Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Terrorists Are, Indeed, Winning

As you've probably heard, the Obama administration has decided not to hold the trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York.

What does this mean? In a nutshell, it means that the terrorists have won.

The goal of terror is to terrorize a population into changing their behavior in ways that you could never achieve through conventional warfare.

They have clearly done this.

The United States, which spends as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, is now, literally, too terrorized to hold a trial in its biggest and perhaps most heavily defended city.

Think about that for a moment.

But this didn't have to happen. Terrorists need two other things besides successful terror attacks. They need to attack a country that is easy to frighten, and they need that country to have leaders who are willing to exploit that fear.

If the United States wasn't full of people who are too frightened to defend their way of life, we would not be moving this trial. Not would we have been scared into invading Al Qaeda's (and Iran's) enemy, Iraq. We wouldn't have been scared into giving our government the power to literally put people in cages forever, with no evidence or trial. We wouldn't have legitimized the use of torture, whether on innocent people or on guilty. We wouldn't have allowed our government to spy on its own citizens phone conversations and communications.

In short, we wouldn't have given up the things that made America great.

America is changing. We are becoming more and more similar to those totalitarian societies we love to criticize-the kind of place where we allow our government to do what it wants to because we're too afraid to say no.

The terrorists have won. Blame them, if you like. Blame our politicians for exploiting your fear. But blame yourself most of all, because someone as scared as you doesn't deserve the country you are losing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mr. President: Stop Patronizing, and Start Explaining

"The way the President did the budget is the way millions of American families do their budget." -WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Jan 26, 2010. 
This is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. And I hear it all the time. 

It's one of those things that seems to make sense, and is easy to remember, and gets people fired up. "After all, why shouldn't the government do a budget the way I do?"

Here's why: Because you can't print money, and the federal government can. This has a lot of implications, and one of them is that the federal government sure as hell doesn't do it's budget the way you do. Hell, the states don't even do their budgets the way the feds do. 

You expect this kind of nonsense from Glenn Beck, who makes a living by reducing complex issues into simple (and wrong) memes. You don't expect this from the President of the United States. He should know better, he probably does know better, and he should take the time to explain this to the millions of people who don't. 

Is it frustrating to have to explain things like this to your average voter? Maybe, but that's your fucking job. Now go do it!

Left vs Right Populism

This comment was written by S.M., of Sacramento, in response to a truly abysmal David Brooks column in which he decries populism and defends the banking elites:
A crucial difference between leftist populism and rightest populism is that lefist populism protests economic inequalities in the system, while rightist populism protests assumed attitudes of cultural superiority on the part of leftists. Leftist populists target laws and business practices that are unfair to ALL working Americans, while rightist populists, such as Sarah Palin, play openly on fear and envy of fellow Americans who are presumed to be "elitist" in their tastes and lifestyles. Leftist populism is concerned with basic fairness in the system, while rightist populism feeds on dislike of those who are viewed as different. Thus, the leftist protest is far more objective, more nuts and bolts, meat and potatoes, than the rightest protest, which runs to the personal, the ad hominem, saying, in effect, "Those liberals aren't 'real Americans like us," and relying on stereotypes of latte-sipping, over-educated "metro-sexuals" who are presumed to be anti-business, anti-guns, and anti-religion.
This is an immense difference, Mr. Brooks, and I know you are fully aware of it, because you have been delivering the "Obama is a cold, intellectual elitist" message for at least a year now. You play the populist card very consciously, and very well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Obama's New Plan: The Anti-Stimulus!

This just out at the NYT:
WASHINGTON — President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.
If you're reading this and thinking, "Well, the deficit is out of control," then you need to put down your bullshit, discredited Chicago-School economic theory that got us in this mess in the first place, and read some John Maynard Keynes. Because the one thing you don't do in the middle of a recession is cut spending.

You're supposed to cut spending in the middle of a boom, so you can save some cash for the recessions. Like the one we had earlier in the last decade, when we were in the middle of a massive housing bubble. That was the time to do it. Remember those days? We were wallowing in cash, and yet somehow, the Bush administration managed to run up a record deficit anyway. That was the time to run a surplus. Like Clinton did during his boom years.

Not now. Now is when you run a deficit. If you don't understand how this works, then you should go look it up. Google output gap, or Keynesian economics, or active fiscal policy. Freezing spending right now is dumb. And even if we were in an economic expansion, arbitrarily cutting or freezing all government spending, instead of doing the hard work of deciding which spending is essential and which isn't, is stupid.

But Obama probably knows all this, and is just counting on you not knowing it.

You see, the choice is pretty simple.

A) You can run a deficit, and risk inflation somewhere down the road, but get the economy growing and start creating jobs. This is good for most people, because most people need jobs, and inflation is good for you if you have a mortgage because your income goes up, but your mortgage stays the same.


B) you can cut spending, and reduce the deficit. This will make sure that the safety net is shredded, and that we continue to lose jobs, but inflation is held at bay, and in fact we may get deflation. Deflation is really bad if you're a mortgage holder, but great if you're a bondholder. Of course, the whole reason you keep hearing all the calls for deficit reduction is because the rich fucks who are making all these calls are bondholders, and they know that if they scare you with deficit talk, you'll go along with their plans to rig the system to benefit them instead of everyone else.

And you'll keep thinking that there's a right way and wrong way to run a budget, but in reality, there are ways that are good for some people, and ways that are good for others. Bondholders, Congress, the moneyed elite, and, of course, Obama, are making sure that the people with money get to keep it, and they're setting budget policy to make sure that happens. And Glenn Beck is telling people that Obama is a Marxist, and people are believing him!

Of course Obama isn't planning to cut all spending.
The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.
But it would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

So, to recap:

We cut funding for things which could actually improve society*, like nutrition programs for the most obese nation on earth, education (education!?), and national parks.

We don't cut funding for our five unnecessary wars, and for foreign aid to countries like Israel.

Pure. Fucking. Genius.

*Farm subsidies for Monsanto can just go away altogether.

Update: I missed this quote:
Republicans were quick to mock the freeze proposal. “Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for the House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Democrats? After 8 years of Bush wars and Bush entitlements and Bush tax cuts for the rich, the Republicans are going to complain about spending? In a recession handed off by...Bush?

The tea-baggers will believe this, of course.


