Monday, July 30, 2012

Going for Gold at the Austerity Olympics

In the spirit of profit-driven global fellowship with such outsourcing, tax-evading and polluting corporate sponsors as G.E. and BP, Barack Obama is taking a break from attacking his outsourcing and tax-evading fellow candidate on TV this week. Instead of hosting Mitt's off-key rendition of "America the Beautiful" with those dystopian scenes of abandoned factories, the president is relaxing in a tastefully decorated living room, soft music playing in the background. He discreetly interrupts the endless commercial of NBC tape-delayed Olympics to bring you the following very serious message:
I believe the only way to create an economy built to last is to strengthen the middle class. Asking the wealthy to pay a little more so we can pay down our debt in a balanced way. So that we can afford to invest in education, manufacturing and home-grown American energy for good middle-class jobs. Sometimes politics can seem very small. But the choice you face? It couldn't be bigger.

That, in a nutshell, is Barack Obama's agenda for a second term. The wealthy will be politely asked, but not forced, to pay a wee token smidgen more. There will be no scrapping of the FICA cap in order to make the Social Security trust fund solvent for generations to come. The "debt" (new-speak for what little of the nation's wealth is still in the hands of the underclass) will be "paid down" (transferred up) in a "balanced" way, meaning that the Grand Bargain of Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security cuts is still very much on the table. Grandma will have to go a little cold and hungry at the same time Jamie Dimon might have to give up the tax deduction on his corporate jet, at the same time "entitlement" cuts will mean he gets another raise and buys a tenth vacation home. That is what is meant by the "balanced approach" by the centrist cult of the Third Way.

In his kinder, gentler campaign ad, the president does not mention that deficits should not matter in recessions. He chooses not to tell us that borrowing costs are now so low we could actually profit by borrowing more. Profits will continue to be privatized at the very top, and the costs will go on being socialized.

And forget about legislation for a living wage to lift Americans out of poverty. The short-lived middle class jobs of the future are in fracking and deepwater drilling and construction of the tar sands pipeline -- "home-grown" energy projects tantamount to a Garden of Earthly Delights. He does not mention climate change, pollution of air and water, or the health hazards of his folksy panacea for middle class angst. He euphemizes fracking as though it were a horticultural project.

You have to give the guy credit, though. He is not lying. He is not bothering to make campaign promises he has no intention of keeping. He has been there, done that, and lived to suffer the onslaught of disappointment from the Professional Left.  He is telling us exactly what he plans to do --which is to preserve, protect and defend the interests of the One Percent. He just does it more circumspectly, classily and charmingly than that plutocratic parody named Mitt Romney. 

The choice you face? It couldn't be smaller. Pick between the personable technocrat you know, and the robotic technocrat you don't know. Take your fourth Bush Term as a main course of corporate Clintonites with a side of Wall Street transplants, and some national security Bushies for dessert. Or choose as your Bush Fourth Term entree some aged corporate Cheneyites with a side of Wall Street transplants, topped off by national security Bushies for dessert.

As Matt Stoller wrote on Naked Capitalism over the weekend, this presidential election is probably the least important contest of the past half-century. Neither Romney nor Obama is really all that into us:

As an experienced political hand told me, the two candidates are speaking not to the voters, but to the big money. They hold the same views, pursue the same policies, and are backed by similar interests. Mitt Romney implemented Obamacare in Massachusetts, or Obama implemented Romneycare nationally. Both are pro-choice or anti-choice as political needs change, both tend to be hawkish on foreign policy, both favor tax cuts for businesses, and both believe deeply in a corrupt technocratic establishment.
It’s useful to remember, this election season, that the way the debate is framed matters. That Obama isn’t choosing to discuss in public what he will do to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and that Romney isn’t specific about it either, should show you who this election is for. But in addition, that both Bush, Clinton, and Obama (in his first term) failed at cutting Social Security means that an aroused public can stop austerity, when politicians feel their office is at risk. Clinton chose to abandon his plans to gut entitlements when facing impeachment and Bush chose to stop when his plan threatened the Republican Congress.
So, how to stop austerity this time? Despite what the mainstream media would have us believe, the Occupy Movement is not dead. Its first anniversary is less than two months away, right after the political conventions, when campaign frenzy will be in full swing. That the government is still taking desperate measures to suppress dissent should be cause for encouragement, not despair. It shows they're worried about the real anger of real people.That the United Nations, and the rest of the civilized world, are noticing that the American police state continues its crackdowns on protesters should theoretically keep the political elites on their best behavior, at least until November. Neither Obama nor Romney want a repeat of '68 Chicago at their little shindigs. And we can always dream that at least one of the debate moderators will ask them how they will protect the social safety net, demanding substance over the current empty posturing.

We are the richest nation on earth, yet the One Percent would have us become a country of serfs. The politicians give us bland promises of a fair shot and a fair shake at a fair share. What is true is that we have a fair chance of actually getting shot, thanks to the shadow government of the NRA and 300 million weapons for anyone with a pulse. Fair share is more like the big short. Shared sacrifice is a euphemism for the most blatant wealth disparity in American history. We are shaken, and we are stirred. History, as well as the laws of physics, have proven that too much weight at the top always causes the whole structure to collapse.

Keep Sept. 17th open on your calendars, and keep making them sweat even more in this climate-changed summer of our discontent. What else have we got to lose?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Weekend Open Thread, Plus Olympics

The best part of the Olympics Opening Ceremony for me was the skit on the National Health Service. Sure, it was on the bizarre side, what with the blow-up space alien baby in the cot, and the nightmare-scape, and the hopped-up kiddies and the hopped-up docs and nurses. No, it was good because it celebrated health care for all in spite of Britain's  economic hard times. The glories of Single Payer streamed into millions of American living rooms, was shoved in austere American political faces. And Mitt Romney had to sit there and watch, creepy rictus frozen on his face. I'm surprised that he didn't jump right up and try to repeal it.

