August 31, 2009
Do we really want government making decisions? I hear the same question repeated a number of different ways: “Do we really want government making decisions about our health care?” “Do we really want government deciding how banks should be run?” “Do we want government making decisions on whether drug companies can release new products?” “Do we want government telling businesses what they can and can’t do?”
The immediate, emotional reaction is, “Of course not!” But what happens when these questions are examined more closely?
Health care reform is in the news so let’s look at decision-making in health care first. Currently insurance companies make decisions about our health care – not government, not doctors, and certainly not us. They make these decisions based on whether a procedure or drug will be expensive. But “companies” don’t make decisions, people do – not to maximize benefits to the patient but for their own financial gain.
What about decision-making around how banks do business? Since the 1980s more and more banking rules have been relaxed at the behest of a few who stood to make fortunes. Credit card interest rates reached as high as 30%. Huge bets were made on credit default swaps, bad mortgages and other banking products. Deregulation led first to the “Savings and Loan Crisis” and then the recent financial crisis and resulting bailouts. The decisions in these companies were made by a few for personal gain at the expense of the stability of the entire economy.
What about drug companies? There are complaints that the government “holds back” drug companies from releasing new products. But the recent deaths caused by Vioxx, Baycol and other drugs showed that the government was on the right track by requiring sufficient testing and reporting. The pressure to sell these and other unsafe drugs came from a few people who stood to gain fortunes.
What about “burdensome” government regulation of business in general? We all remember what happened when regulations were lifted on companies like Enron. Employees lost their retirement savings. Investors were tricked out of millions. People and businesses were scammed into paying very high prices for electricity. Again, these problems happened because a few people stood to make fortunes so they got government to deregulate rules protecting the rest of us but that stood in their way.
With these and other examples in mind, let’s look at what the purpose of our government is supposed to be. According to our Constitution government is literally, “We, the People,” banded together to “promote the general welfare” which means we watch out for and take care of each other. The Constitution’s promise to “secure the blessings of liberty” means that we will enjoy the stability of the rule of law instead of being subjected to the whims of the rich and powerful.
Before deciding whether or not government should make decisions let’s look at the alternative. Not enough consideration is given to the real question: if We, the People don’t make decisions, then who does? As we saw in the examples above, the “corporate” decisions that were made in the absence of government rules always favored a few wealthy people. Sometimes, as in the case of Enron, they even destroyed their own corporations while collecting large sums for themselves.
History shows that in the absence of a strong government decisions will always be made by those with the most money and power. In today’s society this means that people in the biggest corporations will be making the decisions, always for their own benefit and at the expense of the rest of us
Unfortunate things always happen when the interests of a few people are placed ahead of the rules. In a functioning, democratic society, government is about establishing and enforcing rules that are set up to protect all of us on the basis of one-person-one-vote and not one-dollar-one-vote. Today’s alternative to government decision-making is the biggest corporations making decisions instead.
Royalty, dynasty, inheritance, corporatocracy, whatever you want to call it, there are always a few people who have gathered most of the wealth and power to themselves, and then set up systems designed to keep it that way. The United States government was designed to enable We, the People to make the decisions rather than just the wealthy and the powerful.
So when you hear people ask if we really want government making the decisions, they are really asking if you want to have your own say over your own affairs, instead of some rich CEO. The answer should be “Heck, Yes!
This article was produced as part of Commonweal Institute's Progressive Op-Ed Program
The "stimulus plan" included a 9-month subsidy that paid 2/3 of COBRA for newly-unemployed people.
That subsidy runs out in a couple of months and millions of people will lose their health care.
In my opinion the reasons we did not enter a depression had less to do with bailing out the big banks than with the following:
1) FDIC Insurance meant that people felt safe keeping their money in banks and didn't "run" to remove deposits. THIS is why the banks didn't all close.
2) Unemployment insurance kept millions of people from losing all of their income and having to turn to breadlines. This starts running out soon for the people laid off during the crash.
3) The stimulus plan subsidized COBRA for millions of people. This starts running out soon for the people laid off during the crash.
I received an email from the Tobacco/Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) promoting this video. The email said it is by Lee Doren (more here), not the video or the page it is on -- I had to track that down. There also isn't any info describing who made the video, or the connection with CEI. Doren heads "Bureaucrash," one more lobbyist astroturf group (a subsidiary of CEI).
"Bureaucrash is an international network of activists, called crashers, who share the goal of increasing individual freedom and decreasing the scope of government."Actually, it is a subsidiary of a Tobacco/Exxon-funded lobbyist group that advocates replacing democracy with corporate rule. But who's counting?
The video is about how government is bad, public schools are bad, the post office is bad. "Health care is essential. Food, clothing, housing are all essential but we don't want the federal government paying for all those services for everybody." "Taxation equals force." "Advertising is a good thing." "Profits are essential. Profits prevent misallocation of resources in the economy." "CEOs make millions of people wealthy." "If insurance companies are forced to cover preexisting conditions it wouldn't be insurance." It even says Medicare is bad, and even advocates that firefighting be for=profit and at the same time run by volunteers not the government!
It actually says the only reason we need lobbyists is because of the socialists who are against corporations. The core message of the video is that corporations are better at making decisions for us than democracy.
Oh, one more thing, the video is entirely against Medicare-For-All single-payer health care, which isn't even on the table. Its very premise is a lie itself!
Anyway, take a look at what your corporate tobacco/Exxon dollars are paying for.
So why is Tobacco/Exxon paying for astroturf groups to fight against healthcare reform? Or is CEI getting checks from a new source lately?
Update - The following comment was trapped in the spam filter. It is posted now, but I am also highlighting it here:
Just for the record ExxonMobil does not fund the CEI. ExxonMobil has not provided any financial support to this organization since 2005. A simple check of our website shows the companies ExxonMobil supports. The report is published annually and can be found at http://www.exxonmobil.com/corporate/community_contributions_report.aspxI'll look into this. CEI is still putting out climate-change denial stuff.
August 30, 2009
I trust President Obama's instinct and leadership. Unfortunately I am realizing that I don't trust his judgment in advisors. It is becoming clear that he has surrounded himself with a groupthink crowd of disloyal, corporate-influenced careerists who do not share our long-term progressive vision. They are sheltering the President from hearing progressive viewpoints, and are advising short-term political approaches to problems rather than risking his offering a moral basis for positions that they fear are outside the "mainstream" of Limbaugh-influenced Americans.
August 29, 2009
Who could have known?
First we learn that there is a big effort by insurance-company lobbyists to use August to portray the health care effort as unpopular. Several lobbyist firms were involved in organizing loud, near-violent disruptions of Congressional town hall meetings, etc.
Then at the end of August we get lots of Republicans saying that we all saw how unpopular health care reform is: GOP senator signals fading hopes on health care,
"I heard a lot of frustration and anger as I traveled across my home state this last few weeks," said Enzi, who has been targeted by critics for seeking to negotiate on legislation. "People in Wyoming and across the country are anxious about what Washington has in mind. This is big. This is personal. This is one of the most important debates of our lifetime."
Gosh, do you think we are seeing a strategy unfold?
August 28, 2009
When China was accepted into the World Trade Organization, they agreed that if we experienced import surges of Chinese goods that caused "market disruption," we would be allowed to limit the import of those goods. The particular section of the agreement is called "Section 421."
When the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) determines that the level of imports from China cause or threaten to cause market disruption to American producers of competitive products, it proposes a remedy that can include quotas or other relief. The President of the United States then makes a decision whether to enforce that recommendation.
President Bush repeatedly (seven times) refused to enforce Section 421 even when our own ITC found that American companies, factories and jobs were being lost. Bush claimed at the time that the destructive effects of dramatic, sudden increases in Chinese imports that Section 421 was meant to mitigate were actually good for the U.S. economy. Bush's policy was the opposite of "protectionism" -- it actually favored China's companies over our own! (I think we've seen how that has worked out.)
Very soon we will have an opportunity to see where President Obama comes down on this issue. The ITC has decided by a 4-2 vote that the U.S. tire industry has been harmed by a large increase in imports. They have recommended increasing tariffs starting at 55%, falling to 35% over three years. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative now has to give its recommendation on this to the White House by Sept. 2.
President Obama has until Sept. 17 to make a decision. This is just one week before the upcoming G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. There is considerable pressure on him to to signal that the US will restore trade balance and help manufacturing in America, by following the rules of the WTO that China agreed to.
According to the United Steel Workers, which represents workers in the tire industry, thousands of jobs are being lost and tire plans in the US are shutting down. Also at this page is a chart from the ITC showing that the benefits of enforcing remedies "are two-and-a-half times greater than the costs" to consumers.
Mike Elk wrote the other day at the Campaign for America's Future blog,
President Obama stands at a crossroads in the fight to rebuild the American economy.
President Obama has made a commitment in the past to uphold previously signed trade agreements. China, however, is violating these agreements by flooding the market with a massive 300 percent increase in tire imports in an attempt to wipe out American tire manufacturers. In 2004, China sent 14 million tires to the U.S. valued at $453 million. By last year, that had increased to 46 million tires valued at $1.7 billion.
