Friday, September 30, 2011





Food Regulation, Any Regulation

Back in February, NPR reported

on the House floor, Texas Republican Pete Sessions brought up a bill that takes wide aim at federal regulations.

"The legislation before us today calls for 10 House committees to review existing, pending and proposed regulatory orders from agencies of the federal government, particularly with respect to their effects on destroying jobs and economic growth," Sessions said.

With near unanimity, House Republicans (with unanimous opposition from Democrats) were able to cut the food safety budget of the FDA from the $955 million requested by the President for the 2012 budget to $750 million. ( A small portion of the $205 million was put back in by the Democratic-controlled Senate.) Georgia's Jack Kingston, chairman of the House committee that wrote the agriculture bill, contended that the nation's food supply is "99.8% safe" and argued

Do we believe that McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Safeway and Kraft Food and any brand name that you think of, that these people aren’t concerned about food safety? The food supply in America is very safe because the private sector self-polices, because they have the highest motivation. They don’t want to be sued, they don’t want to go broke. They want their customers to be healthy and happy.

This self-motivation appears to have been insufficient lately, given that

Federal health officials said Wednesday more illnesses and possibly more deaths may be linked to an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe in coming weeks.

So far, the outbreak has caused at least 72 illnesses- including up to 16 deaths- in18 states, making it the deadliest food outbreak in the United States in more than a decade.

On September 20, campaigning at a meat locker in Iowa, Michele Bachmann maintained "It is more regulation than this business has ever had before. Now government has gotten in and made it almost impossible to be able to create a profit anymore in this business." She termed federal regulations "overkill."

Oops. The Minnesota congresswoman spoke a little too soon. In an ironic twist (given the effort by the House GOP to kill food inspection)

The recall of 65 tons of ground beef that might be contaminated with E. coli has hit close to home for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

The meat, recalled today by Tyson Fresh Meats, was shipped to 16 states. But Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., was eager to point out that the recall was prompted by illnesses that struck a family in Ohio’s 8th District, which is represented in Congress by Republican Boehner.

WCPO, ABC’s affiliate in Cincinnati, reported today, “four children became ill after eating the meat with their family in Butler County, Ohio, in the second week of September.”

A 9-year-old child was hospitalized for about 10 days with severe diarrhea,” the station reported. DeLauro said she hopes this is a "wake-up call" for Republicans who plan to cut food-safety funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

Not going to happen. Republican sentiment on food inspection is about the same as Republican sentiment on almost all government, as reflected in the GOP presidential debates. In Tampa, Rick Perry pointed to Texas' "freedom from over-taxation, freedom from over-litigation, and freedom from over-regulation" and Mitt Romney applauded the "zero income tax, low regulation, a right-to-work state, oil in the ground and a Republican legislature" in Texas. In Orlando, Newt Gingrich (education), Herman Cain (environment), and Ron Paul and Rick Perry (in general) denounced government regulation. No explanation necessary; they paint with a wide brush because it's just a matter of faith nowadays. And if they were told of the following recalls in the month of September alone, it wouldn't matter:

28 Sep, grape tomatoes due to possible salmonella
27 Sep, 131,300 pounds of ground beef due to e. coli
26 Sep, spinach dip due to listeria
23 Sep, 40,000 pounds of frozen ground beef due to e. coli
23 Sep, processed cantaloupe associated with the 14 Sep recall, also listeria
16 Sep, queso fresco cheese because of listeria
14 Sep, cantaloupe due to listeria
14 Sep, fresh hot basil due to salmonella
13 Sep, avocado pulp and halves due to listeria
11 Sep, 185,000 pounds of ground turkey due to salmonella

And that doesn't include routine contamination of meat and seafood. Alas, that doesn't matter, either.


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Thursday, September 29, 2011






The Republican Media- No. 32


Saith Politico:

Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the White House fiscal commission, isn’t a fan of President Barack Obama’s deficit-reduction plan or his new feisty tone.

The decision to shield Social Security from changes “is an abrogation of leadership, a vacancy of leadership,” Simpson told POLITICO on Wednesday.


The harsh appraisal is notable even from the outspoken Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming whom Obama tapped last year to lead his bipartisan fiscal commission. Simpson is often blunt, but he has generally avoided direct criticism of the president, even when Obama declined to embrace the commission report and waited months to push a comprehensive plan.

