s precinct with a copy of the oath of the person entering the challenge. The challenged voter shall be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.
A simple sworn statement that the voter is not eligible is enough to force any voter to accept a second-class ballot. Wow.

And as Kay points out, the determination cannot be challenged by the voter themselves.  As a matter of fact, the elections board can basically pre-challenge anyone up to 30 days before the election and force those voters to take a provisional ballot.  Do not pass Go.  Go straight to second-class voter status.  Florida Republicans are basically going to lock in the right to disenfranchise any voter they choose to with a simple sworn statement that your right to vote is in question.  That is all it takes to remove your right to vote in Florida if this bill passes...and it will.

Count on it.  Adam Serwer has a smart discussion on the history of voter identification as voter suppression.

The unfounded rumors regarding the president's citizenship that lead to demands for his papers, and the Arizona-style immigration laws that would force Latino Americans to retain theirs at all times, reflect a creeping suspicion among some whites, at a time of job loss and austerity, that non-whites are gaining at their expense in a zero-sum battle for political power and resources. Hardcore birthers, (as opposed to those who have simply been misled by sources they trust) can't be sated because they believe Obama has no such claim. Likewise, for many Arizona-style immigration laws are an attempt to restrict access to American abundance to those who are "truly deserving," but their effect on those who genuinely are American citizens but are not white is minimized because their claim is believed to be weaker anyway. This is deeply frustrating because of how a sensible immigration policy could lead to mutual gain both for Americans and immigrants, but that realization has yet to take hold. As a country, we are increasingly demanding that non-whites literally prove that they "belong here," that they have a legitimate claim to American prosperity.

This thread runs throughout history. When America wants to restrict opportunity and remind minorities to stay in their place, it asks for their papers. 

It's been done before, and Republican-controlled states are simply taking it into the 21st century with the straw man of "voter identification".

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

Exxon Mobil posted its 1Q 2011 numbers today:  $10.65 billion in profit off of $114 billion in revenue.  They want you to know that Exxon's not such a terrible company, either.

In a blog post Wednesday, company Vice President Ken Cohen asks people to look past the “inevitable headlines and sound bites about high gasoline prices,” think about world oil market disruptions and the falling U.S. dollar and remember ExxonMobil’s investments in renewable energy.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that higher crude oil prices in the first quarter are expected to lift ExxonMobil’s earnings by about 50 percent.
But it’s only natural that ExxonMobil would make money because oil prices are through the roof, Cohen said. And ExxonMobil is an oil company.

“Here’s a simple fact of economics that’s getting everyone in Washington pretty excited this week: When prices increase for a commodity like oil, companies that produce and sell that commodity earn more money,” Cohen wrote.

In one instance, Cohen reminds readers that “ExxonMobil doesn’t set oil prices,” noting the company produces less than 3 percent of the world’s daily oil supply, “so it’s really not credible to suggest that we are responsible for world oil prices.”

Maybe.  But you guys are responsible for getting billions in taxpayer subsidies when you make billions in quarterly profit.  We'd like our money back, please.

Missouri Makes Sense (I Was Shocked, Too)

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I checked out my local paper and saw this:

The Senate version of the bill would allow welfare recipients to continue receiving benefits if they complete a drug treatment program. Sen. Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, said Tuesday that the provision would help people overcome the problems that had made them ineligible.
The legislation would require that the state use a less sophisticated drug test to lower the cost from a projected $300,000 per year. It would also require that electronic benefit cards include a photo of the recipient and be renewed every three years.
The bill still needs a second Senate vote before returning to the House.
Normally, I am against drug testing, but this is an exception to my rule.  Drug testing to work at a hobby store or file papers?  Stupid.  Drug testing before allowing someone to sit on their privileged ass while I work for a living?  I dig it big time.  The thing that makes it fair and effective is it gives the people who are addicted a chance.  What they do with it is up to them, but the working poor are given the ability to decide which is more important to them.  It's this sort of tough love that will reach the people who put forth the effort while denying benefits to those who do not.  I realize addiction is a disease, but I also see the stupidity in our welfare system supplying the drug dealers that victimize the poor.  Something has gotta give, and in this case it has to start with the people funding the problem.  It's not ideal, but nothing about this situation is ideal. Meth is ravaging our country like a cancer, and this is a way to cut the abuse of financial aid and hit the manufacturers in the wallet where it hurts the most.

StupidiNews: Weather Edition

Lightning doesn't have to strike twice, especially if it does a good job on the first try.

(CNN) -- At least nine people were injured Tuesday evening when lightning hit a soccer field in Portage, Michigan, authorities said.
The injured were a mix of adults and students, said Charles Wellman, the Portage battalion chief.
Seven people -- one with serious injuries -- were transported to area hospitals, with two others seeking medical treatment on their own, he said.
Not to be outdone, Ecuador has its own natural disaster brewing.  The Tungurahua volcano started spewing ash again, more than for miles high.  Schools are closing and residents in the most danger are being evacuated.

An Atlanta news article points out that we have experienced more tornadoes than usual this year, breaking a record set in 1974.  The bad news is that May traditionally has twice as many tornadoes than April. They ran this article two days before the tornado in the video below hit Tuscaloosa.  The death toll is in the teens, but I don't believe they have a real count yet, and there are many critically injured.  I live smack in the middle of tornado alley, and I have never seen a tornado this massive.  

2012 is starting to look like less of a threat and more of a goal.

