One Person One Vote Died a Year Ago today

222px-Black_Ribbon.svgIn an important landmark case Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), the Supreme Court established one of the most significant voting rights rulings impacting our Republic since the enfranchisement of woman and the election of U.S. senators by popular vote. Both of these occurred earlier in the century.  Basically, Reynolds v Sims established the means to ensure  that the United States was a truly representative form of government.  It provided a legal way to enforce the idea that legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly as representatives of the people. Because of this, all elected officials should be elected in a free and unimpaired fashion. One Person one vote is a bedrock of our political system.

That was until one year ago today, when the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee declared the voters of Michigan and Florida to be one half of a person. This decision, done in a closed room behind close doors, was done in the name of party unity and led to the famous “party unity my ass” uttered at The Confluence that led to the PUMA movement. It led to spontaneous outrage across the country.

What began as a Democratic Party initiative to change the caucus and primary schedule to appease some special interest groups, wound up as a means to disenfranchise two states as Florida and Michigan were selectively punished for their decisions to change the dates of their primary caucuses. While other states similarly changed their dates, these two states were singled out for retribution. This was a stinging indictment of our entire political system for those of us that supported Hillary Clinton and were still stinging from the earlier disenfranchisement of Florida under the Bush v. Gore ruling that essentially gave us a President who mostly likely did not win the election. Every one knows how well that worked out.

080530-vote-florida-hmed-1p.h2Here are some reports from the day. This one is from MSNBC’s Chuck Todd called Nothing is fair about Florida and Michigan. Here was his suggestion for the situation at the time.

Why not consider punishing the party leaders and not the voters? Couldn’t the committee take away the states’ superdelegate votes? After all, it wasn’t the voters who demanded the states break party rules, but rather the leaders of the respective state parties.

Of course, this is too logical. The likely ruling on Saturday will probably highlight the party’s inability or reluctance to punish the superdelegates. There is a challenge from a Florida superdelegate claiming the party violated its own charter by stripping the state of both pledged delegates and superdelegates. Most members of the Rules Committee I’ve talked to indicate that he may be right. Keep in mind members of the Rules committee are all superdelegates themselves.

The Golden Rule could apply: Do unto other superdelegates as you would want done unto you.

The second idea the committee should be considering but isn’t reflects everything we’ve learned throughout this long primary season.

As many have noted, census data for each state have been remarkably determinative of results since Super Tuesday. In fact, the support groups for the two candidates have been incredibly stable. Why not apply what we’ve learned about the support groups of both candidates and split the delegates accordingly?

Of course, we found out soon enough that the party leaders did have their agenda and it was to ensure that we had their Candidate. We’re still unraveling the reasons for this travesty. We endured sexism, misogyny, and race-baiting through out the entire election cycle. We will be paying for this most undemocratic of decisions for years to come. We could have had a President that supports Abortion Rights and Universal Health Care. We could have had a President that refused to vote for FISA. We could have had a President that wasn’t controlled by lobbyists, Wall Street Fat Cats, and was a policy wonk extraordinaire. Instead, as Ted Ralls of Common Dreams, puts it, we got this:

We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory …From healthcare to torture to the economy to war, Obama has reneged on pledges real and implied …Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now–before he drags us further into the abyss.

I don’t know about you, but I WILL NEVER FORGET THIS DAY OF INFAMY.puma-head

What’s our Return Policy?

State of Disbelief sent me this link earlier today.  I very rarely  just post some one else’s stuff outright, but this column by Ted Rall is just is beyond belief.  I’m looking forward to her comments and background work over on The Confluence later, hopefully, today.[UPDATE:  LINK] But right now, I’m pretty speechless.  Let’s just file this under Buyer’s Remorse.  Ted, talk to me, why didn’t you do your homework earlier now that we’re stuck with him? We couldn’t even get Bush impeached and we still can’t get his war criminal cabinet investigated and there’s a majority of Dems in Congress?  You think any one’s going to seriously discuss resignation with  Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi on the Flight Deck?

Published on Thursday, May 28, 2009 by

An Early Call for Obama’s Resignation

With Democrats Like Him, Who Needs Dictators?

by Ted Rall

We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through.

From healthcare to torture to the economy to war, Obama has reneged on pledges real and implied. So timid and so owned is he that he trembles in fear of offending, of all things, the government of Turkey. Obama has officially reneged on his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. When a president doesn’t have the ‘nads to annoy the Turks, why does he bother to show up for work in the morning?

Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now–before he drags us further into the abyss.

