Friday, April 29, 2011

Last Call

The only thing better than the winger conspiracy theories about the President's long-form birth certificate are the winger meta-conspiracy theories that Obama and the media kept the birther thing going as long as they could and that Donald Trump is all Obama's fault.

No, really. Clifton at Another Black Conservative:

I think Obama kept the birther issue going on for so long, is because it was politically advantageous to him. He, with the help of the media, was able to discredit anyone who asked questions about the birth certificate. Had the media simply been curious as to why Obama wouldn't do a simple thing like releasing the document, the nation might have been spared the whole birther thing and the rise of Donald Trump.

If only birthers were smarter and didn't fall for Obama's super double reverse fakeout Kenyan gambit, the GOP wouldn't be considered a bunch of racist assholes.  Clearly that has to be it, right?

Man, I needed a good laugh.  Thanks, Cliffy.

Rent Asunder

The housing depression is now leading to millions of Americans being priced out of affordable rental housing just when America needs it most.

The number of renters paying more than half of their income towards rent has hit record levels, according to a new study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) of Harvard University.

Rental affordability is a critical issue for seniors, who live on fixed incomes and already are coping with low yields on their savings, fast-rising healthcare expenses and stagnant Social Security benefits. Yet the struggle with affordability is found most often among low-income Americans; JCHS found that 75 percent of renters in the lowest quartile of income are spending more than half of their income on housing. JCHS also found that lower-middle class renters also are having trouble finding affordable rental housing.

For example, 33 percent of renters with annual income of $14,500 to $30,000 are facing “severe burdens” in finding affordable rent. And the problem is growing most rapidly among demographic groups traditionally less likely to have affordability problems, including younger households, married couples with children and renters with some college education.

“These are astounding numbers,” says Eric Belsky, managing director of JCHS. “If you are spending half of your income on housing, you have very little to spend on everything else.”

Seniors are moving back in with their kids because the rent is, well, too damn high.  And more and more Americans are finding that because mortgage lenders now want up to a 20% down payment on a house, that renting is the only option.  That's driving the demand for apartments up, and that's driving rent up too, in some cases substantially.

Like all housing matters, federal programs and policy loom large in matters of affordable rentals. But federal housing policy hasn’t kept pace with the changing rental market. The most significant existing federal program is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), which aims to stimulate availability of capital for the purpose of replenishing affordable housing stock. An array of vouchers and other subsidies also help some renters.

But the JCHS study notes that the federal programs are focused mainly on the lowest-income renters, so won’t address the growing need in higher income brackets.

So Americans who are making it now in their apartments are finding a raft of new fees and higher rent to pay, and wages are going down.  You can imagine where this is going next.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

Atrios flags down today's sign that Republicans are trying to slowly destroy the country:

The Philadelphia school district may have to cut 3,800 positions in order to close a $600 million deficit. Another proposal to make up for the loss of almost $300 million in state funds this year includes eliminating free transportation to and from school.

That means no busing or free SEPTA transpasses for any students except those in special education students and those attending charter schools.

That's because state law requires the district to provide transportation to and from charter schools. But students who attend public and parochial schools next year could have to pay their own way.

So if you take buses away from the public school students, and state law requires charter school students to have buses...well, you do the math.

McLovin' The McEconomy

Tyler Durden caught these numbers on McDonald's national hiring day last week:

This is what the US economy has been reduced to: McDonalds reports that as part of its employment event to hire 50,000 minimum wage, part-time (mostly) workers, subsequently raised to 62,000 it received a whopping 1 million applications, or a Tim Geithner jealousy inducing 6.2% hit rate (h/t X. Kurt. OSis). Alas, the US economy is now so pathetic that the bulk of the population will settle for anything. Literally anything. And the saddest part: over 938,000 applicants were turned away. Here's hoping to Burger King needs a few million janitors in the immediate future too. And yes, aside from reality, things in America are really recovering quite nicely. 

Yep, that's right:  62,000 McWorkers were hired...and 14 times as many were turned away.   One job for every 15 applicants:  that's how bad things are for American workers in this economy.  But Republicans will tell you Americans are too lazy to work McJobs and there are plenty of jobs out there if people would just lower themselves to apply for them.

Clearly if we cut unemployment benefits, we can have 2 million people turned away from McDonald's national hiring day next spring.  That's progress!

StupidiNews! Potpourri Edition

A new invention allows you to keep your coffee warm for hours.  Simple metal beans are made from a material that "is designed to melt at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and absorbs a lot of energy as it melts. This is how Joulies cool your coffee down three times faster than normal. Once it reaches this temperature, the special material begins to solidify again, releasing the energy it stored when it melted. This is how Joulies keep your coffee warm twice as long."  If it works half as well as advertised, this is the new Hot Thing.  Pun intended.

The Netflix Conundrum continues: according to one article, Netflix now has more subscribers than Comcast.  The scrappy and innovative business has flourished and forged a place among the big boys.

Young Song, a visual effects artist for Dreamworks, is looking at four years in prison for beating his neighbor's puppy to death with a hammer.  Song also allegedly shot the dog with a pellet gun before killing it.  The neighbor claims to have caught the act on video.  If he did it, I hope they get PETA on his ass while he is put away.

Spaced Out

(CNN) -- Interstellar radio has lost one of its most avid listeners.
A collection of sophisticated radio telescopes in California that scan the heavens for extraterrestrial signals has suspended operations because of lack of funding, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute operates the Allen Telescope Array, the field of dish-like scopes some 300 miles north of San Francisco. The telescopes are a joint effort of SETI and University of California-Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Lab and have been funded largely by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who donated more than $25 million to the project.