Next best part: the Queen "doing" her nails as the British athletes marched by her, confetti flowing, crowds cheering. She was not amused, apparently.

Another good part -- the skit on the Industrial Revolution and the toll it took on the working classes. And Mitt had to sit there and watch it.

Yet another good part -- Britain is not really the WASP bastion of the Romney campaign's Anglo-Saxon imagination. All races and ethnicities were on full gala display last night. And Mitt had to sit there and watch it.

Worst part: NBC's coverage. It was time-delayed by four hours. Too many BMW commercials and commercials in general. Matt Lauer had to make stupid political remarks every time one of the countries we have invaded and occupied and bombed marched by. Millionaire Meredith Vieira tried to sing along with "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." And Mitt didn't have to sit there and listen to them.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dark Underbelly of the Summer Olympics

Photo by Brandalism via Flickr Creative Commons

The Olympic banned list: campaigners highlight the stranglehold of corporate sponsors. Photo by Brandalism

(Cross-posted from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

The British media is now in full Olympic mode exhorting viewers and readers ‘to get the party started’.

In full ‘bluster’ mode, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, suggests joy at the Games’ arrival is spreading like a ‘benign virus’. Indeed, Britain has united around the unlikely figure of Mitt Romney who has attracted scorn over his criticism of London’s preparations. Clearly the would-be president failed to appreciate moaning at British incompetence is purely a privilege reserved for Britons.
With just hours until the Games get underway, it’s fair to say that Britain is quite excited by the Olympics.

But getting to this point has been a long journey – and not always a smooth one. Here are seven investigations exploring the bumpier side of the Games. Tell us about other London Olympic investigations that caught your eye.

A word from our sponsors

The Olympic flame arrives at the stadium today after a 70-day national relay that has seen 8,000 people carry the torch through towns and cities across the UK. But who were these torchbearers and how were they picked?

The Guardian joined forces with Help Me Investigate, a crowdsourced investigative journalism website, to crunch the data – and discovered some unusual choices, many of which had a distinctly corporate tint. Members of Adidas’ marketing team, £900,000-a-year senior director at Next, and mining giant ArcelorMittal’s founder Lakshmi Mittal, the world’s 21st richest man, are just some of the thousands of corporate nominations who’ve helped carry the Olympic flame to Stratford.

Olympic tax break

Ethical Consumer magazine revealed many of the 2012 official sponsors would not be paying tax on their profits from the Games thanks to an agreement between the UK’s tax authority, HMRC and the International Olympic Committee.

Campaigning network, 38 Degrees were incensed and organised an online petition. They began by targeting McDonalds’ tax affairs. Word spread and the petition soon had hundreds of thousands of signatures.

In a subsequent email to the petition’s signatories, 38 Degrees wrote: ’Moments after launching the petition calling on companies like McDonald’s to give up their Olympic tax breaks, their rattled PR team were on the phone. Minutes later [McDonalds] publicly confirmed they wouldn’t be taking up the tax dodge.’

Coca-Cola, VISA, General Electric, Adidas and EDF all soon followed. A golden moment for tax justice campaigners and an example of the power of investigative journalism on holding corporations to account.

Beyond the Olympic Park

Since 2008 Britain has spent £9.3bn pounds building gleaming Olympic facilities, many of which are concentrated in the east London borough of Newham. But a Bloomberg report yesterday examined the fate of the desperately poor borough beyond the Olympic Park’s gates, where many residents are crammed into some of England’s poorest housing. Many households have been battered by welfare cuts, and some have been found living in what have been nicknamed ‘sheds with beds’.

Adding insult to injury, with the Olympics approaching, earlier in the year Newham Council sought to move 500 families to Stoke-on-Trent, which they claimed was due to an ‘overheating’ of the rental market. The council has rebuffed claims that this represents social cleansing, and half the Olympic Village will be coverted to affordable housing after the Games are over. Yet in Newham, the chosen bar for ‘affordable’ housing may still be much too high.

The radioactive Olympic site

Two years ago, Freedom of Information requests by the Guardian unearthed evidence of radioactive waste buried beneath one of the Olympic sites in east London. Documents that revealed thorium and radium waste had previously been buried in a ‘disposal cell’ 250m north of the Olympic stadium.

Officials insist the waste poses no risk to athletes or spectators during the event. But the revelations could limit the development of the Olympic site after the Games are over, as further disruption could expose the waste.

Future plans for the site include the construction of a university and urban park land. But officials will have to carefully consider building plans, to ensure the Olympic site does not leave a toxic legacy.

Undercover inside a shambolic G4S

The failings of contracted security G4S have provided the papers with numerous stories over the past weeks. The Daily Mail recently exposed the company’s weaknesses by sending a reporter undercover to experience the organisation’s recruitment and training programme.

Ryan Kisiel posed as unemployed man seeking work as a security guard. Shocked by the ease with which he was signed up, Kisiel wrote, ‘In what is supposed to be the most secure Olympics in history, I had managed to simply waltz in and register to be one of those given the huge responsibility of helping guard it. I could have been a terrorist or a convicted criminal.’

The undercover reporter describes the administrative chaos and ‘poor calibre of candidates’ painting a worrying portrait of those who are to be responsible for the entrance security for the Olympic events.

The myth of London’s ‘ethical Olympics’

With almost 100 days to go till the opening ceremony the Independent exposed a gaping hole in organisers’ claims that the 2012 Olympics would be the most ethical ever. The paper revealed the Adidas kits worn by British athletes and Olympic volunteers were being made in Indonesian sweatshops.

The German sportswear manufacturer hoped to net £100m from selling the shoes and clothes, designed by Stella McCartney. But the mainly young, female factory employees stitching the glossy gear together were working up to 65 hours a week for less than a living wage.

None of the nine factories contracted to churn out the Olympic-branded clobber paid their employees more than the minimum demanded by the Ethical Trading Initiative. Locog adopted this internationally recognised code but none of the factory workers interviewed by the Independent had ever heard of it, let alone Locog’s complaints system.

