Friday, July 31, 2009

Why We Are a "Celebrity-Riddled" Culture

Can you stand one more plug for Chris Hedges' weighty tome, Empire of Illusion? And a few more facts about how the banksters are stealing us blind (still)? I can't urge you enough to read it (and tell your friends). (Emphasis marks and some editing inserted - Ed.)

Celebrities are skillfully used by their handlers and the media to compensate for the increasingly degraded and regimented existences that most of us endure in a commodity culture. Celebrities tell us we can have our revenge. We can triumph. We can, one day, get back at the world that has belittled and abused us. It happens in the ring. It happens on television. It happens in the movies. It happens in the narrative of the Christian Right. It happens in pornography. It happens in the self-help manuals and on reality television. But it almost never happens in reality.

Celebrity is the vehicle used by a corporate society to sell us these branded commodities, most of which we do not need. Celebrities humanize commercial commodities. They present the familiar and comforting face of the corporate state. Supermodel Paulina Porizkova, on an episode of America’s Next Top Model, gushes to a group of aspiring young models, “Our job as models is to sell.” But they peddle a fake intimacy and a fantasy. The commercial “personalizing” of the world involves oversimplification, distraction, and gross distortion.

“We sink further into a dream of an unconsciously intimate world in which not only may a cat look at a king but a king is really a cat underneath, and all the great power-figures Honest Joes at heart,” Richard Hoggart warned in The Uses of Literacy. We do not learn more about Barack Obama by knowing what dog he has bought for his daughters or if he still smokes. This personalized trivia, passed off as news, diverts us from reality.

In his book Celebrity, Chris Rojeck calls celebrity culture “the cult of distraction that valorizes the superficial, the gaudy, the domination of commodity culture.” He goes further:

Capitalism originally sought to police play and pleasure, because any attempt to replace work as the central life interest threatened the economic survival of the system. The family, the state and religion engendered a variety of patterns of moral regulation to control desire and ensure compliance with the system of production. However, as capitalism developed, consumer culture and leisure time expanded. The principles that operated to repress the individual in the workplace and the home were extended to the shopping mall and recreational activity. The entertainment industry and consumer culture produced what Herbert Marcuse called ‘repressive desublimation.’ Through this process individuals unwittingly subscribed to the degraded version of humanity.

This cult of distraction, as Rojeck points out, masks the real disintegration of culture. It conceals the meaninglessness and emptiness of our own lives. It seduces us to engage in imitative consumption. It deflects the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice, growing inequalities, costly imperial wars, and economic collapse and political corruption. The wild pursuit of status and wealth has destroyed our souls and our economy. Families live in sprawling mansions financed with mortgages they can no longer repay. Consumers recklessly rang up Coach handbags and Manolo Blahnik shoes on credit cards because they seemed to confer a sense of identity and merit. Our favorite hobby, besides television, used to be, until reality hit us like a tsunami, shopping. Shopping used to be the compensation for spending five days a week in tiny cubicles. American workers are ground down by corporations who have disempowered them, used them, and have now discarded them.

Celebrities have fame free of responsibility. The fame of celebrities, wrote Mills, disguises those who possess true power: corporations and the oligarchic elite. Magical thinking is the currency not only of celebrity culture, but of totalitarian culture. And as we sink into an economic and political morass, we are still controlled, manipulated and distracted by the celluloid shadows on the dark wall of Plato’s cave. The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to keep us from fighting back.

Read on (please) here. And from Swiftspeech! we have the following bankster getaway reporting: (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo today published a report entitled "'The Heads I Win, Tails You Lose' Bank Bonus Culture". The numbers tell their own story.

In 2008:* JPMorgan Chase: $25 billion in TARP funding, earned $5.6 billion, paid $8.69 billion in bonuses;* Goldman Sachs: $10 billion in TARP funding, earned $2.3 billion, paid $4.8 billion in bonuses;* Morgan Stanley: $10 billion in TARP funding, earned $1.7 billion, paid $4.5 billion in bonuses;* Citigroup: $45 billion in TARP funding, lost $27.7 billion, paid $5.33 billion in bonuses;* BoA/Merrill Lynch: $45 billion in TARP funding, lost $23.6 billion, paid $6.9 billion in bonuses.

In total, 4613 bankers and traders received bonuses of more than $1 million at these 5 financial institutions, all of which would in all probability have collapsed if not for taxpayer assistance. The TARP funding is by no means the only way they got access to the public trough. While some have returned TARP funds, the other types of funding, while there's no doubt they add up to a far higher total than the combined $135 billion in TARP funds, exist in a much more opaque territory. There are numbers available of what the banks received from the AIG bail-out: Goldman Sachs, for example, was handed $13 billion.

Suzan ________________

Evil Syndicated - Jim Speaks In Front of the Curtain

Jim Kunstler, who writes the brilliant economics/finance blog Clusterfuck Nation has gone off the approved for children page on Goldman (Government) Sachs.

surveying the scene out there, it is hard to not conclude that Goldman Sachs has become the “front-runner” of a criminal syndicate defrauding US taxpayers.
Thank whatever that someone from the upper-level (upper-intelligence at least, anyway) pages finally has. And that he's acquainting us with history about what happened to Rove's hero's Mark Hanna's President McKinley - yep - he's the one that was assassinated by an "anarchist." (Emphasis marks and some editing added - Ed.)

Evil Syndicated . . . By now, everyone in that fraction of the world that pays attention to something other than American Idol and their platter of TGI Friday’s loaded potato skins knows that Goldman Sachs has been caught at another racket in the stock market: front-running trades. What a clever gambit, done with the help of the markets themselves – the Nasdaq in particular – in which information on trades is held back a fraction of a second from public view, while the data is shoveled to the computers of privileged subscribers who can execute zillions of programmed micro-trades before the rest of the herd makes a move.

This allows them to vacuum up hundreds of millions of dollars by doing absolutely nothing of value. The old-fashioned method used by brokers was called “churning,” in which stocks were bought and sold incessantly (by phone) from the portfolios of inattentive clients merely to generate commissions. In any sensible society – i.e. a society with an instinct for self-preservation – it would be against the law and the people doing it would be sent to prison. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve got to think that the actions at the Nasdaq end – shoveling the data to the privileged subscribers a fraction of a second early – is patently illegal in the first place, since the whole purpose of an exchange is to create a fair trading space. Where both parties are concerned, it should amount to a plain vanilla criminal conspiracy to commit stock trading fraud. Maybe the larger question is: since when did we become a society lacking the instinct for self-preservation – that is, a society bent on suicide? Or maybe the question is better put to Goldman Sachs’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Since this racket was made public, there has been chatter all over the Web about how angry the American public is about Wall Street in general, and increasingly about Goldman Sachs in particular. Nobody has summed it up better than Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, calling the company “…a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” And Taibbi’s fierce article about Goldman Sachs came out weeks before this latest outrage.

As we turn the corner toward autumn, President Obama looks increasingly like a dupe, a tool, or a co-conspirator of Goldman Sachs. If he doesn’t instruct the Justice Department to commence investigations of the company, and if he doesn’t dissociate himself from their alumni hanging around the White House, the Treasury Department, and elsewhere in the government, he’s going to become the object of an awful public wrath.

Obama has no other choice at this point except to clean house – to fire Larry Summers, Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, and all other former Goldman Sachs employees in positions of power and influence around him. Actually, it’s not necessary for the whole general public to be fed up with this situation. According to the Pareto 80-20 rule, it only takes one-fifth of the public to set social actions in motion, and only one-fifth of that one-fifth to do the heavy lifting. I think we’ve reached that point. The sentiment is now overwhelmingly tipped against Goldman Sachs (and Wall Street generally) and the only questions are whether the President of the US ends up lumped in with them, and whether we’ll see orderly prosecutions or disorderly persecutions. At this point, it even begins to look as though Mr. Obama is taking cover behind the health care reform debate to avoid answering for his government’s association with Goldman Sachs. The trouble is, if the thoughtful and trustworthy members of the “Pareto 20 percent” don’t stir themselves into action over Goldman’s behavior, then sooner or later the thoughtless and reckless will take over. Bill Moyers hosted a fascinating report on his most recent podcast about the savagery of right-wing broadcasting and how it had led, in one instance, to the murder of a doctor who performed abortions. What bothers me is that, sooner or later, the conduct of Goldman Sachs will lead the growing ranks of the unemployed, foreclosed, disentitled, and hopeless into the hands of a savage right wing seeking mindless vengeance, for instance, against “the Jews,” (as represented by Goldman Sachs), or brown-skinned people (as embodied by a vilified president). Readers of this blog know I’m allergic to conspiracy theories. But surveying the scene out there, it is hard to not conclude that Goldman Sachs has become the “front-runner” of a criminal syndicate defrauding US taxpayers. This isn’t the first time in American history that business veered into extremely antisocial behavior on the grand scale. The last quarter of the 19th century was just as bad, with frauds, swindles, sociopathic trusts, and predatory corporations preying on people trying desperately to make an honest living. Then, one summer day in 1901, a factory drone named Leon Czolgosz stepped up to President William McKinley in a reception line at the Buffalo World’s Fair and plugged him twice in the abdomen. (Czolgosz liked to think of himself as an “anarchist,” a then-fashionable ideology among the simmering powerless.) Eight days later, McKinley expired and Teddy Roosevelt became president – to the extreme chagrin of the Republican business establishment – “ . . . now that damned cowboy is in the White House!” cried Republican national leader Mark Hanna of Ohio. He was correct to be nervous. TR turned the corporate world upside down with reform, from dismantling monopolies to establishing the cabinet departments of Commerce and Labor, to bringing the new food industry under regulation. This naturally leads me to wonder if or when Barack Obama will have his TR Moment, when he stands up to the large malign forces operating arrantly in the daily life of this nation.

