Thursday, March 31, 2011


Via the Huffington Post we're introduced to yet another survey that shows how the Republican Party has lost the Latino vote. The interesting thing is that the survey posted questions in a way that tried to present the GOP in a favorable light - as if they have no history of race-baiting Latinos.

Still, it appears that Latinos in California simply aren't buying into the GOP's fake family values, fear-mongering, political style. Here's why:

* Republicans did little to condemn former California Governor Pete Wilson's efforts to criminalize Latinos with Proposition 187.
* The Republican Party has done even less to disassociate itself from the race-baiting efforts led by nativist groups like FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA.
* The Republican Party stood by and did nothing when Arizona passed legislation that effectively encourages racial profiling of Latinos by law enforcement officers. Let's face it, only Latino looking people (whatever that means) will be targeted for ID checks.
* The Republican Party effectively did nothing when the GOP in Nevada came out with ads telling Latinos NOT to vote.

But it's not just the disingenuous and race-baiting policies floated by GOP lawmakers that keeps Latinos from voting Republican. Their media overlords - which include Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck - have donned hi-tech hoods and are running around like that demented Cartman character on South Park, trying to get their base riled up over Latinos in general.

Moreover, as I pointed out here, the GOP has been pursuing the functional equivalent of (Richard Nixon's) "Southern Strategy 2.0" ever since 9/11, and energized their efforts after the economy collapsed in 2008. Scaring the bejesus out of White America by demonizing Muslims, questioning the legitimacy of America's first black president, pushing for racial profiling, and then villifying Mexicans has had quite an impact on people of color, especially in California.

Consider the following from March 12-14 survey conducted by Republican pollsters, who tried to frame the issues in the best possible terms for the GOP:

* Latino voters in California now hold "widely negative" views about the Republican party.

* Latino voters tend to view GOP candidates as overly conservative and distrust Republican views on immigration.

* Only 26 percent of Latinos polled viewed Republicans favorably, while 62 percent had a favorable view of Democrats.

* Asked whether Republicans should “stick to core values and nominate true Conservatives,” only 22 percent of Latino voters agreed.

* Approximately one-third of Latino voters say they will never vote for a Republican.

Asked who they trusted on immigration reform, 57 percent of Latino voters chose Democrats, while only 21 percent sided with Republicans. Worse for the more rabid members in the GOP, a "pathway to citizenship" was favored by 67 percent of the Latinos surveyed.

This is not good news for the Party of "Your Papers, Please ..." Why? Because as Lucia Graves from Huffington Post pointed out, Latinos made up 22 percent of the California electorate in the 2010 midterm elections (up from about 10 percent in 1990).

Worse for the GOP is that Latinos cast 1.7 million votes statewide, an increase of 300,000 votes from the 2008 presidential election.

In the end, the GOP's long history of not standing up to race-baiting, "Your papers, please ..." and the demonization of Latinos wasn't good for Meg Whitman in California's 2010 gubernatorial race. Jerry Brown ended up beating her by almost 30 points among Latino voters, instead of the projected/hoped for 14 points.

The current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls aren't going to do anything to correct this.

- Mark 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I've been far too busy to comment on President Obama's Libya speech. But make no mistake. He is following a path that he laid out long ago. Rather than recount the Libya speech, and how it fits into the Obama Doctrine - Peace through cooperation, Order through strength - take a look at President Obama's Oslo speech. The long term approach for Libya is in there. My comments on what the Obama Doctrine means can be found here and here.

Interestingly, many conservatives - including former Speaker Newt Gingrich - praised President Obama's Oslo speech.

I have to run off to class so I'll leave my comments on the rants of Sarah Palin, and other clueless wonders, for another day. I'll try and make specific comments about the Libya speech at a later date too.

- Mark

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

MAY 2010

As I noted in an earlier post, I'm trying to track the specific months people are reading from my blog. Ultimately, this is a good thing because (I think) it means people aren't simply reading specific posts. They're interested in a series of posts from a specific month. Apparently "May 2010" is getting a bit of traffic too. This is the link that will help me count the number of hits May 2010 gets. Creating these links will also help me decide which topics could end up in my next book.

As I did with November 2009, here's the birth stone (emerald) ...

... and moon cycle for May 2010.

I'll be creating a similar post for June 2010 later.
- Mark


While America's financial institutions make their way through record profits and bonuses - made possible by trillions in government guarantees and taxpayer backed bailouts - millions of distressed homeowners are forced to sail the high seas of housing purgatory.

Matters are made worse for homeowners by financial institutions who are saving billions by dragging their feet on providing adequate service to distressed homeowners.

So, how much does dragging their feet save America's bailed out financial institutions? By not upgrading their procedures, by not hiring more workers, and by not making necessary loan-processing adjustments Bank of America alone has saved more than $6 billion. Wells Fargo, JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Ally have saved billions as well, according to a confidential presentation prepared by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Overall, by delaying applications and providing shoddy service, the banks have saved about $40 billion. The impact has been predictable. Delinquencies and foreclosures have soared, while distressed homeowners, who might otherwise be prime candidates for payment reductions, aren't getting loan modifications.

