Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Breaking News: Bwahahahaha Edition

It seems Michele "Crazy Eyes" Bachmann has lost one of her advisors.  He appeared with her this morning, and later in the day announced his plans to join Ron Paul's camp effective immediately.

"It's difficult, but it's the right thing to do. Because he fights for the values that I hold dear as well. And I just want to tell you guys I'm going to do everything in the next few days to help in Iowa and beyond. And we're going to take Ron Paul all the way to the White House 2012."

Bazinga, you crazy beeyotch!

Last Call

President Obama and the Democrats are winning the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefit extension fight in the polls...but not by much.

Americans have slightly more confidence in President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress (41%) than in the Republicans in Congress (34%) when it comes to the looming debate on what the government should do about a more permanent extension of payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

These findings, collected on Dec. 27 in Gallup Daily tracking, also show that about a quarter of Americans either don't have an opinion on the issue (10%) or say they have confidence in neither (15%) or both (1%) of the two partisan groups.

Everything's split pretty evenly along partisan lines, but Independents are very much split, 35% back the Dems, 27% the Republicans, and 21% say "neither".  Apparently, the Republicans blinking hasn't hurt them much with the American people...and hasn't helped the President, either.

We'll see what round 2 brings in February.

A Second Take On Ben Nelson

I gave my reasons as to why the Dems will miss Ben Nelson yesterday, mainly because his replacement will almost certainly be a Tea Party nimrod.  The Nation's Jamelle Bouie disagrees.

During the Obama presidency, Nelson turned his loathsome behavior up to eleven, as he obstructed the stimulus bill and worked with Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to needlessly strike tens of billions in aid to state governments. As a marginal vote in the Democratic caucus, Nelson was key to the passage of healthcare reform in the face of unified Republican opposition. True to form, he used that power to extract ridiculous concessions from President Obama and in the process nearly scuttle the bill. Since then, he has done everything he could to undermine liberals in Congress, from coming out against provisions in financial reform (that he voted for), to dragging his feet on “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal (he eventually voted for it), to acting as a constant deficit scold, urging President Obama to ignore unemployment and sluggish growth in favor of austerity.

With his parochialism and narrow concern for his own influence, it’s no exaggeration to say that Ben Nelson represented the worst of the Senate. His retirement is a good thing for Congress and a good thing for the country.

Don't get me wrong, Ben Nelson is a complete douchebag who in many ways was the worst Democrat in the Senate, and Bouie does list many of those ways.  He has hurt the Democrats time and time again.  But his replacement will be worse, and by retiring now he's all but assured that Republicans will easily win the seat.  It's a final dick move of epic proportions, and the only thing Nelson had going for him was the D after his name.

Now?  Enjoy your even worse Republican Senator, I guess.  Lemme know how that works out six years from now.

POTUS Plays The "You Mad, Bro?" Card

Republicans are preparing to go into full OUTRAGE MODE over the Obama Administration's request to the Treasury to raise the debt ceiling another $1.2 trillion.  The debt ceiling deal worked out earlier this year gives the Republicans a chance to pass a resolution of disapproval, but the President would have to sign the resolution after it somehow passed a Democratically-controlled Senate in order to stop the debt ceiling hike.  In other words, there's nothing the Republicans can really do other than complain loudly.

Except President Obama has outfoxed the elephants once again:  the GOP may not even get the chance to do that much, because they're on winter break until January 17.  Brian Beutler explains:

The key issue is the 15-day deadline Congress has to vote on a resolution of disapproval of the President’s request to raise the debt ceiling. The timing of the administration’s planned certification implies that the 15 days would be up before Congress returns in January from its holiday recess. Whether this was an accident or not, we’re told that the calendar issue created a behind-the-scenes mess — with Republicans threatening to return early from recess — and that the administration is trying to figure out a way to keep it from spilling out into the public.

I’ve reached out to the administration for further guidance on both questions. It’s still unclear whether this was a hardball political move, a dumb mistake, or just a misunderstanding — or what, if anything, can be done to avoid a public clash with the GOP over the timing.

