Monday, October 31, 2011

A Deficiency of Judgment

Since the real estate bubble burst, millions of people have lost their homes to foreclosure. Putting people through foreclosure is bad enough, but for some banks that just isn't enough.

After Ben and Lori Jensen lost their home in Idaho to foreclosure, the bank sued them for $140,000. You would think that giving the house back to the bank should settle the score. After all, the bank agreed that the house was worth that much by issuing the loan. If the bank didn't think it was worth that much, it should have never issued the loan. Right? As long as the house is in the same condition that it was in when the buyer bought it, giving the bank the house should be the end of it. Right? The bank knew it was taking a risk when it gave the loan, that's why banks get interest. Right?

Except in most states foreclosure isn't the end of the story. Banks can sue you for the amount they lost if the sale price is less than the loan. This is called a deficiency judgment. After they get your house, the banks can garnishee your wages go after your other stuff.

In normal circumstances this would not be unreasonable. If someone buys a house, trashes it and skips out on the loan, the bank should have every right to go after them. But the real estate bubble was not normal. By issuing loans to just about everyone regardless of ability to pay, banks either intentionally or unintentionally inflated the price of housing. Many people, especially in Florida and Nevada, were the victims of house flippers who sold houses back and forth between straw buyers to jack up the value, and then sold it to a sucker at some crazy price.

There's no question that banks should have detected these kinds of scams, but they were too busy raking in closing fees and selling the loans to mortgage bundlers. If the banks had done their due diligence on the thousands of scams, the excess demand in the market would have been eliminated and prevented the bubble from getting so totally out of control. Reducing demand by even a few percent when an economic system is running at full capacity can stop inflation cold.

The question is, why are banks bothering to go after people who lost their homes? Most of these people don't have any money: that's why they lost their homes in the first place. Are the banks just getting their jollies by forcing these people into bankruptcy?

Nope, they're trying to turn their deficiency judgments into a profit center. According to Terri Pickens, a private practice attorney in Boise, lenders are selling deficiency claims. "I do know some private investors who are coming in and purchasing up bank loan packages and have been paying literally pennies on the dollar; just sitting on the paper, waiting for the right time to collect on it."

This can be as long as 20 years in some states. That means that if you've lost your house to foreclosure, some collection agency could jump out of the shadows in 10 or 15 years and grab your next house, or your car, or your child's college education fund.

But despite the scary sounding numbers, some people do manage to come to some kind of reasonable agreement:
In the Jensens' case, their attorney was able to work out a settlement. They turned over their savings and agreed to pay $75 each month for three years. They say it doesn't make sense to them that the bank went through so much effort to recover a total of about $8,000, prolonging the nightmare of their foreclosure.
That means the bank got less than 6% of the $140,000 they originally sued the Jensens for. But if you figure the amount of money they spent on lawyers and filing fees, it's hard to see how the bank could have broken even.

Which begs the question: how much would the bank would have gotten if they had renegotiated the loan with the Jensens instead of foreclosing?

At this point it seems pretty obvious that everyone -- banks, homeowners, the construction industry, and the economy in general -- would have been far better off if the banks had all just renegotiated all those loans down to reasonable values three years ago.

Yeah, everyone would have taken a minor hit, and some freeloaders would have gotten off. But now everyone is suffering. Oh, except for all those Wall Street bankers who are still pulling down those big bonuses for sticking it to the Jensens and the millions of other people just like them.

So why are people still arguing against Obama's mortgage refinance program, and why are banks stubbornly refusing to make deals with people who are stretched to the breaking point? Call it a deficiency of judgment.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these...

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Meet the 99 Percent (Part 1 of Many)

Now that the Occupy Wall Street is getting national attention and support from a substantial number of Americans, it's time for the douche bag propaganda machine to go to work. The 99 percenters are violent drug dealing fornicators bent on redistributing income and creating a socialist regime that will send us all to reeducation camps.

In reality, they are this.

Oliver Beinlich, 29 | Unemployed

"There are a lot of issues in this country that need to be addressed. This is one way of voicing our concerns - there are many interests represented here, but I think the overarching message here is that we want to get our country back from the overwhelming power that corporations have."

Far more than they should, Oliver.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Well, Now We Know

It's always been a mystery how Mitt Romney can be so popular when no one actually likes him. Well, now we know why. He's buying them all off, at least in New Hampshire:
In September 2010, Mitt Romney invited all of the Republican candidates for the New Hampshire Senate to lunch in a conference room in Concord. He thanked them for running for office, then gave each of them a $1,000 check made out to their campaigns. “He did it in a very personal manner. It wasn’t an impersonal, get-the-check-in-the-mail type of thing,” recalls Jim Rausch, one of the candidates. “I appreciated it.”
Will this make any difference to the voters? It's hard to say. But people generally like their own representatives, even when they hate legislatures and Congress in general. When they give Romney a personal endorsement paid for by Romney's contributions to their campaigns will it get their constituents to vote for Romney?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Most Excellent Quote

Conservatives always love to quote H.L. Mencken yet, given their penchant towards simplicity, I doubt they would like this one.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

No shit. I think the Democrats should use this in 2012 in simply (:)) describing the GOP platform.

Good News and Bad News

Today brings a mixed bag of news, good and bad.

The good news is that the economy grew at a rate of 2.5 percent in the third quarter. This quarter of growth marks the ninth straight quarter of growth since July of 2009 when the president's policies began to take serious effect. The main reason for this growth is consumer spending and confidence which may give us an indicator that things are getting better.

The other reason cited made me laugh out loud.

A measure of business investment plans rose in September for the second straight month and by the most in six months, according to a government report Wednesday on orders for longer-lasting manufactured goods.

Wait...what? I thought there was all this uncertainty. Ah well, folks who were saying this will probably admit they were wrong and just be happy, right? :)

I'm happy to be somewhat wrong about consumer spending. I say "somewhat" because my initial glee at seeing that consumer spending was up was tampered by this:

Economists believe that growth in consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, will be restrained until incomes start growing at healthier levels, which is unlikely until hiring picks up.

This brings us to the bad news. The CBO just released a report titled, "TRENDS IN THE DISTRIBUTION OF HOUSEHOLD INCOME BETWEEN 1979 AND 2007." It is yet another example of the detrimental inequality in this country. Here are some of the bullet points.
  • 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households,
  • 65 percent for the next 19 percent,
  • Just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and
  • 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.
275 percent? With 70 percent of this economy consumer spending, this is simply ridiculous.
  • The top fifth of the population saw a 10-percentage-point increase in their share of after-tax income.
  • Most of that growth went to the top 1 percent of the population.
  • All other groups saw their shares decline by 2 to 3 percentage points.
Again, with consumer spending making up 70 percent of this economy, these facts present a very clear picture as to why our economy is still not growing as it should. The IMF agrees..

Somewhat surprisingly, income inequality stood out for the strength and robustness of its relationship with the duration of growth spells: a 10 percentile decrease in inequality (represented by a change in the Gini coefficient from 40 to 37) increases the expected length of a growth spell by 50 percent.

My enormous frustration lies in the fact that as soon as something like this is pointed out, screams of "Socialism!" are usually not far behind. This, from the very same people who claim to want to make more money and have more efficient economies. Defining the principle units of an economy (consumer spending being the main one) and working to improve those units functionality should be the goal towards which all of us strive, right?

We no longer have time to manage theological fantasies. If we want to fan the flames of this recent good news of growth, we need to tackle the issue of inequality. Now. Me being me thinks that this should fall to our elected representatives on a local, state and federal level. If you ask an Occupier, though, the government isn't going to help.

