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      The calls are coming in. Assuming they are correct, I think this vote is a mistake, and I note that having been given a clean vote to leave and a chance to live their own values, but having given in to fear; for me, at least, Scottish complaints about privatization of the NHS and other [...]
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Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Barack Obama had an op-ed piece in yesterday’s WSJ. In it he says we need to balance regulation with businesses need to create jobs and, well, make lots of money. For example:

Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences. Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering. There, a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression.

Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government.

This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades.

Note that this move is right as Republican’s take over the House and have increased numbers in the Senate, with momentum at their back. So as we see and have seen before, Obama is moving to compromise and move to the right even before debate begins on the topic. That is of course not surprising to us as we’ve noticed his right leanings from before the primaries. This problem is also noticed at Salon:

But on the day before House Republicans are expected to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, primarily on the specious grounds that it is a “job-killing” regulatory Frankenstein, the White House’s decision to suddenly be concerned about the right balance between public safety and commerce is strange and discomfiting. The big battles of the next two years are going to be all about defending the regulatory achievements of the Obama administration — healthcare reform and bank reform — in addition to ensuring that the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t hamstrung by Republican opposition as it carries out its Supreme Court mandate to treat greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

The Salon article goes on to make the case that this is a terrible fumble by Obama:

The strategy is unfathomable, and the notion that we must now seek to strike the “proper” balance — as if the proponents of greater regulation had been carrying the day in recent years — is just plain nutty.

Here we go again. Why do they keep being deluded with example after example, with signal after signal, with appointment after appointment? Deluded that Obama is left leaning? That he’s even liberal? Other than a few speeches, just words, what in his past would lead them to think this? Haven’t they noticed who funded him, who basically created him? Why do we keep having these perfect examples, perfect demonstrations of who Obama really is only to have places like Salon or HuffPo or others gasp, act surprised, and shake their heads thinking he’s made a mistake or is getting bad advice.

No, it’s not a mistake. It’s not nutty. It’s not a fumble. This is who Obama is. It’s who he has always been. How many more examples do you people need? Have you bothered to read the health care bill or noticed who wrote it? Did you not notice the tax cut for the very wealthy. Did you not notice the lack of regulations or strings attached with the financial bailouts. This stuff has been from day 1 people.


In related news, we’re going to see a new tone as the Republicans make noises like they want to repeal the health insurance lobbies hard fought victory represented by the Obamacare bill:

Obama issued a statement late Tuesday said he is “willing and eager to work with both Democrats and Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act. But we can’t go backward.”

Republicans largely ignored an attempt by Democrats to rename the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” to temper the language following the Arizona shooting this month that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

But Republicans now mainly refer to the “job-destroying” health care law.

“Obviously there are strong feelings on both sides of the bill and we expect the debate to ensue along policy lines,” said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader. “We are going to be about decency here and engage and promote an active debate on policy.”

Of course what they want to do is repeal any good parts of the bill. And there may even be a few good parts stuck in there against the wishes of the lobbyists who wrote most of the bill. Republicans don’t really have the numbers to do anything in this round of kabuki theater. So this show is about setting the stage for later “compromises” and possible defunding efforts. Which sadly Obama will likely to all to wiling to go along with.


Another front in the battle Republicans are waging against the working class should be of no surprise. Obama set up Elizabeth Warren in a pseudo position just for the purpose of giving the Republicans something to knock down. And that process looks to be starting soon:

The chairman of a financial services oversight panel sent a letter to Elizabeth Warren, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, saying he is skeptical of the new bureau’s very existence and demanded details about how it will operate.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), who chairs an oversight panel of the Financial Services Committee, said in the letter sent Tuesday that he thinks Warren is “tasked with executing a fatally flawed plan.”

He then asked Warren to answer three pages worth of questions about the new bureau. Some of the queries are operational, including how Warren will staff and organize the agency. Others are more broad, inviting her to explain how Congress should best perform its oversight role, given the body is not funded through the traditional appropriations process.

Neugenbauer also wants details on meetings Warren has held with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, and other financial regulatory agencies.

“What policies are in place to avoid potential duplicative, conflicting or overlapping rulemaking that are currently underway, but will ultimately be under the regulatory authority of the CFPB?” he asked.

He concludes asking Warren to explain how she plans to “avoid the kind of over-regulation that might stifle innovation.”

And so it begins. The only hope we have of some sanity in consumer protection and financial regulations is about to be taken out. And it appears to have been planned this way from the beginning.


As mentioned last night, Joe Lieberman has announced he won’t run for a fifth term. Which means he’ll server two more years. Does that mean he’s planning on running for President? Does that mean he’ll join whoever the Republican party bosses select for their presidential candidate on the ticket as VP? Or maybe he’ll just head over to K-street and collect is rewards.

Also mentioned last night, Sargent Shriver died at age 95. And Don Kirshner died at age 77.


In strange political news, “Baby Doc” Duvalier decided to return to Haiti – never a good idea if you stole nearly 1B. And now he has been arrested and charged with corruption:

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was charged with corruption and the theft of his country’s meagre funds last night after the former Haitian dictator was hauled before a judge in Port-au-Prince

Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.

“His fate is now in the hands of the investigating judge. We have brought charges against him,” said Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor, Aristidas Auguste.

He said his office had filed charges against Duvalier, 59, of corruption, theft, misappropriation of funds and other alleged crimes committed during his period in power.

What was he thinking?


After Goldman Sachs invested gobs of money in Facebook with the intent to offer investment opportunities here and abroad, they’ve decided not here. Mostly to skirt around some SEC requirements. You know, being the upstanding corporate citizens that they are:

There was another question about the planned Facebook stock offering that went beyond whether the social media leader is a good investment now or if it’s overpriced. A more serious issue was how investment banker Goldman Sachs was structuring a “private placement” deal to skirt U.S. securities law.

Now it seems Goldman Sachs has decided that “intense media attention” no longer made it worthwhile to go forward with offering a piece of Facebook in the U.S.

Does that mean the deal is over? Does it mean that Facebook will do a deal in the U.S. with proper financial disclosure?

Unfortunately, neither. Instead, the Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Facebook will go ahead with its private stock sale but exclude U.S. investors from the deal.

“In a statement provided to The Wall Street Journal, Goldman said the move came after officials at the New York securities firm ‘concluded the level of media attention might not be consistent with the proper completion of a U.S. private placement under U.S. law,’ ” Aaron Lucchetti reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Under the planned offering, only wealthy clients of the investment firm would have been allowed to purchase a piece of Facebook. The arrangement sounded fairly complex; but basically, the idea was to put all the Goldman investors into a single fund and then count that fund as “one” investor. Why? By doing so, they would get around required public financial disclosures for any company with 500 or more investors. (There was more money coming in from another investment firm in Russia.)

Money for nothing and the clicks are free. Yea, I just made that up. TM by DT. So we the taxpayers make all this possible because they have our money backing them up allowing them to make riskier deals, and the deals they make are not just risky, but they’re fashioned only around the wealthiest clients. And the funny part here, it looks like it’s going to make suckers and losers out of these wealthy clients because they may be making yet another bubble with what they’re doing, that will just pop down the road. Time will tell.

And speaking of Facebook, they were planning on opening up users phone numbers and addresses to third parties, but have backed down, for now, after some complaints:

Just before the weekend, Facebook announced that it had expanded the information users are able to share with external websites and applications, to include home addresses and mobile phone numbers.

