Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Banksters...A bigger threat than Al Qaeda!

I just read 13 Bankers by Simon Johnson and James Kwak.  This is not a book report.  It's my reaction to this excellent book. The New York Times has a summary. I highly recommend the book. Except for the intricacies of the labyrinthine "investment" schemes they describe, the book is an easy read.

Historically, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson saw the danger of and resisted big banks. Theodore Roosevelt also saw the danger in over sized corporations and declared a governmental right regulate them.

From his 1901 State of the union address:
"Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions; and it is therefore our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with these institutions." He was successful in creating legislation for that purpose. That right of regulation exists today and such resolve is sorely needed today

Our early history is rife with financial panics due largely to excesses of unregulated and greedy banks.  This continued into the 20th century with the panic of 1907 which led to the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank and public distrust of the banks.  It also was a harbinger of a shift in political power to progressives. Never-the-less little was done to correct the behavior of banks and excessive speculation and leveraging, sandwiched around WWI, led to the crash in 1929 and the Great Depression. The election of 1932 elected FDR and led to sweeping bank reform highlighted by the Glass-Steagall act which most importantly separate commercial, or traditional banking where bankers loaned money and made money the interest they charged, and investment banking.  Considered a traitor by his peers, Roosevelt took on the banking industry like no one had before or since.

The result was over 50 years of banking stability and concomitant economic growth before and after WWII.  Being by nature amnesiac, the American public forgot the bad times before the New Deal and was deluded by a lovable actor turned politician who successfully played the part of President of the United States on behalf of big money and started chipping away at the reforms of the New Deal and regulation of the banking industry.  In spite of the banking crisis brought about by the the Garn-St. Germain Act of 1982, bankers, now embedded in Washington, continued their unabated binge of investment gambling - with other peoples money. It all came to a head in 2008 when a collapse in housing prices brought the house of cards crashing down over Main Street's head. 

Kwak and Johnson describe the revolving door between Wall Street banking and Washington and how the term "Too Big To Fail" became part of our vernacular. Investment banks replaced traditional accountants with whiz kids from the business colleges in the country who developed investment vehicles so intricate that each variety became an academic discipline of it's own. I read the book and the description of the investment schemes over and over and it is too complex for the most part to understand.  Regulators were so ignorant that they had to use people from the investment banks as regulators. The foxes were guarding the hen house.  As an illustration of the complexity of the investment schemes, look at the explanation of "derivatives" by Investipedia: 

Futures contracts, forward contracts, options and swaps are the most common types of derivatives. Derivatives are contracts and can be used as an underlying asset. There are even derivatives based on weather data, such as the amount of rain or the number of sunny days in a particular region. 

Derivatives are generally used as an instrument to hedge risk, but can also be used for speculative purposes. For example, a European investor purchasing shares of an American company off of an American exchange (using U.S. dollars to do so) would be exposed to exchange-rate risk while holding that stock. To hedge this risk, the investor could purchase currency futures to lock in a specified exchange rate for the future stock sale and currency conversion back into Euros.

In 1994, the County of Orange went bankrupt through investments in derivatives recommended by the county treasurer who simply did not understand them. Derivatives salesmen were lying to customers. In a famous quote by an employee of Bankers Trust, "Lure people into that calm and then just totally F them. 

During the time between the S & L failures in the eighties and the crash in 2008 there was talk of regulation but by then the banks had taken over our government, both on capital hill and the White House. There were a lot of factors involved in the runaway speculation and de facto ponzi schemes but the primary fuel was provided by the housing industry and packaging mortgages into securities.  Investment banks would make loans to home buyers and then package a number of mortgages into a security which was sold on Wall Street. In other words the mortgage on my house would be owned by numerous individuals or businesses. The initial lender would in this way divest itself of the loan and free up it's asset to loan ratio for further leveraging. The commissions rolled in! It was so lucrative that incredibly creative ways of putting people into homes or selling homes to speculators were developed and the upward spiral continued. The price of houses continued to rise and more and more  mortgage securitized stocks were sold.  Income of the upper income groups rose and they were eager to find new places to make easy money. The conventional wisdom at the time, as championed by the financial genius Alan Greenspan, was that outside regulation was not needed because the free market would somehow regulate itself. Big banks thrived, bank employees became the highest paid workers in the world. CEO salaries and bonuses were in the six and even seven figures. And then the bottom fell out. People became unable to make their payments and the housing prices, held up by their own bootstraps spiraled downward and banks holding the loans went bankrupt. It became apparent that without outside help, the collapse would be disastrous for the world economy. 