I get volumes of email complaining about Mr. Obama. The writers behind them seem, on the whole, crankish, cynical to an extreme, and not very trustworthy observers of the scene. But I begin to sympathize with them. In the meantime, the US economy gives the illusion of recovery – but to what? Back to a “consumer” credit card shopping orgy? Another house-buying fiesta? I don’t think so. Households are drowning in debt. They’re using their credit cards, if they still can, to buy staple foods. Those are the lucky ones who still have lines of credit left. Soon, many of these families won’t even amount to households because they won’t have a house. There is absolutely no way we are going back to that particular bubble economy. The only bubble left is the government debt bubble, now leading to such extravagant excess that it can only end up wrecking the government, and perhaps American society with it. In the meantime, how much remaining wealth is Goldman Sachs and its cohorts vacuuming off the floor? Also meanwhile, oil is heading back to the $70 range (with the dollar shedding basis points). That’s the oil price range where the economy begins to get wrecked all over again – that is, whatever remains of the economy. That’s the price range where airlines go back to the intensive care unit and citizens have to max out their credit cards to buy gasoline. We’re moving toward a very hard landing and very soon.

Suzan _____________

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Empire of DisIllusion?

Chris Hedges' latest book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, is being discussed all over the literary universe right now and it's beautifully written and full of wonder. I recommend that you pick up a copy and read it. Be public spirited and request your local library to buy a few too. The following paragraphs spoke to me so loudly that I thought I'd share them with you. When I used to teach Business Administration management courses, I would point out the similarity of the traits of successful business people to those of raging psycho/sociopaths. My students would laugh out loud at the idea. In 2005, courtesy of a friend's largesse, I saw an enormously entertaining movie, Thank You For Smoking, which had been made from the book by Chris Buckley, directed by Jason Reitman and starring the winning Aaron Eckhart, whose M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) Squad made the point about who salespeople really were so well that I pledged to include it in my course the next time I got a teaching gig. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

Celebrity culture plunges us into this moral void. No one has any worth beyond his or her appearance, usefulness, or ability to “succeed.” The highest achievements in a celebrity culture are wealth, sexual conquest, and fame. It does not matter how these are obtained. These values, as Sigmund Freud understood, are illusory. They are hollow. They leave us chasing vapors. They urge us toward a life of narcissistic self-absorption. They tell us that existence is to be centered on the practices and desires of the self rather than the common good. The ability to lie and manipulate others, the very ethic of capitalism, is held up as the highest good.

The cult of self dominates our cultural landscape. This cult shares within it the classic traits of psychopaths; superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception, and manipulation and the inability to feel remorse or guilt. This is, of course, the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. In fact, personal style, defined by the commodities we buy or consume, has become a compensation for our loss of democratic equality. We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy, and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. Once you get there, those questions are no longer asked. It is this perverted ethic that gave us Wall Street bankers and investment houses that willfully trashed the nation’s economy, stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. In his masterful essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin wrote: “The cult of the movie star, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the ‘spell of the personality,’ the phony spell of a commodity.”

Click here to read an excerpt from Empire of Illusion. Those psychopathic traits speak so clearly to me about the world we inhabit today, delineating the news about Goldman Sachs', et al., scandalous financial chicanery bringing on our latest economic devastation, their right to bonuses for a job well done and their grateful acceptance of these hard-earned rewards without blushing in the slightest.

Stomach turning.

There is lots more to admire and reflect on in this tome. His views on wrestling give us a lot to, well, wrestle with. Suzan __________________

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Statistical Deceptions - How Statistics Can Produce False Signs of Recovery

Paul Craig Roberts gives us some self-defense logic about "statistical deceptions" and how a continuing economic Depression with some plateaus is being reported as one ending with "green shoots" when it's only pausing briefly in its downward momentum. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

Last week on NPR a professor in the Sloan School of Management at MIT explained that what is really at stake in the health care bill is the US government’s ability to borrow. In other words, the bill is about cutting health care costs, not about providing hard-pressed Americans with health care. The professor said that if we didn’t get health care costs under control, in 30 years the US government would not be able to sell Treasury bonds. It is not at all clear that the Treasury will be able to sell its debt instruments in 30 months, and it has nothing to do with health care costs. The Treasury debt marketing problem has to do with two back-to- back US fiscal year budgets, each with a $2 trillion deficit. The size of the US deficit exceeds in these troubled times the supply of world savings available to fund the US government’s wars, bailouts and stimulus plans. If the Federal Reserve has to monetize the Treasury’s new borrowings by creating demand deposits for the Treasury (printing money), America’s foreign creditors might flee the dollar. The professor didn’t seem to know anything about this and gave Washington 30 more years before the proverbial hits the fan. One looks in vain to the US financial media for accurate economic information. Currently, Wall Street, the White House, and the media are hyping a new sign of economic recovery - ”surging” June home sales. John Williams at predicted this latest reporting deception. Here is the way Williams explains how statistics can produce false signs of recovery. The economy has been contracting for so long that a plateauing of the falloff in home sales compared to the previous time period’s more rapid contraction can appear like a gain. The Census Bureau itself notes that the reported 11% increase in June home sales might be illusory. The reporting agency says that the gain is not statistically meaningful at a 90% confidence interval and that “the Census Bureau does not have sufficient statistical evidence to conclude that the actual change is different from zero.”

Williams explains other data distortions likely to create false hopes and lead to investment losses. Financial stresses from the current state of the economy have changed behavior. This means that normal seasonal adjustments to statistical data can result in misleading information. For example, the recent decline that was reported in seasonally- adjusted new unemployment claims was a result of the normal adjustments for the retooling of auto lines that did not, in fact, take place to the normal extent due to the bankruptcies and uncertainties. Adding in seasonal adjustments that did not in fact take place artificially reduced the unemployment claims. Williams warns that after a period of contraction, new monthly or quarterly figures are being compared to prior periods of collapsing activity. “Improvements” are thus artifacts of the prior collapse and not signs of economic rebound. The “Birth-Death Model” is used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate the net of the non-reported jobs lost by failed businesses (deaths) and new jobs created by start-up companies (births). Williams explains why the model understates job loss during periods of contraction. The modeling on which the birth-death adjustment is based consists primarily of periods of economic growth when there are more non-reported start-up jobs than non-reported job losses from business failures. The BLS model came up with a monthly adjustment of 75,000 new jobs added to the reported number. That means an adjustment factor of 900,000 new jobs added to the reported payroll jobs number each year. However, during economic contraction, such as the current one, it is wrong to assume that new start-ups are creating 75,000 jobs each month more than are being lost to business failures. Thus the job losses are understated by the 900,000 upside birth-death adjustment and by the absence of a downside adjustment to estimate the jobs lost as a result of failed companies that cease to report. The reported unemployment rate is itself deceptive as it no longer includes discouraged workers who have been unemployed for more than a year. These long-term discouraged workers are simply erased from the rolls of the unemployed. The Consumer Price Index no longer measures a constant standard of living and is not comparable to pre-Clinton periods. During the 1990s, the CPI ceased to be based on a weighted fixed assortment. The principle of substitution was introduced. For example, under the old measure, if the price of steak rose, the CPI rose. Under the new measure, if the price of steak rises, the index switches to hamburger on the assumption that consumers substitute hamburger for steak. Consumer confidence typically is swayed by “good news” hype. The drops in the Conference Board’s and the University of Michigan’s measures of consumer confidence in July suggest that Americans are becoming inured to recovery hype and are realizing that the government and the media lie about the economy just as they lie about everything else.

