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July 31, 2008

McCain The Victim

Did you notice how skillfully they made McCain the victim? McCain runs nasty racist ads, Obama says one thing about it, and they pounce with the prepared line about Obama "playing the race card."

Saying a black man is "playing the race card" is, of course, racist, but who's counting? Those yuppity negroes just everything handed to them.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Republicans See The Public As Losers and Whiners

We already know that Republicans hate government by the people. According to them, if you are not rich you are a "loser" who deserves nothing because you are not "contributing" to the corporate economy.

After New Orleans it was pretty clear that they also just hated the people. Recently McCain economic adviser Phil Gramm said the country's problems with the economy are a "mental recession," and said of people losing their homes, jobs, pensions and health care: "We have sort of become a nation of whiners"

Well, here is another example. Open Left found this. Here is Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, talking about the thousands who drowned in New Orleans:

So I don't want anybody telling me that we have to offset a disaster relief package for the Midwest where people are hurting, when we didn't do it for New Orleans. Why the double standard? Is it because people aren't on rooftops complaining for helicopters to rescue them, and you see it on television too much? We aren't doing that in Iowa. We are trying to help ourselves in Iowa. We have a can-do attitude. It doesn't show up on television like it did in New Orleans for 2 months.
People trapped in rising water, downing, were whiners "on rooftops complaining for helicopters to rescue them."

Conservatives say that the poor are "losers" who "made bad decisions" and shouldn't be "rewarded." Here is a typical example, at the Republican TownHall website,

Liberals feel an irresistible instinct to take sides with the less fortunate.

While the right wants to reward beneficial choices and discourage destructive directions, the left seeks to eliminate or reduce the impact of the disadvantages that result from bad decisions. In place of the conservative emphasis on accountability, the left proffers a gospel of indiscriminate compassion.

This leads directly, and inevitably, to the liberal passion to sanctify victimhood.

"Enlightened" lefties long to embrace and exalt all those who claim to have suffered from hard luck or oppression: the homeless, single mothers, "people of color," homosexuals, AIDS patients, feminists, convicted criminals, Native Americans, atheists, immigrants and many more.

[. . .] In fact, the recent hearings about the shabby treatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reade Medical Center represented a concerted effort to transform America’s military into a victims group worthy of liberal sympathy.

. . . Moreover, raising taxes on high earners in order to provide more give-aways to the unproductive clearly punishes success while rewarding failure.

. . . Leftists feel virtuous and unselfish for invariably embracing the losers, but with this persistent preference it’s society itself that loses most.

This is beyond nasty. This is hateful. Unfortunately it is just typical of what you find when you read conservative opinion these days. This is hatred of humanity.

People drowning in a flood are "complaining." The poor are "losers."

It is time to restore humanity to our discourse. It is time to reject these conservatives and their nasty, hateful excuses for their own greed and fear.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:52 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Millions Of Dollars Versus Millions of Voters

In a democracy, every person has a single vote. Unfortunately, what is becoming increasingly true is that someone with millions of dollars and the willingness to fund front groups has the ability to influence millions of votes.

Take the issue of the Iraq War - by any and every national poll, millions of Americans want the war to stop as they see through the lies that got us in the war, the lies that have kept us in the war and now with even the Iraqi leadership asking we leave, the vast majority of Americans see no reason to fund billions on dollars in war every month.

However, despite their wishes and their votes, the wishes of the people are countered by the wishes of the few, or in today's example, the wishes of one, Sheldon Adelson. Mr. Adelson is one of the very few wealthy "behind-the-scenes" manipulators that set up phony front groups and fund them with millions and millions of dollars to pollute our country's discourse, smear people, spread fear and lies and the worst kinds of dirty stories. Every politician knows that this ugliness could be directed at them if they dare try to fight this kind of power.

Where do these Republican, pro-war front groups get so much money?

Thomas B. Edsell's July 25 post at Huffington Post, titled Sheldon Adelson: GOP's Answer To George Soros? provides us with a few clues.

Sheldon Adelson, the 74-year-old casino billionaire who has become the third richest man in America and who has strong ties to the hard-line Likud Party in Israel, has emerged this year a major benefactor of the American right.
Adelson has been a major backer of right-wing Republicans, including Tom DeLay, and has given $2.9 million to a Newt Gingrich organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future.

And now, according to Edsell,

. . .Adelson, according to the National Journal, has begun channeling cash and fundraising support to Vets for Freedom, which is expected to use the influx of money to finance what it claims will be a multimillion dollar "Four Months For Victory" ad campaign.

Why does a wealthy Jewish casino owner, so rich that he is flown around in his own Boeing 767, support a veteran's organization? Probably because Vets For Freedom isn't really a veteran's organization, but a Republican Party front group working to elect John McCain and keep the Iraq war going.

If Vets For Freedom was a veteran's organization, they would be front and center in holding John McCain responsible for voting against the new G.I. Bill? But they didn't say a word.

If Vets For Freedom was a veteran's organization, they would be concerned with the hundreds of thousands of returning wounded warriors and their need for care and assistance? But they're not.

In fact, Vets For Freedom has only one mission - build public support for continuing the war in Iraq and now it appears they really only have one donor - a hard line neoconservative who is determined to influence US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Adelson is also a major funder of Freedom's Watch, another Republican front group that exists solely to help wealthy individuals like Adelson get around campaign finance laws that are designed to protect our democracy from this kind of dollars-outweigh-votes corrupting influence.

These organizations are allowed to take unlimited donations and not disclose donors because they are supposed to be educating the public about issues, not polluting our elections with ads that support or smear candidates. But, of course, who in the Bush government is going to stop them from breaking our campaign finance laws to support Republicans and smear Democrats?

In Israel Adelson has purchased a newspaper that he uses to try to influence Israeli politics. According to some, he inspires resentment and fear there. A recent New Yorker article about Adelson says,

"In Israel, where political, academic and business leaders tend to be outspoken, there is a striking reticence at the mention of Sheldon Adelson. Even people who are diametrically opposed to his politics refuse to be interviewed. 'There is a discernible amount of self-censorship going on,' the liberal Israeli-American writer Bernard Avishai said. 'There is no ideological justification for what Sheldon is doing among the Israeli intelligentsia and a revulsion at an American weighing in so heavily on Israeli politics, in such a crude, reactionary way. But they won't speak.'"

Post-Script: As we were about to publish it, news comes that Sheldon Adelson has hired Karl Rove with a mid six figure deal to help run "Freedom's Watch" another right wing front group.


Posted by Dave and James at 9:50 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 30, 2008

Tax Cuts

John McCain says that giving tax breaks to rich people means we will have more jobs, and taxes cost jobs.

Can someone explain that to me? Why would taxes on profits cost jobs? Wouldn't a company have exactly as many employees as they need? And if they are making a profit - which is the only time a company pays taxes - why would they lay people off?

And how would taxes on really rich people cost jobs? Taxing the rich would mean a lower budget deficit, which would mean lower interest rates and a stronger dollar which would mean lower gas prices...

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:13 PM | Comments (4) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

We Can't Make It Here Anymore

By James McMurtry

Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign
Sitting there by the left turn line
Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
One leg missing, both hands free
No one's paying much mind to him
The V.A. budget's stretched so thin
And there's more comin' home from the Mideast war
We can't make it here anymore

That big ol' building was the textile mill
It fed our kids and it paid our bills
But they turned us out and they closed the doors
We can't make it here anymore

See all those pallets piled up on the loading dock
They're just gonna set there till they rot
'Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack
Just busted concrete and rusted tracks
Empty storefronts around the square
There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere
You don't come down here 'less you're looking to score
We can't make it here anymore

The bar's still open but man it's slow
The tip jar's light and the register's low
The bartender don't have much to say
The regular crowd gets thinner each day

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore

High school girl with a bourgeois dream
Just like the pictures in the magazine
She found on the floor of the laundromat
A woman with kids can forget all that
If she comes up pregnant what'll she do
Forget the career, forget about school
Can she live on faith? live on hope?
High on Jesus or hooked on dope
When it's way too late to just say no
You can't make it here anymore

Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
Just like the ones we made before
'Cept this one came from Singapore
I guess we can't make it here anymore

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their sh@# don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the da$% little war
And we can't make it here anymore

Will work for food
Will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat sh$%, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore

And that's how it is
That's what we got
If the president wants to admit it or not
You can read it in the paper
Read it on the wall
Hear it on the wind
If you're listening at all
Get out of that limo
Look us in the eye
Call us on the cell phone
Tell us all why

In Dayton, Ohio
Or Portland, Maine
Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
That's done closed down along with the school
And the hospital and the swimming pool
Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
There's rats in the alley
And trash in the street
Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
We can't make it here anymore

Another version:

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:03 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Right Infiltrates Orgs at Top Levels

The NRA hired "a self-described 'research consultant,' who for decades has covertly infiltrated citizens groups for private security firms hired by corporations that are targeted by activist campaigns" to infiltrate gun-control and environmental organizations.

See There's Something About Mary: Unmasking a Gun Lobby Mole,

Mary McFate was a prominent gun control activist. Mary Lou Sapone was a freelance spy with an NRA connection. They are the same person. A Mother Jones investigation.
My question: WHO ELSE?

Watch your backs. Really.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Republican Party Pushing "Who Sent Obama?" Smear

The other day I wrote about a coming "Who Sent Obama" smear campaign. Here is an official Republican Party website that advances this smear: BarackBook

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:36 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 29, 2008

Commonweal Institute's New Website

Take a look at Commonweal Institute's new website. And get involved.

The Commonweal Institute is an alliance of independent thinkers leading the public in civic dialogue about our shared values as Americans and a progressive approach to problem-solving. We envision a society in which the advancement of human rights, civil liberties, participatory democracy, justice, strong and caring communities, and a more secure and sustainable future coexist with responsible global capitalism. Our goal is to engage all segments of society in the discovery and creation of a new harmony between private interests and the common good.

Also, the Commonweal Institute blog.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:00 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Sisters of St. Joseph and Hospital Workers

This post oroginally appeared at Speak Out California.

So many of us have a hard time living up to our own values. Here is a story of one example.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have a proud history of fighting for human rights and human dignity and improvement of conditions for working people. But like so many progressives -- and people in general -- the Sisters of St. Joseph appear to be having trouble living up to these values when they apply to themselves.

A few days ago Julia Rosen wrote a Calitics post titled, Sisters of St. Josephs it's time to make peace with your workers. I urge readers here to go read that post. Julia writes,

It is a dirty little secret, but often times the more virulently anti-union employers are religious orders that run health systems. Such is the situation with the Sisters of St. Joseph who run the St. Joseph Health System. They have been resisting the efforts of their service employees to join SEIU-UHW for the past three years.
And at Huffington Post Delores Huertes has a post titled, Together We Marched in Solidarity. I also urge readers to click through and read it. She begins,

This week I'm joining St. Joseph Health System workers, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Father Eugene Boyle, actor Ed Begley Jr, and community and religious leaders to call upon the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange to make peace with their workers.
next she makes the important point,
For decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have fought for justice for California's workers. In the summer of 1973, they marched in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and farm workers during the brutal Grape Strike. I witnessed the Sisters putting their personal safety at risk. They walked picket lines and even went to jail with more than 3500 striking farm workers. I was inspired by the Sisters' commitment to stand with the farm workers, even in the face of violent provocation.
Yes, it appears that the Sisters of St. Joseph are ready to stand by workers, walk pickets lines, and fight for the rights of workers. But this time they are holding back when it involves their own workers. Huertes continues,
Over the last three years, workers in the St. Joseph Health System (SJHS) who care for the sick and vulnerable in our community, have been working to form a union with S.E.I.U. -- United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) so they can have a real say in the decisions that affect their patients, their families and themselves.

But the Sisters, who founded and hold majority control of the Board of SJHS, a $3.5 billion system of hospitals and clinics, sadly are using heavy-handed tactics similar to those used by other major corporations to deny workers a free choice about whether to form a union. SJHS workers have told me directly, that the SJHS management is fighting their efforts and violating federal labor law by threatening union supporters with arrest and job loss - and denying them free speech. Public records show that SJHS has hired some of the most notorious union-busting firms to fight their employees. Meanwhile, government officials have cited SJHS for violating its employees' basic labor rights, including illegally firing, spying on, and intimidating workers who want to form a union. These heavy-handed tactics leave workers feeling threatened, intimidated and disregarded.

While looking into this I came across a December, 2007 article at the Catholic News Agency, Catholic health workers’ effort to unionize could crowd out Catholics. Please read to article to learn about the subtexts of this unionization battle. From the story,

A political activist in Sacramento [. . .] said the UHW takeover would be a “done deal” if the employees’ demand for a fair election agreement were met.
If you read the story it is clear that the activist mentioned is very much against unionization and supports the Sisters' efforts to keep the workers from having a unionization vote. But if allowing a vote for a union means that a union is "a done deal" then it means the workers want a union.

Any way you look at it, it is a shame that the Sisters are trying to keep their workers from voting on whether to have a union. The Sisters need to understand that they are role models for their community. They were positive role models standing up for their values when they supported the farmworkers. They can again be positive role models by showing that even when it affects their own interests they are willing to stand by their values and support worker rights and human rights.

