Saturday, July 9, 2011

Red Light, Green Cash

An interesting story from Bloomberg this weekend:  red light cameras aren't generating the revenues cash-strapped local governments were looking for because drivers are actually paying attention to them and obeying traffic laws, and costs for lawsuits against the cameras are mounting.

Miami, which counted on $10 million in fines from motorists caught on camera running red lights, is planning to furlough some workers in part because penalties didn’t come close to forecasts as drivers began obeying the law.

Houston, where voters banned cameras in November, will receive about $10 million less than anticipated and faces a potential claim from supplier American Traffic Solutions Inc. for canceling a contract. The Los Angeles Police Commission voted last month to let its agreement with American Traffic expire, citing the expense.

Since cameras began spying on motorists in the late 1980s, they’ve faced lawsuits challenging their constitutionality, been banned in voter initiatives and restricted by legislation. That hasn’t stopped U.S. cities from deploying them: The number of municipalities with cameras has doubled to 539 since 2007, according to the Washington-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“This is about money and not about safety,” Ted Hollander, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who defends people charged with traffic offenses, said in an interview.

Redflex Holdings Ltd. (RDF), a South Melbourne, Australia-based camera supplier, successfully defended itself against lawsuits challenging its product in 10 states last year and legislation that would ban them in six, according to its annual report.

An Arizona employee of the company was shot and killed while monitoring a speed-detecting camera in 2009. 

Imagine that.  They actually worked too well, and the cost of having them is starting to exceed the revenues generated, despite some 2000 localities having these things around.  Talk about unintended consequences.

There's no doubt cities put these up to make money.  Anyone who tells you different is lying.  But motorists don't often run red lights when these things are around.  Maybe people are driving smarter.  Maybe gas costs mean people are driving less or relying on public transportation more.  But these cameras aren't the gold mines cities thought they'd be...they're more like land mines.

More On The Most Spiked Story This Year

There's been very little said about the biggest domestic terror story of the year: the white supremacist movement in the Pacific Northwest, its connections to a bomb planted at the Spokane, Washington MLK Day parade in January, and what it really means in an America with a black President.  There's been little to no information to report about suspect Kevin William Harpham, but after six months the legal defense for Harpham is beginning to firm up.

Kevin Harpham's attorneys wrote late last month that none of the four definitions of a "weapon of mass destruction" in federal law referenced an "improvised explosive device."

"Mr. Harpham's preparation for trial, including his consultation with potential expert witnesses and confrontation of government witnesses will differ, depending on what legal definition of 'weapon of mass destruction' forms the basis of the indictment," Kimberly A. Deate and Kailey E. Moran wrote on Harpham's behalf. "Clarification of this issue will also ultimately be necessary for the formulation of jury instructions."

In a motion this week, federal prosecutors responded to a request for a bill of particulars by attorneys for Harpham. The Justice Department's lawyers said that under federal law a weapon of mass destruction is a destructive device, which is defined as an explosive, incendiary or poison gas bomb, grenade, rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces, missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce or mine.

In other words, his lawyers aren't going for the defense that Harpham wasn't trying to kill black celebrants at a parade to honor the nation's most famous civil rights leader, but that the device he was using to try to kill people didn't have enough bang to be considered a weapon of mass destruction.  That's what his lawyers are saying.

Awesome.  Maybe David Duke should make a statement on Harpham's behalf as part of his Presidential campaign.

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 31

Ahh, the Debt Ceiling battle.  You know something's up when Orange Julius has gone right back to his position from early this year, which is "If we don't raise the debt ceiling and America defaults, it'll be catastrophic for the economy."

In a political role reversal Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) warned that Congress risks severely harming the economy and exacerbating the unemployment crisis if it fails to raise the national debt ceiling in the next four weeks.
"While some think we can go past August 2nd, I frankly think it puts us in an awful lot of jeopardy, and puts our economy in jeopardy, risking even more jobs," Boehner told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing.

So what's his game?  Why the reversal?  Republicans have not only spent months trying to convince Americans of the fallacy that federal government spending should operate exactly like an American family's finances ("macroeconomics at the highest level should work exactly like microeconomics at the smallest" which is patently ridiculous) but they've been adding that the country can default on its debt and miss a payment without any real world consequences, either.

