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March 31, 2009

The Government's Financial Transparency Website

Take a look at FinancialStability.gov | U.S. Department of the Treasury

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:04 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Thanks, Ralph

Remember when Ralph Nader was running around the country saying there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats? That got him 90,000 votes in Florida in 2000, handing the election to Bush

PageOneQ | Report: Gays sentenced to death in Iraq, executions to begin next week

Thanks, Ralph.

Oh, yeah, and for this, too.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:49 AM | Comments (4) | Link Cosmos

Teachers Fired To Pay For Huge Corporate Tax Cut -- Why?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

I've been asking around and it seems that most Californians don't know that the budget deal that fires so many teachers also has a huge tax cut just for big, multi-state and multi-national corporations.

But it's true. Last month's budget deal that fires teachers, cuts essential government services, and guts the investments that bring future economic benefits also has a huge tax cut for the largest of corporations. While this part of the deal has been kept pretty quiet, the LA Times had a story, Business the big winner in California budget plan. From the story,

The average Californian's taxes would shoot up five different ways in the state budget blueprint that lawmakers hope to vote on this weekend. But the bipartisan plan for wiping out the state's giant deficit isn't so bad for large corporations, many of which would receive a permanent windfall.

About $1 billion in corporate tax breaks -- directed mostly at multi-state and multinational companies -- is tucked into the proposal.

But wait, won't a big corporate tax cut cause companies to come to California, creating jobs? No, they are already here and it will drive them away, because it is paid for by firing teachers.

A study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, released in 2005, found that most companies decide where to locate based not on tax breaks but on factors such as the availability of a highly educated workforce. California's proposed plan would cut spending on higher education by hundreds of millions of dollars.

So how did this happen? This was part of the deal to get a few Republican votes. And why did the Republicans want this so bad? Because they understood who really elected them.

If you look at the independent expenditure reports for the 2008 California election you'll see a massive amount of last-minute money. For example, in the 19th Senate District, a political action committee (PAC) named "Californians for Jobs and Education" put almost $1 million into just one race: $570,653 into defeating Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson, and another $373,778 to help elect her opponent, Republican Tony Strickland. When you look this group up on ElectionTrack you learn that this money came from corporations like Arkansas' Wal-Mart, Blue Cross of Ohio (Ohio?), Reliant Energy, major real estate companies, and from other PACs.

Now it gets interesting. Many of the contributions to that PAC came from other PACs, especially one called Jobs Pac. When you track down Jobs PAC you find that it is a conduit for huge, huge amounts of money coming from large corporations like Philip Morris, ATT, Chevron, Safeway, Sempra Energy, Verizon, big insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, big real estate companies ... and other conduits like the Chamber of Commerce.

Why did these huge corporations put so much money into California state elections? Because we let them, and because of the return on investment they receive from tax cuts like the one that is forcing us to fire so many of our teachers.

There is a key lesson to learn from this. When it comes time to choose, that is when you can really see who is for or against something -- where their priorities really are. And in this case, when push came to shove, in the end who did the conservatives come through for? The large corporations. They danced with the ones that brung them.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:03 AM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

March 30, 2009

Bush Put All Your Pension Reserves Into Stocks Just As They Started Dropping

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is the federal agency that insures YOUR pension. It collects insurance premiums from all the private pensions, and holds them in reserve to cover some of the losses if things go bad so you get at least some of your money.

But under Bush, they decided -- just as the stock market started to drop -- to put most of the money into stocks. It had been in bonds. See Pension insurer shifted to stocks - The Boston Globe,

Just months before the start of last year's stock market collapse, the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into stocks.
This wasn't stupid -- it was most likely a way to enrich certain friends of The Party, buying from them just as the bottom fell out. We need to look at the specific beneficiaries of this money to find out.

There are many instances of Bush and other Republicans putting government money into enriching friends by buying up the problems just as their own holdings became worthless. For example, under Jeb Bush Florida put state pension money into Enron stock just as Enron started to collapse.

In 2005 I wrote "If you live in a state where Republicans run things, this might be a good time to see if the money is still there." Now we're finding out that applies to countries, too.

(And never forget that Bush gave the contract for filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to Koch Oil, a funder of a lot of the right's organizational infrastructure. They also used government money to buy high and sold low.)

Anyway, here's the thing. Direct corruption or ideologically-driven incompetence, either way... Republicans understand how to pound a point home and teach the larger lesson. This is just one more thing that drives home the point about how conservative ideology is harmful to people. Drudge has giant headlines for any smallest example of something that reinforces an ongoing narrative that liberals are socialists, etc., always teaching the larger lesson. We need to learn how to explain to the general public why progressive values and policies are better for them than conservatives. Especially now when the lesson can be taught so clearly. This story should be all over the place.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:08 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Bank Execs Good, Auto Execs Baaad

In Bankers Will Say It Is Bankers the other day I tried to say that people see the world through a lens shaped by what they know.

Bankers will say the economic crisis is a banking problem. Bankers think banks are very, very important to the economy -- the most important component.

. . .Of course, a plumber would say that the problem with the economy is that all the pipes are clogged. Keeping the pipes working is the most important component of our economy.

And a historian will tell you that the problem is a return of the Great Depression. Not repeating the Great Depression is the most important thing to the economy.

Today at TPM: Why Does GM's CEO Get The Boot While Wall Street's Fly Free?

A manufacturing base is the foundation of a country's economy. During WWII the auto companies stopped making cars, and rapidly ramped up to make the planes and military vehicles that won the war. When Eisenhower became President he brought automobile executives into his cabinet and they brought in other executives to formulate and execute policies in their departments. And they did what auto executives know. They built the Interstate highway system, for example -- an investment that led to generations of return for all of us.

But Obama brought in bankers, and we're seeing the results.

Update - This post in no way is meant to praise the current crop of American auto execs who brought us SUVs and refused to develop hybrids and electrics. No way!

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:43 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 29, 2009

What Happened To The Economy

Go read what happened. It's kind of long, but good and explains it pretty well. The Big Takeover : Rolling Stone

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they're not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'etat. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.

The crisis was the coup de grace: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess.

basically, after deregulation, the big investment banks couldn't find "enough unemployed meth dealers willing to buy million-dollar homes for no money down" tokeep the mortgage racket going.

And yes, what it comes down to is that all this means that housing prices still have a loooongggg way to fall. Every single house that sold for more than it should have, for all those years, to all those suckers, who took out all those mortgages -- they all have to go back where they should be. Bubbles unwind ALL the way down, every time, and you can't "reignite the housing market" or "stabilize" prices or anything else.

Go look at the trend line of house prices for the last hundred years, and that is where prices have to be -- where housing is relatively cheap, never more than 25-28% of your income (and that is the UPPER limit), and a mortgage plus taxes plus insurance plus maintenance is lower than rents by enough of a margin so that people can make money buying a house and then renting it out.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:40 PM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

March 27, 2009

'Centrist' And 'Moderate' Always Means 'Corporate'

Evan Bayh gets programs and legislation that people need killed and is called a 'centrist' and a 'moderate.'

It seems to me that whenever a legislator is getting tons of cash from corporations and then does that corporation's bidding, the action is always called 'centrist' or 'moderate.' Or when they kill things that people, regular people need, it's 'centrist' or 'moderate.'


Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:54 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

The Superior Happy-Budget

Have you heard about the Republican alternative budget plan? It doesn't include any actual numbers or ... budget. It does, however, tell the public that it is better and will make them happy.

