Monday, December 29, 2008

Professor predicts end of U.S. in 2010

If this Russian professor's prediction comes true, millions of northern Americans may soon have government health care.

Prof. Igor Panarin, a former KGB analyst and dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats, has been predicting for the past decade that the U.S. will collapse in 2010.
"There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur," he says. ...

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces ...
So where does health care for northern Americans come in? Michigan will be grabbed up by Canada according to the professor. This is how he sees the country splitting up:
California will form the nucleus of what he calls "The Californian Republic," and will be part of China or under Chinese influence. Texas will be the heart of "The Texas Republic," a cluster of states that will go to Mexico or fall under Mexican influence. Washington, D.C., and New York will be part of an "Atlantic America" that may join the European Union. Canada will grab a group of Northern states Prof. Panarin calls "The Central North American Republic." Hawaii, he suggests, will be a protectorate of Japan or China, and Alaska will be subsumed into Russia.
Alaska will go to Russia? So much for Sarah Palin's claim that she had lots of foreign policy expertise due to her proximity to Russia.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

So This is Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! My husband and I will be traveling to our daughter's house today so we can spend the holiday with family, but I wanted to leave you with a present first.

I believe the spirit of Christmas is selflessness and love, and here in the Detroit area we have a couple who embody that ideal. They recently took their own money and sprinkled it around $100 dollars at a time to help people down on their luck. Their actions reaffirmed my belief in the goodness of people. Click here to read their story and be prepared to shed a tear or two. I did.

Also, before you leave, check out my post from a couple of days ago: Christmas trees should come with a warning.

Consider yourself warned! Merry Christmas everyone!

Update: Oops, I almost left without mentioning this. Santa took lessons from certain southern GOP politicians this year and wrote the following letter to kids across the land. So much for "Jolly" Old St. Nick.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas trees should come with warnings

Live or artificial? What kind of Christmas tree do you have at your house? We have family members with allergies so we always put up an artificial one, but I've always missed the pine scent and fun that goes along with picking out the "perfect" tree. Not anymore. After reading this, I have a new found respect for artificial trees.
Last year Vickie Wright and her friend Gail Leonard got a Christmas surprise they hadn’t anticipated. They each bought a live Christmas tree at one of the local tree farms. They took the trees home, decorated the trees and were ready for Christmas.

But about a week before Christmas, Vickie came home to find a room full of praying mantises (or “mantes,” which is also acceptable as the plural). They had landed on her floor, and more were coming out of the tree in waves.
The warm house tricked the mantis larvae into thinking it was spring! Gail experienced the same thing too, although her mantises didn't start appearing until after Christmas, and for several days in a row.

Gary Letterly, natural resources educator at the University of Illinois County Extension office, says this doesn't happen often, but he acknowledged it happened to him last Christmas.
“In about a matter of six days,” Gary says, “We had one little praying mantis. We thought, ‘Isn’t that cute!’ The next day we had six or 10. After that, we noticed them on the draperies.”

And then, he says, there were hundreds.
Hundreds! Ugh! Not exactly what I'd want under my Christmas tree.

So what should you do if you find these creepy, crawly mantes in your house? No, don't step on them or reach for the Raid. Horticulturists suggest carefully scooping up the insects and putting them outside under some compost or leaves where they, hopefully, may have a chance of surviving till spring.

And if you haven't brought your live tree inside yet, they also warn never spraying the tree with insecticide.
If you want to do something preventive, check for mantis egg pods in the Christmas tree, pull them out and put them under some leaves.

“It’s anywhere from a half-inch to an inch long,” Jennifer says. “It’s got a hard, protective shell over the eggs. There are anywhere from 12 to 400 eggs in a case.”
The egg case can be put outside under compost too. With any luck, they'll survive and hatch in the spring, and go on to lay more eggs on more Christmas trees.

Consider yourself warned. I think I'll stick with my artificial tree. Sorry, Santa.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Labor Gets an Early Christmas Gift

This is a good argument in favor of unions. h/t Kevin Drum
Felix Salmon, after noting that FedEx has announced across-the-board pay cuts for just about everyone:

There's been a huge shift in power in recent years from labor to capital: corporate profits have been rising much faster than wages for some time now. It makes sense that capital would make use of its newfound power to reduce labor costs in a deflationary environment of rising unemployment. During the boom, companies laid off workers because those workers demanded, and cost, too much money. Now that workers have lost their negotiating leverage, we might start seeing more across-the-board pay cuts.
Drum summed it up perfectly: Heads I win, tails you lose! In boom times you get laid off, in slack times you get your pay cut.

Labor may finally be gaining an ally in Washington. Rep. Hilda Solis of California will be nominated as labor secretary by President-elect Barack Obama. Solis co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in the 110th Congress and earned a 100% rating from the AFL-CIO last year.

Maybe there really is a Santa Claus after all.

(More on Solis at BFM.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thanks for nothing, senators

Author and Free Press columnist Mitch Albom wrote a response to the senators who killed the auto loan deal last week and it's generating a lot of attention here in Michigan. (It's been recommended more than 1,000 times so far.) He pretty much expresses the collective outrage most of us have been feeling since Friday, starting with the title - Hey, you senators: Thanks for nothing.

Here's a sample of what Albom had to say. Click over to read the rest.
Kill the car, kill the country. History will show that when America was on its knees, a handful of lawmakers tried to cut off its feet. And blame the workers. How suddenly did the workers — a small percentage of a car’s cost — become justification for crushing an industry?

And when did Detroit become the symbol of economic dysfunction? Are you kidding? Have you looked in the mirror lately, Washington?

In a world where banks hemorrhaged trillions in a high-priced gamble called credit derivative swaps that YOU failed to regulate, how on earth do WE need to be punished? In a bailout era where you shoveled billions, with no demands, to banks and financial firms, why do WE need to be schooled on how to run a business?

Who is more dysfunctional in business than YOU? Who blows more money? Who wastes more trillions on favors, payback and pork?

At least in the auto industry, if folks don’t like what you make, they don’t have to buy it. In government, even your worst mistakes, we have to live with.
Ain't that the truth. Remember Iraq, senators? That was supposed to be cheap, and quick too. The only thing cheap about that mistake was the way you tried to cut corners and save money at the expense of our troops. From inadequate bullet proof vests and armored trucks to the horrid conditions at Walter Reed Hospital, you turned your backs on the soldiers just like you turned your back on middle-class jobs last week.

And don't try to sell us the idea that your vote was designed to protect taxpayer money. The same day the Free Press ran Albom's column, they also ran one by Susan Tompor describing the financially struggling Pension Benefit Guarantee Board, who may also find themselves needing a bailout. Allowing the Big 3 to fail would only add to the problem according to one expert:
He said that the PBGC could inherit more than $100 billion of pension obligations if Ford or GM filed for bankruptcy and the pension funds were turned over to the agency.
That $14-25 billion bridge loan is chump change by comparison. Add in unemployment compensation, increased Medicaid spending, the loss of tax revenues, etc., and that loan looks like a better deal by the moment.

Adding another 2-3 million people to the ranks of the unemployed is a huge mistake too. Obama wants to pass a stimulus package pushing $1 trillion dollars in order to create 2.5 million jobs, which won't even replace the jobs lost under the Bush administration. How does killing even more jobs help? Washington might as well double that package to $2 trillion if the Big 3 go down.

Thanks for nothing, senators. Do me a favor and take Albom's advice.
You’re so fond of the foreign model, why don’t you do what Japanese ministers do when they screw up the country’s finances?

They cut their salaries.

Or they resign in shame.
In order to resign in shame, these senators would have to feel some shame first. And in order to feel shame they would have to care. They don't.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How will the Big 3's cries for help be answered?

Tom Walsh has a very thoughtful column at the Free Press that reminds certain GOP senators of the Big 3's response after Hurricane Katrina:
...the automobile companies of Detroit did not harrumph that the Gulf Coast should have been better prepared.

They didn’t sit back and wait for New Orleans to submit a detailed plan for future repair of the ruptured levees.[...]

Between them, the three Detroit auto companies gave more than $18 million in cash and vehicles to the Katrina relief effort in the ensuing months. No strings attached.
That's just one example. Detroit's Big 3 are known for their charity and generosity in communities across our country. Now its their turn to ask for help. Before you just brush them off and say no, consider what else Walsh had to say:
If you see a fellow American is drowning, gasping for air, do you quiz him for awhile about whether he’s drunk or why he never learned to swim better? Or do you throw him a lifebuoy and ask questions later?

