Friday, April 02, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Of course, yesterday was April Fools Day. And Google pulled one of its better pranks.

2) An expansion to 96 teams??? It's hard enough filling a bracket out now!

3) The best car in the world, as selected by the jury of the New York Auto Show. And you can't buy it in the US.

4) The March jobs report is coming out this morning. Projections call for a growth in jobs. Perhaps November won't be the Democratic bloodbath people were worried about after all.

5) Obama sure seems to think so. I like a man who can hand out sarcasm with a smile.

6) And if you need further proof...

7) The Teabaggers are running out of steam.

8) Why is your Internet access so s-l-o-w? Hey, blame the not-free market! It's funny how so many right-wingers grouse about socialism and how the free market solves all problems, but then fail to make the connection that, in the United States, there is no free market, so we may as well have socialism.

9) His name alone should have been a clue.

10) Thank you, Jesus.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Explosive boobs

Hm, I didn't think Swedes needed breast implants...

For Your April Fool's Celebrations

Oh. Wait. That's a true story!

And They Call Liberals "Slackers"...

...but it turns out the uberpatriot right-wing Teabaggers are the ones who seem to have lots of time on their hands.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When Tom Grimes lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago, he called his congressman, a Democrat, for help getting government health care.

Then he found a new full-time occupation: Tea Party activist. [...]

Mr. Grimes is one of many Tea Party members jolted into action by economic distress. At rallies, gatherings and training sessions in recent months, activists often tell a similar story in interviews: they had lost their jobs, or perhaps watched their homes plummet in value, and they found common cause in the Tea Party’s fight for lower taxes and smaller government.

Um, you'll notice some of the rather intriguing notes here: lost his job in January, 2009, based on the Bush failures in financial oversight; called his Democratic congressman to get Medicare; turns traitor on the same government when things don't work out so well for him, along with millions of other people who have had problems finding a job and paying for medical care, but who DON'T act treasonously.

PS Grimes receives Social Security now. But hey, Big Government is the problem, not the solution!

In the 1930s and '40s, people appropriately looked to the government for a hand out and a hand up. This is as it should be. Government should be the last thing between a citizen and starvation or death. End of discussion. For all its wonder, the free market is notoriously brutal when it comes to the individual. Agglomerations of money and power create pockets of inequity, and it is into these pockets of inequity that people fit rather nicely.

I'll get back to that in a minute, but I wanted to share something else from the article: the hatred of right-wing media and how its influenced this yahoos:

“Even if I wanted to stop, I just can’t,” said Diana Reimer, 67, who has become a star of the effort by FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, to fight the health care overhaul. “I’m on a mission, and time is not on my side.”

A year ago, Ms. Reimer’s husband had been given a choice — retire or be fired. The couple had been trying to sell their split-level home in suburban Philadelphia to pay off some debt and move to a small place in the city.

But real estate agents told them the home would sell for about $40,000 less than they paid 19 years ago — not enough to pay off their mortgage.

Then Ms. Reimer saw a story about the Tea Party on television. “I said, ‘That’s it,’ ” she recalled. “How can you get this frustration out, have your voices heard?”

She liked that the Tea Party was patriotic, too. “They said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem,” she said.

Right. It's true saying the Pledge of Allegiance is free and so is singing the same damned song they sing before wrestling matches and demolition derbies.

Both of which demean a national anthem, I should add. But think about it: she's in the most dire, desperate straits she can imagine, about to lose her home, her husband's out of work (and presumably now collecting Social Security, as is Ms Reimer), and the best she can do is...turn to a bunch of angry old people?

That hardly seems to be a rational decision to make. I can understand it, though. You work and struggle all your life to put together a family and maybe a little nest egg for retirement, and you figure you can sell your house when the time is right and you'll make back your investment plus a little extra.

The American dream. And it all collapses under the weight of the same free market that enticed you in with the promise of, well, living the American dream. Anger is understandable, and if you're an idiot, you blame the people who are trying to help cushion the blows at the expense of perhaps not living as volatile an existence as you have. You feel entitled to more, and rather than blame the people who have taken it all away from you, you blame the people who tried to help you keep it.

Which brings me back around to the other point I want to make here: this is neither the first, the worst, or the last banking-based crisis we will experience in America.

Free Speech TV is showing an incredible documentary this month called Life On The Edge Of A Bubble, which posits that the economic cycle is designed to create bubbles and bursts cyclically every twenty years or so, and there is nothing in the current system that will stop it. From the 1700s forward, the program traces the various market expansions and contractions, with particular emphasis on the United States since 1776 (you can watch part 1 here. It's twenty minutes well spent.)

Look, the Reimers and Mr. Grimes are not unique. Even the most intelligent people in history have gotten caught up in speculative bubbles. For example, Isaac Newton invested 7000 pounds in the South Sea Bubble, doubling his money, and then plowed the entire sum back in, only to lose all of it plus an additional 20,000 pounds.

