Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Obama Worse Than Bush On The Economy? Go Figure...

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE)

You won't have to look very hard around here to see me declaring that I think there is no real difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on economics issues. All you really have to do is look for this poster, and start reading. Matt Stoller may disagree with that notion, but not in the way you might think.

Discussing a recent interview Barney Frank gave to the New Yorker, in which Frank said that President Obama declined Bush Administration finance guru's offer to start a program of mortgage write-downs following the Crash of 2008, Stoller writes:

In fact, crisis response is the single most significant policymaking time imaginable, because all structural barriers are swept away. Think about it – this was literally a deal offered by Hank Paulson – one guy – to Barack Obama, with a multi-trillion dollar impact. No 60 votes in the Senate. No hearings. No confirmations. Just a handshake, basically. In other words, policy does matter, and Obama had a variety of choices and leverage, and he did what he thought was best. He did not want to write down mortgages, even though he was offered that choice by the Bush administration and Barney Frank. So he didn’t.

So yes, Barack Obama is worse than George Bush on economic inequality. While Paulson didn’t want to write down mortgages, the single biggest factor in determining whether the American middle class has any stored wealth, Paulson was willing to do so in response to pressure. Barack Obama was not.

Barney Frank: Obama Rejected Bush Administration Concession to Write Down Mortgages

Mortgage write-downs were something that was discussed rather often back then, because one of the reasons for the crash, and one of the reasons the recovery has been so slow and painful, is that there were so many homeowners whose mortgages were "underwater", meaning that the amount the homeowners owed was more than the houses were worth. Write-downs would have helped them stay in their homes, yet keep paying off some part of the debt. Instead, Obama chose the foolish course of trying to prop up the banks.

Given that it was the Bush Administration that first aided the auto industry with loan guarantees, I am not at all doubtful of this story. Nor is it counter to what we know about Obama's economic policies.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day, 2012

There's an obelisk in a park in Oakridge, Oregon, dedicated to the memory of a man who died almost fifty years ago:

Image credit: Cujo359

The inscription is legible if you click on the photo and look at it full size. The short version is that First Sergeant Maximo Yabes, Company A, 4/9 Infantry Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, died protecting the men in his command on February 16, 1967 near Phu Hoa Dong, Vietnam. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor that day, one of 154 service members who received the award posthumously in that war.

While reading that inscription on that lovely summer day, all I could think was "what a waste".

I know that First Sergeant Yabes wouldn't have agreed. What he did, he almost surely did for the reasons soldiers do most of the things they do in a war: to survive, to keep each other alive, or to do their duty. To them, I don't think it matters much at those moments why they were sent there.

From my perspective as a citizen of this country, though, it was a waste. It was a terrible waste of a courageous man, and all the others who died there or managed to return less than whole, to send them there to fight a war that wasn't necessary, and didn't serve our interests. The sad fact was that, unlike First Sergeant Yabes, the people who led our country then or since didn't follow his example and think of the people they were leading as their responsibility.

Which, I'm sad to say, is partly our fault as citizens. We chose those leaders. What's more, we choose, all too often, not to question why we send people to places like Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, or most of the other places we've sent them over the last 150 years.

In fact, many people treat the question as though it were a sign that we lack patriotism, or, perhaps most ironically, that we don't value our freedom. If you are one of the people who think that, then I have only one thing to say to you:

You have no idea what freedom means.

Freedom means the ability, and the duty, to question decisions like this. It's not just a contrary nature that leads me to write that - it's the experience of history. If there's one thing that nearly all wars from our own Revolution on have had in common, it's that they began because one side's leaders, at a minimum, did something stupid. They wanted to hold onto power, or wanted to extend it, or they just were too prideful to admit they could make a mistake. Our leaders are human beings, just as flawed and weak as the rest of us. They make mistakes, and the main difference between their mistakes and the ones the rest of us make is that they aren't the only ones paying for theirs.

In the end, that's what freedom really is - the ability to avoid the mistakes our leaders would make if we let them. I suggest that in the future, instead of just thinking about memorials and graves as we contemplate the cost of war, we use those freedoms all of the dead and the wounded supposedly fought for to prevent becoming involved in yet another useless war.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Entertainment: Tom Morello

Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello was on Moyers & Company this week, talking about his music and how it relates to his activism. You can watch the embedded video here, or follow the video credit link to the Moyers & Company page, where there's a high definition version available.

Video image credit: Moyers & Company

They discussed the history of protest music, and some of the reasons why it matters:

BILL MOYERS: Tell us about the Wobblies. Why do they--

TOM MORELLO: Sure, sure. Two things that inspire me about the Wobblies is it was a singing union, first of all. And they realized that, in order to organize diverse groups of immigrants who often didn't speak the same language, they would do it through song. And their solidarity came through music.

And Joe Hill, the great poet laureate of the early 20th century, you know, said, "You--" I'm paraphrasing. But--"A pamphlet you'll read once. But a song you can sing again and again and stays in your heart." That's one of the things that I hope that some of my music will do.

And they suggested some very, very radical things before they were even on the plate. One was that people of every ethnicity could join their union. One was that women could have leadership in their union. One was that everyone should vote. One was the everyone should sing their protests. They are things that are now sort of taken for granted but you know, be realistic and demand the impossible.

Full Show: Tom Morello, Troubadour for Justice

Of course, anyone who came of age in the 1960s has heard a lot of protest music. You could say that much of rock and roll back then was a protest of one sort or another, whether it was about politics or just the mores of the time. And yes, long after the pamphlets and the speeches are forgotten, we still remember many of those songs.

