Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Stuff

K.O. interviews Jim Moore of HuffPo to take a look at this nonsense with Dubya's Fabulous Freedom Institute (how SMU faculty and alumna could watch this play out and avoid expressions of cringing horror is a mystery to me; and OF COURSE Hoover approved it, being the place where old conservatives like Rummy go to "run out the clock," imagining battlefield glories that never materialized)...

...and "Worst Persons" (Sean Inanity pretends to speak for my faith again, with predictable consequences - umm, torture is, like, actually a BAD thing; bubbleheaded congressperson Michele Bachmann of Minnesota - people of Minnesota, PLEASE RETIRE THIS WOMAN FOR GOOD NEXT YEAR!!! - opposes earmarks in legislation, unless she owns them of course; and Glenn Beck absolves a mass murderer of his heinous deeds - yes, I really just typed that, and I can't believe it either, despite the fact that we're talking about Glenn Beck)...'s the full episode of Jon Stewart handing it to Jim Cramer on "The Daily Show"...

...and we made it to the weekend - gosh, don't you just feel like singing?

Some Friday "Meta" Musings

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about the topic I’m about to address, and I thought I’d share some of what we discussed (I’ve tried to find a way to work this into a post, but I’ve been unsuccessful).

To begin, I should point out that there are a lot of people out there doing good work when it comes to organizing others into a consensus on a particular issue (I immediately think of folks like Michael Morrill at Keystone Progress when I say that, individuals who haven’t let up one inch since the election, as well as and other business-related advocacy groups). And I personally think there’s always more that I can or should do, despite the fact that working on this site consumes a lot of time (as well as trying to generate stuff to keep people coming back to the Wordpress site).

But I’m a bit concerned because, based on my observations (which may not be completely representative of what’s going on – I hope not, anyway), it seems that those opposed to what Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats (and some Republicans) are trying to do are making more noise than those who approve. I’m basing that in part on the reader correspondence I’ve noticed in the Bucks County Courier Times (an imperfect barometer, I grant you), as well as the hit counts on the freeper sites where you can find plentiful propaganda on anything from the Obama stimulus, to the spending bill, to the Employee Free Choice Act, Freedom of Choice Act (which, I should emphasize again, has never made it out of the congressional committee where it originated and probably never will), the supposed return of the Fairness Doctrine…you name it. It’s easier to find the wingnuttery than it is to drill down to the reality based perspective; that online gap, if you will, seems to be growing larger by the day.

I know there’s a big temptation to say, “hey, we fought hard last year and won our victory, so let’s just kick back and let the Repugs eat each other,” which is great fun I’ll admit. The problem, though, is that the lunatic fringe that largely comprises the Republican Party now more than ever is continually trying to find reasons to perpetuate their feelings of hurt, neglect and general disenfranchisement (which, of course, is their own damn fault due to their own pigheaded obstruction and blind acceptance of their party’s ideology which has very nearly led us to our ruin).

The problem, though, is that this is EXACTLY the moment when we must not let up when it comes to contacting our politicians, writing Letters to the Editor addressed to newspapers, posting online, communicating on behalf of Obama and the Democrats to get their agenda passed into law at social networking sites…you name it. And I would just ask that we keep all of that in mind as the battles for reform play out before us, including the one on the aforementioned Employee Free Choice Act (as big as that fight is, it will dwarf the coming battle over healthcare reform and the clash over ensuring the solvency of Medicare first and Social Security later).

I know we know this, and I no more have the right to preach activism than the next person. It’s just that I’m starting to see somewhat of a disturbing parallel to 1993-1994 here (in the way that the other side is scrambling, I mean), and while I don’t believe the Republican Party will return to that type of dominance any time soon, I don’t want to see them ever get that chance. I know you don’t either.

So let’s all make sure they don’t.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road (3/13/09)

As reported in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, here is how Philadelphia-area members of Congress were recorded on major roll-call votes last week (not a lot happening...and I also posted over here).


Bankruptcy, mortgages. Voting 234-191, the House passed a bill (HR 1106) empowering bankruptcy courts to lower the principal on mortgages on main residences after borrowers have exhausted other refinancing options. The bill, which applies to Chapter 13 proceedings, would permanently raise to $250,000 per depositor per institution the level of government insurance on checking, savings, and money market accounts and certificates of deposit. That level of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. protection is now in effect temporarily.

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.

Voting yes: John Adler (D., N.J.), Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).

Voting no: Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).
As far as I’m concerned (echoing the opinion of those smarter in economics than yours truly), a big part of the reason for our current mess, in addition to the inflation of the housing bubble, helped in no small part by this guy who I featured on Wednesday (Greenspan advocated home buyers taking out adjustable rate mortgages, not realizing – or not caring about – what would happen when the rates started ticking upwards)…well, another reason is the fraud Bankruptcy Bill of 2005, which make it more onerous for us to escape credit card debt, forcing us to skimp on mortgage payments or get over-leveraged borrowing against our equity.

