Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Last Call

A couple of important things happened today involving President Obama.  First, he made an excellent speech in Kansas in the same town where a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt challenged the country to believe in building America, a "New Nationalism" as he busted the trusts.  Today, the President applied that to the 21st century.

Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top one percent has gone up by more than 250%, to $1.2 million per year. For the top one hundredth of one percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her workers now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade, the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about six percent.

This kind of inequality - a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression - hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy, from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity - that’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars they made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.

Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them - that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.

More fundamentally, this kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise at the very heart of America: that this is the place where you can make it if you try. We tell people that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, hard work can get you into the middle class; and that your children will have the chance to do even better than you. That’s why immigrants from around the world flocked to our shores.

And yet, over the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50-50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class.

It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It’s wrong. It flies in the face of everything we stand for.

Fortunately, that’s not a future we have to accept. Because there’s another view about how we build a strong middle class in this country - a view that’s truer to our history; a vision that’s been embraced by people of both parties for more than two hundred years.

Secondly, somebody in the Village actually realized that President Obama's regulatory policies weren't anti-capitalist socialist pogroms or job-killing nightmares, and used their media bullhorn to actually say something about it, in this rare case, David Brooks.

Data collected by Bloomberg News suggest that the Obama White House has actually reviewed 5 percent fewer rules than George W. Bush’s did at a similar point in his presidency. What has increased is the cost of those rules.

George W. Bush issued regulations over eight years that cost about $60 billion. During its first two years, the Obama regulations cost between $8 billion and $16.5 billion, according to estimates by the administration itself, and $40 billion, according to data collected, more broadly, by the Heritage Foundation.

That’s a significant step up, as you’d expect when comparing Republican to Democratic administrations, but it is not a socialist onslaught.

Nor is it clear that these additional regulations have had a huge effect on the economy. Over the past 40 years, small business leaders have eloquently complained about the regulatory burden. And they are right to. But it’s not clear that regulations are a major contributor to the current period of slow growth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics asks companies why they have laid off workers. Only 13 percent said regulations were a major factor. That number has not increased in the past few years. According to the bureau, roughly 0.18 percent of the mass layoffs in the first half of 2011 were attributable to regulations.

Some of the industries that are the subject of the new rules, like energy and health care, have actually been doing the most hiring. If new regulations were eating into business, we’d see a slip in corporate profits. We are not. 

Amazing how that works.  Utterly amazing.

Pardon The Interruption

Dafna Linzer's year-long ProPublica investigation into the factors surrounding supposedly color-blind presidential pardons from 1998 to 2008 is certainly one of the more important articles of the year.  The bottom line is that white pardon seekers were four times more likely to be granted a pardon than blacks.

ProPublica's review examined what happened after President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The office was given wide latitude to apply subjective standards, including judgments about the "attitude" and the marital and financial stability of applicants. No two pardon cases match up perfectly, but records reveal repeated instances in which white applicants won pardons with transgressions on their records similar to those of blacks and other minorities who were denied.

Senior aides in the Bush White House say the president had hoped to take politics out of the process and avoid a repetition of the Marc Rich scandal, in which the fugitive financier won an eleventh-hour pardon tainted by his ex-wife's donations to Democratic causes and the Clinton Presidential Library.

Justice Department officials said in a statement Friday that the pardon process takes into account many factors that cannot be statistically measured, such as an applicant's candor and level of remorse.

"Nonetheless, we take the concerns seriously," the statement said. "We will continue to evaluate the statistical analysis and, of course, are always working to improve the clemency process and ensure that every applicant gets a fair, merit-based evaluation." 

And given the extreme partisan politicization of the Justice Department under Bush 43, it's no wonder that "wide latitude" was used to trash black applicants and give white collar whites a pass.  Linzer explains this on Rachel Maddow's show from Monday night:

"You know, they're looking for the perfect person. They're looking for this incredibly stable person, this ideal person who will not present a risk to the president. who will not be some person who goes out and commits a crime again. That's their sense of what they're looking for. Again, as you said, in each of these cases, we looked at bankruptcies, we looked at liens, tax liens against people. Did they own their own home? All kinds of things.

Each case we found minorities who were struck out who had bankruptcies or other issues. We found african-american applicants who wanted a pardon in order to improve their employment stability and were denied for employment instability. Or seeking a pardon because they want, you know, they want a better job. They want financial stability and denied for financial instability. At the same time we found successful white applicants pardoned by President Bush who had bankruptcies who filed for bankruptcy more than once.

Who were divorced multiple times, who had -- for me one of the striking things was language that was used to describe African-Americans who had children outside of a marriage, where those children were described in denial recommendations as illegitimate or born out of wedlock. White successful applicants who had children outside of a marriage, those children were described as having been born from a previous or non-marital relationship, completely different language."

It very much looks like the language used by these career Justice Department lawyers to describe minority pardon applicants, particularly African-Americans, was filled with negative racial dog whistle terms: "illegitimate children", etc.  It was staggering the fact that this happened time and time again.  The protestations that the process was color-blind is what really eats at me, because it clearly was not.