If you're a rock fan, or interested in some of the history of the relationship between music and protest in America, you will probably enjoy watching the show.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yves Smith On The JP Morgan Fiasco

Not all that long ago, JP Morgan, supposedly one of those ingenious investment houses that are always working wonders with our money, lost $2 billion under circumstances that are, to put it mildly, still pretty murky. That money on this scale can simply disappear with no one being responsible should be a concern to anyone, even folks who work in that industry.

Yves Smith, of Naked Capitalism, wrote this yesterday in the New York Times Room For Debate:

Preventing blow-ups like the JPMorgan “hedge” that bears no resemblance to any known hedge isn’t difficult. What makes preventing it difficult is that banks that exist only by virtue of state-granted charters -- and more recently, huge transfers from the public -- have persuaded public officials and regulators that they have a God-granted right not just to high levels of profit but also high levels of employee and executive compensation.

For Starters, Reinstate Glass-Steagall

Now wait, you might be asking, isn't JP Morgan a bank? Well, yes and no. It used to be that banks just did safe things like lending money to people who could be generally relied on to pay the money back. They were heavily regulated, and the money depositors put in those banks were (and still are) backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The "Glass-Steagall" Yves is referring to is the Glass-Steagall Act, which enforced that separation between what was a bank and what was an investment house. Nowadays, thanks to the repeal of Glass-Steagall, among other financial regulation, during the Reagan and Clinton Administrations, that separation no longer exists. Merrill Lynch is owned by Bank of America. JP Morgan does risky stuff that loses billions of dollars at a time on behalf of Chase Bank, which is now JP Morgan Chase.

What all the de-regulation of the banking industry has done for the rest of us is put us on the hook for the mistakes they are now free to make. The FDIC backs depositors, at least up to a certain limit. There's lots of our money out there, though, that doesn't qualify for FDIC insurance. Plus, as we've seen in the Crash of 2008, the Federal Reserve System has been used to keep the big banks afloat. Banking has become a casino where we end up paying for the gamblers' taxi fare home, plus all the damage they did while they were celebrating.

That's why I feel that on economic matters, at least, there is no difference between President Obama and a potential President Romney. Obama hasn't done a thing to clean up the aftermath of the financial industry's last binge, and he won't do anything to prevent the next one, if he can avoid it. That's what these last three years should have taught us, if they can teach us anything.

Quote Of The Day

Bruce A. Dixon, of Black Agenda Report, in an article about Newark Mayor Corey Booker, and what his success as a politician means for black political issues:

The right has decisively invaded the politics of black America, and owns the Democratic party outright. Barack Obama is effectively a center-right president, pursuing wars, prosecuting whistleblowers, shielding banksters, and using cruise missiles to dispatch suspected terrorists with an impunity the Bush-Cheney gang never enjoyed With black Democrats routinely shilling for imperial wars, austerity, school closings, privatizations, bailouts and kindly treatment for their campaign contributors, there are no outlets in the two parties for the real needs and desires of much of black America. The two party system has become people-proof and democracy-proof.

Corey Booker and the Hard Right's Colonization of Black American Politics

I think you could do a global substitution of "progressive" for "black" in that paragraph, and it would still be largely true. While it's likely that how things played out worked differently, there's no doubt that conservatives, largely via the Democratic Party, call the tune pretty much everywhere.

Having explained why often enough that I don't feel the need to repeat myself, I'll just say that what this means to me is that the real problem is that both black and progressive politics became too much about Democratic politics, and at some point failed to be about what really matters. As long as major progressive organizations continue to depend on the Democratic Party for funding, as some like Media Matters and the Center For American Progress do, that will continue to be a problem.

The National Rifle Association, LGBTs, and Wall Street have all shown that the way to influence politics isn't to be slavishly loyal to one party. It's to make it perfectly clear that their support can go elsewhere.

When progressives learn to do that, politicians may take them seriously. They certainly won't until then.

Guest Posts

Image credit: Kristian D.

I've never written about this subject, and am frankly amazed that I feel the need now. Nevertheless, I received what I suspect is one of those cleverly written spam e-mails saying that this is a follow-up to a request to do a guest blog post.

So, let me make things clear...

I'm glad to host guest posts, given the caveats that I'll get to in a moment. There are people out there, I'm sure, who don't want start their own blogs, or who want and deserve additional exposure. Occasionally, I've even offered people the chance to post guest articles here if they want. The fact is, though, I was familiar with their work already, and I invited them. So, if I don't know who you are, the first thing you need to do is introduce yourself, at least as your Internet persona, so that I can know what to expect.


  • I reserve the right to not use what you send me. I don't really need to explain why, either.
  • It can't be something you've posted other places. I will look.
  • There is no money involved. I don't make any money from this blog, and neither will you.

Personally, I think that if you are going to go to the trouble of doing all that, you'd be better off posting a guest diary at FireDogLake, or another big blog that is roughly aligned with your own political or ideological predispositions.

Still, if despite all that, you still want to guest blog here, go ahead and send an e-mail to my nom de ordinateur (don't capitalize the 'c') at the mail server, and I'm happy to help if I can.

If you're the person who was supposedly following up, by the way, please pretend I never received that initial e-mail, because as far as I can tell, I didn't.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Courtesy of the Philadelphia Phillies, Major League Baseball, and Tina Turner, your moment of zen:

Image credit: Major League Baseball, who must have left that embed link there for a reason...

