There’s another Republican Debate in South Carolina tonight. Can you believe it? This one is hosted by CNN. How much more of this torture can American stand? These debates just keep on coming! We’ll live blog this one later on, perhaps with some interesting variations on the theme.
Speaking of horrible things that never end, can you believe Obama is considering appointing Larry Summers to head the World Bank? Here I thought we were finally free of Summers, but the guy just won’t go away. He keeps coming back, no matter how ghastly of job he does. From Bloomberg:
President Barack Obama is considering nominating Lawrence Summers, his former National Economic Council director, to lead the World Bank when Robert Zoellick’s term expires later this year, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Summers has expressed interest in the job to White House officials and has backers inside the administration, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and current NEC Director Gene Sperling, said one of the people. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also being considered, along with other candidates, said the other person. Both spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations….
A nomination of Summers would bring scrutiny of his previous stints in government, both as former President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary and Obama’s NEC director, as well as his tenure as president of Harvard University.
“Larry is controversial,” said Erskine Bowles, who served as Clinton’s chief of staff. “Anything you appoint Larry to, you know there are going to be some people who are going to take shots at him. But you know he’s a brilliant economist, which I think everybody recognizes.”
Oh really? If he’s so brilliant, then why is teaching college freshman? Why doesn’t he publish in academic journals? Why did he get fired by Harvard and the Obama administration? Enough with the retreads, Mr. President.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Mitt Romney has admitted he pays somewhere close to 15% of his income in Federal taxes. NPR’s Here and Now had an interesting discussion yesterday about how he and other richie-rich folks get away with this. I recommend listening to the show if you have time. Here’s a bit from the write-up:
“Carried interest is the way that hedge fund managers and private equity firm managers get paid when they do a deal,” Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Institute told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.
Gleckman says private equity firms bring in outside investors. To get in on the deals, investors pay the firms in two ways– an initial fee, and a 20 percent cut of future profits.
When the owners of private equity firms pay taxes on that compensation from the investors, they pay as if it were capital gains– so that means they are paying a top rate of no more than 15 percent.
“Ordinarily if they were paid like the rest of us in wages and salaries, they’d be paying a top rate of up to 35 percent,” he said.
Gleckman said the carried interest tax arrangement is completely legal and not uncommon.
Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice said that this kind of income comes from work and should be taxed as such. And Gleckman agreed, saying that capital gains taxes are lower because the goal is to encourage people to risk their own money. Romney isn’t doing that.
Romney, one of the richest men to seek the presidency, probably benefits from a controversial tax break that allows him to pay a lower overall rate than do millions of American wage-earners whose votes he’ll need to capture the White House.
That’s because private equity executives, as Romney was for 15 years when he ran Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, receive much of their compensation as “carried interest.” That enables them to treat what would be ordinary income for other service providers, taxed at rates as high as 35 percent, as capital gains taxed at 15 percent….
Yet those investments were largely made by Romney’s former partners with other investors’ money, not his personal funds. The vast majority of the resulting gains represent compensation for Bain’s work acquiring, sprucing up and selling individual companies, critics say.
“This is labor income for them, not a return on capital invested,” said Victor Fleischer, an associate law professor at the University of Colorado whose 2007 paper on the topic helped spark a move in Congress to try to change the law. “It’s a method of converting one’s labor into capital gains in a way that’s unusual outside the investment management industry. Ordinary people wouldn’t be able to do this.”
If Romney just paid his taxes like the rest of us, he’d probably be doing a much greater service to the country than if he becomes president. BTW, the articles says that Obama has paid 31% of his income in taxes for the last three years.
But that’s not all. Romney keeps millions of dollars of his vast wealth in the Cayman Islands, a well-know tax shelter.
Official documents reviewed by ABC News show that Bain Capital, the private equity partnership Romney once ran, has set up some 138 secretive offshore funds in the Caymans.
Romney campaign officials and those at Bain Capital tell ABC News that the purpose of setting up those accounts in the Cayman Islands is to help attract money from foreign investors, and that the accounts provide no tax advantage to American investors like Romney. Romney, the campaign said, has paid all U.S. taxes on income derived from those investments.
“The tax consequences to the Romneys are the very same whether the fund is domiciled here or another country,” a campaign official said in response to questions. “Gov. and Mrs. Romney have money invested in funds that the trustee has determined to be attractive investment opportunities, and those funds are domiciled wherever the fund sponsors happen to organize the funds.”
Bain officials called the decision to locate some funds offshore routine, and a benefit only to foreign investors who do not want to be subjected to U.S. taxes.
Whatever. The guy is filthy rich, pays very little of his income in taxes, and has no clue how most Americans live. His attitude is that capitalism is sacred and if millions of “little people” are hurt by the machinations of people like him, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. And we shouldn’t have any safety nets for when things go wrong either. This man should never be POTUS.
A few more Romney items …
While he was at Bain Mitt used large donations of stock to the Mormon church to avoid paying taxes.
The New York Daily News got ahold of John McCain’s oppo research on Romney from 2008. “Talk about awkward,” the first line reads.
And here’s another awkward moment for the Mittster: Mitt Romney Allegedly Pulls Back Handshake Upon Learning That DREAM Act Advocate Is Undocumented.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney suddenly pulled back his hand after hearing that a young college student who greeted him at a New York fundraiser Tuesday night was undocumented, according to DREAM Act activists.
“He extended his hand to shake mine,” the young woman told The Huffington Post. “But once I said I was undocumented, he pulled his hand away from me.”
The 19-year-old college student, who asked to be identified only as Lucy because of her undocumented status, said she was also booed by Romney supporters as she was escorted out of a New York City fundraiser. One of the supporters told her to “go back to Mexico,” and she responded that she was “actually from Peru,” according to her account of the event.
Oops! There goes the Latino vote….