By now the banking world consisted primarily of a half dozen or more banks and they turned to the government for help. Knowing that the government had more to lose than they did, they ended up dictating the terms of the bailout first to the Bush administration and then to the Obama administration. Obama, overwhelmed by the complexity, turned to people from Wall Street and the banking industry for advice. The result was a tax payer bailout of unprecedented in size which ultimately staved off disaster but left the bankers bigger and stronger than ever and still not regulated. The government had been held hostage by their size...they were "Too Big to Fail." The authors of the book, predict another financial meltdown resulting in a crash that will make 1929 look like the good old days without intervention. The only thing they see as workable is limiting the size of the banks; the coining of a new phrase, "Too Big to Exist. Kwak and Johnson recommend that banks be limited in size of 4% 0f GDP for commercial banks and 2% of GDP for investment banks. These limits would only effect six banks: Bank of America (16% if GDP), JPMorgan Chase (14%), Citigroup (13%), Wells Fargo (9%) Goldman Sacks (6%), and Morgan Stanley (5%). "Saying that we cannot break up these largest banks is saying that our economic futures depend on these six companies (some of which are in serious states of ill health). That thought should frighten us into action. 

Today, the public attitude toward banks is negative and sentiment for regulation is favorable and although the banks still have fearsome power in Washington, a lame duck president Obama and a cooperative congress could get it done.  Our future depends on it. The voters are for it.  

The threat is more dangerous and more dire than Al Qaeda.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Joseph Heller's Milo Minderbinder & the modern international corporation:

Joseph Heller in his anti-war novel, Catch 22, published in 1961, was 51 years ahead of his time in humorously predicting the not-so-funny international corporation of today...the same ones who can now control our elections.

"By April, Milo’s influence is massive: He controls the international black market, plays a major role in the world economy, and uses air force planes from countries all over the world to carry his supply shipments. The planes are repainted with an “M & M Enterprises” logo, but Milo continues to insist that everybody has a share in his syndicate. Milo contracts with the Americans to bomb the Germans and with the Germans to shoot down American planes. German antiaircraft guns contracted by Milo even shot down Mudd, the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, for which Yossarian holds a grudge against Milo. Milo wants Yossarian’s help to concoct a solution for unloading his massive holdings of Egyptian cotton, which he cannot sell and which threaten to ruin his entire operation. One evening after dinner, Milo’s planes begin to bomb Milo’s own camp: he has landed another contract with the Germans, and dozens of men are wounded and killed during the attack. Almost everyone wants to end M & M Enterprises right then, but Milo shows them how much money they have all made, and almost all of the survivors forgive him. While Yossarian sits naked in a tree watching Snowden’s funeral, Milo seeks him out to talk to him about the cotton. He gives Yossarian some chocolate-covered cotton and tries to convince him it is really candy. Yossarian tells Milo to ask the government to buy his cotton, and Milo is struck by the intelligence of the idea."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The 47% and a Saturday evening bus ride through S. Central Los Angeles.

Yesterday, I attended a USC football game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. It was crowded.  My group and I parked in a market parking lot and took a bus to the Coliseum.  It is a straight shot down Vermont Ave., three and a half miles. It takes about ten minutes by car in normal traffic. After the game, it took about 45 very uncomfortable minutes. The bus, two sections long, was crowded - standing room only. I am sure that the football crowd contributed to the crowd but not mostly.  The riders were predominantly Latino, Asian and African-American. I was fortunate to find a seat and offered it to a man who appeared older than me with a cane, a middle aged woman and a young woman.  They politely declined, apparently deferring to my age.

I studied the group and mused to myself about the people I was riding with.  It was apparent to me that nearly all of them were regular riders and I surmised that in most cases it was their only means of transportation. Several of the riders that boarded had luggage. There was a young Latino couple who were aboard when we got on the bus.  She was sleeping with her head on her mate's shoulder. He stared vacantly at nothing in particular, seemingly deep in thought, until they left the bus just before we did. A dark complected young woman (appeared to be Native American) boarded with a young child. She was balancing a loaded back pack and a cell phone and controlling the young lad. I offered her my seat and she declined. We had a conversation with an Hispanic, who was most likely a recent immigrant, about soccer and football. He was 47 years old, friendly, and told us he was a good soccer player in his youth. I saw a very dark complected group. I felt NO threat. I talked with some of them and we did some laughing together. I felt relieved that no one seemed to resent my presence - although obviously an outsider.

