Tuesday, July 31, 2012

#Occupy Adam Smith

Gee whiz, Adam Smith sounds like the intellectual father of the global Occupy movements.  (Maybe he liked to defecate in public too, who knows?....)

By David Wearing
July 30, 2012 | Guardian

Free market economics has taken such a battering of late that one might almost begin to feel sorry for it. In 2008, a cataclysmic meltdown in the barely regulated financial industry plunged the world into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge. For Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, "market fundamentalism" was as discredited by this experience as communism was by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Recent scandals at Barclays and HSBC have merely served to underline the point.

Meanwhile the Conservative party, which derives half its funding from big finance, has set about making the public pay for the bankers' crisis, with disastrous results. "Market fundamentalism" told George Osborne that, as the dead weight of the public sector was cut away, the thrusting dynamism of private enterprise, hitherto crowded out by the state, would be unleashed to create jobs and propel growth. Instead, austerity destroyed demand, wiped out the recovery and plunged Britain into a new recession. "Expansionary fiscal contraction" proved to be exactly as oxymoronic as it sounds, breaking the reputation of the chancellor barely two years after he entered Downing Street.

So all in all, there's never been a better time to quote Adam Smith, especially if you're a socialist. Counterintuitive perhaps, but true nonetheless.

Smith, the 18th century Scottish philosopher, is of course best known for advocating the liberalisation of markets (arguably necessary at a time when the punishment for illegal livestock export was to have one's hand cut off and nailed up in the local marketplace, for a first offence, and the penalty for a second offence was death). However, what is less well known is that Smith shared some of the key concerns of today's critics of neoliberalism. His most famous work, The Wealth of Nations, offered a powerful political critique of the "one per cent" of his day, to borrow the terminology of the Occupy movement. In what he himself described as a "very violent attack" on an unjust status quo, Smith repeatedly emphasised the role of power, influence and class in distorting economic policy to serve the interests of a narrow elite.

Smith noted that the "English legislature has been peculiarly attentive to the interests of commerce" because policymakers were continually "imposed upon by the sophistry of merchants". The vested interests "like an overgrown standing army … have become formidable to the government, and upon many occasions intimidate the legislature". They argue their case "with all the passionate confidence of interested falsehood", predicting national ruin if their demands are not met. Of course, all this has a very familiar ring.

The politician who serves the one per cent, Smith noted, "is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance.  If he opposes them [he is subjected to] the most infamous abuse and detraction". One thinks here of the hysteria elicited by Ed Miliband's mild suggestion in his last party conference speech that some parts of the capitalist system were working a little less well than others.

Smith observed that "all for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind". The class power of wealth and big business makes the elite the "principal architects" of policy, "an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it". Smith repeatedly stresses that while the mercantile system does not serve the public interest, it does benefit the "principal architects" of policy, which is no less true of today's hyper-financialised, neoliberal capitalism.

This is not to argue that Smith should be automatically deferred to simply because he is a renowned intellectual figure, but rather that it can be useful to return to his writings in light of historical experience.  We have learned that it is possible for deregulated markets to fail the public disastrously. But the larger point is that when power and influence over policymaking is heavily concentrated within an economic elite, policy will be designed to serve that elite, often at the public's expense. What Smith can teach us today is that the question of who decides, and in whose interest, is crucial to our understanding of how economic policy is made.

Friday, July 27, 2012

We're so screwed

When our regulators and politicians believe that revealing banksters' crimes is more "dangerous" and "destabilizing" than the crimes themselves, then you know we're totally screwed.

By Richard Zombeck
July 26, 2012 | Huffington Post

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A heartbreaking voter-ID story for my GOP friends

Conservatives and Republicans are very emotional when it comes to politics, therefore they trust personal anecdotes over statistics.  So here's a personal story for them, to show why new voter-ID laws being rammed through Republican state houses are bad:

Applewhite, a great-grandmother who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, has worked as a hotel maid for most of her adult life.  She has never had a driver's license.  Her purse was stolen four years ago along with her only copy of her Social Security card.  She was adopted as a child and has been married twice.  As a result, she does not have the necessary documentation to acquire a state-sanctioned voter ID card and if the law is upheld, Applewhite will not be able to vote in a presidential election for the first time since 1960, when she pulled the lever to vote for John F. Kennedy.

OK, and if you're an independent or Democrat, here are some stats for you from just one state

Under Pennsylvania's harsh new voter ID law, as many as 20 percent of voters in the state lack the photo IDs required to cast a vote, an estimated 1,636,168. In Philadelphia alone, however, 437,237 people, a whopping 43 percent of the voting population, may be ineligible to vote under the law.

If Pennsylvania is like other many other states, it could take weeks or even months to get a state-sanctioned photo ID, even if you follow all the procedures punctiliously.

Nationwide, "11 percent of eligible American voters lack such ID.  Poor, minority, and elderly voters are especially likely to fall into that group: 25 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of Americans over 65 don't have the necessary identification."

Without a preceding drive to inform people about coming changes and help them obtain free picture IDs, these new state laws can be interpreted only one way: a cynical ambush timed for November 2012 on the most basic right we have in our republican democracy, the right to vote.  

If Republicans were serious about picture IDs then they would spend the time and budget resources to institute a national ID card.  Gee whiz, by 2017 every Mexican under the age of 17 will be given a biometric ID card.  Can't we do as well as them?  (And then we wouldn't have to worry about non-current addresses, misspelled names, expired licenses, and other silly obstacles to voting.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Inventor of TBTF banks: It's time to end TBTF

By Bonnie Kavoussi
July 25, 2012 | Huffington Post

Dumb, pathetic legalism of U.S. campaign finance

"Our lawyers are confident that we did not cross the line into express advocacy," said the Nevada chapter director of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-founded political advocacy group.

How dumb is that?  How dumb is the Supreme Court, and how f--king dumb do they think we are to buy this crap?  AFP spent $ millions trashing a Democrat running for office in Nevada; but according to the Supreme Court, since AFP didn't say "don't vote for him," they don't have to disclose their political donors.

We all know that AFP was campaigning against a specific candidate, whether it was "express" or not.  And yet they can dodge the law on a technicality as if it means something.  It doesn't.  They are spending $ millions to take out Democratic candidates, and everybody knows it.

But the SCOTUS asks us to close our eyes to the obvious, blazing truth staring us in our faces.  Pathetic.  Disgusting.  This is "I didn't inhale" to the 10th power.

By Anjeanette Damon
July 22, 2012 | Las Vegas Sun

Michael Moore: It's not really the guns

By Michael Moore
July 24, 2012 | MichaelMoore.com

Since Cain went nuts and whacked Abel, there have always been those humans who, for one reason or another, go temporarily or permanently insane and commit unspeakable acts of violence. There was the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who during the first century A.D. enjoyed throwing victims off a cliff on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Gilles de Rais, a French knight and ally of Joan of Arc during the middle ages, went cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs one day and ended up murdering hundreds of children. Just a few decades later Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula, was killing people in Transylvania in numberless horrifying ways. 

