Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rich Narcissists Still Whining

I wrote an earlier post about hypocrites on Wall Street on August 31. The key take-away for me, other than the enormity of their plunder, was the extent to which Wall Streeters, especially the banks, felt put upon because President Obama has dared to scold them for ruining the economy with the most reckless and breathtaking display of greed and irresponsibility in the history of capitalism. And yet they are still walking around, rich and unindicted, while Obama bailed out their collective and undeserving ass, poured billions into the economy, oversaw a stock market recovery, which disproportionately benefited these same bankers and other wealthy elites, passed a luke warm financial reform bill that won't reform much of anything, and thus does little to slow down Wall Street's dominance, and then agreed to extend tax breaks to America's richest.

And still they whine. Many bankers got behind Republicans in '10, as is customary, after supporting Obama in '08, an especially ironic choice given that Wall Street has done very well under Democratic administrations. They just can't shake that unsupported belief that Republicans are somehow better for business than Democrats. As with so much in our modern political economy, and ever more so in what is becoming a post-factual society, identity trumps evidence.

The President met with a small group of CEOs recently, and none of the banking honchos was invited. So now they are having a snit about it. Ben White at Politico has a good take on a level of animosity towards Obama that, in view of banking's profits and privileges, is irrational and bizzarre.

John Amato, referencing Ben White's article, has his take on it as well.  As Amato says, "You can see how deluded these fat cat CEO's are. I mean a few words will make them cry. As I said, even though the President gave these Masters of Destruction virtually a free pass they will now go back to pumping their millions in the GOP."

Finally, watch the video of Sam Seder's interview with Matt Taibbi.

As Taibbi says, the attitudes of the bank CEOs are "unbelievably obnoxious."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rick Scott Set to Descend on Florida

I had forgotten the extent to which Rick Scott had masterminded the teabaggers' Town Hall riots back in the summer of 2009. OK, I knew he threw a lot of his own money into the health care debate, such as it was, and I certainly knew he wanted to stop any reform that would undermine the healthcare industry's profits. But Scott has been a one-man wrecking crew.

You remember Rick Scott, yes? In a post on September 20, I wondered, as did others, what Scott's appeal was, given his extremely dubious past as a CEO of a demonstrably fraudulent health care insurer. It was all very public information, and yet he had the inside track as Florida's next governor.

He, of course, won the election and so he will be that state's next CEO come January 4th (what is it about people who think CEOs make good politicians? The jobs are so similar, don't you know?)

Madfloridan has an excellent post excoriating the press for recently raising a few good questions about Slick Rick, now that the election is over. He cites three sources.

One is The St. Petersburg Times, which writes, "Incoming Gov. Rick Scott's disdain for government regulation appears to be absolute — and absolutely irresponsible. The Times quotes Scott who declares, "What's the benefit of a regulation, other than delay?"

Yikes, and this after deregulation ran amuck on Wall Street. And the St Petes Times concern about this? As Madfloridian says, "So now they worry." At least the Times bothered to explain the value of regulation.

Meanwhile, Time magazine asks, "Is Florida ready for Governor Rick Scott?" As Time writes:
Florida has some of the broadest open-government laws in the country. So when Governor-elect Rick Scott held a number of behind-closed-doors meetings with business leaders earlier this month during a five-day jobs tour, many political observers fretted that he might not fully appreciate the Sunshine State's sunshine rules. "It would have been a nice gesture on his part to hold those meetings more in the open," says Ben Wilcox, Florida director of the government watchdog group Common Cause. "But Florida's sunshine laws are going to take some getting used to on his part, since just about all he's known is the corporate world."

The Miami Herald quotes a Scott advisor who doubts that Florida needs public hospitals. That's pretty rich. Scott says it's all about improving efficiency, which sounds reasonable. But he is part and parcel of the conservative obsession with privatizing everything in sight, an idea wrapped with the wholly-unsupported insistence that the private sector is inherently and always more effective than the public sector. What that ideology really means is that by privatizing, profit becomes the central focus. And that is precisely why health care in the US is so inadequate. For other industrialized countries, universal health care is first and foremost a public health care issue. For the US, health care is a profit center. The primary fiduciary duty of US corporations, including those in health, is to their shareholders, not their customers. The insurance industry's big pushback on President Obama's health care plan was not because it would not work. It was because they knew a public option would end their ability to continue gouging the American people. 

So I feel for Madfloridian, who says, "I fear for our state the next few years. This guy makes Jeb look saintly." That, of course, is Jeb, as in Jeb Bush.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Orszag Cashes In

Obama said he was going to change the way Washington works. Like more bipartisanship. OK, so he has tried to get along with Republicans who publicly admit they intend to obstruct everything they can. It's like trying to pet a rabid dog and constantly having your hand bit. Republicans have gnawed Obama's hand down to the wrist, but he keeps sticking it out there.

But other things in the current White House are far too familiar. The President loaded up his administration with neoliberals--the heart of the financial establishment--people whose interests, efforts, and expertise are devoted to Wall Street. These guys have Obama's ear just like they had Bush's and Clinton's. And those that moved on after serving in government almost always went to, or back to, Wall Street, where they invariably enriched themselves.

So it not really a surprise that White Houe Budget Director Peter Orszag has departed and is now at Citigroup as Vice Chairman of Global Banking. He had brief stints as a Distinguished Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and as a contributing columnist for the New York Times. Those positions were just a prelude, a decent interval, to the position at Citigroup, one for which he had been auditioning since day one at OMB.

Hey, he earned it. He may have headed OMB, but on occasion looked more like a Citigroup lobbyist, working to ensure that Citigroup received taxpayers largesse. In return, Orszag now has a plum job reportedly worth several million per year. Not bad for a few months of government work.

James Fallows wants to know why there is so little backlash on this. Conflict of interest anyone? Featherbedding? He knows, of course, and so do the rest of us. Society now accepts this kind of corrupt "descent from heaven," as the Japanese call it. American scolds will still shake their head and wag their fingers when they see it in China, or with some tin-pot dictator in Africa, but shrug their shoulders when it happens at home.

America has become irretrievably corrupt.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Road to Oligarchy

When you spend a lot of time studying a subject, or follow events closely, you may assume that the issue at hand has become common knowledge, or at least has the attention of most sentient beings. I learned long ago, and still have to remind myself, that this is usually not the case. Recently I was again surprised by a poll that showed that 94% of Americans do not know who John Boehner is. This is a man who is constantly in the news, and in front of a camera. People will learn more than they wanted to know when he becomes Speaker of the House in January.

For the same reason, I have to assume not many have kept up with this country's slide into oligarchy. The evidence is there, and so is the reportage. It is not comforting.

For a small sampling, see Robert Freeman's article, It's Official: Rich Declare War on the Middle Class. As Freeman relates, "... all of the income and wealth gains for middle Americans from the “golden years” between 1945 and 1975 have now been wiped out.  Or more accurately, have now been transferred to the very rich."

