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May 31, 2009

Rant on the Current Economic Madness

Go read: My Therapeutic Rant on the Current Economic Madness | Economist Blog

Anyone can see the care and feeding of bankers and financiers, while treating much of the rest of the economy with an iron fist.
Sums it up.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:35 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 29, 2009

Today's Housing Bubble Post - Recovery Myth

Go read James Boyce: The Recovery Myth: Caveat America and take a look at the chart.

While you're at it, look at this chart as well.

I think we need to go through a period of disappointment for the "always goes up" crowd before they realize that this isn't a pendulum swinging, a natural part of the cycle, a temporary setback, etc. We went through fundamental changes in the economy in the early 1980s, and since then household debt has been increasing, wages have been stagnant, and predatory capitalism has sucked the consumer dry. The consumer is tapped out and until the nature of our economic system changes, and the people start to benefit from their own work again, things can only get worse. Top-down economics doesn't work. Democracy is the only economics that works.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:58 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

A Call To Action For Health Care

Go read Daily Kos: A Call To Arms: Howard Dean NEEDS Your Help Today! and please help by doing some or all of what is asked.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:35 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 28, 2009

California Election Results -- What The Public Wants

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Did the results of the special election on the budget propositions really show that the public is against taxes and government, as the Republicans claim?  Recent polling looked at the reasons the propositions failed.  Polls are a useful way to understand what people really thing because they take a scientific sample, actually asking the voters what they think, instead of just repeating something that Republicans just say.  Let's see what the voters give as their reasons for opposing the propositions.  From the polling:

  • 74% of voters polled thought the election was just a gimmick, not an actual fix for California's budget problems.
  • 70% of the voters polled said the legislature is a captive of special interests (possibly because people are learning that the "budget deal" that they came up with in the middle of this emergency included a huge tax cut for large, multi-state corporations.)
  • In a budget battle dominated by Republican demands for spending cuts instead of asking the rich and corporations to pay their fair share only 19% of voters polled said that Californians are being asked to share the pain equally. 
  • And to drive that point home, only 29% of voters polled said that the budget should be balanced only with spending cuts.  According to the polling "even among 'No' voters, less than half (46%) say the government should rely entirely on spending cuts with no tax increases."
In summary, voters resented that the legislature is held captive by the 2/3 rule, and want them to address that instead of coming up with short-term gimmicks to get through another year while making things even worse later.

Additionally, and completely contrary to anti-tax and anti-government claims, the polling showed "broad support for new revenue streams."  According to the polling report, the public supports:

  • Increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages (75% support)
  • Increasing taxes on tobacco (74% support)
  • Imposing an oil extraction tax on oil companies just like every other oil producing state (73% support)
  • Closing the loophole that allows corporations to avoid reassessment of the value of new property they purchase (63% support)
  • Increasing the top bracket of the state income tax from nine point three percent to 10 percent for families with taxable income over $272,000 a year and to eleven percent for families with taxable incomes over $544,000 a year (63% support)
  • Prohibiting corporations from using tax credits to offset more than fifty percent of the taxes they owe (59% support)
The corporate right has to spin last week's special election as an anti-tax vote.  What else can they do?  But, as usual, their spin goes completely the other way from the facts.

Let's put them to the test.  The corporate right claims that this election showed that the public is solidly against government and taxes.  If they really believe that, how about reinstating majority rule in California, instead of requiring a 2/3 vote to pass budgets and taxes? 

Since they claim that the public is solidly against taxes, will they also support a straight up-or-down vote on taxes?  Of course not.  The public is not with them and they know it. This is just a ruse to continue destroying our great state and our democratic process.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:34 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Open Left Fundraiser

Open Left is having a findraiser. If we are going to have a progressive infrastructure at all we all need to pitch in and help fund organizations like Open Left. Even if you only give a dollar, please go show that you support building up an infrastructure of progressive organizations that are:
* OUTSIDE of political parties, and that
* Put pressure on our elected officials to do the right thing, and
* Articulate progressive ideas.

Seriously, if 1000 people only give a dollar that is a thousand dollars. There are millions of progressives. Think about it.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:20 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 27, 2009

Why Do Republicans Oppose Sotomayor?

All the news shows are talking about the Republican problems in coming up with ways to oppose Supreme Court nominee nominee Sotomayor. Not one of them backs up to ask the question, "Why?"

It's just a given that they will oppose. It's what they do.

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

Why Is Welfare A Bad Word?

"Welfare" has been turned into a bad word in the U.S. Like "liberal." How many people even know what the word really means, reacting instead of the negative spin it has? Many of us are so conditioned by propaganda that we can't even think about the meanings of words.

Merriam-Webster:

1: the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity
2 a: aid in the form of money or necessities for those in need b: an agency or program through which such aid is distributed
Oxford:
• noun 1 the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group. 2 action or procedure designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need. 3 chiefly N. Amer. financial support given for this purpose.

"the state of being or doing well; condition of health, happiness, and comfort; well-being; prosperity" OOH - Bad!

So what about "welfare state?" Wikipedia on "welfare state": "A model in which the state assumes primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens."

Your government watching out for your welfare. Imagine that.

Bad, bad, run away, run away.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:06 AM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

May 26, 2009

Are California Voters 'Anti-Government?'

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California. In the op-ed piece titled, "A rising anti-government tide," Republican leader Newt Gingrich wrote last week about California's special election,
"This vote is the second great signal that the American people are getting fed up with corrupt politicians, arrogant bureaucrats, greedy interests and incompetent, destructive government."
For those unfamiliar with the history of Newt Gingrich here is a quick lesson in what you are hearing.  Newt Gingrich is a father of Republican nasty-talk.  In 1990 Gingrich introduced a memo titled, "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control," advising Republicans to use certain words over and over, always describing opponents as "destructive," "incompetent," "greedy," etc., and always describe Republicans as "humane," "fair," "principled," etc.  Please go read the memo and see for yourself.  Gingrich's advice was to just insult and insult and be nasty dirty up the discourse, and you will win elections.  And, of course, that is what they did and they did win elections - for a while.  They are still nasty and just insult and insult, but they haven't been winning elections. 

So, knowing that, take anything Gingrich says with a grain of salt.  (Never mind that Gingrich is also known for committing adultery in a car in the parking garage of the U.S. Capital, with a much-younger Congressional aide while he was Speaker of the House, during the Republican effort to impeach President Clinton for adultery!)  And ask yourself why any supposedly respectable news outlet would give him a platform to do the damage that he does.  
 