The boring Democratic budget has numbers and, well, budgets:

DemPlan1.jpgDemPlan2.jpg

The shiny, superior, pleasing Republican budget has happy faces:
RepPlan.jpg

Go read it. It really does just say Democrats Bad, Republicans Good, fire baaaad.

Ok, it doesn't say "fire baaaad." This does:


Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:18 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Put Up Or Shut Up, Please

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

There was a positive response to the idea from last week's post, No Schools For You, that suggested,

"If an Assembly or Senate representative demanded cuts to schools, fire, etc. then the schools, fire, etc. in that representative's district receive the entire cut! This would be an honest application of representative democracy, allowing the citizens of an area to be governed according to their wishes without it affecting all of the citizens in the state."

Seriously, the leaders of the Assembly and Senate should make the few Republican holdouts an offer: if they think government services to the state's citizens are such a bad idea they should stop insisting on so much spending in their districts! They say that government spending is a problem, why can't they take those Republican governors who are refusing to accept any stimulus money as role models and refuse any state spending in their districts. Their constituents can then show their overwhelming support for the anti-government ideology that their elected representatives espouse.

Several years ago, then-Senator Phil Gramm of Texas - a Republican - was one of the loudest to complain and complain about spending and "pork" and "earmarks" in the federal budget. What is called "pork" and "earmarks" are special appropriations of funds by the Congress for specific projects in specific districts: a museum, science lab, agricultural study or bridge that is badly needed is funded by our government. This is what Republicans call "pork" -- government doing things that citizens need. Well the biggest, most expensive project in the country at the time was the Superconducting Super Collider, a massive physics lab being built under the ground in Texas, employing hundreds and keeping many construction businesses going. Well, when it came time to cut some spending the Congress took Senator Gramm at his word and killed the project.

So I think that it would be a very good idea to ask the Republican anti-tax ideologues to put up or shut up. Give them the opportunity to put their (take away the) money where their mouths are. If you want spending cuts, let us cut all the spending in your districts -- or please shut up.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:34 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 25, 2009

The Latest Scam From The Banks

Do I have this right? Instead of lending with that taxpayer money to get the economy going, Citibank and Bank of America are using TARP funds as their "at risk" portion of the "public/private partnership" announced Monday to buy up each other's toxic assets. So it's Wednesday and the program is already corrupted.

The idea is that a portion of any loss investors take will be covered by the government, but because they put their own money into the deal there is still risk. EXCEPT these banks (and how many others?) are using TARP money as the "at risk" portion of the investment.

Crooks. Smart crooks, but still crooks. Enabled, of course, by a governing ideology that just can't bring itself to stop them.

Economist's View: "Has the Gaming of the Public-Private Partnership Begun?",

It certainly looks as if Citigroup and Bank of America are using TARP funds, not to lend, which was one of the primary goals of the program, but to scoop up secondary market dreck assets to game the public private investment partnership.

So not only are they seeking to extract far more than was intended even with the already generous subsidies embodied in this program, but this activity is also speculating with taxpayer money.

This sort of thing was predicted here and elsewhere. Welcome to yet more looting.

Why would a bank that is receiving TARP funds because they hold toxic assets be buying any toxic assets anyway?

Nationalize the insolvent banks, please. And fire Geithner for this, if it turns out to be true. At first I thought it was a creative idea, but maybe it's just more ideological blindness.

Update - Ian Welsh has more

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:23 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

What Happened To Medicare-For-All?

The plan for government-paid national health care for all is referred to by policy insiders as "single payer." Since no one knows what that means, and since that sounds like you're going to be on your own, by yourself expected to pay all your own medical bills, I prefer to call it "Medicare For All." Everyone knows what Medicare is, loves it, and wants it for themselves. So I figure you start out three steps ahead instead of in a deep hole by calling it something that people want instead of something that makes people run away from you.

ANYWAY, here is an interesting viewpoint on the current debate. Obama and HCAN Marginalize Single Payer Health Care | Center for Media and Democracy,

Most western democracies guarantee their citizens a right to medical services through their own version of government managed single payer health care. But such a system has been attacked in the US as "socialized medicine" since the 1950s especially by lobbyists for the insurance and drug industries who would see their profits decline. Although Barack Obama was elected on a health care reform platform, his version ignores single payer. Nor is single payer advocated by his allies in the well-funded coalition called Health Care for America Now, composed of MoveOn, USAction, ACORN, Americans United for Change, the unions SEIU and UFCW and other liberal heavy hitters.
There are lots of links in the original, so go there and read the rest.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:13 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

He Didn't Call On Me

It seems the big news from the President's press conference is that "he didn't call on me." THAT is what the big Washington reporters choose to write about, instead of, you know, ... reporting the news.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:00 AM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

March 23, 2009

Questions On Geithner Plan

Quick question(s):

When an investor group takes advantage of the new plan, doesn't that set a market price for assets of the type they buy?

If that sets a market price, doesn't that mean that all the banks have to mark their own assets of that type to that price?

And doesn't that mean that many of them might find out they are insolvent?

And, since they are all banks for, doesn't this force the hand of the FDIC?

Since the plan is designed to create a market, does the plan have something in it to prevent mark-to-market?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:39 PM | Comments (4) | Link Cosmos

Loans That Don't Have To be Paid Back

The new Obama Treasury Dept plan to fix the banks boils down to giving loans that do not have to be paid back to people to buy the bad assets from the banks. If the assets turn out to be valuable, huge profits ensue. But if it turns out that they aren't worth much the government picks up the tab.

Hey this is a GREAT deal -- how can I get one of these loans? Turns out I can't. MY loans have to be paid back.

Wall Street really really likes the plan. Of course, Wall Street gets the money. Our money. To them.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:55 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

March 22, 2009

This IS The Return To Normal.

Take a look at No Return to Normal - James K. Galbraith.

My thoughts -- this economic collapse IS the return to normal. We have been in a bubble since the early 80's. A reality bubble, too.

As I wrote below, Markets Can Recover Downward, Too. And that is what we are starting to go through.

No more using credit cards as if everything was free.

No more living like everyone is a millionaire.

No more buying things to use for a few days and throwing them away.

No more chewing up the planet and thinking you can get away with it forever.

Trust me, it's better for everyone to live within their means. It's better for the person, better for the country, better for the world.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:35 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Corporate Media -- NO Representatives Of Labor Allowed

Media Matters - AP quotes "labor lawyer" who is really an anti-labor lawyer,

Earlier, I noted that the Washington Post failed to quote a single labor representative in its Employee Free Choice article today, though it quoted three CEOs. Turns out the AP is even worse. This article doesn't quote any labor sources, though it does quote a Starbucks spokesperson, the vice president of the anti-labor National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Whole Foods spokesperson, a Chamber of Commerce official, a representative of the anti-labor Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, and "Washington labor lawyer Jay Krupin."

. . . Here's a 2000 restaurant industry newsletter that says Krupin "represents a range of restaurant and other foodservice companies dealing with unions" and quotes him calling unions a "cancer":

Click through to follow links and read the rest...

When was the last time you saw or heard someone in the corporate media talking about teh benefits of joining a union?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:08 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Markets Can Recover Downward, Too

Brad DeLong defends the current Geithner plan, in Grasping Reality with Both Hands: The Geithner Plan FAQ,

Q: What if markets never recover, the assets are not fundamentally undervalued, and even when held to maturity the government doesn't make back its money?

A: Then we have worse things to worry about than government losses on TARP-program money--for we are then in a world in which the only things that have value are bottled water, sewing needles, and ammunition.

I hear a lot about how the markets need to "recover" and how they are trying to "stabilize" the housing and stock markets.

I submit that they are recovering. The markets are recovering from huge bubbles, and they are stabilizing to pre-bubble trend lines.

