Tuesday Reads: A Mixed Bag

Good Morning!!

I have a mixed bag of interesting reads for you this morning, if I do say so myself. So let’s get right to it.

I’ll start out with that infamous Republican conspiracy theory based on an old UN initiative, “Agenda 21,” which has been in the news again recently. I wrote a post about it about a year ago that I called Dark Ages America.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably be hearing more about this nutty conspiracy, because there’s a new book coming out today–a dystopian novel supposedly authored by Glenn Beck–and it’s titled Agenda 21. Here’s a quote from the book, published on Amazon’s item page:

“I was just a baby when we were relocated and I don’t remember much. Everybody has that black hole at the beginning of their life. That time you can’t remember. Your first step. Your first taste of table food. My real memories begin in our assigned living area in Compound 14.”
Just a generation ago, this place was called America. Now, after the worldwide implementation of a UN-led program called Agenda 21, it’s simply known as “the Republic.” There is no president. No Congress. No Supreme Court. No freedom.

There are only the Authorities.

Citizens have two primary goals in the new Republic: to create clean energy and to create new human life. Those who cannot do either are of no use to society. This bleak and barren existence is all that eighteen-year-old Emmeline has ever known. She dutifully walks her energy board daily and accepts all male pairings assigned to her by the Authorities. Like most citizens, she keeps her head down and her eyes closed.

Until the day they come for her mother.

“You save what you think you’re going to lose.”

Woken up to the harsh reality of her life and her family’s future inside the Republic, Emmeline begins to search for the truth. Why are all citizens confined to ubiquitous concrete living spaces? Why are Compounds guarded by Gatekeepers who track all movements? Why are food, water and energy rationed so strictly? And, most important, why are babies taken from their mothers at birth? As Emmeline begins to understand the true objectives of Agenda 21 she realizes that she is up against far more than she ever thought. With the Authorities closing in, and nowhere to run, Emmeline embarks on an audacious plan to save her family and expose the Republic—but is she already too late?

Except, I found out today that Beck didn’t really write the book; he just purchased the concept from his co-author Harriet Parke, the real author. I never knew you could do that–did you? From “I got duped by Glenn Beck!” by “Sarah Cypher”:

Two weeks ago I discovered, to my surprise, that I had line-edited an early draft of Glenn Beck’s new novel, “Agenda 21.” Glenn Beck! At the time I was working on it, the manuscript belonged to its actual author, a woman named Harriet Parke, who lives a few minutes from my aunt. But a year and a few lawyers later, Glenn Beck purchased the right to call himself its creator, and Ms. Parke agreed to be presented as a ghostwriter.

Cypher doesn’t agree with Glenn Beck’s politics (or Harriet Parke’s), but she thought she was editing a novel for nice lady who lives near her aunt, not Glenn Beck, Inc. In fact, Cypher agrees with the goals of Agenda 21, which is, after all, simply a set of non-binding recommendations for city planning. The book is still the same one written originally written by Harriet Parke, but Cypher worries that having Glenn Beck’s name on it will transform it from a fun futuristic read to a right wing political manifesto.

Glenn Beck is more than just the nice guy whose publishing house is bringing Ms. Parke’s work to a national audience. He’s also a professional ideologue whose establishment confers the full force of its intellectually and morally irresponsible franchise on a novel that distorts the truth about Agenda 21, which is doing good work in the world. Glenn Beck is not writing as an artist, bound by the conventions of his art, plying his craft on the willing human imagination. Hell, he’s not writing at all. He is a brand, with a budget, and with an agenda of his own. Ultimately, by assigning his brand to the novel “Agenda 21,” Beck turns a form of entertainment into a political lie, a tool for politicizing people.

It’s an interesting piece. Do check it out.

Everyone has heard by now that Hostess Brands is going out of business after being taken over by a vulture capitalist firm. Yesterday, a judge talked the company into negotiating a little more with one of its unions.

Hostess Brands Inc. and its second largest union agreed on Monday to try to resolve their differences after a bankruptcy court judge noted that the parties hadn’t gone through the critical step of private mediation. That means the maker of the spongy cake with the mysterious cream filling won’t go out of business yet.

The news comes after the maker of Ho Ho’s, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread last week moved to liquidate and sell off its assets in bankruptcy court. Hostess cited a crippling strike started on Nov. 9 by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents about 30 percent of Hostess workers.

‘‘Many people, myself included, have serious questions as to the logic behind this strike,’’ said Judge Robert Drain, who heard the case in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York in White Plains, N.Y. ‘‘Not to have gone through that step leaves a huge question mark in this case.’’

The mediation talks are set to take place Tuesday, with the liquidation hearing set to resume on Wednesday if an agreement isn’t reached. Jeff Freund, an attorney for the bakers union, said any guess as to how the talks will go would be ‘‘purely speculative.’’

Frankly, I think the world could live without Twinkies and Ding Dongs–I was never a fan. But the jobs are needed, that’s for sure. But as long as we’re talking about Twinkies, we can revisit “the Twinkie defense.” At Counterpunch, the great Paul Krassner recounts the story behind the story:

A dozen police cars had been set on fire, which in turn set off their alarms, underscoring the angry shouts from five thousand understandably angry gays. This was in 1979. I had been covering the trial of Dan White for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The ex-cop had confessed to killing Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Dale Metcalf, a former Merry Prankster who had become a lawyer, told me how he happened to be playing chess with a friend, Steven Scherr, one of White’s attorneys. Metcalf had just read Orthomolecular Nutrition by Abram Hoffer. He questioned Scherr about White’s diet and learned that, while under stress, White would consume candy bars and soft drinks. Metcalf recommended the book to Scherr, suggesting the author as an expert witness. After all, in his book, Hoffer revealed a personal vendetta against doughnuts, and White had once eaten five doughnuts in a row.