That, it seems to me, is where we are with America’s car companies.

You can do nothing and watch them die, senators.

Or you can rush in immediately with emergency aid – as GM, Ford and Chrysler did in the case of Hurricane Katrina, and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, and during countless other disasters.

And you can hold their feet to the fire afterward, empowering a strong auto czar to make sure they do what’s needed to withstand future shocks.
Millions of lives are hanging in the balance, senators, including those of children, seniors and others who rely on the workers for their incomes. Please consider them when you make your decision. This is about more than unions or poorly managed companies. This is about families. They don't deserve to have their feet held to the fire.

“The quality of mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest, It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” - William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Recession taking toll on disabled Americans

The rising unemployment numbers are hitting Americans with disabilities particularly hard. From US News & World Report:
"People with disabilities tend to be the last hired and the first fired," says Rick Diamond, director of employment services at Disability Network/Lakeshore, a disability rights nonprofit based in Holland, Mich.

Advocates nationwide say they've seen a sharp increase in the number of their clients who have been laid off. And if data from 2007—as well as from previous recessions—holds true for this year, people with disabilities will be cut from their jobs at a rate disproportionate to that of nondisabled workers. [...]

The disparity in employment between people with and without disabilities has already been growing. In 2007, according to last month's Disability Status Report, only 36.9 percent of working-age individuals with disabilities were employed. The year before, it was 37.7 percent. But the employment rate of people without disabilities, at 79.7 percent, didn't change.
Sadly, many of these people will have very little to fall back on in terms of savings. Nearly one in 4 working-age individuals with disabilities were below the poverty line in 2007 compared to one in 10 people without disabilities.
Diamond says that one of his coworkers has noted that of her 70 client cases, 15 of them are both employed and homeless. "Three years ago, I would have said I'm not aware of anyone in those circumstances," Diamond says.
To make matters worse, groups that help disabled individuals face cuts next year from already-tightened state and federal budgets. Private donations are down from past years too. Unemployment is scary for able-bodied people, but it takes a real toll on people with disabilities.
"I can't think of a person now with a physical disability, literally today, that I'm working with, who isn't also struggling with depression," he says.
I hope Michigan and other states make budget cuts with a scalpel, not a knife, and try to protect our most vulnerable as much as possible.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The legacy of WWII veterans

Today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and the Flint Journal observed it by telling the story of one man who survived the attack, Staff Sgt. Ward Anderson of Chesaning.

It was 7:55 a.m., Dec 7, 1941 and Anderson and some friends had just left church and were thinking about going to the PX for breakfast.
Suddenly planes appeared overhead, flying low and loud. The men didn't pay much attention at first.

"We thought it was probably Navy maneuvers," said Anderson, then 20.

Then they noticed "big red suns" painted on the planes' wingtips: The Rising Sun emblem of Japan.

"I said, 'Oh, hell,'" Anderson said. "Or probably something worse."

Anderson counts himself lucky to have survived the first foreign attack on U.S. soil, which claimed the lives of more than 2,000 and pulled America into the second World War -- 67 years ago today.
His service to our country does not go unnoticed. Anderson wears his "Pearl Harbor Survivor" hat while out in his community and he's often approached by grateful people, rightly so, but we shouldn't let this day pass by without recognizing the sacrifice and service of an industry that has been maligned quite a bit lately - the Big 3. The Detroit News stepped up and recognized them in an editorial today: Remember the Arsenal of Democracy
We note with considerable irony that today, as the fate of Detroit's automakers rests in the hands of Congress, the nation marks the 67th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In the days after that attack, as the nation geared up for war, the federal government turned to Detroit's automotive industry and asked it to convert its factories to produce military hardware.

In a matter of weeks, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors and the other automakers of the time were churning out tanks, planes, Jeeps and other machinery of war. They stopped making passenger cars and turned their full energies toward defending the nation, and agreed to only a minimal profit for their work.

When America's survival was on the line, Detroit didn't ask questions; it pitched in with all its industrial might to save the country. The Big Three's survival is now on the line. We hope Congress remembers the sacrifice the auto industry has made for America and considers carefully whether it would ever want to go into a war of that magnitude again without the Arsenal of Democracy.
I hope Congress also remembers the survivors of WWII, who came home after the war and worked in factories across the country to build a better future for their children and grandchildren. Unionization grew to one-third of the workforce, every income group grew (incomes grew fastest for the lowest-income Americans) and most middle-class Americans had good health care and could look forward to a secure retirement.

The "Greatest Generation" fought in WWII because it was the right thing to do, and they came home and fought for shared prosperity and better living standards for everyone because that was the right thing to do too. As Americans, we honor them by fighting to protect what they worked so hard to give our country.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Washington Should Protect U.S. Cars and U.S Jobs

Gettelfinger appeared before the Senate Banking Committee today in Washington and was asked a question that I can't recall now (I'll keep searching for the transcript), but I do remember he referred to the Level Field Institute when giving his answer. It's an interesting site with a wealth of information and statistics on quality, R&D, jobs, suppliers, etc. But more importantly, they have the facts you need if you want the car you buy to support jobs and investment in your community.

Here's some information I gathered from their pages.
  • Ford, GM and Chrysler sell about half the cars bought in the U.S., but they buy nearly 80% of the parts made here.

  • On average, Ford, GM and Chrysler cars use two and a half times more "domestic" parts.

  • GM and Toyota use approximately the same numbers of workers to build each car. The difference is, only 12% of Toyota's workforce is here. At GM, it's nearly 40%.

  • The bulk of Ford's engineering, design, financing and marketing are here, while Toyota conducts much of that work in Japan.

  • U.S. automakers invest more in R&D than any other industry - and Ford, GM and Chrysler invest approximately 80% of that spending here in the U.S.

  • Ford, GM and Chrysler spend nearly fifteen times more than the Energy Department spends on energy efficiency/alternative fuels programs.

  • Buying a Ford, GM or Chrysler supports about 6 times more U.S. jobs, on average, than buying a Hyundai - and 2.5 times more U.S. jobs, on average, than buying a Toyota. Does that mean the Big 3 are 6 times less efficient than Hyundai, or 2.5 times less efficient than Toyota? It's where the work gets done that matters most to U.S. jobs.

  • "Made in America" matters even more when you look at the men and women working for auto parts suppliers that serve automakers. These companies employ about twice as many Americans as the automakers themselves. And Ford, GM and Chrysler purchase nearly 80 percent of the parts these people make. Based on their market share, foreign automakers should be buying about twice what they are.

  • Tomorrow's jobs will depend, in part, on today's R&D, particularly in fuel efficiency and safety. The Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), an association of 14 Japanese automakers doing business in America, notes that they collectively employ 3,600 R&D workers at 36 facilities nationwide. Honda operates 10 facilities employing 1,300 R&D professionals. Level Field welcomes these jobs, but more than 65,000 Americans (nearly 20 times JAMA's total) work in 215 automotive R&D facilities in Michigan alone.
  • Check out the Level Field Institute for yourself. I only touched on a few areas, but one thing is certain - the U.S. car industry is huge and allowing it to fail will kill jobs we'll never get back.

    Gettelfinger touched on that today when he noted the following (I'm paraphrasing):
    For every 2500 cars made in U.S. plants by the Big 3, approximately 78 people are employed to make them. If the domestic automakers fail and foreign makers in our country pick up their production, only 33 jobs will be created per 2500 cars. That's because the foreign automakers buy more of their parts from overseas. We'd still experience net job losses of about 45 jobs per 2500 cars produced.
    Once those jobs go, they'll be gone forever, and foreign automakers will reap the profits. R&D will suffer too. Is that Washington's idea of putting America first?

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI)

    Wednesday, December 03, 2008

    Republicans deny economic reality

    Can you believe Republicans are actually trying to pin the blame on President Clinton for the drumbeat of bad economic news we hear day after day?
    The U.S. credit-card industry may pull back well over $2 trillion of lines over the next 18 months due to risk aversion and regulatory changes, leading to sharp declines in consumer spending, prominent banking analyst Meredith Whitney said.