I've said for months now that the consequences of a default would be to cause interest rates to double or triple from their current position.  The cost of borrowing gobs of money would skyrocket, and Wall Street has been happily borrowing gobs of money at ridiculously low interest rates for a couple of years now.  They're having a great time doing it, too.  Corporate profits are up sharply.  Stockholders are generally happy.  CEOs are raking in the cash.  For Wall Street especially, they've got all kinds of cash to play Big Casino games with the economy just like they were during all of the last decade.  A default would mean the end of the gravy train.

The Crazy Tea Party wing and the Greedy Evil Corporate wing of the GOP are now in open conflict.  Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum and the rest may be taking orders from the former, but Orange Julius is taking his orders from the latter, and they want this debt ceiling default nonsense gone.  Yes, the Tea Party types have been shrieking that raising the debt ceiling will be done over their politically dead bodies, but the guys with the gold-plated toilets and the billion-dollar hedge fund manager incomes figure they're in charge of the Republicans, and Orange Julius here proves it.

Oh yes, the Tea Party will threaten to remove Boehner from power, just like they did in December when President Obama pulled a fast one over on them.  He's not going anywhere.  Not unless the voters across the river from me in the tony Cincy suburbs north of the 275 loop suddenly develop souls.  I said long ago that the GOP would never be allowed to blow up the bond markets.  This complete reversal proves the moneyed interests are now playing hardball and want a deal ironed out now.  Orange Julius has been given his marching orders.

The only question at this point is what the details of the deal are.  But it's happening and soon.

[UPDATE] And the reason I said there would be a deal soon was that otherwise, Orange Julius's career was over.  But looks like he just blew it big time. Looks like Orange Julius is pulling out of the talks, which means he doesn't have the votes, which means that while Wall Street is certainly leading him around by the nose, the Tea Party crazies have just sabotaged the whole thing and have decided there will never be a deal.Orange Julius just lost control of the asylum.  By comparison, President Obama looks like the adult in the room.  It's almost like President Obama knows what he's doing in these negotiations, and he's just put Boehner in an untenable position.  Things will fall apart quickly now for the GOP.

Up In Smoke - Willy Style

From my beloved TMZ:

The judge in Wilie's Texas marijuana case rejected a plea deal struck between Willie and the D.A. in which Willie would have paid $500 and the case would have gone away.  The judge felt the deal reeked of celebrity justice so he told them to come up with a stronger punishment -- with a maximum of one year in jail.

But sources connected with the case tell TMZ ... there's a "strong possibility" the prosecutor will not recommend a stronger punishment, but instead just sit on the case until it's dismissed for lack of prosecution.

Call it defiant, but the prosecutor is riding a wave in Texas to treat marijuana possession for what it is ... and not fill the overcrowded jails with recreational potheads.

The Kroog Versus The Current Narrative

Via Steve Benen, Paul Krugman has a point:

After the release of the June job numbers, there were plenty of worthwhile charts and graphs making the rounds, but this one from Paul Krugman was especially helpful.

If the bond markets truly thought we had a debt problem, the 10-year would be at double-digit yields. Instead it's at historic lows. We can afford to borrow the money to fix the unemployment problem. It's right there in the numbers. We can do it. US debt is a good investment according to the people who put their money where their mouths are.

Why we're not doing so is pure politics.

Like Father, Like Son

Rupert Murdoch's son James is apparently the guy that's going to be left holding the bag for the News Corp. phone hacking scandal.

Mr. Murdoch appeared to act quickly to close The News of the World, Britain’s largest-circulation Sunday paper, which his father has owned for more than four decades.

Yet the decision was nearly four months in the making, and was as much an effort to shed jobs and save money in a beleaguered industry and shift resources to broadcasting as it was a response to the outcry over the scandal’s new revelations, according to the two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal concerns. Some employees are expected to move eventually to the Murdochs’ other tabloid, The Sun, when it expands to publish on Sunday, they said.

James Murdoch has already faced renewed criticism for the way the company has managed the investigation since 2007, when he was given oversight of News International, the News Corporation’s British subsidiary. On his watch, the company blamed one “rogue reporter” for the scandal, and he approved payouts to some hacker victims.

He suddenly finds himself a target of the British political and business establishment that his father influenced by wielding the power of his newspapers to decide elections and tarnish — or burnish — reputations. When Prime Minister David Cameron was asked Friday if James Murdoch should be questioned by the police in the hacking scandal, he said anyone, “no matter how high or low,” was fair game for investigators. 