Being politically oriented and having come from poverty as a youth, I thought of the people I saw in context with Mitt Romney's comment about the 47%.  I wondered what their destination was and where they had been.  It was early on a Saturday evening. I am certain that most of them were local and I wondered about the homes to which they were headed or from which they had left.  All in my group would alight shortly and head for our comfortable homes in nearby suburbs; homes which these people probably never even dream
of owning or living in. I wondered how many were illegal and how many had been used to replace a higher paid citizen worker; I wondered, not in anger at them because I see those people as exploited victims who have few alternatives available, just where they fit in Romney's 47%.

I wondered how many of them voted and who they voted for. I wondered how many were aware of or care about Romney's disdain for them. I saw a pregnant young African-American girl wearing a t-shirt bearing the words on the back, "Life Is The Right Choice."  If there is any political significance to read into this, it would be that she was leaning toward the conservative side. I wonder how many in the group were republican and if any would change their vote because of Romney's attitude.

My conclusion is that probably most of them are too busy with the difficulty of their survival to worry too much about politicians. Just a thought. I care about them because I know what they are living through. I have been there. I see them as a focal point in the struggle for survival of democracy. The republicans, or the ones in control now, see them as a threat and neither want them to vote, think or educated. I think Obama is on  my side, our side. I hope he is.  I know Romney and the globalized corporations who can now vote for all intents and purposes are not on my side, our side.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mitt Romney and his 47% is not a reflection on the LDS Church!

This is a re-post of an earlier one but has become more relevant in light of Romney's calling out  47% of American losers because they are poor.

I used to be part of that 47% and I deeply resent it. My mother was on welfare when I was in high school and most of the male members of my family were in the service in WWII.  I wasn't on welfare because I was lazy, dumb, or immoral. I was there because of circumstances totally beyond the control of my mother, a widow, or myself.  I hated it and was humiliated, humiliated because even as a teenager, I was aware of the attitude of people like Mitt Romney.

I am a Mormon and Mitt Romney doesn't reflect my beliefs or the beliefs and teachings of our church.  I am an active Mormon and I am deeply troubled by the possibility that many will attribute Romney's political stance and statements to the LDS Church.  Frankly, I don't believe they actually reflect his true feelings. I don't believe that anyone who has done as much in the Church as he has could truly hold the beliefs that he now professes.  I am afraid that he has been crippled by out of control ambition and by bad advice from his advisers. Here is Mitt Romney in juxtaposition with an ancient king in the Book of Mormon who epitomizes what Mormons, in fact, all Christians believe.

King Benjamin vs Mitt Romney

Over 2000 years ago, King Benjamin, knowing he was about to die, conferred the Kingdom on his son Mosiah and gathered the people together to say goodbye and impart his wisdom on how to gain eternal salvation.

Today, for the first time in our history, a Mormon, a follower of King Benjamin is running for President of the United States.  Mitt Romney is supported nearly unanimously by his fellow Mormons.  As the potential leader of the world, one who would have far more power, in secular terms, than King Benjamin, he is delivering a totally different message.

This is how King Benjamin opened his remarks to his people reminding them that he had spent is life in their service and not for riches. He told them that he had labored with his hands so as not to be a burden on them by taxes. He added that nothing should come upon them which was grievous to be born.  Many Mormons believe this meant that there should be no taxes but to me it means excessive taxation and excessive business profits.[1]

Romney, on the other hand, has never worked a day with his own hands.  Instead, he has made his fortune exploiting those who do work with their own hands.  As a venture capitalist, he has profited in leveraged buyouts and cutting costs by reducing wages and benefits of employees. Romney and his company made over $100 million, a 2000% return from a company that was driven into bankruptcy even after wages and benefits of employees were slashed.[2]