    The credit card is the second key source of consumer liquidity, the first being jobs, the Oppenheimer & Co analyst noted.
    Reminder: George Bush is the only president to ever preside over an economy that has lost jobs, and now the people who probably need that credit card so they can fill up their gas tanks to hunt for jobs may be cut off.

    Obama can't come to our rescue fast enough. We desperately need jobs in this country. High unemployment numbers continue to strain borrowers, leading to more foreclosures and delinquencies.
    "The unemployment rate is highly correlated to consumer defaults," says Arpitha Bykere, an analyst at, an economic consulting and research firm.
    Well, duh! That's pretty simple to understand. If people aren't making money, they can't pay their bills, especially the big ones like mortgages. And according to Calculated Risk via the WSJ: Delinquent mortgages are set to nearly double in 2009.
    TransUnion LLC ... predicted that the proportion of consumers with mortgages that are 60 days or more past-due will hit 7.17% in the fourth quarter of 2009.

    That would be the highest level reached since the Chicago credit bureau ... first started tracking these statistics in 1992. It compares with an expected delinquency rate of 4.67% at the end of 2008. [...]

    "There are a lot more loans that will be resetting throughout 2009 through 2011," says Ezra Becker, principal consultant in TransUnion's financial-services group, who notes that rising unemployment and depreciating home values are other contributing factors. "There may be an ongoing flow of consumers who may now be able to pay their mortgage but may not be able to a year from now."
    Republicans willfully ignored warnings about the financial meltdown and now we're all paying the price, but you won't get them to admit they screwed up. It's never their fault.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    The Problems Facing Big Three Belong to All of Us

    Finally. A journalist with some common sense comes to the Big Three's defense. Thank you, Warren Brown.
    According to the MOP [Mob of Pundits] crowd, American car companies have messed up -- making too many trucks and sport-utility vehicles, ignoring consumer and governmental demands for more fuel-efficient vehicles and, as Will stated in a column last week, entering "improvident labor contracts" with the UAW.

    It's baloney.

    Americans went truck crazy in the 1990s and in the early years of this century, making light trucks more than 50 percent of new vehicles annually sold in this country, for the same reason they are in danger of re-embracing that madness -- cheap gasoline. They were enabled by lawmakers who, with one hand, pushed car companies to increase technical fuel efficiency while using the other to give American consumers the least-expensive gasoline in the developed world.

    Increased technical fuel efficiency plus low-cost gasoline fueled consumer demand for more driving and bigger and more powerful vehicles with which to do that driving. Gasoline consumption in the United States soared . . . until high fuel prices restored some sanity to the U.S. consumer automotive market.
    As Brown reminds us, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and even Mercedes-Benz all had some kind of truck or SUV too because they were following "market demand." Nobody twisted our arms and forced us to buy the gas guzzlers.

    What about the critics who say, "but look at that fuel-efficient, gas-electric Toyota Prius hybrid?"
    Go ahead and look at it, preferably in Japan, where the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) has done a marvelous job of coordinating industrial and energy policy into a vehicle development and consumption strategy that makes sense. We have no such government-industry cooperation in the United States. We have no industrial policy, no energy policy, which largely is why we now have a core segment of our natively owned manufacturing infrastructure teetering on the brink of collapse.
    Furthermore, Brown points out that European and Asian countries tax horsepower. The least-efficient motor fuels are taxed heavily, while favorable treatment is given to more efficient fuels, such as diesel.
    That cost-sharing creates a kind of honesty. Car companies aren't inclined to design, develop and produce gas-guzzlers because European and Asian consumers are not inclined to buy them. It creates market predictability, contrary to what we have in the United States, where vehicle markets can flower or wither in an instant, depending on the price of fuel.
    What did Brown have to say about the unions?
    It is the rankest hypocrisy for well-paid journalists to decry the "high" pay of UAW-represented employees. I doubt that there is one UAW critic in the media, or on Capitol Hill, who would be willing to settle for a UAW paycheck. I'm almost certain there isn't one who would be willing to trade his or her relatively cushy employment for a year on an auto plant assembly line.

    Criticism of "improvident labor contracts" thus smacks of class bias. It reeks of the notion that some work, such as that involving manual labor, inherently deserves less compensation than others, such as expressing one's opinion. It's more baloney.
    Brown doesn't excuse the Big Three and he admits they've made mistakes, but he also points out they've done many things right - "contributing to the defense of this country; helping to create a viable middle class, especially in America's minority communities; and contributing to technological advancements in the global automobile industry."

    The bottom line: "The potential failure confronting GM, Ford and Chrysler is not Detroit's alone. It belongs to all of us."

    The solution to this problem belongs to all of us too - consumers, domestic automakers and the government. We have to keep pushing for meaningful energy policies regardless of the price of gas and we have to demand industrial policies that level the playing field for our domestic automakers and workers.

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Citigroup vs. General Motors

    Citigroup is in trouble and Washington might step in and give them more financial aid from the bailout funds. They already received $25 billion in October.

    Why are we helping them and not GM? Robert Reich (Secretary of Labor under Clinton) has the answer - kind of.
    So why save Citi and not GM? It's not at all clear. In fact, there may be more reason to do the reverse. GM has a far greater impact on jobs and communities. Add parts suppliers and their employees, and the number of middle-class and blue-collar jobs dependent on GM is many multiples that of Citi. And the potential social costs of GM's demise, or even major shrinkage, is much larger than Citi's -- including everything from unemployment insurance to lost tax revenues to families suddenly without health insurance to entire communities whose infrastructure and housing may become nearly worthless. I'm not arguing that GM should be bailed out; as I've noted elsewhere, GM's creditors, shareholders, executives, and workers should have to make substantial sacrifices before taxpayers should be expected to sacrifice as well.

    Nonetheless, Citi is about to be bailed out while GM is allowed to languish.
    It all boils down to perception. Reich says the Treasury and the Fed believe their job is to keep "the financial economy "sound", by which they mean keeping Wall Street's own investors and creditors reasonably happy."

    What about GM?
    GM is simply a big, clunky old manufacturing company... GM is just ... jobs and communities.
    And people with families and mortgages and medical bills, but we must keep investors and creditors happy at all costs. Jobs be damned.

    Friday, November 21, 2008

    Senator Shelby owes Michigan an apology

    Senator Shelby from Alabama has been pretty outspoken in his opinion that the Big Three shouldn't get financial aid from Washington. He had this to say on Meet the Press recently:
    This is a dead-end, it's a road to nowhere, and it's a big burden on the American taxpayer.
    And this:
    We don't need government--governmental subsidies for manufacturing in this country. It's the French model, it's the wrong road, we will pay for it. The average American taxpayer is going to pay dearly for this, if I'm not wrong.
    Senator, we don't take kindly to southern hypocrisy in the north, as Wizardkitten was quick to point out:
    Turns out that Senator Richard Shelby has some authority to speak on being a "big burden on the American taxpayer". As of 2005, his home state of Alabama is No. 7 on the list of beneficiary states of the federal taxpayer dollar...They take in more and more federal taxpayer dollars, but yet keep falling behind the rest of the country.
    Alabama taxpayers receive more federal funding per dollar of federal taxes paid compared to the average state. Per dollar of federal tax collected in 2005, Alabama citizens received approximately $1.66 in the way of federal spending. This ranks the state 7th highest nationally and represents a rise from 1995 when Alabama received $1.33 per dollar of taxes in federal spending (ranked 9th nationally).
    FYI Senator: Michigan is a donor state. We pay more in federal taxes than we receive back from the government.

    The Senator probably doesn't care what some blogger thinks, but he should care that Peter Karmanos, Jr. (CEO of Compuware Corporation and owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, Plymouth Whalers, and Florida Everblades hockey franchises) thinks his comments were inaccurate, over-simplistic and hypocritical.
    I trust it is safe to say that when you refer to “government subsidies,” you are referring to subsidies provided by both federal and state governments. And if this is in fact true, then I am sure you were adamantly against the State of Alabama offering lucrative incentives (in essence, subsidies) to Mercedes Benz in the early 1990s to lure the German automobile manufacturer to the State.

    As it turned out, Alabama offered a stunning $253 million incentive package to Mercedes. Additionally, the State also offered to train the workers, clear and improve the site, upgrade utilities, and buy 2,500 Mercedes Benz vehicles. All told, it is estimated that the incentive package totaled anywhere from $153,000 to $220,000 per created job. On top of all this, the State gave the foreign automaker a large parcel of land worth between $250 and $300 million, which was coincidentally how much the company expected to invest in building the plant.

