Saturday, January 29, 2011

Privatizing Elections: A Republican Wet Dream

Last week I reported that House Republicans intended to end the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, the Watergate-era law that created a role for public financing of elections. This latest effort to give the wealthy ever more control over our democratic institutions passed an important hurdle on Wednesday by a 239-160 vote margin. As with virtually all substantive legislation, the vote fell sharply on party lines.

Republican leaders never fail to give reason for loathing. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor claimed the bill was a "no-brainer." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, introduced the bill into the Senate, claiming, “In a time of exploding deficits and record debt, the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians.”

These, of course, are the same people who continue to vote for various corporate subsidies, allow corporations to avoid taxes through sweetheart legislation, happily line their pockets with corporate donations, oversee the monstrous and lucrative defense contracts that put billions of taxpayers' dollars into corporate coffers, and voted to extend tax cuts to America's richest.

What the budget deficit does is allow Republicans to chip away at any number of programs, however valuable, in the guise of attacking the deficit. The actual budgetary impact of many of the programs they insist must end is quite modest; $20 million here, $50 million there. Seems like a lot until you realize the total amount doesn't pay for a single B-1 bomber.

Republican presidential candidates know they personally will have no trouble raising huge sums of cash for future elections because they do corporate America's bidding. Progressive politicians who try to rein in the march to oligarchy will have a much tougher time raising money. And that disproportionate impact is why Republicans would love to end public financing. Obama's great fund-raising success in 2008, which did not rely on public funds, will be tough to repeat, and thanks to Citizens United, will likely be overshadowed as corporations and the super-wealthy reassert and extend their traditional dominance.

The bill still has to pass the Senate, which seems unlikely, and then be signed into law by the President, which is even more unlikely. I would feel better about this were it not for the Democrats' proven ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 

See BusinessWeek for more details.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dow Jones Surges Under Obama

The table below reveals that President Obama's first two years mark the biggest two-year increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average since FDR. Obviously, the increase has much to do with the shit pile Bush handed to Obama, just as the huge increase under FDR had much to do with cleaning up after another reckless Republican. Some of the increase was inevitable and would have happened regardless of who was in the White House.

Yet even if people have different views on how much Obama should be credited for the surge, the least credible argument that conservatives can make is that he has been bad for business. Naturally, that is the one they try to make. If a Republican had presided over this stock market recovery, the conservative press would have insisted that everyone tattoo words to that effect on their arm. They would have repeated it on Fox News until it became an article of faith.


The problem, of course, is that the stock market is but one indicator of our economic health. The Dow Jones is not terribly relevant, its rise not very helpful, to those unable to invest. Yet the conservative investor class was very happy when stocks went up under Bush the Lesser. They were quick to suggest it was because markets trusted Republicans. Many financial elites, the same ones who bitched endlessly that Obama would ruin us all, have benefited enormously under two years of Obama, having got back most or all of what they lost after their toxic shit hit the middle class fan during Bush's last year.

Yeah, I know; there was a bunch of neo-liberals like Rahm Emanuel, Peter Orszag, Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, and others who were in on it as well. Democrats mostly, they worked in the Clinton Administration, the Obama Administration; some in both. They have mostly moved on to enormously enrich themselves on Wall Street. They promoted Wall Street's perverse dominance with the worst of the Republicans.

Good riddance to all.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Republicans Push for More Corporate Dominance

The march towards oligarchy continues. Republicans, in the guise of spending cuts, have announced they want to abolish campaign matching funds. As David Espo at MSNBC writes:

WASHINGTON — The House will vote next week on legislation to end the system of financing presidential candidates and national party conventions with federal matching funds, Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced Thursday. He put the estimated savings at $520 million over a decade if the legislation passes Congress and is signed into law.

Cantor, R-Va., said the vote would be a response to a pre-election project in which Republicans invited the public to vote on proposals for reductions in federal spending.

"While some have argued that providing even more taxpayer funding for this program might entice more candidates to participate, eliminating the program altogether would save taxpayers $520 million over 10 years and would require candidates and political parties to rely on private donations rather than tax dollars," read a description on Cantor's website.
That last sentence is the kicker: Cantor and his fellow Republicans, rolling in cash ever since the Supremes, at least five of them, handed them Citizens United a year ago, now want to more thoroughly privatize elections than ever before by outlawing even the modest role played by legislation passed in response to multiple election-related abuses by the Nixon Administration.

That legislation was specifically designed to prevent undue reliance on special interest groups, or more specifically the richest and best-connected interest groups. If it is repealed, a big if at this point, there will be even less separating corporate America from dominance, legal dominance, mind you, of the electoral process and government itself.

All this to "save" $520 million over 10 years. We spend that much on Afghanistan in a matter of days.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Citizens United

A couple of videos to recognize the one year anniversary of the asinine Citizens United decision. Note to conservatives: these videos contain parody. And a happy MLK Day to all.

She's learning fast, but thanks to a perverse combination of Wall Street money and teabagger ignorance, her generation will grow up thinking that corporate dominance is the norm.

Not too sure about that time and a half thing. That's subversive pro-human talk. No red-blooded American corporation favors it.

BTW: How can you tell she is a pre-teen?   She's ordering Zinfandel.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Corporate Communism

Dylan Ratigan has a good rant in the video below. Free market pain and adjustment for most of us; socialism, subsidies, and protection for those at the top. 

