Monthly Archives: August 2011

Fundraising Limits? Ha!

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s not that Perry is the sole rogue in this case, either. These methods are available to all the candidates.

What is the impact of all this money on the candidates? It means the influence of people with that kind of money to invest in a campaign are going to get something tangible for that investment, plain and simple. is a great resource for looking at where all the politicians are getting their money from. You can see the major contributors and their politicians of choice. It helps to explain why, in the middle of a deep economic crisis, the boys in the Capitol seem to be more concerned with protecting Goldman Sachs than you or I.

Let the Bidding Begin!

Bank of America made an offer to buy a big chunk of Rick Perry. This is how it’s done, although not usually on camera while the sound is rolling.

The man telling Mr. Perry that Bank of America will help him is James Mahoney, BoA’s directory of public policy. Since Perry didn’t say something like, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” or “Us Texans don’t need no WALL STREET banks to help us out!” or “How about you take your dirty money elsewhere!”, one can only conclude that Mr. Perry will be happy to receive some funding from BoA, most likely in exchange for smiling favorably upon proposals that they place before him.

The going rate for Perry is $25,000 per year, on average. I presume a President Perry would command a higher fee, commensurate with his greater station in politics.

Obama and Bush

Is Obama better than Bush? The same? Worse? Given that quite a few historians have already rated Bush II as the worst president ever, it’d take a tall order to actually hit lower than Dubya. I honestly don’t think Obama is worse than Bush. But is he actually better?

First of all, Obama is a much better public speaker, with or without a teleprompter. Hands down, Obama can win a diction and rhetoric trophy over Bush II. Obama’s abilities as a public speaker do help a great deal in maintaining his public image, no question about that. But we have to go beyond that public image to arrive at the reality of his presidency.

Obama continued the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay. To me, that’s on the level of “same as.” Obama changed a Bush policy on abortions, but it wasn’t a far-reaching one. I don’t see it as any real difference. Personally, I do not want anyone to have an abortion, but I also know that the issue is by no means resolved as neatly as that in the USA. It seems as though Presidents will give us six of one and a half dozen of the other when it comes to abortion policy. Looking over the rest of Obama’s policies during his presidency, I’m not seeing many that jump out… until…

Ah! Health care reform! I’ll say this about that: at least it wasn’t an invasion of Afghanistan to help out buddies over at Chevron. Until the Taliban refused to concede on the trans-Afghan pipeline, they were solid citizens providing a firm hand on the government of Afghanistan. Once the negotiations broke down, the USA prepared to go into Afghanistan and secure enough real estate to get that pipeline built. Since the US invasion of Afghanistan, it’s had record opium harvests, with last year’s harvest being off due to adverse weather. The drug lords control large forces in Afghanistan that shift from one side to the other, depending on local political realities. One of Bush’s gravest errors as a president was the invasion of Afghanistan, followed by his invasion of Iraq.

But Obama has maintained operations in Afghanistan and expanded US involvement to include Libya and Syria, with Iran not too far off. These are mistakes, as well. We have no plan of ending the conflict in Afghanistan that does not involve letting drug lords have close to free run of the country. Iraq remains a mess, but now it has fewer US troops getting in the way of the bullets: Afghanistan will be the same once the USA reduces its presence there.

The world likes Obama more than they do Bush, but the armed forces dislike Obama more than they did Bush. As far as foreign policy goes, I’m going to say Obama’s about the same as Bush. Bin Laden died on Obama’s watch, but Obama didn’t pull the trigger. Neither did George “Mission Accomplished” Bush, for that matter.

So what about that health care? I think it was a wasted opportunity. Obama’s team caved in to the big donors, the insurance, pharmaceutical, and health corporations. Those guys produced the final bill, not Obama. People blame him for it, but they fail to account for the fact that it’s the richest of the rich that ultimately gave us the health care regime that exists now. It was impossible under Bush, and it’s more confusing after Obama. Again, a wash.

How about the economy? OK, Bush II picked up a national debt at the start of 2001 at just over or around $5.8 trillion, according to the US Treasury Department. That page shows the debt on 9/30, so there’s about a third of a year between that figure and Inauguration Day. The spending and tax cuts of the Bush II era took the US debt to $10.0 trillion by 9/30/2008, but I remember checking the debt on the day Obama took office and it was just under double what it was when Bush took office, already over $11 trillion.