    With all due respect, Senator, where was your outrage when all this was going on? … I certainly don’t recall you going in front of the nation (as you did this past Sunday) to discuss what a big mistake Alabama was making in providing subsidies to Mercedes Benz. If you had, however, you could have talked about how, applying free market principles, Alabama shouldn’t have had to resort to subsidies to land Mercedes Benz. Competitively speaking, if Alabama had been the strongest candidate under consideration (i.e. highest quality infrastructure, workforce, research and development facilities, business climate, etc.), then subsidies shouldn’t have been required.

    The fact is that Alabama knew that, on a level playing field, it could not compete with the other states under consideration and, thus, to lure the German car builder to the State, it offered the aforementioned unprecedented subsidies. In effect, Alabama — your state — did exactly what you said government should not do: provide subsidies for manufacturing.
    Karmanos ended his letter by saying, "It’s no great mystery why Alabama politicians went to such dramatic anti-free-market measures to secure Mercedes Benz — they did it for the betterment of their state through job creation and increased tax revenues. And who could blame them? Is that so different than what would occur by providing financial aid to help rescue the domestic auto industry? Such aid would save millions of jobs and millions of dollars in lost tax revenue."

    Jobs and tax revenue that would probably finds its way back to Alabama.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Et tu, Mitt?

    That sentiment was echoed by the Boston Globe, who remind us what Mitt had to say earlier this year:
    In the days leading up to the Michigan presidential primary, Mitt Romney cast himself as the savior of the beleaguered auto industry.

    "I will roll up my sleeves in the first 100 days I'm in office, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, congressional, and state leaders and together we will develop a plan to rebuild America's automotive leadership," he said in Detroit.

    And when rival John McCain gave some "straight talk" in Michigan that "Some of the jobs that have left the state of Michigan are not coming back," Romney jumped all over him and declared that he would not let the "one-state recession" continue.
    What a difference losing the primary makes. Earlier today Romney said he favors letting the automakers fail.

    Typical Republican. They'll say anything to get themselves elected, but their spots never really change.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    Think losing the Big 3 will be a mere blip? Think again.

    Why is Paulson allowing this kind of wheeling and dealing to take place with the $700 billion dollar bailout fund? It should be used to help save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of auto workers, who also happen to be productive, taxpaying consumers. You know, the same consumers Bush called on after 9/11 to help keep the economy going.

    What a double-standard, one that could very well touch your life or that of someone you know. Watch the video and you'll get a good idea of just how many people's lives are affected by Detroit's auto industry.

    I wanted to mention those $71 dollar an hour autoworker wages and benefits the papers keep talking about. What they don't tell you is those figures are based on old contracts and include the projected cost of lifetime health care and pensions. Under a new contract negotiated last year, union employees will make considerably less than that, some as little as $14 per hour, and benefits have been reduced too. (Another reason we should have universal health care.)

    Union workers aren't the fat cats the media makes them out to be. In fact, UAW members are actually losing their edge against foreign automakers. From the Detroit Free Press, February 2007:
    Workers for foreign automakers don't pay union dues, but they do share the costs of insurance and retirement plans. UAW-represented autoworkers get health insurance and a full pension after 30 years -- valuable perks they will fight to keep during contract negotiations this year.

    But even accounting for Toyota employees' health care spending -- $700 per year on average, according to the company -- the [Toyota] Georgetown workers still made more in 2006.

    General Motors Corp., which lost $10.6 billion in 2005 and didn't issue profit-sharing checks last year, paid its production workers an average of $27 an hour, GM spokesman Daniel Flores said. That would be a base of about $54,000 a year, based on a 2,000-hour work year. The $30 average at Toyota's Georgetown plant, which includes a bonus, equals $60,000 a year.

    Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group representatives said GM's base pay figures are similar to theirs. Only Chrysler, which had a 2005 profit, paid a bonus last year. The $650 bonus was not enough to surpass Toyota's pay. [...]

    Assembly workers for Detroit automakers last year remained a bit ahead of Honda's U.S. hourly workers, who made an average $24.25 an hour, or $26.20 with the $4,485 bonus they received. In November, Honda paid bonuses for the 21st consecutive year, the longest streak in U.S. auto history, said Ed Miller, Honda spokesman.

    Nissan workers are paid $24 an hour in Mississippi and $26 an hour in Tennessee, but company officials would not disclose employee bonuses.

    Hyundai Motor Co. pays its U.S. production workers less than other automakers. Wages at its Alabama plant start at $14 an hour and grow to $21 an hour after two years on the job, according to a January 2004 company release.
    Detroit's automakers have been shedding workers by the thousands over the past decade and the average wages will continue to fall, but the difference between union and non-union autoworkers isn't as vast as the media makes it out to be. In fact, by 2011, Toyota's labor costs could exceed the Big 3 because they've been here for 30 years now and a growing number of their workers are paid top wages.

    The domestic automakers are competitive with foreign ones, but they currently find themselves in trouble not of their own making. Credit has dried up, people can't get loans, and cars aren't selling. Don't blame the middle-class auto workers, blame those highly compensated Wall Street and Washington types who made a mess of things.

    UPDATE: Dean Baker did a better job of clarifying claims that GM auto workers are paid $70 an hour than I did: "The trick is to add in GM's legacy costs, the pension and health care costs for retired workers. These legacy costs are a serious expense for GM, but this is not money being paid to current workers. The person on the line in 2008 is not benefiting from these legacy costs."

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Obama campaign donates to schools in need

    In the midst of the presidential race, President-elect Obama had the foresight to do something wonderful for poor school districts across the country. The Sto-Rox school district in southwestern Pennsylvania was one of them.
    Word spread quickly last week through Sto-Rox High School when students learned that the administrative offices were filled with Barack Obama paraphernalia.

    Students snapped up posters and stickers for their lockers, backpacks and bedroom walls, eager to commemorate the victory of the first African American to ascend to the nation's highest office.

    The enthusiasm excited administrators, but it's not what brought tears to the eyes of Jean Schmalzreid, the district's director of federal programs and special projects. That happened when she saw school facilities workers bring in dolly after dolly piled high with thousands of dollars worth of supplies donated from Obama campaign offices in Pittsburgh.

    Six computers will be dedicated to creating learning centers for struggling middle school students. An all-in-one printer, copier and fax machine will hum all day in the middle school library. And the art department received piles of markers, paint and poster board.

    They were part of a program Mr. Obama's campaign, funded better than any in the history of American politics, devised in partnership with, a Web site that helps connect teachers with organizations that donate school supplies.
    The campaign intentionally reached out to poorer areas. In the Sto-Rox district, 65 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

    Valerie Swanson, marketing director of iloveschools, said a specific focus of the Obama campaign was to give back and donate office supplies and other materials to schools, and they began planning how to do that a few weeks ago.
    "Tens of thousands of supplies have been donated in two days to various schools across the country," Swanson said.
    I don't know if schools in Michigan received any supplies, but 200 campaign offices across the country have pledged donations in 12 states, including Texas, Indiana and Oregon. And, as you might imagine, districts are excited by the help because it will allow them to spend their money on other needs.

    It looks like poor children finally have someone who cares about them in Washington, after being ignored for so long.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Republicans: No coherent belief system

    On Face the Nation yesterday, conservative columnist David Brooks was brutally candid about the Republican Party following their recent losses.
    "World of pain," Brooks said. "A generation of pain. 1964, it was so much better than now. In '64, they had a coherent belief system. They lost, they didn't persuade the American people about it, but they understood where they wanted to take the country.

    "Now it's just a circular firing squad, with everybody attacking each other, and no coherent belief system, no leaders. You've got half the party waiting for Sarah Palin to come and rescue them. The other half is waiting for Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, to come rescue them. But no set of beliefs. Really a decayed conservative infrastructure. It's just a world of pain." [...]

    "And, fundamentally, the conservative movement failed (and I've been in it my entire life) because it hasn't addressed the problems of today, the rise of China and Russia, the rise of inequality, energy, health care.
    Republicans haven't addressed any of the issues that concern voters for one simple reason:
    At this point, though, the party exists to oppose Democratic ideas. That's fine for an opposition force, but for a governing philosophy, it's an obvious sign of bankruptcy.
    You can watch video from the show here.

    Sunday, November 09, 2008

    Who can save us from this mini depression?

