Saturday, March 08, 2008

Americans AREN'T smarter than that ...

Reposted from Crooks and Liars

Bill Maher breaks out his new rules on Friday’s Real Time and his final rule deals with politicians who say that Americans are smart enough to see through spin and lies. Maher speaks the truth - it’s amazing that during the information age, it’s still so difficult to get factual information to the public. The facts are that Barack Obama isn’t a Muslim, Saddam Hussein wasn’t involved in the 9/11 attacks and global warming is real — yet somehow, to some, they still remain theories.

Maher:”New rule, politicians must stop saying “the American people are smarter than that.” No they aren’t! If the Bush era has taught us anything, it’s that voters want a president carved in their own image. Someone who doesn’t like to read or believe anything he’s told and is easily distracted by bright, shiny objects.”

Find it here ...

Obama AND Clinton Supporters Must Drop Out of the Race

By cscs

I think one thing is clear this far into the Democratic primary race: Both Obama's and Clinton's supporters must now drop out of the race.

Hillary Clinton's supporters have gotten incredibly annoying, with their chants of "Yes She Can," and charges of cultism and their desperate yelps of schadenfreude every time Clinton looks like she might actually be "recapturing the lead" that she never had.

And Obama's supporters, yes, you too are incredibly annoying, with your accusations of Clintonian Republicanism and your whiny little cries about how you're going to take your ball and run home if your candidate doesn't win the primary.

Supporters of both candidates, please listen closely. For the good of the Party -- no, for the good of the Nation! -- the time has come for you to leave this race.

The rest after the click ...

McCain Campaign: More Family Values at work

Pro-Life Groups Hit by GOP Lawmaker's Alleged Fraud

Renzi Funneled Hundreds of Thousands from Pregnancy Crisis Centers to Fund First Run for Congress


March 8, 2007—

Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., allegedly defrauded dozens of pro-life organizations for hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund his first congressional bid, according to an analysis of the recent indictment against him, a state insurance claim and an interview with an insurance lawyer involved in the case.

When federal prosecutors indicted Renzi, 49, on 35 felony counts two weeks ago, many reports focused on alleged crimes stemming from a complicated series of land swaps the congressman facilitated.

But the indictment also accuses Renzi, who ran an insurance firm before coming to Capitol Hill, of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums and using the money to fund his congressional campaign.

Organizations such as Arizona Right-to-Life, the Hope Crisis Pregnancy Center and the Wickenburg Pregnancy Resource Center paid insurance premiums to Renzi's insurance firm, Renzi & Company, but received notices their insurance coverage was going to be cancelled for nonpayment, according to a 2003 complaint filed with the State of Arizona. The complaint was first reported by the Phoenix New Times.

According to the indictment, Renzi funneled those payments -- totaling more than $400,000 -- through various accounts and finally to his campaign.

The rest of the ABS News piece after the click.

My comment:

I wonder if St. John McSame knows, yet? After all, Renzi is/was is a member of Sen. John McSame's (R-AZ) National Leadership Team and a co-chair of his Arizona Leadership Team. I'm willing to bet the Right-To-Lifers, a foundation for the social conservative movement, are taking note of who fleeced them and his associations. Of course, McSame's comment: "It doesn't matter."

So let me see if I understand this correctly. One of Obama's ranking advisers is forced to resign from the Obama campaign for calling Clinton a "monster" while one of McSame's advisers steals hundreds of thousands of dollars from Republican supporters and "it doesn't matter"? WTF? Kinda makes you wonder what DOES matter. It sure gives some insight into the meaning of "leadership" on the right.

Karl Rove: 2000 v. 2008

2000: On the Bush Campaign Trail

Rove invented a uniquely injurious fiction for his operatives to circulate via a phony poll. Voters were asked, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain ... if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" This was no random slur. McCain was at the time campaigning with his dark-skinned daughter, Bridget, adopted from Bangladesh.

It worked. Owing largely to the Rove-orchestrated whispering campaign, Bush prevailed in South Carolina and secured the Republican nomination. The rest is history - specifically the tragic and blighted history of our young century. It worked in another way as well. Too shaken to defend himself, McCain emerged from the bruising episode less maverick reformer and more Manchurian candidate.

