Thursday, May 30, 2013


Ever since OPEC price hikes shook our world in the 1970s we have talked (and talked ) about developing a national energy policy that would move us away from our dependence on oil from the Middle East. This pretty much sums up why having no national energy policy matters ...

The worst part is how our failure to develop a national energy policy helps to distort our dialogue on energy related issues. Think about it ...

- Mark 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Private jets, 13 mansions, and a $100,000 mobile home just for the dogs ... televangelists' defrauded tens of millions of dollars from Christian network' (Mail Online).

How Beetle overcame its Nazi past to become an American favorite (Bloomberg / Echoes).

Our technology may be getting smarter, but a new study says human intelligence is in decline, with Westerners losing 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian era (Huffington Post).

Why our bridges are falling. The economics - and abysmal politics - behind our infrastructure deficit (EconoMonitor).

How FDR saved farms and factories (Bloomberg / Echoes).

This week's (last week's?) village idiot, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) ... Senator Coburn claims Social Security and Medicare are "things we don't absolutely need" (The Raw Story).

OK, we have two village idiots this week ... Alex Jones explains the Oklahoma tornado by pointing to the primary culprit, the federal government's "weather weapon" (Democratic Underground).

Economically, Could President Obama Be America's Best President? (Forbes).

The four companies that control the 147 companies that control everything (Forbes).

5 deadly sins on Wall Street (MarketWatch).

Why Democrats can't be trusted to control Wall Street (Robert Reich).

Students paying the price for Wall Street's recklessness (Money Watch / CBS News).

Globalisation isn't just about profits, it's about taxes too (theguardian).

Don't beat up on Apple for not paying taxes. The Flaw is in the law (EconoMonitor).

17 Great American Companies that Keep a Mountain of Cash Overseas to Avoid Taxes, Just Like Apple Does (Business Insider).

The document that started Apple's hidden Irish tax scheme (Valley Wag).

- Mark 

Monday, May 27, 2013


Cool NY Times interactive. Click on this link to find out how much corporations paid in taxes - federal, state, local and foreign - from 2007 through 2012 ...

Corp Tax

- Mark 

Friday, May 24, 2013


Conspiracy theorist and all around raido nutjob Alex Jones suggested that the tornado in Oklahoma this week could have been caused by the government's "weather weapon."  Adenoid Hynkel responds by telling us that Alex Jones' quackery is probably a product of watching too many G.I. Joe Cobra cartoons, like this one ...

- Mark 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


This picture should actually read "House GOP Opposes Obama Proposal Allowing Students to borrow at .93%" but "Advances Bill That Charges Them Up to 10.5%" ...

... but you get the point.

At the end of the day, our GOP-led House of Representatives is perfectly content to allow our Too Big to Fail Banks (TBTF) to borrow money at .75 percent, while denying this option to our nation's college students. The primary reason the banks are borrowing at this rate - as I wrote about two months ago - is that our TBTF banks would go bust without access to cheap rates.

The problem here is that Congress doesn't want to extend the same financial subsidy to college students. This is ironic since they did nothing to collapse the economy, and have increasingly been forced to finance their college experience with more loans after the market meltdown of 2008.

The rationale behind the Republican proposal is simple. They want to use student loans as a way to help pay down the budget deficits that our TBTF banks made worse. And why not? Student loan debt is almost $1 trillion (almost as much as the $1.2 trillion our TBTF financial institutions borrowed on one day in 2008). So why not allow interest rates to go up on student loans, right? A few extra points of interest on almost a trillion dollars is serious money.

But we'll keep subsidizing the banks, and allow them to keep borrowing from the Federal Reserve at .75 percent.

This is yet another example of Congress having the wrong priorities, while demonstrating that they are seriously tone deaf to the challenges and problems that confront America.

- Mark 


What appeared on radio in the 1930s, was a hit on television from 1949 through 1957, and came back as great reruns for kids to watch in the 1960s? Here's a hint: I'm watching this when it comes out on July 4th ...