$3.2 trillion of Bush’s debt increase was spread over 6 years. After 9/30/2007, another pair of trillions got added due to the collapse in the US economy. That’s a very rapid increase in a very short time, and goes right along with Reinhart and Rogoff’s research that shows in the event of an asset-devaluation bubble, the national debt for a country increases roughly 80% over the course of the crisis. The debt will hit $18-$20 trillion before the USA is done with this economic malaise, barring a partisan effort to thwart the tides of history.

That does bring me to the efforts to curtail the debt: yes, that should be done. Just not now. The economy needs to run its course, and ordering it to not get any more debt is like trying to yell at a tidal wave about to obliterate you that you don’t approve of that sort of thing. The process will take its course and it’s best to get out of the way so you’re alive to clean up afterward. It’s a shame that the Bush administration, with Congress, increased the debt so much, but now that we’re in the current mess, we have to draw the line at a level trillions higher than where the debt is now before we can start to roll it back.

So back to the economy: neither Bush nor Obama held the financial elites responsible for the economic catastrophe they created. Both did not press Congress for more effective reform of the financial sector and neither has produced better enforcement of existing regulations. Dodd-Frank is barely a beginning to restoring order in the financial sector. Both presidents have been unable and/or unwilling to tell the big boys on Wall Street to quit gaming the US economy, so they’re roughly the same on the matter of the economy.

One should note why deficits rise so dramatically in times of financial crisis. Basically, people lose their jobs so they have greater demand on government aid. Also, with no jobs, they pay less taxes on their income, their incomes being zero. Spending goes up and revenue goes down and the deficit gap widens. This is why Keynes said it was a good idea for governments to spend more in hard times. Keynes also said governments should pay off those debts in good times, a point that both Democrats and Republican presidents and Congresses have ignored to our current detriment.

I’ve heard a comparison of Bush’s average unemployment to Obama’s, and that is statistical deviltry. The US economy lost 2.6 million jobs in all of 2008, when the financial crisis began. Bush could not turn back that tide, and neither could Obama. Although unemployment is down now from its high of 10.1% (and no, that’s not counting the discouraged workers… I’m leaving them out because the numbers are still bad without them…), unemployment is about to get much worse as the banking crisis in Europe continues to unwind, affecting banks in the USA. We’re going back to recession and this time around may look a lot like 1931’s slide into 1932. Obama can’t do much about that: if Congress – Tea Partiers in particular – tie his hands with fiscal policy, we’re sunk. We’re already at the limits of the effectiveness of monetary policy, so there’s nothing left to do but watch this economic thing take a deeper toll on the USA as it proceeds to the endgame.

Obama has a 26% current approval rating on his handling of the economy, which puts him in the ballpark with Bush’s overall rating, but still above it. Given that the economy is going to get much worse, I think that number is going to go much lower. One should note, however, that Bush’s numbers went down from a 90%+ approval rating after 9/11/2001, with spikes at the Iraq War and Saddam Hussein’s capture. Once the economic crisis started, Bush’s ratings were firmly in the toilet, as well. Obama’s current overall approval rating is still around 42%, which is about right for a president coming to the end of his second term. He’ll have a spike around re-election time unless the economy is in a major depression.

So what about the loss of the US’ credit rating? Honestly, I don’t get these ratings agencies. None of them properly rated the CDS and MBS stuff flying around. They pocketed fat commissions to rate that garbage AAA and ignored the fundamental risks of those assets. That led to the collapse of the economy. Now the USA has a AA+ rating, but France still has a AAA? There are other corporations, municipalities, and nations with worse economies than the USA that still enjoy a AAA rating, so go figure. And is it Obama’s fault that the downgrade happened? When I read the downgrade report, it blamed Congress and the President collectively. The Tea Party was the most belligerent faction of Congress, threatening even their own party discipline over the debt ceiling deal. Obama had nothing to do with the chaos in the GOP’s ranks.

Obama’s even taking heat over gas prices. Yes, they’ve spiked recently, but they’re not as high as they were at the tail end of the Bush administration. Gas Buddy shows a 6-year price history, and one can see the volatility in gas prices. Economic uncertainty goes with spikes in prices, except for that sharp dip that started in September 2008.