But all is good for America's banks because - as I've pointed out ... over and over and over again - the banks are able to take the contract you walked away from, and get almost face value for them (BofA is especially good at this). Bonuses are had by all. You, on the other hand, can do little as your home life and credit scores are wrecked ...

... all of which is good for the big banks, but cost you in the long run.

Additional concerns made worse by banks dragging their feet include:

* The CFPB estimates that there are about 12 million U.S. homeowners underwater (about 23 percent), most of whom are not delinquent. Of those, nine million would be eligible for proposed principal-reduction programs.

* About 6.9 million homeowners were either delinquent or in foreclosure proceedings through February 2011.

* Underwater homeowners owe $751 billion more than their homes are worth. This number is made worse by the fact that ...

* Home prices continue to decline, and reached their lowest levels since 2003, according to the National Association of Realtors.

* With millions of homeowners in housing purgatory purchases of new U.S. homes dropped last month to the slowest pace on record, according to the Commerce Department.

The incredible thing is that fixing many of these problems would cost a fraction of the trillions it has cost U.S. taxpayers to bail out Wall Street. Specifically, lowering total mortgage debt for three million homeowners who are underwater by 15 percent would cost about $135 billion (or about what Wall Street's top 25 publicly traded banks and security firms paid out in compensation and benefits in 2010).

So, not only did America's biggest financial institutions get trillions in taxpayer guaranteed money, but they have no obligation to help their taxpaying customers stabilize their housing situation. Nice.

And why should they? They got their money. They can afford to wait (and make money doing so) as American taxpayers are slow-bled out of their homes.

So screw you American taxpayer.

- Mark

P.S. If you want to help do something about this ... and you're looking for a job ... and would like to work for the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) ... and have experience in finance and auditing take a look at this site.

Monday, March 28, 2011


After watching this 60 Minutes piece on corporate tax evasion last night I'm posting the article below from Chuck Collins at Common Dreams. It sheds light on corporate tax dodgers, one of the key source(s) behind our current budget mess (the article also helps us understand why we need to apply the unitary tax at a national and even global level). Chuck Collins (with Bill Gates, Sr.) co-wrote Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes (2004). Enjoy the article. 

Pay Up, Corporate Tax Dodgers: We're chumps unless we force Congress to stop tax haven abuse.

by Chuck Collins

Instead of cutting state and federal budgets, the United States should crack down on the corporate tax dodgers thumbing their noses at us.

Across the nation, states are making deep cuts that will wreck the quality of life for everyone to close budget gaps that total more than $100 billion.

But there's a more sensible option. Overseas tax havens enable companies to pretend their profits are earned in other countries like the Cayman Islands. Simply making that ruse illegal would bring home an estimated $100 billion a year.

The next time you read a story about some politician bemoaning that "there's no money" and "we have to make cuts," just point to artful tax dodgers in our midst.

They include some of the banks that trashed the economy but gladly took our tax dollars to stay alive after the economic meltdown. Bank of America. Wells Fargo. Citigroup.

Goldman Sachs took a $10 billion taxpayer bailout but then gamed its effective tax rate down to one percent through what its shakedown-artist executives call "changes in geographic earnings mix." Shame on them. Pay up.

See that FedEx delivery van go by on the roads you paid for? Pay up FedEx! Don't pretend you're not making billions in the U.S. Don't lie and tell us you made all those profits on some island with more palm trees than people. We know the demand for coconut delivery isn't that big.

These corporations are heavy users of our taxpayer funded public infrastructure and property rights protection systems. They use our regulated marketplace, call upon our law enforcement system and judiciary to remedy disputes. They're protected by U.S. police forces and firefighters. They enjoy all the privileges and benefits of tax-paying citizens. They just don't pay their fair share for them.

So, ExxonMobil: the next time your gas station erupts in flames, why don't you call the fire department on the Cayman Islands? Or when someone holds up the joint, how about calling the Luxembourg police, since that's where you claim your profits so you don't have to pay the taxes you owe Uncle Sam.

Hey, Pfizer. Without our remarkable taxpayer-funded system of patents and intellectual property rights protections, everyone and their brother would be making Viagra and undercutting your sales of little blue pills. Pay up!

Those of us who pay sales taxes and have income taxes withheld from our paychecks will bear the brunt of state and federal budget cuts in schools, public transportation, and recreational facilities. Our most vulnerable family members and neighbors will suffer thanks to cuts in mental health services, elder care, and Medicaid.

Oh yes, and children. Arizona is cutting health care for 47,000 children. California, New York, and Mississippi are cutting K-12 education funding. Hey, kids don't vote. Nor do they have corporate lobbyists. An estimated 900,000 jobs will be cut, including teachers, firefighters, police officers, and medical first responders.