- Mark 

Monday, May 20, 2013


Jerry Brown's last chance to save California (Bloomberg Echoes).

If you can't beat them, cheat them ... Ohio Republicans push a law that would penalize colleges that help students vote (TPM).

Oregon's radical health overhaul blazes new trail (Bloomberg).

Super charging Citizens United ... Weak state laws provide cover for hidden political operatives who sponsor attack ads (The Center for Public Integrity).

Obamacare myths and realities (The Center for Public Integrity).

Why American colleges are becoming a force for inequality (The Atlantic).

Shell and British Petroleum offices raided in petroleum price fixing scheme (Mail Online).

The Heritage Foundation - a recipient $2.7 million from the Koch brothers - is undermining conservatove efforts to reach out to Latinos by funding and supporting studies that paint Latinos as a drain on America (Nation of Change).

Blow up an industrial plant and a you're a terrorist. Blow up a plant because your company hasn't been inspected for years and you're a capitalist (Nation of Change).

Pat Robertson advises a woman who's husband cheated on her to get over it because "he's a man" ... and besides, as a woman, she should be working to "make the home so wonderful" that the man doesn't want to wander (Right Wing Watch).

The city of Keene, New Hampshire sues six parking meter "Robin Hoods" for putting money in expired meters (New Hampshire Union Leader).

37th time's the charm? Our Republican-led Congress has voted, once again, to repeal Obamacare (The Hill).

Pentagon claims over $750 million in overcharges from contractor in Afghanistan (The Center for Public Integrity).

KBR tell the U.S. that it will take half a billion dollars and 13 years to close out its contract in Iraq (AllGov).

After being overcharged $100 million for "services" the Pentagon does nothing (AllGov).

The Pentagon fines KBR ... then gives it a $2.8 billion contract (AllGov).

- Mark

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Below I am providing a set of links to some of the issues that were discussed in my American Politics 101 class. These links should not be interpreted as providing all the information needed for each of the questions that will be asked in Mid-Term #2 this Tuesday. They are simply links to topics that are not in the book or are issues students have asked about during class and office hours. 



From Civil Liberties to Civil Rights: The long march to equality involved issues tied to blacks, women, labor laws, the influence of junk science (which justified social stereotypes), etc. It's all discussed here in the last 2/3 of this post."

Courts and/or American Presidency: Here's the link to help with the FISA courts. Click here for a discussion on the Original Intent / Judicial Activist issue.

The Presidency: Do we have an emerging American Caesar? This op-ed review several issues tied to the American presidency that we discussed in class. These two  posts discuss signing statements.

Congress: Why is it that many members of Congress appear overwhelmed and uninformed? Why do they appear to talk at each other instead of with each other? Apart from issues tied to redistricting, this post on the Bell Experiment ties into our lecture on post-industrialandia and semi-democracy in America. Click here for the link to clip on "We're not the greatest country in the world."

Political Parties: Here's a link I have used in previous class lectures to help explain the evolution of political parties in America.

Good luck.

- Mark

Saturday, May 18, 2013


My uncle sent a couple of jokes. It's Saturday so I'm re-posting one of them. A little off color (for some), but it definitely offers another look at what you might advise someone when the shoe is is on the other foot ...

A man escaped from prison where he had been for 15 years. He broke into a house to look for money and guns and found a young couple in bed. He ordered the guy out of bed and tied him to a chair.  
While tying the girl to the bed, he got on top of her, kissed her neck, then got up and went into the bathroom. While in the bathroom, the husband whispered to his wife, “Listen this guy’s an escaped convict – look at his clothes! He probably spent lots of time in jail and hasn’t seen a woman in years. I saw how he kissed your neck. If he wants sex, don’t resist, don’t complain, do whatever he tells you. Satisfy him no matter how much he nauseates you. This guy is probably very dangerous. If he gets angry, he’ll kill us. Be strong, honey. I love you.”  
To which the wife responded, “He wasn’t kissing my neck. He was whispering in my ear. He told me he was gay, thinks you’re cute, and asked if we had any Vaseline. I told him it was in the bathroom. Be strong, honey. I love you, too.” 