This is good stuff-short but right to the point:

It reminds us once again that the political divide is not really between left and right, or Republicans and Democrats, but between insiders and outsiders. It's between the elite with power and the average voter without it.

Freedom of Speech

Many (but not all) progressives are up in arms about the recent Supreme Court decision striking down laws that prohibit corporations from advocating for political candidates. They rightly claim that corporations have too much influence, and that this decision will probably only make that worse. They wrongly claim that restricting corporate speech is the solution, and that it's constitutional.

I'd like to pose a question to my progressive friends: Why should Fox News be allowed to promote Sarah Palin for president, while Apple is banned from campaigning for Barack Obama?

Why should General Electric be able to use its subsidiary, NBC, to promote candidates that support war (war that will increase the profits of GE subsidiaries that sell military equipment), while Ben & Jerry's is banned from supporting Bernie Sanders?

Does this make any sense at all?

Banning speech is never a solution. Refuting bad speech with good speech is.

Why Should A 65 Year Old Get Insurance, When A 35 Year Old Can't?

The Senate health care bill, thankfully, appears to be dead.

What next? Our health care system is broken. The legislation that has been proposed doesn't do anything fix the problems of escalating costs, cancellation of policies for people who sick, and a lack of universal coverage.

But there is a simple solution. We can expand Medicare, and make it available to everyone.

Medicare is wildly popular among those lucky enough to be eligible. (If you doubt this, try taking it away.)

Why should it be available only to those 65 and older? Why shouldn't a 45 year old be able to buy into it? Why not a 25 year old?

This wouldn't mean creating some vast new government program. The program already exists.

If Medicare doesn't work, we should get rid of it. If it does, then there is no reason on earth not to extend it to people who need it just as much. And given the fact that there are 45,000 people who die each year because they don't have insurance, it's hard to claim that this guy needs it more than any of them.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Credit Reports For Politicians?

There has been a lot of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth over Thursday's Supreme Court decision to strike down laws which limit corporate spending on campaigns. I myself wrote a post touching on the subject tangentially in which I argued that the idea that corporations should be considered as persons (with all of the rights held by persons under the Constitution.) While I did say that I believed that the decision was technically correct, I implied that it could only be considered so if you accept that notion of corporate personhood.

This implication was wrong, as the First Amendment does not simply give people the right to free speech, but goes beyond that, proscribing any interference in any speech whatsoever.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 
Restricting the ability of corporations speak about issues or to influence the opinions of voters through speech is a clear violation of the First Amendment.

And yet allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns, and to essentially sponsor candidates cannot be good for Democracy.

What can we do?

We could amend the Constitution. But how? Do we really want to ban political speech by any corporation? I can't believe anyone would seriously advocate a position that extreme. I certainly wouldn't. Would we ban speech by only certain corporations? Who would make those decisions? Which corporations would be allowed speech, and which wouldn't? I can't see how this could ever work, nor do I think it would be a positive thing.

These are tough questions. I believe that the political power of the elite, expressed through massive campaign contributions, is a serious threat to our country. But the importance of protecting free speech outweighs these concerns.

I also believe that a large part of the problem isn't just that people are paid to express opinions by corporations, or that politicians vote the way their largest campaign contributors want them to. It's that voters do not know enough about who is funding who.

When a retired general appears as an independent analyst on CNBC or in front of Congress and advocates that the Pentagon buy large numbers of a specific armored vehicle, we should not censor his speech. But we should require that he disclose the fact that he is being paid a large sum of money by the people who are selling these armored vehicles.

When an MIT professor testifies before Congress as an independent analyst, and claims that the administration's proposed health care reform legislation will work, we should not censor his speech. But we should make sure everyone is aware that the administration is paying him.

This is the kind of thing that happens 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And it's something that we can do something about.

We could write a different kind of law. We could require full disclosure of all money paid to any registered lobbyist or politician. Maybe we could have an independent agency compile reports, perhaps in a way not unlike a credit report. This agency could issue a rating for people; it could be kind of like the stat sheet on a baseball card, and it could be used any time such a person appeared on TV, or in wrote something, or was quoted in a newspaper, or whatever the case may be.

These reports could be voluntary. But the public would tend to dismiss the opinions of people who would not disclose where their funding came from, or what their financial interests in a subject were.

I don't know the extent to which the government would need to get involved in something like this. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I'd love to hear some thoughts or ideas in the comment section

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Corporations: Not People

The Supreme Court today struck down long-standing limits on corporate campaign spending. This means that if Goldman Sachs or General Electric wanted to get their CEO elected president, they could spend literally billions of dollars to get that done.

This court decision, by the way, seems at first glance to be technically correct, if you accept the notion that corporations are persons, with the full protection of the 14th amendment. This notion, while widely accepted, is not statutory, nor is is found in the constitution or in any Supreme Court opinion. It was inserted by a court reporter as part of a headnote to an unremarkable railroad case.

The idea that corporations are legal persons is ludicrous. It is predicated on faulty logic. That logic goes something like this: Corporations share some of the same legal protections as people; therefore, they are people.

This is like saying that dogs share some characteristics with people, like eyes and ears, so they are people.

What's next? Should we allow them to vote and marry? If they are to be allowed equal protection under the 14th amendment, then the answer would seem to be yes.

The notion of corporations as people needs to done away with. They are not people. The US Chamber of Commerce will, of course, freak out, and claim that it will lead to abolition of contracts and so forth.

But we can still give corporations protections. We just don't have to call them people and give them the same rights as citizens.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lanny Davis Blames Progressives For Promoting Things Voters Actually Want

The post-special election common wisdom is that Democrats need to move more to the right, because voters just rejected the progressive wing of the party.

This is bullshit. The voters (or, more precisely, half the voters of Massachusetts) just rejected the Democratic Party's first year of complete control of Washington.

But what did that Democratic Party do? It did everything that center/right/corporatists wanted, and did nothing that true liberals wanted:

  • It transferred unprecedented sums of money to Wall Street, with no meaningful regulations or strings attached.
  • It shot down single payer health care reform right from the start, forcing progressive to accept first a public option, then a triggered option, then replaced the option with expanded medicare, and then told progressives to go fuck themselves and left them with nothing.
  • It passed a Senate health bill that would mandate that people buy insurance from hated insurance companies, without even preventing those companies from screwing their own customers.
  • It escalated the war in Afghanistan.
  • It fought every effort to hold people accountable for torture and murder of innocent prisoners.
  • It fought transparency at nearly every step.
  • It caved on the stimulus bill of sufficient size.
  • It has done nothing meaningful for the millions of homeowners facing foreclosure, while bailing out the banks that got us into this mess.
  • It failed to close Guantanamo.
  • It did not end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
  • It has not ended the war in Iraq.