This means they have a ways to go - down - and then they will be "recovered" and "stabilized."

For example, the other day I had a post, A Long Way To Go Still,

Stocks have fallen to where they were in 1996/7. Here is a chart that shows where stocks were in 1996/7.
stockchart.jpg

Does anyone else see the problem?

Specifically, that chart shows where the market was in 1996/7. It was in a bubble, and it still needs to recover to the trendline that preceded that bubble.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:14 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Hey Paul Krugman


Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:19 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

March 21, 2009

Let The Economy Die

LET IT DIE: Rushkoff on the economy

Using future tax dollars to give banks more money to lend out at interest is robbing from the poor to pay the rich to rob from the poor.
Oh go read it all.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:03 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 20, 2009

Things The Corporate Media Won't Let People Know

You don't know what you don't know.

In 1998 Saturday Night Live aired this video about corporate control of the media. The network censored it, preventing it from being shown on the later broadcast on the West Coast.

Go read the story at La Figa.

What else do people "know" or not know, as a result of corporate control of the information channels? For example: When was the last time you saw anything on corporate media promoting the benefits of joining a union?

When was the last time you heard through corporate media that democracy is a better way then corporate decision-making to govern the country?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:02 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Obama - Two Months

President Obama was sworn in two months ago. Here's a short clip from Media matters about the "honeymoon" he enjoyed:

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:56 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 19, 2009

The Math Of A Sustainable American Way Of Life... or, How Much Less Do We Need To Consume To Avoid Global Ecosystem Collapse?

This article emerges out of a number I tossed out in a posting on Facebook a day or two ago, suggesting that the average American would need to consume something on the order of 5% of the resources they presently consume (collectively) if their standard of living were to be equalized with the rest of the world's population without destroying the planet's ecosystem (i.e., how much less would we need to consume for the rest of the world to be able to consume an amount equal to what we do).

A friend asked me where I got that number from, and I'm somewhat embarassed to admit (since I'm such a data driven person) that I can't actually recall at this point - I did the math in my head a while ago. I did some research for real numbers, mostly searches and reading on ecological footprint figures, as I vaguely recall basing the calculation on something along those lines; at this point, while the 5% number may actually have been based on some other metric entirely, the footprint metric seems the most reasonable one to use for the purpose of discussion.

A fair amount of reading leads me to believe that the best publicly supported estimates at this point aren't quite as severe as the 5% number I tossed out - according to myfootprint.org and earthday.net, the average American consumes approximately 5.3x the amount of resources required for sustainability. Therefore, we're looking to have to consume slightly less than 19% of the resources we currently use in order for the American standard of living to be "sustainable". Daunting, but not quite as daunting as 5% of the resources. Caveats below, however.

First of all, as noted in many articles, the footprint calculations are conservative -- meaning that they clearly underestimate, perhaps significantly, human impact on the overall ecology and thus the amount of resources that can be sustainably extracted to support our standard of living. How much of a "fudge" factor we need to incorporate into these estimates is unclear.

It's important to note, as well, that it appears that the percentage of the world's biocapacity devoted to sustaining non-human species under most of these "ecological footprint" measures is minimal... on the order of 12% (meaning humans would reserve 88% of the world's biocapacity for themselves alone) according to the "A Modest Proposal" article referenced below. Also, that 19% figure does not account for a projected world population increase on the order of 33% above current levels (6.7 billion to 9 billion by 2040), which turns that ~19% of current levels into ~15% (assuming a relatively static US population compared to overall world totals).

Nor do they account for degradation and loss of biocapacity over time, due to global warming or ongoing biological degradation.

Setting aside these caveats, I'd say that a reasonable and cautious estimate for sustainable and equalized world consumption, with a just and fair amount set aside for non-human species and recovery of degraded ecosystems and to account for population increase, is probably around 10% (rather than 5%).

On the other hand, it seems to me, intuitively, based on everything I'm seeing about how rapidly the world's ecosystem resources are being degraded, and the prospect of global warming affecting biocapacity, etc. that if we really want to be conservative, and have a good margin of error, we should be looking at something below 10%. Maybe not 5% exactly, but not too far from it.

Now, here's an experiment (and why I mentioned this in the first place): toss this number out -- be conservative, pick the 10% figure... hell, pick the 20% figure (with an aside to the effect that it's probably on the high side of what we should be targeting) -- into a group conversation with a bunch of liberal, ecologically conscious Americans and ask what the implications of this are, of the fact that even the most eco-conscious of them is living an unsustainable lifestyle, RIGHT NOW, and watch how rapidly the topic of conversation veers away onto other subjects (we won't even get into the reaction of other folks). I've done this several times, among my peers in Santa Cruz, and the results have been quite instructive.

If we, ourselves, can't even begin to conceive of how to reduce our impact on the planet to the degree necessary to achieve sustainability, what hope do we have for the rest of the world? Scary thought, eh?

References (all retrieved March 19th, 2009):

Ecological Footprint - article on Sustainable Scale web site

http://www.sustainablescale.org/ConceptualFramework/UnderstandingScale/MeasuringScale/EcologicalFootprint.aspx

Ecological Footprint Quiz by Redefining Progress

http://www.myfootprint.org/

Footprint Network article on WFF Living Planet Report 2004

http://www.footprintnetwork.org/gfn_sub.php?content=lpr2004

Footprint Calculator

http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/calculators/

EarthDay Footprint Calculator

http://www.earthday.net/footprint/flash.html

Note: both calculators produced roughly equivalent results in my case (4.7x and 5.1x respectively, mostly due to the extreme number of miles I drive a year, around 36,000, mostly in the form of long distance commutes to client sites).

Culture Change - Overextension: our American way of life is not sustainable

http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=124&Itemid=1

A modest proposal: global rationalization of ecological footprint to eliminate ecological debt

http://ejournal.nbii.org/archives/vol4iss1/0707-016.ohl.html

Ask EarthTrends: How much of the world's resource consumption occurs in rich countries?

http://earthtrends.wri.org/updates/node/236

Posted by Thomas Leavitt at 10:19 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Stop Corporate Lobbying With Taxpayer Money

This post originally appeared at the Commonweal Institute's Uncommon Denominator blog

Why are recipients of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) – better known as the Banking Bailout – allowed to continue to lobby? Taxpayer dollars should not be used to influence our government. We, the People should be telling them what to do, not the other way around.

TARP recipients spent $114 million on lobbying last year as the financial crisis emerged. In just the last quarter of the year eighteen bailout recipients spent $14.8 million to influence the government, as the TARP funds were distributed.

The lobbying has paid off. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “The companies' political activities have, in part, yielded them $295.2 billion from TARP, an extraordinary return of 258,449 percent.”

TARP recipients are currently lobbying against compensation caps at companies receiving TARP, against increasing bank regulation – and even against increased oversight of the use of TARP funds in the TARP Reform and Accountability Act! They are also lobbying against the Arbitration Fairness Act, the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act, the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act and the Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act, Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights and the Stop Unfair Practices in Credit Cards Act!

But these companies are not just lobbying in favor of their own(ers) interests; they are lobbying against those of the rest of us. Recently it has come to light that Bank of America, Citigroup and other TARP recipients are organizing efforts to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act – federal legislation that would enable workers to organize unions, which results in increased income and benefits for working people, thereby enabling them to make their credit card and mortgage payments.