Factory workers ‘endure verbal and physical abuse’, ‘are forced to work overtime’, and are ‘punished for not reaching production targets’, the paper reported.

The Olympic cleaners living in shipping crates

While athletes enjoy slick housing in the Olympic village, thousands of cleaners arriving in London to work at the Games are being put up in temporary cabins, the Daily Mail revealed earlier this month. There are 25 people to every toilet, and 75 to every shower, according to the report. And they are paying £18 a day – £550 a month – for the privilege of living there.

Worse still, the cabins apparently failed to withstand the constant rain of June and July, and were leaking.

When Games organisers revealed their plans for the campsite, Newham Council officials said the bathroom arrangements were ‘unlikely to be adequate’, while sleeping space was ‘cramped’.
This didn’t stop Locog from backing the scheme, or the council from approving it – reasoning that the cramped conditions were only temporary.

Do you have any more Olympic misery stories? Feel free to reveal all below. (go to website.)

Purple Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

Happy Opening Day of the Olympics, everybody, and here's hoping for more pre-game infotainment from Mr. Gaffe-o-Matic Mitt. There is much to be disconcerted about today, so let's get right down to it.

The New York Times and Amazon, both winners in the Scrooge Sweepstakes for screwing over their employees, have teamed up in a great publicity stunt. Via an ostentatious front-page spread on the Times homepage, Billionaire Jeff Bezos has just donated a tiny fraction of his Amazonian fortune to the marriage equality initiative in Washington State. As reader Kat points out, liberal commenters at the Times are in ecstasy, and already have their wallets opened wide in gratitude because a Republican plutocrat has embraced gay rights. So what if he treats his wage slaves so abysmally that ambulances have to be on standby to rush them to the hospital when they collapse from heat exhaustion at his distribution centers? All, apparently, is now forgiven.

Trumpets and violins I hear in the distance.... Omitted from the article, but exactly coinciding with its trumpeting of the Bezos philanthropy, The Times is offering readers a $15 Amazon gift card for every friend they can get to subscribe to The Experience. (h/t Nan). Spend often, and spend liberally! Play some Jimi Hendrix, and forget all about the sweating peons packaging your goodies. Hold your breath wondering if Times employees will now see their salaries and pension benefits restored.

Go Beyond Your Measly Little World

Well.... Are You????
I Am, My Corporate Person Friends
"Since corporations are now people, I'd like to marry Amazon" (comment from a Times reader)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bernie's Billionaires

Are you curious about the identities of the plutocrats buying the elections out from under us? Do you think it's unfair that gambling kingpin Sheldon Adelson and the polluting Koch Brothers are getting more than their share of outraged attention? Are you just a sucker for oligarchal egalitarianism?

Well, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has thoughtfully given them a fair shot at a fair share, and compiled a list of all kinds of extremely rich people and the amounts they've contributed to the SuperPacs. You'll be familiar with some of the names (for example, one of the Walton heirs made the cut), but most of them (to me at least) were complete unknowns. I am woefully behind in my Forbes 400 reading. So, I did some quick Googling and discovered that the vast majority on Bernie's List are (you guessed it) vulture capitalists and hedge fund managers. The quintessential Barbarians at the Gates, who make Mitt Romney, a mere quarter-billionaire, look like a loser.  But they all seem to be Romney donors, or at least  Republican/libertarian sugar daddies. If there's an Obama outlier lingering in the mix, I haven't found him yet. Help do the research, and let us know. Bernie left hotel heiress Penny Pritzker off the list, because there is no evidence yet that she's given any of her billions to Obama's SuperPac. She apparently was miffed about not getting a cabinet appointment last time. But since she was spotted catching a ride on Air Force One this week, she may have come back to the fold after all. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, to whet your appetites, here are a couple of profiles of the Overlords who did make the A-List:

Harold Simmons, net worth $9 billion, has donated $15.2 million to SuperPacs this year. He started out working for the federal government as a bank examiner, but soon smartened up and realized he could buy his own banks with borrowed money he essentially would never have to pay back. His current proclivities include chemicals, heavy metals and waste management. Before the Supreme Court obliged with its Citizens United ruling, Simmons got into trouble for exceeding the limit on campaign contributions. He was also charged with mail and wire fraud, but beat the rap. He got into trouble over a lead pollution case, too. He has contributed to both Rick Perry's campaign war chest and to Oprah Winfrey's charities. This behavior is typical of Bernie's Billionaires -- hedge fund managers that they are, they always hedge their bets and spread out a miniscule puddle of their ill-gotten gains to worthy causes. This is known as "greed-washing." David Koch, for example, named part of Lincoln Center after himself because he loves ballet as much as balkanization (the division of our natural resources into private little Kochdoms.)

Samuel Zell: this is the guy journalists love to hate, given his hostile takeover of newspapers (LA Times and Chicago Tribune). He's been implicated in the Rod Blagojevich corruption scandal, supposedly pressured by the former governor to fire Chicago Tribune staffers critical of him, in exchange for tax breaks related to Zell's purchase of Wrigley Field. But that investigation went nowhere, through lack of trying evidence. Zell is worth almost $5 billion, but has only given $270,000 to SuperPacs this year. While Sam has always leaned right in his giving, his wife was an early donor to Barack Obama and gives almost exclusively to Democrats.

All in all, Bernie's Billionaires have a combined net worth exceeding the total wealth of the bottom 43% of all Americans combined. And the millions, maybe soon to be billions of their SuperPac contributions are only what has been reported. When it comes to donating to the shady "non-profit" grassroots organizations fronting even more political war chests, there is no disclosure required. Congress saw to that just the other week, when the Disclose Act was defeated.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Democrats Vindicated by More Uninsured People

The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that three million more people than first projected will either remain, or become, uninsured under the Affordable Care Act when it goes into effect in 2014. Since mainly red states have signalled they will reject federal expansion of Medicaid in their locales, the government will save a bundle of money and the deficit will be reduced. Out of 50 million currently uninsured people, less than two-thirds will now benefit from Obamacare. And since employers are dropping expensive coverage, and people are still losing jobs, look for that number to keep dwindling. The CBO forecasts an additional 4,000 people, or 7,000 additional people will be uncovered by the end of the decade.