Boeing, you want another contract for a taxpayer-funded military jet? Well, pay up! Pay up General Electric, Mattel, Dow Chemical, Hewlett-Packard, and Cisco. Yes, we know you pay some taxes. But look these children who are losing their health insurance and teaching aides in the eye. Tell them you're paying your fair share.

These global corporations will complain that forcing them to pay their fair share of taxes will "kill jobs." Let's be clear: the patriotic businesses that currently pay their taxes and have to compete against these tax dodgers are the employers we want. It undercuts U.S. jobs for domestic banks, retailers, and manufacturers to have to compete against companies that can game the tax system.

The next time you're waiting longer for a bus or train than you should, or someone you know can't get timely mental health or drug treatment services, remember the tax dodgers. The next time your car hits a pothole or your kid's teacher loses her job, remember the corporations that are using armies of accountants to lower their tax bills.

In a democracy, if we sit back and just grumble, we get what we deserve. We're chumps until we wake up and force our members of Congress to stop tax haven abuse.

- Mark

P.S. Here's the 60 Minutes piece noted above ...


OK, I'm back from a week with my son at Camp Keep on the coast. It was an excellent experience, which I will post on later this week (if I can find the time). Anyways ...

As a way of tracking the most popular posts on my blog I added a couple of "Gadgets" to monitor the traffic. To date the five most popular posts since I added these gadgets are: 1) Glenn Beck: This Week's Village Idiot, 2) The Dark Side of Our Free Market Myths, III, 3) Iron Maidens and Our Medieval-Like Financial Rescue, 4) Arizona's Immigration Law ... Stupid Is As Stupid Does, and 5) What Milton Friedman Got Wrong ... Exam Post.

The problem with the Gadgets I'm using is that they don't track the number of times that someone goes to and/or reads a specific month of my posts. But one of my internal stat counters does. What it shows is that as many people (if not more) are accessing "November 2009" as are those hitting on the top five posts I listed above. As such, I'm creating this November 2009 post so I can create a link and start counting the number of hits November 2009 gets on my Gadget counter.

And, in the FYI category, the birthstone for November is Topaz ...

Here's the moon cycle for November 2009 ...

There are two additional months that are getting more than the usual number of hits. I'll be posting these months at a later date.

- Mark

Friday, March 18, 2011


Have you ever wondered what politics would look like if America's backwater, dueling banjo-like, politicians ever took over? Well, look no further than this Dana Milbank piece.

It details some of the backward looking initiatives coming from our Tea Party inspired politicians from across the nation. The article might be funny if it weren't for the fact that some of the proposals are quite serious (with many already made into law). Here's a snippet from the Milbank article:

Some of the proposals are ominous: South Dakota would call it justifiable homicide if a killer is trying to stop harm to an unborn child.

Some are petty: Wyoming, following Oklahoma, wants to ban sharia law, even though that state’s 200-odd Muslims couldn’t pose much of a sharia threat.

Some are mean-spirited: Iowa would allow business owners to refuse goods and services to those in gay marriages.

Some are fairly harmless: Arizona took actions to make the Colt Single Action Army Revolver the official state firearm and to create a Tea Party license plate.

And some are just silly: A Georgia bill would require only “pre-1965” silver and gold coins for payment of state debts.

While many Tea Party proponents like to claim their comments are just "jokes" taken out of context, their suggestions - like shooting immigrants from helicopters - are usually followed by comments like this one from a Kansas caucus chairman: “I was just speaking like a southeast Kansas person.”

Great defense ... "I was just saying what everyone else here is thinking." Bring out the banjos.

- Mark

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Why is Wall Street a hollow shell of what it used to be? Because they want easy money, and Washington is more than happy to oblige them ...

The Background ...
One of the more interesting developments we've learned about over the past two years is how a number of accounting and industry gimmicks undermined the integrity of the market. Don't believe me? Check this out.

From insurance contracts that meant nothing when the chips were down (Credit Default Swaps), to market contracts that were built on toxic loans (securitized debt), to firms making stupid bets on all of this with borrowed money (borrowing at 40:1 ratios), one thing is clear: The 2008 market collapse was no accident. It was caused by the seemingly infinite stupidity of market players in the pursuit of easy money.

If we understand this we can understand why this Bloomberg piece on the Lehman Brothers collapse is so important.

It tells us that the market stupidity that led up to the 2008 market collapse went beyond simply betting on - and then insuring - toxic crap with borrowed money. Companies like Lehman Brothers were actually lending billions to themselves in a series of seedy financial transactions. These transactions saw firms like Lehman hide or flush it's toxic crap off the books (a process that worked something like this), which made it look like they were healthier than they actually were.

Standard Corruption (Continued)
Why is this so important today? Because, according to the Bloomberg piece, much of the financial smoke & mirrors that Lehman Brothers was engaged in before it went bankrupt - which included removing $50 billion in crap off of its books, and then lending itself $3 billion - "would elude the Dodd-Frank law designed to prevent such financial alchemy" today. Nice.