Simpson said he is “saddened” and “tired of watching” the president talk up bipartisanship in public while bashing Republicans at private fundraisers. And by treading lightly on entitlements, Obama’s proposal fails to live up to the principle of shared sacrifice, he said.

“You can’t get this done without hits across the board,” Simpson said, “and if you are leaving people out all along the way because of political pressure, you can’t get it done.”

It isn't necessary, perhaps, for Politico reporter Carrie Budoff Brown to remind her readers that Simpson last year, in an e-mail to the director of Social Security Works, commented "Yes, I've made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know 'em too. It's the same with any system in America. We've reached a point now where it's like a milk cow with 310 million tits!"

If she did provide that context, it might give an objective reader the idea that the ex-senator dislikes elderly people except, presumably, himself, his relatives, and close personal friends.

It's not only the statement- from the reporter- that Simpson and his co-chairman, Erskine Bowles, want "to shore up a system that is expected to go bankrupt by 2037." Social Security is expected to have merely a slight shortfall in 2037 and is not projected to go bankrupt by the Social Security Trustees, or anyone who has studied the system, at any time. It is expected (without any changes) to pay out 78% of scheduled benefits for several decades after the date the Politico reporter apparently thinks it will be bankrupt.

In addition, though, to forecasting demise of the Social Security system, Brown accepts the meme of Republicans and neo-liberals that Social Security contributes to the deficit. She quotes the former GOP Senator declaring "You can't get this done without hits across the board and if you are leaving people out all along the way because of political pressure, you can't get it done." Although Simpson (as far as we know) never specified what "this" is, the clear impression left in the Politico piece is that "this" is deficit-reduction.

It is unlikely that Carrie Budoff Brown set out to repeat GOP talking points. But Social Security is a very successful and popular government program. If even this program is going "bankrupt" or, as often fantasized, "broke," confidence in the federal government to do anything right takes a hit. And voters aren't going to blame the Republican presidents (chart, above, from the Office of the Democratic Leader via Digby's Hullabaloo) who jacked up the national debt, nor the tax cuts which did the work for them, but the one party which doesn't want to destroy government.





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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

No Bluff


When the White House maintained on its blog on August 18 "Under the President’s direction, for the first time ever the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized the removal of people who have been convicted of crimes in the United States," howls of protest arose among conservatives. Typical was the reaction from this fellow, who termed it "an amnesty" representing "an administrative end-around Congress."

Most of the GOP presidential candidates, not surprisingly, appear to be taking a hard line on immigration, with Ron Paul in Orlando succinctly summarizing their stance: "What you need to do is attack their benefits: no free education, no free subsidies, no citizenship, no birth-right citizenship." None will declare, or at least admit, his/her support for the Dream Act.

In a prior debate (in Tampa), however, Jon Huntsman struck an Obama-like pose, advocating "an honest conversation in this country about the root causes? We can't process people. The H1B visa process is broken. We need to bring in brain power to this country to shore up our economic might. We need to bring in foreign capital to raise real estate prices, as well. We need a fixed Department of Homeland Security."

If the GOP believed the President was kidding around or pretending to oppose "amnesty," however, they guessed wrong. Though many critics of a tough (or punitive, as they see it) immigration policy assert "we can't round them (illegal immigrants) up, The Voice of America reported yesterday


The United States says it has arrested 2,900 illegal immigrants — all with prior criminal convictions — during a seven-day sweep across the country.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday the operation was the largest of its kind, leading to arrests in all 50 U.S. states and in four U.S. territories.

The arrests come a month after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said a new focus would be put on deporting criminals and serious violators of immigration law.

More than 1,200 of the illegal immigrants arrested in last week's operation had multiple convictions, while more than 1,600 had convictions including manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, sexual crimes against minors, drug trafficking and armed robbery.

The ICE-led operation, dubbed “Cross Check,” follows several similar operations that have resulted in the arrest of more 4,500 convicted illegal immigrants since 2009.


The difference, of course, is that these are illegal immigrants who have committed a crime. Conservatives- most, though far from all, Republicans- advocate a border fence. Newt Gingrich has a truly noxious idea, making English the official language, making things as difficult as possible for legal (as well as illegal) immigrants, especially when they have to communicate with government officials and employees

But progress constructing a border fence was slow even before deficit hysteria hit Washington. Republicans, who nowadays never met a government program (except weapons systems) they like or a tax they support, ought to specify where the money is going to come from. Meanwhile, as the White House's website argues, "the Administration has developed a strategy to make sure we use those resources in a way that puts public safety and national security first."