So I went back to find out which members of Congress from our area voted for the bill, and here they are (noted here):

Castle (at least he cast the right vote this time around)
Holden (what a joke)
Pitts (of course)
Schwartz (I would say that atonement is in order)
All of these individuals bear some responsibility for the pain faced by homeowners due to their votes in favor of that awful bill (with Castle and the Dems at least realizing their mistake).

Wait, I spoke too soon – not all Dems realized their mistake.

Is there anyone out there who can give me a reason why this guy continues to take up space in the Democratic Party?

God, I’d love to see somebody “primary” Tim Holden next year. If so, I promise to provide whatever there is at my disposal to assist this person.


Earmarks dispute. Voting 32-63, the Senate defeated an amendment to strip an estimated 8,570 earmarks totaling as much as $7.7 billion from a $410 billion appropriations bill (HR 1105) for the current fiscal year that remained in debate. The earmarks have originated in both chambers and are split about 60-40 between Democratic and Republican sponsorship. The amendment also sought to reduce the overall bill by $32 billion so as to freeze it at 2008 levels.

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting no: Thomas Carper (D., Del.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Ted Kaufman (D., Del.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), and Arlen Specter (R., Pa.).

Endangered species. Voting 42-52, the Senate defeated an amendment to HR 1105 (above) that sought to retain certain Bush administration changes in the Endangered Species Act. One change would lessen the weight of climate-change science in protecting polar bears, and the other would deny the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine and Fisheries Service a voice in certain decisions. The underlying bill would immediately repeal the changes, which took effect a month before President George W. Bush left office.

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Specter.

Voting no: Carper, Casey, Kaufman, Lautenberg, and Menendez.
As always, screw you Arlen (and by the way, stay out of our party).

U.N. population fund. The Senate rejected, 39-55, an amendment to withhold U.S. contributions to the U.N. Population Fund unless President Obama certifies that none of the money would reach countries or groups that coerce abortions or require involuntary sterilizations. Opponents said the amendment to HR 1105 (above) only duplicates existing law and harms programs that benefit women and girls in poor countries, including ones concerning genital mutilation and childhood marriage.

A yes vote backed the amendment.

Voting yes: Casey.

Voting no: Carper, Kaufman, Lautenberg, Menendez, and Specter.
Still waiting to hear from Bob about his awful pro-gun vote last week, by the way (and this doesn't exactly enhance his rep either).

This week, the House may have taken up voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia, and the Senate resumed debate on a $410 billion budget bill for fiscal 2009.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday Stuff

MoveOn does it again...

...and Rachel Maddow explains the Employee Free Choice Act (the first clue is in the very name; not really that hard to comprehend, no matter how much the Repugs and their simpatico media and Astroturf organizations try to spin and lie about it - hat tips for these two vids to The Daily Kos)...

..."Still Bushed" (The Eternal Molly Ivins always pointed out that Texas was "the breeding ground for bad government," and here's an example in the resolution honoring Dubya, not the ones honoring the teacher and the volleyball team - and here is another example; also, it turns out that Somalis are being recruited to head fight us over there, so we don't have to fight them here but over there, or something...???; and the Iraqi shoe thrower gets sent up for three years, and a guy in Afghanistan gets a 20-year visit to the gray bar hotel for blasphemy - can stoning be far behind?)...

...back to rock n' roll tonight after some piffle last night; glad I could get a vid of these guys.

Little Ricky’s Obama-Rama Stem Cell Slam

(And by the way, I also posted here.)

Before I say another word, here is a Rasmussen link showing that 52 percent of those polled approved of President Barack Obama’s loosening of federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research here (Rasmussen trends conservative, so that number is likely to be higher), with embryonic stem cell research enjoying the majority of public support in 2007 here, with even most Republicans supporting it in 2005, as noted here.

So basically, there really shouldn’t be much more to say about this (at least, you would think so, though I certainly respect someone’s right to dissent on this matter). However, you can leave it to PA’s former Senator Man-On-Dog to wax indignant over it, as follows…

Thanks to both high-resolution fetal ultrasounds and the recent debate over partial-birth abortions, opinion polls now reflect a pro-life shift, most especially among our youth.
I don’t know how exactly that ties into the statistics I linked to above, but the facts have never let our former PA senator from Northern Virginia obstruct his talking points before, so why should he let that happen now?

Little Ricky also tells us…

But are any treatments with embryonic stem cells being used today? No.

