Late Night Roundup, January 8, 2012

I needed a couple days off. Will have some good stuff in the morning. Cleaning out my tabs:

• Contra Bill McBride, I don’t think these imminent housing policy changes will make much of a difference (moronic James Pethokoukis blog posts notwithstanding). I’m convinced there won’t be an AG settlement, and according to McBride the HARP changes won’t even begin to make a dent until March. Without a concomitant PSA campaign to educate borrowers of the possibilities, that’s going to fall totally flat. I don’t see the Freddie Mac forbearance program for the unemployed having much of an impact either. What does seem to be changing is the willingness of policymakers to step out from the orthodoxy. At the Fed, Sarah Bloom Raskin vowed to fine mortgage servicers for what she specifically called deceptive practices. At the NY Fed, Bill Dudley endorsed principal reductions. The ultimate policies that result may be miniscule, but this is a sea change in how the foreclosure crisis is being viewed in the corridors of power.

• Shades of Judy Miller: The NYT flat-out lies as part of an effort to gin up a war with Iran. There was no International Atomic Energy Agency assessment that Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective. Leon Panetta was extremely careful this morning to say that Iran sought a “nuclear capability” and not a nuclear weapon. The Times disappeared this line in their story for the online edition.

• LIHEAP funding gets emergency aid almost every year but with unseasonably warm weather in too much of the country and an austerity Congress I don’t see it happening, which is a total tragedy for a lot of people.

• Yay, our manufacturing wages are so law that Caterpillar threatens Canadian workers with wage cuts to keep competitive with us! Our workers are so damn competitively low-paid! America’s back!

• Not buying the idea that the Cordray appointment helps banks, although it’s true that supervising non-bank lenders could give banks a competitive advantage. The other part of this is that Cordray will now assume a spot on the board of the FDIC, not great news for banks.

• This Stephen Colbert story about the performance art that is his SuperPAC is really tremendous. I’m starting to see a lot of buyer’s remorse about the broken campaign finance system and corporate control of the electoral process, especially from the GOP candidates with the most exposure to the system.

• Might as well recap the GOP primary: the debates were mostly a bust, Santorum is receding in New Hampshire (denying he said the word black and constantly talking about gay marriage probably didn’t help), the attacks against Romney are coming too late, and this whole thing may be wrapped up by the end of the month. The Herman Cain endorsement could change everything, however.

• Corey Robin has the definitive piece on Ron Paul and progressives, the one that most mirrors my views. This from Simon Johnson on Paul and the banks is worth reading too.

• I could absolutely see a situation where the Senate and the House change hands in 2012.

• The reduction in the crime rate really does have a lot to do with reduced levels of lead in the atmosphere.

• The health care law waivers have slowed to a crawl, at least on the medical loss ratio.

• The broadened definition of rape is one of those obscure yet vital changes that will improve matters. So too with the 20-year ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

• In a follow-up to the situation in Dimock, PA, where the fracking company that contaminated the water supply refuses to ship in water to residents, the EPA may get involved.

• In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai accepted the Taliban-US talks, but he also wants local control of the prison at Bagram. Emptywheel has more.

• There’s a special election to replace David Wu (D) in OR-01 on January 31, and Democrat Suzanne Bonamici looks to be cruising.

• The California budget proposal, inadvertently leaked onto the Web last week, is bad if the taxes get approved by voters and catastrophic if they don’t.

• Not to be outdone by Indiana, New Hampshire’s legislature will try to pass a right-to-work bill, albeit only for state workers.

• Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh is quite obviously trying to back out of the deal that would end his term in office, even as the law granting him legal immunity in exchange for stepping down gets drafted.

• Peter King is on the hunt for The Hunt for Bin Laden, and he may have found something, with allegations of leaks to filmmakers dramatizing the bin Laden raid.

• We’re on about the tenth imitator to the Center for American Progress from the right, and not one of them has really worked, FYI.

• Jakadrien Turner, the young American citizen mistakenly deported to Colombia, returned home, thankfully. But the problem of wrongful deportations is far more widespread than you’d ever believe. And even the “correct” deportations are often wretched.

• Not all that interested in gossipy tell-all books but I will say that if even half of this is true, Michelle Obama rocks.

• GE got deep into subprime, too.

• Connecticut reveals a relationship between solid governance and clean elections.

• House Democrats have been a thorn in the side of Republicans with their pro forma session antics.

• We may have another Kennedy in Washington before too long.

• It’s the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting of Gabrielle Giffords that killed six bystanders. Giffords, still recovering from her wounds, drew massive applause at a nighttime vigil.

• Teachers in Pennsylvania decide to work for free after a round of budget cuts.

• Louis Freeh doing a good job of stonewalling on behalf of MFGlobal. With any luck he’ll do the same for Penn State!