And the Democratic Senate Majority Leader is calling this a good thing? Well, yeah, because now Obama can brag about his austerity cred when Republicans call him a tax-and-spend socialist. The hell with sick and dying people when the Oval Office tenancy is at stake. From the AP report:

Thirty million uninsured people will be covered by 2022, or about 3 million fewer than projected this spring before the court ruling, the (CBO) report said.
As a result, taxpayers will save about $84 billion from 2012 to 2022. That brings the total cost of expanding coverage down to $1.2 trillion, from about $1.3 trillion in the previous estimate.
Democrats immediately hailed the findings as vindication for the president. “This confirms what we’ve been saying all along: the Affordable Care Act saves lots of money,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Not one sympathetic word, though, about the new three million, on top of the 20 million already thrown under the bus by the ACA. Reid was mum on the actual victims of this fantastic pennysaver, most of whom unfortunately reside in bastions governed by the GOP (Greedy Obdurate Plutocrats.) This is just more evidence that the Democrats, too, are full-bore austerians, just slightly more discreet than their GOP brethren on the other side of the corrupt duopoly.

Of course, reducing the number of people on Medicaid may eventually steer them into federal exchanges and profiteering private insurance, essentially increasing the final per-person costs to the government. But nobody's talking about that faraway eventuality, because it won't dawn on us until after the election. All anybody's talking about is how Obama has gotten more ammunition to hit back hard against Romney. Score one for the blue team in the Battle of the Deficit Hawks. Great refereeing, too, by the Supreme Court with their new Medicaid opt-out call.

Twenty-seven million abandoned souls, and counting. Three people still dying every single hour for lack of medical care.

It would be pathetic, if it weren't such an egregious case of political malpractice, bordering on felonious assault. 

Clinging to Gun Control Lies and NRA Religion

Political schizophrenia is in the air. The latest delusion in the great national epidemic of magical thinking is that normal American people don't want gun control. That's the excuse being bandied about as to why gun control will not be an issue in the presidential campaign. The candidates and the media are all spreading the news that we crazy gun-clingers are falling more and more in love with our weapons of mass destruction every single year.

There's one problem with this story-line. It's a big fat lie. Most polls show no such thing.

Media Matters notes that corporate pundits have seized upon the results of a Gallup poll revealing that there's been a 30 percentage-point decrease in the past decade of those wanting stricter gun controls. But that poll is an outlier. Other surveys reveal that more than 60 percent of us still favor renewal of the assault weapon ban. Among the findings:

  • 86 percent support requiring all gun buyers to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they purchase the weapon or from whom they buy it. (January 2011 American ViewPoint/Momentum Analysis poll)

  • 63 percent favor a ban on high capacity magazines or clips (January 2011 CBS News Poll)

  • 69 percent support "limiting the number of guns a person could purchase in a given time frame." (April 2012 Ipsos/Reuters poll)

  • 66 percent support requiring gun owners to register their firearms as part of a national gun registry. (January 2011 American ViewPoint/Momentum Analysis)

  • 88 percent support banning those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns. (January 2011 American ViewPoint/Momentum Analysis poll)
    A quick review by Media Matters of the weekend news showed virtually all the talking heads, from Fox News reactionary to MSNBC "liberal" used the same propaganda, the same official pronouncement: the Aurora Massacre will not change the debate. Since people have lost interest, the politicians are just following the will of the people. Pure, unadulterated bunk. These craven cowards, these pawns of the National Rifle Association, can't run away from this issue fast enough, and they're getting their usual help from the stenographers of the press. It is mandatory that we be made to believe that we're the nutjobs if we keep up our quixotic harping on gun control, and unpragmatically whining about something we can't do anything about. 

  • Along with the propaganda that we don't really want gun control is another myth unquestioningly being spread throughout corporate media land to get us to shut up: that Obama's election prospects will be damaged if he takes on the NRA. From today's New York Times:

  • Both candidates have supported gun control in the past, but their views shifted as Americans have backed away from stricter gun laws, and both men have felt a political sting from earlier positions.
    Mr. Obama’s remark in 2008 that rural voters “cling to guns or religion” wreaked political damage on him four years ago, exposing him to charges of elitism.
    Of course, the candidates are also taking their cue to back off from their wealthy backers, who for the most part are insulated from gun battles by their bubbles of security guards and gated communities. According to an article in The Hill,
    And the president, by all accounts, isn’t feeling pressure from supporters — including campaign donors — to move on the gun issue, either....Obama donors interviewed on Monday say gun control hasn’t become an issue in their circles. “I don’t expect to hear a peep out of it,” one top donor said, even in the face of some more liberal critics.
    One more indication that this presidential campaign boils down to three things: money, money and money. It's the one true religion the politicians cling to.

    Monday, July 23, 2012

    Deny and Decline

    I was awakened at the crack of an unseen dawn by a severe thunderstorm, so I got started early trolling the nets for news. We have been having more than our share of climate this summer and in my neck of the woods that has included extreme heat broken by the aforementioned severe storms.

    Paul Krugman proves that his journalism goes beyond economics with his column today on climate change and the denialist crowd, who point to every brief cool spell as proof that the heat is all in your head. You might even be undergoing menopause, a/k/a the Climactic. (My comment is #16 under "Oldest.)

