moldybluecheesecurds 2

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pointless things to fight a sibling over

I saw a funny mobile phone commercial where the family's two boys were fighting over "new" and "old" minutes for their family talk plan.  It reminded me of other inane things to fight over, like one my brother and I did. 

See that curl of margarine in the center?  Yes, somehow that was worth fighting for...egads, we were dumb.

This economy won't turn around fast

I already blogged about the debt trap that has captured so many Americans before and through this credit crisis, but Paul Krugman's column today highlights why the mound of debt already accumulated might make this economic downturn very, very long:
According to Thursday’s G.D.P. report, real consumer spending fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter...To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. Consumer demand kept rising right through the 2001 recession; the last time it fell even for a single quarter was in 1991, and there hasn’t been a decline this steep since 1980, when the economy was suffering from a severe recession combined with double-digit inflation. [emphasis mine]
So it's bad.  And those numbers are coming in before the crash in the Dow, and the seizing up of credit.  So when the economy is two-thirds consumer spending, can a Christmas holiday make us right?  Probably not.
American consumers have long been living beyond their means.
Here's the chart from the NY Times debt trap feature:

We've been spending more than we had for years, and now we're in a real bind.  Krugman goes into the macroeconomics, that the Fed can't even loosen up the economy because lowering interest rates can't help people who've been outspending their income for years. 

In other words, this recession's going to be here for a while.  Maybe we'll all learn a little thrift in the meantime.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Your subconscious is still racist

It turns out it's harder than just voting for equal rights to remove all the lingering social prejudices from your mind.  Check out this fascinating column as well as two tests of your subconscious preferences:
I blogged about Kristof's last column on this subject, too.

Voter suppression samples

Across the swing states, a lot of shady efforts to suppress the vote are ongoing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Nation of Debtors

Want to understand how America lost its way on financial sense?  Check out The Debt Trap, an interactive feature from the New York Times.

Long term fiscal stimulus: a New Deal

Renewable energy and energy efficiency could be the foundation for long term economic sustainability.  And it could provide an outlet for government to provide substantial economic stimulus in the short term.

Voter suppression is the real problem

As much as ACORN and voter fraud have been mentioned in the conservative media lately, you'd think community organizers are out stealing this election for the poor (and Democratic).  Too bad there's little evidence of that.
The Department of Justice, which according to the attorney general has "made enforcement of election fraud and corruption offenses a top priority," convicted only 24 people between 2002 and 2005 for voting fraud, an average of eight people a year.
But voter suppression is another way to undermine democracy, and it is being propogated on a much larger scale.
Voter suppression by election officials and state governments -- is widespread and validated. "Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law," the New York Times recently concluded after its own investigation.

And of the specific allegations against ACORN?  Well, the same allegations were made in 2004 and every lawsuit was dismissed.
WASHINGTON - December 14 - Today, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) announced that the last of three politically-motivated lawsuits filed against the group in the wake of its successful 2004 voter outreach drive has been "dismissed with prejudice." Each of the three cases (two in Florida and one in Ohio) were brought by partisan law firms based on unfounded allegations of "voter fraud" against the organization -- and all three cases have been dismissed.

In other words, this "voter fraud" claim is bullshit, just like 2004.  It's a politically motivated tactic to suppress Democratic voters.  And it's a campaign tactic we have to fight. 

Neat car tech: hydraulic hybrid

Monday, October 27, 2008

Time to vote: is work in the way?

Thinking about long lines at the polls impacting your ability to exercise your voting rights?  Keep in mind that most states have laws guaranteeing you time away from work to vote, even if lines are long.

Sample:
Minnesota – An employee has a right to be absent from work for the purpose of voting “during the morning of” election day. This time off is paid. (Minn. Stat. Section 204C.04)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama and America's standing

A great piece on the potential for a President Obama to significantly increase America's standing in the world and why it's important (as opposed to just being a military power).

Best line:
you can’t fire cruise missiles at the global financial crisis

Friday, October 17, 2008

Palin Hatchet Job

It's about as nice as slamming community organizing.  But I think it's damn funny.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Better answers for Democrats

Why is the Democratic economic plan better than the Republican one?

Because Democrats have two fundamental beliefs: that when government acts, it should be to benefit the middle class and not the wealthy; and that when we use government to invest in the crucial functions of our economy, from health care to energy, that we have to pay for what we spend.  That's why, in a time of economic crisis, we're asking the wealthy to go back to paying taxes as they did before 2001 - since they don't need another handout - in order to sustain the middle class.

Would a Democratic President consider a judicial nominee who opposes Roe v. Wade?