You're welcome.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Dean Baker, discussing an article by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman:

Thomas Friedmanland bears little resemblance to the world of gravity and arithmetic that the rest of us inhabit.

Thomas Friedman Presents Evidence of a Skills Mismatch in His NYT Column

There are times when being unburdened by conventional notions can be a good thing, but Thomas Friedman seems to have taken that concept far beyond where a "good thing" ends.

Friedman's article has to do with the current "free market" orthodoxy that the depression we are now in is due to some gigantic skills mismatch between what American companies need and what American labor can provide. Unfortunately, this "skills mismatch" usually amounts to people being unwilling to apply their skills for slave wages under whatever conditions their employers want to provide. The actual deficit in our economy at the moment, which is not helped at all by giving employers what they want here, is consumer demand. Part of the reason consumer demand is lower is because our wages are either stagnant or lower, depending on what income bracket we find ourselves in.

None of which, I'm sure, is what Friedman was referring to. The Earth is really only so flat.

Progressive Idiocy: Cory Booker Edition

There's been a bit of chatter today about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's support of Bain Capital's right of plunder. This paragraph of Glenn Greenwald's sums things up pretty well:

Yesterday, Newark Mayor Cory Booker went on Meet the Press and angered hordes of Democrats when he condemned the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain as “nauseating,” equated the anti-Bain messaging to the GOP’s sleazy use of Jeremiah Wright, and then demanded: “stop the attacks on private equity” (in response to the backlash, Booker then released a hostage-like video recanting his criticisms and pledging his loyalty to President Obama). But as my Salon colleague Steve Kornacki noted, this was not some aberrational outburst from Booker; to the contrary, as Mayor of Newark, home to numerous Wall Street executives and firms, “financial support from Wall Street and, more broadly speaking, the investor class has been key to Booker’s rise, and remains key to his future dreams.”

Democrats and Bain

And, as both Glenn and Taylor Marsh have gone on to point out, this is not aberrational behavior on the part of Democrats generally, either.

When I started hearing about the Cory Booker story all the way out here on the West Coast, I kinda figured there was some big money behind him. His story strikes me as being about as genuine as a three dollar bill, but how things seem is often a long way from how they are. It could be that he really does run the city by day and fight crime by night. I don't know, and at the moment, I don't care.

How things are is that politicians must pursue power. It’s what they need to do their jobs. As long as that’s true, if there are no consequences to aligning themselves to folks like Bain, Democratic politicians will do that, by and large. And there will be no consequences for Booker or any of the other Democrats who do this, because most progressives will continue to support them no matter what, and they know that. Progressive advocacy groups are largely toothless, when they’re not colluding with Democrats outright. Whether that’s because progressives generally are uninterested in making waves, or they just don’t know enough thanks to relying on those same advocacy groups for information is perhaps a worthy subject for debate, though I think it’s a feedback loop.

When progressives punish this sort of behavior by not supporting or voting for politicians like this, their behavior may change. It certainly won’t until then.

In this context at least, it really doesn't matter if Cory Booker is a fake or exactly what he appears to be. He's a politician, and if he's the least bit interested in staying one, he'll try to please the power that will take its votes and money elsewhere if it isn't pleased. That power isn't progressive voters or advocacy groups. Any progressives who are surprised by Booker's support of Wall Street pirates shouldn't be. In politics, voter loyalty is for suckers.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.

UPDATE/Afterword: In that link from the Greenwald quote, Steve Kornacki confirms my opinion about whether Booker's words will come back to haunt him if he has bigger ambitions than running Newark:

It wouldn’t be surprising if Booker has already heard from the White House, and surely he’s now in for a world of abuse from Obama supporters. But that hardly means he made a mistake, at least in terms of his own ambition. Financial support from Wall Street and, more broadly speaking, the investor class has been key to Booker’s rise, and remains key to his future dreams.

Cory Booker, surrogate from hell

In my observation, Kornacki is a reasonably astute observer of DC and East Coast politics. He doesn't even mention the idea that progressives might decide this guy isn't worth supporting, and take their money, resources, and votes elsewhere. I don't think there's any reason to hope that he'll be regretting that omission.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Quote Of The Day

The friend who is a helpmate,
the friend in happiness and woe,
the friend who gives good counsel, the friend who sympathizes too -
these four as friends the wise behold
and cherish them devotedly
as does a mother her own child.

Sigalovada Sutta, Digha Nikaya
Buddha Quotes: Page 5

I've just had reason to look up the sayings of Prince Siddhartha, and this one seems apt, given the reasons.

What I find interesting about quotes like the ones on the link that quote was taken from is how much people knew about each others' behavior back then. At least, the wise ones did. Many times, that wisdom was dressed up in religious trappings, but the basic understanding of our nature was clearly there. Why and how all that behavior comes about is still a mystery, and social scientists and biologists will probably spend decades more figuring that out, but how all that neural activity plays out has been known and recorded for a long time.

As Buddha might have put it:

See the false as false,
The true as true.
Look into your heart.
Follow your nature.