In modern times, nearly every nation has had a psychopath or two commit a mass murder, regardless of how strict their gun laws are – the crazed white supremacist in Norway one year ago Sunday, the schoolyard butcher in Dunblane, Scotland, the École Polytechnique killer in Montreal, the mass murderer in Erfurt, Germany … the list seems endless. 

And now the Aurora shooter last Friday. There have always been insane people, and there always will be. 

But here's the difference between the rest of the world and us: We have TWO Auroras that take place every single day of every single year! At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns – and that doesn't count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000. 

That means the United States is responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. Considering that the people of those countries, as human beings, are no better or worse than any of us, well, then, why us? 

Both conservatives and liberals in America operate with firmly held beliefs as to "the why" of this problem. And the reason neither can find their way out of the box toward a real solution is because, in fact, they're both half right. 

The right believes that the Founding Fathers, through some sort of divine decree, have guaranteed them the absolute right to own as many guns as they desire. And they will ceaselessly remind you that a gun cannot fire itself – that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." 

Of course, they know they're being intellectually dishonest (if I can use that word) when they say that about the Second Amendment because they know the men who wrote the constitution just wanted to make sure a militia could be quickly called up from amongst the farmers and merchants should the Brits decide to return and wreak some havoc. 

But they are half right when they say "Guns don't kill people." I would just alter that slogan slightly to speak the real truth: "Guns don't kill people, Americans kill people." 

Because we're the only ones in the first world who do this en masse. And you'll hear all stripes of Americans come up with a host of reasons so that they don't have to deal with what's really behind all this murder and mayhem. 

They'll say it's the violent movies and video games that are responsible. Last time I checked, the movies and video games in Japan are more violent than ours – and yet usually fewer than 20 people a year are killed there with guns – and in 2006 the number was two! 

Others will say it's the number of broken homes that lead to all this killing. I hate to break this to you, but there are almost as many single-parent homes in the U.K. as there are here – and yet, in Great Britain, there are usually fewer than 40 gun murders a year. 

People like me will say this is all the result of the U.S. having a history and a culture of men with guns, "cowboys and Indians," "shoot first and ask questions later." And while it is true that the mass genocide of the Native Americans set a pretty ugly model to found a country on, I think it's safe to say we're not the only ones with a violent past or a penchant for genocide. Hello, Germany! That's right I'm talking about you and your history, from the Huns to the Nazis, just loving a good slaughter (as did the Japanese, and the British who ruled the world for hundreds of years – and they didn't achieve that through planting daisies). And yet in Germany, a nation of 80 million people, there are only around 200 gun murders a year. 

So those countries (and many others) are just like us – except for the fact that more people here believe in God and go to church than any other Western nation. 

My liberal compatriots will tell you if we just had less guns, there would be less gun deaths. And, mathematically, that would be true. If you have less arsenic in the water supply, it will kill less people. Less of anything bad – calories, smoking, reality TV – will kill far fewer people. And if we had strong gun laws that prohibited automatic and semi-automatic weapons and banned the sale of large magazines that can hold a gazillion bullets, well, then shooters like the man in Aurora would not be able to shoot so many people in just a few minutes. 

But this, too, has a problem. There are plenty of guns in Canada (mostly hunting rifles) – and yet the annual gun murder count in Canada is around 200 deaths. In fact, because of its proximity, Canada's culture is very similar to ours – the kids play the same violent video games, watch the same movies and TV shows, and yet they don't grow up wanting to kill each other. Switzerland has the third-highest number of guns per capita on earth, but still a low murder rate. 

So – why us? 

I posed this question a decade ago in my film 'Bowling for Columbine,' and this week, I have had little to say because I feel I said what I had to say ten years ago – and it doesn't seem to have done a whole lot of good other than to now look like it was actually a crystal ball posing as a movie. 

This is what I said then, and it is what I will say again today: 

1. We Americans are incredibly good killers. We believe in killing as a way of accomplishing our goals. Three-quarters of our states execute criminals, even though the states with the lower murder rates are generally the states with no death penalty. 

Our killing is not just historical (the slaughter of Indians and slaves and each other in a "civil" war). It is our current way of resolving whatever it is we're afraid of. It's invasion as foreign policy. Sure there's Iraq and Afghanistan – but we've been invaders since we "conquered the wild west" and now we're hooked so bad we don't even know where to invade (bin Laden wasn't hiding in Afghanistan, he was in Pakistan) or what to invade for (Saddam had zero weapons of mass destruction and nothing to do with 9/11). We send our lower classes off to do the killing, and the rest of us who don't have a loved one over there don't spend a single minute of any given day thinking about the carnage. And now we send in remote pilotless planes to kill, planes that are being controlled by faceless men in a lush, air conditioned studio in suburban Las Vegas. It is madness. 

2. We are an easily frightened people and it is easy to manipulate us with fear. What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, #1 in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer. Maybe we would take better care of each other (here's a good example of what I mean). 

Those are my thoughts about Aurora and the violent country I am a citizen of. Like I said, I spelled it all out here if you'd like to watch it or share it for free with others. All we're lacking here, my friends, is the courage and the resolve. I'm in if you are.

Monday, July 23, 2012

In 2012, vote for the Christian?

Mormon Temple Garments
Just one of Mormons' weird beliefs; look it up
Maybe I'm being a bit rascally by posting this, but certain Bible-thumpers and confession-doubters deserve to hear it. After all, if they're going to doubt the confessed Christianity of our President, then they need to know that Mitt Romney is not a Christian.  

That's not an insult, that's a fact. Even Franklin Graham said so. Christianity is a club of sorts, and you have to believe certain things to be a member.  Mormons don't.  So they're not in the club.  They are their own religious sect.  (Or, "the fourth Abrahamic religion," if you want to be really generous.)  That doesn't make them bad people.  Just like Muslims, Jews, Hindus, agnostics and atheists are not necessarily bad.  They're simply not Christians.  On this point, Protestants and the Catholic Church agree.

So, our conservative Christian friends need to decide if they want a confessed Christian in the White House, or a confessed non-Christian.  (Or, gee whiz, maybe they'll come to the realization that one's religion, or lack thereof, doesn't matter?!...)  

By Matt Slick
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

[ ... ] 


Why is Mormonism a non-Christian religion? It is not Christian because it denies that there is only one God, denies the true Gospel, adds works to salvation, denies that Jesus is the uncreated creator, distorts the biblical teaching of the atonement, and undermines the authority and reliability of the Bible.

CARM does not deny that Mormons are good people, that they worship "a" god, that they share common words with Christians, that they help their people, and that they do many good things.  But that isn't what makes someone Christian.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23, " Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (NKJV). Becoming a Christian does not mean belonging to a church, doing good things, or simply believing in God. Being a Christian means that you have trusted in the true God for salvation, in the True Jesus -- not the brother of the devil, not the god of Mormonism, not the gospel of Mormonism.  Mormonism is false and cannot save anyone.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. needs $27 M from taxpayers

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. salutes our troops... but won't give 'em any freebies. Wouldn't be American.
Yo, Tea Parties, where you at?  You down with this?