    The climate on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's bum is due for a warm-up as he goes on Congressional hot seat this week to 'splain himself about Libor and Dodd-Frank and such. If a smoking gun were needed to place little Timmy smack dab in the middle of the Libor scandal, investigators have themselves an arsenal. He appears to have been an accessory during and after the fact. He knew cheating was going on, and like the newly statueless Joe Paterno, he did nada, nothing, zilch. The New York Times has an editorial up this morning cheering the fact that the DOJ is expected to prosecute at least one bank, and stops just short of suggesting Tim be included in the paperwork. (My comment is first under "oldest"). Ellen Brown provides a nice overview of the global banking cartel's high crimes and misdemeanors here. And Neil Barofsky, former TARP overseer, takes on the bungled bailouts. His tell-all book, including a juicy bit about Geithner's epic F-Bomb tirade, comes out tomorrow. Can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

    And in case you missed it, here is the late Alexander Cockburn's last Nation column, in which he predicts the collapse under its own corrupt weight of the global financial cabal. 

    Don't expect President Obama to suddenly call for a renewal of the assault weapons ban in the wake of the Aurora massacre. He is declining to address the gun control issue; perhaps he is in denial. But his people do expect the "tone" of the nasty presidential campaign to change as a result. So the people didn't die in vain. Phew. (Is it me, or are the politicians and the media really rushing through the five stages of grief at an epic pace? Shock on Friday. Sadness on Saturday. Acceptance on Sunday. Now it's Monday, and time to move on, people. Give each other hugs and celebrate the joy of shortened lives. If we don't mention the shooter's name, it means we win.)

    American Decline, myth or fact? Frank Rich takes on the outbreak of Andy Griffith nostalgia and claims there never really were any Good Old Days, just a lot of the same old denialism. This is some of Frank's best work, and well worth the read.

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    Frankly, It's Doddering

    How to kill the lumbering piece of faux financial reform legislation known as Dodd-Frank in three easy steps.

    1. Allow the banks to help write the bill and make it so complicated and long (848 cyber-pages) that nobody will ever read it, let alone understand it.

    2. Forget to add how you're going to pay for the actual implementation of all the new rules and regulations. Make sure that you cut funding right away for such already-cozy and inept groups as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission so they can't even enforce what's already on the books.

    3. Make sure that the real stringent parts -- such as forcing banks to have enough capital on hand to back all their risky bets -- won't take effect for years and years and years. This will allow plenty of time for the financial lobbyists to meet with the Congress critters to whittle away the bill even more, conveniently enabling even more bribery in the form of legal campaign contributions, insider trading tips and other stuff we don't know about yet. (It also allows plenty of time for the too big to exist banks to crash again, but that's another story.)

    Dodd-Frank was conceived as an empty threat to the Wall Street mafia. It is/was a PR stunt to appease the ravening Main Street masses thirsty for revenge against the miscreants who crashed an entire economy. It's one more instance of the defacto government policy of being perceived as doing the right thing while doing exactly the opposite behind closed doors. 

    Big as it was, Dodd-Frank ironically developed a lethal case of anorexia from the moment it was born, suffering from what is known in medical parlance as Failure to Thrive Syndrome. Less than a third of its increasingly emaciated body is actually functioning two years after it squeezed out of the Congressional birth canal. The other two-thirds are either stuck in a constipated clump of corruption, or just poof! disappeared into wherever it is that legislation protecting the hoi polloi goes to die. So I suppose it's all the more pleasantly serendipitous that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau survived against the lobbying onslaught. Even though its founder (Elizabeth Warren) played the part of sacrificial lamb to get it going.

    You can read the entire two-year progress report on Dodd-Frank from the Davis Polk law firm here.
    According to the watchdog group Sunlight Foundation, there have already been hundreds of meetings held between the big banks, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase, and financial regulators on how best to "improve" or otherwise de-fang and de-fund Dodd-Frank.
    Since July 21, 2010 (when the president signed Dodd-Frank), regulators at the three major banking regulatory agencies – Treasury, the Fed and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) – have reported meeting with 20 big banks and banking associations on average a combined 12.5 times per week – as compared to on average just 2.3 meetings with reform-oriented groups. The top 20 banks show up 1,298 times in meeting logs at the three agencies, while groups favoring tighter regulations of the financial markets show up just 242 times.

     CNN Money quotes former FDIC Commissioner Sheila Bair on the ongoing assault by the banker wankers: "All the lobbyists come in and they want this exception or that exception, and [regulators] are accommodating that and they shouldn't during the financial crisis and its aftermath. They need to just tell these folks no."

    Hmmm.... since the "Just Say No" campaign worked so well for the anti-drug movement, I can just imagine how effective it will combating the incurable addiction of insatiable greed. The so-called regulators are nothing more than what used to be called "co-dependents" and what the latest TV ads refer to as addicted enablers. (parents who peer into their kids' room and pretend not to notice the glazed eyes and stashes of pill bottles and rolling papers.)

    As a matter of fact, the politicians running for election  desperately need what was once touted as "sweeping financial reform" swept right under the rug, because they desperately need the money from the opponents of Dodd-Frank. Take the so-called Volcker Rule, named after former Fed chairman Paul Volcker. It's gone south, following in the footsteps of the man himself, who was banished from President Obama's economic team at the behest of Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner. The Rule would prohibit banks from making risky bets with customers' money. Had it been implemented, it might have prevented the collapse of MF Global and "loss" of millions of dollars in life savings and pensions of ordinary people.

    Meh. The unindicted chief of MF Global is still a major bundler for the Obama Victory Fund. Jon Corzine's main job these days is collecting campaign cash from hedge fund managers who also hate the idea of the Volcker Rule. The plutocratic confidence men need to feel confidence in the unfettered and freely corrupt markets, and there is no politician alive who dares bite the hand that feeds him.

    The Volcker Rule, as Sheila Bair so cogently notes, is just one more needlessly complex rule within the doddering Dodd-Frank bundle of complexities: "easy to game and hard to enforce."