It is time that the Sisters of Saint Joseph allow their workers to vote on whether they want a union.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:40 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Media Matters Ad

Go help Media Matters put a great ad on the air:Take the Pledge: Hold the Media Accountable

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:25 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 28, 2008

More On Credit Scores

OK, so I'm a big corporation. I decide to shaft you for $157.29. You decide never to pay it because you didn't get what you ordered, or whatever happened.

So I, the big corporation, reports to the credit agency (another big corporation) that you didn't pay your bill. There you go, pure extortion: you pay up or we'll ruin your credit rating and you don't get to participate in the economy anymore.

Does anyone even remember democracy? That's that thing where the people set the rules and make the laws, and do it to benefit each other.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:23 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Even That Record Deficit Is Another Lie

Have you heard about the massive budget deficit that the Republicans are gifting us with this year? Even that is a lie. Correntewire caught it: Department of burying the lede,Ho-hum, in the middle of an article about the latest record federal deficit comes this aside:

The administration actually underestimates the deficit, however, since it leaves out about $80 billion in war costs. In a break from tradition — and in violation of new mandates from Congress — the White House did not include its full estimate of war costs.
Go read.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:46 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Corporate Media Largely White, Male

Media Matters has a study of 1700 guest appearances on cable news channels that shows that the people represented are largely white and male. Other Media matters studies showed the same on the Sunday news shows.

Media Matters - Cable Diversity:

Media Matters for America examined four programs on each of the three cable news networks during prime time, and recorded the gender and ethnicity of every guest who appeared during the month of May 2008 -- nearly 1,700 guest appearances in all. The results demonstrate that, at least in prime time, whatever effort the networks have made to increase the diversity of their guests have borne little fruit. Although there may be more African-American political analysts appearing during the daytime hours (particularly on CNN and MSNBC) in prime time -- when the audiences are largest -- white men continue to dominate.
And let me point out thatyou will never, ever see someone explaining the benefits of joining a union on corporate media outlets.
Key findings include:

* In total, 67 percent of the guests on these cable programs were men, while 84 percent were white.

* MSNBC featured the greatest gender imbalance, with 70 percent of its guests being male. CNN and Fox News were not far behind; each of those networks featured 65 percent male guests.

* Fox News was the whitest network, with 88 percent white guests. CNN and MSNBC were close behind, with both featuring 83 percent white guests.

* Latinos were particularly underrepresented. Though they now comprise 15 percent of the U.S. population, they made up only 2.7 percent of the guests. The worst of the three networks on this score was MSNBC, which featured only 6 prime-time appearances by Latinos during the entire month (out of a total of 460 guest appearances).

* A number of ethnic groups were shut out entirely, or nearly so, on some networks. During this month, there was only one appearance by an Asian-American on MSNBC, and only one on Fox News. Across all three networks, there were only four appearances by someone of Middle Eastern descent.

* Though white men make up only 32 percent of the population, they made up 57 percent of the guests on prime-time cable during this period. The host of every single prime-time cable show is white, and all but two (Greta Van Susteren of Fox News and Campbell Brown of CNN) are men.


Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:25 AM | Comments (4) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 27, 2008

Your Credit Score

A thought: If you don't borrow, you don't care what your credit score is.

If you don't borrow you don't get in so much trouble if you lose your job or have a medical emergency...

If you don't borrow you don't have any payments. If you don't have any payments you have so much more to live on and enjoy.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:16 PM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 25, 2008

Getting It Wrong On Tomatoes

AP has a story today about the salmonella poisonings teaching the food industry a lesson. They just get it wrong. The story shows a fundamental lack of understanding about what is happening to us today. The story, The Associated Press: Food industry bitten by its lobbying success

One of the worst outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S. is teaching the food industry the truth of the adage, "Be careful what you wish for because you might get it."

The industry pressured the Bush administration years ago to limit the paperwork companies would have to keep to help U.S. health investigators quickly trace produce that sickens consumers, according to interviews and government reports reviewed by The Associated Press.

The White House also killed a plan to require the industry to maintain electronic tracking records that could be reviewed easily during a crisis to search for an outbreak's source. Companies complained the proposals were too burdensome and costly, and warned they could disrupt the availability of consumers' favorite foods.

The apparent but unintended consequences of the lobbying success: a paper record-keeping system that has slowed investigators, with estimated business losses of $250 million. So far, nearly 1,300 people in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada have been sickened by salmonella since April.

This is a consequence of our habit of thinking of corporations and industries as some kind of sentient entities. They are not.

Let me tell you how this really works: The executives who killed regulation pocketed cash -- when people later get sick insurance companies and shareholders are the ones who pay for it. There is no sentient being called "food industry" or "tomato company" at work here. There are a few executives who got rich, and everyone else pays for it.

As long as we use these mental frames of industries and companies as sentient entities we will make these mistakes. When we hear that a company has an opinion or an interest, we are not hearing from Bob in Sales or Alice in Accounts Receivable, they are told from the top. A company is only a piece of paper. The people in the companies are told what to do by a few people at the top. Those people act in their OWN interests, period. When we understand this we can start to write laws and regulations that deal with reality.

(Also diaried at La Vida Locavore -- "the blog for anyone whose crazy life includes planting, growing, weeding, fertilizing, raising, picking, harvesting, processing, cooking, baking, making, serving, buying, selling, distributing, transporting, composting, organizing around, lobbying about, writing about, thinking about, talking about, playing with, and eating food!")

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:35 AM | Comments (5) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Just One More Bad Act By Republicans

Just one more of so, so many...

U.S. Rushes to Change Workplace Toxin Rules,

Political appointees at the Department of Labor are moving with unusual speed to push through in the final months of the Bush administration a rule making it tougher to regulate workers' on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins.

The agency did not disclose the proposal, as required, in public notices of regulatory plans that it filed in December and May.

Republicans making it harder for workers to protect themselves from exposure to toxins. They get paid a bundle of cash to help kill people. What a job. With the added bonus of doing it in ways that make it harder for legitimate government to fix it so people can again be protected.

And then, when they leave the government, they will be hired by the very companies that make a bundle from poisoning workers, and paid then for what they are doing now. A flat-out bribe that comes a year later.

You try to explain to people what is happening, and they think YOU are extreme. It does sound so extreme to say that people would do this. Yet there they are -- doing it.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:17 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 24, 2008

Max and the Marginalized

I'm becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Max and the Marginalized.

We are a political band in Los Angeles. We write and record a new song every week (as of this writing we’ve been doing this for 32 weeks straight), always about something that week which we find worthy of our protestations.
Go see some videos here.

My current favorite:

Another:

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:13 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Netroots Nation Report

This post originally appeared at, Speak Out California.

I thought our readers might like to get an insight into how last week's annual Netroots Nation convention went, and how it keeps the blogging world energized. Here is an inside look at the event. ('Netroots' stands for the online, networked, "bottom-up" grassroots of democracy.)

First of all, Austin is like a big, very very very very very very hot Santa Cruz. The daily high temperature was between 96 and 104 each day I was there. The convention facilities were great, and are located right downtown, surrounded by restaurants and the entertainment district. The hotel was next door to the convention center with several other hotels nearby. It's also near Austin's famous "bat bridge" from under which hundreds of thousands of bats emerge each day just after sunset.

Two thousand people attended the Thursday through Sunday event. The crowd and speakers were much more diverse than previous years. This is a gathering of all ages and demographic groups, centered around the progressive blogs.

Netroots Nation used to be called YearlyKos. This event sprang up from the large community that had grown up around the DailyKos website, but the gathering itself is a larger Netroots gathering not just associated with that particular site. Hence the change to Netroots Nation.

The first day, Thursday, was set aside for caucuses. There was a labor caucus which really wish I could have attended. There were a few state caucuses. There were caucuses like Native American and GLBTQ, and even a Geek caucus. There were caucuses for websites like MyDD and Firedoglake.

The evening Keynote on that first day was Governor Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic Party, introduced by General Wesley Clark.

Friday the panels and workshops started. Friday and Saturday were arranged with two panel slots before lunch and two after. Each of those slots had THIRTEEN different panels to choose from! And of course everyone wanted to attend at least tow, more likely four of those at any given time. For an idea of what one of these panels was link, here is the description of The Next President and the Law:

Fri, 07/18/2008 - 9:00am, Exhibit Hall 4

A new Democratic president will take office on January 20, 2009, facing a federal judiciary stacked with Republican appointees in 20 of the last 28 years, and a Department of Justice that has been more tied to the President’s policy interests than the impartial enforcement of law. What should the next president do with the courts? What should the priorities be for his attorney general? What legislative initiatives are needed to restore fair access to the courts?
PANELISTS: Cass Sunstein, John Dean, Adam Bonin, Michael Waldman

There were thirteen sessions like this to choose from at 9am, then thirteen more at 10:30am. Then for lunch Markos of DailyKos and former Senator Harold Ford, now head of the right-leaning DLC, had a discussion on stage. I wrote about this at my personal blog, in the post, Harold Ford at Netroots Nation on FISA:
Harold Ford and Markos held a discussion on stage at lunch here at Netroots Nation. I didn't catch all of it, but at one point Ford was talking about FISA and telecom immunity, along the lines of "If you have a company, and the government comes to you and says 'If you do this for us it will help national security' then what can you say?"

I'll tell you what you can say. You can say, "DO YOU HAVE A WARRANT?"

Then two more groups of thirteen panels at 1:30pm and 3pm, with an evening "Netroots Candidates Event" where what seemed to be fifty candidates for office around the country who the netroots are supporting were introduced. (I spotted Pete McCloskey at this event. McCloskey was a California Congressman who ran against Richard Nixon in the 1972 Republican primaries, and who co-founded Earth Day.)

And then there were the parties... Parties and parties. There were lots of parties. And there were parties.

Saturday kicked off with "Ask the Speaker". Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was on stage taking questions that had been solicited in advance from blogs all around the web, as well as live questions from people attending. Then there was a surprise. One of the questions that came over the speakers was from Al Gore! And Gore walked onto the stage to give a brief talk about climate change and the nature of our politics, and took questions as well as Speaker Pelosi.

Then more panels ... The lunch keynote was Lawrence Lessig who talked about the destructive nature of money in politics -- whenever money is involved you can't trust the results, just like with medical research funded by pharmaceutical companies. So of course you can't trust money in politics.

Then more panels. I put on a workshop titled, "Blogging and the New Green Economy," described as follows,

This workshop will discuss how bloggers can support and organize around the efforts of environmental justice activists, union leaders and city government officials to help create a new green economy.
(Last year I put on two major sessions and participated in three other panels, and the year before i was also involved with several. So just doing this one was a relief.)

Saturday wrapped up with a keynote speech by Rep. Donna Edwards. This is significant because the Netroots supported Edwards in a primary race against another Democrat who was supporting a corporate agenda. She won, and it has sent a signal to other Democrats that they can start to change their behavior. And now the SEIU and others are planning to run at least ten primary challenges in the next round of Congressional elections. This is a very important development which I wrote about in my post SEIU's Accountability Project -- Making Politicians Do The Right Thing. I wrote,

First, it finally gives politicians whose hearts are with us a reason to vote with us. Second, it tells politicians who don't agree with a progressive agenda (of reducing corporate power over our lives and restoring democracy to the people) that their time is past, that we will run candidates against them in the primaries and these candidates will have strong support.
Then there were parties. And more parties. Lots of parties.

And parties.

Finally, Sunday began with a multi-faith service led by "Pastor Dan" who posts at the DailyKos-associated blog Street Prophets. Following that the keynote speaker Van Jones was introduced by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Newsom was great but Van Jones gave a memorable talk that will be available in video online soon.

A tremendous amount of networking happens at this event. I once called it the largest gathering of people who know each other but have never met. It is events like this one and the Take Back America conference where a new progressive movement is being built. One this that was significant this year was the exhibits, where organizations involved with the Netroots have booths to show off what they are up to. There were quite a number of these this year, which shows that an ecosystem is starting to develop.

Someone caught a photo of me speaking to the California Caucus:

DJ_CA_Caucus.jpg

(That's a really bad shot of CA-46 Congressional candidate Debra Cook in the front.)

There are several blogs (here, here) and diaries at DailyKos with pictures, (here, here, here, here), and a Flickr album I located.

Ckick through to Speak Out California to join our discussion there.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:57 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Tools

One of my local newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle, is running an editorial cartoon today that tells readers not to trust newspapers.

And they wonder why their circulation is dropping.

Tools. Useful idiots.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:40 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 23, 2008

Scary Black Man



By the way -- How come I can't play YouTube videos in FireFox, but can in Internet Explorer? The videos just stop after 2 seconds.

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July 21, 2008

"Who Sent You?" -- The Coming Attack on Obama

At least one major right-wing smear attack on Obama may be gearing up. I'll call it the "Who Sent You" campaign. As weird as it sounds -- and it is weird stuff -- the gist of it is that Obama's birth was part of a secret plan by communists, Jews and one-worlders to take over the world. As you read this it is going to sound so fanatically wingnut/John Birch Society/black helicopter/precious bodily fluids weird that you are likely to dismiss it as the rantings of crazy people. But I have learned over the years that this stuff resonates with a certain crowd, and they are remarkably effective at tapping the fears of Americans.