Anyway, if Earnhardt is such a southern patriot, why can't he give Uncle Sam a discount, or better yet, free ad space on his Chevy for our troops?

Going further, if NASCAR is such an effective channel for communications to the key redneck demographic, then maybe Big Government should pay for Surgeon General's warnings about tobacco use on the Skoal Bandit car, too?  Maybe we should pay $ millions to paint on reminders from the CDC to get kids vaccinated?  The possibilities for useful public communications via cars driving in circles in front of captive audiences are practically endless.  

Drunk redneck idiot today; potential military hero tomorrow.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Reagan budget director on U.S. 'crony capitalism' -- MUST READ!

Do you need Reagan's zombie to rise from the grave and tell us the hard truth, or is the guy who ran his fiscal policy in the 80s good enough?

DAVID STOCKMAN:  Well look, I think the financial industry, over the two or three year run up to 2010 spent something like $600 million. Just the financial industry, the banks, the Wall Street houses and some hedge funds and others. Insurance companies. $600 million in campaign contributions or lobbying.

That is so disproportionate, because the average American today is struggling to make ends meet. Probably working extra hours in order, just to keep up with the cost of living, which is being driven up unfortunately by the Fed.

They don't have time to weigh into the political equation against the daily, hourly lobbying and pressuring and, you know, influencing of the process. So it's asymmetrical. And how do we solve that?  I think we can only solve it by -- and it'll take a constitutional amendment, so I don't say this lightly.  But I think we have to eliminate all contributions above $100 and get corporations out of politics entirely.

Almost everything wrong with our politics comes back to campaign finance.  Solve that, and it will solve a thousand problems in a snap.  Then we will have a real battle of ideas in politics, not a battle of wallets.

March 9, 2012 | Moyers & Company

Back in the first Gilded Age following the Civil War, with its huge concentration of wealth at the top and abject misery at the bottom, Boies Penrose was a United States Senator from Pennsylvania bought and paid for by the railroad tycoons and oil barons.

They could count on him to deliver the goods. "I believe in the division of labor," he told his wealthy paymasters. "You send us to Congress; we pass laws under which you make money…and out of your profits you further contribute to our campaign fund to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money."

Boies Penrose would be right at home in politics today. Crony capitalism – using government to deliver favors to your pals in the business world -- is alive and well. The rest of us pay for it. We pay for it at the grocery store because of sweetheart deals in Congress for the dairy industry and sugar lobby. We pay for it at drug store because politicians rented by giant pharmaceutical firms block competition. We pay for it in lowered returns on pension plans bailed out banks speculate with taxpayer money. We pay with the loss of jobs because of trade deals bought and paid for by multinational companies. We pay in tax rates higher than those of the billionaires who fund the SuperPacs. And we pay in the loss of political equality, because one person, one vote means very little when those we elect do the bidding of donors instead of voters.

We're deep now into what will be the most expensive election in our history, much of it funded by crony capitalists. So let's hear from two people who have closely watched how cozy ties between Wall Street and Washington are perverting capitalism and subverting democracy. First, David Stockman.

In the 1970s, he was a young Republican congressman from Michigan and an early proponent of supply-side economics -- some call it trickle down.

You know the theory; if you cut taxes on the wealthy, while cutting government, the economy will take off, money trickling down and creating millions of jobs.

It was the centerpiece of Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign for president.

RONALD REAGAN: There is enough fat in the government in Washington that if it was rendered and made into soap, it would wash the world.

BILL MOYERS: Once in the Oval Office, President Reagan made David Stockman his budget director.

DAVID STOCKMAN: When President Reagan gave me this job he pointed to that budget which is some thousands and thousands of pages long, and he said go through it from top to bottom with a fine tooth comb and unless you can find a persuasive demonstration why funds must be spent, cut those budgets.

BILL MOYERS: Stockman helped Reagan usher in the largest tax cut in U.S. history, a cut that mainly favored the rich. But things didn't go exactly as they planned them. The economy sagged, and in 1982 and '84, Reagan and Stockman agreed to tax increases.

In 1985 Stockman left government and wrote a book critical of his own years in power: The Triumph of Politics: The Inside Story of the Reagan Revolution. He then took his economic expertise to Wall Street and became an investment banker. Thirty years later, he's writing a new book, with the working title The Triumph of Crony Capitalism.

I sat down with him to talk about how politics and high finance have turned our economy into a private club for members only.

What do you mean by crony capitalism?

DAVID STOCKMAN: Crony capitalism is about the aggressive and proactive use of political resources, lobbying, campaign contributions, influence-peddling of one type or another to gain something from the governmental process that wouldn't otherwise be achievable in the market. And as the time has progressed over the last two or three decades, I think it's gotten much worse. Money dominates politics.

And as a result, we have neither capitalism or democracy. We have some kind of --

BILL MOYERS: What do we have?

DAVID STOCKMAN: We have crony capitalism, which is the worst. It's not a free market. There isn't risk taking in the sense that if you succeed, you keep your rewards, if you fail, you accept the consequences. Look what the bailout was in 2008.

There was clearly reckless, speculative behavior going on for years on Wall Street. And then when the consequence finally came, the Treasury stepped in and the Fed stepped in. Everything was bailed out and the game was restarted. And I think that was a huge mistake.

BILL MOYERS: You write, quote, "During a few weeks in September and October 2008, American political democracy was fatally corrupted by a resounding display of expediency and raw power. Henceforth, the door would be wide open for the entire legion of Washington's K Street lobbies, reinforced by the campaign libations prodigiously dispensed by their affiliated political action committees, to relentlessly plunder the public purse." That's a pretty strong indictment.

DAVID STOCKMAN: Yeah and, but on the other hand, I think you would have to say it was fair. When you look at what came out of 2008, the only thing that came out of 2008 was a stabilization of these giant Wall Street banks. Nothing came out of 2008 that really helped Main Street. Nothing came out of 2008 that addressed our fundamental problems, that we've lost a huge swath of our middle class jobs. Nothing came out of 2008 that made financial discipline or fiscal discipline possible.

It was justified as sort of expediency. We need to do this. We need to stop the contagion. But it wasn't thought through as to what the long-term implications of this would be.

BILL MOYERS: How did you see it playing out?

DAVID STOCKMAN: I think there was a lot of panic going on in the Treasury Department. I call it "The Blackberry Panic." They were all looking at their Blackberries, and could see the price of Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley dropping by the hour. And somehow they thought that was thermostat telling them that the economy was coming unraveled.

I don't believe that was right. I think what was going on was simply a huge correction that was overdue on Wall Street. The big leverage hedge funds on Wall Street that called themselves investment banks weren't really investment banks. They were just big trading operations using 30, 40 to one leverage. And it was that that was being corrected.

But they used the occasion of the Wall Street banking crisis to create the impression that this was the beginning of a kind of black hole the whole economy was going to drop into. I think that was wrong.

