Monday, August 29, 2011

Fannie May Was No Angel But They Did Not Cause the Housing Bubble

Fannie May Was No Angel But They Did Not Cause the Housing Bubble

How did Gretchen Morgenson, one of America’s best financial reporters, get the story of Fannie Mae’s role in the financial collapse so wrong?

But most disappointing—disgraceful—-is a third book that blames the entire financial collapse on misguided efforts to increase homeownership among minority and moderate-income Americans and places Fannie Mae at the center of that enterprise. “Fannie Mae led the way in relaxing loan underwriting standards,” Morgenson and Rosner write, “a shift that was quickly followed by private lenders.” They have that backward.

The public record is unequivocal: The private lenders led the deterioration of mortgage standards; Wall Street financed them; and Fannie resisted and then belatedly followed. This part of the book, from the first pages in the opening chapter, is overheated in its prose, sloppy with its facts, and disingenuous in its story line. It is a serious disservice to a fair understanding of the crash and its origins.

According to Morgenson and Rosner, here is how Fannie Mae caused the great collapse. In 1994, President Bill Clinton launched the National Partners in Homeownership. At the time, Jim Johnson, aspiring financial mogul, wanted to build Fannie Mae into a giant, but he faced enemies and needed cover. And what better cover than a social mission of expanded homeownership? The plan “was to commit so much money to low income housing,” Morgenson and Rosner write, “that no one would dare to criticize its other activities.”

The enemies included other bankers who resented both the credit line at the Treasury and the implicit government guarantee that allowed Fannie to sell bonds and obtain capital at lower cost than its purely private competitors. Fannie’s quasi-governmental status and growing market share as a private financial—services company also enraged intellectuals at conservative think tanks. The Wall Street Journal editorial page and the American Enterprise Institute regularly excoriated Fannie. Johnson worried that the free-marketeers in power in Congress would revise Fannie’s charter to cut it loose from the government guarantee.

The discussion of Fannie’s jousting with critics is accurate and compelling—but then Morgenson and Rosner make two leaps not supported by the evidence. In their account, the increased commitment to moderate-income housing in the 1990s was nothing but a cynical move in a Washington chess game. In their rendition, Fannie’s decision, in league with Clinton’s housing goals, to liberalize terms of the mortgages the company purchased led directly to the subprime epidemic and subsequent collapse.

The first contention is speculative. But even if Fannie’s embrace of expanded homeownership was entirely self-serving, the second and more serious allegation is false. For starters, the timing is off. Fannie did start purchasing large numbers of sketchy mortgages, in an effort to defend its market share, but only around 2004. By then, subprime was a huge industry with plenty of buyers on Wall Street. As late as 2005, according to Reckless Endangerment, non-Fannie mortgage-backed securities packaged by Wall Street investment banks accounted for 55 percent of mortgage volume.

As Morgenson and Rosner obliquely acknowledge elsewhere in the book, other Wall Street firms created the subprime bubble precisely because Fannie would not buy those loans. Morgenson and Rosner admit this contradiction when they write of the Wall Street-financed boom in poor-quality loans that took off circa 2001: “Because higher-quality borrowers were still at this time the domain of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Wall Street could not hope to compete in this area. So the big investment firms stepped up their interest in alternative mortgage products offered to sub-prime or near-prime borrowers.” In other words, Wall Street went where Fannie prudently feared to tread.

Morgenson and Rosner contend that Fannie’s perdition began in the mid-1990s when the company started purchasing mortgages with down payments of just 5 percent. “Traditionally,” they write, “banks had required that borrowers put 20 percent of the property price down to secure a mortgage loan.” That’s an embarrassingly novice mistake. Veterans’ loans under the GI bill accepted zero down payments. For decades, the Federal Housing Administration has insured loans with down payments of 5 percent—and these loans were purchased by Fannie Mae. Private mortgage insurers, which began competing with the FHA in the 1960s, also offered insured loans with small down payments. How could Morgenson and Rosner have missed something so basic and central to the story? What made these loans safe and insurable and liquid in the secondary market was careful underwriting, of the property value and the borrower’s capacity to pay, not the down payment. It was the lack of serious underwriting that made subprime such a disaster.

Morgenson and Rosner also repeat the red herring that efforts to combat racial discrimination and redlining led to pressure to lower lending standards, which in turn led to the crash. Extensive research shows that honorable lenders who avoided subprime were able to expand their origination of conventional, fixed-rate loans to minority and moderate—income homebuyers without any increase in defaults. (Authoritative work on this has been done by scholars at the Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina.)

Only late in the game did Fannie Mae seriously water down its standards. It’s true—and appalling—that Fannie became the largest purchaser of subprime loans from one of the worst mortgage hustlers in the game, Jim Johnson’s pal Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of Countrywide Mortgage. But that was in the period from 2003 to 2005, when Wall Street had already provided the financing and created the securities market for subprime. Fannie was playing catch-up.

So in the rogues’ gallery of scoundrels that caused the financial collapse, a fair reckoning would rank Fannie Mae fifth or sixth. Far higher on the list would be:

    Alan Greenspan’s Federal Reserve, which lowered interest rates without increasing regulation, refused to enforce a 1994 law requiring prudent underwriting standards and turned a blind eye to abuses in the process of loan securitization.
    The Office of Thrift Supervision, which let savings banks under its supervision engage in outlandishly risky practices.
    The Wall Street firms that bankrolled subprime lenders and turned their high-risk loans into securities
    The credit-rating agencies that blessed toxic subprime securities with Triple-A ratings.
    The SEC’s failure to police those agencies.
    And, of course, the subprime lenders themselves.

These other malefactors are mentioned willy-nilly by Morgenson and Rosner, but they stick to their improbable story line of Fannie as villain-in-chief. In the book’s penultimate chapter, which recapitulates the role of giant firms like Goldman Sachs, Morgenson and Rosner abruptly go off on a different tangent: “Of all the partners in the homeownership push, no industry contributed more to the corruption of the lending process than Wall Street.” So which is it—Fannie or Goldman? Inconsistency like this pervades the book.

Fannie and Freddie were not perfect little angels. The story is more subtle than all good versus all evil, and with right-wing conservatives determined not to do subtle there is a chance the real story will be drowned in a bath of revisionism. The fact is that private banks through their own devious devices did most of the subprime leading. Fannie and Freddie could not even make such loans. This last fact, a fact bigger than Moby Dick, somehow gets lost in all the yelling and trying to blame either the working poor or some government agency for the housing meltdown. Conservatives just have to have this narrative because in their mental bubble the private sector can do no wrong. A dangerous notion.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Some Progressives Like Ron Paul Because He is Anti-war. Beware, Paul is Also a Complete Nutbag

Some Progressives Like Ron Paul Because He is Anti-war. Beware, Paul is Also a Complete Nutbag

There are few things as maddening in a maddening political season as the warm and fuzzy feelings some progressives evince for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the Republican presidential candidate. "The anti-war Republican," people say, as if that's good enough.