Are there any anticipated in the near future? No.
Gee, I don’t know how to break the news to former Senator "Eye Of Mordor," but this story tells us the following…

A human embryonic stem cell therapy initially developed at UC Irvine will become the first in the world to be tested in humans, following approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Geron Corp. of Menlo Park refined the drug and will test the safety of it in a small number of people with (sp) acute spinal cord injuries, the company says in a news release. The company filed the application seeking approval of the drug, which is known as GRNOPC1.

Geron is building on work by Hans Keirstead and Gabriel Nistor, a pair of UCI neuroscientists who caused a sensation in science circles when they found a way to temporarily restore limited movement in paralyzed rats. (Animation of the basic research.)
Santorum also tells us…

Are there adult stem-cell therapies being used today? Yes.
He’s actually correct about that (shockingly enough); he’s referring to replacing the cells in bone marrow that are destroyed by certain types of chemotherapy. However, that is the only “adult stem-cell therapy” that I have been able to determine to this point.

For more information on this, here is a map showing which countries of the world have progressed concerning stem cell development and which have not (the U.S. policy is considered “flexible,” and curiously, we have not banned human reproductive cloning as of yet).

Also, this takes you to a pretty thorough discussion of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, which is creating a cloned embryo to harvest cells from it, along with a very thorough ethical discussion that asks, among other things, why we can’t harvest from a blastocyst (as some see it) when we can harvest from a corpse (shouldn’t both stages of humanity, if you will, receive the same respect)?

In addition, this prior post tells you how far ahead of us EU scientists are by now in the science of embryonic stem cell research, and finally, this tells you about Shelbie and Jeff Oppenheimer, who live with ALS, one of the diseases for which a cure is being sought through stem cell research.

And one more thing: I just DARE Little Ricky to go after Nancy Reagan on this (here).

Update: Nice to see that Santorum knows as much about the economy as he does about science (here).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wednesday Stuff

Hooray for the "pendejo" (Cramer, that is - God, I wish Comedy Central would do something about the crappy audio)...

...and "Still Bushed" on "Countdown" (Obama's EPA is forced to make Dow Chemical clean up a Dioxin spill in Michigan that Dubya's EPA ignored; there were the same number of uncounted votes in the '08 presidential election as there were in the '00 one, as it turns out; and, as K.O. says, we either ended up radicalizing someone to join the Taliban by imprisoning an innocent person at GITMO, or we imprisoned a guilty person, but Bushco couldn't make its case - the outcome is the same regardless, though)...

...and here's "Factor Fiction" with K.O. and the Fox rubes Billo and Bernie ("Fired From CBS For Lying About A Story") Goldberg (big yuks)...

...and yes, I know this is pop fluff, and I'm glad to see that she's improved her lip-synching, but I just like this tune, so here it is ("throwing you another curve," I guess).

Another Repug Financial “Triumph”

OK, boys and girls, time for a pop quiz on the topic of “financial non-oversight”; please read this and tell me which political party ran Congress virtually uninterrupted (put an asterisk next to ’02-’04) from 1996 through 2006.


"Deriving" A Lesson From Greenspan's Giant Goof

(And by the way, I also posted here.)

To the pages of the Murdoch Street Journal we go for an opinion column today by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who tells us the following about our current economic crisis (I believe “The Great Recession” is the catchphrase currently being trial-tested by our corporate media, though I can see absolutely nothing “great” about it).

(By the way, since I am hardly an economist, this post will contain primarily extended excerpts from more knowledgeable individuals in that subject than your humble narrator – I think they can make my case much better than I can).

For now, though, here is what Greenspan said in the Journal today…

There are at least two broad and competing explanations of the origins of this crisis. The first is that the "easy money" policies of the Federal Reserve produced the U.S. housing bubble that is at the core of today's financial mess.

The second, and far more credible, explanation agrees that it was indeed lower interest rates that spawned the speculative euphoria. However, the interest rate that mattered was not the federal-funds rate, but the rate on long-term, fixed-rate mortgages. Between 2002 and 2005, home mortgage rates led U.S. home price change by 11 months. This correlation between home prices and mortgage rates was highly significant, and a far better indicator of rising home prices than the fed-funds rate.

This should not come as a surprise. After all, the prices of long-lived assets have always been determined by discounting the flow of income (or imputed services) by interest rates of the same maturities as the life of the asset. No one, to my knowledge, employs overnight interest rates -- such as the fed-funds rate -- to determine the capitalization rate of real estate, whether it be an office building or a single-family residence.

The Federal Reserve became acutely aware of the disconnect between monetary policy and mortgage rates when the latter failed to respond as expected to the Fed tightening in mid-2004. Moreover, the data show that home mortgage rates had become gradually decoupled from monetary policy even earlier -- in the wake of the emergence, beginning around the turn of this century, of a well arbitraged global market for long-term debt instruments.
“Debt” is the crucial word in that prior sentence, by the way; as noted here from a New York Times series appropriately called “The Reckoning”…

Over the years, Mr. Greenspan helped enable an ambitious American experiment in letting market forces run free. Now, the nation is confronting the consequences.

