Thursday, June 19, 2008

Spineless Democrats

Once again, the Democrats in Congress have done the impossible, performing an act of self-fellatio. Or maybe they bypassed the self gratification and went straight to inserting their heads up their asses. How else can we explain their caving in to the President and the telecoms on retroactive immunity.

Mr. 28% is not the most popular person in the country. Even the GOP nominee is running away from him like a kid with the cooties. So why should the Dems in DC cave? Because it is hard wired into their DNA. Talk about reinforcing the meme of Democratic weakness.

There has been a lot of talk about more and better Democrats over the past two years. But I hope that sooner than later we focus exclusively on the latter. I am so sick and tired of seeing our so-called leaders snap defeat from the jaws of victory. I am not even surprised anymore when they crumble like a house of cards. I've seen jellyfish with stronger spines than Steny Hoyer et al.

Yet they just assume that we, the base, will come out to support them time and time again. But I have a word of warning- remember Joe Lieberman and Al Wynn. If our current crop of Democrats are too chicken shit to stand up for Democratic values, then we will find candidates who will. And we will primary those weak-willed cowards.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Government They Deserve

Forgive me my rant. But more and more I feel like the stupid American voters have exactly the government they deserve- the dumbest on Earth. This whole gas tax holiday has got me enraged. There is not one economist or public policy person who will go on record and say it is a good thing. For one simple reason- IT ISN'T!!!! What part of supply and demand does the average voter in this country not understand?

Hillary is out there saying how it will save consumers $8 billion dollars. WRONG! First of all, her windfalls profits tax has about as much chance of enactment as I do of winning American Idol. And, even it was passed, the tax would actually be borne mainly, if not wholly, by consumers.

Let me say this one more time- the demand for gas is inelastic in the short run and medium run. Maybe in the long term one might see some elasticity as people opted for smaller cars and public transportation. Maybe. We also have this tiny little supply problem. Now, class, tell me what happens to prices when the demand curve shifts and the supply curve stays the same? This is Econ101. The market clearing price (ie, the equilibrium price) goes UP. Not down.

Anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together understands that the gas tax holiday would likely result in HIGHER prices at the pump. And huge windfalls for the oil industry. Now, call me crazy but I thought Hillary was running on the Democratic ticket. But more and more, she seems to be pulling a Lieberman.

And honestly I am at the point of saying to the American people- "Fuck you. you're getting the government you deserve."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

McSame and Hillary Think You're an Idiot

What else would explain their love for a gas tax holiday? To anyone with even a modicum of economic understanding it is an absurd idea. Demand for gasoline is fairly inelastic, and in the short run is quite close to perfectly inelastic. Thus, gas prices will stay right about where they are prior to the tax holiday. So, who does this benefit? Not you! Unless you're a big oil company, who will see their profit margins increased.

Oh, and what about the millions of dollars this will cost the Highway Fund? And the jobs that will be lost due to lack of project funding?

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cruel and Unusual

Executions are soon to resume after last week's 7-2 ruling that lethal injection does not violate the 8th Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause. However much this ruling may be in line with the framer's notions (after all, we were still dunking witches at the time of the writing of the Bill of Rights), it does not comport with any sane notion of not cruel. The act itself is murder, though sanctioned by the justice system.

But does this state sanctioning remove the moral stain from the act? I would argue that it does not. Not only is this sort of eye for an eye justice barbaric, but it makes us all complicit in the taking of life. For centuries we have accepted that murder is wrong, whether we found the rationale from religious doctrine or from our notions of civilized society. Yet, we have been willing to set our morals aside when it becomes convenient to do so, such as in the cases of war and capital punishment.

Though I am a pacifist, I do grant that war provides an exception to our rules against murder. But I can find no moral support to exclude capital punishment. Not only that, but because this punishment is meted out by the state, which ostensibly acts on our behalf, we are all implicated in these murders.

I fully understand that for many people these criminals are beyond rehabilitation. And that might in fact be true for a good many. I accept that some people are inclined to evil. I do not have an explanation for why or how that happens, but I do feel it to be true. I do not know whether those who do evil are capable of remorse. Perhaps some are, and others are not. Yet, the lack of hope for rehabilitation or remorse is not a reason sufficient to end a life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Can Our Politics Get Any Dumber?

Marking a new low in American political discourse, all three remaining candidates for President will appear on WWE Monday Night Raw. Oh, does that statement make me an elitist?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Still Doing a Crappy Job

According to this recent report from the Massachusetts Department of Education and the MA Board of Higher Education, too many public school graduates are requiring remedial courses at the state's universities and colleges. More troubling, though, is the variance in rates by socioeconomic status and race. Over half of African Americans, Hispanics and low income students enrolled in remedial courses in college. In addition, over 60% of students who received SPED services in high school and 50% of LEP students took remedial courses.