As King Benjamin was living in austerity during his reign, Romney would begin his having lived in opulence which is almost repugnant.  (Thorstein Veblen referred to it as conspicuous consumption).  He did this as millions in the United States lived in poverty and he avoided taxes by nestling is money in foreign banks to avoid paying taxes to support the poor or the wars he approved; and used deductions like $70,000 to train a horse to prance. Further, to advance his chances to be “king” he allies himself with a man, Paul Ryan, who places the philosophy of an atheist super capitalist over the teaching of Christ.
King Benjamin made it clear that we are expected to take care of the poor – all of them. Warning them that if they did not do this and withheld support for them because we consider them to deserve their fate we have no place in the kingdom of heaven.[3]

Romney, on the other hand, is unconcerned with the plight of the poor.  He has chosen a man as his running mate, a man who would be assistant King, who is at least as deaf to the plea of the poor.  Their plan for tax structure would distribute even more of the wealth of the nation into the hands of the rich. Compare their plan with the admonishment of King Benjamin 2000 years ago.  Nothing has changed in the requirement for salvation but in our society today the darwinistic “survival of the fittest” capitalist system greed and disdain for the poor has not only become acceptable, it has become revered. 

Turn again to Mosiah 4 verses 21-26:
 21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

How does this accommodate taking your money out of the country to avoid paying taxes? And why would good Mormons support him?  

In verse 26 above, King Benjamin tells us to visit the sick and administer to their relief, both spiritually and temporally.  Mitt Romney would abolish the program that administers to the relief of the sick without a plan that would replace it – this in spite of the fact that he was responsible for virtually the same plan in the state of which he was governor!  

King Benjamin admonishes us in Mosiah 4: 15 to teach our children to be truthful.  Romney has been anything but truthful in his public appearance and announcements.  The most recent and perhaps the most damning is his claim, which his continues to make even after being shown to be false, is that Obama took $716 billion dollars from Medicare services to finance Obamacare. Those Medicare savings - achieved through reduced provider reimbursements and curbed waste, fraud and abuse, not benefit cuts – appear in the House Republicans’ FY 2013 budget, which Ryan authored.  Of course Obama, as do most politicians, also exaggerates or even lies, but this is not about Obama.  He does not follow King Benjamin or anything else in the Book of Mormon and so far, this falsehood sets a new low for this year’s election.
In Mark 10:21, a young man who was faithful in all other ways was told by Jesus: One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. Mitt Romney does not have to give everything he has to the poor, but he should not use his powers as president to take from the poor either.
This is not a discourse on economics or Medicare, it is a query on something that bothers and bewilders me. Why do Mormons so enthusiastically support a man who seems to be antithetical to King Benjamin?  Neither do I to judge Brother Romney’s qualifications to enter the Celestial Kingdom – I am not sure of my own!

But I would remind Mitt of a song we learned in Primary:
Do what is right; the day-dawn is breaking,
Hailing a future of freedom and light.
Angels above us are silent notes taking
Of ev’ry action; then do what is right!

[1] Mosiah 2, verses 12- 14
[3] Mosiah 4, verses 16-18

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Drift" by Rachel Maddow, or how Milo Minderbinder took over war making.

The nation’s founding fathers gave the authority of declaring war to congress.  They saw an inherent danger, having been exposed to the caprice of a King, in vesting that power in the president.

Over the years this has been seen as a dangerous impediment to the safety of the country and has consistently been challenged in the 20th century.  The Viet Nam war became the most unpopular war in history and is the first one we lost.  Historians, politicians and history rewriters are still arguing over why we lost it. Was it lost on the battlefield, on the campuses or was it lost by the lethargic reaction to danger that is inherent in the congressional responsibility for war embedded in the US constitution. The public was sick of war.  Jimmy Carter, after the embarrassing hostage crisis in Iran saw our presence in the Middle East as being a problem of American dependence on foreign oil and tried to mobilize America in a war on energy dependence. He lost the war and the next election.

Ronald Reagan, a popular but inept governor of California almost serendipitously, stumbled upon the key to win elections; national security or more accurately fear of national insecurity.  He seized on the treaty with Panama to turn the operation of the Panama canal, which was built by America, to the country of Panama (which had also been built, as it were,  by America out of the country of Columbia). The treaty would gradually turn the operation of and revenue from the canal to Panama. Reagan was running way behind Ford in the primaries but seized on the upcoming Panama Treaty ratification as a cause celebre. Reagan deceitfully called the Canal Zone sovereign US territory. “We bought it, we built it, we paid for it and were not going to give it up” became his battle cry.  Never mind that the dire consequences he predicted were not credible and never came about, it won him the election and taught him that the way to the voters hearts is to scare the hell out of them regarding national security.  The military became his conduit for success and the red scare became his mantra.