This enables developers of e.g. an ecommerce site to more easily fetch the address and phone number of a potential customer to streamline the checkout process.

For the record: users needed to explicitly opt to share this data before any application or website could access it, and they were evidently not able to share their friends’ addresses or mobile phone numbers with applications.

Sure enough, the dialog box (see below) wasn’t super clear about that, so Facebook was unequivocally opening itself up for a new sh*tshorm to hit the deck.

This morning, Facebook announced that it has temporarily disabled the sharing feature, looking to relaunch it in the next few weeks after making some changes.

Facebook dubs these future changes ‘improvements’ repeatedly, but of course the company is responding to the wave of criticism it has received for quietly releasing the new sharing feature, on a Friday evening no less.

I suspect they’ll enable it. But perhaps just add a bit more complexity to the privacy settings systems so there is an additional way to opt out. If you can figure it out of course.

That’s a bit of what’s in the news this morning. Chime in with what you’re reading.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Obviously the news is still mostly about the Arizona tragedy and all the political and social issues being talked about. Let’s take a look at a few articles on the subject to see what’s new there. First as was mentioned yesterday, those crazy Westboro Baptist Church religious nut cases plan to protest the little girls funeral. Just when you thought those people couldn’t be more sick and evil. But heartening is the reaction and the people that plan on protected the family and funeral:

Arizona lawmakers moved quickly Tuesday to try to block protesters from the funeral of 9-year-old shooting victim Christina Green, passing an emergency measure prohibiting protests within 300 feet of any funeral services.

[...]

The actions were prompted by the Westboro Baptist Church, a publicity-seeking Kansas congregation known for demonstrating at the funerals of U.S. soldiers, arguing that their deaths are retribution by God for America’s acceptance of homosexuality. The church announced it would protest Green’s funeral, scheduled for Thursday, because the family is Catholic.

The protest drew instant and unanimous condemnation from Arizonans.

“Protesting or picketing outside the funeral of an innocent victim is despicable,” said House Speaker Kirk Adams. “It’s time to bring Arizona in line with the many other states that protect the sensitivities of victims against groups that use fear and hate to denigrate the lives of Americans.”

Adams sponsored the emergency measure that prohibits people from picketing or protesting within 300 feet of any residence, cemetery, funeral home, church, synagogue or other establishment during or within one hour of a funeral service or burial service.

The House and Senate passed the bill unanimously Tuesday. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the measure Tuesday evening.

If that’s the face of not accepting homosexuality in America, no wonder many in the GOP have been moving in the direction of repealing DADT and being open to gay marriage. Something to think about and understand when it comes to changing the tone and framing of a political/social topic.

Politico has a piece talking about three of the GOP potential campaign frontrunners for 2012 and how they’re fairing through this tragedy. I’ll save you the trouble, Pawlenty wins the day. That is, he comes out more moderate and unscathed. Palin of course is the target of many. And Newt seems to be playing the roll of Rush/Beck trying to drum up the base.

In an interesting op-ed at WaPo, Krauthammer (heads up, warning, winger alert) in addition to the some winger stuff (step carefully), has a few observations about language and symbols in politics:

Finally, the charge that the metaphors used by Palin and others were inciting violence is ridiculous. Everyone uses warlike metaphors in describing politics. When Barack Obama said at a 2008 fundraiser in Philadelphia, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” he was hardly inciting violence.

Why? Because fighting and warfare are the most routine of political metaphors. And for obvious reasons. Historically speaking, all democratic politics is a sublimation of the ancient route to power – military conquest. That’s why the language persists. That’s why we say without any self-consciousness such things as “battleground states” or “targeting” opponents. Indeed, the very word for an electoral contest – “campaign” – is an appropriation from warfare.

I think the best stab at the politics of this may be Jon Stewart’s clip posted in last nights post. Take a look again if you missed it.

Let’s look at a few other things going on. In news of the doublespeak delicately placed on a dungheap, it appears Obama and the Chamber of Commerce are getting cozy and mending all those faux rifts:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce signaled Tuesday that its rift with the administration is beginning to ease, just three months after bitterly sparring with the White House during midterm campaigns.

In a speech at the Chamber’s headquarters, directly across the street from the White House, Tom Donohue, the group’s president, said disagreements with the administration have “never been personal.”

He noted “a new tone” at the White House and praised President Obama’s selection of William Daley as his new chief of staff, calling him “a real pro.”

Donohue nonetheless struck a combative note as he vowed to fight for the Chamber’s policy goals this year, which include expanding trade, lowering the federal deficit and curbing regulations it thinks are excessive.

“We will not allow the business community to be intimidated, and we will use every tool at our disposal to challenge those who try to silence our voice,” said Donohue, referring to Democrats’ attempts to force the Chamber, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, to reveal its donors.

Such kabuki theater. Aren’t you so happy they’re getting along now? Yea.

Meanwhile in real leadership news, SoS Hillary Clinton is the first SoS to go to Yemen in over 20 years:

Hillary Clinton made the first trip by a U.S. Secretary of State to Yemen in 20 years on Tuesday to underline to the Sanaa government the urgency and importance of fighting al Qaeda at its grassroots.

Washington is anxious for Yemen, next door to the world’s top oil exporter, to step up its fight against an al Qaeda wing based in the Arabian peninsula state where militants have attempted ambitious attacks against U.S. and Western targets.

“It’s not enough to have military-to-military relations,” Clinton said before her plane touched down in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, where she was due for talks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“We need to try to broaden the dialogue. We need to have this dialogue with the government,” she added.

This is all part of the massive new workload Hillary has had to take on to repair the damages from the leaked State Department cables. At least we have Hillary doing this work and repairing those relations. I’d hate to think how this work would happen if Joe Biden had the position as he claimed he was offered.

In Illinois news, they are eliminating the death penalty:

After more than a decade of debate over whether the state’s system of capital punishment could ever be fair, state lawmakers voted on Tuesday to end the death penalty in Illinois.

The move, which came only hours before a new group of lawmakers takes office in Springfield on Wednesday, leaves the future of capital punishment to the Democratic governor, Patrick J. Quinn, who has not indicated whether he will sign the legislation. If Mr. Quinn agrees to the ban, Illinois will join 15 other states without capital punishment.

There’s some great news at least. We could use some.

In international monetary news, China is going to open the Yuan for US trade:

State-owned Bank of China Ltd has offered yuan trading to U.S. customers, a sign that Beijing this year may increasingly promote the use of the Chinese currency in major financial centers.

The change at Bank of China announced in a posting dated Dec. 2010 means that customers can trade in yuan in the United States for the first time rather than having to do so in Hong Kong.

The New York branch of China’s fourth-largest bank said it now lets companies and individuals buy and sell the yuan via accounts with its U.S. branches, although U.S. businesses and individuals can also trade the currency through Western banks.

“The authorities are promoting the use of the yuan in international trade and this is another step in that direction and this means we should see the growth of yuan trading in other regional centers across the world,” said Robert Minikin, senior currency strategist at Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong.

The move is seen as another small step to redenominate trade in yuan after persuading mainland importers and exporters to reduce settling trade in the U.S. dollar and striking trade settlement agreements with Russia, Brazil and other countries.

Part of the reason behind this is China’s too high exchange reservers. Here’s more on what’s happening:

The thorniest problem in economic relations between the United States and China is getting worse, just as the world’s two biggest economies prepare for a summit next week in Washington.