Sourced: Here and Here. (The last bit is particularly worth reading lest one forget how Rove works.)

2008: On The O'Reilly Factor

"I don’t think people know a lot about him. They don’t know about his views and values that informed him as a young man. They don’t know about what drew him to service in the United States Navy. They don’t know about all of the compelling story about the POW experience that he had. They don’t know what motivated him, but what people and places in Sedona touch his life. Let me give you just one example: I think most of your viewers be shocked to hear the story about Cindy McCain in Bangladesh, visiting an orphanage, and she has a small dying child thrust into her hands and the orphanage…the people in the orphanage say we can’t, we can’t care for her, she’s dying, we don’t know what to do. And Cindy McCain’s impulse was to hold that…hug that child to her chest, get on an airplane and bring her home. When she got off the plane, there was John McCain, and he said, “What do you got?” and she said “I’ve got a child who’s dying, we need to get her help…we need to get her care.” And John said, “Well, who is she going to be staying with?” and Cindy McCain said, “I was hoping that she could stay with us.” And today, that young child–who was near death–is their teenage daughter. I don’t think most people understand the compassion and love that would come from a moment like that. There’s a lot more of John McCain’s story that he needs to tell."

My comment:

Obviously Republican Family Values at work ... or as Richard Nixon would have it, "situational ethics".

Friday, March 07, 2008

McCain: Caught in an Untruth

McCain Overstates His Criticisms Of Rumsfeld

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer

As he gets closer to the Republican nomination, Sen. John McCain has been trying to balance his unqualified support for the Iraq war by reminding audiences that he was also a tough critic of how it was managed until President Bush finally changed strategies a year ago. In recent weeks, McCain has gone so far as to tell audiences that he was "the only one" who called for Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation as defense secretary.

The trick is that he never did, at least not publicly. The senator from Arizona was a tough critic of Rumsfeld and more than once said that he had no confidence in the Pentagon chief in the two years before Bush finally dumped Rumsfeld in November 2006. But even as he was criticizing Rumsfeld, McCain typically stopped short of calling for the Pentagon chief to step down.

While campaigning in Fort Myers, Fla., on Jan. 26, he told a crowd: "In the conflict that we're in, I'm the only one that said we have to abandon the Rumsfeld strategy -- and Rumsfeld -- and adopt a new strategy." Four days later during a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., aired on CNN, McCain said, "I'm the only one that said that Rumsfeld had to go."

A McCain spokesman acknowledged this week that that was not correct.

The rest of the Washington Post Saturday, February 16, 2008; Page A10 after the click...

My comment:

It reminds me of a sticker I used to have on the back window of my Miata (before I gave it to my son-in-law): "The older I get the better I was."

Hillary spin that could and should backfire

Hillary "Triangulates" Against Obama, Loses My Vote in the General
by Joe Palermo

Hillary Clinton refuses to release her tax returns (which the Obamas have done long ago) and when the Obama campaign brought this fact up the Clinton campaign compared Obama's legitimate request that she release her returns to Kenneth Starr's inquest into the Clintons of the 1990s. The Clinton campaign brought up Kenneth Starr? That's a big mistake. Why would you want to remind voters about the entire sordid business of Bill Clinton's adultery? Hillary's now infamous fear-mongering "ringing phone" ad implies that she is vigilant and ready to start the presidency "on day one." But we all know, thanks to Kenneth Starr, the only one on the phone at 3:00 in the morning when Hillary lived in the White House was her husband having phone sex with Monica Lewinsky.

Hillary Clinton has been repeating the baseless assertion that she and her good buddy John McCain (a Republican war hawk tied closely to George W. Bush) are the "experienced" adults in the presidential race. She strongly implies that the 46-year-old Barack Obama, who has an impressive 20-year record of public service and more direct legislative experience than Hillary, is some kind of "boy" (or maybe a "man child") who is not yet ready to be president. The only thing Obama has, Clinton claims, is "a speech." Really Hillary? "A speech?" That's all Obama, the most inspiring Democratic politician in decades, has to offer is "a speech?" That's a pretty racist notion to be tossing in the direction of the first African-American candidate for president in U.S. history, and coming from a fellow Democrat, absolutely monstrous. Hillary and her Karl Roves -- Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson -- have just written the text for about a thousand different Republican attack ads we'll see this fall in the general election. Well done! Hillary's the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party since Joe Lieberman.