But we can’t forget that Romney still has at least one viable competitor for South Carolina’s delegates–food stamp obsessive and child labor advocate Newt Gingrich. Guess what Newt’s been up to? He’s using a fund-raising letter to threaten to punch out Barack Obama
Newt Gingrich’s campaign sent out a fundraising request to supporters this afternoon touting that the former speaker said he wants to knock Obama out, because, as the subject line of the email suggests, “A Bloody Nose Just Won’t Cut It.” The comment comes from a recent town hall where a questioner asked Gingrich how he would “bloody Obama’s nose.” “I don’t want to bloody his nose, I want to knock him out!” Gingrich responded. “This is exactly why Newt Gingrich is the candidate who must face Obama,” campaign spokesman RC Hammond says in the email, above a bright red “Donate” button.
You just can’t make this stuff up!
Conor Friedersdorf has an excellent response to Andrew Sullivan’s silly Newsweek article defending Obama’s accomplishments as President. I think Friedersdorf is a liberatarian, but his assessment on Obama is still on point. Check it out. I’ll just reproduce his list of Obama’s “accomplishments” here:
(1) Codify indefinite detention into law; (2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process; (3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens; (4) prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets; (5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible; (6) enter and prosecute such a war; (7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports; (8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots; (9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy; (10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits; (11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; (12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed); (14) reauthorize the Patriot Act; (13) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.
Unfortunately, he didn’t include Obama’s many contributions to the war on women.
Speaking of Obama’s war on the Constitution, Chris Hedges is going to court to sue Obama over the indefinite detention portion of the NDAA.
Attorneys Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran filed a complaint Friday in the Southern U.S. District Court in New York City on my behalf as a plaintiff against Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to challenge the legality of the Authorization for Use of Military Force as embedded in the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by the president Dec. 31.
The act authorizes the military in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled “Counter-Terrorism,” for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing. With this bill, which will take effect March 3, the military can indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. And suspects can be shipped by the military to our offshore penal colony in Guantanamo Bay and kept there until “the end of hostilities.” It is a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.
I spent many years in countries where the military had the power to arrest and detain citizens without charge. I have been in some of these jails. I have friends and colleagues who have “disappeared” into military gulags. I know the consequences of granting sweeping and unrestricted policing power to the armed forces of any nation. And while my battle may be quixotic, it is one that has to be fought if we are to have any hope of pulling this country back from corporate fascism.
Thanks to Hedges for putting his money where his mouth is.
I’ll end with this piece from Reuters: Sunk! How Hollywood Lost the PR Battle Over SOPA.
In the space of a couple of days, Hollywood and its content creators lost the public relations war over Internet piracy SOPA legislation — which now appears poised to crumble into a million bits of dust.
The messaging industry never had control of the message.
The tech guys found a simple, shareable idea — the Stop Online Piracy Act is Censorship — made it viral, and made it stick.
Hollywood had Chris Dodd and a press release. Silicon Valley had Facebook.
It shouldacoulda been a fair fight. But it wasn’t.
It seems that Hollywood still does not realize that it is in the information age. Knowledge moves in real time, and events move accordingly. The medium is the message in a fight like this.
I disagree that the fight is over, but it’s nice to see the battle for free speech and privacy getting some corporate media ink.
So … what are you reading and blogging about today?
A rally in NYC today highlighted issues and concerns that have been going unaddressed for some time in this country. The Nation highlights some of the featured speakers including Chris Hedges who says that President Obama is defying those core values supported by Democratic voters.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges also spoke at the rally. Beforehand, I asked him if he thinks acts of civil disobedience such as the Wisconsin union protests are the only paths of recourse Americans have left to fight for change. “There’s a moral imperative to carry them out,” says Hedges. “[I]f we don’t begin to physically defend the civil society, all resistance will be ceded to very proto-fascist movements such as the Tea Party that celebrate the gun culture, the language of violence, seek scapegoats for their misery.”
He calls the state of America an “anemic democracy,” and says it’s time for citizens to get off the Internet and occupy the streets because their leaders no longer represent them. Politicians have spoken incessantly about the need for shared sacrifice when in fact they’re guarding a plutocracy that levies the burden of budget cuts on the shoulders of the poor. This is a system in which Bank of America’s CEO Brian Moynihan gets a $9 million bonus while one in four American children survives on food stamps.
Hedges calls the idea of shared sacrifice farcical. “[Bank of America] sends out home invasion teams to throw Americans out of their homes through bank repossessions or foreclosures, and of course many of these people were given loans that the lenders knew they could never repay often under fraudulent conditions…and yet there has been absolutely no investigation — no criminal charges — brought against these corporations.”
We live in a corporate state, Hedges stresses, both in our interview and later when he takes the stage. “Not only the money, but the wages, and retirement benefits, $17 trillion worth have been robbed by these financial institutions. It’s repugnant.”
And the one in six Americans without a job aren’t the ones going to raise money to get President Obama reelected. The money, Hedges says, will come from the corporate state, what he calls the “predators.” Hedges says President Obama serves their — not our — interests.
Obama’s most recent budget speech, in which he adopted some of the populist rhetoric about raising taxes on the wealthy, didn’t impress Hedges. After all, it was Obama who extended the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy. “To watch him sort of talk out of both sides of his mouth is a little disconcerting,” says Hedges. “I fear, like most people, that not only are we going to see an extension of those cuts, but they’ll be cemented into place permanently.” Like many in the liberal class, Hedges says Obama “speaks in the rhetoric of traditional liberalism, but every action he takes defies the core values of the liberal tradition.”
Other groups also questioned the current economic policies dominating our national conversation. Some of the most persuasive speech was associated with the financial crisis and its perpetrators.