Hoffer didn’t testify, but his influence permeated the courtroom. White’s defense team presented that bio-chemical explanation of his behavior, blaming it on compulsive gobbling down of sugar-filled junk-food snacks. Psychiatrist Martin Blinder testified that, on the night before the murders, White “just sat there in front of the TV set, binging on Twinkies.” Another psychiatrist stated, “If not for the aggravating fact of junk food, the homicides might not have taken place.”

In my notebook, I scribbled “Twinkie defense,” and wrote about it in my next report. On the 25th anniversary of that double execution, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that, “During the trial, no one but well-known satirist Paul Krassner — who may have coined the phrase ‘Twinkie defense’ — played up that angle.” And so it came to pass that a pair of political assassinations was transmuted into voluntary manslaughter.

It gets much better. Please go read this entertaining piece at the link.

There’s a great post by Karoli at Crooks and Liars: GOP Governors Unwittingly Move U.S. Toward Single Payer Health Care

Republican governors are holding a boycott. As the deadline looms large for them to establish state-based exchanges, they are refusing to do so, one after the other.

I applaud them. No, really. I do….

When these Republican governors opt out of the state-based exchanges, they are not opting their states out of Obamacare. I’m sure they’re trying to set up future litigation as yet another roadblock, but fortunately there were safeguards written into the law in order to thwart effective “secession” from the coverage rules.

Each of those Republican governors has just abrogated their authority over the insurance exchanges to the federal government, who is now free to step in and offer people in their state health insurance based on a national risk pool, rather than state based. The bigger the pool, the cheaper it is.

Insurers are already whining about how they’ll be out of the health insurance business altogether in a matter of a few years. Good. This should hasten the process and bring about single payer that much faster.

Read the details at the link.

I love this piece by Scott Terry at HuffPo: Gay Cowboys, Utah and Mitt Romney. You really need to read the whole thing–it’s not long. I’ll just tell you that Terry has written a memoir of growing up gay and a fundamentalist Christian and he has a few choice words about Mitt Romney and his shock at losing the election.

So today I am reading headlines of how the Republican Party leaders are lamenting their election loss and speculating on why their candidate couldn’t carry the Republican Party to victory. In the weeks since his defeat, I’ve read headlines that declare Mitt Romney to be “stunned” at his loss. Stunned? Really?

Here’s a newsflash for Romney: In 1885, when your Mormon great-grandfather had four wives, it would have been acceptable for elected officials to think their obligation was to solely represent their white male constituents. Women didn’t have the right to vote at that time. Neither did most people of color. The world has changed. Perhaps you and Utah and the Mormon Church have a ways to go before you catch up with the rest of society, but it is no longer acceptable to believe that you only need to appeal to white male Christians. If you dare to ask for the privilege to govern the people of this country, you must govern for everyone, even for the two gay guys who would have preferred a king-sized bed in Utah.

While you’re at HuffPo, check out this one: Political Forecaster Nate Silver Talks About Being Gay. It’s another short but pithy read.

That’s about all I have room for today. I realize I didn’t give you a lot of breaking news, but I hope you found something you enjoyed.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Labor Day: Celebrate the 99% and the protections we earned

I’ve joined Joseph Cannon at Cannonfire who is now displaying this sentiment:

Because even though I remain angry at Obama, I’ve “fallen in hate” with Mitt Romney. And I’m horrified at the prospect of that creepy Randroid Paul Ryan being one heartbeat away from the highest office. At any rate, I suspect that Ryan will be the true power in a Romney administration. He’ll be the new Dick Cheney — except his brief will be domestic policy, not foreign policy.

I have just been through yet another national disaster. I’ve had more than my share of them.  I just finished my FEMA registration for help.  My delightful private insurance company got the state to pass a law to raise my deductible from Hurricane Damage to about what they paid me after Katrina which didn’t cover enough as it was.  Now, I pay an exorbitant rate and I’m staring down damage with about a $7,000 hurricane deductible.  The good hands people have their hands out for my premiums but that’s about it. I get phone calls, visits, and lip service for that.  I’m on my own for whatever nature deals me except for the idea in the US that when our citizens are down and out, we help them back up.  This is an idea that is nonexistent in today’s Republican Party and in their candidates Governor “I got mine” and Congressman “I got mine and want yours too” and they are both willing to lie to improve their lots in life and diminish ours.

I’m thinking about Labor Day and the things we now have because of the Labor Movement, FDR, LBJ and even (gasp) Richard Nixon, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  These were leaders that looked to the needs of the country and the people.  Teddy Roosevelt saw our vast national treasures and preserved them for all Americans. Richard Nixon did not deny the impact of pollution on our natural resources or toxins on our hapless workers and families.  Eisenhower knew that we needed vast infrastructure to grow our economy and our people.  FDR and LBJ knew that if the least among us could not provide for themselves, we needed to give them a hand up and pull them into  a growing, educated, and productive, middle class.  These are things that the current Republican Dastardly Duo would like to remove from us and have been actively working to remove for us. Their vision for America is an America that works for only them and their select cronies.  I will not abide by that.

I’m am thinning out my Facebook friends list rapidly of people I knew around 4 years ago that I thought supported my vision–not the Romney/Ryan vision–because it is also the vision of Bill and Hillary Clinton.  I’m all fine with the support of third party candidates but any one that tries to send me propaganda that Romney is a feminist based on hiring a few women years ago back in Massachusetts and therefor deserves my vote can frankly sell their frigging uterus and announce themselves a neutered slave imho. You’re going to be deleted from contact with me on Twitter and Facebook and you’re not going to be very welcome here either.  I will not watch everything I care about–our immigrant heritage, our appreciation for the rights of minorities, women, GLBT communities, and others and our heritage of doing right by the least among us–be destroyed by greedy Vulture Capitalists who lie.  I don’t care how mad you are at Obama, if you’re encouraging this group of race-baiting, women-hating, middle class destroying, religiously intolerant Republicans then be prepared to axed from my list and be moderated into byte hell here at Sky Dancing.  Again, I’m fine with any one that wants to tell me about Jill or Rosanne even though I will argue if you live in some states we should have a frank discussion about Al Gore and Ralph Nader eventually.  But, I do not–under any circumstances–want to read any one that tells me that the Romney/Ryan ticket are our friends.  I don’t care if you decide to skip the presidential ticket either.  Although, again, I’m not sure if I could do that if I lived in a swing state.  I am all happy with you criticizing POTUS because on many, many issues, the man deserves criticism.