Mike also points out,
Chinese importers, in conjunction with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, have ironically formed a lobbying front group ironically named American Coalition for Free Trade in Tires. The coalition is run by Jochum, Shore & Trossevin, a Washington D.C. lobby firm run by former Bush trade officials who are cashing in on their years of U.S. government service to advise foreign competitors.
Jim Wansley, former USW Goodyear local president, testified about the impact of the closing of the Goodyear plant in Tyler, Texas where he had worked for 39 1/2 years:
The closure put hundreds of workers, many of whom had given decades of service to the plant, out of work. The closure was devastating to the workers and their families, but it is also being felt throughout the community of Tyler, Texas. Tyler has a population of about 100,000. Like many small and medium-sized towns that depend on manufacturing for middle class jobs, the loss of these jobs has taken its toll. The Goodyear plant directly benefitted the local economy by supporting local small businesses who served as its suppliers and service providers.
The plant also provided enormous indirect benefits. Jobs at the plant paid good wages and benefits, enabling workers to lead decent middle class lives, buy homes, send their kids to college, and save for retirement. These are the kind of jobs that support an entire community as families pay their doctor bills, buy new cars, and contribute to local charities. The plant and its workers were also an important source of tax revenue for the city, the county, and the state.
. . . The victims will not only be the workers and their families, but the suppliers, service providers, local businesses, and entire communities that depend on the industry. In sum, there is an enormous cost to doing nothing. If more plants like Tyler close, we can expect to suffer total additional losses of almost a billion dollars per plant, per year.
On the other hand, The Washington Post points out,
If Obama backs the tariff, he risks upsetting the Chinese at a time when the United States needs China to keep buying U.S. government debt to fund stimulus efforts.
This is not just an intellectual discussion. This, like all trade issues, is about American workers losing their livelihoods and communities losing their economic base. At the same time the policies of the Bush administration -- borrowing trillions of dollars from them while allowing our manufacturing base to deteriorate -- have placed China in a very strong position of economic advantage which gives them the power to demand concessions.
For more information:
A post at TradeReform.org: Trade Community Awaits President’s Decision on China Tire Safeguard
Testimony of Senator Sherrod Brown before the U.S. ITC on the tire issue.
ManufactureThis.org: Making the Case for Relief from Chinese Tire Imports
One group in opposition to this ruling is American tire distributors, who benefit from the low prices of Chinese imports. (Note this is published by the Chinese Xinhua News Agency.)
I turn on Fox and they have someone standing in front of the Kennedy service, talking about Chappaquiddick.
August 27, 2009
Here is a great post. Please read it. Excerpt:
A New Deal - style industrial policy is crucial as well for over the politically elusive, white working class. The New Deal was successful in creating a lasting political coalition because it created lasting political constituencies. As a result of the wide range of people it helped: Social Security for seniors, labor unions for workers, subsidies for small farmers, and jobs for the unemployed, these groups were brought into the Democratic party and stayed there for nearly forty years.
This is pretty serious. This is indicative of a culture developing around the idea of assassinating Obama: BlueOregon: Look out teabaggers, birthers and deathers, the eliminationists are going to upstage you
From Oregon's Spain comes a story in which Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell pops off about buying an "Obama tag":
After an audience member shouted a question about "Obama tags" during a discussion on wolves, Rammell responded, "The Obama tags? We'd buy some of those."
Rammell later tried to couch his words as a joke, but apparently not enough of a joke to keep him from sending out a press release bragging about saying it.
The Republicans have shifted their attack on health care reform by claiming that it endangers Medicare. They have even introduced a new "Health Care Bill of Rights for Seniors" proposal to "protect Medicare." The Blue Dogs have stepped up their own attack, claiming that the costs are too high. The insurance industry flacks are claiming that at over 1000 pages the bill is too complex. Etc.
The Republicans and Blue Dogs have given us an opportunity here. This is the opening to introduce to the bill the idea of adding people to Medicare by phasing in age groups starting with the youngest and oldest at the same time.
Immediately lower age eligibility to 55 and immediately cover everyone up to 21. Every year add 5 eligibility years on each end so 2011 it would be up to 26 and down to 50, etc.
Someone in the Congress can add a few paragraphs called the "Save Medicare Clause" or something to the reform bills. Just say you are addressing the concerns of the Republicans and their new "Protect Medicare" demands, and the Blue Dogs concerns about costs. The cost reduction from adding the youngest balances the added costs of adding people who are older, and this lowers all the costs in the current plan from covering these people. And the costs of doing this is so much less than the cost of covering these people under the current reform plans that this greatly lowers the costs of the overall reform schemes.
How to fight for this? Simple: Answer anyone who says it is a "government takeover" Republican-style. Just say it isn't, that we're just adding them to Medicare. Then let the Republicans then explain to everyone that Medicare is a government program! I am sure we can find ways to answer every objection to this proposal using this kind of Republican-blunting argument. In fact it would be fun. The Blue Dogs say it is costly, just point out that it is much less costly than their own plan. And much less complicated. Medicare already exists, is already set up to cover millions and add millions every year, etc...
We can point out how this simplifies everything people are worried about in the reform fight. Everyone loves Medicare -- so much so that the Republicans are using Medicare as a club to kill this complicated and expensive health care reform scheme. So what the hell, give them what they want, while giving the people what they want at the same time.
This is an opportunity to achieve Ted Kennedy's and our own health care goals that we did not have at the start of this reform effort. The opponents have stirred people up so much and raised so many objections that everyone is looking for something simpole to get us out of this. "Medicare-For-All" answers every objection that the opponents of health care reform have raised.
August 26, 2009
Go read Jane Hamsher: Campaign Silo » Malcolm X: "Don't Be A Chump"
For those who need some background: Goldman Sachs announces they plan to give out record bonuses this year, despite taking billions in TARP money from the Fed to "survive," soaring unemployment and companies collapsing coast-to-coast. In his memo, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein tells his employees to keep a low profile and not to spend lavishly when they get their massive bonuses!
Comedian Matt Rittberg creates a hilarious spoof of "Goodfellas" based on Goldman Sachs outrageous compensation. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman's CEO, sent out a memo recently telling his top employees not to buy anything flashy with their bonuses. Remind anyone else of the scene from Goodfellas where De Niro tells his gang the same thing after the big heist?
Written and Directed by Matt Rittberg
Director of Photography - Matt Kohn
I have an idea for a bipartisan solution to the health care reform effort that everyone can agree on.
Lower the age for Medicare to 55 right now, and then drop the minimum age by five years every year as the system adjusts to the influx of new people.
This is a bipartisan solution because it expands on the Republican Party's main concern that Medicare be protected, as stated in their "Health Care Bill of Rights for Seniors" proposal to "protect Medicare." It also protects the "Blue Dog" Democrats' main concern that a complicated "public option" would harm large insurance companies by offering the public superior services at a lower cost.
How hard would it be to add this idea to the health care legislation? It would be a simple addition to the current legislation, requiring only a few paragraphs in the 1000-page bill. There would be very little additional administrative cost because Medicare already exists and serves millions of people, and all the procedures for adding and serving lots of people are already in place.
People between 55 and 65 years of age would see an immediate benefit because they would be immediately covered. And each year more people would benefit. By 2013 when the current legislation is supposed to start phasing in, everyone over the age of 40 would already be covered, greatly lowering the costs of covering the remaining younger, healthier people who remain uncovered. And costs would be reduced further every year as the age of eligibility drops by another five years.
This would be a winner with voters because everyone understands and loves the Medicare program.
This idea addresses the complaints about the reform legislation before Congress:
* It is too complicated ("over 1000 pages") - this requires only a few paragraphs of legislation
* It amounts to a "government takeover" - this only expands on an existing, popular program
* It is too expensive - several centuries of all costs of this program can easily be covered for by rescinding the bailouts received by the Wall Street millionaires and billionaires and asking for the money back - requiring only another few paragraphs of legislation.
So how hard would it be to introduce this solution to the contentious health care reform debate?
This is a story we are all too familiar with: Wall Street vs. Main Street. Irresponsible behavior leads to bonuses for Wall Street while working hard and playing by the rules leads to unemployment and foreclosure for Main Street.
You've heard the elements of the story: For quite some time Wall Street and the banks were operating irresponsibly, fomenting a huge credit bubble which led to the financial collapse. At the end of 2008 millions and millions of regular people – popularly known as “Main Street” – began losing their jobs, losing their houses, losing their savings and forgetting about ever retiring.
Wall Street: Huge Wall Street bonuses are in the news: Bank Bonus Tab: $33 Billion
Nine banks that received government aid money paid out bonuses of nearly $33 billion last year -- including more than $1 million apiece to nearly 5,000 employees -- despite huge losses that plunged the U.S. into economic turmoil.
… The nine firms in the report had combined 2008 losses of nearly $100 billion. That helped push the financial system to the brink, leading the government to inject $175 billion into the firms through its Troubled Asset Relief Program.