It's going to be up to us.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

You Can't Squeeze Oil out of a Burning Turnip

Most of the Republican candidates for president are now criticizing President Obama for withdrawing our troops from Iraq. The gist of their argument is that by removing our troops from Iraq we will strengthen Iran's hand. Michele Bachmann even said:
The United States needed a working democratic partnership in Iraq and we should have demanded that Iraq repay the full cost of liberating them given their rich oil revenues.
So, we should just take their money if they don't think they should pay us for invading their country, destroying its infrastructure, sparking a civil war and killing a hundred thousand Iraqis?

To begin with, former President Bush is the one who signed the agreement with the Iraqis to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of this year. Obama has tried to modify the agreement to extend the stay of some American troops, but since our primary demand is that Americans who commit crimes in Iraq can't be charged under Iraqi law, the Iraqis won't agree. Could anyone blame them, given the history of Blackwater "contractors?"

The reason Iran is in a position to exert so much influence in Iraq in the first place is that President Bush invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein and his fellow Sunnis from power. These people were opposed to (and repressed) the majority Iraqi Shiites, who are now in power and are much more sympathetic to Iran, which is also a majority Shiite country.

When the allegations that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and had huge stockpiles of WMDs were revealed to be false, Bush changed his tune about why we needed to invade. He said we needed to liberate Iraq, depose a dictator and establish a beachhead for democracy.

The people of Iraq have now legally elected a government run by Shiites, who are the majority. It is a democracy, however imperfect, and the United States doesn't invade democracies. Our troops are guests of one of our erstwhile allies, and we remain only at their request. And they're not asking us to stay.

When Bush and Cheney pushed the invasion of Iraq they claimed it would be a cakewalk and we would be welcomed as liberators. They made this claim because the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi, told them this would be so. It wasn't, and the war lasted years instead of weeks as Cheney and Rumsfeld promised. It now appears that Chalabi was actually an agent for the Iranians, something also alleged in a FOX News editorial from 2004, after the US had a falling out with Chalabi. It's now clear that Chalabi and the Iranians used Bush and Cheney's lust for revenge and oil to get rid of Saddam for them. Bush's invasion of Iraq is what actually strengthened Iran's hand. Bush has left Obama with empty coffers and a very poor poker hand.

Because the United States and the rest of the Middle East had long relied on Saddam and Iraq as a bulwark against Shiite Persian influence George H. W. Bush stopped short of invading Iraq after ejecting Saddam from Kuwait in the Gulf War. Allowing a dictator to stay on to fight our enemies is somewhat cynical and self-serving, it is true, but such is the calculus of Republican administrations. But then W and Cheney fell into the trap that HW and Cheney had avoided a decade earlier.

Iran and Iraq fought a long and bloody war in the 80s, during which the United States publicly backed Iraq, providing intelligence and weapons. In 1987 the USS Stark was hit by two Iraqi Exocet missiles, killing 37 Americans. There were no repercussions for Saddam. The Reagan administration removed Iraq from the list of terrorist sponsoring countries, allowing Saddam to obtain the chemical precursors for poison gas WMDs. These were ultimately used for nerve gas attacks against Iranian troops and Iraqi civilians in Halabja in 1988 (though at the time the Reagan administration tried to blame Iran). This crime against humanity was one of the charges that ultimately led to Saddam's execution. After the Gulf War we destroyed all those WMDs, scouring the country for years.

Earlier in the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan administration sold TOW and Hawk missiles to Iran in exchange for Hezbollah releasing some hostages, using Israel as an intermediary. This was what Ron Paul was talking about when he shocked everyone in the last debate by saying that Reagan cut deals with terrorists. The Reagan administration then used that money to fund right-wing death squads in Central America. Oliver North went to jail because of this, but the higher-ups were all pardoned by George H. W. Bush while the case was still being investigated.

Finally, there have been credible allegations from a former National Security Council member and a Reagan White House staffer that Reagan had dealings with Iran as long ago as 1980, even before he was elected. To improve his chances of election, Reagan's minions worked to prevent the release of Americans taken hostage at the American embassy in Tehran so that Jimmy Carter would look bad. The Israelis sent equipment to Iran after William Casey (Reagan's eventual CIA director) cut a deal with the Iranians. Perhaps the most telling point was that Iran released the hostages on Reagan's inauguration day.

The Republicans have a long history of cutting deals with the Iranians or being duped by them. The current crop of Republican candidates -- with the exception of Ron Paul -- is either willfully ignorant of history, or lying about it. They have demonstrated that they would make exactly the same kinds of mistakes that Republicans have made on Iraq and Iran all the way back to the 1950s.

We've already spent a trillion dollars on Iraq. If we overstay our invitation to extract Bachmann's price from Iraq, the whole place will erupt in fire and war again. But you can't squeeze oil out of a burning turnip.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

William The Eloquent

Bill is really snarky and mean most of the time but he's quite eloquent here in describing exactly what most Americans now feel. His slides at the end of this piece ARE Americans. As Bill says (and I agree completely),

They don't hate capitalism. They hate what's been done to it.

Me too, Bill. Me too.

The Cheese is Slipping

The right seems to have an extra layer of froth on their mouth these days and I think I know why. Take a look at this poll. Here are some of the questions and responses.








That's over half with a favorable view and less than a quarter with an unfavorable view. But here are the real interesting results.

























Overwhelming majorities with all of these questions. What that tells me is the OWS movement is resonating with the majority of the public. Of course, this was the inevitable outcome because they are addressing the actual problem. People seem to be succumbing less to fear and anger while pursuing the real perpetrators of our economic woes. It's about time. It's also inevitable that the Tea Party message would erode with people. It worked in an off election year when the base cranked up their turnout and most Americans were absorbed in their daily lives. But now, with a presidential election a year away? Not so much. They simply don't have the numbers to go up against this. Thus, the desperate scramble to paint the occupiers as hippes/communists/fascists or whatever. Remember Alinksy's words in 1972?

The middle class actually feels more defeated and lost today on a wide range of issues than the poor do. And this creates a situation that's supercharged with both opportunity and danger. There's a second revolution seething beneath the surface of middle-class America -- the revolution of a bewildered, frightened and as-yet-inarticulate group of desperate people groping for alternatives -- for hope.

Their fears and their frustrations over their impotence can turn into political paranoia and demonize them, driving them to the right, making them ripe for the plucking by some guy on horseback promising a return to the vanished verities of yesterday. The right would give them scapegoats for their misery -- blacks, hippies, Communists -- and if it wins, this country will become the first totalitarian state with a national anthem celebrating "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

We may be seeing the beginning of the shift away from that now in Zuccotti Park. This is why my comments section is becoming Bircher on Lysergic acid diethylamide. Expect it to get worse.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Maybe the Tea Party IS Different From OWS....hmmm...

Koch-Funded Researcher No Longer Climate Skeptic

Two years ago Richard Muller was a climate skeptic. He began a study, funded by the Koch brothers, to examine temperature data in a new way. The study is now complete, and Muller is no longer skeptical: he believes the the earth is warming as a result of human activity, pretty much exactly as other climate scientists have said it has.

Muller explains the reasons for his original skepticism in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Basically, he didn't feel that the data were of sufficiently high quality to support the kind of statements that climate scientists had been making about global warming. He thought the accuracy of the weather stations and their locations were not giving an accurate picture of temperature changes. Many weather stations had once been in rural areas, which had become urban areas. Cities retain more heat because they are paved with asphalt, have concrete buildings and lack trees (the "heat island" effect). He felt there was too much bad data, and didn't think the climate scientists had taken enough precautions to make sure that bad data didn't give the wrong conclusions.