Border security is all well and good- and the Obama Administration has increased the number of "boots on the ground," in the words of Rick Macho Perry, who has avoided admitting the President has done so. But the dream of a hardened fence at all points between Mexico and the U.S.A. is just that- a dream, which will not be fulfilled by President Obama or by any Republican who succeeds him. While rhetoric proves cheap, the Department of Homeland Security has struck a blow against illegal immigration, aided law enforcement, and looks about as "fixed" as anything does in Washington these days.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hoisted By Their Own Petard


Don't blame Ron Paul, who is a mere member of the U.S. House of Representatives with as much chance of being the next GOP presidential nominee as you or I have. Better to call out Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and the other influential conservative Republicans who don't want to acknowledge the role of Wall Street in precipitating the Great Recession.

But it was Paul who on Monday said (beginning at approximately 1:00 of video, part 2) on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show federal regulators "had a big bubble and they made a lot of money because we wanted to make sure that everybody had a house."

Uh, no. In September, 2008 Aaron Pressman explained

The Community Reinvestment Act, passed in 1977, requires banks to lend in the low-income neighborhoods where they take deposits. Just the idea that a lending crisis created from 2004 to 2007 was caused by a 1977 law is silly. But it’s even more ridiculous when you consider that most subprime loans were made by firms that aren’t subject to the CRA. University of Michigan law professor Michael Barr testified back in February before the House Committee on Financial Servicesthat 50% of subprime loans were made by mortgage service companies not subject comprehensive federal supervision and another 30% were made by affiliates of banks or thrifts which are not subject to routine supervision or examinations. As former Fed Governor Ned Gramlich said in an August, 2007, speech shortly before he passed away: “In the subprime market where we badly need supervision, a majority of loans are made with very little supervision. It is like a city with a murder law, but no cops on the beat.”

Not surprisingly given the higher degree of supervision, loans made under the CRA program were made in a more responsible way than other subprime loans. CRA loans carried lower rates than other subprime loans and were less likely to end up securitized into the mortgage-backed securities that have caused so many losses, according to a recent study by the law firm Traiger & Hinckley (PDF file here).

Finally, keep in mind that the Bush administration has been weakening CRA enforcement and the law’s reach since the day it took office. The CRA was at its strongest in the 1990s, under the Clinton administration, a period when subprime loans performed quite well. It was only after the Bush administration cut back on CRA enforcement that problems arose, a timing issue which should stop those blaming the law dead in their tracks. The Federal Reserve, too, did nothing but encourage the wild west of lending in recent years. It wasn’t until the middle of 2007 that the Fed decided it was time to crack down on abusive pratices in the subprime lending market. Oops.

Many Republicans complain that President Obama and other Democrats blame George W. Bush for everything. It is, of course, easy to do because Americans are more prone to attribute the economic crisis to President Bush than to President Obama. But that probably wouldn't be the case if the GOP (with little pushback from the Democratic Party and less from the mainstream media) hadn't built a wall around corporate America, shielding it from blame while fingering the federal government. Somebody was responsible. It was primarily the titans of Wall Street- but if the GOP wishes to absolve any part of their base (corporate, ultimately) of responsibility, the American people will blame a President. In their wisdom, more have chosen GWB than BHO.






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Gettin' It Right


The grio.com ("our lives.... our world.... our stories") did it. But so did The Washington Post, Politico, and most mainstream media outlets clean it up for Barack Obama. The Associated Press, however, went off the reservation. The AP had the nerve- the nerve! to quote the President of the United States and leader of the free world accurately. It quoted President Obama as having implored the Congressional Black Caucus on Sunday

Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes," he said, his voice rising as applause and cheers mounted. "Shake it off. Stop complainin'. Stop grumblin'. Stop cryin'. We are going to press on. We have work to do."

This has sparked a great deal of controversy, with the Associated Press even being accused of racism for reporting the President's words.... inaccurately? No, for quoting the President accurately.

No, really. Barack Obama, a graduate of Columbia University and of Harvard Law School (where he was law review editor) and resident of the State of Illinois, spoke before the racially segregated Congressional Black Caucus. He earnestly pandered to ", pulling out his finest southern accent, dropping his g's, invoking the civil rights movement, quoting Dr. King.... and was quoted accurately by the Associated Press.