Buddha Dhammapada

Buddha Quotes: Page 2

Understanding your own mind is a good way to understand others'.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

TED Gets In Touch With Its Inner Weenie

Updated May 18 with a quote from TED

You'd have to think, if you think the way I do at least, that any place that talks about all the “Ideas Worth Spreading” one can encounter there must be full of crap. Turns out, TED, that online place where geeks can go to learn all about stuff like Internet bubbles, is such a place, as National Journal explains:

There’s one idea, though, that TED’s organizers recently decided was too controversial to spread: the notion that widening income inequality is a bad thing for America, and that as a result, the rich should pay more in taxes.

TED organizers invited a multimillionaire Seattle venture capitalist named Nick Hanauer – the first nonfamily investor in – to give a speech on March 1 at their TED University conference. Inequality was the topic – specifically, Hanauer’s contention that the middle class, and not wealthy innovators like himself, are America’s true “job creators.”

“We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years,” he said. “Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an ecosystemic feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.”

Too Hot for TED: Income Inequality

Here's the talk, by the way. Apparently, someone rescued it before it hit the black hole:

Especially interesting is the point Hanauer makes at about 2:20 into the video, which is accompanied by this slide:

Hanauer TED Talk: Slide 7
Frankly, there isn't much news there, provided you've been paying any attention at all to what real economists have been saying for the last few years. In one way or another, Bruce Bartlett, Center For American Progress, Motley Fool, (among others), have found and demonstrated this inverse relationship. Of course, it's not going to be a particularly popular point with all those libertarian geek types, but that's a long way from saying it's wrong.

So, what was the problem? National Journal elaborates:

In a May 7 email to Hanauer, forwarded to NJ, Anderson took issue with several of Hanauer's assertions in the talk, including the idea that businesspeople aren't job creators. He also made clear his aversion to the "political" nature of the talk.


"But even if the talk was rated a home run, we couldn't release it, because it would be unquestionably regarded as out and out political. We're in the middle of an election year in the US. Your argument comes down firmly on the side of one party. And you even reference that at the start of the talk. TED is nonpartisan and is fighting a constant battle with TEDx organizers to respect that principle....

Too Hot for TED: Income Inequality

Doesn't that sound ever so much like so much of what amounts to progressive political strategy these days? Don't upset people. For crying out loud, don't say something that might happen to be compatible with some political party's platform. By the way, which political party is Anderson referring to, the Greens? The Socialists? It's sure not the Democrats.

So, yes, TED have turned out to be weenies. Go figure. What else can you expect from people who write software all day? Perhaps the only thing surprising is that they didn't make Hanauer put pictures of cats in his slides.

(h/t Taylor Marsh)

UPDATE (May 18): TED issued a statement regarding their decision to not put this video on the site. This quote, I think, represents its central thought:

At TED we post one talk a day on our home page. We're drawing from a pool of 250+ that we record at our own conferences each year and up to 10,000 recorded at the various TEDx events around the world, not to mention our other conference partners. Our policy is to post only talks that are truly special. And we try to steer clear of talks that are bound to descend into the same dismal partisan head-butting people can find every day elsewhere in the media.

TED and inequality: The real story

Note that I have not accused TED of "censorship". Editorial decisions have to be made by anyone in TED's position, and sometimes authors feel unjustly left out for one reason or another. They noted that the audience that saw the talk didn't rate it all that highly, and that this is one of the reasons the talk wasn't published. I don't have an argument with that assessment. As I wrote above, I don't think it's ground-breaking. If there's anything remarkable about it, it's that a venture capitalist, someone who has profited from the system as it is, has leveled a serious and accurate criticism against it.

My argument was with TED's own words, both in that e-mail and here. What they said was that this talk was too "partisan", as if Hanauer was discussing the platform of one party or another. What he was doing was saying that a view very widely held among politicians about economics policy, and not just politicians of one party, is flawed.

Much as TED might want to believe otherwise, it's their own words that brought this on as much as anything, not what others may have said about it.

Ideas about economics are nearly always political. If TED doesn't like ideas that have resonance in politics, then it should stick to kittehs and Internet bubbles.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

American Amnesia

Since I just got around to playing this show on my DVR, I'm a bit late to comment on this Moyers & Compamy program featuring Marty Kaplan, who discussed the state of American journalism and the effect that has had on our society and politics:

Particularly interesting was this exchange, in which Kaplan and Bill Moyers discuss how little perspective Americans can gain from what they see in television news:

BILL MOYERS: How did it happen? How did we sell what belonged to everyone?

MARTY KAPLAN: By believing that what is, is what always has been and what should be. The notion that what goes on is actually made by people, changes through time, represents the deployment of political power. That notion has gone away. We think it's always been this way. People now watching these CNN and Fox. They think this is how it works. They don't have a sense of history. The amnesia, which has been cultivated by journalism, by entertainment in this country, helps prevent people from saying, "Wait a minute, that's the wrong path to be on."

BILL MOYERS: Amnesia, forgetfulness? You say that they're cultivating forgetfulness?

MARTY KAPLAN: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: Deliberately?

MARTY KAPLAN: Look at the way in which it-- the march toward war in Iran, if that's what's going to happen, is being--

BILL MOYERS: Or slithering toward war.

MARTY KAPLAN: Well, it-- when we get there we may feel as though the serpent bit us, no matter how we got to that point. But Iran should be covered through the prism of what happened in Iraq. All of the neoconservatives and right-wingers, who called for us to go into Iraq because of W.M.D.'s and because Saddam was bad. There is a history there. That history is within living memory of a lot of grownups in this country.

And unless people are willing to do the hard work of presenting the history and holding people accountable for the past, we will be condemned as it's been said, to repeat it first in tragedy and then in farce.