    But isn't that the whole point? Learn from the resounding half-century of success of all 30 pages of Glass Steagall, and replace it with legislation that is too big to succeed -- ensuring that banks are still too big to fail. Make sure that small banks are unfairly punished for the sins of the big casinos, further paving the way for the gutting of the whole kit and caboodle. It's like the hall of mirrors in a fun house. The result, of course, is that too many people are trapped in the very unfunny chamber of horrors constructed by the rapacious Dr. Moreaus of the financial world -- with continuing maintenance provided by the simpering sycophants in the political sphere. And don't forget the carnival barkers of CNBC and the rest of the corporate media.

    Saturday, July 21, 2012

    The Morning After

    Like a lot of people, I was glued to the tube Friday for the latest news on the atrocity in Aurora. In a depraved sort of way, I was somewhat relieved to see the corporate media covering actual news and debating substantive issues for a change, rather than the latest gaffes and attacks in the presidential horserace. I was somewhat impressed when the campaigns announced they'd be pulling their ads out of respect for the victims.

    Only, that was a lie.

    After almost every CNN scene of tears, anguish and anger came the usual:

    "I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message. 'God bless Ame-e--e-rica'......"

    This ad is already being lauded as the most effective attack ad ever in the history of presidential politics. Better than the iconic "Daisy" commercial. More hard-hitting than Michael Dukakis in a tank.

    And it's being run over, and over, and over again. On CNN, I counted seven times in one hour. On the day of the worst shooting attack in American history, when all the attack ads were supposedly being pulled.

    I guess I heard wrong. The ad blackout would only be effective in the one square mile radius surrounding Aurora, Col. And since Colorado is a battleground state, look for the same old politics as usual to return soon to a TV screen near you. Hurry up and bury your dead so the horserace can continue, so the fundraisers can rake in the cash, so the NRA can skip the phony condolences and forge ahead with its quest to arm every man, woman and child with an assault rifle while it writes more laws to making it easier to buy a gun than it is to register to vote.

    President Obama needn't have bothered to order flags lowered to half-staff. All he needed to do was replace the American flag with a white flag, signalling total surrender to right wing nutjobs and the shadow government known as the National Rifle Association.


    There's been some fantastic writing in the aftermath of this most recent act of domestic terrorism:

    Brady Campaign Director President Dan Gross tells Obama that we don't need his phony sympathy.

    Roger Ebert says our gun laws are just as insane as the craziest shooter and that nothing will likely change just because a dozen more innocents lost their lives yesterday.

    Gail Collins writes about the long hard slog of the loyal opposition -- the tiny groups of activists who quixotically never quit striving for justice in the face of the all-powerful gun lobby. Accompanied by some fine readers' comments as well as those from the usual suspects equating gun ownership with freedom.

    The New York Daily News showcases its editorial in a front-page banner headline: "Colombine, Virginia Tech and now Aurora: How Many More Must Die, Mr. President?"

    And E.J. Dionne Jr. calls bullshit on the political canard that talking about gun control so soon after the latest atrocity is somehow disrespecting the victims. 

    Friday, July 20, 2012

    Friday Open Thread/Another Massacre

    Another horrific mass shooting, this time in a Colorado movie theater showing the new Batman film. At least a dozen killed, 50 wounded, some critically. The gunman is reportedly in custody.

    This will be another moment of great national mourning and one or two politicians calling for some modest legislation, such as a temporary ban on assault rifle clips. But look for it to be a glaring non-issue in this election year. Issue platitudes, go on TV, make a speech, memorial photo-ops, rinse lather repeat and move on.

    And in this age of automated internet advertising, practically every headline blaring about the shootings is also generating a hyped-up violence-soaked commercial for the Batman movie. Somebody human who is in charge should really look into that.


    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Dueling Duopolists

    The botta-in-tempo between the two swaggerers of the One Percent continues unabated this week. Both presidential candidates continue to helplessly reveal themselves as the willing puppets of the aristocracy, even as they frantically try to shove their Louis Vuitton political baggage under their Aubusson carpets. They brazenly position themselves as champions of the middle class at the same time they grovel at the feet of hedge fund managers at $75,000-a-plate fundraisers, jetting hither and yon to the international playgrounds of the rich. 

    Mitt partied in the Hamptons with the VIPs a few weekends ago, and will be feted by a panoply of Libor banksters in London later this month. George Clooney is hosting a fundraiser for Obama in Switzerland, that rarefied land of secret bank accounts. Meanwhile, Barry himself jetted down to Palm Beach today, greased palms at the ready.

    And the spouses are no longer immune from the Marie Antoinette syndrome, either. As Michelle Obama was headed for the posh summer digs of the Massachusetts Governor/former board member of the subprime mortgage fraudster Ameriquest, Gov.Deval Patrick has ordered the road to his Berkshires mansion in a cash-strapped county freshly paved for the First Lady's motorcade. The Republicans are dubbing the $20,000-a-head fundraiser "The Princess and the Potholes."

    Michelle's fundraising stump speech never fails to mention that she grew up in a cramped working class apartment in which her mother still lives. Even though her mother now resides on her own private floor in the White House. 

    Ann Romney. who always reminds us she doesn't "feel rich", took some time out from her dueling Cadillac schedule today to lambast "you people" for daring to ask for more tax returns and more of their untaxable millions. The Democrats started running ads making fun of her dressage horse, until somebody mentioned M.S. Then they remembered the Hilary Rosen "never worked a day in her life" debacle and reined in that particular attack. For now.

    This is all so silly. Why can't people listen when these women assure us they are just like everybody else?