Muller's new analysis, which hasn't yet been published in peer-reviewed journals, uses different statistical techniques to correct for errors he felt existed in previous studies. And he comes up with almost exactly the same results as his predecessors did, leading him to conclude that they had in fact taken the necessary steps to ensure the accuracy of their results.

Will this study change anyone's mind? That's highly doubtful. Muller never questioned the validity of the physics behind the carbon dioxide greenhouse effect, the mechanism causing anthropogenic climate change. He doubted the effect was real because many of the weather stations had margins of error greater than the amount of warming measured. Also, about a third of stations measured temperature decreases, while two-thirds measured increases.

That's completely in line with climate change predictions, because the theory predicts shifts in temperature in both directions. Some areas will dry out and get hotter, while other areas will get socked with more rain and snow and get cooler. But it's a possible indication of a huge problem with the theory if the data isn't accurate. Basically, if the area drying out and heating up is larger than the area getting wetter and cooler, there is net global warming. Muller's study finds that to be the case.

Human-caused global warming is no longer a scientific issue -- it's settled science. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is going up about 0.5% every year because 7 billion people are burning billions of tons of coal, gas and oil, and deforesting huge swaths of six continents. But the right has made climate change into a political wedge, mostly because acknowledging its truth would mean significant costs for the moneybags that fund the Republican Party.

In 20 or 30 years Florida's coast will be seriously eroded by rising seas, Texas will be well on its way to becoming a fire-scorched desert, Arizona and Nevada will be a barren wasteland in the throes of a decades-long drought. On the plus side, we will probably have burned all the economically accessible oil and moved on to other sources of energy. I only hope that we manage to survive the drought, famine and wars that severe climate change has always caused.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Birthers are Back

I bet you thought those crazy birthers were over. Well, think again. But this time they're attacking Republicans.

Last week the Washington Post reported that Marco Rubio "embellished" his family history, misrepresenting the actual date they emigrated to the United States from Cuba in his public speeches. His standard narrative had been that they came to the US in 1959. In reality, they arrived in 1956. They weren't political refugees fleeing Castro's communist revolution, they were economic refugees from a country that was run by a corrupt right-wing dictator named Fulgencio Batista who had seized power in a coup.

Rubio's parents arrived in the US on May 27, 1956. His father got a Social Security number in New York that same year. Fidel Castro had been preparing for revolution, training in Mexico and raising money in the United States at that time. He didn't arrive in Cuba for his revolution until Dec. 2, 1956, and the revolution took years to complete.

According to the Post's story, Rubio's parents went back and forth between the US and Cuba several times, having extended stays in Cuba until as late as March, 1961. Rubio was born in 1971. His parents didn't petition for naturalization until 1975.

Nothing about this history is anything for Rubio to be ashamed of. The only thing he's guilty of is obscuring the facts that his parents weren't people who fled Castro's communist revolution; they actually tried returning to Cuba and just didn't like it.
[Rubio] said of his parents: “They were from Cuba. They wanted to live in Cuba again. They tried to live in Cuba again, and the reality of what it was made that impossible.”
In 2006, on the eve of his rise to speaker of the Florida House, Rubio told an audience that “in January of 1959, a thug named Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and countless Cubans were forced to flee and come here, many — most — here to America. When they arrived, they were welcomed by the most compassionate people on all the Earth.” 
Now, I can see why Rubio wouldn't be really proud of the fact that his parents waffled for five years about whether they really wanted to live in the United States. According to the Post:
In Florida, being connected to the post-revolution exile community gives a politician cachet that could never be achieved by someone identified with the pre-Castro exodus, a group sometimes viewed with suspicion.
Why with suspicion? Perhaps because people who would eventually support Castro were leaving then were hounded by a right-wing thug named Fulgencio Batista. In turn, many of the people who fled Castro's revolution had been allied with Batista, who by all accounts was no better than Castro.

But the birthers think this disqualifies Marco Rubio from the presidency. He was born in the USA, but since his parents weren't citizens they believe he's not "natural born." Compare that to Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii of an American mother and a Kenyan father. Or John McCain, who was born in Panama of American parents. Or Donald Trump, who was born of an American father and a Scottish mother. Or my father, who was born in Wisconsin of a Norwegian father who never became a US citizen and an American-born mother, whose Norwegian parents were unnaturalized immigrants. (My dad is a died-in-the-wool birther.)

The birthers think that Trump is a real American because his mother was naturalized before Trump was born. But was his mother naturalized just because she married an American? Does that really count?

Obviously all of these men are natural-born citizens, since they're all born in the USA or born of American parents and claimed the United States as their only country of citizenship.

The relevant clause in the Constitution reads:
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
The purpose of this clause is to make sure that the president is a "real" American and not some foreign pretender. But look at how lax the requirement is. The Constitution was adopted in 1789. That means that a British sleeper agent who emigrated to New York in 1775 and became a citizen in 1788 could have become president. If "natural born" was so important to the founders, the Constitution would have left it at that.

All of the men above have a far better claim of being a "real" American than someone who'd just been a resident for 14 years in 1789. Obviously, the birthers are ascribing much more rigor to "natural born" than the founders intended.

Section 8 of the Constitution also gives Congress the authority to pass certain laws:
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
The birthers bicker about what "natural born" means, insisting that it has to mean what founders might have meant two centuries ago (as if all the founders agreed on everything). But laws passed by Congress and precedents set by the courts have ruled that all of these men are US citizens and eligible to be president.

The "original intent" of the framers is now a moot point. They gave Congress the authority to pass laws and the courts to rule on them. If they had intended for there to be no changes to any of these notions, they wouldn't have bothered to create a mechanism for passing new legislation and for courts to judge them.

After all, the original intent of the founders was that white men should be able to hold black slaves. Or do the birthers want to bring that back too?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Like Children

Anyone catch the GOP debate in Tuesday night? What a colossal embarrassment.I don't think I've seen a finer example of the childish behavior that summarizes the right today. No wonder conservatives want other people to jump in the race. The president may have approval ratings in the low 40s but compare him to this lot and, even with a crappy economy, he's the better candidate. And that's true for the folks that aren't all that happy with him.

What's even more heartening for the president's supporters is his continued calls to pass the Jobs Act are having an effect on the national conversation in that he (as opposed to the Republicans) is actually driving it. Clearly, Boehner and McConnell are not happy about this and have been whining "no fair" to the president for the last week. Maybe if the two of them had some new ideas and were less concerned with making Obama a one term president, things would be going better for them. Oh well...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ding, Dong, Qaddafi's Dead

Today Libyan rebels killed Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator. This was the guy behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Ronald Reagan tried to get Qaddafi a couple of times. Once was in 1986, when Qaddafi's compound was bombed and Qaddafi claimed that his infant daughter was killed. As it turns out, she is still alive and became a doctor.

Qaddafi cozied up to George Bush in 2006. It was the only concrete positive result that Bush could claim from the Iraq war: he "forced" Qaddafi to abandon his nuclear program by the threat of invasion (as if we could have afforded to start another massive war in 2006).

The Lockerbie bomber was captured, tried and imprisoned in Britain, but was released in 2009 for "humanitarian" reasons (they thought he had terminal cancer). This rankled a lot of people. Well, he was still alive earlier this month, but predicted he only had days, weeks or moths to live.

The unrest in the Arab spring spread from Tunisia, to Egypt, to Yemen, to Syria and to Libya, where it grew into an armed rebellion. After 40 years of dictatorship a lot of Libyans were unhappy with his eccentric rule, and many soldiers and insiders joined the rebels.