That dip went with the period between the bailout and the first wave of quantitative easing. That dip was not a good thing: it was deflation entering the US economy. Deflation destroys economies in its path. Bernanke, Bush, and Obama did all that they could to head off deflation. Yes, that may produce an inflationary situation, and I’ll be thankful for that if it happens. Because if we have deflation, we’re going to have the Second Great Depression on our hands.

Whose fault will that be? We’ll try to blame a president, but it’ll really be the fault of the financial elites that gamed the economy for their benefit and our ruin. They benefit when we try and prove one president was better than another, when really both were about the same: pawns in their hands.

Regarding Mr. Perry

Rick Perry has been governor of Texas for a long time. Now he’s the darling of some GOP boosters who think he’s the man to become president in 2012. Having lived under Mr. Perry for so long, my gut reaction is a Perry presidency would be worse than George Bush II. But are my emotions getting in the way of the facts? Could it be that Perry would be a better man for the job than anyone else?

Perry supported Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 1988, but went Republican in 1989, around a time when it seemed like being Democrat was the kiss of death in Texas politics. I call that opportunism. In 2002, Perry increased Texas health funding by $6 billion, and he’s been hacking away at that amount ever since. He did cap malpractice damages, lowering Texas malpractice insurance rates. Perry also denied that Texas was in a recession in 2009 – which I find to be particularly cruel, as that was the year we started to notice people using termination notices as proof of residency when they enrolled children in school.

Perry claims that Texas created a lot of jobs: Well, Texas has the second largest population of any state and California’s in the toilet, so, yeah, it’s going to create a lot of jobs. The state’s unemployment rate is around the median for the 50 states, and its rate of minimum-wage jobs is 9.5%, compared to the national rate of 6%. Texas’ rate is the highest in the nation, as well. Over a fourth of Texas’ population does not have health insurance, while the national average is 17%. That’s a poverty issue: Perry has essentially presided over the deepening poverty of the people of his state, much as other governors have done. Perry’s nothing special as a governor. He certainly doesn’t have some kind of magic bullet that needs to be used on a national level. He is, at best, unremarkable.

Like other politicians, Perry has been venal in promoting his donors over other candidates for jobs and contracts. On average, paying Perry $25,000 per year is enough to secure some very juicy benefits and state contracts. As president, I’m sure his rate would increase. I don’t think he’d be better than Obama’s promotion of friends and big donors: at best, he’d be the same. Pretending that being a venal Republican is better than being a venal Democrat is an exercise in lying to one’s self, and should not be done.

Perry did get in bed with Countrywide, showing how he’s ready to ride closely with the people responsible for the looting of America, kind of like the oil industry. That’s why Perry says global climate change isn’t proven. If Perry was getting huge money from the insurance industry, he’d be a staunch believer in the solid science behind climate change.

As a governor, Perry slashed taxes and increased government spending on both health and education. He rode a general boom in land and property prices to provide the funds for his programs. When the economy headed south, he chose to slash both of those budgets, costing the state around 100,000 teachers – which shows how good he is at not creating jobs. Texan public schools under Perry are worse than ever: they rank at or near the bottom in national accountability standards.

Meanwhile, Perry was more than happy to use Texas state funds to pay for his tour of the Far East. He suppressed the news in Texas, claiming that access to his travel expenses would constitute a security risk. This shows that he’s ready to lie to cover his butt. At best, that’s just like every other average politico in the USA. Again, Perry’s nobody special.

Perry has not only criticized the 16th Amendment – Income Tax – but also the 17th – Direct Election of Senators. The 17th Amendment places election of senators in the hands of easily bribable state legislatures. OK, so doing away with it would make for cheaper Senate elections, but somehow that doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction.

For those hoping for Perry to have a streak of nativism, oddly Mr. Perry supports providing education and other benefits to the children of undocumented workers. While I find a ray of sunshine there, I’m sure this is a black mark against Perry in the minds of his core supporters.

Perry recently saw fit to make veiled threats against the Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, which serves to make Fed policy more politicized than before. A politicized central bank makes poor monetary policy, so Perry’s comments make for poor governance.