Suzan __________________

How Much Have We Paid To/Saved For Payout to Banksters?

The FDIC bailout is destined to save banks $24 Billion according to Paul Kiel at ProPublica. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

We keep you up to date on how many taxpayer billions [1] have gone out to the nation’s banks (and insurance, credit card and auto companies) via the $700 billion TARP [2]. But the Wall Street Journal ran the numbers [3] on a separate federal bailout program, this one run by the FDIC, and found it will save eight big U.S. banks “about $24 billion in borrowing costs during the next three years.”

Of course, the program was launched to save banks billions—or put another way, it was designed to make their debt affordable. Banks under the program (called the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program) issue debt guaranteed by the FDIC. Since the debt has government backing, the interest rate is lower than the market rate. And at the height of the financial crisis late last year, market rates were remarkably high. The Journal‘s analysis focused on the eight biggest participants in the program and is based on the difference between the FDIC-backed rate and the going market rate at the time the banks issued debt under the program.

As we reported last month, one company that has benefited from this program is General Electric [4]. The Journal calculates that its savings “likely will reach $3.3 billion,” a total GE disputed. (A spokeswoman said it was “something much less,” but evidently didn’t provide an estimate.)

And one lucky guy at Citigroup (remember how successful Bob Rubin's old group was at playing the energy market?) says he's worth $100 Million bonus - and is demanding it. And, of course, Citigroup will pay. "Citigroup (C) is considering paying a $100 million bonus -- to one guy. This is the same Citigroup that received $45 billion in bailout money. The same Citigroup that will soon be 34% owned by the U.S. government. The same Citigroup that has lost 95% of its share value since 2007. Citigroup is in no position to be awarding bonuses of $10 million - let alone adding another zero to that amount. So why is it mulling such a colossally dumb move? Because the guy demanding it is probably the bank's most valuable employee. Enter Andrew Hall. He's a rock star, a legend among banking circles. He makes a boatload of money for Citigroup as head of Phibro, the bank's energy-trading unit. The Wall Street Journal calls Phibro a secretive operation, housed in a former Connecticut dairy farm, that "occasionally accounts for a disproportionate chunk of Citigroup income." Phibro made so much money for Citigroup last year that Hall got a $100 million bonus (His bonus is based on Phibro's profits). Phibro was the main source of the $667 million in pretax revenue Citigroup received in commodities trading, the Journal reported. And the unit is doing so well this year that Hall may be in line for a similar amount. Even though it's only July, it sounds like Hall is pressing Citigroup for confirmation of the bonus. He's threatening to leave the company, reports say. So here's Citigroup's dilemma: Keeping Hall would likely help the company climb out of the hole it's in. But can it afford to spend $100 million? And will the U.S. government allow it? That will depend largely on the opinion of Kenneth Feinberg, the new pay czar appointed to oversee compensation at the bailed-out banks. Hall already has so much money that he owns a castle in Germany called Schloss Derneburg (pictured here). He's a huge art collector, and caused a bit of a ruckus in Southport, Conn., by commissioning a six-ton, 80-foot-long sculpture of concrete and steel on his front lawn. That doesn't play well with Southporters." And what are the real numbers in bank lending?

Lending continues to slow as bankers and borrowers refrain from taking risks, in a bearish sign for the economy. The total amount of loans held by 15 large U.S. banks shrank by 2.8% in the second quarter, and more than half of the loan volume in April and May came from refinancing mortgages and renewing credit to businesses, not new loans, an analysis by The Wall Street Journal shows.

Suzan __________________

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why We Cannot Get A Decent Health Care Bill Out of Congress

Want to understand why so few in the Congress want to give us decent healthcare? Paul Krugman does and he points out the fallacy and cynicism of what's passing for debate in the hallowed halls of Congress here.

Right now the fate of health care reform seems to rest in the hands of relatively conservative Democrats — mainly members of the Blue Dog Coalition, created in 1995. And you might be tempted to say that President Obama needs to give those Democrats what they want. But he can’t — because the Blue Dogs aren’t making sense. To grasp the problem, you need to understand the outline of the proposed reform (all of the Democratic plans on the table agree on the essentials.) Reform, if it happens, will rest on four main pillars: regulation, mandates, subsidies and competition. By regulation I mean the nationwide imposition of rules that would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on your medical history, or dropping your coverage when you get sick. This would stop insurers from gaming the system by covering only healthy people. On the other side, individuals would also be prevented from gaming the system: Americans would be required to buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, rather than signing up only when they need care. And all but the smallest businesses would be required either to provide their employees with insurance, or to pay fees that help cover the cost of subsidies — subsidies that would make insurance affordable for lower-income American families. Finally, there would be a public option: a government-run insurance plan competing with private insurers, which would help hold down costs. The subsidy portion of health reform would cost around a trillion dollars over the next decade. In all the plans currently on the table, this expense would be offset with a combination of cost savings elsewhere and additional taxes, so that there would be no overall effect on the federal deficit. So what are the objections of the Blue Dogs? Well, they talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, which basically boils down to worrying about the cost of those subsidies. And it’s tempting to stop right there, and cry foul. After all, where were those concerns about fiscal responsibility back in 2001, when most conservative Democrats voted enthusiastically for that year’s big Bush tax cut — a tax cut that added $1.35 trillion to the deficit? But it’s actually much worse than that — because even as they complain about the plan’s cost, the Blue Dogs are making demands that would greatly increase that cost. There has been a lot of publicity about Blue Dog opposition to the public option, and rightly so: a plan without a public option to hold down insurance premiums would cost taxpayers more than a plan with such an option. But Blue Dogs have also been complaining about the employer mandate, which is even more at odds with their supposed concern about spending. The Congressional Budget Office has already weighed in on this issue: without an employer mandate, health care reform would be undermined as many companies dropped their existing insurance plans, forcing workers to seek federal aid — and causing the cost of subsidies to balloon. It makes no sense at all to complain about the cost of subsidies and at the same time oppose an employer mandate. So what do the Blue Dogs want? Maybe they’re just being complete hypocrites. It’s worth remembering the history of one of the Blue Dog Coalition’s founders: former Representative Billy Tauzin of Louisiana. Mr. Tauzin switched to the Republicans soon after the group’s creation; eight years later he pushed through the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, a deeply irresponsible bill that included huge giveaways to drug and insurance companies.

And then he left Congress to become, yes, the lavishly paid president of PhRMA,the pharmaceutical industry lobby. One interpretation, then, is that the Blue Dogs are basically following in Mr. Tauzin’s footsteps: if their position is incoherent, it’s because they’re nothing but corporate tools, defending special interests. And as the Center for Responsive Politics pointed out in a recent report, drug and insurance companies have lately been pouring money into Blue Dog coffers. But I guess I’m not quite that cynical. After all, today’s Blue Dogs are politicians who didn’t go the Tauzin route — they didn’t switch parties even when the G.O.P. seemed to hold all the cards and pundits were declaring the Republican majority permanent. So these are Democrats who, despite their relative conservatism, have shown some commitment to their party and its values. Now, however, they face their moment of truth. For they can’t extract major concessions on the shape of health care reform without dooming the whole project: knock away any of the four main pillars of reform, and the whole thing will collapse — and probably take the Obama presidency down with it. Is that what the Blue Dogs really want to see happen? We’ll soon find out.

Our precious blogtopia professor, Badtux, the Healthcare Economics Penguin, has a few graphs that will clear up some of the mud being tossed by the wingnuts (and their assorted friends) in the debate about whether increasing the efficiency of the U.S. healthcare system will cause healthcare R&D to decline.

So will increasing the efficiency of the U.S. healthcare system cause healthcare R&D to decline? Let's take a look, first of all, at pharmaceuticals R&D, which accounts for roughly half of all healthcare R&D (see graph here). As you can see, the U.S. may be a huge player because of the sheer size of its economy - roughly the same size as the entire European Union combined - but as a percentage of national income (GDP), the United States is an also-ran in pharmaceuticals research. So now what happens when we add non-pharma healthcare R&D into the picture (see graph here)? The blue is government health R&D spending, the white is private R&D spending. Still, even with the better US showing in non-pharma R&D, the picture is clear. The United States does not spend a large percentage of its gross national income on health R&D compared to other OECD nations - only 0.45%, as vs. 0.68% for Sweden, for example. So, now let's consider the notion that reducing health care expenditures via increased efficiencies (as vs. rationing) will somehow reduce these R&D expenditures.