    John Nichols says the middle-class should be reassured by two people Obama picked to give him financial advice: David Bonior (former congressman from Michigan) and Robert Reich (Secretary of Labor under Clinton).

    Nichols calls Bonior "one of the truest allies of organized labor" and said Reich "was a voice of reason" during the Wall Street bailout debate. Also noteworthy is this:
    During his 2002 campaign for governor of Massachusetts, Reich scoped out a distinctly progressive vision for economic development -- emphasizing investment in the renewal of urban areas and the development of new uses for old factories. Long before others were speaking seriously about a green economy -- and the industrial policies that might make it work -- Reich was talking these ideas up.
    Speaking on behalf of labor, David Bonior is encouraged by the results of the election because voters chose a pro-worker president and new pro-worker members of Congress, which is significant in light of the big business front groups that tried to use the Employee Free Choice Act as a wedge issue. According to Bonior, "Groups such as the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $20 million on misleading ads in Senate battleground states." Voters weren't buying it though.
    Newly-elected Senators like Mark Udall, Jeff Merkley, and Jeanne Shaheen withstood millions of dollars in attack ads criticizing their support for the bill. They managed to not only score victories, but actually improve their polling numbers despite the negative onslaught. Why? Americans know we can't continue the status quo of stagnant wages, rampant outsourcing, reduced healthcare coverage, and high unemployment. Unions make a difference in improving not only working conditions, but wages, access to medical care and job security. Through an aggressive public education and grassroots campaign, workers' rights advocates and unions were able to remind and convince the public that policies to help more workers join unions ultimately will help save our failing economy.
    And about that failing economy, Robert Reich had this to say:
    This is not the Great Depression of the 1930s, but nor is it turning out to be merely a bad recession of the kind we've experienced periodically over the last half century. Call it a Mini Depression.
    Reich also says its important to understand that the main problem right now is not the supply of credit. The real problem is the demand side of the economy. The precipitous drop in consumer spending is causing the rest of the economy to shut down, and absent consumer spending, businesses aren't going to invest, so that leaves us with the government.
    Government is the spender of last resort. Government spending lifted America out of the Great Depression. It may be the only instrument we have for lifting America out of the Mini Depression.
    Reich believes the government may have to spend $600 or $700 billion dollars next year to reverse the downward cycle we're in, and spending should be targeted mostly on infrastructure, but also health care and child care. He calls these expenditures double whammies: they'll create lots of jobs and fulfill vital public needs.

    Both men care about policies that help working class Americans instead of Wall Street. No wonder Nichols said Obama needs to listen closely to Bonior and Reich if he's serious about rescuing the middle class.

    Monday, November 03, 2008

    Possible ramifications of a Big Three failure

    If you're one of the skeptics inclined to let one of the domestic automakers fail, read this article in the Detroit News. [emphasis added]
    Auto manufacturers and related businesses employ as many as 3.1 million workers across the United States, a broad network of jobs that loom large for federal officials considering taking steps to bolster domestic carmakers whose plummeting sales have created a cash crisis that threatens the very concept of the Big Three.

    Every direct job at an automaker in the United States creates five more jobs, said Sean McAlinden, chief economist and vice president for research for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. Two of the five are related to suppliers or dealers; the other three are spinoff jobs at businesses where auto industry workers spend their paychecks.

    The next closest industry to autos is high-tech, where each job creates a total of four, including spinoffs, he said. By contrast, one Wall Street position creates a total of about 2.5 jobs, yet Congress expedited aid to the financial services sector this year.
    Also, the problems in our economy aren't totally because of the housing crisis:
    Declining auto sales have contributed to the nation's economic downturn, but that hasn't diminished the industry's importance, said Charles Chesbrough, senior economist for CSM Worldwide in Northville, an automotive market research firm.

    "We won't see a turnaround in the economy as a whole," he said, "until we see improvement in the auto industry."
    The Center for Automotive Research plans on releasing an analysis later this week of the impact it would have on our economy if one of the Big Three fail. It goes beyond job losses.
    McAlinden said the resulting drop in tax income and other losses over three years would far exceed the amount being sought in government aid. When the jobs tied to everything from buying a car to washing it and refining the gas that fuels it are added to the total, more than 14 million U.S. workers -- about 1 in 10 -- can draw a line from their job back to an auto factory or office worker, according to CAR.
    Scary stuff to even contemplate.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI)

    Friday, October 31, 2008

    Bush Says No Welfare for Detroit

    The Bush administration ruled out financial assistance for a possible General Motors and Chrysler merger, essentially kicking the problem down the road and making it the next president's problem.

    Barack Obama said, “My hope is if I’m elected, that I’m immediately meeting with the heads of the Big Three automakers as well as with the United Auto Workers... And to sit down and craft a strategy that puts us on a path for an auto industry that can compete with anybody in the world.”

    John McCain said he would do whatever he thinks needs to be done to save it, but said the focus should be on disbursing the $25 billion in loans already authorized by the U.S. Congress to help the auto industry.

    Bottom line: If Obama doesn't win the election, the Big Three are toast. McCain is as anti-worker as Bush and the national media is falling in line behind them. The WaPo recently ran an editorial called Welfare for Detroit that argued against a bailout for many reasons. This was one of them:
    [T]his bailout taxes the less well-off to protect the relatively privileged. The average individual General Motors production worker, whose job would be saved by the bailout, makes $56,650 per year, according to the Center for Automotive Research, and that doesn't count better-paid, white-collar types. Meanwhile, half of all households-- which typically include more than one earner -- make less than $50,000 per year. Where's the justice in that?
    Justice? In case they didn't notice, banks are using government money to make dividend payments to shareholders and pay bonuses to executives on Wall Street. In fact, the WaPo reported yesterday that more than $80 billion from the Treasury Department will be used to pay dividends over the next 3 years. G.M. had reportedly asked for $10 billion in new funding.

    Besides, as Dean Baker said, "none of these autoworkers are responsible for wrecking the economy." Very true, and working class Americans aren't responsible for the financial crisis on Wall Street either, but they're being taxed to protect the relatively privileged there.

    An executive at G.M. saw the WaPo editorial, came to a similar conclusion and wrote a letter to the editor defending the auto industry and workers.
    It was breathtaking to see the Oct. 27 editorial "Welfare for Detroit" blithely dismiss the domestic auto industry's contribution to the U.S. economy.

    The nation's financial turmoil is not of the auto industry's making, yet its effects threaten the livelihoods of millions of workers, the social pact made between company and retiree, and the health of state and community revenue and services. More troubling, the economy's problems are hindering automakers' transformation into stronger companies that build new vehicles with new technologies that consumers want to buy.

    Almost 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product is auto-related, representing 10 percent of U.S. industrial production by value. One in 10 U.S. jobs is connected to our industry, and we provide health-care benefits to 2 million Americans and support nearly 800,000 retirees and spouses with pension benefits. David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., has said that if Ford or GM fails, as many as 2 million jobs could be lost.

    It was also stunning to see The Post describe the workers who build automobiles as relatively "privileged" because they earn about $56,000 a year. Auto assembly plant workers' base wage is about $28 per hour. For a newspaper that serves some of the most affluent communities in America to suggest that $28 per hour is too much reflects a profound disconnect between the editorial writers and the world outside the Beltway.

    Vice President
    Global Communications
    Welfare for Detroit? During the last eight years, President Bush's economic policies have effectively redistributed the nation's wealth from the bottom to the richest Americans. They got their welfare. When do working-class Americans get the help they need?

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Millionaire McCain doesn't care about average Joe

    McCain didn't even try to hide his contempt for the middle-class when CNBC's Maria Bartiromo interviewed him yesterday. When asked about the Employee Free Choice Act, McCain said he would veto it “in a New York minute.”
    I will do everything in my power to block such legislation. And imagine, Sen. Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid pushing the union agenda, it would be very, very, very unfortunate.
    Got that? McCain will do everything in his power to prevent you from having a job with good wages, health care and a retirement plan.

    The Employee Free Choice Act would level the playing field for workers who say they'd join a union if they could, and there's a very good reason our young people may want to do just that - Unionization Substantially Improves the Pay and Benefits of Younger Workers.