Dave Petrovich, executive director of the Society For Preservation of Continued Homeownership, agrees with that sentiment. “The president, and most of our lapdog Congress, are employees of the banking industry, so they’re not going to really discuss this unless it’s in their own financial self-interest.” Bank of America was once again a central target of the protest since the company hasn’t paid a nickel in federal income taxes in the past two years and received a “income tax refund from hell” of $666 million for 2010. The protesters demand to know why a company that received $45 billion in taxpayer money during the bailout now gets to play by a different set of tax rules, while simultaneously paying out obscene bonuses to its CEO and kicking hardworking Americans out of their homes
There’s something fundamentally wrong with a system that bails out perpetrators of mass fraud and destruction and applauds the removal of safety nets from its victims. This started me thinking that maybe we should come up with a list of what we consider liberal and democratic values. Frankly, I consider civil liberties, respect for the Bill of Rights, and provision of services essential to public health, safety, and education to be central. I also consider the idea that liberty and justice for all means for ALL and not just the rich and powerful. It’s been apparent from that Goldman Sachs and Bank of American can get bailed out for all kinds of crime. What kinds of things do you think should go on the list?
Good evening and a Happy 2011, Sky Dancers.
Here are my Saturday offerings for the New Year. There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the headlines, so I tried to mix in a few stories and thoughts of my own to put things into a more motivating and thoughtful perspective.
From McClatchy: “2011 looks grim for progress on women’s rights in Iraq… BAGHDAD — When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki introduced what he called a national partnership government two weeks ago, he included allies and adversaries, Arabs and Kurds, Shiite Muslims and Sunnis. One group, however, was woefully underrepresented. Only one woman was named to Maliki’s 42-member cabinet, sparking an outcry in a country that once was a beacon for women’s rights in the Arab world and adding to an ongoing struggle over the identity of the new Iraq.“
From further down in the article: “After Maliki announced his lineup, Alaa Talabani, a female lawmaker from the northern Kurdistan region, delivered a rousing condemnation of the selection process to a packed legislative chamber. ‘The Iraqi women feel today, more than any other day, that democracy in Iraq has been slaughtered by discrimination, just as it was slaughtered by sectarianism before,’ Talabani said, her voice quaking with emotion.”
“…slaughtered by discrimination, just as it was slaughtered by sectarianism.” That is a powerful statement.
It reminds me of this Hillary quote: “To expand freedom to more people, we cannot accept that freedom does not belong to all people. We cannot allow oppression defined and justified by religion or tribe to replace that of ideology.” –Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the wall’s collapse
The words of both Alaa Talabani and Hillary Clinton above make me think of dry drunks and switching addictions. It is as if there is a certain quotient of oppression junkies out there who just go from one form of subjugating others to the next.
Which brings me to my next link. From Chris Hedges’, a few days ago, at truth-out… “2011: A Brave New Dystopia… The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World.’ The debate, between those who watched our descent towards corporate totalitarianism, was who was right. Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second.”
My apologies if another frontpager or commenter has already spotlighted Hedges’ piece and I missed it, but I think this is important enough a read to merit a repeat linking.
Speaking of our impending total enslavement, Derek Kravitz at the Washington Post reports that “As frustration grows, airports consider ditching TSA… Some of the nation’s biggest airports are responding to recent public outrage over security screening by weighing whether they should hire private firms such as Covenant to replace the Transportation Security Administration. Sixteen airports, including San Francisco and Kansas City International Airport, have made the switch since 2002. One Orlando airport has approved the change but needs to select a contractor, and several others are seriously considering it. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which governs Dulles International and Reagan National airports, is studying the option, spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said. For airports, the change isn’t about money. At issue, airport managers and security experts say, is the unwieldy size and bureaucracy of the federal aviation security system. Private firms may be able to do the job more efficiently and with a personal touch, they argue.”
No Profit Left Behind strikes again.
Oh, and it strikes here too — from Alan Johnson at the Columbus-Dispatch — “Kasich emphasizes ‘business’: Governor-elect wants to ‘exploit’ resources, picks EPA, DNR chiefs… Kasich, a former Republican congressman who will take office Jan. 10, emphasized that he doesn’t plan to empower business at ‘the cost of environmental degradation.’ But in the next breath, he said he wants to ‘exploit the wonders of our state.'”
Exploit? Way to thread the business vs. environment needle ever so delicately. Teddy R. has got to be rolling in his grave when he sees today’s Republican party.
Moving along and keeping with the theme from Chris Hedges’ piece, this headline from Raw Story: “Judge warns of ‘Orwellian state’ in warrantless GPS tracking case… Police in Delaware may soon be unable to use global positioning systems (GPS) to keep tabs on a suspect unless they have a court-signed warrant, thanks to a recent ruling by a superior court judge who cited famed author George Orwell in her decision. In striking down evidence obtained through warrantless GPS tracking, Delaware Judge Jan R. Jurden wrote that ‘an Orwellian state is now technologically feasible,’ adding that ‘without adequate judicial preservation of privacy, there is nothing to protect our citizens from being tracked 24/7.’ The ruling goes against a federal appeals court’s decision last summer that allowed warrantless tracking by GPS.”
Sounds like this judge in Delaware just may be looking out for us. So a little silver lining there.
In other uplifting reads… the Gray Lady has a very sentimental editorial today called “A Year Anew.”
From the link:“By now, of course, 2010 feels like a completely familiar, totally used-up year. But why does 2011 still sound like an annum out of science fiction? It’s not as though 2011 is a remoter outpost in the hinterland of the future than, say, 1971 was. Yet here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, living in the very future we tried to imagine when we were young so many years ago. Surely we must have colonies throughout the solar system by now. Surely hunger is no more, and peace is planet-wide. The coming of the new year reminds us, again, that we live, as we always have, somewhere on a sliding scale between utopia and dystopia and that we continuously carry our burdens and opportunities with us. 2011 is merely a new entry in our ancient custom of chronological bookkeeping, an arbitrary starting point for our annual trip around the sun. But it is also so much more. Who can live without fresh intentions, new purposes? Who does not welcome a chance to start over, if only on a new page of the calendar? Life goes on, but it goes on so much better with hope and renewal and recommitment. Last night was a night for banishing regrets. Today is for wondering how to live without new ones, how to do right by ourselves and one another.”