Use of corporate funds to influence our government is a larger problem than just this current misuse of TARP. In fact, this BofA and other companies’ use of TARP funds to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act supports an argument that the current economic crisis is a result of corporate lobbying. A corporate-funded assault on government has resulted in de-legislation and deregulation, enriching a few at the expense of the rest of us, while eroding the foundations of our economy and our democracy. Now the public has been harvested in one scheme after another, plundered for every dollar as incomes stagnated, debt skyrocketed and savings fell. Consumption fell off the cliff as the work- and debt-load tapped out people’s ability to participate in the economy. The resulting crisis has led to taxpayer dollars propping them all up.

And now millions of those taxpayer dollars are being used for … even more lobbying.

Whether or not this collapse occurred as a direct result of lobbying and other influence buying, it was not a grassroots movement that led to repealing the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, allowing financial giants to trade mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations. It was not citizens holding politicians’ feet to the fire that killed the Financial Services Antifraud Network Act. At the same time the lobbying-bought deregulation and suspension of oversight allowed these companies to sell trillions in credit default swaps without the necessary reserves to cover the potential downside. And here we are.

Companies understand lobbying as a way to profit, not to advance policies that serve all of us. A 2006 New York Times article discusses how Google felt it had “no choice but to get into the arena” to start “spreading its lobbying dollars” around to politicians and quotes a Google lobbyist saying the “policy process is an extension of the market battlefield.” According to the Washington Post, a lobbyist explosion occurred in the last decade, doubling to 34,750 between 2000 and 2005, the result of “wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits.”

This lobbying does not bring We, the People any benefit, it only boosts the financial interests of certain individuals. This is not competition to improve a product or service or the efficiency of the company. It is paying off politicians to gain unfair competitive advantage or to receive subsidies or tax breaks.

Clearly it is time to demand that TARP recipients stop using corporate funds for anything other than operating their companies, and get their noses out of our business.

Lobbyists say they serve a necessary function, providing information to legislators. But corporations can’t have it both ways. If lobbying is purely informational and not intended to sway favor for particular corporations, then the funds are not being used to generate profit for the shareholders and the use of funds and resources is theft from the company. But if the lobbying is intended to tilt the playing field and gain benefits for a company over others it is really just bribery, an affront to our democracy and laws, corrupting our system. If the use of corporate funds to lobby is for the financial gain of a few executives, this is also theft from the company by those few for their personal gain.

We should immediately prohibit companies from engaging in lobbying while accepting taxpayer dollars. Restricting lobbying by TARP recipients would be a bipartisan solution, as Republican lawmakers have called for exactly this approach in the past. The 1981 Heritage Foundation Mandate for Leadership called for a ban on lobbying by recipients of federal funds, as did the 1995 Republican “Istook Amendment.”

And it is time to open a discussion about whether any corporate funds – whether the company is a recipient of TARP funding or not – should be used to influence our government. We should be telling them what to do, not the other way around.

Click through to the Commonweal Institute's Uncommon Denominator blog

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:29 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

Who IS In Charge Here?

"Like we're along for the ride, still taking dictates from the people who got us into the mess we're in."

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:14 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Not Yet Two Months

Deep thought: Obama took the Oath of Office on January 20. Today is March 19.

Everything is Obama's fault. And Clinton's.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:16 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 18, 2009

Democracy?

Watch a representative of the People of the United States trying to get a corporate leader of a company that the taxpayers have given more than a hundred billion dollars to just answer a question:

Who is the boss of who here?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:46 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Source Of The AIG Outrage

The AIG outrage is not just over these particular bonuses, or that the AIG taxpayer bailout billions went to Goldman Sachs and European banks.

What is wrong here is that people committed fraud, bribed legislators, destroyed our economy and our democracy -- and no one is being held accountable. In fact, they're still running the show. The system isn't being changed. The system is still set up to give and get multimillion-dollar bonuses while so many lose jobs, houses, wages, etc. Wealth continues to concentrate at the very top. Power continues to concentrate. Politicians continue to give benefits to those at the top of the economic food chain, and we are the food. There is a wealthy elite in charge and the public sees it and is sick of it.

That is the source of the outrage, and until that is addressed the outrage will increase.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:15 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

March 17, 2009

Blame Dodd?

There is an effort to blame Senator Chris Dodd for the whole AIG bonus scandal. They're saying Dodd "put into" the bill authorizing money for AIG a clause allowing them to pay the bonuses.

1) Dodd didn't. I'll let others explain.

2) The clause didn't get into the bill after it was voted on. It was voted on and it passed. That means that plenty of Senators (and Congresspeople, too) voted for the bill with this clause in it.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:27 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

No Schools For You

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Here is an idea for solving California's budget crisis.

What if the California legislature temporarily budgeted for districts according to the wishes of the district's legislators. If an Assembly or Senate representative demanded cuts to schools, fire, etc. then the schools, fire, etc. in that representative's district receive the entire cut! This would be an honest application of representative democracy, allowing the citizens of an area to be governed according to their wishes without it affecting all of the citizens in the state.

Wait, you say, why should only certain districts be punished with cuts? Why should only a few citizens shoulder the burden of balancing the budget through cuts? The answer is because those are the people who elected the extremist minority who are forcing the cuts, while refusing to ask the rich to pay their fair share and actually cutting taxes for huge corporations. (Yes, the budget "solution" included a huge tax cut for the Wal-Marts and Exxons.)

With this plan the residents of Santa Clarita (the right-wing bastion of northwest LA County) could get their wish to have no schools, police, road maintenance, firefighters, etc. while the residents of San Francisco could keep their government services. And the residents of both areas would have what they want.

Or, at least, they would have the opportunity to understand just who they elected.

Click through to Speak Out California

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:37 AM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

March 16, 2009

Alert Level Rising

Go see: Vagabond Scholar: The Staggering Wealth Security Advisory System

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:26 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Autoworkers Forced To Take Cuts - Wall Street Bankers Get Bonuses

Actually the headline sort of says it all. When GM needed a loan the autoworkers in the factories were forced to take pay cuts. But when the "too big to fail" Wall Street firms got bailouts many times the size of what GM needed, they continue to pay dividends, they continue to pay huge bonuses, and they send out taxpayer dollars to pay off banks in other countries. And they continue to spend millions on lobbying.

Our democracy truly is broken. We, the People have no say and receive few benefits from our economy.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:08 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

AIG Accountable To No One

Robert Reich says that the bailouts demonstrate that our democracy is broken.

Robert Reich's Blog: The Real Scandal of AIG,

The scandal is that even at this late date, even in a new administration dedicated to doing it all differently, Americans still have so little say over what is happening with our money.

[. . .] This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that's "too big to fail" and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. To whom should they be accountable? As long as taxpayers effectively own a large portion of them, they should be accountable to the government.

But if our very own Secretary of the Treasury doesn't even learn of the bonuses until months after AIG has decided to pay them, and cannot make stick his decision that they should not be paid, AIG is not even accountable to the government. That means AIG's executives -- using $170 billion of our money, so far -- are accountable to no one.

Reich also posted at Huffington Post, where he added a final line:
Our democracy is seriously broken.
Jane Hamsher goes on at Firedoglake, (click through for links and the rest)
As Glenn Greenwald notes, this argument is patently absurd. We forced auto workers to break their contracts with the US automakers and accept wage cuts as a condition of receiving TARP funds. Yet when it came time to limit executive bonuses at bailed out banks, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act only stipulated that bonuses would be prohibited for TARP recipients in employment contracts written after February 11, 2009. AIG was quick to note this in their white paper offering the legal justification for paying out these bonuses, which FDL obtained yesterday.

Unlike the auto workers, nobody insisted that the AIG bankers who wrote half a trillion in credit default swaps take a pay cut as a condition of receiving TARP funds. But this was the deal with the auto makers. And as economist Peter Morrici notes, "The Obama Treasury, headed by Tim Geithner, is forcing the terms of that deal on the United Autoworkers."