While it is not too surprising that SPED and LEP students might need some help in college to catch up, it is an abomination that our public schools have continued to fail our neediest students. The findings in this report make clear that we have two different school systems in Massachusetts- one for the middle and upper classes and another for the poor and minority students.

It ought to be clear to all that we need to devote more resources to our neediest students. Yet, the state's fiscal crisis has forced school districts to cut back on programs or implement fees. Beyond the fees for sports and other extra-curricular activities, many districts charge for kindergarten, full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. This not only undermines our commitment to universal education, but further exacerbates the gap between the educational haves and have nots.

We are, in essence, consigning an entire class of children to the education underclass. And this has effects beyond those felt by these children. Their need for remedial education diverts resources that could be put to more productive use. And, if they cannot catch up, they are more likely to drop out of college and earn less income, which means lower revenues for the state and potentially more criminals. It is not rocket science to figure out that providing a quality education to ALL makes for a stronger society, both economically and structurally.

Yet, we continue to ignore the problems of the underclass, even here in Massachusetts. And for that, we are all to blame.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

IOC Cowardice

Athletes who display a Tibetan flag will face possible expulsion from the Olympics, according to this article. Apparently, athletes must check their free speech rights at the Chinese border. Shame on the IOC for buckling to China and its repressive regime.


I am having a hard time seeing how the following quote from Obama is elitist-

"It's not surprising that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment."

This is essentially the thesis of Franks' What's the Matter With Kansas and has been a part of mainstream political discussion for several years. I am not sure on what planet stating the obvious is elitist. If anything, Obama's statement is quintessentially populist.

The point is that when people feel economically under siege they will reach out to find someone to blame. Their government has failed them, and the GOP has been very good at distracting these folks to the point where they vote against their economic interests. Instead of holding the GOP accountable for their slavish devotion to the economic interests of the superrich, they instead get into a lather over God, guns and gays. And immigration has only added more fuel to the fire.

Capitalism's Enemies

No, no, no. This is not about those pesky Marxists. It's about the true enemies of capitalism and the free market- big corporations.

Why are they capitalism's greatest foes? Because the have the money and the influence that your average Marxist econ prof does not.  You want examples? Here's just two-
2) Bear Stearns

I am still waiting for someone to explain to me how NAFTA is free trade. Now, unlike some of my more liberal colleagues, my critique of NAFTA comes from (dare I say) the right. NAFTA is not free trade; it is managed trade. And it is managed to maximize profits for large multi-national firms. NAFTA has nothing to do with promoting open and free exchange among Mexico, Canada and the United States. If it was, would it really take thousands of pages of rules?

Ahh.. Bear Stearns.. time to bail out the Masters of the Universe (Tom Wolfe reference). After all, we can not let anyone on Wall St. collapse or suffer. So, the Fed gives out a nice $29 billion "loan" to JP Morgan to acquire Bear Stearns. Yet, hard working Americans who are losing their homes through the subprime crisis get next to nothing from the federal government. Joe and Jane Average are just not important enough to merit a bailout.

There is not any doubt that corporations and their enablers in the GOP (and many Democrats, too) pay nothing more than lip service to free market economics. The only time we hear anything about the glorious free market from these folks is when there is talk of a tax increase or some new regulation. Otherwise they live by the adage that he who was the best lobbyists in DC wins.

Need I shout it from the rooftops? Crony capitalism is NOT free market economics!

Responsible Fiscal Policy

Our worsening economy has led to countless stories about sub-prime mortgages and a sinking financial and banking sector. But the present crisis is affecting municipalities, state governments and authorities as well. Too many government entities have used either variable rate bonds or entered into swaptions (interest rate swaps), resulting in large increases in debt service costs.

There are those who would claim that the risk associated with variable rate debt and interest rate swaps is worth taking because quite often they result in lower debt service costs. And, while that is true, it does not diminish the argument that governments have a stronger fiduciary duty to taxpayers than a corporation has to its shareholders. This unique relationship dictates that conservative management be exercised.

In other words, governments ought to only use fixed rate debt instruments. This provides much needed predictability in public budgeting. Beyond that, fixed rate debt can be refinanced to take advantage of lower rates, when available. Sure, there would be some costs associated with any refinancing. But not only are refinance costs not particularly high, but they are a small price to pay compared to the fiscal distress governments are now facing as variable rates go up, up, up.

