Friday, January 13, 2012

Last Call

It's good to know that if John Stossel ever loses his job at FOX News, he can get a gig down at the irony factory.

"I’m not saying we should have a test or something. But this endless cheerleading — let’s go to the rock concerts and register the kids. And the kids aren’t paying attention. And it’s important in a democracy, it’s important to vote. And these are important issues. The people who participate ought to be the ones who pay attention…I’m just saying we shouldn’t have these “Get Out The Vote” campaigns and make these statements: “Everyone has to vote. It’s your patriotic duty!” Well if you’re not paying attention, I think it’s your patriotic duty not to vote."

This is the point where you say "Hey Zandar, aren't regular FOX News watchers the least informed and least aware among audiences of news networks?"  And I of course reply that you would be correct, and that it's interesting that John Stossel would bring that very subject up when it comes to the damage that low-information voters can cause in a democratic electorate.

Sadly, that damage has already been done...and will continue to be done t our political system for years to come.  If Stossel was serious about stopping this kind of damage, he'd convince people to get their information from basically an other source than FOX itself.

Standard And Poor's European Vacation

It's a European vacation alright, as in nine European countries had to vacate their credit ratings as S&P downgraded the lot of them.  The big loser:  France, losing its AAA rating by one notch to AA+, and Italy and Spain taking two steps down the road to austerity oblivion as the plan to save Greece is starting to fall apart.

"Today's rating actions are primarily driven by our assessment that the policy initiatives that have been taken by European policymakers in recent weeks may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the eurozone," the U.S.-based ratings agency said in a statement.

In a potentially more ominous setback, negotiations on a debt swap by private creditors seen as crucial to avert a Greek default that would rock Europe and the world economy broke up without agreement in Athens, although officials said more talks are likely next week.

If Greece cannot persuade banks and insurers to accept voluntary losses on their bond holdings, a second international rescue package for the euro zone's most heavily indebted state will unravel, raising the prospect of bankruptcy in late March, when it has to redeem 14.4 billion euros in maturing debt.

S&P cut the ratings of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus by two notches and the standings of France, Austria, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia by one notch each.

The move puts highly indebted Italy on the same BBB+ level as Kazakhstan and pushes Portugal into junk status.

It put 14 euro zone states on negative outlook for a possible further downgrade, including France, Austria, and still triple-A rated Finland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Germany was the only country to emerge totally unscathed with its triple-A rating and a stable outlook.

A couple of observations:

1)  Forget France.  Germany is now basically solely in charge of the EU's financial picture, whereas the two countries were partners before.  No longer.  What Merkel says, goes.  It was unofficial before.  It's official now.

2)  Portugal's junk status is bad news for the entire eurozone, but that was coming anyway.  Steep austerity measures did not save Portugal's economy from the landfill.  In fact, it didn't save any of the EU countries from downgrade, even though they all instituted serious spending cuts.  We were told austerity was necessary to prevent further deterioration of these economies.  Guess what?  It made things worse. Italy and Spain are now hanging by a thread.  Not pretty.

3)  Greece?  Greece is now officially in the "Oh crap" stage.  If the talks between Greece and its creditors fail before the deadline of its next bailout payment, the game's over.  Greece is in serious trouble at this point, and the writing's on the wall.  It's going to have to take an ugly deal...and so will its creditors.  Soon.

4)  S&P goes on to say there's a 40% chance of a recession in Europe in 2012.  I put it higher than that, maybe 75%, personally.  The austerity is failing miserably.  Who will bail Europe out?

It's going to get a lot worse over there.

Cold Bitter Tea

Over at TPM, Evan McMorris-Santoro asks a valid question:  if Mitt Romney wins South Carolina and Florida and effectively wraps up the nomination before Groundhog Day, what does that mean for the Tea Party's power?

South Carolina’s primary isn’t just the presumed last stand for the candidates who hope to stop Mitt Romney. It could also be the last stand for the Tea Party movement that was created to stop a candidate like Mitt Romney from ever getting the nomination in the first place.

A week out from votes being cast, the Tea Party shows no signs of coming together to stop Romney, who after all is the very architect of the type of health care law that helped bring tens of thousands out in protest in 2009.

Like they were in Iowa, Tea Partiers here are split among the several candidates vying for the title of anti-Romney and that means Romney has a path to victory right around them. And if the Tea Party fails to stop Romney, it will prove that the movement has failed to convert its electoral power in any real way beyond electing the 112th Congress (aka, The 9%). 

The Tea Party's problem is they agree on two things:  President Obama must lose, and the man to beat him can't be Mitt Romney.  But that's all they agree on, and that's not enough to stop Mitt from winning primaries with 28-40% of the vote.   If they can't stop Mitt Romney, they're done.  And they know it.  GOP social conservative leaders are meeting in Texas this weekend to hash out who will be the Anti-Romney.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and chief spokesman for the gathering, said he is unsure if the meeting will produce "unanimous agreement" behind a single candidate. But he said it could foster a "growing consensus" as the leaders air out their differing views on Romney and opposing candidates.

Another participant, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a confidentiality pledge, told McClatchy Newspapers that the conservatives are likely to hold additional meetings before trying to choose a consensus candidate in an attempt to block Romney from the nomination.

Conservative heavyweights hosting or invited to the event include James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the Liberty Institute; Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association; and Gary Bauer, president of American Values.

"This coming election could prove to be the most critical of our lifetime," reads the invitation. "Conservatives of faith need to attempt to reach a consensus on which Republican presidential candidate or candidates we can support, in order to be most effective."

David Barton, president and founder of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization based in Aledo, Texas, said the hunt for a consensus may be difficult since many of the participants are torn between candidates. "It's split all over," said Barton, who said he was invited but probably will be unable to attend.

