Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Last Call

Fittingly, a Last Call from last night's Last Word as Lawrence O'Donnell explains what Obama is up to on the debt ceiling, why Boehner is screwed, and why Obama is winning.

The Republicans have been exposed. The "most masterful rope-a-dope in history" has the Republicans, and especially Orange Julius, staggering around the ring wondering how they lost this. Now we're seeing Republicans say publicly that they will no longer negotiate, that they will walk out of the room, that they would rather destroy the economy than agree with Obama.

The country is turning on them now. They have nothing. And when they realize that 100% of the blame for a debt ceiling meltdown will be on them, it's over, just like last December. They will be disarmed and dismissed.

Yeah, Obama knows what he's doing.  Today he upped the pressure exponentially by telling CBS News that he can't guarantee Social Security checks will go out after August 2.

President Obama on Tuesday said he cannot guarantee that retirees will receive their Social Security checks August 3 if Democrats and Republicans in Washington do not reach an agreement on reducing the deficit in the coming weeks.

"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Mr. Obama said in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, according to excerpts released by CBS News.

Advantage:  Obama.  That noise you heard is Sen. Mitch McConnell stabbing Orange Julius in the back and testing out his white flag waving arm.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has proposed creating an escape hatch for Congressional Republicans, who have put themselves in a box by threatening not to raise the national debt limit if Democrats don't agree to trillions of dollars in cuts to popular social programs.

The plan is designed to give President Obama the power to raise the debt limit on his own through the end of his first term, but to force Democrats to take a series of votes on the debt limit in the months leading up to the election. This would stave off the threat of defaulting on national obligations, but keep the charged issues of debt and spending at the center of political debate for months.

And once again Obama is the baddest mofo in the room.  Brian Beutler argues that the real target is Grover Norquist's hold on the GOP:

Right now, whether he knows it or not, President Obama has a chisel resting at the most vulnerable point of contact between Grover and the GOP, and, if he's willing to commit, a hammer hovering threateningly above it.

He knows Congress has to raise the debt limit, and he seems to truly believe Obama won't let them do it without offering up new tax revenue -- and that would mean forcing Grover into early obsolescence. Taking that as a given, would he rather see the GOP cave in a way that renders him meaningless, or cave in a way that preserves the power of the "pledge." I totally understand his thinking here.

The second the GOP breaks Grover Norquist's no taxes pledge, he is through.  And nobody knows that more than Grover Norquist.

Well, except for one Barack Obama, it seems.  Once again, Obama has the GOP right where he wants and needs them.

Greek Fire, Part 39

The second I in PIIGS is Italy (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain are the rest) and the Greek Fire that swept Europe over the weekend in the wake of Greek bailout talks falling apart with the reality of a partial default looming has now spread to engulf the Italian economy.  Wary European investors have turned on Italy and are giving the boot-shaped country the boot.

Political soap operas in Italy — especially those featuring Mr. Berlusconi — are nothing new. Nor do they usually matter much to financial markets, even after the debt crisis hit Europe. The widespread problems in Italy’s economy, which has been sluggish for the better part of a decade, also rang few alarm bells.

What’s more, Italy’s banks are sound; they never speculated in a housing bubble. The current annual budget deficit is low, at about 4.6 percent of gross domestic product. And while Italy issues the largest amount of bonds of any euro zone country, Italians own about half the debt, making it less vulnerable to the follies of financial markets.

But with interest rates rising, Italy’s economy is not growing fast enough to cover an accumulated debt load of 120 percent of gross domestic product, the second-highest in Europe, after Greece. The International Monetary Fund expects growth to pick up only slightly, to 1.3 percent in 2012.

In a sign of how quickly things have turned against the country, the stock market regulator imposed emergency rules on Monday against speculation after shares in Italian banks slumped for a fifth consecutive session. The cost of insuring Italy’s sovereign debt against default surged to a record high, and the interest on its 10-year bond leaped to a record 5.67 percent.

While that is still well below what Greece pays, analysts say Italy will have serious problems if its borrowing costs exceed 6 percent.

“Italy is a banana republic that didn’t depend so much on foreign capital in the past, but now it does, and markets are less forgiving,” said Daniel Gros, the director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. “Italy is in the danger zone; that is quite clear now.” 

Italy has so far avoided the problems that have ravaged Greece, Ireland and Portugal.  But if Italy goes down, the rest of the Eurozone goes with it...and most likely the weakened global economy will be susceptible as well.

