Thanks, Ralph

Remember when Ralph Nader was running around the country saying there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats? That got him 90,000 votes in Florida in 2000, handing the election to Bush
PageOneQ | Report: Gays sentenced to death in Iraq, executions to begin next week
Thanks, Ralph.
Oh, yeah, and for this, too.

Teachers Fired To Pay For Huge Corporate Tax Cut — Why?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
I’ve been asking around and it seems that most Californians don’t know that the budget deal that fires so many teachers also has a huge tax cut just for big, multi-state and multi-national corporations.
But it’s true. Last month’s budget deal that fires teachers, cuts essential government services, and guts the investments that bring future economic benefits also has a huge tax cut for the largest of corporations. While this part of the deal has been kept pretty quiet, the LA Times had a story, Business the big winner in California budget plan. From the story,

The average Californian’s taxes would shoot up five different ways in the state budget blueprint that lawmakers hope to vote on this weekend. But the bipartisan plan for wiping out the state’s giant deficit isn’t so bad for large corporations, many of which would receive a permanent windfall.
About $1 billion in corporate tax breaks — directed mostly at multi-state and multinational companies — is tucked into the proposal.

But wait, won’t a big corporate tax cut cause companies to come to California, creating jobs? No, they are already here and it will drive them away, because it is paid for by firing teachers.

A study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, released in 2005, found that most companies decide where to locate based not on tax breaks but on factors such as the availability of a highly educated workforce. California’s proposed plan would cut spending on higher education by hundreds of millions of dollars.

So how did this happen? This was part of the deal to get a few Republican votes. And why did the Republicans want this so bad? Because they understood who really elected them.
If you look at the independent expenditure reports for the 2008 California election you’ll see a massive amount of last-minute money. For example, in the 19th Senate District, a political action committee (PAC) named “Californians for Jobs and Education” put almost $1 million into just one race: $570,653 into defeating Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson, and another $373,778 to help elect her opponent, Republican Tony Strickland. When you look this group up on ElectionTrack you learn that this money came from corporations like Arkansas’ Wal-Mart, Blue Cross of Ohio (Ohio?), Reliant Energy, major real estate companies, and from other PACs.
Now it gets interesting. Many of the contributions to that PAC came from other PACs, especially one called Jobs Pac. When you track down Jobs PAC you find that it is a conduit for huge, huge amounts of money coming from large corporations like Philip Morris, ATT, Chevron, Safeway, Sempra Energy, Verizon, big insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, big real estate companies … and other conduits like the Chamber of Commerce.
Why did these huge corporations put so much money into California state elections? Because we let them, and because of the return on investment they receive from tax cuts like the one that is forcing us to fire so many of our teachers.
There is a key lesson to learn from this. When it comes time to choose, that is when you can really see who is for or against something — where their priorities really are. And in this case, when push came to shove, in the end who did the conservatives come through for? The large corporations. They danced with the ones that brung them.
Click through to Speak Out California

Bush Put All Your Pension Reserves Into Stocks Just As They Started Dropping

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is the federal agency that insures YOUR pension. It collects insurance premiums from all the private pensions, and holds them in reserve to cover some of the losses if things go bad so you get at least some of your money.

But under Bush, they decided — just as the stock market started to drop — to put most of the money into stocks. It had been in bonds. See Pension insurer shifted to stocks – The Boston Globe,

Just months before the start of last year’s stock market collapse, the federal agency that insures the retirement funds of 44 million Americans departed from its conservative investment strategy and decided to put much of its $64 billion insurance fund into stocks.

This wasn’t stupid — it was most likely a way to enrich certain friends of The Party, buying from them just as the bottom fell out. We need to look at the specific beneficiaries of this money to find out.

There are many instances of Bush and other Republicans putting government money into enriching friends by buying up the problems just as their own holdings became worthless. For example, under Jeb Bush Florida put state pension money into Enron stock just as Enron started to collapse.

In 2005 I wrote “If you live in a state where Republicans run things, this might be a good time to see if the money is still there.” Now we’re finding out that applies to countries, too.