First, note that over half of these R&D expenditures are government expenditures. The notion that governments will reduce their R&D spending because of removal of waste from the health care system is ludicrous. Secondly, the U.S. currently spends 17% of national income on health care. The notion that the 0.25% of GDP necessary for private R&D to continue cannot be funded at that spending level is ludicrous. In short: If you look at the sheer scale of health care spending, compared to the much smaller scale of R&D spending, you'll note that private R&D accounts for less than 1.5% of current healthcare spending. The notion that capping expenditures at the current rate and forcing increased efficiencies upon the system will somehow drive private healthcare R&D out of the market is less than compelling given just how small the percentage of healthcare spending devoted to R&D really is.

Think this will straighten them out?


Suzan ________________________

We Are "Stuck With 10% Unemployment for Decades"

Mish is the man today as he gives us the unvarnished statistics determining our future for years to come (and, yes, we'll be dead by the time the economy recovers from the Rethuglican funfest).

stuck with 10% unemployment for decades.
Yes. That's what he's predicting, and his predictions are pretty darned good. How do you feel about that "stimulus" package now? (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)
Incredible Shrinking Boomer Economy BusinessWeek has an interesting cover story this week about The Leaner Baby Boomer Economy. Calling Mercedes the "the quintessential boomer brand," BusinessWeek estimates that Mercedes will sell a third fewer cars in America. The article also notes efforts by companies like Nordstrom (JWN), Starwood Hotels & Resorts (HOT), Outback Steakhouse, BMW and Target (TGT) to offer value shopping or "cheap chic" in an effort to reach out to generations X and Y. By now most are familiar with this new wave of frugality. Thus the real story is not article itself but the is the easy to miss sidebar statistics as follows:
$400 Billion: Amount that will come out of annual U.S. consumption as thrifty boomers push savings rate from 1% to nearly 5%. 47%: Boomers share of national disposable income in 2005 before the bubble burst. Boomers contributed only 7% to national savings. 2.4%: Forecasted GDP growth over the next three decades as boomers ratchet back. GDP has grown 3.2% a year since 1965. 69%: Portion of boomers aged 54 to 63 who are financially unprepared for retirement. 78%: Boomers' share of GDP growth during the bubble years of 1995 to 2005
Those stats are from a McKinsey study, and there is nothing remotely inflationary about any of them. In his Town Hall Meetings Bernanke said:

"It takes GDP growth of about 2.5 percent to keep the jobless rate constant. But the Fed expects growth of only about 1 percent in the last six months of the year. So that's not enough to bring down the unemployment rate."

Inquiring minds might be asking: Why does it take 2.5% growth to keep the jobless rate constant?

The answer is the first 2.5%+- of GDP is based on hedonics and imputations. In plain English, the first 2.5%+- of GDP (if not much more) is fictional. When the economy is growing at 2% it feels like a recession because it probably is, even though no one will admit it. Now consider the implications of a 2.4% GDP forecast for three decades. If Bernanke is correct that it takes 2.5% GDP growth just to keep the unemployment rate constant, and McKinsey is also correct in its 2.4% forecast, we will be stuck with 10% unemployment for decades. Mike "Mish" Shedlock

And he's not known for his comedy routines. Suzan ______________

Monday, July 27, 2009

Goebbels Rides Again & Wall Street Ponzi "Bubble" Schemes

Is Rupert Murdoch the modern day Goebbels? What follows is why I don't read the Wall Street Journal anymore. Not that this is new news.

“A cultural Chernobyl,” is how the German investigative journalist Reiner Luyken, based in London, described Murdoch’s effect on British life. Of course, there is a colourful Fleet Street history of lies, damn lies, but no proprietor ever attained the infectious power of Murdoch’s putrescence. To public truth and decency and freedom, he is as the dunghill is to the blowfly. The rich and famous can usually defend themselves with expensive libel actions; but most of Murdoch’s victims are people like the Hillsborough parents, who suffer without recourse.

The Murdoch “ethos” was demonstrated right from the beginning of his career, as Richard Neville has documented. In 1964, his Sydney tabloid, the Daily Mirror, published the diary of a 14-year-old schoolgirl under the headline, “WE HAVE SCHOOLGIRL’S ORGY DIARY”. A 13-year-old boy, who was identified, was expelled from the same school. Soon afterwards, he hanged himself from his mother’s clothesline. The “sex diary” was subsequently found to be fake. Soon after Murdoch bought the News of the World in 1971, a strikingly similar episode involving an adolescent diary led to the suicide of a 15-year-old girl. And Murdoch himself said, of the industrial killing of innocent men, women and children in Iraq: “There is going to be collateral damage. And if you really want to be brutal about it, better we get it done now . . .”

His most successful war has been on journalism itself. A leading Murdoch retainer, Andrew Neil, the Kelvin MacKenzie of the Sunday Times, conducted one of his master’s most notorious smear campaigns against ITV (like the BBC, a “monopoly” standing in Murdoch’s way). In 1988, the ITV company Thames Television made Death on the Rock, an investigative documentary that lifted a veil on the British secret state under Margaret Thatcher, describing how an SAS team had murdered four unarmed IRA members in Gibraltar with their hands in the air.

The message was clear: Thatcher was willing to use death squads. The Sunday Times and the Sun, side by side in Murdoch’s razor-wired Wapping fortress, echoed Thatcher’s scurrilous attacks on Thames Television and subjected the principal witness to the murders, Carmen Proetta, to a torrent of lies and personal abuse. She later won £300,000 in libel damages, and a public inquiry vindicated the programme’s accuracy and integrity. This did not prevent Thames, an innovative broadcaster, from losing its licence.

Murdoch’s most obsequious supplicants are politicians, especially New Labour. Having ensured that Murdoch pays minimal tax, and having attended the farewell party of one editor of the Sun, Gordon Brown was recently in full fawn at the wedding of another editor of the same paper. Don Corleone expects nothing less.

The hypocrisy, however, is almost magical. In 1995, Murdoch flew Tony and Cherie Blair first-class to Hayman Island, Australia, where the aspiring war criminal spoke about “the need for a new moral purpose in politics”, which included the lifting of government regulations on the media. Murdoch shook his hand warmly. The next day the Sun commented: “Mr Blair has vision, he has purpose and he speaks our language on morality and family life.”

The two are devout Christians, after all.

Of course they are. Everyone in the upper classes anyway. With power (firepower). The very good reason that Eliot Spitzer must be silenced with shame now and forever has been revealed (and why giving the Fed more power to regulate Wall Street is a joke on the poor, ignorant, unconnected U.S. citizens):

The Federal Reserve — the quasi-autonomous body that controls the US’s money supply — is a “Ponzi scheme” that created “bubble after bubble” in the US economy and needs to be held accountable for its actions, says Eliot Spitzer, the former governor and attorney-general of New York.

In a wide-ranging discussion of the bank bailouts on MSNBC’s Morning Meeting, host Dylan Ratigan described the process by which the Federal Reserve exchanged $13.9 trillion of bad bank debt for cash that it gave to the struggling banks.

Spitzer — who built a reputation as “the Sheriff of Wall Street” for his zealous prosecutions of corporate crime as New York’s attorney-general and then resigned as the state’s governor over revelations he had paid for prostitutes — seemed to agree with Ratigan that the bank bailout amounts to “America’s greatest theft and cover-up ever.”

Advocating in favor of a House bill to audit the Federal Reserve, Spitzer said: “The Federal Reserve has benefited for decades from the notion that it is quasi-autonomous, it’s supposed to be independent. Let me tell you a dirty secret: The Fed has done an absolutely disastrous job since [former Fed Chairman] Paul Volcker left.

“The reality is the Fed has blown it. Time and time again, they blew it. Bubble after bubble, they failed to understand what they were doing to the economy.

“The most poignant example for me is the AIG bailout, where they gave tens of billions of dollars that went right through — conduit payments — to the investment banks that are now solvent. We [taxpayers] didn’t get stock in those banks, they didn’t ask what was going on — this begs and cries out for hard, tough examination.

“You look at the governing structure of the New York [Federal Reserve], it was run by the very banks that got the money. This is a Ponzi scheme, an inside job. It is outrageous, it is time for Congress to say enough of this. And to give them more power now is crazy.

“The Fed needs to be examined carefully.”

Spitzer resigned as governor of New York in March, 2008, after news reports stated he had paid for a $1,000-an-hour New York City call girl.