Despite all this, Lanny Davis wrote a column today in the WSJ entitled "Blame the Left For Massachusetts," in which he blames progressives for passing health care reform which most progressives hate because it was compromised into worthlessness so as to meet with the approval of corporate lackies like Lanny Davis. Many progressives, in fact, are actively trying to defeat this bill.

The Democratic Party, while whoring itself out out Wall Street, Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and Big Defense, blew its mandate of change. The policies above that progressives have championed, but that the  Democrats have ignored, is wildly popular with average citizen across the political spectrum. The public option, for example, enjoyed massive support, yet was killed by people like Lanny Davis, who now pretend that people didn't like it.

Here's what just happened over the last year:

1.) The Democrats won a landslide election by promising to pass a progressive agenda.
2.) After being elected, they broke every one of those promises to progressives.
3.) Now the voters are pissed off because the Dems sold them out to the corporations and elite.

And Lanny Davis writes a column full of lies in the WSJ, claiming that it's all of the progressive policies that the administration has gotten enacted which pissed off the voters.

What progressive policies, Lanny? You know those policies that voters hate? They're yours.

In his column, Davis makes the ludicrous claim that he is a liberal. Davis' political leanings would be more appropriately labeled "financial", because he'll say anything for the money. As Glenn Greenwald wrote about Davis back in August:

If Lanny Davis were just another Beltway lobbyist/lawyer piggishly feeding off our political system by serving whatever corporate interests happen to rent him, all of this would be too common to bother noting. But Davis parades around as -- and is treated by media organizations as being -- some sort of political pundit as well. He's presented by numerous media outlets as an independent analyst who opines on the news of the day -- yet does so almost exclusively in order to promote the interests of those who are paying him, relationships which are often undisclosed. Here's how he describes himself to clients and potential clients onhis bio page at the firm, Orrick, where he's a partner:
He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and other national publications.
In other words, if you pay Davis to shill for you, he's able to exploit those media platforms to advocate for your interests while pretending to be an "analyst." When the Israel Project issued a Press Releaseannouncing his hiring in the middle of the Israel-Gaza war, they pointedly touted that he "is Available Immediately for Interviews on Israel/Gaza and More." Though his service to the Israel Project was volunteer work, that's how it works in general: you drop coins in the slot in Davis' back and he dutifully goes forth on television and in newspapers and recites what you feed him. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Democrat: Health Care Bill is "Better Than Nothing"

Well, this just about sums it up:
Washington (CNN) -- A top House Democrat said Tuesday that the Senate health care bill is "better than nothing," an indication that the House of Representatives is considering passing the more conservative Senate measure with no alterations.

When the best thing that a Democratic party leader can say about a bill which the Democrats passed (and the failure of which might cause the huge problems for the Democratic party) is that it's "better than nothing", you know the bill is a turd sandwich.

For this we owe a huge debt of gratitude to every single Republican congressmen, all of whom believed that defeating the uppity Negro in the White House was more important than health care for their own constituents, and to those centrist Democrats who sided with the insurance companies who write them checks. 

Thank you!

David Frum: Extraordinary Financial Innovation Has Led To Great Results!

Digby has a transcript up of former Bush speechwriter David Frum defending the financial system status quo:

FRUM: The United States government doesn't govern all that well. We'll concede that. But the American private sector does deliver unbelievable things.
And we're sitting here at the end of a period of extraordinary technical innovation. And not just -- I mean, the Internet, we're all familiar with. But all kinds of products, and products that people want.
The ability of people to tap the equity in their homes when they face a financial crisis, that is a good innovation. The availability of more than one -- lots of kinds of mortgage to people in different kinds of circumstances.

Sure, the government invented the internet. But look at these unbelievable things the private sector delivers. Ten percent unemployment. 45,000 people dead each year because they can't get health insurance. Record foreclosures. Systemic bank failure. Zero net job creation of the last 10 years.

He's right about one thing. These private sector accomplishments are unbelievable.

How Long Can The President Ignore Reality?

A new ABC News/Washington Times poll shows that 81% of the public now wants to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, and nearly half (46%) believe it should be decriminalized, including over half of all people under the age of 65. The trend lines of public opinion is clear: the war on drugs is a failure. Let's go back to the president's take on legalizing marijuana, from a March online townhall meeting in which legalization was the number one issue people wanted the president to address:
OBAMA: Can I just interrupt, Jared, before you ask the next question, just to say that we -- we took votes about which questions were going to be asked and I think 3 million people voted or --
DR. BERNSTEIN: Three point five million.
OBAMA: Three point five million people voted. I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy -- (laughter) -- and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience -- (laughter) -- but I just want -- I don't want people to think that -- this was a fairly popular question; we want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy -- (laughter) -- to grow our economy. (Applause.)
The president chose to condescendingly ignore the overwhelming evidence that the war on drugs is immoral and doesn't work, and is in fact a total disaster, and simply dismiss the straw horse argument that legalizing marijuana would improve the economy. (By the way, it would, but it's far down the list of reasons to decriminalize pot.)

But how long can he continue to dismiss these arguments, when nearly half the nation wants pot legalized, and when that number is steadily climbing upwards?

It's time for the Democratic Party to get out in front of this issue.

This Must Be Investigated

Harper's recently published a bombshell article by Scott Horton which destroys the government's claim that the three prisoners who died at Guantanamo committed suicide. It is riveting, and it should be read.

Keith Olberman interviewed Horton last night:

Why should you care?

Well, as a human being and an American, you should be outraged that our government is torturing innocent people to death. You should be outraged that our Justice Department is engaged in covering up these crimes. And you should be outraged that our government is still engaging in torture and coverup that seems to be almost intentionally making the US a less secure country.