The size of the debt hike -- easily getting the country through 2012 without having to bring it up during the election -- and the timing seems to indicate to me that A) this was done on purpose, B) it was done to pants the GOP, and C) most importantly the Obama administration understands full well that raising the debt ceiling was going to be portrayed by the GOP as an impeachable offense no matter what the President actually did about it.   So the White House is looking to get this out of the way.

Pretty sure this was the plan all along, and the GOP is now facing having to blow their vacation or miss their big chance at portraying the President as the most vile of all villains when of course previous Presidents jacked up the debt limit all the time, including Dubya's seven times and Reagan's 18 times.   Your move, Republicans.  You already lost that fight once.

You mad, bro?  If you ask me, President Obama's got them by the short hairs.  Again.

That's A Mighty Fine Blind Spot You Have There

They got thisclose to solving the problem and then they blew it.

Slate ran an article talking about the failure of school lunch programs.  It's not what you think.  Sure, money comes to mind but nope... they managed to find a way to make it work after encouragement and aid from the First Lady and a growing movement to teach kids healthy eating habits.  No, the problem is that the kids won't participate.  No surprise, they are bringing chips from lunch or refusing to eat the healthier food.

Here's the stupid part: they are getting away with it.

The complaints?  Stomach pains.  Headaches.  What-the-hell-ever-itis.  It's all bunk, and any mother worth a darn would call out those lies.  Or maybe they are true.  Stomach pain can occur when someone introduces fiber into their diet.  Headaches happen when blood sugar has been extraordinarily high and comes down (trust me, I know).

To give them credit, Slate calls out the "snotty-nosed brat" behavior.  They are ruthless when they explain that our little Snowflakes might just have to suck it up.  Research was done, the food was too watery or without enough flavor.  Study groups have isolated what kids hate, and much expense has been put into making the choices more attractive to kids.  Then, right when they were building towards the final solution, the grand finale as it were, they screwed up.  They called it a loss.  They proceeded with the false assumption that the kids hold the power.  Who could possibly back up these efforts and make them work?

Nobody mentioned the parents.  Why?  Why do we assume it's all up to the school and the kids to fight this battle?  Why aren't we enlisting the parents in the drive to have healthier kids?  You know, those guys who are actually legally responsible for the welfare of their kids.  Our kids have all the food they want but are not getting adequate nutrition, and the people with the most influence are not mentioned even once.  I find that strange and yet completely in line with everyday expectations.  Maybe we should teach our kids that when someone goes through a lot of effort and expense to do something nice, the least you can do is show reasonable appreciation.

Michelle Obama has her work cut out. I wish her the best of luck.

Cheesy Moon Theory Makes A Whole Lotta Sense

Now, two prominent scientists have published a paper suggesting that although we have an entire universe to seek out the proverbial alien needle in a haystack, perhaps looking in our own backyard would be a good place to start.

Paul Davies and Robert Wagner of Arizona State University have suggested a crowd-sourcing effort to find artificial structures on the moon. After all, lunar missions like NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter are returning some dazzling, high-resolution imagery of the moon's surface. If aliens have been there, perhaps we could spot evidence of their presence.

They raise perfectly logical points. The moon is close enough to be reached, evidence would be preserved because of the lack of atmosphere. If aliens decided to check us out, the moon would make an excellent place to play peek-a-boo. Unless they went through extraordinary lengths to cover their footprints something would remain.

It's intriguing, and I would happily donate processor time to lend a hand. As it sometimes happens, the logical starting place was right in front of us all along.

Iran, So Far Away, Part 3

With the US and western countries ready to hit Iran with oil export sanctions and Saudi Arabia and other OPEC allies ready to boost production to make up for Iranian shortfall, the Iranians aren't about to simply roll over, as they do have one major piece of leverage left:  oil tanker traffic in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran's threat to stop the flow of oil from the Gulf supported crude prices on Wednesday and put world shares on the back foot, while looming Italian debt auctions hampered the euro.