It’s probably nothing more than a neat little moment of synchronicity, but while reading the above, I couldn’t help but picture someone on the NYT editorial board reading Hedges’ column, getting depressed and a little drunk, and then deciding to respond with this editorial.
Next up from today’s Gray Lady, Bob Herbert has an op-ed on the suspension of the Scott sisters’ prison terms — “For Two Sisters, the End of an Ordeal… What is likely to get lost in the story of the Scott sisters finally being freed is just how hideous and how outlandish their experience really was. How can it be possible for individuals with no prior criminal record to be sentenced to two consecutive life terms for a crime in which no one was hurt and $11 was taken? Who had it in for them, and why was that allowed to happen? The Scott sisters may go free, but they will never receive justice.”
Those are good questions, but I doubt we will ever find any answers to them.
I saw a bunch of new year’s stories on Baby Boomers. I’m just going to link to a few of them without excerpting:
“Baby Boomers helped democratize art” (USA Today)
With so many of the headlines being so hostile toward boomers, like the NYT and ABC ones, I was glad to see that last one from USA Today. I think all the demonization along generational lines is such a waste.
I have a couple more quick links before I wrap this up.
Over in Brazil, some exciting news. President Dilma Rousseff is sworn in! From Newsday: “Brazil’s first female president vows to end poverty.”
Newsweek has an interesting piece — “The Manchurian Candidate: When Barack Obama posted Jon Huntsman to Beijing, it looked like a crafty way to sideline a 2012 rival. Don’t bet on it.”
I hope commenter Pilgrim catches this one! I know she’s a Huntsman fan.
From Raw Story — “Kucinich: GOP’s anti-health reform push may fuel Medicare-for-all drive.”
Here’s hoping against Hope on that one.
And on that note, your historical trivia for January 1st. On this day in 1892… The Ellis Island Immigrant Station in New York opened.
I’d like to close with this verse from Tagore on this New Years…
MIND WITHOUT FEAR
(Gitanjali, Verse 35)
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening
thought and action-
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake
Hope you are having a peaceful entry into the new year. Drop a note and let us know what you’re reading and thinking about in the comments if you get a chance.
I thought I’d post a little end of the year economics stuff just in case you need a nap!!
I’ve been writing for around a year about a possible bubble in commodity prices but a definite increases in base commodity prices coming shortly. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will involve an increase in over all inflation because these price increases are mostly in the already volatile areas of food and energy which are considered outside the ‘core’ inflation measures because they tend to bump and shuffle a lot. This is from Paul Krugman in his column: “The Finite World”.
Oil is back above $90 a barrel. Copper and cotton have hit record highs. Wheat and corn prices are way up. Over all, world commodity prices have risen by a quarter in the past six months.
Is it speculation run amok? Is it the result of excessive money creation, a harbinger of runaway inflation just around the corner? No and no.
What the commodity markets are telling us is that we’re living in a finite world, in which the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices. And America is, for the most part, just a bystander in this story.
Krugman goes on to explain how booms in the economies of developing nations is causing increased Demand for certain commodities. This simply means the price will go up when the supply is limited for some reason or another. Some times the supply is slow to increase because of production considerations or inventory considerations. Other times the supply is limited just because there is a finite amount of it on the planet. Some of this may also be due to the market taking in the impact of those just passed subsidies to corn-based ethanol which take farm land out of food/other crop production and funneling it to corn production, This decreases the supply of wheat, soybeans, and cotton too.
And those supplies aren’t keeping pace. Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived. True, alternative sources, like oil from Canada’s tar sands, have continued to grow. But these alternative sources come at relatively high cost, both monetary and environmental.
Also, over the past year, extreme weather — especially severe heat and drought in some important agricultural regions — played an important role in driving up food prices. And, yes, there’s every reason to believe that climate change is making such weather episodes more common.
Krugman concludes with the important question of what does this mean for us?
So what are the implications of the recent rise in commodity prices? It is, as I said, a sign that we’re living in a finite world, one in which resource constraints are becoming increasingly binding. This won’t bring an end to economic growth, let alone a descent into Mad Max-style collapse. It will require that we gradually change the way we live, adapting our economy and our lifestyles to the reality of more expensive resources.
But that’s for the future. Right now, rising commodity prices are basically the result of global recovery. They have no bearing, one way or another, on U.S. monetary policy. For this is a global story; at a fundamental level, it’s not about us.
Yes. The world economy is “not about us” any more. So many other countries now have huge viable economies that we are no long the center of the Supply and Demand world like we were post World War 2. This is definitely going to take some adjusting on our part and some ignoring of the rhetoric of the right on our country’s role in the world. We can not continue to maintain the idea of American Exceptionalism in its current form given that we are really no longer exceptional in many, many ways. That adaptive behavior does not diminish our historical role as the original provider of Democracy-based Constitutions and Civil Liberties or our military role in freeing many countries from monarchy and fascism in both world wars.
We can continue to pour our resources and the lives of our young into asserting ourselves as the global military police in attempt to maintain our delusion of being ‘special’, or we can put our resources into assuring ourselves and our children a comfortable niche in the world with a respected voice at a big table. The Right Wing has to understand that we don’t own the table anymore. If only our politicians would grow up enough to make the best choice for us instead of deluding us into thinking that we’ll ever see post World War 2 America again.
I want to couple this with something I got in a tweet from the AFL-CIO: ‘U.S. Workers Earned Less in 2009 Than in 2008’. This goes along with the fact that many things we could finance or buy twenty to thirty years ago will elude us today.
New data show America’s workers earned less in 2009 than in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compensation was down by 3.2 percent in 2009 with declines in construction and manufacturing fueling the plunge. St. Louis County, the hardest hit, saw a decline of 11.5 percent.