But, I cannot think of ANY circumstances under which Romney or Ryan are going to be a friend to working people, teachers, firefighters, forest rangers, women, immigrants, gay men, lesbians, transexual and bisexual people, animals, the planet earth, children, or the general welfare of the United States of America.

The new platform — with its call to reshape Medicare to give fixed amounts of money to future beneficiaries so they can buy their own coverage, its tough stance on illegal immigration and its many calls to shrink the size and scope of government — shows just how far rightward the party has shifted in both tone and substance in the decades since it adopted the 1980 platform, which was considered a triumph for conservatives at the time.

Subtitled “We Believe in America,” the platform keeps its focus on the party’s traditional support for low taxes, national security and social conservatism. And it delves into a number of politically charged issues. It calls state court decisions recognizing same-sex marriage “an assault on the foundations of our society,” opposes gun legislation that would limit “the capacity of clips or magazines,” supports the “public display of the Ten Commandments,” calls on the federal government to drop its lawsuits challenging state laws adopted to combat illegal immigration, and salutes the Republican governors and lawmakers who “saved their states from fiscal disaster by reforming their laws governing public employee unions.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, the chairman of the party’s platform committee, described it as “a conservative vision of governance” in his speech at the convention.

There are tons of things in the GOP party platform that are so offensive to me that I cannot believe another human being would consider them anything other than anathema.  It includes shit like  “we support English as the nation’s official language.”  It damns Democrats for  “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.”  Think about this anti-abortion plank which recognizes no dissent and states unequivocally that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”  I have not spent my life as a feminist activist to watch every single thing I’ve worked and fought for burned to the ground.

Is that your vision for our country?  If it is, frankly, I do not want to hear from you or know you.  Here’s a Bush Republican–Matthew Dowd–talking about today’s Republican ticket. (h/t to RalphB and Joseph Cannon)

I cannot abide with any one who says rescuing people from their flooded-out homes is not the responsibility of our society.  I cannot abide with any one that says providing basic social insurance so that the elderly can live their lives out in dignity compared to hoping and praying the money doesn’t run out and the market doesn’t abscond with their retirement savings is just the private sector at work.  I do not want our children educated by a bunch of ignorant religious zealots who do not believe in the truth or science.  I believe in public education.  PERIOD.  You can fricking pay for religious indoctrination with your own money.  I will gladly pay to preserve our national treasures like Yellowstone, The French Quarter, and other historic and natural places.  I do not want them farmed out to the likes of the Koch Brothers as a source of profit to be pillaged, polluted and destroyed.  I do not believe you have the right to tell people who to marry and who to love and when life begins.  I do not want anything that’s more efficiently put into the public trust turned over to vulture capitalists to leverage, sell, and destroy.  I do not want to hear about how evil public workers are because they are willing to take lower pay for good secure pensions, jobs, and benefits.  I want every one to have that.  If you believe any of that and you can still support Romney and Ryan, you’re a damned fool and I don’t want to hear from you.  I don’t want to read you. I don’t want to have anything to do with you.  Again,  we can disagree completely on the effectiveness or whatever of the Obama administration.  I hear you on that.  But if you support evil, you’re evil as far as I’m concerned.  Go find some hell hole and hang with the other demons.

Meanwhile, I want to raise up the people who did fight for our civilization and who fought to make life better for all of us in this country.

It is essential that there should be organizations of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize. My appeal for organized labor is two-fold; to the outsider and the capitalist I make my appeal to treat the laborer fairly, to recognize the fact that he must organize that there must be such organization, that the laboring man must organize for his own protection, and that it is the duty of the rest of is to help him and not hinder him in organizing

Teddy Roosevelt in the so-called Bull Moose Speech

I have always been interested in organizations for labor. I have always felt that it was important that everyone who was a worker join a labor organization, because the ideals of the organized labor movement are high ideals.

They mean that we are not selfish in our desires, that we stand for the good of the group as a whole, and that is something which we in the United States are learning every day must be the attitude of every citizen.

We must all of us come to look upon our citizenship as a trusteeship, something that we exercise in the interests of the whole people.

Only if we cooperate in the battle to make this country a real democracy where the interests of all people are considered, only when each one of us does this will genuine democracy be achieved.

We hope to make the great battle which is before us today a battle of democracy versus a dictatorship.

I could not help thinking as we sang “God Bless America” that you who have seen hardship for so many weeks in your fight to better conditions for everyone involved must sometimes think that things are not as they should be in this country. I am afraid that I agree with you.

I know many parts of the country and there are many that I would like to see changed, and I hope eventually they will be changed.

But in spite of that I hope that we all feel that the mere fact that we can meet together and talk about organization for the worker and democracy in this country is in itself something for which we ought to be extremely thankful.

There are many places where there can be no longer any participation or decision on the part of the people as to what they will or will not do. And so, in spite of everything, we can still sing “God Bless America” and really feel that we are moving forward slowly, sometimes haltingly, but always in the hope and in the interest of the people in the whole country.

 Eleanor Roosevelt Address to the IBEW

“Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor — those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized — do a disservice to the cause of democracy.