Marty Kaplan on Big Money's Effect on Big Media

I really started to notice this lack of perspective after the 9/11 attacks. The constant drumbeat about how it was utterly unprecedented that America faced enemies that weren't out in the open, and had to be ferreted out even if that meant giving up our freedoms, was utterly mind-boggling to me. I remember the Cold War, and the paranoia of those times. Anyone who was in his late thirties at that time should have remembered all that, too, I remember thinking. We were afraid during the Cold War, and there were certainly folks who insisted that we had to give up our freedoms to save them, but we also had leaders who were smart and principled enough to avoid doing that. After discussing some of that in an essay entitled "History, Blah, Blah", I tried to explain why things are so different now:

What's changed since then, you ask? I'm not really sure. I think one answer, though, is that back in the 1950s through the 1980s, we were still led by people who remembered fighting despotism in two world wars. By that I mean, they literally remembered it. President Harry S Truman was a WWI veteran. Presidents John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush were both WWII veterans, and both were nearly killed in combat missions. Joseph Kennedy, Jr., JFK's brother, was killed when his bomber was destroyed testing a new munition. Contrast that with Vietnam, where it was rare for the sons of America's leading families to be involved. John Kerry is one of the few exceptions I can think of. Vietnam-era scions President George W. Bush and Vice President Dan "Potatoe Head" Quayle avoided serving in Vietnam. The elder Bush and the two Kennedys volunteered for service, where Little Bush and Quayle voluntarily stayed away. In contrast to the elites of our parents' and grandparents' generations, the elites of the baby boomer and younger generations have learned that they can do whatever they want, and leave all the sacrificing to the rest of us.

History, Blah, Blah

Interestingly, Expat mentioned in a comment to that article the very phenomenon Kaplan is referring to, which Expat felt was a deliberate dumbing-down of the discourse we see on television and elsewhere. I don't know if it's deliberate or not, but it's having that effect, anyway, and I suspect that's not lost on the people who run things.

Why keep going on about history? Anyone who remembers the Cold War ought to realize that our supposed war on terrorism sounds awfully familiar. So would anyone who remembered the Great Depression realize that our recent economic collapse sounds familiar, anyone familiar with Prohibition would recognize the folly of our "war on drugs", and anyone who remembers the arms race that caused World War I would recognize the potential danger of our current level of defense spending. There are subtle differences with each of those analogies, of course, but the basic folly is the same. Not remembering how things were is a dangerous condition, and we suffer from it to an extent that should worry any thoughtful person.

Quote Of The Day

Glenn Greenwald, discussing the Obama Administration's apparent desire to re-classify the MEK as no longer being a terrorist organization:

[T]he application of the term “Terrorist” by the U.S. Government has nothing to do with how that term is commonly understood, but is instead exploited solely as a means to punish those who defy U.S. dictates and reward those who advance American interests and those of its allies (especially Israel). Thus, this Terror group is complying with U.S. demands, has been previously trained by the U.S. itself, and is perpetrating its violence on behalf of a key American client state and against a key American enemy, and — presto — it is no longer a “foreign Terrorist organization.”


[T]he rule of law is not even a purported constraint on the conduct of Washington political elites. Here, the behavior of these paid MeK shills is so blatantly illegal that even the Obama administration felt compelled to commence investigations to determine who was paying them and for what. As a strictly legal matter, removing MeK from the Terror list should have no effect on the criminality of their acts: it’s a felony to provide material support to a designated Terror group — which the Obama DOJ, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, has argued, in a full frontal assault on free speech rights, even includes coordinating advocacy with such a group (ironically, some of this Terror group’s paid advocates, such as former Bush Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend, cheered that Supreme Court ruling when they thought it would only restrict the political advocacy of Muslims, not themselves).

Likely victory for MeK shills

Since I'm old enough to remember the Cold War, and the fear of communism that fueled it on our side, this all seems like old news to me. During the Cold War, we were perfectly happy to ignore the contradictions in our foreign policy that made it OK to back despotic, tyrannical governments, including Saddam Hussein's in the interests of opposing the "communist menace". What was truly ironic and sad about that is that most Americans could not have told you what communism was. In fact, when they were told some of its principles, without them being identified as communist, many thought they sounded like interesting ideas. It's little wonder that folks like Joe McCarthy were able to label people as communists so easily, and were only stopped by impassioned arguments from some of the people who supported those he was trying to persecute.

The sad fact is that little has changed about such things in the intervening years, other than the name of the thing we're afraid of. Now the boogeyman is "terrorism", which is generally defined as anything that those in charge don't like. There are plenty of Americans willing to go along with that, including many progressives. Plus, as the list of lobbyists Greenwald names in that article will show, there are plenty of so-called progressive politicians who are willing to sell out to violent organizations like the MEK, as long as the money is right. What's more, they won't bat an eye when confronted with the truth that MEK are, in fact, terrorists, if that label has any meaning at all. They will do that, furthermore, even as they cheer on the restriction of our freedoms in the name of fighting "terrorism".

UPDATE/Afterword: Bill Moyers aired a thoughtful commentary about modern-day McCarthyism a couple of weeks ago. Well worth a look, I think, if you're not familiar with the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

For all those folks out there who make our lives possible:

funny pictures of dogs with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hotdog
Happy Mother's Day

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Image credit: Composite by Cujo359

Someone in my family graduates from college today, with honors. Congratulations, dear, and sorry I can't be there. But I got dressed up for the occasion anyway.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Power To Demand: Gay Marriage Edition

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE)

Once again, it's time to belabor the obvious. Last Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden had this to say on one of the news talk shows:

GREGORY: You’re comfortable with same-sex marriage now?