After calling anyone who objected to Bush's calamitous invasion of Iraq a traitor, pretty much every Republican blasted President Obama when he agreed for NATO to provide air support for the rebels. One wing of the Republican party called the strategy weak-kneed and demanded a full-court press as in Iraq. Another wing of Republicans said we shouldn't help them at all, we should keep our noses out of other countries' business. Other Republicans didn't want us to do anything that might possibly help any Muslims at all because they're apparently our mortal enemies.

The victory in Libya belongs to the Libyan people, not NATO or President Obama. It can still end badly if the elections don't materialize on schedule and internecine warfare erupts. If things go right Libya will become a democracy with a Muslim majority like Turkey, but not a Muslim republic. Qaddafi might have been a nut case, but he wasn't a rabid jihadist Muslim in the mold of bin Laden. Even though Libya was practically a prison with torturers and spies everywhere, the people of Libya have become accustomed to being a modern country with modern social norms, free from the dictates of imams. It seems unlikely they will embrace the rigid social hierarchy that Al Qaeda has been pushing across the Middle East. And because we provided material help in the battle against Qaddafi, the United States and Europe were finally on the people's side in a war in the Middle East. Even if Libya does melt down, they won't be blaming us for their problems; they'll be pointing their fingers at each other.

In the end George Bush's plan to eliminate Saddam Hussein will have cost us a trillion dollars. Obama eliminated Osama bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi using techniques that cost us a mere fraction of that price, in both dollars and lives. After a few months and a few billion dollars spent on providing air cover for the Libyan rebels, Qaddafi is gone. Unlike Iraq, we have no presence on the ground and no ongoing expenses for the indefinite future. That's a bargain by any measure.

Some people will say that George Bush's invasion of Iraq paved the way for the Arab Spring. That's balderdash. The invasion strengthened the notion that the Arab people were just pawns in an argument between the Arab world and the west, collateral damage in a contest of wills between two egomaniacs. It made Arabs feel we wanted to destroy them, and much Republican rhetoric reinforces that idea to this day. The good will most of the world showered upon us after 9/11 evaporated when George Bush invaded Iraq based on lies.

The real impetus for the Arab Spring was the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian who was harassed and humiliated by municipal officials. He inspired Tunisians to turn out their corrupt leaders. That uprising, and the one in Egypt, showed that the people can take power into their own hands. They don't need to wait for the United States to come and save them.

Obama walked a fine line in the Libyan conflict. Had we pushed too hard we would been perceived as taking over another Arab country. But by letting himself be dragged reluctantly into the conflict, Obama allowed the Libyan rebels to maintain their own identity and not be perceived as US puppets.

Libya might not be Obama's victory. But he made all the right calls. And it's good to see a president do that for once.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Still Not Getting It

I've been chuckling and shaking my head over the last few days as I watch the right continually not get the Occupy Wall Street movement. CNN has a pretty good take on all of this. It reminds me of an elderly person trying to work their new iPhone that their grandson got them.

What's truly hilarious is how similar this movement is to the nascence of the Tea Party. Both groups bitched about government bailouts and cronies in DC. The right (for whatever reason) can't see that this group of people have given up on the government just like they have. In fact, the Occupiers have called for citizens to voluntarily move their back accounts from big banks to credit unions and local banks. They aren't asking the government to do anything and have declared vehemently that it's up to the people. Why does the right have a problem with this? Can't a group of people decide on their own what to do?

More importantly, this is the first concrete demand followed by action that we have seen from the group. It's going to be interesting to see what happens as a result of this. Will the big banks bleed?

Naturally, there is a ton of anti-Occupy propaganda out there now. Take a look at this photo.

If anyone has seen this photo in their friend's status updates, as I have recently in several, kindly ask them any or all of the following questions.

1. What is the source for this photo? (You won't be surprised when you find out)

2. How accurate is the math? (Check it, it's not)

3. Where does scholarship money come from?

4. Why does such a large group of people in this country persist in blaming the victims of the Collapse of 2008 and give the actual perpetrators a free pass?

5. Did the United States build itself into an economic superpower, unlike any this world has ever seen, by being a nation of rugged individualist libertarians? Or did we do so with much higher taxes and actual regulation?

Then show them these photos.

The derision that is floating around out there (courtesy largely of the right wing blogsphere) isn't working. There are too many people that identify with this movement and it has now gone global. The Tea Party can't even boast that.

I think the right needs to be very, very careful their commentary on this movement. They've got a pretty good hold in the House that will be hard to erode in the 2012 election. They have a real chance at picking up some more Senate seats. But if they ally themselves with Wall Street, they will have forgotten what mobilized resources on their side back in 2009. The public could see them as very pro corporation and they will lose some of their populist base.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Herman Cain Doesn't Want Us to Know

Tonight there's another Republican debate, and since Herman Cain has been rising in the polls everyone expects the other Republicans to begin lynching him.

His 9-9-9 plan has come under heavy attack as being completely insufficient to pay for even the limited government Republicans endorse, with its constantly burgeoning defense budget. Cain may have even gotten the idea for it from SimCity 4, a computer game, though he of course denies this.

But Cain's got some real skeletons in the closet. Besides being a pizza magnate, he was a member of the Kansas City Federal Reserve and a member of the board of Aquila Inc.

Considering that huge swaths of the Republican Party believe that the Fed is the devil, this should put Cain on the seventh level of hell.

Aquila is more interesting, and much more telling. Aquila was basically Enron's envious little brother, right down to the pension scandal. Cain was on its board and endorsed employees investing their pension money in Aquila stock even as it was falling. Aquila pulled the same kind of gimmicks Enron did to inflate its stock price: selling electricity to a subsidiary, which then sold it right back to itself to inflate sales numbers. They also used the "ricochet" gimmick, buying power in California at a capped price, moving it out of state, then selling it back to California at an inflated price.

Cain also chaired the compensation committee at Aquila, which gave out $30 million in bonuses to the top five execs at Aquila in 2002, while the stock price was plummeting.

Aquila employees filed a class action against the company, naming Cain and other board members in the suit. The company settled for $10 million in 2007. Cain left the board in 2008.

Herman Cain is not an outsider or a small-business-friendly entrepreneur. He's worked for giant companies like Coca Cola, Pillsbury, Burger King and Godfather's Pizza. He never started a business of his own, he's always been a hired gun and part of the old boys' network. He's been on the boards of companies like Nabisco, Whirlpool and Aquila. He has always been in bed with self-dealing CEOs who think ever-soaring salaries are theirs by the divine right of kings.

Cain is the kind of guy that got us into the mess we're in today, with the salaries of regular folks dropping like rocks while CEOs who screw the pooch get richer and richer.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tea Party Carjacking

A lot of comparisons are being made between the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements. Both started from a sense of outrage over the bailout of the bankers who caused the collapse, while the rest of the country is sinking into a mire.

The right says that Occupy Wall Street is just a bunch of fruit cakes. But the Tea Party started out pretty much the same way. Instead of camping in the parks, though, they brought semi-automatic weapons to town hall meetings, or screamed bloody hell about keeping the government's grubby hands off Social Security and Medicare, which they appeared to not realize were government programs in the first place.

But the Tea Party was quickly carjacked by Fox News and the Republican Party, and people like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, the Koch brothers and Clarence Thomas' wife. Fox News even falsified coverage to make Tea Party rallies seem larger than they actually were. Now the Tea Party is mouthing the Republican Party line of less regulation on Wall Street. They blame Barney Frank for somehow forcing banks to lend money to people who couldn't make the payments.

But what really happened was this: loan officers were paid by the head to get suckers into adjustable rate mortgages that started out affordable, but soon were beyond the ability of the borrowers to pay. These weren't just poor black folks. Everyone and their cousin bought houses they couldn't really afford, or bought multiple dwellings as "investments" that they would flip, or took out home equity loans to cash in on their real estate, which in the bubble mentality group-think would always skyrocket in value. In the tight market that ensued, speculators drove prices way up, forcing everyone to take out larger loans for overvalued properties. The guys who wrote the loans took their money and ran, dumping the loans on someone else.