The claims of suicide, made by the Pentagon and repeated by the Justice Department, are so unbelievable as to be insulting. Horton makes the point in his interview that instead of following their mission statement-
To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.
-the Justice Department is instead acting as a massive criminal defense firm, whose goal is to cover up all evidence of crimes committed by the administration and the military.

Sadly, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the mainstream media is all but ignoring this story, because they know they are complicit in allowing our government to get to this point. Indeed, on the day after this interview, despite this story being widely available on MSNBC and all over the internet, there is not one mention of it on CNN and it was buried at the NY Times.

The Obama administration and the Justice Department have shown that they cannot be trusted to investigate these possible crimes. This is a sad state of affairs, and it's indicative of how far down the rabbit hole our country has gone.

We must demand that Congress immediately hold hearings and allow the testimony of Sgt. Hickman and the other key figures. Congress should then appoint an independent counsel to further investigate these claims, and to prosecute those responsible, no matter how far up the political chain it goes.

The moral character and security of our nation demands no less.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Health Care Reform Hangs In The Balance? Yawn...

It's getting down to the wire now on the Massachusetts special election for late Senator Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat. It's becoming apparent that the voters of Massachusetts might be deciding the fate of health care "reform" in the United States.

Maybe it's fitting, after all. Massachusetts passed a similar health care reform bill a few years ago, and so its voters are uniquely qualified to pass judgement.

I'm fairly ambivalent about this race. Martha Coakley is a terrible candidate; a typical centrist Democrat whose allegiances lie with the corporate interests who fund Democratic campaigns. Scott Brown is a typical conservative. He's serves the same corporate interests Coakley does, but also has a pandering cultural agenda that he uses to pry away voters who would otherwise hate his economic and foreign policy positions. Of course, all of his talk about abortion, gay marriage, and the rest will be forgotten as soon as he's elected; the people who vote for him on these issues are delusional if they think he will actually deliver anything for them. Of course if Coakley had actually given them a reason to vote for her, maybe they would.

At any rate, the true political divisions in this country are class divisions. I don't see candidates as Democrat or Republican, I see them first as insiders or outsiders*. Both of these candidates are insiders. They will vote to protect the interests of the elite in almost every case.

Which brings us to the health care reform bill. And here's why I really don't care who wins this election. This bill is a piece of crap. It's a massive giveaway to health insurers and Big Pharm. It was written for them and by them. Democrats talked a good game, and then as soon as the public was distracted by job searched and foreclosures, they turned the bill into such a joke that many progressives, who were the ones who wanted health care reform in the first place, are actively trying to kill it. It's that bad. If that bill is the best that this country can come up with, than we don't deserve any better.

The Democrats made a lot of promises before the last election, and then turned around and broke almost every one of those promises. They don't deserve any support.

And the American people are more interested in maintaining their ideological fictions than in actually learning about how health care systems work. And so they don't really deserve health care reform. Either way, they're not going to get it.

I suppose at some point things will get bad enough that they will realize that they need to rethink things, although the fact that conservatives basically ran the government for  eight years, almost destroyed the country, and still might win an MA senate seat does not bode well.  I'm kind surprised we're not there yet. Unfortunately, it looks like things will need to get worse before they get better.

*To clarify, I think there is a huge difference between right-wing and left-wing outsiders. Right-wing outsiders are generally insane.


I realize that if Scott Brown wins, the US Congress, for all intents and purposes, will be out of business until at least next January. But then it hasn't really done anything worthwhile this year either, so I don't think I'll really miss it.

Wall Street To Hire Lawyers With Your Tax Money To Fight The Plan To Make Them Pay Back Your Tax Money

I guess this shouldn't even surprise us anymore:
Wall Street’s main lobbying arm has hired a top Supreme Courtlitigator to study a possible legal battle against a bank tax proposed by the Obama administration, on the theory that it would be unconstitutional, according to three industry officials briefed on the matter.
I guess the suggestions just don't work:
...President Obama urged the financial lobby to stand down when he introduced the tax proposal last week: “Instead of sending a phalanx of lobbyists to fight this proposal or employing an army of lawyers and accountants to help evade the fee, I suggest you might want to consider simply meeting your responsibilities.”
Obama, of course, might want to consider not taking any more campaign contributions from banks. That might help his case.
Republicans have remained unusually silent on the tax, hoping to avoid a choice between supporting a tax increase and defending big bankers. Meanwhile, some liberal Democrats have gone further than the administration has, proposing a heavy tax on bank bonuses. Political analysts expect the bank tax to pass easily in the House but face resistance in the Senate.
Painting Republicans as friends of rich bankers would be so easy, a high school class president campaign manager could do it before breakfast. But Democrats like those bank lobby campaign checks just as much as the Republicans do. So don't expect much to change.

Bankruptcy and Bankers

This is old, but it still ought to make you sick:

Predictably, the legislation failed, leading Sen. Durbin to admit back in April:
"And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place." 
Bankruptcy reform would have allowed judges to modify mortgages in order to allow people to afford to stay in their homes. In other words, it would have helped to avoid foreclosures.

Foreclosures are the worst possible result when home values go south. They depress the prices of surrounding homes, resulting in a feedback loop in which home prices drop and foreclosures escalate. The bank often ends up with a property which has been abandoned, gutted and worth very little. The homeowners find themselves on the street. In many cases, having a judge adjust the loan principal downwards would have very beneficial long-term results for both parties. So why are banks opposing these changes?

The short answer is that they are simply trying to push this problem as far off into the future as possible. Many of the banks holding the loans, or securitized bundles of them, are practically insolvent. As long as they can avoid addressing the issue, the can continue to pretend that that $300,000 mortgage is worth $300,000, even if they have no chance of every collecting that. They just kick the can farther down the road.

Now this practice may, in the long run, result in far worse problems for banks. And in fact, industry predictions are that more banks will fail this year than last. But in the short run, the guys running these banks are getting bonuses, and when the shit really hits the fan (and it will), they'll have already cashed those checks.

See how this works?