At the time, Spitzer had been raising the alarm about sub-prime mortgages. In the wake of the economic meltdown triggered last fall by sub-prime loans, some observers have suggested that Spitzer may have been targeted by law enforcement because of his high-profile opposition to Wall Street financial policies.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast wrote that federal agents’ revealing of Spitzer’s identity as a call-girl customer was no coincidence.

Palast wrote that the principle of “prosecutorial discretion” is often used to keep the names of high-profile persons out of the media when they are tangentially linked to a criminal investigation. In the case of Spitzer, the Justice Department chose not to invoke prosecutorial discretion.

Funny thing, this ‘discretion.’ For example, Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, paid Washington DC prostitutes to put him in diapers (ewww!), yet the Senator was not exposed by the US prosecutors busting the pimp-ring that pampered him.

Naming and shaming and ruining Spitzer – rarely done in these cases - was made at the ‘discretion’ of Bush’s Justice Department.

Spitzer recently told Bloomberg News that President Obama’s regulatory reforms of the financial sector are “irrelevant” because regulatory agencies have not been enforcing corporate laws to begin with.

“Regulatory agencies already had the power to do everything they needed to do,” he said. “They just affirmatively chose not to do it.”

Suzan ______________________

Drug War Charade Gives Way To Naked Counterinsurgency

Very depressing. If you wondered where all your gains went from the last two decades . . . . Not only are we going to be in Afghanistan/Iraq for-evah, but take a look at our latest plans for Latin/South America. And I cannot believe that these are the best (or all bright) minds we have.

No way.

The escalation of counterinsurgency operations was packaged under the label of a war against drugs, of course. Nine years later Colombia remains the largest supplier of cocaine and heroin to the United States.

How seriously one should have taken this charade was indicated in April of 2000 when the former commander of the U.S. Army's anti-drug operation in Colombia, Col. James C. Hiett, pleaded guilty to not having turned over evidence on his wife, Laurie, for smuggling cocaine and heroin into the United States. His spouse pleaded guilty in January of planning to smuggle $700,000 worth of heroin into the US through the mail.

Colonel Hiett doubtlessly performed his duties in propagating the tale that the FARC was responsible for the lion's share of coca and opium cultivation and trafficking in the nation and that the US military was the best response to its alleged activities. If one still had any doubts regarding the sincerity of American claims to be combating narco-trafficking and terrorism, within weeks of the passage of Plan Colombia, Secretary of State (Madeleine) Albright escorted the head of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim Thaci, whose colleagues and allied drug cartels control most of the marijuana, hashish and narcotics traffic in Europe, to her old haunts in the United Nations Headquarters and her then current ones in the State Department, preparing him to become a future head of state. (Since last year he is in fact the president of what former Serbian president Vojislav Kostunica has aptly called the world's first NATO state. It is also the world's newest narco-state.) After the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States, the White House elevated the FARC towards the top of its targets list in the so-called Global War on Terror, though what role the group could have had in the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. is beyond any sane person's ability to discern or fathom. . . . On June 29 US President Barack Obama hosted his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe at the White House and weeks later it was announced that the Pentagon plans to deploy troops to five air and naval bases in Colombia, the largest recipient of American military assistance in Latin America and the third largest in the world, having received over $5 billion from the Pentagon since the launching of Plan Colombia nine years ago. Six months before the Obama-Uribe meeting, outgoing US President George W. Bush bestowed the US's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, on Uribe as well as on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. A press account of the time expressed both shock and indignation at the White House's honoring of Uribe in writing that "Despite extra-judicial killings, paramilitaries and murdered unionists, Colombia's President Uribe has won the US's highest honor for human rights." The same source substantiated its concern by adding: "Colombia is the most dangerous country on earth for trade unionists. In 2006, half of all union member killings around the world took place there. Since Uribe came into power in 2002, nearly 500 have been murdered. In reply to concern about the assassinations, Uribe dismissed the victims as 'a bunch of criminals dressed up as unionists.'" More than 1,000 cases of illegal killings by the military are being investigated. There are dozens of cases of soldiers taking innocent men, murdering them and dressing them up as enemy combatants. Hundreds of members of the security forces are thought to have taken part in such activities."

Anyone else looking for a ticket out? Suzan ___________________

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The War Being Waged on the TARP Watchdog's Independence & When Did Profit Motive Become King?

Two items interest me today and they are doozies!

Glenn Greenwald expels the mystery of the TARP's non-watchdog independence and the sacrifice of Neil Barofsky to the gods of ire (emphasis marks added - Ed.):

Neil Barofsky, the chief watchdog over the $700 billion TARP bank bailout program, is one of those rare creatures in Washington: he takes very seriously his responsibilities of independent oversight and accountability.

A career prosecutor, Barofsky is a life-long Democrat who donated money to Obama's presidential campaign. But ever since he was appointed to head the oversight office created by Congress when it enacted TARP - an office designed to ensure transparency and accountability at the Treasury Department and in the banking industry - he has repeatedly clashed with Obama's Treasury officials over their lack of transparency in how the trillions of dollars in TARP-related funds are being sent to and used by the banking industry. So seriously does Barofsky take his oversight duties that, as a Washington Post profile noted in March, "he refuses to eat with senior administration officials in the [Treasury] building's executive dining room to maintain his independence."

Barofksy's clashes with administration officials have intensified of late. Last week, he issued a report documenting that the actual amount of taxpayer money theoretically put at risk in the bank bailout - once Federal Reserve, FDIC and other programs are counted - is $23.7 trillion, not the widely cited figure of $700 billion, a report that prompted attacks from the White House and Treasury on his credibility. Separately, Barofsky has continuously disputed White House claims that it's impossible to account for what has been done by banks with the TARP funds. Barofsky wants to compel banks to account for those funds and then publicize that information, while the administration opposes such efforts, claiming that accounting for TARP monies is impossible due to the "fungibility" of those funds. To disprove that claim, Barofsky sent out voluntary surveys to the bank which proved that those funds could be tracked (and he found TARP funds were being used by receiving banks largely to acquire other institutions and/or create "capital cushions" rather than increase lending activity, the principal justification for TARP).

Most significant of all, and obviously due to Barofsky's truly independent oversight efforts, the Obama administration is now attempting to induce the Justice Department to issue a ruling that Barofsky's office is not independent at all - but rather, is subject to, and under the supervision of, the authority of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. By design, such a ruling would completely gut Barofsky's ability to compel transparency and exercise real oversight over how Treasury is administering TARP, since it would make him subordinate to one of the very officials whose actions Congress wanted him to oversee: the Treasury Secretary's.

Barofsky has, quite rightly, protested the administration's efforts to destroy his independence, and has done so with increasing assertiveness as the administration's war on his oversight activities has increased. Why would an administration vowing a New Era of Transparency wage war on a watchdog whose only mission is to ensure transparency and accountability in these massive financial programs?

It should take little effort to explain the significance of these clashes. The amount of taxpayer money transferred to the banking industry or otherwise put at risk for its benefit is astronomical. Professor Nouriel Roubini argues in a New York Times Op-Ed today that actions by the Federal Reserve over the last nine months helped avert a Depression, while former Governor Eliot Spitzer said this week that the Fed has turned into a "Ponzi scheme" that relies on insider dealing and requires vastly increased scrutiny. Those claims aren't mutually exclusive. It's not surprising that transferring extraordinary sums of taxpayer money to a particular industry will help that industry avoid collapse, but it is still the case that the potential for extreme corruption and even theft in such transactions is enormous (indeed, even Roubini argues that Fed Chairman Ben Bernake played an important role in enabling the crisis in the first place). . .

Bill Maher asks "When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield."
If conservatives get to call universal health care "socialized medicine," I get to call private health care "soulless vampires making money off human pain." The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism, it's capitalism.And if medicine is for profit, and war, and the news, and the penal system, my question is: what's wrong with firemen? Why don't they charge? They must be commies. Oh my God! That explains the red trucks!