But Ron Paul is much, much more than that. He's the anti-Civil-Rights-Act Republican. He's an anti-reproductive-rights Republican. He's a gay-demonizing Republican. He's an anti-public education Republican and an anti-Social Security Republican. He's the John Birch Society's favorite congressman. And he's a booster of the Constitution Party, which has a Christian Reconstructionist platform. So, if you're a member of the anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-senior-citizen, anti-equality, anti-education, pro-communist-witch-hunt wing of the progressive movement, I can see how he'd be your guy.

Paul first drew the attention of progressives with his vocal opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Coupled with the Texan's famous call to end the Federal Reserve, that somehow rendered him, in the eyes of the single-minded, the GOP's very own Dennis Kucinich. Throw in Paul's opposition to the drug war and his belief that marriage rights should be determined by the states, and Paul seemed suitable enough to an emotionally immature segment of the progressive movement, a wing populated by people with privilege adequate enough to insulate them from the nasty bits of the Paul agenda. (Tough on you blacks! And you, women! And you, queers! And you, old people without money.)

Ron Paul's anti-war stance, you see, comes not from a cry for peace, but from the deeply held isolationism of the far right. Some may say that, when it comes to ending the slaughter of innocents, the ends justify the means. But, in the case of Ron Paul, the ends involve trading the rights and security of a great many Americans for the promise of non-intervention.

More details at the link. Certainly wars and their ensuing loss of life and national treasure are an important factor in public policy and voting. It is just one factor on a very long lists of things to consider. Voting for the isolationist Paul also means voting for dozens of evils.

Rick Perry Sought State Profits From Teacher Life Insurance Scheme 

According to the notes, which were authenticated by a meeting participant, the Perry administration wanted to help Wall Street investors gamble on how long retired Texas teachers would live. Perry was promising the state big money in exchange for helping Swiss banking giant UBS set up a business of teacher death speculation.

All they had to do was convince retirees to let UBS buy life insurance policies on them. When the retirees died, those policies would pay out benefits to Wall Street speculators, and the state, supposedly, would get paid for arranging the bets. The families of the deceased former teachers would get nothing.
Perry is a member of the deeply ingrained corruption of the Phil Gramm (R-TX) branch of the conservative movement.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Liberal Press - Deeply Flawed CBS Report To Blame Debt On Obama

Deeply Flawed CBS Report To Blame Debt On Obama

Top Republicans couldn't be happier with a Monday CBS News report logging the growth in the national debt under President Obama.

    The debt was $10.626 trillion on the day Mr. Obama took office. The latest calculation from Treasury shows the debt has now hit $14.639 trillion.

    It's the most rapid increase in the debt under any U.S. president.

    The national debt increased $4.9 trillion during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. The debt now is rising at a pace to surpass that amount during Mr. Obama's four-year term.

But this is politically powerful only because it's equally analytically flawed.

It ignores key facts about the nature of government debt. For instance the nominal size of the debt isn't important except as compared to the concurrent size of the economy -- the debt-to-GDP ratio. Additionally, if growth of debt over time is what you're interested in, then the key question is percent-growth, not nominal growth.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research -- who tracks economic illiteracy in the media -- explained these and other problems.

"First off, if you want to be at all serious you'd be looking at debt to GDP ratios," he told TPM. "Obviously debt to GDP did rise very rapidly [in Obama's first years], so that probably is true." If, however, you look at the more accurate figure -- percentage point change in the debt to GDP ratio -- Obama's not doing so poorly compared to Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Bush II, all of whom presided over large percentage point increases in the country's debt to GDP ratio.

But the biggest problem, according to Baker, is that the report treats as a partisan issue the question of what caused the growth in debt. From CBS:

    Mr. Obama blames policies inherited from his predecessor's administration for the soaring debt. He singles out:

    * "two wars we didn't pay for"
    * "a prescription drug program for seniors...we didn't pay for."
    * "tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that were not paid for."

    He goes on to blame the recession, and its resulting decrease in tax revenue on businesses, for making fewer sales, and more employees being laid off. He says the recession also resulted in more government spending due to increased unemployment insurance payments, subsidies to farms and funding of infrastructure programs that were part of his stimulus program.

"It's acting like Obama's sort of pulling this out of the hat," Baker said. "That's not an arguable point. It is the recession." And Obama inherited the structural deficits as well. To claim that's debatable is like saying Obama "blames" darkness on the night.

Jim Horney, who heads up the fiscal policy shop at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, backed this up with figures (PDF). "In January 2009, under the Congressional Budget Office's projections that assumed a continuation of then-current policies (2001 and 2003 tax cuts extended, etc.), the debt held by the public was projected to increase by more than $2.3 trillion and gross debt was projected to increase by about $2.7 trillion," Horney told TPM.

    So, whether you look at debt held by the public or gross debt, the deficits projected under CBO's economic forecast in January 2009 and the assumption of no change in policies in place when Obama took office account for about 2/3 of the increase in debt. And a substantial part of the increase above what CBO projected in January 2009 is due to the economic downturn being significantly worse than CBO projected in January 2009 (although CBO has estimated that the policies that were adopted after January 2009 - [the stimulus bill, etc.] - actually improved the economy relative to what would have happened without any change in policies).

Only a small part of Obama's inherited shortfall came from the 2008 bank bailouts, which though large, were quickly recouped and at this point, taken in isolation, have cost the country very little. Obama more directly owns other chunks of the debt -- attributable largely to the stimulus, the tax deal and arguably his continuation of the wars. But the figures are fairly small compared to the overall debt, the vast bulk of which was baked into the cake when he took office.

On top of this, the CBS report compares Obama to George W. Bush, who inherited two very different economies and budgets. Bush inherited a surplus, and, soon after his inauguration, a recession, which he used as an excuse to enact massive, long-term tax cuts that ate into deficits long after that recession was over, and into Obama's term. Obama inherited a record deficit in 2009, with an economy in complete free fall.
CBS is helping conservatives with their three year old campaign to convince the public not to believe their lying eyes. These tax cuts oriented toward the wealthy who were supposed to create jobs with their extra wealth - forget about that. Conservatives failed to enforce regulation that would have made the financial crisis less worse or maybe even have stopped it, forget about that. Its an easy meme to remember, Obama is responsible for every conservative screw-up. Its in the Contract on America - conservatives are never accountable.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Weird Republican Analogy of the Week - Rick Perry Compares Civil Rights Movement To GOP Fight For Lower Corporate Taxes

Weird Republican Analogy of the Week - Rick Perry Compares Civil Rights Movement To GOP Fight For Lower Corporate Taxes

Besides Muammar Qaddafi, Rick Perry may be having the worst day in politics. His extremist belief that everything from consumer protection to Social Security to federal child labor laws is unconstitutional keep dogging him on the campaign trail.

Now he’s been caught on tape in South Carolina comparing the civil rights movement to the GOP’s fight for lower corporate taxes and deregulation. He could hardly have picked a worse day to fundamentally misunderstand and misrepresent the struggle for civil rights in America. Today marks the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to commemorate the great civil rights leader who died marching for economic justice for poor communities. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, a reporter pointed out to Perry that this year also marks the 50th anniversary of a historic sit-in in the town:

    QUESTION: And coming to the Old Town Bistro you’re actually visiting a very important place in Rock Hill and the nation’s civil rights history. This year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Friendship Nine sit-in here. Care to comment on that?