Andy Kroll's How the Oligarchs Took America notes how thoroughly conservative elites have captured institutions, including the court system, the media, and the minds of many Americans since Ronald Reagan (greed is good). He also refers to an excellent new book that happens to be on my ever-growing reading list, Winner-Take All Politics, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. As Kroll relates,
Unlike so many pundits, politicians, and academics, Hacker and Pierson resist blaming the usual suspects: globalization, the rise of an information-based economy, and the demise of manufacturing. The culprit in their crime drama is American politics itself over the last three decades. The clues to understanding the rise of an American oligarchy, they believe, won’t be found in New York or New Delhi, but on Capitol Hill, along Pennsylvania Avenue, and around K Street, that haven in a heartless world for Washington’s lobbyists.

And for an analysis on how our warrior class has assisted the transfer of wealth, see Gilbert Mercier's cheerily entitled The American Empire is Collapsing and Americans Will be the Last to Know. My only quibble is that many Americans do know (there I go again), but we are at a loss as to what we can do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

More on Wage Theft

On November 15, I wrote about the growing problem of wage theft. Others are also trying to raise media awareness on a practice that is illegal, immoral, and pervasive. You won't hear much about wage theft if you expect our corporate-owned media to tell the story.

David Love is hitting this story. In a blog post called Wage Theft: Thou Shall Not Steal From Your Workers, he references Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), a non-profit I noted in November was taking the lead on fighting wage theft. Among the depressing facts IWJ has uncovered, the average worker loses $2600 in unpaid wages every year. About 75% of low-wage workers who work 40+ hours per week are not receiving overtime pay, as federal law requires. And a great many people are incorrectly classified as independent contractors instead of employees because their employers avoid FICA, or payroll taxes, as well as minimum wage and overtime requirements. Avoiding FICA means the employer stiffs social security.
Kudos to Interfaith Worker Justice for caring enough to actually do something, and to David Love for raising awareness. Why does IWJ even have to fight this? It should be enough that IWJ points out a few infractions. Where are the government officials swooping in to stop this practice?

Where is our media? Isn't cheating workers out of their wages a sufficiently scandalous story? 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

European Dismay

In my last post I referred to Tom Friedman's article on how badly the US is polarized and how deeply it has affected our ability to function on even a basic level. Thanks in no small measure to Republican obfuscation, we have become a bizarre parody of ourselves. It is almost like a skit on Saturday Night Live, to which Republicans would whine about how they are being unfairly stereotyped as being in the pockets of the rich. "We will not try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor," I can hear them say.  Except that they are. Slash social security and threaten to shut down the government if Dems don't give tax breaks to the rich? They want that too. How painfully obvious does it have to get before we realize today's Republicans are no longer the party of Eisenhower?

Unfortunately, there are too many Democratics who seem either resigned to events, and are not fighting back, or are actively assisting our transition to oligarchy.

Americans don't take foreign opinion into proper account account very well. As a result, too many Americans have increasingly indefensible views on our international role and rank. And thanks to our deeply compromised media, few Americans are hearing what others think about us and our government, and why it should matter.  

Our recent elections, a giveaway to corporate America disguised as economic populism, has dismayed many in Europe just as it did many progressives here.  How can it be, they ask, that Americans can be so narrow and forgetful as to vote back into power the same corrupt party that helped put the economy in the ditch just before Obama's term began in January 2009?

Europeans, the same people who have national health care of one sort or another, and pay less for it, have no desire to adopt America's for-profit, pay-through-the-nose model designed to enrich the insurance industry. Europeans get more for less, and they know it. They see our recent protracted effort to adopt universal health coverage as symptomatic of American ineptitude. They could see, just we could, at least those of us who didn't watch Fox News, that very high majorities of us wanted a public option.

Yet we couldn't get it done, despite public opinion and Democratic control of the House, the Senate, and the Presidency. Support declined only when it became clear that we would end up with an unworkable compromise that enabled insurance companies to continue dominating the process.

Steven Hill has written more on the European reaction. In a recent post at Alternet, Hill relates his own experience:

"While participating in a conference in Budapest in September, where prominent conservative leaders and thinkers were in attendance, including the president of the European Parliament and two prime ministers, some of the most eye-opening comments had to do with new perceptions about America. One speaker, Christian Stoffaes, who is chairman of the Center for International Prospective Studies based in Paris, stated the “United States is in disarray, extremely polarized. It is practically a civil war there, and you can’t count on it.” This theme was echoed by others speakers, who went even further. One said “We need to shift our emphasis eastward (towards Asia) and not wait for the Obama administration.” I found these statements to be surprising, and even vaguely alarming, given the importance of the transatlantic relationship in the post-World War II era. But there was a widespread view that the US is being consumed by the severity of the Great Recession, brought on by a broken Wall Street capitalism, as well as by the quagmires of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and an inability to change course."
 Regarding the failed Copenhagen Summit on climate change, Europeans saw that the US was not serious about climate change. Calling it a real wakeup call for the Europeans, Hill notes a sudden European epiphany: wasn’t George W. Bush who was the problem, but something more profound about America’s broken political system that prevents any leader, even one as talented as Obama, from delivering.  That political system is marinated in money, is paralyzed by a “filibuster-gone-wild” Senate that has allowed a minority of Senators to obstruct all legislation, and is hamstrung by a sclerotic, winner-take-all, two-party electoral system that has left voters poorly represented and deeply frustrated." 
Ain't it just swell? Hill captures one more quotation that I must share here because it is a sentiment that many progressives share, including myself. German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, says "...The USA lived off credit for too long, inflated its financial sector massively and neglected its industrial base."


Bear in mind this is the same Germany that has higher taxes and more regulations, higher wages and higher unionization, and health care for everyone. It has paid vacations for all, generous maternity leave, more generous pensions, and much greater job security. And wealth is much more evenly distributed because of taxes. All socialist programs.

Just what Republicans insist would destroy the US. Yet Germany has generally better demographics, such as lower homelessness, lower crime, higher literacy, and longer life expectancy.  

Germany also has a massive trade surplus. And It does not owe $ trillions to China.

Republicans have their arguments completely backwards. But at least we have more billionnaires.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Our Government is Paralyzed and Polarized

I don't always agree with Tom Friedman. He has, for example, been far too enthusiastic about the benefits of globalization. But I think he is spot-on in his recent rant in the New York Times. Taking a page from the recent Wikileaks dustup, Friedman imagines he is sharing with us a cable, intercepted if you will, between Beijing and the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. (You can read the whole article here).

The tone is one of satisfaction, even relief, because America is demonstrating a contemptible inability to face up to its challenges, especially those posed by China.  Here are some excerpts.

"Things are going well here for China. America remains a deeply politically polarized country, which is certainly helpful for our goal of overtaking the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy and nation." 

"...There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics. They fight over things like — we are not making this up — how and where an airport security officer can touch them. They are fighting — we are happy to report — over the latest nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. It seems as if the Republicans are so interested in weakening President Obama that they are going to scuttle a treaty that would have fostered closer U.S.-Russian cooperation on issues like Iran. And since anything that brings Russia and America closer could end up isolating us, we are grateful to Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona for putting our interests ahead of America’s and blocking Senate ratification of the treaty...."

"...Americans just had what they call an 'election.' Best we could tell it involved one congressman trying to raise more money than the other (all from businesses they are supposed to be regulating) so he could tell bigger lies on TV more often about the other guy before the other guy could do it to him. This leaves us relieved. It means America will do nothing serious to fix its structural problems: a ballooning deficit, declining educational performance, crumbling infrastructure and diminished immigration of new talent."