At issue is the imbalance in their financial relationship. China’s central bank said Tuesday that Beijing’s holdings of foreign cash and securities amount to $2.85 trillion – a jump of 20 percent over the year before – despite Chinese promises to try to balance its trade and investment relations with the United States and other countries.

[...]

Foreign exchange holdings are a broad measure of a nation’s economic links with other countries, reflecting exports and imports, investment and the flow of speculative “hot money” into local markets. Some reserves are helpful, and Asian nations in particular, stung by their financial crises in the 1990s, seek to keep a war chest for times of trouble.

But with China’s foreign currency holdings far exceeding those of any other country, it has been urged by the United States, International Monetary Fund and others to import more, allow its exchange rate to rise in value, and use some of the reserves, for example, to boost the purchasing power of Chinese citizens. Although some recent statistics have shown a move in that direction – the country’s trade surplus has narrowed for the past two years, as China’s imports grew faster than exports – the surge in reserves is a pointed reminder of the difficult questions that still face Hu and Obama.

[...]

The renminbi, also known as the yuan, is considered by a wide range of economists to be undervalued in relation to the dollar, and China keeps tight control of the exchange rate, in part to protect its powerful export industries.

[...]

An administration official, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of discussions between the countries, said that it is an ideal time for China to let its currency float more freely. The lack of progress shows that the country’s export lobby still has the upper hand, the official said.

On the one hand we want China to let the value of the Yuan to float freely and find it’s proper value. On the other hand China wants to keep tight control and wants to start using that tightly controlled money it trade with others instead of the US Dollar. But China has to worry about its US holdings at the same time. And as long as they keep such tight control, it’s less usable as a trade currency. We’re in a strange dance together. But China plays rough. Let’s hope we and other parts of the world are up to the challenge.

In sad news, David Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet fame died. In other sad news, exactly one year ago today the Haiti 7.0 earthquake hit, and they’re still not much better off. But back with a bit of good news, mentioned yesterday, Tom DeLay got sentenced with 3 years of jail time.

That’s a bit of the news. Chime in with what you’re reading.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!!

First up in weird news, in case you’re not already getting that apocalyptic vibe from earlier this week, more birds have suddenly died, this time not in Arkansas, but in Louisiana:

Birds dropping dead from the skies and rivers flowing with tens of thousands of dead fish sounds like a cheesy Hollywood movie about the Apocalypse. Or the ravings of a Revelation-obsessed street preacher.

But residents of several US states are coping with the reality of mystery mass wildlife deaths, which have left officials scratching their heads and jumpy members of the public joking (nervously) about the end of the world.

Today it emerged that about 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings had been found dead in Louisiana. Their tiny corpses littered a short stretch of highway near the city of Labarre after apparently falling dead from the sky.

That would be spooky enough. But the Louisiana bird die-off came just a few days after up to 5,000 blackbirds fell to earth in neighbouring Arkansas in the small town of Beebe. Residents there had reported stumbling upon the bodies littering the ground and even being hit by them as they fell. One woman said she was struck while walking a dog. Another avian corpse bounced off a police car.

In even more grim news, anglers and other members of the public reported that more than 80,000 drum fish had suddenly died in the state’s Arkansas river, about 100 miles west of Beebe. The silvery bodies of the fish floated in the river and washed up on its sides having died at roughly the same time. In another incident, hundreds of miles away on the Maryland coast of Chesapeake Bay, tens of thousands of dead fish also washed up on the shore.

Yea, that’s what I said. WTF? I’ve got rosary beads, incense, a statue of Sheba, among a few other things. What are you holding onto for dear life? What was the name of the other horseman anyway?


In a related news, Goldman Sachs and some Russian group invested nearly 1/2 billion in Facebook. That’s right, those two know everything there is to know about a whole hell of a lot of people now. Wonder if their joint bank account number is 666 by any chance. Note to self, get more statues of other religious figures. Here’s some coverage:

The “great vampire squid” of finance, Goldman Sachs, has invested $450 million in the emerging great vampire squid of cyberspace, Facebook. As the New York Times’ DealBook reported, the deal is gives Goldman a leg up on the huge fees investment banks will get when the social-networking company eventually sells shares to the public. And as the Times and Wall Street Journal also report, Goldman will also haul in huge fees from those clients who want to invest themselves.

Meanwhile, Facebook gets the capital to keep buying talent and startups, and to fuel its expansion in all kinds of other ways — and it gets to sell stock in what amounts to a shadow stock market that’s growing faster than regulators seem willing or able to understand, much less deal with.

This looks like a better deal for Facebook than its investor, putting Facebook’s value at $50 billion, which makes sense in today’s increasingly bubble-like market. Silicon Valley is going a bit wild again– not as crazy as the late 1990s, mind you, but there’s a froth element to the local economy.

Given a deal of this size and importance, there should be some SEC scrutiny. Yea right. But some report that there might be:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s plan to offer clients up to $1.5 billion in Facebook Inc. equity may invite U.S. regulators to take a closer look at whether the owner of the world’s most popular social-networking site is circumventing disclosure rules, securities lawyers said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, whose rules require any company with more than 499 investors to disclose financial information, is already scrutinizing the market for trading shares of closely held companies including Facebook, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public

Goldman Sachs invested $450 million in Facebook and is planning to create a special purpose vehicle for its clients to make additional investments worth as much as $1.5 billion, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal is private. Some private companies avoid crossing the disclosure threshold when investors’ funds are channeled through a single entity, such as a private equity firm or hedge fund.

“The real question is, what are the details of this special purpose vehicle?” said James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s business school in Washington. If the investment is designed to circumvent the rule, “the SEC should be looking very closely at it.”

Good thing we have a Democratic president that is looking out for us and will do what’s right. Oh wait, no we don’t, she was tossed under the bus. Instead we have an empty suit actually owned by Goldman Sachs. Oh yea. Why is this feeling even more biblical all of the sudden? Maybe we could have some leaks about all these things, about how Goldman Sachs helped fund an unknown candidate, about the Banks and their shady deals, about corruption in government at many levels. No, instead we get none of those useful leaks, but instead leaks that lead us to more wars in the middle east. Nice distraction.


Let’s see what our grand congress has in store for us this session. First we have this from Slate about how the Dems sound like Repubs and the Repubs sound like Dems:

The parties have switched not only offices but arguments. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Republicans were going to spend “countless hours trying to repeal health care reform rather than focusing on jobs, the economy and deficit reduction. Every minute wasted on trying to repeal health care reform fruitlessly is one less minute the Republicans will spend on job creation and turning this economy around.” If that sentiment sounds familiar, it’s because it was a Republican refrain during the House’s debate over health care in 2009 and 2010.

Sometimes this required the Democrats to contradict themselves. They complained that the GOP House effort to repeal health care was a meaningless show because the Democratic Senate will never allow such a measure to proceed. But when defending their record on economic issues from the last session, they pointed to bills they passed that they knew would never get past a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Democrats also complained that the Republicans were adding to the deficit and have shut them out of the legislative process. Next week, when the House votes to repeal health care (or, “job-killing health care,” as they call it), Democrats will not be allowed to add amendments. They were also not allowed to participate in writing the rules under which the measure will be considered. Democrats did this kind of thing when they were in power, of course, but they say Republicans had pledged to be more open and transparent.