On another front, the difficulties that have plagued Ambac and MBIA ought to make issuers of public debt a bit more cautious when using a bond insurer. Ambac  and MBIA, like many other financial institutions exposed themselves to incredible risk with CDOs (collateralized debt obligations). It is hard to know what the solution to this problem is as there are only a limited number of bond insurers, and going to market without insurance would make for enormous debt service costs, or possibly prevent issues, for some smaller governments. Hopefully the monolines will get out of the CDO field, especially those related to real estate, as soon as possible.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Sad Day in History

Today marks the forty year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination. I can not think of anything to say so eloquently as Dr. King himself, the night before he was shot in Memphis-

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

We are still far away from the promised land that Dr. King spoke of, but his memory and words bolster us up in our march to that land. We must continue on.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

I don't know that I've ever done a baker's dozen from the iTunes here. So, here goes nothing...
The Sun in Braids- The Angelic Process
Otogima Horse- 4 Bonjour's Parties
Three Things- Sleeping People
Trying Whining- The French Kicks
Grey Day- Esoteric
Black Carpet Magic- Lilys (this is off the album, Everything Wrong is Imaginary, which to me is one of the best album titles ever)
Good Dancers- Sleepy Jackson
Moosebumps- Dr. Octagon
The Lonely Death of Space Avenger- 13Ghosts
Chromakey Dreamcoat- Boards of Canada
Polaris- Zero 7
Acidropx- Concentrick
You Don't Care About Us- Placebo

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Human- Not the Only Animal on Earth

But we sure act like it. From the depletion of natural resources to the chemicals poisoning our air and water, humankind is doing its darnedest to not only shorten our own lifespans, but to ruin the habitats of other animals. We humans take our exceptionalism to the nth degree, to a point where the survival of any other species of plant or animal is inconsequential. Aside from cataclysmic events such as the Ice Age, man is the only species that has the power to drive another species to extinction.

Whether one believes in some for of a deity or not, it seems clear that our exceptionalism is appropriately viewed as stewardship of the Earth's resources. That we are to be good keepers of the land and oceans, not that we are here to exploit, to the end, our resources. We are meant to coexist with the other animals and plants that inhabit this sphere.

What makes us believe that our needs sit at the top of the hierarchy. Have we abused our rational abilities to the point that we are convinced that our needs are the only ones that matter.

Boycotting the Beijing Olympics

It appears that the United States will not engage in any sort of boycott of this summer's Olympics in Beijing. And that is more than unfortunate. Given the current situation in Tibet and the continuing crackdown on political dissidents in China requires something more robust than a token "tsk-tsk" from the diplomatic community. At the very least the US ought to consider, along with the EU, boycotting the opening ceremonies. To simply look the other way as China continues its oppression in Tibet and elsewhere is to give China the green light for further human rights abuses.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

God Damn America!

I have to admit to a bit of shock over the response to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, especially among folks who consider themselves liberal or progressive. It is no shock that Faux News and the other cogs in the rightwing media machine went nuts. After all, these are the same people who cannot seem to separate scientific fact from religious fiction (yeah, I'm talking about evolution).

"God Damn America" does elicit a visceral response from many (most?) listeners. But after that initial shock, shouldn't the rational brain take over and think through the implications of what Pastor Wright is saying. What is it about American exceptionalism that makes us believe that we alone will be blessed by god? Especially given our history.

Need I recount? We stole land from the indigenous people. We brought human beings to this land in shackles as slaves. We kept the institution of slavery well into our history. And, after we formally ended slavery we created a de jure and de facto separate society where former slaves did not have the rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Women were not allowed to vote until our country was over 100 years old. And the list goes on.

Today we live in a country of obscene wealth that is concentrated in the hands of the few. And as the rich get ever more rich, the poor in our country suffer. We have nearly 13 million children living in poverty. About 3.5 million people, including 1.35 million children, experience homelessness each year. Our public education system is in ruin and continues to lag behind other industrialized countries. Oh, and about 47 million people lack health insurance.

And yet you tell me that god blesses America? What for? For our good deeds in the world community? Point to one post WWII success story for American foreign policy. Just one. We sat idly by during the genocide in Rwanda and the ecocide in Nigeria. Perhaps if the denizens of Africa had a paler hue to their skin or more natural resources America could begin to care. But the sad reality is that America cares only about itself, by and large. We are a selfish country. Not only in our relations with the rest of the world community, but within our own society.

I'm sorry, but if this is a country worth blessing then I would hate to live in a country that god would damn.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sometimes You Just Have To Say, "What the F*ck?"

As if Bill Clinton going on Rush Limbaugh wasn't bad enough, just who was Hillary sitting down with today? Richard Mellon Scaife, the rightwing millionaire who funded the Arkansas Project, the hit job designed to take down the Clinton presidency. You see, he owns the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, and Hillary was there for an ed board meeting. In her time there, she tried to revive the Wright story.