But back to the subject-at-hand, whether voters really, as Gingrich claims, expressed an "anti-government" message last week?  Does Gingrich have his facts right?  Let's check a fact. Gingrich wrote, "This model of high-tax, big-spending inefficiency has already driven thousands of successful Californians out of the state..." But everyone who actually knows anything about California knows that the reason people leave the state is because of high real-estate prices.  And the reason they are high is because so many people want to live here.  Of course, the implication (because it coincides with another Republican talking point) is that businesses leave the state because of taxes.  Studies that look at actual facts show this isn't true, either.  Brian Leubitz on Friday wrote about this at Calitics,
"He [Gingrich] highlights the Yacht Party theme that all these businesses are leaving California...except that they aren't. As noted by the CA Budget Project blog, the PPIC has shown that this really isn't true. PPIC event went so far as to say, in a report, that "it is important to be wary of anecdotal evidence of businesses fleeing the state to support arguments that California has an economic climate hostile to business.""
Can any readers name even a single business that has left California because of taxes?  If so, leave a comment.

Next: A look at the polls.  Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:46 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 24, 2009

Big Ag Forces University To Stop Distributing Book To Students

It seems that books criticizing the actions of big corporations are too "controversial" for some universities. Washington State University dropped the book "Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" from their "common reading" program -- in fact dropped the whole program -- after a complaint from an agri-business-associated member of the board of regents of the University. Even though the university had already purchased 4,000 copies.

Big money makes the decisions these days. Apparently even about which books can be distributed at universities.

Through La Vida Locavore

Posted by Dave Johnson at 5:52 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 23, 2009

OpenTable IPO Cheats Shareholders

A company called OpenTable went public this week, and its share price went up 59%,

Online restaurant-reservations system OpenTable Inc. dished out the best IPO performance since late 2007, delivering a 59% gain in its trading debut.

Shares of the San Francisco company on Thursday closed at $31.89 apiece on the Nasdaq Stock Market, well above its initial offering price of $20.

Investors would have to go back to December 2007 to find a better first-day close, from Orion Energy Systems Inc., which rose 65% during its debut.

This first-day rise in the price is presented by the business media as a good thing, worded as "best performance" and a good first-day close, demonstrating again how the business media favors corruption over competence.

You see, what this first-day rise in price tells us is that the underwriters grossly underpriced the stock, which the business media did not explain. The company should have gone public for $30 a share, which the market demonstrated, rather than the $20 a share that the underwriting companies allowed insiders to buy at on the opening. The way this racket works is that insiders get the special $20 price and can sell at the $30-35 price later in the day. The company, however, only received the $20 per share it offered, cheated out of the $30 it clearly should have received. Others got rich at their expense.

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

Republicans Insulting Women As Usual

Taylor Marsh has the latest: RNC Tags Pelosi '€˜Pussy Galore'€™ in Video,

At the end it says “Democrats Galore.” Imposed with a naked woman behind the tag line. Get it? Subtle it is not. But check out the video at around :40 seconds; a split screen that says it all. “Pussy Galore” is shown with “Starring Nancy Pelosi the Speaker” over “Pussy’s” image.
Go see the video.

Taylor adds,

That a woman, let alone Speaker of the House, should never be hinted to in any public way through the use of “Pussy” insinuations should be obvious. That this is being used by a once major political party in the 21st century is stunning.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:30 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 22, 2009

Europe vs U.S.

Want to know how pensions, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave, disability, unemployment pay, worker health care, etc. in European countries compare to ours? See Social Security Programs Throughout the World: Europe, 2008

Who is their economy FOR, anyway?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:52 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

It's Torture

A conservative radio host claims that waterboarding is not torture, and says he'll prove it by being waterboarded himself. Guess how long he lasted.

Conservative radio hosts gets waterboarded, and lasts six seconds before saying its torture,

The upshot? "It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke," Mancow told listeners. " ... I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."

Yes, and that is why we - the United States - tried and executed people in the past for waterboarding people. So when is Bush and Cheney's trial?

Update - Video here.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:43 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 21, 2009

Don't Forget The Governor Vetoed A Budget That Passed

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

As we face this state budget crisis, we would like to remind people that it didn't have to be this way. The Democrats in California's legislature tried to do the responsible thing to keep the state running and head this off, and passed a good budget in January. The Republicans and the Governor instead wanted to create a crisis and force the state into bankruptcy.

From January, Schwarzenegger vetoes budget bills,

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this afternoon vetoed the Democratic plan to reduce the budget deficit by $18 billion and will urge lawmakers to use his January proposal as a template for implementing midyear cuts...

The move forces leaders to start over in their efforts to close a budget deficit estimated at $40 billion over the next 18 months. It jettisons -- for now -- what Democrats hailed as "the only game in town" -- because it included tax increases approved without Republican votes.

Schwarzenegger rejects latest budget proposal,

Democratic leaders sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger an $18 billion deficit-cutting package on Tuesday, a plan he quickly vetoed as anti-tax groups filed a lawsuit to stop it.

The activity came amid the Legislature's third special session since the November election to deal with California's worsening budget deficit, projected at $42 billion over the next 18 months.


For some reason, it has been forgotten that this budget would have solved this problem and avoided the May 19 election and resulting chaos. But the anti-tax extremists blocked it because they don't want government to work, they want it to shut down. It is a strategy they are following because it keeps their base active and brings them corporate donations. They do not believe in government, they have said so, and they have all signed a pledge to that effect.

The Democrats should be strategic as well as responsible and pass this budget again. This time if the Governor vetoes it or the anti-tax extremists take it to court they will be doing so while people's own schools are forced to lay of teachers, and their own police departments are being forced to reduce patrols. It won't be hypothetical, it will be happening in their neighborhoods and their cities. The public will be able to see for themselves who is trying to keep the state running, who is trying to keep their schools open, and who is trying to shut the state down. And if it goes to court they will be forced to ask why we do not have majority rule in California, how there can be a law allowing a small number of extremists to block everything.

Click through to Speak Out California.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:28 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 20, 2009

Government Spending

Corporations have convinced the public that government and government spending are bad.

Question, was Eisenhower building the interstate highway system good or bad for the economy, the public and for corporations?

Discuss.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:01 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 19, 2009

Back From Working At The Polls

Being a poll worker is a long and rewarding day. I had to be at my precinct - a half-hour drive - at 6am. Set up the polling place and the machines, do the paperwork, and open the polls at 7am.