The rest after the click ...

Red States / Blue States

The Red State / Blue State map looked like this when the votes were tallied after the 2004 election:

Map credit: Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman, University of Michigan

The state by state map is a little deceptive, particularly in light of the fact that the overall margin that the Republican Party won by in 2004 was on the order of 1.5% ... that is to say, closer than a 49:51 win.

Map credit: Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman, University of Michigan

Breaking the overall voting down by county gives a better understanding of what that actually meant. Democrats tended to win in more urban areas (where people actually live) while the Republicans took those areas where the deer and the antelope play (imagine the sound of crickets chirping).

Looking into the future, pollsters are predicting the map will look like this going into the 2008 election if Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee: (And we know how "right on" the pollsters been.)

... and like this if Obama is the Democratic nominee:

I'm looking forward to a county by county breakdown once Obama is President. I suspect it will be a very different shade of purple.

While you were out to lunch ...

Source: Wikipedia (The Bush effect added.)

When Bush campaigned for the office of President in 2000, oil sold for $31 a barrel. Jon Stewart and Aasif Mandvi analyze the dynamics of the $104.00 barrel of oil:

AASIF MANDVI: Well, Jon, it’s true, oil prices have reached an all time high. But before consumers do something drastic, like purchase a hybrid—or as I call them, a mutant—consider the fixed costs that go into producing your typical $104 barrel of oil. Right up front, $5 goes to new development of new oil resources. $10 goes to new technology research. $15 a barrel goes to making those commercials where oil companies try to convince you they’re not raping the environment and $25 goes toward blackening the oil.

Jon STEWART: If I may, just very quickly, right there stop you, I was under the impression that oil comes out black.

MANDVI: That’s what Hollywood would have you believe, Jon. No, oil actually comes out of the ground looking like this. A pretty rainbow! And it burns clean. Cruding it up ain’t cheap.

STEWART: Aasif, so that adds, I guess, $55 a barrel to the oil, what about the rest of the cost?

MANDVI: Well, it fluctuates, depending on how chaotic the political situation is. That’s why the Middle East loves George Bush. Without him, oil prices plummet; Middle Eastern revenue streams dry up and the terrorist are having to work second jobs at Bennigans. Or, the Middle Eastern equivalent: Applebee’s.

Watch the full piece here.

Does the car you drive define who you are?

or catch the ad here ...

What does your car say about you?

Unrestricted Free-Market Capitalism

from Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis

... let's not be too gloomy here.

Other than overleverage, bad debts, sinking home prices, no jobs, shrinking wages, cash strapped US consumers, rising oil prices, a sinking US dollar, $500 trillion in derivatives not marked to market, rampant overcapacity, underfunded pension plans, looming boomer retirements, no funding for Medicaid, no funding for Medicare, and no Social Security trust fund, everything is just fine.

And even though the Fed, central bankers in general, and governments combined to create this problem, the irony is nearly everyone is begging for them to fix the problem by encouraging still more speculation in housing, commercial real estate, and the markets.

Sorry folks, it's the end of the line and payback time for the world's most reckless financial experiment in history. The deflation genie can't be put back in the bottle until leverage everywhere is unwound.

The rest after the click ...

My comment:

Think of it as the invisible hand of the market giving you the finger.

A wise and savvy real estate agent attended a gathering at our house a couple of months ago. Over a beer he waxed on about how this sub-prime crisis was, in his opinion, a tempest in a teapot and that it would go away as soon as everyone realized that it was less significant than they thought at first blush. After all, how can real estate, representing only 2% of the overall economy have that big an effect.

The answer is "It's the leverage, stupid!"

According to Wikipedia leverage is: In finance, leverage (or gearing) is using given resources in such a way that the potential positive or negative outcome is magnified. It generally refers to using borrowed funds, or debt, so as to attempt to increase the returns to equity.