• The emergency financial manager, aka the death of democracy, could come to Detroit.

• MSNBC has finally decided to clean the crazy uncles out of its attic.

• This is total genius. Already the early leader in the race for comic moment of 2012:

We all live in Ponzi land

spinning wheel keeps spinning too

The problem with US manufacturing is not that it has been shrinking – despite the “offshoring” of textile and electronics manufacturing to China, US manufacturing output rose by 3.9 per cent a year between 1997 and 2007. However productivity grew 6.8 per cent annually in the same period, so millions of jobs were lost. If manufacturing carries along the same path, McKinsey estimates that it could shed another 2.3m jobs by 2020, while the economy needs to create 21m more jobs to return to full employment.  John Gapper – Financial Times

I was talking to a very shrewd and well informed friend of mine, now a sedate Spanish notary, who in the 1980s was a sort of Gordon Gekko. He gave me a very intelligent analysis of the crisis.

At the bottom of it, he said, was the enormous increase in productivity brought on by information technologies. We simply produce much more than we can possibly consume: we need lots of consumers and many fewer workers.

How are underemployed people supposed to buy anything? On credit. Something has to give, has given. I think he’s right.

A very good example might be how much supermarkets have changed in the last 20 years. Remember (if you can) the days before bar code cash registers existed. Totaling up the merchandise, taking payment and making change was much slower work than today. Check-out girls needed a much bigger skill set in that environment: to add and subtract accurately in their heads to begin with.

Now, passing the product over the laser reader, passing the banker or credit card through the card reader and getting the customer’s signature is only the work of seconds and if the customer pays in cash, the cash register tells the check-out girl the exact change to give. A person of average or better than average intelligence, who has successfully completed high school is wasted in such a job.

At the same time that the products are being checked out, the system is seamlessly keeping track of the inventory and calculating the buying needed to keep the shelves full and may even send the orders directly to the head office, several states away, where the orders are also processed electronically and trucks are filled and dispatched with a fraction of the human input needed only a few years ago. Now, project this technological productivity explosion onto almost any human activity. More work done with a shrinking work force.

It is easy to see that with this system it is possible to have much bigger stores with a much wider variety of products, employing many fewer and much less skilled, therefore lower paid, workers than ever before.

With lower costs and more technology, profits rise and much of this gain is reinvested in more productivity-raising technology, which makes more skills and the people who have them redundant. This means, perversely, that more profits usually lead to less jobs or much poorer jobs. This paradigm, which until recently only held true for the poorly educated, is now reaching the ranks of university graduates. Now, with digital technology, even high intellectual output tasks can be outsourced to where people with postgraduate degrees can be hired for the same cost per hour as high school graduates in a developed country.

Result: As more money is invested in raising productivity, fewer and fewer people can produce more and more for a market glutted with products that fewer and fewer people can afford to buy without going into debt.

Salaries don’t rise because most workers are not really needed that badly and are easy to replace if they go on strike, complain or even report in sick.. and thus they have no bargaining power. Any shortages such as one resulting from low birthrate in developed countries can be solved by outsourcing the jobs to poorer countries with high birthrates.

All people are really required to do is to buy many things that they don’t really need, which they can do, even with a McJob, by using a credit card… thereby kicking the can into the future: a future with poorer paying jobs, less horizon, more need of credit to participate, with less chance of ever paying back the debts incurred.

To make underpaid workers buy things that objectively they don’t need, an entire industry (marketing) exists to make them dissatisfied with what they already have. Perversely, unhappiness becomes a social good in such an economic arrangement. A thrifty person, one content with his lot, someone who for thousands of years was seen in all traditions as a wise and sensible man, is in this contemporary situation seen as a public enemy to be “stimulated”.

In a sense our entire “civilization” is sort of a universal “Ponzi scheme”. If the wheel stops even for a moment it all comes tumbling down.

It’s amazing that a structure this artificial, that fills so few truly human needs, has taken so long to nearly collapse.

Cross posted from:

Wednesday: Two Guantanamo Protests in Los Angeles

Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), of which I’m a member, is organizing two protests against Guantanamo on Wednesday, which is the tenth anniversary of our torture camp there.
The protest at the downtown Federal Building will be in the morning; the one at the Westwood Federal Building will be in the afternoon. More details are here:
I hope you can join us!
Jon (aka The Wombat)

Occupy Erie: Like Sled Dogs after a Blizzard

There was a Lake Effect Snow Warning here in the area for January 1st and 2nd. Temperatures dropped and the wind picked up, but that wind drove the heaviest of the snow well south of the shoreline of Lake Erie. Because of the location of my house atop the first ridge line as the wind pushes moist air up the slope, it really starts to fall as it comes up the hill. I get more snow than downtown, but only half as much as Edinboro, 15 miles south of me. They get over 200″ a winter. With a delivery on its way from Occupy Supply expected soon, I broke out my pizza powered snow clearing device, named Chris, my 25 yo son, to clear my very steep driveway.