A Democratic President is looking for the most qualified jurists to serve on the Supreme Court and would not use a litmus test.  That being said, the chance of their being a candidate for the Court whose judicial philosophy matches a Democratic President and yet opposes Roe v. Wade is downright infinitesimal.  You might as well talk about a Republican balancing a budget.

A moment of silence

Ever had the TV on for three minutes with no ads, taglines, splash screens or network music segments?

I tuned into the presidential debate on C-SPAN, and for the last three minutes prior to the debate, it was just a camera on the auditorium. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

w00t!
woo hoo!
YES!

How Racism Works

Thanks to MJE for the email, and to Kelvin LaFond for writing this letter to the editor on Sept. 5, 2008 in the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said 'I do' to?
What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard? What if Obama were a member of the 'Keating 5'? What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

-Kelvin LaFond, Fort Worth
If you're more of a "compare the stats" person, try this from the email I received (if you're part of the anti-intellectualist wing of the Republican party, don't bother.  I know you think education is worthless):

Educational Background of Candidates
  Obama:
  Columbia University - B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in International Relations.
  Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

  Biden:
  University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.
  Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)

   vs.

  McCain:
  United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899

  Palin:
  Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
  North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
  University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
  Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
  University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

From the last debate: should we be buying mortgages?

In last night's debate, Sen. McCain suggested that the Treasury Secretary should be buying up individual mortgages to help out homeowners. Seems like a winner for the middle class, until you read up a bit more. Get the skinny from economist Brad DeLong:

The McCain plan is:
  • Take $300 billion.
  • Pay double current market value to banks that have troubled mortgages on their books, thus:
    • Give a present of $100 billion to the bankers who made the loans.
    • Acquire and regularize the mortgages of only two-thirds as many homeowners as could have been accomplished if the $300 billion were invested wisely.
There's a big difference here: Democrats want to prevent depression and support the financial markets by investing taxpayer money in banks with troubled assets. Republicans want to give taxpayers money away to the shareholders and managers of banks with troubled assets.

His entire post is worth a read, because he explains the fundamental difference between the European actions and Secretary Paulson's plan, and why the former is a lot more likely to return taxpayer money.

Fiscal responsibility

If you want to see a balanced budget, here's a couple thoughts for you:



Palin, patriotism, and (payroll) taxes

Gov. Palin made a big stink in the VP debate about taxes and patriotism:
You said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America...that’s not patriotic. 
I couldn't disagree more, and Thomas Friedman has a great column today explaining why paying taxes is in fact far more patriotic than anything else Gov. Palin has suggested we do:
Palin defended the government’s $700 billion rescue plan. She defended the surge in Iraq, where her own son is now serving. She defended sending more troops to Afghanistan...

I only wish she had been asked: “Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed? If it isn’t from tax revenues, there are only two ways to pay for those big projects — printing more money or borrowing more money. Do you think borrowing money from China is more patriotic than raising it in taxes from Americans?” That is not putting America first. That is selling America first. (emphasis mine)
A lot of Republicans consider it a given that taxes must go down, and then spending.  But we've tried that for every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan, and each time it's simply led to deficits and massive increases in the national debt

This is the issue: we currently spend what Americans expect from their government, but we don't ask them to pay for it.  Cutting spending means cutting programs Americans want, from defense to health care. 

It's time to do like the American family does in a pinch - try to make more money - and raise taxes.  Because it is patriotic to earn your living.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Election 2008: a chance to conquer unconscious racism

The studies show that conscious prejudice has been on the decline for years, but that unconscious prejudice has been fairly steady.  The problem is that the prejudice rarely happens in a clear-cut fashion:
Whites are particularly likely to discriminate against blacks when choices are not clear-cut and competing arguments are flying about...

For example, when the black job candidate is highly qualified, there is no discrimination. Yet in a more muddled gray area where reasonable people could disagree, unconscious discrimination plays a major role.

White participants recommend hiring a white applicant with borderline qualifications 76 percent of the time, while recommending an identically qualified black applicant only 45 percent of the time.
The subconscious prejudice unfortunately plays out in the election campaign:
a careful survey completed last month by Stanford University, with The Associated Press and Yahoo, suggested that Mr. Obama’s support would be about six percentage points higher if he were white
It may seem that solving this problem is beyond us. 
But another lesson, a historical one, is that we can overcome unconscious bias. That’s what happened with the decline in prejudice against Catholics after the candidacy of John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sarah Palin's Debate Flow Chart

Now you, too, can be a Vice Presidential candidate and successfully navigate your first debate.


Thanks to EJ for the email and to Huffington Post for the image. 

McCain: how many times can you flip-flop in one interview?

Skip to 1:45 for John McCain's opinion(s) on the bailout bill that just passed. Many opinions, my precious.