The bumbling keystone cop-like invasion of Grenada based on a trumped up claim that the communists were building an airfield was painted by a friendly press as a glowing success and put the bounce back in the walk of the American military.  Later, American involvement in arming the contras in their brutal guerrilla war against a legally constituted but Marxist government of Nicaragua in direct violation of the Boland Amendment led to an investigation which indicated impeachable activity by Reagan. An argument by the attorney general Edwin Meese that the provisions of the law somehow didn’t apply to the President was implausible but accepted.  The fact is that the congress had no appetite for taking on the most loved president in modern times.

The argument was later used by the first Bush in declaring war against Iraq after the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. Bush backed into the usurping of Congressional authority for war but the younger Bush thumbed his nose at it and thenceforth congress was effectively out of the war declaring picture.  

Meanwhile Americans have developed a “suspicion of peace” according to Rachel Maddow and the “conviction that battle can be a source of existential meaning and personal uplift.  But the Viet Nam debacle had created a paradoxical aversion to being personally involved – to actually making a sacrifice. Since Reagan, politicians neocons and the military industrial complex have used the fear of national insecurity to convince the voting public that we must be ever vigilant and  mighty militarily – yell and carry a big stick to modify Teddy Roosevelt’s admonition.

The lesson of Viet Nam was ever present.  The public must be kept out of any war preparation or execution.  The standing army, which must always be huge, would have to entirely of volunteers.  This requires a ready reserve and National Guard.  At one time, calling up the National Guard and reserves created a national awareness and public debate over military action but over time, the reserves became more of an integral part of the regulars and calling them up became the norm. 

Another problem emerged or became an issue, the cost of caring for the standing army which was deployed worldwide and the concomitant families that followed.  This was addressed, to the glee of private corporations like Cheney’s Halliburton, by contracting out many of the duties previously performed by military personnel.  Privatization was given an injection of steroids.  Private contractors like Blackwater were even given battle responsibilities.  As we stood down military presence in Iraq, private contractors moved in.  And the profits, along with graft, rolled in. Our military was elevated in stature and no one had to participate who didn’t want to; and few of the wealthy wanted to. What’s not to love? So Milo Minderbinder and Dick Cheney, along with the willing cooperation of every president since Ronald Reagan and including Barack Obama, have managed to take the middle man, the government, out of the very profitable business of war. Best of all there will be no congressional meddling by congress and no public debate  since the public is not asked to fight or made to pay for the war through taxation or war bonds. Along with deregulation of the banks,  destruction of the unions and return to enormous imparity in wealth distribution, we can thank Ronald Reagan.

Problems remain however. National security, being the only superpower, costs money and there are problems of maintaining our ultimate hammer, our outrageous stockpile of atomic weaponry pointed at an imaginary enemy: “The Unites States, according to a 1998 study by the Brooking Institution, spent nearly eight trillion in today’s dollars on nukes in the last half of the twentieth century, which represents something like a third or our total military spending in the Cold War. Spending on Medicare, education, social services, disaster relief, protection, food safety inspectors, highway maintenance, cops, prosecutors, judges and prisons…combined.  The only programs that got more taxpayer dollars were Social Security and non-nuclear defense spending.”

Furthermore, we don’t even know if they will work if deployed.  The technology that developed some of the detonating devices is gone as are those who developed it and storing them is a disaster waiting to happen. There are five bombs missing today and another one is buried in a vacant field on a farm in North Carolina. Six hydrogen bombs were unknowingly transported across the county in aircraft.

In short, the senate has been totally removed from declaring war, private companies on a huge scale are fighting them and the public is not paying for them…at least not this generation. To exacerbate the situation, the American people it seems are actually bored with war. Like a reality show that's gone on too long, it ceases to shock, shame or even interest. Recently, when pollsters asked what the most important problems facing the country are, just 3 percent mentioned Afghanistan, the war of choice at that time. Even when combined with Iraq it had not reached double digits for several months. In a CBS poll it did not register at all. A Pew poll the same month found that just 23 percent said they were following the situation closely. And they do not like what they see. Polls show that 60 percent of Americans believed Afghanistan is a lost cause, and roughly half compared it to Vietnam and favored a timetable for withdrawal.