While Perry wants to have reduced federal involvement in some aspects of our lives, he’s very much in favor of using federal power to limit other aspects of our lives. To me, it’s as twisted as the Southerners before the Civil War demanding that federal laws be nullified when it came to tariffs, but that the federal government should have super-authority to return fugitive slaves. Again, this sort of thing smacks of opportunism. When it came to using the government to interfere in the lives of teenage girls, a nice donation from Merck got Mr. Perry to demand that every teenage girl in the state get inoculated with Merck’s HPV vaccine.

What seems dangerous to me was his willingness to ignore the Supreme Court ruling banning state-sponsored prayer in schools. That sort of Jacksonian disregard for the court smacks of authoritarianism, not freedom. Sure, it’s fun for all the people who believe his way. What about the people who don’t? I’m one of those, and I have to confess a discomfort for the way he’s used the state to essentially favor one religion over my own.

Speaking of injustice, Mr. Perry refused to pardon or even commute the sentence of a man scheduled to be executed, who was convicted on the basis of a severely flawed forensic report. Worse, while a Texas forensics board was reviewing the case, Perry changed the membership of the board and packed it with his supporters, so they would ignore the evidence that proved Texas was going to execute an innocent man on Perry’s watch. This sort of government oppression is supposed to be what Perry is against, yet it’s what he’s bringing to the party.

Mr. Perry is unremarkable and as venal as the rest of the crooks in politics at best, and is a populist that brooks no rival to his own power, a real Willie Stark, at worst. He’s Christian until the money shows up, kinda like Judas.

The Statistics of Propaganda

There are 400 Americans that have $1.57 trillion between them, which is as much as 50% of the US population. That’s one group of 400 with $1,570,000,000,000, or $3.92500 billion apiece and 153,503,275 Americans with $0.00001 billion apiece. Somehow, the PR firms hired by the top 400 and their ilk have managed to make this fact seem to be a justification for taxing the people with $0.00001 billion more and the ones with $3.92500 billion less. That’s not right.

In the game of divide and rule, the minority at the top must fracture the majority in as many ways as possible, so that it does not unite and topple the minority. With wealth, this is easily done. The pattern is repeatable: mercenary security forces provide muscle and a few of the majority are invited to partake of a crumb or two so that they become boosters for the supposed prosperity afforded by going easy on the people with wealth and power. Meanwhile, racial, religious, and gender divides are exploited with opportunistic propaganda fomented by agents provocateurs in the pay of the rich. They just have to start the ball rolling. They don’t have to go along for the ride.

When I see emails that try and make it sound that the rich are victims, I become angry. It’s a lie. How can a person that buys and sells congressmen and judges and regulatory agencies be a victim? These guys will avoid taxes however possible just so they can keep a bigger pile of goodies for themselves. They probably don’t know what people who have to have a pan card seva go through to earn money and did they earn their pile on their own? Not likely. Inheritance is the number one way to make money in the USA, followed by interest earnings. Of course, for every dollar collected in interest, a dollar is paid in interest, and the poor pay those dollars. Even when a rich man borrows from another rich man, his interest payments are passed on to the poor as part of the prices of the goods and services he provides. A poor man with zero debt will still be paying interest. Interest is money made off of someone else’s labor. Kinda like what a vampire does, only with money and only in real life.

For every “Top x% of earners pay y% of our taxes” I see, I want to shout that that x% is earning more than y% of the national income. They’re not paying their fair share in a straight proportional scale and when you consider how much tax is already claimed in the form of widow’s mites, it’s revolting to see people try to paint the rich as victims.

Cherry-picked statistics are some of the most effective propaganda out there. Watch out.

Classic Bugs Bunny Cartoons

I don’t want to talk about the economy right now. I want to talk about the great old Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s – the Golden Age of Cartoons.

These animations were awesome. They beat tons of the CGI garbage foisted on us by profit-seeking media conglomerates. Warner Bros. wanted profits back in the day, sure, but the only way they knew how to get them was by hiring the best talent available and giving them free run of their animation department, Termite Terrace.

The names of the animators are legendary, at least to me. Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson… the music department under Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn… the genius voices of guys like Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg… I loved all their work. When lesser lights were brought in during the late 1950s and early 1960s, I noticed the drop in quality and wanted to go back to the good stuff. Even as a little kid, I knew my shinola from the stinky alternative.

I loved the zany anvils plummeting down from the heavens, the twists in Romantic compositions, the line of Acme products, the Raymond Scott-inspired manic anthems, the massive explosions, the earth-shattering kabooms, and the blasted-back faces of those that held a bomb too closely at the bingo moment.