Oh dear. WaPo has more coverage on the upcoming battle over health care insurance bailout. Expect this to be a lot of noise and distraction for a while. Such theater. A Republican bill written by the health insurance lobby where the Repubs (and insurance companies) pretend to hate it and Dems (sadly actually) like it. And the working class are screwed again. As usual.


It looks like there will be some turnover from both the WH staff and the VP staff. There’s some noise about Gibbs possibly leaving. And now we’re hearing that Biden’s CoS is stepping down. Along with that, LATimes has a few more rumors:

The White House staff reshuffle continued Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden announcing that his chief of staff is leaving, while speculation swirled that the president may appoint a well-connected Chicagoan to a top post.

Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, is resigning to become president of Case Holdings, the holding company of AOL cofounder Steve Case. Over the last two years, Klain helped position Biden as an influential figure in the White House while assisting in the confirmation of a pair of Supreme Court nominees: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

His departure surprised even some members of Biden’s staff. Klain had been mentioned as a possible candidate for President Obama’s chief of staff, but the president may be opting for someone with a higher profile.

After Rahm Emanuel quit to run for mayor of Chicago, Obama appointed longtime aide Peter Rouse to the chief of staff job on an interim basis.

Now, Obama is considering William Daley for a senior position, possibly chief of staff. Daley is the brother of outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and he served as Commerce secretary under President Clinton.

As the great David Bowie once said: “Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes.” Something tells me none of these changes are going to be for the better. Any bets?


In some rather funny, in a macabre sort of way, news, a murderer was found guilty in part because of his google search history:

Julie Jensen died as a result of ethylene glycol in her system, an ingredient found in antifreeze. On the morning of her death, someone attempted to “double-delete” (apparently unsuccessfully) the computer’s browsing history, which included a search for “ethylene glycol poisoning.”

Jensen was found guilty of first-degree homicide in 2008 based on this and other incriminating evidence, including a letter written by his wife before her death. He appealed the conviction, arguing for one that the warrantless police search of his computer violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not agree as he had signed a consent form.

As the article humorously mentions, does that mean we’ll be getting a CSI Internet Division spin-off?


In sort of related news, CA Supreme Court ruled that police can search your cell phone without a warrant when you’re under arrest:

The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that police do not need a warrant to search a cell phone carried by someone under arrest.

The justices determined a Ventura County deputy had the right to conduct a warrantless search of the text messages of a man he had arrested on suspicion of participating in a drug deal.

The state court ruled 5-2 that U.S. Supreme Court precedent affirms that police can search items found on defendants when they are arrested.

I understand this in terms of searching your pockets, etc. But the problem with this ruling is one of not keeping up with technology. With smartphones these says, searching what’s in your very powerful large computer (in a small space) that can include pretty much every important document found in your house, bank, accountant, etc. That is, all of your personal records of note could actually be on your phone. This can also provide full access to all of your email, all of your social media accounts, and all of your history of communication of every sort for years. It’s possible that your smartphone could easily be the equivalent of raiding your home, your lawyers office, your doctors office, etc. I hope this issue is revisited with those issues in mind sometime soon. In the mean time, I’ll suggest some privacy protection ideas in a later post.

In other court news, CA Prop 8 is heading directly to the state Supreme Court and bypassing the 9th circuit (more accurately, the 9th circuit just punted):

Instead of resolving a thorny “standing” issue itself, and thus launching the appeal on its way to the United States Supreme Court, a three-judge panel instead first asked the Supreme Court of California for guidance on whether the private litigants who appealed the August 2010 ruling striking down the same-sex marriage ban had the legal right to do so.

The 9th Circuit just acted, to be sure, but not even the most conservative legal scholar can dare call this an instance of “judicial activism.” Instead, the tactical punt from one San Francisco court to another is consistent with a centuries-old judicial concept: never decide what you don’t really have to decide, especially when you have a plausible excuse for not deciding it. Here, the 9th Circuit blamed the not-completely-unexpected detour on the lack of “controlling state precedent” on the question of what to do with an appeal where, as here, both the sitting governor (the since-departed Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the sitting attorney general (the since made-governor Jerry Brown) refused to carry it out.

By diverting the case away from the federal courts and toward the state supreme court, by asking for clarification of state law by and from the state’s highest court, the 9th Circuit has almost certainly delayed a substantive ruling on the merits of the case for at least a year and likely longer. The standing issue will likely have to be briefed all over again before the state high court, and a new oral argument date will likely have to be set, and then a new vigil will begin for people all over the world who are waiting for final word from the courts on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.  All of this will take six to nine months, at least.


In news of the “is that news?” department, many people are obsessing and perplexed that Sarah Palin re-tweeted a pro DADT tweet. Yes, you got that right, just by Palin re-tweeting something (with no extra quote), people are actually spending time trying to figure out what she might have meant. I kid you not:

Online pundits are trying to interpret Sarah Palin’s stance on “don’t ask, don’t tell” after she echoed an Internet post by a conservative lesbian commentator who slammed the opposition to the policy’s repeal.

Tammy Bruce wrote Monday on Twitter that “this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already – the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed.”

Palin’s retweet of the post raised questions about her own stance on the military’s policy, which was repealed by Congress late last year. The former 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee hasn’t spoken about the policy except to say last February that she was surprised at President Barack Obama’s support for a repeal because it was not a priority at the time.

Palin representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday, but Politico said the retweet is a hint that Palin supports the repeal. Gawker said Palin is not “in the context of her party, rabidly homophobic,” then wondered if perhaps she didn’t understand the tweet or pushed the wrong button.

Now our pundits are reading tea leaves. Oh wait, that’s what they’ve always done. They really should get out more.

That’s a bit of what’s in the news. Chime in with what you’re reading.

Wednesday News – Net (Non)Neutrality Edition

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Big news this week is the FCC ruling on net neutrality or in this case, the lack of net neutrality. Yet another case of Obama handing over what is the people’s to the few rich and powerful. But before we get to that, another cowardly Obama move deserves notice. Namely how the administration is preparing for their own indefinite dentition order for “terrorists”:

The Obama administration is preparing an executive order that would formalize indefinite detention without trial for some detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but allow those detainees and their lawyers to challenge the basis for continued incarceration, U.S. officials said.

The administration has long signaled that the use of prolonged detention, preferably at a facility in the United States, was one element of its plan to close Guantanamo. An interagency task force found that 48 of the 174 detainees remaining at the facility would have to be held in what the administration calls prolonged detention.

“We have a plan to close Guantanamo, and this detainee review process is one element,” said an administration official who discussed the order on the condition of anonymity because it has yet to reach the president.

So nice of them to add that bit about they can still “challenge” their continued incarceration. That doesn’t mean those don’t get put into the “circular file” of course. Another bit of information from the same article relates to what was in the defense authorization bill:

Provisions in the defense authorization bill, which has passed the House and is before the Senate, would effectively ban the transfer of any detainee to the United States for any purpose. That rules out civilian trials for all Guantanamo detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His potential prosecution had remained possible even though the administration had balked in the face of political opposition to a trial in New York.

The defense bill, if it passes the Senate, would effectively force the administration to conduct only military commissions and at Guantanamo Bay, which would also have to remain open to house those held indefinitely. The bill would also create new requirements before the administration could repatriate or resettle detainees who were cleared for release by the interagency task force.

So much kabuki theater. Notice that this is still a large majority Democratic congress doing this. And notice Guantanamo never closed. But I’m sure the president will be really disappointed in all this. As it turned out the bill didn’t pass (see below on the stop gap bill for even worse news).


