Saturday, July 16, 2011

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Tell Me It's Back

And it is, as the Obama Administration has asked and received a stay on a federal court order to stop enforcing it, meaning for now DADT is the law of the land again.
 Obama signed legislation in December to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but the bill gave the Pentagon an unlimited time frame to implement the change, leading up to a final "certification" of the repeal.

In the meantime, a separate challenge to the policy had advanced in the federal court system, where last week the 9th U.S. Circuit Court panel upheld a lower-court decision declaring "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" unconstitutional and ordered the military to immediately lift the ban.

In their latest ruling, the judges said that, based on information provided by government lawyers, senior military officials have made plans to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and that certification will be presented to Obama by the end of July or in early August.

The judges' three-page order also states that only one military service member has been discharged for being openly gay since the passage of the repeal act in December.

The judges stated that "in order to provide this court with an opportunity to consider fully the issues presented in light of these previously undisclosed facts" it was temporarily reinstating the policy.
But the order also blocks the military "from investigating, penalizing or discharging anyone from the military pursuant to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy."

So the law exists, technically...but it can't be enforced, and the Pentagon will certify its end by the end of next month.  It seems more a procedural hurdle more than anything else, but that's the way it goes, I guess.

A Bunch Of Dim Bulbs

House Republicans have decided to defund the provision in the most recent energy bill that enforces the removal of incandescent 100 watt lightbulbs, calling it a victory for choice and freedom.

House Republicans, led by Texans Michael Burgess and Joe Barton, have been on a tear to undo the bulb provision, and though a Barton-led effort failed earlier in the week, Burgess' success opens the door for more.

Environmentalists and Democratic supporters, as well as some Republicans, are upset that gains in efficiency are at risk.

During the House debate, Burgess warned that "starting January 1, if Home Depot or your local grocery store has the 100-watt bulb in their inventory, they will not be allowed to sell them. That means they will take all 100-watt bulbs off the shelf, and they will never see the consumer. My amendment will allow the stores to continue to sell what they have in stock. The 2007 provision never said that these companies could not make the bulb; it said that they couldn't be sold."

"Further," Burgess said, "if a manufacturer should choose to continue to make 100-watt bulbs, they would be permitted under this language, as there is clearly a market based on the thousands of consumers who have contacted Congress upset about their inability to buy 100-watt light bulbs. This is about the consumer driving the market, not the federal government deciding the market."

Barton, who's been one of the most visible opponents of the bulb requirement, said of the House vote: "It is the first step in restoring consumer choice and ending government intrusion into our homes."

House Republicans then remarked how giving Americans choices on lightbulbs removing government intrusion in your selection of lighting is far more important than giving women the choice of what to do with their own reproductive systems or who people can marry, because that requires as much government intervention and removal of freedom as possible.

Down In The Treme

Treme was passed over by the Emmy crowd again.  I was disappointed, but I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one.

What a shame. "Treme" is easily among the best drama series on the air, and takes a backseat to no show for the breadth and excellence of its cast. One more thing that makes "Treme" praiseworthy: its uniqueness.
For viewers (and, apparently, a crop of Emmy voters) who don't know, "Treme" is set in post-Katrina New Orleans and follows a broad sample of its residents coping with the disaster's aftermath and otherwise living their lives. If "Seinfeld" was famously a show about nothing, "Treme" is a show about everything. Everything human. Which it manages to pull off without feeling overstuffed, overwrought or artificial.
"Treme" is not dense or dark or difficult, which were words that seemed to attach themselves to a previous extraordinary series created by David Simon. Instead, "Treme" is hopeful and, befitting its setting, filled with music and stout-heartedness.

There's no doubt I'm a fan.  Even if I wasn't, I would definitely give a nod to the fact that it's different.  It is cast realistically (not everyone is a six six and beautiful) and it isn't packed with drama to the point that you feel tired and used up afterwards.  Like real life there are big events and small, and not everything is a huge powder keg.  It's real, it's interesting, and it's unique.  It deserves some recognition.