Still, if the crisis were to take hold in Italy, the problems for the euro union would dwarf all others to date. European banks have total claims and potential exposures of 998.7 billion euros to Italy, more than six times the 162.4 billion euro exposure they have to Greece, according to Barclays Capital. European banks have 774 billion euros of exposure to Spain and 534 billion euros of exposure to Ireland.

In the United States, banks are also more exposed to Italy than to any other euro zone country, to the tune of 269 billion euros, according to Barclays. American banks’ next biggest exposure is to Spain, with total claims estimated at 179 billion euros.

But at the end of the day, “If Italy goes, it’s no longer a domino,” said Mr. Gros, the analyst in Brussels. “It’s a brick.” 

The Greek bailout falling apart last weekend has now left Italy vulnerable, and should they crack, the dam will be truly burst.  The Greek Fire...it just keeps burning.

The Twenty-Seven Percent Solution: Climate Change Edition

A new Harris poll shows that in just four years, the number of Americans who believe that humans are causing global climate change has dropped from 71% in 2007 to just 44% now.

Only 44 percent say they "believe the theory" that carbon dioxide emissions are warming the Earth, down from 51 percent in 2009 and 71 percent in 2007, but most movement has been into the "not sure" column.

The online poll of 2,163 adults was conducted June 13 through 20. Harris does not give margin-of-error figures. 

According to the poll itself, 44% believe it exists, 28% do not, and 28% are now not sure.  That "doesn't believe humans cause climate change" number has been around that magic 27% for a while now.  But nearly all of change in the polls over the years since 1999 has come at the expense of people who used to believe that humanity is responsible for climate change increasingly falling into the "not sure" category.

Enough anti-science propaganda has been deployed against the issue of global climate change that the clear majority of Americans who believed in it has now fallen to a mere plurality, and one that is fading fast.  America's energy companies couldn't be happier, either.

Best part of that Harris poll?  Americans overwhelming believe there are more natural disasters now than just a few years ago, including weather related disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards.  They just don't believe that humans have anything to do with causing it, or are increasingly unsure.

In other words, the climate change denialists are winning big time by muddying the waters.  And the longer we do nothing out of inertia, the worse it will get.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

Michelle Obama had a burger, fries, and a Diet Coke at Shake Shack in DC yesterday.  Not only is this Washington Post worthy news, that came as a surprise to some, but it makes her an elitist socialist pig who ate a meal that required two hand trucks to deliver, making her a big hypocrite, so let's get back to pretending what a hottie she is.

Boy remember eight years of people telling Laura Bush that she was fat and hated Christians and bought shoes and was way above her station and also basically the worst person on Earth?

Oh wait, sorry, all Wingers hating on Michelle Obama again.  My bad.  Hey, she should just toughen up and take the abuse like Laura Bush...never had to put up with.

Dropping The Ball... Twice

It's a huge deal when phones are hacked by NOTW,  but not too long ago we found out Michigan cops
are going through phones without permission with barely a blip.  On multiple occasions, cops have helped themselves to private data without permission or a warrant.  Obama has failed to give back our right to a warrant before being digitally snooped in the name of the war on terror.  Our government managed to take away a very important right and never answered for it.  We're all subject to search and seizure without protection, in an age where our digital actions can be forever recorded.  Nobody is stupid enough to believe that that protection will ever be reinstated.  We looked to Obama to uphold the people's rights and he failed us.  Shame on him.

NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) sends an intelligent and compelling editorial to CNN right as the federal government issues a memo stating that large grow operations sanctioned by state government are not above prosecution.  There seems to be some debate as to what may be in the works right now, but it is clear this is coming to a head, and states are requesting the right to decide for themselves how to handle one of the largest cash crops in the nation.  Still, Obama has dropped the ball here as well in my opinion.  There is a chance for him to strike the final blow in the war on drugs and undo a lot of bad karma.  A laundry list of wrongs can be resolved upon legalization (overcrowded jails and medicinal benefits come to mind) and I fail to see where the opposition provides anything stronger than maybes and personal judgment when it comes to reasons. I'm sorry, the legalization argument just makes more sense to me.  Obama has dodged the bulk of the subject.  Instead, he has opted to put the money in the hands of criminals and let the states and feds squabble about rights and jurisdiction.

The man isn't perfect and I realize it.  Here are two huge opportunities to set things right and leave a good mark in history.  There is still time, but I have no faith these mistakes will be corrected.

Were Those Hot Dogs Made Of Gold?