Close the polls at 8pm. Then take down everything, reconcile the ballot count -- unvoted ballots from the morning, provisionals, spoiled ballots, machine count, etc...

The vote has gone overwhelmingly against the propositions. The comments from voters that I overheard were always about how the legislature wasn't doing its job and they resented it. i didn't hear a single comment about taxes.

This was not a vote against taxes. It was a vote against legislative dysfunction, secrecy, and structural ungovernability.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:01 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Working At The Polls Today

I am working today as an Inspector at a polling place for California's special election. It's a long day and I am not likely to be posting.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:57 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 18, 2009

They Distributed Loss Reserves As Bonuses, So We Pay The Losses As Bailouts

I'm starting to get it, about how these bailouts work.

In the 90s and 2000s Wall Street made billions and billions of "profits" and the people working there made millions and hundreds of millions each, placing bets with "credit default swaps." The upside was all in the sale of these -- the downside happens if mortgages and loans go bad.

So the money from selling these credit default swaps was supposed to be set aside as reserves to cover potentinal losses, but was instead handed out as profits and bonuses.

So when the mortgages and loans did go bad, instead of those people paying up from the billions the companies made and the hundreds of million that individuals made, instead you and I taxpayers are paying off on these bets.

They get to keep the money that they called "profits" back then, even though they were not profits, but were supposed to be set aside to cover the losses that might happen later. When the losses did happen later, we pay it off for them and they keep the private jets, mansions and yachts.

And the reason this is happening is because the Wall Street types put some of the money into paying off people in Washington, and "lobbying" and into right-wing think tanks, etc. The people with the power to make us pay off those losses are being paid or otherwise influenced by the money that was called "profits" in previous years, but which really should have been used to cover these losses.

Is that about right?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:38 AM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

May 16, 2009

Your Liberal Media

When the Republicans were preparing to invade Iraq people were out in force in demonstrations. According to BBC News, on Feb 15, 2003, hundres of thousands of people demonstrated against the coming invasion in the United States - 250,000 just in San Francisco, and as many as 10 million people worldwide.

The U.S. corporate press -- at the time complicit in the invasion preparations -- barely covered these demonstrations, so most Americans did not know that there was a great deal of opposition to the coming invasion.

Fast forward to today. President Obama is going to speak at Notre Dame - a Catholic university. A dozen or so right-wingers are protesting because Obama believes that women should have the right to make their own health care decisions. And this is almost the only thing in the news. You cannot turn on the corporate cable news channels or the corporate radio without hearing about the huge controversey about the President coming to speak.

Stark contrast.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 1:09 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Insider Trading

How many people were enriched by the Treasury Department's illegal leaking of the "stress test" results?

Question: is this being investigated and will it be prosecuted? Or do we still have a politicized law enforcement system?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:40 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

The Cayman Islands Is Part Of Why We Don't Have Health Care

The Cayman Islands is part of what we don't have health care. Does that sound like a bizarre statement? Well, read this: A Lot of Our Money Is Buried in the Cayman Islands -- Let's Get It Back,


The Senate Permanent Investigations subcommittee puts the annual tax loss at $100 billion; Treasury sets the figure at $123 billion. Collecting those lost billions could mean that Americans could pay no withholding tax from November 15 to December 31; it could pay for healthcare for about 20 million of the roughly 50 million Americans without health insurance.

. . . Congress should pass a law funding pursuit of every major tax cheat, just as we pursue every killer, rapist and drug dealer. Using offshore accounts to cheat the government out of $50,000 or more for two or more years should be made a felony per se. Then let's provide an escape hatch, which would spare prosecution of anyone who fesses up and fully pays taxes, penalties and interest. The same law should make public the name and details of every person or company that skips the opportunity to make things right.

Why do we tolerate these offshore tax and corporate scams? Why don't we just put an end to it -- and get better schools, health care, etc. out of the deal?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:22 AM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

May 15, 2009

The Bailouts and Democracy

(This post appeared as part of the Issues Now! series leading up to the America's Future Now conference from the Campaign for America's Future.)

I have questions about the bailouts and I can’t seem to get answers. This by itself means there are big problems with the bailouts and the rest of this effort to restore the economy. I am a citizen in a (supposed) democracy and I am not getting enough information to allow me to do my job. As a citizen I’m in charge of all of this, yet I don’t know where my money is going, how it is being used, what alternatives were considered, who is profiting, who is gaming the system, and I can’t find out.

Like the old Soviet Union, when the institutions that are supposed to provide information are not trusted – or are not there – rumors and alternate explanations (read: “conspiracy theories”) abound. And so it is with the national discussion of the bailouts. Ask anyone on the street about the bailouts, read almost any blog, op-ed page, letter to the editor: people do not understand why these particular corporations are so special that they should get this special access to our money after they got themselves into trouble, and no one is doing a good job of explaining to the public-at-large just what is going on. “Trust us” is not democracy.

Take a look at this short video clip of Representative Alan Grayson (D-Fla) asking the Federal Reserve Inspector General what she knows about the trillions that the Fed has put up and the IG saying she doesn’t know:

Q: “You’re the Inspector General … do you know who received that one trillion dollars plus…?”

A: “I do not know.”

And there are reports that the Congressional Oversight Panel headed by Elizabeth Warren is having trouble getting sufficient information from the Treasury Department. So as far as I can tell, no one is getting sufficient information and reporting back to us citizens what is being done in our name and with our money. And it is a lot of money. Right-wing radio and blogs are certainly taking full advantage of this information gap to stir up anger and trouble. As David Sirota wrote the other day,

According to Bloomberg News, the White House, the Congress and the Federal Reserve have committed almost $13 trillion to the financial industry in one bailout form or another. If even more resources continue to be devoted to bailing out the same financial con artists who got us into this economic mess, that means far less resources will be available to tackle all of the nation's other challenges (health care, infrastructure, education, etc.). And when those challenges aren't met, conservatives will have a set of failures to cite as a powerful rationale for their own political revival.

So let me ask a few of my questions:

Are the stress tests being gamed as rumored? If so, why? They used 8.9 percent unemployment as their “worst case” and, as Dean Baker wrote, “The unemployment rate hit 8.9 percent last week and it is undoubtedly going higher.”

Is the Public/Private Investment Partnership (PPIP) plan being gamed as rumored with big banks using bailout funds to trade toxic assets at inflated prices and again fraudulently boost their balance sheets (BBuBfBBs)? (The dual-alliteration test might be just as valid as a stress test that used a sure-to-be-topped unemployment number as its worst case.) But seriously, is someone looking into this and stopping it if true?