Saving Face

Some investors in social networking giant Facebook are looking to cash out now while the getting is good, and I can't blame them:  a group of them are looking to sell their privately-held shares of the company that would rate Facebook's total worth at, oh, some $70 billion and change.

It would represent one of the largest transactions of Facebook shares to date and points to a growing wariness among early-stage investors and employees who fear Facebook's growth cannot keep pace with its market valuation.

The sellers have lowered their price after previously trying to offload shares at a price that valued the company at $90 billion, which would make Facebook more valuable than Time Warner Inc and News Corp combined. But buyers balked.

"At the current valuation where it is, it is really hard to justify the investment," said Sumeet Jain, partner at venture capital firm CMEA Capital, who has examined Facebook deals recently and has taken a pass. "It's hard to imagine it will turn into a $270 billion company in the next few years."

The current deal, which includes stock held by Facebook employees, is awaiting approval from top Facebook executives including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman, according to two sources.

Is Facebook the future of ubiquitous communication in the internet age, or is it the ultimate dot-com bubble stock?  Time will tell, but I'm personally going with the notion that the company's not going to really be worth hundreds of billions anytime soon.

Or ever.  Not without Facebook starting to charge money for it.

Going On The Record For Medicare Coupons

Harry Reid has summoned enough intestinal fortitude to hold a vote on the Ryan Unicorn Plan in the Senate to see how many Republicans want to go on record as wanting to replace Medicare with some sort of coupon program which probably won't give seniors health care anyway, as insurance companies will simply stop offering health insurance to the elderly altogether.

"We're going to have an opportunity in the Senate to vote for the [Paul] Ryan budget," Reid told reporters, to "see if Republicans in the Senate like the Ryan budget as much as their colleagues [in the House] did."

That budget, which passed in the lower chamber with near-unanimous GOP support, includes a policy agenda that would phase out Medicare, dramatically slash Medicaid, while reducing the tax burden on the wealthiest Americans. It has become the source of significant heartburn for vulnerable House Republicans, who have had to face down angry constituents in their districts during the current two-week recess.

Reid's strategy leaves Senate Republicans two unenviable options: link arms and vote unanimously (or nearly unanimously) for the politically controversial House budget, or take political cover and expose divisions within the party over the direction GOP leaders want to take the country.

One GOP senator, Susan Collins (R-ME), has already publicly stated her opposition to the House Republican plan.

So we'll see how many of them sign up for it.  The ones up for re-election next year?  I'm thinking they won't profess too much support for it. However if they don't, the Tea Party wing will try to primary them out of existence.  If they do, they get killed in the general election.  It's a nasty trap, and frankly it's smart politics for Reid to do this.

The Kroog Versus Helicopter Ben's Presser

Paul Krugman wasn't too impressed with Ben Bernanke's first ever Federal Reserve press conference yesterday afternoon.

So Bernanke did get asked why, given low inflation and high unemployment, the Fed isn’t doing more. And his answer was disheartening.

As far as I can tell, his analytical framework isn’t too different from mine. The inflation rate to worry about is some underlying, inertial rate rather than the headline rate; the Fed likes the core personal consumer expenditures deflator; and this rate has actually been running below target, indicating that inflation isn’t a concern:

So this says that there is no tradeoff: more expansionary monetary policy is good in terms of both unemployment and achieving the Fed’s inflation target.

But then, when asked why no further expansionary policy, he replied that he’s concerned about the “tradeoff”, that inflation might rise.

This doesn’t make any sense in terms of his own expressed economic framework. I think the only way to read it is to say that he has been intimidated by the inflationistas, and is looking for excuses not to act.

Krugman's onto something here.   Food and energy prices are up substantially.  But overall inflation isn't.  As I've said before the number one indicator of actual inflation is rising wages...and if anything, wages for most Americans have been falling as hours worked, overtime, and hourly rates have dropped as higher paying jobs have been replaced with lower paying ones.

But it's clear that the austerity hysterics have gotten to Helicopter Ben and that he plans to end QE2 in June, on schedule.  If the Fed won't do anything, then the game is over, and the economy will grind to a halt as the last buyer of record is taken out of the picture.

2012 is going to be ugly.


Geek Speak: Hellooo, Natty

Ubuntu's latest release is finally here.  Today Natty Narwhal will be available for download.  There are some very exciting changes with this edition, including the look and feel as well as under the hood functions.  I insist on downloading on release day, it's been a tradition of mine since Dapper Drake.

What is Ubuntu?  You can give it a test drive or read more about it on their website.  Ubuntu is always free, and can be copied and shared freely. had some exciting teasers:
Additional enhancements to Ubuntu 11.04 include a "global menu" that contains most preinstalled apps in one place at the top of the display. Menus are displayed only when needed. Switching between multiple screens (or workspaces) is even easier, and new keyboard shortcuts simplify navigation between windows and workspaces. Volume adjustments, queuing and playing files, and other music functions may be accessed from the volume indicator, without having to enter the music player. Users of the Ubuntu One cloud file-sharing service may now also access files via their Android devices, import contacts from Facebook and sync them with Gmail, and take advantage of improved music streaming with better playlist management and a wider range of supported file formats.
Google, Ubuntu and Android are coming together into a seamless creation.  This is a major win for computer users for many reasons, and an overdue death blow to Microsoft's reign of pompous and overpriced bloatware.  The tipping point has been reached, and Linux has finally found a true mainstream niche. My little penguin has grown up, and is a big boy now.

With any release, there is always a quick fix on the fly period.  I'll be testing Natty on desktops and laptops, and will give a more informed review once that first inevitable round of patches are checked.  
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