Debate: Palin better than before, still not qualified

CNN did the fastest post-debate polling:
  • Palin: 84% of debate watchers thought she overcame expectations (she stood, she breathed, success), but less than half think she's qualified to be President.  
  • Biden: Debate viewers also thought Biden performed better, overwhelmingly agreed that he's qualified to be president, and thought he sounded more intelligent.
Neither candidate told the truth the whole way - get the debate facts at FactCheck.org.

My reactions:
  • Palin stuck with the strategy of "if I don't know the answer, I won't give an answer," falling back to talking points and slogans.  She's great at slogans.  Won't help much if she becomes president (see: Current Occupant), though I'm glad she wants to put "country first, government on the side of the people, be a maverick, blah blah blah."
  • Biden clearly showed he knows what running the country involves, particularly with the nuances required for good foreign policy.  His best line was probably in describing the McCain health care plan that will tax $12,000 in benefits in exchange for a $5,000 tax credit - "that's a bridge to nowhere."
If the election were held today and the polls were accurate, Obama would win in a landslide.  I don't think Palin did enough to change the game.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Senate bailout passes (with lard)

The Senate took the failed House bill and sexed it up with a few juicy (and often unrelated) components to win some more votes.  It passed this evening.

Some of the additions:
  • Increasing FDIC insurance to $250,000 from $100,000 (the maximum you get back if your bank goes under)
  • Renewables and "renewables"
    • Extending the renewable energy credits for wind and biofuel for 1 year, and for other technologies for 2 years
    • Lots of coal related tax credits (for things like "refined coal," "advanced" coal and "coal gasification")
    • Tax credits for plug-in hybrid cars
  • Mental health parity for health insurance (yay!)
And then there are a few smaller items like this:
  • SEC. 503. EXEMPTION FROM EXCISE TAX FOR CERTAIN WOODEN ARROWS DESIGNED FOR USE BY CHILDREN.
  • SEC. 325. EXTENSION AND MODIFICATION OF DUTY SUSPENSION ON WOOL PRODUCTS
I think I agree with Paul Krugman that this stinks, but may be necessary.

VP Debate Preview from an expert

He debated Sarah Palin over 20 times in the 2006 Alaska governor's campaign.  What's it like debating Governor Palin?
She's a master, not of facts, figures, or insightful policy recommendations, but at the fine art of the nonanswer, the glittering generality.
She's not much for facts or figures (or knowledge). 
"I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers, and yet when asked questions, you spout off facts, figures, and policies, and I'm amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, 'Does any of this really matter?' " Palin said.
 So what's a policy wonk like Biden to do?
With shorter question-and-answer times and limited interaction between the two, he should simply ignore Palin in a respectful manner on the stage and answer the questions as though he were alone. Any attempt to flex his public-policy knowledge and show Palin is not ready for prime time will inevitably cast him in the role of the bully.

What Rep. Sherman wants for the bailout

Discussion Points on Bailout Plan (hat tip to TPM)

1) Supervision. The Secretary of the Treasury shall not enter into
any contracts or purchase agreements unless such contract or purchase
agreement is approved by a bipartisan three member Board. Before we
pass the bill, Bush must unequivocally agree to appoint one person
selected by the Speaker and one selected by the Senate Majority Leader
to the Board. Asset purchase agreements of less than $1 billion and
service contracts providing for fees of less than $10 million are exempt
from this requirement.

2) Fast track for Regulatory & Corporate Governance Reform.
Throughout the 111th Congress, the Speaker of the House of
Representatives and the Majority Leader of the United States Senate,
shall have the following extraordinary power: to call up any bill
dealing with corporate governance and/or financial services reform under
the following rules: the bill shall be subject to limited debate,
followed by an up or down vote.

3) Tough Standards on Executive Compensation. Upon the sale of any
mortgage related asset to the United States Treasury by any corporation,
the following shall be applicable: any executive compensation contract
calling for compensation in excess of the amounts which are deductible
under Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m), is hereby void as against
public policy. No executive compensation agreement or practice shall be
engaged in by the selling entity, providing for compensation that is not
deductible under Internal Revenue Code 162(m). This provision is
applicable to the entity selling a mortgage related assets to the
Treasury and all affiliates of such entity. Affiliates is as defined in
Internal Revenue Code Section 1504.

4) US Investors Only: No mortgage related asset shall be purchased
under the bill unless it is established that such asset was owned on
September 20th, 2008, by an entity headquartered in the United States.

5) Obligation to invest in the United States. Any entity selling
assets under this bill to the United States must agree to invest the
proceeds of such sale in the United States for no less than 5 years.