BIDEN: Look, I am Vice President of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that. [...] I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has done so far. People fear that is different and now they’re beginning to understand.

VP Joe Biden comes out for marriage equality on Meet the Press; yanked back by Axelrod

Why did he say this? It could have been an off-the-cuff answer, but I doubt it. These days, it's rare for an official at Biden's level to just say something that's not in keeping with what his party leaders want him to say. In this case, the party leader in question would be President Obama.

The next day, Greg Sargent wrote this in his column at the Washington Post:

Some leading gay and progressive donors are so angry over President Obama’s refusal to sign an executive order barring same sex discrimination by federal contractors that they are refusing to give any more money to the pro-Obama super PAC, a top gay fundraiser’s office tells me. In some cases, I’m told, big donations are being withheld.

Top Obama donors witholding money over executive order punt

He went on to note that all the prevarication coming from the White House Press Secretary following Biden's Sunday comments didn't help matters. By Monday evening, it should have been pretty clear to the Obama campaign that what Pam Spaulding called the "gAyTM" wasn't spitting out the cash as it had been.

Not too surprisingly, the President "evolved" quickly and said this yesterday:

"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Obama told [ABC News reporter Robin] Roberts in an interview to appear on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday.

President Obama Affirms His Support for Same Sex Marriage

Whether this actually results in any actions of any consequence by the Obama Administration remains to be seen, but it's pretty clear that they're nervous. Why are they nervous? Only for the obvious reasons, which I've spelled out many, many, many times in the past:

Politicians won't do anything they don't want to do, unless it's clear that they must.

When your support for a politician is unconditional, he has no reason to do what you want him to do. It's only when they have to earn your support that they will actually try to do so. Like everyone else, they aren't going to do things they don't want to do if they don't have to.

This is why anyone who thinks that refusing to support a politician like Obama, who has done little for his base, and insulted them for expecting anything more, is some trivial exercise in "making a point" is a damn fool. If progressives don't "make a point" that the politicians who want their support need to earn it, they won't get what they want. Ever.

Yes, I sound like a broken record here. That's because progressives are slow learners. I'm sure I'll be writing this again in the coming days, many more times.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Taylor Marsh, discussing the election of Francoise Hollande as president of France:

Anyone trying to associate [President] Obama with socialism is not only ignorant of the latter, but knows absolutely nothing about the former.

Biggest Loser After Anti-Austerity Vote in France? Infotainment Host, Joe Scarborough

There's little I can add to this at the moment. When I'm observing what passes for a discussion of economics in the news or on opinion shows, I'm astonished at the lack of basic understanding of both on the part of most participants.

President Obama is a socialist in the same way that I'm a rabid St. Bernard. Less, actually, because on occasion, I'll pretend otherwise. Obama, to my knowledge, has never even tried to make a pretense of being a socialist.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I Hate The DMCA

I've been hit with a DMCA complaint about an article I wrote last year. For those not familiar, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has provisions that are supposed to protect the copyright and trademark rights of content producers from infringement by other online content producers.

I have only a couple of things to say about this at the moment. First, if you see something either here or at another blog that you think is your intellectual property, and you object to its use there, it's probably going to be more quickly resolved if you try to contact the blog's author(s) first. Blogger/Blogspot's notice is an e-mail with a bunch of boiler plate, followed by the URL of the article in question. That's it. I don't know who objected to the article or why. Supposedly, I'll know more later, but no more information is available at this point.

Second, I don't see this as being about what I wrote in that article. There are no particularly controversial points there, and empires will not rise and fall based on any of the content of it. It's simply some sort of dispute, the nature of which is, at this moment, beyond me.

Blogspot handles these things now by putting the article back into "draft" status, which means that it still exists, but it's no longer readable from the Internet. This part of the procedure seems right to me. What I wish they would do a better job of, though, is explaining just what the heck the problem is. It's hard to fix or dispute until I know.

I was trying to find where I'd written about this issue before, and can't find it, so I'll write this here: Whatever the copyright status of what content I use here, if I'm not parodying, criticizing, or analyzing it, then if it's yours and you object to its being here all you have to do is comment or e-mail (and possibly prove that it's your stuff), and I'll remove it. If you produced it, you have that right. If that process fails, there's always the DMCA complaint route.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Dean Baker, via Susie Madrak on the state of thought in Washington, DC:

[W]hen all the inside Washington types agree on something, it is a good idea to hang on to your pocket books. Remember, these are the folks who thought it was great that everyone was becoming a homeowner in the middle of a housing bubble and that Alan Greenspan was the greatest central banker of all-time. In other words, inside Washington types are a group of people that mindlessly repeat the conventional wisdom and are largely incapable of original thought.

Playing Inflation Games with Grandma: The Washington Consensus and the Chained CPI

The particular subject, of course, is DC's never-ending quest to "save" Social Security by destroying it, but it's a statement that could just as easily be applied to the War On Terrorism, the War On Drugs, intellectual property, foreign policy, any other aspect of economic policy, and defense spending. Anyone independent enough to think outside that box is branded a wacko in one way or another. Yet they are usually the ones who make sense.