    According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a large wage and benefit advantage exists for young workers in unions relative to their non-union counterparts, and younger workers are earning about 10 percent less than their counterparts did in 1979, despite impressive gains in young workers' educational attainment over the same time period.
    The report, "Unions and Upward Mobility for Young Workers," found that young unionized workers - those age 18 to 29 - earned, on average, 12.4 percent more than their non-union peers. In addition, young workers in unions were much more likely to have health insurance benefits and a pension plan.

    The report, which analyzed data from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS), found that unionization raises the pay of young workers by about $1.75 per hour. According to the report, young workers in unions were also 17 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 24 percentage points more likely to have an employer-provided pension plan than young workers who were not in unions.
    Unionized workers in typically low-wage occupations benefited too.
    Among young workers in the 15 lowest-paying occupations, union members earned 10.2 percent more than those workers who were not in unions. In the same low-wage occupations, unionized young people were 27 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 26 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan than their non-union counterparts.
    Union jobs provide decent wages, health care and retirement security in return for our hard work. So, who really cares about the middle-class? Barack Obama said he will sign the Employee Free Choice Act. John McCain said he would veto it “in a New York minute.” That puts him at odds with the middle-class and those young people struggling to have a decent life. No wonder they're overwhelmingly siding with Barack Obama.

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Great lessons of life from Obama's grandparents

    As you've probably heard, Barack Obama is canceling nearly all of his campaign events Thursday and Friday to visit his gravely ill grandmother in Hawaii. Madelyn Dunham is the "white grandmother" Obama referred to in his speech on race and the woman he lovingly recognized when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in Denver.
    She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me.
    There's no doubt that Madelyn and Stanley Dunham loved Barack and sacrificed for him, but they also deserve to be recognized for their courage. Ta-Nehisi Coates touched on that quality in a moving meditation at The Atlantic. Here's an excerpt:
    Likewise, I was looking at this picture of Obama's grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what. I'd bet money that they never even thought of themselves as courageous, that they didn't give much thought to the broader struggles in the the world at the time. They were just doing what right, honorable people do. But the fact is that, in the 60s, you could be disowned for falling in love with a black woman or black man. There is a reason why we have a long history of publicly biracial black people, but not so much of publicly biracial white people.

    We often give a pass to racists by noting that they were "of their times." Fair enough, and I know Hawaii was a different beast, but still, today, let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. Let us remember that Barack Obama learned the great lessons of life from courageous white people. Let us speak of those who do what normal, right people should always do when faced with a child--commit an act love. Here's to doing the right thing.
    We can all learn something from Madelyn and Stanley Dunham's example.

    (Check out the picture of Obama's grandparents. His resemblance to his grandfather is remarkable.)

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Republicans Enable Domestic Terrorism

    A blogging friend of mine has a post that I wanted to bring to peoples attention: How McCain-Palin are Fueling the Flames of Domestic Terrorism

    The post was written by Donald Bortz (we know him as DJ), a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He spent 6 years of his life fighting terrorists and he's not happy - rightly so - about the tone of the McCain/Palin campaign and their followers.
    The American Heritage Dictionary defines terrorism as The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

    Right-wing terrorism isn't a new thing. Tim McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City. Eric Rudolph killed and wounded hundreds of people. The Army of God is still in existence. But this is the first time that not only has a wave of domestic terrorist attacks have been perpetrated against a Presidential campaign, but this is the first time his opponent has condoned it.

    We've had several attacks over the weekend. At an Obama rally, over 30 cars had their tires slashed. A black bear was shot and dropped at Western Carolina University with Obama signs stapled to his head. People had their lives threatened for putting Obama signs on their lawn. And a woman was assaulted for knocking on doors for Obama.
    DJ just touched upon some of the incidents - there have been other ones - but he sums up the reason behind these attacks like this:
    This is what happens when you tell your supporters that your opponent is a terrorist. This is what happens when you condone having your supporters scream "kill him!" and "terrorist" at your rallies.
    Why isn't the Republican leadership condemning this behavior? Do they want their candidate to win so badly that they're willing to look the other way? Someone is going to end up dead.

    As for McCain, DJ nails the reason he continues to defend these attacks.
    Because he doesn't want to go against his base. He tried once to stop the hate that he helped create, and he was booed for it. He's more scared of what his base thinks of him than he is of preventing domestic terrorist attacks. It's sad that a war veteran is so unwilling to put country before political aspirations.
    If someone does end up hurt or dead before election day, the McCain campaign, Republicans and media will be responsible. They were quick to condemn terrorism in the Middle East, but they're enabling it here at home.

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Voters to Republicans: Our eyes have been opened

    In talking to friends who formerly voted for Bush but now plan on voting for Obama, one theme continues to come through - Republican hypocrisy. People are finally connecting the dots and beginning to see that Republicans treat other Republicans differently, depending on income.

    One recent example is McCain's claim that Obama's plan to cut taxes on the middle class and lower-income families is welfare. They felt that was a bunch of hooey and agreed with Obama's take:
    "If John McCain wants to talk about redistributing wealth to those who don't need it and don't deserve it, let's talk about the $700,000 tax cut he wants to give Fortune 500 CEOs, who've been making out like bandits -- some of them literally. Let's talk about the $300 billion he wants to give to the same Wall Street banks that got us into this mess. Let's talk about the $4 billion he wants to give oil companies like Exxon-Mobil or the $200 billion he wants to give the biggest corporations in America. Let's talk about the 100 million middle-class Americans who John McCain doesn't want to give a single dime of tax relief. Don't tell me that CEOs and oil companies deserve a tax break before the men and women who are working overtime day after day and still can't pay the bills. That's not right, and that's not change.
    Democrats and Republicans differ on giving people opportunities too. Democrats support expanding Pell Grants and the GI Bill, as well equal pay for equal work and affirmative action. Republicans believe people should succeed on their own merit without a helping hand. At least that's their talking point, but as Alberto Gonzalez, Monica Goodling, Harriet Myers, Brownie and all those no-bid contracts awarded to war contractors showed, who you know still trumps merit among Republicans.

    In fact, while reading Lawyers, Guns and Money, I was surprised to find that Bill Kristol and right wing journalists benefit from the same connections. [emphasis added]
    Right wing journalism/punditry is absurdly nepotistic, and not just in the sense that many of the major pundit/journalists are second generation. Everything depends on relationships; this is of course true in every community of this sort, but the importance of relationships is more pronounced in the world of conservative punditry than in liberal or mainstream. Every conservative writer of note has a portfolio of these relationships, which allows said writer to place articles, give talks, find jobs, get invited on junkets, and even find the best parties. [...] These relationships are the grease that makes the world of conservative journalism run; it's mildly absurd that a community whose ideological focus rests so firmly on conceptions of "merit" depends almost entirely on relationships, but nevertheless.
    But surely Bill Kristol, the godfather of conservative journalists, earned his position entirely on his own merits, right? Not according to a comment left by Harry Hopkins at Lawyers, Guns and Money:
    I remember back in the late '90s when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture to an economic philosophy class I was taking. [...] Anyhow, Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol back either during the first Bush administration. The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at The White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at UPenn and the Kennedy School of Government. With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. "I oppose it", Irving replied. "It subverts meritocracy."
    That's affirmative action Republican-style and the voters are not amused. They're finally beginning to realize that the torchbearers for the Republican Party have defrauded them.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    McCain plans new tax cut for millionaires

    McCain flip-flopped back and forth last weekend about a new economic proposal before finally settling on The Pension and Family Security Plan. Part of his plan proposes cutting the tax rate on long term capital gains and dividends to 7.5 percent in 2009 and 2010. The current tax rate for these capital gains is 15 percent.

    Who benefits the most from his plan? Wealthy millionaires like buddies Dick DeVos and George Bush. From the Wonk Room:
    Today, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center (TPC) released an analysis showing who would benefit from this cut. Like the rest of McCain’s tax cuts, this one overwhelmingly aids the wealthy, with two-thirds of the benefit going to those making over $1 million:
    In 2009, under a plan that lowers taxes on both gains and dividends, those making $1 million or more would get two-thirds of the benefit, and an average tax cut of more than $72,000. Those making less than $50,000 would get, on average, nothing. [emphasis mine]
    And according to Jared Bernstein:
    The average tax savings for the top 0.1%--income above $3 mil--is $244,000.
    Besides, in what world is John McCain living? In case he hasn't noticed, the stock market has been losing value, and losses are already deductible from our taxes.

