Daily Archive: 08/08/2011

Aug 08 2011

White House: Still Punching Hippies

Yes, it an old video but it deserves resurrection from time to time. This is one of those times. When you’re failing and looking to blame someone blame the left, it’s all our fault. This is the fall back that the White House has consistently used since Barack Obama took office. I chuckled at Jon Walker’s article at FDL Action using the Scoobie Doo analogy of the White house tactic of laying the blame on the left for their failed policies from the pathetic health care bill to the Dodd-Frank reform bill and now the economically disastrous debt ceiling deal.

It would seem the White House is basically taking the perspective of a Scooby Doo villain in concluding why their brilliant plans fail. Hanging upside down in a comically oversize net with their rubber monster mask removed they yell, “we would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling progressive bloggers!”

A meeting that took place recently with White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and progressive advocacy groups was described as “tense” by Politico‘s Ben Smith:

Sperling faced a series of questions about the White House’s concessions on the debt ceiling fight and its inability to move in the direction of new taxes or revenues. Progressive consultant Mike Lux, the sources said, summed up the liberal concern, producing what a participant described as an “extremely defensive” response from Sperling.

Sperling, a person involved said, pointed his finger at liberal groups, which he said hadn’t done enough to highlight what he saw as the positive side of the debt package — a message that didn’t go over well with participants.

(emphasis mine)

If this has a familiar ring of “Groundhog’s Day”,, you’d be very correct. John Aravosis of AMERICAblog recalls attending one of those meetings in 2010 with Jared Bernstein, who was Chief Economist and Economic Policy Adviser to VP Biden:

I guess what struck me as most interesting about the meeting were two things. First, when Bernstein noted that, in trying to solve the country’s economic problems, the administration faces “budget constraints and political constraints.” By that, I took Bernstein to mean that the stimulus could only be so large last time, and we can only spend so much more money this time, because we’re facing a huge deficit, so there’s not much money to spend, and because the Hill and public opinion won’t let us spend more.

That struck me as GOP talking points winning the day, and I said so (Professor Kyle wrote about this very notion the other day on the blog). The only reason we’re facing a budget constraint is because we gave in on the political constraint. We permitted Republicans to spin the first stimulus as an abysmal failure, when in fact it created or saved up to 2m jobs. Since Democrats didn’t adequately defend the stimulus, and didn’t sufficiently paint the deficit as the Republicans’ doing, we now are not “politically” permitted to have a larger stimulus because the fiscal constraint has become more important than economic recovery.

And whose fault is that?

Apparently ours.

Bernstein said that the progressive blogs (perhaps he said progressive media in general) haven’t done enough over the past year to tell the positive side of the stimulus.

Jon Walker summed up this blame the left game that the White House is playing as another failure that faults everyone but themselves and their Republican allies:

If people see the the positive tangible effect that a policy has on their lives, they won’t care what anyone has to say about it.  Likewise, if a handful of writers sign on to the White House Happy Talk PR campaign, bad policy will never become broadly popular.  The administration’s failure to convince either bloggers or the public about the benefits of a particular action is most likely a signal that it is insufficient, ineffective, destructive or incompetent.

Personally, I am more that tired of being told by Obama supporters that we on the left are tea partying, Republicans and racist for criticizing President Obama’s right wing appeasement policies and his failure to follow up on his campaign promises. I’m tired of being told that by criticizing Obama I am emboldening the tea party, so I should STFU and go away. The truth be told they are the tea party Republican allies who are promulgating the right wing policies that will be the destruction of everything that has been gained since Franklin Roosevelt, all because of a well spoken bright shiny object has dazzled them and still does.  

Aug 08 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Richard Wolff: The S&P Downgrade of US Debt: What it Means

Much verbiage is piling up on this issue. Yet, it matters little that the two other giant rating agencies did not downgrade US debt as S&P did. It is likewise unimportant that all those agencies deserve the bad reputations won when their over-rating of securities burst in the collapse of 2007 and took an already unbalanced economy into deep recession. Nor does the downgrade impose major cash costs anytime soon.