And it was that fear that led Congress to do anything they wanted. You know, the Congress gave them a blank check.

BILL MOYERS: Not at first, don't you remember, Congress first refused to approve the bailout, right?

DAVID STOCKMAN: And then, the stock market dropped 600 points because all of the speculators on Wall Street all of a sudden began to think, 'Hey, they might let capitalism work. They might let the rules of the free market function.'

BILL MOYERS: You mean by letting them fail.


BILL MOYERS: If they let them fail?

DAVID STOCKMAN: I think if they let them fail it wouldn't have spread to the rest of the economy. There wouldn't have been another version of the Great Depression. There weren't going to be runs on the bank. We weren't going to have consumers lined up in St. Louis and Des Moines and elsewhere worried about their bank. That's why we have deposit insurance, the FDIC. But it would have been a big lesson to the speculators that you're not going to be propped up and bailed out,

You're not going to have the Fed as your friend. You're not going to have the Treasury with a lifeline. You're going to have to answer to the marketplace. And until we get that discipline back into our financial system, the banks are just going to continue to grow, continue to speculate and find new ways to make easy money at the expense of the system.

BILL MOYERS: President Bush, he was still in office then.


BILL MOYERS: He said, I have to suspend the rules of the free market in order to save the free market.

DAVID STOCKMAN: You can't save free enterprise by suspending the rules just at the hour they're needed. The rules are needed when it comes time to take losses. Gains are easy for people to realize. They're easy for people to capture. It's the rules of the game are most necessary when the losses have to occur because mistakes have been made, errors have been made, speculation has gone too far. The history has always been -- and this is why we had Glass-Steagall and a lot of the legislation in the 1930s.

BILL MOYERS: Glass-Steagall was the provision --

DAVID STOCKMAN: The division of banks between the commercial banking and investment banking and insurance and other --

BILL MOYERS: So that you, the banker, could not take my deposits and gamble with them, right?

DAVID STOCKMAN: That's exactly right. And we need not only a reinstitution of Glass-Steagall, but even a more serious limitation on banks.  And what I mean by that is, that if we want to have a way for, you know, average Americans to save money without taking big risks and not be worried about the failure of their banking institution, then there can be some narrow banks who do nothing except take deposits, make long-term loans or short-term loans of a standard, business variety without trading anything, without getting into all of these exotic derivative instruments, without putting huge leverage on their balance sheet.

And we need to say simply, that if you're a bank and you want to have deposit insurance, which ultimately, you know, is backed up by the taxpayer -- if you're a bank and you want to have access to the so-called "discount window" of the Fed, the emergency lending, then you can't be in trading at all.

Now, on the other hand, if they want to be a hedge fund, then they've got to raise risk capital and they have to take the consequences of their risks, both to the good side and the bad side. And until we really approach that issue, and dismantle these giant, multi-trillion dollar balance sheet banks, and separate retail and deposit insured banking from just financial companies, we're going to have recurring bouts of what we had in 2008.

And they haven't even begun to address that, and it's so disappointing to see that the Obama administration, which in theory should've had more perspective on this than a Republican administration under Bush, to see that one, they appointed in the key positions the same people who brought the problem in: Geithner and Summers and all of those, and secondly, that Obama did nothing about it.

It could have easily -- they could have begun to dismantle a couple of these lame duck institutions, Citibank would have been a good place to start. But they did nothing. They passed Dodd-Frank, which said, now we're going to have everybody write regulations -- tens of thousands of pages that you know, it was a full employment act for accountants and lawyers and consultants and lobbyists. But they didn't go to the heart of the problem. If they're too big to fail, they're too big to exist. And let's start right with that proposition.

BILL MOYERS: You've described what other people have called the financialization of the American economy, the growth in the size and the power of the financial industry. What does that term mean to you, financialization? And why should we care that it's happened?

DAVID STOCKMAN: Because what it means is that a massive amount of resources are being devoted, being allocated or being channeled into pure financial speculation that has no gain to society as a whole, has no real economic contribution to the process by which GNP is created, GDP is created and growth occurs.

By 2007, 40 percent of all the profits in the American economy were coming from finance companies. 40 percent. Historically it was 15 percent.

So the financialization means that as we attracted more and more resources and capital, and we made speculation easier and easier, and we funded it with almost free overnight money, managed and manipulated by the Fed, that's how the economy got financialized. But that is a casino. Casinos -- they're, you know, places for people to go if they want to speculate and wager. But they're not part of a healthy, constructive economy.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by the free money that banks are using overnight?

DAVID STOCKMAN: Well, by that we mean when the Fed, the Federal Reserve sets the so-called federal funds rate at ten basis points, where it is today, that more or less guarantees banks can go into the Fed window, the discount window, and borrow at ten basis points.

And then you take that money and you buy a government bond that is yielding two percent or three percent. Or buy some corporate bonds that are yielding five percent. Or if you want to really get aggressive, buy some Australian dollars that have been going up. Or buy some cotton futures. And this is really what has been going on in our markets.

The cheap funding, which is guaranteed by the Fed, the investment of that cheap funding into speculative assets and then pocketing the spread.  And you can make huge amounts of money as long as the music doesn't stop. And when the music stops then all of a sudden, the cheap, overnight money dries up. This is what's happening in Europe today. This is what happened in 2008.

And then people are stuck with all these risky assets, and they can't fund them. They owe cash to the people they borrowed overnight from or on a weekly basis. That's what creates the so-called contagion. That's what creates the downward spiral. Now, unless we let those burn out, it'll be done over and over. In other words, if, you know, if a lesson isn't learned, then the error will be repeated over and over.

BILL MOYERS: Stockman says the modern bailout culture took off under President Bill Clinton. It was engineered with the help of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and top economic advisors at the Treasury, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin.

BILL CLINTON: The American people either didn't agree or didn't understand what in the world I'm up to in Mexico.

DAVID STOCKMAN: I think it started with the bailout of the banks in 1994 during the Mexican Peso Crisis.

REPORTER: For investors it was a sight for sore eyes. Mexico's stock market actually soaring instead of plummeting for the first time in weeks. All this, an immediate reaction to news of a major international aid package – nearly half of it from Washington.

DAVID STOCKMAN: That was allegedly designed to help Mexico. It was $20 billion with no approval from Congress that was used, I think inappropriately out of a Treasury fund. And why were we doing this? It's because the big banks were too exposed to some bad loans that they had written in Mexico and elsewhere.

BILL MOYERS: Wall Street banks. U.S. banks.

DAVID STOCKMAN: Wall Street banks. Wall Street banks. The banks of the day, Citibank, Bankers Trust, the others that existed at that time. And so the idea got started that Washington would be there with a prop, with a bailout, with a helping hand. And then the balls start rolling down the hill.

DAN RATHER: The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has taken highly unusual action to head off what could have been a severe blow to world economies.

BILL MOYERS: When the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management blew up in 1998, it was big news.

REPORTER: Dan, the Long Term Capital fund lost billions in the recent market turmoil and last night, stood on the brink of collapse.