For that, the AP was accused by MSNBC contributing editor Karen Hunter of being "inherently racist." Get the story accurate, report it straight, and be accused of being "racist." The Associated Press reporter who filed the story noted "in this case, the President appeared to be making such a point of dropping Gs, and doing so in a rhythmic fashion, that for me to insert them would run clearly counter to his meaning."

The AP deputy managing editor for standards and production explained "In this case, our reporter, who was there in person, felt the spellings were appropriate to convey a particular touch that President Obama appeared to be intentionally making use of." President Obama does not choose his words carelessly or thoughtlessly and did not do so for his prepared remarks on Sunday. He selected the themes, words, phrasing, and pronunciation for a purpose. The AP deputy managing editor for standards and production explained "In this case, our reporter, who was there in person, felt the spellings were appropriate to convey a particular touch that President Obama appeared to be intentionally making use of."

A responsible media outlet would report, accurately, everything said and allow the readers or viewers to determine for themselves whether it reflected their interests or those of the nation, as has generally been done in the case of "you betcha" and "refudiate" Sarah Palin. Anything less demonstrates a lack of respect for the public as informed citizens of a democratic republic.





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Socialist, Again

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones describes a Winthrop poll of Republicans and Republcian leaners in South Carolina, one of the two most important states in the GOP nominating process.

Winthrop asked these prospective Repub primary voters about President Obama's religion and found 33.8% believing Obama is a Christian and 29.5% that he is a Muslim, while the others gave varying responses. Only 53.2% believe Obama was "definitely" or "probably" born in the United States.

Though the numbers of those who accept Obama's origin has increased since release of the long-form birth certificate, a full 74.2% of individuals queried believe "socialist" either "very well" or "well" describes the President.

This is an unusual socialist administration. The New York Times reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sued to prevent "a global settlement that would shut down ongoing investigations of numbers of those who think the U.S. president was born in the U.S. have grown since release of the long-form birth certificate. Nevertheless

In recent weeks, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and high-level Justice Department officials have been waging an intensifying campaign to try to persuade the attorney general to support the settlement, said the people briefed on the talks.

Mr. Schneiderman and top prosecutors in some other states have objected to the proposed settlement with major banks, saying it would restrict their ability to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing in a variety of areas, including the bundling of loans in mortgage securities.

But Mr. Donovan and others in the administration have been contacting not only Mr. Schneiderman but his allies, including consumer groups and advocates for borrowers, seeking help to secure the attorney general's participation in the deal, these people said. One recipient described the calls from Mr. Donovan, but asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

The idea that a president who, on a year-to-year basis, has cut taxes more than did George W. Bush, can be accurately described as a socialist is absurd. But while the mainstream media effectively debunked the idea that Barack Obama was born outside of the country, and treated the idea that he was not a Christian as slightly peculiar, there has been little effort to explain that the President's economic policies have been mainstream and, given the times, fairly conservative. Coupled with pandering by Repub politicians, it is not incredible that so many GOP voters, in a very conservative state, would suspect that President Obama is a socialist.








Sunday, September 25, 2011






Stop Grumbling


At the annaul Phoenix Awards dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus on Saturday, President Obama gave the kind of rousing speech (transcript here) only he can give- and that only when he is in campaign mode (which the GOP has been in for 29 months). Immediately before asking God to bless the United States of American, Obama declared

I expect all of you to march with me and press on. (Applause.) Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. (Applause.) Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We've got work to do, CBC. (Applause.)

It may be hard to find those marching shoes- Barack Obama has been looking for them since he was Senator Obama, running to replace George W. Bush, and on November 3, 2007 asserting (video, below) in Spartanburg, South Carolina

And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.

There have been plenty of opportunities, in Indiana, Wisconsin, or elsewhere, for the President to walk on that picket line. But when he talks about "widening the circle of opportunity, standing up for everybody's opportunities," the "everybody" he speaks of might be quite personal to himself.







Saturday, September 24, 2011









They Really Don't Want To Work


Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz is being unfair. Responding to Thursday night's Repub presidential debate (transcript here) in Orlando, Wasserman Schultz remarked "the message is always the same. They have no new ideas for creating jobs or helping America's middle class" (and) "are offering no plan for securing our economic future."