For those lucky enough to have a job, average pay increased by 1.2 percent. But overall income inequality is now at its worst since 1928. As the chart by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows here, between 1979 and 2005, households at the bottom fifth of the income scale have seen an average, inflation-adjusted income growth of just $200. The $200 figure does not represent an average annual increase in income, but rather an increase of $200 over the entire 26-year period. By contrast, a small number of households at the top 0.1% of the income scale saw average income growth of almost $6 million over that same period.
In addition, the “wealth gap,” which differs from the income gap because it measures total net worth, is now 225 times greater between the richest 1 percent and the median family net worth.
Lest we forget, corporations are sitting on $1.93 trillion as of Sept. 30—up from $1.8 trillion at the end of June–and not using some of that money pot to create jobs.
The bottom is falling out for the middle classes in this country. Income inequality is as bad as it was in 1928 during the peak of the Robber Baron age. There is no way we’ll have a shot at seeing ‘morning again in America’–even one concocted from a senile man’s political rhetoric–without a strong middle class. This is one of the reasons that I highly recommend your holiday reading included Chris Hedges ‘Death of the Liberal Class’. Here’s Sanctuary TV’s you tube on his explanation the “genesis of the book”. Wonk mentioned some of his thesis in her excellent post yesterday.
The ‘lies of omission’ that we see in the Main Stream Media today makes this imperative that we have conversations outside of channels that are controlled by for-profit corporations. Listen in to the video at around 2:45.
Most of the images that are disseminated around our culture are skillfully put together and are disseminated by for profit corporations so that we are made to …or we confuse … how we are made to feel with knowledge. Which is precisely how ended up with Barrack Obama.
This is especially true with things economic. I had a conversation with my Republican Dad yesterday which ended up with him accusing me of sounding just like the Democrats after the Great Depression. (I will wear that badge proudly, thank you.) I was trying to explain to him how Social Security isn’t going bankrupt, that the overages are invested in T-bonds and T-bills and that isn’t the same as massive borrowing from the fund by the federal government, and that if social security can’t rely on the interest and their capital invested in T-bonds or T-bills in the future, we will undoubtedly have a much greater problem than having smaller social security checks. (My guess is that we would be in the middle of a government collapse similar to what happened to the USSR in the 1980s.) Dad kept accusing me of living in the theoretical world of economics–me, an empirical economist–when I kept telling him it was just a matter of debits and credits which are anything but theoretical economics.
The deal is this if you read studies, and follow the debits and the credits. The threat to social security isn’t coming from its cash flows. It’s coming from the politicians in Washington, D.C. and it appears that it will shortly be led by the aforementioned Barrack Obama. Some of these people seem intent on collapsing our Republic and its democratic roots. These Bircher-like attacks on the New Deal are real attacks on the ways the government–through New Deal Policies, Laws, and Agenciess- levels the economic playing field for small businesses and working class people. This is the same way that Bircher-like attacks on Civil Rights attacks the ways the government levels the legal playing field for minorities and women.
Again, I’m drawn to the quote most attributed to the late great Senator Patrick Monihan. People and politicians are entitled to their opinions but not the facts. The problem is that fact manufacturing–or labeling political diatribes by media monsters like Glenn Beck–appears to be rampant in the very outlet that provides the life blood of our democracy.
This maldescriptions of unemployment, the role and purpose and very political independence of the Fed are more features of this misinformation campaign. I’m going to further reference Paul Krugman and his economist yogini–yup, there’s at least two of us out there–wife Robin Wells here. They co-authored an excellent essay on “Where do We Go from Here” in The New York Review of Books. This part comes after their joint call to the Democratic congress critterz–left standing from the midterms elections–to fight.
First, it would mean fighting on economic issues. While it is extremely unlikely that Democrats can undertake any further fiscal stimulus, they can put Republicans on the spot, resisting calls for austerity and making the case, repeatedly, that the GOP is standing in the way of necessary action. The fight over renewal of unemployment benefits should be only the start. Democrats can also denounce Republican attacks on the Federal Reserve and defend the Fed’s independence. They can resist attempts to turn back health care reform, on both humanitarian and long-term budgeting grounds, as health care reform is the critical factor in reining in the long-term budget deficit.
Health Care Reform Inc. could be one more rung on the ladder for the middle class on the ladder back to upwards mobility. Instead of repealing the now unpopular bill, we should be working actively to get the right things into its corporate enabling shell. That would be–at minimum–a Public Option. We have to get them to fight on Economic issues. Also, we desperately need to deal with Fannie and Freddie. These organizations used to be the way to home ownership for working class Americans. I stand proudly as an example in that regard. My little kathouse in the bayou in the middle of a solid urban hood shines as a beacon of what those things were supposed to do before they started manufacturing loans to the derivatives market.
And there are steps that the White House could take without congressional approval. Democrats could pressure the administration to fix the inexcusable mess at the HAMP (mortgage modification) program—a program whose Kafkaesque complexity has in many cases made matters so bad for home owners that it has triggered the foreclosures it was supposed to avoid. In addition, mortgage relief would benefit the wider economy. Furthermore, the scope of mortgage relief could be made much wider if Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were used to guarantee mortgage refinancing. Other proposals go even further: for example, that Fannie and Freddie engineer reductions in mortgage principals. All of this could be done, conceivably, by executive order.
What we are seeing is a brick by brick removal in the walls that support the social net built during the New Deal that helped America become the thing it was during the 1950, 1960s and 1970s. Yes, we helped many countries get rid of Nazis and Fascist and this did make us some what exceptional at the time, but ushering in the very policies and attitudes of fascism does not make us the least bit exceptional now. It weakens the very people that make for a vibrant Democracy. Also, given that the Wikileaks information has been the soul source recently of unmanufactured news and opinion passed off as fact, it also gives us a glance at why the rest of the planet has ceased to see the US as exceptional too.
To paraphrase the words of Common Dreams and Margaret Flowers: We Must Resist. Okay, so this essay was a little Political Economy and not just economics. You awake?