The Cost: The same amount, used for the people, would bring over 2.5 million good-paying jobs.
The "financial collapse" bonus pool is $33 billion. For comparison, look at what $30 billion could buy for We, the People, if only we had some control over things. $30 billion is the amount requested in Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) Impact Act. $30 billion = more than 2.5 million jobs:
“IMPACT (Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology) creates a $30 billion Manufacturing Revolving Loan Fund to help small and medium-sized manufacturers finance retooling, shift design, and improve energy efficiency.
. . . the IMPACT Act could create 680,000 direct manufacturing jobs nationally and 1,972,000 indirect jobs over the next five years.”
Gas Prices and Bonuses: Do you remember those soaring gas prices that hit Main Street so hard last year. They play a part in this bonus story. For some background, see Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece, Inside The Great American Bubble Machine,
So what caused the huge spike in oil prices? Take a wild guess. . . . [Wall Street] persuad[ed] pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil . . . The push transformed oil from a physical commodity, rigidly subject to supply and demand, into something to bet on, like a stock. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of speculative money in commodities grew from $13 billion to $317 billion, an increase of 2,300 percent. By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed.
[. . .] But it wasn't the consumption of real oil that was driving up prices — it was the trade in paper oil. By the summer of 2008, in fact, commodities speculators had bought and stockpiled enough oil futures to fill 1.1 billion barrels of crude, which meant that speculators owned more future oil on paper than there was real, physical oil stored in all of the country's commercial storage tanks and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve combined. It was a repeat of both the Internet craze and the housing bubble, when Wall Street jacked up present day profits by selling suckers shares of a fictional fantasy future of endlessly rising prices.
This fits our story because the top bonus-getter this time around is Andrew J. Hall. Hall "earned" it by helping to run up the price of oil last year. Hall is getting a $100 million bonus. (Thanks to previous years' bonuses Hall already owns a 1000-year-old castle called Schloss Derneberg. Go look at some of the pictures of what these nice Wall Street bonuses can buy.)
Here's some more bonus news: Goldman may pay out largest bonus pool ever,
Looks like things are back to normal, or perhaps even better, at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS) as the firm is reportedly on track to pay out its largest bonus pool in the firm's 140-year history thanks to soaring profits in the first half of 2009.
Yes, that’s right "back to normal." Huge bonuses, in some cases the largest ever.
Main Street: Also back to "normal," the rest of the country remains mired in debt, unemployment, foreclosures, budget cuts and a health care crisis looks on, helpless to do anything about it because the functioning of their government has been captured by a wealthy few. Even before the financial collapse things were pretty bad. Wages had been near-stagnant for decades while costs rose, resulting in soaring credit card and other household debt. The savings rate had actually gone below zero. But not for Wall Street. While this was happening the finance sector had quadrupled to nearly 40% of all corporate profits and insiders were reaping tens and hundreds of millions and even billions for themselves.
There are many who say that these problems of debt and stagnant wages are because of Wall Street. Wall Streeters encourage companies to focus on maximizing short-term profit rather than investing in long-term stability. Wall Street pressure encourages companies to cut benefits, outsource jobs, increase workloads and eliminate customer services as much as possible.
These changes in business practices occurred partly because of the huge cuts in the top tax rates from the Reagan through the Bush years. It used to be that people built fortunes over time by carefully building businesses. But the tax cuts enabled "get rich quick" schemes that let a few benefit from chopping up and selling off once-stable companies, raiding pension funds, and so many of the business practices that have destroyed Main Street livelihoods.
This also happened because of deregulation. People were convinced that regulation of business "cost jobs," or a hundred other things we were told. Well it turned out that regulation was important. And it turned out that a few people reaped massive fortunes from the experiments in deregulation and tax cuts.
The Damage Done: While the bonuses are the largest ever, for public trust in their government and elected leaders this may equate to some of the most damage ever. People see these bonuses being handed out, paid for with taxpayer money, and they understand that their money is going out to the very people who destroyed the economy and their dreams. This kind of unfairness and injustice can tear apart the fabric of society. We are seeing elements of this in the disruptions at the Town Hall meetings on health care. People are angry at the way they are being treated, and the corporate right is channeling that anger into further demands for deregulation and favors for a few at the top.
While the stage was set for the bailouts and bonuses by the Bush administration, President Obama was elected to change things. Immense damage has been and continues to be done to the Obama administration in the public mind by these huge Wall Street bonuses. This set the stage for opposition to the health care plan. People feel that the President should find a way to stop this travesty. But instead he is seen as continuing it. His advisors are seen as being from Wall Street and unwilling to stand up against their friends and social and professional circles in which they live.
The Hope: President Obama has appointed a "Pay Czar." Kenneth Feinberg, who previously worked for free as head of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, has the job of "Special Master for Compensation." He will look at the compensation of the top 25 executives at these firms and decide if it is fair.
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I want Mr. Feinberg to be aware that this bonus pool comes from taxpayer money, that the firms giving these bonuses wouldn't even be here if the taxpayers hadn't bailed them out, that the rest of the country - Main Street - hasn't seen a raise in a very long time, largely because of the policies of Wall Street, and that the bonus pool just happens to match the amount that would create 2.5 million jobs on Main Street through the IMPACT Act.
Mr. Feinberg, claw it back. Don't let these people get these bonuses, and be very public about it. The public needs to have their trust restored.
But more than that, the conditions that enabled Wall Street to benefit from destroying the livelihoods of the rest of us need to be reversed. Strong regulation needs to be reintroduced by the administration and backed up as necessary by the Congress. Top tax rates need to be increased back to where they were before Reagan to discourage this terrible "get rich quick" behavior and to reverse the concentration of the country's wealth among a top few. Most important: strong campaign finance and lobbying rules need to be implemented to remove Wall Street's ability to influence government. Truest and fairness need to be restored to our system.
August 25, 2009
Everyone should go see Who's Paying to Kill Health Reform? over at the Campaign for America's Future blog.
I have been following the story of the lawsuit over RealDVD. Here are a few: Update on RealDVD vs MPAA, RealDVD and Movie Industry Again -- And Bob Barr, Too, MPAA vs RealDVD -- Why You Care, Times Change, Some Industries Don’t Want To
So here is recent news:
• On August 11th, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel granted the movie industry's request for a preliminary injunction barring the sale of RealDVD, software designed for copying a DVD to a computer hard drive for backup and portable personal use.
• The injunction was granted on the grounds that RealDVD, despite being one of the only commercial DVD-ripping software packages that respected copyright through use and copy restrictions, technically violated the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
I haven't blogged about this in a dog's age, but when I realized that Real DVD had lost in court to the movie industry, I had to post something.
. . . Sure enough, as anyone could have predicted, Judge Patel ruled against Real DVD and by extension, against fair use, freedom of information and ultimately against the interest of the very media companies she ruled in favor of. When 90% of U.S. consumers believe they should be able to make backup copies of the DVDs they purchase, its a futile battle to try to prevent them from doing so.
And just as with Napster, whose centralized servers potentially gave the music industry greater control of how music was distributed online, Judge Patel has ruled illegal a product made by a legitimate company that offers STRONGER copy protection than that used on DVDs.
See also: MyDD :: Stupid Laws Written by Lobbyists Do Long Term Damage
August 24, 2009
This is an awesome site: Newstalgia.
This is old clips, sound and video. Things like 1947 Claude Pepper on Meet the Press or Pink Floyd in 1967.
August 23, 2009
I think that the recession is probably ending. This is a technical term, and people will not feel a change. But the "cliff diving" has ended. We have probably hit a "bottom."
This is due to a few things. First, you can't fall forever at such a fast rate. Second, you can only fall so far. Third, there are still millions upon millions of people with jobs who have to eat, buy some clothes, use phones, etc.
And, finally, the "stimulus" is starting to work, making up for a lot of the lost demand in the economy.
What next? Well that depends on a lot of things. There is no reason to think things will start getting better. And things will probably not get worse until the stimulus ends. But the restructuring of the economy didn't happen, bank regulations didn't change, concentration of wealth to the top still is occurring, trade laws still sap our jobs, and Wall Street still dominates with their incentives to sell every factory in the country at fire sale prices.
My prediction is that we will coast along for a while, the Fed will try to inflate another bubble in something, and then after a while the collapse will start again, from where it left off.
August 22, 2009
The anxiety is expressed over health care, but the opening for the mistrust came from Obama's favoring of Wall Street.
“I go to church. I hear it at church. They’re just afraid. They don’t trust this administration,” Webb said.People don't know the difference between the bailouts and the stimulus. People don't know that it was the Bush administration that bailed out Wall Street. And people don't understand why the Obama administration allowed those bonuses.
Exactly why is tougher to pin down, but it often returns to the same litany, a mix of conservative and populist frustrations. Webb cited the stimulus before wondering in his next breath: “I don’t understand how a company can fail and then the head of that company gets a $3 or $4 million bonus.”