The S&P downgrade is important because it clarifies and underscores two key dimensions of today’s economic reality that most commentators have ignored or downplayed. The first dimension concerns exactly why the US national debt is rising fast. There are three major reasons for this: (1) major tax cuts especially on corporations and the rich since the 1970s and especially since 2000 have reduced revenues flowing into Washington, (2) costly global wars especially since 2000 have increased government spending dramatically, and (3) costly bailouts of dysfunctional banks, insurance companies, large corporations and the economic system generally since 2007 have likewise sharply expanded government spending. With less tax revenue coming in from corporations and the rich and more spending on defense/wars and bailouts, the government had to borrow the difference. Duh!

Robert Reich: Why S.& P. Has No Business Downgrading the US

Standard & Poor’s downgrade of America’s debt couldn’t come at a worse time. The result is likely to be higher borrowing costs for the government at all levels, and higher interest on your variable-rate mortgage, your auto loan, your credit card loans, and every other penny you borrow.

Why did S&P do it?

snip

S&P has downgraded the U.S. because it doesn’t think we’re on track to reduce the nation’s debt enough to satisfy S&P – and we’re not doing it in a way S&P prefers.

Jon Walker: White House’s Scooby Doo Villain Perspective on Politics

The Obama administration has a strange habit of inappropriately blaming the unpopularity of their actions on the fact that a few progressive writers didn’t do enough to sell the public on the good aspects of their deal.

It would seem the White House is basically taking the perspective of a Scooby Doo villain in concluding why their brilliant plans fail. Hanging upside down in a comically oversize net with their rubber monster mask removed they yell, “we would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling progressive bloggers!”

Thom Hartmann: Mainstream Media Ignores S&P Attack On Republicans

Have you seen, anywhere, in any media, or even heard reported or repeated on NPR, the following sentence? “We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.”

It’s right there on Page 4 of the official Standard & Poors “Research Update” – the actual report on what they did and why – published on August 5th as the explanation for why they believe Congress – and even the Gang of Twelve – will be unable to actually deal with the US debt crisis.

Perhaps it’s just lazy – the bullet points at the beginning of the report don’t mention the Republicans or taxes, but instead just say, for example (part of one of six quick bullet-points): “[T]he downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges…”

Jeff Goodell: An Environmental Upside to the Horrible Debt Deal?

With the debt-ceiling deal done, the details of who feels the most pain from the next ($1.6 trillion) round of cuts will be left up to a 12-person congressional “supercommittee,” to be formed in the coming weeks. But you can bet that funding for dramatic action on climate change and toxic mercury pollution is not going to win out over funding for bedpans and missiles.

In fact, as others have pointed out, cutting trillions out of the federal budget is likely to mean massive cutbacks in the regulatory arm at the EPA, the gutting of clean-energy funding at the Department of Energy, and goodbye to any hopes of infrastructure spending for little projects like, say, a 21st-Century electricity transmission grid.  Erich Pica, head of Friends of the Earth, pretty much summed it up: “The draconian cuts passed are likely to mean more people out of work, more people drinking poisoned water and breathing polluted air, and a slower transition to a clean energy economy.”

All true.  But maybe there’s an upside, too.  

Jim Hightower: America’s Real Job Creators Are Broke

Despite the GOP’s ideological claptrap about corporate executives being “job creators,” it’s ordinary Americans who actually create jobs.

You see, despite the GOP’s ideological claptrap about corporate executives being “job creators,” it’s ordinary Americans who actually create jobs by spending from their paychecks. This is why our obtuse policymakers need to quit pampering the rich and fussing over budgets.

Instead, they should launch a national, FDR-style jobs program that will immediately increase paychecks, perk up consumer spending, and generate grassroots economic growth.

Ray McGovern: They Died in Vain; Deal With It

Many of those preaching at American church services Sunday extolled as “heroes” the 30 American and 8 Afghan troops killed Saturday west of Kabul, when a helicopter on a night mission crashed, apparently after taking fire from Taliban forces.  This week, the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) can be expected to beat a steady drumbeat of “they shall not have died in vain.”

But they did.  I know it is a hard truth, but they did die in vain.