    Jared Bernstein summed it up best: "This isn't a recipe for helping families hurt by the financial crisis and recession. It's a recipe for more income inequality."

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Modern Day Charles Dickens Era

    In the midst of the bailout crisis, I worried that taxpayers were being played. It looks like my concerns were well-founded. Via Dean Baker:
    Remember way back to last week when it was going to be the end of the world if Congress didn't pass the bailout package? Remember the Washington Post's account in which Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told President Bush, "there is no Plan B."

    Well, it looks like the Fed has discovered a Plan B. It turns out that the Fed can buy commercial paper directly from non-financial corporations needing credit to maintain operations. This will keep the credit markets working even if the zombie banks aren't up to the task. In other words, the threat of a complete meltdown in the absence of a bailout was nonsense and the media once again got taken for a ride by the Bush administration.
    Adding insult to injury, we now find out that the limits on executive compensation were essentially meaningless too. When do we get our bailout, or do we have to work till we drop over dead? That scenario becomes more probable with each passing day.

    Via the AP:
    Americans' retirement plans have lost as much as $2 trillion in the past 15 months, Congress' top budget analyst estimated Tuesday.
    Public and private pension funds and employees' private retirement savings accounts — like 401(k)'s — have lost some 20 percent overall since mid-2007.

    Rep. George Miller, D-California, summed it up best: "Unlike Wall Street executives, America's families don't have a golden parachute to fall back on. It's clear that their retirement security may be one of the greatest casualties of this financial crisis."

    Thursday, October 02, 2008

    Lessenberry vs Johnny McNasty

    Columnist Jack Lessenberry wished he could have faced McCain in the first debate.
    I desperately wanted to be Barack Obama, standing on that stage with old Johnny McNasty.

    What I wanted to do most is stick a broom handle in front of the old turtle's face. McCain would have clamped on it, hissing violently, back feet kicking, shredding the wood with his little yellow teeth. Trust me, he would have done it. I know. I caught a large snapping turtle in the woods when I was in grade school, and it did exactly that. And it had exactly the same reptilian eyes Old Nasty does, except the turtle's were brighter and more reflective.

    That was almost half a century ago, when McCain was only middle-aged. But on Friday night, the visibly aging Mac was a sarcastic sourpuss. He refused to look at Obama, evidently because that might acknowledge that his opponent was a human being.

    "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand," McNasty sneered, over and over, usually when he was trying to justify his having sold his soul to Dubya over the mess in Iraq. Unfortunately, the batteries Karl Rove inserted at the base of McCain's scrotum didn't last as long as called for. At one point, I thought the oldest living boy in Arizona was having a seizure when he stumbled over the name of the Iranian president, seemingly trying to sneeze out his name (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) before butchering it.
    I think one could safely say Jack was not impressed with McCain, but he did find the silver lining:
    Now, for the first time, I really think there is a real chance that we as a people may be able to put aside our racism and actually elect the superior human being and candidate.
    That, as Martha would say, is a good thing.

    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Will McCain denounce violence against Muslims?

    The Clarion Fund must be proud of the effect their movie "Obsession" produced.
    Friday, September 26th ended a week in which thousands of copies of Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West -- the fear-mongering, anti-Muslim documentary being distributed by the millions in swing states via DVDs inserted in major newspapers and through the U.S. mail -- were distributed by mail in Ohio. The same day, a "chemical irritant" was sprayed through a window of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, where 300 people were gathered for a Ramadan prayer service. The room that the chemical was sprayed into was the room where babies and children were being kept while their mothers were engaged in prayers.
    This isn't an isolated incident either.
    A four-state fire at an Islamic Mosque is labeled as a religious hate crime by federal agents in what they call an attack on religious freedom. The Carl Junction fire department responded to this sign on fire early Thursday morning in south Joplin. The sign reads Islamic Society of Joplin in both English and Arabic and belongs to an Islamic mosque. The FBI has now taken over the investigation due to evidence which leads authorities to believe this was in fact a hate crime.
    Those were recent, overt acts of hatred, but some of the bias is more subtle and has been percolating for sometime now: Muslim Group Reports Jump in Workplace Bias Complaints
    According to the study, discrimination in the workplace against those already employed increased by 18 percent, with 384 cases reported in 2006 and 452 cases reported in 2007. There was also a 34 percent increase in reports of discrimination against those seeking employment.
    This is vile, despicable behavior. Americans are better than this. We don't defile places where other people worship. We don't use violence against people we disagree with. We don't attack innocent children.

    I blame the Republicans and John McCain for this violence and hate-mongering, and since McCain is the appointed head of their party at this point, he needs to step up and forcefully denounce these people and their actions - including the Clarion Fund - before someone ends up dead.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    U.S. is blamed for spawning global financial crisis

    Add Germany to the list of countries less than impressed with the Bush administration and Wall Street.
    Germany blamed the United States on Thursday for spawning the global financial crisis with a blind drive for higher profits and said it would now have to accept greater market regulation and a loss of its financial superpower status. [...]

    "The world will never be as it was before the crisis," Steinbrueck, a deputy leader of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), told the Bundestag lower house.

    "The United States will lose its superpower status in the world financial system. The world financial system will become more multi-polar," he said.
    Germany recognized we were headed for trouble over a year ago and tried to do something about it to no avail.
    Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservatives rule in coalition with the SPD, and Steinbrueck both pushed the Group of Eight (G8) to agree measures to boost financial market transparency during Germany's presidency of the G8 last year.

    But their drive collapsed amid opposition from Washington and London.

    Merkel criticized their stance at the weekend, saying the days of laissez-faire capitalism were over.
    It's not just Germany either. The criticism comes from other countries too.
    The German views were echoed by leaders of governments from around the world meeting this week at the United Nations in New York.

    Many sharply criticized the George W. Bush administration's financial record and warned that U.S. financial mistakes now threatened the global economy.
    Financial mistakes? I'm not convinced the Bush administration made a mistake. I think they knew all along what the outcome would be, but didn't give a damn as long as they kept raking in the money.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    China is not impressed with Paulson

    Eighteen months ago, Henry Paulson told the Shanghai Futures Exchange that China risked trillions of dollars in lost economic potential unless it freed up its capital markets.
    ``An open, competitive, and liberalized financial market can effectively allocate scarce resources in a manner that promotes stability and prosperity far better than governmental intervention,'' Paulson said.
    That was then, this is now, and the grasshopper is not impressed with the master according to Bloomberg.
    ``The U.S. financial system was regarded as a model, and we tried our best to copy whatever we could,'' said Yu Yongding, a former adviser to China's central bank. ``Suddenly we find our teacher is not that excellent, so the next time when we're designing our financial system we will use our own mind more.''
    They've noticed the hypocrisy too:
    The recent moves by Paulson, the former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., contradict what the U.S. told Asian governments over the past decade. Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia were urged to let unviable banks fail during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

    ``It's the end of an era,'' said Shanghai-based Andy Xie, a independent analyst who was formerly Morgan Stanley's chief Asia economist. ``In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, socialism was discredited and the whole world turned right. Now financial capital has been discredited and the whole world, including the U.S., is turning left.''
    China learned something from our failures and plans to make some changes:
    That road may be different from the one Paulson proposed 18 months ago, according to Arthur Kroeber at economic research company Dragonomics Advisory Services Ltd. in Beijing.

    ``China's made it clear it won't listen to these snake-oil salesmen who come from Wall Street, even if they're wearing suits issued by the Treasury Department,'' he said. ``It's strengthened the hands of all the people who are very skeptical about financial liberalization in China.''
    The question is...will we learn from this, or will it be business as usual?

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    The Election, Economy and Race

    A new American Research Group poll shows that “[n]o Americans say that the national economy is getting better,” while 82 percent say it is getting much worse. So, the question just begs asking: In the middle of this financial meltdown, why is the election close?

    Jonathan Tasini believes it boils down to race. "...certain people won't vote for a black person for president. Simple as that."

    How do we combat people's irrational fear? Education. In this case, Tasini gives us a video he filmed at a recent Ohio delegation breakfast meeting where Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, took on the issue of race. It's about 6 minutes long, but well worth watching.

    These are some of the important points I jotted down while watching it:
    A friend told him she didn't trust Obama because he's black. Trumka tells the woman she's out of her mind - this is 2008. Workers are losing pensions, losing their homes, losing their healthcare and want change, but can't bring themselves to vote for a black man.