I get to update this post with a link to one of the more influential ‘liberal’ economist who is also writing on the changes in the Political Economy at Project Syndicate. Here’s something from Jeffrey D. Sachs writing on ‘America’s Political Class Struggle’. You may recall that both Krugman and Sachs were called to the Obama woodshed a few weeks ago and told to get on board with the McConnell-Obama tax cuts.
America is on a collision course with itself. This month’s deal between President Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress to extend the tax cuts initiated a decade ago by President George W. Bush is being hailed as the start of a new bipartisan consensus. I believe, instead, that it is a false truce in what will become a pitched battle for the soul of American politics.
As in many countries, conflicts over public morality and national strategy come down to questions of money. In the United States, this is truer than ever. The US is running an annual budget deficit of around $1 trillion, which may widen further as a result of the new tax agreement. This level of annual borrowing is far too high for comfort. It must be cut, but how?
The problem is America’s corrupted politics and loss of civic morality. One political party, the Republicans, stands for little except tax cuts, which they place above any other goal. The Democrats have a bit wider set of interests, including support for health care, education, training, and infrastructure. But, like the Republicans, the Democrats, too, are keen to shower tax cuts on their major campaign contributors, predominantly rich Americans.
The result is a dangerous paradox. The US budget deficit is enormous and unsustainable. The poor are squeezed by cuts in social programs and a weak job market. One in eight Americans depends on Food Stamps to eat. Yet, despite these circumstances, one political party wants to gut tax revenues altogether, and the other is easily dragged along, against its better instincts, out of concern for keeping its rich contributors happy.
This tax-cutting frenzy comes, incredibly, after three decades of elite fiscal rule in the US that has favored the rich and powerful. Since Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, America’s budget system has been geared to supporting the accumulation of vast wealth at the top of the income distribution. Amazingly, the richest 1% of American households now has a higher net worth than the bottom 90%. The annual income of the richest 12,000 households is greater than that of the poorest 24 million households.
Please go read the rest of the article. I think this shows further evidence that Obama didn’t placate liberal economists.
Frank Rich, in today’s Gray Lady, asks:
From the link:
This month our own neo-Kennedy president — handed the torch by J.F.K.’s last brotherand soon to face the first Congress without a Kennedy since 1947 — identified a new “Sputnik moment” for America. This time the jolt was provided by the mediocre performance of American high school students, who underperformed not just the Chinese but dozens of other countries in standardized tests of science, math and reading. In his speech on the subject, President Obama called for more spending on research and infrastructure, more educational reform and more clean energy technology. (All while reducing the deficit, mind you.) Worthy goals, but if you watch “Disneyland Dream,” you realize something more fundamental is missing from America now: the bedrock faith in the American way that J.F.K. could tap into during his era’s Sputnik moment.
How many middle-class Americans now believe that the sky is the limit if they work hard enough? How many trust capitalism to give them a fair shake? Middle-class income started to flatten in the 1970s and has stagnated ever since. While 3M has continued to prosper, many other companies that actually make things (and at times innovative things) have been devalued, looted or destroyed by a financial industry whose biggest innovation in 20 years, in the verdict of the former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, has been the cash machine.
I believe there was a poll conducted not too long ago that gives a fairly good baseline from which to guestimate just how many middle class Americans still “believe” — I’m talking about that WaPo poll back at the end of October, which found that 53% of Americans are concerned about their ability to pay their rent or mortgage.
Getting back to Frank Rich’s piece, Rich concludes the following:
It’s a measure of how rapidly our economic order has shifted that nearly a quarter of the 400 wealthiest people in America on this year’s Forbes list make their fortunes from financial services, more than three times as many as in the first Forbes 400 in 1982. Many of America’s best young minds now invent derivatives, not Disneylands, because that’s where the action has been, and still is, two years after the crash. In 2010, our system incentivizes high-stakes gambling — “this business of securitizing things that didn’t even exist in the first place,” as Calvin Trillin memorably wrote last year — rather than the rebooting and rebuilding of America.
In last week’s exultant preholiday press conference, Obama called for a “thriving, booming middle class, where everybody’s got a shot at the American dream.” But it will take much more than rhetorical Scotch tape to bring that back. The Barstows of 1956 could not have fathomed the outrageous gap between this country’s upper class and the rest of us. America can’t move forward until we once again believe, as they did, that everyone can enter Frontierland if they try hard enough, and that no one will be denied a dream because a private party has rented out Tomorrowland.
…which brings me back to what I wrote yesterday in my Saturday roundup, about America being locked in reflexive doubt, and that being as corrosive as blind faith.
A huge part of the problem is that we have an empty suit in the White House from whom the best we can hope for is that he simply lets other people lead for him and make something good happen once in awhile, if we are even that lucky. It’s a victory if he lets other people throw us a bone and fight the fights of ordinary Americans for him. Woo hoo.
Three years ago or so the Obama campaign started churning out posters with the word “believe.” The Obama machine wanted us to believe in an image, a brand. Whenever it has come time for Obama to get us to believe in ourselves, he quietly folds up his teleprompter and goes golfing.
For months on end we had the MSM trying to explain away Obama’s inability to communicate that he even cares. Oil gushed out into the Gulf, and all Obama could muster up was “I can’t suck it up with a straw.”
Sure he cares. Now watch this drive.
Whether it was letting Bill Clinton bring Euna Lee and Laura Ling home or letting Joe Lieberman lead the way to repeal of DADT, it seems this is the zenith of the Obama presidency. Letting other people do the actual president-for-the-people stuff while he enjoys the perks of Being President.
Ordinary Americans are just trying to survive in today’s economy, at a time when their own president does not think the sky is the limit in terms of the lengths to which he will go to fight for the American people but rather insists that the best he can do is talking point reforms with all the corporate benefits and backdoor privatization buried in the fine print, not to even speak of all the obligatory pork.
Asking or expecting people in such a hostile working/living environment to believe “the sky is the limit if they work hard enough” is essentially asking them to bury their heads in the sand. What is still left of Obama’s ostriches (think Dubya’s 23 percenters) can ignore reality all they want, but that will not change the fact that most Americans are invisible to this president and they know it.