I have followed SETI for a  long time, and have enjoyed running the Seti@Home screensaver, which lets users donate CPU time while their computer is idle and process the unbelievable amount of data that is gathered through the organization. I sincerely hope that they are up and running again soon.  In the meantime, I have a couple of computers gobbling up information and helping catch up on the data gathered so far.  While I don't expect to find aliens, I do think watching and listening will allow us to make important discoveries and build a foundation of information and statistics.  

How Long Will Lawrence Last?

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell ripped into his employer this week over the Trump/birther angle, and I'm openly wondering how long he has before he gets Olbermanned.

He argued that Trump’s line during today’s news conference that he couldn’t announce his candidacy until after the season finale of his television show was an incorrect reading of equal-time laws, since these laws don’t apply to entertainment programs. He also argued that NBC executives likely knew well whether Trump has re-upped for next season, since many of NBC’s other shows have already been announced for that year.

In the past, NBC executives have been coy about their knowledge of Trump’s plans, with one “who asked not to be identified to avoid any conflict with Mr. Trump" telling The New York Times that “this is Donald being Donald” when asked how Trump’s presidential ambitions were affecting the network’s plans for his highly successful show.

“NBC can no longer avoid conflict with Mr. Trump,” O’Donnell said. “NBC has a conflict with Mr. Trump. NBC has created a monster who is using his NBC fame to spew hatred, reeking with racist overtones and undertones about the president of the United States. NBC can no longer stand idly by, not for one more day. The NBC entertainment division could not possibly have created a worse conflict with the NBC News division. The NBC entertainment division is now in possession of news that the NBC News division would [like to have]. An NBC paid performer, the most deranged egomaniac in the history of NBC entertainment division has spewed lies to the point where he provoked this.”

NBC is certainly feeling the heat on Trump this week.  Already Groupon has pulled its ads from Trump's Celebrity Apprentice website.  They won't be the last advertiser NBC or loses, either.

But O'Donnell?  Will he be canned before Trump is?  That question remains.

Judicial Activism Goes Unnoticed

Don't look now, America...but you've just lost the ability to form class-action suits.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday handed businesses such as AT&T Inc a major victory by upholding the use of arbitration for customer disputes rather than allowing claims to be brought together as a group.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that an AT&T unit could enforce a provision in its customer contracts requiring individual arbitration and preventing the pooling together of claims into a class-action lawsuit or class-wide arbitration.

The plaintiffs, Vincent and Liza Concepcion, filed their class-action lawsuit in 2006, claiming they were improperly charged about $30 in sales taxes on cellphones that the AT&T Mobility wireless unit had advertised as free.

AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile service, was backed in the case by a number of other companies and by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group, while consumer and civil rights groups supported the California couple.

Companies generally prefer arbitration as a less expensive way of settling consumer disputes, as opposed to costly class actions, which allow customers to band together and can result in large monetary awards.

Customer arbitration agreements are widely used by cellphone carriers, cable providers, credit card companies, stock brokerage firms and other businesses.

Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick said it may be the most important class action case ever decided by the Supreme Court.

"Because companies can ask all of their consumers, employees, and perhaps even shareholders to sign arbitration agreements, this decision has the potential to permit companies to escape class action liability in almost all of their activities," he said.

In other words, American companies are now scrambling to put arbitration clauses in everything they can involving either employees or customers, because doing so now completely absolves them from class-action suits according to this ruling.  The class-action suit, the little guy versus the big guy, has pretty much been permanently decided by the big guy.

Where's the Tea Party to tell us that our rights are being stolen by judicial activists?

The Lone Star State Of Emergency

Texas's Republican governor Rick Perry is complaining quite loudly that Alabama is getting federal help because of this week's deadly tornadoes, but Texas is seeing nothing as a result of deadly wildfires that have ravaged the state.  And of course, it's all Obama's fault.

Perry had requested a federal declaration of emergency for Texas as the wildfires began to rage across the entire state. The request has not been answered, although several federal agencies, including the National Park Service, are supplying firefighters to help the state's effort.

"They watch TV, they know what's going on here, they can recognize that there is going to be a request for assistance, a request for help," Perry said.

Two volunteer firefighters have died battling the Texas wildfires, which have destroyed more than 900 buildings or structures.

A federal major disaster declaration could reimburse Texas and local governments 75 percent of the cost of their response. Local departments and the Texas Forest Service have spent more than $60 million since September 1 responding to wildfires, forest service spokeswoman Linda Moon said.

In the past Perry has frequently charged that the Obama administration is punishing Texas. The Republican governor has been an outspoken opponent of the federal health reform law, and the state is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a proposal to end Texas' independent air quality permitting program for factories and refineries.

Obama took a shot at Perry in an interview last week with the Dallas/Fort Worth TV station WFAA.
"Governor Perry helped balance his budget with about $6 billion worth of federal help - which he happily took - and then started blaming the members of Congress who had offered that help," Obama told WFAA, referring to 2009 federal stimulus funds.

Perry has some stones on him, I'll give him that much.  This is a guy who complains as loudly as possible about how Texas doesn't need federal help, saying the state should opt out of Social Security, the state should opt out of Medicaid, and even opt out of the United States of America.

But now it's "we're not getting our federal handout fast enough because President Blackington Blackman The Black hates Texas."  What an asshole.


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