(And never forget that Bush gave the contract for filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to Koch Oil, a funder of a lot of the right’s organizational infrastructure. They also used government money to buy high and sold low.)

Anyway, here’s the thing. Direct corruption or ideologically-driven incompetence, either way… Republicans understand how to pound a point home and teach the larger lesson. This is just one more thing that drives home the point about how conservative ideology is harmful to people. Drudge has giant headlines for any smallest example of something that reinforces an ongoing narrative that liberals are socialists, etc., always teaching the larger lesson. We need to learn how to explain to the general public why progressive values and policies are better for them than conservatives. Especially now when the lesson can be taught so clearly. This story should be all over the place.

Bank Execs Good, Auto Execs Baaad

In Bankers Will Say It Is Bankers the other day I tried to say that people see the world through a lens shaped by what they know.

Bankers will say the economic crisis is a banking problem. Bankers think banks are very, very important to the economy — the most important component.
. . .Of course, a plumber would say that the problem with the economy is that all the pipes are clogged. Keeping the pipes working is the most important component of our economy.
And a historian will tell you that the problem is a return of the Great Depression. Not repeating the Great Depression is the most important thing to the economy.

Today at TPM: Why Does GM’s CEO Get The Boot While Wall Street’s Fly Free?
A manufacturing base is the foundation of a country’s economy. During WWII the auto companies stopped making cars, and rapidly ramped up to make the planes and military vehicles that won the war. When Eisenhower became President he brought automobile executives into his cabinet and they brought in other executives to formulate and execute policies in their departments. And they did what auto executives know. They built the Interstate highway system, for example — an investment that led to generations of return for all of us.
But Obama brought in bankers, and we’re seeing the results.
Update – This post in no way is meant to praise the current crop of American auto execs who brought us SUVs and refused to develop hybrids and electrics. No way!

What Happened To The Economy

Go read what happened. It’s kind of long, but good and explains it pretty well. The Big Takeover : Rolling Stone

People are pissed off about this financial crisis, and about this bailout, but they’re not pissed off enough. The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d’etat. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations.
The crisis was the coup de grace: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess.

basically, after deregulation, the big investment banks couldn’t find “enough unemployed meth dealers willing to buy million-dollar homes for no money down” tokeep the mortgage racket going.
And yes, what it comes down to is that all this means that housing prices still have a loooongggg way to fall. Every single house that sold for more than it should have, for all those years, to all those suckers, who took out all those mortgages — they all have to go back where they should be. Bubbles unwind ALL the way down, every time, and you can’t “reignite the housing market” or “stabilize” prices or anything else.
Go look at the trend line of house prices for the last hundred years, and that is where prices have to be — where housing is relatively cheap, never more than 25-28% of your income (and that is the UPPER limit), and a mortgage plus taxes plus insurance plus maintenance is lower than rents by enough of a margin so that people can make money buying a house and then renting it out.

‘Centrist’ And ‘Moderate’ Always Means ‘Corporate’

Evan Bayh gets programs and legislation that people need killed and is called a ‘centrist’ and a ‘moderate.’
It seems to me that whenever a legislator is getting tons of cash from corporations and then does that corporation’s bidding, the action is always called ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate.’ Or when they kill things that people, regular people need, it’s ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate.’

The Superior Happy-Budget

Have you heard about the Republican alternative budget plan? It doesn’t include any actual numbers or … budget. It does, however, tell the public that it is better and will make them happy.
The boring Democratic budget has numbers and, well, budgets:
The shiny, superior, pleasing Republican budget has happy faces:
Go read it. It really does just say Democrats Bad, Republicans Good, fire baaaad.
Ok, it doesn’t say “fire baaaad.” This does:

Put Up Or Shut Up, Please

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
There was a positive response to the idea from last week’s post, No Schools For You, that suggested,

“If an Assembly or Senate representative demanded cuts to schools, fire, etc. then the schools, fire, etc. in that representative’s district receive the entire cut! This would be an honest application of representative democracy, allowing the citizens of an area to be governed according to their wishes without it affecting all of the citizens in the state.”

