Archive for National

Mar
27

Never created a job?

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Again this morning, Paul Krugman knocks down some of the right’s cherished beliefs about its economic theories:

At a deeper level, modern conservative ideology utterly depends on the proposition that conservatives, and only they, possess the secret key to prosperity. As a result, you often have politicians on the right making claims like this one, from Senator Rand Paul: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.”

Actually, if creating “millions of jobs” means adding two million or more jobs in a given year, we’ve done that 13 times since Reagan left office: eight times under Bill Clinton, twice under George W. Bush, and three times, so far, under Barack Obama. But who’s counting?

After the president fact-checked his critics in Cleveland last week, Susan Crabtree of the Washington Examiner, appearing on “The Last Word,” tried to tamp down his taking credit for unemployment falling to 5.5 percent, citing 30 million people who have dropped out of the workforce. Eugene Robinson would have none of it, pointing out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics figure is the “standard way that we have measured unemployment for many, many decades.” When the game is not going your way, you don’t get to move the goalposts. (IOKIYAR)

Krugman continues:

As a number of observers have pointed out, however, for big businesses to admit that government policies can create jobs would be to devalue one of their favorite political arguments — the claim that to achieve prosperity politicians must preserve business confidence, among other things, by refraining from any criticism of what businesspeople do.

Under “the confidence con,” any criticism of these “sensitive souls” will prompt Job Creators to take their investments and go home. But there is another free-market dogma not heard much anymore, one voiced by former RNC chair Michael Steele in 2009: “Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job.” Yet during the 2012 debate over whether the sequester would hurt the defense industry, the goalposts moved again. But worry not. Like Ah-nold, “never created a job” will be back.

Imagine a self-serving, industry-funded Sunday talk show ad:

One million workers in this country owe their cars, their homes, their kids’ education, and their steady paychecks to the private-sector, free-market entrepreneurs of the American defense industry.

The Defense Industry — meeting demand for fine consumer products like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the fuel-efficient M1 Abrams tank, Tomahawk cruise missiles, the new Zumwalt class guided missile destroyer, and the Hellfire-equipped Predator drone. Predator — for when you really want to reach out and touch someone.

Free Market Capitalism — because government never created a job.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Economy, National
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“The lack of prosecutions, quite frankly, does not indicate a lack of evidence,” Richard Bowen told Bloomberg’s “Market Makers” last week. The former Citigroup Chief Underwriter for Consumer Lending has testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission but contends that evidence he provided never made it to the Department of Justice for further investigation and prosecution.

A lengthy article on Bowen in New Economic Perspectives outlines some of what the whistle blower might have provided. Furthermore, that the FCIC, DOJ, and the SEC might not (or might not want to) understand how the accounting control fraud “recipe” at the heart of the financial crisis actually worked. Once you explain how the “sure thing” at the heart of the recipe works, writes William Black, “jurors understand quickly that the officers were acting in a manner that makes no sense for honest bankers but is optimal for officers leading frauds.”

Matt Taibbi (citing Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism) looks at corruption in the Private Equity business, and the seeming indifference of Andrew Bowden, the SEC’s Director of Compliance Inspections and Examinations. A study “found that over half of the companies they looked at were guilty of ripping off their clients” using hidden fees. Bowden mentioned the discovery in a speech within the last year. Since then … crickets:

By this month, Bowden had achieved a complete 180, telling a conference of PE professionals that their business was just “the greatest.”

This is Bowden on March 5th, on a panel for PE and Venture Capital issues at Stanford. Check out how he pooh-poohs the fact that his SEC has seen “some misconduct,” before he goes on to grovel before his audience:

Is a slightly less worshipful attitude too much to ask from people charged with oversight? Taibbi asks.

Apparently, yes.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Corruption
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Mar
25

Your daily apocalypse

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Rush Limbaugh’s popularity during the Clinton administration prompted some restaurants to create “Rush Rooms” where you could listen to el Rushbo piped in over speakers while you washed down your burger and onion rings with iced tea. Two Minutes Hate that lasted for hours. A daily dose of outrage to get the juices flowing.