Wall Street took those bad loans, intentionally making false assumptions about the borrowers' ability to repay, and then hid their poor quality by bundling them with good loans into giant packages of investment securities called CDOs. The rating agencies knowingly rubberstamped these as being AAA rated, because they were being paid by the banks to do so.

Then some of those investment banks created hedge funds that bet against the very same faulty securities that they had helped create. When doubt began to spread about these CDOs the whole house of cards began to collapse. Lehman Brothers was allowed to go bankrupt and that caused a real panic, resulting in the bailout and the mess we're in.

It's now at the point where even normally responsible people who are completely capable of repaying loans are just letting them go into default because they owe far more than the property is currently worth, because its value was driven into the stratosphere by speculators and overall economic conditions have deteriorated. Wall Street immorality is now business as usual for the rest of the country.

Under the Bush administration the regulation of Wall Street fell into disrepair and disuse, becoming a muddy, rutted road without any adult supervision. As the bankers' giant limousines race down Wall Street, they soak the average guy with the mud from the bailout and the increased "fees" they charge us just to get our money out of the bank. All the while the bankers sit in those limousines sipping champagne with their girlfriends who are all dolled up with jewelry from Tiffany's, paid for by giant bonuses that come out of our hides.

The Tea Party is now the tail wagging the dog of the Republican Party. But they've forgotten what got them mad in the first place, and have let nonsense like Obama's birth certificate and national health care distract them from the real problem: Wall Street greed and incompetence. Now they're demanding that even the meager regulatory improvements of Dodd-Frank that were made in the wake of the bailout be abolished and Wall Street be free to do it all over again.

But the Occupy Wall Street crowd is still mad at the bankers sneering at them from behind their tinted limousine windows.

Who are the real fruit cakes?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

The father of GOP hopeful Jon Huntsman had this to say, in today's Times, on the subject of the wealthy giving half of their money to efforts begun by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.

I suggested 80 percent. A tremendous number of wealthy people haven’t given much of anything.

Wait, what? I thought the wealthy were very charitable and money trickled down from them as they sprinkled their magical job beans on all of us peasants. Yet the numbers say otherwise...

Of the world’s 1,200 or so billionaires, Mr. Huntsman is one of only 19, according to the wealth-watch monitors at Forbes Magazine, who have given away more than $1 billion.

I guess Jon Stossel was wrong. Here's something even more perplexing from the article.

Mr. Huntsman, the son of a rural school teacher, built the multinational Huntsman Corporation from scratch starting in the 1970s, a chemical company with most of its operations now overseas. He sympathizes with the Wall Street protesters. The political system, he agreed, is broken. Ethics have foundered.

A business owner sympathizing with the Occupy Wall Street crowd? Holy Shee-Aht!!! I don't get it. I thought any sensible business owner knows that being greedy, hoarding wealth, and creating even greater inequality in this country is the best way to cure our economy. In other words, the GOP platform. I'm shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED, that a man who started his own business actually thinks that the 99 percenters are right. What's the world coming to?

He argues that the rich, if they could be induced to greater generosity — and not simply be more stiffly taxed — could go a long way toward fixing things.

Isn't "induced" simply another word for "forced?" Oh, snap! And, if this wasn't bad enough...

“All men and women need a roof over their heads, and need to be fed and have proper health care,” he said. “I don’t know that I believed that, or even understood that, in the early days.”

AHHHHHHHHH!!!!! NO!!!!!!! you are talking about (gasp!) wealth redistribution and helping people. Purity test=failed. A pox upon both your vacation homes! You are no longer one of them and are now a Marxist like me.

Another One Bites The Dust.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Finding Yourself In A Fantasy World

Paul Krugman's recent piece in the Times is very indicative of how I feel these days when I watch the GOP debates or talk to nearly everyone on the right. I'm Alice and I've gone down the rabbit hole. Thankfully, Krugman feels the same way.

And since economic policy has to deal with the world we live in, not the fantasy world of the G.O.P.’s imagination, the prospect that one of these people may well be our next president is, frankly, terrifying.

Terrifying, indeed. Common sense has been sacrificed in the name of orthodoxy.

In the real world, recent events were a devastating refutation of the free-market orthodoxy that has ruled American politics these past three decades. Above all, the long crusade against financial regulation, the successful effort to unravel the prudential rules established after the Great Depression on the grounds that they were unnecessary, ended up demonstrating — at immense cost to the nation — that those rules were necessary, after all.

This is what actually happened.

But down the rabbit hole, none of that happened. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because of runaway private lenders like Countrywide Financial. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because Wall Street pretended that slicing, dicing and rearranging bad loans could somehow create AAA assets — and private rating agencies played along. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers exploited gaps in financial regulation to create bank-type threats to the financial system without being subject to bank-type limits on risk-taking.

No, in the universe of the Republican Party we found ourselves in a crisis because Representative Barney Frank forced helpless bankers to lend money to the undeserving poor.

This is the fantasy that has been created by the right that I hear every single day. To say this view is monumentally frustrating is a massive fucking understatement.

The G.O.P. has responded to the crisis not by rethinking its dogma but by adopting an even cruder version of that dogma, becoming a caricature of itself. It’s a terrible thing when an individual loses his or her grip on reality. But it’s much worse when the same thing happens to a whole political party, one that already has the power to block anything the president proposes — and which may soon control the whole government.

The way I see it, this is what the election is going to be about: reality or fantasy. The truly sucktacular part about all of this is that the Democrats are going to address this insanity and will likely be sucked into managing fantasies. This will give it legitimacy and then this kind of thinking will be in the national conversation. With millions of people operating solely on anger, hate and fear, many will embrace these crazy ideas. Of course, they could choose to ignore it but that would probably make it worse. We'd probably have more people believe this garbage...the great lie and all, yer know.

I suppose I could take some solace that people like me and Krugman are at least grounded in reality. But with so many irrational people that have completely taken leave of their senses, there's not really much to be happy about at all.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Another Black Eye for Rupert

Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is at it again. A story published in The Guardian reveals that The Wall Street Journal in Europe has been selling papers for pennies apiece to companies in order to boost circulation figures. The papers are supposed to be distributed free to university students, but it's not clear that anyone really reads them. The papers constituted 41% of the Jouranal's circulation in Europe.

In essence, the Journal has been defrauding advertisers by claiming much higher circulation than they actually have. One would also assume that advertisers expect that business executives who make purchasing and business decisions are reading the Journal, not college freshmen using it to line their pet iguana's cage.

But it gets worse.

When one of the companies, ELP, complained that they weren't getting enough return for the money they were paying for the papers the Journal would also:
give ELP free advertising and, in exchange, the ELP would produce "leadership videos" for them; they would jointly organise more seminars and workshops on themes connected to ELP's work; but, crucially, [Andrew] Langhoff [the publisher of WSJ Europe] agreed that the Journal would publish "a minimum of three special reports" that would be based on surveys of the European market which ELP would run with the Journal's help.
But ELP still wasn't satisfied, so the Journal made a deal to funnel money back to ELP through third parties:
An email from Andrew Langhoff on 26 November 2010 includes a diagram that indicates money was channelled to ELP through two other middlemen. This suggests that Langhoff wanted €15,000 sent to ELP via a Belgian company called Think Media, which sells space on billboards. An invoice dated 2 December 2010, shows that ELP invoiced Think Media for €15,000. An email from 20 December shows that Think Media had paid the €15,000 to ELP. In a series of phone calls and emails to Think Media, the Guardian put it to the company that ELP had provided no goods or services in exchange for this payment, and that the payment was made at the request of the Journal. Think Media declined to respond.
A whistleblower reported the scam last year to Les Hinton at NewsCorp's headquarters in New York, but no action was taken and the whistleblower was dismissed ("made redundant" in The Guardian's quaint British parlance).

