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So Europe is in a depression. Will America follow?

I’ve seen this depressing news in the last couple of days.  Relentless austerity in Europe has brought on an economic depression.  Krugman has more:

Simon Wren-Lewis thinks that the European embrace of austerity was a historical contingency; basically, the Greek crisis strengthened the hand of the austerians at a critical moment. I don’t think it’s that easy to explain; my sense was that there was powerful anti-Keynesian sentiment in Europe even before the Greek crisis, that macroeconomics as Anglo-Saxon economists understand it never had a real constituency in Europe’s corridors of power.

I think of it more as a war zone.

Based on what I learned yesterday on the changing nature of employment, ageism and the effect of Obamacare on spending, I can’t help but see another economic downturn in this country as well.  People have to have money to spend to make the economy grow.  The warriors may soon have a pyrrhic victory on their hands because deflation tends to spread without economic interventions.

So does unrest, violence and instability.  Like in Ferguson.

So not good.

 

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Friday, Gadding about

We’ve come so far, in such a short time.  (or it seems like only yesterday):

Measles cases reached 15-year high in 2011

Back in 2000 measles was eliminated from the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But now a new CDC study tells us there were 17 outbreaks and 222 cases of the highly infectious disease reported in 2011.

“Last year many U.S. travelers brought back more than they bargained for,” said Dr. Ann Schuchat, director, CDC’s Office of Infectious Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease. “This is the most reported number of cases of the measles in 15 years.”

Measles was wiped out in the U.S. for more than a decade, thanks in large part to the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Cases here are sporadic and although the numbers reported seem relatively small, the CDC says vaccination is still key to maintaining elimination in the U.S.

And you don’t have to travel to obscure places to be exposed. Last year there were more than 37,000 cases of measles in Europe alone, including 27 cases of encephalitis – a serious infection that can lead to brain damage and possible deaths. Ninety percent of cases reported to in the WHO European region were found in just five countries: France, Italy, Romania, Spain and Germany.

I’m not a world traveler so this isn’t something I know anything about at all but, I thought there were certain shots you have to get when you travel around the world. Am I wrong or did that change?


This will surprise you but, I’m also not rich. So take this with a grain of salt…. I’d be way more impressed if these billionaires donated their excess cash to the Social Security or Medicare trusts than some carefully selected (or invented) charity.

12 more billionaires sign on to Buffett/Gates pledge

Their commitment is to give away at least 50% of their wealth in their lifetimes or at death to charity. Buffett and the Gateses developed the idea believing that a quantified goal would help the wealthy to think through their philanthropic plans. (For the full story on the $600 billion challenge, click here.) “Obviously there are a host of people we can recruit, and certainly we’ll be signing up many more,” says Buffett. “But I will tell you, I would have thought the Giving Pledge a success at levels well below 81.”

… also? I’m creeped out by anyone having control of that much money. The payroll taxes (Social Security & Medicare) should be 100% on any sort of income over $10 million a year. Ooops — Did I say that out loud?


Have you visited Many Years Young lately? Every single day, Carolyn comes up with a great mix of stories. Here’s today’s selection:

Letting Go of Regret May Be Key to Happy Aging
New View of Depression: An Ailment of the Entire Body
Blood test looks promising in diagnosing depression
Medicare Now Covers Annual Screening For Depression
Plus lots more.


Activists sue Obama, others over National Defense Authorization Act

A coalition of well-known journalists, activists and civil libertarians have sued President Obama, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other members of the U.S. government to push them to remove or rewrite this year’s defense appropriations bill, saying it chills speech by threatening constitutionally protected activities such as news reporting, protest and political organizing in defense of controversial causes such as the Wikileaks case.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was launched by former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, claim that the new provisions, which went into effect March 1, not only put them at risk of arrest but also allows indefinite detentions of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, and that the provisions are too vague.

. . .

“My activities as a civil liberties, democracy advocate and independent journalist definitely leave me under the purview of the vague language of the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act],” says Jennifer “Tangerine” Bolen, one of seven current plaintiffs, along with Hedges, in the suit. A host of live panel discussions with what she calls “activists and revolutionaries” as part of independent media outlet Revolution Truth, Bolen has had ongoing contact with Wikileaks activists in an effort to get information to the public.

“I believe that could leave me in imminent danger of harm,” she says. “There was a global, trans-partisan, outpouring of distress over Obama signing the NDAA into law on Dec. 31, 2011, and I decided I had to do something.”