DAVID STOCKMAN: Long Term Capital was an economic train wreck waiting to happen. It was leveraged 100 to one. It was in every kind of speculative investment known to man. In Russian equities, in Thailand bonds, and everything in between. And it was enabled by Wall Street.

REPORTER: An emergency meeting was organized by the Federal Reserve last night, here at its New York office. At the table, more than a dozen of Wall Street's biggest bankers and brokers including David Komansky, Chairman of Merrill Lynch, Sandy Weill of Travelers and Sandy Warner of JP Morgan. One by one the firms each agreed to kick in more than $250 million to bail out Long Term Capital before its troubles sent shockwaves through the banking system.

DAVID STOCKMAN: Why did the Fed step in, organize all the Wall Street banks, and kind of sponsor this bailout? Because all of the Wall Street banks that enabled Long Term Capital to grow to this giant size, to have 100 to one leverage, by loaning them money. So when the Treasury and the Fed stepped in and bailed out, effectively, Long Term Capital and their lenders, their enablers, it was another big sign that the rules of the game had changed and that institutions were becoming too big to fail.

Fast forward. We go through one percent interest rates at the Fed in the early 2000s, we go through the housing bubble and collapse.

BILL MOYERS: Following the 2008 economic meltdown came the mother of all bailouts.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Good morning. Secretary Paulson, Chairman Bernanke and Chairman Cox have briefed leaders on Capitol Hill on the urgent need for Congress to pass legislation approving the Federal government's purchase of illiquid assets such as troubled mortgages from banks and other financial institutions.

BILL MOYERS: The Bush administration leaped to the rescue of some of the county's largest financial institutions, to the tune of 700 billion tax-payer dollars.

DAVID STOCKMAN: We elect a new government because the public said, you know, "We're scared. We want a change." And who did we get? We got Larry Summers. We got the same guy who had been one of the original architects of the policy in the 1990s, the financialization policy, the too big to fail policy.

Who else did we get?  We got Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury.  He had been at the Fed in New York in October 2008 bailing out everybody in sight. General Electric got bailed out. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, all of the banks got bailed out, and the architect of that bailout then becomes the Secretary of the Treasury. So it's another signal to the financial markets that nothing ever changes. The cronies of capitalism are in charge of policy.

BILL MOYERS: You name names in your writing. You identify several people as the embodiment of crony capitalism. Tell me about Jeffrey Immelt.

DAVID STOCKMAN: He is the poster boy for crony capitalism. Here is GE, one of the six triple-A companies left in the United Sates, a massive, half-trillion dollar company, massive market capitalization. I'm talking about the eve of the crisis now, in September, 2008.

Suddenly, when the commercial paper market starts to destabilize and short-term rates went up. He calls up the Treasury secretary with an S.O.S., "I'm in trouble here. I need a lifeline." He had recklessly funded a lot of assets at General Electric Capital in the overnight commercial paper market. And suddenly needed a bailout from the Treasury. Within days, that bailout was granted.

And therefore, General Electric was able to avoid the consequence of its foolish lend long and borrow short policy. What they should have been required to do when the commercial paper market dried up -- that was the excuse. They should've been required to offer equity, sell stock at a highly discounted rate, dilute their shareholders, and raise the cash they needed to pay off their commercial paper.

That would've been the capitalist way. That would've been the free market way of doing things. And in the future they would've been less likely to go back into this speculative mode of borrowing short and lending long. But when we get to the point where the one triple-A, a multi-hundred billion dollar company gets to call up the secretary, issue the S.O.S. sign and get $60 billion worth of guaranteed Federal Reserve and Treasury backup lines, then we are, you know, our system has been totally transformed. It is not a free market system. It is a system run by powerful, political and corporate forces.

BARACK OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: So when you saw that President Obama had appointed Jeffrey Immelt, as the head of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, what went through your mind?

DAVID STOCKMAN: Well, I was in the middle of being very disgusted with what my own Republican Party had done and what Bush had done and the Paulson Treasury. And then when I saw this, I got the title for my book, "The Triumph of Crony Capitalism."

BARACK OBAMA: And I am so proud and pleased that Jeff has agreed to chair this panel, my Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, because we think GE has something to teach businesses all across America.

DAVID STOCKMAN: If you have a former community organizer who was trained in the Saul Alinsky school of direct democracy, appointing the worst abuser, the worst abuser of crony capitalism, GE, who came in and begged for this bailout, to head his Jobs Council, when obviously GE's international corporation, they've been shifting jobs offshore for decades, then it becomes so obvious that we have a new kind of system, and that we have a real crisis.

BILL MOYERS: Where is the shame? Shouldn't these people have been at least a little ashamed of running the economy and the financial system into the ditch and then saying, "Come lift me out?"

DAVID STOCKMAN: Yes. You know, I think that's part of the problem. I started on Capitol Hill in 1970s. And as I can vividly recall, corporate leaders then at least were consistent. They might've complained about big government, or they might've complained about the tax system.

But there wasn't an entitlement expectation that if financial turmoil or upheaval came along, that the Treasury, or the Federal Reserve, or the FDIC or someone would be there to back them up. That would've been considered, you know, it would've been considered, as you say, shameful. And somehow, over the last 30 years, the corporate leadership of America has gotten so addicted to their stock price by the hour, by the day, by the week, that they're willing to support anything that might keep the game going and help the system in the short run avoid a hit to their stock price and to the value of their options. That's the real problem today. And as a result, there is no real political doctrine ideology left in the corporate community. They are simply pragmatists who will take anything they can find, and run with it.

BILL MOYERS: So this is what you mean, when you say free markets are not free. They've been bought and paid for by large financial institutions.

DAVID STOCKMAN: Right. I don't think it's entirely a corruption of human nature. People have always been inconsistent and greedy.

But I think it's been the evolution of the political culture in which there have been so many bailouts, there has been so much abuse and misuse of government power for private ends and private gains, that now we have an entitled class in this country that is far worse than you know, remember the welfare queens that Ronald Reagan used to talk about?

We now have an entitled class of Wall Street financiers and of corporate CEOs who believe the government is there to do what is ever necessary if it involves tax relief, tax incentives, tax cuts, loan guarantees, Federal Reserve market intervention and stabilization. Whatever it takes in order to keep the game going and their stock price moving upward. That's where they are.

BILL MOYERS: You were disaffected with the party of your youth, the Republican Party, because it has-- because it's become dogmatic on so many of these issues and no longer listens to evidence and facts. I'm disaffected with the party of my youth because that Democratic Party served the interest of the working people in this country like Ruby and Henry Moyers. And so many people feel the same way. How do we overcome this pessimism about the American future? "The Wall Street Journal" had a headline on an op-ed piece that said, "The End of American Optimism." A recent survey said only 15 percent of the people were satisfied about the direction of the American people. I mean, this is a serious situation, is it not?

DAVID STOCKMAN: I think it is. And -- but we also have to recognize the pessimism that the public reflects in the surveys and polls is warranted. In other words the public isn't being unduly pessimistic. It's not been overcome with some kind of a false wave of emotion. No. I think the American public sees very clearly the current system isn't working, that the Federal Reserve is basically working on behalf of Wall Street, not Main Street.