    PERRY: Listen, America’s gone a long way from the standpoint of civil rights and thank God we have. I mean we’ve gone from a country that made great strides in issues of civil rights. I think we all can be proud of that. And as we go forward, America needs to be about freedom. It needs to be about freedom from overtaxation, freedom from over-litigation, freedom from over-regulation.And Americans regardless of what their cultural or ethnic background is they need to know that they can come to America and you got a chance to have any dream come true because the economic climate is gonna be improved.

To compare the “struggles” of corporations who often pay virtually nothing in taxes to the plight of black Americans in pre-Civil Rights America is remarkably ignorant, even for Perry. Martin Luther King Jr. argued that economic rights for the poor were as essential as political rights, and was a great advocate for unions and the very anti-poverty programs that Perry believes are unconstitutional. While King fought for a living wage and more welfare for the poor, Perry fights for more corporate welfare.
In Perry world or conservative world for that matter, people who were relatively powerless are exactly like wealthy multi-national corporations and their well paid gang of lobbyist who will get the attention of Congress far more often than the voice of the average American worker.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Obama, Liberals and Wealth Redistrition

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Economists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role—for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12 percent.

But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.
There is more at the link. There is certainly income redistribution in the US, but it is not, as right-wing conservatives and libertarians would have you believe, from the hard working wealthy to the lazy bums at the bottom. On the contrary for the last fifty years there has been more and more value taken from the bottom fifty percent of income earners to the top. We have become an inside out socialist state in which wealth is rewarded and work is looked down upon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gov Rick Perry Seems to Have a Hypocrisy and Porn Problem

Gov Rick Perry Seems to Have a Hypocrisy and Porn Problem

Here's an interesting tidbit from Rick Perry's past to keep an eye on. In the mid-1990s, the presidential candidate owned stock in a video rental store chain whose hardcore porn offerings drew the ire of conservative groups, according to a 2006 report on a liberal Texas blog. That item was resurrected by several liberal web sites this week.

Burnt Orange Report, a site founded by a Democratic activist, reported in 2006 that Perry's 1995 financial disclosure showed he owned between $5,000 and $10,000 in stock in the company Movie Gallery. He was at the time state commissioner of agriculture.

Why is that significant? Because the now- defunct Movie Gallery, once a competitor to Blockbuster, was known for offering XXX porn rentals along with conventional Hollywood fare. (FireDogLake offers a useful sampling of titles here.)

Ironically, it was the social conservative crusaders at the American Family Association -- the very group that helped organize Perry's stadium prayer rally this month -- who spent years on an anti-porn campaign targeting Movie Gallery. AFA was active targeting Movie Gallery both before and after Perry owned the stock; at one protest event outside Movie Gallery's Alabama headquarters in 2000, AFA members held signs reading "Serve God or Serve Money," "Pornography hurts families," and "Porn dishonors mothers."

Some people don't leave the house without their credit car, conservatives never leave the house or govern without a sag full of hypocrisy. Perry will publicly repent and his sycophants in the so-called family values community will forgive him. That's how its done.

Warren Buffett says the super-rich pay lower tax rates than others. And frequently on unearned income.

Conservative pundits - they're everywhere in the media - frequently make millions. One assumes the pay is based on merit. Merit means being knowledgeable about the subject on which they perform their punditry. Not so at Fox News, home of one of Rupert Murdoch's golden boys Sean Hannity - Sean Hannity may have just gone on record as the last person on the planet to recognize the housing bubble.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry's beneficence to his donors might be our ticket out of this financial mess

  Gov. Rick Perry's beneficence to his donors might be our ticket out of this financial mess

I've got just the ticket for getting America back to work. It's pretty simple, actually! All we need to do is get every unemployed person in the country to cut Rick Perry a check for a couple hundred thousand dollars. Next stop: A new age of prosperity!

Lots of people have a pretty cartoonishly oversimplified idea of how money corrupts politics, so it's nice when that cartoonish oversimplification turns out to be totally 100% accurate, as it is in the case of Mr. Perry and the 150 Texans who have given him $37 million over the last decade. The L.A. Times reports what those "megadonors" got for their money:

    "Permission to build a low-level radioactive waste disposal site in Texas" for $1.12 million.
    "$25 million a year in subsidies" for a Formula One racetrack for the low price of $400,000
    "Multiple transportation contracts" and a University of Texas board of regents appointment for "more than $320,000."
    A $500,000 grant for a chicken hatchery and processing plant for $165,000

"They get the same thing that all Texans get," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said to the Times. (Enjoy your lucrative government contracts, everyone in Texas!)

The radioactive waste disposal site was by far the biggest coup. It required approval from multiple Perry-controlled commissions and a new law allowing private companies to own radioactive waste disposal licenses (followed by a law saying only one private company could do so). A team of geologists and engineers even recommended that the license be denied, but the state eviromental agency executive director ordered that the license be granted anyway. That executive director is now a lobbyist for the company that won the license.

As you can see, everyone wins, besides the people getting cancer after the radioactive waste seeps into the groundwater, as the geologists predict it will. (But that is a job-creator, for doctors?) In this unstable world, it looks like sending huge amounts of money to Rick Perry is one of the few reliable investments we've got left. If I had any money to invest, I'd send it to the Perry campaign! (And move to Texas and start a waste disposal company?)

So why not apply that principle nationally? Rick Perry will make the government work for you, as long as you send him money!

If you've lost your job and you're underwater on your mortgage, just scrape together $400,000, send it to President Perry, and you just might end up with a sweet government grant! Or even a job!

Americans, after all, hate the idea of giving a "free ride" to people who don't work hard and play by the rules. So what could be more fair than restricting government assistance to those who both need it and can afford to pay for it?

That is, probably, what our Founding Fathers intended.

So when conservatives talk about regulation what they are really saying is that the United States should conduct it's business and regulation like corrupt thugs in Russia. That will ultimately be good for? The rich who can live in clean gated communities. The rest of us can live in the wastelands ruled by the plutocrats.

Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry’s Politics Betray The Teachings of Christ

Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann advertise themselves to supporters and prospective voters as devout Christians who seek to change the nature of government to reflect “Christian family values,” but if voters take the time to compare their actions with the tenets of Christ’s teachings, they will find both candidates are the antithesis of a follower of Christ. First, it is important to review one very important commandment Jesus gave his followers that encapsulates nearly all of the Ten Commandments that do not deal with worshipping god, and it is the one bible verse that all Christians learn from a very young age. Jesus’ disciples asked him what was the most important commandment in the Mosaic Law and he replied, “You must love god with all your heart,” and “You must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments the whole Law hangs” (Matt.22:37-40).  Loving god is a personal dysfunction that is irrelevant to this discussion, but loving your neighbor is important because as Jesus alluded, it covers the parts of the Ten Commandments and Mosaic Law that deal with stealing, covetousness, adultery, and the various rules regarding interactions within society.