I refer here to Obama’s plan for “preventive detentions.” If a cop or other government official thinks you might want to commit a crime someday, you could be held in “prolonged detention.” Reports in U.S. state-controlled media imply that Obama’s shocking new policy would only apply to Islamic terrorists (or, in this case, wannabe Islamic terrorists, and also kinda-sorta-maybe-thinking-about-terrorism dudes). As if that made it OK.
In practice, Obama wants to let government goons snatch you, me and anyone else they deem annoying off the street.

Preventive detention is the classic defining characteristic of a military dictatorship. Because dictatorial regimes rely on fear rather than consensus, their priority is self-preservation rather than improving their people’s lives. They worry obsessively over the one thing they can’t control, what Orwell called “thoughtcrime”–contempt for rulers that might someday translate to direct action.

Locking up people who haven’t done anything wrong is worse than un-American and a violent attack on the most basic principles of Western jurisprudence. It is contrary to the most essential notion of human decency. That anyone has ever been subjected to “preventive detention” is an outrage. That the President of the United States, a man who won an election because he promised to elevate our moral and political discourse, would even entertain such a revolting idea offends the idea of civilization itself.

Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him. Unlike the Republicans who backed Bush, I won’t follow a terrible leader just because I voted for him. Obama has revealed himself. He is a monster, and he should remove himself from power.

“Prolonged detention,” reported The New York Times, would be inflicted upon “terrorism suspects who cannot be tried.”

“Cannot be tried.” Interesting choice of words.

Any “terrorism suspect” (can you be a suspect if you haven’t been charged with a crime?) can be tried. Anyone can be tried for anything. At this writing, a Somali child is sitting in a prison in New York, charged with piracy in the Indian Ocean, where the U.S. has no jurisdiction. Anyone can be tried. Why is it, exactly, that some prisoners “cannot be tried”?

The Old Grey Lady explains why Obama wants this “entirely new chapter in American law” in a boring little sentence buried a couple past the jump and a couple of hundred words down page A16: “Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted.”

In democracies with functioning legal systems, it is assumed that people against whom there is a “lack of evidence” are innocent. They walk free. In countries where the rule of law prevails, in places blessedly free of fearful leaders whose only concern is staying in power, “tainted evidence” is no evidence at all. If you can’t prove that a defendant committed a crime–an actual crime, not a thoughtcrime–in a fair trial, you release him and apologize to the judge and jury for wasting their time.

It is amazing and incredible, after eight years of Bush’s lawless behavior, to have to still have to explain these things. For that reason alone, Obama should resign.
© 2009 Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the author of the new book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?,” an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.

The Wrong Right Wing Stuff

right wingI inadvertently stepped on a right wing meme back last September when I implied that Fannie and Freddie did their share in contributing to the current financial meltdown. I used figures to show that the problems in the mortgage market were occurring equally in the subprime as well as the prime market. What happened is that I said was associated with the oft -repeated Republican talking point that the CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) caused the meltdown in the mortgage. I still think that was a wild shark jump, but I was called things I won’t repeat here because of that big leap.  I was channel surfing last night and heard Glenn Beck (Mr. Emotional Basketcase) repeat this nonsense yet again. So, let me use real research to put clip the right wings off of that one.

Today’s WSJ overviewed a study by the Minneapolis Fed (yes, the peer reviewed, use data kind, not the say what you want to get ratings type of study) and concluded that the CRA did not contribute to the mortgage market meltdown. Let me just add here that I worked for the Fed and the Minneapolis Fed has one of the more conservative research agendas and economists.  Most famously, they’re home to Robert Lucas and Thomas Sargent’s work on Rational Expectations.  These guys are freshwater economists.

At the center of much of the shouting is the the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a 1970s-era law that pushed banks to lend to low-income households. Some — mostly conservatives — contend that the government program, coupled with securitization from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, played a role in the surge in risky home lending that formed the root of the financial crisis. Liberals counter that the Fannie/Freddie/CRA argument is a red herring that tries to pin a market failure on government interference.

A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis took a look at data on subprime — referred to as “high-priced” — loan originations and performance at CRA-regulated lenders and their affiliates and institutions not covered by the law. Here’s one of the central findings:

In total, of all the higher-priced loans, only 6 percent were extended by CRA-regulated lenders (and their affiliates) to either lower-income borrowers or neighborhoods in the lenders’ CRA assessment areas, which are the local geographies that are the primary focus for CRA evaluation purposes. The small share of subprime lending in 2005 and 2006 that can be linked to the CRA suggests it is very unlikely the CRA could have played a substantial role in the subprime crisis.