- Mark 


Have you ever wondered why we have building codes? Have you ever wondered why exits must be clearly marked? Have you ever wondered why workers can demand that their rights at the work place be respected? If you're like most Americans you probably don't give much thought to these or other "pesky" regulatory issues.

A quick review of the conditions that existed before the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire help us understand why we have regulations that protect us every day - whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

This video clip begins with the Shirtwaist Factory Fire and then connects the fire to current labor standards here and around the world ...

Long story short? We need to start considering restrictions on imported goods if some of our most basic standards are not respected abroad. Think about it. If we can demand global protections for patent rights we can demand global protections for workers rights.

Without this globalization becomes just another way to buy off or skirt regulations. This, in turn, undermines much of the hard work and sacrifice that was done to build up and protect America's middle-class in the 20th century.

- Mark

Thursday, May 16, 2013


If you have ever wondered why the United States of America might not be the greatest country in the world you can start with this ...

- Mark 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The derivatives market, which helped bring down the economy in 2008, is about to get yet another favorable piece of legislation from Congress.

In the United States the derivatives market - essentially bets and trades on market events that haven't happened (and may never happen) - has grown to about $700 trillion. As a point of comparison, the total amount of goods and services produced in the United States economy in 2012 was $15 trillion.

So, yeah, the derivatives market dwarfs the real economy in America. And Congress is essentially telling the same people who brought the house down in 2008 they can go ahead and do it again.

Sigh ...

- Mark 

Monday, May 13, 2013


The costs of empire are great. The people who pay for it, however, don't always know that they're paying for it. Here's why.

Let's start with the incredible shrinking dollar. If a dollar could purchase a loaf of bread in 1980 that same dollar can only buy you three slices of bread today. Simply put, because we are printing and sending out more U.S. dollars our currency is worth less than it was 33 years ago ...

Click here for larger picture.

If you're a regular reader of this blog you might be asking yourself, What about your recent post on "Dollar Hegemony Continues (still)"? Isn't printing more dollars that the rest of the world holds a good thing? The simple answer is yes. Because everyone still wants dollars global demand from the world's commercial, national and "black market" communities has allowed the United States to print more money than our economy can actually support through commerce and trade.

This is a good thing for America because having the world's reserve currency benefits America's national security needs. We can pay to maintain global stability while others seek out our credit markets. Americas financial position also allows the United States to enjoy what French President Charles de Gaulle called the "exorbitant privilege" of printing dollars that others around the world are willing to hold.

Any other nation, as de Gaulle explained, can't "export" their currencies to other nations like the U.S. can.

On the flip side, printing so many dollars has devalued the dollar, which means that the purchasing power of the dollar has declined (inflation calculator here). So who's paying the price for the devalued currency?

That would be you and me.

Specifically anyone on a fixed income, or who works where wages haven't kept pace with the cost of living, has to do more with less.

If you or your family have found it increasingly difficult to pay the bills - and are now tapped out because of these efforts - it's not simply because your wages have stagnated or gone down over the years (though they have). The purchasing power of the dollar has also declined.

And it's been declining for years.

There are many reasons why most Americans don't recognize that the value of the U.S. dollar has declined as much as it has (see especially the Boskin Commission). But the reality is that excessive printing of the U.S. dollar means that you and I can only purchase three slices of bread today compared to the loaf of bread we could purchase 33 years ago (the richest 7 percent of Americans don't have this problem).

By printing so much to maintain the empire (and now to bailout Wall Street) the U.S. government has shifted the costs of empire - via a devalued currency - on to the little guy (there are other costs too).

The worst part? Most Americans don't even know it's happening. So we continue to pay.

Consider it America's Empire Tax.

- Mark

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Bush cancels trip to Europe amid calls for his arrest (Salon).

Only in America ... One hospital charges $8,000 another charges $38,000, for the same thing (Truthout).