Bachmann and Perry have demonstrated that not only do they not love their neighbors, they hate anyone who does not adhere to their twisted religious views and neo-conservative agenda; more importantly, they hate people who need assistance. Both of the false Christians have shown their contempt for the poor by cutting programs that are specifically meant to feed and house the poorest among us. Each of the fakers claim that spending cuts are necessary because the government is too big and the country cannot afford to help poor mothers and disadvantaged children, but they have no problem giving the wealthy tax breaks and corporations entitlements. Their religion’s namesake said, ”If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Is Governor Rick Perry a Geroge Bush Neocon With Goofier Hair

Is Governor Rick Perry a Geroge Bush Neocon With Goofier Hair
No one seriously believes that Republicans will nominate the wild-eyed, certifiable Michele Bachmann for president, and Romney the Robot isn’t setting Tea Party hearts aflutter. So it looks like Rick Perry, the Bible-thumping, secessionist hawk—who’s already assembling a team of neoconservative advisers—will get the nod to challenge President Obama in 2012.

Were Perry to win, his victory—especially if the GOP, as seems likely, conquers the Senate—will speed the United States down the merry path to oblivion at least a couple of decades before the rise of China and India do anyway. Worryingly, Perry might be exactly the know-nothing hawk who decides to use US military power to forestall America’s inevitable decline by force, even if it leads to World War III. Like Tea Party fanatics who courted financial Armageddon by insisting that reneging on US debt obligations wouldn’t be so bad, Perry’s own Tea Party Pentagon, staffed by neoconservatives, might decide the nuclear Armageddon wouldn’t be so bad, either, as long as it makes the world understand how exceptional American exceptionalism is.

Indeed, as James Lindsey points out [1] for the Council on Foreign Relations, in his screed, Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, a book that he allegedly wrote, Perry declares that “exceptional” America has to be prepared for war with China and India:

“We are now confronted with the rise of new economic and military powerhouses in China and India, as well as a Russia that is increasingly aggressive and troublesome to its neighbors and former satellite nations that are struggling to maintain their relatively newfound independence. There is no reason to believe that armed conflict with any major power is imminent, but the world is rapidly changing, and the United States must be prepared for the ramifications of shifting balances of power.”

And Perry adds, concerning the “reset” in relations with Russia:

“It was a slap in the face to a number of our allies. As a Wall Street Journal article put it, ‘Some prominent figures in the region, such as former Polish President Lech Walesa, worried the new US administration was turning away from its traditional allies in Central Europe to placate Russia’.… Surely we can’t be serious?”

In his speech proclaiming his candidacy, in which he said elegantly that “we don’t need a president who apologizes for America,” and he added: “What I learned in my 20’s traveling the globe as an Air Force pilot, our current president has yet to acknowledge in his 50s—that we are the most exceptional nation on the face of the earth.”

No surprise, of course, that Perry is consorting with left-over neocons [2] from the Bush administration, as National Review reported in July, such as Douglas Feith, the ¨uber-hawk who oversaw the war in Iraq, and Bill Luti, Feith’s compatriot in the Bush White House, who joined with Vice President Cheney to persuade Bush that an unprovoked attack on Iraq was the right thing to do, and Dan Blumenthal, another Bush veteran who’s taken up residence at the American Enterprise Institute. Though the Tea Party types who support nut-libertarian Ron Paul oppose wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan and want to reduce the size of the Pentagon, Perry appeals to the other side of the Tea Party and to traditional Republican hawks who oppose the libertarians’ outright isolationism. Indeed, a source close to Perry told National Review [3] that Perry does not exhibit “the neo-isolationism that you might expect from certain people [close to] the Tea Party.” (According to Politico, Donald Rumseld is setting up Perry’s encounters [4] with the neocons.)
That silly soundbite about 'apologizing' for the US is from the conservative myth that President Obama - our Republican-Lite president does not believe in American exceptionalism. Besides a burning desire to fix any and all problems with more wars, patriotic Americans might want to ask themselves if they want someone like Perry, who has flirted with treason against the United States to be the guy with his finger on the nuclear button. Funny how conservatives make up reasons out of thin air to impeach Obama for supposedly not being American enough, but conservatives can openly advocate and campaign on the most venal and evil anti-American beliefs.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How Fox New's Owner Rupert Murdoch Buys Friends and Influences People

How Fox New's Owner Rupert Murdoch Buys Friends and Influences People

One key factor must always be kept in mind when discussing Rupert Murdoch: he has a lot of money ($7.6 billion, according to Forbes) and makes even more for other people. Between 1977 and 2001, News Corporation outearned every other blue-chip company save Berkshire Hathaway and Walmart. And while money might not buy you love in America, it does buy a great deal of special favors and improper indulgences from powerful people.

Being a billionaire media mogul is even more fun when it comes to politics. Not only do politicians need your cash; they need your newspapers, magazines and TV networks too. It is this unholy nexus that Murdoch has mastered. And even today he manages to get many in the media to conveniently look the other way whenever necessary.

Consider the recent 3,000-plus-word examination of the current Murdoch crisis in The Economist. “Few outside the liberal blogosphere” were “buying” the likelihood of any connection between the empire’s criminal behavior in Britain and its operations in the United States, according to its author. The proof? “Rudolph Giuliani, a moderate Republican and former mayor of New York, called Rupert Murdoch ‘a very honourable, honest man.’”

Can it really be possible that The Economist, widely recognized as one of the most intelligent and well-reported publications in the world, is unaware of the decades-long symbiosis—one might even dare call it a “conspiracy”—between Rudy and Rupert, who watch (and scratch) each other’s backs at every opportunity?

While Murdoch’s New York Post had been four-square in Rudy’s corner during his 1989 and 1993 mayoral races, the intensity of the connection did not become clear to me until 1996, when Murdoch launched Fox News. I was working at MSNBC at the time and did not know that Roger Ailes had actually run Rudy’s failed 1989 campaign. But even so, when Time Warner at first refused to carry Fox, I could not help wondering why Giuliani felt that having a second all-news cable network in Manhattan was akin to preventing Armageddon. “In those days,” investigative journalist Wayne Barrett recently reported, “Time Warner only had space for 77 channels on the dial, and 30 applicants had lined up before Fox.” According to Barrett, after repeated phone conversations between Murdoch, Giuliani and their aides, the mayor directly threatened the future of Time Warner’s cable franchise in the city. When this didn’t work, the mayor tried to give Fox one of the city’s public access channels. Judge Denise Cote killed the idea and condemned Rudy’s “improper motives” in a decision unanimously affirmed by a three-judge appeals panel. But the blitzkrieg went on until Time Warner caved in.

