Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sen. Sanders on Countdown on How To Save Social Security

A sane man puts intelligence back in a national debate which epitomizes insanity and corruption.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Republicans Announce Their Picks For "Gang Of 12"

The Republican picks for the "Super-Congress", the "Gang Of 12", or whatever you want to call it, are out. All six have signed Grover Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes. Ever.

Whether the deficit-reduction commission ends up being the "stalemate commission" or the "cave-in commission" is, basically, entirely up to Democrats. Time to start packing your bags for friendlier, civilized countries, I fear.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

How California (And Government In General) Wastes Tons Of Our Money

Mendocino Marijuana Raid.

Think about it: Add to the value of the marijuana seized ($800 million) the cost of running the operation, the cost of jailing the perps, the loss of revenue from money that could have been earned by California through other productive endeavors, and the cost of trying and jailing people for possession and/or distribution of the stuff, and you will see that the war on drugs is sheer insanity, particularly in a country that tried Prohibition and passed an amendment to repeal it.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Weekend Reading: Do It For Democracy

It's a beautiful day and, yes, you might think you have better things to do. Barbecue, go to a pool, go to a National Park, to a ballgame or to the mall. The choices are many. The couch potatoes will just stay home and blast the A/C and the TV instead.

Of course, that is kind of how we got to the predicament we're in. We stopped caring about the things that matter. We stopped reading, we stopped trying to find out what goes on in the world around us. We misinterpreted the role we play in a healthy democracy by reducing it to voting every two or four years (if at all) for people who are supposed to represent us. We became numb to the talking points of the few and inured to the pain they inflicted on our lives, as if inevitable.

Someone said that democracy is not a spectators' sport. It isn't, it shouldn't be. Not only we let it become a spectators' sport, we let it become a victim's activity. That's the prevailing thought of many, that we are all victims of an incessant stream of conspiratorial activities at the hands of the powerful is so dangerous and so destructive; because, if you believe that the world is run by a small number of conspirators that cannot be stopped, you stop fighting for what you, in theory deserve.

That is also why religion has such a devastating effects on the lives of Americans: because if you get used to submitting yourself to a higher, unquestionable authority in matters of spirituality, you will most likely retain that attitude in all facets of life. George Carlin put it best, when talking about the Ten Commandments, he said this about the 4th (or 5th, depending on which flavor of Christianity you submit to): "Obedience, respect for authority. Just another name for controlling people. The truth is that obedience and respect shouldn’t be automatic. They should be earned and based on the parent’s performance. Some parents deserve respect, but most of them don’t, period." You can quibble with some aspects of Carlin's routine, but not with the central point: obedience and respect should not be automatic; not for parents; not for any authority, be it governmental or of any other kind.

But it's hard to question authority without being able to grade its performance, not based on belief or unsupported personal convictions, but on facts and logic. Of course, we have also been trained to believe that one man's facts are another's man fallacious opinions. That is not so: everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. It is true that facts and data are subject to interpretation; but the interpretation should rely on a consistent world view. Only when logic is twisted beyond recognition, do facts also lose their essential truth.

I hope that you will forgive me for this long preamble. To make a long story short, there are many things you could be doing this weekend. In truth, they are not all mutually exclusive, and that is precisely why I invite you to read these posts which I found engaging, illuminating, and--to a great extent--convincing.

How to Think About Standard and Poor's Downgrade
America in Decline
30 Years Ago: The Day the Middle Class Died

By all means, don't stop at these; they are just recommendations. If you don't like them, find your own reading. But, as surely as you must feed your body and your spirit, don't forget to also feed your mind. Your well-being, and the well-being of those you care about, depends on it, all the more so in an ailing democracy.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Beyond The Outcry for S&P's Downgrade Of The USA's Credit-Worthiness

(UPDATED with Robert Reich's perspective, below my original post.)

There are those who decry the decision of Standard & Poor's to dowgrade the credit-worthiness of the United States as laughable, indefensible, and wrong. I beg to differ. S&P did the right thing, and I hope that other rating agencies will follow suit. This does not mean that S&P and other credit rating agencies do not have credibility issues of their own, nor that we should take everything they say or write as the revealed word of god. But after the the pitiful spectactle offered by the two political parties in the standoff over the debt ceiling, which ended with the side of the hostage takers getting everything they wanted (98%, according to the Speaker of the House), and the other side, the Stockholm-syndrome plagued Democrats, acting as if we have to thank the kidnappers for releasing us after paying a 2.4 trillion ransom, how can anyone blame S&P for just taking reality into account?