    Education is the answer. Racism is a tool used to divide working people. The only way working people have ever won anything in this country is by crossing that color line, by turning to each other and not on each other, and by recognizing that our common interests as working people are far more important than race. That's how steel workers organized, that's how auto workers organized, etc.
    Watch the video. Trumka is a good speaker and he's funny too. This was my favorite line:
    A worker who votes for John McCain is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders. If you vote Republican in 2008, you're bound to get plucked.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    The McCain+Palin+Palin ticket

    John McCain and Sarah Palin are holding a town hall meeting tonight in Grand Rapids. I wonder if Todd Palin will be campaigning with them since, as Salon noted, some in Alaska have referred to him as the "shadow governor," raising "questions about whether a Sarah Palin vice-presidency would hand the same type of backstage power to Todd, and what that might mean in the running of the U.S. government."

    Here's some background from Salon on the unusual influence Todd Palin has had on his wife's Alaska government.
    Not long after Sarah Palin was sworn in as Alaska's governor in December 2006, her husband, Todd, started showing up in the state capitol in Juneau. He'd hang around her office, or he'd sit in on meetings with Cabinet officials or legislators. He'd leave for a few weeks to go work his $100,000-a-year oil job on the North Slope, then come back to Juneau (or Anchorage, depending on where Palin was spending her time). At some point, the "First Dude" became enough of a fixture in the statehouse that people just sort of figured he belonged there.

    Soon, Todd Palin was getting copied on e-mails dealing with official state business. He had already helped write the state budget, gotten involved in personnel matters and called up lawmakers when he -- or Sarah Palin -- had a bone to pick with them. Apparently Palin's inner circle figured they better include him on messages about pending legislation or ongoing controversies, too. The First Dude's involvement in Palin's efforts to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from the state police force have now earned him a subpoena from the Legislature, and he also allegedly intervened to have John Bitney (a former friend) fired from the state payroll for having an affair with the ex-wife of one of Todd Palin's buddies. The Washington Post reported last week that the Palins billed the state $1,371 for Todd's airfare to Washington, when he joined Sarah Palin at a National Governors Association conference, and for the whole family to fly around Alaska watching him compete in the Iron Dog snowmobile race.

    In the Palin administration, Todd appears to have had an unusually strong role, the extent of which remains unclear. He is not on the state payroll and was never elected -- but the First Dude has crossed over from the standard-issue supportive political spouse to something far more influential, weighing in on policy and political matters in ways that few observers seem to understand.
    Red caution flags should be going up in voter's minds about Todd Palin, and questions should be asked about what his presence might mean in the running of the U.S. government. Todd and Sarah were once affiliated with a group that - as Communication Guru puts it - would make Timothy McVeigh proud.
    [Sarah] Palin may have once been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party. The AIP say they want Alaskans to get an opportunity to vote on whether or not they will remain a state, or become a commonwealth, or split off as an independent nation.

    According to ABC News, Officials of the AIP said Gov. Palin was once a member, but the McCain campaign -- providing what it says is complete voter registration documentation -- says Palin has been according to official records a lifelong Republican.

    Palin's husband Todd was a member of the AIP from October 1995 through July 2002, except for a few months in 2000. He is currently undeclared.

    The AIP was founded by Joe Vogler in the 1970s. He has been quoted as saying, “I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions."

    "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won't be buried under their damn flag. I'll be buried in Dawson. And when Alaska is an independent nation they can bring my bones home."
    Damn flag? Why aren't Republicans jumping all over that statement?

    This website has a YouTube video that shows the Vice Chairman of the AIP, Dexter Clark, talking about Sarah Palin and the fact she was an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor, and he then goes on to say she "is pretty well sympathetic to her former membership.“

    Mr. Clark has also been quoted as saying, "that AIP members must "infiltrate" -- his words -- the other two parties and push for the cause of Alaskan independence."

    By most people's standards, this group is anti-American and they definitely don't put "country first." The Palin's association with AIP could be innocent or subversive, but ignoring that association and failing to ask questions could have deadly consequences for our country. Voters need to take a long, hard look at Palin & Palin before casting their ballot.

    (Cross-posted at BFM.)

    Friday, August 22, 2008

    McCain Contradicts Himself on Offshore Drilling

    McCain was against offshore drilling before he was for it. From the Concord Monitor [emphasis added]:
    Politicians need a host of skills, but there was one that the old John McCain was proud not to possess: the ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth.

    On Tuesday, while perched on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, McCain proved that he's mastered that trick.

    "It is time for America to get serious about energy independence, and that means we need to start drilling offshore at advanced oil rigs like this,'' McCain said, from the giant, 10,000-barrel-per-day structure owned by Chevron and Exxon Mobil. Barack Obama has said that offshore drilling "won't solve our problem. . . . He's wrong, and the American people know it," McCain said.

    Unfortunately, although many Americans believe that offshore drilling will provide real relief from high energy prices, it's the new McCain who's wrong. Before he switched positions, McCain opposed lifting the ban on offshore drilling and had this to say: "Those resources, which would take years to develop, would only postpone or temporarily relieve our dependency on fossil fuels." That's still true.
    Oops! That statement from McCain's straight-talking days contradicts what Representatives McCotter (R-MI), Walberg (R-MI), Hoekstra (R-MI), etc., have been saying.

    So how green is McCain? Not very according to the Concord Monitor who judged his Senate career.
    Last year McCain received a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters - an organization whose members aren't given to chaining themselves to trees. His lifetime score from the group is just 24 percent. That's less than one-third the ratings given to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

    Earlier this summer, McCain backed a gas tax holiday. That's another bad idea. It would have helped to keep demand high and deprived the nation of money needed to repair collapsing roads and bridges. He has opposed moves to eliminate subsidies for oil companies and, until recently, opposed tax incentives to stimulate production of alternative energy sources.

    In an issue that will hit home hard in New Hampshire this winter, McCain has also opposed additional funding for the national low-income fuel assistance program because he didn't like how its cost would be borne. Now, however, he says he will support "whatever is necessary to help people meet literally incredible challenges this winter." But what about next year?
    Big oil is spending more than $2 million dollars a day to influence public policy and opinion - including $12.2 million dollars spent in the past six months by Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign - and McCain received nearly $1 million dollars since he announced his support for offshore drilling. It appears McCain had an incentive that helped him change his mind. It's amazing what one million dollars can buy.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    McCain's Foreign Policy Rhetoric is Reckless

    McCain's promise to follow bin Laden to the "gates of hell" didn't sit too well with Jim Harper at the Cato Institute. He asked if John McCain is Recruiting for Al Qaeda?
    McCain’s “gates of hell” talk is leadership malpractice, and he should stop using it immediately. Calling the threat of terrorism “transcendent” is equal parts incoherent and false. Terrorism stands no chance of defeating the United States or the West unless we ourselves collapse the society. Speaking this way about terrorism thrills our terrorist enemies and draws recruits and support to them. Silence would be much better, presidential campaign or no. [...]

    Exalting terrorism - as John McCain does with his “gates of hell” talk - is precisely the wrong thing for a national leader to do. The country will be made more secure by deflating the world image of Osama bin Laden and making his movement less attractive. Our leaders must withdraw rhetorical power from terrorists by controlling their tongues.
    Leadership malpractice. The wrong thing for a leader to do. It looks like McCain won't be picking up the libertarian vote.

    Harper makes a good point though when he says our leaders must control their tongues, and in that area McCain fails miserably according to Max Bergmann at Democracy Arsenal.
    Thus on almost every crisis or incident over the last decade, McCain has sounded the alarm, ratcheted up the rhetoric and often called for military action - with almost no regards to the practical implications of such an approach. [...]

    The big concern with a McCain presidency – a concern which I am surprised has not been vocalized more fully – is that the U.S. will lurch from crisis to crisis, confrontation to confrontation, whether it be with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc. The danger is that McCain’s pundit-like rhetoric will entrap the U.S. in descending spiral of foreign policy brinksmanship. Just think about the very likely scenario of McCain giving Iran/Russia a rhetorical ultimatum and Iran/Russia ignoring it. Now we are stuck - either we lose face by not following through on our threats or we follow through and go to war. We can’t afford such a reckless approach after the last eight years. For the next eight we need a president not a pundit.
    Reckless. That's John McCain's approach to foreign policy, one that puts even more of our troops in danger.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)