"But the Americans are oblivious. They travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind... In foreign policy, we see no chance of Obama extricating U.S. forces from Afghanistan. He knows the Republicans will call him a wimp if he does, so America will keep hemorrhaging $190 million a day there."

"Most of the Republicans just elected to Congress do not believe what their scientists tell them about man-made climate change. America’s politicians are mostly lawyers — not engineers or scientists like ours — so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it. It’s good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan. And this ensures that our efforts to dominate the wind, solar, nuclear and electric car industries will not be challenged by America."

...Thank goodness the Americans can’t read our diplomatic cables."

And that does not address what the Europeans think about us, our broken government, and our downward spiral to oligarchy. That will be another post.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Policy Preferences and Democratic Weakness

On Wednesday I shared a small taste of Bill Maher's skeptical attitude about American voters' understanding of issues and policies. He, of course, is not the only one who notes a wide and long-standing anti-scientific, anti-intellectual streak in this country.

Is it getting worse? It would seem so, in part because of a new level of right-wing aggressiveness, much of it associated with Sarah Palin and teabaggers. Palin sneers at those pointy-headed intellectuals, and the teabaggers eat it up. In her crowd, anti-science has become fashionable and, perversely, is viewed as virtuous.

And yet...  

RJ Eskow, a Senior Fellow with The Campaign for America's Future, cites many reasons to feel good about the wisdom of Americans, at least a majority of us. He has collected some impressive polling data, complete with compelling pie charts that show clear majorities of Americans prefer progressive legislation and policy choices. To wit:

     1.  A large majority opposes cuts to social security;
     2.  Seven in ten oppose raising the retirement age;
     3.  A plurality says to raise taxes on the wealthy;
     4.  Nearly 4 in 5 are against cuts in Medicare;
     5.  Nearly 2 in 3 oppose cuts in lending for college tuition;
     6.  About 6 in 10 say to do more to assist unemployed workers
     7.  4 in 5 say to do more to reduce poverty
     8.  Seven in 10 favor more regulation on Wall Street

Such clear preferences do not demonstrate that people actually understand the details or implications of their choices (3 in 10 don't favor Wall Street regulation?); but they do show that most people want government to help them, not get out of the way, as Republicans since Reagan have claimed. 

As I have posted before, it is essential that we understand the role of political identity. The polls Eskow cites suggest most American prefer, wait for it -- socialism -- a strong dollop of the European model, complete with much more equitable income distribution (say it ain't so Ayn Rand). Many gravitate towards Republicans because it suits their personalities. They want to see politicians project strength, conviction, and detemination. Republicans may have an unusual obsession with swagger, symbolism, and simplistic interpretations of complex issues, but nobody likes to see weakness in their elected officials. And that is what we have mostly seen in the last two years with Dems in the White House and Senate.

People want the Democrats to win, but they have no patience with any party that says it stands for the middle class and then repeatedly squanders its opportunities. Many Americans may be uninformed, many have short memories, and many are impatient, not realizing how long it takes to turn our economy around. Those are faults of the electorate that complicate governing in the US. But nobody is making Democratic politicians look weak except themselves.

Republicans write the script only because Dems let them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dogs And Teabaggers Sense Fear

Here is a video I meant to put up earlier. Bill Maher and Michael Moore capture much of the essence of teabagger mentality, and for that matter, much of what studies on authoritarian personalities have demonstrated long before anyone heard of teabaggers, Palin, or Glenn Beck.

Maher makes the point that many Americans are like dogs. That will get the right wing's assortment of serial resenters frothing, but he makes a cringe-worthy and accurate assertion that so many Americans are like dogs because they don't really understand what is being said; they look for voice inflection, style, symbolism, and attitude.

Ok, so dogs don't get symbolism, but Maher is right to emphasize fear as a motivator for dogs and teabaggers alike. Millions let their gut feelings be their guide, which is why, as Maher notes, so many seem impervious to rational discourse. On numerous issues wonkish progressives hold dear, teabaggers do not simply disagree with progressives, and offer a reasoned counter argument; they do not understand the issue in the first place. 

But listen carefully to Moore. He stresses a point you have heard me say before: Dems lost seats in November because the 18-24 crowd didn't bother to vote, while their parent and grandparents did. Moore says 70% of the 18-24 demographic voted for Obama, which sounds about right. However, while 23 million of them voted in '08, only 9 million did so in 2010. Yet Republicans only garnered 5 million more votes in 2010.

Do the math: it's all about voter turnout.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lies, Liars, and Tax Policy

There is an excellent post at, called Taxes: Myths and Realities. There is a lot in it, so I will just hightlight and paraphrase portions. Be sure to read the whole article. Lots of links too.

1. "President Obama's tax cuts benefitted more than 95 percent of Americans."

Teabaggers have mindlessly brayed that President Obama has raised their taxes, and don't Dems realize you can never raise taxes in a weak economy? In reality, 95% of Americans received a refund of nearly $3000, a 10% increase from the previous year. Moreover, the Obama tax cuts concentrated on working poor and the middle class. Families in the bottom quintile received an average cut of $604 from the 2009 tax cut legislation. The same group received an average of $22 from the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2006, despite Bush's repeated insistance that they were a boon for all Americans.

Is it necessary to point out that the bulk of Obama's tax cut went to the middle class, which will mostly spend it, and Bush's cuts, which went overwhelmingly to the rich, who mostly save it?

2. "Conservative tax policies helped the rich the most, and left everyone else poorer."

This has become indisputable. When conservative economic policies are in place, wealth is distributed upwards. See their links and then read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett to understand why inequality is so pronounced in the US, and why it is hurting us.

3. "It's the wealthy and corporations, not working Americans, who avoid taxes."

Right again; I really need to develop this single issue, that the wealthy, especially the super-wealthy, have untold numbers of ways to avoid taxes not available to others, because it is one that most Americans don't really understand, and for an entire generation we have listened to Republicans howl about high taxes, welfare queens, and how lazy, indolent, slackers are sucking big bucks from the wealthy, who, of course, earned it all fair and square through pluck and diligence. 
This is some serious bullshit, but it points to the ability of Republicans to creat a politically advantageous framework; that real Americans, the ones from the heartland, are hardworking, sensible, and vote Republican. The poor and disadvantaged are actually lazy and dishonest, don't you see? They are just gaming the system, and wouldn't you know it, they usually vote Democrat. 

Nice framing, except that it is nonsense. As the site says, with data from the Government Accountability Office, "A whopping two-thirds of American corporations and foreign corporations doing business in the United States pay absolutely no federal income taxes—despite taking in $2.5 trillion in sales."

Meanwhile, here is David Stockman, Reagan's budget director. He is effectively acknowledging the unsustainability of Reaganomics, especially the obsession over tax cuts, an idea which has infected Republicans ever since.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

They Will Never Be Satisfied

President Obama continues to get very little credit for what his administration has accomplished. He has lost some support with progressives because he has yet to make good on issues that matter to them, including DADT, overturning heavy-handed Bush-era policies such as indefinite detentions, Guantanomo, domestic wire-tapping, and that little thing called the (two) wars. Jobs continue to concern us all. And Wall Street reform, so proudly hailed by the White House, will do little to curtail the dysfunctional personalities that flock to finance, where greed, aggressiveness, and a sociopathic disregard for the welfare of others are so obscenely rewarded.

