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So, all we need to do is add “Leadership Council” to our soiree

I was reading Krugman today about how Starbucks did a Komen with the “Come Together” campaign to make customers pressure their Congress reps and senators to shred the social insurance programs when I decided to look up the infamous “Fix the Debt” website.  It’s run by some shadowy group of rich people called the CEOs Fiscal Leadership Council.

Starbucks does a Komen

The CFLC is populated by the usual suspects of deadbeat corporate executives that we’ve seen in the past 4 years.  The CEO’s of Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and AT&T are on the list.  But so is T. Rowe Price, the 401K specialists.  (There couldn’t be a conflict of interest there, could there?  Nahhhh)  According to the Huffington Post, the CFLC consists of some of the most notorious pension plan underfunders.  Isn’t that sweet?  They are leading us to give up the only means of surviving in old age after they raid their company pensions to pay those M&A bonuses.  Now that’s Leadership.

Then I got to wondering, who commissioned this group?  I mean, was there a Congressional decree?  Did the President assemble this meetup of malefactors?  Because, how else did they get the “Leadership Council” thing in the title?  Who do they think they are leading?  I don’t remember asking for leadership off the so-called “fiscal cliff”.  I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out who appointed these guys, and they are almost all guys.  Wait, let me check.  There are 4 recognizably female names on a list of approximately 150 members. Good job, guys!  Does that mean women can’t be leaders or that they resist being lead?  Clarification is needed here.

And then I started to think, why don’t we left of center unpaid pundits (yes, I do flatter myself. If I don’t, no one else will) have a leadership council or many leadership councils?

For example, where is the Senior Research Investigators Leadership Council that will put pressure on Congress to stop listening to whiny pharma CEOs who keep telling our elected officials that they can’t find good help anymore?

How about a New Deal Democrats Leadership Council to tell Congress to stop listening to whiny rich CEOs that robbed us blind in the past four years?

Or a Dirty Fucking Hippy Leadership Council to tell Congress to get its shit together and do the right thing before we get our shit together and run against them?  Just an idea.

Or a La-La-La I Can’t HEAR You Leadership Council that will help Americans kick the cable TV news and talk radio habit so they’ll stop being suckered in by self-interested CEOs whose messages clog the airwaves.

Add your Leadership Council titles and purposes in the comments section.  I formally commission the best Leadership Council idea.  No, no, don’t thank me.  I take on this burden of Leadership for You.

Negotiations, Marketing and Sandy

Republicans steal Obama’s lunch money again

This morning’s post of stuff is in no particular order.  The first and third may be related.

Krugman writes in his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, today that, as expected, Obama is turning out to be a lousy negotiator on the so-called Fiscal Cliff conundrum:

Here we go again — or so I find myself fearing.

Obama’s fiscal deal offer was already distressing — cuts to Social Security, and a big concession, it turns out, on taxation of dividends, retaining most of the Bush cut (with the benefits flowing overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent). It wasn’t clear that the deal would have gotten nearly enough in return.

But sure enough, it looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.

In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

The Republicans have been dying for Obama to offer a social insurance program cut.  For weeks now, they’ve been saying that Obama wouldn’t name any spending cuts in a game of gotcha chicken.  The minute Obama blinked it was a.) not going to be enough to satisfy them and b.) going to come back to bite the Democrats in the ass because they were the ones who finally conceded on spending cuts that no one likes without getting much of anything in return.  So, what does Obama do?  He blinks.  Not only does he blink, he practically gives away every advantage he had and the Bush tax cuts remain pretty much intact for the 1% while the Chained CPI takes a big chunk of money away from vulnerable seniors as well as raising their taxes.

By the way, there is a very good reason why the Chained CPI is a horrible idea.  It’s predicated on the idea that seniors will choose to scale down on their consumer choices.  They’ll buy more generic goods at the grocery store or go to Walmart more often than Macy’s.  (Great, I can just imagine what my limited fashion choices are going to look like in 20 years.  More sparkly things that fit my tall frame even less well because all of the patterns are cut for some 5’2″ model from the Phillipines.)  And I might as well just forget about replacing any Apple gadgets when I hit retirement age.

How does this benefit Main Street?  If seniors now have to forgo the few little luxuries they have or pick the progressively less expensive items, isn’t that going to have an effect on what is sold and consumed?  And won’t that eventually impact the economy and create a progressively larger drag on it?  Just askin’ because to Republicans, the fate of the economy doesn’t seem to be very important as long as they get their exemptions on their dividends and they don’t have to look at a poor person in Walmart clothing.  What I see evolving is a modern version of the Sumptuary Laws where the “most vulnerable seniors” will still be able to buy low quality consumer goods because that’s where they are in the social ladder and should not seek to rise above their station.

More on this: Thereisnospoon’s post from this morning laments along with Markos Moulitsos at DailyKos that Obama is a bad negotiator and he’s is going to betray the left that supported him.