An exchange between a debate host, Fox News' Megyn Kelly, and Newt Gingrich is illustrative:

KELLY: Speaker Gingrich, this next one's for you. You criticized extending unemployment benefits, saying that you were, quote, "opposed to giving people money for doing nothing." Benefits have already been extended to 99 weeks, and they are set to expire soon. If you were president today, would you extend unemployment benefits? And if not, how do you justify that to the millions of unemployed Americans who are looking in earnest and whose families are depending on those checks?


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, what I've said is that I think unemployment compensation should be tied directly to a training program. And if you have to -- if you don't have a job and you need help, then in order for us to give you the help, you should sign up for a business-led training program so that that 99 weeks becomes an investment in human capital, giving us the best-trained workforce in the world so you can get a job.


But I believe it is fundamentally wrong to give people money for 99 weeks for doing nothing. That's why we had welfare reform.


True, the GOP has no ideas for creating jobs. But as Gingrich's answer indicates, at least one Republican has a plan for securing our economic future- a very bleak economic future, if the former House Speaker has his way.


Unemployment compensation is not welfare but is afforded individuals who have, beyond their control, lost their job. And in most states, the unemployed worker is required to seek a job. There are, roughly, five unemployed workers currently for every one job. Newt Gingrich, reflecting the new politics of resentment, implies that they're lazy. And just to prove it, he's determined to create a new layer of bureaucracy in service of that great conservative axiom: if it ain't broke, fix it.


Leave the private sector alone, the GOP counsels; reduce regulation everywhere. And here a leading Republican is advocating a whole new function for government to intervene in the market. This would, as Gingrich probably is aware, drive down wages and benefits, a major objective for a party loathe to see a thriving, prosperous middle class.






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Still Not Satisfied

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has proposed full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders, carved out of Israel and with East Jerusalem as its capital. Asked at Thursday's Repub presidential debate about this unilateral declaration, Herman Cain, who by now must be in the latter half of his fifteen minutes of fame, responded

It starts with an extension of the Reagan philosophy of peace through strength. My philosophy would extend that to peace through strength and clarity. This administration has not made it clear how it stands with Israel.

When I was in Israel last month, I met with the deputy prime minister. And he made it shockingly, chillingly clear that, given everything that's going on, number one, Israel will defend itself, with all of the tensions going on in the Middle East.

And he also made it real clear that he wasn't sure how this administration stood when it came to Israel. I made it clear, which -- and I would also make it clear to all of -- our -- the other people in the world, that if you mess with Israel, you're messing with the United States of America. We will stand solidly behind Israel.

If in fact it was clear to the Palestinians, where the United States stood, they might have had second thoughts about trying to pull such a move without negotiating with Israel.


Asked a more general question about U.S. policy toward Israel, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney commented "You start off by saying that you don't allow an inch of space to exist between you and your friends and your allies." Previously, the ex-governor charged, the President "threw Israel under the bus." (It's getting very crowded under that bus. Or at least it must be. Is it a school bus or a city bus- and does anyone know where it is now?)

Apparently, they haven't been keeping up with the news:

Netanyahu thanked Obama "for standing with Israel and supporting peace through direct negotiations," and said: "We both agree that Palestinians and Israelis should sit down and negotiate an agreement of mutual recognition and security. I think this is the only way to get to a stable and durable peace."

"I think the Palestinians want to achieve a state through the international community, but they're not prepared yet to give peace to Israel in return," the Israeli PM said. He hoped other world leaders follow Obama's lead in opposing the Palestinian effort "to shortcut" the peace negotiations.

So far, no other leader has done so. Some pundits have argued that Obama is doing so with an eye toward the next presidential election, hoping to regain support among American Jews. For whatever reason, the President in New York is doing the courageous thing, and the right thing.

The Israeli prime minister probably was uncertain until recently how the Obama Administration stood with regard to Israel. Although the Administration has stood alone by standing up for Israel at the U.N. and in condemning the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, Tel Aviv may not know what Barack Obama really thinks. But his actions have been wise and strong. If even one of the GOP presidential candidates were as forthcoming as their hero, Bibi Netanyahu, he, or she, would acknowledge it.





Friday, September 23, 2011







Hope From Massachusetts


It was short and sweet last Wednesday morning when Elizabeth Warren announced (video, which you probably already have seen, below; text from Chris Bowers at DailyKos)

I'm gonna do this. I'm going to run for the United State Senate, and the reason is straightforward. Middle class families have been chipped at, hacked at, squeezed and hammered for a generation now, and I don't think Washington gets it.