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:50 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

You Tax Dollars At Work

Warning, this will make you FURIOUS!

Read about the four and five-figure brunch parties that Wall Street types enjoy. Read about the $1000 bottles of champagne that flow. At Saturday Brunches, the Bubbly Flows On, Even in Hard Times.

I'll skip straight to the punch line:

As for how he and his fellow Wall Streeters could still afford such afternoons, he said: “We all made so much money in the past five years, it doesn’t matter.”

A 29-year-old man who works for a large investment management firm and was at Bagatelle’s brunch one recent Saturday and at Merkato 55’s the next, put it another way: “If you’d asked me in October, I’d say it’d be a different situation, and I don’t think I’d be here. Then the government gave us $10 billion.” [emphasis added]

Let that sink in a while. Suckers.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:04 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 15, 2009

SEIU Workers On Why They Want A Union

Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:39 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 14, 2009

Is President Obama A Socialist?

Is President Obama a "socialist?"

During the campaign this accusation was everywhere. According to Google there are currently 4,700,000 sites on the web with the words "Obama" and "Socialist." A couple of pre-election examples: Obama’s International Socialist Connections "Blogger Steve Bartin, who has been following Obama's career and involvement with the Chicago socialists, has uncovered a fascinating video showing Obama campaigning for openly socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.", Is Obama a socialist? "Obama has declared that he believes every person has a "right" to health care. The Socialist Party USA believes every person has a "right" to health care."

As silly as those pre-election accusations were, now it is Republican leaders making the claim that President Obama is a socialist,

Obama's plans are "one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment," asserts House minority leader John Boehner. He's "the world's best salesman of socialism," says Republican Senator Jim DeMint.
Never mind that Republicans don't even know that "socialism" means public ownership of the means of production, operated for the benefit of society and the people-at-large instead of for the profit of a select few. Of course, no one is talking about that, not even the Republicans making the direct "socialist" accusations. They mean something they call "European-style socialism,"
The five-term Republican said that he has gotten praise from his constituents for opposing the stimulus and warned that the country may succumb to "European-style socialism."

As we all know, when Republicans get on a talking point, they all get on it, almost as if someone were telling them to. Other examples of recent Republican accusations that Obama is taking us to "European-style socialism," here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and I'm only stopping because my fingers are getting tired.

So, let's take a look at whether Obama meets the Republican definition of a "European-style socialist" by comparing what we have in the U.S. to some of the things that "socialist" Europe offers to its citizens: (Note - Europe is not socialist...)

National health care system assuring every citizen has equal access to quality care? NO.

Five-six weeks mandatory vacation for everyone? NO.

Extended maternal leave for new parents? NO.

Day care provided for children? NO.

Fair(er) wages for all workers? NO.

Shorter, less stressful working hours? NO.

More even distribution of the benefits of the economy? NO.

Government services for citizens instead of a select few. NO.

Retirement at a relatively young age? NO.

Retirement with a good pension? NO.

Citizens having a say in how the economy is managed? NO.

Citizens protected from predatory corporations? NO.

So, even though the accusation was absurd on the face of it, even comparing Obama's policies to some of the "socialist" things offered to the people in Europe, Obama is not a socialist.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:54 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 13, 2009

Things Are Happening With Commonweal

Have you been to Commonweal Institute's website lately? More and more things are happening. In fact it's a good idea to sign up for email updates.

For example, Commonweal Institute is the home and fiscal sponsor of The Progressive Ideas Network which has released a book, Thinking Big: Progressive Ideas for a New Era. See At Dawn of New Era, Ideas Network Releases "Thinking Big".

Also, see Commonweal Institute is On the Air, with podcasts of recent radio interviews with commonweal-associated people.

And if you are in the SF Bay Area, there are upcoming Salons, Sunday, March 22, 2 - 4 p.m., San Jose and Sunday, April 19, 2 – 4 p.m., in Portola Valley, CA. Click for details.


Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:32 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

These Eight Democrats

Eight Dem Senators Defend the Right to Filibuster Climate Change.

These are the eight Deomcratic Senators who are helping the Republicans block carbon limiting legislation: Robert Byrd (WV), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Evan Bayh (IN), Mark Pryor (AR), Bob Casey (PA), Carl Levin (MI), and Mary Landrieu (LA).

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:05 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

California's Budget: Republican Class War Against Working and Middle Class Families, Part II

California Budget Bites has a more detailed rundown of who is most impacted by the tax increases included in the recently passed California state budget... and guess what? The less money you make, the bigger the additional piece of flesh your state government now demands of you. In fact, the bottom fifth wind up paying twice as much of their income as the top 1%. Twice as much.

It is a crying shame that the Democratic Party permitted this farce of a budget to pass (the impact of which will weigh most heavily on those least able to deal with it), and even more of a crying shame that they permitted the tax increases to fall most heavily on those who could least afford it. Of course, the fact that the Republican Party is bound and determined to put the interests of the wealthiest Americans ahead of working and middle class folks (even at the cost of taking the state to the brink of insolvency) doesn't help.

We need budget reform (eliminating the archaic 2/3rds majority requirement to pass a budget), and we need authentic electoral reform (aka Instant Run-Off Voting and multi-member districts with Proportional Representation).

Posted by Thomas Leavitt at 1:11 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

March 12, 2009

Stock Market Up - Praise To Obama

The stock market is up again. Where are all the people who post about how Obama brought the stock market down? Why doesn't Drudge or Fox have a headline praising Obama's policies?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:49 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

California Government Is Good People But The System Is Designed To Fail

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

I was in Sacramento for some meetings this week, and have a few thoughts and observations.

The first is the most important. The people in and around our government are good, dedicated people who are doing those jobs because they care and want to do the right thing. You don't make big money in public service. In the last few decades a government job meant less pay than a comparable "private" sector job and a number of working-environment hassles, like the extra procedures (paperwork and bureaucracy) that are required in public positions to involve transparency and accountability. And, of course, they have to put up with the Republican-inspired abuse of people who work for the government. So give these people a break and assume good faith.

After decades of budget cutting our government is universally strapped for resources and it makes for a difficult workday. The things people went into public service to accomplish are being stripped out from under them by the state's structured-to-fail system (see below). I hope the Bush years trigger some serious thinking about what things would be like without a government, because we are getting close to that possibility.

The state government is now structurally designed to fail -- and this latest budget deal compounds the problem. This situation was created on purpose by anti-government ideologues, usually corporate-funded. Thus really is a choice between government by the people or government by a wealthy few who happen to be in control of large corporations. To them government is "in the way" of making money. Government means food and safety inspectors so people don't get sick and workers don't get hurt, and protecting workers and the public costs them profits. Government means regulations stopping them from dumping stuff in the water or air and properly disposing of waste costs them money. Government means regulations that make them pay back customers who are overcharges. Government means regulations requiring delivering goods and services that were promised. SO you can see why the hate government and regulation -- they keep them from just taking your money and giving nothing back!

So they have used the power that comes from their access to corporate resources to set up a state system that is giving them what they want. They pay petition-gatherers to get anti-government initiatives on the ballot, and then they flood the TV and radio with lying ads that trick people into voting against their own interests -- and here we are.