August 21, 2009
Has anyone been held accountable yet for the economic crash? Torture? Launching illegal war? Letting lobbyists write laws? Using terror alerts for politics? Other obvious violations of law?
Then I don't trust Obama either.
If Obama has the courage to restore the rule of law, talk to me then. And don't even me get started on his backing off the public option after the teabaggers started disrupting town halls. That just encourages the tactic, which is dangerous.
August 19, 2009
Can this be true? Go see Why is US Government Subsidizing Chinese PPIP ? | The Big Picture
I'd really like to see actual recovery begin before everyone starts talking about "the recovery," please.
Last week Harold Meyerson wrote a great column in the Washington Post, Just One Word: Factories, promoting American manufacturing. Meyerson wrote,
“Since 1987, manufacturing as a share of our gross domestic product has declined 30 percent. Once the world's leading net exporter, we have become the world's leading net importer. In 2007, we exported $1.2 trillion worth of goods and services but imported $1.8 trillion. If there were a debtor's prison for nations, we'd all be in the clink.
[. . .] What makes the decline of American manufacturing particularly galling is that we're not falling behind because we're inefficient: American factories are among the most productive on the planet, as McCormack notes. But alone among the world's industrial powers, we have left the task of enticing manufacturers not to the federal government but to state and local governments, which try to attract factories and research facilities with tax abatements and public investments that are dwarfed by the efforts of national governments in other lands. …
It's not just that the United States uniquely lacks an industrial policy. It's that the United States uniquely has an anti-industrial policy.”
This sounds good to me. If we are going to restore American economic power we need to promote American manufacturing.
So who comes out to blast Meyerson for his column promoting American manufacturing? Was it the European Manufacturers Association? Was it the China Manufacturers Association? Was it the Korean Manufactures Association? No, it was America’s own National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Yes, the American NAM, not the European, Chinese, Japanese or Korean NAM, but the American NAM. They say American manufacturing is in fine shape and doesn't need any help from the government to keep it strong.
Why is the NAM blasting Meyerson for writing a column promoting American manufacturing? A clue might be the source of the anti-American-manufacturing information they use. They quote Daniel J. Ikenson of the Cato Institute. Cato is an anti-government “libertarian” think tank that supports “free trade” and is against any kind of regulation of business, including any restrictions on imports. This could be because Cato receives a great deal of financial support from non-manufacturing interests including commodities and securities traders, tobacco companies, communications companies, software companies and oil companies. They also receive support from non-American manufacturing interests, including the Korea International Trade Association.
What I want to know is: Why is America’s National Association of Manufacturers echoing the Cato Institute’s views against American manufacturing? Has this organization lost its way? Does the NAM membership know about this?
August 18, 2009
Trade is not complicated. Trade is just an exchange of goods. You trade something for something. I buy something from you, and in exchange you buy something from me. It is simple. It is a win-win bargain because we both end up with something we needed. The wealth of each of us is increased.
In modern times we use money as an intermediary instead of making a direct and immediate trade of one good for another. You have the money I used to buy from you, and you can use it to buy from me in the future. Of course, we both have to agree on what to use as money and its value for exchanges, but once we do our transactions proceed smoothly.
Trade between countries works the same way: we buy tings made in Factorystan and Factorystan gets richer, then the Factorystanis buy from us and we get richer. Both of us have things we didn’t have before.
Add in additional countries and the equations become more complicated. But it comes back to the same principle. Goods are exchanged. Each side benefits.
So obviously the more goods a country makes or grows, the stronger its position in this global system.
Just as the intermediary of money enable individuals to trade more easily, it introduces ways for international transactions to proceed. We agree on the value of the money using “exchange rates.” This allows a balancing mechanism. As countries accumulate an excess of the money without exchanging it for goods made elsewhere the exchange rates fluctuate according to the rules of supply and demand, making their goods more expensive to others. Therefore goods made in the other countries become less expensive and the exchange flows should come into balance.
In free markets things come back into balance. But this natural balancing is not occurring today. China has been building up their economic power for some time. China should be the economic powerhouse now. According to the rules of currency and balance its currency should be extremely strong. Its products should be the most expensive on the planet. Its people should be rich, enjoying the consumption of things made elsewhere. This should be providing strong incentives to open factories in our own country.
This is not what is happening. Instead China’s currency is not strong, so the prices for their goods continue to undercut everyone else’s. China is manipulating the exchange rate so that its currency stays low. This keeps the price of its goods low, and keeps the business flowing to its factories. They are not buying from us. In fact they are even requiring that internally they buy Chinese.
This is occurring under the current rules described as “free trade.” Of course this is not free trade. It is manipulated and enables China to capture much of the world’s manufacturing. China is rising up and seizing the world’s means of production.
China is just being smart. The problem is that we are not responding and protecting our own interests. Our country’s leadership appears to be hamstrung, unable or unwilling to challenge this and develop a long-term economic and manufacturing plan. Part of the reason for this is that a wealthy Wall Street few profits from this in the short term, as we bleed away our country’s long-term interests. Our country’s decision-making processes appear to be under the control of that wealthy Wall Street few. And they are selling China the rope with which it is hanging us.
Theorists tell us that eventually economic forces should force a rebalancing of China’s currency and a shift in the world economic order. But there are a number of problems with sitting back and waiting for this to occur. It could take decades, and things could get (and may already be) so far out of whack that any rebalancing will be “disorderly,” meaning another – and worse – chaotic economic crash. And there is no guarantee that a rebalancing will ever occur. As China increases its economic power it increases its ability to bend the rules in its favor. The lesson learned so far is that manipulating the rules is highly profitable and brings few, if any, consequences.
Even if a rebalancing does eventually occur there is no guarantee that it will help us. When a factory closes we lose more than the jobs. We lose the know-how – the intellectual infrastructure that supports modern technological processes. We lose the supply chain. We lose the customer base. We lose the economic power that could enable us to rebuild. We lose more of our manufacturing capacity every day this situation is allowed to continue.
Our country’s leadership must engage and develop policies to fight this and restore our economic power. We need an economic plan. We need a manufacturing plan. We need an accountability plan, holding Wall Street and China accountable, making them follow the rules. We need to know that our leadership is on our side and is fighting for us.
Trade is a two-way street and it is time that the goods flow in both directions. "Free" trade is not "free" if only one side plays by the rules.
Barack Obama is throwing his entire base under the bus in a vain attempt to try to get Republicans to like him, to work with him, to help him succeed. He does not understand that it is the role of today's Republican Party to pummel Democrats into submission. In throwing the public option overboard, Obama has shown himself to the Republicans as a wuss -- and they are going to treat him like one.
[. . .] And the one thing I will tell the Obama Administration is that there are a lot of us out here who worked hard to put them in office. And if they fuck with us we will not hesitate to work to get them out of there and put in someone who understands that when the American people hand you a vote of confidence like the one Barack Obama and the Democrats were given, you do not respond by asking Republicans to please kick you again.
August 17, 2009
It seems the insurance lobby might be able to use the health care crisis to get a law passed ordering us all to buy insurance from their member companies. This is what "mandates" with no "public option" means. This is why the corporate battle against a public option has been so loud -- it is worth a trillion-dollar payday to insurance-company CEOs.
The financial industry lobby was certainly able to use the financial crisis to get us to hand over cash. and they certainly got their bonuses!
The corn lobby has been pretty smart. The government subsidizes big agriculture companies.
Don't even get me started on the big defense-company lobby!!
I guess GM wasn't smart enough to get the government to order us to buy cars.
Maybe the ailing computer industry should learn from this, and see if they can get a law passed ordering us all to buy new computers every year. The "Y2K" crisis is over but maybe they can seize on the next crisis...
It's really important that we all be able to get calls and emails, so maybe the telecom lobby should see if they can get a law passed mandating us to subscribe to ATTs data plan.
Any other ideas of things that big corporate lobbyists can get the government to order us to buy?
In Pittsburgh I passed a big sign at a construction project. It says "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act." Fine - whatever that is.
Fine, but what I want to know is where is the stimulus money?
The health care debate is bringing America's division out into the open: Is America going to work for the benefit of its people or for the few who benefit from concentrated ownership of large corporations? Who is our economy FOR, anyway?
The argument over health care comes down to a clear choice: will the government provide a public choice that offers good health coverage to citizens for a low cost, or instead leave only a private system where the government promotes and subsidizes insurance companies (and their CEOs)?
The "public option" is an attempt to offer a choice between private insurance that is about maximizing profit for a few and a system designed to maximize benefits for the many. That is the difference between private companies and government. Government is We, the People banding together to empower and protect each other. Private companies are about systems that get money from people and try to deliver back as little as possible in return. The private system can work very well to incentivize innovation in consumer and other products. But health care delivery is not a "product" it is a human need and profit has no place in a health care delivery system.
Think about it, the perfected private company just taps into everyone's bank accounts and puts the money into the company's coffers, and that's it. Nothing has to be delivered in return. This is not unlike what AOL's business model became -- they just kept sucking out of your account long after you started trying to cancel the service!