    As I wrote a few days ago, fully 90% of all the Rombama TV ads are negative. It's a nonstop bash-a-thon, and the cable giants are laughing all the way to the bank. In the latest round of "Who's the Biggest Hypocrite?", the Romney campaign asks whatever happened to Barry's White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (which in reality is nothing more than an in-house deregulation lobby of big business leaders and one or two  trade unionists.) The group has not formally met since January, when the Obama re-election campaign officially got underway. The White House claims the president has just had way too much on his (fundraising) plate lately to schmooze with the likes of tax-evading G.E. honcho Jeff Immelt and union-busting hotel heiress Penny Pritzker.  According to Politico's Josh Gerstein,

    To cap it all off, several of the companies whose CEOs serve on the panel are involved to some extent in outsourcing — a fact that could undercut the ferocious attack Obama and his campaign are mounting on Romney over his alleged ties to the practice.
    One former administration official said the current political atmosphere could be prompting the CEOs and other business leaders to lie low.
    “The thing is supposed to be bipartisan, so a lot of times they don’t want to get into things that could be used by either side in the election,” said the former aide, who asked not to be named. “The businesspeople, for the most part, don’t want to get into the middle of political fighting.”
    The business people don't want to get their hands dirty, and the politicians can't wash the dirt from their own hands. 

    Oh bountiful for specious smiles, for ample wads of green. For purple-wearing majesties, who fawn and bribe and preen. America, America. Who took our jobs from thee? They stole the goods, those Wall Street hoods! From sea to oil-sheened sea.

    Your Daily Dose of Righteous Indignation

    How do we become outraged today? Let us count the ways:

    George Zimmerman says it was all part of God's plan that he killed Trayvon Martin. And Trayvon's parents wonder what kind of God he worships.

    Ann Romney has huffily given "all you people need to know". Another variation on the entitled "it's our turn" theme.

    Barack Obama is sending squads of sleuths out into the Florida Foreclosure Desert to try and locate victims of the great mortgage fraud massacre. He wants to find out where all the nouveau-homeless went -- so they can register to vote.... for him. It seems the campaign has lost track of thousands of his potential supporters since the banksters summarily kicked them out of their houses. Not only have Obama's bankster pals defected to Mitt, the victims of his bankster pals have disappeared from phone directories and email lists. Oh my. Here's a helpful hint for Barry: just have his operatives peer into every basement window in America. Chances are there will a refugee from the middle class esconced therein. Chances are increasingly good it will be an older person.

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    The Complicit Media and the Censored Message

    If there is ever a time when the politicians need the press more than the press needs the politicians, it's during campaign season. How else are the sleazebags going to get their lies out to the public if not through newspapers and TV? Media coverage is free, unlike the expensive ads.

    So I was kind of (but not really) surprised to learn that our current crop of professional journalists is so cowed by the presidential candidates and their operatives that they have pretty much agreed to let the campaigns vet all quotes before they get published! You read that right. The media, upon whom we rely to present the unvarnished truth, lies and colorful language of those seeking public office, are ready, willing and able stenographers. And, in a piece by Jeremy Peters published in yesterday's New York Times, they ruefully admit that they are nothing but craven shills. And just like the unnamed government sources they are so fond of appeasing and enabling, they themselves would only make their admissions anonymously.
    Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign, used by many top strategists and almost all midlevel aides in Chicago and at the White House — almost anyone other than spokesmen who are paid to be quoted. (And sometimes it applies even to them.) It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail.
    The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article.
    This is pretty shocking. Do these so-called reporters really believe that they will be denied access if they refuse to go along with this ridiculous censorship? When I was a reporter a long time ago and covering Hugh Carey's New York gubernatorial campaign, one of his sons came up to the press gaggle with "instructions" about what paragraph of Daddy's speech to put in our leads. We just laughed in his face. We had the power of the pen, and there wasn't a damn thing the pols could do about it. Once they win their elections, of course, media manipulation becomes de rigeur. But while they're desperately trying to win? The press should own these clowns.

    But according to Peters, it's only getting worse. The campaign control freaks are freaking out over every last swear word and gaffe. If Obama farts while telling dirty jokes on Air Force One, or Romney lets loose with an F-bombing tirade, we the people will never find out about it. The journos' lips are sealed. Peters' article continues:

    Those who did speak on the record said the restrictions seem only to be growing. “It’s not something I’m particularly proud of because there’s a part of me that says, ‘Don’t do it, don’t agree to their terms,’ ” said Major Garrett, a correspondent for The National Journal. “There are times when this feels like I’m dealing with some of my editors. It’s like, ‘You just changed this because you could!’ ”
    It was difficult to find a news outlet that had not agreed to quote approval, albeit reluctantly. Organizations like Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and The New York Times have all consented to interviews under such terms.
    “We don’t like the practice,” said Dean Baquet, managing editor for news at The New York Times. “We encourage our reporters to push back. Unfortunately this practice is becoming increasingly common, and maybe we have to push back harder.”
    The Obama campaign declined to make Mr. Plouffe or Mr. Messina available to explain their media practices. “We are not putting anyone on the record for this story,” said Katie Hogan, an Obama spokeswoman, without a hint of irony. She pointed to the many unrestricted interviews with campaign officials every day on television and when the press corps travels with the president.
    Jim Naurekas of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) scathingly calls the campaign press corps a bunch of "brain-picking zombies." He takes the Times article a giant step forward, noting that

    He (Peters) doesn't spell out the implication, which is that journalists are thereby serving as PR agents, packaging the messages of political professionals at their direction rather than independently reporting the news.
    Responsible journalists shouldn't have to be told that it's wrong to allow your sources to edit their quotes, but apparently the sort of journalists who work for national news outlets do need to be told that. In fact, they need to be told that by their editors, so that when their sources propose such a deal, they can say–sorry, we're not allowed to do that.
    At which point, the political strategists can respond in one of two ways: Maybe they'll realize that they need the press more than the press needs them, and they'll allow journalists to do their jobs without interference.
    The only thing worse than covering Rotary Club lunches is covering campaign season. The operatives will try to spin you in a thousand different directions. The trick is to Just Say No. The candidates are desperate, people! This reminds me of another time when I was working the graveyard shift at the local rag and the guy trailing in the polls in the State Assembly race showed up at the locked office, banging frantically on the door and waving yet another press release. Begging, begging, begging for an interview. Now the roles are reversed and reporters are the ones begging and maybe even banging for access. Fourth estate, my ass.