Keep in mind how weird and unbelievable the Swift Boat accusations seemed -- and remember the powerful effect they had on the public and election results. In The Swiftboaters Are Back in the Water I wrote about the effectiveness of the dishonest accusations,

. . . [one] reason it works is because it is (excuse the pun) offensive. They say that the best defense is a good offense, and considering their candidates, the Republicans certainly needed a defense.

[. . .] So with swiftboating you spread a smear to raise questions with the public about the opponent's patriotism or service. It doesn't have to be true (how quaint) it just has to raise questions. This "neutralizes" the honorable record of or otherwise "discredits" the advantages that opponent has against a Republican with a poor (like George W. Bush's) or no (like Saxby Chambliss or any number of other "chickenhawks") record.

That post also cited the following description of the results of that smear:

"A recent University of Pennsylvania poll showed that its attack ad questioning whether Kerry deserved his medals had been seen or heard of by half the voters questioned.

It also revealed that 44 per cent of independent voters found the advert at least somewhat believable. Meanwhile a CBS poll showed the number of veterans who supported Kerry had dropped from 46 per cent to 37 per cent." [emphasis added]

This effect increased as the election approached.

And here we are again. The widely-spread, widely-repeated -- and consequently widely believed -- smear emails about Obama being a secret Muslim who went to a terrorist training school, burned his flag pin etc. have been "preparing the ground" by "raising questions" that get people ready to give a positive reception to this conspiracy theory. I am seeing signs that the wingnuts are starting to roll out the next phase with the right's recent "Obama forged birth certificate" blogswarm, with stories like this from Christian Web News,

In response to mounting media questions about the failure of the Barack Obama presidential campaign to produce his birth certificate, an official spokesman of the campaign has endorsed as genuine the image of a document purporting to be his "birth certificate." However, experts who have examined that image in high resolution have pointed out inconsistencies and irregularities which suggest that the document is a forgery.
The idea behind this is that Obama was really born in Kenya (in a lab, perhaps?), and was later "smuggled" into Hawaii. From FINAL REPORT ON OBAMA BIRTH CERTIFICATE FORGERY,
It is irrefutable, empirical evidence - Obama's birth certificate is a forgery. Why? Why a COLB (certificate of live birth) forgery? That is the question.
Who Exactly is Obama? from Right Side News, drives home the paranoia:
If elected, he would be the first Arab-American President, not the first black President. Barack Hussein Obama is 50% Caucasian from his mother's side and 43.75% Arabic and 6.25% African Negro from his father's side. While Barack Hussein Obama's father was from Kenya, his father's family was mainly Arabs.. Barack Hussein Obama's father was only 12.5% African Negro and 87.5% Arab.
There are already thousands of references to this weird story on the web.

With all of that as background, here is what I think is an upcoming smear attack that will be echoed across the right's communication channels. In February, The Corner at National Review Online posted Obama's Political Origins.

. . . all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League.

. . . I don't know how Barak Obama's parents met. But the Kincaid article referenced above makes a very convincing case that Obama's family, later, (mid 1970s) in Hawaii, had close relations with a known black Communist intellectual.

. . . Political correctness was invented precisely to prevent the mainstream liberal media from persuing the questions which might arise about how Senator Obama's mother, from Kansas, came to marry an African graduate student.

This story refers to this from Accuracy in Media, Obama’s Communist Mentor,
In his biography of Barack Obama, David Mendell writes about Obama's life as a "secret smoker" and how he "went to great lengths to conceal the habit." But what about Obama's secret political life? It turns out that Obama's childhood mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, was a communist.

[. . .] Obama's communist connection adds to mounting public concern about a candidate who has come out of virtually nowhere, with a brief U.S. Senate legislative record, to become the Democratic Party frontrunner for the U.S. presidency.

. . . AIM recently disclosed that Obama has well-documented socialist connections, which help explain why he sponsored a "Global Poverty Act" designed to send hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. foreign aid to the rest of the world, in order to meet U.N. demands

I suspect this "he came out of nowhere" idea is going to be repeated over and over. It has a "don't trust him" insinuation that feels like it will stick in certain brains. It lends credence to the really weird stuff that I see bubbling up in the right's channels. An example of what is coming can be found in this "PUMA Blog Network" blog "It's The Communism Stupid" titled, Obama Socialist Trojan Horse and Hive Builder. Hear the Buzzing?
Is Obama a Marxist/Stalinist Trojan Horse…..a Marxist Mole?

How else is one to explain this candidate who came out of nowhere and since 1996 and involvement with the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, he has been able to “leap” every three years up the power ladder…..looking for the GOLD Ring of being the most powerful person in the United States?Going back to his roots we find:

1.His father, from Kenya was a Socialist and wrote papers relating to the oppression of the people of Kenya. ...

3.Obama’s grandfather introduced him to Frank Marshall Davis, an activist and poet with ties to the Communist Party. . . .

5.From Occidental College, Obama transferred to Columbia University and majored in political science and international relations.

OK, I admit my favorite is the way this post highlights political science and international relations as proof that something sinister is going on. This is a long, paranoid post (please try to skim it at least) but I am seeing it echoed around the right's networks so you have to take it seriously.

OK, to the the meat of the coming attack. The outlines of it are here in this post, Who "sent" Obama?. I know this is weird stuff, but you can see how this paranoid theme develops if you skim it. It is very difficult to follow the logic, but the claim appears to be that Obama is the product of a secret cabal connected to Stalinist-Maoist-Che Guevara-Hugo Chavez communists. So take a look (again, my apologies, it's weird.)

So it is reasonable to ask, who "sent" Barack Obama? In other words, how can his meteoric rise to political prominence be explained?

[. . .] The people linked to Senator Obama grew to political maturity in the extreme wings of the late 60s student and antiwar movements. They adopted some of the worst forms of sectarian and authoritarian politics.

... Many of them have joined up with other wings of the late 60s and 70s movements, in particular the pro-China maoists elements of that era and are now playing a role in the labor movement and elsewhere.

. . . The most recent effort was by Jonathan Kaufman in the Wall Street Journal who argued that a critical connection for Obama was his links to some in the wealthy and prominent Jewish community in Chicago.

. . . So, who did “send” Obama? . . . more likely to the family of (in)famous former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers – not just Bill Ayers, but also Bill’s father Tom Ayers and his brother John as well.

. . . In my view these types of councils are reminiscent of the manipulative "community" bodies set up in regimes like those of Hugo Chavez and the Sandinistas - used to control genuine democratic movements such as trade unions.

. . . Ayers, of course, had long held what the left once knew, broadly, as “maoist” politics – a view of the world that was opposed to Russian style bureaucratic communism from above, instead advocates of this approach supported sending revolutionary cadre to “swim among the masses like fish in the sea” or attempting to establish guerilla foco as romantically theorized by Regis Debray and carried out with disastrous results by Che Guevara.

[. . .] So, why or how did Obama - at that point not yet the prominent first black president of the Harvard Law Review (that would happen the following year) - end up at Sidley?

Sidley had been long time outside counsel to Commonwealth Edison. The senior Sidley partner who was Comm Ed's key outside counsel, Howard Trienens, was a member of the board of trustees of Northwestern alongside Tom Ayers (and Sidley partner Newton Minow, too). It turns out, Bernardine Dohrn worked at Sidley also. She was hired there in the late 80s, because of the intervention of her father-in-law Tom Ayers, even though she was (and is) not a member of any state bar.

Dohrn ... her former Weather Underground (now recast as the "Revolutionary Armed Task Force") "comrades," including Kathy Boudin (biological mother of Chesa Boudin, who was raised by Ayers and Dohrn) participated. . . . The father of Chesa Boudin, David Gilbert, was sentenced to 75-to-life, with no chance of parole, after a trial in which he refused to participate. Chesa is the co-author of a recent apologia for the regime of Venezuelan "left" strong man, Hugo Chavez.

. . . I can only speculate, but it is possible that Tom Ayers introduced Obama to Sidley. That might have happened if Obama had met up with Bill and Tom and John Ayers prior to attending law school when Obama's DCP group was supporting the reform act passed in 1988. Or it might have been Dohrn who introduced Obama to the law firm.

[. . .] In fact, in retrospect the Ayers/Ayers (business from above, local activism from below) joint campaign against both the Chicago School District bureaucracy and the Teachers Union is reminiscent of the kinds of alliances one finds in neo-stalinist regimes like that of Cuba, China or Sandinista-run Nicaragua. In the Chinese Cultural Revolution, for example, Mao appealed to local activists to attack the party bureaucracy. These authoritarian movements often try to build their power against democratic institutions like unions.

[. . .] As it turns out, there are other ex-SDS types around the Obama campaign as well, including Marilyn Katz, a public relations professional, who was head of security for the SDS during the disaster in the streets of Chicago in 1968.

. . . Davidson and Katz were key organizers of the 2002 anti-war demonstration where Obama made public his opposition to the Iraq war that has been so critical to his successful presidential campaign. Davidson apparently moved into the maoist movements of the 70s after the disintegration of SDS.

... Now that we have some idea of who "sent" Obama, the left and labor movement deserve to know more about how the exhausted ideas of the authoritarian side of 60's politics may still be influencing the thinking of a potential U.S. president. Maybe Andy Stern's endorsement of Obama makes more sense, now.

If you have time, follow the links. They go on and on like that. It seems the idea is if you throw in the words "Maoist" enough times people will get really scared.

I might be right. I might be wrong. But my instincts and experience tell me that this is a smear attack that is bubbling up.


*Let me close with a note on my reference to "precious bodily fluids":

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:18 PM | Comments (19) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Racist?

Is this headline, Obama’s moneywoman was a subprime mortgage queen, racist? Just asking. I'm thinking it evokes the older "welfare queen" image.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:32 PM | Comments (14) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Question About War Crimes Trial

First Guantanamo war crimes trial under way | Reuters,

The first U.S. war crimes trial since World War Two began on Monday at the U.S. navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, nearly seven years after the September 11 attacks prompted President George W. Bush to declare war on terrorism.
I want to be sure I have this right. According to the Republicans the people at Guantanamo are not subject to the Geneva Conventions because they are "unlawful combatants" not engaged in "war" as defined by the conventions. But now they are being "tried" for "war crimes."

Isn't this having it both ways? Either they are or are not.

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July 20, 2008

Pete McCloskey at Netroots Nation

Never mind Bob Barr, I ran into "national treasure" Pete McCloskey at Netroots Nation.

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Energy Prices

I want to write about something Al Gore said yesterday about energy prices, at the Netroots Nation conference.

Oil is limited. There is only so much, and the amount you can get it out of the ground and refine on any day is limited. That means that the more you depend on it and use it the more the more the price goes up. It just has to go up and eventually run out.

Solar power, on the other hand, is a new technology, so it is expensive today. But the more demand there is, the more factories are built. That means that the more we depend on it and use it, the more the price goes down.

Let me add that once you install solar your ongoing cost is very low. With solar you stop sending those checks to the energy companies.

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July 19, 2008

Al Gore at Netroots Nation

Al Gore just surprised Netroots Nation by coming out to talk about energy and global warming during the Nancy Pelosi "Ask the Speaker" session.

Live streaming of this and all major NN events and sessions can be seen here: http://www.netrootsnation.org/node/982 (Note -- after the convention almost all sessions, including the smaller rooms will be archived and available.)

He's got this Johnny Cash thing going on:

NNGore.jpg

Trying to catch some of what he is saying:
On new drilling:

Old hangover remedy called "The Hair of the Dog" -- when you wake up with a hangover you just take another drink. That;'s what this idea is like.

The defenders of the status quo are the ones who have gotten us into this hole.

Am I the only one who finds it strange that our country is so often fooled into picking a remedy for a problem that has absolutely nothing to do with the problem we are talking about?

The machinery of distraction is hard at work. "Oh we can't switch away from oil, that would be unrealistic." In their view it would be far more realistic to just sweep off the end of the cliff.

There is an ability to mobilize public opinion, visit his website for The Alliance for Climate Protection. It is focused on this single objective. The We campaign. WeCanSolveIt.org

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July 18, 2008

Harold Ford at Netroots Nation on FISA

Harold Ford and Markos held a discussion on stage at lunch here at Netroots Nation. I didn't catch all of it, but at one point Ford was talking about FISA and telecom immunity, along the lines of "If you have a company, and the government comes to you and says 'If you do this for us it will help national security' then what can you say?"

I'll tell you what you can say. You can say, "DO YOU HAVE A WARRANT?"

Duh!

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Atria, Lazard, I'm On Randi Rhodes Today at 2pm Pacific

I think I will be on the Randi Rhodes show today to talk about senior care. If I am on here is what I am going to say.

I have been working with The Campaign to Improve Assisted Living which is a project of SEIU Healthcare, the nation's largest union of healthcare workers.

Atria Senior Living is a chain put together by the "Bermuda-based" (HA!) Wall Street "buyout firm" Lazard. Atria is owned by a "Lazard-affiliate" which means they have set up a number of companies that are supposedly separate but really are part of Lazard, but it is difficult to learn who owns what. Atria is controlled by Lazard Real Estate Partners and their parent company, Lazard Alternative Investments.