Is it true that, as rumored, individuals at AIG are offering sweet deals (backed by taxpayer dollars) in exchange for very-high-paying jobs down the line with the recipients of those deals? Again, is someone looking into this and stopping it if true?

Why was it essential that those particular corporations be bailed out to get credit flowing? Couldn’t other banks take over their lending subsidiaries or departments with government help? Instead we’re giving billions to already-too-big corporations followed by rumors that they are using the money to acquire other companies and get even bigger. Are we making too-big-to-fail corporations into too-bigger-to-fail corporations?

Why do Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and others in the Obama administration appear (at least from the information I get) to think their employer is the financial sector instead of the People of the United States? For example, in the restructuring of GM they are allowing jobs to be outsourced. How does this match up with the idea that in our democracy those workers are their employer?

Along the same lines, why didn’t the legislation authorizing the bailouts prohibit the companies receiving taxpayer money from lobbying? Why didn’t it limit pay and bonuses at all levels to the amount earned by the President of the United States? Why did it have so many loopholes that allow these companies to game the system with our money? In other words, why does it seem like the people writing the legislation felt they worked for the banking industry instead of the people?

And here is a big question: Didn’t we go through something just like this with the S&L crisis not that long ago? What lessons did we learn from that? The causes of the S&L crisis were deregulation, “unsound real estate lending,” and connected insiders (with names like Neil Bush) gaming the system. I wrote about the connection between the S&L crisis and this one the other day,

People got really, really rich looting financial institutions, and then when the taxpayers came in to fix it connected insiders got really rich from that, too. … Valuable properties were sold to connected insiders for pennies on the dollar. Pretty much everyone was allowed to keep what they made from what we think of as bad practices.

So look at the results of the current crisis. A few got really rich by looting financial institutions, taxpayers on the hook to bail everyone out, and the cleanup looks like it involves connected insiders getting really rich. ...

So maybe the lesson WAS learned. For example, we think Lehman was a failure? But a few people made millions, even hundreds of millions from those decisions. ... And they were all allowed to keep the money.

So the lesson for US to learn is that this stuff works out really well for the people making the decisions. If we want these things to stop we need to get the money back … and put enough of them in jail. Otherwise the incentive structure guarantees this will happen over and over. It is set up that way.

Yes, these are a lot of questions.

And one last one: Do we want to “restore” our financial system, or change it? What we had didn’t work. In fact what we had demonstrated the most extreme example of “didn’t work” that any of us have experienced in our lifetimes. So why do we want to “restore” it? The words imply a wish to return to the way things were. Ryan Avent writes,

Many progressives want to use the actual process of crisis resolution to reshape the financial system, but this is like trying to install a sprinkler system while one’s home is on fire.

Ryan, this fire burned down the whole town. What I want is a complete investigation of how the fire started, who started it, why there wasn’t a sprinkler system, why the fire department wasn’t making them install a sprinkler system (and was someone paid off), and how much the fire department is spending on fighting the fire. And then I want complete accountability: who will go to jail for starting this fire and who will be fired because there was no sprinkler system. And when all that is out of the way I want new management at the fire department and a completely overhauled fire code that protects the public and never lets this happen again.

Shouldn’t we instead learn from what happened and make some fundamental changes to bring it more in line with our ideas about democracy and who is supposed to be in charge here? As I have been asking for years, who is our economy for anyway? Shouldn’t we see that too-big-to-fail is too big and limit by law the size of corporations – as well as limit the allowed percentage of ownership any person or entity can as they grow larger? Shouldn’t we realize that corporate money should stay in the corporation and not be allowed to influence our decision-making? Shouldn’t we all be asking more questions and getting answers?

If anything needs to be “restored” it is the understanding that We, the People are in charge here and have a right to all the information we want and need from our government and our elected officials. They work for us. Under our system We, the People are supposed to be telling the corporations what to do, not the other way around.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 14, 2009

Unemployment Stats

I'm wondering about the effect of contractors on the statistics. They have become a larger portion of the labor force in the recent decade. They are usually the first laid off. But contractors can't claim unemployment. If the stats are missing this, it affects the ability to forecast and leads to faulty decisions.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:58 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 13, 2009

Bloggers on the Bus

Even though I am swamped with moving, I want to give a good word for Eric Boehlert's book "Bloggers on the Bus, How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press."

The title is a reference to 1972's "The Boys on the Bus" by Timothy Crouse, about the press and the 1972 campaign (and just males, I guess).

I'm reading the book and I can't put it down except when my wife yells at me to get back to moving things. It is so well written that it is like reading a novel. I'll try to write more later if I live through this move.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:05 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 12, 2009

Moving Day

The house we rent was sold and we got 30 days notice, so we are moving today.

I hate moving. If I post anything it will be an angry rant. Watch your backs.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:48 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 11, 2009

But Who's Counting?

The Fed has put up trillions, but who's counting? We don't know who got the guarantees. We don't know exactly how much. We don't know how much the taxpayers will be on the hook for. We don't know who is getting rich from it. But who's counting?

I think that in the Propaganda Age sometimes you can learn what an agenda is by watching what gets done rather than listening to what gets said.

Now we are in the Propaganda Age. Everything is marketing. Everything is PR. Everything is for effect. Everything is distraction: Look over there! Everything is misdirection: look at the left hand while the right hand picks your pocket. We’re told that things we see right in front of us are not what we see.
When confronted by the intent to deceive learn to watch what is done and ignore what is said.

For example, after the invasion of Iraq they sent forces to secure and guard the oil fields and the Oil Ministry buildings, but no one to look for WMD. From that it was not hard to deduce that WMD was just a cover story - what they said - and what they DID was they got them some oils.

OK, now watch this video. This is Rep. Alan Grayson questioning the Inspector General of the Federal Reserve.

Rep. Alan Grayson asks the Federal Reserve Inspector General about the trillions of dollars lent or spent by the Federal Reserve and where it went, and the trillions of off balance sheet obligations. Inspector General Elizabeth Coleman responds that the IG does not know and is not tracking where this money is.

NO ONE is watching and reporting back to the taxpayers what is being done in their name with their money. What do you think about that?

P.S. I posted this under the category "corruption."

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:59 PM | Comments (4) | Link Cosmos

May 9, 2009

Unemployment

Hey people, the government hired a bunch of people last month -- just about the same number as the "huge drop in the number of jobs lost."

The economy still isn't functioning -- the government is stepping in and helping.