The close relationship between the two power-mad men would run afoul of the law as Giuliani developed his presidential ambitions. Recall that Rudy once championed former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik as George W. Bush’s Homeland Security secretary nominee. Currently serving a four-year sentence for tax fraud, among other things, Kerik had had an affair with former Murdoch employee and trashy book publisher Judith Regan, using, as the Daily News put it, “a secret Battery Park City apartment for the passionate liaisons.” That apartment had once been designated for 9/11 rescue workers. Regan was forced out of her job and received a $10.7 million payoff. After she tried to weasel out of her legal fees, her lawyers alleged that Roger Ailes had instructed her to lie to federal investigators about her affair in order to protect Rudy’s potential as a 2008 presidential candidate. Such actions would constitute a felony, but nobody took the trouble to look too deeply into this, since it has rarely been in anyone’s political interest to take on Murdoch or Ailes, when one has to worry about the entire Murdoch empire—now starring not only Fox and the Post but also the Wall Street Journal—sending back the reply. Personally, I have been (rather crazily) described as a “Fidel Castro confidant” by Bill O’Reilly and seen my photo placed in a “Wanted” poster on his show—the latter for the crime of arguing against an invasion of Iraq.

Giuliani originally offered his testimonial praising Murdoch on July 15 to CNN’s Candy Crowley, who failed to give her audience any context. But when turned the interview into a longer article later that day, it did report that Murdoch and Giuliani were “longtime friends”: “Murdoch attended the former mayor’s wedding in 2003, and endorsed him in the 1993 mayoral race. Also, a law and lobbying firm in which Giuliani is a partner received $100,000 in lobbying fees from News Corp in 2005, according to congressional disclosure filings.” One wonders how The Economist and Politico—which also reported Rudy’s remarks entirely without context—could have failed to mention even that much, as CNN did in its minimal and ultimately inadequate report.

Of course, the Rudy/Rupert alliance is hardly unusual. Murdoch regularly uses book deals, television contracts and columnist gigs as bribes to the powerful, just as he uses these same properties to punish those who refuse to go along. Don’t forget that until recently, Murdoch had four potential Republican presidential candidates on the Fox payroll. One of them—Sarah Palin—even got a state-of-the-art studio built in her home, gratis. And each of these powerful people has a pretty strong incentive to look the other way every time one of Murdoch’s properties or employees feels it necessary to break a law here or there in the service of the great man’s power, profits and influence.

Will Murdoch (and Ailes) be forced to explain their alleged crimes to American prosecutors as well as British investigators? Not bloody likely, alas, when so many members of our mainstream media remain eager—even now—to continue to blind their own eyes.

One profoundly interesting aspect of Murdoch's influence in the U.S. is that he is not an American. The right-wing fans who unquestioningly swallow every falsehood and biased report by Fox News is swallowing the propaganda of a foreigner who manipulates public policy. I'm sure the conservative zealots have an excuse for this as they do for all their two-faced hypocrisies.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Republican Scumbag Hypocrite of the Week - Rep. Austin Scott(R-GA)

Republican Scumbag Hypocrite of the Week - Rep. Austin Scott(R-GA)

Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia, a Tea Party favorite and president of the House Republicans’ freshman class, got off to a slow start as a legislator but finally introduced his first bill last week.

His draftsmanship should please the people who chant “read the bill” at political rallies, because H.R. 2774 is only one sentence long. In its entirety: “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Legal Services Corporation Act is repealed.”

This one sentence says a great deal about Scott, because it is a transparent attempt by the young lawmaker to defend a company in his district that discriminates against U.S. citizens in favor of Mexican migrant workers. Scott introduced the bill abolishing Legal Services exactly three days after it became public that Legal Services had won a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determination that Georgia’s Hamilton Growers “engages in a pattern or practice of regularly denying work hours and assigning less favorable assignments to U.S. workers, in favor of H2-A guestworkers.” Hamilton also “engages in a pattern or practice of discharging U.S. workers and replacing them with H-2A guestworkers,” the EEOC determined.

In a broader sense, Scott’s bill gets at what has long troubled me about the Tea Party movement: It is fueled by populist anger, but it has been hijacked by plutocrats. Well-intentioned Tea Party foot soldiers demand that power be returned to the people, but then their clout is used to support tax cuts for millionaires. They rally for tougher immigration laws, but then their guy in Washington helps corporations to fire U.S. workers and hire foreign nationals.

During his successful campaign to unseat moderate Democrat Jim Marshall, Scott ran a tough-on-immigration message. According to his hometown Tifton Gazette’s report at the time: “Scott said Congress has ignored its responsibility to secure U.S. borders and that he has voted for tough immigration bills that included making English the official language, seizing the vehicles of illegal immigrants, placing tougher standards for employers to verify that employees are legal U.S. citizens and chaired the committee on citizenship verification for voters. .?.?. He said that jobs here was the biggest draw for illegal aliens coming into the country and that making it more difficult to obtain them would curb the influx of illegal aliens.”

Given that, you’d think Scott would have sided with the 17 U.S. citizens in Georgia who claimed Hamilton Growers illegally dumped them in favor of Mexican workers on H-2A visas.

Legal Services took their case (one of three active cases it has against big growers in Scott’s district), and on July 29, it put out a news release announcing victory. (Settlement negotiations are underway.)

On Aug. 1, Scott introduced his bill.

H.R. 2774 would end the government practice, dating to the Nixon administration, of providing legal assistance to low-income people pursuing equal justice under the law: women seeking protective orders against abusive partners, homeowners fighting foreclosure or predatory lending, and similar civil actions.

“We are at a point where Congress must look at programs and ask, ‘Is this absolutely necessary?’?” Austin said in a statement when I asked for elaboration. Noting that state and local governments, bar associations and pro bono lawyers help to subsidize legal aid, he argued that “eliminating federal funding for the LSC will not eliminate free legal aid for the poor. This bill simply takes this duplicative and unnecessary program off the federal taxpayers’ dole.”

Still, even a number of Republicans see value in Legal Services. Though House Republicans have proposed a 26 percent cut in Legal Services’ current budget of $379?million, 68 of them joined Democrats in defeating an attempt this year to defund Legal Services.

Phyllis Holmen, executive director of Georgia Legal Services, said she has never spoken with Scott and “hadn’t been aware of his views on Legal Services” before he introduced his bill. She said it’s common for growers to call their members of Congress for help when a Legal Services client sues them.

If Scott were true to his Tea Party roots, he would have told the growers to get lost. He would have trumpeted the case as evidence that Americans are willing to do the dirty jobs that businesses claim only foreigners will do. As one of the American plaintiffs put it: “We worked hard at our jobs and really wanted the work, but Hamilton didn’t want Americans to work in their fields.” Americans, after all, would be more likely to know the laws and to complain if they’re being exploited.

Instead, Scott chose to side with a large employer of foreign migrants in his district — against his out-of-work constituents.

Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia is just another America hating stooge. What would be American about Scott. he hates American workers. He thinks individual Americans have too much power and corporations not enough. Austin Scott has no honor. He feels no allegiance to America's egalitarian values and traditions. He is a serial liar. He is not a representative of the people, but of anyone with enough cash to be a big contributor. You think government does not work? Conservatives such as Scott are in government to make sure that government does not work. Thus far he is simply living up to his agenda as a conservative. Scott should do America a big favor and move to one of the many authoritarian regimes still operating in the world. he can live there happy as a pig wallowing in corruption.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Another Republican Talking Point Bites The Dust - Rich People Do Not Move To Avoid Taxes

Another Republican Talking Point Bites The Dust - Rich People Do Not Move To Avoid Taxes

I’ve written several times before about the notion that high state taxes drive out the rich. Studies show that from Connecticut to Maryland and New Jersey and New York there is little statistical evidence that taxes cause large numbers of rich people move to lower-tax states.