Use these (once) secret NSA Google search tips to become your own spy agency (Wired).

Chicken vs. Egg moment. The National Security Agency mimicks Google, which pisses off the U.S. Senate because they're doing something the private sector is already doing (Wired)  Hmmm ... didn't the federal government invent the internet and essentially give it all away, which made Google possible?

Monsanto, the court and the seeds of dissent ... Should Monsanto have the rights to a self-replicating natural product? (LA Times).

What presidential wannabes (and one president) owe their creditors (Center for Public Integrity).

How Wall Street de-fanged Dodd-Frank (The Nation).

Let's remake the Federal Reserve, build public banks and opt out of Wall Street (Truthout).

A rise in wealth for the wealthy, declines for the lower 93% (Pew Research).

Can U.S. banks use your deposits - in Cyprus-like fashion - to bail themselves out (so-called "bail-ins") after the next market collapse? According to these guys, the answer is yes (It's Our Economy).

Five scandals that made JPMorgan Wall Street's worst villain (Money Morning).

Yet another price rigging scheme that's set to become the next Wall Street mega scandal (Money Morning) ... Yawn.

America's incredible shrinking dollar (Gold Standard 2013).

Secrecy for Sale ... Inside the global offshore money maze (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists).

Release of offshore records draws worldwide response (Center for Public Integrity).

Check out who's hiding $32 trillion in offshore accounts (Money Morning).

Are the big banks committed to fighting the flow of dirty money? Apparently not (The Center for Public Integrity).

Authorities announce tax haven investigation (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists).

- Mark

Friday, May 10, 2013


During the 1960s French President Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) wanted the world to discipline the U.S. for it's bloated budgets and deficit spending. He wanted the world to stop accepting dollars until the U.S. got its economic house in order. But nothing happened. Instead, the world continued to accept dollars on demand, and then clamored for more. This irked de Gaulle to no end.

Fast forward to the modern era. Not only does the U.S. continue to print and send out dollars at a pace that probably has de Gaulle spinning in his grave but we've been running record trillion dollar deficits ever since the market collapse of 2008. Still, it appears that the primary movers and shakers of the world's money - nation-states, global merchants, drug dealers, etc. - continue to do their business in dollars.

In fact, of the $1.175 trillion currently in circulation more than 70% of these dollars are held outside of the United States.

As I tell my students, all of this is a good thing. When others hold our dollars it's the functional equivalent of writing checks that no one cashes. If we think of it another way, it's the functional equivalent of the world giving the U.S. a $700 billion interest free loan.  

And, yes, there is a financial problem with this scenario, as Charle de Gaulle understood. But that's a post for another day.

- Mark 

Thursday, May 9, 2013


This is the kind of nonsense that gives Congress a bad name, and reveals the GOP to be little more than a mafia of petty obstructionists. The Republicans are getting ready to pass a bill that would require President Obama to prioritize government payment and benefits when our GOP-led Congress, once again, fails to raise the debt ceiling. 

Yeah, the logic here is akin to forcing your spouse to tell the kids which one they love the most. It also accomplishes nothing except to show everyone what a prick you are.

But what else should we expect? Our current GOP-led House is run by the same group of people who:
* Once presented a budget with no numbers. 
* Tried to redefine rape to fit their position(s) on abortion. 
* Had the House Majority Leader claim - against all constitutional logic and history - that if the Senate didn't pass their legislation that their bill (H.R.1) would "be the law of the land."  
* Consistently ignored or voted to block job creating programs in the 112th Congress because the jobs programs would help President Obama look good.

The sad part is that this tactic isn't new. Not by a long shot.  Sigh ...

- Mark

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


For the policy wonks and the political-economy geeks out there. From Truthout we get Professor Bob Pollin, co-director of Political Economy Research Institute, discussing the policy implications behind the Reinhart-Rogoff errors. He also explains why austerity is a mistake ...

In a few words, the Reinhart-Rogoff errors helped keep a failed policy in place, which people are now paying for in destroyed lives.