And even with that losing over 500,000 jobs in a single month is a disaster. It just isn't as bad as all those months as have been losing over 600,000. That's all.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:30 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

May 8, 2009

More TARP Fund Corruption Rumors

See Are AIG FP Employees Using Bailout Cash To Get Jobs Elsewhere? Looks Like It, Says AIG Source

Here's the new scheme. Employees at firms like AIG are manipulating their TARP money to give hugely favorable deals to other companies. The other company gets a windfall, the employee who handed over the money gets a new "job" for extremely high pay. In other words, a bribe.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:57 PM | Comments (2) | Link Cosmos

Wall Street Lobbying

How much of the anti-government, anti-Obama hysteria being pumped from the lobbying PR firms is funded by Wall Street?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 7:33 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Who Is The Boss Of Who?

The first three words of the Constitution - the document that states the rules of our country - are "We, the People."

We are supposed to be in charge here. We are supposed to be the ones who make the decisions and the rules.

We built this country and the institutionsthat created its wealth. But now an elite few have seized control, live off of that mutual effort and "own" 90% of everything. When the people try to make decisions that alter that, they block it. With this in mind, see Kyl Warns Obama Administration Not to Fire Bank CEOs - Bloomberg.com

A leading Senate Republican warned the Obama administration against removing chief executive officers at banks that received U.S. assistance, saying “the great fear” would be government management of companies.

God forbid that We, the People might want to have a say in all of this!


Posted by Dave Johnson at 12:15 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Medicare-For-All Not Allowed In Senate Hearing On Health Care

The senate is discussing options on health care - but Medicare-For-All ("single-payer"), the choice of 60% of Americans was not allowed to participate. It was shut out of the hearing. It is off the table, not allowed in the discussion.

This is flat-out and obviously the result of bribery from the big insurance companies. These companies are paying to keep public options out of the discussion, because they are made wealthy by harvesting the public. We, the People need to step in and do something about this.

Make your voice heard. Call your own House members and Senators and DEMAND that Medicare-For-All be "on the table" in the discussions leading up to the health care legislation! Call them, and call them, and call them. DEMAND that Medicare-For-All be part of the discussion!

Watch the Ed Schultz Show segment on this:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy


I grabbed this video from Insurance Companies at the Table, Single Payer Not

Posted by Dave Johnson at 10:53 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Never Learning?

David Sirota relates swine flu to the banking crisis. Both have the same cause. See Piggish capitalism endangers us all,

The Associated Press says scientists suspect that swine flu began in a Mexican town that "has been protesting pollution from a large pig farm" partially owned by the Smithfield company. That's the same Smithfield that used three decades of lax anti-trust enforcement and corporate welfare to become one of the few megacorporations now controlling global agribusiness.
Decades of lax enforcement of regulations and corporate welfare leading to megacorporations. I wonder where he might be going with this?
Unregulated, taxpayer-subsidized oligopoly spreading risk - sounds familiar, right? It should, because at the very moment agribusinesses were vertically and horizontally integrating themselves, so too were financial firms.

In 1999, five days before Congress rejected a proposal to temporarily stop agribusiness consolidation, President Bill Clinton signed a landmark deregulation measure that "ushered in an era of aggressive bank mergers," as Reuters reports. The result was what critics like Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., predicted at the time: Wall Street created "a group of institutions which are too big to fail" and that "taxpayers are going to be called upon to cure."

Taxpayers required to provide a cure. And the clincher:
Mass producing mortgage-backed securities that were quickly infected with subprime mutations, these financial factory farms became so enormous and unregulated that they spread toxic assets throughout the entire economy.
Excellent.
Incredibly, our government hasn't learned from these crises. Regulation-wise, there have been no serious initiatives to replace factory farms' voluntary self-inspections with mandatory government probes, and new financial rules have yet to move in Congress.

Here is something I have noticed. We went through all of this before, with the Savings and Loan crisis! The causes of the S&L crisis were deregulation, "unsound real estate lending," and connected insiders gaming the system (with names like Neil Bush).

Look back at the Savings and Loan crisis. People got really, really rich looting financial institutions, and then when the taxpayers came in to fix it connected insiders got really rich from that, too. (One or two were held up as examples and put in jail for a while.) Valuable properties were sold to connected insiders for pennies on the dollar. Pretty much everyone was allowed to keep what they made from what we think of as bad practices.

So look at the results of the current crisis. A few got really rich by looting financial institutions, taxpayers on the hook to bail everyone out, and the cleanup looks like it involves connected insiders getting really rich. I think SOMEone clearly learned a lot from the S&l crisis.

So maybe the lesson WAS learned. For example, we think Lehman was a failure? But a few people made millions, even hundreds of millions from those decisions. What's-his-name made $400 million in six years bankrupting Lehman. And they were all allowed to keep the money.

So the lesson for US to learn is that this stuff works out really well for the people making the decisions. If we want these things to stop we need to get the money back -- all the inflated salaries and bonuses from each and every one of them, going back ten years -- and put enough of them in jail. Otherwise the incentive structure guarantees this will happen over and over. It is set up that way.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:59 AM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

May 7, 2009

Government Empowers And Protects Us

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Watch this great video:



The video is funny, but it makes a point: We need government.  Republicans say "government is the problem" but just who is government a problem for?  If you are a top executive in a large chemical corporation and your bonus depends on lowering the cost of discarding toxic wastes, government stands between you and the river into which you want to dump the wastes.  It costs the company less to dump the waste into the river, you will get your bonus, but We, the People don't want that stuff in our water.  So for you, government is the problem.  And that is a good thing.  But our government is us.  Our government protects us.

Government also empowers us.  In the 1950s President Eisenhower proposed building the interstate highway system.  That was an example of government spending, and the top tax rate was over 90% on income above a certain amount, so after executives and owners of big companies made several hundred thousand dollars additional income was taxed at a very high rate.  (They could still become very, very wealthy, but more slowly.)  This meant that the major beneficiaries of our government helped pay for our government.  And it paid off.  The interstate highway system triggered a surge of economic growth, new industries, new products -- and even greater income for the very people who were taxed to help pay for it.

Of course, at the time, some (not all) of the wealthiest objected to being taxed, even though the taxes led to even greater gains for them as well.  They were shortsighted and considered government to be a problem.  Lucky for all of us, even for them, it didn't turn out that way.