If you're keeping score at home this what it all means.

Apart from creating toxic assets, then covering them with worthless insurance policies - and then borrowing money to make it all work - firms like Lehman Brothers used a "rats maze" of financial tricks to both lend money to themselves, and to mislead regulators (who were both clueless and complicit). And it worked.

The problem is that this continues to go on today. This happens because most Americans are either too ill-informed or too busy working in the trenches to care. But perhaps the biggest reason this goes on is that, for years, Washington has been doing it's level best to provide political and legal cover for the financial mandarins on Wall Street when they screw up.

And it happens in a number of different ways.

An Offer They Can't Refuse ...
But Washington is doing more than simply providing political and legal cover with subsidies, favorable legislation, and bailouts. They are also setting the conditions for turning Wall Street's financial rat maze into a real hall of mirrors. Here's how it's happening ...

As I pointed out last summer, to secure bailout cash A.I.G. was given an offer that they couldn't refuse: "You either accept bailout money and waive your right to sue those who sold you crap, or you go under and suffer the financial and legal consequences."

The interesting thing here is that all of this occurred AFTER the Federal Reserve requested that "national security" procedures be followed before it would cough up to Congress key documents about A.I.G.'s transactions. If this request had been granted it effectively meant that none of the information A.I.G. shared with Congress would be made public.

Only the village idiot would believe that A.I.G. had no idea that these efforts were being made.

Put another way, A.I.G. was told, "Play ball with us and we'll do what we can to stuff you full of cash and protect you. But if you don't play ball, you're on your own." A.I.G. eventually waived their right to sue the firms that sold it toxic crap, and accepted the bailout money.

Some where, some place, Al Capone had to be smiling. He couldn't have done it better.

At the end of the day this offer was made because the biggest players (on Wall Street and in Washington) knew that if A.I.G. actually sued firms like Goldman Sachs, who sold them crap, that lawyers in discovery would've started digging into the deliberate and corrupt practices of Wall Street. This would have blown the cover off of their financial shell game.

Fortunately for Wall Street, their influence in Washington is only growing stronger.

Corruption, With a National Security Twist ...
We shouldn't be surprised by any of this. In 2006 the Bush administration granted it's top national security person, John Negroponte, broad authority to excuse publicly traded companies from standard accounting and securities-disclosure obligations. This authority used to be held only by the President of the United States. And it was only granted for legitimate cloak and dagger missions. Not to cover up Wall Street's stunning levels of stupidity and greed.

Seriously. This is how bad it's gotten. 

In the final analysis, Wall Street is no longer just about favorable legislation and bailouts. It can now call on their friends in Washington to: (1) secure A.I.G.-like extortion offers, (2) ask the Federal Reserve to request national security waivers, and then (3) cook the books and get cloak and dagger cover for their corrupt practices.

And you were wondering why Wall Street is corrupt.

- Mark

Monday, March 14, 2011


This should blow the cover off of the "mystical" and unknown forces that many people believe shape and create market behavior. But it won't. People will still believe in the free market fairy tale.

As many of you know, I receive and read through financial reports from various investment houses. Some of them are good. Others (most) are simply garbage designed to get you to spend your money with them. In this Money Morning piece we're told that we should begin to worry about last week's stock market sell off because market players (they're not investors) are concerned that the long string of money the American taxpayer government has dumped into the economy may be coming to an end. Ergo, market players may need to jump in with their own cash if they want to keep the "bull run" in the market going.


This is like saying you're going to have to walk up the stairs if the escalator stops working. In market speak, what the writer of the Money Morning piece is referring to are the pampered and bailed out market players (many work on Wall Street) who depend on our taxpayer-funded gravy train to prosper, and now operate like this ...

Now that's a stairway to heaven.

Seriously. For the better part of three decades today's market participants have depended on the American taxpayer federal government to take them to the top of the market with a series of escalator-like subsidies, bailouts, and favorable legislation. They're no longer interested in taking real market risks because they know they can wait for the American taxpayer federal government to keep their bonus and profit gravy train going.

But wait, it gets better. I was particularly "impressed" with these two nuggets of market wisdom from the Money Morning piece:

1. What rescued the market last August was the American taxpayer Federal Reserve dumping hundreds of billions into the market (once again).

2. Strong markets with viable enterprises create self-sustaining economies.

So, let me get this straight ... "Markets driven by fundamentals take longer to develop and are more self-sustaining, while markets driven by liquidity have a lot of trouble once government support is pulled." Why ... this observation is ... it's ... pure genius I tell you, pure genius. 

Now, where have I seen this kind of earth shattering, out of the box, thinking before? Oh, yeah. It was here ...