Linzer's investigation cites more examples:

In multiple cases, white and black pardon applicants who committed similar offenses and had comparable post-conviction records experienced opposite outcomes.

An African American woman from Little Rock, fined $3,000 for underreporting her income in 1989, was denied a pardon; a white woman from the same city who faked multiple tax returns to collect more than $25,000 in refunds got one. A black, first-time drug offender -- a Vietnam veteran who got probation in South Carolina for possessing 1.1 grams of crack - was turned down. A white, fourth-time drug offender who did prison time for selling 1,050 grams of methamphetamine was pardoned.

All of the drug offenders forgiven during the Bush administration at the pardon attorney's recommendation - 34 of them - were white.

Oh, and it gets worse besides just the race angle:  the money and corruption angle was of course front and center as supplicants came to Congress to buy indulgences from the White House.

Turning over pardons to career officials has not removed money and politics from the process, the analysis found. Justice Department documents show that nearly 200 members of Congress from both parties contacted the pardons office regarding pending cases. In multiple instances, felons and their families made campaign contributions to the lawmakers supporting their pleas. Applicants with congressional support were three times as likely to be pardoned, the statistical analysis shows. 

But in the end, white privilege was the name of the game.

The most striking disparity involved African Americans, who make up 38 percent of the federal prison population and have historically suffered from greater financial and marital instability. Of the nearly 500 cases in ProPublica's sample, 12 percent of whites were pardoned, as were 10 percent of Hispanics.

None of the 62 African Americans in the random sample received a pardon. To assess the chances of black applicants, ProPublica used the sample to extrapolate the total number of black applicants and compare it with the seven blacks whom Bush pardoned. Allowing for a margin of error, this yielded a pardon rate of between 2 percent and 4 percent. 

Everything the Bush administration did was political.  Everything.  And everything they did involving the lives of African-Americans turned to complete shit.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Just another line item on the long, long bill of goods that "compassionate conservatism" represents to the black community since the 80's, I guess.  I'm not surprised at this, just moderately depressed that the only thing this accomplished was sweeping yet another massive white privilege iceberg under the rug until somebody with enough tenacity actually asked questions.  38% of the prison population, 2-4% of the pardons.  It's enough weight on my soul to even make me miss a step trying to carry it.

At the very least I'd like to see a truly transparent pardon process come out of this disaster.  That needs to happen regardless of this investigation, and the people to do it are President Obama and AG Eric Holder.

Here's hoping we get an announcement on that new process soon, and thanks to Dafna Linzer and ProPublica for bringing this to light.

Blowing Emissions Up Your Ass

Power utilities companies in Kansas are warning of Armageddon in 2012, saying Kansans will face rolling blackouts, millions in lost productivity, staggeringly high power bills and even complete outages in the summer months due to Evil Job-Killing EPA Pollution Regulations(tm).  These brave souls are suing the EPA in a DC appeals court to...umm, what do you mean that's all compete garbage?

Kansas utilities say that the rules have come so quickly and are so stringent that they won’t be able to comply in time. As a result, thousands of Kansans will experience rolling blackouts or brownouts, which will also cost jobs when the plants shut down. In addition, customers will face higher utility bills to pay for more than $100 million in new pollution control expenses and other costs.

“The adverse effects from such reductions caused by the 2012 emission limits are dire, concrete, substantial and imminent,” attorneys for Kansas utilities told a federal appeals court.

EPA says that’s nonsense. The costs will be far less — between $5 million and $30 million — and Kansas utilities will have more than a year to implement the emission controls.

“Kansas has failed to show that the lights will go out in Kansas,” attorneys for the EPA wrote.

In fact, the EPA says the benefits of the transport rule — prevention of 83 to 210 deaths annually in Kansas and a savings of $700 million to $1.7 billion annually in health care — far outweigh the utilities’ costs.

So these regulations would actually save Kansas taxpayers in the neighborhood of a billion dollars a year or so.  You would think Kansas would go "Hey, this is a pretty great deal for us.  Let's help you guys with the costs of reducing your emissions.  Here's some money.  Make this happen."

You of course would be completely wrong, because Republicans are involved.  They'd rather spend the money on suing the EPA.
The utilities and the Kansas attorney general joined a handful of states and several dozen utilities in filing lawsuits in the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., asking for a stay and further review of the rule.

The disagreement between Kansas, the utilities and EPA is so contentious that the two sides can’t even agree when the new rules were known and when they go into effect.

They say the EPA is only giving them until January to comply.

“No one expected that,” said Greg Greenwood, senior vice president of strategy for Westar.

They said the new rules would force them to shut down coal plants in midsummer.

“Unfortunately the new … requirements will substantially cost our members and those they serve,” said Cindy Hertel, a Sunflower spokeswoman. “Sunflower estimates that installing upgraded emission technology … will now cost our members nearly $21 million, and we expect to face additional costs” to meet the requirements.

Nope, we have to pass the costs on to the consumers!  It'll cost a hundred million and Kansas will become an electricity-free third world hellhole this summer!  YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES WILL SUFFER!