In an interview at Salon, historian Rick Perlstein looks at how other conservative hucksters such as Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck peddle outrage and miracle cures. The practice has its roots in evangelical culture and in Richard Viguerie’s mass marketing:

What he ended up mastering was a rhetorical style which is very familiar to viewers of Fox News, in which the apocalypse is right around the corner, and his innovation was to intimate that you could help stop it with a, y’know, $5, $10, $50 donation. His business model, as was very soon discovered, was taking 95 percent to sometimes even more than 100 percent of the take for his own purposes and profit and giving in only a minuscule percentage of the proceeds to the ostensible beneficiary, whether it was a fund that supposedly helped FBI officers injured in the line of duty or sending Bibles to Africa or supporting something like the National Conservative Political Action Committee.

Perlstein responds to Huckabee’s diabetes ad:

Let’s not forget 1988, when Pat Robertson won the New Hampshire primary. A lot of this stuff comes from Evangelical culture, which is a culture of witness, so the hawking of miracles is absolutely baked into the cake. Someone like Pat Robertson was followed by a figure like Pat Buchanan or any number of candidates in the last two or three Republican primary seasons, who make a lot of noise by doing decently well in early polls but then fade out once the seasoned pros take over and the money becomes preeminent.

If this historical pattern holds, Mike Huckabee, if he does well early, will flame out before the second or third inning but I see no impediment whatsoever for him to be disqualified by the conservative rank-and-file, simply because this stuff has been going on without much complaint since the 1970s. This is part of the hustle, right? If Huckabee can claim to have been victimized because of his activities, he can always claim it’s the conspiracy of the liberal elites… and then it’s off to the races.

Like Flannery O’Connor’s bible salesman, except selling reverse mortgages and diet pills via multilevel marketing.

“Aren’t you,” she murmured, “aren’t you good country people?”

What’s infuriating is that now everybody’s getting in on the daily apocalypse style. This DCCC appeal came in from Nancy Pelosi last night:

Thomas — I don’t have much time:

The House is voting TOMORROW on the Republican budget.

Paul Ryan, blah, blah, blah …

That’s why I’m coming to you. We need to raise $80,000 more before the vote tomorrow to show our Democratic strength.

Are you ready to fight back with me before it’s too late?

Hang on tight to your wooden legs.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Media, National
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Mar
22

Obama rocks Cleveland

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We know Cleveland rocks. But on Wednesday, President Obama visited Cleveland to rock back.

For an infuriatingly long time, he’s been loathe to toot his own horn and play offense when that’s just what fellow Democrats needed him to do in 2010 and 2014. Where’ve you been Barack? [news quote extended, bolded]:

“It was one thing for them to argue against Obamacare before it was put in place,” Obama, using the nickname for his signature Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, said during an afternoon address to the City Club of Cleveland.

“Every prediction they made about it turned out to be wrong. It’s working better than even I expected. But it doesn’t matter. Evidence be damned. It’s still a disaster. Well, why?”

“The truth is, the budget they’re putting forward and the theories they’re putting forward are a path to prosperity for those who have already prospered.”

Good line. Obama ticked off a number of things his opponents got wrong. Got in Republicans’ faces about it even. And with a smile on his. That probably ticked off them too. It’s the sort of thing Democrats are way to reluctant to do. As Drew Westen says (okay, I’m paraphrasing), if the message isn’t pissing off your opponents, you’re not doing it right. They’ll be on the Sunday bobblehead shows any minute to wag their fingers and wring their hands over the president’s “angry” words and inappropriate swagger.

It’s not as if there isn’t a wealth of material to work from. Perhaps the only sour note in Cleveland was Obama’s continued support for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact opposed by critics in his own party. We’ll leave that for another time.

Anyway, I sourced some of the president’s Cleveland material, maybe improved on it, and added a few peeves of my own. It’s the sort of thing I open carry on my smart phone for those “close encounters.”

Republicans said Barack Obama’s policies would produce “trillion dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see.”
(Speaker John Boehner 04-18-09; NH Sen. Judd Gregg 03-17-10)

People believed them.

Instead, while the national debt did increase as it has every year since the Clinton budget surpluses, budget deficits shrank from $1.4 trillion when Obama took office to $483 billion in 2014.
(Washington Post 10-15-14)

Republicans said Obama’s “socialist policies” would increase the size “of our already bloated government,” lead us towards “national socialism,” and “the country’s economy is going to collapse.”
(NC Rep. Robert Pittenger 01-21-15; Kansas Sen. Pat Robert 09-24-14; Rush Limbaugh 09-10-12)

People believed them.