The Congress is owned lock, stock and barrel by one after another, after another special interest. And they logically say how can we expect, you know, anything good to come out of this kind of process that seems to be getting worse.  So how do we turn that around? I think it's going to take, unfortunately a real crisis before maybe the decks can be cleared.

BILL MOYERS: What would that look like?

DAVID STOCKMAN: It will take something even more traumatic than we had in September 2008.

BILL MOYERS: But on the basis of the record, the lessons of the past. The experience you have just recounted and are writing about. Do you see any early signs that we might turn the ship from the iceberg?

DAVID STOCKMAN: No. I think we've learned no lessons. We really have not restructured our financial system. The big banks that existed then that were too big to fail are even bigger now. The top six banks then had seven trillion of assets, now they have nine or ten trillion.

Rather than go to the fundamentals which have been totally neglected-- we've simply kind of papered over the current system and continued the game of having the Federal Reserve and the Treasury if necessary prop up all of this leverage and speculation, which isn't helping the economy.

And when we talk about zero interest rates. That's not helping Main Street. Our problem in this economy is not our interest rates are too high. The zero interest rates are just more fuel for leverage speculation for what's called the carry trade and that is causing windfall benefits to the few but it's leaving the fundamental problems of our economy in worse shape than they've ever been.

BILL MOYERS: No one I know has a better understanding of the see-saw tension in our history between democracy and capitalism.

Capitalism, you accumulate wealth and make it available. Democracy being a brake, B-R-A-K-E, on the unbridled greed of capitalists. It seems to me that democracy has lost and that capitalism is triumphant -- crony capitalism in this case.

DAVID STOCKMAN: And I think it's important to put the word crony capitalism on there. Because free-market capitalism is a different thing. True free-market capitalists never go to Washington with their hand out.  True free-market capitalists running a bank do not expect that every time they make a foolish mistake or they get themselves too leveraged or they end up with too many risky assets that don't work out, they don't expect to go to the Federal Reserve and get some cheap or free money and go on as before.

They expect consequences, maybe even failure of their firm, certainly loss of their bonuses, maybe the loss of their jobs. So we don't have free-market capitalism left in this country anymore. We have everyone believing that if they can hire the right lobbyist, raise enough political action committee money, spend enough time prowling the halls of the Senate and the House and the office buildings, arguing for their parochial narrow interest -- that that is the way that will work out. And that is crony capitalism. It's very dangerous and it seems to be becoming more embedded in our system.

BILL MOYERS: So many people say, "We've got to get money out of politics." Or as you said, "Money dominates government today."

DAVID STOCKMAN: Well look, I think the financial industry, over the two or three year run up to 2010 spent something like $600 million. Just the financial industry, the banks, the Wall Street houses and some hedge funds and others. Insurance companies. $600 million in campaign contributions or lobbying.

That is so disproportionate, because the average American today is struggling to make ends meet. Probably working extra hours in order, just to keep up with the cost of living, which is being driven up unfortunately by the Fed.

They don't have time to weigh into the political equation against the daily, hourly lobbying and pressuring and, you know, influencing of the process. So it's asymmetrical. And how do we solve that? I think we can only solve it by -- and it'll take a constitutional amendment, so I don't say this lightly.  But I think we have to eliminate all contributions above $100 and get corporations out of politics entirely.

[Hallelujah! -- J]

Ban corporations from campaign contributions or attempting to influence elections.  Now, I know that runs into current free speech. So the only way around it is a constitutional amendment to cleanse our political system on a one-time basis from this enormously corrupting influence that has built up. And I think nothing is really going to change until we get money out of politics and do some radical things to change the way elections are financed and the way the process is influenced by organized money. If we don't address that, then crony capitalism is here for the duration.

BILL MOYERS: David Stockman, thank you very much for sharing this time with us.

Tennessee losing the PR war for America

Thanks, Murfreesboro, TN for making Americans look like a bunch of intolerant redneck clowns. Again.

How many America-haters did this town and this bigoted judge create, I wonder?  How many Americans in Afghanistan and elsewhere will face reprisals because of state-sanctioned discrimination against Muslims in Tennessee?

Anyway... happy Ramadan!

July 18, 2012 | AP

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

DC Johnston: U.S. companies hold $5.1 trillion in cash

My man David Cay Johnston is on the case:

The Fed's latest Flow of Funds report showed that U.S. nonfinancial companies held $1.7 trillion in liquid assets at the end of March. But newly released IRS figures show that in 2009 these companies held $4.8 trillion in liquid assets, which equals $5.1 trillion in today's dollars, triple the Fed figure.

Yeah, it's all because of uncertainty over Obamacare.  Yeah, that's the ticket.  We still need to cut the corporate tax rate!

Seriously though, we need to close overseas tax loopholes.

By David Cay Johnston
July 16, 2012 | Reuters

Monday, July 16, 2012

Big Gov't creates private-sector jobs all the time

Two huge take-aways here:

1) Compared to previous recessions, the real difference in the recovery from Dubya's Great Recession is not the comeback of private-sector jobs -- those are about on pace.  No, it's the huge cuts in public-sector jobs.  

Source: EPI

2) The economic "multiplier" of state and local spending is around 1.24.  And roughly 0.67 private sector jobs are lost for every public sector job cut.

So when people like Rush Limbaugh parrot the line that "government never created a job," that's just hogwash, because that's real money moving through the economy that ALWAYS ends up in the hands of the private sector eventually, with the same economic effect as any other kind of private spending or investment.

By Jared Bernstein
July 13, 2012 | Huffington Post

Cheaters DO prosper, that's why kids imitate them

In the U.S., cheating is normal, and it's contagious.  That's what we now know for certain. 

It's too bad our holier-than-thou conservatives don't talk about rampant cheating and corruption in business and higher education, especially in business schools where future conservative leaders are ostensibly bred.

It seems that to them all the immoral acts in America go on in bedrooms, not boardrooms or classrooms.

P.S. - Add bullies to the list of bad people who excel in adult life.  

By Susan Antilla
July 13, 2012 | Huffington Post

CBO: Obama is biggest tax-cutter in 30 years (but still Marxist)

Don't be fooled -- he's still a Muslim cryptosocialist!  This whole time he's just been waiting for us to re-elect him, so that he can implement all the godless, job-killing, freedom-destroying policies that we feared in 2008 he would pass if we elected him the first time.  That's how devious he is -- the devil is patient!

By Elizabeth Hewitt 
July 11, 2012 | Slate

Americans paid the lowest federal tax rate in three decades during President Obama's first year in office, according to a new government report out this week.

The Congressional Budget Office found that the average tax rate in 2009 was 17.4 percent, the lowest since 1979, and down from 19.9 percent in 2007. Although figures are only available through 2009, the CBO expects to see the historic lows maintained through 2010 and 2011.