When you put down 15% on a house and mortgage the balance, you're leveraging 85% of the value of the house with 15% of the value in cash. That what the rules used to be. However, for the last several years, using creative first and second mortgage loans, lenders have created a situation that allowed home buyers to effectively leverage 100% of the housing purchase. A second mortgage at a relatively high rate provides the cash for a down payment and the first mortgage is extended as if the second mortgage didn't exist. Sub-prime and Alt-A mortgages didn't require verification of assets or income and borrowers were encouraged by lenders to fill in the blanks with numbers that would balance the books ... regardless of the truth of the numbers.

Leverage is a way of multiplying your buying power by assuming debt. It's a great idea when everything is going well. The problem is that when things go south, leverage also multiplies the down side. So, even though real estate may make up only 2% of the economy overall ... the debt associated with that 2% magnifies its impact.

Another way of looking it at might be to think of a bowling ball as representing the mass of that 2% of the economy. It's one thing if I toss it to you gently from across the ally. It's quite another thing if I leverage the same bowling ball by using a cannon pointed in your direction. Same bowling ball ... different leverage.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

So ... who do you want to answer the phone at 3AM?

Image credit:

There are some real choices ... so take your pick.

Free Speech / Freedom From Speech

From a Note to my Daughter

The TV writers strike has made the Democratic primary campaign and the overall election coverage the best running series on the tube -- and like all good teevee series, once you get sucked into the characters, it's all over for the duration. The plot thickens as time goes on. Smiley faces cover evil grins and everything is a set up. AND ... just like "Law and Order", if you get the right channel, you can watch it 24 hours a day but unlike "Law and Order" (Candy and I have seen every episode ever made at least three times, more often many more) you don't know where or what the plot twists are. Life will be so empty when the campaign is over ... but I don't think I'm up for the reruns.


For some reason, this blog seems to be VERY popular in Tempe, Arizona:

Bushism of the Day

from Slate Magazine by Jacob Weisberg

"And so, General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq."

—meeting with Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2008

My comment:

A gaff is when a politician accidentally tells the truth.

Bugs Bunny vs. Daffy Duck

Why voters always choose the wascally wabbit for president.

By Jeff Greenfield / Slate

How did we reach the point at which Sen. Clinton, the clear Democratic front-runner six months ago, needs clear wins in Texas and Ohio to mute the calls for her to end her campaign?

There's no unified field theory that answers this question: You can give more or less weight to Obama's political magnetism, the tactical and strategic miscalculations of the Clinton campaign, the delegate-allocation rules that weakened the punch of Clinton's big-state wins, the crucial difficulty of a former first lady who embodies Restoration competing in an election in which change is the watchword. And here's another explanation for this remarkable reversal of fortune, one that represents for me one of the few really reliable rules of presidential political warfare: Bugs Bunny always beats Daffy Duck.

A smart piece of analysis after the click ...

The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same

"Love of power, operating through greed and through personal ambition, was the cause of all these evils."
– Thucydides (circa 460 BC – c. 395 BC)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Homeland Security?

from Jesus' General

It appears that Senator John McCain has been systematically engaged in a "genocide" of sorts against the Navajo (Di'neh) People in his home state of Arizona. In order to further the interest of mining companies (Peabody Western and others) he has sponsored and passed laws to forcibly relocate thousands of Di'neh from their ancestral lands on the reservation that was guaranteed to them by Treaty in the 1870's. In order to do this, he has had the assistance of BIA lawyers who have forged signatures of Di'neh elders (most of whom do not read, write or speak English) on documents supposedly giving permission for their lands and their civil rights to be given away. John McCain has also used the divisive tactic of claiming that the Hopi Tribal Council is empowered to make decisions for the Di'neh (they do not as they are a different tribe).

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has investigated this situation, found that the US is violating Article 10 of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly be removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

The rest after the click ...

The $3,000,000,000,000 War is a Domestic Issue

By Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post

As our seemingly endless primary process reaches the homestretch and the focus shifts to the general election, we need to pull the plug on the media's disturbing habit of acting as if foreign policy and domestic policy are completely separate entities -- a pair of high stakes board games that can only be taken off the shelf and played one at a time. To hear the media tell it, combining the two would make about as much sense as using your Monopoly pieces to play Risk.