Again quoting Milo Minderbinder, the war profiteer extraordinaire of Heller's Catch 22,
"In a democracy, the government is the people, Milo explained. "We're the people, aren't we? So we might as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry."

Halliburton Chevron, ExxonMobil, Blackwater and many others, with the swinging door between the Bush White House (and now the Obama White House to some extent) and the corporate world has made this a fait accompli! America has become, or maybe I should say has been for some time, the most war-like country in history, only now the corporations are in charge. How has this happened and what can be done?

MS Maddow, in her book, Drift, sees hope despite the current gloomy picture.  These are her recommendations:

  • Going to war, being at war, should be painful for the entire country from the start.  Taxes, war bonds or whatever.  “Freedom isn’t free shouldn’t be a bumper sticker – it should be policy.
  •  Let’s do away with the secret military.  If we are going to kill people with drones, the military should do it, not the CIA and the orders should be secret from the enemy but not from the chain of command which includes congress
  • Stop asking the military to do nonmilitary things that should be done by the state department, Peace Corps or FEMA.  Stop relying on them for decisions that should be made by civilian authority.  That is unadvisable, unfair to the military and unconstitutional.
  •  Make the Guard and Reserves emergency backups again and not part of the regular military.  When there is a need to call them up, it should attract national attention as a deterrent to capricious war making.
  • Let’s wind back the privatization of war.  Let the troops peel their own potatoes and cook their own meals.  Privatization has become a source of boondoggle and corruption.  Privatized functions are not cheaper – the cost more and are subject to graft.
  • Stop using fear as a reason for bloating the military budget. Our military is already the undisputed world’s best but it is not the best or even a possible solution to every threat by our enemy of the moment.
  •  Remove the “Gordian” knot of executive power when it comes to making war.  The constitution gives that power to the legislature. Over time the ability of the president to make war and the prestige of being a commander of chief in time of war has, as epitomized by George Bush, become a temptation to make war.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Romney's pounce on Libyan embassy raid ill time and ill conceived.

Mitt Romney has to be the most inept presidential candidate in history - at least in my history, and I remember Wendell Wilkie and Tom Dewey!  He was so eager to make major points over the murders at the Libyan embassy,  that he forgot to check out what actually happened. He was like a vulture feeding on carrion as he preceded the President with his own news conference. Romney was licking his chops and could hardly conceal his glee in what he thought was a major "GOTCHA." The only problem is, Romney got his time table all wrong - or just didn't bother to check them.

His major point was that in the wake of these horrendous murders, Obama was apologizing for the Muslims who conducted the attack by laying the blame on the incendiary movie that insulted the Muslim prophet Mohammad.  The only problem with his plan is that the criticism of the film and a request for restraint, came before the attack and it came from the embassy officials and not the White house. This is all part of his sycophantic play on the Teaparty's hackneyed and disproved claim that Obama is not an American, was born in Kenya and is a closet Muslim at worst and a Muslin sympathizer at best. Despite the fact that the world knows that the embassy caution came before the attack, Romney continues to beat that drum much like as he continues to claim that Obama pulled out $716 Billion from Medicare services to fund Obamacare and the claim that Obama removed the work requirements from welfare.

Furthermore, the embassy request for restraint on incendiary media presentations was well conceived and appropriate. The film was made by a man of dubious background named Sam Bacile and was assisted by the Florida hate monger pastor Terry Jones who sparked riots in Afghanistan in 2010 by publicly burning the Koran.  Freedom speech is an ill defined and much abused concept. Inciting to riot is against the law in many places and should be addressed at a federal level to prohibit movies such as this one.  There is absolutely no purpose for this movie, "Innocence of Muslims" other than to insult and anger Muslims. The proclivity of Muslims for violence is well know and is certainly to be censured and the very knowledge of this proclivity should be a reason to avoid deliberate encouragement.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If you don't like R & R position, just wait for it to change to what you like

In the words of  RR, there Romney goes again. Two months ago Romney vowed that his first act would be to abolish Obamacare. Two days ago, he said he would keep part of Obamacare. This started a small firestorm with his own campaign:

Kaiser health news: Capsules: Romney And Ryan Camps Walk Back Candidates’ Statements On Health Law 
On Sunday, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, said he would keep the popular provision in President Barack Obama's health law that 'makes sure those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.' And on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulus, Paul Ryan appeared to back a lesser-known part of the law called 'maintenance of effort' that prohibits states from making it harder for people to get covered by Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor, until 2014. Both statements seemed to signal dramatic shifts in position for the Republican presidential ticket. But campaign officials later insisted the men hadn't said anything they hadn't said before (Galewitz, 9/10).