P.S. They're serious about hating government, and they really do hold up Somalia as an example of what they want!  Go see for yourself at the libertarian Mises Institute, which "defends the market economy, private property, sound money, and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention as economically and socially destructive" where they write in Stateless in Somalia, and Loving It,

Somalia has done very well for itself in the 15 years since its government was eliminated. The future of peace and prosperity there depends in part on keeping one from forming.
And see for yourself at the libertarian Reason Magazine, "the monthly print magazine of "free minds and free markets," where they write about The Anarchy Advantage in Somalia.

I guess if Cholera and lawlessness don't bother you, maybe you don't need government. The rest of us, however,...

Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:03 AM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

It's What It Is Spent On That Matters

The right is shocked, shocked that government spends money! After eight years of unrestrained crony spending the Republicans are just SHOCKED that Obama is spending money.

Here is the difference
. Under Bush the Republicans spent huge sums on subsidies for corporations and big campaign donors, and various corruptions. This spending was just waste and fraud to benefit an elite few. At the same time, they cut back on everything that helped people. And they cut back on maintaining the infrastructure and anything that invested in the future.

See Obama Releases $3.4 Trillion Budget Plan. Obama is cutting a lot of that spending that just went to reward Republican cronies.

He cited several examples, including a $465 million program to build an alternate engine for the Defense Department's joint strike fighter, a program that Pentagon brass neither wants nor plans to use.

. . . About half of the trims would come from curbing defense programs that have been identified by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates as expendable. They include ending production of the F-22 fighter plane and canceling a new presidential helicopter fleet.


Meanwhile, as you know, the stimulus and other budget items greatly increase spending on maintaining the infrastructure, and the spending on green jobs promotes future economic growth that will more than pay for the spending that triggers it.

Remember when Eisenhower built the interstate highway system? That was investment spending, and it paid off.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:53 AM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

May 6, 2009

Don't Ignore Right-Wing Threats Of Violence

Sara Robinson says,

Right-wing talkers have built careers out of demonizing liberals; but when they start talking about what specific steps should be taken against them, that's not something we should ignore.
The right has been ramoing up the violent rhetoric lately. Don't ignore it. (And never, ever ignore Sara.) Read the whole thing.

And watch your backs.

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

Humanity's Greatest Challenge

Go read Kim Cranston: Humanity's Greatest Challenge and Its Solution. This is an excellent and important post pointing out that the failure is not as much solving the scientific problems, but that our institutions aren't even able to agree to start trying to.

Our greatest challenge is that our institutions can't resolve any of these challenges, let alone prioritize climate change as the challenge that poses the greatest threat if we don't act immediately. Until we address the crisis of the failure of our institutions to resolve the significant challenges we face, don't expect progress on any of them.

[. . .]

Can democracy survive complexity? That is what this [energy-environment] problem represents. It is so difficult. It is multi-scale, multidisciplinary, with large certainty in some areas and small certainty in others. It is irreversible and reversible and we won't know how we did until it is over. We will only know forty years later. That is why climate complexity is a challenge to democracy. Democracy is short term."
Exactly. Go read.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 4:04 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 5, 2009

Do Businesses Leave California Because Of Taxes?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

There is a myth that businesses and people are leaving California in droves because of taxes.  A recent example is George Will, in California as Liberalism's Laboratory, writing as part of an anti-tax column,

For four consecutive years, more Americans have moved out of California than have moved in. California's business costs are more than 20 percent higher than the average state's.
Notice the obfuscation.  Will cites "costs" and the thrust of his column implies that he means taxes are forcing this exodus.  But the costs that cause businesses to leave California are the high real estate prices, not taxes.  This higher cost of owning and renting in California is, of course, because more people want to live here than other places.

A December LA Times story, More are moving out of California than in, made clear the reasons for the exodus,

The outflow -- last seen during the economic and social struggles of the 1990s -- started when it became too expensive for most people to buy homes in the state, and has kept going throughout the bust with the loss of so many jobs.

[. . .] "This was the epicenter of the housing meltdown," said John Husing of Economics & Politics Inc., a regional economic research firm.

"People started leaving California because of housing prices - particularly younger couples that just couldn't afford to buy a house."


The Public Policy Institute of California studied California job losses in 2007 and released, Are California's Companies Shifting Their Employment to Other States?,
... Given that this shift was sharpest during the economic boom of the late 1990s, it cannot be attributed to business climate problems unless one is willing to argue that the business climate was worse during that period, which strikes us as implausible.
One thing to understand is that taxes are not a cost, because taxes are calculated after the end of the year, all costs are subtracted before calculating the profit, and only profits are taxed.  Salaries and other business expenses are deducted before profits are calculated. Companies that are not making money are not taxed at all. 

Actually there is a tax problem affecting businesses here.  The effect of Prop 13 on commercial real estate gives a tremendous disadvantage to new businesses - the very entities that provide most new jobs.  Commercial property held for a long time has a much lower tax rate, providing advantages over innovative new companies.

Another tax problem (data from California Budget Project) is that the poorest fifth of California's households earn and average of $11,100 a year and pay 11.7% of their income in taxes, while the wealthiest 1 percent bring in an average of $1.6 million and pay only 7.1% of their income in taxes. 

Looking past the surface hysterics there is something disturbing about the implications of this conservative-corporate threat to move companies rather than pay taxes. What does the threat say about their perception of the relationship between the people and the corporations?  After all, who is supposed to be in charge here?

Corporations are creations of our government and We, the People created them to benefit US.  (Why else would we have created them -- to harm us?)  Our laws enable their existence in the first place, our courts enforce the contracts and settle disputes, our police and firefighters protect them, they deliver their goods on our roads, and we educate and train their employees.

We created these entities, and gave them rules.  And now they are telling us that if we ask them to share the gains with us, they will throw a tantrum, pack up and leave?  It sounds like it is time for We, the People to put our foot down and explain the rules: We tell you what to do, not the other way around.     

Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 3:00 PM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 4, 2009

Accountability

Is there any accountability yet? Have any major financial thieves been put in jail and/or made to give the money back yet? (I don't mean the Madoffs, I mean the ones who talked people into mortgaging their houses so they could sell CDOs.) Have any corrupt government officials from the Bush years been prosecuted yet? Have any lobbyists been indicted for giving bribes - or politicians indicted for taking them? Have any government officials been prosecuted for doing bug companies a favor and then leaving the governemnt and taking huge-paying jobs from those companies?

How about has anyone been held accountable for torture people and launching wars that killed tens of hundreds of thousands? Or how about just having pallettes of money shipped to Iraq for distribution?