Suzan _________________

How the Bush Administration Tried to Cover Up Everything Including Mass Murder (Bush Family Triumphs)

Ever since the Bushes assumed the position (of power), the rules have been different for them. And they are a sure bet. From NPR's Fresh Air we learn about the massacre of hundreds (or thousands) of prisoners in Afghanistan in 2001. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

Dr. Jennifer Leaning, Nathaniel Raymond and Dr. Nizam Peerwani of Physicians for Human Rights discuss with Terry Gross their investigation of the alleged massacre of hundreds or possibly thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners at Dasht-i-Leili in Afghanistan in December 2001. Nathaniel Raymond [Physicians for Human Rights]: Our consuming fear from day one, Terry, was that any evidence there was going to be removed and/or destroyed. We were also deeply concerned about witnesses who had spoken to journalists such as Newsweek, to the United Nations and to others and now sadly we know two things: One, we know that there is clear evidence — our forensic team documented [this] in 2008 — of tampering at the site. And we also have satellite imagery which shows that in 2006, less than a month approximately after we filed a Freedom of Information Act request in US federal court, there is one large hole present at the site and what appears to be a hydrolic excavator and a truck digging what becomes the second large trench that our forensic team found in 2008. But for me, and I want to make this very clear, the great tragedy in this case has been the loss of the witnesses. We now know through State Department documents we received through Freedom of Information Act request that at least four witnesses — innocent men who were bulldozer drivers and truck drivers — have been tortured, killed and disappeared.

Terry Gross: Nathaniel, your Freedom of Information Act files related to the mass grave — your request was made in June of 2006 — and I know you had a lot of trouble getting the Freedom of Information files, although you finally got them. What kind of trouble did you have?

NR: Well, the trouble that Physicians for Human Rights had was the Bush administration did not want to release any documents and so with the help of Ropes and Gray, a law firm in Washington, we were able to pressure them to release the documents and we started receiving them in 2008 and what we found was frankly jaw dropping.

In a November 2002 State Department intelligence report there was a body count and it was from a three-letter redacted intelligence source, which means we couldn’t see who was reporting it, but whoever was reporting it was identified by three letters [editor’s wild guess: possibly a combination of the letters “C”, “I” and “A”]. And this three-letter source said at least 1,500 to as many as 2,000 had died as part of the massacre.

And what we also learned, which was very hard for us at Physicians for Human Rights to see, is that the US government had confirmation that at least four witnesses had been tortured, killed and/or disappeared.

TG: What does it say to you that within these Freedom of Information Act files there was a source, whose name was redacted, who actually gave an estimated body count in this mass grave?

NR: Speaking with former Bush administration officials, that source was an agency. And we still do not have confirmation about what US intelligence agency that was, but it was absolutely outrageous. The fact that the US government would be saying there was no grounds for a US investigation, no grounds for security of the site, no grounds for protection of witnesses, but they had a body count for years, and they had clear evidence that people — innocent bystanders in this case — were being killed and they did nothing. [continued…]

To delve a little bit further back in "Bush History," we learn from Russ Baker's Family of Secrets that they mostly kept the secret wealth creation activities "all in the family." (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)
It seemed there was always room at the table for contributors and friends. It wasn't just the occasional Billy Carter or Roger Clinton who regarded the White House as a winning lottery ticket. It was an entire clan that had built its political rhetoric around the need to curb government spending.
As if.

The dossier is thick. Back in 1985, while Poppy (GHWB) was Vice President, third son Neil Mallon Bush had become a director of the Silverado Savings and Loan. Soon he was embroiled in one of the biggest financial scandals in U.S. history - one that cost taxpayers about one billion dollars. In February 1993, a month after Poppy Bush left office, the World Trade Center was bombed. In the wake of that, an American firm with Kuwaiti backing got a contract to provide security to the buildings, and Poppy's fourth son, Marvin, joined the board, remaining until 2000. W.'s brother Jeb, the one Poppy and Barbara thought would rise highest, set up shop in Miami and established strong ties to the right-wing Cuban exile community. He was quickly brought under the wing of Armando Codina, a real estate developer and longtime political supporter of the family and its staunch backing of the Cuba embargo; Jeb got a 40-percent share of the real estate company's profits without investing in the firm. The duo were bailed out for a loan default with taxpayers footing the bill, in excess of $3 million.

Chump change (obviously).

With a Bush back in the White House, the process required a bit more subtlety. Neil Bush, brother of the "education president," backed by money from Kuwait and elsewhere, was busy selling educational software to the Saudis. William "Bucky" Bush, Poppy's younger brother and W.'s uncle, sat on the board of ESSI, a St. Louis-based firm that received multiple nobid contracts from the Pentagon. One was for equipment to help search for - and protect soldiers from - what turned out to be Iraq's nonexistent store of chemical and biological weapons. Friends of the family also got a piece of the taxpayer's dollar. Ernie Ladd, W.'s faithful buddy since his days supervising Bush's community service at Project PULL in inner-city Houston, started getting military contracts for spray-on plastic coating.

And then of course there was Poppy. After leaving the White House, he began accepting handouts from grateful past beneficiaries of one generation of Bushes and those hopeful for largesse from the next. In 1998, Poppy addressed an audience in Tokyo on behalf of telecom company Global Crossing and accepted stock in the soon-to-go-public corporation in lieu of his normal $100,000 overseas speaking fee. Within a year, that stock was worth $14.4 million.

Poppy also became an adviser to, and speechmaker for, the Carlyle Group, a secretive private equity firm that made its name buying low-valued defense contractors, using connections to secure government contracts, then selling the firms at huge profits. Poppy joined Carlyle in 1995 and earns between $80,000 and $100,000 per speech on its behalf. As a former president with access to CIA briefings, Poppy is an indispensable asset to Carlyle. "Imagine what a global enterprise, that does large amounts of business with arms contractors and foreign governments, could do with weekly CIA briefings," wrote business journalist Dan Briody, author of a book on the Carlyle Group.

Whether or not Carlyle was a direct beneficiary of inside information, the company's investors have made more than $6.6 billion of the Iraq War. Referring to the beginning of the war, Carlyle's chief investment officer said: "It's the best eighteen months we ever had. We made money and we made it fast."

Now, imagine Eisenhower going to work for one of the defense contractors from the World War II connections he had. Or even Reagan - publicly. Read Russ Baker's further account of the psychotic men (well paid psychotics) W. put at the top of FEMA before Katrina and how that inevitably led to the disastrous response to the worst natural catastrophe in New Orleans' history. And, yes, everything you were told about Brownie before was a lie (and not told about the Continuation of Government plan).

Why did Joe Allbaugh even want to run FEMA? In the first days of the Clinton-Bush transition . . . Allbaugh's name was bandied about in connection with a few positions, among them White House chief of staff. No one mentioned FEMA, but then another factor came into play: Allbaugh's close relationship with Dick Cheney, who saw FEMA's principal role less as helping Americans during an emergency than as maintaining White House control during one.

Few people realize that Joe Allbaugh even played a role in Dick Cheney's advance to the Vice Presidency. In 2000, while Allbaugh was W.'s presidential campaign manager, Cheney was brought in to help research the backgrounds of prospective running mates. When Cheney concluded that he himself was the ideal choice, the job of vetting Cheney's qualifications went to Allbaugh. . . . When the Cheneys moved into the Vice Presidential residence in 2001, the Allbaughs bought Cheney's town house in McLean, Virginia, for $690,000. And Cheney put Allbaugh onto his secretive energy task force.

. . . From the beginning, FEMA was seen as a vehicle of White House command and control, in times of war more than natural disasters.

. . . The Bush-Cheney view of FEMA was an almost pure expression of their underlying philosophy. For all their talk of limited government, Bush-Cheney did everything they could to expand the power and reach of the Presidency. Often, this took the form of curtailing basic rights long considered the people's last line of defense against tyranny. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the case of detainees, the abrogation of the Geneva Conventions on the rights of combatants, the illegal wiretapping, all supposedly instituted in response to 9/11, had in fact been discussed long before that attack. Natural disasters were a minor concern.

If you are thinking like I do from time to time, don't you start to wonder what else we might need to know about the people around Obama? Ignorance is not bliss. Suzan _______________

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"The Big Lie" (Thanks, Len. As If the Economics Big Lie(s) Aren't BIG Enough.)

From Len Hart we get some more definitive data about their second "Big Lie" (their first being the stealing of the 2000 Election). Please forgive me for thinking of the big current and ongoing lie of Paulson/Bush having to save AIG (Goldman Sachs) and all the others of their connected-ilk, or that the government would go down in flames. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

And "Thank You, Harry Reid" for selling out again! (Just in: No Vote in Senate on Obama's Health Care (Says Harry Reid) Before August Recess!)

Those still believing Bush's big 911 lie are of three types plus combinations: crooks, idiots, and liars! There was no fuselage, there was no airliner wreckage, there were no large titanium/steel alloy rotors each some 10 feet in diameter to be found at the Pentagon on the morning of 911. Yet - we are expected to believe the most evil, the most harmful fraud since Hitler coined the phrase: 'Big Lie'!