In the meantime, these bankers are running around telling homeowners that they have a moral obligation to pay their mortgage, even when it makes no sense to do so. They say this even though they know that there is no moral obligation clause in a mortgage, and that mortgage contracts spell out what happens if the homeowner decides not to pay anymore: the mortgage holder gets to have the house back. As Roger Lowenstein put it:

John Courson, president and C.E.O. of the Mortgage Bankers Association, recently told The Wall Street Journal that homeowners who default on their mortgages should think about the “message” they will send to “their family and their kids and their friends.” Courson was implying that homeowners — record numbers of whom continue to default — have a responsibility to make good. He wasn’t referring to the people who have no choice, who can’t afford their payments. He was speaking about the rising number of folks who arevoluntarily choosing not to pay.
Such voluntary defaults are a new phenomenon. Time was, Americans would do anything to pay their mortgage — forgo a new car or a vacation, even put a younger family member to work. But the housing collapse left 10.7 million families owing more than their homes are worth. So some of them are making a calculated decision to hang onto their money and let their homes go. Is this irresponsible?
Businesses — in particular Wall Street banks — make such calculations routinely. Morgan Stanley recently decided to stop making payments on five San Francisco office buildings. A Morgan Stanley fund purchased the buildings at the height of the boom, and their value has plunged. Nobody has said Morgan Stanley is immoral — perhaps because no one assumed it was moral to begin with. But the average American, as if sprung from some Franklinesque mythology, is supposed to honor his debts, or so says the mortgage industry as well as government officials. FormerTreasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. declared that “any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator — and one who is not honoring his obligation.” (Paulson presumably was not so censorious of speculation during his 32-year career at Goldman Sachs.)
I suppose if there is one thing to take away from all of this, it's that there are important things to consider before walking away from a mortgage you could afford to pay. But a moral obligation sure ain't one of 'em.

Severe Birth Defects: Another Tragic American Legacy in Iraq

The ongoing tragedy of war:

From the Guardian:
Doctors in Iraq's war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants, compared to a year ago, and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting....
Neurologists and obstetricians in the city interviewed by the Guardian say the rise in birth defects – which include a baby born with two heads, babies with multiple tumours, and others with nervous system problems - are unprecedented and at present unexplainable....
The rise in frequency is stark – from two admissions a fortnight a year ago to two a day now. "Most are in the head and spinal cord, but there are also many deficiencies in lower limbs," he said. "There is also a very marked increase in the number of cases of less than two years [old] with brain tumours. This is now a focus area of multiple tumours."...
The Guardian asked a paediatrician, Samira Abdul Ghani, to keep precise records over a three-week period. Her records reveal that 37 babies with anomalies, many of them neural tube defects, were born during that period at Falluja general hospital alone....
These birth defects are linked to the use of weapons containing depleted uranium and white phosphorous. Every single American should realize that these weapons were used in a war which the United States fought against a poor country, and who had done nothing to deserve it. Every American should realize that their government lied to them in order to justify an unprovoked attack against Iraq, a vicious attack which predictably led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, an Iraqi civil war, the destruction of the Iraqi economy, and many other horrors, including birth defects such as these.

Falluja was the scene of the only two setpiece battles that followed the US-led invasion. Twice in 2004, US marines and infantry units were engaged in heavy fighting with Sunni militia groups who had aligned with former Ba'athists and Iraqi army elements.

What set off the battle of Fallujah? Probably not what you think:

Although Fallujah had seen sporadic air strikes by American forces, public opposition was not galvanized until 700 members of the 82nd Airborne Division first entered the city on April 23, 2003, and approximately 150 members of Charlie Company occupied al-Qa'id primary school.
 On the evening of April 28, a crowd of approximately 200 people gathered outside the school, demanding that the Americans vacate the building and allow it to re-open as a school. 
After their smoke gas canisters failed to disperse the crowd,[12] four US soldiers stationed on the roof fired into the gathering, killing 17 and wounding more than 70 of the protesters. US forces said that the shooting took place over 30–60 seconds, while Human Rights Watch has concluded that it is more likely to have lasted approximately ten minutes.[13]
Two days later, a protest at the former Ba'ath party headquarters decrying the American shootings was also fired upon by U.S. troops, this time the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which resulted in three more deaths.[11][14] Following both incidents, the US soldiers asserted that they had not fired upon the protesters until they were fired upon first.

Who are the terrorists again?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ultra-Elite Senator Evan Bayh Calls Other Elites "Elite"

Senator Evan Bayh talks about the mistakes the Democrats have made:
Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, said the atmosphere was a serious threat to Democrats. “I do think there’s a chance that Congressional elites mistook their mandate,” Mr. Bayh said. “I don’t think the American people last year voted for higher taxes, higher deficits and a more intrusive government. But there’s a perception that that is what they are getting.”
First off, voters had eight years of exactly that under Bush. So he's right; people probably thought they were voting for change. Instead, they got Republican-lite.

But what really struck me about this quote was Evan Bayh calling other people "elites".

  • Here is Evan Bayh's claim to being just a regular guy:
  • Father was a US Senator for 18 years
  • Attended high school at St. Albans in Washinton, D.C., one of the most prestigious and expensive private schools in the country
  • After law school, was elected Secretary of State in Indiana at age 31, and then governor in 1988 at age 33.
  • Re-elected in 1992
  • In 1998, he was elected to his father's former seat as a U.S. Senator.
  • His wife is a director of health insurance giant Wellpoint, which has paid her millions, and is a director at a number of other corporations, including a pharmaceutical company.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether Evan Bayh earned his political career, or whether it was just handed to him by his family.

But one things is for certain- there is nothing more ludicrous than Evan Bayh calling other people elite.

Haitians Have Had 100 Years of This-They Don't Need More

Naomi Klein: (h/t LA Progressive:

That pretty much says it all.

The Heritage Foundation quote is revealing:

"In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region."

The United States has been re-shaping the Haitian government for almost 100 years. It has been shaping it into something that is useful for American corporations, and when the Haitian people step out of line and try to elect someone who will work for them instead of American corporations, the US just puts its boot down on their necks a little harder, helps overthrow the people's leader, installs another murderous friend of the corporations, and then just explains that those black people just can't govern themselves.

The last thing Haiti needs is for the US to use this as an excuse to continue shaping their government.

Also, it's not surprising that the Heritage Foundation would treat a massive human tragedy like this as a marketing opportunity. This is exactly the kind of people they are. 