OK, so back to possibly loosing the ability to watch Netflix online. What everyone not on the side of the big telco’s and cable companies wanted was a pretty simple net neutrality ruling that basically said you can’t discriminate network traffic based on its starting point or its end point. Clean, simple, and to the point. But that’s not what we got. What we got instead was a watered down “we really don’t think you should do that”, mostly. And some big loopholes you could drive a truck through. And on top of that, big exceptions. Really big exceptions. Basically the future of all internet, wireless, has no limitations whatsoever. So telco’s running wireless services are now free to charge different rates depending on where traffic is coming from or where it’s going. That is what Obama did today.

Let’s see some of the coverage. First from ars technica:

The Federal Communications Commission is releasing the details of its new net neutrality Order in stages. Although the FCC’s new ban on “unreasonable discrimination” for wired ISPs allows certain kinds of traffic discrimination (not all bits need be equal), the agency made clear after today’s meeting that “paid prioritization” deals with Internet companies are unlikely to be allowed. Critics had worried that the new Order would only affect outright website blocking, leaving paid prioritization untouched (or even implicitly sanctioned).

“Pay for Priority Unlikely to Satisfy ‘No Unreasonable Discrimination’ Rule,” advises one subheading of the new net neutrality rules. Ed Whitacre’s dream of directly charging Google and Yahoo to “use his pipes”—a key event in starting the entire net neutrality debate—appears to be dashed.

[...]

As we’ve reported, the FCC’s new rules forbid Internet providers from blocking lawful content and they require transparency from ISPs. They also require that network management and packet discrimination to be “reasonable,” but that only applies to wireline broadband. Wireless operators gets a free pass on rationality; they’re limited only to the transparency and blocking provisions.

[...]

“Specialized services” like IPTV (think AT&T”s U-Verse) will also be allowed over the last-mile broadband connection, although the FCC insists it will watch their deployment for anti-competitive behavior. But the Order rather strongly suggests that priority deals are “unlikely” to fit into this “reasonable” framework.

Let’s look at some of that closer. First there is some attempt to say it’s bad in normal, reasonable situations to have priority deals for either end of the internet connection. That is, it would be bad in normal situations to charge a starting point like a department store or netflix or a blogger different rates for different bit rate or quality of service priorities. And similarly in normal, reasonable situations it would be bad to charge end users or even low level ISPs different rates for different levels of priority traffic. OK. So what does normal and reasonable mean?

Well, it turns out they say some things aren’t normal and reasonable, and that includes things like video. So Netflix or Youtube or similar starting points can be charged more than others. And you as a user can be charged more to receive those. Don’t confuse that with prioritizing based on the type of data or “packet” which could reasonably say video is a bit lower priority (because it’s so big). Those types of rules are reasonable and effect data of certain shapes regardless of what video, who’s sending it, and who’s receiving it. In this case they don’t say that, they say that’s a special case and you can let, say, Comcast charge Netflix more to send data or you more more to receive Netflix data.

And look what else they say, they say wireless, e.g., cell, is exempt for the most part. They do say they should play nice, and they’ll be watching. You know, kind of like how the administration watched BP in the gulf. And remember, when you hear that about cell, keep in mind that’s very possibly the future of the internet as we move to 4G and then 5G cell systems; those will be faster than the alternatives. And by this ruling, those will already have unfair practices well in place. And you know how hard that is to get mega corporations to give up something. Kind of like how hard it will be to get any administration and congress to give up sucking 100M a year from social security and medicare after Obama pushed through that tax bill. So through your cell service, be prepared to pay different rates based on who you are and what you receive.

Two days ago, over on huff and puff, Al Franken had a column about the issue. Here’s a snippet from that:

This Tuesday is an important day in the fight to save the Internet.

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it’s a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.

This principle is called “net neutrality” — and it’s under attack. Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it.

The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to issue regulations that protect net neutrality. The bad news is that draft regulations written by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski don’t do that at all. They’re worse than nothing.

And sadly, we learned they did worse than nothing indeed. Here’s a follow up article at huff and puff on what eventually passed (emphasis mine):

Late Monday, a majority of the FCC’s commissioners indicated that they’re going to vote with Chairman Julius Genachowski for a toothless Net Neutrality rule.

According to all reports, the rule, which will be voted on during tomorrow’s FCC meeting, falls drastically short of earlier pledges by President Obama and the FCC Chairman to protect the free and open Internet.

The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it’s become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.

For the first time in history of telecommunications law the FCC has given its stamp of approval to online discrimination.

Instead of a rule to protect Internet users’ freedom to choose, the Commission has opened the door for broadband payola – letting phone and cable companies charge steep tolls to favor the content and services of a select group of corporate partners, relegating everyone else to the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.

[...]

Internet users deserve far better, and we thought we were going to get it from a president who promised to “take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Net Neutrality.” Watch now as he and his FCC chairman try to spin tomorrow’s betrayal as another “mission accomplished.”

Don’t believe it. This bogus victory has become all too familiar to those watching the Obama administration and its appointees squander opportunities for real change. The reality is that reform is just a rhetorical front for industry compromises that reward the biggest players and K-Street lobbyists while giving the public nothing.

Say it with me everyone: we told you so. He’s a stooge for the mega pro monopoly corporations. What else do you have to see to finally not say he failed, because he did exactly what he wanted to do, and finally not say, well he’s intelligent and he means well, because he does exactly what he means. What more needs to happen people. Well, at least they’re noticing he’s not on their side. Mostly. Got hope?


And speaking of faux messiahs like Obama or Assange on the left or similar ones on the right, why is it that some percentage of people on both sides of the political spectrum will follow someone like that? Here’s a nice quote from a early socialist and labor leader, Eugene Debs:

I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, somebody else would lead you out.

I wish people could keep that in mind when they mostly blindly follow a leader.


Let’s see what else is in the news. Oh yes, after a year or so of skyrocketing health insurance premium costs (mine when up nearly 100%, and that’s with no doctor visits as an excuse even), the Obama administration is looking into it. It looks like they’ll be writing some really stern letters again (emphasis mine):

Moving to restrain skyrocketing health insurance premiums, the Obama administration is proposing rules requiring insurers to justify increases of more than 10% a year in 2011.

At the same time, administration officials plan to step up federal review of premiums if state regulators cannot adequately protect consumers, a move cheered by many leading consumer advocates.

The increased oversight comes as consumers nationwide struggle with rate hikes that have exceeded 30% in some places, even as insurance industry profits have swelled.

In the lead-up to passage of the new law, the soaring rates fueled calls to give state and federal regulators more power to scrutinize premiums and even deny increases that appear unjustified. Only some states currently have such authority.

The draft regulations unveiled Tuesday would not give state or federal officials the ability to deny rate hikes. Instead, the administration is relying on state regulators to scrutinize proposed hikes and to assess if they are justified by increases in the cost of care or other factors.

Yep, mission accomplished again.


Oh yea, the large majority of Democrats in congress couldn’t get together on a spending bill, so they punted for a stop gap until March when the Repubs, sill a minority in the senate, will of course be in complete control and will demand massive cuts:

Congress passed a stopgap funding bill last night to keep the government open into March, when Republicans will have greater power to cut federal spending.

On a 193-to-165 vote, the House backed a stripped-down measure that would freeze pay for federal employees, provide $160 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and head off cuts in Pell grants for college tuition. The Senate approved the bill hours earlier, 79-16.