As in the past, churches across the country will keep praising the fallen troops for protecting “our way of life,” and few can demur, given the tragic circumstances.

But, sadly, such accolades are, at best, misguided – at worst, dishonest.  Most preachers do not have a clue as to what U.S. forces are doing in Afghanistan and why.  Many prefer not to think about it.  There are some who do know better, but virtually all in that category eventually opt to punt.

Should we fault the preachers as they reach for words designed to give comfort to those in their congregations mourning the deaths of so many young troops?  As hard as it might seem, I believe we can do no other than fault – and confront – them.  However well meaning their intentions, their negligence and timidity in confronting basic war issues merely help to perpetuate unnecessary killing.  It is high time to hold preachers accountable.

Aug 08 2011

2.48%

Monday Business Edition

That, dear readers, is the interest rate the United States is paying on it’s 10 year Treasuries today after the downgrade.  This is LESS than we were paying on Friday.

Frankly it could and should be 0%.  Far from being a neoliberal, I fall on the modern monetarist side of the fence and can find no rational explanation that we issue debt at all except outdated emotional attachments to a Gold Standard that hasn’t existed for almost 40 years and a conscious, if unspoken, government policy of subsidizing the extremely wealthy.

Our Masters of the Universe aren’t particularly bright.  I find their constant caterwauling about “uncertainty” particularly revealing.  Far from being brave risk takers, they’re cowardly morons miserably longing for the days of the “carry trade” when you could get Yen at 0% interest, convert it, and park it in Treasuries at 5% with zero risk.

They only like fixed games and the natural and desired state of capitalism is government sanctioned mercantilist monopolies using the military and police power of the nation to eliminate competition.

East India Company anyone?  There’s your real Tea Party.

What the market is telling us today is that there is in fact NO risk that the United States will not pay off its debts in dollars, the currency in which they’re incurred.  The market is also telling us that the almighty Dollar has NO SUBSTITUTE as the International Reserve Currency.  It is the only one that exists in sufficient quantity to do the job and we are the only nation that is willing to accept the penalty in terms of a permanent trade deficit.  Last week both China (incidentally lower rated than the U.S.) and Switzerland explicitly acted to limit the use of their currency for this purpose, because they aren’t willing to cede control of it to the market.

In fact what was the strongest candidate to replace the Dollar, the Euro, is taking a pummeling today despite the European Central Bank finally deciding to use their market power to limit the allowable decline in value (and consequent rise in interest) of Spanish and Italian bonds.

Yup, they’ve decided to “print” their way out and despite immediate negative impact there is no doubt that over the short and medium term the bond vigilantes, particularly those who have taken leveraged short positions, are going to get a buzz cut if not a shaving.  In other words a thoroughgoing asskicking.

Marshall Auerbeck

Even with our existing legal constraints (predicated on a now non-existent gold standard system in which we are forced to sell bonds before Treasury spends), Treasury/Fed have other tools to counteract the alleged effect of this downgrade.  Mr. Bernanke can simply call up the NY Fed and gives Mr. Dudley instructions to buy all the 10-year UST on offer to keep the US 10 year at, say 2.5%. It is an open market operation, which the Fed performs all the time. And the banks cannot lend out these reserves, so it’s not inflationary (see here for more explanation). Then, as Rob Parenteau and I have noted before, every time some so-called “bond market vigilante” tries to push it above 2.5% by shorting Treasuries, the Fed can slam their face into the concrete by having the open market desk buy the hell out of UST until the 10 year yield is back to 2.5%. Burn Fido enough times, yank his chain enough times, and like the Dog Whisperer, he gets it and stops.

Credibility, Chutzpah And Debt

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: August 7, 2011

(T)he rating agencies have never given us any reason to take their judgments about national solvency seriously. It’s true that defaulting nations were generally downgraded before the event. But in such cases the rating agencies were just following the markets, which had already turned on these problem debtors.

And in those rare cases where rating agencies have downgraded countries that, like America now, still had the confidence of investors, they have consistently been wrong. Consider, in particular, the case of Japan, which S.& P. downgraded back in 2002. Well, nine years later Japan is still able to borrow freely and cheaply. As of Friday, in fact, the interest rate on Japanese 10-year bonds was just 1 percent.