Washington is rigged for big corporations that hire armies of lobbyists. A big company like GE pays nothing in taxes and we're asking college students to take on even more debt to get an education? We're telling seniors they may have to learn to live on less? It isn't right, and it's the reason I'm running for the United State Senate.
You know, I grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class, and I know it's hard out there. I fought all my life for working families, and I've stood up to some pretty powerful interests. Those interests are going to line up against this campaign, and that's why I need you.

Go to elizabethwarren.com, sign up, get involved, be part of this.

We have a chance to help rebuild America's middle class. We have a chance to put Washington on the side of families. We can do this, together.

Two days later, while noting that he has contributed $50 to Warren's nascent campaign, a DailyKos blogger remarked

The only reason Warren can be the hot candidate right now is because the economy is such a major issue. In 2004, when the war in Iraq was the topic of the day, I don't know if a candidate like Warren would have made any sense to the voters. And if she gets elected, the political landscape will change. Foreign policy will eventually take over the headlines again, and we will have to see how she adjusts.

There is little need to worry. Iraq is not a big issue now is not likely to be so in thirteen months. The wars there and in Afghanistan matter so little politically that Republicans, as conservatives, generally support both ventures while Democrats, as liberals, are far less enthusiastic. Still, Republicans give President Obama little credit for his relatively muscular foreign policy while Democrats assign little blame. And the President remains, even with continuing economic woes, fairly popular among Democrats, rather unpopular among Republicans. There is little interest in that region, whether among politicians or voters.

We don't know the views of the Harvard law professor toward foreign policy nor on a wide range of cultural issues. But we do know what she thinks about the growing dominance in American society of powerful corporations and their relationship to the deterioration of the middle class. The figure behind creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, Ms. Warren hasconsistently demanded that the interests of the public be put ahead those of powerful special interests. If she is successful in unseating Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, it is unlikely she will be assigned to the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, or even Environment and Public Works committees, but rather to those in which she can bring her expertise and passion. Her influence will be far greater in the areas of banking, finance, and housing than elsewhere.

As we have found in Barack Obama, there is a limit to the impact any one individual can have on the federal government, "Washington," or the nation's affairs generally. But Elizabeth Warren would bring to the U.S. Senate deeper knowledge and greater commitment than did Senate or presidential candidate Barack Obama. Moreover, it's a safe bet there will be no candidate for the United States Senate in this election cycle who would be a more effective spokesperson, not for the "change we can believe in" (?) but for the change the American people need.
















Hope From Massachusetts


It was short and sweet last Wednesday morning when Elizabeth Warren announced (video, which you probably already have seen, below; text from Chris Bowers at DailyKos)

I'm gonna do this. I'm going to run for the United State Senate, and the reason is straightforward. Middle class families have been chipped at, hacked at, squeezed and hammered for a generation now, and I don't think Washington gets it.

Washington is rigged for big corporations that hire armies of lobbyists. A big company like GE pays nothing in taxes and we're asking college students to take on even more debt to get an education? We're telling seniors they may have to learn to live on less? It isn't right, and it's the reason I'm running for the United State Senate.
You know, I grew up on the ragged edge of the middle class, and I know it's hard out there. I fought all my life for working families, and I've stood up to some pretty powerful interests. Those interests are going to line up against this campaign, and that's why I need you.

Go to elizabethwarren.com, sign up, get involved, be part of this.

We have a chance to help rebuild America's middle class. We have a chance to put Washington on the side of families. We can do this, together.

Two days later, while noting that he has contributed $50 to Warren's nascent campaign, a DailyKos blogger remarked

The only reason Warren can be the hot candidate right now is because the economy is such a major issue. In 2004, when the war in Iraq was the topic of the day, I don't know if a candidate like Warren would have made any sense to the voters. And if she gets elected, the political landscape will change. Foreign policy will eventually take over the headlines again, and we will have to see how she adjusts.

There is little need to worry. Iraq is not a big issue now is not likely to be so in thirteen months. The wars there and in Afghanistan matter so little politically that Republicans, as conservatives, generally support both ventures while Democrats, as liberals, are far less enthusiastic. Still, Republicans give President Obama little credit for his relatively muscular foreign policy while Democrats assign little blame. And the President remains, even with continuing economic woes, fairly popular among Democrats, rather unpopular among Republicans. There is little interest in that region, whether among politicians or voters.