- Mark

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Recently in my American Politics 101 class we discussed why Congress has such a difficult time getting the work of the people done. As part of a larger lecture I discussed how many members of Congress are simply overwhelmed and uninformed (both parties) by a society that is both fast paced and highly complex.

These dynamics compel Congress to rely on polls and experts, who may provide information and advise, but do little to connect individual members to their communities. It also only explains a small part of a larger environment.

It doesn't address the structure or process of Congress. And it certainly doesn't explain why Congress has been ignoring the will of the people.

Think about it. The vast majority of Americans want Congress to do something on the jobs front, with background checks, poverty, subsidies for big oil, the Buffet Rule (establishing a minimum tax rate on those making a million per year), and a host of other issues. Congress has refused to act. And it's not just our current Congress.

The vast majority of Americans were opposed to helping Wall Street and the banksters after the market crashed in 2008. Did Congress listen? Hell no. Wall Street ended up with access to seemingly endless Federal Reserve funds. To date they are the recipients of a bailout bonanza that's seen $4 trillion transferred into their accounts, with another $16 trillion backstopped by the American taxpayer.

Why does Congress refuse to represent the will of the people? Part of the reason is that Congress has a tendency to ignore those on the bottom of our nation's economic ladder, while appeasing those with the resources who can help them get re-elected (a topic for another day). Another issue is that while members of parliaments in other countries represent between 90-120,000 citizens each member in the U.S. House of Representatives must serve about 700,000 people in their district (it was once 40-50,000).

Clearly, something is wrong with both of these developments.

The issue, however, is not that Congress has decided to ignore the poor, or that they can't find the time to talk to 700,000 people. The real issue is how population shifts and redistricting games have turned our U.S. Congress - both the Senate and the House of Representatives - into un-representative bodies.

Consider the following. The Democratic Party won well over 1 million more votes in all congressional districts in 2012 (and almost 5 million more votes in the presidential count). Yet the Democrats won only 201 seats in the House of Representatives. The Republicans maintained their dominant position after 2012, and currently hold 232 seats (with two vacancies) in the House.

With a majority of the population voting for Democrats in all the congressional districts you would expect a closer split (something like 218-217). So what happened?

In a few words, political parties at the state level have politically stacked - or gerrymandered - congressional districts in such a way that they are little more than manipulated political fiefdoms designed to benefit the political party in charge at the state level. The GOP has been much better at redistricting over the past two census counts, which helps explain why they can win more seats in congressional districts while losing the total vote count (the narrow district below is from North Carolina).

Redistricting has become such an art form that it allows political parties to manipulate and control outcomes long before the election is held (in class I have my students do an exercise that allows them to see how a fictional state with five congressional districts can end up with a 5-0 GOP sweep, or a 4-1 Democratic advantage, using the same population and party affiliation numbers).

Simply put, redrawing congressional district lines - and shoving unwanted voters into stacked districts - has allowed politicians to manipulate voting outcomes by shifting people in and out of districts until they get the vote count they want.

It's akin to going to Las Vegas and being told that you can pad the deck, and count cards while at the table.

This helps explain why, as the NY Times' Timothy Egans points out, the 232 Republicans who make up the House majority today don't actually represent the people of this country. Not even close.

As a whole, Congress has never been more diverse, except the House majority [my emphasis]. There are 41 black members of the House, but all of them are Democrats. There 10 Asian-Americans, but all of them are Democrats. There 34 Latinos, a record - and but 7 are Democrats. 
Only 63 percent of the United States population is white. But in the House Republican majority, it's 96 percent white. Women are 51 percent of the nation, but among the ruling members of the House, they make up just 8 percent. (It's 30 percent on the Democratic side.)

According to Egan it's "a stretch, by any means, to call the current House an example of representative democracy." The policy priorities of our House leadership doesn't represent the will of the people because they owe their political lives to a process dominated by ideologues and party hacks (on both sides) rather than to people interested in making good policy.

There's more. Believe me, plenty more. So let me finish with this.

