Saturday, January 28, 2012

Last Call

AT&T is still acting like a spoiled brat over the failed T-Mobile merger.  They are still taking shots at the Department of Justice and FCC, and in general bringing about some bad press with their whining and moaning.  The truth is, they were stupid to put up the earnest money for the deal, and their display of (over)confidence backfired in a most ugly way.

So why are they insisting on making it worse?

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke of higher rates and more restrictions on data users.  The FCC did its job, and protected the market.  AT&T got caught being shady a couple of times, and it cost them dearly.  The failure was not the FCC's fault.  And it sure as hell isn't the fault of the customers, who pay for a service and expect to receive what they pay for.  Stephenson pretty much said tough luck to the customers, they are going to foot the bill for the failed deal.  As contracts expire, T-Mobile may come out a winner after all.  When AT&T starts putting the squeeze on aggravated customers, the more affordable T-Mobile will attract many customers.  Sprint will win over the power users who can't bear throttling.

Like many industry dinosaurs, AT&T may be taking themselves a bit too seriously.  With competition ready to snap up customers, they are doing little to improve their service.  In fact, they're pissing people off in large numbers.

A Texas-Sized Surrender

Now this is very good news if it plays out the way The Hill seems to think it will:  Texas Republicans are basically looking to settle their redistricting case with the DoJ, which would have to include approval by the minority representation groups that are the plaintiffs, that would give the state a number of new districts that would be won by Dems.

“They’re backed up against the wall and have to come to some agreement and it’ll be awfully favorable on our end,” said one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Another plaintiff agreed.  “It’s clear they know they’re in a vulnerable position and that’s why they want to settle,” he said.
Any settlement would need to get the multiple minority group plaintiffs on board, and would create more majority-Hispanic and majority-African American congressional districts. Two of the plaintiffs predicted that an agreement will be reached early next week.

That's pretty much a massive capitulation by Republicans in the state, who purposely drew the four new districts in the state legislature to favor Republicans precisely by splitting Latino and African-American neighborhoods across district lines and using pencil thin lines to connect them to overwhelmingly red districts, assuring that at least three of the four new districts would be safe GOP seats for the next decade

But the DoJ gets ultimate veto power over this sort of thing for states like Texas, and that decision by a three-judge panel is expected soon.  Texas Republicans are apparently so terrified of this that (especially after the Supreme Court punted the map back to Texas to work it out as a state issue) they are begging for a settlement before the DoJ takes them out back with a two by four and a grim expression.

If the state of Texas and the plaintiffs in the case reach an agreement it would solve a drawn out process with two separate lower court battles and a Supreme Court opinion already on the books.
Texas is gaining four seats in Congress and will have 36 total House seats next election.  Most of the state’s population growth has come from African Americans and Hispanics, but the Republican state legislators who drew the maps gave the groups few new opportunities in the state. 
Any agreement would lead to a minimum of 13 Democratic-leaning seats, and possibly a fourteenth seat depending on how the districts in Fort Worth are drawn.
With conservative former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) running for a Galveston-area seat, Democrats could win as many as 14 or 15 seats in the state, up from the nine seats they currently hold. Republicans would hold 21 or 22 seats, down from the 23 they currently have.

Dems picking up 5 to 6 House seats in Texas would go a long, long way towards regaining the House in 2012.  Republicans know this and they're looking to settle anyway, which shows you just how bad they think their position is in respect to the three-judge pre-clearance panel.

On the other hand, the districts that Texas is gaining is coming at the expense of states like Ohio and New York, and ultimately one of the reasons that I think the GOP is looking to take the settlement here is that they know redistricting Dem districts out of existence in other states they control like Missouri and Louisiana (and in Ohio especially) will make Texas into a wash at best for the Donks, especially given that GOP-controlled SC and Georgia are getting a new district and Florida two.  They were going for all the marbles in the redistricting pile, and they'll have to settle for merely half as a losing proposition, which was the point of the entire exercise given the level of state control handed to the GOP in 2010.

And once again we come back to the fact that voters picked a really awful time to give the Republicans more power by deciding President Obama and the Dems hadn't moved fast enough in Operation Ponycorn With Sprinkles.  The repercussions of that nonsense will be felt for, well, a decade.

War On Privacy: Where We Stand

Don't get me wrong  the CNN piece you can find here does a great job of covering privacy concerns.  It's well written and square on all counts.

But not to toot our own horn or anything, we've covered 99% of it right here already on Zandar VTS.

We are losing our rights to electronic privacy.  Ambiguous laws and fear tactics have cost us many levels of privacy.  There is a pressure on some services to comply, such as phone companies and Internet providers.  Well, there was right up until they were absolved of all repercussions for complying with a government order.  Now they have no fear of customer reaction, if those customers are even notified.  Right now, we are in danger from our own government thanks to the Patriot Act.  We can be snooped without a warrant, and our correspondence is monitored without or knowledge.