Yes, some rich people leave because of taxes. But there is no real proof that large flights of wealthy people are due to taxes.

    Associated Press

A new study helps explain why. A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, titled “Tax Flight is a Myth,”  states that “the effects of tax increases on migration are, at most, small—so small that states that raise income taxes on the most affluent households can be assured of a substantial net gain in revenue.”


Here are the main findings:

Tax Migration is not common: “On average, just 1.7 percent of U.S. residents moved from one state to another per year between 2001 and 2010, and only about 30 percent of those born in the United States change their state of residence over the course of their entire lifetime,” the study said. “When people do relocate, a large body of scholarly evidence shows that they do so primarily for new jobs, cheaper housing, or a better climate. A person’s age, education, marital status, and a host of other factors also affect decisions about moving.”

The Rich Are Not So Different: After New Jersey hiked rates on incomes over $500,000, the net out-migration of this income group accelerated. But the net out-migration rate of filers with incomes between $200,000 and $500,000 was the same. At most, 70 tax filers earning more than $500,000 might have left New Jersey between 2004 and 2007 because of the tax increase, costing the state an estimated $16.4 million in tax revenue. That compares with a revenue gain of $3.77 billion over the same period.
Weather Matters More than Taxes. Rich retirees are presumably the most mobile income group, since they’re not tied down by jobs and they can live where they please. But the study looked at rich flight from Oregon and found that weather, and a high concentration of other wealthy retirees “is much larger than the impact of the tax variable.” In other words, what rich people want is a sunny place with lots of golf partners–while taxes may be secondary.

I’m not arguing that we should or shouldn’t raise taxes on the wealthy. And there are surely rich people who move to escape higher taxes. Wealth goes where it’s treated best.

But as the study states: “It would not be credible to argue that no one ever moves to a new state because of the desire to live someplace where taxes are lower. But neither is it credible to say that taxes are a primary motivation, nor that migration has a large impact on the revenue impact of tax measures.”

The rich move because of high taxes is a meme started by conservative extremists as yet another factless argument against raising taxes to an appropriate level to support the basic services and infrastructure we use and need.

"Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: 'I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.'"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Is Judicial Activism? Just Watch The Conservative Supreme Court Kiss Corporate Ass and You'll Know

What Is Judicial Activism? Just Watch The Conservative Supreme Court Kiss Corporate Ass and You'll Know - How a Corporatist Supreme Court Cabal Joined Forces With Right Wing and Kochs to Quietly Sell Out Our Democracy

Bill Watterson is Mark Twain--with a drawing pen. He is a master cartoonist, but also a sharp-witted observer of the absurd, with an impish sense of humor. From 1985-1995, Watterson penned "Calvin and Hobbes," the truly marvelous comic strip that featured six-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes. In Calvin's inventive and iconoclastic mind, Hobbes was a genuine tiger (and his best friend) and they shared boundless adventures that challenged conventional thinking and defied authority, often crashing right through the prescribed social order of the 'real' world.

A recurring theme in the strip was a two-player baseball competition in which both the kid and the tiger simply made up the rules as they went. In one strip, Calvin has hit the ball thrown by Hobbes, and he's scampering toward home plate:

Calvin: Ha Ha! A home run!
Hobbes: You didn't touch all the bases!
Calvin: I did, too.
Hobbes: No, you didn't. You didn't touch seventh base.
Calvin: Yes, I did! I touched the water barrel right after the front porch.
Hobbes: That's not seventh base. That's twelfth base!
Calvin: I thought the garage door was twelfth.
Hobbes: The garage door is twenty-third base. You touched them all out of order, and you didn't touch the secret base.
Calvin: The secret base?? What's the secret base?!
Hobbes: I can't tell you. It's a secret.

That exchange between a six-year-old and a stuffed tiger pretty well sums up the nonsensical political gamesmanship being played out today by the five-man lineup of corporatists on the Supreme Court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. They are on an unrestrained ideological tear, making up their own rules to score big points for corporate power. Reasoning? Try twenty-third base! Precedent? Throw it out! History? Rewrite it! The Constitution? Slide by it! Judicial restraint? Only for liberals! Logic? That's a secret! The rule of law? The law is us!

Only, this isn't a game. Barely six years into Roberts' tenure, he and his narrow majority have thoroughly politicized the Court. The one branch of our national government that was intentionally designed by the Founders to set the rule of law above politics has been turned into another political front group to advance corporate rule. The Constitution granted life tenure to the justices specifically so they could feel free to stand up to wealthy wrongdoers--particularly those avaricious business schemers who wanted to endanger the people's rule by establishing, as Jefferson put it, "the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations."

Hiding under robes

"Leveling the playing field can sound like a good thing. But in a democracy, campaigning for office is not a game." --Chief Justice John Roberts, fumbling a sports metaphor in a June ruling that does, indeed, tilt the political field to assure that corporate-backed players win the crucial money game.

In case after case, the five hard-core Republicans of the Roberts Court have been chopping furiously at the hard-earned legal rights of workers, consumers, voters, and others who dare to challenge the power of big business elites to reign over us, both politically and economically. There has been way too little public attention focused on (much less a sustained political challenge to) what has become a spectacular abuse of government power. A survey last year by the Pew Center found that nearly three-fourths of Americans have no idea who John Roberts is. Eight percent named Thurgood Marshall as the chief justice (and I certainly wish he was, even though he's been dead for 18 years).

It's not that the public is stupid, but that the Court deliberately hides itself. No C-SPAN or other television cameras are allowed, even in the relatively few times the justices convene in public session. The bulk of the justices' official policy-making work takes place behind closed doors. They practically never have press conferences or give interviews, and some have even refused to let the media cover their 'public' speeches.

Curiously, mass media outlets show little journalistic curiosity about the doings of this tiny but enormously powerful third branch of our national government. If Obama so much as sneezes, newscasters and pundits are all over it, and hordes of reporters and analysts constantly poke into the back rooms and dark corridors of Congress. Yet, nine black-robed mandarins--with the power to overturn the decisions of the two elected branches, as well as decisions by state governments and even of the voting public-- sit in splendid obscurity in an imposing, white marble bunker, periodically tossing out rulings that essentially make law.

When the mass media do cover the Court (usually only when a new justice is named or a major edict is handed down), the reporting is superficial, even lazy. Two months ago, for example, the New York Times ran an"analysis" of decisions in the 2010-2011 term, concluding that the hallmark of the Roberts Court is "defending free speech." Never mind that it is corporate speech that they have radically enhanced, to the detriment of your voice and mine. But the Times didn't probe.