And yes, Obama, and numerous other Dems crapped out on health care reform. Although Fox News won't mention it, public support for a public option was very high during the negotiations. Support dropped only when it became clear that we were geting the shitty version, the one that allowed the insurance companies to continue to rip us off.  More than a few progressives now believe the White House never was committed to a public option. So there are reasons why many progressives, myself included, are ambivalent about his tenure so far.

Conservatives have no excuses for their animosity, other than to admit their addiction to partisan politics leaves them no choice but to continually confirm they are intellectual prostitutes.  And confirm they do: They look especially ridiculous as they howl that Obama has shackeled business, that the mini-reforms on Wall Street will destroy wealth, or that our deficits keep spiraling out of control.

The President deserves some perspective in light of the steaming pile that Bush handed him in January of 2009, coupled with the abject refusal of Republicans to offer anything other than exactly the policies that got us here.  Deregulate Wall Street? Tax cuts for millionaires? Attack the deficit by hobbling social security? That's why they are intellectual prostitutes.

Have a look at the chart below. It shows some data you will never hear from Mitch McConnell.

Right, five straight quarters of growth. The White House had the economy expanding after only six months. Don't think Obama was the reason? You can sure as hell bet the Bush or McCain White House would have stepped up to take credit. As it is, many in the media act as if the recession began when Obama took office and that eight years of Bush mismanagement never happened.

Now watch the video of Chris Hays sitting in for Rachel Maddow. Record profits for corporate America, rising stock prices, out-sized bonuses. They even got their auto industry back. It's all there.

This is a big fat Happy Thanksgiving for corporate America. Instead they whine. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Updates on GM

GM has gone public again, and with significant investor interest. Many in the media seem to have forgotten how close to disaster GM came, and how dramatic the fallout would have been, at GM as well as its massive supply chain. 

There is a excellent write-up by "thebigotbasher" on GM's coming out party at The Conservative Lie. Give it a read. I'll just amplify here that Republicans are pretty miserable shits for trying to talk down GM's prospects. It seems clear they do not want to see GM succeed, at least for the next two years, because that success story will be forever linked to President Obama. They have been howling about Obama's heavy socialist hand on GM for months. They, of course, are suggesting that government do nothing, and let the magical free market pass its verdict on GM, and Chrysler as well. They do this because GM's failure will be forever linked to Obama. Dick Cheney, who is so often wrong, was not wrong in 2008 when he urged Republicans to get behind a bailout. He knew, and publicly stated, that if GM went under with Bush in the White House, the Republican Party would be seen as the party of Hoover.

Speaking of (mostly)Republican disparagements on GM, Jay Bookman suggests conservatives might want to issue a recall of their past public statements. He has an excellent compendium of quotes from critics who were convinced that govenment aid to GM was complete heresy. Here are just a few:
    “Every dollar spent with GM is a dollar spent against free enterprise.” -talk-show host Hugh Hewitt

    “Now the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anyone think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn GM around in the same time?”– U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C

    “I see no hope whatsoever for the situation. I think the $50 billion might as well be kissed goodbye. I would expect that this is just the beginning.”– conservative policy consultant Wendell Cox
You might think Republicans would have a bit more confidence. When Chrysler needed government support in the 1980s, far-left socialist Ronald Reagan was there. Chrysler recovered, paid back its loans, and was viable for a generation.

There is so much more on this, including the caveat that it remains to be seen how GM will ultimately turn out, but I got to get out of here for now. 

Gotta get a bird.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Health Care May Get Worse Before It Gets Better

I see where our beloved health care industry, the world's best most profitable, gave $86 million to the US Chamber of Commerce trying to defeat last year's health care legislation. I guess they have to protect that gravy train.

Meanwhile, yet another study has been released which lays bare our deficient health care. Reuters reports that a study by the Commonwealth Fund shows ..."that while Americans pay far more per capita for healthcare, they are unhappier with the results and less healthy than people in other rich countries."

The Fund's data also revealed that 20% of adults in America had significant problems paying medical bills. Only 2% in Britain and 9% in France reported similar problems.

The single biggest difference, it strikes me, between health care in the US and elsewhere in the OECD is that in the United States, health care is compelled by conservative economic doctrine to be a profit center. And if doctrine is not enough, what with all those pesky socialists, powerful interests, with their lobbyists and paid-for politicians, will work to make it happen, on their terms. Elsewhere in the OECD, the focus is on low cost health care for all, not profits. Yes, I know; it drives conservatives wild--it can't work if someone isn't making money off of it.

Thus, the primary purpose of the health insurance industry is to turn a profit, not to care for the sick. Only this would explain why a nation can so ineffectively care for millions, especially the poor and others who cannot get insurance.  What we have had are highly profitable insurance companies that were able to cherry pick their customers, and ignore or abandon those who threaten profits.

Health care reform was supposed to address at least some of the most egregious aspects, all of which the health care industry fought like crazy to protect. Current legislation is deeply flawed, but hey, it was a start. The egregious, and some might say inevitable flaw, is that taxpayers will now pay for those previously rejected, which is ok, but without cost controls on the insurers, which is not. Lots of new customers and no one saying you can't raise your premiums. That single condition explains why the health care bill ultimately passed.

And with Republicans, fortified with a gaggle of ignorant and strident teabaggers, about to take back control of the House, I am not expecting any progress.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Evidence Tax Cuts at the Top Don't Work

Democrats, at least some of them, and many in the progressive blogosphere, have been making a set of arguments on tax cuts, and why they should not be extended to the very wealthy. It is very simple, though it clearly makes little difference to Republicans set on rewarding their benefactors. The evidence against tax cuts may be on our side; the power to implement stupid policy is clearly on theirs, especially if President Obama, in his obsessive quest for bipartisanship, wilts in the face of the constant right-wing haranging.

Yet more evidence of the ineffectiveness of marginal tax-rate reduction comes from Moody's Analytics, an outfit that has long served hand in glove with Wall Street. As reported in Bloomberg, Moody's Analytics recognizes that Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 largely resulted in increased savings for the very wealthy. As Chris Cornell, an economist who researched the issue for Moody's, states, “I would tend to wonder how much the tax cut actually influences spending behavior...Spending by the top 5 percent of households seems much more closely tied to business-cycle issues than it does to tax-cut issues.”

Of course, Chris; wealthy households have far more than they know what to productively do with already. Giving them a tax break just compounds the effect.

Despite this, Republican leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in particular, continue to make the case that we must plunge ourselves further into debt roughly $700 billion so that rich people will have even more.  And they do this while howling that we must cut the deficit. That's chutzpah.

I suppose they deserve some sort of credit. No matter how inane their arguments may be, no matter the evidence that contradicts them, and no matter how blatant their class-warfare rhetoric may sometimes be, they remain consistent on some level. They know how, as Matt Taibbi puts it, "to set big groups of voters off angrily chasing their own tails in response to media-manufactured nonsense, with the Tea Party being a classic example of the phenomenon."