Nothing happened until the Journal got wind of the Guardian's investigation of the deals, which "caused a panic" and resulted in the resignation of Andrew Langhoff on Tuesday.

Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is a corrupt organization. Its News of the World subsidiary hacked the voice mails of celebrities, terrorist victims and murdered girls. They bought the silence of former employees. They bribed cops. They bribed employees of other newspapers to steal their scoops. NewsCorp News America subsidiary is under investigation for computer hacking and predatory and anticompetitive practices. Fox News execs routinely require reporters to slant their stories to toe the Republican Party line, especially on politics and climate science. Fox is also fighting the FCC over its indecent programming standards. But what can you expect from a company run by a man who became an American just so he could own US TV stations?

When Rupert Murdoch went after the Wall Street Journal I was expecting this kind of thing. He's brought the British tabloid mentality to the Fox TV network, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. NewsCorp is a giant multinational corporation that thinks it's above the law, ethics, and morality.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What's the Hurry?

Pundits everywhere are declaring Romney the winner of the Republican nomination. It's months before a single primary or caucus vote will be cast, so why is everyone is such a big rush to make the decision?

At this point in almost every recent election the front runner in either party other than a sitting president was not the ultimate nominee. If the Republicans decide on Romney this far in advance of the election, there will be a lot of unhappy people. Because as soon as the Republican nominee is decided, he will have to move to the center in order to seem reasonable and attract the independent voter.

And many Republicans already think Romney is way too liberal for them. Evangelicals don't like him because he's a Mormon. Most Tea Partyers don't like him for, well, everything he's ever done -- his religion, Romneycare, his altered stands on any number of social issues, being governor of a liberal state, his history as a corporate takeover artist. Libertarians don't like him for many of the same reasons. Pro-lifers don't believe his conversion away from his stated belief in a woman's right to choose.

Romney is the second or third choice for the vast majority of Republicans. He's just another big-business machine politician with good hair who strapped his dog to the top of his car on a family trip to Canada.

All the issues that the majority of Republicans like to holler about will basically be ignored for the next year as Romney tries to position himself to take the center. Yeah, he'll throw out a few red-meat lines in an attempt to rouse the masses. But they won't be convinced. He'll weasel-word most things to avoid looking like a kook in front of the swing voters.

Red-meat Republicans will sullenly vote for Romney because in their mind anyone is better than Obama. But they won't feel particularly motivated to hit the streets and work hard for him. They won't contribute to his campaign like they contribute to Ron Paul's or Michele Bachmann's. They'll feel that Romney is big business's candidate, and they'll be content to let them finance Romney's campaign and the outside issue groups that will be the loudest voices in the election.

Romney is hum-drum and boring. He doesn't raise any kind of enthusiasm in anyone.

If Republicans decide on Romney in December or January, they'll have buyer's remorse come March. When he dips in the polls they'll panic and worry that everything is lost. But by then the other candidates will have dismantled their campaigns and the whole Republican field will be in disarray.

And why Romney, anyway? Well, most of the people who have been running on the Republican side in this cycle are just not qualified. Palin, Perry, Bachmann, and Cain are idiots. Gingrich is damaged goods and disconnected from reality, with his huge Tiffany's bills and serial polygamy. Paul is just too old (older than McCain), and has too many wacky ideas for religious Republicans (legalize prostitution and drugs). Santorum? Seriously? Gary Johnson? Who's that? Huntsman and Pawlenty are passable but too boring and too liberal. They would have a chance with swing voters, but red-meat Republicans despise them.

Republican activists simply hate anyone who would make a credible candidate because they don't like people who have nuanced beliefs or think that government can do any good. And to be an effective president, you really do have to believe that your job is worth doing and that all your employees aren't worthless scum-sucking douche bags.

Anyway, why do we let voters in two or three states decide everything for us? What gives Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina the right to decide who runs for president? I can see why Florida and Nevada want to jump the gun and move their primaries up so they can get some of the campaign cash spent in their states. But this interminably long election season is not good for the country. If anything, we need to shorten the campaign to a few months, not lengthen it to a year and a half that is has become.

In the final analysis, issues that seem so vital at this stage of the campaign could be completely irrelevant by the summer of 2012, and Romney could easily be the wrong man for the job.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Sowell Reflex

I was reminiscing recently about my long conversation over Facebook with Reverend Jim last spring. Our discussion on Thomas Sowell's Conflict of Visions has continued to resonate with me in an enormously frustrating way and I've finally figured out why.

I hadn't read Sowell's book since the late 80s so I dug out my old copy and re-read parts of it. As I chuckled at his insistence that the "constrained vision" relies on empirical evidence (see: The Economic Collapse of 2008 or how I learned to stop worrying and worship the free market), I realized that he was very sadly arguing this point (via Asimov):

My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

In essence, the entire book is one gigantic #3-Projection/Flipping.

The fact is that most liberals do not look at human nature as being inherently good. This is a complete fucking straw man. In reality, most liberals (including myself) look at ALL of the ways human nature is colored. We start as blank slates and develop based on number of factors. Part of it is genetic...part of it is how we are we interact with the people in our lives (family, friends, co-workers)...part of it is how we function within the institutional framework of our society. There is a mountain of empirical evidence that supports human development in each of these areas.

But Sowell and his followers don't want to look at this evidence. Instead, they jump immediately to dividing people into two camps: those that are naively optimistic and those who know how the world really works. bias there. Worse, his definition of "how the world works" (i.e. the constrained vision) is equally as ignorant as those who believe in utopias. I've talked about this before...the libertarian utopia is just as ridiculous as the socialist one.

The result of all of this is what I am now calling The Sowell Reflex, a condition that presents itself quite regularly these days in many political discussions. It's happened to me so many times in the last couple of years that I chuckle when his name (predictably) comes up. More often than not, as soon as a person questions the breadth of intelligence of ideologically right folks, Sowell is quickly mentioned as a shield and the "silly liberals" are told to go home with their tail between their legs. Yet, upon closer inspection, one can easily see that this is just another dodge that is summed up simply as this:

The Sowell Reflex is one gigantic excuse for continued and willful ignorance.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Republicans Now Hurling the C-word At Each Other

Robert Jeffress has made a big splash with his declaration at the Values Voter summit that Mitt Romney belongs to a "cult." He declared that Mormonism is not Christianity, even though the Mormon Church is called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But the Mormon Church is not the first to be called a "cult" by a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention. Jim Smyrl, from Jacksonville, Florida, was calling the Catholic Church a cult since at least 2008.

Smyrl's contention in the video linked above is that Catholic Church is a cult based on doctrinal differences between it and the SBC. In particular, he singles out the transubstantiation of wine into the actual blood of Jesus Christ.

Smyrl's definition seems to be that if a religious group has any doctrine that seems creepy and weird to you, it's a cult. By that definition, Mormonism counts as a cult. It has a history of polygamy, which continues to this day in some sects. It holds that American Indians are a lost tribe of Israel. It has the doctrine of Exaltation, which posits that we can become gods and goddesses. Jews had to fight with the Mormon Church to stop the practice of baptizing Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps (this was apparently done to assist in exaltation). Non-Mormons may not attend weddings in Mormon temples. Mormons keep a cache of emergency supplies wherever they go in case the world ends. And they wear Holy Underwear +4.