Derivatives were created to soften — or in the argot of Wall Street, “hedge” — investment losses. For example, some of the contracts protect debt holders against losses on mortgage securities. (Their name comes from the fact that their value “derives” from underlying assets like stocks, bonds and commodities.) Many individuals own a common derivative: the insurance contract on their homes.

On a grander scale, such contracts allow financial services firms and corporations to take more complex risks that they might otherwise avoid — for example, issuing more mortgages or corporate debt. And the contracts can be traded, further limiting risk but also increasing the number of parties exposed if problems occur.

Throughout the 1990s, some argued that derivatives had become so vast, intertwined and inscrutable that they required federal oversight to protect the financial system. In meetings with federal officials, celebrated appearances on Capitol Hill and heavily attended speeches, Mr. Greenspan banked on the good will of Wall Street to self-regulate as he fended off restrictions.

Ever since housing began to collapse, Mr. Greenspan’s record has been up for revision. Economists from across the ideological spectrum have criticized his decision to let the nation’s real estate market continue to boom with cheap credit, courtesy of low interest rates, rather than snuffing out price increases with higher rates. Others have criticized Mr. Greenspan for not disciplining institutions that lent indiscriminately.

But whatever history ends up saying about those decisions, Mr. Greenspan’s legacy may ultimately rest on a more deeply embedded and much less scrutinized phenomenon: the spectacular boom and calamitous bust in derivatives trading.

As the long-serving chairman of the Fed, the nation’s most powerful economic policy maker, Mr. Greenspan preached the transcendent, wealth-creating powers of the market.

A professed libertarian, he counted among his formative influences the novelist Ayn Rand, who portrayed collective power as an evil force set against the enlightened self-interest of individuals. In turn, he showed a resolute faith that those participating in financial markets would act responsibly.

An examination of more than two decades of Mr. Greenspan’s record on financial regulation and derivatives in particular reveals the degree to which he tethered the health of the nation’s economy to that faith.

As the nascent derivatives market took hold in the early 1990s, and in subsequent years, critics denounced an absence of rules forcing institutions to disclose their positions and set aside funds as a reserve against bad bets.

Time and again, Mr. Greenspan — a revered figure affectionately nicknamed the Oracle — proclaimed that risks could be handled by the markets themselves.

“Proposals to bring even minimalist regulation were basically rebuffed by Greenspan and various people in the Treasury,” recalled Alan S. Blinder, a former Federal Reserve board member and an economist at Princeton University. “I think of him as consistently cheerleading on derivatives.”

Arthur Levitt Jr., a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, says Mr. Greenspan opposes regulating derivatives because of a fundamental disdain for government.

Mr. Levitt said that Mr. Greenspan’s authority and grasp of global finance consistently persuaded less financially sophisticated lawmakers to follow his lead.

“I always felt that the titans of our legislature didn’t want to reveal their own inability to understand some of the concepts that Mr. Greenspan was setting forth,” Mr. Levitt said. “I don’t recall anyone ever saying, ‘What do you mean by that, Alan?’ ”

Still, over a long stretch of time, some did pose questions. In 1992, Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who led the House subcommittee on telecommunications and finance, asked what was then the General Accounting Office to study derivatives risks.

Two years later, the office released its report, identifying “significant gaps and weaknesses” in the regulatory oversight of derivatives.

“The sudden failure or abrupt withdrawal from trading of any of these large U.S. dealers could cause liquidity problems in the markets and could also pose risks to others, including federally insured banks and the financial system as a whole,” Charles A. Bowsher, head of the accounting office, said when he testified before Mr. Markey’s committee in 1994. “In some cases intervention has and could result in a financial bailout paid for or guaranteed by taxpayers.”

In his testimony at the time, Mr. Greenspan was reassuring. “Risks in financial markets, including derivatives markets, are being regulated by private parties,” he said.

“There is nothing involved in federal regulation per se which makes it superior to market regulation.”
Pardon me while I retch (a typical “Randian” – I’d love to see Greenspan “go Galt” with the rest of his foul ilk).

So what could have been done to prevent this (thus serving as a bit of a “way forward” to ensure we NEVER find ourselves in a fix like this again)?

Well, in addition to the fact that Rep. Markey introduced a bill requiring more derivatives regulation as a result of the hearing noted previously (the bill “went nowhere”), ProPublica tells us the following (from here)…

Later, in 1997, a lawyer on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission pushed to regulate derivatives. That, too, went nowhere, largely due to Greenspan's opposition, along with then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. The two even pushed Congress to strip the CFTC of regulatory authority over derivatives.

And then there is Warren Buffet's famous warning in 2003 that derivatives were "financial weapons of mass destruction."