At the end of the day, the kind of market behavior we're really talking about here is what many of us have known about for a long time. It's called herd behavior. And it's driven by psychological factors that used to be shaped by a system of punishment and reward, better known as bankruptcy or profit. Today these psychological factors are shaped by government supports and bailouts - and NOT by some kind of "mystical' market forces that only Wall Street and the economic talking heads can determine from their crystal balls.

This helps explain why, since they got their guaranteed trillions, Wall Street  isn't very much interested in taking risks, or investing in the American taxpayer who bailed them out. They don't have to in order to get their money.

On the bright side, at least the article acknowledges that our economy doesn't operate according to free market principles, sort of ...

- Mark

Friday, March 11, 2011


Have you ever been in a store, purchased an item right next to the exit door, and then walked out with your hands full only to be stopped and asked to show your receipt? It's even more annoying when the receipt guy at the door saw you purchase the goods, and they still get in your way as you're walking out the door.

Well guess what? It appears that, with a few rare exceptions, you don't actually (or legally) have to show your receipt. But we do anyways. The Consumerist is an informative site that helps explain why, while sharing some interesting consumer stories that show what's been happening in our consumer society. I'm sure most of you have experienced many of them at one time or another, like this one and this one:

 ... After I exited the store and was in the parking lot, walking towards my car, I heard someone start yelling, in a stern and urgent voice "SIR! SIR!" I heard quick footsteps behind me and turned around. It was a (sheriff's deputy). He told me that Best Buy employees needed to see my receipt. I responded that I'd left the store, my business with them was concluded, and that they had no right to demand to see my receipt. The officer said that it was store policy. Regardless of store policy, I said, they still had no right to take or search my possessions. He asked me why I was being difficult. I pointed out that it was an imposition upon me to be chased down and detained in the parking lot and made to hand my property over to a third party, something which they had no authority to demand. The officer said that while they didn't have the authority, *he* did have the authority. He continued, threatening me with arrest, "Go back and show them the receipt, or go to jail. Those are your options."

I asked him why he didn't just take the receipt from me, if they had the right to see the receipt. "I'm not going to touch your property," he replied. I told him that I ultimately didn't care about the receipt itself — it wasn't important to me — but that I objected to their demand that they detain me and inspect it. The officer suggested that he take the receipt back to them so that they could "mark it." I didn't resist (I was there with my wife and infant son — I would have been in the dog house if I got arrested), so he took the receipt out of my hand, and walked back across the parking lot to the store. He returned a minute later, and silently handed me the receipt. I asked for his card. He turned around and walked away, replying "I don't have to give you my card" while walking away.

There's more. But the point is the simple receipt exchange example above suggests that, over time, consumers are seen less and less as good customers, and more and more as potential crooks.

And we haven't even noticed.

- Mark


From millions of dead fish off of Redondo Beach to a massive 8.9 earthquake. It appears that Mother Nature's on a roll.

But of all the pictures from the earthquake-tsunami in Japan today, this picture from the BBC really captures what many contemplate (or fear most) when they think of tsunamis. The quake epicenter and projected time flow/impact areas follow below.

- Mark

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Check out the picture below. 

You might be inclined to think that there's a couple of boats sitting on a rock-paved surface. Look again. Millions of fish suddenly died and are now floating in the King Harbor Marina in Redondo Beach.

Check out the story here.

- Mark


The Rachel Maddow clip below makes it clear that what Republicans are up to is not about saving taxpayers money or balancing state budgets. Rather, under the pretext of a "fiscal emergency" the GOP wants to bust up unions (which challenge corporate America) and to turn public services over to private companies.

The goal of the GOP, after 30 years of financially starving the state with tax cuts for the rich, is to discredit the state and install what Naomi Klein calls a "corporate monopoly state."

In real simple terms, tax cuts have nothing to do with protecting "your money" or even good governance. These arguments are a ruse ... a Trojan Horse.

Instead, what the Republican Party has in mind is to continue collapsing the tax base with tax cuts, which makes their patrons wealthier, and creates the fiscal emergencies we're now seeing.

Let me repeat the point. The Republicans careful and patient race to the bottom strategy allows the GOP to claim that our cash-starved states don't work, while pushing for policies that replace state run services and institutions with privately managed services and contractors.

What we're seeing in Wisconsin is not about the budget. It never was.

- Mark

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I should have posted this Charlie Sheen "winning" skit earlier. Enjoy.

- Mark


It's official. Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee have been placed in the Conservatives "weirdness" box. The intellectual don of the right, George F. Will, acknowledged in the Washington Post that "the conservative party is indirectly injured" when popular conservatives like Gingrich and Huckabee don't "recoil" from outlandish comments made by the birthers and other groups who want to paint President Obama as an outsider.

Why is this important? Because it suggests that more responsible conservatives may finally be standing up to challenge "careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates" that "sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons."

Pretty strong words.

Then again, George F. Will seems to understand the list of presidential candidates that Conservatives are staring at for 2012 ... and it's not pretty.

Read the piece here.