Many health insurance companies apparently try to operate like this. You pay and pay, and then when you need the insurance to cover your medical expenses they find ways to get out of providing the service you had been paying for.
But government is We, the People taking care of each other. In a democracy everyone should have equal access to essential services. It must be delivered by the entity concerned with maximizing benefits to the people and that is government. The public option is essential.
August 14, 2009
I had the opportunity to tour a steel plant outside of Pittsburgh yesterday. (I am here for the Netroots Nation convention.)
The word that keeps coming into my mind is "intense."
I experienced intense heat, intense colors in the molten steel, and intense faces on the workers. We wore protective clothing, boots, earplugs, gloves and protective eyeware. Safety is a prime concern because without careful attention to detail this can be a very dangerous undertaking. The workers in these plants depend on safety procedures and each other to a degree that you do not find in many other occupations.
One of the notable things about this tour was the security. It was intense. I won't get into some of the details, but plants like these are considered to be very important to the Department of Homeland Security and special precautions are taken. You need special permission to even enter the grounds. ID is carefully checked. We not only couldn't even take pictures of the facilities but they will confiscate a cell phone if they see it out of your pocket. (You can have it back later.)
Let that sink in: Manufacturing plants like these are considered vitally important to the security of the United States and are assigned special protection.
Unfortunately our own government does not feel the need to protect plants like this beyond the vague post-9/11 threat of "terrorism." They check your ID at the gate, but they aren't concerned with making sure plants like this one stay in the United States. The two blast furnaces at this plant are the last two operating in the whole state of Pennsylvania. There used to be a dozen just at this plant. Nationally the decline is similar. We all know this but we do not seem to be capable of doing something about it.
This decline is not the "buggy-whip" phenomenon where an industry is being replaced or is evolving. Quite the opposite. Steel is the core component of the bridges, buildings, appliances, cars, etc. that we build. But now much of that steel comes from other countries. And much of it is inferior quality or produced in ways that harm the planet. This plant produces 1/3 the carbon emissions of similar plants in China. And then there is the carbon-emitting shipment across oceans to consider. But harming the planet is apparently someone else's long-term problem when money is to be made today.
The problem is not even labor costs. Labor is not a large component of our steel costs. The cost of raw materials is a larger part of the lower cost of imported steel. When you hear about hundreds of people trapped in mines in other countries you are hearing about lower cost of raw materials. Lives can be cheap and it is someone else's problem when money is to be made.
We have stood by and allowed other countries take over industries like this one by pursuing national strategies to build their economies at the expense of our own, or their own workers and of the environment. When competition is allowed to occur by continually moving the work to cheaper and less protective (of both lives and the environment) regions the result has to be a continued downward spiral of living standards. This is not sustainable and we are all living the results of this constant downward pressure.
Manufacturing is the key to economic power. Yet we worry about some fanatics in a cave somewhere, but we don't seem to worry about losing the steel plants and other industries and the jobs and the economic benefits to us and the world. This practice of checking ID at the gate but standing back and letting the plant itself close because another country allows worker or environmental exploitation is beyond short-sighted. It is self-destructive.
August 11, 2009
The old "Seeing the Forest Rule" is "When right-wingers are accusing others of something it is usually a cover for something THEY are doing." It is also very Carl Rovian, using the Sun Tzu tactic of attacking the enemy's greatest strength in ways that turn it into a weakness.
So if you look at health care reform, one of the biggest complaints people have -- and therefore one of reform's biggest strengths -- is that the insurance companies deny coverage if treatment is expensive: if the treatment might get in the way of the CEO's bonus the patient can just die.
So guess what, now they are saying that health care reform means that if treatment is expensive you can just die. This is the basis of the "Death Panel" myth.
I hope people can figure out what is happening here.
Campaign for America’s Future has released a report, Pittsburgh —The Rest of the Story (pdf file, 12 pages). This report tells the story of "Pittsburgh's transition from the old to the new."
But a lot more has been happening in Pittsburgh so there’s a good story to tell.
Pittsburgh, known as "Steel City," was a center of the “rust belt” – so-called because so much of our manufacturing, once America’s economic powerhouse, has been “outsourced.” This is the process where the contents of the factories are packed up and sent to another country to make the same things that were made here, using the same raw materials, and shipping the same items back here to sell. For propaganda reasons that is called “trade,” even though it isn’t trade it’s really just paying off politicians to let them externalize costs onto the local communities and pocket the profits. (Our laws even let the companies pay lower taxes at the very time they are transferring so many costs onto the rest of us.)
At the same time, competitors arrive from countries that understand that manufacturing is the key to economic power. They have national policies to build their own manufacturing base. So the might subsidize their industries, or hold the value of their currencies low, or exploit their workers or the environment, giving their companies a pricing advantage. Or, they might just "dump" products into our market
The result is closed factories, eyesores rusting in the sun and rain, taking up local space. Hence the name, “rust belt.”
Pittsburgh has been working to do something about the rust-best phenomenon. From the report,
In the 1990s, the city reinvented itself. The story often told is one of transition from heavy industry to a new post-industrial age, with a high-end service economy built around health care and higher education. Grant-funded research led to entrepreneurial opportunity in software and biotechnology. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center replaced U.S. Steel as the region’s largest employer. Pittsburgh built the world’s first Gold LEED-certified convention center. Once a giant consumer of dirty energy, Pittsburgh positioned itself for leadership in the new energy economy.
The good news is true enough, although many problems are far from solved. But it is only half of the story. Behind the good news are two unseen parts of the story.
I'm not going to tell the story here. Instead you have to read it for yourself. It's a good read.
August 10, 2009
Here is a clip from Fox, promoting the story that kids in wheelchairs will be put to death by Obama's health care plan, with an additional incitement that Pelosi is sending thugs to visit people at night to threaten them. "The elderly will be discarded" etc...
Watch all the way to the end. There is no question they are trying to rile people up to an extreme degree and incite violence now.
I haven't heard very many voices, prominently featured, explaining to the general public what the bill really does. President Obama is out there laying out general principles, and then there are a million conservative voices saying all kinds of stuff. Maybe because there isn't a bill yet.
So you can't really blame some people for coming to some of these conclusions. You and I say it sounds ridiculous to say these things but to a lot of people who don't really understand a lot about how things really work, when all they hear is one side of the story they're going to go with the only thing they hear.
The only thing that really matters - gets through to millions and millions - is what is on TV and radio. Sure, in a democracy it is the job if the news media to inform the voters. But in the 1980s our broadcast news media was released from the obligation to serve the public interest and they immediately stopped serving the public interest. Pro-government legislators seem to have just given up on fixing that. Go figure.
When the opposition is able to define you before you do, then you have lost the battle. The pubic is going to figure that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes they hear. And those are that on the one side the government is going to set up death panels to decide who gets to live, and on the other side the government is going to take over the entire system and ration care. So it must be somewhere between those.
August 9, 2009
This is how stupid they think people are:
Grandmas and Unborn Babies Face Extermination by Obama's "Health" Care Plan
Investors Business Daily has just exposed the Achilles' heel of Obamacare, that hostile, socialist government takeover of your hospital, doctors, children, and grandparents. In an editorial entitled, "How House Bill Runs Over Grandma," the editors report how President Obama was personally confronted by a North Carolina woman asking if "everyone that's Medicare age will be visited and told they have to decide how they wish to die."
In response Obama joked that he hadn't yet hired enough bureaucrats to conduct such an operation, yet he could not deny the New York Post's discovery the House bill "compels seniors to submit to a counseling session every five years (and more often if they become sick or go into a nursing home) about alternatives for end-of-life care" (pages 425-430). In other words, your grandmother will be told, when insufficient resources are rationed to young people, that her duty to die begins with mandatory "end-of-life counseling," or as Obama explained, "encourage the use of living wills" that terminate otherwise salvageable lives prematurely through signed "do not resuscitate" (DNR) legal releases.
1) EUTHANASIA is the first result of Obama's socialist government "health" care plan.
Bankrupt state can't afford to pay for grandma's hip replacement? Obama's plan sends her a lawyer to make her sign a DNR, explaining her hastened duty to die, and obtaining her signature legally absolving him of all guilt. Euthanasia begins where capitalism ends.
... Widely respected Minister Rick Joyner wrote this week, after reviewing Mat Staver's analysis of H.R. 3200 "Health" care bill, voicing his strong opinion that this bill "is about euthanasia, the power to determine who lives or dies in America. Hitler and Stalin would have loved to have had a means such as this for dispatching the millions they killed-it would have made their job much easier, and probably given them the ability to kill many more than they did. THIS BILL IS THAT SINISTER. This is not a joke."