Instead, federal government employment has shrunk since January 2009, “corporate profits have nearly tripled” and the stock market doubled in six years.
(BLS 03-21-15; New Republic 08-04-14; FactCheck.org 01-09-15; Google Finance)

Republicans said if Barack Obama was reelected, “gas prices will be up at around $6.60 per gallon.”
(Utah Sen. Mike Lee 03-07-12)

People believed them.

Gas prices dropped below $2 per gallon in early 2015.
(Time 01-21-15)

Republicans said Obama’s policies would destroy “nearly 6 million jobs over the next decade” and lead to “diminishment of employment in America.”
(John McCain campaign 10-31-08; Texas Rep. Pete Sessions 11-07-09)

People believed them.

Instead, 12 million new jobs created, more under 6 years of Obama than under 12 years of two Bushes, “the best private sector jobs creation performance in American history [that] outperformed President Reagan’s in all commonly watched categories” according to Forbes.
(ElectaBlog 10-03-14; Forbes 09-05-14)

Meanwhile, “small-government, pro-business” George W. Bush presided over “the biggest federal budget expansion since Franklin Delano Roosevelt” and saw only 1.3 million net jobs created in 8 years (7 million net for Obama in 6 years). The Wall Street Journal called Bush’s “the worst track record on record.”
(Washington Times 10-19-08; ElectaBlog 10-03-14; Wall Street Journal 01-09-09)

Finally, for those with short memories:

Republicans said we had to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. We even knew where they were. We’d be out in six months, it would cost at most $60 billion, “We do not torture,” etc.

People believed them.

How much longer will people believe these guys?

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Mar
19

Rigging the rigging

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It is one of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s signature lines: “The game is rigged.” Lina Khan at Washington Monthly fleshes out just how much. Forget the social safety net. Khan looks at how binding arbitration clauses in consumer contracts snip away what’s left of the legal safety net protecting consumers. Warren may have birthed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to give Average Joe a fighting chance, but binding arbitration still leaves the Man with all the power:

Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report documenting the prevalence and effects of arbitration clauses in consumer financial products. CFPB’s report captures the effects of arbitration clauses in financial products and services, based on data from the American Arbitration Association, which handles the vast majority of consumer financial arbitration cases. A few main takeaways from the study [edited for length - TS]:

•Arbitration tends to work out better for companies than it does for individual consumers: in cases initiated by consumers, arbitrators awarded them some relief in around 20 percent of cases. By contrast, arbitrators provided companies some type of relief in 93 percent of cases that they filed.

•Even the degree of relief varies notably: within the slice of arbitration outcomes that CFPB could assess, consumers won an average of 12 cents for every dollar they claimed. By contrast, companies on average won 91 cents for every dollar they claimed. In total, consumers received less than $400,000 from arbitrators in 2010 and 2011. Companies won $2 million over that same period
.
•Notably, CFPB found evidence undercutting a favorite pro-mandatory arbitration trope: that nixing arbitration clauses would burden companies with greater litigation costs, which they would be forced to pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices for their goods. CFPB found that the banks that had to drop arbitration clauses from their contracts as part of an antitrust settlement in 2009 did not subsequently raise prices for consumers.

The CFPB is expected to propose rules “limiting mandatory arbitration clauses in these take-it-or-leave-it contracts,” Khan reports. Over 90 percent of consumers in contracts with a binding arbitration clause were unaware they could not sue “or had no idea.” On average, $27,000 of consumer money is at stake in these disputes. But paired with class action bans, these contracts leave financial organizations holding all the high cards in the game and “de facto privatizes” a legal process funded with tax dollars that, at least in theory, level the playing field.

The sharks are running the fish hatchery.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Mar
18

Oh, but you must be-lieve!

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The House Republicans’ new budget plan grabs a lot of ink this morning, little of it favorable. “This takes budget quackery to a new level,” according to Maryland Democrat Chris Von Hollen. From the New York Times:

Without relying on tax increases, budget writers were forced into contortions to bring the budget into balance while placating defense hawks clamoring for increased military spending. They added nearly $40 billion in “emergency” war funding to the defense budget for next year, raising military spending without technically breaking strict caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place — essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.