In Baker's article, he makes the point that the government's own statistics should tell our elected officials that they are doing the wrong thing. Yet, they will do the wrong thing, anyway, because that's what makes sense to them. His article, and Susie Madrak's take on it, are both worth a look-see, I think.

Something It's OK To Hate

Image credit: Keith Allison/Wikimedia

As a baseball fan who doesn't live in New York City, I've always hated the New York Yankees. At least, I hated them in the sense that I always rooted against them, no matter who they were playing against. For that reason, I used to hate seeing Mariano Rivera show up on the mound, as I wrote here:

This was another good game, with excellent pitching by Phillies starter Pedro Martinez and Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, and by Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. Rivera pitched the last two innings to preserve the win.

F*ck The F*cking Yankees, Pt. 1
Still, it was just because when Rivera came on that any chances of the team the Yankees were playing would take the lead largely vanished. That's why I really hated to read this today:

For years, he'd run around the outfield shagging fly balls during batting practice. It was part of his conditioning routine and part of what he seemed to love about his job. To see him out there trotting around the outfield, laughing with teammates, was to see a man who seemed to be having the time of his life.

When Rivera crumpled to the warning track holding his right knee Thursday in Kansas City, time seemed to stand still for an entire sport. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which will sideline him for the remainder of this season and perhaps forever if he was serious about retiring.

It's hard to imagine life without Mo

It was once said of Joe Dimaggio, the great Yankees center fielder of the war years, that he retired because he couldn't be Joe Dimaggio anymore. I suspect that is true of Mariano Rivera, too. He's been one of the best for nearly two decades now. If he thinks he can't come back and still be Mariano Rivera, that will probably be it.

I hope that day isn't here yet. Still, like most baseball fans, I wish him luck recovering, and hope that he can come back and still be Mariano Rivera for a while longer.

Just maybe for another team...

April Employment Numbers

Caption: An empty storefront in Federal Way, WA. It's been empty for several years now, along with a good portion of Federal Way's retail space. Nothing seems to be changing here. Image credit: Cujo359

The April employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are out, and here's what they say in a nutshell:

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 115,000 in April, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 8.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in professional and business services, retail trade, and health care, but declined in transportation and warehousing.

Both the number of unemployed persons (12.5 million) and the unemployment rate (8.1 percent) changed little in April. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.5 percent), adult women (7.4 percent), teenagers (24.9 percent), whites (7.4 percent), and Hispanics (10.3 percent) showed little or no change in April, while the rate for blacks (13.0 percent) declined over the month. The jobless rate for Asians was 5.2 percent in April (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

Here's the top portion of Table A-1, which is the totals for the entire workforce:

Table A-1.(Totals only) Employment status of the civilian population by sex and age [Numbers in thousands]
Employment status, sex, and ageNot seasonally adjustedSeasonally adjusted(1)
Civilian noninstitutional population239146242604242784239146240584242269242435242604242784
Civilian labor force152898154316153905153420153887154395154871154707154365
Participation rate63.963.663.464.26463.763.963.863.6
Employment-population ratio58.458.358.558.458.558.558.658.558.4
Unemployment rate8.78.47.798.
Not in labor force862488828888879857268669787874875648789788419
Persons who currently want a job648260416328651863856319637862996366
Footnotes (1) The population figures are not adjusted for seasonal variation; therefore, identical numbers appear in the unadjusted and seasonally adjusted columns. 

I've highlighted two numbers, the workforce participation rate, and the employment to population ratio (commonly abbreviated as "EPOP"). These numbers, particularly the EPOP, are more important than the commonly cited unemployment numbers right now. It's not hard to find folks who are willing to ignore EPOP and try to look on the bright side of numbers like this, unfortunately, they're wrong.

The workforce participation rate is the lowest it's been in almost thirty years. This chart from Zero Hedge illustrates:

Image credit: Zero Hedge

[Click to enlarge.]

As that ZH link explains, the reason that the unemployment numbers are dropping is because the participation rate is dropping. A lower LPR is worse, not better.

The EPOP is important here, too, because if we're in a recovery after an economic downturn, that number should be increasing. Instead, as you can see in the Table A-1 excerpt, it's decreasing. In times of prosperity, that number might also be decreasing, but that would be because more people can afford to leave the workforce early. That's not the case here. People are leaving the workforce because there's no work. How can that be, when the BLS numbers say that there were 115,000 new jobs? Robert Reich explains:

We need well over 250,000 new jobs per month in order to begin to whittle down the vast number of jobs lost in the Great Recession. At least 125,000 new jobs are necessary each month just to keep up with an expanding population of working-age people.

With only 115,000 jobs in April, the hole is getting even deeper.

The Stall Has Arrived

That 125,000 number is the subject of some debate among economists. Others calculate it somewhat differently. Dean Baker usually says 90,000 jobs are necessary each month to keep up with growth in the potential workforce. I use 100,000 jobs because it's a nice, round number that's roughly in the middle of all those estimates. At best, we added 25,000 net jobs this month, which is nowhere near the 125,000 that Reich rightly sees as a minimum net monthly increase to climb out of this depression.

Talking about how getting the U-1 unemployment number down to eight percent will help President Obama this election might be a persuasive assertion for those inside the DC bubble. To those outside of it, though, it should be utter nonsense. This is why I wrote “All Economics Is Local”. Eight percent, or ten percent, are just meaningless numbers. What matters to us out here beyond the beltway is whether our economy looks better. There’s not some magical unemployment number that’s going to make things look good. What matters is if we’re able to find jobs, and whether those jobs pay as well as the ones we had. For those about to “retire early”, all that matters, too, plus what shape the safety net is in, and whether they can get medical care when they need it.