And the quotes! “Sody pop! Watch it fizz!” “Kill the wabbit!” “Duck season! FIRE!” “Nice lady, but she’s about as sharp as a sack of wet mice!” “Hoboken? OOOOH I’M DYIN’!” “Elvis? Why for did you shoot yo’ pappy in the head with a shootin-iron?” “A bee! I will bash it!” “Hee hee hee! I haven’t had this much fun since the boys got back from Gettysburg!” “I want hasenpfeffer!” Good times here at best bluetooth motorcycle helmet.

Check out the classics of the 1940s and the 1950s. and look them up on YouTube. Here, watch one now:

This Time *IS* Different

Kenneth Rogoff wrote a book with Carmen Reinhardt, titled This Time Is Different. The book chronicled economic crises around the world over the last 300 years and came to the conclusion that in the run-up to a big crash, everyone says “This time is different!” and that a crash can’t happen.

Then the crash happens.

Ironically, after the crash, governments and big financial institutions try to assure us that this time isn’t different, that this is a common-or-garden variety recession. Sadly, Rogoff informs us all that this time is different. We’re in the midst of an asset-devaluation recession, which lasts longer and deeper than the normal sort of recession. We know it’s different because, three years after the big drop, we still see unemployment at high rates and have had no return to pre-crash GDP. The debts run up by governments that should now be reckoned as insolvent is coming down hard on them and we need to own up to the fact that there are lots of toxic assets still on those bank balance sheets.

Crises don’t happen all at once. They are drawn-out affairs, especially the sorts of crises as the world is experiencing right now. Nobody in 1929 or 1930 thought they were in a depression: most folks started 1931 thinking things would be all right that year. Instead, it was the start of a long slide to the real bottom of the Great Depression, which hit the USA in 1932. The situation in the world is reminiscent of the way things were in 1931, so maybe that’s where we’re headed.

So Who’s Behind the Tea Party?

Koch Industries, that’s who. The company’s management, the Koch (rhymes with Coke) brothers, use huge sums of money to lobby on behalf of their interests as heads of a massive oil, chemical, and timber firm – as well as issues of interest to billionaires from sea to shining sea. Koch Industries are also heavily involved in derivatives trading… guess how their lobbying dollars fall on that issue.

Koch Industries and its leadership is also against regulations against dioxin, asbestos, and formaldehyde. Nice to know they’ve got loads of say in Congress with their $20 million or so per year spent on lobbying.

I can scrape up enough time in my busy day to email or call my Congressman and Senators: these guys flat-out buy them. I can’t compete with that. You can’t compete with that. Even as a we, we can’t compete with that.

Worse, these guys have tapped into the anger felt by many people in the Tea Party and used it to further their own ends. The Tea Party was hijacked from day one, when the Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity opened up a Facebook page for the Tea Party and got into organizing stuff for them.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Rupert Murdoch has been the Tea Party’s biggest supporter in the media. He’s another billionaire in favor of less regulation of shady dealings when they’re perpetrated by the very rich.

Want more on the Tea Party backers? Her’s a report from Go to the “Bills” tab and take a look at some of the things these guys have influenced: clean water standards, exempting greenhouse gases from the Clean Air Act, price gouging standards, oil spill accountability, and the Over-the-Counter Derivatives Markets Act of 2009, among others. My guess is that Koch Industries is in favor of dirty water, filthy air, price gouging, not cleaning up oil spills, and continued abuse of the wide-open derivatives market – as these issues suit their bottom line.

Need more? Here’s another report from The Center for Public Integrity. Their work shows that Koch is all about getting rid of government influence when it helps them, and gets as much government regulation, subsidy, and involvement when it aids their cause. Not my cause, your cause, or our cause. THEIR cause.

These guys handle 10% of all the ethanol in the USA. They forget their Libertarianism language when it comes to ethanol subsidies. The Koch brothers are tied at 18th place on Forbes’ list of ungodly rich people, and you bet your sweet bippy that they’re going to fight any measure that threatens to touch their piles of cash.

So now you know the real reason why the Tea Party people don’t want to end tax breaks for big oil, ethanol subsidies, or billionaires: their movement is funded by and guided by the very people that benefit from the biggest of governments.