[...]

The measure is needed because the Democratic-controlled Congress — in an unprecedented breakdown of the budget process — has failed to pass a single one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of every federal agency.

It’s a feature not a bug as a certain klown likes to say. Let’s start placing bets on what will be cut next year.


The other big news of late was the results of the census showing some shifts in congressional seats. Two states lost two seats each, New York and Ohio. And a number of states, mostly in the northeast lost one seat each. And a number of states in the south and west gained seats. Here’s some general coverage at Bloomberg, local coverages at the NYTimes and the Miami Herald for some sampling of results.

That’s a bit of what’s happening. Chime in with what you’re seeing.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

A few interesting things happening in the news. First up, we have a cure for HIV infection, at least in one patient:

Doctors believe that they may have found one of the largest breakthroughs in the battle against HIV, the virus which leads to AIDS. The news broke today (December 14) out of Berlin, Germany when doctors confirmed that Timothy Ray Brown received a stem-cell treatment while battling leukemia. His doctors recently published a report in the journal Blood affirming that the results of extensive testing “strongly suggest that cure of HIV infection has been achieved.”

Here’s the abstract of the paper in question for any of you up on your hematology research. Here’s the salient point:

In conclusion, our results strongly suggest that cure of HIV has been achieved in this patient.

There’s a lot of work yet to do, and this may not be an overall cure, but it’s a major breakthrough.


As reported yesterday by RD, a federal judge in VA ruled the mandate to buy a private product part of the health insurance company bailout bill is unconstitutional. Here’s a follow up article about the ruling and the VA district attorney’s winning strategy:

Virginia’s go-it-alone legal strategy to challenge the nation’s sweeping federal health-care overhaul – once questioned by both advocates and some opponents of the law – seems to be paying off for state Attorney General Ken T. Cuccinelli II after Monday’s court ruling, in his favor, that a key provision of the law is unconstitutional.

When Cuccinelli (R) filed suit in March against the federal law – rather than signing on to one filed jointly in Florida by 20 other attorneys general – Democrats said it was an exercise in grandstanding for political gain.

[...]

But his decision has undermined those who contend that constitutional challenges to the law are frivolous.

“There’s no question that this was a gamble in terms of how the litigation would have been perceived if he’s received the third strike in a row,” said Jonathan Turley, professor of law at the George Washington University Law School. “It’s certainly a gamble that’s paid off.”

Cuccinelli has maintained all along that filing his own challenge made more sense than signing on to the Florida effort.

The Virginia General Assembly had passed a law in March that made it illegal to require state residents to carry health insurance. The conflict between the state statute and the federal law gave Virginia unique standing to sue, he argued.

“You just don’t go to other states to protect your own laws,” Cuccinelli said in an interview Tuesday.

That being said, the real test will be the supreme court. Which at the earliest would be sometime next year, and likely the year after that. I think it’s an interesting issue and very worth a supreme court case. Clearly there’s gray area with being “punished’ for inaction with respect to having to buy a commercial product. And of course when the health insurance lobbyist wrote the bill, making that part not a tax was a big issue. Those calling the issue silly or frivolous were being silly.


And speaking of silly, Republicans that think the 2010 midterm elections were about them are of course not even close. A new poll out back up what everyone should know (again):

Republicans may have made major gains in the November elections, but they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the American people, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The midterm elections – in which Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House and added six seats to their Senate minority – were widely seen as a rebuke to President Obama. Still, the public trusts Obama marginally more than they do congressional Republicans to deal with the country’s main problems in the coming years, 43 percent to 38 percent.

The poll suggests that the election, while perhaps a vote against the status quo, was not a broad mandate for Republicans and their plans. The survey also underscores the degree to which Americans are conflicted about who they think is setting the agenda in Washington.

The president’s narrow advantage is a striking contrast to the public’s mood at this time in 1994 and 2006, the last two midterm election years when one or both chambers of Congress changed hands.

[...]

In the new poll, just 41 percent of respondents say the GOP takeover of the House is a “good thing.” About 27 percent say it is a “bad thing,” and 30 percent say it won’t make any difference. Most continue to say that the Republicans in Congress are not doing enough to compromise with Obama on important issues.

At this time in 1994, six in 10 Americans said the GOP had taken a stronger leadership role in Washington, while just one in four said Clinton was firmly in charge. In the new poll, Americans are about evenly split between Obama and the Republicans in Congress on this question.

Of course it’s idiotic comparing 2010 to 1994 for many reasons. One is that in ’92 Clinton won a three man race without  a majority. So his numbers were building up from a low point. Obama’s numbers in contrast have been steadily coming down from a high point. Also in ’94 Democrats got shown the door precisely because a large number of them were breaking the law. Whereas in this case, we have a supermajority Democrats in congress and a Democratic president elected in ’06/’08 to fix a majorly broken economy. And in the last 4/2 years respectively, it’s gotten worse. And for better or worse (or right or wrong), the voters wanted a new direction. That is, it’s the economy stupid. On top of that, Obama’s a real piece of shit and the congress that just does what he says (same as they just did what Bush II said before) were getting a bit tiring.

But what these numbers do indicate to me is that if things don’t get better economically, esp. with respect to jobs, then the Republicans will incur losses in ’12. If we’re around high 8% or higher in unemployment, there’s going to be some more changes. And they might just be dramatic.


The Commandant of the Marines says repealing DADT will result in casualties:

The Marine Corps’ top general suggested Tuesday that allowing gays to serve openly in the military could result in more casualties because their presence on the battlefield would pose “a distraction.”

“When your life hangs on the line,” said Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, “you don’t want anything distracting. . . . Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines’ lives.”

In an interview with newspaper and wire service reporters at the Pentagon, Amos was vague when pressed to clarify how the presence of gays would distract Marines during a firefight. But he cited a recent Defense Department survey in which a large percentage of Marine combat veterans predicted that repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law would harm “unit cohesion” and their tight-knit training for war.

“So the Marines came back and they said, ‘Look, anything that’s going to break or potentially break that focus and cause any kind of distraction may have an effect on cohesion,’ ” he said. “I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen. And I’ll tell you why. If you go up to Bethesda [Naval] Hospital . . . Marines are up there with no legs, none. We’ve got Marines at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] with no limbs.”

I understand Commandant Amos’ concern for his marines and why he would want to move very slowly when it comes to any change that shakes things up. But it’s way past time for this change. We have women at most levels and in combat (though we pretend they’re not), and of course for a long, long time, we’ve had people of color in the armed forces, even though both of those were changes that shook things up and were distractions at the time. I have faith in the marines that they can handle such a change just fine. If memory serves, the previous commandant has similar issues. I hope he can take a lead from his boss, Adm. Mike Mullen, and move to deal with the new realities instead of throwing wrenches in the works.


In the latest news from the world of WikiLeaks, the Air Force has blocked WikiLeaks from it’s own networks:

The Air Force is barring its personnel from using work computers to view the Web sites of The New York Times and more than 25 other news organizations and blogs that have posted secret cables obtained by WikiLeaks, Air Force officials said Tuesday.

[...]

Cyber network specialists within the Air Force Space Command last week followed longstanding procedures to keep classified information off unclassified computer systems. “News media Web sites will be blocked if they post classified documents from the WikiLeaks Web site,” said Lt. Col. Brenda Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Space Command, a unit of which oversees Air Force cyber systems. “This is similar to how we’d block any other Web site that posted classified information.”