At the top of the Lazard food chain is Bruce Wasserstein, chairman and chief executive officer of Lazard, Ltd. and Lazard Group. Wasserstein and his family own a significant share of LAI and Wasserstein has veto power over many of LAI’s major corporate decisions. He received $41 million just last year, and has signed a 5-year pay package worth another $100 million. This even as Lazard's stock drops.

The reason Lazard put together Atria was that the Boomers are aging, so care for the elderly was seen as a "next big thing" type of investment to get into. Over time more and more retirement and care facilities will be needed. Lazard gathered a number of large investors, and promises a revenue stream. So the investors are the customer -- the seniors and their remaining savings and incomes are the PRODUCT.

To make money a firm like Lazard cuts costs. That is called "efficiency." But what it means is that the services for the elderly are reduced. And it means that the employees are squeezed. They are paid $8-10 an hour. They can't afford health insurance. And they cut back the staff, which means the employees are stretched and the seniors are receiving less in the way of care and services. As a result Atria has been cited thousands of times across the country for care problems (the resident gets someone else's medicine, etc.). Partly this is because it's the wild west out there for assisted living. Everything is different state by state, there's very little regulation, etc. but the main problem is this unaccountable ownership structure -- which results in enabling Lazard and Wasserstein to see the seniors in Atria as nothing more than economic units -- a product they serve up to the investors.

If Atria stops fighting unionization then the staff will be increased and the workers can make improvements for themselves and for the residents. Unions can really help improve care. Hospital and nursing home workers have negotiated improvements to staffing levels, training programs so they can give the best care, and of course raising pay and benefits helps a lot with reducing turnover among the lowest paid caregivers--lower turnover means better care, more qualified and experienced staff, etc.

Please go visit The Campaign to Improve Assisted Living!

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

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July 17, 2008

Back To The Vulnerable Elderly

Atria Senior Living and Lazard -- I've been writing about bigger-picture issues but today I'd like to go back where this started, to the most vulnerable people - the elderly. The residents at the Atria Senior Living facilities are the direct victims of a big company buying up a number of senior living chains, combining them into one big chain and then financializing this as an investment, because everyone knows that the Boomers are getting old so this is a great way to get in on the ground floor of a growing business.

But viewing elderly people as a business and good investment is the wrong way to approach this. It's backwards. It should be, let's take care of elderly people, and do a good job, and provide a good service, and be fairly compensated for our efforts. That is how a business should be run. The goal is doing a great job with the product or service provided, not makingthe quick buck by cutting back services and squeezing employees. This si the new American way of looking at business, but it is just wrong.

Starting this series, I wrote,

To set the stage, think about yourself getting old, or about your parents or grandparents. Think about reaching a point where you just can't quite get by living on your own at home anymore. So at some point you decide you have to move into a senior facility. What about if you need assisted-living facilities -- a place with people to help you take a shower and things like that. And finally, think about when you might need "memory care." (This is a the name for a special facility for people with Alzheimer's disease.)

These are people who are in no condition to fight battles. Vulnerable is the word here. Extremely vulnerable. You would think people in this phase of their live are people who our society would give special care, special attention, special protections. You would think that our society would join together to take care of them, protect them, shelter them, fight for them.

But not in today's America. You see, there is one more fact about these people: the people who move into a senior facility do so because they can afford to. These places are not cheap. In today's America the people without money are on their own without care, but if you have some money you have at least some value -- to a certain kind of company.

OK, we have the perfect combination here. We have elderly, frail, sick, vulnerable, and they have some money. They are a captive audience, too, because people in this situation are not people who can pack up and move somewhere else. Senior care is a big business. You're talking about chains with hundreds of facilities each with dozens or even hundreds of living units you're talking REAL money. So in today's economy you're talking about a perfect target for exploitation. This week I am going to explore what it means to be vulnerable. But I think you can already guess where this is going.

In Reverse Robin Hood: Stealing From The Poor To Give To The Rich : Boztopia.com, Martin notes,

What’s happening at Atria–the gouging of seniors’ meager disposable income to ensure profit margins are met, even while services and benefits are cut and rents are increased dramatically–is an extreme, but all-too-real example of what’s happening all over the globe…the systematic transfer of wealth and the power to create wealth from the larger mass of the human community to a select class of uber-wealthy players at the top of the social scale. It’s worth looking at the issue in a larger context, if only to reiterate what I think most of us already know…that we’re being robbed, cheated, gouged, and nickel-and-dimed to death to make others rich.
To change this, to bring America back to sound business practices, where you provide a good product or service, and then you are fairly compensated, will be a long effort. We have to get peoplo eback out of the quick buck mentality. We have to find ways to prevent the Bruce Wassersteins and the Lazards and the Atrias from gaming the system to their own advantage. (Like how Lazard claims to be a "Bermuda-based" company when they are not.)

Atria could increase its services to the residents, and pay fair wages and benefits to their workers instead of making the seniors into a product they package up for their investors. Lazard could ask its investors to expect a fair return on their investment instead of hoping to cash in big on the next big trend. But then, this would be a very different country for that to happen.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

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"25,000 Members" But Only 5 Donors? Is This The New Math?

Earlier this week, we wrote about the Republican group, Vets For Freedom, and their ability to run $1.5 million dollars in TV advertising with seemingly no support.

In our blog post, we noted that the founder of the group was claiming thousands of donors. And the group claims to have 25,000 members. A number which if true might give a hint of credibility to their claims. However, when it is becoming increasingly clear that more and more real veterans are coming out in support of Barack Obama, is it possible that VFF actually has 25,000 members?

Well, we're not from Missouri but frankly, we'd have to see the membership roster to even believe that they have 2,500 members, why?

First, in their last report, they have exactly 5 donors listed. One, two, three, four, five. So unless their marketing efforts are truly horrific, to the tune of a .00000005 response rate, we have to believe that their member list is slightly inflated.

Second, if you look at their web site traffic on public sites, you'll see that the traffic is very very light; with some recent days in May hovering around zero, wouldn't a 25,000 member person organization have more than a couple of thousand total visits a month?

Unfortunately, many news organizations are taking the 25,000 numbers as a fact versus a 'claim' -- if we claimed that a million people read everything we wrote, it wouldn't make it true -- but who knows maybe people would start writing that -- just like we are seeing these.

There's an old expression, a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on, and today from The Guardian in London, we have proof.

The £750,000 campaign launched by the 25,000-member Vets for Freedom implicitly criticises the Republican senator's anti-war Democrat rival Barack Obama, who has stated he wants to withdraw combat forces within 16 months of taking office.

On the other hand, if Vets For Freedom really does have 25,000 veteran members, we'll post the whole membership list right here, just send us the names guys, we'll put everyone up.

After all, we can easily fit in five names right here.

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Immigration Questions II

This post originally appeared at, Speak Out California.

The other day I brought up immigration, asking the practical question of how we would identify people who are here without documentation.

Suppose -- just suppose -- the people who advocate harsh treatment of non-citizens are successful in their efforts, and our government starts an effort to locate and deport them. How do we identify who is here without authorization? This is a practical question.

Americans are not required to "carry papers." We do not have checkpoints, and inside of the country we do not have to prove that we are traveling with proper authorization. We certainly do not have to prove that we are citizens. Many of us could never even locate the documentation necessary to prove citizenship if we were, in fact, required to prove it.

One answer that comes up frequently is to deal with the immigration question through employment. The reason people come here is to try to have a better life, which means employment. So this opens up a two-pronged approach. One, attack the undocumented resident problem through the employers, and the other is to help the countries south of us to improve their economies so people are not desperately trying to come here so they can feed their families. (And opening up markets of people who can afford to buy things we make here, by the way.) Meanwhile, employers here are taking advantage of desperate people for their own gain.

So to approach this problem though employment we ask employers here to check for documentation when hiring. This is a natural time to do this, because people already need to show they are who they say they are when applying for jobs. An employer who hires an undocumented worker is the one committing the crime.

But what happens to families and lives if we cause people working now to be fired? What happens to neighborhoods, businesses, already-eroding housing prices, local tax bases, and all the other things that can be affected if hundreds of thousands -- maybe even millions -- of people are suddenly without jobs and forced to move? Perhaps part of the answer to the problem is to freeze any new hiring of people who are not citizens or have resident status, so the problem at least stops getting worse and ever harder to solve. But it is not a good idea for human and economic reason to punish people who are already living and working here.

The current discussion of immigration is so focused on the word "illegal" and that word helps turn human beings into a faceless, criminal "them." But it really is human beings, with families and lives just like everyone else.

Please discuss.

Ckick through to Speak Out California to join our discussion there.

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July 16, 2008

Six Years!

I was at the Burnt Orange Report party at Netroots Nation, and realized that today is the sixth anniversary of this blog!

First post: Ralph Nader is a Scab

In the union movement we learned the hard way that the only way to fight the moneyed interests is to stick together. It's called SOLIDARITY. It's what "union" MEANS.

When unions are in a fight the members stick together, and those crossing the lines are called "scabs".

In the 2000 election it was the usual fragile Democratic coalition fighting the usual moneyed interests. Ralph Nader broke the solidarity, divided the coalition, and lost us the election. Ralph Nader is a scab.

When you're there,. scroll up and look at more of that first day and the first few days. From day two: Seeing the forest,
Recent polls show that the public is blaming Clinton for the business scandals, and Bush's popularity remains astronomical. That's a tree.

Let's see if we can see the forest. Look back to the 2000 election. Step back and look at the candidates. The Democrat's candidate was a well respected, well liked, extremely experienced, Vietnam vet, former seminary student, character beyond reproach, faithfully married family man, foreign policy expert, with many accomplishments including being the person in the Congress most responsible for advancing the Internet... The Republicans ran a foul-mouthed thoroughly inexperienced scandal-ridden (Harken oil, Rangers stadium, recipient of bribes directed at his father) failed businessman, continuously bailed out of jams by his father's connections, draft-dodger (worse, he got into the Nat. Guard through connections and then played hooky!), former drunk, probable drug-user, kids constantly in trouble, with a campaign entirely financed by large corporations obviously looking for favors.

But by election time the only issue was “character”, and the character in question was the Democratic candidate’s! That's the forest.

Issues like the "Love Canal story" and "I invented the Internet" were trees. The forest was how they pulled it off - the smears, the propaganda blitz, the way they spread their message and the way people hear messages these days.

With this weblog I'll be writing about this issue, seeing the forest for the trees.

The more things change...

Note - any typos are due to burnt orange party.

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Travel Day

I'm flying to Austin this morning to attend Netroots Nation so probably won't be posting. Maybe tonite.

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Why Do We Allow This System?

I have been writing about the Campaign to Improve Assisted Living -- please visit their website.

I'd like to talk about the larger picture. The other day I asked Who Is the Corporation

So here is the thing. When you talk about a corporation doing something, who are you talking about? In reality you are talking about a few PEOPLE, not some anonymous corporation, PEOPLE. And when you talk about the people of a corporation you are not talking about Bob in Sales or Mary in Accounts Receivable. They are not the people who make decisions -- they aren't even asked. They are told from the top how it is going to be. When you talj about a corporation doing or saying something you are really talking about A FEW PEOPLE and the things these people do and say are not for "the company" they are necessarily for THEMSELVES. Corporations do not have voices or thoughts or ideas, a few people who have control of the resources of the corporation do, and always, always act for their OWN gain.
Today let's take a look at Why?

Here we have a country that allows vulnerable elderly people to be treated as a product to be harvested and workers to be treated as economic units or annoying costs to be replaced if they are not efficient enough. The average worker faces longer working hours for less pay and fewer benefits each year.

How did we get here? When did we decide to have a system like this? Did we ever decide?

Who benefits from this system? In the case of Atria Senior Living Bruce Wasserstein benefits. Other executives at Atria and Lazard benefit. Does anyone else? Why do we allow it?

We used to have kings and feudal lords who "owned" almost everything and told everyone else what to do. People rose up, battles were fought and eventually a compromise was reached. England still has a Queen!

In America workers faced brutal conditions because a few powerful wealthy people controlled the economy and the mines and the mills and the factories. Over time unions formed and fought this and a compromise of sorts was eventually reached. And over time those unions have been eroded and things have been slipping backwards. That is a gross simplification, but here we are.

When do We, the People start to decide what kind of economy we want? In Europe and much of the rest of the world people get five weeks vacation, health care, child care, and rights. That is because the people there understand that they are in an ongoing fight between the people and the powerful, and they still have strong unions. In America a very few get fabulously wealthy, supported by the work the rest of us -- here and in the outsourcing countries -- do.

When will We, the People decide that WE want a better system for US? I suggest taking a look at the SEUI's Accountability Project. This campaign is intended to help all of us, not just their own membership. It's a start. But in your own actions and thoughts, start demanding more. Start demanding that the few ultra-wealthy and the corporations butt out of our system. We are We, the People and We are supposed to be in charge here.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

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July 15, 2008

Bush Gives America Memory Test

President Bush is giving America a memory test. Test: How many people will say "Didn't they JUST get done saying that was appeasement?"

What am I talking about? This: American Envoy To Join Iran Talks

Interestingly the word "appeasement" does not appear once in the story. Why not? Because IOKIYAR.