. . . 3) Obama will REMOVE Christian prayers and symbols from Government-run hospitals
The hostile socialist government takeover of Catholic or Christian hospitals will eventually result in atheistic silencing of religious expression (and removing all Christian symbols) from the very place where faith in God is critical to sick and dying patients. For example, look at the Veterans Hospitals, already government-run, who are busy removing crosses and Christian symbols from their chapels (like in Iowa), because easily-offended atheist complainers have successfully intimidated hospital administrators with threats of lawsuit, by demanding separation of church and state. Just imagine more atheist lawsuits, when all Catholic and Christian hospitals are seized in the same way Obama took control of General Motors, inviting easily-offended atheist complainers to demand we change the name of the hospital from "St. Luke's Memorial" to the "Obama Government" hospital, falsely claiming tax-dollars cannot subsidize religion. But if St. Luke's refuses government subsidies, they will be drummed out of business, and Christian doctors' licenses revoked.
August 8, 2009
The mystery is solved: Barack Obama murdered Vince Foster.
It should have been obvious all along. Of course Hillary could not have murdered Vince Foster in a secret "love nest" apartment. She had her agent Barack Obama do it for her. And Barack Obama put Vince Foster's body into the trunk of a car and drove it to the park where it was "found".
Barack Obama was also secretly smuggling cocaine from an airstrip in Arkansas. He held up traffic at the LA Airport while he got a $500 haircut. He fired the people in the Travel Office so he could give the job to a cousin. He sold plots in Arlington National Cemetery. He accepted secret money from China and transferred out nuclear secrets to the Chinese government.
Barack Obama betrayed us at Yalta.
Now Barack Hussein Obama is setting up Death Panels. This is the whole purpose, the culmination of the plan, the final chapter of health insurance reform, of killing Vince Foster, of smuggling cocaine and selling cemetery plots and taking over the travel office and selling nuclear secrets to China and engaging in the Whitewater scheme and shredding the Rose Law Firm files and crossing the border during the Korean War, and putting the microfilm in the pumpkin: It was, along with George Soros the Jew and other Hell-Demons, to finance the takeover so he could finally set up Death Panels across the country where the true American Patriots will be tried and summarily executed so that the Socialist Elders of the demon-gogs could ARISE and control our minds and sell our ports, and sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids, and put Big Government Labor Bosses over the Silent Majority when he hypnotized the weak from his Pergamon Altar Nazi Pulpit Greek columns in Denver! It is OBVIOS!
Barack Obama has a lot to answer for.
Bush took over the banks, therefore Obama is a socialist. Do I have it right?
Sarah Palin, Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, former Governor of Alaska, says that President Obama is planning "death panels" that will decide on euthanizing the elderly and people with Downs Syndrome because they might not be "productive."
And people believe this stuff! They get scared.
The people who SAY this stuff say it for money. They are paid by big corporations that make huge profits from the way things are, and want to keep it that way. The huge corporations that run the major news outlets let it continue.
Many of us are seeing clearly how this system now works. It really is about a wealthy few, doing whatever it takes to stay in control.
August 7, 2009
Behind the "good" news:
* Nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline in July (-247,000)
* The unemployment rate was little changed at 9.4 percent (because 400,000 more people gave up looking for work)
* In July, the number of unemployed persons was 14.5 million.
* The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose by 584,000 over the month to 5.0 million.
* The civilian labor force participation rate declined by 0.2 percentage point in July to 65.5 percent. The employment-population ratio, at 59.4 percent, was little changed over the month but has declined by 3.3 percentage points since the recession began in December 2007.
* The number of persons working part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed in July at 8.8 million.
* About 2.3 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in July, 709,000 more than a year earlier. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.
* U-6 Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.. 16.3%
August 6, 2009
Sara Robinson says the marriage of the Republican Party with the birthers, teabaggers and town hall disruptors is a very, very dangerous sign for our country.
This is a must-read!
Quick question - are we seeing demand or anticipation of demand?
I am hearing the it is mostly speculators buying up the foreclosures, because they think they "see a bottom." So they are anticipating that regular people will start buying again and "things will get back to normal." And by normal they mean housing bubble, where you get rich buying real estate and sitting on it a few years.
This is anticipation of demand, not demand. It's also why you see a "dead cat bounce" when prices drop in any bubble. People are used to the bubble, and when prices drop they think things will "get back to normal" and start up again.
I wrote about this psychology in April, in Today's Housing Bubble Post -- A New Wave Of Foreclosures and Price Drops Coming,
A story:It seemed cheap at $12 but too expensive when it got down to $0.50. Think about the psychology of that. 'Cause we all know how well the speculators have been doing, right?
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.
By the way, prices have only gone down since I wrote that in April.
So, is there any reason to believe that regular people will start buying up real estate again, and prices will start back up?
Go read: Jobs with Justice Blog
A 550K New Jobless weekly report is good news when it is lower than it has been. In normal times, though, a 550K report would be described as falling over a cliff.
The 2001 recession PEAKED at under 500K new unemployed a week.
When things are going wrong it is often good practice to go back and review the basics, and start again. In baseball you go back to batting and fielding practice. To master a musical instrument you practice your scales every day.
Things have gone wrong with our economy. So let’s go back to some basics and see if we can figure out where we went wrong. Let’s start with the most basic of basics in an economy: wealth comes from making things that you can trade with others.
It is a simple concept worth repeating: if you make something you can trade it for things other people make. As you make things and trade them you build wealth. In an economy making and trading things creates good jobs and brings to the people income and goods they need.
So obviously manufacturing is the key to a healthy economy. Trade means fairly trading the things you manufacture for things that others manufacture. And it is a simple jump from there to understanding that if you don’t make things you have to borrow to be able to pay for things other people make, or you go without. You can borrow and borrow – until you can’t.
Everything else in the economy flows from the manufacturing. When it comes down to it you can't have a healthy service sector unless you are manufacturing items to sell and trade because you can't pay for the restaurant bill or insurance or hotel room or lawyer or even the doctor if you don't make something to sell and trade. And mostly you can't keep buying the things made elsewhere. You can only borrow for so long.
But somehow as country we have lost sight of this most basic idea. Instead of maintaining and promoting manufacturing we say it isn’t important anymore. We say that we have instead transitioned to a “post-industrial” service economy and/or a knowledge / information economy. (What does that even mean -- instead of making and trading, we serve and think? And borrow I guess.)
I read an important post about this yesterday, It's All About Jobs! by Leo Hindery, Jr., Leo W. Gerard and Sen. Don Riegle – a CEO, a labor leader, and a former Senator. They come to us from these different sectors of society to warn us that giving up our manufacturing has meant giving up our jobs. They wrote,
“Importantly, we need to be just as worried about the fact that our economy has mostly hemorrhaged jobs in the very sector -- manufacturing -- that must grow in order for us to move permanently away from debt-financed consumption as the principal engine of economic growth. And it is the current and now decades-long persistent manufacturing jobs collapse that unites the three of us as friends and as colleagues, despite coming from very different backgrounds.”
And how do they feel our country’s “transition” away from a manufacturing economy is working out for us?
“Just since this recession began, manufacturing has lost 13% of its workforce; manufacturing industries now represent a meager 11.7% of GDP; people working in manufacturing now account for only 8.7% of the jobs in the country; a quarter of the nation's 282,000 remaining manufacturing companies -- 90,000 in all -- are now deemed severely "at risk"; and we have run an average annual trade deficit in manufactured goods of more than $500 billion over the past five years.”
What do they say we need to do about this?
“Congress and the Administration, working together, need to immediately enact a robust industrial policy that puts American workers first and is comparable to the policies of our major trading partners. And then we need to integrate this policy with efforts to be the world's dominant manufacturer of green technologies and components, which offer us such enormous opportunities.”
So again back to basics: Trade requires giving and getting. And you can’t trade FOR things without having things TO trade. Which means that you have to have manufacturing. The more you have manufacturing, the stronger your economy. Pretty basic, no?
As I said above, it is a basic that if you don’t make things to trade you can, for a while, borrow to buy the things that others make. And for some time, since we started this transition to the “post-industrial” economy we all have been borrowing to buy the things we need. Individual, business and government debt started increasing rapidly at the same time as people started believing that we were undergoing such a transition. Our trade deficit has shot up through the roof, and now we collectively now owe a tremendous, massive debt to others.
But guess what? When you have a lot of debt, someone is making a lot of money. In The Quiet Coup, Simon Johnson writes,
From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent.
Paul Krugman has noted a similar trend,
On the eve of the current crisis, finance and insurance accounted for 8 percent of G.D.P., more than twice their share in the 1960s. By early last year, the Dow contained five financial companies — giants like A.I.G., Citigroup and Bank of America.
Ethan Porter, reviewing Kevin Phillips' book, Bad Money, drives the point home,
In 1950, manufacturing contributed 29.3 percent to the GDP, and financial services 10.9 percent. By 2003, the totals were almost reversed: manufacturing made a 12.7 percent contribution; financial services, 20.5 percent.
[. . .] All this is a fancy way of saying that we don’t make things anymore. We import most of our products from overseas.