It's time for you and me to probe, because the Roberts-Alito-Kennedy-Scalia-Thomas cabal is openly aligning itself with the all-out political push by such far-right billionaires as the Koch brothers to impose a corporate plutocracy over America (see February 2010 and June 2011 Lowdowns). "Come on, Hightower," you might say, "such learned jurists wouldn't be engaged in such extremism." Oh? Remember Bush v. Gore in December 2000? In that case, five justices abruptly shoved their way into totally unprecedented, overtly partisan territory to dictate who would be America's president. With no need to do so, they imperiously interrupted a recount of the people's vote in Florida, usurped jurisdiction from state courts, invented a legal theory out of thin air, and arbitrarily seated corporate-favorite George W in the White House.

This was so far beyond the bounds of the Court's role, such an arrogant act of magisterial extremism, that none of the usurpers were willing to claim the decision as their own. None put their name on the opinion. Also, in an extraordinary confession, the opinion itself concedes its legal shoddiness by saying that it's a one-of-a-kind decision that should not be cited as a precedent for any other case. Tellingly, it hasn't been.

Eleven years later, three of those five Bush v. Gore judicial extremists--Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas--are still on the bench, forming a solid core of today's corporate cabal.

Also, while it's not widely known, Roberts himself was a key member of Bush's election-stealing team in Florida. A protege of Republican attack dog Kenneth Starr, Roberts was a corporate lawyer in Washington at the time (becoming a multimillionaire by helping such clients as Big Coal defend the abominable min-ing method of mountaintop removal). He was flown to Florida to polish legal briefs and do a dress rehearsal to prepare Bush's lead lawyer for getting the Supremes to seize the election for the Republican.

In 2005, George W returned the favor by entrust- ing the top spot on the nation's highest Court to this radical corporate activist. With the addition of Alito in 2006, Corporate America had its slim ideological majority in place.

Not only did pro-corporate decisions begin to flow, but the cabal also became brazen about its alliance with the right-wing Republican network that's now pushing aggressively in Washington, state capitals, and all of America's courts to rewrite laws so an "aristocracy of our moneyed corporations" can rise above the American people's democratic rights and authority. Jeff Shesol, author of Supreme Power (a history of FDR's fight with the Court), wrote a June New York Times op-ed about this "flurry of judicial fraternization," warning that it threatens to destroy the Court's credibility as an impartial guardian of the rule of law. Here's a sampling of their fraternization:

In 2010, Scalia was a featured participant in the Koch brothers' annual political retreat, joining assorted billionaires and GOP operatives as they plotted strategy and raised money for defeating Democrats. And this January, when tea party Republicans marched triumphantly into Washington to take their seats in Congress, they were welcomed by Scalia, who presented a constitutional tutorial to the newly minted partisans.

In 2008 and 2010, Alito lent his supreme prestige to the fund-raising efforts of the right-wing, anti-Democrat mag, American Spectator. He served as chief draw and keynote speaker at the group's 2008 fund-raiser, where he regaled wealthy funders with Joe Biden jokes. In 2009, he headlined a fundraiser for the Koch-backed Intercollegiate Studies Institute(which boasts the right-wing video trickster and criminal activist James O'Keefe among its alumnae). Also, in 2010, Alito was the chief sparklie at a high-dollar event for the Koch-funded Manhattan Institute.

Thomas, too, has put his judicial imprimatur on the Koch boys' annual plutocratic political gathering. He addressed their 2008 getaway at a Palm Springs resort, apparently enjoying four days there on the tab of the Koch-funded Federalist Society. He also is closely tied to the Heritage Foundation, which is richly financed by the Kochs. In 2009, he was the featured draw at a fundraiser for the group, which often takes part in Supreme Court cases--and which employed Thomas' wife, Ginny, from 2003-2007, paying her $686,000 that the justice "inadvertently omitted" from his financial disclosure filings. In addition, Thomas is corruptly entangled with Dallas real estate billionaire and right-wing political funder Harlan Crow. Even though Crow's financial and political interests are directly affected by the high court's rulings, Thomas has been injudiciously accepting a steady flow of gifts from the tycoon, including: a $175,000 donation from Crow to a Georgia library project dedicated to Thomas; a $2.8 million gift for an historic preservation project being developed under Thomas' supervision near his childhood home; and a $500,000 donation to Thomas' wife, Ginny, last year so she could start a tea party lobbying and political group (which, by the way, takes an aggressive partisan stance on legal questions that will soon come up for Justice Thomas' consideration, including Obama's health care law).

Good grief! Is there no code of ethics outlawing such rank conflicts of interest for federal judges? Yes. But, conveniently, Supreme Court justices have been exempted from the code.

Soiling clean elections

The Lowdown has periodically exposed the Court's slaphappy extremism and its make-up-the-rules activism as found in such now-infamous cases as Citizens United (see Sept. 2009, March 2010, and Feb. 2011 issues). In that 2010 ruling, using contorted language that even Orwell could not have dreamed up, the five actually re-wrote the laws of nature, decreeing that lifeless corporate entities are "persons" with a constitutional right to "speak" in every American election. These necromancers then invented a "voice" for corporate-speak: money. They ruled that top executives of these inanimate for-profit constructs are entitled to spend unlimited sums of corporate cash (money that belongs to shareholders, not to them) to run secretly funded campaigns for or against anyone they choose.

Interestingly, none in this bloc of five has ever run for office, much less won. So they have no real- life experience with the way big money suffocates democracy, both in politics and in the close confines of government decision-making. Worse, all of them express an uncommonly deep contempt for a truly democratic process, in which the people would reign over corporations, allowing grassroots human endeavor and ideas to trump the blunt force of money.

They really should talk to their shrinks about this psychosis. But, meanwhile, they keep working out their contempt on us, not only by jacking up the clout of corporate players, but also by slapping down grassroots efforts to give people power a path around the ever-rising money barrier:

2006. Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas vote to overturn limits that the people of Vermont placed on campaign contributions.
2007. The same five throw out Wisconsin's effort to keep corporations from swamping their elections with last-minute ad blitzes.

2008. The same five strike down the "millionaire's amendment," a part of the McCain-Feingold election finance reform passed by Congress in 2002; this provision had allowed candidates who were confronted by self-financed millionaire opponents to raise more money than otherwise allowed in order to level the playing field.

June 27, 2011. The same five kill the "matching funds" provision of Arizona's Citizens Clean Elections Act--a provision that was key to making the state's extremely popular and successful public financing system work.

The Arizona ruling was a stinging slap in the face to the conscientious citizens of that state. Arizonans have labored diligently to free their politics from the corruption of big money, while also opening the possibility of holding office to those who don't have piles of money or don't want to be beholden to those who do. Nauseated in the 1990s by an epidemic of gubernatorial and legislative scandals, the people themselves launched a grassroots initiative to get the democracy-destroying corrosion of special-interest political contributions out of their elections. In 1998, Arizona voters emphatically said, "yes."