So let me see if I have this right, Hillary supporters. She is supposedly the better Democratic candidate, yet she had a fundraiser held by Rupert Murdoch (Faux News), her husband goes on Rush Limbaugh's show on the day of the Texas primary, and, she is a member of the rightwing super secret Fellowship ( a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ).

Add in her refusal to acknowledge the mistake of her Iraq War vote and her campaign's thinly veiled racist attacks on Obama and you have a run of the mill neocon. Come on people. Wake up. Hillary is not a progressive Democrat. She is Joe Lieberman in a dress. And soon enough she will morph into Zell Miller in a pantsuit.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


For the past few months the Obama campaign has called on Senator Clinton to release her tax returns going back to 2001. Team Hillary has stonewalled for the most part, saying that they will be released on or about April 15. That would be understandable if we were talking about her return for 2007, which is not due until then (unless, like many other taxpayers, she files for an extension). But what about 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006? Is it really that difficult for a staff member to Xerox the Clintons' returns?

This is not to say that their returns contain anything untoward. However, earlier this year Hillary loaned her campaign $5 million. This is not an unsignificant amount of moner and clearly more than she has earned in her six years in the Senate. So, one would have to assume that at least some of that money came from the income earned by her husband since he left office. Of course, he has every right to earn money however he sees fit. But wouldn't it be nice to know who has been paying Bill, and thus in a around about way helping to finance Hillary's campaign?

It would seem to me that Democratic primary voters ought to know just where the $5 million came from. Is Bill earning big bucks from polluters or Big Pharma or defense contractors? This is about basic transparency. It has been the norm for politicians to release their tax returns to the public. And we should not have to wait until the presidential primaries are nearly over to know just where Bill and Hill have been getting all their money.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Unsolicited Advice to the Democratic Party

Some people think it's unfair that Democrats forced out Governor Spitzer for his dalliances with high priced prostitutes while the GOP (not to mention the media) turns a blind eye to US Senator Vitter (LA). But life is unfair in so many ways I have to wonder why my fellow liberals/progressives even bother to fret.

Rather than force Vitter to resign, only to be replaced with another Republican (appointed by GOP Governor Jindal), the real solution is to beat his ass with a strong Dem challenger in 2010. We know the GOP won't try to primary him; let's face it, for the GOP talking a big moral game is far more important than leading a moral life.

And how do we win a Senate seat in a deep red state? Easy.. imagine this campaign ad-- a photoshopped pic of Vitter in diapers (for those who don't know, that was his fetish) with the question- who do you trust to protect you from terrorists? Diaper boy Vitter or Candidate X?

Oh, I know most Democrats would be afraid to run such an ad. And that is why we LOSE. We are fundamentally afraid to get down in the trenches and fight. There is simply no good reason not to run a tough campaign against Vitter. Or any other GOP incumbent. Some may say this is the politics of personal destruction. But is the moral high ground helpful when our Constitutional rights are rapidly evaporating? How about when we mortgage our future for a war based on lies? Tell me how well that moral high ground is working out for you lately, my fellow Democrats.

The Blue Dress

So, an Iowa co-chair for Obama came under fire today for writing that Bill Clinton's questioning of Obama's patriotism would be "a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica's blue dress." Of course, Team Hillary and their online minions went ballistic, saying that Obama now "owned the low road." Right.

Leaving aside all related to the current Clinton campaign and the hypocrisy of such a charge, what is so wrong with referencing the blue dress. I am tired of the constant refrain from some corners of the Democratic Party that the whole episode is beyond the pale and reinforcing of right wing frames. The reality is that Bill Clinton could not control his sexual urges. And the entire Lewinsky scandal did not exactly come out of the blue. Conservatives made it quite clear all throughout the 1992 campaign that they were on a mission to destroy Bill Clinton, and in particular they would use his sexual past to do so.

Bill Clinton entered the White House with full knowledge that the GOP was obsessed with his sex life. Yet, despite this knowledge he still could not keep his dick in his pants. Bill Clinton decided that it was more important to get off than it was to lead the country in a progressive direction.

Sure, Clinton loyalists can point to a strong economy, but what other opportunities for progressive change were stranded on the rocks of Bill's libido? I am sick and tired of progressives and Democrats who rule all criticism of Bill Clinton out of hand. Bill Clinton fucked us all. He squandered a unique opportunity to dramatically change the country; he cost the Democratic Party control of Congress; he ignored the genocide in Rawanda (maybe if they had oil or promiscuous women he'd have shown more interest); he acceded to a radical restructuring of welfare that has done little to help the truly needy. Oh, but we had some more jobs and the rich got even richer (nevermind the yawning income gap).

Fuck you, Bill Clinton.