On Jan 4, members of Occupy Erie went to the City Council meeting, to again ask that they permit us some sort of shelter in the Square. As you may be aware, we have been raided and had equipment confiscated at least seven times since Dec 10, with one arrest. Members of the Mayor’s Administration have given us conflicting information about the need for permits, what they are ok with (for this go round, until they change their minds again), telling us they are ok with this, but acting not so ok, and all the other ploys used to sandbag us. We hope to get the City Council to pass something that clears the way for us to have some sort of cover from the weather.

I am on my Local’s (UE506) Legislative Action Committee, and initiated a recommendation to use some of our (non union dues collected) funds from our Committee to buy a suitable winter tent for the local Occupation to use. The recommendation was passed by vote of the Committee members unanimously. Now we wait for a commitment from the City to not take it and destroy it before we get it down to the Occupation. It is a Cabela’s Alaknak tent. (more…)

Corporate Personhood Worse, Ending It Easier, Than You Think

Corporations =/= People (image: Alliance for Democracy, flickr)
Corporations =/= People (image: Alliance for Democracy, flickr)

Don’t take it from me.  Take it from the book being published today that will mainstream the movement to end corporate personhood: “Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do, And What You Can Do About It,” by Jeff Clements with foreword by Bill Moyers.

Clements traces the development of the legal doctrine of corporate personhood back long before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision two years ago this month, in particular to President Richard Nixon’s appointment of Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court in 1972.  Led by Powell’s radical new conception of corporate rights, Clements shows, the court began striking down laws that protected living breathing persons’ rights in areas including the environment, tobacco, public health, food, drugs, financial regulation, and elections.

In 1978 the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had speech rights that prevented banning their money from an election, a conclusion that might have been nearly incomprehensible a decade earlier before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various corporate foundations began filling our public discourse with phrases like “corporate speech.”  In 1980 Congress forbade the Federal Trade Commission from protecting children or students from junk food advertising and sales.  In 1982 corporate speech rights in the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state law that had attempted to block energy companies from promoting greater energy consumption.  In the 1990s, the Monsanto corporation, whose genetically engineered drug was banned in many countries, won the right to include it in milk in the United States and the “right not to speak,” thereby overturning a law requiring that milk be labeled to indicate the drug’s presence.

Decision after decision has extended corporate rights to a position of priority over actual human rights on everything from food and water and air to education and healthcare and wars.  The ground has shifted.  In 1971 Lewis Powell argued on behalf of the cigarette companies that they had a corporate person’s right to use cartoons and misleading claims to get young people hooked on nicotine, and he was laughed out of court.  In 2001, the Supreme Court struck down a state law banning cigarette ads within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.  The reason?  The sacred right of the corporate person, which carries more weight now than the rights of the people of a community to protect their children … er, excuse me, their “replacement smokers.” (more…)

NJ: Legislature to introduce marriage equality bill on Monday

I’m sure Governor Chris Christie will just loooove being asked about this development in the Garden State.

In a dramatic move, Democratic leaders plan to announce at a news conference Monday that a bill legalizing gay marriage will be the first measure introduced in the new session of the Senate and the Assembly, sources with knowledge of their intentions said last night.

A unified Democratic leadership represents the best chance supporters will have to see a bill legalizing gay marriage move through both houses, according to three sources who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the plan.

On financial collapse, OWS, revolution, evolution and non-violence.

Clear Creek Food Cooperative - Flicker

I have been reading and listening and watching a lot these last few months. From people like Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges to Carl Dix and Cornel West.   About revolution and OWS and non-violent protest and the military’s response to civil unrest and dislocation caused by some next economic collapse, crash and/or catastrophe.  The right, libertarians all convinced that THEY are the targets and the left convinced that THEY are the targets and Wall Street the same.

All the hubris aside, I think it’s time to take a few steps back and try to see the whole picture.

For one thing any total economic collapse will take a long time to ensue.  It well most assuredly come about however we are talking about a global economy here. Not just 3 or 4 blocks in NYC. And you really cannot compare it to the Soviet Union since the Soviet Union was for the most part a closed system. Even then it took them a number of years to come apart.  Also the powers that be will continue to attempt to prop up the current system/situation which will delay this even further.

There will be no massive taking to the streets be the general populace, OWS not with standing.  People are simply too concerned with getting on with their own lives and living day to day the best they can. Most take little notice in what is happening on a statewide or country wide scale let alone a global scale. They are more interested in making sure they have food on the table and a roof over their heads the same as the have for years.  Even during the depths of the depression of the 1930s there were more people in bread lines than there were protesting the current injustice. So I really do not see masses of folks with gins and knives and pitch forks and fiery torches marching on Wall Street or Washington.  Even the Greeks have gone home to eat some pita and Kalofagas for a while.