And then there's the history of Joe Smith, who seems to have been a prototypical cult leader. He claimed to have translated the Book of Mormom from gold plates given to him by the angel Moroni, which he had to give back after showing them to some guys who signed affidavits that they really, really did exist. Smith was murdered in jail after declaring martial law in the town where he was mayor, shutting down the town newspaper and facing accusations that he was stealing other men's wives. His killers were acquitted.

But what is a cult, really? Generally, a cult is a religious group that has a centralized authority that dictates particular standards of behavior and morality, controls whom followers can marry, dictates with whom members can associate, ostracizes former members, demands large donations from followers, and in general limits exposure to outside influences to prevent "immorality," all in an attempt to maintain complete control over all aspects of the cult member's life.

But the Southern Baptist Convention has its own cultish characteristics. The Baptist Church was famous for forbidding dancing and drinking: that's why there are so many dry counties in the South. Some Baptist sects justified slavery by its mention in the Bible (the SBC apologized for this in 1995). They venerate the cross, the evil device of torture and murder used by the Romans to crucify millions of innocent victims, including Christ, which is more than a little creepy. They have the Trinity, which is really just some freaky nonsense to get around the fact that they actually polytheistic. Their cultishness is sufficiently advanced that Baptists sometimes feel the need to insist that they are not a cult.

But all religions started out as cults: small groups of adherents to a new religion with heretical beliefs. Early Christian cults had to worship in secret for fear of persecution and death.

Cults stop being cults when their numbers are sufficient to be considered mainstream, and their policies allow them to be integrated into the rest of society, by eliminating their exclusionary polices that alienate them from others.

But the real reason that the Baptists say the Mormon Church is a cult may be that the SBC is afraid of losing members to the Mormon Church. This is from an article in Slate from 2007 when the Romney question first arose:
In the early 1980s, Southern Baptist Convention leaders discovered—much to their horror—that 40 percent of Mormonism's 217,000 converts in 1980 came from Baptist backgrounds. More than 150 Mormon missionaries had descended on the northern Georgia area alone, a Southern Baptist magazine noted warily in 1982, and they found Southern Baptists among their most promising targets. When the Mormon Church built temples in the early '80s in Atlanta and Dallas, two of Southern Baptism's most important hubs, it was as if the Mormon Church had thrown down the gauntlet in an arms race between two of the most missionary-minded faiths. Mormonism was declaring its permanent presence in the American South, where Southern Baptism enjoyed status as the de facto religion.
So, what this may really boil down to is not religious doctrine or the saving of souls, but losing church members, the income from their donations, and the subsequent loss of religious and political power to a competing organization.

In other words, this tiff between Baptists and Mormons may all be about the money.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Wait, WHAT???!!!!

How the fuck did this make it through the propaganda machine?

The Mittster

Now that the GOP field has settled down, the nomination is Mitt Romney's to lose. In fact, I can't see anyone else getting the nod at this point. So, since it's Mitt vs. Barry next year, here are my initial thoughts.

First of all, I like Mitt Romney. I think it's cool that he is uncomfortable in some social situations. So what? It shows that he's a person with faults. I also think that if he wins the election next year, he won't govern any differently than President Obama. He talks a good game now on the campaign trail but the health care bill will remain law, we'll still be pursuing the same national security policies, and the economy will still be the same.

The central problem I have with Mitt is he's too Wall Street. That's going to turn a lot of voters off who blame Wall Street second (behind George W. Bush) for our economy. Moreover, the base is not going to take kindly to a Romney candidacy and some will stay home.

This says to me that the race is going to be tight. Polls right now say the president and Romney are tied 48-48 with 4 percent undecided. How will those 4 percent break and in what states? As is usually the case, it might come down to Florida and Ohio. But will the lack of conservative voters put Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico in play with its Latino population and anti-Mormonism. Or will the liberal base, smoldering from Obama's centrism, stay home as well?

It's going to be an interesting year, folks!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Who are the Real Republicans?

Is Michele Bachmann a Real Republican? She just introduced a bill in Congress that would create a federal mandate forcing pregnant women seeking abortions to get ultrasound examinations. I thought Real Republicans were against federal regulations that increase the cost of health care and intrude on the private relationship between a doctor and a patient.

Is Rick Perry a Real Republican? He signed a bill that mandated sonograms for all women seeking abortions in Texas. Portions of the bill were ruled unconstitutional by a judge in August.

Is John Kriesel a Real Republican? He's one of several Minnesota Republican legislators who recently announced that he will work to oppose the gay marriage amendment that will go before voters next year.

Is Ron Erhardt a Real Republican? He and five other Republican legislators in Minnesota voted to override Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's veto of a transportation bill that increased gas and sales taxes after the 35W bridge collapse. They were summarily drummed out of the party, losing the party's endorsement over this single issue. Erhardt ran anyway as an independent, but barely lost to the endorsed Republican in a three-way race.

Tony Sutton, the GOP state chairman in Minnesota said that individual Republicans can disagree with the party stance on "some issues," but the marriage amendment would stay in the party platform. Apparently you can disagree with the party on gay marriage, but when it comes to raising taxes -- even if those taxes are used to keep bridges from falling down -- that is the holiest of holies, beyond the pale and a challenge to Republican Orthodoxy that can only be met with excommunication.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

We Are

Over the last few weeks, a growing group of people have occupied Wall Street in protest of the greed and corruption that has run rampant there in the last few years. They have rightfully pointed the spotlight on the organizations most responsible for our economic malaise at present.

Behind all of this is the We Are The 99 Percent movement. . This is their credo.

We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

What we are seeing here is the beginning of a minority block that will likely eclipse the conservative base. Hell, some conservatives may end up joining them. We've had unemployment for quite a long time in this country and it was clearly a simple matter of time before they organized into a force with which to be reckoned. We may even be seeing the beginning of the end of the self defeating plutocracy that has grown over the last decade.

Now, I've got a few issues with these people that I'd like to get out of the way. First, they remind me a great deal of the WTO protesters (see: Protectionism). VERY bad idea. Look at the world 50 years ago and look at it today. Overall, we are better off. Lifespans are longer in Global South countries and it is because of liberal trade practices. If these people are concerned about world hunger and poverty, the best way to solve it is free trade. No tariffs, quotas, non tariff barriers, or any other government restrictions that impede the global market. This means that the labor pool is going to grow which means demand will be lower thus the growing pains. They are going to have to accept this if they want the world to be better off.

Of course, this doesn't mean that MNCs (multinational corporations) have leave to pillage and burn the world. A completely unrestrained free market easily slides into this due to the basic human impulse of greed. So, there does need to be consequences for those that abuse this freedom. Obviously, this is a very complex issue and I don't think the occupiers fully understand the various intricacies of it.

This brings us to another issue I have with the occupiers of Wall Street. Are they so anarchistic in nature that they can't see the benefits of banks and investments? They are the very backbone of our culture. No doubt, they have been abused by people but that simply means that they should be put in "pound me in the ass prison" for 6 months. That would end this bullshit immediately. That means regulators are going to have to grow a pair and get it done. Tearing down the whole system will make things worse.

The occupiers also seem to not have a central message or leader. That's fine for now, I guess. But they do need to figure how exactly they are going to effect the change they desire. The best way for them to do this is vote and, more importantly, get the 40 percent of the people in this country that don't vote out at the polls every year-including the odd years! It's pretty clear to me which party has more in common with them and that's who they should support. Certainly, there are some Democrats who have supported our slide to malaise in the last decade but it's the near entirety of the conservative base that is fighting tooth and nail to support our plutocracy. Their blind anger (similar to the Tea Party's) is keeping them from seeing this simple fact.