The American government gave the world the worse possible performance it could have given, and we should expect everybody to applaud because it decided to honor its debts? How deluded are we if we think that the world regards the current political class as responsible and trustworthy, and that we are deserving of the best possible rating?

I believe that when all the dust has settled you will see that S&P's rationale for downgrading the United States' credit rating actually makes a lot of sense. Below are excerpts from their press release, in the order in which they appear. (Emphases added.)

  • the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.

  • [we are] pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.

  • The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.

  • It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.

  • Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues...

The conclusion of the press release states:
On the other hand, as our upside scenario highlights, if the recommendations of the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction–independently or coupled with other initiatives, such as the lapsing of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for high earners–lead to fiscal consolidation measures beyond the minimum mandated, and we believe they are likely to slow the deterioration of the government’s debt dynamics, the long-term rating could stabilize at ‘AA+’.

The full report can be found on Standard and Poor's website.

P.S. You will hear that the Obama administration has levied accusations that S&P's numbers are off by a couple of trillion dollars, making the downgrade decision flawed or outright wrong. But you should also notice that much of the rationale for the downgrade lies in the intransigence of (Republicans in) Congress against raising revenues, and on the lack of credibility of Washington's political class. So the downgrade is less about numbers than it is about prospects and credibility. And the decision therefore falls squarely on the shoulders of those who decided to take the American economy hostage in the service of their wealthy overlords.

And now, as promised, is Robert Reich's take on S&P's downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. It is interesting, because Reich correctly points out that S&P has no business telling the United States how large a deficit it can run, unless its ability to repay its debts is in question.

While I respect Reich's point of view greatly, I still would not discount the weight that the credibility of American politics has in forecasting the nation's ability to repay its debts. In other words, I welcome S&P's downgrade IF, and that's a big if, it sends Washington the message that some things are off-limits to politicking. Which is why I also blame President Obama for not throwing the weight of the Fourteenth Amendment at the leaders of the Republican Party and at Tea Party members during the negotiations. The President is making many people regret their decision of supporting him instead of Hillary Clinton. It is hard to imagine that Mrs. Clinton could have done worse than he has in negotiations with Republicans, who have run all over him from Day 1 of his arrival in office. And that, which is that Obama is making us long for a Clinton presidency, speaks volumes to the magnitude of his failure so far.

Study Cuts Through The Fog Of Anti-Union Lies

Here is an important post regarding the strong correlation between a decline in union membership and declining wages.

News Flash For Eric Cantor

Rep. Cantor (R-VA) opposes extending unemployment "benefits" (really, unemployment benefits should be called unemployment insurance, which every worker contributes to via payroll taxes).

Perhaps Rep. Cantor needs to be reminded that getting unemployment insurance, Rep. Cantor, is not a choice. You cannot get unemployment insurance payment unless you are laid off. And the unemployed are not lazy bums who seek to ride on the backs of others, any more than people who receive Social Security payments that they themselves have funded throughout their working lives are.

Mind you, it's not that Eric Cantor is opposed to spending money altogether. It's rather that he is very selective in deciding whose money gets spent: If it's my money, to support corporations, wars, energy companies (except, of course, for renewable energy), then he has no problem with it. If it's the other way around, that is if the issue is collecting more money from those who have oodles of it, to support middle- and low-income families, then he marches to a very different tune. There is nothing he would not cut in order to preserve the right of the mega-rich, be it individuals or corporations, to hoard all their possessions.

I know unemployed people, and I know how unfavorably they live through their situation. First off, unemployment payments are not--by any reasonable standard--enough to make ends meet. Secondly, most people I know who are unemployed are actively seeking employment (which is a condition for continuing to receive payments). In the current economic climate, it is very hard to land an interview for most people, let alone a job offer, let alone an actual job. Most offers they receive are inadequate replacement for their previous income, you might even call them demeaning.