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Court Says Republican Presidents Can Detain ANYOne Indefinitely

Court Backs Bush on Military Detentions,

President Bush has the legal power to order the indefinite military detentions of civilians captured in the United States, the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled on Tuesday in a fractured 5-to-4 decision.
[. . .] All of the judges who would have denied Mr. Marri any relief — Judges Wilkinson, Karen J. Williams, Paul V. Niemeyer and Allyson K. Duncan — were appointed by Republican presidents; all who would have granted him full relief were appointed by Democrats. Judge Traxler [the swing vote] was appointed to the appeals court by President Bill Clinton. [emphasis added]
Naturally the Times gets it wrong, implying the last judge is a Democrat: "In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated Judge Traxler for a Federal trial judgeship, on the United States District Court for South Carolina."


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Immigration Questions

This post originally appeared at, Speak Out California.

I want to ask some questions about how to handle our issue of undocumented immigrants. There is very little disagreement that our borders have become unacceptably porous and that we’ve got to change the way we secure them. That being said, how we approach solving the problem of the large number of people who are here already? The debate needs to be a practical and rational one rather than emotional and reactive so we can achieve sound and effective solutions.

Let’s start by asking some practical questions. Some people use the terminology of "illegal" immigrants because the people in question have overstayed a visa (45%) or even crossed the border without passing through immigration and customs. As a result of this terminology -- "illegal" -- people react more strongly than they might if different words were used or if they had time to consider fully all of the ramifications of this issue.

Suppose -- just suppose -- the people who advocate harsh treatment of non-citizens are successful in their efforts, and our government starts an effort to locate and deport them. How do we identify who is here without authorization? This is a practical question.

Americans are not required to "carry papers." We do not have checkpoints, and inside of the country we do not have to prove that we are traveling with proper authorization. We certainly do not have to prove that we are citizens. Many of us could never even locate the documentation necessary to prove citizenship if we were, in fact, required to prove it.

So if we are going to identify people who have overstayed visas, etc. how do we go about it?

This is a simple and serious question that I hope can be discussed here. Please leave a comment with your ideas.

I’ll deal with the next set of questions in my next post.

Ckick through to Speak Out California to join our discussion there.

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Enabling Limbaugh

Salon headline: Rush Limbaugh was right : The blogosphere's reaction to the New Yorker cover proves that the Bush era has killed a lot of liberals' sense of humor. And that's not funny.

I'll tell you what, I listen to Limbaugh and obviously people at the New Yorker and Salon don't, so they have no idea what Limbaugh and the far right is about. They think a cover that shows Obama as a terrorist burning the flag is somehow funny, and have no idea what this enable Limbaugh to do now. But now Limbaugh is able to put out any racist thing he wants, and call it "funny" and say "even the liberal New Yorker does this stuff," so we're going to be seeing more and more of the nastiest stuff imaginable.

I bet Salon and The New Yorker don't even know that Limbaugh has a line of products that "joke" about torturing people. I don't think any of it is the least bit funny.

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How You Can Help Atria Residents and Workers

Last week in Gouging Vulnerable Seniors -- What Can Be Done? I wrote about two big pension funds that have invested in the "Lazard affiliate" that owns Atria Senior Living, and suggested they ask Lazard to clear up their act. (If you are not familiar with what is happening with Atria, please click this.) One of these funds is in Quebec, the other in the Netherlands. These funds have signed on to the United Nation's Principles for Responsible Investment (UN-PRI) and these principles call for investors to take action when their investments are causing harm.

PGGM is a large pension fund in the Netherlands that serves that country's public social workers and health care workers.

La Caisse de Depot et Placements du Quebec ("CDP") -- a large public pension fund in Quebec.

These are prominent, large funds with good reputations on a global stage. They are responsible investors and take it seriously enough to be signatories to the UN-PRI. The Principles' FAQs say "The Principles suggest a policy of engagement with companies rather than screening or avoiding stocks based on ESG criteria (although this may be an appropriate approach for some investors)." I am writing here to encourage PGGM and CDP to ask Lazard to clean up their act, and have Atria treat their elderly residents and their workers better. Ask them to support the International Labor Organization's core conventions, especially Freedom of Association: "The right of workers and employers to form and join organizations of their choice is an integral part of a free and open society. It is a basic civil liberty that serves as a building block for social and economic progress. Linked to this is the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining. Voice and representation are an important part of decent work."

So OK, that's what THEY can do. What about you?

Do you have a pension fund? Maybe you have friends or relatives with pension funds? There are steps you can take.

YOU will retire some day. You will get old. So you should take this personally. Do you want to have a national corporate environment that means you will retire into a place like this? Or do you want to fight the system that accepts this kind of thing? Because it can happen to YOU.

Here is a partial list of the investors in the Lazard-Atria fund:

Public employee pension funds in the U.S.:
Virginia state pension fund
Wisconsin state pension fund
Colorado state pension fund
Utah state pension fund
New York state pension fund
IIlinois state pension fund
Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund

European / Canadian public funds:
La Caisse de Depot (Quebec fund)
PGGM (Netherlands public / healthcare workers fund)

Corporate funds:
General Motors Asset Management
Lucent Asset Management
AT&T Investment Management
IBM

Other investors:
Lazard Group
Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC)
Institutional Property Consultants
Southern Company

If you have money in one of these, this is not just some union dispute -- it is your money.

Are these funds doing their job on holding Lazard responsible? Are they responsible with their other investments? What about other places where you have money?

There is a way for them to start being responsible, and that is to join the UN-PRI commitment to responsible investing, and start fighting to create an economy that cares about people.

This isn't just about Atria and Lazard. This is about a national climate where people are human beings who are respected, not just economic units to be squeezed. You have the power to make noise and demand that people be treated with respect.


This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

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Vets for Freedom Says Thousands Of Donors -- We Count Five

In a recent story about Vets for Freedom's new campaign in support of Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, the Virginia-Pilot quoted VFFs Chairman Pete Hegseth on donor disclosure.

Vets for Freedom's efforts are being fueled by donations from thousands of people nationwide, Hegseth said. He said the group will not release donors' names nor the size of their donations. The group is registered under a section of federal tax law that allows it to advertise and organize on behalf of particular policies while maintaining the confidentiality of its donors.

Donations to political campaigns or political action committees, by contrast, generally must be reported and are limited by law.

Thousands of donations? We looked up Vets for Freedom's reporting records and found a total of five (5) donors and $2,050 total donations in the most recent period they reported. This reporting is for their "527" committee, which is legally allowed to " influence the nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates for public office" but is not allowed to coordinate with any candidate's campaign. However, their 501c4 charity arm, the part of the group that does not have to report its donors, can not legally do any of those things.


So what's the takeaway? On one hand, we have a 527 group with a total of $2,050 in donations, not enough to pay for Mark Penn's coffee break, and on the other we have a charity that legally can not be involved in direct political action? What's happening?

Well if you have "thousands" of mystery donors unreported but supporting John McCain's campaign and suddenly, a small fringe front group with just 5 real donors has over $1.5 million dollars to run a television campaign and there are plans for a major push this fall.

We're betting this is nothing more than a conduit for one or two very large donations intended to get around election law to the benefit of candidate McCain.

The Washington Post's blog The Trail tried to pin Hegseth down on why this "non-election" group is advertising with McCain's message in swing states important to McCain, and only just before an election with McCain as a candidate.

From the story,

Hegseth said his group is not operating on behalf of McCain and notes that federal law prohibits the organization from coordinating the ad with the campaign. The states were chosen, he said, not because they are crucial swing states for McCain, but because the heightened interest in the election in those states will give it a larger audience.

What Hegseth didn't mention is that VFF's ads were bought immediately after the McCain Campaign stopped advertising.

What Hegseth didn't mention is that VFF is supporting candidates across the country, but surprise, none of the Iraq War or Vietnam veterans who are running like Jon Powers or Charlie Brown.

What Hegseth didn't mention is that there are real veterans groups with real veterans signing real petitions and supporting a candidate, only those real veterans, are supporting Barack Obama.

The only thing Hegseth could do was concede that the message in the ad is almost identical to McCain's on the stump -- the surge worked; let's continue the war until we win. He said McCain has been the "strongest advocate" for the veterans of the two wars.

Which is about as believable as McCain's claim that real veterans groups support him.

Posted by Dave and James at 7:52 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 14, 2008

Today's Financial Collapse Post: FULLY INSURED

I've written over and over again that you need to make sure you only have money in INSURED bank accounts. That means federally insured. No money market funds or other accounts unless you can see that they are federally insured. Here is a simple rule: if you are getting a higher interest rate that means you are taking a greater risk, and this is NOT the time to take risks.

Friday a big bank, IndyMac, was closed. This means that every single depositor at that bank with more than the insured limit is at risk of losing at least some of their money. What will happen now is the assets of that bank will be sold, and the money divided up among the depositors. If there is enough to cover all of the depositors, that's great. If not, the FDIC will cover all accounts up to $100,000 -- $200,000 for couples and $250,000 for IRAs. (Do I have that right?) IndyMac was the first of what could be many.

BusinessWeek: What if my bank fails? Some questions and answers,

The government's seizure of IndyMac Bank raises concerns for many consumers about whether their banks might be next.

While it is unlikely the nation will see thousands of banks fail as they did during the savings and loan industry collapse in the late 1980s and early '90s, analysts predict there will be more battered financial institutions that are unable to survive in today's marketplace.

[. . .] Q: How can I make sure my money is safe?

A: All deposit accounts worth $100,000 and less are automatically insured by the FDIC. Many retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, are insured to $250,000 per person. But since it's a person's aggregate deposits, and not their individual accounts, that are insured, any amounts over $100,000 deposited at any one bank are not covered.

In a joint account, each depositor is insured up to $100,000.

The FDIC has information about its insurance on its Web site, at http://www.fdic.gov/deposit/deposits/insured/yid.pdf.

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Who Is the Corporation?

I have been writing about Atria Senior Living, owned by a "Lazard-affiliate." Atria is big a chain of facilities where elderly people live. It offers assisted living care and "memory care"(which means Alzheimer's care facilities). Lazard is a big "Bermuda-based" (HA!) Wall Street "buyout firm."

Here's the deal. Big Wall Street firm Lazard buys a few senior-care facility chains and combines them into Atria. The "boomers" are aging and will need care so this is the Next Big Thing investment. Pension funds and others hand over to Lazard millions for this "investment," expecting Lazard to provide a rich return. This means the seniors (well, their incomes, actually) are the PRODUCT, not the customer here. The seniors are an annoyance, inefficient, demanding, in the way of maximizing revenue. Employees are even worse, of course, because they expect to get paid, and want to go home sometimes, and are generally in the way of the supreme goal of maximizing revenue.

And to complicate things Lazard has set up an extremely convoluted system of corporations "affiliated with" other corporations, some based in Bermuda (HA!) and none particularly traceable to being the actual owners of Atria. No one can really find who ultimately can be held accountable for the hundreds of violations of regulations that Atria commits.

So here is the thing. When you talk about a corporation doing something, who are you talking about? In reality you are talking about a few PEOPLE, not some anonymous corporation, PEOPLE. And when you talk about the people of a corporation you are not talking about Bob in Sales or Mary in Accounts Receivable. They are not the people who make decisions -- they aren't even asked. They are told from the top how it is going to be. When you talj about a corporation doing or saying something you are really talking about A FEW PEOPLE and the things these people do and say are not for "the company" they are necessarily for THEMSELVES. Corporations do not have voices or thoughts or ideas, a few people who have control of the resources of the corporation do, and always, always act for their OWN gain.

So who are we talking about today? Bruce Wasserstein is the guy at the top of this particular corporate food chain, reeling in the BIG bucks, and the residents of Atria are working to hold him accountable.

Saturday's New York Daily News had a story about this: Care-home grannies blast billionaire whose firm put their rents through roof

. . . a sneaker-clad foursome of seniors - representing numerous residents they say are too scared to come forward - recently tried to confront the ultrawealthy investment banker at his Rockefeller Center office.

. . . In a letter from the residents' board they tried to hand-deliver to Wasserstein, the women noted the stark disparity between his wealth and their fixed incomes.

"While residents at Atria struggle to manage rate increases ... the compensation packages for those at Lazard are in the millions."

Wasserstein lives in a duplex that combines the 10th and 11th stories of a posh Fifth Ave. building on the upper East Side. He also owns a Paris pied-à-terre, a sprawling East Hampton estate next door to Jerry Seinfeld and a Santa Barbara, Calif., spread worth $8.3million.

Lazard's board paid Wasserstein, who is worth at least $2 billion, more than $41million in salary and bonuses last year.

Atria is owned by a fund controlled by Lazard, although Lazard claims Wasserstein has no control over Atria's operations.

"Lazard" claims that Lazard has no control over Atria, which is owned and operated by Lazard. Meanwhile those elderly people are squeezed by writing ever-greater checks, and the employees have to get squeezed and squeezed. Everyone is squeezed, Wasserstein gets ever-richer, and NO ONE can be held accountable.

Nice system we got going here, huh? Works for Wasserstein. But not for the rest of us.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

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July 13, 2008

Obama's FISA Screwup

"I no longer believe."

The issue of our Congress giving the big telecom companies immunity from being sued for illegally enabling the Republican Party to listen to our calls and read our emails is a very, very big deal to non-Republicans. Republicans, of course, are happy as clams about it. (They are also happy as clams that America now tortures people.)