Here is a little story. After the hurricanes that hit Florida in the 2004 and 2005 season and the media was making them into the next spectacle of the week, I went out to see just what was going on. What I saw was one guy with his pay-loader clearing one of the streets. He was not told to, he just went out and did it. In another part of town people were clearing the roads and their properties  of downed cables and lines and branches so that the first responders and utilities could get into the area to finish the job.  In other words people just did what needed to be done.

And this is what I truly believe will be and is being done right now.  It is no coincidence that we are seeing a bigger interest in community clinics, do-it-yourself, small farms, farmers markets. As the big multinationals slowly fail.  Metro areas looking and seriously implementing solar power by putting solar arrays on roof tops.

As each of these big, over priced and inefficient systems fail,  people are doing what needs to be done to replace them with local and/or regional initiatives. Cooperative farms and businesses.  People leaving the big banks and going to credit unions.  Local clinics etc.

As the extreme right and the extreme left argue and fight over the roll of the federal government, the federal government itself is becoming less and less responsive to either and heading slowly toward irrelevancy.  Both sides are in delusion. The right thinking they can have the 1950s back and the left the 1970s where everything was beautiful.and nothing hurt. We are seeing that will not be the case even as we speak.  With the metro exo-burbs slowly but steadily declining as people leave. Here in NE Ohio I can find houses upon houses in these upscale communities for sale with the prices being dropped over and over again.  Where the big Malls and big box stores getting emptied and will soon be idle.  One by one the smaller factories are closing and with each their suppliers closing. So as these behemoth monoliths get emptied,  they can sometimes put to more useful purposes.

In the health fields we will see the slow and inevitable collapse of the big private health facilities with their over priced and over payed professionals being forced to leave or maybe, maybe even joining a community center. Bringing real health care to people who need it. I know this sounds really optimistic but stranger things have happened.

And those jobs that people want to see come back, will not. Japanese, Swiss and German firms are now gearing up to make robots to take over even the least skilled tasks of assembly and Chinese manufacturers wanting to automate their “sweat shops”. Even robotic security guards.

What we will see and what were are seeing then is a move toward smaller specialty companies that are regionally located and regionally focused instead of the big industrial firms we once had.

So as the right wing nuts see their glorious move toward some libertarian utopia and the extreme left dreams of a peoples revolution,  the people themselves are just getting on with it.  Doing what they see needs to be done.

Which is as it should be.  The problem with historical times is that we generally do not see them as what they really are except in an historical perspective.  So the best possible thing that I can see come out of the OWS and other such movements is the continued enlightening of each community to what is happening.   And helping each initiative when ever possible. And forget those pie in the sky ideas.


Republican Sen. Steve Litzow Announces Support for Washington’s Marriage Equality Bill

Washington state Senator Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) has announced his full support of the marriage equality bill expected to be introduced this week, making him the first Republican in the state Senate to openly support marriage equality.

The Seattle Times
editorial board writes: “Outstanding. Litzow is a profile in courage, a freshman lawmaker willing to act on conviction.” Sen. Litzow told The Times:

I am a traditional Republican. When you think about gay marriage, it’s the right thing to do and it’s very consistent with the tenets of being a Republican — such as individual freedom and personal responsibility.”

Since his election to the Senate in November, 2010, Sen. Litzow has been a solid LGBT equality ally, voting YES on key pieces of legislation, including:
* A bill that put gay and lesbian parents on the same legal footing as straight parents (HB 1267).
* A bill that provides for the automatic recognition of married same-sex couples from out of state as domestic partners when they are in Washington state (HB 1649).
* A safe schools bill (HB 1163).

“Sometimes it takes just one individual to stand on principle and let others follow,” The Times aptly observed. In a Q & A session after last week’s press conference where Gov. Chris Gregoire announced that she is backing the marriage equality bill, Sen. Ed Murray comment that they were still a few votes short of the minimum needed for passage of the bill in the Senate. Speculation wandered into the Republican caucus. Sen. Litzow’s public support of the bill not only brings us one vote closer to passage, as The Times observed his decision may open the door to support from other Republican legislators.

To keep up-to-date on news about the Washington marriage bill, be sure to “like” the Facebook page for Washington United for Marriage, sign up for their e-mail alerts, sign up to volunteer and consider making a donation.


* Gov. Chris Gregoire is the 3rd Catholic Governor in a Row to Champion Marriage Equality
* Governor Chris Gregoire Announces in Powerful Speech That She is Personally Introducing a Marriage Equality Bill