All this was inspired by the principle - which is quite true in itself - that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

- Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA, 1971, pgs. 231, 232

There was no airliner wreckage at the Pentagon - we were told - because a 757 airliner body 'vaporized' in the intense heat. Nevertheless, forensics experts claimed a 97-percent success rate identifying victims using DNA. Now - DNA is very fragile and the heat required to 'vaporize' an aluminum airliner body - some 11,000 degrees F - would have utterly destroyed testable DNA.

If Bush were telling the truth about the airliner, then the casualty IDs are impossible. It can not be both ways. Bushco cannot claim to have IDs victims AND, at the same time, explain away the missing airliner wreckage, claiming it was victim to extreme heat of unknown origin.

Extreme Heat of Unknown Origins?

So effective are Hitler's 'Big Lie' techniques for Bush that millions swallowed the lie despite the fatal contradiction! Millions dared not conclude that a fire of 11,000 degrees F - sufficient to 'vaporize' aluminum - would likewise destroy the fragile DNA upon which the identification of victims was absolutely dependent!

We were expected to believe that heat sufficient to vaporize an airliner body would leave intact enough fragile DNA to make possible the identification of 97 percent of victims. Either the fire was not hot enough and the IDs are correct or Bushco is left to explain the presence of an almost unbelievable heat that his party and his administration had proposed. That Bush is still free, un-indicted for the crimes of mass murder and high treason proves Hitler to have been correct. The bigger the lie the less likely it is to be questioned.

This is still true. Suzan ______________

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is Corruption Integral to the 'Intellects' of the Conservative Movement?

Do you remember the "no free lunch" cliché about which was yammered on and on by the Conservaliars brethren for so long? Turns out that they were right. There is no "free lunch" associated with anything that followed the institution of their policies.

I'm writing today about the great gobs of moolah and hate talk that have gone into financing the spread of the G O P (Give Over Pardons) virus. Did you know that

Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush’s evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US’s major public health body.

Won't it be fun to have the Palin Mommy to kick around in 2012, while carefully not mentioning the results of her children's behavior being heavily influenced by these policies?

My buddy Bad Tux, the worried-about-the-"can't-do"-American-spirit penguin, has a few choice words for those of you on that team.

your Party commissars on Hate Radio, Chairman Rush and his Little Green Book that tells you what to think, and so forth, says that this nation's reeking carcass that can't even make its own underwear anymore is the world's greatest nation so USA! USA! USA! Yeah right. Go eat some more fried foods from Wal-mart and get your only exercise by clicking the TV clicker and kill yourselves with your unhealthy "lifestyles", already. You're a wart, a blot, a disgrace to what America once was and perhaps some day can be again, and if you had one speck of morality in your feeble-witted "brain" you'd go out back behind your house with your favorite handgun that you stroke every day while masturbating to Glenn Beck's demented cry-fest and put a bullet through your head. But of course your piggish waddling self is never going to do anything like that, because that would require that you admit you've run this once-great nation into the ground with your sickening cry of "can't, can't, can't", and your Party commissars on Hate Radio tell you that's not true so you'll never admit it.

Mike the "Extremely Irritated but Very Knowledgeable" (MAD) Biologist instructs us about "Corruption (Being) Integral to the 'Intellects' of the Conservative Movement: Why This Matters to Science."

And it does my friends, it surely does. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

One of the advantages the conservative movement has is that it can be very lucrative to be a professional conservative, whereas being a professional liberal is rather difficult. There isn't the tight integration of think tanks, conservative magazines, cozy book deals, and the occasional faculty sinecure (e.g., torturer John Yoo) on the left. What keeps this beast fed is money. Last week, Politico described the fickle ideological allegiance of one conservative think tank:

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group's support in a bitter legislative dispute, then the group's chairman flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: "Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU's Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU's board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)"

The conservative group's remarkable demand - black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as "pay for play" - was contained in a private letter to FedEx , which was provided to POLITICO.

The letter exposes the practice by some political interest groups of taking stands not for reasons of pure principle, as their members and supporters might assume, but also in part because a sponsor is paying big money.

In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. After FedEx says it rejected the offer, Keene signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS. Keene did not return a message left on his cell phone.

Maury Lane, FedEx's director of communications, said: "Clearly, the ACU shopped their beliefs and UPS bought."

This intellectual prostitution is nothing new, as David Johnson describes when answering the rhetorical question, "[H]ow much of what we think of as "conservatism" itself is actually just paid corporate PR?":

I have followed this stuff for some time, and I venture to say that most - not all but most - of what I see coming out of the so-called "conservative movement" appears to have been little more than corporate pay-for-play for many years.

I started thinking about this back when the "conservative" position was pro-logging. Remember how they mocked the spotted owl? (The spotted owl is an "indicator species," or a shorthand way to judge the health of an entire ecosystem.) I wondered why the logging industry was a cause for conservatives, but not the fishing industry, which was greatly harmed by the logging practices advocated by conservatives.

The answer turned out to be that a guy who ran a corporation that had made a ton of money looting S&Ls (how come no one remembers the S&L Crisis?) had bought a lumber company and was destroying all the old-growth redwoods was hooked into (i.e. paying) the conservative movement . . . . And so the "conservative" opinion became that logging old-growth forests was a good thing. Cash payment was the reason for this core pillar of conservative ideology. (The whole thing ended up paying off even more handsomely, probably thanks to more conservative movement backscratching.)

Over the years I have seen one after another example of this use of the so-called "conservative" movement to drive the interests of particular corporations, in exchange for money. We used to see it serving tobacco interests. Now we see it serving oil and coal interests - and right now insurance company interests.

And this isn't limited to conservative think tanks. Conservative 'intellectuals' and leaders shamelessly fleece their own flock:

In fact, of the dozens of organizations for which the Phoenix reviewed recent filings, a great many appear to have very little function other than convincing members of this conservative constituency to send them money (very little of which actually goes to furthering any ideological agenda). On the part of the IRS form where groups are asked to articulate their programmatic achievements, that function is often paraphrased as "educating the public," to justify their tax-exempt status as charitable entities. Other groups tout as their main (or even sole) achievements the number of times their principals appeared on TV or in newspapers.

In some cases, the groups, and even candidates, appear to be shells existing only to perpetuate the flow of money from contributors to the direct-mail companies.

A notorious example is Washington-based Base Connect (formerly BMW Direct), run by direct-mail veteran Kimberly Bellissimo. The company operates sister companies, which are paid to perform the various parts of running the client's direct-mail campaign - production, list purchases, printing, fulfillment, and media. Virtually all of the money Base Connect raises for their client is simply paid to these Base Connect companies, which has led to some public suggestions that it's all a big shell game.

Barely any effort is made to pretend otherwise. Several of Base Connect's clients, like Freedom's Defense Fund and Black Republican PAC, exist only as a theoretical construct - just words on the piece of mail. A Base Connect executive, who serves as those organizations' treasurer, has a standard memo he submits to the FEC, to explain the lack of administrative costs for groups reporting multi-million-dollar operations: "Currently, the committee has neither paid staff nor an office headquarters." That fact is not at all clear in the materials sent to persuade movement conservatives to fund the groups - the mailings give the impression that there is some actual organization behind the name, doing battle against the apocalyptic horrors of Obama and the Democrats.

(Read the rest of the article to find more examples, including the Gingrich-media complex - if you can stomach it.)

There's been a lot of talk with the release of Unscientific America about how to communicate science to the public. But we have realize that this isn't an educational problem, but a propaganda one. To combat that, we need organizations - and they will need money - that can competently knock this propaganda down. I'm not sure that's a role for scientists as much as it is political operatives, since this would go well beyond policy prescriptions. In other words, a scientist could decide to join this effort (and that would be worthwhile), but a scientist could also go to Wall Street (or could have, anyway): this is flat-out political warfare. I'll have more to say about this later this week hopefully.

I certainly hope someone does. Suzan _______________________

Monday, July 20, 2009

US Income Inequality Finally UNBELIEVABLE?

How much does this intro remind you of "W?" And, no, Joni would not have gone home with him.

And yes, the rich are quite a bit richer as a result of the last eight years - especially after the taxpayer bailouts! And they aren't rich because they are smart: although smart-assed is close.

Speaking of "smart-assed," did you hear that Dr. David Kelly may have been one of the victims (yes, no matter how they all pretend to great incompetence at murder today) of Dick Cheney's assassination ring? Someone said long ago that "you just can't make this stuff up!" That has not changed. From the Brad Blog we hear some good news in "Small Victory for Long-Term Single-Payer Strategy;" however, it raises more questions about our representation on these issues than it resolves.