Fifty years or so ago the American Labor Movement was little more than a group of dreamers, and look at it now. From coast to coast, in factories, stores, warehouse and business establishments of all kinds, industrial democracy is at work.

Employees, represented by free and democratic trade unions of their own choosing, participate actively in determining their wages, hours and working conditions. Their living standards are the highest in the world. Their job rights are protected by collective bargaining agreements. They have fringe benefits that were unheard of less than a generation ago.

Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor. But their work goes beyond their own jobs, and even beyond our borders.”

Our unions have fought for aid to education, for better housing, for development of our national resources, and for saving the family-sized farms. They have spoken, not for narrow self-interest, but for the public interest and for the people.”

John F Kennedy

My daughters likely learned this song in utero because I love it and I sing it so much.  This will always be my favorite labor song.  Please share yours with us.


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I can hardly believe we’re headed into the last quarter of 2011.  Such  a year we’ve had!

So, the GOP is going after some of the things for which I will happily contribute tax dollars.  They’ve got some pretty whacked values as far as I’m concerned.

Setting a collision course with Democrats that could drag out for months, House Republicans on Thursday unveiled plans to cut federal money for job training, heating subsidies and grants to better-performing schools.

The draft measure for labor, health and education programs also seeks to block implementation of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, cut off federal funds for National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood, and reduce eligibility for grants for low-income college students.

Democrats and tea party Republicans opposed the bill, blocking it from advancing through even the easy initial steps of the appropriations process on Capitol Hill. Instead of moving through the Appropriations Committee and the House as a whole, the $153 billion measure is instead expected to be wrapped into a larger omnibus spending bill this fall or winter that would fund the day-to-day operating budgets of Cabinet agencies.

Negotiations between Republicans controlling the House, the Democratic Senate and the White House are sure to be arduous. The measure is laced with conservative policy “riders” opposed by Democrats that would affect worker protections under federal labor laws and block the Education Department from enforcing rules on for-profit colleges that are often criticized for pushing students to take on too much debt.

“It looks like we’re in for a long, difficult process,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said excessive and wasteful spending over the years had put many programs and agencies on “an irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal path.”

Actually all of those Dubya Tax cuts and wars and letting Wall Street Run amok with speculation instead of investment is what put us on that “irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal path” and most of them voted for all of it.  I’m not willing to bail out any more of their donor base with my hard earned dollars by defunding the future of our children.  What on earth can we do about these evil people and the feckless dems that won’t fight them?

The court fights over the new health care law have been stepped up and SCOTUS has come into play in a big way.  Which of the justices are likely to uphold AEIcare-cum-ChafeeCare-cum-DoleCare-cum-RomneyCare-cum-Obamacare?

The four more liberal justices on the court — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Obama appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — should have no trouble reading the Constitution as bestowing broad powers on the federal government to regulate all manner of commerce. Although the court in recent years has pinched back congressional efforts to use the Commerce Clause to promulgate laws prohibiting guns near schools and those targeting violence against women, these were clearly non-commercial activities and quite different from the health-care law and its regulation of the medical insurance marketplace. Stronger and more directly applicable precedents remain, in which the court blessed the government’s regulation of wheat and marijuana production because these activities had an impact on interstate commerce.

The marijuana case (known formally as Gonzales v. Raich) may be particularly important because two of the more conservative justices — Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy — joined with their more liberal colleagues to uphold the law under the government’s Commerce Clause powers.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito — both George W. Bush appointees — shouldn’t be counted out either. Roberts and Alito joined an opinion in 2010 that recognized the government’s “broad authority” to enact a civil detention scheme for sexual predators under a different constitutional provision. This provision allows federal lawmakers “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper” to uphold the powers assigned to Congress — including the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Michelle Bachmann’s campaign is running out of cash.  Even the NY Post thinks she may not make it to the Iowa Caucuses.

Will Michele Bachmann make it to Iowa? Insiders are whispering that the Tea Party darling’s financials are grim and she may be out of the race before she makes it to the Iowa caucus in February, even though she has a strong base in the state. Sources tell us say Bachmann’s skeletal staff are holding their collective breath until the deadline to disclose her fundraising report on Oct. 15. Meanwhile, we hear a computer vendor has called her campaign headquarters threatening to shut down the power due to an outstanding bill. Sources say she had about $400,000 at the beginning of September, but also stacks of bills. “She does not like to ask for money. She should have been focusing on big donors about three months ago,” a source said. “She’s only cultivated low dollar donors with direct mailings and that’s hurt her.” But at a rally in Virginia yesterday, Bachmann declared that she does not intend to back out of the race. “We intend to be the comeback kid in this race,” she said. Her rep said, “None of that is true.”

There’s a two part series at Bloomberg written by Collin Woodard on how the U.S. is really a country of regions.  Part One is here.   Part Two is here.  It’s a really interest read and something I have thought about for some time as I’ve tried to find some place in this country where I can live in peace.  For one, I’m trying to leave any region that’s described as bible buckle, bible belt, or bible anything!

Forget the state boundaries. Arbitrarily chosen, they often slash through cohesive cultures, creating massive cultural fissures in states like Maryland, Oregon and New York. Equally burdensome are the regional designations with which we try to analyze national politics — the Northeast, West, Midwest and South. They’re illusions masking the real forces driving the affairs of our sprawling continent: the 11 regional cultures of North America.

These 11 nations — Yankeedom, Tidewater, New Netherland, New France, Deep South, Greater Appalachia, the Midlands, First Nation, the Far West, the Left Coast, El Norte — have been hiding in plain sight throughout our history. You see them outlined on linguists’ dialect maps, cultural anthropologists’ maps of material culture regions, cultural geographers’ maps of religious regions, campaign strategists’ maps of political geography and historians’ maps of the patterns of settlement across the continent. I’m not the first person to have recognized the importance of these regional cultures. In 1969, Kevin Phillips, then a Republican campaign strategist, identified the distinct boundaries and values of several of these nations and used them to accurately prophesize the Reagan Revolution in his “Emerging Republican Majority,” a political cult classic.