If you don't like R & R positions today, hang around, they will be different tomorrow. Just be patient and wait for the one you like.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Confession of a Bleeding Heart Liberal

I am a card carrying bleeding heart liberal. I have been rendered a bleeding heart liberal by my life experience of 83 years. I accept that conservatives have their reasons for being conservative.  While I concede the possibility that I may be wrong in my weltanschauung, or world view, and some of my particular views of events that I have which are based on it, I think history has shown that I am right more than I am wrong; and that the future, unfortunately, will also prove so. While I accept the conservative view (of some anyway - perhaps most) as sincere, I admittedly do not have an open mind. I watch Fox News occasionally for the sole purpose of making myself feel better about my beliefs.

I don't believe in survival of the fittest. I believe that the strong should help the weak. I believe that the rich should share their good fortune with the poor. I believe that this is fundamentally Christian - that is what Jesus taught us! Here's why I am so biased:

I was born in 1929 of honest, hardworking, intelligent, LDS parents. My earliest memories date back to circa 1934 when I was 5 years old.  My parents and my two brothers lived in a one room shack with a dirt floor, a door, one window and no plumbing. The shack was government housing for a WPA (Works Progress Administration) operated coal mine. The mine was managed by an uncle. My dad worked 12 hours a day but he took the job simply because it was a job and like nearly all workers then preferred a job to a hand out. IMO, that attitude still prevails. I don't know everyone who is unemployed today but I remember the day when nearly everyone I knew, including my family, was unemployed.  I knew of no one who did not want to work.

As I grew up, I saw business fail. FDR's first efforts at restoring the economy, the  First New Deal, was what we call supply side economics today. It was an effort to encourage businesses to hire people and make things. It failed because of the nature of business.  They exist to make a profit and will not initiate demand; no customers, no jobs. They were provided encouragement through incentives like tax breaks but rather than help people they exploited them. The depression just got worse,  The WPA was part of the Second New Deal (covered in the previous link). It was based on Keynesian economics or what we call today, demand side economics. I saw my relatives finally put to work. Many of my family members worked in government operated coal mines (the private operators shut down because there were no customers), the younger members of my family left home to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC. My mother made shirts for the South Gate Public Market in exchange for food. Slowly, we began pulling out of the depression.  The insertion of vast sums of money into the economy in the war effort ended it. The point here is that not one business started operating without a demand for their product and in the wake of the great depression this was provided by the government; as was all the relief for victims of poverty.

During this time, even as a child, I was impressed with the messages of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his fireside chats as typified in his immortal the only thing we have to fear message.  As we pulled out of the depression, my father had a budding plastering contracting business in South Gate California but we were plunged right back into poverty when he was killed in an auto accident in 1939. The war took most out of poverty but not my mother. My mother operated a chicken ranch in Fontana. My brother and I worked it.  It failed.  After this my older brother, along with my oldest brother were in the service.  From 1939 until I graduated from high school, I lived in poverty. I never saw a dentist. I never saw a doctor. When I was 14, I had yellow jaundice. Of course there was a doctor in Fontana - and only a mile or two away - but he wouldn't see me because my mother had no money. I don't know if I was ever near death but I know I was terribly sick and was in bed for several weeks.

In 1946, I found out my mother was on welfare.  I can't describe, today, my feeling of shame.  I blamed my mother and left home to try to join the Merchant Marines - unsuccessfully - so I came back home. In my senior year, we lived in an unfinished garage with no plumbing.  I used the toilet facilities at my grandfather's home about 200 yards away. I showered at gym at school.