I’ve been thinking about corruption lately.  Not for any specific reason but, just noticing how sometimes when I read a newspaper story about – say a fire (where an entire apartment building burns down  which has happened around here almost once a month for a year) – I wonder if something went ‘wrong’ during an inspection.  No one around here is talking about it.  But, I’ve just started thinking about corruption…

Sequoia Fund Manager Campaigns Against Goldman Board Member, Former Fannie CEO Jim Johnson h/t Lambert:

A telling taboo in elite circles is the issue of corruption. At INET last year, after a panel discussion on the financial crisis, Jamie Galbraith said he was astonished that there was not a single mention of fraud. His observation was met with a resounding silence.

Second, it assumes that it isn’t worth taking a firm position on ethics because it will turn off powerful people who have engaged in questionable behavior. Better to be less accusatory in order to have a dialogue with them. I don’t buy that because being indulging their justifications of their conduct helps preserve a bad status quo.

One aspect of American exceptionalism is many still believe the US is cleaner and more above board than most other advanced economies. But if you go overseas, you will find that a lot of businessmen see the US as not particularly ethical. One British colleague who has worked with major US firms described the US as becoming more and more a scam-based economy (in fairness, he was really talking about the financial services industry). An American who works a great deal with foreign investors said his clients saw the US at best as on a par with other big countries, at worst, with Russia.

These are just some of the stories I’ve been reading lately.  Have you seen anything interesting?

MORE:

BP Covered Up Blow-out Two Years Prior to Deadly Deepwater Horizon Spill

Two years before the Deepwater Horizon blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico, another BP off-shore rig suffered a nearly identical blow-out, but BP concealed the first one from the U.S. regulators and Congress.

This week, EcoWatch.org located an eyewitness with devastating new information about the Caspian Sea oil-rig blow-out which BP had concealed from government and the industry.


Bipartisan Political Elite Implicated in For-Profit Education Fraud

In the cases of Senator Snowe and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), their husbands have operated under the cover of their wives as they directly benefited, and continue to benefit from, their positions as shareholders in for-profit college companies. Snowe and Feinstein are accomplices in the ongoing evisceration and defrauding of citizen taxpayers and students, which explains the pair’s complete silence on this matter.

The so-called ruling class of government officials and elected politicians, to which Feinstein and Snowe clearly belong, is little more than a gaggle of white-collar criminals which facilitates and benefits from the diversion of taxpayer money into private coffers. It all takes on the appearance of legitimacy. Unfortunately, this is not a victimless crime. Like Washington, thousands of students who attend these subprime institutions are left with tens of thousands of dollars of nondischargeable debt which ends up ruining their lives.


The Culture of Cannibalism in US Politics: The Triumph of The Cyclop’s Values Over Democratic Citizenship

{The first essay in this series introduced a model I created to explain the cycle of corruption that plagues US politics. This essay looks into the roots of this corruption. It takes a long time to get to the payoff. Further, the conclusion is somewhat ex nihilo if you have not read the first essay. This said, for those who dare, I hope you find it worth the read.}
polyphemus2-3717

Polyphemos the cyclops would have eaten Odysseus, if his survival was dependent on the moral virtues of Silenus’s satyrs. Fortunately for Odysseus, and Silenus and his lot, Odysseus could depend on his fellow citizens. If Polyphemos had the majority of America’s elected representatives depending on him for their survival in his cave, the way that they are presently beholden to lobbyists’ money for their electoral survival, he could have had a ready supply of citizens for his daily meals.

Cyclopean virtues regularly triumph over the virtues of democratic citizenship in the political landscape of the United States. Given that the Declaration of Independence embodies the spirit and principles that ground the virtues of democratic citizenship, why is it that cyclopes, who eat humans, win the day in America? Answering this question requires that we journey back to Attic Greece and her proto-democratic foundations. Continue reading

Monday: No blank check for YOU

President Elect Obama, the Fresh Prince of Bill Ayers, gave an interview to 60 Minutes last night.  The New York Times watched it so we wouldn’t have to.  Senator Abstract Painting finally told us what he really represents.  In short, banks and financial institutions get all the money in the Treasury; little people losing their houses?  Ehhh, not so much:

President-elect Barack Obama said in an interview on the CBS program “60 Minutes” on Sunday that one of his top priorities will be to “restore a sense of balance” to the regulation of financial markets, but rejected the idea of a so-called “new New Deal” for America.