These problems have very little to do with short-term or even medium-term budget arithmetic. The U.S. government is having no trouble borrowing to cover its current deficit. It’s true that we’re building up debt, on which we’ll eventually have to pay interest. But if you actually do the math, instead of intoning big numbers in your best Dr. Evil voice, you discover that even very large deficits over the next few years will have remarkably little impact on U.S. fiscal sustainability.



The truth is that as far as the straight economics goes, America’s long-run fiscal problems shouldn’t be all that hard to fix. It’s true that an aging population and rising health care costs will, under current policies, push spending up faster than tax receipts. But the United States has far higher health costs than any other advanced country, and very low taxes by international standards. If we could move even part way toward international norms on both these fronts, our budget problems would be solved.

What the market is also telling us is that our economy sucks.  That these huge corporate earnings are largely illusionary in the absence of demand and that Washington’s austerity policy, endorsed by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, is a flat, abject failure.

Why do you think stocks are going down and (downgraded) bonds are going up?  It’s because they are less attractive investments than the 2.48% Treasuries in a continuing Depression.

Aug 08 2011

On This Day In History August 8

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

August 8 is the 220th day of the year (221st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 145 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1974, Richard M. Nixon becomes the first President to resign.

In an evening televised address, President Richard M. Nixon announces his intention to become the first president in American history to resign. With impeachment proceedings underway against him for his involvement in the Watergate affair, Nixon was finally bowing to pressure from the public and Congress to leave the White House. “By taking this action,” he said in a solemn address from the Oval Office, “I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”

Just before noon the next day, Nixon officially ended his term as the 37th president of the United States. Before departing with his family in a helicopter from the White House lawn, he smiled farewell and enigmatically raised his arms in a victory or peace salute. The helicopter door was then closed, and the Nixon family began their journey home to San Clemente, California. Minutes later, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” He later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.

Aug 08 2011

DocuDharma Digest

Regular Features-

Featured Essays for August 7, 2011-

DocuDharma

Aug 08 2011

Pique the Geek 20110807: Human Papilloma Virus

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is one of the most common viral infections in the population.  HPV causes nuisance conditions such as common warts up to deadly cancers.  Some estimates indicate that essentially all cervical cancers are caused by various strains of HPV.

There are very many strains of HPV, most all of them highly contagious.  Let us spend a few moments discussing this important group of infectious agents.  Before we get started, let me make it clear that this discussion will be frank and might seem to be extremely graphic to some.  That is just the way it is, and to water down the content would not do a service to anyone.

Aug 08 2011

Sunday Train: Pushing for a Rapid Rail HSR Station in Ravenna, Ohio

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

OK, now, thanks to John Kasich, we are not going to get started on that Rapid Rail HSR network before 2015. Indeed, Democrats would probably have to take back one of the two Chambers of the State Legislature to be able to hit the ground running on getting that Rapid Rail HSR network going in 2015.

On the other hand, if you never lay the foundation, you always end up with an outcome you don’t like.

And I don’t like the way that the Ohio Hub connects to Summit and Portage Counties, so I want to work on how to get a station in Ravenna added to the Ohio Hub.

The reason its on the Sunday Train is threefold: maybe somebody can give me a great tip; maybe somebody can get an idea for something they can work on where they live; and its about making more sustainable transport options available to a medium city and a variety of inner and outer suburban landscapes.

Aug 08 2011

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 World leaders search for response to US-Euro debt crisis

AFP

1 hr 2 mins ago

World leaders searched Sunday for answers to a global debt crisis, hoping to head off a massacre on markets spooked by an unprecedented US rating downgrade and Europe’s swelling malaise.

France and Germany called for full implementation of measures agreed at a eurozone summit in July to safeguard the single currency as markets braced for fresh turmoil this week.

“President (Nicolas) Sarkozy and Chancellor (Angela) Merkel reiterate their commitment to fully implement the decisions taken by the heads of state and government of the euro area and the EU institutions on July 21,” a joint statement said.