Here are just a few of our designed-to-fail structural problems:

  • Term limits mean that thinking must be short term, and encourages passing problems along instead of solving them, because then the problems will be "not on my watch." People who are effective in their jobs are forced out, and voters who want to keep them there are prevented from doing so.
  • The campaign-finance system puts corporate-backed candidates in office by necessitating big money to win elections. And corporations, designed to amass resources, are perfect vehicles for pushing the interests of the few who control them.
  • The two-thirds budget requirement means that a few anti-government extremists are able to sabotage the process, keeping any budget from passing and shutting down the state.
  • The disappearance of political reporting in California media means the state's citizens are uninformed about what is going on. The corporate-owned media concentrates on sitcoms and what Britney is wearing, and does not let the people find out what government is about.

    These are just some of the structural problems, and the system is. of course, structurally designed to keep us from fixing them. The only way we are going to address this is to get lots and lots of people involved. The election of Barack Obama tells us this is possible but I despair at amount of work that will have to be done to accomplish it.

    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:33 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    More Work For Less Pay - In A Recession?

    How many people are being asked to work more - for less pay? Does this make sense when we have so many people who aren't working?

    Why is our economy structured like this? Who does it serve?

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

    Recovery.gov

    Have you visited Recovery.gov lately? Go read the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). Look at the timeline for distribution of the recovery money. Etc...

    They will be showing where the money goes in the spring, as the agencies start reporting in.

    Has your local newspaper, TV or radio news told the public about Recovery.gov, or are they instead telling people what Britney is wearing?

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:30 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    March 11, 2009

    Investigate Bush

    He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.

    -- Leonardo da Vinci

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:51 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    RealDVD and Movie Industry Again -- And Bob Barr, Too

    OK I'm back on the RealDVD thing again. And I can't believe I'm going to quote Bob Barr.

    Yesterday Bob Barr was in my local paper with, Movie industry's shortsighted fight,

    There is now unfolding in a federal court in San Francisco a lawsuit in which several major Hollywood movie studios are suing RealNetworks - a relatively small but successful company that develops and markets Internet communications technology - in an effort to prevent the company from selling a software product that simply enables consumers to copy their DVDs to their personal computers. If the studios are successful in this Goliath-against-David legal action, [Thomas] Edison's lesson in hard work will have been effectively reduced to, "genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent permission."
    The movie industry is suing to keep RealDVD off the market, claiming it violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In my opinion the DMCA was a bought-and-paid-for law in the first place, requiring computer and other consumer electronics companies to implement hardware controls that keep you from being able to do all kinds of things with digital media. (It's the law that lets RIAA sue kids and deceased grandmothers.) But, not satisfied with those restrictions, the movie industry is now trying to control technology that is clearly not covered by DMCA. RealDVD lets you copy a DVD onto your computer. You can't even make a copy of that. It think maybe this is all about the movie industry wanting to force the company to pay them royalties.

    I wrote before about copyright protections, "Of course within reason this is necessary and proper." But that's within reason, this isn't. Barr writes, "the sky would not fall on the movie industry were it to back away from its unfortunate legal action against RealDVD." Amen.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:57 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

    March 10, 2009

    Healthcare in America: Imposing The Death Penalty for Being Poor

    "The Health-Care Crisis Hits Home"

    In the article above, a columnist for Time chronicles the trials and tribulations she and her family have gone through in an attempt to keep her brother, whose kidneys are failing, alive. He earns $9/hr. Lives in Texas, where the rules for how little you need to earn to qualify for Medicaid are absurd, and 25% of the population is uninsured. Has Asperger's syndrome (high functioning autism). Purchased "temporary" insurance from a company with a record of "post-claims underwriting" (going back after the fact when a claim is filed and looking for reasons to justify excluding the claim based on prior history), who only paid up after the state dept. of insurance started looking into the situation.

    The only sane reaction, after you've read this story, is to be utterly enraged and disgusted. I had to walk away from the computer, halfway through the story, because it upset me so much. It is very clear that the guy would probably be dead by now if he didn't have a super-empowered sister who has covered these issues for 15 years and even moderated a presidential candidates forum on them. Even with that, he's not having an easy time of it. What about all the people who aren't equipped to advocate for themselves, or don't have a champion like her? They suffer, and then they die. That's it. Pure and simple. What else can someone making $9/hr. do? Where is someone like that supposed to come up with thousands of dollars for deductibles, excluded and uncovered expenses, copays, etc.?

    I haven't seen my MD for far more years than I like to think about (a full physical exam is about $600). I just saw my dentist for the first time in way too long, and while he was pleased at the general state of my oral health, he regretted to inform me that I need two crowns, plus some other miscellaneous work, and that he'd be happy to do the work, assuming I had the $4000 or so lying around that would be needed to get it done. Sure. I'll get right back to you on that, doc.

    I'm doing everything I can in the absence of being able to afford health insurance to keep myself healthy (eating healthy, avoiding junk foods, avoiding vices, working out religiously), but I can't control the random hand of fate. This guy's story is way too close to my own for comfort.

    What does no health insurance in America get you?

    * A tremble in my fingers that causes an MD friend to think I might have some kind of thyroid condition, but no ability to have that formally confirmed. Compensating side effect: insensitivity to cold that makes your friends envious.

    * Sudden vertigo attacks which might be microstrokes... but paying cash for a couple of doctor visits, blood test and a hearing test (more about that below) yields nothing obvious, and the next step would be a $1700+ MRI and the doctor basically systematically going through every test in the book to figure out what's going on. We both agree that I should come back when I have insurance. Compensating side effect: introduction to an accupuncturist whose treatment and dietary advice seem to have ameliorated the problem... or maybe they just went away on their own? Who knows?

    80% loss of hearing in my left ear (per latest round of testing by an audiologist), due to some unknown cause that two sequences of doctor visits have been unable to identify. Speculation is that mild systemic inflammation on that side of my cranium has put pressure on the nerve and damaged it, as the first go around was able to temporarily ameliorate the problem with steriods (no root cause of the inflammation has been identified). Compensating side effect: excuse for why I can't hear when my wife wants my attention for some unpleasant chore, and for asking people to repeat themselves when I don't understand them.

    A bad right knee that, every so often as I go up and down the stairs, provides me with a painful reminder of a bicycle accident I had in high school, aka stabbing pain and weird "slipping" sensations, and which I'm sure at some point is just going to fail completely. Compensating side effect: excuse to request help from others when moving from one apartment or storage unit to another, because the knee can't take more than a couple hours of strenuous exertion before hurting so much that I can't do anything useful.

    A slipped disc in my back (at least, that's what my educated friends speculate, of course I haven't had any confirming diagnosis from a doctor), pain from which regularly wakes me up in the middle of the night. My wife can run a finger down my spine and feel the lump it produced - and if she hits it wrong, it feels like someone just slipped a knife in my back. Compensating side effect: male equivalent of "not tonight honey, I have a headache".

    I live with the fact that I'm playing Russian Roulette with my health, but the fact is, I don't have any choice but to pick up the gun and play... I drive a 20 year old car an hour each way to work. So does my wife. I live in an apartment in a 130 year old building which I've been told could be red-tagged any day (and I understand why), and count myself lucky that I have a bedroom for each kid (wife and I sleep on the enclosed porch). Nothing about my lifestyle is even mildly extravagant, and even after working steadily for a year and a half, I still had over $30,000 in debt owed to family, vendors to my business, and past-due tax bills. ... and since I lost my biggest client, I'm steadily falling behind on all of this again. The $1250 a month I'm supposed to be socking away for "retirement"? Don't make me laugh.

    There's no way, month after month, I could consistently afford $3-400 to pay for a high deductible HSA type insurance plan, not to mention that the pre-existing conditions clauses would exclude coverage for everything actually wrong with me at this point. Or the fact that I'd have to first set aside thousands in cash in an HSA, then burn through it, before I saw any benefit.