Tehran said on Tuesday it would stop oil transiting through the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions were imposed on its crude exports over its nuclear ambitions, a move that could conceivably trigger military conflict with economies dependent on Gulf oil.

Brent crude oil steadied above $109 a barrel after climbing more than a dollar in the previous session. Prices have surged over 5 percent since Dec. 16.

European shares dropped 0.4 percent and Asian stocks also slipped, pushing the MSCI world equity index down 0.25 percent on the day.

"The only way Iran would actually close Hormuz is when it is attacked and war breaks, but such a possibility appears low as no country would want to take the risk when growth worldwide was likely to slow down," said Naohiro Niimura, a partner at research and consulting firm Market Risk Advisory Co.

But he added the tensions would be a major source of volatility in 2012 along with the euro zone debt crisis. He expected Brent to trade between $105-$110 in 2012.

If all Iran has to do in order to force $110 a barrel oil is look crosseyed at the Strait of Hormuz, and can boost what exports it can make by jacking up prices through zero-cost saber-rattling, it seems like somebody hasn't quite thought these oil sanctions through all the way. You won't hear OPEC countries complaining too loudly either.  Iran doesn't have to actually do anything in order to keep oil in the triple digits for the foreseeable future.

I'm betting Iran thinks it can cause just as much economic damage to the US through higher oil prices than the US can cause to it through sanctions...and considering the sanctions may end up benefiting Iran in the long run if it can keep oil prices high and sell less oil for more money, it's the rest of the world that gets hurt through more expensive fuel.  Iran may actually come out ahead.

We'll see who wins.  It's the American consumer who stands a fair chance of being the loser, however.

Capitalism: Working As Intended

Chris Hayes mentioned this Steve Waldman post at Interfluidity on banking, capitalism, and the game theory behind why proper investment, the lifeblood of any capitalist system, requires good ol' fashioned lying to really work well:

Like so many good con-men, bankers make themselves believed by persuading each and every investor individually that, although someone might lose if stuff happens, it will be someone else. You’re in on the con. If something goes wrong, each and every investor is assured, there will be a bagholder, but it won’t be you. Bankers assure us of this in a bunch of different ways. First and foremost, they offer an ironclad, moneyback guarantee. You can have your money back any time you want, on demand. At the first hint of a problem, you’ll be able to get out. They tell that to everyone, without blushing at all. Second, they point to all the other people standing in front of you to take the hit if anything goes wrong. It will be the bank shareholders, or it will be the government, or bondholders, the “bank holding company”, the “stabilization fund”, whatever. There are so many deep pockets guaranteeing our bank! There will always be someone out there to take the loss. We’re not sure exactly who, but it will not be you! They tell this to everyone as well. Without blushing.

And instinctively, we understand that capitalism is a zero-sum game:  as Guy sang it in the theme from New Jack City, "Somebody's gotta win, somebody's gotta lose."   We get that.  We don't want to actually believe that, as Doug J and Charles Pierce remind us.  But we instinctively get that.

Waldman goes on to explain that the occasional Gilded Age/Depression is a feature of the system, not a bug.

This is the business of banking. Opacity is not something that can be reformed away, because it is essential to banks’ economic function of mobilizing the risk-bearing capacity of people who, if fully informed, wouldn’t bear the risk. Societies that lack opaque, faintly fraudulent, financial systems fail to develop and prosper. Insufficient economic risks are taken to sustain growth and development. You can have opacity and an industrial economy, or you can have transparency and herd goats.

A lamentable side effect of opacity, of course, is that it enables a great deal of theft by those placed at the center of the shell game. But surely that is a small price to pay for civilization itself. No?

In other words, the dynamic connection between "It takes money to make money" and "A fool and his money are soon parted" is the real engine of American growth.  When the winners are winning this much, you have to have a proportionally massive number of losers losing badly, that's what zero-sum game means.

The cynic in me agrees with Waldman.  The optimist in me remembers that eventually all systems break down completely and are replaced with other systems, and yes, that qualifies as "hopeful" in this situation.


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