- Mark

Monday, March 7, 2011


Remember Iraq's Saddam Hussein? In the lead up to the war in Iraq one of the best things he left us with is the catch phrase "The Mother of all Wars" - as if the war in Iraq was the Alpha and the Omega of all wars. Since then the term "The Mother of ..."  has become synonymous with events that can (and should) be mocked because of the exaggerated claims and circumstances surrounding the event.

Today, the recent antics of Charlie Sheen suggest that we just might see the same mocking characterization applied to the term "winning" as we with the "Mother of all ..." Think about it. The exaggerated and misplaced sense of accomplishment assigned by Charlie Sheen to his recent successes doesn't strike most of us as the recipe for, well, winning.

To be sure, Charlie Sheen has a #1 program, has lots of money, and sleeps with two "goddesses." This is winning in the minds of many, right? Still, very few of us would consider his recent drug and alcohol fueled meltdowns, and having his hit program put on hiatus, as indicators of success, or winning (even if he does get the program back).

Simply put, if you're burning down the house and having meltdowns, winning the Charlie Sheen way doesn't necessarily imply that you're doing the right thing - even if you claim or think you're on the right path.
Well, so it is with the Republican Party and their morally tinged "winning" strategy. They might think they're winning but the facts suggest otherwise. Let's go back a few weeks to see what I mean.

As some of you might recall, House Republicans started off their tenure with some stellar political "strategery" during their first week in power. From, "did you read the fine print?" qualifiers on their budget cuts, to repealing health care when they knew the Senate would not support their efforts, to reading the Constitution on the House floor and failing to reveal which House members get government run health care, the GOP has been pursuing gimmicks that only Charlie Sheen's brain might consider part of a larger winning strategy.


Then they followed this up with efforts to redefine rape (because only GOP members of Congress know when it happens), cutting taxes on the rich, and then ignoring the plight of cash strapped cities and states. Sounds like the makings of a Charlie Sheen-like political hook up to me ...

But wait. We have more Charlie Sheen-like burning down the house political "strategery."

A few weeks back, led by Speaker Boehner, Republicans fought to keep building jet engines that Defense Secretary Gates says the Defense Department doesn't want, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff say we don't need. Boehner's reason for wanting to keep the jet fighter? Because the federally funded jobs that build those engines are located close to his district.

So ... what do you think? Is this a winning strategy for trimming budget deficits? Or is it akin to claiming Tiger blood and Adonis DNA when you're really just a schmuck?

Then, to make matters worse, when it comes to other federally funded jobs disappearing outside of his district we learned that John Boenher apparently doesn't give a damn. Specifically, when asked about job cuts if the GOP plan to trim $100 billion from the budget were put into effect, Boehner flippantly replied "so be it."

Somehow killing close to 1 million jobs and then pretending that you can ignore it's effects doesn't strike me as a winning strategy.

There's more. But you get the point. Over thirty years of ideologically rigid but failed policy prescriptions, combined with years of morally hypocritical approaches to politics and life, have turned the GOP into a party that might be able to "win" elections. They just can't govern, and it shows.

Sounds like winning to me ... the Charlie Sheen way.

- Mark

Addendum: If you like the cartoons, check out The New Yorker piece here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011


This Paul Krugman article is spot on.

Krugman writes that the Republican Party is ready to shutdown the government because they want to cut programs and other funds that support jobs that Democrats want to maintain. At the same time Republicans also want to continue cutting taxes for the rich and their partner corporations.

In a few words, they're bent on imposing Third World-like fiscal austerity without actually doing anything about covering the budget holes that 30 years of tax cuts for the rich have created. Simply put, they're not serious about fixing the budget.

Focusing on budget cuts alone - or fiscal authority - is a big problem because:

* A comprehensive study by the International Monetary Fund concluded that “the idea that fiscal austerity stimulates economic activity in the short term finds little support in the data.”
* Britain’s conservative government imposed harsh austerity measures after last May. Rather than create an economic surge business confidence collapsed. It still hasn't recovered. Today, as one report put it, the private sector is “unprepared to fill the hole left by public sector cuts.”
* It does nothing to make up for the budget holes created by thirty years of tax cuts for the rich.
In spite of these realities, Krugman believes that House Republicans "will try to blackmail the Obama administration into accepting their proposed spending cuts, using the threat of a government shutdown."

At the end of the day, claiming that the budget cuts proposed by the Republicans would do wonders for America's current fiscal mess is not backed by the facts. Worse, their efforts are betrayed by the simple reality that the Republicans continue to support tax cuts that have helped bust a hole in our budget.

- Mark


It looks like Canada doesn't want to allow Fox News-like programming on their airwaves. Their regulators have rejected an attempt to legally permit lying on the airwaves. Canada's regulators have a very good reason for not wanting Fox-like news programs there. They seem to understand that, in many ways, our toxic political environment is driven by paranoid, fact-free, media pundits.

