Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reading between the Republican Lines

Maybe we do live in the "post-truth" era. But ultimately, one has to conclude that the future of our republic depends on keeping the percentage of citizenry who willingly switch off their their higher brain functions to a manageable 18% (the estimated size of the worst components of Tea Party movement - the ones whose hatred of Barack Obama trumps any rationality, who rail against their "high taxes" when, in fact, Obama has LOWERED the tax burden on the middle class). A newly invigorated Democratic leadership (yes, health care reform was anything but universal health insurance, but give them some credit) is now going after the financial industry, and actually showing a modicum of teeth in the proposed legislation.

Both the Dem and GOP rhetoric positions both parties as being on the side of "Main Street" and their opponents as in the hip pocket of Wall Street. Well, in our post-modern age, is it possible that they are both right?
Guess again. The Rethuglican leadership are following the line-by-line strategy of a rather odd-looking political consultant named Frank Luntz. In January, Mr. Luntz wrote in a memo widely circulated in GOP circles: “Frankly, the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout.” Uhhh, anyone remember who was in power when the Big Bank Bailout was conceived?

In a 17-page memo titled, "The Language of Financial Reform," Luntz urged opponents of reform to frame the final product as filled with bank bailouts, lobbyist loopholes, and additional layers of complicated government bureaucracy.

"If there is one thing we can all agree on, it's that the bad decisions and harmful policies by Washington bureaucrats that in many ways led to the economic crash must never be repeated," Luntz wrote. "This is your critical advantage. Washington's incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support."

Luntz continued: "Ordinarily, calling for a new government program 'to protect consumers' would be extraordinary popular. But these are not ordinary times. The American people are not just saying 'no.' They are saying 'hell no' to more government agencies, more bureaucrats, and more legislation crafted by special interests."

In other words, take advantage of angry tea-baggers failure to look below the surface of Fox News' articulation of reality. Or, in one 3-letter word: LIE!!!!!!!!!!!! Just as they did with health care (position pieces courtesy of the same Mr. Luntz).

So of course, that stalwart senator from Kentucky, he of the weakest chin on Capitol Hill (and that ain't easy), Mitch McConnell, gets right out there spinning the rhetoric.

As Paul Krugman tells us: "It’s a truly shameless performance: Mr. McConnell is pretending to stand up for taxpayers against Wall Street while in fact doing just the opposite. In recent weeks, he and other Republican leaders have held meetings with Wall Street executives and lobbyists, in which the G.O.P. and the financial industry have sought to coordinate their political strategy.

"And let me assure you, Wall Street isn’t lobbying to prevent future bank bailouts. If anything, it’s trying to ensure that there will be more bailouts. By depriving regulators of the tools they need to seize failing financial firms, financial lobbyists increase the chances that when the next crisis strikes, taxpayers will end up paying a ransom to stockholders and executives as the price of avoiding collapse.

"Even more important, however, the financial industry wants to avoid serious regulation; it wants to be left free to engage in the same behavior that created this crisis. It’s worth remembering that between the 1930s and the 1980s, there weren’t any really big financial bailouts, because strong regulation kept most banks out of trouble. It was only with Reagan-era deregulation that big bank disasters re-emerged. In fact, relative to the size of the economy, the taxpayer costs of the savings and loan disaster, which unfolded in the Reagan years, were much higher than anything likely to happen under President Obama.

"To understand what’s really at stake right now, watch the looming fight over derivatives, the complex financial instruments Warren Buffett famously described as “financial weapons of mass destruction.” The Obama administration wants tighter regulation of derivatives, while Republicans are opposed. And that tells you everything you need to know.

"So don’t be fooled. When Mitch McConnell denounces big bank bailouts, what he’s really trying to do is give the bankers everything they want."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Whose country is it anyway?

These sorts of facts seem to be the in the blindspot of your average teabagger. Read it and weep. Thank you, benarmbruster for posting this for all of us to see.

Last week, Forbes magazine published what the top U.S. corporations paid in taxes last year. “Most egregious,” Forbes notes, is General Electric, which “generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion.” Big Oil giant Exxon Mobil, which last year reported a record $45.2 billion profit, paid the most taxes of any corporation, but none of it went to the IRS:

Exxon tries to limit the tax pain with the help of 20 wholly owned subsidiaries domiciled in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that (legally) shelter the cash flow from operations in the likes of Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi. No wonder that of $15 billion in income taxes last year, Exxon paid none of it to Uncle Sam, and has tens of billions in earnings permanently reinvested overseas.

Mother Jones’ Adam Weinstein notes that, despite benefiting from corporate welfare in the U.S., Exxon complains about paying high taxes, claiming that it threatens energy innovation research. Pat Garofalo at the Wonk Room notes that big corporations’ tax shelter practices similar to Exxon’s shift a $100 billion annual tax burden onto U.S. taxpayers. In fact, in 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that “two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005."

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Meet The New Boss

Obama Authorizes New Gas Drilling Off US Coasts
President Obama has unveiled a new plan to open up large swaths of the Atlantic, Gulf and Alaskan coasts to offshore oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades. On Wednesday, Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said drilling permits would be issued along the East Coast from Delaware to the central coast of Florida. New areas of the southeast Gulf Coast will also be open to drilling, as will the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. Speaking at Andrews Air Force Base, Obama said the plan would help lead the US toward energy independence.

Judge: NSA Wiretapping Program Illegal
A federal judge has ruled the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program was illegal and in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the federal district court in San Francisco ruled the government illegally intercepted the phone calls of an Oregon-based Islamic charity called Al Haramain in 2004. Both the Bush and Obama administrations had tried to dismiss the suit claiming a trial could result in the release of state secrets. But Judge Walker rejected the state secrets argument. Attorney Jon Eisenberg said the ruling marks an “implicit repudiation of the Bush-Cheney theory of executive power.”

Obama Appoints Pesticide Executive to Top Trade Post

And food justice advocates are criticizing President Obama’s recent appointment of a top pesticide industry executive to a key trade position. The executive, Islam Siddiqui, was named the US Trade Representative’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator in a spate of recent appointments. Siddiqui is a former vice president and lobbyist at CropLife America, a group of the major industrial players in the pesticide industry, including Syngenta, Monsanto and Dow Chemical. A coalition of over eighty environmental, family farm and consumer advocacy organizations had campaigned against his nomination.

Study: Homeowner Program Favoring White Borrowers
A new survey from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition has raised new questions about the Obama administration’s $75 billion Home Affordable Modification Program. The program is designed to provide financial incentives for mortgage lenders and servicers to reduce monthly payments for struggling homeowners. The survey found white homeowners are almost 50 percent more likely to receive a loan modification under the mortgage program than African Americans or Latinos. Meanwhile, loan servicers foreclose on delinquent African American borrowers more quickly than white or Latino borrowers.

News briefs courtesy of Democracy Now!