Even A Broken Clock Is Right Twice A Day

Even Tom Friedman is starting to see the light:
Dick Cheney says President Obama is “trying to pretend that we are not at war” with terrorists. There is only one thing I have to say about that: I sure hope so.
Frankly, if I had my wish, we would be on our way out of Afghanistan not in, we would be letting Pakistan figure out which Taliban they want to conspire with and which ones they want to fight, we would be letting Israelis and Palestinians figure out on their own how to make peace, we would be taking $100 billion out of the Pentagon budget to make us independent of imported oil — nothing would make us more secure — and we would be reducing the reward for killing or capturing Osama bin Laden to exactly what he’s worth: 10 cents and an autographed picture of Dick Cheney.
This from the guy who has never met a war he didn't like until this year. This from the guy who has made a career out of apologizing for every atrocious and stupid policy Israel has ever come up with. This from the namesake of the Friedman Unit. This from the guy who said this about our invasion of Iraq back in 2003:

Of course, the only reason he thinks these policies are bad is because they aren't good for the economy.

And what does the war on terror give us? Better drones, body scanners and a lot of desultory T.S.A. security jobs at airports. “Sputnik spurred us to build a highway to the future,” added Mandelbaum. “The war on terror is prompting us to build bridges to nowhere.”

No mention of the hundreds of thousands of dead, the needless destruction of societies, torture, weakened American security, and the debasement of US civil rights. For starters.

Baby steps, Tom. Baby steps.

Why Are We Here Again? (part 6,2334)

Today's NYT has a story on how the Afghan leadership is trying to integrate the Taliban in the government:
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan government will soon unveil a major new plan offering jobs, security, education and other social benefits to Taliban followers who defect, according to the spokesman for President Hamid Karzai.
Ok. So these Taliban aren't evil? What exactly are we doing there trying to kill all of them? 
Even if such a plan wins international support, serious questions remain about Afghanistan’s ability to carry it out, especially without a functioning national government, a prospect that remained distant on Sunday.
So you have a non-functioning government (supported by the US) which is now trying to populate itself with Taliban members (who the US is trying to kill.) Makes perfect sense. Maybe they think that the Taliban are extremely evil and should be shot on sight, but that can all be forgotten if they'll just promise to support the corrupt Karzai administration. 
Richard Holbrooke, the American special envoy to Afghanistan, said he had discussed the plan with Mr. Karzai and said it was better than previous efforts, adding, “Can’t be worse.
Finally, someone from the US government admits the obvious.
Chief among the new measures, Mr. Omer said, were strong security guarantees to defecting Taliban that they would be protected from arrest or retaliation. He did not detail what those measures would be, but many defecting Taliban in the past have asked to be integrated into local police forces.
So, in an exchange for a promise that they will be good boys and laying down their guns, the evil Taliban will be given more guns and put in positions of power. Genius.

But maybe the idea is that these guys are just foot soldiers, and it's the Taliban leaders who are evil.
Mr. Omer also indirectly confirmed that the Afghan government might ask that (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar be removed from the United Nation’s terrorist blacklist, which freezes the bank accounts of those listed and bans them from international travel.
Maybe not.
(Top adviser to President Karzai, Mohammed Masoom) Stanekzai did not rule out the possibility of talking with Mr. Omar. “What we need is a top-down and bottom-up approach,” he said. 
We also need to think outside the box, he continued, because the current state of play is such that we're really pushing the envelope. We have to partner with these people, even if we need to outsource the source of our citizenry. It really could be a game changer.

Meaningless drivel. These guys are all probably standing around laughing at at the clueless Americans, who die fighting Taliban one day, and then nod sagely while their Afghan partners hand them guns the next.

The NATO force’s s top spokesman, Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, did not lay out the details of a separate plan but said Saturday that “We are working closely with the government of Afghanistan as they develop their program.”
“We see this as one of the means to resolve the ongoing insurgency,” he added.
Here's what I think is happening. I think the US is realizing how stupid, impossible, and pointless a war against the Taliban is. But these generals can't admit how badly the've fucked up, and just need to find some way to declare victory.

If we just leave, we lose. So instead, they reason, if we can just get these Taliban to promise us they'll be good, we can just give them the government and claim victory. Who will ever know? It's not like the wingnuts who will accept nothing less than unconditional Taliban surrender even know where Afghanistan is, right?

Great idea. What does the Taliban think of it? The must be scared of all these new US troops and ready to make a deal, right?

A spokesman for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, ruled out any possibility of negotiations with Mr. Karzai’s government. “We are united and we will remain united against them,” Mr. Ahmadi said in a telephone interview. “There is no differentiation between Taliban moderates and extremists. We are fighting under one name, Taliban, under one leadership.”
What the fuck are we doing there again?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's Not the Culture, Stupid

Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.
This is stupid beyond belief. It appears that Brooks believes that the only difference between China and Haiti is that Haiti has received foreign aid. is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. 
Again, Barbados is a completely different country, colonized by a different nation (Britain), with a completely different history. 
Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. 
Brooks conveniently leaves out the fact that the ruthless and corrupt dictators were fully supported by the United States, which kept them in power because they accepted the constitution which the Americans forced on the country at gunpoint, and which was written by Americans to allow Americans to take Haitian land, and that the foreign invaders were the Americans. 
But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape.
Yes, it's better. The US didn't rape it to the extent it raped Haiti, either. Also-different country.
 Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.
Why is this, Mr Brooks?

As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.
We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.

So, let's all forget the facts: That the United States invaded Haiti in 1915 under false pretexts, then, in the words of US Marine Major Smedley Butler "hunted the Cacos (Haitians) like pigs", overthrew their government, forced them to accept a constitution legalizing the seizure of their land, installed, armed and supported the brutal and murderous Duvalier regime, and then, when the extremely popular reformist Jean-Bertrand Aristide managed to win an election, immediately worked to have him overthrown in a military coup by brutal authoritarians who promised to keep US corporations in power.

For starters.

Let's forget that, and focus on the culture. Because the real problem is that these damn black people don't have any work ethic.