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Court of Appeals says a department store wasn't justified in firing a worker who took two leftover hot dogs from a company picnic, so it must pay him unemployment benefits.
The court ruled Thursday in the case of Nolan Koewler, who was fired from a Dillard's store in Evansville a year ago.
Dillard's hosted a Fourth of July cookout for employees. Afterward, a manager ordered the leftovers stored in a break room freezer until Labor Day.
The next day, Koewler took two hot dogs and ate them, an act caught on surveillance video. He claimed he never heard the instruction to save the hot dogs, and the three-judge panel sided unanimously with him.

I am amused and horrified.  I'd hate to see how Dillard's handles an actual problem.  Also, who freezes and reserves HOT DOGS?  Are they so cheap they won't part with a few cents in recycled meat parts?  Yeah, I think it's safe to say it wasn't worth ruining a career for no matter how you look at it.

Red State Of Denial

Steve M. makes a great catch here:

Some data accompanying an article in the business section of The New York Times:

Note what's measured here: government payments as share of personal income. As the article notes,

Close to $2 of every $10 that went into Americans' wallets last year were payments like jobless benefits, food stamps, Social Security and disability, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics.

So the national average is nearly 20%, and in many states the portion is well over 20%, as shown. And note that of the 12 states listed, 8 voted Republican in the 2008 presidential election and 10 voted Republican in 2004.

In other words, should Republicans destroy the economy and trigger a collapse with the debt ceiling to cut off those evil parasitic "welfare states" it's those "coastal liberal bastions" of West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi who are going to suffer the most, because surprise, those are the states where people are taking the most government aid.

And as it is with Republicans refusing to expand unemployment benefits and insisting on trillions of dollars in immediate cuts in social programs, these states are going to be the ones hurting the most anyway.  And they'll blame Obama and all those "liberal welfare queens" while red states continue on the government dole.

Gotta love it.

It Pays To Be Insane

Iowa has lost its mind, via John Cole.

Rep. Michele Bachmann has been gunning for the support of Iowa voters, the first in the nation to vote for their party’s presidential nominees, and it looks like her efforts may be paying off. 
The conservative congresswoman finished first among the GOP presidential candidates in a poll released today by The Iowa Republican, a blog which bill itself as News for Republicans, by Republicans. Bachmann received support from 25 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received 21 percent, putting Bachmann’s lead within the poll’s 4.4 percent margin of error.

In other words, Michele Bachmann has gone crazy, had her husband call gays "barbarians" and then it broke that he was trying to "cure the gay", then she signs a pledge that includes the delightful fallacy that is "black people were better off under slavery because more had two parents than now."

For this, she is rewarded with the lead in the Iowa caucus polls.  I have to tell you, the other 75% of the Republicans in Iowa?  Your party has gone insane.  If we have really gotten to the point where Michele Bachmann is a viable candidate for anything other than "Craziest Person in America" then we deserve the country's destruction, because there is no saving us from ourselves at that point.

Playing For The Farm Team

Finally, somebody in the intelligence community is going to the source of every piece of up-to-date knowledge in the universe for the power of predictive crisis points:  asking people the internets!

On Friday, Applied Research Associates, Inc (ARA) will launch the Aggregative Contingent Estimation System (ACES), a website that lets members of the public test out methods to crowdsource intelligence predictions. Funded by Iarpa, the intelligence community’s advanced research shop, ACES invites users to try their hand at making predictions and sharpening up their forecasting skills. The resulting data, ARA and Iarpa hope, will let spooks find out if the crowd can build a better crystal ball for the intel world.

It’s called Aggregative Contingent Estimation System (ACES) and it’s the spy agencies’ attempt to tweak traditional crowdsourcing methods build a better crystal ball and help analysts sharpen their skills.  Funded by Iarpa and built by Applied Research Associates, Inc (ARA), the project will test out crowd-based forecasting for the intelligence community by testing its methods out on a website. That site opens to the public this Friday.

“We’re trying to make good use of everybody’s individual opinions and trying to determine what aspects of them might be important and would lead to a good forecast,” says Dr. Dirk Warnaar, the principal investigator for the ACES project at Applied Research Associates.
The idea behind tapping into collective intelligence is simple: There’s bits of useful information distributed among the members of diverse crowds, so aggregating their judgments should yield a better answer — better even than experts’ — to a particular question.

But ARA is looking to do something just a little different from traditional crowdsourcing methods. While many similar tools assign equal weight to participants’ inputs, ACES will be looking for the most accurate predictors over time and weighting their judgments more heavily than other users.

So nice to know that America is now using "ask the audience" for advice on strategic intelligence.  Judging from the kind of folks I see on the net daily, I can't possibly imagine how this could ever go wrong.  Although, they probably should think about hiring the people who end up providing the most accurate analysis.

Hey, it might work.  Do I want to base serious national security decisions on it?  Not so much.


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