The reason I am relating my experience is to illustrate that poverty is not a result of lack of endeavor or intelligence. It is often a result of circumstances over which one has no control.  I was a hard worker. I worked at any work I could find at any rate an employer would pay me - totally his decision. Poverty ended for me in 1948 when I went to work as an apprentice lather.  I had to wait 6 months to get into the union but when I finally got in, I was assured good wages and later health insurance. In 1948, I was part of what was probably the greatest housing boom in history. Hillsides over night became neighborhoods.  This was all fueled by government deficit spending on the GI Bill which provided low interest home loans and free education.  The immense deficit was very quickly erased when we all started paying taxes and the unions that were enabled by New Deal legislation led to higher wages, more consumer spending and more tax revenue.  And no, all those successful building contractors didn't build their business; not alone anyway. It was a community and government effort.

After I said thanks to my country by serving in the army, I used the GI Bill to go to college and to get a low interest home loan. I became a policeman but studied economics.  I concentrated on the depression era.  I learned that the depression was caused by a number of factors, primarily lack of demand for consumer goods caused by concentration of wealth at the very top of accompanied by lack of ability to buy consumer goods and wild speculation fueled by all the money in the hands of people who needed no, or not enough, consumer goods. The New Deal with the collective bargaining enabling Wagner Act and the post war housing and automobile boom created the largest middle class in history.  The Glass Steagall Act ensured the stability of banks and eliminate bank's speculation with other peoples money. These factors led to the longest  uninterrupted history of prosperity in American, if not world, history.

The dismantling began with Reagan's trickle down theory of economics and the dismantling of the unions. The final nail in the coffin of the New Deal was hammered home by the elimination of workers rights through the elimination of bargaining power and the source of cheap slave-like labor provided through the so called free trade agreements; and the repeal of the Glass Steagall laws. The Bush tax cuts accompanied by the oil wars unbalanced the budgets of Clinton and created an even greater disparity in income. This graph from a NY Times article of August 21, 2010, show without any reasonable doubt the relationship of bank regulation, income distribution and the failure of 1929 and 2008.  As Yogi Berra said, it's deja vu all over again!

In summary, I don't think it's a sign of weakness to help poor people, that's what Jesus tells us to do.  I don't think people are poor because they are lazy. I don't think people like being on welfare. Capitalism is survival of the fittest and very unchristian like; but it has proven the most effective system extant of providing goods and services and for the common good.  It can only continue to do so, however, as long as government regulations prevent self emasculation through greed. I have been involved in the economy for 64 years. I have been a skilled laborer for 10 years, a building contractor for 27 years and a government employee  for 27 years. It has been my observation that government workers are as intelligent and as hard working as construction workers or contractors. As a government worker I often worked many more than 40 hours a week for low wages and my primary motivation was to help people. When I was a building contractor, my primary motive was a profit. Of course I had to help people in order to make a profit but my profits depended on selling for more than cost and labor was a large part of the cost. I did what I could to keep costs down. I knew all the people working for me and I treated them fairly because I had to look at them each day.  If I were a CEO for a large corporation, I wouldn't care so much for their well being.

So that is why I am a bleeding heart liberal.  I like people more than businesses and I trust government more than the Koch Brothers or Mobil Oil. I respect the views of conservatives but, as I said, I do not have an open mind.  I make no apologies for it.

Recommended reading.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Of course we're better off than we were in 2009!

R & R campaign has chosen the RR quesion, "Are you better off today than in 2009. As Laker basketball announcer Chick Hearn would say, "easy play to call." 

If you are in the stock market, like the stock market, you should love Obama. It’ll be tough for the Obama haters to argue against this juicy little nugget. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has surged 60% since Barack Obama was inaugurated as president three years ago, according to research firm Bespoke Investment Group. This means President Obama is one of only five presidents that have witnessed the blue-chip index surge more than 50% during their first three years in office. It was around 8500 when Obama was sworn in and it hovers around 13,000 today. 

If you are a worker, your chances of being employed are 20% higher than in 2009 when unemployment reached a 26 year high.  Because of the AHCA, 34 million more people are covered by health insurance. When fully implemented, 95% of Americans will have health insurance.  Under the AHCA, Obamacare, if you will:
No more refusals to cover because of pre-existing conditions
Expanded prescription medicine coverage for seniors
Young adults can be covered under parents plan until age 26
No lifetime caps on payment for illness
No more recissions
Expansion of Medicare to rural areas 

R & R have promised to take that away from us.

The Iraq war is ended. There is a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Bin Ladin is dead and General Motors is alive.