6) Homeowner States Rights Not Preempted. The federal government
in its role as holder of any mortgage, shall have no greater rights via
the mortgagor than would a private entity owning said mortgage. The
federal government shall comply with all state and local laws which
protect such mortgagor, not withstanding any argument that the federal
government is exempt therefrom.

7) Reports to Congress. The reports to Congress required by
Section 4 of the Paulson Act shall be rendered every 2 weeks, for so
long as said act is effective.

8) Minority and small business contractors Buy American. At least
10% of the asset (in dollar volume) management contracts and advisor
contracts must be small enough that a firm of 100 or fewer staff could
perform the contract. Otherwise, minority and small business will be
effectively excluded. In contracting with private entities for services
regarding the acquisition and management of mortgage related assets, the
Secretary of the Treasury shall be bound by all applicable laws designed
to benefit minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and small
businesses and shall be bound by all applicable "Buy American"
provisions.

9) Review. Section 8 of Secretary Paulson's proposal is deleted.
The actions by the Secretary shall be reviewable by administrative
agencies and courts of law as provided by existing law.

10) Homeowner protection/bankruptcy reform.

11) Economic Stimulus.

Why many Democrats opposed the bailout

Unvarnished, a memo by one of the rebellious Democratic House members on why he opposed the bailout plan as written.
TAXPAYERS HIGHLY UNLIKELY TO RECOUP ANY OF THE COSTS -- Brad Sherman 9/29/08

We know that the Bailout Bill allows million-dollar-a-month salaries to executives of bailed-out firms, and it allows hundreds of billions to be used to buy toxic assets currently held by foreign investors. But we are told: "don't worry, this $700 billion bill won't cost us anything. We will get it all back next decade through a revenue bill."

I. Section 134 of the Bailout Bill merely says that the President must submit a revenue bill to Congress in 2013 that recoups from the financial industry the taxpayers' net losses.

a. If the President has any revenue ideas he actually likes, he would submit them to us anyway.
b. If the President submits revenue ideas only because he is forced to by Section 134, he will send it to us with a note saying that he believes they are bad for the country, and reserves the right to veto.
c. The Bailout Bill does not automatically enact any revenue increases, nor protect a revenue bill from filibuster or veto.

II. Congress is unlikely to pass a tax increase bill of hundreds of billions of dollars in 2013.

a. Tax increase bills are anathema to many.
b. 41 Senators can block the plan. We're giving Wall Street enough money to hire 4100 lobbyists.
c. In recent years, Wall Street has easily defeated every attempt to close every loophole that they exploit, no matter how pernicious-even the abusive use of Cayman Island tax havens by hedge fund managers, who thereby pay zero tax.

III. Any tax on the financial industry would make the good banks pay a huge tax so we can recoup what we gave to the bad banks.

a. Section 134 says the tax will be on "the financial industry." It does not provide for a tax on just those firms that received bailout payments.
b. A bank that doesn't get a bailout payment still pays the tax.
c. Community banks and perhaps credit unions will also be subject to the tax, so we can recoup what we gave to Wall Street.

IV. It is impossible to draft a tax that hits only those firms that received bailout payments, and even more impossible to draft one that taxes each bank in proportion to how much money we lost on its toxic assets.

a. There are no provisions to even keep track of losses on each asset purchased as it is managed over the years. Assets purchased from several
banks will be pooled, managed, and sold together, and we can never know how much we lost on assets purchased from any one bank.
b. If three banks in the year 2013 have the same income and size and operations, they will all pay the same tax-even if one got no bailout payments, a second got a million dollars, and a third got a billion dollars.
c. Many bailed-out firms won't exist in 2013.

1. Some will go under.
2. Some bailed-out firms are only shell companies. Example: Assume the Bank of Shanghai has $30 billion in toxic assets. It will sell these to the tiny subsidiary it has incorporated in California. The subsidiary will then sell these to the Treasury in 2009, and will be dissolved long before 2013.
3. Many bailed-out firms will still be unprofitable in 2013.
4. Some bailed-out firms will move offshore before 2013.

d. The whole purpose of the bill is to improve the balance sheets of the bailed-out firms. If particular bailed-out firms owe us the money they receive, they would have to list this as a liability, and the bill would fail to improve their balance sheets.

In 2013 we will not pass a tax bill that imposes hundreds of billions of dollars of taxes on the financial services industry, including those banks that got no bailouts, community banks, and credit unions. A tax bill imposed only on those entities that got bailout payments is impossible to draft, and contrary to the purposes of the Bill.

If it were easy to pass a bill to recoup hundreds of billions of dollars through taxes to be imposed in 2013 and thereafter, then provisions imposing such taxes would be in today's bill.

Wall Street gets their money now, and we get it back never.