And they know Wall Street, having thrown shitloads on money at Repubicans, expects a return on its investment. And they know how to deliver, don't they?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wage Theft

Wage theft, the systemic cheating of workers' pay by corporate America, does not get much coverage in our corporate-owned press. It should.

It isn't because of a lack of data. See for reams of documented cases of workers being cheated in sundry ways. In particular, see their document, Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers on their front page (click the link called "Download the national report here"). It shows why corporations hate unions; they want their workers cheap, disorganized, and unable to fight back.

America's favorite store, Walmart, has a lengthy rap sheet of charges, lawsuits, and fines levied against the giant retailer because it has cheated its workers out of their pay.

Sheesh, the pay and shitty benefits packages aren't low enough already? Al Norman has some good data on these criminals, Walmart executives, though I don't think you will see any of them getting busted on Cops.

As Al Norman Writes:

In December of 2008 Wal-Mart released a staggering list of 63 separate wage and hour lawsuits that had been settled by the company, at cost ranging from $352 million to $640 million, depending on various trial court approvals.

One month later, in January of 2009, Wal-Mart announced another $54 million settlement in a case from Minnesota, followed later by a $172 million settlement in California.

On May 12, 2010, Wal-Mart issued a press release explaining that it had settled two more wage and hour lawsuits, in the so-called Ballard et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, and the Smith et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores cases -- both from California. The two cases, which were combined, affect more than a couple hundred thousand workers who had to wait years to get the compensation that Wal-Mart owed them.

Finally, have I look at the video below. Its called Wage Theft: The Crime Wave No One Talks About, featuring Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Sweet Jesus, I hate these fucking criminals.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Republicans: We Should Keep Doing As Before

This is truly nutty. Republicans in the House kept howling about the budget deficit in the face of the much-needed, and undersized, stimulus package. Now they insist that extending the Bush tax cuts to America's wealthiest must take priority, even though it is undesputed that doing so will add dramatically to the deficit, just as Bush's original tax cuts did.

Back then, in 2001, some Republican ideologues insisted that massive tax cuts would not contribute to the deficit for reasons associated with supply-side doctrine. They were fantastically wrong in the 1980s when the concept first appeared with Reagan. They were hugely wrong again during Bush the Lesser's Reign of Error. Yet some Republicans will still announce that they are supply-siders.

Really? That is some powerful cognitive dissonance you got going there.

The official reason for extending the tax cuts is that they will create jobs. Right, the people at the very top, which are the ones who stand to benefit, already have a greater proportion of our national wealth than at any time since the Gilded Age. And yet the rich will rush out and hire someone if they can just get a tax cut.  They don't have enough money yet; is that it?

Republicans willfully ignore the preponderance of data that shows tax cuts for those already rich is a notoriously ineffective way to create jobs (unlike stimulus spending on infrastructure).  And they are asking us to forget how we got in the current mess in the first place. All those tax cuts created plenty of jobs during Bush's tenure, except that they didn't.

Instead Republicans shamelessly argue that we must reel in social security even though, by law, social security pays for itself, and cannot contribute to the national deficit.

See Sabrina1's excellent article, The Terrible Cost of the Bush Tax Cuts, for more on the legacy of the tax cuts, and links to analyses that explain why they are ineffective policy tools.   

One would be at a loss to explain their idiotic determination to implement such misinformed policies only if one believed the Republicans actually mean what they say. They don't: they are not interested in the deficit, job creation, or helping main street. And they don't give a damn about bipartisanship. Their overriding interests are to consolidate political power and to deliver on the wish lists of Wall Street in particular, and Corporate America in general. They may sound like hypocrites, thugs, and intellectual buffoons to some of us. They don't care.

Like I said, nutty times.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reagan's Legacy II

Republicans continue to get hard-ons every time Ronald Reagan's name is mentioned. It is part of the authoritarian personality to show loyalty and demonstrate obsequiousness to authority figures, which, for Republicans, Reagan certainly is. Logical rigor, self-awareness of internal inconsistencies and a willingness to examine conflicting evidence are characteristics that don't rank very high, as the video below shows.

Have a look; it's Cenk Uygur, doing what so few in the mainstream media have bothered to acknowledge. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Two Years and It Has Come to This

Given a choice between voting and staying home, my argument continues to be that skipping the vote was a hugely counterproductive decision. A no vote for a Dem last Tuesday was a vote for Republicans. Even if you did not care for your particular pol, voting could have helped keep Dems in control of the House. That control is now gone. So for the 72% of registered Democrats that did not vote, thanks for nothing.

Mark Morford hits the non-voters hard in this piece. He shows particular irritation for the youngest voters, the 18-24 crowd, who made such a difference in '08. I share that view because on Tuesday we had stark and simple choices. Our preferred choices may not have been there, but we all still had a simple decision to make: Do you really want the Republicans back in power?

Having said that, I understand and share the concerns of the panel on the clip below. I especially enjoy Cenk Uygur. In the last 12-18 months Cenk has blasted Obama repeatedly over his failure to be more responsive to those who voted him into power as well as the agenda he, Obama, declared so often on the campaign trail. Progressives would likely have been far more patient with Obama if he had made it clear that he was truly working for them. Yet it is not at all clear that is the case. Watch the clip; it has some serious discussion on the hole into which Obama has helped dig himself.

If you are not familar with Cenk Uygar, by all means visit the young turks. You can easily find him on You-tube as well.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How the Dems Let the Right Wing Back in the Game

I hate to say it, and hate to see it, but Paul Jay of The Real News is pretty much spot on. Of course, there were other reasons as well; Obama Derangement Syndrome, chronic national amnesia, and a deeply misinformed public.

More at The Real News

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some Good News, But Mostly Bad

I am not happy about Tuesday's election results, with a few major exceptions, but I am going to hold off on diving into the mess, especially since so many others will do so in the next few days. I'll let the dust settle a bit, and see where we can go from here. 

However, I do want to share with you some commentary from Robert Parry. I have a similar take: I am reminded of, and strangely comforted by, the studies that show that so many American voters do not know what they are talking about and voting on. There is a swath of ignorance in this country that is both astonishing and depressing.  And more on that later as well.  

As Robert Parry has put it:
"This Republican strategy that Reagan popularized in the early 1980s has – over the past three decades – returned the United States to a second Gilded Age of extreme wealth at the top, a shrinking middle class, growing desperation among the working classes, rampant stock speculation, and a bubble-and-bust economy.

Yet amazingly, millions of Americans went to the polls on Tuesday and voted for this approach. In Rust Belt states – such as Ohio and Pennsylvania – which have substantial interest in manufacturing jobs related to the auto industry, voters punished Democrats who saved General Motors and Chrysler, and favored Republicans who would have blocked the bailout.

Voters also sent the conflicting message that they wanted the federal government to focus on 'jobs, jobs, jobs' but also cut the deficit. They then empowered Republicans whose major idea for job creation is to slash taxes for the richest top two percent of Americans, an approach that has been ineffective in job creation but is expected to add about $700 billion in red ink over the next decade."

We political scientists have a technical term to describe this behavior: "fucking idiots."

On the other hand, I was extremely pleased that Colleen Hanabusa emerged victorious in her effort to take back Hawaii's first congressional district. In a race that the media frequently called "hotly contested," or somesuch, Colleen won 53% of the vote (to Djou's 47%). Still, only 55.7% of registered voters went to the trouble to vote.