I have talked to a number of friends who were major Obama supporters during the primaries, and not one of them is happy today because of Obama's reversal on telecom immunity in FISA. He had pledged, promised, sworn, committed to oppose telecom immunity -- then after securing the nomination reversed himself and voted for it.

So today I'm cruising the internets and come across Dave Winer, another Obama supporter. He articulates my own thoughts well. Obama's FISA screwup (Scripting News),

First, the conservative pundits who say that Obama turned his back on the extreme left by voting for the new FISA bill have it wrong. He turned his back on people of all persuasions who believe in our form of government.

. . . He was right if he assumed he had our vote. I will not vote for McCain to prove this point. But I'm also not going to give him any more money. I'm going to save that for causes I believe in.

I no longer believe there is a cause to Obama other than getting Obama elected. It's up to him now to prove otherwise. The FISA vote can be undone, but he has to actually do the undoing.

And go read the discussion as well. Some excerpts:

"I no longer have any confidence in my understanding of who Obama really is."

"I have never seen a lucid explanation of why Obama voted this way. What does he hope to gain?"

"I too lost a lot of (maybe all) respect for Obama when I heard about his FISA vote.. Even Hillary voted against it."

"If Obama loses his base, the steam will go out of his campaign with a great rush. There are strong indications that this has already happened."

"His campaign would have been elevated and energized by doing the right thing. Instead, now survey the ruin among his base and his declining contributions."

This was about the Constitution, not politics. I think many of us are just sick of the kind of "Impeachment is off the table" political calculation that got us into this mess. I think Obama can turn this around but only if he commits to solid principals and demonstrates that he means it.


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July 12, 2008

Right Wingnut Idiots

From PFAW's Right Wing Watch: The Dangers of Auto-Replace. Here's the story: The right-wingnut American Family Association's website runs AP news stories, but automatically replaces every appearance of the word "gay" with the word "homosexual." Go read about what happened.

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Right Develops Blame Narrative

The right is orchestrating a campaign to blame Democrats for the economic collapse. In cases like this it is often a matter of being the first out there with a story. For example, Progressives and Democrats could have been explaining the economic collapse on the cost of the war, or the huge borrowing that resulted from the tax cuts. But now the right is out there with a story, and the ability to get that story to the public. So we'll see which narrative takes over.

Here's the story. A major bank failed yesterday, and a Bush appointee in the government put out a statement directly blaming Democratic Senator Schumer. So the narrative the right is pumping out is that "the government" says Schumer is at fault for the bank failure. (What Schumer did was say that the bank appears to be insolvent because it was. Republicans say this "caused" a run on the bank. The fact is the bank was closed because it was insolvent, not because people were taking their money out. But facts don't matter.) I suspect you'll be hearing a lot more of this from Limbaugh Monday.

here's a sample of the right's messaging on this:

Senator Schumer Causes Bank Failure

Schumer, whose self-serving publicity hounding is legendary, decided to go public with information that he knew or should have known would be detrimental to the process -- and now he arrogantly refuses to accept any blame for his own politically motivated actions that were the proximate cause of the institution's downfall -- and blames the regulatory process that he created in legislation that he largely wrote back in 1999.

BREAKING: Bank Collapses. Feds cite Sen. Chuck Schumer as "immediate cause" of collapse

Now the question is, did Senator Chuck Schumer cause IndyMac's collapse? The Office of Thrift Supervision, that regulates entities like IndyMac, says "the immediate cause" of IndyMac's collapse was Senator Chuck Schumer.

Chuck Schumer, bank killer,

Two weeks ago, Schumer publicly released a letter he had written to regulatory agencies, demanding action to prevent IndyMac’s collapse. Instead of shoring up the bank, the letter induced depositors to make a run on the bank. Within days, over $1.3 billion in deposits disappeared, forcing the FDIC to close the bank and pay off the insured deposits.

That move cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. Don’t forget to thank Uncle Chuck when you have a chance.

$1.3 billion in losses, brought to you by Chuck Schumer

Maybe, just maybe, things like this could be avoided if the Democrats would stop meddling with the free market. The more Democrats try to interfere with our economy, the more it crashes. And the more it crashes, the more government intervention Democrats think is necessary. And somehow, Americans keep voting Chuck Schumer & Co. into office.

How much money can we afford to lose before we wise up?

Schumered,

LA Times: The chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee caused the second-largest bank collapse in USA history.

... Are Democrats so desperate for power that they are willing to cause bank panics that cost people billions?

Or are they just that incompetent?

... Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer cost the public more than a billion.

Where did the money go?

This casts a huge — $1.3 billion worth — cloud of suspicion over the Democratic Party’s point man in the Senate elections this year.

Update - One more comment: The Fed provides liquidity to banks in this situation. If they are SOLVENT the Fed provides all the cash they need to meet demands of depositors. So a "run" can't cause a bank to close. If they are NOT solvent the FDIC shuts them down right away to prevent a run from draining remaining equity.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:43 AM | Comments (7) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 11, 2008

California Fire Smoke Map

We have been having some degree of smoke cover here in the San Francisco Bay area for some time, and today it is particularly bad. I have asthma so I'm using the puffer... and haven't been running except once for a two or three weeks.

I have found a map of smoke coverage for all of California and even Nevada that calculates the coverage at the time you click the map. I can't seem to embed this map, but it is worth clicking through -- especially if you live in one of the affected areas. Here it is:

WunderMap Interactive Radar & Weather Stations : Wunderground Preview Site

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Atria Lazard Wasserstein Friday Recap

So far this week, in the unfolding story of Atria Senior Living, Bermuda-based (HA!) buyout firm Lazard and the really, really rich guy at the top of the food chain Bruce Wasserstein:

Part four: Gouging Vulnerable Seniors -- What Can Be Done?:

The world recognizes that there is a problem with this kind of uninhibited greed. Many people and organizations recognize that such a system is not sustainable, harms the people who work for the companies, the communities around them, the customers and the economies in which they operate. Sure, a few executives make out like bandits for a while, but over time it doesn't do the rest of us any good, not even their companies.

[. . .] I am writing here to encourage PGGM and CDP (La Caisse de Depot et Placements du Quebec) to ask Lazard to clean up their act, and have Atria treat their elderly residents and their workers better. Ask them to support the International Labor Organization's core conventions, especially Freedom of Association: "The right of workers and employers to form and join organizations of their choice is an integral part of a free and open society. It is a basic civil liberty that serves as a building block for social and economic progress. Linked to this is the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining. Voice and representation are an important part of decent work." They work for YOU, you have responsible investment policies, and what Lazard is doing goes against these policies.


Part three: Living and Working at Atria:
We are people, not economic units, and there is a difference. This may be a difficult concept to grasp after three or four decades of constant corporate-funded "free market" propaganda. But people make decisions for higher reasons than just making or saving a buck or two. Most people, anyway.

[. . .] But even though there are people who don't measure the value of their existence according to how well they feed the economic machine -- and their efficiency at generating profits for the wealthy -- this does not mean they do not deserve respect and fair compensation for their work. The caregivers at Atria, at every level, deserve to be treated with respect and compensated fairly for their work.

But they're not. Of course.


Part two: Extreme Wealth Just Isn't Enough:
Wasserstein and Lazard just have to have more and more. Elderly people who can't take care of themselves and low-wage workers are weak and vulnerable. Does this mean that we as a community of people join together and protect them? No, this makes them an easy target in today's America, so Wasserstein and Lazard have stepped in to harvest this vulnerability. They just have to have more. Already extremely wealthy, they just have to have more.


Part one: When Seniors Are the Product:
Here is what is going on: Atria has been reducing services, raising rates, cutting wages, and generally treating the residents and employees like money trees that exist to be squeezed...

[. . .] Who is Lazard’s customer, in this situation? According to the front page of Lazard's website Lazard "provides advice on mergers and acquisitions, restructuring and capital raising, as well as asset management services, to corporations, partnerships, institutions, governments and individuals." Lazard's customer is people and companies with a ton of money. They hand the money to Lazard and expect a good return.

The seniors under Atria's care are Lazard's product, not their customer! In today's America the vulnerable, elderly, sick and captive are a product to be exploited.


Yesterday there was an action at Lazard's headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York. (No that is not New York, Bermuda, even though Lazard is somehow allowed to call itself a "bermuda" company (HA!)) Martin at Boztopia writes about it and has pictures:
Yesterday members of SEIU’s Campaign To Improve Assisted Living teamed up with Atria workers and residents for a “rolling premiere” of Brave New Films’ video, “Gouging Grandma: Billionaire Bruce Wasserstein,” which documents how the CEO of investment house Lazard used an affiliated real-estate fund with Atria as its primary asset to walk away with billions in salary and bonuses, even as the workers toil away for $8-10 an hour, the residents endure increasing neglect, and the shareholders of the fund watch their investment reenact the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

The activist group stood outside Lazard’s headquarters at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, handing out free candy while wearing miniature flat-screen televisions displaying the “Gouging Grandma” video. (It’s more eye-catching than your typical sidewalk solicitation, that’s for certain.) From there the group went on to Lazard’s swanky residence at 927 Fifth Avenue, one of the most upscale apartment buildings in the city, to show passersby how Wasserstein makes money.

This has been an interesting week. I have learned a lot. I hope that you have as well. This series continues next week.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:43 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Stock Market

A couple of days ago I turned on CNBC to see what was happening on the stock market. About two minutes after I turned on the TV the market started dropping, and quickly dropped almost 100 points.

Today the market was down, recovered, and I turned on the TV to see what was going on. About a minute after I turned it on it started dropping again, wnd in five minutes was down about 50 points.

So here is my offer: $100,000.

For $100,000 I will give you private, advance warning before I turn on CNBC. Let me know.

But wait, there's more!

For an additional $100,000 I will tell you when I am about to buy a stock. There is no greater assurance that a stock will immediately lose half of its value than my purchasing that stock.

But wait, there's more!

If you place your order today, as a bonus gift I will also tell you when I am about to sell a stock! This is an extremely powerful tool! There is almost a 100% correlation between my selling a stock, and that stock recovering entirely to its yearly high, and continuing to rise to establish a new all-time high.

Hurry, this offer is only valid today.

BONUS OFFER -- I turned OFF CNBC and the stock market went from -225 to +6 in ten minutes.

Update - I turned it back on to see WTF? and it started dropping immediately, and is now down over 150 points again. So there is no doubt that I am responsible for all of this. My price just went up to $200,000.

On a serious note - this is entirely about rumors that the Fed is going to bail out more of the "too big to fail" crowd. Do you really want to be in a stock market that is held up only by rumors of who the government is going to bail out next? That's not a solid economic foundation for my investments.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:35 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 10, 2008

Lieberman Calls Israel "Our" Country

Does Joe Lieberman consider himself a US citizens? Here he is quoted in The Hill:

... That calculation includes convincing Jewish leaders to back McCain, even if it means making the case that Obama would not be the leader Israel would want.

When asked about concerns he is creating the impression that Obama would not be a friend to Israel, Lieberman responded: “It’s my way of thinking that if I’ve concluded, as I have, that John McCain is best for our country, then why wouldn’t I do that?” [emphasis added]

"Our" country? He says ISRAEL, not the U.S. is "our" country??? This is supposedly a United States Senator here, who took an oath to defend the United States Constitution, saying here that Israel is his country, not the U.S.?

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Balancing the Budget and Paying Off the Debt

Oh, so NOW they want budget deficit reductions!

Here's what I think: The money for those tax cuts was borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, and America's rich people have had quite a party with that money. That means that America's rich people owe the money to the elderly. It was borrowed from the elderly and it has to be paid back to the elderly. It is wrong to ask elderly retirees to accept less because we gave the money away to rich people to have a big party with.

And the money we owe the Chinese was borrowed and used to give tax cuts to the rich, and subsidies to oil companies, and no-bid contracts to defense contractors with Cayman Islands addresses.

Since the borrowing began in the early 80s there has been a massive shift in wealth from regular people to a very few wealthy people. Now that the borrowing has to start being paid back they are asking regular people to be the ones who have to work harder, accept less, drive on unrepaired roads and send their kids to bad schools.

We used to have a 90% top tax rate because we felt this kind of concentration of wealth was bad for democracy. Corporations used to foot a much greater portion of the country's tax bill, but this has also shifted onto the backs of regular people. And you know what? When we had those tax policies the economy worked better. In a consumer economy, regular people with more dollars in their pockets mean the economy does better.

I'm an independent contractor so I have to pay 15% to social security on my first dollar to my last dollar - before income and other taxes. That is a direct subsidy to those tax cuts. It pisses me off.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:05 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Computer Voting Machine Security -- Prove It

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

I have been looking at the issue of computerized voting machine security for several years, and want to write about it today.

Many people have pointed out that there are a number of problems with the new touch-screen voting machines. They fear that these machines can be used to rig an election. Others feel more confident about the machines because they are "hi-tech" and computerized and make voting easier.

Computer experts warn that the machines cannot be trusted. Meanwhile, I have a relative who believes that computers can't make mistakes, so these machines will guarantee accurate vote counting.