Seriously, the leaders of the Assembly and Senate should make the few Republican holdouts an offer: if they think government services to the state’s citizens are such a bad idea they should stop insisting on so much spending in their districts! They say that government spending is a problem, why can’t they take those Republican governors who are refusing to accept any stimulus money as role models and refuse any state spending in their districts. Their constituents can then show their overwhelming support for the anti-government ideology that their elected representatives espouse.
Several years ago, then-Senator Phil Gramm of Texas – a Republican – was one of the loudest to complain and complain about spending and “pork” and “earmarks” in the federal budget. What is called “pork” and “earmarks” are special appropriations of funds by the Congress for specific projects in specific districts: a museum, science lab, agricultural study or bridge that is badly needed is funded by our government. This is what Republicans call “pork” — government doing things that citizens need. Well the biggest, most expensive project in the country at the time was the Superconducting Super Collider, a massive physics lab being built under the ground in Texas, employing hundreds and keeping many construction businesses going. Well, when it came time to cut some spending the Congress took Senator Gramm at his word and killed the project.
So I think that it would be a very good idea to ask the Republican anti-tax ideologues to put up or shut up. Give them the opportunity to put their (take away the) money where their mouths are. If you want spending cuts, let us cut all the spending in your districts — or please shut up.
Your thoughts? Leave a comment.
Click through to Speak Out California.

The Latest Scam From The Banks

Do I have this right? Instead of lending with that taxpayer money to get the economy going, Citibank and Bank of America are using TARP funds as their “at risk” portion of the “public/private partnership” announced Monday to buy up each other’s toxic assets. So it’s Wednesday and the program is already corrupted.
The idea is that a portion of any loss investors take will be covered by the government, but because they put their own money into the deal there is still risk. EXCEPT these banks (and how many others?) are using TARP money as the “at risk” portion of the investment.
Crooks. Smart crooks, but still crooks. Enabled, of course, by a governing ideology that just can’t bring itself to stop them.
Economist’s View: "Has the Gaming of the Public-Private Partnership Begun?",

It certainly looks as if Citigroup and Bank of America are using TARP funds, not to lend, which was one of the primary goals of the program, but to scoop up secondary market dreck assets to game the public private investment partnership.
So not only are they seeking to extract far more than was intended even with the already generous subsidies embodied in this program, but this activity is also speculating with taxpayer money.
This sort of thing was predicted here and elsewhere. Welcome to yet more looting.

Why would a bank that is receiving TARP funds because they hold toxic assets be buying any toxic assets anyway?
Nationalize the insolvent banks, please. And fire Geithner for this, if it turns out to be true. At first I thought it was a creative idea, but maybe it’s just more ideological blindness.
UpdateIan Welsh has more

What Happened To Medicare-For-All?

The plan for government-paid national health care for all is referred to by policy insiders as “single payer.” Since no one knows what that means, and since that sounds like you’re going to be on your own, by yourself expected to pay all your own medical bills, I prefer to call it “Medicare For All.” Everyone knows what Medicare is, loves it, and wants it for themselves. So I figure you start out three steps ahead instead of in a deep hole by calling it something that people want instead of something that makes people run away from you.
ANYWAY, here is an interesting viewpoint on the current debate. Obama and HCAN Marginalize Single Payer Health Care | Center for Media and Democracy,

Most western democracies guarantee their citizens a right to medical services through their own version of government managed single payer health care. But such a system has been attacked in the US as “socialized medicine” since the 1950s especially by lobbyists for the insurance and drug industries who would see their profits decline. Although Barack Obama was elected on a health care reform platform, his version ignores single payer. Nor is single payer advocated by his allies in the well-funded coalition called Health Care for America Now, composed of MoveOn, USAction, ACORN, Americans United for Change, the unions SEIU and UFCW and other liberal heavy hitters.

There are lots of links in the original, so go there and read the rest.