That shows you just how pervasive this scandal was, and how ruthless Rupert is:  it's clear that the plan is for him to serve up his own son to keep the pitchforks and torches at bay.  Not that James Murdoch is an upright guy or anything, he's a sleazebag like his dad.   But ol' Pops just put his son on the griddle, and dinner is about to be served, folks...

You Just Have To Tighten A Couple Nuts, Apparently

The husband of GOP presidential "contender" and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, psychologist Dr. Marcus Bachmann, has already stirred the pot with his horrible comments referring to gays as "barbarians".  But Mariah Blake over at The Nation has discovered that the good doctor's antipathy towards the gay community extends to efforts at his counseling clinics to try to "cure" homosexuality.

As Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann has surged in the polls, the spotlight has turned on her husband and main political adviser, Marcus Bachmann, who has a PhD in clinical psychology and owns two Christian counseling centers in Minnesota. There has been a great deal of speculation that his clinics, which have received $161,000 in state and federal funding, try to cure homosexuality—and the chatter has only grown louder since his comments likening gays to “barbarians” who “need to be educated” and “disciplined” surfaced in the blogosphere last week. Marcus Bachmann has denied these allegations. “That’s a false statement,” he replied when the Minneapolis City Pages asked if his clinic tried to cure gays. And until now there was no firm evidence to back these allegations up. But information obtained by The Nation suggests that Bachmann & Associates therapists do, in fact, try to change sexual orientation. It also sheds new light on the Bachmanns’ embrace of the controversial ex-gay movement and related psychological approaches, which portray homosexuality as a disease to be rooted out.

Some of the most potent material was provided by Truth Wins Out, a gay-rights group that opposes the ex-gay movement. In late June, a Truth Wins Out activist named John Becker donned two hidden cameras—one embedded in a wristwatch—and attended five treatment sessions at Bachmann’s Lake Elmo clinic. Becker, who is openly gay, presented himself as a committed Christian who was struggling with homosexuality. The video he collected seems to confirm Ramirez’s allegations that staff members at Bachmann & Associates try to change sexual orientation. Becker’s therapist (another of Marcus Bachmann’s employees) repeatedly assured him that homosexuality could be overcome.
“At the core value…in terms of how God created us, we’re all heterosexual,” he explained, according to the footage. “God has created you for heterosexuality.” The therapist also mined Becker’s personal history for traumatic experiences that might have turned him gay. To curb Becker’s gay impulses, the therapist urged him to pray and read Scripture and suggested Becker “develop” his masculinity. He also encouraged him to find a “heterosexual guy” to act as act as an AA-type sponsor. Later, he referred Becker to Outpost Ministries, a church that helps “the sexually and relationally broken”—in other words, homosexuals—“find healing and restoration through relationship with Jesus Christ.”

At moments in the videos, Becker seemed to try to bait the therapist into saying something controversial. For instance, Becker brought up a conversation in which his brother told him that gay people could just as easily go to heaven as anyone else and pressed the therapist to say this wasn’t so: “I mean, he was wrong, right, with what he said? He was wrong, wasn’t he?” The therapist tried to dodge the question. Becker pressed him again, and the therapist changed the subject. In later sessions, Becker spoke excitedly about ex-gay literature he’d found, which raises the question: to what degree was the therapist simply following his lead?

Both Bachmann & Associates and the Bachmann campaign declined to comment for this story, though in the past Marcus Bachmann has insisted his clinics don’t push people to change their sexual orientation. “If someone comes in a homosexual and they want to stay a homosexual, I don’t have a problem with that,” he told the Minneapolis City Pages. Nevertheless, the techniques the therapist at his Lake Elmo clinic used were typical of so-called reparative therapies, which cast homosexuality as a mental disorder and see conversion to heterosexuality as the only healthy outcome. “The explicit goal of the sessions was transforming Becker from homosexual to heterosexual,” says Wayne Besen, Truth Wins Out’s executive director.

This is pretty heavy stuff.  Any actual mental health professional would have helped Becker cope, or would have suggested a support network, or organizations that could have assisted them.  But trying to "cure" homosexuality is ridiculous.  And Marcus Bachmann is a licensed psycholgist?

Michele and her husband are the kind of people we should be putting in the White House to run the country?  That's, well, insane.  If you didn't think there were serious problems with these two before, this week pretty much seals the deal.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

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