Send a $10 Donation to the Red Cross by Texting ‘Haiti’ to 90999

Noam Chomsky on Why Haiti is Haiti

Here is a snippet of a fascinating piece by Noam Chomsky on the sad history of American involvement in Haiti:

Given the cultural climate of the day, the character of (Woodrow) Wilson's 1915 invasion comes as no great surprise. It was even more savage and destructive than his invasion of the Dominican Republic in the same years. Wilson's troops murdered, destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery, and demolished the constitutional system. After ruling for 20 years, the US left "the inferior people" in the hands of the National Guard it had established and the traditional rulers. In the 1950s, the Duvalier dictatorship took over, running the show in Guatemalan style, always with firm US support.
The brutality and racism of the invaders, and the dispossession of peasants as US corporations took over the spoils, elicited resistance. The Marine response was savage, including the first recorded instance of coordinated air-ground combat: bombing of rebels (Cacos) who were surrounded by Marines in the bush. An in-house Marine inquiry, undertaken after atrocities were publicly revealed, found that 3250 rebels were killed, at least 400 executed, while the Marines and their locally recruited gendarmerie suffered 98 casualties (killed and wounded). Leaked Marine orders call for an end to "indiscriminate killing of natives" that "has gone on for some time." Haitian historian Roger Gaillard estimates total deaths at 15,000, counting victims "of repression and consequences of the war," which "resembled a massacre." Major Smedley Butler recalled that his troops "hunted the Cacos like pigs." His exploits impressed FDR, who ordered that he be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for an engagement in which 200 Cacos were killed and no prisoners taken, while one Marine was struck by a rock and lost two teeth.

Please read it all. Keep this in mind when people like Rush Limbaugh complain about the United States offering aid. Haiti has suffered for years at the hands of the French, the US, and more broadly, the world.

The United States wasn't just built by hardworking farmers and John Galt types. It was also built with the sweat, blood and tears of of many innocent people. The United States imposed its will on people from the Atlantic to the Pacific, destroying nascent civilizations as it looted their wealth. It owes a moral debt to these nations. For the most part, they just want to be left alone. But it is incumbent upon us to help these people, because we are responsible for (and have benefitted from) the economic situation many of these nations find themselves in today.

Like Sheep To the Slaughter

From a story on the uselessness of the terror alert system come this pearl:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, at a Reuters Washington Summit in mid-October, acknowledged problems with the advisory system.
"The problem is a color code, or a number, or whatever, without information to people as to what it means, and what they're supposed to do, that's really where the frustration is," Napolitano said at the summit. "The code itself, absent a connection with real information, doesn't have much utility."
But that's just the point, really, isn't it? Americans aren't supposed to learn or care about what kinds of terrorist threats there are, nor why any of these threats exist. We're supposed to see a sign with pretty colors, and then react like sheep, get scared, and let the government take away a few more of our precious American civil liberties.

This is not hyberbole. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was pressured to use the terror alert system to scare the public into voting for Bush, who used this victory to continue the destruction of the rule of law and US civil liberties.
Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was "blindsided" by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.
This worked pretty well for a while. But now Americans are beginning to question why we are supposedly facing a never-ending existential threat from people who just don't like our movies or taste in music. They want details. They want to know why we are sacrificing American ideals and spending hundreds of billions of dollars fighting wars we can't win against people who shouldn't hate us.

Authoritarian rulers love to scare the people. But they're going to have to come up with something better than this pretty soon.

Rep. Capuano Yells at the Banks

Great theater:

Unfortunately, it will accomplish nothing. These guys will say they're sorry, and then go right back to doing the same thing. And they'll continue to buy off people like Sen. Dodd (who is no planning on killing the only decent part of the financial reform legislation left), most of the the Democratic leadership, and the entire Republican party, which, of course, they've owned since time immemorial.

So I recommend that you watch this. Because this kind of dog and pony sideshow is probably all you've ever get in exchange for those trillions in taxpayer guarantees.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Time To Act

From the WSJ:
Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their people about $145 billion for 2009, a record sum that indicates how compensation is climbing despite fury over Wall Street's pay culture.
An analysis by The Wall Street Journal shows that executives, traders, investment bankers, money managers and others at 38 top financial companies can expect to earn nearly 18% more than they did in 2008—and slightly more than in the record year of 2007. The conclusions are based on an examination of securities filings for the first nine months of 2009 and revenue estimates through year-end.
These 38 firms are the ones most responsible for destroying our economy. They have been bailed out to the tune of trillions (forget TARP-TARP is the tip of the iceberg). After having their buddies at Treasury and the Fed give them all this taxpayer money, they made the ludicrous claim that it was so they could lend and so that they could make sure they stayed solvent. Instead, they are paying it out to themselves in the form of bonuses.
Furthermore, the main problem hasn't even been solved. Many of these big banks are still facing insolvency. They have used Obama's mortgage modification plan as a way of pretending these loans are still good. But since they aren't doing an permanent principal reductions, these loans will eventually go bad, and the banks will be insolvent. But by then, they will already have their bonus money!
These banks are so powerful now that they don't even bother to show up when the president asks to meet with them. They've convinced Sen. Dodd to scrap to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which might have helped keep them from doing some of this again. They don't even care what you, the taxpayer, think about what they're doing with your money, even though you are probably seething.
They write the regulations they want, and kill the regulations they don't. They suck up all of the nation's capital, siphoning it off to be used to build yachts and mansions and private jets, leaving none to invest in factories or small businesses that might actually provide jobs.
Obama's lame attempt at taxing these banks will do little more than provide some much-needed revenue, although it will be only a tiny fraction of the money taxpayers have handed over. It will not stop the bonuses for the people in charge. It will not stop the ongoing transfer of middle-class tax dollars to rich bankers. It will not prevent these bankers from destroying our economy even more; indeed, it will probably encourage them by legitimizing their behavior.
If you've had enough, call your senator and congressman. Call them right now. Here is a link to your congressmen's phone number. 
Tell them you've had enough. Tell them you will accept nothing less than to force these big banks, and their monopoly on money and power, to be broken up. Tell them you want them smaller, you want them regulated, and you want it now. Tell them that you're paying attention, and that they will not get your vote if they don't listen. And then pay attention.
Do it right now.

This isn't America...

...But it's about 25% of America.

Here's uber-moron Rush Limbaugh comparing Obama's response to the underwear bomber to his response to the Haitian earthquake:

"I want you to remember it took him three days-three days!-to respond to the Christmas Day Fruit of Kaboom bomber...He comes out here in less than 24 hours to speak about Haiti."
Don't speak wing-nut? Let me translate Rush's words for you:
I mean, what's hurry? Sure, thousands of people are dying underneath rubble, and thousands more dying from lack of basic care, but don't you see the message this sends? It's sending the message that 50,000 dead Haitians are more important than a couple hundred Americans who got scared on a plane. Unacceptable! And these people are niggers! I've seen 'em right there on TV. Niggers!
You don't think this is what Rush is saying?