We are stuck in reflexive doubt at this point, but how is having a president who reinforces all of those doubts supposed to help? At this point, I have no idea why anyone on the left still persists in the delusion that there’s any 2% less evil difference between Obama and the GOP.
From a recent Democracy Now interview with Chris Hedges (h/t Dakinikat), where he talks about his latest book, Death of the Liberal Class:
AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of President Obama?
CHRIS HEDGES: A disaster. A poster child for the bankruptcy of the liberal class. Somebody who, like Clinton, is a self-identified liberal, who speaks in the traditional language of liberalism but has made war against the core values of liberalism, which is a concern for those people outside the narrow power elite. And the tragedy, if tragedy is the right word, is that Obama, who made this Faustian bargain with corporate interests in order to gain power, has now been crumpled up and thrown away by these interests. They don’t need him anymore. He functioned as a brand after the disastrous eight years of George Bush.
And what we are watching is an even more craven attempt on the part of the White House to cater to the forces that are literally destroying the United States, have reconfigured, are reconfiguring this country into a form of neofeudalism. And all of the traditional—the pillars of the liberal establishment, that once provided some kind of protection and, more importantly, a kind of safety valve, a mechanism by which legitimate grievances and injustices in this country could be addressed, have shut tight. They no longer work. And so, we are getting these terrifying, proto-fascist movements that are leaping up around the fringes of American society and have as their anger not only a rage against government, but a rage against liberals, as well. And I would say that rage is not misplaced.
And, there you have it. This is the difference between having Obama and having a GOP president.
So he lets Lieberman or Clinton or someone do something right once in awhile. So what?
I personally won’t waste time denying Obama the “credit.” While the soldiers and the activists who fought for repeal of DADT at the grassroots level are the ones who made this historic step in that direction possible and are the real heroes and sheroes of this story, the fact of the matter is that had Obama succeeded in blocking the DADT repeal, then the blame would have been piled on high at his doorstep.
So he can have the credit, but he also needs to take responsibility for the fact that simply standing back and allowing others to do the heavy lifting once in awhile is neither enough nor the vision of someone who thinks big or sets the sky as his limit for what he can do AS president for the people who elected him.
Unfortunately, Barack Obama set the limit to just being president.
No one would be happier than I would be if Obama would just prove this theory wrong. I have no Disneyland dreams or illusions that he will do so, though.
Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of the murder of President John F. Kennedy. Many Americans are unaware that a great deal of archival information on the assassination and on Kennedy’s administration has become available at the National Archives in the recent years.
A number of important, even scholarly, books have now been published based on that new information. Unfortunately, more records–especially CIA records–remain hidden, but it seems clear that, as a Congressional Commission affirmed years ago, it is highly unlikely that Oswald acted alone. In fact, elements of our government were probably complicit in the assassination of a U.S. President. Here are some of the best of recent books dealing with the JFK assassination.
JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, by James W. Douglass
The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, by David E. Kaiser
The Kennedy Detail: JFK’s Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence, by Gerald Blaine and Lisa McCubbin
Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, by David Talbot
Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA, by Jefferson Morley
Yesterday, the Atlantic published a piece by Jefferson Morley (the last author on my list): The Kennedy Assassination: 47 Years Later, What Do We Really Know?
…for all the crazy ideas out there, there remain sober and careful alternative views of the assassination. These theories may or may not ultimately be right, but they represent the continuation of serious discussion of the subject.
He then debunks “five common myths about the state of the debate itself.” It would be very hard to excerpt anything from this article, you really need to read the entire thing. But here is just a taste:
Myth 3. No one high-up in the U.S. government ever thought there was a conspiracy behind JFK’s murder.
Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, publicly endorsed the Warren Commissions conclusion that Oswald acted alone. Privately, LBJ told many people, ranging from Atlantic contributor Leo Janos to CIA director Richard Helms, that he did not believe the lone-gunman explanation.
The president’s brother Robert and widow Jacqueline also believed that he had been killed by political enemies, according to historians Aleksandr Fursenko and Tim Naftali. In their 1999 book on the Cuban missile crisis, One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964, they reported that William Walton — a friend of the First Lady — went to Moscow on a previously scheduled trip a week after JFK’s murder. Walton carried a message from RFK and Jackie for their friend, Georgi Bolshakov, a Russian diplomat who had served as a back-channel link between the White House and the Kremlin during the October 1962 crisis: RFK and Jackie wanted the Soviet leadership to know that “despite Oswald’s connections to the communist world, the Kennedys believed that the president was felled by domestic opponents.”
In the Senate, Democrats Richard Russell of Georgia and Russell Long of Louisiana both rejected official accounts of the assassination. In the executive branch, Joseph Califano, the Secretary of Army in 1963 and later Secretary of Health Education and Welfare, concluded that Kennedy had been killed by a conspiracy. In the White House, H.R. Haldeman, chief of staff to President Richard Nixon, wanted to reopen the JFK investigation in 1969. Nixon wasn’t interested.
Please read the whole thing. IMHO, 1963 is the year when everything started to go to hell for our country. The murderers were allowed to go free and even stay within our government, and today we are living with the results of allowing corruption to run rampant without any accountability.
I know not everyone likes Chris Hedges’ writing as much as I do, but please read his latest column at Truthdig if you can. It is depressing reading, I admit, but I believe Hedges is right and should be heeded. Again, a brief excerpt can’t do the piece justice, but I’ll include one anyway.
There is no hope left for achieving significant reform or restoring our democracy through established mechanisms of power. The electoral process has been hijacked by corporations. The judiciary has been corrupted and bought. The press shuts out the most important voices in the country and feeds us the banal and the absurd. Universities prostitute themselves for corporate dollars. Labor unions are marginal and ineffectual forces. The economy is in the hands of corporate swindlers and speculators. And the public, enchanted by electronic hallucinations, remains passive and supine. We have no tools left within the power structure in our fight to halt unchecked corporate pillage.