If the Glenn Becks and the Rush Limbaughs of our world aren't enough to convince you of this I say we take a quick stroll down Fox News memory lane.

In the clip below we see Fox News pundits doing what is now a standard fear-mongering skit. It really is nothing special (now) since it happens almost every day. Here they do their level best to drum up fears about the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential candidates, and the high taxes and anti-business policies they'll bring to America ...

While this Fox News skit is standard for the network it had absolutely nothing to do with the facts.

If these guys had done their homework someone would have noted during the bile-spewing fest that Wall Street’s record under Democratic administrations has been stellar - especially when it's compared against Republican administrations. More specifically, despite supposedly market friendly Republican policies stock prices have risen more during Democratic administrations, while market volatility has dipped.

Want proof? Check this out.

If you had invested $10,000 in 1901 and kept it in the market only during republican presidencies you would have earned $78,699 by 2005. However, if you had taken the same $10,000 and put it in the market under Democratic presidents, by 2005 you would have made $279,705.

But wait. It gets better.

If you run the numbers between 1929 and 2009 your rate of return under Republican administrations gets even worse. Republican administrations would have helped you earn $11,733 ($51,211 if you exclude the Hoover years) on your $10,000 investment. Democratic administrations, on the other hand, would have brought you a whopping $300,671!

The run the market is on now doesn't make things better for Republicans.

But you wouldn't know any of this if you simply got your information from Fox News and their media hall of mirrors. No wonder people have asked whether watching Fox News makes you ill-informed, and even stupid. It pretty much does. All of this makes what happened in Canada last week so important.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tells us that Canada's regulators would reject efforts by Canada's right wing Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to repeal a law that forbids lying on broadcast news. Why is this important? Because apart from posting misleading head lines, and admitting to trying to manipulate the news cycle, Fox News has sued and won the right to lie in the United States. Put another way, they know what they're doing.

Fox News and the Rush Limbaughs of America have been on a highly successful, but politically toxic, run ever since.

Check out what Kennedy has to say about Canada's Radio Act and how it works against all the nonsense that now comes out of our airwaves after the "Fairness Doctrine" was abolished in 1987. It helps to explain the great divide in America.

All of this also helps us understand how watching Fox News just might leave you stupid, and broke.

- Mark

Thursday, March 3, 2011


If you want to understand what the Republican attack on the middle class means watch this ...

For more information on what the Republican attack on the middle class and labor entails you can watch Rep. George Miller's five minute speech on the House floor here.

If you want to contribute a few bucks to the effort in Wisconsin, click here.

- Mark

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


If you want to understand the genesis of our current budget and debt mess let's start with this simple fact: The richest Americans have been paying far less in taxes than they did in the past. At the same time they're getting far more than they should in the form of bailouts, subsidies, and other favorable legislation from Washington.

Worse, America's richest class is getting support for their "Get-Out-of-Taxes-Free" card from a deluded middle class, who are egged on by an equally delusional group of Tea Baggers, who have bought into the bankrupt idea that if the rich pay less the country is better off.

While I've been saying this for a while now, the Guardian's Richard D. Wolff points out that the richest Americans have dramatically lowered their income tax burden since 1945, and really kicked it down when Ronald Reagan became president. In the process America's quality of life and it's ladders of upward mobility have been tightened and cut.


Wolff's article points out that when "the Cadillac Eldorado made its debut in the 1950s, wealthy Americans were paying a top rate of tax of 90%; today, the top rate of tax is 35%."

In fact, the marginal tax rate (what's on the books) on the highest wage earners dropped from a high of 90% in 1945 to about 70% under JFK, and fell dramatically to around 30% when Ronald Reagan was ready to leave office. Check it out ...

Because of this development the amount of taxes actually paid (the "effective" tax rate) by America's individual millionaires and corporate giants has dropped precipitously ...

... while the share of taxes paid by middle class America has soared. In sum, we have seen a scissors effect when it comes to burden sharing and tax payments.

The False Justification Behind Tax Cuts for the Rich
As I've been pointing out for some time now, the rich justify cutting their taxes by claiming that they will invest the money they save from not paying more taxes. This, in turn, will create more jobs. Their "the-wealth-will-trickle-down" argument has been debunked over and over again (Reagan was famously called out on it by the first President Bush, who referred to his policy proposals as "voodoo economics" during the 1980 primaries). Yet they persist in perpetuating the "cut taxes, more revenue, more jobs" myth.

What's actually happened after 30 years of trickle down economics is entirely different. Check it out.

* NATIONAL DEBT EXPLODES / MORE BORROWING: Over the past 30 years the wealthiest Americans have seen their share of taxes drop dramatically while America's national debt has climbed from about $975 Billion in 1980 to $14 Trillion today. Yet, the Republican Party and many (clueless) middle class Americans want to continue cutting taxes on corporations and America's richest class - as if it's patriotic to continue borrowing from the Chinese so we can pay for tax cut refunds to gazillionaires who don't need it. Simply mind boggling.