And so on. Et tu, Kenny? Representative Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado told reporters, “I don’t know anyone who believes we’re going to balance the budget in 10 years … It’s all hooey.”

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Categories : National, Republicans
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Mar
17

From my cold, dead fingers

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If there’s anyplace that defines exceptional in this big, ol’ beacon of freedom called America, it’s Texas. They are SO American in Texas, they can even take exception to the First Amendment and puff out their chests with pride about it.

Molly Ivins, I think, used to call the Texas state legislature “the Austin Funhouse,” noting once that state legislators there are the lowest paid in the country and Texas gets what it pays for. As Digby reported yesterday at Salon, Republican state legislators are “extremely bothered by the idea that a citizen might film the police in the course of their duties.” Ergo:

The House Bill 2918 introduced by Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) would make private citizens photographing or recording the police within 25 feet of them a class B misdemeanor, and those who are armed would not be able to stand recording within 100 feet of an officer.

As defined in the bill, only a radio or television [station] that holds a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission, a newspaper that is qualified under section 2051.044 or a magazine that appears at a regular interval would be allowed to record police.

Isn’t that exceptional? It takes exception to the United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit in Glik v. Cuniffee (2011) and to the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit in ACLU v. Alvarez (2012), both of which uphold the right of citizens to film police.

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General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, NV, one of several test sites promoted by the state.

We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States. – Pres. George W. Bush, Cincinnati, OH, October 7, 2002

That was the first time many of us heard the term “unmanned aerial vehicles.” Ticking off a litany of bogus reasons for invading Iraq, Bush hoped we would collectively wet our pants in fear of unmanned drones over America unleashing death from above. That was then. This is now.

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Mar
16

‘You eat what you kill’

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You know, when I saw that headline in the Guardian, I thought I was looking at a decade-late review of the 2004 Vin Diesel film, The Chronicles of Riddick. If you missed Chronicles on cable, the film’s Big Bad (h/t to you Buffy fans) is a murderous group of interstellar religious fanatics called the Necromongers. They rampage across the galaxy, like ISIS in space ships, converting or killing everyone in their paths. They also “believe heavily in a philosophy that says ‘you keep what you kill’, believing that ending another’s life entitles you to their property and position.” Having screwed investors, thrown families from their homes, brought the planet to its economic knees, and demanded tribute (bailouts) lest they take us all down with them, that pretty much describes Wall Street’s philosophy these days, too. Which is why, as Suzanne McGee writes, “’You eat what you kill’ is the motto on many a trading desk.”

What Wall Street doesn’t believe in is its own bullshit, business school catechism about how in a meritocracy pay is a function of celestial mechanics that must not be perturbed lest we offend the Market gods – pay is an elegant function of one’s contribution to the enterprise’s bottom line. How do we know they don’t believe this?

… Wall Street’s profits aren’t what they used to be. Pretax profits fell 4.2% in 2014 to $16 billion, according to New York’s office of the state comptroller. If you think that sounds like a relatively modest decline, consider that 2014 profits were 33% below 2012 levels, and a whopping 74% below 2009, when Wall Street posted record results as markets zoomed back to life after the crisis and banks profited from ultra-low asset values and interest rates.

So what? Well, in spite of the falloff, bonuses rose for the second straight year, with “a 30.1% decline in profitability, and a 15% increase in bonus payments” in 2013, followed by a more modest 2% increase this year.

McGee explains:

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Categories : Corruption, Economy, National
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Mar
15

They’ve got a little list

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A few weeks ago, we looked at how Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin is using his position to weaken and eliminate pockets of political opposition. The University of Wisconsin system, specifically. Chris Hayes had observed:

There’s something sort of ingenious about this from a political standpoint. It seems to me that one of his M.O.s in office has been to sort of use policy as a mechanism by which to reduce the political power of people that would oppose him — progressives, the left. I mean, go after the unions, right? Which is a huge pillar of progressive power in the state of Wisconsin. And another big pillar of progressive power in the state, frankly, is the university system.

I noted that Republicans in North Carolina were using the same M.O. Since then there have been more efforts by the NCGOP at legislatively targeting political opponents. Democrats swept the four open seats on the Wake County Board of Commissioners last November? No problem.

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