I can give you my position on these machines in just a few words: "Prove it." Here is what I mean: The standard for trusting the results of an election should be based on what an average citizen can believe about the election results. If the election system that you set up is able to prove to an average citizen that the election results are accurate, then you have the right system in place. Elections are about average citizens making decisions and trusting the results, not about being told by people in positions of authority what has been decided and who our leaders will be. The whole "trust me" thing hasn't worked out so well in the past so people came up with "prove it" systems so everyone could see for themselves how the elections turned out.

Yes, I have an election system in mind that meets the "prove it" requirement. It's simple. I say that it simply doesn't matter what kind of machine (or no machine at all) is used in the voting booth or to count the votes later, as long as the voter can put a printed ballot in a ballot box. (The voter, of course, is expected to look over the printed ballot to be sure it has the right candidates and ballot measures marked. Just like with the old pen or punch card systems.)

Everyone understands printed ballots with marks on them, and putting the ballot into a ballot box. Time-honored methods for holding secure "prove it" elections with ballots have been worked out. At the start of the election day you check the ballot box to be sure it is empty. Each voter gets one ballot, marks it, and puts it in the box. At the end of the day the ballots are counted and the total is reported. Etc. I work in elections and I know the system well. It can be trusted.

If we use touch-screen computers as input devices to help the voter mark the ballot, all the better. This helps prevent mistakes like those in Florida in 2000. When the voter is ready the machine prints out a ballot with clear markings of the voter's choices. After the machine prints that ballot it doesn't matter if the machine has been hacked or is just making mistakes because you look at the ballot before putting it into the ballot box. And it doesn't matter how the count is reported because once you have a printed record of each voter's intentions, you can count them by hand if necessary. The voters or a trusted representative can watch the counting.

There is one safeguard that I think is very important. You must randomly test the reported vote counts against the paper ballots they are said to represent. And I am very strict about this part. If the count is off by even a single vote it means something is wrong with the counting system and the entire election needs to be counted by hand!

The controversy about touch-screen voting machines started because they do not use printed ballots that can prove the election's results to the average person! The machines come from private companies. Some of these prohibit anyone - even election officials - from knowing how they count the votes. There is no way at all to check whether the machines are reporting correct results. It is a matter of trusting these companies and not of proving to the average voter that the results can be trusted. We are just supposed to trust that the companies are telling us who won the elections! Remember what I said about being told by people in positions of authority what has been decided and who our leaders will be?

If these machines make mistakes or just break down, there is no way to figure out who really won the election. And if someone is able to rig the machines to change the vote counts, there is no way to know that, either. History tells us that this is a concern. People have gone to great lengths to rig even local elections. So with the huge stakes in today's election -- trillions of dollars and wars -- we certainly should understand that highly-skilled and well-funded attempts to dictate election results are likely to occur.

There are a number of ideas for making voting machines more reliable and harder to hack into and change results. One idea is that the public should be able to examine -- and experts allowed to repair and improve -- the source code for the programs used in the machines. This is called "open source" and the Open Voting Consortium has done a lot of great work in this area. (Send them some a few $$ to help their effort.) Open-source systems will help make the machines more reliable and easier to use and will reduce the chances that someone can try to rig an election. This is a great approach, but in the end it fails the "prove it" test. The average person doesn't understand the complicated programming involved. And there is no way to prove that the open-source code is the code that is actually running in every single voting machine on election day.

Other ideas involve elaborate security to test and guard the machines. This again fails the "prove it" test. Unless average people can see for themselves that the results are accurate, no security is sufficient.

I say that the system I describe above -- involving a paper ballot that the voter can check and put in a ballot box -- makes the reliability and security of any voting machines themselves less important because you can "prove it" by counting those paper ballots. You can test a sample of ballots against the reported counts, making it useless to try to hack the voting or counting machines themselves.

California's Secretary of State Debra Bowen understands these issues and is working hard to make sure that our state's elections are safe, fair and provable. Let's hope that the rest of the states can catch up to California.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:48 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 9, 2008

Gouging Vulnerable Seniors -- What Can Be Done?

This is part four of an unfolding series on the Atria Senior Living chain of senior living facilities, and how they treat their residents and workers. So far:
Part three: Living and Working at Atria
Part two: Extreme Wealth Just Isn't Enough
Part one: When Seniors Are the Product

I have been writing this week about the Atria Senior Living facilities, which are owned by a Lazard-"affiliated" fund. The elderly people who live in these corporate-owned and managed facilities are treated as a product, neatly packaged up and flowing to the investors. Services for them are costs that must be reduced and reduced, while the rates increase and increase. Employees are an irritating necessity, not human beings to be fairly compensated and treated with respect.

And, of course, at the top of the Lazard-corporate food chain are executives like Bruce Wasserstein, living large. Really large.

What can be done about this?

The world recognizes that there is a problem with this kind of uninhibited greed. Many people and organizations recognize that such a system is not sustainable, harms the people who work for the companies, the communities around them, the customers and the economies in which they operate. Sure, a few executives make out like bandits for a while, but over time it doesn't do the rest of us any good, not even their companies. (Lazard and the Lazard fund that owns Atria, for example, have not been performing all that well. Meanwhile Wasserstein personally took home $42 million last year - even as Lazard stock lost 14%.)

Many recognize the problem, but how do you do something about problems like this?

In response to the problem the United Nations invited a group of institutional investors to develop a set of "Principles for Responsible Investment." This led to the UN's Principles for Responsible Investment investor initiative which publishes these Principles and asks responsible institutional investors to sign a commitment to follow them. From the UN-PRI About page:

There is a growing view among investment professionals that environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues can affect the performance of investment portfolios. Investors fulfilling their fiduciary (or equivalent) duty therefore need to give appropriate consideration to these issues, but to date have lacked a framework for doing so. The Principles for Responsible Investment provide this framework.

The Principles are voluntary and aspirational. They are not prescriptive, but instead provide a menu of possible actions for incorporating ESG issues into mainstream investment decision-making and ownership practices.

Well, at least two of the institutional investment groups that have signed these Principles are investors in the Lazard fund controlling Atria. They are responsible investors who have signed these commitments, and they are in a position to act on that commitment now.

PGGM is a large pension fund in the Netherlands that serves that country's public social workers and health care workers.

La Caisse de Depot et Placements du Quebec ("CDP") -- a large public pension fund in Quebec.

These are prominent, large funds with good reputations on a global stage. They are responsible investors and take it seriously enough to be signatories to the UN-PRI. The Principles' FAQs say "The Principles suggest a policy of engagement with companies rather than screening or avoiding stocks based on ESG criteria (although this may be an appropriate approach for some investors)." I am writing here to encourage PGGM and CDP to ask Lazard to clean up their act, and have Atria treat their elderly residents and their workers better. Ask them to support the International Labor Organization's core conventions, especially Freedom of Association: "The right of workers and employers to form and join organizations of their choice is an integral part of a free and open society. It is a basic civil liberty that serves as a building block for social and economic progress. Linked to this is the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining. Voice and representation are an important part of decent work." They work for YOU, you have responsible investment policies, and what Lazard is doing goes against these policies.

Now, how do we take on the larger problem of companies like Lazard and Atria? How do we take on the problem of companies squeezing and mistreating customers, exploiting and underpaying workers, and generally harming the communities around them? One way is to find out where you own money is -- your pensions funds if you are so lucky, and mutual funds you have if you are so lucky -- and encourage them to become signatories to the UN's Principles for Responsible Investment investor initiative. Another way is to support organized labor -- the only real voice and counterbalance we all have to fight against corporate power. Finally, just stay on top of this issue and be involved, because solutions are going to be proposed and discussed after the election.

I'll be writing more tomorrow, and maybe about some other investors involved with Atria and Lazard.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:48 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Living and Working at Atria

Part three of our unfolding story is about living and working at Atria Senior Living.

Go read Unassisted Living: Atria Residents, Families, and Workers Tell Their Stories -- Boztopia.com,

“Not long after she became a resident, mom and I began to notice many problems with her level of care. They didn’t have enough staff to do even the one check that was part of her care plan. The short staffing was apparent in other areas. Crucial doctor’s appointments were cancelled without notice because there wasn’t a driver. Showers were not routine. Even after constant requests, too few staff were available to keep up with the requests.”
We are people, not economic units, and there is a difference. This may be a difficult concept to grasp after three or four decades of constant corporate-funded "free market" propaganda. But people make decisions for higher reasons than just making or saving a buck or two. Most people, anyway.
“My mother has been a resident at Atria Marina Place for almost two years. She pays $4,825 for a one bedroom apartment. Our contract with Atria is supposed to include assistance with daily care and monitoring of medications, but my mother is still paying an additional $400 for care and medication administration. In the two years my mother has been at Atria, there’s been a huge turnover in staff. I think only about five of the original aides are sill there from when mom moved in. It also seems like there is never enough staff to watch out for the residents—at night there are two aides in the entire building.”
"Let the buyer beware" means that it is up to the purchaser of goods or services to take all precautions before handing over the money. But what happens when you are up against a giant company that utilizes the best marketing and sales that money can buy? If you are looking for a home for your elderly parents, and the comforting ads backed by the reputation of a national chain work to reassure you that everything is safe and your parents will be well cared for, how can you go wrong?

But then you sign the lease, and GOTCHA! The level of service is not what was promised. The rates start increasing and increasing. The care is substandard, the management is distant -- you can't even find out who actually owns the place. But one thing is for sure, they want that check every month. And your parent or parents are elderly -- another move would be just devastating, and now you are afraid.

“It’s time the state holds these facilities accountable. Before my mother moved in, Atria promised the best food and plenty of caregiving staff. We had high expectations, but I feel like we’ve been deceived every step of the way.”

What about the employees?

People who don't see themselves primarily as economic units can make decisions about jobs based on non-economic factors. Some people choose to be teachers, for example, because they want to help children learn and become better human beings. Others go into caring professions. Believe it or not, there are people who go into caring professions because they care about people.

“I was told that I would have to start supervising the night nursing staff. I do not have any clinical background experience, I did not hire the staff that I was supposed to supervise, this would take my focus away from the successful program I’d developed to take care of the residents. In addition, I was working full time nine to five. But I was told that I should stop by unannounced at any hour during the overnight shift to see how the night nursing staff was doing. I feel this was the result of Atria’s corporate mentality. From my perspective as an employee, it always seemed like Atria put profits before people.”

But even though there are people who don't measure the value of their existence according to how well they feed the economic machine -- and their efficiency at generating profits for the wealthy -- this does not mean they do not deserve respect and fair compensation for their work. The caregivers at Atria, at every level, deserve to be treated with respect and compensated fairly for their work.

But they're not. Of course.

Of course, this is all exactly what Atria and Lazard and Bruce Wasserstein are counting on. This is what the people and pension funds and others who park their money at Lazard are counting on. To them the seniors and the workers are just economic units, revenue streams and costs to cut, to be replaced if they don't perform efficiently.

What can we do about this? I'll start writing about this tomorrow.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

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July 8, 2008

Anti-Democracy Conservatives

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

This column by Newt Gingrich is really bothering me: Bobby Jindal, America's Most Transformational Governor - HUMAN EVENTS. Near the beginning of the column,

The principles that motivate his Louisiana Revolution are the same pro-innovation, pro-competition, anti-bureaucracy and anti- big government principles that I urge each week in this newsletter - the same principles that are so desperately needed in Washington, D.C.
Let's take a look at what these words mean.

Pro-innovation. Fine. Pro-competition. Fine. But let's look at what "anti-bureaucracy" and "anti-big government" actually mean.

In a democracy we have openness and transparency. The use of our money and resources is accountable to the people. And how do we make sure that government is open and accountable? We have careful procedures and oversight in place to ensure that the money and resources are used as they should be used. This means you have to make sure that every i is dotted and every t is crossed before you approve something. Otherwise you get politicians giving contracts to their brothers-in-law, department heads taking trips to luxury resorts, and other corruption that history has taught will always occur.

Conservatives like to complain about "bureaucracy" and claim that corporations are more 'efficient" than government, but what they are really complaining about is openness and democracy. Yes, it is more efficient to have one executive making decisions and telling us how it is going to be. And yes, it is less bureaucratic to just ram projects through and award them to your friends. But let's take a look at the results of the conservative revolution in government of the last few years. We have seen so many "no-bid contracts" awarded to well-connected companies, with no oversight and no accountability at all. Reporters who can get past the secrecy have discovered that literally billions upon billions of our tax dolalrs have been stolen, can't be accounted for at all! This is what the conservatives meant when they said they wanted to get rid of bureaucracy -- they meant they wanted to take off with the money!

And what about "anti-big-government?" Just what do they think government IS? The first three words of our Constitution are "We, the People." THAT is what government is. We, the People make decisions about how we will invest our resources and how we will distribute the return on that investment. Those resources include our minerals, oil, coal, water, as well as our people, companies, laws and intellectual property. We, the People making the decisions.

So when they complain about government they are really complaining that We, the People are in charge. And "big government" means We, the People in charge of more of our own destiny. If they don't want We, the People in charge -- what DO they want? Think about that. The alternative to big government is big corporations making the decisions about our resources, people, oil, coal, laws, etc. That is what this really means. And this has proven itself out, hasn't it? As we have lived through the conservative revolution, we have seen more and more of the control of our resources and our desitiny shifted away from QWe, the People and into the hands of the few who control the big corporations.