[UPDATE: Zandar]  And Bon is right about Treme, it's often a heart-rending show.  HBO is consistently excellent with dramas and has been for decades. The network did get nods for Game of Thrones however, and Peter Dinklage was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Tyrion Lannister.  And if Dinklage gets robbed here too, I'm going to have to go have some words with the Emmy people. 

Plus One

Though just a few days old the social network Google+ already connects more than 10 million people as Larry Page of Google announced together with the company results of Q2 2011.
Page was happy about the astonishing responses to Google+. He called this product the kind of service the company will offer in the future. It should be easy to navigate and easy to use. Among the features of Google+ Circle and Hangout are important to him, because they reflect interactions from real life. His company will development products everyone will use twice a day, "like a tooth brush" the founder and CEO Page said.
I'm liking Google+ more and more.  I now use Facebook for my personal connections and Google+ for my writing, geekery and music. The integration allows me to make the most of my site and Facebook keeps my professional and personal lives separate.  It's an ideal solution so far, and I look forward to the development of new features.  The basics are so far a solid hit.

Anyone who wants to follow me can find me under Bon The Geek.  

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 36

So what's the endgame on the debt ceiling?  What I've been reading tells me that people are no longer worried about who wins, but who loses with the least amount of damage to their chances in 2012.

What's more disturbing is that I'm seeing this play out on the right as Megan McArdle actually applies logical discourse (and Glenn Reynolds agrees with her)...

Podhoretz reads a Quinnipiac poll showing that by a margin of 48-34, the public is going to blame Republicans and not Obama if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, and joins the ranks of the Washington sellouts . . . . Voters are telling pollsters they’re going to blame the Republicans for the shutdown. And the spending cuts you’re going to do won’t even be that popular with the tea party, who aren’t much more enthusiastic about Medicare/Medicaid cuts than the rest of the country.
To me that sounds like “huge Democratic victory in 2012″. I know, I know–if it’s so “great for Democrats”, why aren’t they urging this course? Well, one school of thought says that they are–and neatly maneuvering the blame onto the GOP, thanks to the tea party’s very vocal intransigence. But if that’s a little too Machiavellian for your taste, the simpler answer is that this can be lose-lose. If we shut down the government, key social programs get hurt, the economy contracts, and the Democrats have to cut spending in a recession in order to make the budget balance after this little contretemps raises our interest rates. But the fact that the Democrats are worse off doesn’t mean that the Republicans are better off. The Democrats can lose while the Republicans lose even bigger.

...on the left from Matthew Yglesias...

This isn’t a sudden “shutdown.” Nor is is true that we have to default on obligations to our bondholders. Rather, it means that government outlays are now limited by the quantity of inbound tax revenue. But for a while, the people administering the federal government (to wit Barack Obama and Timothy Geithner) will be able to selectively stiff people. So the right strategy is to start stiffing people Republicans care about. When bills to defense contractors come due, don’t pay them. Explain they’ll get 100 percent of what they’re owed when the debt ceiling is raised. Don’t make some farm payments. Stop sending Medicare reimbursements. Make the doctors & hospitals, the farmers and defense contractors, and the currently elderly bear the inconvenient for a few weeks of uncertain payment schedules. And explain to the American people that the circle of people who need to be inconvenienced will necessarily grow week after week until congress gives in. Remind people that the concessions the right is after mean the permanent abolition of Medicare, followed by higher taxes on the middle to finance additional tax cuts for the rich. 

And from the more objective center from Nate Silver crunching his numbers.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t be able to extract any concessions at all out of the Democrats. It’s possible that the White House — which has been risk-averse in recent months as it has focused on Mr. Obama’s re-election — might not be willing to take the chance of something going wrong. It’s possible that the White House could give the Republicans some concessions that they viewed as minor, inevitable, or actually desirable from a political and policy standpoint.

But Mr. Boehner may face just as much risk as Mr. Obama, if not more. He has promised his more conservative members that he will extract significant concessions from the Democrats before he agrees to an increase in the debt limit. A White House that was willing to play hardball could put him to the test, and perhaps cause a substantial loss of face.

Everything I'm seeing is now involving not "Can we make a deal?" but "How badly will the inevitable deal be for both sides, and how far into the Wall Street technical default market crash scenario do we have to get in order to get said deal?"