Mr. Obama acknowledged the parallels between the current economic crisis and the problems of the Great Depression, but said that he supported solutions that are “true to our times.”

“For us to simply recreate what existed back in the 30s in the 21st century — I think would be missing the boat,” Mr. Obama said in the interview. “I think the basic principle that government has a role to play in kick-starting an economy that has ground to a halt is sound. I think our basic principle that this is a free market system and that that has worked for us, that it creates innovation and risk taking, I think that’s a principle that we’ve got to hold to as well.”

Didja get that?  Mr. Smartest President EVAH does not believe in doing his research, finding out what worked in the past and updating those solutions for the benefit of average everyday Americans.  No, he believes in the “innovation and risk taking” of the “free market”.  Well, I’m glad we got that settled.  It only took us a year to figure out W.O.R.M. (What Obama Really Meant).

But wait!  There’s more:

In his first post-election interview, the president-elect also reiterated his support for providing additional assistance to Americans facing home foreclosure as well as government involvement in bailing out the troubled automobile industry.

“It can’t be a blank check,” Mr. Obama said of a plan to help automakers. “My hope is that over the course of the next week, between the White House and Congress, the discussions are shaped around providing assistance but making sure that that assistance is conditioned on labor, management, suppliers, lenders, all the stakeholders coming together with a plan — what does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like?”

No blank check for you, says Lord of Fiscal Responsibility Who Was MORE Than Happy To Vote on the FIRST Paulsen Bailout Bill That Was Nothing But a Blank Check.  When that first bill came around that gave us taxpayers the unique opportunity to buy up all of the banks’ toxic assets but not get anything in return, Obama was totally onboard with that.  Someone in the Senate, we still don’t know who, snuck a provision in the second bill that gave the government the option of actually owning pieces of those banks.  We’re silent partners, pretty much, but at least if the money ever comes back, we’re entitled to a substantial chunk of it- theoretically.  But this was not a requirement for Obama.  He was content to write the banks a blank check.

Now, he could be singing a different tune in a couple of months.  Maybe someone like Paul Krugman can school him on what The New Deal really was all about.  That way, he won’t end up sounding like clueless laissez-faire free marketeer George Will.  We hope this happens behind closed doors would be far less embarrassing than doing it on national TV:

Stimulating the banks, er, economy with money may not be enough.  A NEW New Deal may indeed be what is called for, complete with restructuring of mortgages with HOLC, government projects that put people to work and affordable healthcare for all Americans so that companies like GM can dig themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves by designing nothing but gas guzzling asphalt boats.  It’s doable.  I mean, he’s only going to have a Democratic Congress to play with.  If things get tough in Appalachia, even the hardest hearted Blue Dog Democrat could be pressured to bend.  Heck, it worked so well with delegates at the convention, I can’t believe Obama’s already lost his touch in 4 months.

You can see where all of this is heading.  We now see Obama for what he is.  The presidency has solidified him out of his air of mystery.  He doesn’t have to play the game anymore.  He could have just said, “Screw it, I’m a Democrat and I cherish the principles of my party.  I’m going to restore the social safety net.  Take *that*, David Broder!”  But he did not.  Personally, I’m angry.  The money is saving the asses of the people who innovated and risk took us into this mess but when it comes to a solution for the rest of us, a New Deal is already off the table.  He must have learned that from Pelosi.  Well, his backers got what they wanted- the ability to to whatever the f^&* they want without consequence and absolutely no obligation to the rest of us.  What’s that you say, Obamaphiles?  That’s not what you wanted??

Tsk, tsk, $600,000,000 in small money donations just doesn’t buy what it used to.

Speaking of money, MABlue pointed me to this chilling article in Portfolio about The End of Wall Street.  Read it and you will want to go sharpen your pitchfork and hunt down the person who dreamt up 401K’s.  There isn’t a prison harsh enough for the people who did this to us.

In the meantime, PUMAs, it’s time to work off those turkey dinners in advance.  We’ve been sedentary for a year now and we need to get up and boogie before the fat hardens.  So, make a commitment to yourselves to put in at least 30 minutes of heart pumping activity into your day this week.  I’m hitting the fitness center at work.  I have stepper today, chisel tomorrow, treading on Wednesday, Spin on Thursday and Zumba on Friday.  That will entitle me to a helping of stuffing with gravy.