Another plus was that Democrat Neil Abercrombie easily defeated Republican Duke Aiona in the race for Governor. And when you include the clear victories by Senator Dan Inouye and Representative Mazie Hirono, it was a Democratic sweep for Hawaii's congressional delegation.

Colleen's victory celebration was packed and festive. I am honored to have been able to contribute in some small way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Ask Yourself Which America You Want"

I am headed out the door for a last round of phone banking for Colleen Hanabusa. Russell Simmons provides an appropriate backdrop for what is at stake.

"Don't Vote and We'll Get the Alice in Wonderland Congress From Hell."


Friday, October 29, 2010

Reagan's Legacy

Republicans often are able to frame a message, create an image, or promote a meme better than Democrats. This helps explain the patently ridiculous idea that Obama is a communist, or that he hates America. Republican party leaders know such statements are false, but they are not interested in accuracy; they are interested in gaining power. It serves their purpose that significant numbers of Americans, especially impressionable folks who, chronically low on facts, have trouble evaluating the veracity of claims and evidence. (It also helps to explain why so few scientists are Republicans.)

The Republican masterpiece of mythbuilding would have to be Ronald Reagan, a man whose record, if properly evaluated, would correctly recategorize him as perhaps our most overrated President. There are, of course, many academicians who understand Reagan's record, his actions, and his legacy, which is just now coming home to roost with a vengeance. Not much of that has seeped through to the mainstream. And Democratic leaders, who often show an astounding ability to miss opportunities, have made little effort to put some perspective on what that man has done to America, especially the middle class.

That is beginning to change, in part because America's political economic crisis has become so apparent, and, I think, because the Internet has allowed those of us not part of the mainstream media to have a voice. As one of those voices, I intend to promote and develop a critical and empirically anchored analysis of Reagan's legacy, stripped of its myth. For now I want to direct you to an excellent post by Dave Johnson, who shares some of the major storylines of Reagan's eight years, presented in vivid, but depressing, charts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hawaii Polling

Once again I need to get out the door for some volunteer work with Hanabusa for Congress. Most polls show a close race, though I see a new one at Civil Beat that shows Hanabusa leading Djou by a very slim margin of 49.5 to 45.3 with a margin of error of =/- 3.9%.

Ok, that is pretty small, but it is big improvement from about a month ago when the Rothenberg Political Report said that a private Democratic poll showed Djou with a double-digit lead.

Even so, most Hawaii polls are showing a tight race. However, just as with the mainland, there is some evidence of a late-developing Democratic trend, as people finally catch up to the horror of teabaggers in government.

Gotta run

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Few Good Questions

Ralph Nader has a few questions he would like to ask of teabaggers. Good luck on that, Ralph. They are excellent questions, but try getting these people to answer moderately-detailed questions on policy, or to explain inconsistencies, or whatever. They can't and they won't. Teabaggin's all about visceral, feel good identity politics.  Not that some won't try, mind you. They are happy to talk, but they mostly want to attack, accuse, and smear, all while acting out their tribalist instincts; they don't want to be challenged.  This is true for the candidates by and large, but I think especially so for the fist-pumping, gun-toting, sign-waving crowds who have an awfully hard time getting their facts straight. There I go again, talking like a Democrat, fussing over facts and evidence.

Have you noticed how the teabagger signs (which you can easily google) are almost entirely directed against government, especially liberal government policies, such as health care reform, stimulus spending, unemployment benefits? Yeah, right, just the things that benefit the middle class. More to the point, notice the absence of any anger or venom directed at the real culprits; Wall Street, the bankers, the corporations that outsource, and all the other assorted motherfuckers that put the economy in the ditch and lined their pockets with our tax dollars? Not a word about how health insurance companies have been raising rates and denying coverage. They have almost nothing to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the monstrously expensive government contracts for the defense industry that has profited so greatly.

The teabaggers are, in the main, angry, but ill-informed. Check that, I am mincing words. I should say they don't know what the fuck they are talking about. They actually believe that President Obama has raised their taxes, just one example of how they get so much ass-backwards. And that is because their Republican handlers keep saying it. They are being played by the Republican Party which has fed them prime talking points that benefit the wealthy and powerful.

Can teabaggers really be this misinformed? Can they really not see whose jerking their chain?  Matt Taibbi thinks so. He wrote at length recently about the astonishing willingness of teabaggers to believe ridiculous horseshit.  Have an eye-opening read about your fellow Americans.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Myths vs Facts

Below is an excellent list of myths about President Obama that far too many people believe are true. For this you can thank the congenital liars in the Republican Party, a captured media, as well as an unfortunately large, pervasive swath of voter ignorance. The White House's inability to get its message out, especially in the face of the incessant right-wing noise machine, ain't helping.

The list, along with the links, was originally compiled by Dave Johnson at Campaign for America's Future. Many thanks to Dave for his excellent work.
 * * *
There are a number things the public "knows" as we head into the election that are just false. If people elect leaders based on false information, the things those leaders do in office will not be what the public expects or needs.

Here are eight of the biggest myths that are out there:

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
Reality: Bush's last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama's first budget reduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.
Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the "stimulus" was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

3) President Obama bailed out the banks.
Reality: While many people conflate the "stimulus" with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be "non-reviewable by any court or any agency.") The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

4) The stimulus didn't work.
Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.
Reality: A business hires the right number of employees to meet demand. Having extra cash does not cause a business to hire, but a business that has a demand for what it does will find the money to hire. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.
Reality: The health care reform reduces government deficits by $138 billion.

7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is "going broke," people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.
Reality: Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit (compare that to the military budget!) Life expectancy is only longer because fewer babies die; people who reach 65 live about the same number of years as they used to.

8) Government spending takes money out of the economy.
Reality: Government is We, the People and the money it spends is on We, the People. Many people do not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, ports, courts, schools and other things that are the soil in which business thrives. Many people think that all government spending is on "welfare" and "foreign aid" when that is only a small part of the government's budget.

TARP Has Worked Out Well

Turns out the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, has done rather well for the government. People will always debate whether TARP was truly necessary in the first place. Detractors from across the political spectrum will always claim it did not have the desired effect. But one of the biggest gripes about TARP, an argument especially dear to the American Right, was that it was going to add greatly to the national debt. Stop the bailout, they foamed.

Turns out it won't. BusinessWeek, no liberal hotbed, reports that taxpayers are enjoying an 8.2% return on their investment, a far higher return than on 30-year Treasury bonds. And you thought that Marxist from Kenya was just giving the money away. You know, 'cause he wants to destroy America. 

Public perception has yet to catch up with reality. And in this nutty election season, the disconnect is especially wide. The Democratic Party's inability to get its message, and its accomplishments, across to the public is frustrating. Many have emotionally innoculated themselves against reason and evidence, especially those who insist on having their feel-good pout. They are not going to let little things like facts get in the way.