In other words, both sides are going to lose.  One side will probably lose worse than the other.  But the American people in the middle?  We're no longer discussing if voters going to be hurt by this, but how badly they will be and who they will take it out on.

Pretty depressing, I know.

[UPDATE]  CNN finally discovers that not only is the Tea Party fine with destroying the economy by not raising the debt ceiling, but that they are making it known that no deal can possibly be acceptable.   Hey CNN, welcome to 2009.

The Pain In Spain

I've talked about the Greek Fire spreading to Ireland, Britain, Portugal, and Italy.  The latest target in the ongoing European financial crisis is now Spain, where five banks have failed the latest round of bank stress tests.

Five Spanish lenders, including Banco Pastor SA (PAS) and Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo (CAM), failed this year’s round of European Union stress tests after regulators found they didn’t have enough capital to withstand a recession scenario.

Unnim and CatalunyaCaixa, two Catalan savings banks groups, and Grupo Caja3 also failed the tests under the main results category set by the European Banking Authority, according to results published on the websites of Spain’s commercial and savings banks associations. The banks, which were short a combined 1.56 billion euros ($2.2 billion) of capital, according to the EBA, won’t need to raise funds because they have extra reserves and bonds that convert into shares to absorb losses, the Bank of Spain said.

Spanish lenders make up more than a quarter of the 90 European institutions tested by the EBA as banks and regulators step up efforts to convince investors they can withstand a three-year property crash and soaring funding costs. The government earlier this year imposed new minimum capital requirements to speed up mergers of struggling lenders as the Bank of Spain also forced them to report more details of loans linked to real estate. 

As Spain's version of the US housing depression continues,  Spain's banks are deep in the red from loans gone bad.  Spanish law doesn't allow homeowners to walk away from mortgages, and that's the only thing keeping Spanish banks from immediately imploding.

Similar to Ireland, whose credit rating was cut to non- investment grade this week by Moody’s Investors Service, Spain’s economic crisis was driven by a credit-fuelled property bubble that burst. The housing boom that ended in 2008 left Spanish banks with 313 billion euros ($441 billion) in loans related to real estate activity as of June, according to the Bank of Spain.

The number of foreclosed homes advertised by, Spain’s largest real-estate website, has risen 10-fold to 30,000 in three years. The properties are valued at about 4.6 billion euros and owned by 40 banks.

If the banks had to assume all the losses resulting from the bad mortgages they granted during the property boom, the whole financial system would collapse,” Jesus Encinar,’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. 

That's leaving Spanish homeowners and taxpayers with the bill, and they're angry.  Very, very angry.  To the point where Spanish politicians are scrambling to provide homeowner relief legislation before elections in 2012.  They're passing more of the pain in Spain to the banks, but now that's revealed the foundation of sand that these banks are built on.  In other words, Spain's in real trouble.

If you thought the US housing bubble was bad, the Spanish one was far worse.  Real estate prices more than tripled across the country from the late 90's.  It was like California here, only across the entire country.  Foreclosures are now flooding the market and driving housing prices down further, and Spanish foreclosure laws are leaving people homeless and still owing tens, if not hundreds of thousands of euros to the banks.  Spanish banks got even greedier than the US ones, making subprime loans to people they knew couldn't pay.  The result is that homeowners and banks are going to be hurting badly for years.

Spanish banks may need to raise as much as 4 billion euros of extra capital if homeowners are given the right to cancel mortgage contracts without being saddled with the debt, according to New York-based management-consulting firm Oliver Wyman. This could force lenders to add 400,000 unwanted properties to their balance sheets.

Home prices may fall by an additional 20 percent in the next four years before bottoming out, R.R. de Acuna & Asociados, a Madrid-based real-estate consulting firm, said at a briefing last month. The company estimates there are about 1.5 million unsold homes, which won’t be absorbed for another six years. 

In other words, the Spanish economy is completely screwed and will remain that way for a very long time.  It's going to be an anvil around the EU's neck, and it may be enough to pull the entire bloc under.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

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