(The Washington Post points out the irony: 2009 was the same year anti-tax protesters began their full-throated criticism of White House tax policies.)

In part, the tax decline was due to the dramatic decrease in average income that year, an effect of the Great Recession that caused many Americans to slide down into lower tax brackets. In 2009, the average household income was $88,400, according to the Financial Times, notably less than the $101,000 average in 2007. The top 1 percent of earners saw their income decrease by more than a third.

But, the low rates also reflect measures the Obama administration took to mediate the impact of the recession, including the "Making Work Pay" tax credit and other cuts bundled in the stimulus package. The lowest fifth of earners saw the most dramatic decrease, paying an average tax rate of 1 percent compared with 5.1 percent in 2007.

Only the top 1 percent of earners were exempt from the trend. Those in the top bracket, who earn approximately $1.2 million annually, paid a 28.9 percent federal tax rate, up from 28.1 the previous year, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Republicans and Democrats (shockingly!) are bickering over the implications of the CBO report. According to the Dems, the numbers prove the claims from across the aisle about Obama's tax policies false. "However much Republicans try to perpetuate false claims, the facts speak for themselves," Rep. Sander Levin, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee said. But a spokesman for the chair of the committee, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., countered that the low tax rates prove just how low average American incomes slid under the president. "A weak economy and fewer jobs is nothing to cheer about."

TARP's Barofsky on LIBOR: 'That's securities fraud' -- MUST READ!

Said TARP Inspector General Neil Barofsky to Bloomberg, in part, about the LIBOR scandal and how it's a result of TBTF banks' capture of our regulators:

From what we see, there appears to be criminal misconduct here. [...] That's securities fraud.  [...]  And I want to see someone brought to justice.

... There's a lack of leverage that the government has to a certain degree, because they cannot ... go and indict JP Morgan, they can't indict Goldman Sachs for something it's done, they can't indict Citi, because if they did that, they'd bring down the entire financial system.  And you know what, that's part of the whole problem here.  Because the banks know that.  Which is why they can go and do unethical and borderline criminal and possibly criminal acts because they know in the long run they're too big, they're too powerful, they're too politically connected to be brought to justice.

This was not said by a flaming liberal like moi, or a crusading journalist like Taibbi, this is from the mouth of the guy who oversaw TARP.  This is serious.

Nevertheless, I predict there will be pansy slaps on wrists all around, and maybe some fines for a few $ million, despite these LIBOR cheats having made untold $ billions by manipulating LIBOR for at least 6 years.  I'd be pleasantly shocked if the SEC brought any indictments.  

What will be interesting to see is whether Republicans, as they court Wall Street's money and support this election season, decide to criticize Tim Geithner (for actions as head of the NY Fed before Obama was elected) for "regulating" the LIBOR cheaters basically the way Republicans say we should regulate banks: by copy-pasting banks' own recommendations.  (But let's not overlook that Geithner could not have forgotten what he learned about LIBOR once Obama appointed him Treasury Secretary; he just decided to continue to ignore it.)  Will Republicans not be able to resist trying to do some collateral damage to Obama?  Or will they not risk digging into the Dubya years and meanwhile try to protect their TBTF bank cronies?  Probably the latter.

But if there were any justice:  1) Geithner would resign from Treasury immediately, and possibly face criminal prosecution; 2) LIBOR cheats would be prosecuted and thrown in jail; and 3) too big to fail would be ended by breaking up the TBTF banks.  Fat chance.

July 13, 2012 | Bloomberg

Friday, July 13, 2012

U.S. youth becoming libertarian by default?

Hmmm....  Well, assuming these polls mark a real trend, there is plenty in this article to implicate both parties.  But also, as Rush Limbaugh likes to say, youngsters' heads are "full of mush."  I'll be more charitable and say they've been spoiled by their solicitous helicopter parents, on-demand consumer culture, and lack of experience.

More precisely, I'd say younger kids (younger than me, let's be clear), grew up in a society where they believed all adults were honest and had their best interests at heart, and stuff was supposed to work as advertised.  And if not, there were all kinds of consequences and avenues for formal and informal complaint.  Because their parents outdid themselves teaching them they were growing up in a world that was basically fair and just.

The trouble in politics is, it's quintessentially a liar's game, and stuff never works like it's supposed to, because too many cooks always spoil the broth, and half the cooks can't even cook, and the menu's in 3 languages, etc.  Gen. Yers or Millennials or whatever the New Yorker is calling them this year, have no patience for all that.  Stuff is supposed to work as advertised, they say.  Or they shop somewhere else.  Trouble is, there are only two stores.  

What these young folks don't understand is that our government -- thanks to electoral politics -- has never run smoothly, and probably never will. 

Sooner or later they'll get off their high horses, wisen up, and realize they have to get dirty and compromise and choose the worst of two (or three) evils just like their parents and grandparents always did.  This does not mean they have to abdicate.  From from it!  But they have to realize that democratic politics is a brawl, and things get messy and bloody and the judges don't always call the scorecard correctly.  Politics is not a product and they are not its consumers choosing from a menu.  THEY ARE THE PRODUCT; AND they are the customer service department.  And until they realize that, they are doomed to irrelevance and stupidity.   

The only real reaction I've seen to this are the Occupy movements.  Mark my words: they will lead to something.  I don't know what yet.  But enough of these kids (and older activists) have realized that they have to get their hands dirty to get attention.  They don't know what to do yet, but they know they need to do something.  Calling the 1-800 number isn't going to work this time.

By Vinnie Rotondaro
July 12, 2012 | Vice.com

Brain science: Why big bankers behave badly

Like most things in life, science can explain why big bankers are sleazeballs.  It's 30+ years of deregulation and financial bubbles that put at least two generations of bankers in permanent "kill" mode, focused on power, conquest and reward, while they're oblivious to risks and downsides.

It's evolution and brain science, folks.  It's incontrovertible.  And if you don't buy it then you're an ideologue.  These sleazeballs need a hard slap of negative reinforcement -- regulation, prosecutions, and jail time -- to re-wire their reptilian brains.

The unconstrained power of bankers acts like a drug on their brains' reward systems, creating insatiable appetites
By Ian Robertson
July 2, 2012 | Guardian

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dems want alien abductions, Bigfoot attacks and voter fraud to continue

Bigfoot says: "We're off to the polls to steal your vote!"

Here's what you really need to know:

The numbers [of blocked state ballots in 2008] suggest that the legitimate votes rejected by the laws are far more numerous than are the cases of fraud that advocates of the rules say they are trying to prevent.  Thousands more votes could be in jeopardy for this November, when more states with larger populations are looking to have similar rules in place.

"But without photo ID law, anybody could walk into a polling station, give them my name, and steal my vote!" I've heard Republicans protest.  

Well, maybe.  But the moment it was discovered that ballot would be thrown out, thus defeating the purpose of attempting such fraud.  (If this hypothetical vote thief voted before you, then his fraud would be discovered when you went to vote.  If he tried to vote after you, his fraud would be detected by the polling official before he could even vote.)  