How about something simple, like getting bonuses back from people who made millions and millions defrauding people and ruining the economy and destroying millions of people's retirement? Or maybe even just making them pay their taxes? Or how about just asking people making tens of millions to pay at least the same taxe rates that the rest of us pay?

Nope. Nada. Not that I have seen. No accountability yet. Nothing. The rich and the powerful can get away with anything. Anything. We have a two-tiered justice system in America now and no one bothers to deny it.

Is the new boss same as the old boss? Or will things change?

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:49 PM | Comments (1) | Link Cosmos

Is Stimulus Stopping Necessary Changes?

The stimulus is starting to work, jobs are being saved, people are taking advantage of incentives to buy houses, things look a little better.

But the stimulus is a short-term attempt to create demand when the other areas of the economy cannot. It is not a permanent solution. It buys time, but we are supposed to be fixing the underlying problems of the economy so this doesn't keep happening.

Yes, the investment components of the stimulus will have a long-term effect, but the rest is just to help us get through hard times. Most of the money goes to make up for whqt the Republicans did to the economy -- maintaining neglected infrastructure, helping out people who lost jobs, etc. The investment portion is barely enough to trigger new green industries.

Is this keeping us from making necessary changes? I haven't seen a reform of financial regulations. I haven't seen a ban on corporate lobbying. I haven't seen anything that fundamentally changes the way the corporations have harvested us, throwing most of the wealth to the top few, corrupting our democracy, stripping the resources of the planet...

Just a thought...

Posted by Dave Johnson at 11:57 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Why Is This Company Allowed To Operate?

Why is Merck allowed to continue to operate?

Merck Makes Phony Peer-Review Journal -

Merck cooked up a phony, but real sounding, peer reviewed journal and published favorably looking data for its products in them.
From the linked article in The Scientist, Merck published fake journal,
Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles--most of which presented data favorable to Merck products--that appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship.

. . . The issues contained little in the way of advertisements apart from ads for Fosamax, a Merck drug for osteoporosis, and Vioxx.

. . . The claim that Merck had created a journal out of whole cloth to serve as a marketing tool was first reported by The Australian about three weeks ago. It came to light in the context of a civil suit filed by Graeme Peterson, who suffered a heart attack in 2003 while on Vioxx, against Merck and its Australian subsidiary, Merck, Sharp & Dohme Australia (MSDA).


They invented a phony "scientific" "peer-reviewed" journal to public marketing articles promoting their products, making it look like "science" validated them!

How many people did Vioxx kill? Question: Does this "pharmaceutical" company, like others, refuse to develop antibiotics - even though we (humanity) are running out of effective antibiotics - because they don't make enough profit?

Why are they allowed to call themselves a pharmaceutical company? Why are they allowed by our laws to be a corporation?

It is time to put a stop to all corporate lobbying of all types, and get a handle back on control of our own government!

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

Today's Housing Bubble Post - The Next Housing Bust

I came across this at the Wall Street Journal, of all places: The Next Housing Bust


The bill that passed last summer more than doubled the maximum loan amount that FHA can insure -- to $719,000 from $362,500 in high-priced markets. Congress evidently believes that a moderate-income buyer can afford a $700,000 house.
Go read

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

May 2, 2009

Mondale Family Cookbook

What should I do with my two copies of the Mondale Family Cookbook, from 1984?

MondaleFamCook.jpgHey, people, this is serious action blogging happening here!

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:06 PM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

Today's Housing Bubble Post - Back To Issuing Warnings

Oddly enough I find myself back in the position of warning that the housing market may be heading to a terrible crash in the near-future. The bubble mentality has not changed at all and appears to be restarting in the very places where the bubbles were the worst. This is probably because people got used to unaffordable prices and think that a drop from unaffordable to just really, really expensive is a buying opportunity. Meanwhile government and the real estate industry are trying to "reignite" the market -- hoping that starting another bubble will put off the reckoning.

People still think that what we are going through a temporary "correction" and that real estate prices are going to "go back up," that houses are "cheap" now, that they should "snap them up" before they are "priced out." They still think real estate is the path to wealth, instead of somewhat of a burden that should only be undertaken under certain circumstances. Namely, when you plan to live there for a long, long time, and you'll pay less (including closing costs, taxes, insurance, maintenance, possible price depreciation, etc.) than rent.

Here's what I am talking about. Combine this,

As of March 1, investors can now buy 10 homes (up from four) with Fannie Mae-backed mortgages. That’s also stimulating demand.
With this, Some of Us Still Think They Can Get Rich Quick from the Real Estate Bubble,
... the ad offered a mouthwatering menu of claims on "How to cash in on the biggest real estate liquidation sale in our entire United States history" and "how to maximize your profit with lucrative foreclosures."

And this:

Option ARM rates are going to be recasting soon and in increasing numbers. That's the magic moment when people can no longer make minimum payments, when they can longer make interest-only or neg-amortization payments.

When that magic moment comes, all of those people are going to look at how high their now unaffordable mortgage payments are. Then they'll look at how much their house is actually worth relative to how much though owe. Then, maybe, they'll try one of the various initiatives to modify their mortgage terms. And then, quite likely, they'll jut walk away. [. . .] as the chart tells us, hasn't even really started yet.

recast.png
What that chart shows is that the foreclosure problem is about to get a lot worse. Two more huge waves of "resets" are coming. Many, many, many more homes are about to reach a point of unaffordability for a lot of their owners, one way or another those homes will also be for sale, on top of the huge inventory that already sits unsold, and this will drive prices down even further, which will trigger even more problems.

Here is what I am saying: As long as a house is considered an "investment" instead of a place to live for a long time we will continue to be in a world of hurt. Real estate does not always go up.

Here is why prices can't go up any time soon: There is a huge inventory of unsold houses. The houses that were built in the last decade are too big for regular people to be able to afford to heat and cool -- and energy prices are going up. The water for the lawns will cost more and more. The gas to get to the malls and any jobs that might exist (good luck) will cost more and more. The "boomers" are retiring and selling their houses. The median price in many areas is still way above affordability by a medium-income family. You won't get sufficient "positive cash flow" over your payments from the rent you'll receive if you are renting the house.

The psychology of this is just like the stock market bubble. Things won't get better until the bubble mentality of "it always goes up" is shaken out of people. Like I said the other day

In 1999/2000 I had a bunch of stock in a dot com. It made its way up to $35 a share. When it fell to $30 then $25 then $20 I held on because it had just been $35. When it hit $12 I thought it was really cheap but when it hit $.50 I thought that was too high. It landed at $.05 but then the company went out of business.