Their Clean Elections Act established a voluntary public financing system that gave office-seekers of all parties and all economic classes an alternative, no-strings-attached way to finance their campaigns. By agreeing not to take any special interest contributions, these candidates received a fixed sum of public money--enough for them to be competitive under normal campaign conditions and have their voices heard. However, abnormal happens. So, if clean-running contenders found their voices being drowned out by a flood of special interest cash flowing to a rival, the "matching funds" provision allowed them to get a limited level of extra money from the public fund to help counter the free-spending opponent's unfair advantage.

It is this matching mechanism that the mammon-worshipping Supremes went after. Why? Because it works. Former Governor Janet Napolitano, for example, says she could not have even considered running for Arizona's top office without the availability of this funding alternative, but with it she won two terms. A majority of all parties' candidates use the Clean law, and it is enormously popular with the public.

But the corporate powers hate, hate, hate it, for it diminishes their political control. Having failed again and again to repeal it at the state level, they turned to the vipers nest of Koch-funded, right-wing policy fronts to find a way for the federal courts to inter- vene and do their dirty work. With support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (see Feb. 2011 Lowdown) and the Institute for Justice, this clique developed a perversely-novel theory of law, framed it into a lawsuit, and had the Republican leader of the state house, John McComish, sign on as plaintiff.

The Roberts quintet happily swallowed the perverse legal theory fed to them in the case, known as Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett. Turning both common sense and the Constitution topsy-turvy, the Court found--get this--that Arizona's matching provision gives cash-poor candidates an unfair advantage over those flush with money. Huh?

Well, explained the five, money speaks in politics, and the speech of the rich is inhibited if they know that their money-raising can result in "counterspeech" from opponents. Corporatespeak, good; counterspeak, bad. In a twisted and overwrought opinion for the majority, Alito wrote that public matching funds impose an "unprecedented penalty on any candidate who robustly exercises [the First Amendment right to buy an election]." Okay, I edited-in that last bit, but that's precisely what the Court's majority (and the Koch brothers) are actually saying. Not only are they freeing big money to shout as loud as it wants in our elections, but the Court has now allowed the money interests to quash the political speech of others. The good news is that Roberts & Company only nixed the matching provision, not the Clean Election Act itself. At least not yet. As Roberts wrote: "We do not today call into question the wisdom of public financing."

Stop them before they rule again

These guys are a clear and present danger to our democratic rights, not only in election cases, but also in a rising flood of upside-down economic rulings--including their shameful June decision involving Walmart's discrimination against women employees and their ridiculous ruling in April allowing AT&T to defraud customers. Both of these court opinions eviscerate the people's right to hold corporations accountable by filing class-action lawsuits. The Roberts Five are not objective and reasoned judges. They are crass political operatives disguised in robes of authority, deliberately contorting the law to transfer huge chunks of the people's power to corporate suites.

Roberts. Alito. Kennedy. Scalia. Thomas.

Memorize these names, for they are thieves. Put their names and deeds into every political discussion. Spread their infamy. Distribute wanted posters! Make bumper stickers. Send emails and letters-to-the-editor. Chastise Republicans for coddling them, Democrats for doing nothing, and tea partiers for giving these ultimate Big Government authoritarians a pass. It's up to us.

One of the big generalizations about the Constitution is that it exists in large part to protect the people from tyrannical government (some people say just "from government". That is an erroneous interpretation. Government itself must exists to act as a kind of referee). The only function of the Constitution is to protect citizens from powerful special interests. The right-wing Roberts Court does does see it that way. The conservatives on the Court -   Roberts. Alito. Kennedy. Scalia. Thomas. - think they should be looking out for the interests of corporations.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Does God Love The Wealthy More Than Average Americans? The Tea Party Thinks So.

The Chart: a comparison of Bush verses Obama's contribution to the deficit. If based on what is spent during their administrations makes the biggest spender a communists than Bush was Mao with a cowboy hat.

Does God Love The Wealthy More Than Average Americans? The Tea Party Thinks So.

Every once in a while, you come across a news story that’s more than a story. It’s a revelation.

On Sunday morning, that’s what greeted readers of the Washington Post searching for insight into the Great Debt Showdown. The first two thirds of a piece by David A. Farenthold and Dan Balz is a familiar recitation of the tribulations of Speaker John Boehner as he struggled with defiant new members of the House Republican conference. Nothing earth-shattering there. But then, out jumps a nugget of naked truth that simply takes your breath away. It concerns the god served by Tea Party-backed GOP members who have held the country hostage in a sham debt-ceiling crisis. Keep in mind that the passage below is not a parody:

Not even gentle persuasion could overcome higher powers Thursday. As Boehner was in his meetings, three freshman Republicans from South Carolina were in the House chapel nearby, in quiet discussion and in prayer. Reps. Mick Mulvaney, Tim Scott and Jeff Duncan wanted a stronger provision to guarantee a balanced-budget amendment and knew they would be lobbied furiously in the hours to come.

At one point, Duncan said, Mulvaney picked up a Bible and read a verse from Proverbs 22: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

“It’s telling me to really be bold, to really fight for structural changes,” Duncan said.

“Mulvaney snapped the Bible closed. And I said, ‘Guys, that’s all I need to see,’?” Duncan said. “Tim said, ‘Yep.’ And we stood up and walked out.”

These gentlemen would like for us to construe their prayerful moment as spiritual concern for suffering Americans. That’s a tough sell, because the god worshiped by these devout South Carolina congressmen is not Yahweh. It is not the deity served by Jesus, he of throw-the-money-lenders-out-of-the-temple fame.

The god of the Tea Party freshmen is certainly ancient and powerful. He was last employed as one of the chief princes of Hell. And his name is Mammon. On leave from his post in Hell, Mammon is doing a bit of temp work. The avatar of wealth and greed has rolled up his sleeves and taken up residence in the People’s House, where he currently advises GOP freshmen on policies contrived to do his bidding.

Now, if Congressman Mulvaney had not shut his Bible so quickly, he might have come across another interesting passage, this one from the Gospel of Matthew.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can not serve both God and Mammon.

—Matthew 6:19-21,24

But there was really no need for the freshmen to read this passage. Mulvaney, Scott and Duncan know  who they are really serving. They must understand that the budget cuts they have fought for tooth and nail will take money from the most vulnerable members of our society and fill the coffers of the rich — though you wouldn’t necessarily think they’d invoke the Christian Bible in support of their trickle-up economics.

But Mammon’s power has been known to be irresistible. Those who fall under his spell frequently turn their backs on justice and become the fawning lapdogs of the rich (peruse the Koch-Mulvaney connections here).

Today we learn that the deal currently in the works to avert an historic U.S. default would require Americans rendered jobless by the financial crash caused by Wall Street to suffer even as bankers take in record-breaking profits. Medicare would be placed on the chopping block. Tax loopholes for the wealthy would remain open. The economy would be further weakened. Pain would be inflicted on just about everybody but the privileged and the powerful.

The God of Greed can look upon his work with satisfaction. His troops are delivering. The angels have fled. He knows his kingdom is coming. And Mulvaney, Scott, and Duncan have secured their place in it.

There have been a lot of Christian cults over the last 2000 years. To that historical list we can add the Republican party which has become just another fringe cult.