Most of what we do know is thanks to whistle-blowers, activists, academics and a few committed journalists. In 2004, Mark Klein, a technician who had just retired from AT&T, disclosed that in 2003 the National Security Agency built a secret room at the San Francisco facility where he worked, routing all e-mail and phone traffic through it.

Another whistle-blower, Justice Department attorney Thomas Tamm, confirmed that similar interception points were set up around the country to gather and analyze the e-mails and phone calls of Americans who were not suspected of any crime.

While the federal government is required by law to document publicly its wiretapping of phone lines, it is not required to do so with Internet communications. Over 50,000 National Security Letters, a kind of administrative demand letter requiring no probable cause or judicial oversight, are issued each year. Yet we know few details. Companies complying with these secret letters were barred from even informing customers about them until 2009 when Nick Merrill, an entrepreneur who ran a small New York-based Internet service company, successfully enlisted the help of the ACLU in challenging a blanket gag provision of the Patriot Act.

Please read the rest of this article. There is so much information here that we can't afford to forget. My prayer is that Obama made a good choice to put off some battles until his second term, when he can right some serious wrongs (like the Patriot Act).

One final portrait of why Google users should be concerned.  Google can't be held accountable if the government decided to snoop your email.  But it doesn't stop there.  Now they can see your text messages and call logs if you use Google Voice.  Your work can be checked if you use Google Docs. Your pictures through Google+ and Picasa.  Your GPS location if you use Google Maps or Latitude.  Your website information and hidden content can be viewed, including past versions, if you use Google Sites.  Your shopping habits, books you're reading, searches you are running, blogs you are writing, instant messaging and social activities can all be monitored through common Google services.  You can't opt out of this, and once that precedent is set it will fall rapidly across other service providers.  You still don't have to be alerted to the fact, and you can't even be pissed about it until you can prove you were snooped, which you can't.

Well, played, old chap.  Well played.

Don't you move mother f*****, I will shoot you!

A criminal on the run took a shortcut through Karen Granville's yard.  And he is very, very sorry he did that.

The 64-year-old woman loves John Wayne and has a permit to carry a concealed weapon.  The criminal was surprised to find himself looking down the barrel of her gun while she barked, "Don't you move, motherfucker!  I will shoot you!  I will shoot you where you stand!"  As the criminal moved and wiggled, she held the trigger steady and detained him until the police caught up with him.

This week has taught me a whole new respect for grandmas.  Thank you ladies, for keeping us safe.

Jim Pethokoukis And The Temple Of Doom

Having been booted from both US News and World Report and Reuters, my favorite econ blogger punching bag Jim Pethokoukis has given up any pretense of being balanced and credible and is now working directly for the right-wing Death Star of financial think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute.  And as usual, he's heralding the end of the Obama presidency.

In his State of the Union response the other night, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels neatly summed up Mitt Romney’s (who has a roughly 90 percent chance of being the GOP nominee according to Intrade) economic case against President Barack Obama: “The president did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight, but he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse.”

In other words, the Obama Recovery stinks. Even if today’s GDP report—for the fourth quarter of 2011—shows 3 percent growth or better, it would be just the fourth time that has happened since the economy began turning up in June 2009: 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, 3.9 percent in the first quarter of 2010, and 3.8 percent in the second quarter of 2010. But no 3 percent-plus quarters since then.

The first nine quarters of the Reagan Recovery, by contrast, looked like this:  5.1 percent, 9.3 percent, 8.1 percent, 8.5 percent, 8.0 percent, 7.1 percent, 3.9 percent, 3.3 percent, 3.8, percent, 3.4 percent. In fact, the Reagan Boom went from the first quarter of 1983 until the second quarter of 1986 without notching a sub-3 percent GDP quarter.

Fourth quarter numbers came in Friday at 2.8% growth.  But here's what we weren't doing during the Reagan years:  fighting two wars in the Middle East, keeping the top marginal tax rate at 35%, paying a trillion-dollar plus prescription drug benefit to Big Pharma, and paying a multi-trillion dollar bailout to banks in the US and around the world.  Considering what this President has inherited, the fact that we're still even having positive GDP growth is astounding.

Meanwhile Republicans want to cut, cut, cut federal spending.  Looking at what austerity cuts have done to Spain's unemployment rate -- now at a staggering 22.9% -- does anyone actually think Republicans will follow through on such a plan knowing full well what it will do to the economy here and the politics it means?

Then again, that explains all the laws disenfranchising poor voters, doesn't it?

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

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