California has a population of 38 million. Yet it only gets 2 U.S. Senators. Meanwhile the 20 states with the smallest populations combined have about 37 million people. Yet they get 40 U.S. Senators. Does this seem fair? All you have to do is add five small or poor states to this mix and it's easy to understand why most of the smallest and poorest states in America have become net financial takers in our federal system. Most of these states get well over $1 for every dollar they send to Washington (what the Washington Post's Dana Milbank calls the "Confederacy of Takers").

California, according to the Tax Foundation, only gets 78 cents for every dollar it sends to the federal government.

In fact, if California were to get $1 back for every dollar it has sent to Washington since 1990 not only would California's $28 billion state debt be eliminated but California would be sitting on at least a $300 billion surplus (or enough to cover the hidden debt scenarios reported in January).

What's clear is that America's democracy is under stress. With gerrymandered districts and the smaller states siphoning off the wealth of the larger and richer states increasingly there is an un-democratic element to America's larger story.

The fact that Congress is tone deaf to much of this is disheartening, to say the least.

- Mark

FYI: Is America the greatest country-democracy in the world? According to this clip, not by a long shot ...

Friday, May 3, 2013


Barack Obama, Gun Salesman of the Year (Bloomberg).

For the bedwetters out there ... Calm down, you're much more likely to die choking on your own vomit than in a terrorist attack (Washington Post Blog via Barry Ritholtz)

Dick Cheney (finally) sees the light ... Picking Palin was a mistake, McCain responds by playing the torture card (The National Memo).

A look at North Korea's missile stockpile (The National Memo).

Meet the new $100 bill, the world's most popular bank note (Quartz).

Hackers empty $900,000 bank account (

Barry Ritholtz does a good job of explaining the importance of Twitter to society and markets (The Big Picture).

Republican representatives are starting to see the real world effects of the sequester they voted for (The National Memo).

Public pensions on the mend? (

The graduate student who exposed the errors in the ideologically tinged Reinhart-Rogoff austerity paper ... Reinhart-Rogoff still can't get their facts straight (Quartz).

Refereeing the Reinhart-Rogoff debate (Bloomberg), plus the risks of spending and debt (Brad DeLong).

America's 99-Year War Against Terrorist Bombers (Bloomberg Echoes).

When FDR ditched the gold standard (Bloomberg Echoes).

A brief history of applause ... the "big data" of the ancient world (Atlantic).

Why Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels turned towards Russia ... they didn't understand the political nuances and possibilities of democracy, which made their understanding of economics and society rather rigid (Brad DeLong)

Influential economist says Wall Street's full of 'crook's' (New York Post) ... in a related story, jails are full of criminals.

Everything is rigged, the biggest price-fixing scandal ever (Rolling Stone / Matt Taibbi).

FDIC Systemic Resolution Advisory Committee member makes it clear ... Not only is our financial narrative wrong, but the world is in trouble if [when] the global megabanks fail (Project Syndicate).

Finally ... 22 facts that prove the bottom 90% are getting systematically poorer (The Economic Collapse Blog, via Zero Hedge)

- Mark 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


One of the greatest misunderstandings about Adam Smith, the intellectual godfather of modern capitalism, is what he said about keeping the state out of the market. Most advocates of free market, or laissez-faire, economics like to claim that Adam Smith (1723-1790) wanted to keep the government out of the market because only market players know what they're doing, so leave them alone.


Adam Smith was clear. He argued that the state needed to stay out of the market because historically "the government usually intervened on behalf of monopoly and privilege." He understood that the rich and powerful don't need any help from the government. Smith also realized that scratching out favors and placing the interests of our commercial aristocracy above others in society would skew the "laws of justice" (what we might call "equality under the law") that was supposed to be the backbone behind the economic system he described.

I bring all of this up because of this NY Times editorial, "Congress Rushes to Aid the Powerful."

How favoring the interests of the 
rich impacts their value system.

While not explicitly referencing Adam Smith, the special exemption granted to travelers undermines Smith's laws of justice, on so many levels.

- Mark