But while there is almost nothing about the Iraq war that can be labeled a success, we can declare that it has been exceedingly successful in showing how intertwined foreign and domestic policy actually are. In the book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, along with co-author Linda Bilmes, argue that, even using "conservative assumptions," the Iraq war will cost at least $3,000,000,000,000, and likely as much as $5,000,000,000,000.

Stiglitz also argues that the war has played a major role in the current subprime credit crisis and our long, hard slog toward recession. Because of the cost of the war, the Fed flooded the system with credit. "The regulators were looking the other way and money was being lent to anybody this side of a life-support system," Stiglitz told The Australian's Peter Wilson.

The book (excerpted here by the Times of London, and here's an interview with the authors at Democracy Now) notes that the cost is 60 times the $50 - 60 billion we were told the war would cost by Don Rumsfeld. The Iraq war is already the second costliest war in American history, trailing only World War II.

Stiglitz makes the case that no country can fight a protracted war without deep and long-lasting effects on domestic policy. Particularly a protracted war paired with tax cuts. Now this doesn't mean a war shouldn't be fought (see World War II), but it does mean that our leaders should be honest about what the real costs will be. And not just in terms of dollars and cents but also in opportunity costs.

More after the click ...

Hebrew University researcher: Moses was tripping at Mount Sinai

By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz Correspondent

"And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking." Thus the book of Exodus describes the impressive moment of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

The "perceiving of the voices" has been interpreted endlessly since these words were first written. When Professor Benny Shanon, professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reads the verse, he recalls a powerful hallucinatory experience he had when he visited the Amazon and drank a potion made from a plant called ayahuasca.

"One of the things that happens when you drink the potion is a visual experience created via sounds," he says.

Shanon presents a provocative theory in an article published this week in the philosophy journal Time and Mind. The religious ceremonies of the Israelites included the use of psychotropic materials that can found in the Negev and Sinai, he says.

Tune in and drop out after the click ...

Still true after all these years

"This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer."

-- Will Rogers

The Gaza Bombshell

by David Rose / Vanity Fair

After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.

Check it out after the click ...

My comment:

Foreign policy experience at work.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Drake Equation

The Drake Equation was developed by Frank Drake in 1961 as a way to focus on the factors which determine how many intelligent, communicating civilizations there are in our galaxy. The Drake Equation is:

N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL

The equation can really be looked at as a number of questions:

N* represents the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy

  • Question: How many stars are in the Milky Way Galaxy?
  • Answer: Current estimates are 100 billion.

fp is the fraction of stars that have planets around them

  • Question: What percentage of stars have planetary systems?
  • Answer: Current estimates range from 20% to 50%.

ne is the number of planets per star that are capable of sustaining life

  • Question: For each star that does have a planetary system, how many planets are capable of sustaining life?
  • Answer: Current estimates range from 1 to 5.

fl is the fraction of planets in ne where life evolves

  • Question: On what percentage of the planets that are capable of sustaining life does life actually evolve?
  • Answer: Current estimates range from 100% (where life can evolve it will) down to close to 0%.

fi is the fraction of fl where intelligent life evolves

  • Question: On the planets where life does evolve, what percentage evolves intelligent life?
  • Answer: Estimates range from 100% (intelligence is such a survival advantage that it will certainly evolve) down to near 0%.

fc is the fraction of fi that communicate

  • Question: What percentage of intelligent races have the means and the desire to communicate?
  • Answer: 10% to 20%

fL is fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilizations live

  • Question: For each civilization that does communicate, for what fraction of the planet's life does the civilization survive?
  • Answer: This is the toughest of the questions. If we take Earth as an example, the expected lifetime of our Sun and the Earth is roughly 10 billion years. So far we've been communicating with radio waves for less than 100 years. How long will our civilization survive? Will we destroy ourselves in a few years like some predict or will we overcome our problems and survive for millennia? If we were destroyed tomorrow the answer to this question would be 1/100,000,000th. If we survive for 10,000 years the answer will be 1/1,000,000th.

When all of these variables are multiplied together when come up with:

N, the number of communicating civilizations in the galaxy.