And if the leaders of the far right can't even get their act together long enough to get on the same page, then Mitt Romney and his billions in Bain baggage are going to have a really, really hard time winning in November.

The funny part is anyone these Tea Party folks pick?  They'll fare even worse against the President.  Either way, the Tea Party is about to find out just how little power they have.

Read more here:

A Case For Computer Literacy

(CNN) -- This week, New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg tweeted his intent to learn computer code by the end of the year. He joined about 300,000 other people who have signed up at CodeYear to receive free interactive programming lessons each week from the Codecademy, a web-based tutorial. I am greatly relieved.

It's time Americans begin treating computer code the way we do the alphabet or arithmetic. Code is the stuff that makes computer programs work -- the list of commands that tells a word processor, a website, a video game, or an airplane navigation system what to do. That's all software is: lines of code, written by people.

We are socializing, working, consuming, and living in a world increasingly defined by programs. Learning to code is the best way to understand what all those programs do, or even to recognize that they are there in the first place.

There is a perfectly logical argument for why we must start including computer literacy in programs targeting both young and old. This is not a phase, it is the new language that will govern our financial, personal and professional lives. My computer skills are self-taught, and thanks to some patient geeky friends I have grown into a geeky and talented woman. Yet I joined Codecademy so I can see how it works, and prepare my newbie friends for their introduction to computer programming. Much like reading, it will be required to function in everyday life. Embrace it or prepare for a lifetime of ignorance.

Entertainment Stupidity: The Sick, The Quick & The Dick

The Sick:
Heather Locklear was taken to the hospital after a 911 call.  Her sister reportedly called, and pills and alcohol have been mentioned as the cause.  At this time nothing is absolutely confirmed, but TMZ and People have been updating their sites regularly.  Locklear has had a shaky last several years, most recently having broken off her engagement to former co-star Jack Wagner.

The Quick:
Katy Perry's dad was quick to apologize for a comment he made about Jews, saying he didn't mean to offend anyone.  While preaching (for once not about his daughter) he made the comment that followers could enjoy so many blessings they could make Jews jealous.  "I apologize for for the hurt that I caused my Jewish friends," he said.  Except uh... I don't imagine that he has any.

The Dick:
A man in the front row interrupted the New York Philharmonic when his cell  phone rang.  For minutes.  It rang so long the conductor was concerned it was an alarm and stopped the music.  And the dick didn't even pull it from his pocket to silence it.  A few other people yelled at him, but his caller eventually gave up and the show went on, as it must.  The conductor asked if he was finished, but when the man gave no response whatsoever, he told him they would wait, and put down his baton.  Dick with a capital DICK.

Long Train Runnin' (Off The Tracks)

California's high-speed rail project is getting derailed by the abrupt resignation of the head of the state's agency in charge of the transportation upgrade.  The Sacramento Bee reports:

Roelof van Ark, chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, announced this afternoon that he is quitting, the latest setback for the state's beleaguered campaign to build a nearly $100 billion rail network in California.

His resignation, announced at a board meeting in Los Angeles and effective in two months, comes at a critical point for the project, with rail officials bidding for Legislative approval to start construction in the Central Valley this fall. Public opinion about the project has fallen sharply, according to a recent Field Poll, and the Legislature is highly skeptical.

Minutes after van Ark's announcement, Tom Umberg announced that he is stepping down as chairman of the rail board, though he will remain a member of the board. Umberg is to be replaced next month by Dan Richard, an adviser Gov. Jerry Brown appointed to the board last year.

Brown, a Democrat, became a vocal supporter of the project last year and appointed two advisers, Richard and Mike Rossi, to the rail board. This month, Brown proposed folding the authority into a new state agency, the Transportation Agency, a measure rail officials support.

Van Ark was hired in 2010 and oversaw the authority's creation of an updated business plan that raised the estimated cost of the project to almost $100 billion over 20 years. Lawmakers said the plan was more credible than before, but many lawmakers remain critical of the project's management and cost.

Things are looking increasingly unstable both politically and financially for the high-speed rail project, and nobody in Washington is going to come to the rescue anytime soon (and certainly not during an election year.)  Not sure how much help Gov. Jerry Brown is going to be either. We'll see if this slows things down to a crawl on this project, but eventually California Republicans are going to get to the point where they can pull the plug on the entire effort.

And it will be a crying shame when that happens.

Read more here:

Like A Tornado In January

Despite the pithy saying indicating a nasty unexpected event, the thing is these days you actually get tornadoes in January, and this one touched down not too far from my hometown.

Dozens of western North Carolina homes were damaged, including 16 destroyed, in a tornado and storms that also injured 15 persons, authorities said Thursday.

In Rutherford County, a tornado Wednesday left 10 persons injured and a dozen homes damaged, officials said.

The extent of injuries were not immediately known, authorities said.

The National Weather Service on Thursday confirmed that Wednesday night's storm in Rutherford County was a tornado classified on the Enhanced Fujita scale as an EF-2, with estimated maximum wind speed of 115 mph.

Tornadoes are rare enough on the backside of the lower Appalachians like that, but we do get them out that way.  I've been through Rutherford County plenty of times, and it's just staggering to think about what it's like to get hit by a tornado in the middle of what passes for winter in western NC: drizzle, fog, and 45 degrees outside for basically the entirety of New Year's Day to Valentine's Day, with the occasional power line-eating ice storm the one week it decides to be 25 instead.

But tornadoes?  In January?  Doesn't happen.  Or used to not happen, anyway.  Parents are okay, but they know people who took damage from the storms.

It's getting weird out there.  And hey, you never know.


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