We don't know the views of the Harvard law professor toward foreign policy nor on a wide range of cultural issues. But we do know what she thinks about the growing dominance in American society of powerful corporations and their relationship to the deterioration of the middle class. The figure behind creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, Ms. Warren hasconsistently demanded that the interests of the public be put ahead those of powerful special interests. If she is successful in unseating Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, it is unlikely she will be assigned to the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, or even Environment and Public Works committees, but rather to those in which she can bring her expertise and passion. Her influence will be far greater in the areas of banking, finance, and housing than elsewhere.

As we have found in Barack Obama, there is a limit to the impact any one individual can have on the federal government, "Washington," or the nation's affairs generally. But Elizabeth Warren would bring to the U.S. Senate deeper knowledge and greater commitment than did Senate or presidential candidate Barack Obama. Moreover, it's a safe bet there will be no candidate for the United States Senate in this election cycle who would be a more effective spokesperson, not for the "change you can believe in" (?) but for the change the American people need.










Thursday, September 22, 2011







It's The State(s), Baby


Once the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intercede, late Wednesday night Troy Davis was executed for the 1989 slaying in Savannah of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail. Unfortunately, Mr. Davis probably did not commit the murder for which he was injected with a lethal potion in Jackson, Georgia. In an editorial Tuesday The New York Times cited reports of "police misconduct, the recantation of testimony by a string of eyewitnesses and reports from other witnesses that another person had confessed to the crime."

Unfortunately, the editors then went downhill, arguing

This case has attracted worldwide attention but it is, in essence, no different from other capital case. Across the country, the legal process for the death penalty has shown itself to be discriminatory, unjust, and incapable of being fixed.

After suggesting the Davis case reflects inequities "across the country," the Times proceeded to identify the states of..... Texas, and its "numerous" errors in the case of the capital case of defendant Duane Buck. Texas, according to Wikipedia, "has executed over four times more inmates than Virginia (the state with the second-highest number of executions in the post-Gregg era) and nearly 34 times more inmates than California (the state with the largest death row population). "

Something is amiss in Texas, as the cases of Duane Buck, Cameron Todd Willingham, and probably others would indicate. So, too might problems come to light in Virginia, Florida, and certain other states were the media to glance at operation of the death penalty there.
The need to do that is obscured, however, when The New York Times wrongly implies that the problems in the Davis case are endemic to the penalty itself. Instead, the death penalty (except for the federal death penalty, extremely rarely applied) is imposed on a state-by-state basis according to the statute in that particular state, with the procedure (within the parameters of federal guidelines) varying by state.

Texas is far more prone than any other state to execute offenders in part because judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals- which hears all direct appeals of death penalty sentences- are elected, rather than appointed. This renders those jurists more likely to uphold death sentences, which may make for an effective campaign issue among voters of the state, who overwhelmingly support capital punishment. Judges of lower courts in Texas also are elected and defense attorneys in capital cases may be appointed based more on political considerations (such as willingness to contribute to a judge's campaign) than on competence. In 2002, Times reporter Linda Greenhouse reported

The Supreme Court, acting in a case that has come to crystallize arguments over the adequacy of legal representation in death penalty cases, today let stand an appellate ruling that a Texas death row inmate is entitled to a new trial because his lawyer fell asleep repeatedly during his original trial.

The state apparently was unconcerned, Greenhouse reporting

The justices said nothing in rejecting the appeal filed by the Texas attorney general, John Cornyn, who argued that the appeals court decision had created an "arbitrary breach in the law" governing the effective assistance of counsel. The state's brief said the ruling, if allowed to stand, would invite myriad appeals by "imaginative" convicts trying to convert a lawyer's "impaired trial performance" into an automatic ticket for a new trial."

While 16 states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment and others rely heavily on forensic science, especially DNA evidence, to determine guilt or innocence, the state of Texas has a relatively low bar to imposing a sentence of death. Perhaps other states also are not fastidious. In The Times' article of 2002, Greenhouse added

Just last week, in a death penalty case from Tennessee, the justices voted 8 to 1 in overturning a a federal appeals court's ruling that a defense lawyer's failure to make a closing argument at his clinent's sentencing hearing was a deficiency of such magnitude as to invalidate the death sentence.

In common with the case today, the Tennessee case, Bell v. Cone, raised an issue of how to apply the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of effective assistance of counsel: when is a lawyer's ineffectiveness sufficiently glaring that the defendant can be presumed to have suffered serious harm?