This report doesn’t represent the first time the Fed has tried to bat down the notion that the CRA played an important role in the subprime mess. Late last year, then Fed Governor Randall Kroszner, a University of Chicago economist and former Bush administration official, echoed the findings of the report saying only about 6% of all subprime mortgages to low-income households trace back to banks that had to meet CRA standards. (Although this Investor’s Business Daily editorial is skeptical.)

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Vat tu, Barack?

monopoly empty pocketsYesterday’s Washington Post featured an article proclaiming “Once Considered Unthinkable, U.S. Sales Tax Gets Fresh Look”.

With budget deficits soaring and President Obama pushing a trillion-dollar-plus expansion of health coverage, some Washington policymakers are taking a fresh look at a money-making idea long considered politically taboo: a national sales tax.

Common around the world, including in Europe, such a tax — called a value-added tax, or VAT — has not been seriously considered in the United States. But advocates say few other options can generate the kind of money the nation will need to avert fiscal calamity.

At a White House conference earlier this year on the government’s budget problems, a roomful of tax experts pleaded with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to consider a VAT. A recent flurry of books and papers on the subject is attracting genuine, if furtive, interest in Congress. And last month, after wrestling with the White House over the massive deficits projected under Obama’s policies, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee declared that a VAT should be part of the debate.

“There is a growing awareness of the need for fundamental tax reform,” Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said in an interview. “I think a VAT and a high-end income tax have got to be on the table.”

A VAT is a tax on the transfer of goods and services that ultimately is borne by the consumer. Highly visible, it would increase the cost of just about everything, from a carton of eggs to a visit with a lawyer. It is also hugely regressive, falling heavily on the poor. But VAT advocates say those negatives could be offset by using the proceeds to pay for health care for every American — a tangible benefit that would be highly valuable to low-income families.

Liberals dispute that notion. “You could pay for it regressively and have people at the bottom come out better off — maybe. Or you could pay for it progressively and they’d come out a lot better off,” said Bob McIntyre, director of the nonprofit Citizens for Tax Justice, which has a health financing plan that targets corporations and the rich.

A White House official said a VAT is “unlikely to be in the mix” as a means to pay for health-care reform. “While we do not want to rule any credible idea in or out as we discuss the way forward with Congress, the VAT tax, in particular, is popular with academics but highly controversial with policymakers,” said Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for White House Budget Director Peter Orszag.

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Hyperventilation on Hyperinflation?

I’ve taken a much needed break from economics and I’m ready to ease back into the research groove. I’m still focused on currency exchange and things related to the monetary policy so I thought I would bring up one of the current global concerns. Will the incredible amount of expansionary Monetary Policy combined with recent stimulus on the Fiscal side lead to a new era of inflation? This actually has been a point of contention for a few months in the econ and finance blogs, but I really haven’t followed it all that closely because the economy has been in such a free fall and I don’t believe we’ve hit a bottom yet. Under those circumstances, a little inflation actually has benefits for an economy. It can send signal to the production market that the demand for goods is higher than the supply which can gin up production and provide some upward momentum to a recovery. Inflation in this sense is just a mild signal to the economy that eventually sends it towards its Full Employment Equilibrium. Some economists are looking way beyond that and believe that the groundwork set in current policy will go on for way too long. This could result in inflation or even hyperinflation.

Hyperinflation is a different animal and is thought to be entirely the result of the overprinting of money by the central authorities. They physically print way too much money and the value of the money declines. There are many historical examples of this; most notably the Wiemar Republic (pre-NAZI Germany). The best Inflation-1923current example is Zimbabwe.

There’s some pretty wild anecdotes about post World War 1 Germany. Families would have to meet their breadwinners at the factory at noon with wheelbarrows ready to catch the morning’s pay so they could rush and buy the daily dinner before prices could change and they couldn’t afford even a loaf of bread. There are also pictures of people (see the one on the left) burning money in stoves to keep warm in the winter since that was cheaper than using the money to buy fuel for the stove. Hyperinflation is inflation that reaches the triple digits annually. Zimbabwe had to stop calculating its inflation rate once it hit triple digits daily! These are both extremes, but there are examples in Latin America and other African nations that show how disrupted an economy can become when money is poured into an economy that is not producing anything to buy. I had a student from Argentina tell me that his parents tell the story of when they had to ensure they had established a price on dinner before they ate or the price would change during the meal.  I’ve also heard similar stories from students from Uganda who returned there over breaks.

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