    But that was then and this is now. I guess since corporations and billionaires are allowed to contribute anonymously and without limits to the campaigns, the candidates themselves are smugly secure in their own new-found anonymous corrupt miasmas. The Disclose Act, which would have forced political donors to reveal their identities, has just died a filibustered death in Congress.

    So -- candidates and their PACs don't need no stinking reporters when they have millions of anonymous dollars to spend on TV attack ads. According to Bloomberg News, just about nine out of every ten political ads now being run are negative. Instead of getting unspun information and substantive policy discussions, we're getting caught in the middle of an unfettered food fight, a non-stop bash-o-rama gone wild. Even the fact-checking organizations are getting attacked for daring to disclose their inconvenient facts.

    And just think, only sixteen more weeks of this to go. All we can do is shut off the TV, and try to stay sane.

    Sunday, July 15, 2012


    Attacking Mitt Romney is like shooting caviar in a barrel. The Obama campaign TV ads chewing him up and spitting him out are a hoot to watch and satisfy our great national craving for plutocratic blood. But let's face it. Picking apart one little rotten fish larva out of the whole slimy pile is not enough, when there are schools and schools of sharks circling in churned-up waters, waiting their voracious turn in the continuing feeding frenzy on what's left of our democracy.

    Just because President Obama is going full-bore Captain Ahab on Mitt the Minnow does not mean he intends to harpoon the Moby Dicks of free market global capitalism. To the contrary, he is their keeper and protector. Look no further than his Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, described as "NAFTA on steroids". Actually, you can't look further because the negotiations are being conducted in so much murky secrecy that even United States senators are not allowed access to the details.

    Corporate Feeding Frenzy -- Exposed!
    But thanks to the Public Citizen consumer advocacy group shining a light into the murky depths, we are learning anew that although President Obama is attacking the offshoring and outsourcing of the man who wants his job, he is not attacking offshoring and outsourcing in general. In fact, he is a champion of sending our jobs overseas. We already got a hint of that when he signed the South Korean trade deal last year. That measure is estimated to cost 159,000 American manufacturing jobs. And the Panama part of the deal actually makes it easier for tax evaders like Romney to hide their millions offshore. And the Colombia part of the package allows us to ignore the worst record of labor and human rights violations on the entire planet. In effect, Obama has helped destroy more American jobs than Romney ever imagined in his most vivid vulture capitalist dreams. As a matter of fact, Obama got so much criticism from his base over his capitulation to transational corporations that he signed the final bill in secret. Only a few applauding oligarchs attended the Oval Office ceremony, as this noir-ish AP photo of the event attests:

    Barry and the Barracudas
    Ironically, the Obama camp's Mitt attacks are having the unintended consequence of attracting a lot more needed attention to the latest ongoing trade negotiations. There were demonstrations at last week's round of private talks in San Diego, along with petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures and letters of protest from legislators and activist groups in all 50 states. According to Public Citizen's Lori Wallach,

    U.S. negotiators have tried to keep TPP negotiations totally below the radar, but even so opposition to the current "NAFTA-on-steroids-with-Asia" approach is escalating, which is good news for the public but a serious complication for the Obama campaign’s attack on Romney as a U.S. job offshorer.... President Obama is facing a growing chorus of opposition to what his trade negotiators are up to on the TPP from his base and from other Democratic elected officials, and given that his campaign seems to be honing in on job offshoring as a winning theme, he needs to redirect his negotiators from their current TPP agenda of NAFTA-on-steroids with all of Asia.
    The TPP is a lot more than the usual government give-away to the oligarchs. If passed, it will free the global banking Mafia from even the limited oversight they currently enjoy, severely limit access to medicines by the countries that need them the most, make it easier for unsafe products and chemicals to flood into the United States, and absolve multinationals from adhering to domestic environmental and health policies. Even the legal system will be subverted by star chambers run by corporate judges. According to Public Citizen, it's nothing but a global corporate coup, a power tool for the One Percent. (h/t Kat.)

    You obviously won't be seeing any Rombama attack ads about TPP on your TV, from either side. That's because Mitt Romney wants this deal as much as Barack Obama does. It's one more indication of it not really mattering, in the long term, which one of these apparatchiks of the Duopoly wins the election. For another great overview of what TPP means for regular people, do read this Truthout piece by Brian Moench, titled "America the Beautiful: A Fire Sale for Corporations." If this doesn't send a chill right down your spine, nothing will. An excerpt:

    TPP is much worse than NAFTA, which eviscerated middle-class jobs and wealth in the US. And this sellout to foreign corporations is not just a rogue brain cramp of President Obama. Mitt Romney demanded this agreement be signed months ago, and the notorious "climate change denying" US Chamber of Commerce can't get it signed fast enough. Romney has called Obama's the most hostile administration to business in recent history. If the TPP trade agreement is "hostile" to business, god help us if we have an administration, presumably Romney's, "friendly" to business.
    If you thought that with Citizens United we had hit rock bottom in surrendering our democracy to the power of money, this TPP "trade agreement" would throw our democracy into free fall. Foreign corporations will be allowed to feast like termites upon America's natural resources, trash our environment and public health, violate our rights as American citizens and make us pay them if we try to protect ourselves.

    With enough public outcry, maybe we can buy some time. Although TPP had been scheduled to go into effect this year, it looks like it might be delayed until 2013 because of... you guessed it... the feeding frenzy of the presidential campaign. Plus, the Japanese are not yet part of the talks, and the plutocrats want them to get on board the corporate gravy train too. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ever the mega-lobby of unfettered capitalism, is keeping its fingers crossed. The elites are couching their crime against humanity in spin designed to foment fear of Chinese competition, making it easier for the gullible hoi polloi to swallow their poisoned bait -- hook, line and sinker.