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE1)

The Obama Administration has done practically nothing to help any of that. It’s still wringing its hands about “fiscal responsibility”, when what it should be doing is telling us that when money is this cheap (interest rates being essentially zero at the Fed), it’s time to run deficits so we can invest in America. They should be having bankers doing the perp walk by the hundreds to show that no one gets to commit control fraud on such a massive scale and get away with it. They should really be helping homeowners who are losing their homes, either because the mortgages they're paying off are now exorbitant, or through deliberate fraud.

They won’t do any of that, of course, because the people who matter don’t want it, and not enough progressives will take their votes elsewhere to matter.

The economy is not going to save the Obama Administration from defeat this fall. Only Republican incompetence can do that.

NOTE1: To the best of my knowledge, this is an original parody by Cujo359. It is the official poster for the Campaign To Keep America Sucking Somewhat Less, a not-quite-existent non-SuperPAC project of the North American Division, CONUS Operations Directorate, of the Cujo Labs.

Feel free to copy it and pass it on. Just don't forget to give credit where it's due.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

An Economics Rorschach Test

Paul Krugman puts hammer to nail today with this graph and commentary:

Just a quick picture. On the right, it’s an item of faith that the crisis in Europe represents a failure of the welfare state. So what is the correlation between the size of government and recent economic performance?

None at all, as far as I can see.

Big Government And The Crisis

Nor I. There really isn't any. The countries in that chart are most of the European Union countries, plus the U.S., Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and Australia.

Growth may be affected by the size of government at some point, but there's a pretty wide variety of government spending to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios there (just by eyeballing the chart, it looks like the range is 31 to 52 percent), and a very large range of differences in economic performance.

I'm sure that won't stop a lot of so-called economics experts from trying to see a pattern, though. Maybe they'll see Elvis or the Virgin Mary, too.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

All Dressed Up...

Caption: Is this how to dress for the White House Correspondents' Dinner? Probably not.

Glenn Greenwald sums up the relationship between the politicians and the press in our nation's capital, in a discussion of how the Obama Administration rewards those who make it look good in the news:

This weekend, the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner was held, and it is — as Gawker‘s Hamilton Nolan explained in the best analysis ever of that event — the purest expression of the total blending of political power, media subservience, and vapid celebrity in one toxic, repulsive, and destructive package. It’s imperial rot — the Versailles virus — in its most virulent form. Of course, Stephen Colbert, in the best political speech of the last decade, used his appearance at that banquet in 2006 to clearly set forth the rules by which they function:

But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!

None of that has changed. When I first began writing about politics, I mistakenly thought that the bias of the Bush-worshipping establishment media was a pro-GOP bias. It isn’t (and it’s obviously not a “liberal bias”). That’s not how they function. They aren’t nearly so substantive as to be driven by any sort of belief or ideology or anything like that. Their religion is the worship of political power and authority (or, as Jay Rosen says, their religion is the Church of the Savvy). Royal court courtiers have long competed with one another to curry favor with the King and his minions in exchange for official favor, and this is just that dynamic. Political power is what can give them their treats — their “exclusive” interviews and getting tapped on their grateful heads to get secret documents and invited to White House functions and being allowed into the sacred Situation Room – so it’s what they revere and serve.

Dog Training The Press Corps
[links from original]

What is the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, and how do the politicians in power use it to "train" the press, as Greenwald put it? From that link in the Greenwald quote, Hamilton Nolan's opening paragraph characterizes it pretty well:

Do you know who knows that the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner is a shameful display of whoredom that makes the "average American" vomit in disgust, or, more likely, simply continue to disregard the findings of any ostensibly neutral journalistic outlet in favor of their own ideology of choice, because they have a fully solidified belief that the "mainstream media" is little more than a bunch of ball-lapping lapdogs to whoever's in power? Everyone. Everyone knows this. Even the members of the media who attend the White House Whores Despondence Dinner know this, deep down, whether they admit it openly or lie defensively about how they, the true professionals, can stand in a receiving line to backslap and shake the hands of politicians like groupies and pose for pictures with Ashton Kutcher and Alec Baldwin and Stephen Baldwin and Anna Paquin and no, it does not matter tomorrow, because they are professionals who would never be compromised by the fact that they just spent their favorite evening of the year joshing playfully with the powerful officials they are supposed to be afflicting and reveling in their close proximity to the celebrities that they wish they were.

Fuck the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner

It's hard to think of a more apt description. Taylor Marsh gave it a try, though:

AT THE 1% INTERSECTION OF ELITISM, access and insider greasing.

Pres. Obama at the Political Insiders Prom

Perhaps the most damning thing about this conclave is the name itself - it's supposed to be a fraternity of the press, not the people they cover. It's supposed to be about having a good time poking fun at each other. Yet, the one person most of us know of who has ever said something funny at this gathering was never invited back, because, ironically, he told the truth. That paragraph Greenwald quoted gets it right in ways most of the attendees are all too aware. The politicians and their other enablers control this form of access as they do most access in that town.

If you have to ask yourself why the DC press looks the other way when whoever is in power is getting us involved in useless wars as they make our lives progressively worse, then you have no idea how access is managed there. The politicians use it as a rolled up newspaper, and only the hardiest dogs disobey.