Historically speaking the South Sea Trading bubble is probably the closest analogy to our current situation: Too big to fail, it went on a buying spree, snapping up national debts with the promise of 6% return. It then "collateralized" this debt by taking itself public and selling shares on the open market. It was "can't miss" investing, except, well, it missed.

There's a sucker born every minute, and someone pops up to bleed them dry. I won't get into the gruesome details (these folks do). Suffice it to say that, if one of the three brightest men in history could be had, then anyone can be had.

It was a Ponzi scheme that would have made Bernie Madoff lick his lips. It started with good intentions, saving England, and ended destroying a generation.

Just like the current mortgage schemes. Human history is rife with stories of greed and stupidity, and the one factor the markets cannot work out in their derivatives and calculus is stupidity and greed.

Indeed, with the advent of computing power, markets are designed to feed off those emotions, which create inefficiencies that programmers can spot and exploit. Expect these market busts to come more and more frequently.

And expect more and more heartbreaking stories like the Reimers and the Grimes. Our job as liberals is to educate these people to the real enemy.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Sop To The Right

I'm sure there will be much panty-twisting among my fellow lefties over this, but I can't say I blame Obama much:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.

Under the plan, the coastline from New Jersey northward would remain closed to all oil and gas activity. So would the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border.

The environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected and no drilling would be allowed under the plan, officials said. But large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska — nearly 130 million acres — would be eligible for exploration and drilling after extensive studies.

OK, sounds double-unplus good for the environmental wing of the nation. After all, we're opening up pristine areas to exploration for a dirty disgusting resource that's caused nothing but trouble for the nation, once you factor out the incredible benefit our economy has gotten.

Map those leases out against population densities, and you can see that Obama has, for the most part, avoided large urban areas, and centered the exploration off-shore from some of the richest (read: Republican) communities in the nation, as well as some of the most sparsely populated areas.

Why is he doing this, and particularly, why now? Well, it looks like Wall Street is getting its revenge for the recent scoldings its endured. Not satisfied with a slap on the wrist and the threat of more oversight, Wall Street has settled Obama and his administration dead in their sites to try to topple the US government and replace it with a more business-friendly one.

OPEC countries also are convening in Mexico this week to map out a strategy for keeping prices from rising higher.

But officials may face an even bigger problem: The recent rise in prices seems to be driven by Wall Street investors — not market supply and demand.

Hm. Not fun. Of course, the cover story is that Wall Street is betting on a robust recovery, but in truth, the betting could conceivably derail that recovery, something the "smart money" has to know going in. Here's the kicker: part of this is due to the wildly successful "Cash For Clunkers" program of 2009.

After peaking at nearly 9.8 million barrels a day in August 2007, demand for gasoline has fallen steadily to a low of 8.5 million barrels day in February 2010 — a drop of 13 percent. But in the past 12 months, pump prices have increased more than 50 percent and oil prices have more than doubled.

“People are using oil as a store of value rather than as a commodity,” Beutel said. “It’s the investors who are buying.”

More oil has been available, which normally would drive prices down, but because speculators are soaking up the excess supply, prices have remained firm and begun to creep upwards. Stocks and bonds have been risky investments this past year while oil has tanked, it's a commodity that would be among the first to recover once the economy begins to tick upward, which it is showing all kinds of signs of happening now. Couple that with the dollar's volatility (oil prices are pegged to the dollar) and you can see why people would invest in oil to hedge against market fluctuations and internationalize their investments without risking money in any particular market or sector.

Oil can travel anywhere.

One possible solution, besides the showcase of drilling for more domestic oil, is to levy a surcharge tax on oil and gasoline, especially now that the heating season is ending. The tax would burden the investors primarily, but would of course harm drivers. But driving is usually a matter of choice (despite the inevitable cry of "it's my livelihood!" it usually isn't), and forcing drivers to make tough choices might do the trick of forcing the speculation to stop.

Remember, it's been speculation in housing that's caused the current economic mess we're in now, so we can see that speculation is never a good thing when it comes to marcoeconomic issues.

The other issue, and perhaps the bigger issue for Obama's administration, is the "sop" factor I mentioned in the title. It's going to be hard for the Republicans to paint Obama as a socialist (and the Democrats as a whole) and antibusiness if Obama is practically giving the natural resources that even George W Bush would not give to Big Oil.

I expect to see other givebacks to the economic conservatives (the social conservatives got a plum in the executive order with respexct to federal funding of abortions) since at this point, money is going to trump polling, and by nodding in the direction of the corporatists, Obama establishes that the rest of this first term will be about pushing the nation towards economic recovery.

Make no mistake: the healthcare victory was a big one, but perhaps the last real victory the liberal wing of the nation will see before 2013.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Party Of "Whoa!"

Well, well, well...I suppose the only encouraging thing that can be said about this is that it's not money spent on little boys:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is in the hot seat after reports of a spending spree on the organization's payroll, including a controversial fundraiser at a Hollywood strip club.