Colonel Campbell said that only sites posting full classified documents, not just excerpts, would be blocked. “When classified documents appear on a Web site, a judgment will be made whether it will be blocked,” she said. “It’s an issue we’re working through right now.”

The other armed forces are handling it differently:

Spokesmen for the Army, Navy and Marines said they were not blocking the Web sites of news organizations, largely because guidance has already been issued by the Obama administration and the Defense Department directing hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors not to read the secret cables and other classified documents published by WikiLeaks unless the workers have the required security clearance or authorization.

“Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. Government authority,” said a notice sent on Dec. 3 by the Office of Management and Budget, which is part of the White House, to agency and department heads.

A Defense Department spokesman, Col. David Lapan, in an e-mail on Tuesday night sought to distance the department from the Air Force’s action to block access to the media Web sites: “This is not DoD-directed or DoD-wide.”

The Air Force may have gone too far. We’ll see how that plays out. And in related news, Julian Assange paid bail, but is still in jail:

Sweden tonight decided to fight a British judge’s decision to grant bail to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has spent more than a week in prison over sexual assault allegations involving two Swedish women.

A dramatic day in and around City of Westminster magistrates court saw Assange win bail, but then be forced to return to what his lawyer Mark Stephens described as “Dickensian conditions” at Wandsworth prison while the international legal battle played out.

Sweden has decided to contest the granting of bail to Assange, who is being held pending an extradition hearing, on the grounds that no conditions imposed by a judge could guarantee that he would not flee, a legal source told the Guardian.


And speaking of crimes, it looks like the Senate will pass the near trillion dollar deficit increase and social security destruction bill today:

The U.S. Senate today is poised to pass President Barack Obama’s $858 billion proposal to extend Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels, cut payroll taxes and extend expanded jobless benefits.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said last night on the Senate floor that the chamber will start debate at 11 a.m. on the measure. Before a vote on final passage, senators will take up three amendments, Reid said. Amendments require a two-thirds supermajority for adoption.

Senate passage will send the tax bill to the House, where Democrats — who threatened last week not to bring it to the floor — late yesterday discussed a plan to let Democrats vote on an alternative to estate-tax provisions many of them oppose.

We will see soon after that what happens in the House. Please write your congressman and tell them not to pass anything like this POS giveaway to the rich and obvious ploy to destroy social security and medicare.


Rahm “The Fish” Emanuel got a Chicago style grilling yesterday about his mayoral run:

The most serious attack on his candidacy came in the first 90 minutes of the hearing as the lead attorney challenging Emanuel bored in on the issue of whether the former White House chief of staff meets the requirement of being a Chicago resident for one year prior to the Feb. 22 election.

But after that, it was open season as a long line of citizens who object to Emanuel’s run for mayor quizzed him on everything from when and where he purchased a city sticker for his car to whether he played any role in the violent 1993 Waco, Texas, siege to if he has ever been a member of the Communist Party.

Sadly I think he’ll be able to run just fine. And sadly he’s still the front runner.


Interest rates have been inching up and the Fed has taken notice:

Interest rates are marching upward, making it more expensive to take out a mortgage or get a loan to expand a business, and diluting efforts by Congress and the Federal Reserve to strengthen the economy.

The rise is partly because of good news: The outlook for growth has improved, putting less pressure on investors to keep their money in ultra-safe bonds. When there’s less demand for bonds, their interest rates – or yield – go up to attract more investors.

And the better economic outlook could allow the Fed to pull back sooner than expected on the extraordinary steps it’s taking to keep rates low.

But bond investors are also spooked by the tax-cut deal between President Obama and congressional leaders, which if enacted would increase the budget deficit substantially over the next two years.

The climb in interest rates is confounding the Fed’s efforts as it tries to bring down rates by buying $600 billion in Treasury bonds. The central bank affirmed that it would stay on course with those plans Tuesday after a policy meeting.

Yes, it’s good and it’s bad and it’s messing up their efforts to make money cheaper. It’s all going to end in tears I tell you. Our economy as well as the world economy is fragile. The dollar is on the brink. It’s scary out there. The current worry about interest rates going a bit higher (as if things are getting better.. give me a break) reminds me of a small leak in a dam being plugged by a finger. Sadly we’re all living in the small village below the dam.

On that lovely note, let’s open the floor to more news. And some positive news please. Chime in with what you’re reading.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

The big news of the day is still the big sell-out job Obama did. Well, I say sell-out because that’s what the (until recently) Obama fanclub for idiots call it. Of course we all know Obama is doing what he planned to do and what he wants to do. Giving the ultra rich more money is what he has always done. It’s what he was hired to do. It’s the cost of sexism. Quite expensive as it turns out.

So let’s see what people have to say about that event. Oh my, there seems to be some yelling and gnashing of teeth. That’s what they always do, at least until they get “the visit” or the “air force 1 ride”. And sadly for some idiots, it doesn’t even take that as they’ll suck up and say it’s all good. Mark my words. Give it another week and all the usual suspects will say how this was genius all along. Firstly we get reports of some shouting and Obama’s testy reaction:

A testy President Barack Obama on Tuesday expressed frustration at his own Democrats for attacking him over his tax-cut deal with Republicans, who he called uncompromising “hostage takers.”

Obama found himself in an unusual position a day after sealing a major tax-cut agreement — praised by Republican opponents and denounced by liberal Democrats who felt he violated a pledge that helped get him elected in 2008.

Liberals accused him of caving to Republican demands by agreeing to extend all the Bush-era tax cuts, even those for wealthier Americans, instead of their preference for limiting the tax cuts to families making less than $250,000 a year.

Obama leveled some of his toughest criticism to date at the left wing of the Democratic Party, saying his critics were taking a “sanctimonious” position that would not have helped solve problems.

His voice rose and he sounded exasperated when he said if he had refused to compromise, “People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people.”

The country was founded on the principle of compromise, Obama said, and he singled out one leading critic, The New York Times editorial page, saying “The New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America. Neither does the Wall Street Journal editorial page.”

Did Obama just call Democrats “sanctimonious”? I believe he did. Poor babies. I hope they didn’t cry. Others have a similar story about the struggle with Democrats to get this passed:

In a 35-minute news conference, Obama chastised liberals for seeking ideological purity that would cause legislative logjams on vital issues. He didn’t spare Republicans, either, likening them to “hostage takers” willing to hurt the great majority of Americans for the “holy grail” of extending tax cuts for millionaires.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was noncommittal before and after Obama’s afternoon appearance, saying she would discuss the matter with fellow Democrats. “So far the response has not been very good,” she said after meeting with other Democratic leaders.

[...]

If Democrats kill the tax plan, it would mark a stunning defeat for Obama and a huge political bet that voters will blame Republicans as much as Democrats for an impasse that leads to higher taxes starting Jan. 1. Few on Capitol Hill believe Democrats will take that gamble. But liberal lawmakers’ discontent is hard to measure in the wake of last month’s big election setbacks.

Despite their minority status, Senate Republicans managed last week to block Obama’s long-promised bid to end Bush-era tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000. They insisted that all the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, scheduled to expire in three weeks, be extended, for rich and poor alike.

But Politico comes to the rescue saying don’t worry about those Democrats because this can be passed without them:

Don’t be fooled by all the shouting. President Barack Obama’s tax-cut deal likely will squeak through the Senate, according to congressional aides, propelled by a coalition of Republicans, moderate Democrats and members won over by last-minute tax sweeteners.