It should be so blatantly obvious that financial interests have captured our economy and government. I hold special contempt for teabaggers who had ample opportunity to see who the real perpetrators have been. Just to be clear on this; the evidence is pretty freakin obvious that the Republican establishment created the teabagger movement. The money, and there was lots of it, came from various sources, but mostly from Wall Street. And the teabaggers themselves have been too stupid, too misinformed, and so ideologically blind that they not only offer completely incoherent, contradictory, and intellectually infantile demands, they have also completely missed the overwhelming role that Wall Street, conservative economic doctrine, and Republican politicians have played.

Yet teabaggers and other shallow voters have become angry with America's difficulties only since Obama took office. Tip to the clueless; it ain't the unions, the public sector, teachers, Muslims, or Obama's black friends that have put the US and the middle class in the current bind.  Do your brain a favor and read some economic history.

Take a look at the chart below the video. If I had to choose one data set to show what has happened to the US in recent decades, this would be it.

This chart indirectly reveals how nearly all growth since about 1980 has gone to corporations. The data directly show that for a generation, corporate America has had the ability to pay much higher wages, but instead has pocketed nearly all productivity gains. Corporate profits are at record levels, but the American middle class is hurting not because taxes are too high, but because our wages are too low.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Jobs Up, Boehner Complains

The US Labor Department has just released its December employment data. As the Labor Dept.'s website says, "The number of unemployed persons decreased by 556,000 to 14.5 million in December, and the unemployment rate dropped to 9.4 percent. Over the year, these measures were down from 15.2 million and 9.9 percent, respectively."

Not bad. Many remain jobless, but the drop in the unemployment rate was substantial, the biggest one-month drop since 1998 (also under a Democrat). The still-high figure of 9.4% is the lowest since July 2009.  According to Nancy Pelosi, now the House Minority Leader, President Obama and the Democratic Congress created more jobs in 2010 than George Bush did in all of his eight years. The new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, from whom I have yet to hear a single statement or sound bite that is both substantive and coherent, replied that the data shows the need to cut spending in order to grow the economy.

Boehner pulled that positively Hooveresque conclusion from his ass.  He, Cantor, and the rest of his crowd just cannot accept that federal spending has a stimulative effect. To be more precise, they happily spend when they are in power and when the money goes to their districts. Spending, and the deficit, become problems only when Democrats are in control.

Did you notice how Republicans, primarily Boehner, railed against the federal deficit ever since Obama took office, but changed their tune late last year when it looked like they were going to score a victory for their richest benefactors by getting Democrats to agree to Bush-era tax cuts for all (by holding the unemployed hostage, no less). Then, for several weeks Republicans laid off the deficit rhetoric and instead insisted that we should never raise taxes in a week economy, as if the richest 2% of America would suffer. Now that they secured the tax cuts for the rich, Republicans are back to inveighing against the deficit.  

As for those jobs, Boehner should get an eyeful of the chart below. It's from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Obama has done remarkably well given the catastrophe handed to him by Bush and Wall Street.

ThinkProgress has a nice summary of Bush's record of job creation:

As the Wall Street Journal noted in the last month of Bush’s term, the former president had the “worst track record for job creation since the government began keeping records.” And job creation under Bush was anemic long before the recession began. Bush’s supply-side economics “fostered the weakest jobs and income growth in more than six decades,” along with “sluggish business investment and weak gross domestic product growth,” the Center for American Progress’ Joshua Picker explained. “On every major measurement” of income and employment, “the country lost ground during Bush’s two terms,” the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein observed, parsing Census data.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Whitewater, Part II

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks is spot-on in this clip. He makes almost all the points I myself try to make about the recent Republican accusations of corruption in the White House (no wonder I like him!). Note especially the almost comical position of Congressman Issa, who acknowledges that Bush signed TARP into law, but all that money must surely be corrupting the Obama Administration, so naturally one starts off with well-publicized accusations. The lack of evidence is apparently beside the point. Cenk also speaks of the $ billions that went unaccounted for in Iraq; a fact, not an accusation, of which Issa has nothing to say. 

Readers should note the real reason for Issa's aggressiveness. Republicans are going to do the same thing to Obama that they did to Clinton; endless investigations along with the accusations, the circus atmosphere, and the ample opportunities to implant in the minds of voters that Obama must be stopped. Republicans were able to drag out Whitewater for almost the entire eight years and never found anything. Their objective was to destroy Clinton. Failing that, to embarrass him, undermine his administration, and suggest to voters that the man was tainted, as if mere accusations meant scandals. 

Far more officials in the administrations of Bush the Elder and Reagan went to prison than those under Clinton, a fact almost completely forgotten by voters and our feckless media. But a generation of Americans will forever link Clinton to Whitewater. That, of course, was an objective. To be sure, Clinton created his own mess with Monica Lewinsky, but that was after almost everything else had run its course.

Republicans have shown a determination to set the narrative on Obama through every means possible, and that now includes subpoena and investigatory power. They spent years trying to destroy Bill Clinton, with limited success. They are set to do it again with Obama. They sense weakness, and the political and social climate has become dysfunctional, so the outcome may be different this time.  As Cenk says, "they're coming after you."