I'm looking at you, teabaggers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reich: Fed Creating a New Bubble

I am off to volunteer some time to Hanabusa for Congress. But before I go, just a quick reference to a recent post by Robert Reich, where he argues that the Fed's decision to pump more money into the economy, and thus keep interest rates low, and therefore spur on the economy, will be ineffective. He gives a variety of reasons, but the upshot is that there is no productive place for the money to go. Banks could lend, and that was the original idea, but they are supposed to be following stricter standards, yes? So no loans for you, bub.

It needs to go to higher wages, but as obvious as that may seem, no one in power wants to push the idea, certainly not corporations, Republicans, or the investor class. And government mechanisms to make that happen are utterly inchoate. Compare that with the speed with which TARP was enacted, or tax breaks for hedge fund managers.

So, as Reich reminds us, the money ends up in the stock market, which helps explain why the Dow has gone up so much recently, despite poor economic indicators. The investor class is in the process of creating a new financial bubble.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tax Breaks for Billionnaires

Matt Taibbi over at Rolling Stone notes how, once again, a remarkably unfair, asinine, and unjustifable piece of legislation has sailed through Congress with nary a public comment; no Republican obstructionism, no outraged Dems, and damn little debate. You didn't hear about it on the teevee? You probably won't either.
Once again, hedge funds, and a few others, such as venture capitalists and real estate partnerships, have bought themselves some fat tax breaks. One enabler is Democrat Charles Schumer, who went to bat to ensure that hedge fund managers pay a lower rate than their secretaries. This is nothing new for Chuck; he has fought for the same creampuff tax treatment that ensures that society's richest get the most favorable rates that money can buy.

Senator Schumer is often on the right side on many issues, but his vote on this is a significant contributor to growing inequality in the US. Schumer represents Wall Street, not metaphorically, but literally. I guess he has constituents to worry about, like all politicians.

Who am I kidding? It's their money he wants, and he sure as hell gets it too. Have a look here to see who lines his pockets.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Weekend Linkage II

Chris Hedges, as always, is able to encapsulate the core issues confronting us. He reaches back into time to show that the forces arrayed against democracy never really go away. Read "How Democracy Dies: Lessons From A Master."

Here is a little something that many will find depressing, or perhaps perversely amusing. Working America has a jobtracker feature in which you supply a zip code, and it tells you which companies in that area are exporting jobs abroad, have warned of layoffs, or are in violation of various federal labor/health/safety laws. Very revealing.

The video below is one more reason Bill O'Reilly is an asshole. After watching a McDonald's ad in France, he compares gays to Al Qaeda. I guess he just can't get comfortable with people who are different than himself.

You stay classy, Bill.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Teabaggers are Noisy But Out of Step with America

The media has a lemming-like quality about it when it comes to covering events. It is easier to stoke a meme, and ignore opposing evidence, than to engage in real journalism. The infatuation with the teabaggers, at least as an inexpensive story with which to pummel viewers, is instructive. It seems safe, others are covering it too, and, besides, good journalistic research is expensive. The networks are all profit-oriented, so growing their bottom line is the real objective.

Obviously there are overt political agendas as well. So it is inevitable that teabaggers are going to get coverage and credibility. What does not get aired much is the research that shows how out of touch teabaggers are with most of America.

Right, just the opposite of what FoxNews wants you to believe. Two studies have emerged that show that most Americans support government programs, and would like to see support continue, increase, or in some cases, redirected, but not eliminated. Project Voter has released an extensive survey that reveals not only starkly differing views on attitudes towards government, but also how unrepresentative teabaggers are in social and demographic terms.

The Washington Post has also just published a survey that reaches similar conclusions. The study, done in conjunction with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, does reveal that many Americans are conflicted about government, but want it to help solve problems more effectively.

Inconsistent positions on policy are quite common with self-described teabaggers. The Republican or conservative bravado appeals to the identity of many of them. But asked to delineate specific policy preferences, and not just platitudes, and they suddenly take on positions more like mainstream liberals. Now that is enough to make their heads explode. There are complex reasons why this is so, and it is well-documented by political scientists and psychologists who study political identity and behavior. For some background on this, replete with more surveys, see Paul Rosenberg's revealing piece on how he came to understand the centrality of identity politics for conservatives here.

Points to the WaPo for the study, but I'm guessing others will mostly ignore it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Only Teabaggers Will Be Surprised

It seems so long ago. Congress was fighting over health care reform. Republicans, well-paid by the health care lobby, dutifully trotted out their inane talking points.  Sarah Palin, appealing as she does to low-information voters, insisted health care reform would bring us death panels. And teabaggers once again had their facts wrong as they loudly proclaimed the US had the best health care system in the world. 

It is not news to the rest of us that any number of studies demonstrate otherwise. The most recent has just been released, and it makes clear that inadequate and deeply inequitable access to health care in the US is driving down life expectancy. An abstract, a PDF summary, and an explanation of the methodology, can be found here. Additional overview is at the Independent

Here's to the teabagger rallying cry; "Bring back pre-existing conditions. Vote Republican."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Get Out and Vote

You say you may not vote this time around? That's just what the shits in this video want to hear. Your choice should be obvious.

Friday, October 8, 2010

This is Not Getting Enough Attention

Robert Reich, Cal-Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, has sounded what should be democracy's alarm bell. Corporate America is dominating the electoral process as never before. The big recent change was the Supreme Court's loathsome decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.

Much has been said about that decision, how it curiously equates corporations, including multi-billion dollar conglomerates, with persons, and thus able to spend unlimited amounts of money to, in effect, buy elections. However, Reich reminds us that the other kicker in all this is that groups that receive much of this funding do not have to say where they got it (as opposed to money that goes directly to politicians, who do have to reveal sources). In the process we are looking increasingly like a stereotypic banana republic where powerful elites and their rich cronies dominate the entire election process.

Be sure to read Reich's entire article, but I want to stress a few points he makes. One is that elections are becoming more opaque. As Reich says, "...only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed." To compound the problem, there is every indication that foreign money is pouring into campaign coffers. Yes, it is illegal, but it is now harder to prove than ever before. (And it Republicans take control of Congress, what are the chances they will investigate that?)

Senate Democrats recently attempted to pass a bill that would compel disclosure. As has so often been the case, every Republican in the Senate voted against it. Corporate money is pouring into Republican coffers, so it is no surprise that the GOP responds so predictably to its benefactors. Reich notes that less than 10 years ago, campaign disclosure was supported by a large majority of senate Republicans.

It is not at all certain what citizens can do about this, especially the growing number of poor and unemployed. Reich says, "Right now we're headed for a perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top, a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy, and a public in the aftershock of the Great Recession becoming increasingly angry and cynical about government. The three are obviously related."

Indeed they are.  Reich offers eight ways citizens can fight back, but this is an uphill slog that does not bode well for democracy, for the middle class, or for America. We are headed for oligarchy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shameless Ideologue

You might have seen this. Sharron Angle hopes you haven't, and with the 24 hour-news-cycle mentality of our media, it will probably disappear soon. The story is clear enough; Nevada Senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, who denounces so much of our government, and has said some very nutty things, has government-run health insurance. This, of course, is the woman who thinks the recently enacted health care bill is hideous socialism. She qualifies for it through her husband, who is a retired civil servant, one of them gubmint bureaucrats. Double socialist.

The more the teabaggers talk, the more they sound like a parody. No wonder she runs from the media. Her handlers must realize by now she sounds like a moron. 