More and more groups are joining the move to take on and occupy Wall Street. The New York Transportation Workers are the latest to announce they will join the protest today.

Occupy Wall Street has been picking up some decent support from unions in the past few days. Yesterday we reported that the Teamsters Union declared their support for protestors, and we also found out that the United Pilots Union had members at the protest demonstrating in uniform.

Today we learned the Industrial Workers of the World put a message of support on their website as well.

UPDATE: Verizon union workers have joined the protestors in NYC.

McClatchy reports that mortgage modification are still a mess even after four years. Quelle surprise!

Today there are at least 4.2 million homeowners who, like Palomo, are late on their mortgage payments or somewhere in the delinquency and foreclosure process. The first wave of foreclosures came during the 2008 financial crisis as subprime mortgages given to weak borrowers imploded. Now the subsequent economic downturn and high unemployment keep housing depressed.

The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both offered incentives for lenders to help homeowners modify their mortgages. Those efforts haven’t achieved much.

And four years into the housing crisis, banks and their bill collectors, known as mortgage servicers, are still under fire for their response to troubled borrowers.

“I would say they are somewhat better than they were three years ago, but still woefully inadequate to meet the demand, given the still remarkably high levels of distressed borrowers they are attempting to deal with,” said Paul Leonard, director of the California office of the Center for Responsible Lending, a Durham, N.C.-based advocacy group.

From December 2009 through June, more than 1.6 million government-backed mortgage modifications had been started, but only 791,000 became permanent. These numbers remain well below the goal of 4 million modifications that the Obama administration set for itself.

That should give you a few juicy bits to chew on with some coffee!! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Wednesday Reads: Bully Teachers? No, Bully Gov. Walker…

Good Wednesday Morning.

Let’s start this morning’s post off with a bang…Or should I say long skirts and tea bags?

Longer Skirts and No Coffeemakers: How Gov. Scott Walker Wants WI School Boards to Save Money | Crooks and Liars

Instead of union contracts, Wisconsin teachers now have to abide by local handbooks suggested by Gov. Scott Walker. What does refusing to allow workers to help a sick colleague or longer skirts have to do with saving money? And just listen to the nasty wingnuts in the audience at the New Berlin school board meeting. Via the Blue Cheddar blog:

The “tools” Walker has handed to local governments are supposedly meant to help cut costs. However the changes to the New Berlin school workplace approved August 29 don’t look like mere cost-savings to me. New Berlin Education Association President Diane Lazewski agrees in MJS: “I would be surprised to see any other handbook as punitive as ours,” I should note that all details aren’t available until 9/8 and changes occur 10/1 according to a document from the blog Teachers Against Walker

Update: This 51 page Draft of School District of New Berlin Employee Handbook – Parts A and B states that it goes into effect 9/1/11

A few of the changes:

A ‘sick bank’ which allows teachers to donate sickleave to seriously ill colleagues will be eliminated.
–No set pay for overtime; only stipends
–Elementary teachers work an added 205 hours without added pay.
–Secondary teachers work an added 95 hours without added pay.
and there are odd restrictions such as
–Dress Code: Skirts below knee, no sweatshirts, no jeans, no large logos, no open shirts, etc. and
–The loss of all microwaves, refrigerators, and coffeemakers.

I called a young teacher, E., from Racine just before the meeting. E. said New Berlin’s handbook is the worst of a new crop of handbooks he’s seen. Handbooks now serve in lieu of contracts for public school employees where contracts have expired.

So now that the handbooks replace the union contract, what kind of review process do you think is allowed under the new law?

Greenfield aside, teacher protests over benefits, handbooks seem rare – JSOnline

When I interviewed School District of Greenfield Superintendent Conrad Farner a few weeks ago for the handbook story, he said that they interpreted the new law to mean that allowing teachers to review handbook drafts or offer input on the changes being made would fall under the definition of collective bargaining. That was illegal under the new law, Farner had said.

The teachers cannot even review the handbooks…It really is unbelievable that these school boards have free rein when it comes to any new handbook regulations that affect the teacher’s salary, health care and planning.

Morning State News Briefs: | Pierce County Herald | Ellsworth, Wisconsin

As police looked on, hundreds of people on both sides cheered-and-booed last night as the New Berlin School Board unanimously approved a new employee handbook for its teachers. Like others throughout Wisconsin, it was developed without teacher input under the new state law which limits most public union bargaining. But New Berlin became a lightning rod after teachers in nearby Greenfield argued with their school board last week over a new employee handbook – and police were called to settle things down. Last night’s meeting in New Berlin was moved to the district’s auditorium. Teachers from other districts came in support of New Berlin’s union, while taxpayers held up signs saying “Collective Bullying – Stop Union Bullies Now.” Union president Diane Lazewski said she believed the work rules set by the school board are more restrictive than others throughout the state. They include longer work-days, new limits on sick leave benefits and post-retirement health benefits, no more pay for substitute teachers while they prepare for classes, and two evaluations per year without prior notice. School Board member Art Marquardt said his panel was not trying to be punitive. But he said the elected officials are now the dominant voice instead of the union and quote, “That’s hard for some people to swallow.”

What the hell is wrong with these people? The teachers are the bullies? No, the Koch Brothers and Gov. Scott Walker are the ones forcing the teachers into this ridiculous regulation of handbooks.  Of course, now that the teachers are “at-will” employees, they can be fired with no cause or reason…and with the new Wisconsin school year starting in the next couple days, let’s see if this gets any attention in the MSM. It really is a sad state of affairs for these Wisconsin educators, but I feel that what they are going through is only a preview for many other school districts in states that are looking to do away with collective bargaining and teacher unions.