    At this point, I'm just counting down the years till both kids are graduated from high school and no longer minors, so I can migrate to Sweden (which my wife is a citzen of), and hoping nothing goes too wrong in the meantime. Every day, I pick up the gun, pull the trigger, and hope the barrel's empty... and the hell of it is, I won't even know if it's not, until long after it's fired. I might be a Dead Man Walking, and I don't know it. Nice way to live, eh?

    ... and there are 48 million others out there like me, and untold millions more who think they have insurance, but really don't (like the gentleman in the article featured above).

    Posted by Thomas Leavitt at 12:23 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    March 9, 2009

    Canadian Healthcare: It's All About The Patient

    Apple's web site has a feature on how a Canadian health care clinic was able to benefit its patients by converting to a paperless office (running Macs, of course).

    Notice what is, and is not talked about, in the article: not one word here about automating health insurance claims, reimbursement paperwork, tracking approvals from insurance companies and appeals of denied claims, optomizing the reimbursement "coding" process, or automating the bill collections process. Instead, it is all about being able to more efficiently serve the patient's medical needs, and automating the paperwork associated with keeping a patient's medical records up to date and usable.

    Note the language on the sidebar about "Accounting": "To keep track of expenses, New Vision runs SimplyAccounting" (a low end accounting package, costing as little as $299/yr.). "expenses" is the key word, not "income and expenses". I bet the "revenue" side of their accounting is vastly more simple (given Canada's single-payer system) than even that of a small single person American doctor's office.

    59% of American doctors support a national health care program. They want to treat patients, not argue with insurance companies and engage in mortal combat with claims adjusters. I bet 99% of American doctors read this article and think, "God, I wish I had their problems with paperwork."

    Posted by Thomas Leavitt at 2:32 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    March 8, 2009

    What Is Going On With Banks

    This radio show explains what is going on with the banks. It is a very good, regular-person explanation. But it will scare the crap out of you.

    Also see Bankers Will Say It Is Bankers

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:28 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    Is This Really Still The 2001 Recession?

    Are we really just continuing the 2001 recession? Did it ever really end? Jobs didn't really pick up. They created the housing bubble to make it look like it was over, but...

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:30 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    March 6, 2009

    Corporate Tax Trickery

    This post first appeared at Speak Out California.

    Here we go again with the "corporate taxes are passed along to the consumer" lie. Instead of telling the public about harm to the public interest from budget cuts, teacher layoffs, privatizing public resources, police cutbacks, etc., instead we hear about how taxing the rich is a terrible thing.

    What am I talking about? See The Tax Foundation - Tax Foundation TV, Radio Ads Show That Corporate Income Taxes Cost the Average American Household $3,190. They have a couple of ads their corporate funders are paying them to run.

    And of course there is the usual scholarly proof that we should all give ever more money to the corporate rich,

    "Research from the Congressional Budget Office shows that in a global economy where capital is highly mobile but workers can't easily move abroad, workers end up bearing the brunt of corporate taxes. In 2007, Economist William Randolph found that 70 percent of corporate tax burdens fall on employees through lower wages and productivity, while the remaining 30 percent fall on company shareholders."

    Taxes are not a cost that can be "passed on to the customer." Taxes are calculated as a percentage of profits, after all costs are figured in. A well-run business charges the most it can get for its product or service. If the business has competitors it has to price its product or service in some relationship to competing products or services. Were a business to add to to prices to cover taxes this would increase the price above what had been determined to be the optimal price! If a company were able to raise prices to cover taxes the it would mean the company was previously negligent in not pricing as high as the market would bear.

    And if the company was negligent, then increasing prices to cover taxes would increase profits, which would increase taxes, which would require an additional price increase, which would increase profits which would increase taxes. Etc. - you get the picture. It's a silly idea.

    In the same way, a properly-run business has as many employees as it needs. When profitability caused them to apy taxes, it means they employed the correct number of people to realize that profit, and certainly are not going to lay someone off because they made a profit that was taxed.

    But one step further on this. A corporation itself is neutral on taxes. After all, a corporation is just a bundle of contracts, and doesn't really have interests any more than a chair has interests. It is the owners who have interests and it is a good idea to think about any "passing on" involving corporate taxes is that it can lower the amount of money that is "passed on" to those people at the top of the economic ladder. Realizing this changes the way the brain understands the problem here. The fundamental question then becomes WHO is benefiting from our economy, and our legal infrastructure that creates and protects corporations. It really is about which people are getting the cash, and seen in this light, this idea of lowering or elimminating corporate taxes takes on a new meaning.

    This ad plays on public misunderstanding of taxes - a misunderstanding previously created by the same crowd. (Similar to the idea that if you earn a penny over $250K all of your earnings are taxed at the higher rate.) So it is like a further step in a strategy of creating increasing ignorance, so that you can further harvest the public... (Why can't WE think in terms of multi-stage strategies, but to instead increase public understanding and appreciation of democracy?)

    So, when will we start hearing about the harm caused to the public interest by reduced taxes on corporations and the rich causing us to lay off teachers, cut police and firefighters, defer infrastructure maintenance, etc.? When do we hear about how this hurts, instead of always about how taxes hurt the rich?
    Click through to Speak Out California

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:10 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

    Bankers Will Say It Is Bankers

    The people in charge of the economy are basically bankers. Not too many plumbers are involved in running the Federal Reserve or Treasury Department.

    Bankers will say the economic crisis is a banking problem. Bankers think banks are very, very important to the economy -- the most important component. They say things like "Our economy runs on credit." And they say the way to fix this mess is to prop up the banks -- give them trillions and trillions of dollars until the economy is fixed.

    And because bankers think bankers are so smart and important to the economy we can't fire them or put them in jail, or even ask for all that bonus money back.

    So they are putting all the money in the world into the banks. For some reason it isn't working.

    Of course, a plumber would say that the problem with the economy is that all the pipes are clogged. Keeping the pipes working is the most important component of our economy.

    And a historian will tell you that the problem is a return of the Great Depression. Not repeating the Great Depression is the most important thing to the economy.

    I'm a regular person. I think regular people are the most important component of the economy. I think the problem with the economy is that regular people stopped being able to share in the benefits of the economy. I think too many jobs were shipped overseas -- without the people getting those jobs being paid enough to participate in the economy themselves. I think that not providing health care caused too many bankruptcies. I think the people who still had jobs were asked to work harder and work longer hours and accept less, so that a few greedy executives could get more and more money. I think not providing sufficient vacations and day care and pensions and empowerment used everyone up. I think regular people used up their savings and then went into debt and then finally couldn't do it anymore.

    I think we should fix THAT. I think our economy might work if regular people around the world received some of the benefits from that economy. I think that the economy might work better if people did not have to get into deeper and deeper debt just to get by. I think our government (which is us, isn't it?) should make sure businesses are engaging in honest and safe and sustainable practices, provide us with human rights like health care, and make sure everyone gets good wages, and sufficient vacations, and safe & empowering workplaces and some choices and some say in things. Then maybe people would be able to participate in that economy and it would start working again.

    But I'm just a regular person. What do I know?

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:28 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    California's Budget: Republican Class War Against Working and Middle Class Families

    If you want an idea of what's wrong with the budget we've just passed here in California, then head on over to the California Budget Project's "Budget Bites" blog (where they post ongoing updates on various budget related issues). Here's a sample: What’s Wrong With This Picture?

    In a nutshell, by changing the way the increase in the California income tax will be calculated, from a 5% "surtax" to a 0.25% increase, "this late night change dramatically shifted the impact of the personal income tax increase downward on to low- and middle-income taxpayers, in contrast to a previously considered proposal that would have had a flat impact across the income distribution." The accompanying graph on the posting illustrates this point quite starkly.