Think about the psychology of this. When it fell to $12 I thought it was cheap because of how high it had been but when it hit 50 cents a share I thought it was too expensive because I had left the past behind and I could finally see where it was GOING. And that is where it went.

Unemployment in my area is 11.2% and people are "snapping up" houses that are "cheap" at $580,000 because they were at $850,000 a year or two ago. But the median income here can't support that. It couldn't even support $350,000 before unemployment went up.

Here's the thing. After the stock market crash the Fed intentionally created the housing bubble to prop up the economy for a few more years. Now the consequences have arrived. If you are thinking of buying a house as an "investment" ask yourself who is going to buy it from you at a higher price, and how they are going to get that money. Will that housing demand come from a healthy job market in which people are getting raises?

Don't bet on it.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 2:35 PM | Comments (3) | Link Cosmos

Dear Telemarketers Stop Calling Me

Dear Telemarketers:

1) It is illegal to be calling me in the first place - I am on the "Do Not Call" list.

2) When you use a machine that waits for me to answer and say "Hello" two or three times before you pick up and talk, I am already really annoyed even before you start your pitch. What's the point in that? Duh!

3) Stop calling me. Especially after I say please put me on your "Do Not Call" list.

4) Democrats, there is a reason I have asked to be put on your "Do Not Call" lists. It is because I do not like to be called. I give through ActBlue and directly, but not over the phone. So do not call me. That includes Senate committees, House committees, Party committees, DNC committees, Candidate committees.

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

Actually Not Good News

Talking Points memo, Numbers Coming Into Focus

We have some more tentatively encouraging news emerging about the Swine Flu virus.

Yesterday, we noted that the Mexican government had substantially revised downward the number of deaths attributed to the Swine Flu, from 159 to 84, after tests had ruled out many of the suspected cases.

Now comes word from the Times that Mexican officials have now reported that of the 908 suspected cases that have now been tested, only 397 turned out to have suffered from the Swine Flu.

Actually that is not encouraging, unless your biggest concern is overpopulation. 84 deaths from 397 cases is a 21% mortality rate. Since few people have antibodies many, many more could become infected than during the usual flu season -- if it is highly contagious. That is the encouraging part of this story -- it might not be as contagious as it appeared earlier. We had better hope this mortality rate is exaggerated.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:27 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

May 1, 2009

What Sen. Spector's Party Switch Tells California Voters

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.

Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen ("Single-Bullet") Specter switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party this week.  Rush Limbaugh reacted to this news by welcoming Specter's departure, and added, "take McCain with you."

Specter left because the extremist wing of the Republican Party -- the ones who listen to and agree with Rush Limbaugh and will tolerate absolutely no compromise of any kind from the most extreme conservative positions -- have taken over and are driving others out. This rightmost element, who call themselves the only "real Republicans" have a special name for people like Arlen Specter and John McCain.  They call them "RINOs."  RINO stands for "Republican In Name Only" and refers to Republicans who are not conservative enough to meet approval of the absolutists.  (What is conservative enough?  Half of Texas Republicans want Texas to secede from the United States.)

Arlen Specter is hardly a liberal.  He has a solidly conservative voting record, (after switching parties he voted against President Obama's budget), but not conservative enough for the hard core purists.  John McCain won the ire of this element for not supporting torture.

The Limbaugh branch of the party have been working to drive moderate-right members like Specter and McCain out, and are increasingly successful.  Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, another target of this element, warned that,

"being a Republican moderate sometimes feels like being a cast member of 'Survivor' -- you are presented with multiple challenges, and you often get the distinct feeling that you're no longer welcome in the tribe."
This demonstrates just how far the Republican Party has moved from its roots.  They have drifted so far away from their mission that even their last Presidential candidate is being urged to leave the party!  They have drifted so far from their mission that the "party of Lincoln" has a solid contingent supporting having their states secede from the Union!

This hard-core extremism is also being demonstrated in California, where not a single Repubilcan will vote for a budget -- any budget -- because their strategy for the state is to "let it go into bankruptcy, let it go off a cliff, we need to prove a point."  The reason that crazy-sounding line has quotation marks around it is because it is a quote.  It is also the definition of extremism.  And, combined with the 2/3 rule that lets them block budgets, it is the reason California is becoming ungovernable.

Roberts and Trounstine at Calbuzz write that, "the California Republican Party is doomed to minority status" by this extremism.  For example, California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring said of Specter's defection,
"The Republican Party didn't leave Arlen Specter. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party some time ago," Mr. Chairman said in his statement. "Arlen Specter decided on his own - no one forced him - to violate core Republican principles by voting for the wasteful $787 billion stimulus bill while every single House Republican, including California's entire Republican delegation, voted with taxpayers in opposition instead."
In other words, it violates Republican principles to vote to help the people.  The "taxpayers" they "support" are their wealthy and corporate campaign donors.  And, they add, it doesn't make sense for Party leaders to "applaud Specter's defection, as if losing prominent party members holds the key
to growing the party and returning it to majority status."

Why they are wrong:  The hard-core conservative values these people support are "limited government, free markets and personal responsibility."  But what is this government that they want to limit?  Abraham Lincoln, another RINO, famously said that our American government is "of the people, by the people and for the people."  So today's Republicans want to limit the people's ability to make decisions (government by the people) and instead hand this ability over to "the market" (ruled by big corporations.)  They want to replace a country where we watch out for and take care of each other (government for the people) with a system where we are all left on our own at the mercy of these corporations -- which they call "personal responsibility." 

There is an alternative to the extremist right's approach.  Progressive values and policies are better for people.  Instead of limiting our government progressives believe that the people should have more power to make the decisions that affect all of us.  Instead of a one-dollar-one-vote "market" approach to decision-making, progressives believe in one-person-one-vote equality where people are on an equal footing, with an equal right to benefit from our common resources. 

Progressives believe in a community-based, democratic approach to deciding how we should run our state and country.  We're here for each other, not just for ourselves.

So let's welcome all those disenfranchised Republicans into our tent. We're big enough and tolerant enough of differing opinions, so long as the best interests of the people are at heart. I think they'll like being part of a true democracy where the people come first.

P.S. See Assemblymember Nancy Skinner's invitation to Republicans.

Click through to Speak Out California and leave a comment.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 9:08 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos

Violent Authoritarianism

The Republican Party has released a video supporting torture "techniques" and "methods" and saying that President Obama has made us "less safe" by banning the torture of prisoners.

Posted by Dave Johnson at 8:45 AM | Comments (0) | Link Cosmos