So what they are saying is that what we have been doing, namely packing up our factories and sending them to the trading partner countries, isn’t “trade” it is something else. (The word “stupid” suggests itself.) And as a result of doing that we have a massive, massive “trade deficit.” We buy things but we don’t sell enough things because we don't make enough things anymore. And over time this means we get poorer and poorer. We borrow more and more, which drives up profits in the financial sector - while the borrowing continues. That can only go on so long.
So here is the question that we face: what are we going to do about it? And by we, I mean We,the People. So what’s the plan? What is our plan, our strategy, our policy for rebuilding and maintaining our manufacturing base? We obviously have a national financial strategy (a strategy that involves even more borrowing to execute) but none for getting back to the basics of creating wealth by manufacturing things.
Having a national policy for manufacturing is about as basic as it gets. China does. India does. Japan does. Russia does. France does. Germany does. Et Ceterastan does.
What is America’s manufacturing policy? What is our strategy? What is our plan?
August 5, 2009
This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
How do you reconcile a conservative philosophy that says government is bad and taxes should be cut, and at the same time advocates policies that put lots and lots of people in jail for all kinds of things? Well, you can't.
The original idea for California's Three Strikes law was sound: most violence is committed by a very few people and if you can identify and imprison those people, you can make the rest of us much, much safer. But the conservatives managed to turn this sound idea into an initiative that invites prosecutors to decide to prosecute people under this law for any serious crime, violent or not, and technical or not, as long as they have two priors. So people who, for example, committed a crime as a child, then "copped a plea" to avoid risking a serious conviction thirty years prior, can now be sent to prison for life.
As a result, today California has more than 170,000 people in prisons designed to hold about half as many. One out of every five prisoners in California is serving a life sentence. In California defendants have received, for example, a life sentence for stealing a piece of pizza, a life sentence for stealing three tracksuits, a life sentence for stealing a 50-cent pack of doughnuts, a life sentence for possessing .03 grams of drugs, a life sentence for stalking and a life sentence for stealing golf clubs. But when you put so many people in prisons that have their budgets cut year after year what you can't get is sufficient medical care or sufficient living space.
So a federal court has taken a look at California's policies of putting more and more people into jail for longer and longer sentences for more and more things, while at the same time cutting budgets for medical care. The court found that this constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment. From the article,
"California's prison system is operating at 190 percent of its design capacity of 79,828 inmates, and the judges said the state must devise an inmate reduction plan within 45 days, after which a remedial order will be issued.At Calitics David Dayen writes,
. . . "The convergence of tough-on-crime policies and an unwillingness to expend the necessary funds to support the population growth has brought California's prisons to the breaking point," the judges said."
This is a policy failure driven by a political failure, a cowardly series of actions that arises from a broken system of government. ... politicians have played on people's fears for 30 years and, faced with the tragedy they created, delayed and procrastinated until it became so torturous that the courts had to step in. From the three-strikes law to the 1,000 sentencing laws passed by the Legislature, all increasing sentences, nobody comes out looking good in this failure of leadership.Given the fiscal mess our state is in now is the time for appropriate reform of all institutions. Let's make it right, let's make it work and let's make it just. That is a progressive approach.
August 4, 2009
Here is the teabagger list of upcoming town halls to disrupt. Tea Party Patriots | Town Hall Events August 2009 - September 2009
Show up. Don't let them win through intimidation.
Can one be called “protectionist” just for pointing out when other countries are being smart? Maybe so. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first…
Language has tremendous power. People like George Lakoff and Drew Westin, who study the use of language in political discussion, say that our choice of words has the power to actually affect the “wiring” or neuron circuits that our brains use to think.
The corporate marketers and political persuaders have certainly learned the power of language to influence us. It has even gotten to the point where “neuromarketing” uses MRI and EEG to study how our brains react to certain stimuli so they can be used to market and persuade.
In politics I think that we have even reached a point where we give words more power and importance even than the ideas the words represent. In the Bush years we learned that the persuaders believed they could “create their own reality.”
"That's not the way the world really works anymore," he [Bush administration official] continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
The influencers have become adept at scaring up the public into stampedes that can have sudden and dramatic effects on politicians. So lawmakers have gotten into the habit of basing their decisions on what they think (fear) the public believes (according to what Drudge and Fox are claiming they believe) rather than what is the best policy. And in fact, it is often the case that the public was behind the right policy all along. (Like with a health care public option -- the manipulators had the politicians convinced it was "centrist" to oppose that.) Consequently, words are used as weapons by professionals who wish to distract us from things that are in front of our own faces.
I was conscious of this the other day in the post, How Should We Talk About Industrial And Manufacturing Policy? I wrote,
“The phrase “industrial policy” sounds so Walter Mondale, 1970s, smokestacks and brick factory old-fashioned. I suspect the subject turns people off, eyes glaze over, hands reach under the table for iPhones and Blackberries…”
Making things in America is crucially important to our future economy. But today as we join the discussion of how to restore America’s economy the manipulators have been busy, so it matters as much that we use the right words as that we explore the right ideas and policies.
The Words “Protectionism” and “Trade”
Two words that have significant power today are “protectionism” and “trade.” In current usage anything that can be labeled as “trade” in any way shape or form is in all cases considered by most to be a good thing. And anything that can be labeled as “protectionism” in any way shape or form is in all cased a bad thing. Simple as that. If you want to engage in some practice that people might oppose you try to label it as “trade” to shut down discussion. It you want to block a policy that people might favor you try to label it as “protectionism” to shut down discussion.
I am thinking about this because of the post, American Protectionism Is A Myth, by Leo Gerard and Scott Paul. They wrote about the “shrill warnings against protectionist measures have been issued by editorial pages and foreign officials.”
But what is this “protectionism?” They write,
“This is the untold story of protectionism: the barriers that other governments erect to block American goods and the mercantilist measures they utilize to gain market share in the U.S. These practices range from China's currency misalignment and massive industrial subsidies to non-tariff barriers in Korea and Japan. All these impediments have been well documented by U.S. trade officials, but the mere act of identifying these practices is now viewed as protectionism, even though taking action to eliminate them would expand world trade, reduce global imbalances and preserve the free market.”
Yes, just talking about what other countries are doing to protect and promote their own manufacturing can be labeled as being “protectionist.” This is because once these practices are pointed out the natural next thought is that America should be just as smart about encouraging our own domestic manufacturing.
The op-ed, Falling Behind On Green Tech, by John Doerr and Jeff Immelt in yesterday’s Washington Post, reflects this fear of being branded with the word “protectionism.” They write,
“. . . Do we want to win the race to lead the next great global industry, clean energy? That is the choice before us.
We are clearly not in the lead today. That position is held by China, which understands the importance of controlling its energy future. China's commitment to developing clean energy technologies and markets is breathtaking.
[. . .] How can we catch up? Not through protectionism or massive government intervention but through the power of good old home-grown innovation.”
This statement is an example of how people react to the fear of the negative associations that the manipulators have placed on the word “protectionism.” (They also show a bit of fear of being branded with the word “government.”) They try to escape from any such notion by using the “good” words, “home-grown innovation.” But of course you can’t have “home grown” without protecting your home, which involves government. And you aren’t going to have innovation without the protection and enabling that government brings through schools to educate the innovators and courts to protect their intellectual property. But never mind, that's another post.
So it is “protectionist” to say that other countries have smart planning policies that are increasing their wealth because it naturally makes people realize that we ought to do the same.
For example, if I tell you that China requires that 70% of the content of wind turbines used in China be manufactured in China, where does that take your thinking about our own country’s efforts to stimulate green manufacturing jobs? It is inevitable that your thinking turns to, “then why don’t we do that?” And there you inevitably are: protectionism.
Or if I tell you that GE won't buy wind turbines from American companies, even at the same prices, it is inevitable that your thinking turns to, “why don’t we do something about that?” And there you inevitably are: protectionism.
You see, being smart and supporting our own country’s manufacturing is labeled “protectionist,” which is bad. China is smart to do this but we are “protectionist” if we suggest we should, too.
It can even be called “protectionist” just to point out that a country’s wealth comes from making things. Because making things here inevitably brings the thinking back to having the government protect our jobs. If we say we should make things here we are undercutting the profits to be made by using exploited labor there.
“Trade” is another word that the manipulators have managed to take control of. “Free trade” is now hardwired as the ultimate good. :Free trade" is trade involving no interference from government. (“Government” is another word that has “bad” attachments.) So I guess “free trade” means no police protection from thieves at the ports, no courts to enforce the purchase agreements, no protection of the ships that carry the traded goods or rules for the sea lanes they follow, no roads for trucks to carry the goods from the ports… (I can’t figure this anti-government stuff out, really. But that’s another post.)
The reason I bring up if because misuse of the word “trade” is something I keep coming back to. When a company closes a factory here and opens it in a country where workers are exploited with low wages, or the environment is not protected, making the same thing, using the same machines, and the same raw materials, and selling it in the same stores, how is that “trade?” That isn’t trade, that is closing a factory here and moving it there so you can take advantage of exploited workers or dump toxins into the environment.