* SOVEREIGNTY UNDERMINED: As Wolff points out, the richest Americans take the money they save from taxes and invest big parts of it in China, India, and elsewhere. This produces more jobs over seas, but fewer jobs here. Worse, since we don't build things here any more we have to import more goods from abroad. Our balance of trade suffers, which means we send more dollars out - which the Chinese and others conveniently lend back to us. Nice.
* INCENTIVES / MARKETS DISTORTED: According to Wolff the richest Americans take the money they don't pay in taxes and invest gamble it in hedge funds and with stockbrokers who aren't necessarily concerned about the public good. Hedge funds and brokers use part of the money rich people save from taxes to speculate in the US stock markets, which benefits them in the immediate term because they own most of America's stock (look for the stock dump later). Worse, according to Wolff, in our current market environment brokers are often speculating in oil and food, which drives up their prices and undermines economic recovery.

Apart from getting much richer over the last half-century, we are now in the middle of an epic market meltdown that has seen Wall Street experience both record bailouts and record profits (there's an Orson Welles "Newspeak" quote in there somewhere). The average American, however, has seen their quality of life and standard of living take a hit in the form of greater uncertainty and less wealth.

The Political Impact ... A Nation of Morons?
At the end of the day, as we have reduced taxes on the rich in America we have seen economic incentives distorted, government services cut, and worsening inequality (of income and opportunity) in America over the the past 30 years.

Ironically, many Americans are missing the connections between 30 years of trickle down policies and these developments. As if tax cuts, tax write-offs, bailouts, subsidies, and other market distorting legislation that favors the rich has no impact on society. And it show in our politics. In many ways, we've become a nation of morons. And we have Fox News to prove it.

As Wolff points out, "a rather vicious cycle has been at work for years." But many Americans simply don't understand it. Because the rich have seen their taxes reduced they now have more money to influence politicians and politics. This influence "wins them further tax reductions, which gives them still more money to put to political use." Because government has lost revenue from 30 years of cutting taxes for the rich public services have become increasingly strained, while public debt has climbed.
But instead of calling for a return to the past, when the rich paid a greater share of their income - as Adam Smith argued they should - the rich constantly press politicians to cut public services and government jobs (and their taxes). Tea Baggers and other clueless middle class Americans, like lemmings jumping off a cliff, simply follow ... all the while mumbling about greedy public servants.
My friends, we're broke, and we're broke for a reason. We're not going to solve our financial problems by going after the chump change that public servants make. There are other options. But first we have to reverse 30 years of trickle down economics, which means we have to stop giving away the tax farm to the rich.
It's really that simple.
- Mark


And you thought Glenn Beck was a lunatic. Check out this Phyllis Schlafly clip.

If you're not laughing I have to think that many of you are thinking this ...

On the positive side - as I never tire of telling my students - there's nothing in the Constitution that prevents anyone from making a fool of themselves. And that's a good thing.

Seriously. Who listens to people like this? Oh, yeah ... the people who follow Fox News.

- Mark

Addendum: Oh, this stuff just gets better and better (or is that "worse and worser"?). Here's David Corn outlining the Mother of all Obama Conspiracies. He's bringing 100 million Muslims to America, presumably on some kind of Super Secret Jihad Airplane (that doesn't crash into stuff).

No doubt this will happen after he confiscates all the guns in America and puts those who don't cooperate into FEMA concentration camps run by communist nazis. You've been warned. Keep an eye out for people who look like this ...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Some times Congress makes things more difficult than it should be. Check out this article from Christopher Hellman at Huffingtonpost.

Hellman's article details how our base defense budget of $558 billion is not even close to what we actually spend on national security related items. What we actually spend is well over $1.2 trillion ... and counting.

Included in Hellman's numbers are our costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, veteran benefits, homeland security, the CIA, the National Security Agency (NSA), military aid to foreign countries, and an entire group of categories that most Americans are too busy to think about or follow on a regular basis. Worse, billions of our national security expenditures - perhaps $200 billion - is simply overlap and waste.

Considering the $1.1 trillion in tax breaks (write-offs) we give to ordinary Americans, the $100 billion we give to corporations to locate off shore for tax (avoidance) purposes, the $88.7 billion in tax breaks that are dedicated for America's wealthiest class, the unnecessary hundreds of billions given away by the Bush tax cuts, and the trillions in profit subsidies we've handed over to Wall Street (with no tax claw backs), it appears that Congress simply isn't trying hard enough.

Put another way, when Congress says it's trying to cut the fat from the budget it needs to look beyond the chump change it will save by simply cutting public employee benefits and pay. We need to start rescinding tax cuts that don't work, eliminate write-offs that undermine the integrity of the market, abolish subsidies that distort incentives, and do away with other tax breaks that favor the wrong people in America.

Oh, and there's much to be saved by paring down the budget expenditures of our national security state too.

This isn't rocket science. Seriously.

- Mark