Greenspan's opposition to regulation has its source in his libertarian philosophy, the Times notes, marshalling a number of his quotes from over the years about how the market will take care of itself.

In 1994: "The risk of a crisis stoked by loose derivative trading was "extremely remote."

And then in 2000: "I believe that the general growth in large institutions have occurred in the context of an underlying structure of markets in which many of the larger risks are dramatically — I should say, fully — hedged."

And then in 2003: "What we have found over the years in the marketplace is that derivatives have been an extraordinarily useful vehicle to transfer risk from those who shouldn't be taking it to those who are willing to and are capable of doing so." It would be a "mistake" to increase regulation.
Meanwhile, on March 11, 2009, Greenspan states as follows…

Global market competition and integration in goods, services and finance have brought unprecedented gains in material well being. But the growth path of highly competitive markets is cyclical. And on rare occasions it can break down, with consequences such as those we are currently experiencing. It is now very clear that the levels of complexity to which market practitioners at the height of their euphoria tried to push risk-management techniques and products were too much for even the most sophisticated market players to handle properly and prudently.
And that includes you, Alan, every bit the “market player” as much as anyone else.

Update 3/12/09: More on Greenspan from here...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday PM Stuff

I think this is one of the most sensible explanations for a FULLY DISCLOSED earmark that I've ever heard from (shockingly) a Republican (Bucks County Courier Times Editorial Board, among others, please take note); the summary is provided here by Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, which he is trying to communicate to Fox hairdo Megyn Kelly, truly one of the stupidest people on the planet; Bennett makes the point at least twice that the money was appropriated by his committee anyway so it would have been spent regardless and there wasn't enough time to debate about allocating the funds for cricket eradication (and by the way, the earmarks in the omnibus spending bill amount to about 2 percent of the total funds, let's not forget).

"Pay to play" for cricket eradication...what, are the crickets going to conspire on bribing Bennett with a jaunt to a ski lodge so he'll be inclined to disallow the earmark? Truly stupid even for Fix Noise...

Update 3/11/09: Jeebus, what an airhead (here - and here is the reality-based point of view)...

...a now, for a musical interlude.

Another "Doubting Thomas"

(Hey, as long as we’re invoking spirituality here…)

This is a familiar refrain for me, I know, but I have an issue with any news organization of some size serving a metropolitan area that publishes a column pertaining to matters of personal faith. And the reason why is because the opinions expressed inevitably lapse into kind of a Judeo/Christian sensibility, which would be fine if we were a Judeo/Christian nation. The problem, of course, is that we are not (in our entirety, I mean).

And those opinions inevitably come from people who believe they have the right to comment on the religious practices and opinions of others (and though I’m sure you may have noticed by now, I only comment on the religious practices and opinions of my own faith, because that is all I know).

With that setup out of the way, here is a link to today’s “On Faith” column in the Washington Post by Cal Thomas (a repeat offender based on this prior post), including the following from today…

It's peculiar that President Obama sees himself as a "person of faith" when it comes to lifting restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, but he is an agnostic when it comes to abortion. Apparently, Obama's faith serves his politics and not the reverse.
As noted here…

In (a) statement (from January 2009), Obama acknowledged that "this is a sensitive and often divisive issue," but went on to say "no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services."
Sounds like a common sense-based approach to me.

Oh, and I happened to come across this little item concerning Thomas and a faith apart from his own…

In his weekly commentary on WTOP Radio Monday (July 2007), Cal Thomas discussed the recent thwarted terror attacks in the United Kingdom.

"How much longer should we allow people from certain lands, with certain beliefs to come to Britain and America and build their mosques, teach hate, and plot to kill us?" Thomas asked. "OK, let's have the required disclaimer: Not all Muslims from the Middle East and southeast Asia want to kill us, but those who do blend in with those who don't. Would anyone tolerate a slow-spreading cancer because it wasn't fast-spreading? Probably not. You'd want it removed."

Thomas' commentary prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to urge its supporters to contact WTOP and voice their concerns. WTOP received many calls and emails from both sides.

On Wednesday, WTOP invited Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesperson and Cal Thomas, to separately respond to Thomas' previous comments.

In his response, Hooper said Thomas' comments undermined CAIR's effort to promote mutual understanding and social justice.

"For him, I would imagine that his next step is the expulsion of the Muslim-American community," Hooper said. "We condemn extremism. We've condemned terrorism....We've issued dozens of condemnations on dozens of terrorism attacks."
So, as far as Thomas is concerned, Islam is a “cancer” spreading to both good and bad Muslims.


Looks to me like Thomas’s “faith” serves his politics, and not the reverse.