Here’s some morning music from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings to get you started:

Monday: Bi-Partisan Bank Robbery?

I don’t pretend to understand Credit Derivative Swaps and financial ‘instruments’ and it looks like the people who have been playing with them for the past eight years don’t understand them either.  But we better all get some ejucashun and nollij about them toot sweet because Treasury Secretary Paulson is about to give clean out the treasury to bail Bush’s buddies out of trouble.  Well, we can hardly blame them. Opportunities like these don’t come around often and time is running out.

We should have seen this coming.  The Bushies have been looting ever since they took office.  If they’re not saddling us with tremendous debt from some unnecessary war and loading up planes full of money to Iraq, they are rewarding their lobbyist friends with sweetheart deals.  They’ve really exceeded their daily chutzpah with the last one.  If you have been following Anglachel’s Journal for the past couple of days the plan is clear and the fix is in.  It sounds like Paulson is planning to hand over $700 billion dollars of your hard earned tax dollars to the firms on Wall Street to buy their assets.  The claim is that this will prevent a massive financial meltdown and Depression.  Under that scenario, we the people should expect something in return, like, I dunno, greater oversight?  Accountability?  Regulation?  Nope.  Paulson is saying we should just give these people the money and trust them.  AND instead of asking some of them to take what is “fair market value” for their depreciated real estate assets, which would mean they are perhaps 35-40% underwater, Paulson has decided to give them greater than market value for these turkeys.

But wait!  There’s more.  If you been paying attention, Hillary Clinton has been proposing something like the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) where the government would restructure and refinance bad mortgages from individual homeowners and make them affordable.  The theory goes that if those homeowners are able to pay their loans at more reasonable rates, the money would start flowing back to the banks, increasing their solvency.   And not only is this a beautiful theory, it has actually been done before- successfully.  It was implemented during the Great Depression.

Of course, that would mean that the banks would take a loss on some of their investment ‘instruments’(God, I hate jargon.  Why not just call it a con game and get on with it?).  And the financial institutions would prefer that YOU the taxpayer is stuck holding the bag, not them the royal f%($-ups.  It *seems* like this was their plan all along.  Play with other people’s money, suck up all the extra liquidity there is in the economy, deregulate everything and when it looks like the whols she-bang is about to go under, scream that the sky is falling so citizens panic about their money and the Treasury cuts yet another sweet heart deal that leaves the rich guys off the hook.

We can’t let it happen this time, guys.  If the economy is really on the verge of collapse, then the financial institutions have to make sacrifices just like everyone else in order to fix it.  Otherwise, the FDIC will be wiped out and everyone’s money is at risk.  Not that Mr. Moneybucks cares.  He’s got his.  You get yours whatever way you can.  If you don’t have friends in high places, tough noogies.  Well, we DO have some friends in high places.  Hillary has a plan, but doesn’t she always?  The question is, will the rest of Congress get religion and where do Obama and McCain stand on the issue?  We need to hold their feet to the fire.  On that note, Sarah at Corrente has some suggestions:

First, and foremost, write and call and email — not just one, but all three — your representatives. Local, state, and federal. Send copies of your letters to the media. Demand Bu$hco’s bailout plan be scuttled NOW.
Second, get out of debt. If you’re contemplating buying something on credit, hold off 30 days.
Third, make sure any checking or savings accounts you have are within the limits of and with institutions covered by the FDIC. If you’re one of the lucky few who’ll have to move some money to do this, get after it.

And in the latest twist, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have transformed themselves from investment banks to bank holding companies subject to greater regulation.  That initially sounds good but there’s a catch:

In exchange for subjecting themselves to more regulation, the companies will have access to the full array of the Federal Reserve’s lending facilities. It should help them avoid the fate of Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy last week, and Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch — both of which agreed to be acquired by big bank holding companies.

So, it looks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley remain intact, just in time, and avoid acquisition by other banks because they are able to rely on the Federal Reserve to rescue them before they are declared insolvent.  Sweeeet!  Must be nice to have a sugar daddy in government.  Oh, you don’t have one?  That’s because you are supposed to be self-reliant!  Responsible!  A rugged individualist!  It builds character when you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  What?  You haven’t got any boots?  Well, whose fault is that?  This isn’t socialism, ya’ know.