Let me tell you a little joke:

There was a dull witted guy who came home from work early one afternoon to find his wife in bed with another man.  The guy is distraught so he goes to the kitchen and returns with a sharp knife.  Then he stands over the bed and holds the knife to his throat.  The wife looks up and starts to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?”, he says, “You’re next.”

Ba-dum-dum.

I kept thinking about this joke all during the election season and I would have told it sooner but some people would have just called me a racist.

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

The last item has to do with marketing.  There’s a grocery store in my town that I have been going to faithfully since I moved here in 1992.  But lately, the things I like are disappearing from the shelves.  It started with some bagged salad items but the trend is picking up steam lately.  Suddenly, I can’t find 2% yogurt anymore.  More than once I’ve bought groceries home, stuck my spoon in what I thought was going to be a thick and creamy Greek yogurt and unwittingly spooned a glob of honey flavored paste in my mouth.  Almost every flavor of yogurt on the shelf is 0% fat yogurt.  Oh sure, there are something like *two* flavors out of zillions that are 2%.  They’re usually in flavors I don’t like, like pineapple.  Don’t get me wrong, I like pineapple but I don’t want it in my yogurt.  I want lemon in my 2% Greek yogurt.  Can’t find it anymore on my grocery store shelves.

A similar thing has happened to the UHT milk.  The store has moved the location of the UHT milk to the juice aisle and reduced the size of the section devoted to it.  No explanation.  It just happens to be the only milk I buy because otherwise, fresh milk spoils in my house before we get around to drinking it.  You can store UHT milk forever.  But no, the UHT milk is on its way out.

The hummus crisis is emblematic of this trend.  In my grocery store, we have more flavors of hummus than I can count:

I can’t believe that Hillsborough can really distinguish between so many brands and flavors of hummus.  I’d like to see how much hummus gets dumped by the store.  But there is only one kind of babaganoush, which my house prefers.  We also like Tsazhiki but it’s ridiculously expensive.  I’d be inclined to make it myself but I don’t want to make it with 0% fat Greek yogurt, which is just about all there is.

I blame marketing and those stupid loyalty cards.  Apparently, there weren’t enough of us buying Chobani 2% lemon yogurt and now, the marketing people at Chobani and Shop Rite headquarters are going to send nothing but 0% yogurt from now until doomsday.  The thing that drives me nuts is not that they should be sending less of the flavors that were selling slightly less well but it turns out that they aren’t sending any of those flavors at all.  It’s apparently all or nothing in marketingland.

It somehow never occurs to them that flooding the shelves with only one type of yogurt or middle eastern spread or milk or whatever is reducing their sales.  I won’t buy 0% yogurt because it tastes bad, I don’t care how many suburban soccer moms have decided that 2% fat in yogurt is bad for you, I’m not buying the 0%.  Ever.  I do not like mouthfuls of pasty yogurt so I will go without it.  So, right there, Shop Rite has lost my yogurt purchases when I used to buy yogurt there routinely.  But it’s even stupid from a Greek yogurt perspective.  When Greek yogurt first hit the stores several years back it was special because of the unique flavors like lemon, honey and pomegranate.  If Greek yogurt manufacturers drop that uniqueness and instead go for more mainstream flavors like strawberry and the absolutely worst flavor in the world, strawberry-banana, what will make Greek yogurt stand out among the Dannons, Yoplaits and store brands that are much less expensive?  Instead of being something special that Americans would experience and come to love gradually, the Greek yogurt manufacturers have killed themselves by listening to their marketing experts and become just like every other yogurt on the shelves.  Except because their yogurt is strained, the end product of a 0% yogurt has none of the creaminess of a typical American or European style yogurt.  So now not only is the flavor not “Greek”, it’s got the consistency and mouthfeel of Elmer’s School Paste.  I will now go out of my way to Wegmans to find something that is now considered “niche” or I’ll make it myself.  Same with babaganoush.  From now on, I’ll go somewhere else for that or I’ll buy an eggplant for half the price at the little farmer’s market produce store and make it myself.

The steady encroachment of marketing on my grocery purchases feels like a combination of Soviet five year plans crossed with bullying.  “You buy the yogurt we have because we tell you what you want and like even if you don’t want or like it and now we have no way of knowing what you want or like because we don’t give you any way to make a choice that we can collect data on.  Suck it up, suburbanite.  Why do you have to be different from your neighbors??”  I guess I don’t like the idea that I am subsidizing the rest of Hillsborough’s preferences (we don’t know how much they prefer these items because the loyalty cards can’t measure lack of choice) with higher costs for the items I actually like or can’t even find anymore.

Do we know that all the residents of Hillsborough like the same thing or am I the only one who ever complains?

Don’t answer that question.

In any case, the trend continues in Shop Rite which means I am finding myself buying more and more stuff at other stores.  It’s a shame.  I really used to like that grocery store.  But whatareyagoingtodo?  I want choice.  I gotta be me.

Some possible explanations for Obama’s poor performance

While we’re waiting for the party apparatchik at Digby’s place to recover from his post debate depression, can we give a plausible explanation for what went wrong?

Paul Krugman’s take on it was that Barack Obama has reverted to The Capillary Man he was in the aftermath of the convention in 2008:

People tend to forget how close the 2008 presidential race looked as late as August, and the immense frustration many Democrats felt with Barack Obama at the time. He seemed weirdly unwilling to drive home his case against Bush/McCain economic policies; his instinct, as people said, was apparently to go for the capillaries.

At one point, Jeff Jarvis tweeted:

I dare anyone to parse Obama’s statement on preexisting conditions. Didn’t he used to be articuilate? #debate

Ah, yes, another urban legend, Obama’s famed rhetorical skills, dies an ignoble death.  I have always noticed that without a teleprompter, or over-rehearsal, that Obama’s speaking style consists of sentences with multiple, labyrinthine prepositional phrases that lead listeners down blind alleys until they are lost.  Whether he does this intentionally to baffle us with bullshit or whether it comes naturally is debatable.  You shouldn’t have to do this if you are familiar with and committed to the concepts you are talking about.

By the way, I’m surprised Jeff got away with that tweet.  In 2008, he would have been branded a racist and driven out of polite society.  He would have spent the rest of his career in a house in the country, holed up with a couple of servants and never called on by the local gentry.  This year, he might just have a point.

The Guardian’s review of Obama’s performance looks like it was written by Frank Rich when he was still considered the Butcher of Broadway:

Barack Obama on the other hand appeared nervous, distracted and unprepared. After four years in the Oval Office, he’d lost his voice. Gone was the charisma, the optimism and the eloquence. Defensive, halting and verbose – he looked tired and that made his presidency look tired. Both campaigns set low expectations, but only Obama met them. If you were watching without knowing who was the president, you wouldn’t have guessed it was him.

Did The Guardian see the transfer of remains ceremony after the Libya disaster where he fell back on his 2008 habit of repeating everything Hillary had already said and relying on his penis years to appear more presidential?  I think she out dignified him anyway but she also seems to have retained her passion for what she believes in.  See for yourself.  Here’s the video link.  Her speech starts at minute mark 7:14 and she looks pretty grave at first but has a very strong, uplifting ending.  Obama’s speech follows hers and it seems like he’s copying from her paper again but his remarks don’t come from the heart the way hers do.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but it took me right back to the 2008 debates where she kicked his ass and the moderators always let him have the last word.

So, why did he blow it last night?  Here are some possible explanations:

1.) The dog ate his homework.  He didn’t take debate prep seriously, went to the debate prep session but spent most of the half hour shooting the breeze with his coach, forgot to take his book home, blah, blah, blah…

2.) He was tired from being all presidential throughout the day.  This is possible.  But we’ve seen Obama fresh as a daisy during other presidential appearances after long days and he wasn’t just tired last night, he was off.  As I commented during the debate while watching his body language, he looked dweebish.  His facial expressions and the smallness of his gestures reminded me of Michael Dukakis.  Capillary Man indeed.

3.)  He’s playing 11 dimensional chess!  We should expect to hear a variation of this theme from thereisnospoon after he takes his medication.  It was all a setup so he could look like the underdog coming from behind in the last couple of weeks.  Rejoice, comrades, for the glorious triumph of our leader is near!  And Romney lied!  It’s all fact checked!  See?!?

Give it up, guys, debates are visual experiences, Blink! moments.  You can follow them up with facts but it’s too late to stop the first impression from forming.  Hey! Why don’t you get on the White House’s case and tell Obama to actually start talking like a true Democrat or you were going to desert him, like you should have been doing for the past couple of years??  No?  Ok, well don’t waste your time trying to convince US to accept subpar performance.  We’ve got standards.

Ahhh, I see that Mr. Atkins has already posted an excuse.  It seems that everyone who thought Obama tanked last night was a white southerner over 50.  It’s not Obama’s fault at all.  It’s the voters’ fault for being rural, ignorant bigots!  Sooooo, that would make Jeff Jarvis, Paul Krugman and the Guardian redneck racists. It’s reassuring to know that the campaign *is* going to fall back on accusations of racism after all. The Obama campaign pulls out that sledge hammer when all else fails, just like in 2008.  Well, my equilibrium is restored.

4.) He’s worried.  He’s looking at the poll numbers and they seem to be obstinately sticky.  He can’t seem to take a commanding lead over Mitt despite Romney’s own fuckups and a steady stream of negative characterizations from the Obama campaign.  He’s even unmasked himself as a true moderate Republican to reach out to the independent swing voters and blue collar women the advisors are always telling him to target and it’s not getting him the space he needs between Mitt and himself.  God, what do they want from him??  And where is the disaster that would make him look good?

5.) He needed to be primaried for his own sake.  He’s been living in an insulated and isolated bubble, surrounded by the 1%’s henchman who keep telling him that the banks need to be saved above all else and that austerity must be imposed.  In the process, he lost touch with his base and has forgotten that it’s also necessary to fight.  The debates are the whole campaign thing again and he’s not in shape and doesn’t seem to remember that he has to differentiate himself from Mitt, not agree with him.  If he had been primaried, he’d have more of an idea of what the base thinks is important instead of constantly discrediting it, and he might be more energetic.

Or, it’s a combination of some or all of the above.  Any other theories?  Put them in the comments.

In any case, he’ll look better next time, because it’s hard to imagine him doing worse.  There’s a lot of money riding on this race and the Democrats put all their eggs in this basket for the whole duration.  Stupid, in retrospect, but even though many, many people are kicking themselves for gleefully murdering Hillary’s career (I’m talking to you, Chris Matthews), they’re stuck with Obama now.

The honeymoon is over

Paul Krugman asks a good question

From Bitter Knitter to Sans Culottes

In his recent Conscience of a Liberal blogpost, Nation of Takers, Paul asks:

Ask yourself: when was the last time a Republican leader made a point of praising hard-working, ordinary families — as opposed to “job creators”?

We’re out here.  We work hard.  We don’t necessarily want to be rich.  Some of us derive satisfaction from our work in different ways.  But we still need to get paid, feed our kids, take care of them when they’re sick, provide for our retirements.

We DESERVE those things.  Americans are the hardest working people on the planet.  I’m tired of the rich and the well connected and a certain segment of the Democratic power faction as well, looking down on the rest of us without any appreciation for how the garbage gets picked up, their kids learn to read The Hobbit, or how the cancer drugs get made.

The rich have to lie to themselves about us.  It makes them feel less guilty about taking everything that isn’t nailed down if they can convince themselves that we didn’t earn it.  But that shit never lasts.  It will always come back to bite them in the ass.  If you impoverish a population, they can’t buy your crap, crime gets to be out of control and you get a different brand of worker a decade down the road, surly, cynical, and not particularly invested in the quality of the things they are forced to do for the measly money they get.

It won’t be a nice country to live in anymore.  That’s what the rich are bringing on themselves.  Oh sure, they will always have their nice little enclaves.  But they will be surrounded with their retainers who don’t like them and can’t wait for bad things to happen to them.  They will have to spend more and more money to protect themselves and they will never feel safe.

Enjoy it while you can.

When all you’ve got are metaphors

Paul Krugman is wrong:

Dean Baker has exactly the right metaphor for journalists asking the really dumb “are you better off” question:

Suppose your house is on fire and the firefighters race to the scene. They set up their hoses and start spraying water on the blaze as quickly as possible. After the fire is put out, the courageous news reporter on the scene asks the chief firefighter, “is the house in better shape than when you got here?”

Yes, that would be a really ridiculous question.

A serious reporter asks the fire chief if he had brought a large enough crew, if they enough hoses, if the water pressure was sufficient. That might require some minimal knowledge of how to put out fires.

Obama came to office in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The question should be how well he dealt with that crisis — and in particular whether the man seeking to replace him would have done better.

I am by no means a Ronald Reagan fan. But, WOW — his question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is exactly the right question to ask whenever a president runs for reelection. I just wish Ted Kennedy had thought to ask it so plainly during his primary run.  It might have saved us all a lot of grief.  Or maybe not. So. Not “really dumb,” not even “dumb” — of course there are other questions to ask but I think we can handle that.

If you can’t run on your record then all you’ve got are metaphors

But, the “dumb” crack is only one weakness in Krugman’s argument. The real weakness is that he’s following what is obviously a Democratic Party Talking Point and discussing Obama’s history as president and his current campaign as if he exists in an alternate universe.

Let’s take a quick side trip to another alternate universe as an example in this post by Vast Left Wing Conspiracy:

Note that amid the various threads that split off from this, Aravosis says at one point: “perhaps it’s more accurate to say country is better off and people would be far worse right now if McCain had won.”

But the question at hand wasn’t “would an alt-reality term by the vanquished opponent have been worse?” It was the traditional query about how American citizens fared under the incumbent’s tenure

(I would encourage you to take a look at Vast Left’s post because — well, you’ll hate yourself later if you don’t)

Krugman blows right past the importance of Obama’s record as president and right into a question that is possibly weirder than than Aravosis’s (although Aravosis totally wins the bizarre metaphor competition.) I’ll repeat:

Obama came to office in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The question should be how well he dealt with that crisis — and in particular whether the man seeking to replace him would have done better.

Does Krugman REALLY expect that voters are supposed to imagine that Romney ran in 2008 and compare that alt-administration against Obama’s? Because I think that’s dumb.

From my point of view (and granted, I’m not an economist) – I have to wonder why 4 years after my house burned down nothing has been done to rebuild it.

And – as Dan H asked, why haven’t the arsonists been prosecuted.

Obama isn’t running against McCain this year (or Romney in 2008!!) – that’s a done deal. He’s running against his own record and Mitt Romney. Which should have been a joke campaign considering Romney’s history of making a personal contribution to raising the unemployment rate.

That Obama is running neck and neck against the guy shows that Unemployment is likely a critical issue in this race. And many of Obama’s 2008 voters aren’t impressed with his record on the issue.

There is a reason that Team Obama is throwing around all these metaphors — it’s all he’s got to offer us.

Throwing up a little

Krugman writes today about the homeowner mortgage crisis.  You remember the homeowners, don’t you?  They are those people who got into the market too late and are now underwater on their mortgages and paying much higher interest rates than they could get right now.

So, anyway, there’s an idea floating around that maybe if the guy who heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency would cooperate with the Obama White House, some of those mortgages could be restructured to take advantage of those low interest rates, thus sparing some of those homeowners some financial pain.  But the director of that agency, Edward DeMarco, a Bush holdover, refuses to do what’s necessary to get the ball rolling.

Now, this is strange.  Presumably, this is an executive branch office so Obama should be able to bear down on this guy and make him do what he’s told.  That worked with Sheila Bair, the former head of the FDIC.  She wanted to restructure the biggest banks and make the shareholders take a haircut.  But Geithner would have none of it. Haircuts are for taxpayers who have been PREPAYING their social security benefits, not bankers and their shareholder buds.  So, Geithner stuffed a sock in Bair’s mouth and forced her to bailout the shareholders against her objections.  Easy Peasy.  Tim showed her how to strong arm.  Besides, who’s going to stick up for a girl, right?

So, you’d *think* that the same tactic could be used to force DeMarco to get off his duff but so far, none has been forthcoming from the Obama administration.  I noticed that Krugman is getting that pizza and orange juice taste in the back of his mouth when writing about this topic.  It must be hard to understand the inertia and then have to defend the stationary object behind it.  Let’s see if I can break it down.

Politically, DeMarco serves as a target for scorn, derision and hatred.  He’s a Republican holdover.  You have to ask yourself *why* Obama didn’t replace him back in 2009 when he became acting director after the former Bush appointee left.  If could be that Republicans would bend over backwards to block the new Obama nominee.  But that doesn’t make any sense because at the time DeMarco became the acting director, the Democrats had control of the Senate and with the right kind of political strong arming, Obama should have been able to get his nominee through.  Same for the Treasury appointees that were meeting with opposition.  There’s really no excuse for this.  When you have a filibuster proof majority, not using it to your party’s advantage is politically incompetent.

Second option- just fire the guy.  How hard is this?  Sure the Republicans would scream bloody murder.  So?  Bush did this all the time.  He just ignored the ranting and raving from the other side and he usually got his way.  Hey, remember when Dick Cheney shot that guy in the face and we thought it was curtains for Dick?  And then his victim took the blame and said he shouldn’t have gotten in the way of the shotgun pellets?  Was that genius or what?  Obama could have used his reputed political giftiness to get whatever he wanted in 2009.  I guess he was keeping his powder dry for something special.  And then 2010 came and that was the end of that.  Nevertheless, DeMarco is in his territory, so, presumably, Obama could keep firing acting directors until he got to the person who would do his bidding, if it were important to him.

Ahhh, now we’re getting to the nitty gritty.  How important is it to fire the guy so that his bidding is executed?  I’m guessing it’s about as important as making the shareholders take a haircut in the bank bailout.  In other words, it isn’t.  The people who hold those mortgages are much more important to him than the people who actually pay them.  Obama still needs those campaign donations.  One wonders why he can’t just point to all of the good things he’s done.  Why does he need to raise more money than Romney to show what a terrific and irreplaceable president he is?  The answer to this question is behind why I am so disinterested in this election and probably why Krugman throws up a little every time he has to climb the water tower with a bucket of paint to defend this guy.

So, to recap, DeMarco is convenient to the Democrats because they can point to him and blame the Republicans for being so mean and heartless while at the same time, they can party with their donors who haven’t paid a price for their moral hazard.

Nauseating, isn’t it?

*******************************

Rehab the Banks or I’m Going Green

Remember Amy Winehouse?  She was bright and talented and a total basket case. For years, her family and friends tried to get her to clean up her act.  I remember an interview with one of the Dap Kings who backed her as well as singer Sharon Jones.  He hinted that it was much, much less fun to tour with Winehouse.  Well, I guess so.  You’re trying to be professional and you never know what you’re going to get with an out of control alcoholic.  It makes you not want to play for her anymore.  She’s unreliable.

Her parents pleaded with the public to stop going to her concerts until she got sober. She looked like a train wreck waiting to happen.  When she died, was anyone really surprised?  I know I wasn’t.  She joined the 27 Club, predictably.  All very avoidable.  What a crying shame.

Same thing with the banks.  They’re out of control, unreliable and unstable.  At any moment now, they could just die on us.  But where Amy just ruined herself and not the rest of the world because she resisted rehab, having the banks act like addicts for extended periods of time has much more serious consequences to the rest of us.

Both candidates are enablers.  Obama has had many opportunities in the last 4 years to force the banks to clean up their act but he’s passed on nearly all of them.  He seems to not like regulation much, approaching each bank bailout as a new problem that needs a customized solution.  He slaps them on the wrist and tells them not to do it again.  Romney is a Republican.  Enough said.  Never trust them.  No, no, you former PUMAs, they are not nice people.  I even wonder if they’re a party and not simply a mob of crazed whip kissers lead by con men.  Actually, that’s *exactly* what the Republican party is today.  If you buy into that, you’re really buying into a culture of selfishness and greed disguised by a thin but garish veneer of piety.  And that’s about it.  They have no other goal than to dismantle government and take everything that isn’t nailed down.  Deep down inside, you know this but you can’t get over your anger and hatred of the DNC for what they did in 2008.  I’m not over it either but I’m not so blinded by it that I can’t see what the Republicans are up to.  The enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend in this case.

What I want is rehab.  Yep, if Obama can’t come up with a plan to rehab the financial services industry for our and their good, even at the risk of pissing some of them off, he needs to step aside.  If he can’t do the rehab thing, then he’s no use to us.  Everyday he continues to enable them and puts off getting them clean and sober, he puts us at risk for a catastrophic failure.  And this will happen because as long as they never suffer the consequences of their reckless behavior, they will get even more reckless.  Sooner or later, probably sooner, we will have another financial catastrophe on our hands.

If I were a Democrat, I’d be particularly concerned with the period after the convention and before the election.  Because once the candidate is selected, unexpected failures will fall on the head of the person in office.  Republican are masters of engineering when it comes to making voters scared to death.  If you don’t have a strong, steady, competent candidate to calm the waters, you’re screwed.

Don’t think the Republicans don’t want to win.  They want it very badly.  The last four years were entirely predictable.  The idea was to force an economic crisis on the American people and then make it as difficult as possible for the Democratic president to do anything about it.  The Republicans got an unexpected assist from the Democrats who nominated the weakest possible candidate they could find.  That leaves Obama holding the bag after four years of unrelenting pressure on the American people.  If you didn’t expect this, you weren’t paying attention.  And if you thought Obama was somehow going to overcome all of it when what was really needed was a president with some insight into the mechanisms of government and how to optimize efforts in a very bad situation, like firing Edward DeMarco and putting your guy in his place, then you were probably better off than most average American working people.  Those average Joes are now your responsibility.  You dragged them into this.

It’s all avoidable.  Rehab the party, rehab the banks.  Save the world.

What has Krugthulu been up to lately?

He’s been pimping his book, End This Depression Now!.  He’s been getting a lot of publicity lately and has been on a book tour in Europe and here.  I found this youtube video of Paul giving a short presentation on his book and doing a Q&A in Cambridge, MA.  For an economist, he’s very entertaining and funny.  I like his upbeat optimism.

Here’s hoping his book is wildly successful and that the working class (that would be all of us not living on our investments, O Best Beloved) encounter him in their travels across the media spectrum.  I fear he is a tiny voice in the wilderness unless he hits #1 on Amazon.

Disclaimer: You don’t need to order it from Amazon.  You can buy it at Barnes and Noble.  I saw it there yesterday.  You can probably get it at the Princeton Book Store, if you’re so inclined.  Or iTunes.  Whatever frosts your crockies.  I only mention Amazon because their top ranked booklist tends to get a lot of attention and maybe some economically and politically naive person might stumble on it.  Let’s not make this a diatribe about how evil Amazon is as a corporation or, you know, foolish consistencies, hobgoblins and all that.

{{rolling eyes}}

AND I WEAR NIKES!

So there!

(about an hour but it goes very quickly if you’re doing other things while you’re listening)

Monday: Break it to me gently

This morning, two extremely good looking dudes are upstairs cleaning my grout.

Wait, that didn’t sound right.

Anyway, the topic of this post is stuff we didn’t want to know about, stuff we tried to avoid seeing, but that is no longer avoidable, but we want to be let down easily.

Let’s start with this remarkable exchange that Paul Krugman had in London with some clueless austerians:

Conservatives seem to be in their own little universes where the laws of physics and supply and demand and the paradox of thrift do not apply to them.  They have beautiful theories destroyed by ugly facts.  It’s a world where new college graduates with $100K in student debt just can’t wait to start their own businesses and where unemployed chemists can start biotech companies by borrowing money from their “friends, families and fools”.

But nevermind that silly notion about how we all secretly want to become the equivalent of 18th century MBAs, Paul is trying to tell them that they were just dumped by the economy and it’s over, move on.  They want Paul to break it to them gently.  Let them down the easy way, presumably the way that doesn’t require any kind of concessions from them.  And Paul’s like, “He’s not coming back, Ok?  He doesn’t want you anymore.”  This exchange would almost be funny if it weren’t so deadly serious.  It’s very frustrating to have examined the data, run the models, found historical precedent and made accurate predictions only to have them ignored by people who are talking in non-sequitors about something completely different that works only in a different dimension.  I guess it’s going to have to take a global catastrophic failure before they get it. I don’t know what I find more disturbing about this: that there are so many disingenuous pundits out there lying to people or that these people may actually believe what they’re saying.  Is the average intelligence of the general populace really so low that people can’t reason this problem out?  That’s so frightening it makes me feel dizzy and sick.  Is there a 30 second youtube cartoon that can be put together to explain this to non-economists?

The second breakup story is from Peter Daou.  A year ago, he tried to warn the Obama administration that it needed to put more effort into courting its base but did it listen?  Daou found this article from April 2011 that suggested that the grassroots were not happy with Obama and wanted to see some effort from him before they started giving.  But the Democrats had Obama and they thought that everyone loved him because he’s so swave and de-boner so when the time came, they’d all come swooning back like they did in 2008.  Um, it turns out that isn’t happening.  In this new post from Buzzfeed Politics, we have this rather unsettling graphic that intimates that the honeymoon is over:

The dark blue dots are where Obama’s fundraising efforts have fallen off the most.  Funny how they follow state boundaries.  Isn’t it weird that this Democratic president has seen the least amount of fallout in predominantly conservative, bible thumping southern states? And JEEZ, look at the way Appalachia has been blowing him off.  But it’s not just Appalachia, California seems none too pleased, nor Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio.  In fact, it looks like all of the big states that Obama lost in the 2008 primaries are most seriously displeased.  I guess they’re trying to say that they’re just not that into him.  But the Democrats keep thinking that Obama’s the best that voters are going to get.  Sure, he’s a player, sure he’ll dump you for a Republicanesque bipartisan committee.  What are you going to do?  Voters are appearing to say that they’re not going to give him anymore money, how’s that?  They’ve been trying to let the party down the easy way for more than a year now.  But if the party isn’t listening, they might find that enough voters have left without a forwarding address that there will be a very rude awakening in November.

And then there is Wisconsin.  Bill Clinton was there a few days ago campaigning for Tom Barrett, the Democratic challenger in the recall election against Scott Walker.  Bill Clinton tried to give voters a wake up call about what this recall election means to them and the rest of working class Americans (working class is anyone not living off their bonuses and investments):

If you believe in an economy of shared prosperity when times are good, and shared sacrifice when they’re not, then you don’t want to break the unions. You want them at the negotiating table. And you trust them to know that arithmetic rules. Show up for Tom Barrett on Tuesday! If you want Wisconsin once again to be seen by all of America as a place of diversity, of difference of opinion, of vigorous debate, where in the end people’s objectives are to come to an agreement that will take us all forward together, youhave to show up for Tom Barrett on Tuesday!…

I can just hear it now, on Wednesday. All those people that poured all this money into Wisconsin, if you don’t show up and vote, will say, `see, we got them now. We’re finally going to break every union in America. We’re gonna break every government in America. We’re gonna stop worrying about the middle class. We don’t give a riff whether poor people get to work their way into it. We got our way now. We got it all. Divide and conquer works.’

You tell them no. You tell them, Wisconsin has never been about that, never will be about that — by electing Tom Barrett governor!

You can watch the whole speech here:

Clinton is not the kind of guy who likes recall elections or any attempt of one group of radicals to unseat a sitting elected official.  So, the fact that he’s out there in Wisconsin is significant because it means that he doesn’t see the working people of Wisconsin as a bunch of radicals.  This is THE most important election this year.  It is more important than the one in November, as it stands right now.  What Bill is really doing is sending a message to his own party to wake up and do something now because once the Republican juggernaut rolls over the working people of Wisconsin, it’s going to keep on rolling over everyone else.

Let me break it to you gently, lefty blogospherians, there is a battle right now within in the Democratic party.  We are seeing it play out in Wisconsin where the Democrats are pretending that they can straddle the fence.  They think that they can be for working class people in theory and still take money from big donors in practice and no one will notice when the economy fails and working people suffer.  That’s not going to happen.

Please note who is out there stumping for us.  Pay attention to what he is saying.  You need to have a vision of where you want to take the country.  You know all that shit you’ve been swallowing about how Bill Clinton wrecked the welfare system?  Think about that for a moment.  If you are one of those people who didn’t want to see the welfare system change to help people go to work and achieve and have dignity and get their families out of generational poverty, if what you really wanted was to just throw money at a problem and hope it went away, then you are a person who is afraid of change and not really aware of what a welfare check means to a person.  Do you know what we call people who like things the way they were and refuse to evolve?