The success of such an attempt is absurd enough, but imagine -- as many conservative conspiracy-theorists do -- of an orchestrated attempt (by dastardly Democrats, no doubt) to do that on a large scale.  If dozens or hundreds of those ballots were determined to be fraudulent, that would not only cancel their validity, but also set off alarm bells and criminal investigations.  Don't forget, voter fraud in a federal election carries a $10,000 fine and five years in jail, plus state penalties.  Indeed:

Election administrators and academics who monitor the issue said in-person fraud is rare because someone would have to impersonate a registered voter and risk arrest.  A 2008 Supreme Court case drew detailed briefs from the federal government, 10 states and other groups that identified only nine potential impersonation cases over the span of several years, according to a tally by the Brennan Center at New York University.

So, there are zero cases large-scale voting fraud in the U.S.  None.  Zilch.  Nobody can find any, even though Republicans have certainly tried.  Statistically, people are more often struck by lightning.  What all these voter ID laws are really about -- even if you give Republicans the benefit of the doubt -- is preventing a terrible but almost impossible what-if scenario.  Now, weigh that hypothetical what-if against the thousands of documented, proven cases of legitimate ballots being blocked because of new state photo ID laws, when voters weren't aware of the change.  

Which violation is more harmful to our democracy?  Exactly.  And indeed, remembering our hypothetical identity thief, the best defense against such attempts is... having more people vote.  Because the only chance this ploy would work is if the identity thief was fairly certain you weren't going to vote.  Thus, we should encourage voting and make it as easy as possible!

However, I don't give Republicans the benefit of the doubt.  I don't trust them, at least politicians smart enough to know the truth.  This is really about suppressing the votes of the very young, the very old, and minorities -- all groups that tend to vote Democrat.  It's a cynical political attack aimed at the heart of our democracy: the right to vote.  

Indeed, elections are like the holiest sacrament of our democracy... and Republicans want to post a bouncer at the church door.

By Mike Baker
July 8, 2012 | AP

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No bank + no photo ID = 2nd class U.S. citizen

It may be news to you that at least 17 million U.S. adults have no bank account, and 43 million adults are considered "underbanked."  Taken together, that's about 26 percent of all U.S. households!  These are disproportionately located in the South, of course.

(Similarly, it is probably news to most people that at 25 percent of all blacks and 18 percent of all senior citizens have no picture ID -- because they have never needed one.  And to get an ID, you need an ID, a nice Catch-22.  But since 2008, 15 Republican states have started requiring photo ID to vote, thereby creating a need; meanwhile, there has not been any corresponding government outreach to help poor folks get state photo IDs.  It's all about suppressing Democratic votes.  But I digress.)

As for the un- and under-banked, financial institutions -- including banks bailed out by U.S. taxpayers -- are more than happy to smack them with usurious interest rates, outrageous fees and hidden penalties.  If it were up to me -- and up to them, if Congress would let them do it -- the U.S. Postal Service would be the low-cost bank for all comers.  Japan Post bank, for example, holds 25 percent of that country's household assets!

So by all means, let me join in piling on Magic Johnson (figuratively, definitely not literally) for his apparent blacksploitation.  Indeed, according to the FDIC, 54 percent of black households are either unbanked or underbanked.  But to be fair, Magic isn't alone: recently U.S. banks "have turned to an array of celebrities, including reality TV star family the Kardashians, rap mogul Russell Simmons and personal finance guru Suze Orman" to hawk these awful financial products, which are disproportionately purchased by minority groups.

So Magic, my man, please have more integrity than the Kardashians (who evidently enjoy screwing black people) and stick to more wholesome products for the black community... like Coors beer.  And tell your people to open a damn checking account and stay away from the payday lenders, rent-to-own stores, and money order windows!  Knowledge is power; ignorance is slavery.

By Dion Rabouin
July 11, 2012 | Huffington Post

Another reason to hate Facebook...

... and women, too?  Thank goodness dudes aren't so catty and mean.  

By Neetzan Zimmerman
July 3, 2012 | Gawker

Out of 1,500 women surveyed by the photo gift website Mymemory.com, one in four said they've deliberately uploaded "ugly photos of friends" to Facebook, though had different reasons for doing so.

Of those responding positively to the question, one in three claimed they were doing so out of retribution for a similar slight made against them. A majority of the rest said they had fallen out with the friend in the photo.

75% of participants said they were in the habit of detagging themselves from photos they felt were unflattering, but a fifth of women said they were not swayed by a friend's request to have the photos removed from Facebook.

A full two-thirds would get mad if a friend were to post an unkind photo of them to the site.

"To see that so many women deliberately commit 'photo sabotage' and upload unflattering pictures of friends is somewhat surprising," said MyMemory co-founder Rebecca Huggler, "particularly when you consider how many said they'd be mad if the same was done to them."

An earlier survey conducted by the site found that Brits are drunk in the vast majority of the photos that appear on Facebook. Some 76% of nearly 1,800 Facebook users polled said they were at one stage or another of inebriation in most of the photos in which they were tagged.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 4th, unions, and immigrant labor

According to Mr. Wikipedia, the 4th of July was not even a federal paid holiday until 1938.  John Adams predicted to his wife that July 2 would go down in history as "the great anniversary festival."  He died on July 4, just like Tom Jefferson and James Monroe, making it 3 POTUSes in a row.

Anyway, in light of our nation's birthday, Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism makes an interesting discussion of Big Business's support of immigration from 1890 to 1920 as a counterweight to pernicious unionization.

She suggest that instead we celebrate March 1, 1781, the signing date of the Articles of Confederation, or better yet, March 4, 1789, the signing date of the Constitution.

Nowadays, big business very quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) advocates for illegal immigration, or at least gaming the system of the U.S. temporary visa program, to employ cheap, no-benefits foreign labor.

It's funny how things change, and how they stay the same.

By Yves Smith
July  , 2012 | Naked Capitalism

You're welcome, Tea Partyers, for this opportunity

Since Tea Partyers are the first Americans to ask, "Where are all the moderate Muslims denouncing terrorism?" I'm going to give those same people the first shot at denouncing their racist, anti-American tea party brethren in New Mexico.  The Confederate flag, as I've said before, isn't only a symbol of treason and institutional racism, but it is certainly symbolic of those things.

So, my friends, you're welcome for this opportunity to prove your moderate views.  

(Psst!  Now's the part where you e-mail all your friends, call your neighbors, post to your blogs, confess to your priests, write a letter to the editor, take out an ad in the local paper, staple fliers to telephone poles, etc., etc.  Because if you don't, you are condoning racism!  It's really that simple.)

(P.S. -- The only political float at my home town's 4th of July parade this year was a Tea Party-sponsored Nobama float with "End of an Error" and similar slogans all over it.  These classy fellas picked just the right day of national unity to diss our elected President.  Nice.  Look, I get it that 99.9 percent of the town is Republican, but... didn't that make their overtly disrespectful political statement on our nation's birthday that much more pointless and mean?)

By Nick Wing
July 10, 2012 | Huffington Post