So don't be fooled by shiny words. When you realize what these conservatives really want you see that it is about taking control away from you and me and giving it to a wealthy few.

Click through to Speak Out California.

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August 8 Money Bomb

Click the ad/link on the left about the Strange Bedfellows Money Bomb August 8. This is a group of bloggers and organizations upset with the FISA bill giving retroactive immunity to telecom companies. When "little people" violate laws they are prosecuted. When big corporations violate laws they can purchase retroactive immunity.

August 8, 2008—this is the date for our Strangebedfellows MONEYBOMB on behalf of constitutional rights and civil liberties in America. Let's remove from power the key enablers of the tyrannical and lawless FISA 'compromise;' we can end the Patriot Act—and so much more. Join with us by pledging now—right here at AccountabilityNowPAC.com. Become a part of our transpartisan alliance of freedom lovers! Be a Strangebedfellow!

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Congress Threatens To Issue Strongly-Worded Another Statement

Things are really heating up. The Bush administration is probably shaking in their boots. The Congress is threatening to issue another strongly-worded statement! Watch out Bush! See Another Contempt Threat.

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Press Praises Wealthy America-Hater Templeton

John Templeton Sr. died today. He had moved away and renounced his US citizenship because he hated our country.

But he was extremely wealthy, which makes him a hero to some. The Washington Post, for example: Billionaire Investor John Marks Templeton Dies at 95. Others called him a "philanthropist"

Even though he had renounced his citizenship and our country Templeton was a "conservative sugar daddy" who funded many U.S.-based anti-government organizations (as well as proponents of creationism and "intelligent design.") He funded many far-right-wing causes and includingpoliticians.

His son carries on.

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Extreme Wealth Just Isn't Enough

Part One of the unfolding story was about the vulnerability of the elderly -- perfect targets for exploitation.

In Part One the Bermuda-based (HA!) "buyout" firm Lazard, LLC. set up Atria Senior Living which an "affiliated entity" owns.

Atria houses seniors, and collects a monthly fee, which ends up in Lazard's (affiliated) bottom line. ... Atria has been reducing services, raising rates, cutting wages, and generally treating the residents and employees like money trees that exist to be squeezed.
Part Two is about extreme wealth.

At Atria the seniors are captive, the services are cut, the rates are increased and the employees paid as low as possible. You see, there's always a waiting list of elderly people who need "memory care"' or assistance taking showers. These are the lucky duckies who have some money to pay to live at a place like Atria; there are few choices and if you don't have the money in America you are on your own. (Imagine being too old to even be able to shower by yourself but not have enough money to even pay an Atria. Welcome to today's "free market" America.)

The money is squeezed in ever greater amounts. And at the top of this food chain is a guy: Bruce Wasserstein. It seems he just has to have more and more and more. Already extremely wealthy, it just isn't enough. It's never enough and it seems the more you get the more you need. You need it bad enough to squeeze more and more money out of old people too frail to even shower without help. You need to so bad that you keep the wages of people as low as you can and you do everything in your power to keep them from forming a union. You need that money. You need that money. You need that money. And you do what you have to do to get even more.

Bruce Wasserstein, is Chairman and CEO of Lazard. Wasserstein was paid more than $42 million for the year 2007, a year when Lazard’s stock lost more than 14% of its value. He then signed a new five-year contract with Lazard worth more than $100 (not counting bonuses). So far this year their stock has dropped almost 10%.

Wasserstein and Lazard just have to have more and more. Elderly people who can't take care of themselves and low-wage workers are weak and vulnerable. Does this mean that we as a community of people join together and protect them? No, this makes them an easy target in today's America, so Wasserstein and Lazard have stepped in to harvest this vulnerability. They just have to have more. Already extremely wealthy, they just have to have more.

See the Brave New Films video, Gouging Grandma: Billionaire Bruce Wasserstein:

Bruce Wasserstein is the chairman and chief executive officer of Lazard, Ltd. and Lazard Group. He buys companies, cuts costs, and drives up their value—often for a quick profit at the expense of customers, consumers and workers. He is worth more than $2 billion.

Wasserstein and Lazard need to get their greed under control, take responsibility for their own actions and their own greed, stop cutting services and raising rates at Atria, and allow the employees to unionize.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:24 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 7, 2008

When Seniors Are the Product

The unfolding story of how a wealthy buyout firm takes advantage of vulnerable old people and low-wage employees to make money and enrich its top executives.

To set the stage, think about yourself getting old, or about your parents or grandparents. Think about reaching a point where you just can't quite get by living on your own at home anymore. So at some point you decide you have to move into a senior facility. What about if you need assisted-living facilities -- a place with people to help you take a shower and things like that. And finally, think about when you might need "memory care." (This is a the name for a special facility for people with Alzheimer's disease.)

These are people who are in no condition to fight battles. Vulnerable is the word here. Extremely vulnerable. You would think people in this phase of their live are people who our society would give special care, special attention, special protections. You would think that our society would join together to take care of them, protect them, shelter them, fight for them.

But not in today's America. You see, there is one more fact about these people: the people who move into a senior facility do so because they can afford to. These places are not cheap. In today's America the people without money are on their own without care, but if you have some money you have at least some value -- to a certain kind of company.

OK, we have the perfect combination here. We have elderly, frail, sick, vulnerable, and they have some money. They are a captive audience, too, because people in this situation are not people who can pack up and move somewhere else. Senior care is a big business. You're talking about chains with hundreds of facilities each with dozens or even hundreds of living units you're talking REAL money. So in today's economy you're talking about a perfect target for exploitation. This week I am going to explore what it means to be vulnerable. But I think you can already guess where this is going.

Atria Senior Living.

Atria Senior Living is an "assisted living, independent living and memory care services" senior-living provider. They run a large chain with more than 130 facilities to house seniors around the country. Their website says, "We help seniors make the most of their retirement years."

Lazard.

Atria was set up by Lazard LLC., a "financial advisory and asset management firm." Lazard is a private equity, or "buyout" firm. Yep, one of those big Wall Street outfits that you are reading more and more about. Lazard is supposedly based in Bermuda even though it lists [pdf] its "principal offices" as New York, London, Paris and Milan. (Its website doesn’t even list Bermuda on its "global presence" map. Wink, wink, nod, nod.) On their website they say that a core value is Citizenship,

"We are deeply aware of the importance of our conduct to our employees, business partners, clients, regulators, investors and the public at large. Above all, we must earn and maintain their trust in all our daily endeavors."
Are they talking about Bermuda citizenship? It doesn't say anything about the importance of their conduct to extremely vulnerable old and sick people who have money, does it?

Lazard set up, and an "affiliated entity*" owns, much of Atria. Atria houses seniors, and collects a monthly fee, which ends up in Lazard's (affiliated) bottom line. Like I said, you can probably guess where this is going. (*A real estate fund called "Lazard-Freres Strategic Realty Investors Fund II," which is controlled by "Lazard Alternative Investments" -- a "Lazard-affiliated entity" -- lists Atria Senior Living as its largest asset. OK, some of these are holding companies, some are limited liability companies, some have "business alliance agreements," etc. It's complicated -- on purpose.)

Here is what is going on: Atria has been reducing services, raising rates, cutting wages, and generally treating the residents and employees like money trees that exist to be squeezed... At Boztopia Martin has been writing about Atria and Lazard,

"In my situation I have had such a hard time getting Atria to do what my 88-year-old mother needs," she claimed. "The facility management is unresponsive and too often it seems they are interested in only making money. The facilities are too short-staffed. Many of these residents suffer from disorientation and dementia."

Imagine finding out that your elderly parents were being mistreated or neglected in places like these, and that their caregivers and workers were being paid crap wages and forced to work a three-person workload. You’d think that a heavyweight investment fund like Lazard would pay more attention when their customers were demanding better treatment, right?

Martin, I think you have it wrong here. Who is Lazard’s customer, in this situation? According to the front page of Lazard's website Lazard "provides advice on mergers and acquisitions, restructuring and capital raising, as well as asset management services, to corporations, partnerships, institutions, governments and individuals." Lazard's customer is people and companies with a ton of money. They hand the money to Lazard and expect a good return.

The seniors under Atria's care are Lazard's product, not their customer! In today's America the vulnerable, elderly, sick and captive are a product to be exploited.

I'll be writing about this for the next week or two.

Oh yeah, there's a really, really rich guy at the top of the food chain, making himself a ton of loot off of the situation. But you knew that was coming, didn't you?


This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:44 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Columbia Free Trade Question

One of the main Republican talking points, repeated everywhere, is that trade with Columbia is one-way, so we need this "free trade" agreement. Bush, for example, recently said,

"Today almost all of Colombia's exports enter the United States duty-free, while American products exported to Colombia face tariffs of up to 35 percent for non-agricultural goods, and much higher for many agricultural products.

In other words, the current situation is one-sided. Our markets are open to Colombia products, but barriers exist to make it harder to sell American products in Colombia.

I think it makes sense to remedy this situation.

I think it makes sense for Americans' goods and services to be treated just like Colombia's goods and services are treated. So it's time to level the playing field. "

OK, my question is is Columbia allowed to send stuff here with no tariffs, while we can't sell stuff there?

Isn't the answer to impose the same tariff on Columbian goods that Columbia imposes on ours? I mean, duh? Wouldn't that bring us tax revenue, protect American jobs, and encourage Columbia to trade fairly? Duh?

Or is it just the policy of corporate America to let other countries get away with stuff?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:18 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 5, 2008

The Spying Started BEFORE September 11 - That's The Whole POINT

In the LA Times today, A good-enough spy law,

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the White House directed telecommunications carriers to cooperate with its efforts to bolster intelligence gathering and surveillance -- the administration's effort to do a better job of "connecting the dots" to prevent terrorist attacks.
No, it started a few weeks after Bush took office - a time when the Bush administration was ignoring the terrorist threat. So it was about something else, and was a high enough priority to plan out during the transition. (Can you say "political spying?")

One telecom company, Qwest, refused because it was flat-out illegal. The Bush administration punished them, blocked federal contracts, and in an early indicator of what was to come from the politicized Bush Justice Department, they prosecuted Qwest's CEO on trumped-up charges.

The combination of the telecoms letting Bush illegally spy on us BEFORE September 11, and the politicized Bush Justice Department punishing the company that refused - refused because it was illegal - is the reason so many of us are so adamant that Democrats should not be passing a law giving these companies immunity. The President can't spy on people without warrants, and the telecoms knew that. They knew it was illegal to spy on us without warrants but they went along with it. Why? Why didn't they ask the Bush administration to just get warrants? And why would Democrats vote to let them off the hook?

Don't forget that Watergate was about Republicans illegally wiretapping Democrats. Don 't think they don't do it.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:17 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

Try To Remember Peace

I'm listening to Neil Young's album Living With War. I think it is one of the greatest albums ever. (Note - I often say that about albums I am listening to at the time, but this one is one you must listen to.) You can hear it and updated versions of it streamed here: LIVING WITH WAR TODAY

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July 4, 2008

Jesse Helms Dies

Former Sen. Jesse Helms dies - CNN.com,

Former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican who became an icon to conservatives, died Friday at the age of 86, the Jesse Helms Center announced.

Helms once said his job was to derail the freight train of liberalism.

Conservatives admired him for his opposition to abortion and what he called "indecent art," while liberals accused him of using race as a wedge issue to defeat black opponents.

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July 3, 2008

The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living

Next week I'll be writing about The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

To get you ready, here's your homework assignment.

First, read this: Open Left:: Socially Irresponsible Investing

Then go to The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living and study up.

OK, go and get ready for this one. You can have tomorrow off but you are expected to work over the weekend.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 6:47 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

July 2, 2008

The Governor's Lottery Scheme - Bottom of the Barrel?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Is California's lottery becoming just one more subsidy for the rich?

When We, the People of California agreed to have a state lottery it was to pay for extra education for our children on top of the existing education budget. It was not supposed to make up for other budget cuts for schools, it was supposed to be extra money to improve the educational system.

This has ... migrated. The lottery under the Governor's new borrowing plan may be fast becoming one more gimmick to avoid taxing the rich and big corporations. (Not to mention paying out millions upon millions in debt interest for years and years to those with the means to loan the state these billions.)

The California Budget Project has a new report, Borrowing Against the Future: Are Lottery Bonds the Best Way To Close the Budget Gap? (PDF file) It is well worth taking a look at. They say the numbers don't add up, the lottery can't deliver the needed revenue, the scheme makes it even harder to fix the budget in the future, will have a high interest rate, and has numerous other problems. On a conference call Tuesday with jean Ross, one of the report's authors, I also learned that the cost over time of borrowing this money will be between $41.5 and $50 billion -- way too high. The lottery is largely played by low-income people so efforts to drive up lottery purchases increases their burden and will likely come at a cost of other purchases, thereby sacrificing sales tax revenue to the state.

That there are so many things wrong with this latest borrowing scheme might be a good sign. It might, just might mean that the Republicans are scraping the very bottom of their barrel of anti-government and tax-avoidance gimmicks. After this wild scheme collapses maybe, just maybe they'll come to their senses.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:36 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack