Snapshot, August 2, 2011

As we await the next conservative-contrived crisis to confront us, a crisis that will continue to enhance the right-wing’s efforts to diminish our national domestic ambitions, shrink our collective actions and demote the general welfare, here is a snapshot of America in August of 2011, a snapshot that still reflects the economic devastation wrought by the Great Recession and years of governmental neglect:

♦ GDP growth is anemic—annual rate growth of 1.3 percent in the second quarter of 2011.

♦ Americans continue to lose their homes in record numbers, some wrongfully, and many are underwater on their mortgages;  and those who own homes have seen their equity fall—according to the AP,  “the average homeowner now has 38 percent equity, down from 61 percent a decade ago.”

♦ Unemployment remains unacceptably high.  There are more than 14 million folks without jobs—nearly half of them without jobs for almost seven months or more.  And many people—almost nine million—are “involuntary part-time workers,” and an additional three million people are what the geeks call “marginally attached to the labor force.”  Many of them have given up looking for jobs.

♦ Young folks are trading sex for money to pay off their student loans.

♦ State governments, starved of cash and without the will to ask taxpayers to help, are furloughing and firing teachers and policemen and firemen, essential components of civilization.  They are cutting their judicial budgets and delaying justice to their citizens.

♦ Our nation’s infrastructure, another essential component of a civilized society, is, well, not worthy of our great country.  The American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009 estimated that $2.2 trillion was needed over five years to upgrade our infrastructure to “satisfactory.” 

♦ The anachronistic 18.4-cent federal tax on gasoline no longer pays for current highway spending.   

♦ According to the Department of Transportation, there are around 600,000 bridges in the U.S. and about 160,000 (27%) are either “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”  

♦ There are more than 85,000 dams—average age: 51—most of them under the jurisdiction of financially strapped state governments.  There are thousands of them “deemed unsafe or deficient” and states simply do not have the resources—some because of tax-cut fever—to properly monitor dam safety and enforcement. 

♦ Our airports are deteriorating—heck, part of the FAA has been shut down and is losing $200 million dollars a week in ticket taxes—which money is going into the coffers of the airlines—largely because Republicans hate unions. 

♦ And there’s this, from the ASCE: 

The nation’s drinking-water systems face staggering public investment needs over the next 20 years. 

The annual shortfall is $11 billion, the group says, and that amount “does not account for any growth in the demand for drinking water over the next 20 years.”  

♦ We remain dependent on dirty fossil fuels while green technology is ripe with both jobs and independence for the picking.  But there is little will, beyond President Obama’s vain attempts, to pick them. 

Perhaps this would be a good time to inject this: We are spending $10 billion or so every month in Afghanistan. 

Or this: Closing offshore tax havens would bring in an estimated $100 billion a year and help stop the job-leaks to foreign countries. Think about that.  We just had a fight over how much to cut the government over the next ten years, and, well, I’ll let Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, tell you about those tax havens:

This is one trillion dollars in revenue over the next ten years that is low hanging fruit for Congress and the President to pick for deficit reduction. That’s what we should be doing right now, not taking an ax to programs in the federal budget that strengthen our economy and help create jobs on Main Street.

How about this: Hedge fund and private equity managers only pay 15% on the enormous income they receive in the form of fund management fees they collect.  Millions of dollars in income taxed just like it were middle class income.  The Obama Administration claims that raising the rate hedge fund managers pay to the top rate of 35% would add $400 billion in revenue over the next ten years. 

This is just one snapshot, taken on the day we are watching one of the most embarrassing political episodes in modern American times come to an end. 

And after this episode ends, our members of Congress will take a long vacation, scattering far and wide across a much diminished and, if Republicans have their way, a diminishing America.

Remarks And Asides

Jon Huntsman, for a brief shining moment the only adult in a room full of Republican presidential hopefuls, essentially sealed his doom in the Republican primary by making the following statement about the Evil One, the America-hating Kenyan socialist, Barack Hussein Obama:

He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who’s the better American.

Nice knowing you Jon, even if it were only for a few hours.  Once upon a time, most Republicans were like you.  We will miss your kind.  How about becoming ambassador to, oh, I don’t know, say, China?

                                                                           [Photo by Pool/Getty Images North America]

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Speaking of Huntsman, even if his civility toward Obama doesn’t do him in, his expressed tolerance and “respect” for states that have legalized or may legalize gay marriage will.  Again, thanks for the memories, however brief, Jon.

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Speaking of “the gay,” former Texas A&M cheerleader and long-time governor of Texas, Rick Perry—who had a one-night-stand with secessionism—will be prepared, should he decide to run for president, to combat old rumors that he is, well,  a Kenyan homosexual.  According to Politico, Perry’s top strategist said:

…unfortunately there are always going to be some people who feel the need to spread false and misleading rumors to advance their own political agenda. 

Noooooooo.  Really? 

I don’t know just how Governor Perry can prove to conservative Republican primary voters that he doesn’t have the gay.  We all know by now that a Certificate of Live Heterosexuality won’t do. 

I guess we’ll just have to “take him at his word,” won’t we, Ms. Bachmann?

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Fox “News” and other conservatives got their prayer shawls in a tangle over NBC Sports godlessly excerpting “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance during its golf telecast.  Now, I for one am comforted to know that conservatives, always eager to embrace policies that would take us back to the good old days, are content to stop at 1954, the year “under God” was wedged into the pledge.

That is progress.

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Speaking of Fox, Ann Coulter, who makes a good living from saying dumb and outrageous things that have the virtue of being consumable by gullible conservatives with disposable income, said on Bill O’Reilly’s “show” Tuesday that Afghans are “perfectly happy being poor, ignorant and having a 30-year lifespan.”

That, my friends, passes for high-brow Christian comedy on Fox “News.”

Or, maybe it’s serious commentary.  It’s hard to tell.

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Finally, and speaking of high-brow Christian comedy or serious commentary, I found the following on “The Blaze,” a website founded by the caliphate-obsessed, Obama-hating Mormon, Glenn Beck.  By the way, OIL_ROBB‘s comment, complete with misspelling and dumb insult, reads like it was written by a certain Globe blogger I know: 

Dear Tea Party: Should Price Gouging Be Legal?

The Kansas City Star reported on Friday that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster “obtained a temporary restraining order” against an Independence, Mo., towing company for violating our state’s Merchandising Practices Act,

by towing semi-tractors and trailers damaged by the May 22 tornado and then demanding amounts that were  “considerably more than the fair market price in the area.”

The Merchandising Practices Act is essentially a consumer protection statute, being applied in this case to unfair pricing and the possibility that the company towed vehicles without the owner’s authorization.

In any case, just one day after the tornado, Missouri’s top law enforcement official put this word out:

Jefferson City, Mo. — Attorney General Chris Koster today warned individuals and businesses against price-gouging following the devastating tornado in Joplin.

“Missouri law is clear – price gouging is illegal and the Attorney General’s Office will investigate and prosecute instances of price-gouging to the full extent of the law,” Koster said. “The unimaginable disaster in Joplin will take everyone working together to recover. There is no room for anyone to try to take advantage of tornado victims in need.”

Koster’s office is sending investigators to the area to monitor for price-gouging and to examine any allegations on-site. The Attorney General urged any person who believes a business has suddenly and artificially raised the prices on necessities including gas, food, diapers, clean-up equipment, etc., should contact his office at 1-800-392-8222, or online at ago.mo.gov to file the complaint.

Now, I have some questions for all you free-market, anti-government regulation types out there:

Why shouldn’t businesses be able to charge any damn price they want to for any service or product, including necessities?  After all, if I have the only gasoline in town, why can’t I charge you, say, $20 a gallon to get it?  That’s capitalism, isn’t it? 

Even if I paid $3.50 a gallon for the gas, I know you need it. And I know you’re willing to pay much—much—more than what I paid for it.  In effect, the “fair” market price has instantly escalated due to the disaster. On what principle can you deny me the right to charge whatever the market will bear?

Huh?

My Country, America and/or Israel, ‘Tis of Thee

If you have a stubborn doubt that God is a Republican, I suggest you go to C-SPAN and watch any part of the recently completed Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference and Strategy Briefing, an event inspired not only by GOP Jesus, but by the disgraced and disgraceful Ralph Reed.*

Naturally, the conference featured the usual demonization of Barack Obama; I mean, what is a gathering of pious American Christians without a wholesale bearing of false witness against our Christian President?  I particularly enjoyed the moment when Tim Pawlenty was recalling how unfaithful Mr. Obama has been and some God-fearing member of the audience shouted, “He lied!

Praise God!

In any case, the event started innocently enough:

Lord, we thank you for this land. We thank you for a nation that was founded for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith.

That utterly dishonest prayer was uttered by a Georgia pastor, Benny Tate, who also opened a legislative day in the House of Representatives in 2009 with this heavenly gem:

We acknowledge freedom is not free and the trees of every generation are watered with the blood of its sons and daughters.

Praise God for our sons and daughters and the blood-nourished trees!

In all seriousness, though, one of the most troubling themes of the FFC conference was expressed best by Richard Land, who heads a public policy agency for the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention and who was appointed to his current federal government post by George W. Bush. 

Mr. Land clearly laid out what many people outside the evangelical community fail to understand about evangelicals: They have a dual national allegiance, to both America and Israel, and it’s not always clear which allegiance comes first.

If you want to understand the evangelical mind, and if you want to understand just how dangerous the thinking is that motivates these Christian folks, and if you want to understand how perilous is the mixture of fundamentalist faith and politics, I urge you to read the following lengthy quote from Richard Land’s appearance at the Faith and Freedom conference this past weekend:

God prophesied that he would bring his chosen people, the Jews, back into the land, and we have seen in many of our lifetimes the fulfillment of that prophecy, as they have come back into the land and they have succeeded against fearsome odds…

My mother, who taught me to love Jesus and who taught me to love God’s Word—I remember my mother saying to me, “Richard, God blesses those who bless the Jews; God curses those who curse the Jews.”  And she said, “Remember last week we were watching that special on television and the airplane was flying across Germany in June of 1945 and all you saw were bombed-out buildings and flattened cities?  That’s what happens when you curse the Jews.”

If we want God to bless America, then we have to bless the Jews. God gave that land to his chosen people forever.  That issue is settled by God Almighty.

Now, I support Israel because Israel is more like America than any other country because we’re founded on the same basis: The Word of God.  But I also believe that we must bless America because I’m an American and I love America and I want God to bless America and God blesses us when we obey him and he doesn’t bless us when we disobey him.  And he has made it very clear that Israel has an ally far more powerful than the United States of America. It’s called the Lion of Judah [Jesus, in the Christian tradition].

Now, we can say many things about President Obama, but one thing we can’t say about him is that he’s stupid.  He’s a bright man—he’s a foolish man, but a very bright man.  He knows what he’s doing and he knows what he says…the worst president of the United States Israel has ever had is Barack Obama [thunderous applause].

There is no question that he is pro-Palestinian and his policies are pro-Palestinian.  Well, I have a word of encouragement for our friends in Israel, who must be feeling a little abandoned and a little abused and a little used right now: My dear friends, help is on the way! [Applause.]

With absolute confidence I can tell you that social conservatives in this country are with one voice saying, “Israel today, Israel tomorrow, and Israel forever!  We are with you because God is with you and we understand that we are going to defend your right to live in the land that God gave to you and to your children.  Rest assured, help is on the way!  You are not alone!”

Evangelical voters, particularly in the primary process, are the backbone of the Republican Party. Without evangelical support, Republicans couldn’t win many elections.  So it is important to understand that dynamic, as scary as it is.

And we must understand, too, that evangelicals have a hard time differentiating between loyalty to America and loyalty to Israel, as well as differentiating between truth and falsehood regarding Obama’s position on Israel, a position that is almost identical to George W. Bush’s.

If you are tempted to think that such nonsense like the nonsense Richard Land spouted is confined only to crazy evangelical Christian pastors or their followers, or to silly politicians like Michele Bachmann (who during the weekend conference said Obama’s speech on Israel was a “shocking display of betraying our greatest friend and ally“), read the following, spoken by Republican presidential candidate and Catholic-turned-evangelical Tim Pawlenty—who gets credit for being an “adult” candidate—at the Faith and Freedom conference:

We need to be a nation that turns toward God, not away from God…We need a President of the United States who stands shoulder to shoulder with our great friend Israel and make sure there is no daylight between the United States and Israel [standing ovation].

No daylight, Mr. Pawlenty? 

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* Reed was involved in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.  He took millions of “In God We Trust” bucks from Abramoff and proceeded to use his influence among Christian voters in Alabama to stop Indian casinos and state lotteries that were competitors of Abramoff’s clients.  Praise God!

Dear John

John Boehner is now demanding “cuts in trillions” as the ransom for raising the debt ceiling.

Barack Obama, fresh from burying Osama bin Laden at sea, should tell the Speaker, as respectfully as appropriate, to go straight to hell.

In a speech last night in New York and again this morning on television, Boehner made his outrageous and irresponsible demand while simultaneously reaffirming the Republican position on taxes:

Raising taxes is off the table.

With all the conviction of an Islamic extremist, Speaker Boehner is attempting to terrorize Americans by threatening to fly an ideological 747 into the American economy’s twin towers: the full faith and credit of the United States.

And Barack Obama should demonstrate the same resolve in this debt-ceiling fight that he used to get bin Laden.  Here is the letter he should write to John Boehner:

 

He’s Proud To Be An Okie From Manhattan

I don’t think I’ve ever quoted Ed Shultz on this blog, and some of you aren’t going to completely understand today’s offering, but here it goes:

Last night Shultz said something about the birther issue that may strike some folks as odd:

The President of the United States has had to put up with this honky-tonk conversation in the media for too long.

What a brilliant description of the goings-on regarding, among other things, the racist-infected doubts about President Obama’s birthplace, his college experiences, and essentially his love for his country.

“Honky-tonk” can be defined simply as, “a cheap, noisy bar or dance hall,” but in my (considerable) experience, there is a certain ethos that prevails in the kinds of bars I have known as honky-tonks. In terms of the politics of the patrons, they were, and remain, very conservative institutions.

Let me put it this way:  Honky-tonks aren’t the kind of places in which one would expect to find Barack Hussein Obama bellied-up to the bar.

While part of the etymology of the term honky-tonk is a little cloudy—”tonk” may refer to the brand name, Ernest A. Tonk, on the upright piano used in the old Tin Pan Alley bars—here is how Wikipedia describes the “honky” portion of the term:

The term honky was, as a term for whites, derived from bohunk and hunky. In the early 1900s, these were derogatory terms for Bohemian, Hungarian, and Polish immigrants. According to Robert Hendrickson, author of the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, black workers in Chicago meatpacking plants picked up the term from white workers and began applying it indiscriminately to all whites. “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy wrote of “Negroes and hunkies” in his autobiography.

Wikipedia further notes that, “honky tonk eventually became associated mainly with lower-class bars catering to men.”  The piano was replaced, for the honky-tonks I frequented, by a juke box, a juke box mostly loaded with country music. 

And the politics was, well, you can imagine.  Mostly uninformed, bigoted noise, spouted by people who don’t know what they don’t know, many of them I could politely call reactionaries, but because I’m still aggressively saddened about the events yesterday, I will call them classic rednecks.

Okay, so you get what Ed Schultz was trying to say. Which led me to thinking about Donald Trump, who I have called an Ugly American. I think a better description of him would be a Manhattan redneck.

Yes, a redneck from Manhattan.  They exist. And Donald Trump is their hero.  In fact, he’s a hero of rednecks everywhere.

I like this definition of the term redneck from the Urban Dictionary:

A glorious absence of sophistication (Part time or full time)

For the record, Donald Trump is “full-time.”

In his press conference yesterday, Donald Trump said,

I am so proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish.

It’s as if Trump was in a honky-tonk in 1964 Meridian, Mississippi, bragging to his buddies, “I showed that uppity negro. That’ll teach him to wink at a white woman.

And there on the bar stool next to Trump was his honky-tonk angel, Sarah Palin, egging him on:

Media, admit it, Trump forced the issue.

Which reminds me of an old Conway Twitty honky-tonk song, sort of Donald Trump’s plea to the world:

So tell me if you think it’s over,

And I’ll leave it up to you how it ends. 

‘Cause if you don’t want the love I can give you, 

Well, there’s a honky-tonk angel who’ll take me back in.

Makes me want to pop the top on another can.

Democrats Have A Choice

I have heard liberals and Democrats I respect very much get it all wrong regarding the nature of the upcoming battle over raising the federal debt ceiling.

One analysis has it that Speaker Boehner is hamstrung by the Tea Party in the House and he can use that as leverage during upcoming negotiations with Obama and Reid. 

The gist of it is that Boehner can say to Democrats that he wants to do the right thing but those crazy teapartiers won’t let him.  He will argue that he needs something big—substantial cuts, say—to take back to the ravenous nuts in order to keep them in line. Otherwise, he will claim, those crazy extremist Republicans would be willing to tank the economy.

But that analysis is wanting.  Boehner can’t credibly make the argument that there’s no way to raise the debt ceiling without giving irresponsible House Republicans want they want.  Somehow, people forget that there are 193 Democrats in the House.  Only a handful of responsible Republicans—if there are any left in the House—are needed to get the debt ceiling raised and fend off a potential crisis.

If Boehner can’t find a handful of Republicans who care more about the country than they do their conservative ideology, then Democrats should stand back and watch Republicans destroy themselves, as the ideologues put the financial industry—and likely the entire economy—in the proverbial ditch again.  Not to mention that those around the world who buy U.S. Treasury bonds would have good reason to believe that America is no longer a stable place in which to invest.

Yes, Democrats must have the guts to call Boehner’s and the Tea Party’s bluffs.  If the GOP sabotages Wall Street (very unlikely since they have recently kissed and made up) and by extension Main Street, then that once-noble party will seal its fate for a generation.  The likely scenario, though, is that enough Republicans will join Democrats and raise the debt ceiling, thus averting potential disaster. 

Democrats, therefore, shouldn’t give an inch on the debt ceiling debate.

The other analysis I have heard involves the fact that 235 House Republicans have made love to tax-hater Grover Norquist and pledged their undying fealty to the concept that the government already taxes too much.  In post-orgasmic promise mode, they promise Grover never to raise taxes.

Never mind that revenues, as part of the overall economy, are lower now than any time since 1950. Never mind that the top marginal rates are lower than they’ve been since 1931.  Never mind that we are running huge deficits and piling up unfathomable debt, substantially due to a lack of federal income.

This analysis, much like the other one, seems to put Democrats in a box.  Republicans will not compromise on the revenue issue, so Democrats have to compromise on budget austerity.  In fact, under this analysis, Democrats have to essentially rubber-stamp the severe austerity advocated by the most extremist Republicans in history or watch the economy crumble. 

Again, Boehner, unless he meant it when he said there is no daylight between him and the Tea Party, can rely on sensible Democrats to pull his party’s chestnuts out of the debt-ceiling fire.  He can make a deal that will satisfy Democrats and save the economy and simultaneously allow his extremist colleagues to vote against the debt ceiling increase.  Or, he can risk our economic recovery—and risk the full faith and credit of the United States—and possibly send us into a recession greater than the one we just witnessed—or worse.

In short, Democrats can force some in the Republican Party to be responsible stewards of the nation’s business.  Or they can join in with Republicans and kill our nation’s well-being cut by cut by cut by cut.

Democrats, who control two-thirds of the relevant government in this case, have that obvious choice. It’s time Democrats—and the rest of America—find out if Republicans are willing to throw America’s economic fortunes to the wind out of a fanatical and dangerously misplaced loyalty to a discredited political ideology.

[top photo: AP; bottom: LA Progressive]

Republicans Counting On Dumb Voters

Michael Shear, writing for The New York Times, characterizes the upcoming Paul Ryan-Republican House budget plan as “a dramatic political bet“:

The budget they are preparing to embrace in the coming days would slash federal government spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years, mostly by reinventing the nation’s largest social programs in ways that Republicans have talked about for years.

Medicare would become a means-tested support program for private insurance. Medicaid would give states new control over their money for the poor. Taxes on business and the wealthy would come down. Overall spending across a range of programs would be capped.

Shear’s point about the gamble is this:

Packaging long-held Republican ideas into a huge shift in policy, the lawmakers are betting that voters will focus less on the individual things they don’t like and more on the overall impression of the party’s fiscal discipline.

Well, voters would first have to overlook 30 years of the party’s fiscal recklessness before they could focus on today’s soak-the-poor-reward-the-rich incarnation of Republican philosophy.

Are the voters that dumb?

Republicans are betting they are.

Remarks And Asides

According to himself, conservative Globeblogger Anson Burlingame is going to work for the Obama administration as a consultant on “nuclear issues resulting from the Japanese quake and Tsunami.”

Now, I don’t know if the President himself called Anson to work for the Centers for Disease Control, but Obama does have a reputation for neutering his political enemies by appointing them to positions in his administration.

In any case, Mr. Burlingame offered a parting shot at yours truly:

But I will have my computer and will be watching carefully as local liberals try to destroy the country, piece by piece or blog by blog.

I hope you are as comforted as I am by the fact that Anson, who has such an odd relationship with reality, will be hard at work making us safe from Japanese radiation, or whatever it is he will be doing in Atlanta.

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Hamstrung by Congress, the Obama Justice Department will now have to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.  The announcement comes on the same day Obama is launching his 2012 campaign, a campaign, no doubt, that will feature less promises like the 2008 pledge to close Gitmo.  He promised. He tried. He failed.  

Ironically, Republicans, who are mostly—but not completely—responsible for this decision and who have demonstrated a lack of confidence in U.S. civilian courts, may have made it easier for KSM to avoid the death penalty (even if he doesn’t want to) because there is some legal uncertainty as to whether the tribunal can sentence him to death upon a guilty plea.

So, if KSM lives on at the expense of American taxpayers, we have the GOP to thank.

[KSM photo: AFP/Getty]

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Joke Of the Day:  On Fox News Sunday, Paul Ryan, the GOP budget czar, said his soon-to-be-released plan for “saving” (it’s safe to read: “dismantling”) Medicare and Medicaid and “repairing” (it’s okay to read: “killing”) entitlements,

will be giving our political adversaries things to use against us in the next election—and shame on them if they do that.

Yes, shame on them for doing to Republicans what Republicans did to Democrats before the last election.  Remember how Democrats were slashing Medicare to pay for Obamacare?

In any case, why is Ryan so afraid, if his proposal will save the day?

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Bonus Joke of the Day: Glenn Beck is “uncomfortable” with all that Trump-talk about Obama’s birthplace.  Leaving aside the strange fact that someone has actually out-Becked Beck, here is the joke:

On Bill O’Reilly’s show, Beck said, laughing all the way to Wells Fargo Bank,

The last thing the country needs is a showboat…I would hope we could get serious candidates who could shake things up by not saying provocative things…

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According to Roll Call, John Boehner’s “top lieutenants”—Cantor, McCarthy and Hensarling—are warning him they can’t guarantee passage this week of the please-don’t-shut-down-the-government bill unless it has at least $40 billion in cuts.  And even that much may not work.  Some Tea Party Republicans are demanding the whole enchilada.

Democrats, who have been too quick to play this one on Republican budget-cutting turf, do seem to be sticking to their $33 billion offer and it is now likely that any deal with that number in it will have to pass the House with Democratic votes. 

All of that will mean that Boehner will lose face this time with the Tea Party and during the upcoming debt ceiling debate will have to try harder to prove to teapartiers that he is as mad—in both senses—as they are. 

That should be fun.

Banksters, Bastards, And Greed

If you didn’t see the 60 Minutes segment last night on how bankers have screwed up mortgage paperwork and how the bastards tried to remedy their screw-ups, then you should.  

Because the greedy bastards (yes, I know, I repeat myself) were in such a hurry to sell their manifestly bad loans for profit (by the way, where are those who blamed the financial crisis on the poor and those who were trying to help them?), in many cases banks that now want to foreclose—mostly on victims of Republican economic and regulatory policies—can’t prove who owns the houses.  So, some of the bastards resorted to forging documents.

As Les Leopold at AlterNet put it:

The big banks, now accused of fraudulent foreclosure procedures, are the same ones who puffed up the housing bubble, polluted the financial system with toxic assets, and nearly sent us back to the Great Depression. These banks helped put in motion the entire cavalcade of disastrous processes that crashed the value of homes all over the country. At this point it should be clear that too-big-to-fail banks are at the core of the problem and they owe us big-time.

Leopold also reports that Elizabeth Warren, doing God’s work, briefed the states’ Attorneys General by saying , according to Leopold,

that the five big banks (JP Morgan Chase, CitiGroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial) saved about $20 billion over the last three years by not hiring enough staff to properly process the tens of thousands of loan modifications and foreclosures

Greed upon greed.

From the AlterNet article, Warren and the AG’s are, presumably in lieu of jail time, demanding from the banksters:

• $30 billion in reparations.

• The creation of thousands of jobs to properly process foreclosures and loan modifications.

• Reform of the foreclosure process so that it rewards bank personnel for processing loan modifications as opposed to foreclosures; make sure home titles don’t “vanish into the black hole of securitization,” and ensure that distressed homeowners aren’t saddled with unjustified penalties.

• Making additional loan modifications “that might cost these five banks up to $135 billion.”

As Leopold points out, the AGs “have enough evidence of criminal activity to force a settlement and the banks will pay.”  “The only questions,” he writes, “are how much and how tough the reforms will be.”

Sadly, the Obama Treasury Department—the running of which conclusively proves Obama is no wild-eyed liberal—is trying to limit the damage by arguing for a smaller penalty and “less interference” in the banking business. 

And, of course, Congressional Republicans will attack Elizabeth Warren fiercely as she attempts to advocate on behalf of consumers.

Again, I recommend a view of the first segment of the 60 Minutes broadcast and you will understand why I used the word “bastard” four times now.

The Gullible Americans

As I write this, here is the Number One book on Amazon.com:

In case you don’t know anything about the book, here is the description from Amazon:

Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear.

Colton said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help us.

Told by the father, but often in Colton’s own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.

Get it? “Told by the father,” with, by the way, lots of help from Lynn Vincent, a Republican writer who “helped” Sarah Palin write her own wild tale, Going Rogue.

The reason I mention the book is because of an article I read on The Washington Post, ‘Heaven is for real’ and the immature American mind,” by Susan Jacoby, in which the author explored what it might mean that a book like this is at the top of Amazon sales (113 days in the top 100):

This book, and its commercial success, remind us again of the effectiveness of religious indoctrination early in life…

What is truly disturbing about this book’s huge commercial success is that it attests to the prevalence of unreason among vast numbers of Americans. (The book is way down in the ranks on Amazon.com in the United Kingdom.) The Americans buying the book are the same people fighting the teaching of evolution in public schools. They are probably the same people who think they can reduce the government deficit without either paying higher taxes or cutting the military budget, Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Jacoby was right about the ranking in the U.K.  I checked and it wasn’t even in the top 100.  In fact, it was on the “Religion & Spirituality” bestseller list, for God’s sake.

Just what does that say?  I’m not sure, but I would guess that a significant number of the more than 1.5 million sold copies ended up in the hands of Christian folks who believe other charmingly useful fantasies, like President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim who hates America.

Why Afghanistan War Strategy Must Change

As day three of the killing frenzy over an American Christian zealot’s Quran-burning unfolded, it has become increasingly clear to me—after agonizing over it for several months—that those who argue for an expedited drawdown leading to a pullout of combat troops in Afghanistan are right. That seems to be the wisest course to take, despite the fact that there are good, but not sufficient, reasons to stay.

The latest deadly unrest highlights two arguments for a swifter withdrawal than President Obama has outlined:

1) Hamid Karzai will never be a reliable partner.

2) General David Petraeus’ “winning hearts and minds” strategy won’t work in Afghanistan.