The estimated death toll has been released by the Libyan Rebels.  Rebel leaders put Libya death toll at 50,000 – Africa, World – The Independent

An estimated 50,000 people have been killed in Libya since the start of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, according to the rebels’ military leadership.

Details of the death toll come as the Transitional National Council (TNC) gave Gaddafi supporters – increasingly pushed back to loyalist strongholds such as Sirte – four days to surrender or face a full-scale military assault.

I would not be surprised if that number goes up.  The stories of mass graves are very disturbing to read.

In a few days a new exhibit will be opening at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  ‘September 11: Remembrance and Reflection’ at National Museum of American History | History News Network

SOURCE: WaPo (8-16-11)

Within weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Smithsonian Institution began collecting a wide range of artifacts recovered from the three sites where the hijacked planes went down.

In an exhibit opening Sept. 3, the National Museum of American History will let visitors get much closer for a more intimate experience. The museum plans to depart from the usual glass-covered displays and assemble the objects on open, uncovered tables.

September 11: Remembrance and Reflection” contains about 60 objects from the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa.

We still have the suit and shoes my husband was wearing when he ran when the second tower fell…that was the first thing he did when he got home that night, he took the suit off and put it in a big black plastic trash bag.  It was covered in the dust from the towers, and no doubt the incinerated remains of the victims of the attack. If you are in the DC area, please go take a look at the new exhibit, and let us know what you thought of it.

I guess Obama is making some changes in the ATF, due to the Fast and Furious scandal.  A.T.F. Chief Is Replaced After Failed Gun-Trafficking Inquiry – NYTimes.com

The Obama administration on Tuesday replaced two top Justice Department officials associated with an ill-fated investigation into a gun-trafficking network in Arizona that has been at the center of a political conflagration.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the resignation of the United States attorney in Phoenix, Dennis K. Burke, and the reassignment of the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kenneth E. Melson.

The two officials became the highest-profile political casualties yet in the fallout from a disputed effort to take down a weapons-smuggling ring based in Arizona and linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Give the NYT link a click to get the update on the investigation into this “operation” if you haven’t kept up with it.

Lastly, there are 20 new endangered crocodiles in the world today.  Rare Siamese crocodiles hatched in Lao PDR

A recently hatched Siamese crocodile at the Laos Zoo, part of an effort by the government of Lao PDR and the Wildlife Conservation Society to replenish the wild population of this critically endangered species. (Credit: M. Douangmyxay/WCS Laos Program)
 Working with the government of Lao PDR, the Wildlife Conservation Society has helped to successfully hatch a clutch of 20 Siamese crocodiles, a species threatened across its range by hunting, habitat fragmentation and loss, and other factors.
Hatched from eggs taken from the wild and incubated at the Laos Zoo, the baby crocodiles represent a success for a new program that works to save the Siamese crocodile and the wetlands and associated biodiversity of Laos’ Savannakhet Province.

Isn’t that a cute little critter?

I always thought the sound those baby alligators and crocodiles make is such an endearing cry…

…but just wait until they start to answer back!

Well, I know it is a lame morning post, but I am on my third day with this massive migraine, and the exhaustion is getting to me.

If you have any links be sure to share them…see you later in the comments.


Why Did Republicans Shut Down the FAA?

Somehow I missed this story on Saturday, what with all the other horrors that have been in the news lately. House Republicans have shut down the Federal Aviation Administration, costing taxpayers millions in uncollected taxes and putting 4,000 people out of work immediately, with 90,000 jobs in jeopardy.


From the AFL-CIO Now Blog

…House Republicans refused to pass a funding authorization bill, money for airport improvements has dried up and construction workers at many airports have been sent home.

Republicans grounded the FAA because they want to take away Democratic union elections for of aviation and rail workers.

Congress could have passed temporary spending authority for the FAA, as it has 20 times in the past without controversy. But like their tactics on debt ceiling negotiations, Republicans are demanding their way at any cost.

Not only is the FAA shutdown costing jobs, but it’s costing the federal government $200 million a week in uncollected airline ticket fees. That lost revenue is added to the national debt Republicans claim they are so concerned about. On top of that, instead of reducing ticket prices, the airlines are pocketing the fees.

The shutdown is putting construction projects on hold all over the country. In the San Francisco bay area, for example,

About 60 employees of Devcon Construction were set to show up at Oakland International Airport on Monday to continue working on the airport’s brand-new air traffic control tower.

That is, until they were told not to, until further notice. “We were informed Friday to stop all construction activity,” said Dan Anello, a project manager at the Milpitas-based company.

That was when, the House, in its infinite wisdom, refused to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration’s operating authority, resulting in the partial shutdown of the agency, the halting of funds for dozens of similar projects nationwide, and further additions to the nation’s unemployment rolls.

If you Google, you’ll find lots of similar stories. According to the Washington Post, the shutdown is not going to end anytime soon.

Though planes continued to fly unhindered nationwide, a dispute about service to a handful of tiny airports crippled Federal Aviation Administration operations for the third day Monday, costing the agency an estimated $30 million a day.

With House Republicans and Senate Democrats apparently in locked positions, and compromise an elusive pursuit on Capitol Hill this month, no one was ready to predict when funding might be restored to the federal agency.

“Don’t hold your breath,” advised one Senate staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

the $30 million per day is from lost tax revenues.

The Christian Science Monitor confirms that the dispute involves Republican efforts to hinder union organizing.

Democrats said the real issue is that Republicans are insisting Democrats accept a host of controversial provisions added to a long-term FAA spending bill approved by the House in April. Among their key differences is a GOP proposal sought by industry that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.

The Senate passed its own long-term funding bill in February without the labor provision. Democrats insist the House must drop the provision. They’ve also accused Republicans of tying the elimination of rural air subsidies to their extension bill as a means to prod Democrats to make concessions on the labor issue.