It's the sort of lavish spending that sounds as though it would have taken place in better economic times -- $17,000 for private jet travel, $13,000 for limousines and car services and $9,000 for a trip to the Beverly Hills hotel.

But what the RNC is probably taking criticism for the most is a nearly $2,000 fundraiser on RNC's dime at Voyeur West Hollywood, a risque nightclub in Los Angeles. The expenses were not racked up by Steele but by staffer Erik Brown in the name of entertaining young Republicans. The strip joint is modeled on the 1999 movie "Eyes Wide Shut" and includes women acting out voyeuristic scenes in live art installations. Brown, a Republican operative and president of California-based Dynamic Marketing Inc., said he would reimburse the RNC for the $1,946.25 bill he racked up.

Nothing like starting the young'uns out early, eh? Soon, they'll graduate to the hard stuff: men's rest rooms in Minneapolis airports or Florida parks, diapers, and long walks in the forests  of Argentina.

Steele claims he had no prior knowledge of the, pardon the Voyeur. I tend to believe him. After all, you get a young aide who is suddenly flush with power and status who probably bragged to his friends the fun they could have on the party dime and didn't check with the boss because, you know, Republicans don't have to check with authority figures: they're all about being the exception to the rules.
Here's the curious bit, however. Brown didn't use RNC funds for the evening. He put, again, pardon the pun...of his own pocket and was reimbursed by the RNC, and THEN the shit hit the fan, meaning that someone in the finance office had to review the sheet and OK the reimbursement.
Which makes the RNC statement all the more bizarre:

Steele "had no knowledge of the expenditure, nor does he find the use of committee funds at such a location acceptable," RNC's communications director Doug Heye said in a statement Monday. "Upon finding out of the expenditure this morning, Chairman Steele demanded the committee get to the bottom of this matter immediately."

"The committee has taken appropriate steps to address the issues relating to the reimbursement of certain expenses," Heye added. "It is unfortunate that a loyal GOP donor who has recruited other donors became involved in this incident while merely trying to help what turned out to be the improper request of a staffer who is no longer with the committee."

The expense report was filed with the FEC as part of their monthly accountability to the Commission, and it was only after that group released the report to the general public and the expense highlighted in Blogtopia (© Skippy) that the expenditure was "noticed" by the RNC and action taken. This comes at the tail end of many reports critical of Steele's spending habits, which has seen the RNC's bank account dwindle from $22 million to $10 million, despite raising over $95 million since Barack Obama took office in 2009, which is a record for fundraising by either party.

Please. Teabaggers. Don't make this party fold its tents. It's too good a source of comedy!


Monday, March 29, 2010

Terror Is As Terror Does

By number of passengers carried, Moscow has by far the largest subway system in the world.
This automatically makes it a target for terrorism, just as surely as the London Underground, the largest in terms of mileage covered, was a target on 7/7/05 and remains one today.
In both of these instances, the Moscow attacks today and the London attacks five years ago, it was domestic-grown terrorists that killed civilians.
So how far are we from a domestic Teabagger attack on the New York City subway?
Not as far as we would like to think, I'm afraid. Morons like Laura Ingraham will excuse the inexucsable by saying "The Left did it first!", pointing to the WTO protests-- conveniently forgetting that the first of those protests took place under a President she considers a leftist, Bill Clinton, which makes them not a left wing plot, by definition--  and at plots to assassinate President George W Bush, none of which were actively egged on by national political leaders so closely identified with a major political party as Sarah Palin's encouragements to the Teabaggers.
Indeed, Ingraham conveniently ignores the hundreds of credible assassination attempts and threats on President Clinton's life, thwarted by the Secret Service, placing her minions beside Al Qaeda in their hatred of America. But I digress...
Two wrongs don't make a right, Laura, but your two wrong facts make you a blithering idiot. So is your entire wing of a Republican party that is doomed to disaster in fairly short order, led to the grave by a quitter, Sarah Palin.
In short, to sum my opinion up today, we are looking at a group of people which feels it has a grudge as large as the "Black Widows of Chechen," even tho no one died when healthcare reform was passed, and who have the means and the opportunity to carry out their threats.
How serious is this? Apparently, the FBI is already rolling up militia groups and those affiliated with them. Frightening thought, that, an armed church militia preparing to do battle with the AntiChrist, someone identified by 24% of Republicans (presumably a significant portion of those, Teabaggers) as President Obama himself.
One wonders where these groups were during the Bush administration, as they espouse "freedom", a value deemed so irrelevant by that President and his cronies.
Still, one of the most peaceful, giving people I know, a doctor who works exclusively with poor children and incarcerated prisoners, has spoken openly of getting guns for herself and her daughter in response to the rising level of physical threats engendered exclusively by folks on the right.
I pity anyone who goes up against this doctor. She has steady hands. She has to.