But by attaching the word “trade” to a scam like this, they get away with it, because “trade” is considered to be good. You can't be against "trade," so you can't be against using exploited workers to make the same stuff you were already making here. And you certainly can't call for protecting our jobs from being undercut by the use of workers who are exploited and have no recourse. That would be "protectionism." And that is bad.
The result of this obstruction-by-words is that debt increases as we make less with which to trade, our jobs are sent elsewhere, workers elsewhere are exploited, our government is weakened and we get poorer and poorer.
So as we try to work out new policies that will get our country past the current economic crisis and move toward a new economic paradigm where we all share the benefits of the country we have built, powerful words are in our way.
When we overcome the power of these words to brand us, and our fear of that, we can begin to be smart ourselves. When we cease being afraid of being branded as "protectionist" or "against trade" then we can be as smart as the countries with which we compete.
Just to let everyone know, here is ANOTHER credit card scam that is being played on people.
I got a Chase Visa card with United miles on it through United Airlines. I noticed a $39 late fee on my bill. But I had set up the auto-pay online, to pay every bill when it was due. They have no excuse, and they will not take the fee off - and there is no one you can complain to.
Check your bill for late fees. They put them on your bill whether you are late or not, and you can't do anything about it. I asked what I can do to complain about the fee and they gave me the phone number of the comptroller of the currency. In other words, "Too bad, So sad."
August 3, 2009
Government can work, and the “Cash for Clunkers” program proved it. So, naturally, conservatives have to hate on it.
The “Cash for Clunkers” turned out to be one of the most successful government programs in some time. It was so successful that a program that was meant to take until November achieved its goals in something like a week or two! Thousands of cars were sold, helping dealerships and car companies to move toward recovery. Thousands of gas guzzlers were scrapped, helping the country move toward improved energy efficiency.
Dealers reported that their showrooms were full and their sales way up. Ford reports that the program is helping them have a strong July.
Ford Motor Co has seen a sharp increase in sales over the past week since its dealers began accepting trade-ins under the U.S. government's "cash for clunkers" incentive program, the automaker's U.S. sales chief said on Thursday.
The only problem with the program was that so many people are taking advantage of it that the computer system got slowed down!
Yes, the program achieved its goals in record time. So the House has approved an additional $2 billion and the Senate should take it up this week. This means even more help to dealerships and manufacturers and even more fuel economy for the country!
What could be wrong with that?
Well if you are a conservative, plenty is wrong with that. First of all it makes government look good -- and conservatives just hate government. Government is those people who get in the way and tell companies they can't pour toxins into our rivers. Government is those people who show up and ask big companies to share what they make -- after building the roads and courts and schools that enabled them to do so well. That goes against everything conservatives stand for: dirty rivers, big corporations doing and taking anything they want for free, etc.
Mostly, though, a big success like this comes at exactly the wrong time for conservatives. Right now conservatives are fighting tooth and nail to keep We, the People from passing health care reform in a way that chooses better care and lower costs for the people over higher profits and CEO pay for insurance companies. So right now it is vitally important to discredit the idea that government can do things right.
So just as it starts to become clear that the government has a winner on its hands, we start to see reports in the conservative media -- Drudge Report, right-wing blogs, talk radio, FOX News, etc. -- that call the program a failure. In fact, many of these stories coincidentally seem to use almost the same wording! The lesson they all teach is this failure shows what will happen if we pass health care reform.
So draw your own lessons. Was a program that wildly overachieved its goals, stimulated the economy, improved the country's fuel efficiency and brought a great price for a new car to tens of thousands of Americas a success or not? I say it was, and I say it shows why we want a public option choice in the health care reform!
“We’re in a ‘trade-down’ environment for the first time since the 1930s.”
Instead of trading up, selling a house and using the proceeds as down payments on larger houses, people are trading down into smaller places.
But this was expected right about now, regardless of the housing bubble. The boomers are starting to retire, and need smaller houses. I have heard for decades that this will happen.
The other thing that happens now is they start selling stocks instead of buying them = also regardless of bubbles, etc. The great upward pressure on the market while the boomers invested for retirement (sadly, sold on stocks by Wall Street marketing) will from now be downward pressure as they sell to meet retirement expenses.
Everything at the worst possible time for regular people. Wall Streeters, however, are enjoying the largest bonuses ever. I wonder if there is a relationship?
The Drudge Report is hiliting (promoting) astroturf disruptions of townhall meetings with members of Congress, without letting readers know this is organized by insurance company lobbyists.
Saturday I wrote about the corporate lobbyist astroturf groups that are organizing "Tea Party" groups to disrupt town hall meetings between members of Congress and constituents. Their goal is to make it appear that there is widespread disapproval of the health care reform efforts.
It is called "astroturf" because it is not really grassroots, which is regular people organizing to get something done. It is corporate lobbyists manufacturing the appearance that the public wants something.
The instructions that the lobbyists are giving the astroturf are clearly to violently disrupt the meetings. They include:
"Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”These are quoted from the instructions given to the astroturf groups.
– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
Rep Doggett in Austin:
Sen. Spector, Pennsylvania:
August 2, 2009
I think the main reason we don't have significant public pressure for a "single-payer" option in the health care reform process is because supporters of "single-payer" insist on calling it "single-payer."
If they had branded it "Medicare-for-all" it would have been a no-brainer. It might have already passed, avoiding all this fighting and back-and-forth.
OK, listen. People love Medicare. They know what it is. They know it works. That is all you need to know. If you call what you want "Medicare-for-All" you can pass whatever you want to pass and people will support it.
But no one understands what "single-payer" means. Every single time you talk about it you have to start out explaining what you mean. From scratch. and then you have to explain, from scratch, why it is a good thing. From scratch. Every single time.
If you talk to regular people out there, mostly they have no idea what it means. But it sounds sort of scary. I have talked to people who, upon hearing the term, think it means that a single person will have to pay for all their own medical care. That is how far away from winning the argument you being when you use the words "single-payer" to describe what you want.
This is a classic problem, where policy wonks don't understand basic communications. In computers I referred to it as the "designed by Linux engineers syndrome." To this day I still encounter Linux-only fanatics who insist that the command line is so powerful that no one should ever use graphical interfaces...
I have written about this before and I received comments like "well, what we want isn't exactly Medicare. Medicare has its own problems, so..."
Give it a break. Compromise a little. Use language that regular people respond to.
Call it "Medicare For All"!
August 1, 2009
Did you read about the guy at Citigroup who is getting a $100 million bonus after Citigroup was bailed out with $45 billion of taxpayer money?
And did you read the Rolling Stone piece on Goldman Sachs, and how big Wall Street firms and their oil speculation were behind the huge runup in oil prices we saw last year.
Mr. Hall, the 58-year-old head of Phibro, a small commodities trading firm in Westport, Conn., is due for a nine-figure payday, his cut of profits from a characteristically aggressive year of bets in the oil market.
... Regulators are pushing to curb the role of traders like Mr. Hall, whose speculation in the energy markets may have played a major role in the recent gyrations of oil prices.
"Aggressive bets on the oil market. So the guy is one of the people responsible for US having to pay so much for gas. And the guy is going to get a $100 million bonus for doing that, from OUR money! And, of course, if his big bets had failed, taxpayer dollars would be bailing the company out. Oh, wait, we're bailing them out already because of other big bets that failed...
Your tax dollars at work. But the guy needs the money. He has a lifestyle to keep up. He has "his 7,300-square-foot Greek Revival mansion" and
A few years ago, he bought a medieval castle in Germany from the neo-expressionist painter Georg Baselitz, and he and his wife have turned the property, said to contain roughly 150 rooms, into a private museum for their collection.
“He has about 4,000 pieces in what could easily be described as one of the world’s finest collections of contemporary art,” said a New York dealer, Mary Boone. It includes pieces by Andy Warhol, David Salle, Bruce Nauman and Julian Schnabel.
By the way, if taxes at the top were back to 90% this guy would STILL get $10 million of his bonus.
"This week, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that in the second quarter of this year alone, the pharmaceuticals and health product industries spent $67,959,095 on lobbying, and the insurance industry $39,760,477. Another $25,552,088 was spent by lobbyists for hospitals and nursing homes. That's a total of $133,271,660 in just three months, and that's not even counting the lobbying money spent to fight health care reform by professional associations like the US Chamber of Commerce."
I would just love to have the Swiss bank account numbers of those Dems voting against health care reform. (Not to imply there is any bribery going on, of course. I asked that completely unrelated to the above discussion of how much money the big corporations are spending to blog health care reform.)
By the way, did you see the big jump in the stock prices of the related companies last week after it was announced that the "Blue Dog" Democrats had managed to delay (which means possibly kill) health care reform?
Corporate astroturf outfits are organizing violent "Tea Party" disruptions of Congressional Town Hall meetings this summer.
The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress:They are organizing people TO DISRUPT the meetings with members of Congress. This is beyond dangerous.
"Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”
– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
Interestingly the memo closely resembles talking points distributed by a different corporate astroturf group, Freedomworks.