The transformation of the U.S. into a third world country through the Shock Doctrine is certainly moving rapidly these days. The shocks are coming so quickly you barely have time to catch your breath before the next one hits.


Rick Santorum Steals Campaign Slogan from Langston Hughes Poem

From the LA Times:

Former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum announced Wednesday that he was forming an exploratory committee for a possible presidential run. His slogan was, and remains on his website, “Fighting to make America America again.”

On Thursday, the left-wing website ThinkProgress noticed the connection between Santorum’s slogan and Hughes’ poem. They caught up with Santorum at a New Hampshire event Thursday. Reporter Lee Fang asked Santorum about his use of the phrase:

FANG: Today, you unveiled your new campaign slogan, “Fighting to make America America again.” But was it intentional that this line was borrowed from the pro-union poem by the gay poet Langston Hughes?

SANTORUM: No, because I had nothing to do with that so …

FANG: Oh, alright thanks. Wait, did you have a clarification there? Was it just a coincidence?

SANTORUM: I didn’t know that. The folks who worked on that slogan for me didn’t inform me that that’s where it came from, if in fact it came from that.

Santorum he has read some of Langston Hughes poems, and the one he borrowed from is pretty well known. But Santorum claims he had “nothing to do with” choosing his own Campaign slogan! Watch the video (h/t Think Progress)

I knew Santorum was stupid, but this is really amazing. Langston Hughes was sympathetic to the Communist Party, although he never officially became a member. He was also initially opposed to African Americans fighting in WWII because of the way they were treated in the U.S. He was also gay, as Lee Fang told Santorum. Please follow me below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

It’s the end of the work week for those of you that still have jobs.  Also, it’s the ides of April.  Have you filed your taxes yet with the IRS?  Better yet, do you actually have a job and can you report income this year?  If so, you’re running against the wind these days. It’s not like most of our elected officials any where notice these days.  Jobs, unemployment, and collective bargaining rights appear to the farthest things from their little minds.  They’re still trying to figure out whose ass or fist is tightest.  A few fighters remain.  I’m going to start out with a 12 pack salute to those who still care for the working guy and gal.

Is a picture worth a 1000 words or can words make a picture too?  NY Congressman Bob Crowley copied Bob Dylan’s famous “Don’t Look Back” short film to make a few points.

Politico reports on the purpose of  Crowley’s show of words.

The video prompted MSNBC’s Luke Russert to tweet, “Rep. Joe Crowley channels his own Bob Dylan “Don’t Look Back” on the House floor.”

But Crowley Communications Director Courtney Gidner says that wasn’t the point of the exercise.

“While my boss is certainly a huge fan of Bob Dylan, the inspiration behind his ‘speechless’ speech was the GOP’s failure to produce a jobs-focused bill.”

I posted this in a down thread conversation but wanted to make sure you read this analysis from USA Today just in case you missed it.  Huge numbers of Americans are leaving the work force.  This is really worrisome.

The share of the population that is working fell to its lowest level last year since women started entering the workforce in large numbers three decades ago, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

Only 45.4% of Americans had jobs in 2010, the lowest rate since 1983 and down from a peak of 49.3% in 2000. Last year, just 66.8% of men had jobs, the lowest on record.

The bad economy, an aging population and a plateau in women working are contributing to changes that pose serious challenges for financing the nation’s social programs.

Over half of the the population is not working.  Working-age men are dropping out like flies.  This is not good for maintenance of programs like social security that rely on an increase in workers to fund current benefits.  It’s also a game change from 30-40 years ago.  I’ll be waiting to see what labor economists have to say about this.

Meanwhile, 1000s of workers protested the roll back of worker rights and budget cuts  in Michigan.  Working men and women in states all over the country have taken to the streets to protect their rights to participate in determining their work environment and compensation.

Thousands of people rallied at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Wednesday to protest Republican proposals to roll back labor rights and cut government services. Organizers put attendance at more than 10,000. Herb Sanders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees urged the crowd to begin recall campaigns against Gov. Rick Snyder and other top Republicans.

Herb Sanders: “We will recall the scoundrels one by one. If their agenda is keeping money in the pocket of fat-cat corporate CEOs, as opposed to keeping working Americans employed in fair wages with decent healthcare and decent schools in our neighborhoods, they’ve got to go.”

It appears that many voters have remorse over sending Tea Party candidates to elected office.  Florida is a stand out case.

Only three months removed from Governor Rick Scott’s (R) inauguration, a majority of Florida voters now say the state is headed in the wrong direction and that, if they could do it all over again, they wouldn’t have elected Scott in the first place, according to a new Suffolk University poll.

In the poll, 54% of voters said the state was headed in the wrong direction, compared to 30% who said it was going the right way. Further, just under half (49%) of all voters said they disapproved of Scott’s job performance, versus only 28% who said they approved.

Scott’s approval rating is so bad that the poll found him losing a hypothetical do-over election to Democrat Alex Sink by a ten-point margin, 41% to 31%.

Previous polls have also found Scott’s job approval deep underwater, including a Quinnipiac poll released earlier this month that pegged his approval to disapproval split at 35% to 48%. A March PPP poll showed Scott with an even worse 32%-55% split, and found him losing a do-over election — by a 20-point margin.

Scott was one of several freshman GOP governors swept into office last year amid the Republican wave nationwide. But since taking office, voters have rapidly soured on Scott as he’s pursued some drastic — and deeply unpopular — policies.

Labor leaders are none too happy with the President or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Neither of the legacy parties have workers’ interests in mind these days.

“Now, not only are we getting screwed by the Republicans but the Democrats are doing it too,” said one union official, characterizing the mood at a summit of labor leaders who are worried that Democrats seem unlikely to go to the mat for them as an election year approaches.