Look, even if the utilities are completely right on the $100 million figure, and the yearly health care cost savings are overestimated by a factor of ten and Kansas Republicans immediately passed a law that gave all the cost savings to the utilities until they had these new standards paid for as the ultimate in corporate welfare...that still means Kansas would be able to pay the utilities to cover their costs in just two years and Kansas taxpayers would save the difference every year after.  Deficit reduction?  Not for these guys.
It's insanity, but the Republicans in Kansas are too busy serving the utilities to serve Kansas.

Are You Talking To Me? No? That's A Stabbing

This is taking random violence to exciting new levels:

A 31-year-old Des Moines woman transported herself to an area hospital after being attacked at a Linn’s Super Market, 3805 and Sixth Ave., police said.

Glenna Hays was in the store with her sister Amanda Stanton, 23, and nephew Myles Pena, 18, Saturday evening, talking amongst themselves when they were interrupted, police said.

Stanton said the suspect, Alyssa Jamesetta Wright, 33, looked down the aisle at them and asked, “Are you talking to me?”

After the group told Wright they had not been talking to her, Stanton said the suspect came at Hays and began to fight with her.

Stanton said she did not know when the suspect pulled a knife, but the next thing she knew she saw her sister bleeding and cut and Wright running from out of the store.
Thank goodness she wasn't seriously injured.  She drove herself to be treated, which is amazing in itself. The suspect has been arrested, but this is the type of thing I worry about when I am around too many people.  When you throw the crazy dice, sometimes you get snake eyes.

A Final Take On Herman Cain

The Immoral Minority ran an interesting article linking Herman Cain to Sarah Palin.  I'm not going to lie, chocolate male doppelganger made me laugh out loud, but he backs it up with facts you don't have to look hard to prove.

Like Palin he believes he is destined to be the President.

Like Palin he believes the media is attacking him when they ask him hard questions,

Like Palin he refused to apologize for anything he was accused of doing, and seemed to believe that when the facts came out he would be vindicated even though time and time again the opposite proved true.

And like Palin he said he was getting out of the race to protect his family, and simply could not admit that he had too many skeletons in his closet, and deficiencies as a candidate, to really make a run for the White House.

Herman Cain really believed we were so stupid that we couldn't see through him. He thought he had us fooled, and he thought he was so clever that his bullshit could never catch up to him. Wrong on all counts. So long, you nasty, sleazy old fart.

The Italian (Austerity) Job

And add Italy to the list of countries in Europe about to get the austerity measures baseball bat upside the head.

The package, dubbed a "Save Italy" decree by Monti, aims to raise more than 10 billion euros from a new property tax, impose a new tax on luxury items like yachts, raise value added tax, crack down on tax evasion and bring forward measures to increase the pension age.

The measures come before one of the most crucial weeks since the creation of the single currency more than a decade ago, with European leaders due to meet Thursday and Friday in Brussels to try to agree a broader rescue plan for the bloc.

Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy, has been at the center of the crisis since mid-year, when its borrowing costs began to approach the levels which forced Ireland, Greece and Portugal to seek an international bailout.

Packed into a single emergency decree, the measures take effect immediately, before formal parliamentary approval, but Monti will have to secure the backing of legislators within 60 days for them to remain in force.

This is the equivalent here of raising the Social Security retirement age, adding a national property tax, adding a national sales tax (they have a VAT already but they are raising it), and adding a national luxury tax while going after loopholes and tax evaders.  It would be greeted with bloody murder in the street if tried here.

Roughly the US equivalent of $200 billion in tax hikes right there if you figure the Italian amount in dollars and multiply by America's population, five times larger.  Oh wait...that's what would happen if Republicans blocked the middle class tax cuts set to expire next year.   Every yearFor ten years.  In fact, that would be a three trillion dollar tax hike on the middle class over a decade.  And they'll do that unless they get their permanent tax cuts for the rich.

You don't think austerity is coming to the US?  Let the GOP have their way.

Mystery Mitt-chine, Part 3

The Obama crew is aiming for Mitt Romney already, and they know they can depress his turnout and throw the entire GOP process into chaos if anyone other than Mittens ends up winning in Iowa or New Hampshire.  Enter Robert Gibbs on Sunday's Face The Nation:

“I think the reason that Mitt Romney people don’t like him and why he hasn’t caught fire is if you hear what he says today it’s likely to change tomorrow. I think there’s great skepticism. He’s a political gymnast of the highest order. He will say virtually anything to get elected to any office. Just last night he was in New York on a Mike Huckabee show disavowing climate change and the Environmental Protection Agency despite the fact that just a few years ago he was bragging in Massachusetts about all the steps they were taking to combat climate change. The one thing that is certain in this Republican primary: If you don’t like where Mitt Romney is today, just wait until tomorrow.”

Bold charges...and entirely true.  Every time Mitt's record comes up as Governor of Massachusetts, he has to backtrack, dissemble, obfuscate, or completely disavow his position then.  It's not been lost on the GOP rank and file, either.  In poll after poll the Anyone But Mitt coalition is steady at around 3 out of 4 Republican primary voters.  Mitt can't break out above 30%.

So no, I don't see Mitt as inevitable at all.  I still believe there's going to be a brokered convention.


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