Showdown Day On The EFCA

Once again, Bob Herbert does a good job of “connecting the dots” today in the New York Times (here, and I also posted here)…

Working families were in deep trouble long before this megarecession hit. But too many of the public officials who should have been looking out for the middle class and the poor were part of the reckless and shockingly shortsighted alliance of conservatives and corporate leaders that rigged the economy in favor of the rich and ultimately brought it down completely.

As Jared Bernstein, now the chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, wrote in the preface to his book, “Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries)”:

“Economics has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, and it has been forged into a tool that is being used against the rest of us.”

Working people were not just abandoned by big business and their ideological henchmen in government, they were exploited and humiliated. They were denied the productivity gains that should have rightfully accrued to them. They were treated ruthlessly whenever they tried to organize. They were never reasonably protected against the savage dislocations caused by revolutions in technology and global trade.

Working people were told that all of this was good for them, and whether out of ignorance or fear or prejudice or, as my grandfather might have said, damned foolishness, many bought into it. They signed onto tax policies that worked like a three-card monte game. And they were sold a snake oil concoction called “trickle down” that so addled their brains that they thought it was a wonderful idea to hand over their share of the nation’s wealth to those who were already fabulously rich.

America used to be better than this.

The seeds of today’s disaster were sown some 30 years ago. Looking at income patterns during that period, my former colleague at The Times, David Cay Johnston, noted that from 1980 (the year Ronald Reagan was elected) to 2005, the national economy, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled. (Because of population growth, the actual increase per capita was about 66 percent.)

But the average income for the vast majority of Americans actually declined during those years. The standard of living for the average family improved not because incomes grew but because women entered the workplace in droves.

As hard as it may be to believe, the peak income year for the bottom 90 percent of Americans was way back in 1973, when the average income per taxpayer, adjusted for inflation, was $33,000. That was nearly $4,000 higher, Mr. Johnston pointed out, than in 2005.

Men have done particularly poorly. Men who are now in their 30s — the prime age for raising families — earn less money than members of their fathers’ generation did at the same age.

It may seem like ancient history, but in the first few decades following World War II, the United States, despite many serious flaws, established the model of a highly productive society that shared its prosperity widely and made investments that were geared toward a more prosperous, more fulfilling future.

The American dream was alive and well and seemingly unassailable. But somehow, following the oil shocks, the hyperinflation and other traumas of the 1970s, Americans allowed the right-wingers to get a toehold — and they began the serious work of smothering the dream.

Ronald Reagan saw Medicare as a giant step on the road to socialism. Newt Gingrich, apparently referring to the original fee-for-service version of Medicare, which was cherished by the elderly, cracked, “We don’t get rid of it in Round One because we don’t think it’s politically smart.”

The right-wingers were crafty: You smother the dream by crippling the programs that support it, by starving the government of money to pay for them, by funneling the government’s revenues to the rich through tax cuts and other benefits, by looting the government the way gangsters loot legitimate businesses and then pleading poverty when it comes time to fund the services required by the people.

The anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist summed the matter up nicely when he famously said, “Our goal is to shrink the government to the size where you can drown it in a bathtub.” Only they didn’t shrink the government, they enlarged it and turned its bounty over to the rich.

Now, with the economy in free fall and likely to get worse, Americans — despite their suffering — have an opportunity to reshape the society, and then to move it in a fairer, smarter and ultimately more productive direction. That is the only way to revive the dream, but it will take a long time and require great courage and sacrifice.

The right-wingers do not want that to happen, which is why they are rooting so hard for President Obama’s initiatives to fail. They like the direction that the country took over the past 30 years. They’d love to do it all again.
And chief among the initiatives targeted for destruction by the architects of failure going back nearly 30 years (noted by Herbert) is the Employee Free Choice Act (“card check” if you speak Republicanese). And here are some related links:

  • This tells you that “Democratic” Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas are opposed to the EFCA (yep, Wal-Of-China-Mart buys a lot of political influence, all right).

  • This page from Crooks and Liars presents a few posts defending against EFCA smears (including those inflicted by Lou Dobbs and Neil Cavuto of Fix Noise).

  • This provides an EFCA backgrounder (including information on right-wing sludge master Rick Berman, brought on board by the “card check” crowd to spin as many lies as he can).

  • This HuffPo story from a week ago tells us that an AFL-CIO official is “confident” that it will pass (hope so).

  • This tells us of a rally in San Francisco on behalf of the EFCA.
  • Finally, if you have any doubt at to how your congressperson or senator will vote on the EFCA, contact this person from here and let them know how important it is that they support it (kind of late in the game, but better than never as they say).

    (I forgot to add this kos post – apparently, Ben Nelson now opposes the EFCA; if I were stuck in a foxhole charged with defending Nelson and surrounded by the enemy with only a rifle and a “poison pill” at my disposal, I would take the pill, wait for arrival upon the pearly gates – hopefully – and let Nelson fend for himself.)