The real value of the Drake Equation is not in the answer itself, but the questions that are prompted when attempting to come up with an answer. Obviously there is a tremendous amount of guess work involved when filling in the variables. As we learn more from astronomy, biology, and other sciences, we'll be able to better estimate the answers to the above questions.

You can play with the numbers yourself ... here.

Who's calling, please?

Bush Says He Lets Red Phone Go Straight to Voicemail

from Huffington Post by Andy Borowitz

President George W. Bush commented on Sen. Hillary Clinton's controversial "red phone" campaign ads at the White House today, telling reporters, "When that red phone rings, I just let it go straight to voicemail."

Mr. Bush rarely comments about the Democratic presidential contest, but he said that he had to speak up about Sen. Clinton's red phone ads because he found them "so confusing."

"If I answered the red phone every time it rang, I would never get any sleep," Mr. Bush said. "Sometimes it starts ringing at 9 PM, and I am already tucked in by then."


Elsewhere, Sen. John McCain released a new series of campaign ads, showing him answering a telegraph key at 3 A.M.

Get the whole bit after the click ...

My comment:

Hey, McCain is probably the best choice to answer the phone at three in the morning. Hell, he's an old man (so am I) and we're noted for having insomnia. McCain would most likely be the only one awake at three in the morning ... probably trying to pee if experience is any measure.

60 Minutes takes a look at the real state of our healthcare system

... and it isn't pretty.

In the richest country in the world, a country that prides itself on its generosity and its support of human rights, the real and functional attitude is "If you can't make a profit on 'em, f@&k 'em."

Watch the short version of the segment here. (The full version is available on the "60 Minutes" web site.)

We like to think we have the best health care possible here in the US but that's only for those who can afford it. For the rest, it's on par with the health care in Haiti ... maybe not as good. Now there's something to take pride in.

Checking the odds

Many of the pundits seem to be calling the Clinton/Obama race "close" but I guess that means they haven't been paying attention to the betting odds floating around the Internet.

According to Intrade, the odds appear something on the order of 6:1 in favor of Obama. At least that's the collective wisdom of large groups and that doesn't sound like a close race to me.

The betting suggests voter turnout will be well over 60% and Obama will be the next President with a significant margin over the Republican front-runner, John McCain.

Just for the sake of comparison, voter turnout in 2006 was on the order of 41.3%; 2004 was about 55.7%; 2002 was about 39% and 2000 was about 54.2.

People paying more attention.

My feel-o-metric sense is that first time voters are registering in droves as Democrats and Independents while the sound of crickets prevails in the Republican sign-up line.

Now, given that we have the best government that money can buy, McCain raised about $12M in the last month to promote his agenda, Clinton brought home the bacon at about $35M and Obama's campaign suggests their number was somewhat north of $50M.

People voting with their wallets.

So, given a bunch of givens, I'd say this coming national election has all the earmarks of a landslide. The mandate is not going to be one of those 1.5% varieties that the Right trumpeted about in 2004 (they stoled the election in 2000, loosing the popular vote to Gore - granted by a slim margin). It's shaping up to be one of those 60%-40% routs that will be an unprecedented rebuke of everything the right wing-nuts who are trying to pass themselves off as conservatives stand for.

They've had an unprecedented set of circumstances with control of the White House for eight years and control of Congress for the last decade and a half with the exception of the last two years. They've had a chance to demonstrate the effectiveness of their philosophy, their so-called fiscal responsibility, their lip service to smaller government and their commitments to Family Values.

The last time such an opportunity to serve the nation came together was during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The legacy he left includes bringing this country out of a depression, winning a world war, and providing the people of this country a safety net in terms of a social security program (that the Republicans have been trying to dismantle for the last 65 years).

Republicans have taken this opportunity to guide the direction of this country and driven the bus into a ditch. Instead of winning a world war, they've taken us into an unnecessary war in Iraq that appears to have no end. Instead of bring us up and out of a depression, they've left the country in a recession, teetering on the brink of a depression (not unlike the one their President Hoover presided over in 1929). Instead of improving the lives of the people of this country, they've advocated policies that allow the super rich to get richer at the expense of everyone else. Their preference for profit over people has left 40 million human beings without health care and countless more with inadequate health care coverage in the richest nation on the planet.