On Friday the House Labor and Education Committee voted 27 - 19 to adopt an amendment offered by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to HR 3200 [PDF] [1], the hybrid "public option" health care legislation that leaves in place the current multi-payer system. The Kucinich amendment was supported by 13 of the Committee's Republicans. It was opposed by the Committee's chairman, George Miller (D-CA). If it survives a House floor vote and a House/Senate Conference Committee, the Kucinich amendment would insure that efforts to secure single-payer systems at the state level would not be preempted by federal law.

As explained by Donna Smith, co-chair of Progressive Democrats of America's "Healthcare NOT Warfare" campaign during a July 15, 2009 conference call [audio] [2] amongst single-payer activists, the Kucinich amendment does not reflect an abandonment of the effort to enact the national single-payer system embodied in HR 676 [PDF] [3]. As Smith sees it, the right to basic health care is a civil right, and like the earlier civil rights movement, its advocates must be flexible, yet relentless in pressing various strategies to put an end to what I described in "Single-Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit'" [4] as a corrupt, dysfunctional and deadly system which places the obscene wealth of the few over the health and very lives of our citizens.

The Kucinich amendment would permit single-payer advocates in the U.S. to pursue the same strategy used in Canada where a single-payer system was first adopted at the province level, eventually placing pressure on Canada's federal government to adopt a national health care system.

This, by no means, suggests that HR 3200 comes even close to representing meaningful reform . . .

As I noted in "Single Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit'," quoting Dr. David Himmelstein of Physicians for a National Health Program, a hybrid system with a "public option" plan will not solve the basic problem:

The proposed plan would realize only a small fraction – at most 16% – of the administrative cost savings that could be achieved through single-payer. That’s because insurance overhead – which might well be lower in a public option plan – accounts for a small part of the overall administrative costs of the current system. The need for hospitals and physicians to continue to bill dozens of different insurance plans would mean that their internal cost accounting and billing apparatus that causes most of the excess paperwork at present would continue.

H.R. 3200 could actually make matters worse.

Dr. Howard Dean, the former VT governor, DNC chairman and presidential candidate, favors the "public option" plan over "single-payer," though he also supports the Kucinich amendment. Dean told Amy Goodman [5] that the U.S. already spends 70% more on health care than single-payer nations.

As Marcy Winograd, a progressive Democratic candidate [6] for the Congressional seat now held by Rep. Jane Harmon (D-CA), notes in "Single Payers Crashing the Gates" [7], the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) finds that the "hybrid" public option plan advanced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) would increase federal outlays by a trillion dollars over ten years because most of taxpayer monies under the plan would go not to health care but to what I have called the unnecessary "parasites" - for-profit insurance carriers and HMOs. According to Wendell Potter [8], a former CIGNA communications director turned whistleblower, the culprit includes Wall Street which demands a high return on its insurance company investments.

Winograd reports that this trillion dollar deficit "could only be offset by increased taxes, payment penalties for the uninsured, and cuts in Medicaid" and that at the "end of the decade, in 2019, under a private insurance/public option proposal, 36,000,000 Americans, as opposed to the current 45,000,000, would still be uninsured, according to the CBO."

Read the rest here. Try not to weep until the end.

Did you know that "US Income Inequality Continues to Grow?"

Although this statement is not really news, the actual decline of wealth at the bottom of the pyramid is startling (to some knowledgeable Rethugs in the Congress at least - who hope we don't read booooorrring articles with lots of statistics like this one right here). (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

In June 2009, the U.S. economy saw its second steepest decline in 27 years. New jobless claims increased, business inventories fell and exports plunged as bad economic news persisted.Will the once high-flying American wealth machine continue to produce the vast inequalities of the past? Only two years ago, Steve Forbes, CEO of Forbes magazine, declared 2007 "the richest year ever in human history." During eight years of the Bush administration, the 400 richest Americans, who now own more than the bottom 150 million Americans, increased their net worth by $700 billion. In 2005, the top 1 percent claimed 22 percent of the national income, while the top 10 percent took half of the total income, the largest share since 1928.

In June 2009, the Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Report estimated the number of the world's wealthiest people declined by 15 percent, the steepest decline in the report's 13-year history. The number of millionaires in the U.S. fell by 19 percent to 2.5 million people.

Analysts tell us the economy is being restructured, but how will the disparities in wealth between the rich and the poor play out?"

The source of wealth has changed over the past 30 years; corporations have become the engine of inequality in the U.S.," says Sam Pizzigati, associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. "In the past, wealth came from ownership: Today it comes increasingly from income.

"The highest incomes come from executive pay at top corporations. In 2007, the ratio of CEO pay to the average paycheck was 344 to 1, lower than the record 525 to 1 ratio set in 2001, but substantial.

This year's ratio is estimated to decrease to 317 to 1. In the '60s, '70s and '80s, the average ratio fluctuated between 30 and 40 to 1.

Over 40 percent of GNP comes from Fortune 500 companies. According to the World Institute for Development Economics Research, the 500 largest conglomerates in the U.S. "control over two-thirds of the business resources, employ two-thirds of the industrial workers, account for 60 percent of the sales, and collect over 70 percent of the profits.

"Corporations systematically created a wealth gap over the last 30 years. In 1955, IRS records indicated the 400 richest people in the country were worth an average $12.6 million, adjusted for inflation.

In 2006, the 400 richest increased their average to $263 million, representing an epochal shift of wealth upward in the U.S.

In 1955, the richest tier paid an average 51.2 percent of their income in taxes under a progressive federal income tax that included loopholes. By 2006, the richest paid only 17.2 percent of their income in taxes.

In 1955, the proportion of federal income from corporate taxes was 33 percent; by 2003, it decreased to 7.4 percent. Today, the top taxpayers pay the same percentage of their incomes in taxes as those making $50,000 to $75,000, although they doubled their share of total U.S. income.

"Over the past 30 years, the income of the top 1 percent, adjusted for inflation, doubled: the top one-tenth of 1 percent tripled, and the top one-one-hundredth quadrupled," says Pizzigati.

"Meanwhile, the average income of the bottom 90 percent has gone down slightly. This is a stunning transformation."

Meanwhile, wages for most Americans didn't improve from 1979 to 1998, and the median male wage in 2000 was below the 1979 level, despite productivity increases of 44.5 percent. Between 2002 and 2004, inflation-adjusted median household income declined $1,669 a year. To make up for lost income, credit card debt soared 315 percent between 1989 and 2006, representing 138 percent of disposable income in 2007.

According to Pizzigati, the wealth disparity is the result of corporations squeezing more profits from workers.

"In the past corporations laid off workers because business was bad," Pizzigati says. "But over the past few decades, downsizing has been a corporate wealth generating strategy. Today, CEOs don't spend their time trying to make better products: they maneuver to take over other companies, steal their customers and fire their workers.

"Progressive taxation used to prevent the rich from capturing a disproportionate share of national compensation, and the labor movement, which represented 35 percent of private sector employees and today represents 8 percent, once served as a political force to limit excessive executive pay.

The Reagan backlash cut the top income tax rates, and saw the creation of right-wing think tanks that spent $30 billion over the past 30 years propagandizing for deregulation, privatization and wealth worship.

Bubble economies over the past 30 years helped CEOs pump up their income, and efforts to corral their pay are weak and ineffective. CEO pay may fall during these economic hard times, but disparity isn't going away. Without a strong movement for change, the wealth gap will only increase in this downturn."There won't be a restructuring of the economy unless we take on executive compensation," concludes Pizzigati. "Outrageously large rewards give executives an incentive to behave outrageously. If we allow these incentives to continue, we will just see more of the reckless behavior that has driven the global economy into the ditch."

The comments at the bottom of this essay are priceless.

The bastards will not stop until all working class people are in poverty.


Actually Cad, that's only a phase. You see under the mantra of carbon taxes your existence is a form of pollution. The polluter must be forced to pay for the damage he/she is doing to the climate. If you are breathing in their air and stinking their world up with your foul carbon ridden output and unable to pay compensation you are a form of vermin.Now if the moneyless useless eaters were less selfish and self centered and committed suicide there would be no need for the mass extermination but as usual the stinking useless mass who are causing the problem just don't get it.

If they weren't such a defective gene pool which has clearly limited their analytical abilities they would see the truth staring them in the face. Their existence is inhaling our clean air and giving us degraded filthy air back. It us who are the victims and suffering a despoilment of our very environment by a pest population that has bred out of control.

It's almost funny, but quite comprehensible when you think of the confusion this catastrophe has wreaked in the minds of the rightwingnuts who see themselves as victims. Suzan _________________