Conservatives.

I am not going to break it to you gently, dear lefty progressives and liberals.  The left has failed to develop a vision of the future that acknowledges how our world has changed.  It has failed to figure out a way of elevating the working class out of the 20th century into the future with dignity, fairness, equality and excitement for what comes next.  The Democratic party fractured itself in 2008 and now it is floundering. The signs are all around that there’s a big breakup coming.  It needs to get its shit together as quickly as possible or we are all going to pay the price this November when the tons of money pouring into conservative message creating manages to aerosolize the working class and makes it impossible for any of us to join together and push back.

Monday: Structural unemployment is a lie

It’s bullshit.

For those of you scratching your heads, it’s the idea that the reason so many people are unemployed is because they don’t have the right skills, education and technological training or they’re located in the wrong places in the country.

I can only imagine the titans of industry at the job junkets where they go to speak to former presidents and cabinet members, whining about how if they could only find more graduates in STEM fields, they wouldn’t have to send all this work overseas or import so many H1-B visa workers.  Woe is they, crocodile tears, wringing of hands.  It’s just pathetic.

And it’s a lie.  It’s the biggest lie in the country these days.  Lie, lie, lie.

Paul Krugman doesn’t believe it and has been writing about it for the past couple of weeks.  He thinks unemployment is a problem caused by lack of demand.  But even that doesn’t tell the whole story.  In the STEM fields, unemployment is a deliberate, calculated, psychopathic and destructive strategy for reducing costs at the expense of the research industry and consumer health.  It’s just a way of extracting wealth.  There’s no demand problem.  There are more than enough projects to keep every scientist alive busy for the rest of their lives.  And there certainly is no shortage of people suffering from diseases.

And now, here comes Zachary Karabell in Newsweek who disagrees and says that we have a structural unemployment problem and who has apparently not been following Pharmageddon:

Distressingly, this framing of the debate limits so many options. You can view the waves buffeting society as structural and long-term and then argue for cogent government action—and yes, spending—that acknowledges and addresses that reality. But where can that view be found in the current policy framework? You could argue for aggressive government action to manage a generational shift, to seek productive employment for the unemployed à la the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. After all, if we are going to spend tens of billions a year on unemployment benefits, and if those benefits make people feel simultaneously helpless and worthless, why not spend the same money allowing those people some gainful use of what skills they have? And if there truly is a generation lost in the transition, then we owe that generation a solid net—but we do not owe that to the generation now emerging. Instead, they deserve the opportunities to acquire the skills and training that they will need in a post-manufacturing world as surely as those farmers in 1900 needed new skills in a 20th-century manufacturing world.

Ok, he’s got the first part right.  We need a WPA program for unemployed scientists so we can use the skills we already have.

But he totally fails when he ignores the reason for the generational shift (greedy bankers and shareholders) and says that we need more skills and training.  We have hundreds of thousands of people who are plenty skilled and trained in science and technology who can’t find jobs or can find jobs and are willing to move, or have moved and find themselves laid off again.

What we really need is a leader who is determined to put his or her foot down with the finance guys and has a vision of the future of American recovery where we use the people we already have.  Otherwise, when the finance guys have done drinking the milkshake of pharma and come to the realization that they need American researchers just like the good old days, there won’t be *any* STEM workers because the next generation won’t be caught dead in a lab in a dead end job and no job security.  Then structural unemployment will have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

STEM students aren’t stupid, you know.  Well, not anymore they’re not.

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For those of you who haven’t been following the saga of Trustus Pharmaceuticals, here’s a recap of the chocolate cookie of the apocalypse:

First, the bad news that the company is going with throttle up on the alpha12 project:

Second, the sign of the endtimes for the alpha12 project- the project polo shirts (I’ve been there but on our case, it was shirts and color changing coffee mugs with comic book character graphics and ads that would have made Don Draper proud.  And that compound looks very familiar, probably a HTS screening hit I threw out.):

The Occupy Handbook: The Great Recession

This econ dude from Princeton, his econ wife and some other people (including Matt Taibbi), wrote an economic field guide called The Occupy Handbook for the Occupy Movement and published it.  Salon has posted the first chapter called Economy Killers: Inequality and GOP Ignorance.  Go check it out.

The official publication date is tomorrow, April 17.  That it’s also Tax Day is probably no coincidence. I love stuff like this so I’ll spend a bit of my vanishing budget to by a Kindle edition.  My question is, will this book be read by the average Joe Bag O’Donuts?  Aren’t the writers preaching to the choir when they excerpt to Salon?  Does this book have the capacity to cut through the media filter to reach a broader audience?  Let’s hope so.

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