In addition to the many problems we’ve had with him in the past, the latest outrage is partly Karzai’s responsibility. As has been reported, most Afghans did not even know about the burning of the Quran in Florida—which happened on March 20—until Karzai tried to politicize it. From the New York Times:

Both Afghan and international news media had initially played down or ignored the actions of Mr. Jones, the Florida pastor. On Thursday, however, President Karzai made a speech and issued statements condemning the Koran burning and calling for the arrest of Mr. Jones for his actions. On Friday, that theme was picked up in mosques throughout Afghanistan.

“Karzai brought this issue back to life, and he has to take some responsibility for starting this up,” said a prominent Afghan businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution if he was identified as a critic of the president.

“Karzai’s speech itself provoked people to take such actions,” said Qayum Baabak, a political analyst in Mazar-i-Sharif. “Karzai should have called on people to be patient rather than making people more angry.”

Karzai, through education and experience with American culture, knows perfectly well that Pastor Terry Jones cannot be arrested. Stupidity is legal in the United States, after all. But Karzai’s irresponsibility continued today, as Reuters reported:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Sunday for the U.S. Congress to condemn the burning of a Koran by a radical fundamentalist U.S. pastor and prevent it from happening again, his office said in a statement.

Karzai made the request at a meeting with U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the statement said.

Echoing this nonsense, the Taliban released a statement today:

The U.S. government should have punished the perpetrators, but the American authorities and those in other countries not only did not have a serious reaction, but defended (the burning) to some extent in the name of freedom of religion and speech.

One report included this paragraph:

The Taliban said in a statement emailed to media outlets that the U.S. and other Western countries have wrongly excused the burning a Quran by the pastor of a Florida church on March 20 as freedom of speech and that Afghans “cannot accept this un-Islamic act.”

That last phrase, Afghans “cannot accept this un-Islamic act,” leads to the other persuasive argument against our Afghanistan war policy: Petraeus’ strategy. There are just too many things in this war that the Taliban can exploit as “un-Islamic acts,” as the Washington Post suggests:

The protests, which began Friday, also appear to be fueled more broadly by the resentment that has been building for years in Afghanistan over the operations of Western military forces, blamed for killing and mistreating civilians, and international contractors, seen by many as enriching themselves and fueling corruption at the expense of ordinary Afghans.

General Petraeus is doing his best. Our troops are, of course, fighting admirably, despite the occasional horrific stories about “kill teams” and other atrocities.

The problem is that the strategy—winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans—is so tenuous that a combination of an idiotic American evangelical extremist pastor and a stupidly opportunistic Afghan president can, wittingly or unwittingly, conspire to cripple that delicate strategy in just a few days and undo much of the good our soldiers have done.

Another strategy, perhaps along the lines originally proposed by Vice President Joe Biden, is in order. From the New York Times in September of 2009:

…Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence. Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.

Oddly, whatever it was that Pastor Jones and President Karzai were trying to accomplish, news reports inform us of the results:                                             

“Death to America” and “Death to Karzai” chanted the demonstrators.

 

An American Hero Blasts Republican Legislation

“You know what? People should have a say in how they live their work lives.”

Captain “Sully” Sullenberger

 

The man who landed a jet airliner on the Hudson River, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, was on MSNBC last night, harshly criticizing a piece of Republican legislation that would essentially gut aviation safety legislation that was put into effect last year through the efforts of the Families of Continental Flight 3407, referencing the plane that crashed and killed 50 people near the Buffalo Niagara airport about two years ago.

Sullenberger told the Buffalo News:

“I think it represents a giant step backward in terms of aviation safety,” said Sullenberger, who reached out to The Buffalo News to discuss the amendment put forth by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

If Shuster’s amendment becomes law, “at some point in the future, we don’t know when, it’s likely people will die unnecessarily,” Sullenberger said.

Powerful words from a genuine American hero.

I would also like to mention something Sullenberger, a long-time union member, said in response to a question about Republican efforts to curtail collective bargaining rights. He mentioned that as a member of his union’s safety committee, he “made many important safety contributions that would not have happened had we not been organized.

And he also said this:

As an airline pilot, I was a proud union member for over 30 years. I saw that even at good companies it levels the playing field. No individual can stand up to the power of the organization, of management. It’s only collectively we have an effective voice. You know what? People should have a say in how they live their work lives.

Again, powerful words from a genuine American hero.

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