They planned for a Republican majority that would last for 100 years by playing to special interests at the expense of the people of this county but they ended up setting themselves up for a long dry spell. They have put corporate interests and party politics ahead of national interests. Their knee-jerk embrace of ideological theory has prevented them from adopting pragmatic solutions. It will be generations before anyone trusts their judgment again.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Don't Take That Rebate Check to Wal-Mart

By Al Norman

Wal-Mart is waiting for your check.

The world's largest retailer, which made $819,976 in sales every minute during the fourth quarter of its 2007 fiscal year, is expecting to see you walk through its doors with an IRS rebate check in your hands. But there is a more patriotic thing you can do.

Beginning this May, the U.S. Treasury will start sending "economic stimulus payments" to more than 130 million Americans. The vast majority of individuals who qualify for a stimulus payment will not have to do anything other than file their 2007 individual income tax return to receive their rebate. In most cases, the payment will equal the amount of tax liability on the return up to a maximum amount of $600 for individuals ($1,200 on a joint return) and a minimum of $300 for individuals ($600 on a joint return). The government made the same deal with taxpayers back in 2001, when the Treasury sent "advanced payment" checks of $300 to single tax filers and $600 for joint filers.

When you spend your rebate check at America's signature retailer, you are responding to the Government's stimulus like a true patriot. In a speech five days before Christmas of 2006, President George W. Bush said, "A recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country -- and I encourage you all to go shopping more."

The White House/Congressional economic stimulus package should be labeled for what it is: the Wal-Mart/Beijing Welfare Subsidy of 2008. The "stimulus" plan is an income transfer program from the U.S. Treasury, to Wal-Mart, and from there to its chief trading partner, China.

Find out the things you can do with that check that will actually benefit the American economy.

Let's Review

Let me see if I have a little understanding of what’s going on and where we’re at (as they say).

Fiscal policy for the better part of the last decade has driven the value of the dollar into the cellar, dropping it from .92 to .74 since November of 2005. Oil is traded in dollars so every smidgen of value the dollar looses makes it more expensive for us to buy oil and less expensive for people who count their money in Euros or Yen or Yuan, currencies which have held their value against the US dollar. The increases in oil prices, in turn, make it more expensive to transport goods from one place to another, to make fertilizer used to grow food, and to commute to work. And when we arrive at our jobs, we find that conservative tax policy has seen the CEO’s income increase by 47% while the people who do the actual work have seen their buying power shrink by something on the order of 5%.

Unrealistic tax cuts, which sound great at first blush, have forced us to borrow heavily from foreign powers to finance the most expensive war in the history of the planet. Servicing that ever increasing debt – three trillion by the time we’re done with it by some estimates – makes it impossible to maintain our infrastructure of roads and bridges, to promote the education we need to maintain a competitive edge in the future or even adequately fund our security systems. After all, the money has to come from somewhere and, if we're not financing our obligations with tax revenues, there aren't a heck of a lot of other options besides borrowing.

These policies further reward corporations for moving our manufacturing jobs overseas, undermining our manufacturing sector – the single most effective means for creating wealth, the most important anecdote to most of the problems that beset us.

The conservative approach to deregulation created an atmosphere where predatory lenders, selling the story that housing prices would continue to rise forever, could make usurious loans to the unsuspecting. The lenders told borrowers that when the balloon payments kicked in the borrower could always refinance or, better yet, sell the house and “buy up” on the illusionary increase in equity. And who needs verification of your income, anyway? The chickens have come home to roost and those policies will leave one third of the homes in the US in negative equity by the time we can install a new (and hopefully more rational) administration.

The net effect is that these policies have driven the country into a recession teetering on the verge of a depression (in spite of the administration’s happy talk and “blowing smoke up the ass” of anyone who’ll listen).

In the meantime a significant percentage of the population seems to think it’s a good idea to maintain these policies because part of the conservative package will protect us from the ravages of gay marriage? Are you friggin’ kidding me?!?! Did I use the phrase before – the image of lemmings drinking kool-aid?

Let me know if you think I got it wrong. I sure hope I did ... but I don't think so.