The liberal class, which Barack Obama represents, was never endowed with much vision or courage, but it did occasionally respond when pressured by popular democratic movements. This was how we got the New Deal, civil rights legislation and the array of consumer legislation pushed through by Ralph Nader and his allies in the Democratic Party. The complete surrendering of power, however, to corporate interests means that those of us who seek nonviolent yet profound change have no one within the power elite we can trust for support. The corporate coup has ossified the structures of power. It has obliterated all checks on corporate malfeasance. It has left us stripped of the tools of mass organization that once nudged the system forward toward justice.
Obama knows where power lies and serves these centers of power. The tragedy—if tragedy is the right word—is that Obama, after selling his soul to corporations, has been discarded. Corporate power doesn’t need brand Obama anymore. They have found new brands in the tea party, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Obama has been abandoned by those who once bundled contributions for him by the millions of dollars. Obama and the Democratic Party will, I expect, spend the next two years being even more obsequious to corporate power. Obama clearly loves the pomp and privilege of statecraft that much. But I am not sure it will work.
I highly recommend reading the whole thing. We are approaching the point of no return–we may even have passed that point, as Hedges argues.
This morning I came across this op-ed from a PA newspaper. I think it really expresses what we saw in Obama early on, and what so many other people seemed not to see.
Above all others: Obama’s arrogance, by Ralph R. Reiland, associate professor of economics, Robert Morris University
Reiland argues that Obama’s inflated self-esteem is a huge problem. You’ll recognize the quotes, but Reiland ties them all together nicely. Here is just one:
Patrick Gaspard, former community organizer, ex-lobbyist for the Service Employees International Union and now director of Obama’s Office of Political Affairs, is quoted in a 2008 New Yorker article describing what Obama said to him during his job interview: “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
As much of the world is now beginning to understand, Obama’s opinion of himself is not very accurate, and unfortunately he has surrounded himself with sycophants who reinforce his false self-image to the detriment of our country.
Long-time media sycophant Marc Ambinder presents the White House case for gate rapes (h/t Emptywheel) at The National Journal:
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security indicated today that they won’t yield to demands to amend new airline passenger screening rules that have been decried as wildly intrusive.
On the contrary, administration officials are quietly and aggressively defending the policies against what they see as a media frenzy of distorted information. For instance, the administration noted that fewer than one half of one percent of the 34 million passengers who traveled on airplanes in or to the U.S. last week were subjected to crotch-area pat-downs.
They also disputed the very notion of a public backlash, even as those words played ubiquitously on news tickers and as video parodies of the Transportation Safety Administration were being emailed around the globe. Before press coverage of the new rules reached a roar late last week, TSA received only 700 complaints nationwide about its procedures, an administration official said. The official insisted on anonymity because the information was not intended for public release. The issue is sensitive because physical space intrusions are just about the last thing an administration cast by Republicans as prone to governmental overreach needs.
Talk about clueless. I can’t imagine how Obama and his Chicago gang actually believe he can be reelected with such tone-deaf strategies.
At FDL, Emptywheel is doing yeoman’s work on the TSA story. Here’s a bit of her latest post: White House: Only 170,000 People Have Had Genitalia Groped by Complete Stranger in Last Week
The White House has started a pushback campaign on gate rape that is reminiscent of “Recovery Summer” or “Mission Accomplished” for its credibility.
It consists of a number of things, in addition to the inevitable army of talking-point-people using the word “enhanced” the same way Cheney did.
She is particularly angered by Obama’s claim that naked body scanners and crotch gropes are the only techniques that can prevent attacks like the one attempted by the underpants bomber:
Um, no. You see, after the underwear bombing, we had a whole bunch of studies that examined what went wrong and what might have been effective against the underwear bomber. And the answer–in the face of clear fuck-ups by the NCTC and CIA (and to a much lesser degree, the FBI for which John Pistole then served as second-in-command)–the answer was to stop fucking up and start sharing information. To claim that junk-touching is the only thing that would be effective at stopping the undie bomber, when we know that the intelligence community had already identified Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab but failed to stop him, is an out and out lie.
Mind you, crotch groping might be effective if al Qaeda or another terrorist organization decided to launch the same type of attack, this time from within the United States. Or it might be effective against another sort of attack we haven’t yet thought up. Then again, it pointedly wouldn’t be effective against an attack by an organization that has proven itself capable of adjusting and exploiting new weaknesses–that is, the organization we’re fighting.
If only fighting terrorism were the real goal of these police state tactics. Unfortunately, the goal (IMNSHO) is to scare the bejesus out of innocent American citizens to soften them up for even more invasive tactics to come.
Remember how Obama acknowledged that he doesn’t have to go through the nightmare of naked body scanning like the “small people”? Ian Welsh reminds us that most rich people don’t have to deal with this crap either–it’s just us serfs.
If important people don’t have skin in the game, things don’t get fixed and the quality of whatever experience they don’t experience doesn’t get better. Everyone, most especially the rich and powerful, must fly on the same planes, must be subject to the draft, must have their kids go to the same schools and so on. Only then will the general quality be high.
To the extent possible the rich have created an entire alternative structure: they don’t fly on the same planes, their kids don’t go to the same schools, they don’t fight in the wars, they have hotels that you will never enter (can you afford 50K a night?) They live in a system parallel to that of ordinary people.
The rich must never, ever, be allowed to opt out of the shared social and economic experience. Fly first class? Sure, but not on private jets. Drive in a limo? Sure, but not fly in a helicopter avoiding congestion. Get a room to themselves in the hospital? Sure, but not jump the queue for treatment in front of anyone.
Too late, that ship has sailed.
Okay, I’ve probably thoroughly depressed you, and I’m sorry for that. But still, where there’s life, there’s hope. Maybe you guys can find some cheerful news even though I couldn’t. What stories and blogs are you following today?