The House, however, is more difficult to call – but there is a path to success there as well, and it likely includes wooing some wavering members by adding a few more specialized tax breaks, aides said.

House Republicans expect nearly all of their 179 members on board and could make up a roughly 40-vote shortfall with the help of Blue Dog fiscal conservatives in the Democratic party.

House Democrats, clearly miffed, say if Obama wants the bill, he’s got to find the votes, which isn’t assured.

“Making the case for this falls on the shoulders of the administration, not House leaders,” said one House Democratic aide. “The White House cut this deal so they gotta defend it.”

[...]

Still, some Blue Dogs could break from the bill, as could moderate Democrats and even some recently defeated Democrats who accuse the GOP of hypocrisy – for attacking the high price tag the health care and stimulus bills but signing on to this $900 billion or so plan.

New Democrats, the pro-business wing led by New York Rep. Joe Crowley, signaled openness to the bill, but only if bonus depreciation and research and development tax credits are included in the final product.

Who needs these Democrats anyway? Looks like Obama doesn’t. Having said that, not all is united on the Republican side either. The Hill reports on crazy Michele Bachmann and her distaste for the unemployed:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said Monday — before the White House deal was unveiled — that congressional Republicans could balk at voting to extend all the tax cuts for two years if it’s tied to a long-term extension of jobless benefits. Bachmann is the chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus.

“I don’t know that Republicans would necessarily go along with that vote. That would be a very hard vote to take,” Bachmann said on conservative commentator Sean Hannity’s radio show.

“I think we’re back in a conundrum. I think the compromise would be extending the rates for two years and not permanently, but not tying it to massive spending,” she said. “We cannot add on something like a year of unemployment benefits.”

Isn’t she special. Isn’t it so difficult for her. She has to contemplate the unseemly act of lending a hand to the unemployed while shoveling mega millions to the richest 1%. I think she’s worried she might catch something from the peasants. Funny thing is, I don’t think she and Obama are that different.

For your reading pleasure, WaPo has more details about what Congress will be trying to accomplish in their last week before their holiday break.

In some sad news, as we found out yesterday, Elizabeth Edwards died. Good wishes and prayers to her family.

Where do you go from that sort of news. Well, beer of course. Here are the top ten home brew beer recipes:

To home brew a great beer—whether it’s all-grain or extract—requires, first and foremost, an understanding of the process and mastery of brewing technique. That’s not to say creative, well-balanced recipes with all the right ingredients don’t help with the final product. We scoured brewing books, listened to beer podcasts, and talked to brewmasters to find ten of the best homebrew recipes out there, representing a range of beer styles. The recipes we found come from some of the best professional brewers in the country as well as absurdly dedicated homebrewers.

Read on for those recipes and beer discussions.

Finland had the highest literacy rates for quite a while, but alas, no more. Recent student test results puts them behind three asian areas:

The tri-annual Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey of 15-year-olds ranked China’s Shanghai region in first place.

With Finland coming third, its education minister blamed a decline in reading, especially among boys.

Pupils in Sweden and Ireland also performed worse than in 2006.

And speaking of the writing on the wall, Bank of America just can’t get a break (boo hoo):

Bank of America Corp.’s agreement to pay $137 million in restitution for taking part in a nationwide bid-rigging conspiracy for municipal-investment contracts may soon be followed by more settlements to repay the scheme’s victims, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division head said.

“Stay tuned to this channel — I think you will see a lot more activity in the coming weeks and months,” Christine Varney, the antitrust chief, told reporters yesterday. “We are committed to getting restitution, full restitution, to all the municipalities that were victims of this scheme.”

[...]

Bank of America’s settlement is “likely the tip of the iceberg,” Andrew Gavil, a law professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said in an e-mail. He said other conspirators may pay much higher penalties.

The government has identified more than a dozen firms, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., UBS AG, and Societe Generale as unindicted co-conspirators in a criminal case brought by the Justice Department against a Los Angeles investment broker.

Read on for much more detail on various cases and issues, and where the government will likely be lenient.

Some exciting news from space, a private rocket is sitting on a launch pad, ready to lift off, from Cape Canaveral in what should mark a new phase in the worlds efforts to explore:

The rocket, a Falcon 9 built by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, for short, is unassuming — a runt compared to NASA’s space shuttles. It is scheduled to lift off on Wednesday morning and place into orbit an empty capsule, designed to carry cargo and eventually astronauts, which will circle the Earth twice before splashing down in the Pacific. The mission is to last less than three and a half hours.

Although the flight lacks in theatrics, it marks a major shift in the space program toward private industry. It is the first demonstration flight under a National Aeronautics and Space Administration contract that is to lead to SpaceX’s ferrying supplies to the International Space Station.

NASA, under a new space exploration blueprint signed into law in October, will now embark on a similar strategy for sending astronauts to orbit — buying rides from commercial companies rather than operating its own rocket.

The LA Times also has some coverage:

In half a century of spaceflight, only a few countries have been able to send a capsule into space and have it return to Earth intact, a technological and financial feat reserved for the wealthiest of nations.

That may all change as early as Wednesday, when a Hawthorne-based rocket venture plans to send an Apollo-like capsule into space and have it splash down in the Pacific, becoming the first commercial spacecraft to orbit the globe and survive the fiery reentry back to Earth.

If the mission is successful, it would mark a major turning point for private spaceflight and a key milestone for SpaceX, a venture started by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk.

“When Dragon returns, whether on this mission or a future one, it will herald the dawn of an incredibly exciting new era in space travel,” said Musk, the founder and chief executive of SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Well, I think it’s exciting anyway. There are some amazing things to do, even in near space, and great opportunities just out of our reach. I’m very happy to see such private enterprise efforts.

That’s a bit of what’s going on. Chime in with what you’re finding or with what’s on your mind.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Let’s dive in with a hodgepodge of unrelated news items. First up, Adam Savage from Mythbusters had a funny experience with TSA where they saw his junk but missed the razor blades:

Savage was put through the full-body scanner, and while he joked that it made his penis feel small, no one seemed to notice the items he was carrying on his person.

[...]

If the TSA thinks you can hijack a plane with saline solution and nail clippers, Savage’s 12″ razor blades are the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. Since the blades weren’t anywhere near Savage’s privates, they likely would have been missed by the pat-down as well.

Follow the link for a video of Adam discussing it. So the gate rape is not only demeaning and horrifying and a direct assault to our constitution, but it’s a complete waste of time. Oh, by the way, gate rape is now in the Urban Dictionary.

Not much of a surprise, but we’re headed to S. Korea for war games:

A US aircraft carrier is heading for the Korean peninsula a day after North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire on a border island that left two South Korean soldiers dead.

The USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, left a naval base south of Tokyo on Wednesday morning and would join exercises with South Korea from Sunday, US officials in Seoul said.

“This exercise is defensive in nature,” US Forces Korea said in a statement. “While planned well before yesterday’s unprovoked artillery attack, it demonstrates the strength of the ROK (South Korea)-US alliance and our commitment to regional stability through deterrence.”

The US has 28,000 troops based in South Korea.

Let’s hope nothing stupid happens. Well, N. Korea has already done that. Let’s hope nothing else stupid happens.

In case you haven’t heard, the world as we know it almost came to an end last night. Continue reading

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