    You can thank "moderate" Republican Abel Maldanado for the regressiveness of this tax increase (it was part of the price the Legislature's Democrats paid to persuade him to cast the last vote required to pass the budget in the state's upper house). I can't think of anything that better illustrates the Republicans' insistence on engaging in class war against working and middle-class folks than taking a "flat tax", and making it aggressively regressive (the less money you make, the more regressive it is)!

    They also have entries that go into detail on the $1.5 billion dollar annual tax break given to multi-state/national corporations as a part of this deal, etc.

    Posted by Thomas Leavitt at 2:33 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos | TrackBack

    March 5, 2009

    A Long Way To Go Still

    Stocks have fallen to where they were in 1996/7. Here is a chart that shows where stocks were in 1996/7.

    stockchart.jpg

    Does anyone else see the problem?

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:37 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    March 3, 2009

    Recovery.gov

    Remember to track what is happening with the recovery/stimulus money over at Recovery.gov

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:18 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    Workers Getting Raises and Benefits - The Horror, The HORROR!

    Oh please watch this:

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:12 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    The Stock Market Is Not The Economy

    Take a look at Progressive Breakfast: The Stock Market Is Not The Economy, quoting Dean Baker,

    "The Washington Post told readers
    that 'Stock Sell-Off Spurs Fears That Slump Will Worsen.' Among whom did it raise such fears? Anyone who bases their expectations for the economy on the stock market has no idea what the economy will do. As should be apparent at this point, the stock market can often be driven by irrational exuberance. Remember, it was almost three times as high in 2009 dollars back in 2000 as it is today. Did that make sense? Obviously if it can be driven by irrational exuberance it can also be driven by irrational pessimism. There is no obvious reason to believe that the market has suddenly become a better judge of the economy's prospects now than it had been in times past."
    Let me add, everyone is starting to wake up from the propaganda, denial, cultism and fantasy-thinking that has been going on since about 1981. It is only starting to sink in just how much of a mess the conservatives have left us. As the denial wears off, and people start looking at what an honest corporate bottom line will look like, the stock market is going to head back to where it should be -- which is where it was before the 1980 election with improvements for productivity but not financialization and profits due to exploitation of the rest of us.

    Bill Scher has been putting together a daily roundup of economic news for progressives. You might want to bookmark it.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    March 2, 2009

    Earmarks

    I had a conversation over the weekend with someone who wanted to talk about the budget. He complained that there were a lot of "earmarks." I told him that there were a lot of earmarks for Republicans as well as for Democrats.

    I told him that an earmark is a special request for funds for a project in a local district, like building a bridge or a clinic -- something that is needed in a local district that is requested by that district's member of Congress, to serve the constituents of that district.

    He didn't know that. In fact, he had never really thought about it at all. He just knew that earmarks were bad for some reason. he had been hearing over and over that they were bad.

    And when I told him what earmarks meant, he liked the idea. He said that's what a member of Congress should be doing. Government serving its constituents in a democracy - imagine that.

    Another day, another Republican anti-democracy propaganda message put down.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:46 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    Bad Stock News -- Still Way High

    Like the housing bubble, where house prices are still way, way above where they should be, the stock market is, too. In fact, the stock market has only fallen to where Greenspan famously warned it was too high due to "irrational exuberance."

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:37 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    Watch Out For Wikipedia

    Try this: start or edit a Wikipedia article that includes information that might be unfavorable to conservative corporate interests, perhaps in the area of tort reform (incl medical malpractice, etc) or trade/protectionism, etc. Try adding citations to studies that show that tort reform is a corporate-funded effort to keep people from being able to sue companies that harm them... I tried it and it was removed in a few minutes.

    Or try to edit the entry on Protectionism, perhaps adding something like the words "unfair competition" as in protecting America jobs from unfair competition from countries that exploit workers. Someone did this the other day and the edit lasted a few minutes before it was removed because it changed the "long accepted definition of protectionism." In other words, the idea that our standard of living should be protected from competition using exploited workers is unfair goes against the corporate-interest meaning of the term.

    Try editing entries covering other issues around trade, economics or corporate issues. See how long it takes before a pro-corporate viewpoint is returned to the article. Or add an article about a progressive organization. I added an article about the Commonweal Institute, and it was immediately removed, so I put another up and it was immediately flagged for removal. (I am working to save it...) An article about me - put up and edited by others - was also removed twice. The circumstances involved a professional "leading tort-reform advocate" -- while I'm the person who wrote this report about how the tort reform movement is involved with the corporate/conservative movement. Go figure.

    This is a problem at Wikipedia. It is quite possible that there are people who are paid to show up and push Wikipedia to reflect a conservative, pro-corporate viewpoint. And why wouldn't this be the case as it is in so many other areas where corporate interests are affected? (I know of one corporate-funded conservative movement insider who spends much of the normal workday and evenings editing Wikipedia.) So it seems the Wikipedia organization may be unable to sufficiently police the site to keep this from happening, and to keep new people from having unpleasant experiences and being shouted down and driven away. There are so many areas of political life where conservatives shout down or intimidate everyone else until they give up and go away. Wikipedia is fast becoming one more.

    This has real-world implications. Wikipedia shows up at the top of many if not most Google searches, and people tend to believe this means it is a reliable source. This positioning implies a public-interest responsibility for accuracy and objective presentation of material. On non-controversial topics Wikipedia is a very reliable and possibly the best source for information because over time the "wisdom of crowds" effect brings increased expertise to bear.

    But like so many things today, in areas where corporate resources can be focused, the subject matter increasingly reflects the viewpoint that serves the interests of the few at the top. Wikipedia's prominence is the likely reason this conservative information-purging occurs. It is also the reason Wikipedia has a responsibility to do something about it.

    (Edited a bit for clarity, focus.)

    PS also see this about article deletions.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:59 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

    Work


    In Europe everyone gets five or seeks weeks vacation a year, good pensions, complete health care coverage - with no one being canceled because they got sick - and many other benefits from their economy.

    Here things are different.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:46 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    March 1, 2009

    A Report From DC

    If you have a minute please read Letter from the Executive Director: Operating in Obama's Washington | Commonweal Institute.

    Barry Kendall spent a week in DC meeting with progressive groups and others, and writes a very interesting report on the new Obama administration, strategies, the state of progressive organizations and other interesting topics.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:03 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

    Let People Buy Into Medicare Until New Plan Ready

    I was part of a group who had lunch with former Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis a couple of days ago. At one point he offered what I think is a great idea. He said that the country should let people buy into Medicare at cost today, while health care reform is worked out.

    I've been thinking about the benefits of this idea. Medicare doesn't have to pay any CEOs hundreds of millions a year, or give million-dollar bonuses to management. Its overhead is microscopic compared to the overhead of private insurance companies, so their costs are much lower.

    So:

    * Companies that provide employees with insurance could immediately lower their costs dramatically. Just transfer all the employees over the the Medicare buy-in plan instead of the expensive private insurance company plans they now buy.

    * Individuals who now buy their own insurance could immediately reduce their own costs.

    * Some people who cannot afford health insurance today could afford to buy into Medicare.

    * Every doctor's office already handles Medicare claims, so this would greatly reduce the current overhead costs of doctor's offices.

    * This would bolster the Medicare program.

    * People would get better health care because Medicare doesn't deny treatments to increase their own profits.

    * People would actually be insured because Medicare doesn't look for reasons to cut off coverage when people get sick, like private insurance companies do.

    Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:37 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

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