    (Also, as you read thisugh – please keep in mind that almost one in three people polled didn’t think The Sainted Ronnie R should finish out his second term at one point, before he helped initiate nuclear arms reduction with Gorbachev, that is, which is one of the many interesting tidbits in Will Bunch’s fine book...I'm bringing this up because Herbert mentioned #40 above.)

    Update 3/12/09: I cannot imagine how these people live with themselves (here).

    Monday, March 09, 2009

    Tuesday AM Stuff

    Dem Tennessee Representative Steve Cohen made this impassioned appeal on behalf of embryonic stem cell research in June 2007, though it was to no avail of course; however, now, President Obama will act on the urgent matter of funding for this emerging science (here) in which we are now miles behind thanks to Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History (and I'm down with BarbinMD here; just try calling out Nancy Reagan on this, Flush Limbore and you other right-wing bloviators...and way to go, Cardinal Rigali, to spread your loathing all over this, a lifeline for people with a wide range of illnesses - let us know when you want to launch another nuisance postcard campaign again, OK?)...

    Update: Yep, not much for me to think about based on this (despite the pleadings of the U.S. House Repug from "Man Tan"; maybe Rigali can wax indignant with the House minority leader if he wants).

    ...and I neglected to note that another of the principal obstacles in the matter of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, James Dobson, stepped down as head of Focus On The Family (and I'm sure he still believes the Repugs still give a fig about his precious "family values"; here is a little tribute video to one of the high priests of hypocrisy).

    A "Benefit" Of Bushco Subterfuge

    Gosh, I’m just so shocked that one of Bushco’s most notorious legal henchmen finds himself in a position where he has to scramble in an effort to find a job like many of us peons he continually sneered at for eight long years (noted here).

    Well, not to worry; I’m only too happy to offer some suggestions.

    This tells us that excavation contractors in the U.S. expected to find employment as of January of last year, an industry for which David Addington should be well suited as he is someone proficient in dealing with “dirt” (as noted here where, by definition, he and the other legal “godfather” of our prior regime, Torture Yoo, claimed that John McCain wasn’t tortured; despite my numerous disagreements with the Arizona senator, he has more courage in his little finger than Dubya and his miscreants had in their whole bodies).

    Also, I think this story would be worth a look by Addington, which tells about how the pirates operating off the coast of Somalia have plundered ships with near impunity; while I realize Addington might have an issue trying to pass himself off as a raider of this type, I’m sure a man as resourceful as he is could emigrate to that nation and establish himself as a person of influence working on their behalf. After all, Somalia is widely considered to be a “failed state” that would benefit from the strong hand of a “unitary executive,” and this time around, Addington might be able to put his theory to practice to benefit himself as opposed to some politically lucky Republican governor of Texas.

    But I must tell you that I think Addington would be best suited for the work described here, which is that of a “repo man,” reclaiming items of value (principally cars) from people who are down on their luck. In this way, he would be trying to salvage something of worth which, though not his legal career per se doing this type of a job, would be his prospects for gainful employment anywhere (much like the Obama Administration will be trying to salvage the notion of the constitutional separation of powers so very nearly destroyed by Addington and his cohorts).

    And as far as I’m concerned, here’s another reason (from the article)…

    …with the downturn in the economy total annual repossessions are supposed to increase by at least five percent…a lot of repo men are put on the street with little or know (sic) training. They have little understanding of the law.
    I think we have a winner!

    Sunday, March 08, 2009

    Slim "Pickens" On Energy From A Life-Long Repug

    I came across this Daily Kos post recently in which a diarist claimed that Bill Maher “destroyed” T. Boone Pickens recently on “Real Time” over the matter of the “Pickens Plan” originator doing his best to slander Democratic presidential candidates, so I took a look at the video.

    Well, let’s just say that the video didn’t live up to the diarist’s hyperbole, though I give this person (assuming only one here) credit for highlighting it.

    Yes, Maher did ask Pickens point blank why he funded groups that slung all kinds of mud at Dem presidential candidates Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 (we know about Gore’s “cred” on environmental issues, but Kerry was one of the organizers of the very first Earth Day events, as noted here, to say nothing of the fact that Kerry has consistently supported wind energy development, even to the point where he is letting the “Cape Wind” development process play itself out before taking a position on it). And Pickens’ answer regarding his “green” conversion (namely, that the price of gas wasn’t as high in 2000 or 2004 as it is now) was patently absurd for anyone claiming to work on behalf of the environment (which Pickens isn’t as far as I’m concerned). And yes, Maher should have ripped Pickens’ head off for such an idiotic response.

