Friday, July 26, 2013
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Altho it’s hard to find good news in this:
In a 205-217 vote, lawmakers rejected an effort to restrict the National Security Agency's (NSA) ability to collect electronic information.
The NSA's chief had lobbied strongly against the proposed measure.
The vote saw an unusual coalition of conservatives and liberal Democrats join forces against the programme.
I’m going to try.
Yes, the measure was defeated, but look at that vote total: if only six votes had swung the other way, this bill passes – and probably dies a slow painful death in the Senate. But for once, we could have been proud of the House.
Second, a coalition of ideologues from both wings of the nation – liberal and conservative – banded together. We finally found something to agree upon.
Given Congress’s abysmal ratings – HIV probably polls higher – the fact the House could get anything done is to be commended, which is a little like clapping for your tyke when he hits the toilet while sitting down.
But even in this good news lies a dark, nasty secret: this bill, supposedly advanced by a “renegade” conservative Republican…and really, how conservative do you have to be for Boehner to turn his back on you?...had some surprisingly establishment assistance:
Boehner opposes the NSA amendment. Leadership doesn’t care much for Justin Amash. But they were listening to complaints from a broad swath of Republicans who wanted to vote against the spying program, exposed by former security contractor Edward Snowden.
And even after GOP leadership privately determined Amash’s threats were likely empty — that he didn’t have the votes to keep the Defense appropriations bill from coming to the floor — top aides to Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) staff spent the week holding Amash’s hand, helping him turn an unworkable amendment into language that would effectively quash one of the spy agency’s most effective tools.
“Amash was out there acting like he was fighting against the leadership trying to shut us down,” one Republican involved said. “The reality is [leadership was] twisting ourselves in knots for a week trying to craft language that was germane and got at the issue.”
Oh. So it wasn’t that he was too radical for them, he was too big an iliterate douchebag nutcase. Got it now.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
But Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican leading the House effort to save the postal service, wants more. He has made doing away with doorstep delivery a key part of his bill, which would require everyone to get mail at a curbside box or from a cluster box.
"A balanced approach to saving the Postal Service means allowing USPS to adapt to America's changing use of mail," said Issa, who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Moving away from door-to-door delivery saves a lot of money. Right now, 35 million residences and businesses get mail delivered to their doorstep.
It costs $353 per stop for a delivery in most American cities, taking into account such things as salaries and cost of transport. By contrast, curbside mail box delivery costs $224, while cluster boxes cost $160, according to a report from the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General.
Issa has been called a “pathological liar”, so it will come as no surprise when he goes all Nathan Thurm on this story as the backlash builds when he’s reminded that the USPS is the only government agency – hell, the only entity of any kind in the history of the nation – which has to fully fund in cash its pension obligations, and if we allowed them to do what every other frikkin’ entity uses, the USPS would be profitable: "I know that! You don't think I know that?"
He’d rather see the American people inconvenienced and their mail put in jeopardy: stolen checks, lost bills, important documents misplaced, than pony up and fix the real problem for the average American’s benefit. Issa moron. Nuff said.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Look, when even the judge gets pissed off at you, you probably ought to just eat your losses:
Even the federal judge hearing the case scolded lawyers for the wine owners for their level of urgency. “There were thousands of victims of Hurricane Sandy,” he said, “most of which suffered a great deal more than your clients have.”
A curious little item in Time Magazine this issue:
If you are in any doubt about how little has changed on Wall Street since 2008, check out yesterday’s front page New York Times story about how banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley profited wildly by hoarding and slowing the supply of various commodity metals like aluminum, driving up prices on the global market in the process. It was a truly ingenious profit-making scheme, involving sophisticated arbitrage of complex global regulations, all of which resulted in lots of money for banks, and higher prices for companies and consumers.
This story put me in mind once again of the fact that many of the best minds on Wall Street still spend the majority of their time figuring out new and smarter ways to game the system, rather than how to grease the wheels of the real economy. Just look at the record profits posted by a number of the world’s largest banks last week. The six largest are on track to post a 20% earnings increase in the second quarter of this year. But the vast majority of that money came not from lending, but from trading. While the money spigots to the small and new businesses that create most of the jobs in this country are still tight — like last year, small business lending was down again this year, according to the Small Business Administration — trading profits are way up.
Clearly, finance is still disconnected from the real economy, which is one reason that the regulation battle rages on. A new proposal issued jointly a few days back by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency would require some of the country’s largest banks to hold double the amount of reserve capital that they currently do. This has prompted all the usual complaints from the industry about too much regulation. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, now the head of bank advocacy group the Financial Services Roundtable, said the new rules would make “it harder for banks to lend and keep the economic recovery going.”
Think about that anecdote again: a cartel of banksters collude (possibly conspire) to artificially jack up commodity prices, not on gold or diamonds, but on everyday items like aluminum, thus gouging an enormous profit from society.
OK, some basic economic theory here first: the theory is that market competition and free enterprise will expose inefficiencies in prices, thus creating opportunities for a company to step in and profit.
Theoretically, this occurs when a competitor steps in and, seeing how he can work more efficiently, sells his product for a lower price or with better features of some sort. That’s the basis of capitalism, as Adam Smith envisioned it. Smith must be rolling in his grave to think that industries are no longer run by entrepreneurs but by financiers, people who have zero concept of production, distribution or service.
They only know profit. The sole measure of their value to society is in a dollar figure. If anyone wonders whether that viewpoint erodes a society, one has only to look around oneself: clearly, it does.
Business schools pay lip service to reversing this trend by including courses on ethics and management strategies that don’t involve raping a community or its resources, but let’s be honest: the world is run by vulgarians, who mock ethical people.
Until, of course, they run afoul of the law as they inevitably do. Unfortunately, they’ve left a whole cadre of apostles behind who are more than happy to pick up the slack, buy off more of the government and media, and measure their lives in money.
New regulations, and a return of Glass-Steagal, will help, to be sure, and I fully support those, but here’s the thing: corporations now have enough money and enough entrenched power that they can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get around those legally. We have to find a way to defuse the mindset that they should. We can put up obstacles, but at the end of the day, persuading them not to try is our best inoculation against future economy catastrophies.
And make no mistake: we have many many more in the near future.
Monday, July 22, 2013