Which leads me to the next consideration: Why should anyone be expected to take a job, any job, regardless how demeaning or beneath one's education, when the pay that comes with it barely tops the money they are receiving for their unemployment? In what completely upside-down world could anyone talk of the dignity of work, when the work you are offered does not match your qualifications, nor your legitimate salary expectations, particularly if you have experience and you are good at what you do, or used to do? The moment you accept an inadequate job your chances of pursuing adequate jobs are diminished: it becomes harder to search for a good job and harder to interview for one, so the benefits of having inadequate employments are dwarfed by what you lose in comparison.

Many people think that dignity automatically comes with work, any sort of work. That is a a view that benefits only ownership, as opposed to workers. There is no dignity for an out-of-work teacher flipping burgers for $7.25 an hour. There is no dignity for an unemployed engineer working on an assembly-line for $12 an hour. And yet too many people are taught that there is more dignity in that than in holding out for work commensurate with one's ability and earning expectations and collecting unemployment. So yes, we should try go get people off unemployment and put them back to work again, but not off unemployment and into any job.

It's an upside-down world indeed, one where people like Rep. Cantor can shoot their mouths off about things they don't know or don't understand and collect $193,400 a year for it. It's the kind of money not even teachers should be making, and they work to make people's lives better. He makes it, on our backs, by doing everything he can to destroy the American middle-class. If this country has any hope left within, it must start with booting people like Cantor out of office.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Kudos To Gov. Christie (R-NJ)

It' not often that I will praise a Republican, but even Halley's Comet pays us a visit every now and then.

Gov. Christie' response to people who objected to his appointment of Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim-AMERICAN judge, to a state bench deserves a big round of applause.
They are criticizing him because he is a Muslim American…I was disgusted, candidly, by some of the questions he was asked by both parties at the Senate judiciary committee…Sharia Law has nothing to do with this at all — it’s crazy! It’s crazy. The guy’s an American citizen…This Sharia Law business is crap. It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies. It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background. (Via Think Progress)

Perhaps a few others can follow suit.

And here is an extensive video of Gov. Christie's remarks on the Sohail Mohamed/Sharia Law controversy. With a standing ovation for him, no less.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It's the President's Birthday. Yawn.

You can always count on The Onion to keep things in due perspective: Obama turns 50.

An Ounce Of Preventation Is Worth...

What, preventation does not exist? True. Neither does the adjective preventative. Please.

The correct form is "preventive". Do not believe those that say that they are equally acceptable. Preventive, as in "preventive medicine", is correct. Preventative is tolerated (not by me, really) just because it has become so widespread, but it is not correct. The fact that many people use it does not make it right, just like the fact that many people use "it's" does not make it a possessive adjective.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

What The H Really Stands For

The President's middle initial is starting to look more like an H for Herbert than H for Hussein. That would be Herbert as in Herbert Hoover, the president that led the nation to its greatest economic depression yet.

And I am not the only one to fear so.

And, as Hoover, he is almost certain to be end up as a one-term president, which means that things are only going to get worse for the next six years, at least.

The ship is sinking, start looking for a lifeboat.

Because Not All Christian Leaders Are Repugnant Backers Of The Rich And Powerful Over The Weak

Jim Wallis: "[S]lashing programs for the poor while exempting the rich from sacrifice is repugnant to our spiritual values and contrary to scripture." Apparently the span covered by the adjective "our" needs to be further defined, since this is not true for all Christians.

Read The Moral Default, by Jim Wallis.

The Age Of Greed

The Age of Greed is the title of a new book by Jeff Madrick. It comes with the recommendation of Michael Winship, senior writer on the now defunct Bill Moyers Journal.

At a minimum, Winship's review of it. The book itself sounds like a good read, too.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Matt Damon Is My New Hero (As He Schools a Dumb Reporter)

I always liked Matt Damon, now I like him another bit more.

This is exactly how to confront the drivel of too many libertarians and Republicans, and their platitudes about economic incentives in the free market.

A More Equal America?

Doing Debt Ceiling Battle the FDR Way is a very timely post by Sam Pizzigati on the history of debt ceiling battles while FDR was in the White House. Very instructive, and a little depressing, considering how low we have sunk since then in our national conscience.

The Return of the SHITTERS

Fox ‘Expert’ Blasts Expanding Access To Birth Control: ‘Are We Going To Do Pedicures And Manicures As Well?’ (via Think Progress)

Need I say more?
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