Here he is on Obama:
"This will play right into Obama's hands. Humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to, to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in, in this country. It's made-to-order for him. That's why he couldn't wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there."
Somehow, I doubt this would be his response if an earthquake struck Britain and Bush sent aid, as he surely would have:
"This will play right into Bush's hands. Humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to, to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the white community, the both light-skinned and re headed community in, in this country. It's made-to-order for him. That's why he couldn't wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there."
It's ridiculous. What does race have to do with any of this? Nothing, unless you're a racist and can't stand to see black people get any kind of help at all.

Also, Via Roger Ebert: 

Justin of Raleigh, North Carolina: "Why does Obama say if you want to donate some money, you could go to to direct you how to do so? If I wanted to donate to the Red Cross, why do I have to go to the White House page to donate?"
Limbaugh: "Exactly. Would you trust the money's gonna go to Haiti?"
Justin: "No."
Rush: "But would you trust that your name's gonna end up on a mailing list for the Obama people to start asking you for campaign donations for him and other causes?"
Justin: "Absolutely!"
Limbaugh: "Absolutely!"

Here, he is literally accusing the President of stealing Red Cross donations. And people who listen to him nod their heads and buy this shit. In wing-nut code, "black" is synonymous with "theif". And so it all makes sense to them.

Ugh. Let's help. There are links here. Or find your own. But let's do this.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Aid Links

Digby's posted some info on how to help the cause in Haiti:

 The Red Cross: You can give $10 to the Red Cross’s International Response Fund by texting HAITI to 90999. 100 percent of your donation benefits the Red Cross, and you can print a receipt through mGive, a foundation that helps non-profits take advantage of mobile technology.
 UNICEF, the United Nations Fund focusing on children, has worked on the ground in Haiti since 1949, so has the expertise to make a difference. You can donate here.
• Doctors Without Borders is also present in-country. One senior staff member reports, “The situation is chaotic. I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning.” Donate to support public health efforts here.
 MADRE, the international women’s rights NGO, partners with the Zanmi Lasante Clinic on the ground in Haiti. “The most urgent needs right now are bandages, broad-spectrum antibiotics and other medical supplies, as well as water tablets to prevent cholera outbreaks,” MADRE reports. Donate here.
 Action Against Hunger has had a team in Haiti since 1985, and is ready to fly planeloads of emergency supplies from Paris to Port-au-Prince. Food is one necessity, but so is sanitation; in some Haitian towns, 70 percent of homes do not have plumbing. Donate here.
 Mercy Corps has a history of deploying aid to regions affected by catastrophic earthquakes, such as Peru in 2007, China and Pakistan in 2008, and Indonesia last year. They are deploying a team to Haiti, and you can support their effortshere.
 Partners in Health is the NGO founded in Haiti in 1987 by Dr. Paul Farmer, the celebrated physician and anthropologist who focuses on international social justice. The group’s emergency response focuses on delivering medical supplies and staff. Louise Ivers, PIH’s clinical director in the country, sent the message, “Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS.” Donate here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bonus Time!

CNN has a story about what Wall Streeters will be spending your money on this bonus season. Keep in mind that these bonuses alone would have been enough to insure all of the Americans who currently don't have health insurance. Luckily it's going to be used for more important things:

Vacation: $40,000+
On top of essentials such as education, many bankers will use the fresh cash to get away. One banker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he'll be escaping his crushing work schedule as an associate by spending three weeks in Argentina.
He's not at the level of the uber bonus - yet - but he may someday join the ranks of those jetting off to the newest hot spots. African safaris are becoming de rigueur, and Ashley Isaacs Ganz, founder of Artisans of Leisure Travel, said the Middle East, Spain and Morocco are very popular.
"Our luxury travelers are fascinated by the history in Israel and nearby Turkey and really want to have in-depth cultural experiences," Ganz explained.
A trip like that can cost $40,000 for the whole family -- on a budget. Plus, these travelers have to consider whether to bring the nanny. That costs an extra plane ticket, sure - but you just lodge them in the kids' room. So the overall expense -- considering a half-million-dollar bonus -- isn't exactly crippling.
For something more intimate, Ganz said, people are asking her to arrange on-site babysitters or be booked in hotels that offer kids clubs.
"With more money, they can bring more of the family along and go to more exclusive and smaller, boutique resorts," said Pedraza.
The real high-rollers, however, can't just go to Aspen for a much-needed vacation. They look for the unexploited experience -- like renting a rehabbed ghost town in the Colorado wilderness. And for that they'll pay $17,500 a night for the Dunton Hot Springs.
Or maybe they could charter Richard Branson's yacht for a week.
Toys: $50,000+
Of course, generous bonuses also mean splurging on the fun stuff. "There has never been a better time to negotiate jewelry and watches, and I mean the finest of luxury watches," said Pedraza. "This is the opportunity to go in and negotiate what you want."
But when it comes to picking out these luxury goods, "no one's in the mood to experiment," he said. So, while still spending more than $50,000 on jewelry and watches, the monied are playing it safe by sticking to traditional brands such as Tiffany & Co. and Cartier.
That goes for cars as well, and Pedraza said he predicts many employees will use part of their bonuses to buy autos that hold up in value, such as Ferraris.
There's more here...

These people are members of the American aristocracy. Like kings, duchesses, counts, and other aristocrats, they are born into positions of wealth and power, and take full advantage of the institutions and freedoms that poorer Americans have helped create and defend. There is simply no excuse for not taxing their excess earnings at a higher rate during normal times.

But this is far worse. These people wouldn't even have jobs if the government hadn't stepped in and saved their asses using taxpayer money. This money was supposed to be shoring up the capital reserves of banks like Citigroup and BoA, so that they would be able to lend, and would have time to get their shit together.

Instead, they are refusing to lend, refusing to work with homeowners who have seen their equity destroyed by financial industry or who can't pay because they lost their jobs due to a recession caused by bankers, and not even bothering to pretend to work their way towards solvency.

Instead, they're planning to spend your money by renting towns in Colorado for vacation.

Are you mad as hell yet? Because I sure am.