When considering state policies on taxes, transportation, abortion, same-sex marriage and almost everything else, attention is focused on that state. When we turn to consider capital punishment, a state prerogative, the urge to generalize from the specific, to view each state as identical, apparently is overwhelming.

There appears to be a pattern: North Carolina, Texas,Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida (which also executes many individuals) are all Southern states. A pattern does not causation make. Nonetheless, somebody should be asking whether there is a fatal flaw in the death penalty process in a particular state rather than assuming procedures are the same throughout a nation with widely divergent values, mores, and laws.





Wednesday, September 21, 2011






Economic Disinformation Continues


Another day, and another hyperbolic rant from Rush Limbaugh. Contending that President Obama has been trying to destroy the middle class, Limbaugh asked rhetorically

Was it pushing a tax increase on people earning $200,000 that will results in yet another wave of layoffs and business closings? What has he done for the middle class? Who in the private sector has more disposal income under the leadership of Barack Obama?

Syndicated columnist Eleanor Clift on September 11 wrote

Crunching the numbers at the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, analyst Michael Linden found that if one compares the cost of tax cuts in just the first four years of Bush’s term (2001–04) to the first four years of Obama's (2009–12), Obama’s tax cuts are bigger. The value of the Bush tax cuts were about $475 billion in those first four years, or about 1.1 percent of GDP. Obama’s total about $1 trillion, or 1.6 percent of GDP.

Obama has cut taxes to lower levels than Bush did, says Linden. This is because, of course, Obama thus far has extended all of the Bush tax cuts and then cut taxes on top of that. His original stimulus bill in 2009 had $290 billion in Making Work Pay tax cuts. His speech Thursday night before Congress advocated for another $175 billion in payroll tax cuts, which come on top of $110 billion from last December’s budget deal. Speeded-up expensing for business adds another $10 billion or so.

Admittedly, extending the Bush-era tax cuts and adding tax credits of his own hasn't done much for President Obama's effort to reverse the economic slump. But he thus far has cut taxes more than GWB did in an equivalent amount of time. With tax increases on high-end earners and on 'Cadillac' health plans due in a few years, by 2018 the total value of Obama's tax cuts over ten years is projected to be slightly less than those of President Bush, $2.2 trillion to $2.1 trillion. That is, of course, in the future and is subject to change.

Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice-President Biden, believes that Obama's image as a tax raiser, rather than tax cutter, results from the small increase in the paychecks of workers characterizing the credits implemented by the incumbent compared to the "single wallop" on April 15" (in Clift's words) which would be displayed on April 15.

But of greater impact is the rhetoric of GOP pundits and strategists who eschew statistics, facts, details, or anything substantive to imply incessantly that the crux of President Obama's economic strategy has been to raise taxes. Acknowledging that the President's strategy has been, in part, to cut taxes to spur spending and so encourage hiring would be tantamount to acknowledging, in the face of 9% unemployment, that reducing taxes does little to raise the nation out of the economic slump. It also would undermine the constant drumbeat of GOP criticism against the economic stimulus of 2009, roughly 35% of which amounted to tax credits and/or cuts.

Limbaugh, though, is in a class of his own. Few individuals have so little respect for their audience as to ask "Who in the private sector has more disposal income under the leadership of Barack Obama?"

Quite a few, it turns out. Fortunately, the 17,000 (net) individuals who found employment in the private sector in August presumably have more disposable income (cancelled out by the 17,000 who lost a public sector job, but Rush generally argues that employment is going up in the public sector). Chief Economic Officers on Standard& Poor's 500 index on average received $11.4 million in total compensation in 2010, a 23% increase in one year and now are paid 343 times more than the average worker. Three-quarters of CEOs received raises in 2011, while even the others increased their net worth. As their companies make record profits, layoffs continue, something beyond the control of the President.

Not everyone buys the Repub web of distortion, manipulation and, occasionally, lies. Somewhat echoing the patriotic Warren Buffett, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins

says it’s time for rich people like him to start paying more. “Warren Buffet pays less taxes percentage-wise than his secretary, you catch that?” Rollins asks. “How can that be?”

“I’m blessed to pay a lot in taxes, ” Rollins says. “I have friends and relatives that go day-to-day. Every American deserves to feel secure at the end of their life. So if it’s going to lift two families up, go ‘head, tax me more, I can handle it. Best I know, everyone’s going to die. No one’s taking money to the afterlife.”




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