In his piece, "Keeping America's Edge," Jim Manzi talks about the importance of social cohesion. An entire section of his treatise on the sad state of our affairs is entitled "Inequality as a Symptom."

Economic inequality is likely to cause problems with social ­cohesion — but far more important, it is a symptom of our deeper ­problem. As the unsustainable high tide of post-war American dominance has slowly ebbed, many — perhaps most — of our country's workers appear unable to compete internationally at the level required to maintain anything like their current standard of living. And a shrinking elite portion of the American population, itself a shrinking fraction of the world ­population, cannot indefinitely maintain our global position.

There it is in a nutshell, folks. We will not continue to maintain our position in the world unless we take very serious steps to support the 99 percent. And by "we" I mean EVERYONE, not just the government (federal, state, local). Giving more tax breaks and less regulation to the wealthy people in this country is going to make things far worse. As Robert Reich said recently,

This isn't a zero-sum game. A lot of wealthy people are beginning to understand that they would do better with a smaller percentage of a rapidly growing economy than with a big chunk of an economy that's dead in the water.

Indeed they are. The Patriotic Millionaires Club is a fine example of what needs to be front and center in the discussion. People like Doug Edwards, a former Google executive, who stood up at a recent town hall with the president and said, "Will you please raise my taxes?" also need to come forward and demand common sense. Edwards was right when he expressed great concern for the future of federal student loans, infrastructure projects and job-training programs if the government does not obtain new revenue. We're not simply talking about our economy here. We're talking about the erosion of our hegemonic power in the world that has guided the global marketplace towards an LIEO (liberal international economic order).

Imagine if a country like China, for example, was the hegemenon. There's no way to sugar coat this, folks, and this isn't hyperbole: freedom would be lost. The intransigence against spending must stop. Clearly, we can't afford to spend like we did post World War Two but we can't go to the exact opposite of that and become maniacal cutters. We also have to cease the daily beat downs of government because this is the entity that has kept us a major power in the world and will continue to do so in the future. Without our federal government, the freedom of the global market that we created at Bretton Woods will be threatened.

I'm not sure that the 99 percenters see themselves as the large turning point that I do. Thankfully, I'm not the only one. E.J. Dionne, from his latest column

The anti-Wall Street demonstrators have created a new pole in politics. Americans have always been wary of concentrated power. The Tea Party had great success in focusing anxieties on what it argues is an excessively powerful federal government. Now an active and angry band of citizens is insisting that the concentrated power Americans most need to fear exists on Wall Street and in the financial system.

It's going to be very interesting to see what happens next.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Ah, Gip...

I came across this video recently and couldn't help but shake my head. Pay close attention to his story of the bus driver at around 12:30 and his question to the crowd at around 15:30.

I guess when Reagan calls for it, then it's not socialism:)

His caution at the end (about 17:30) sadly was not heeded.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Lake Woebegon Boardrooms

An article in the Washington Post shows that even when corporate performance is poor, CEO pay continues to skyrocket. Kevin Sharer, CEO of Amgen, earns $21 million a year, a raise of $6 million over last year. He also has two (2!) corporate jets.

The company lost 3% on its investment last year, and 7% over the last five years. Amgen has had to close plants and fire workers. Sure, times have been tough during the recession. A lot of us have had to cut back.

But not CEOs.

In fact:
Since the 1970s, median pay for executives at the nation’s largest companies has more than quadrupled, even after adjusting for inflation, according to researchers. Over the same period, pay for a typical non-supervisory worker has dropped more than 10 percent, according to Bureau of Labor statistics.
Why are these guys getting monster raises when everyone else is losing their jobs, or working 60 hour weeks, or staying in jobs that they absolutely hate but can't afford to lose their health coverage?

Corporate boards of directors are incestuous men's clubs: CEOs consider a third of directors on their boards to be personal friends. CEOs consider half the compensation committees to be their personal friends.

Corporate boards intentionally give raises that exceed the median CEO salary because they don't want to lose "valuable talent." Paul Volcker called the the "Lake Woebegon Effect," a reference to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, where all the children are above average.

Companies like Adobe, Discovery Communications and Countrywide Financial have official polices that CEOs should be compensated at 75 to 90% of peer companies.

This is completely nuts and totally unsustainable. It creates never-ending cycle of skyrocketing CEO pay. It's far worse than the cost of living raises built into Social Securiry and some union contracts, which these days is a few percent -- if at all.

The thing is, CEOs aren't above average. I've personally met half a dozen CEOs, and they're not brilliant masters of the universe. The vast majority are hired guns, and not entrepreneurs. They took no big risks and had no innovative ideas. They just know someone on the search committee, or got hired through the old boys' network.

It's not unreasonable for the founder of a company, say a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs, to command high salaries: without them the company wouldn't exist. But hired CEOs are just employees, like the janitors, engineers and secretaries. (Even worse than hired CEOs are the heirs of corporate founders who take over daddy's job.) Hired guns are in no way special or indispensable to the operation of the company. As we've seen over and over again at hundreds of companies, CEOs are hired and fired constantly, and they don't really make any difference. They are as interchangeable as any assembly line employee.

Look at HP: they just hired Meg Whitman, the former head of eBay, who spent $160 million of her own money in her failed run for governor of California. She has no experience in HP's current line of business -- making computers, printers and scientific instruments -- which HP is going to ditch in favor of a new strategy to focus on "enterprise, commercial and government markets." That is, they're not going to make stuff anymore, but instead sell services to other companies and government.

Whitman's predecessor, Leo Apotheker, only worked there 11 months, but will receive $13 million in various compensation just for screwing the pooch. His predecessor, Mark Hurd, was fired for trying to screw Jodie Fisher, a marketing support consultant and former actress.

Finally, Carly Fiorino (who spent $5.5 million of her own money on an unsuccessful Senate campaign) resigned as CEO of HP in 2005 after a scandal where private investigators illegally obtained the phone records of journalists and board members.

HP's story is not unique, it is quite typical of corporate America. If you can get behind the wall of secrecy at any company you will find they have lots of skeletons in the closet.

So do you really think that private multinational corporations are more efficient and more trustworthy than a government where we have the power to hire and fire the CEO (president, governor, mayor) and the board of directors (Congress, state legislatures, city councils) at our whim?

Monday, October 03, 2011

A Teacher's Note

I came across this recently on the FaceBook page of Pastor Jim. Recall that Jim's wife was my first girlfriend and he and I regularly have political debates on his wall, some of which I reprinted here.

Clark's piece sums up exactly what instructors go through on a daily basis. The problem isn't really the schools, the teachers, the administrators or communist infiltration of our education system (I could barely type the last bit without laughing). It's the parents and what's become of them as a result of their own choices and our culture as a whole. So, what do they need to understand?

We are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you're willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future.


Trust us. At times when I tell parents that their child has been a behavior problem, I can almost see the hairs rise on their backs. They are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's true. I just told you. And please don't ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.


And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them. I was talking with a parent and her son about his summer reading assignments. He told me he hadn't started, and I let him know I was extremely disappointed because school starts in two weeks.

His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they'd been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn't help but point out that the assignments were given in May. She quickly added that she was allowing her child some "fun time" during the summer before getting back to work in July and that it wasn't his fault the work wasn't complete.


Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic. If you don't want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren't succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.


And parents, you know, it's OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong. If we give a child a 79 on a project, then that is what the child deserves. Don't set up a time to meet with me to negotiate extra credit for an 80. It's a 79, regardless of whether you think it should be a B+.


We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask -- and beg of you -- to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.


Everything was so well said and exactly how I feel that there was nothing else to add.

Now, the question do we change the behavior of the parents?