Presidents of several unions and an AFL-CIO spokesman declined to repeat their private criticism to a reporter Tuesday, a sign that labor feels it must still try to maintain a relationship with the Democratic Party, even if it’s deeply troubled . With Republicans increasingly shifting from private antagonism toward open war with organized labor, unreliable Democratic allies are the only allies the movement has, and it remains unclear whether disappointments will dampen enthusiasm among union activists and voters in the 2012 elections.

I’ll tell you that I have no idea where to go any more.  I’m torn between ‘throw the bums out’ and ‘none of the above’.  I’m beginning to think my dog knows more about economics than any one in the District beltway these days.

A lot of folks are arguing that the retirement age in developed nations should be raised to 70.  They want to work us until we drop dead, folks!  Here’s some on that from The Economist.

Yet too many people see longer working lives as a worry rather than an opportunity—and not just because they are going to be chained to their desks. Some fret that there will not be enough jobs to go around. This misapprehension, known to economists as the “lump of labour fallacy”, was once used to argue that women should stay at home and leave all the jobs for breadwinning males. Now lump-of-labourites say that keeping the old at work would deprive the young of employment. The idea that society can become more prosperous by paying more of its citizens to be idle is clearly nonsensical. On that reasoning, if the retirement age came down to 25 we would all be as rich as Croesus.

Raising the official retirement age is only part of the solution, for many workers retire before the official age. Martin Baily and Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute in Washington, DC, reckon that raising actual EU retirement ages to the official age would offset the impact of an ageing population over the next 20 years.

For that to happen, working practices and attitudes need to change. Western managers worry too much about the quality of older workers (see Schumpeter). In physically demanding occupations, it is true, some may be unable to work into their late 60s. The incapacitated will need disability benefits. Others will need to find a different job. But this should be less of a problem than it used to be now that economies are based on services not manufacturing. In knowledge-based jobs, age is less of a disadvantage. Although older people reason more slowly, they have more experience and, by and large, better personal skills. Even so, most people’s productivity does eventually decline with age; and pay needs to reflect this falling-off. Traditional seniority systems, under which people get promoted and paid more as they age, therefore need to change.

So, they’re going to work us until we drop and PAY us less for being old.  What a deal!!!  I frequently joke with my students that I will die at the podium and the administration will have to pry my cold, dead fingers off.  I have to admit that this is a melodramatic image, however, to die standing at a podium is better than being chained to a desk in the private sector again.  There’s only so many bad senior management decisions that one person should be forced to join in on in one life time. I’ve been party to opening too many of their eyes to their short roads to bankruptcy to do the private sector stupidity again. They all get away with those bad decisions too since they get to leave with good severance packages. I’d rather die poor than die inflicting pain and stupidity on people just because some guy went to seminar and got a wild hair.

Not that any of these old dudes ever pay for their bad mistakes or their lies.  Here’s a good example via Naked Capitalism and Yves: Senator Levin Claims Goldman Execs Perjured Themselves Before Congress on Mortgage Testimony.

Senator Carl Levin, in releasing the report, took aim at Goldman’s truthiness in its testimony before Congress and called on Federal prosecutors to examine whether Goldman committed perjury. Two issues are at stake. First it the Goldman claim that it lost money on its housing bets and was not net short housing (or at least not for long). Second is the notion that the firm was acting merely as a market marker, which basically means caveat emptor, if clients made bad bets, Goldman was merely acting as a neutral middleman.

While Goldman made the usual pious denials, the evidence in the report supports the Levin charges. It notes:

Overall in 2007, its net short position produced record profits totaling $3.7
billion for Goldman’s Structured Products Group, which when combined with other mortgage
losses, produced record net revenues of $1.2 billion for the Mortgage Department as a whole.

2007 was the critical year when the market turned decisively south and all dealers were dumping mortgage-related inventory. Goldman had been further ahead in the process and appears to be the only firm to put on very sizeable short positions. The magnitude of the profits on the short side lend credence to the charge that Goldman was substantially and successfully net short.

This would basically mean that Goldman Sachs was not acting as a ‘market-maker’. This was the claim made by GS executives during the hearing.  I was some what appalled by the inability of the congress critters on the committee to fully comprehend what market makers do and ask intelligent questions.  Now that we’ve got the details, it’s pretty clear GS was not acting as an intermediary for client orders.  They were basically speculating and the report is evidently full of aggressive marketing and sales pushes to move CDOs and other highly risky financial instruments on which they had an offsetting corporate position. This should be investigated by the DOJ.  However, given the cozy relationship between shadow banking and Timothy Geithner, I doubt Obama will move on it at all.

Meanwhile, “Food, Gas And Rent Push Consumer Prices Higher” so ordinary working people are feeling the pinch from both lower incomes and higher prices.  I’m thinking we’re seeing those bubbles I’ve been warning about frankly.  Rich people have a tremendous amount of money right now and they’re taxes are way down so they’re not investing in businesses but looking for quick arbitrage profits by trading paper back and forth.  Unfortunately, the real world is under that paper some where.

Excluding the volatile food and gas categories, the so-called core index rose 0.1 percent and it is up only 1.2 percent in the past year.

But steep food and gas prices are hitting consumers hard.

Gasoline jumped 5.6 percent last month and has risen nearly 28 percent in the past year. Consumers paid an average price of $3.81 a gallon nationwide on Friday according to the travel group AAA.

Food prices rose 0.8 percent last month, the largest increase in almost three years. Prices for fruits and vegetables, dairy products, chicken and beef all increased. Coffee costs rose 3.5 percent.

So, anyway, I continue to be amazed at how much labor is getting screwed compared to how many breaks capital gets these days.  I seriously think that the elected officials are trying to completely remove taxes from capital owners and load it solidly on to the backs of working men and women.  The time to sharpen pitchforks nears.  You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows …

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?