Talk is cheap, hypocrite.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kudlow's Hypocrisy

Larry Kudlow, the prickly CNBC commentator who never met a tax rate he didn't think should be lowered, or a regulation that should not be abolished, thinks a recent picture of President Obama embracing his long-time friend, Rahm Emanuel, (during a good-by ceremony) is over the line and shows weakness. Goodness knows how Republicans hate weakness. The pic, along with Kudlow's entire comments, are at Kudlow & Co. and at Andrew Breitbart's asinine website. Breitbart? Now there is a trustworthy and dignified guy. Just the place for millionaires to air their grievances. I'm not linking to either one, but here is the pic. You can visit Jason Linkins at HuffPo here for additional comments and his link to Breitbart.

Pretty routine, especially amongst long-time friends, no? Not for Kudlow, who declares: "I think the hug lacked dignity. It did not send a message of American power and forcefulness ... Why not just a dignified, stand-up, serious handshake? That's what Reagan would have done. A strong handshake shows friendship, respect, and even affection. But a big fat hug seems to go over the line."

I guess it's a little too touchy-feeling for the hard right Wall Street apologist. His attitude reminds me of the classic line in "The Ruling Class," when Peter O'Toole's mentally ill character declared, "The strong must manipulate the weak, it is the first law of the universe."
And while Kudlow obviously still gets boners over Reagan, (the same guy who cut and ran in Lebanon) the telling story here is why authoritarians open their mouth without realizing that people like myself can so effortlessly throw their arguments back at them. They don't have to show they are right, which is why they often ignore data (and why wonkish types are usually Dems); they only have to feel they are right, which is all the time. If Kudlow was not such an ideologue, he would realize there are numerous pics online that reveal his hypocrisy. Take a gander at these. Did they bother Kudlow then? Come on, Larry, explain to us why Republican Presidents act so undignified.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why Don't Corporations Demand a Public Option?

I have often wondered why corporations have not supported a public option for health care or preferably a single payer plan. Our auto makers have longed complained about costly health care as a major reason for their relatively high overhead compared to foreign competitors.  And one of the reasons GM and Chysler were willing to build factories in Canada was government run health care.

One would think corporations would love to get out from under any costly program; after all, they have a long history of privatizing benefits and socializing costs. Why would health insurance be any different?

The Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) has offered some tentative possibilities.  One of these is that executives are reluctant to ruffle business relations for fear of encouraging expropriators. As David Himmelstein, one of the founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, says, "If you can take away someone else's business--the insurance companies' business--you can take away mine."

Moreover, says the ISS, corporations prefer some level of insecurity for their workers. The knowledge that coverage can be lost leads to a more compliant work force.

The problem with these hypotheses is that they don't explain why there is not a more heated public debate, not on the merits of health care reform, but on how non-insurance corporations would benefit from a government role and why they don't make the case. Certain executives may not want single payer for whatever reason, but why are they not at least compelled to defend their decision? Why have Democrats who support health care reform not made a better case to corporate America? Never mind the humanitarian or fairness arguments; most corporations don't give a shit about that. They do care about saving money. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Djou Flunks

The nonpartisan Coalition for a Prosperous America has released a congressional scorecard on how members of the House of Representatives vote on international trade. The CPA gives its results and an explanation of the methodology. You can see how your representative did here.

The CPA does not favor ideologically-laden free trade, so it certainly is not the must-have-cheap-labor Chamber of Commerce. Rather, the CPA supports trade that works for Americans, meaning the US must endeavor to develop a more coherent foreign trade policy.

Two results stand out for me. The first is that Democrats, as a group, score better than Republicans. The latter show a strong preference to give corporations what they want, such as freedom to outsource production. Dems are starting to recognize what our trading partners have always known; work for policies that promote our industrial base, and to hell with the free-trade gospel.  Unfortunately, the institutional barriers to meaningful change are enormous.

I also see that my Representative, Republican Charles Djou, received not only an F on the CPA scorecard, but a complete zero. Way to go, Charles. Looks like you are still Boehner's Hawaiian BFF.

Hawaii's other Representative, Mazie Hirono, scored an A. Thanks, Mazie. Come November Hawaii will have a chance to vote for two Representatives that take working families seriously. Mazie Hirono, and Colleen Hanabusa. A vote for Colleen will help send Djou packing.

Don't get too comfortable, Chuck.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Catfood Commission Sprays Wider Swath

Recall that President Obama's debt commission was created to find ways to address the federal debt. Stopping the endless wars and the obscenely expensive military-industrial complex would seem to be a good start, but remember there are Republicans involved. Recall also that Democrats in Congress did not support the debt commission, and voted it down. Obama created it by issuing an executive order, and now you have Republicans on the commission, including the duplicitous co-chair, Alan Simpson, talking about the need to "reel in" social security.

Credit is due to Dems who saw it coming and refused to enable Obama's enemies. Obama either did not see it coming (possible), or did see it, and thought it a good idea (more likely). You know, bipartisanship and all. Either way, Obama has a lot of explaining to do to those irresponsible whiners who put him in office. You know, the ones who actually voted for him.
Now the catfooders want to go further. Republicans on the commission want to use it as a platform to argue for, wait for it, additional corporate and capital gains tax cuts. At least they are consistent. All their efforts to maintain the status quo involve retaining benefits for the rich, such as extending the Bush tax cuts for all, and every effort to cut spending is done on the backs of the working class.

This election season is like a parody, especially Republicans. I mean, how blatant does it have to get?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Slouching Towards Stockholm

The disconnect between the values of a majority of Americans and what Republicans claim those values to be has always been substantial. And with the Republican leadership, goaded by deeply conflicted teabaggers, lurching ever further to the right, that chasm is wider than it has been in generations. Paul Rosenberg has written on the jarring disparity between what conservatives say they value, and thus who they vote for, and the actual economic policies they support. Have a look and see what he says about conservative identity. And see Cenk Uygur's take on why Washington is more right-wing than the rest of the country.

Succinctly put, many Republican voters identify with the visceral appeal of Republican candidates, the imagery, the bravado, and the symbolism, complete with flags, uniforms, bald eagles, and feel-good homilies. They admire and usually vote for candidates that project strength and certainty.  It can be nutty nonsense, but for many conservatives, that seems to be beside the point. I'm looking at you, Sarah Palin.

But as Rosenberg shows, most Americans, and even a majority of Republicans, prefer Democratic economic policies; not candidates, mind you, but the actual policies. Take, for example, the demands of confused teabaggers that government keeps its hands of "my medicare".

It is thus very instructive to see that according to researchers at Harvard and Duke, an overwhelming majority of Americans, 92 percent, would prefer a society with far less income disparity, opting for one much more like Sweden. That is generally true for young and old, Repubican or Democrat.

The study also indicated that Americans generally are not aware of how profound the wealth disparities in the US really are. When asked, most estimated the distribution of wealth in the US to be rather modest, once again providing figures that more accurately represented Sweden.

You know what is galling about this? The inability of Democrats to get these points across to more Americans. Republicans keep offering policy prescriptions that favor the rich, while telling the working class they must sacrifice. And Democrats stand there, wring their hands, and wonder how they should campaign.

It's like neither party really wants to win.