    (To digress, this is where I “gnash my teeth” over Maher. I have to keep reminding myself that, while he is usually an astute political commentator, he is also an entertainer, and he has to “throw a bone” to the right wingers from time to time or else he’d never get them on his show. And if he didn’t get them on his show, he’d lose a chunk of his audience. This is the little “tightrope” of sorts that he walks, and hence the reason why, after quite rightly tearing the head off of, say, Coulter one week, he’ll be all kissy-face and nice-nice with people like Repug House Reps Jack Kingston of Georgia and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida the next, with all three of these people being ideological partners of each other as far as I’m concerned.)

    Pickens should have been held to account more by Maher particularly because there were indeed differences in the energy policies of Kerry and Dubya in 2004, including the matter of cleaning up the cancer-causing gasoline additive MTBE from our drinking water, which held up Congressional approval of an energy bill in 2004. Kerry wanted the manufacturers to take care of it, and Dubya opposed it, naturally; as a result of Dubya winning re-election in 2004 – discounting what happened in Ohio, of course – an energy bill was passed that provided legal immunity for the rich Saudi company (any other kind?) SABIC, which happens to be the leading maker of MTBE (the bill had strong support from Tom DeLay, of course, noted here).

    But of course, Pickens has never been or will be an environmentalist; as noted here, Pickens really isn’t even “on board” with Al Gore on the climate crisis, as follows…

    "(Gore) asked if we could we join together and do something," Pickens explained to Bloomberg News. "I told him no, because global warming is on page two for me. Page one is foreign oil.''
    Yep, I think Pickens is actually right about that, but not in the way he would have us believe…

    "Even under the Pickens Plan," explains Treehugger's Matthew McDermott, "the U.S. will be importing a significant amount of oil. It's a step toward energy independence in that it expands renewable energy production, but I think framing this debate in terms of energy independence isn't the way to go. If you want to take a populist angle on this, pushing the very real benefits that wind power and renewables in general can have in local economies stands on much more solid ground."

    If Pickens were a populist, that might be true. But he's not; he's a stone-cold capitalist whose taste for profit outweighs his desire for the common good. Pickens may have spent $3 billion on wind farms to generate enough electricity to take the load off natural gas, which is currently used to heat homes and more, but only so that it can be used for cars and trucks.
    The Alternet article also points out that Pickens is the head of BP Capital Management, a “hedge fund” that has extensive holdings in Pickens’ supposedly hated “foreign oil” interests, such as Halliburton (of course) and KBR.

    But I think Pickens’ scheme to develop wind energy, as told in the article, has two parts. The first is to act as a fallback if he can’t make money from oil or natural gas (with the latter also used to generate electricity, as the story tells us – I don’t begrudge Pickens on this as a matter of trying to make money, since he is a businessman after all). The second part, though, is truly pernicious…

    The biggest stain on the Pickens Plan is its architect's distasteful history of water privatization. According to (Food and Water Watch's Wenonah) Hauter, it is probably the biggest reason, more than all the aforementioned, not to trust him.

    "With the water crisis looming in the future and his track record on selling water regardless of the environmental cost," she asserts, "Pickens will be viewed in the future as irresponsible. His background on promoting renewable energy can't erase his current disregard for the sustainable use of water. He recently supplemented his property holdings in Texas with 200,000 acres of land atop the Ogallala Aquifer. Under Texas law, this purchase entitles Mesa Water, Pickens' new company, to take more than 320,000 acre-feet of water, equivalent to more than 104 million gallons, from the property. The Ogallala is already severely depleted, and it's outrageous that he can stick a pipe in the ground and suck this water out without any environmental impact assessment."

    Pickens has used all manner of stratagems to obtain rights to what is not a recreational, but an essential, resource for supporting life on the planet. He has spent more than $100 million to acquire water from outlying areas in Texas to sell to its metropolitan hubs, and although he hasn't yet found a buyer, it's only a matter of time. Blue gold is the new black gold, and it won't be long until the world is thirsty from one end to the other. Using his wind investment to fuel his water privatization has only made things worse.

    "Pickens used the enormous wind farm erected on his property as a means to lobby for the right to pipe the Ogallala water to a major metropolitan center," Hauter adds. "He successfully passed a bill through the Texas Legislature to allow a water-supply district to transport alternative energy and water in a single corridor. Pickens also successfully loosened the legal definitions of a water district, allowing him to invoke the right of eminent domain so that he could build the pipeline through the property of several neighboring landowners. We should be concerned with these types of underhanded business dealings."
    So it sounds to me like Pickens is pushing his wind farm proposals as part of a scheme to gradually take control over all of the naturally produced energy assets of this planet, with his abuse of water rights being the most deceitful of them all (he plainly sees the coming crisis of water resources and is trying to use his wind farms to take as much control of this commodity as he can, for profit of course).

    It is now crystal clear to me why Pickens sells himself as an energy conscious entrepreneur among media friendly outlets and fellow Republicans. If he were to try this among legitimately “green” Democrats, he would be quickly called out for the utter fraud that he truly is.