Saturday Morning Open Thread

Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol as the Senate neared its vote Friday night (Tamir Kalifa/AP)

Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol as the Senate neared its vote Friday night (Tamir Kalifa/AP)

Good Morning Sky Dancers!!

There sure is a lot of news out there for a summer Saturday. Beginning in Texas, the state senate passed a restrictive anti-abortion bill that will threaten women’s lives. The New York Times reports:

AUSTIN, Tex. — The Texas Senate gave final passage on Friday to one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country, legislation championed by Gov. Rick Perry, who rallied the Republican-controlled Legislature late last month after a Democratic filibuster blocked the bill and intensified already passionate resistance by abortion-rights supporters.

The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and hold abortion clinics to the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers, among other requirements. Its supporters say that the strengthened requirements for the structures and doctors will protect women’s health; opponents argue that the restrictions are actually intended to put financial pressure on the clinics that perform abortions and will force most of them to shut their doors.

Mr. Perry applauded lawmakers for passing the bill, saying “Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life.” Legislators and anti-abortion activists, he said “tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable Texans and future Texans.”

Mr. Perry does not appear to include any “right to life” for adult women in his “effort to protect life,” however. I wonder if anyone has ever asked him one simple question: are women human beings? Forced childbirth is tantamount to slavery in my opinion. Furthermore, childbirth is far more dangerous than abortion, and the restrictions will likely mean that women with problematic late term pregnancies will die or suffer grievous harm. According to the NYT story,

The bill was opposed by many doctors, including leaders of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas Medical Association; the gynecologists’ group has run advertisements locally that question the scientific underpinnings of the legislation and tell legislators to “Get out of our exam rooms.”

Andrea Grimes writes at RH Reality Check: As Out-Of-State Gawkers Look On, Texas Lawmakers Prepare to Pass ‘Death Sentence’ Anti-Abortion Bill. She describes a young man from Minnesota who traveled down to Texas to watch the show.

This young guy, probably a senior in high school or a freshman in college—I didn’t catch his name—said he was real tired of wearing blue, the chosen color of anti-choice supporters of HB 2. I wore orange that day, the same color as thousands of Texans who have turned up at the capitol to stand up for reproductive rights. I also wore pink earbuds, trying to follow the house debate while waiting in line. Maybe this young guy thought I couldn’t hear him. Maybe he didn’t care.

“I’m looking forward to all this being over so I can wear my orange shirts again!” he joked.

She contrasts his blase attitude with that of Yatzel Sabat, a gay woman of color

who was dragged out of that same gallery Wednesday morning by law enforcement. Sabat was not wearing orange. She was wearing black.

Her limbs bound by state troopers, she screamed in a clear, strong voice, “This bill will kill women!” as the Texas House of Representatives gave its approval to HB 2, passing the devastating legislation along to the state senate for final passage….

This bill will kill. Period.

It will kill Texans who already travel to Mexico to buy abortion pills from flea markets because they are too poor to go to a legal abortion clinic, or unable to take time off work to find a doctor’s office and wait 24 hours between a state-mandated sonogram and an abortion procedure. It will kill Texans who, if HB 2 passes, cannot travel a thousand miles round trip to a San Antonio or Dallas ambulatory surgical center for a safe, legal abortion.

Please read the whole thing if you can.

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Next up, the U.S. Congress debates more cuts in food stamps as American children go hungry. From Martha White at NBC News:

For one in seven Americans, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps, is all that stands between them and too little food.

But the complicated calculus of financial survival for the working poor also means any cuts to the roughly $80 billion SNAP, as it’s known, being considered by Congress would be felt well beyond the grocery checkout line. Buying new school clothes, family outings, even getting a toehold in the financial mainstream could be thrown into limbo.

For many of the working poor, wages just don’t go far enough. The National Employment Law project says nearly 60 percent of jobs created in the post-recession recovery pay $13.83 or less an hour, and hourly wages for some low-wage occupations fell by more than 5 percent in just three years.

Food service and temporary employment make up 43 percent of the post-recession job growth, according to NELP policy analyst Jack Temple. “They overwhelmingly pay low wages,” Temple said. “For that lower segment, you’re going to see increased use of safety net programs to make up the difference.”

Read it and weep, folks; and while you do keep in mind that the Federal deficit has been dropping steadily. The only possible reasons for the austerity agenda are to make the rich richer and punish the working poor.

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The Snowden saga continues.  Reuters reports that Russia has not yet received an application for asylum from the American hacker/leaker/whistleblower/dissident–or whatever he’s being called at the moment.

Russia kept former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden at arm’s length on Saturday, saying it had not been in touch with the fugitive American and had not yet received a formal request for political asylum.

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled Russia is weighing its options after Snowden, who is stranded at a Moscow airport, broke three weeks of silence and asked for refuge in Russia until he can secure safe passage to Latin America.

Washington urged Moscow to return Snowden to the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges after revealing details of secret surveillance programs, and President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin….

“We are not in contact with Snowden,” Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying in Kyrgyzstan, where he attended a foreign ministers’ meeting.

He said he had learned of Snowden’s meeting with Russian human rights activists and public figures at the airport on Friday from the media, “just like everyone else.”

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Senator Elizabeth Warren is working on bringing back Glass-Steagall-like regulations on banks. From the LA Times:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has launched a campaign to make banks boring again as she pushes legislation to enact stricter regulations forcing deposit-taking financial institutions out of the investment business.

The Massachusetts Democrat wants to reinstate the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, which separated what she called boring checking and savings accounts that are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from risky investment banking.

And after joining three other senators Thursday in introducing a bipartisan bill to do that, Warren went toTwitter to rally support.

She urged her Twitter followers to retweet the message, “Banks should be boring.” She emailed her political backers, asking them to support her 21st century Glass-Steagall Act, which she introduced along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Yesterday Warren went on CNBC to argue her case with some blonde talking head. Check it out:

As you know, yesterday Malala Yousafzai spoke to the United Nations and told the world: Being shot by Taliban made me stronger (NBC News)

Malala Yousafzai addresses the UN

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, was given a standing ovation at the United Nations Friday as she declared the attempt on her life had only given her strength and banished any fear she once felt.

“Dear friends, on the 9th of October, 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too,” she said in her first major public appearance. “They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed.”

Speaking on her 16th birthday, she said the “terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this — weakness, fear and hopelessness died, strength, power and courage was born.”

“I am the same Malala, my ambitions are the same, my hopes are the same and my dreams are the same,” she said to thunderous applause.

What an courageous, intelligent, and inspiring and young woman she is!

On that note, I’ll turn the floor over to you. What stories are you following today. Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread. Have a stupendous Saturday


What’s That Lassie? Little Timmy’s in the Well AGAIN?

lassie Wow, it looks like Turbo Tax Timmy has gone rogue! We better send the press up to Alaska to chase down another Palin rumor. First, there’s that nastiness over the weekend with the Stephanapolous show on ABC where he explicitly said that the administration wasn’t ruling out new taxes on the middle class. (Something Larry-the-la-la Summers also inkled, but hey, he’s not a cabinet officer, he’s something akin to a Czar that has to be overthrown by something other than scandal and public displays of stupidity.) I believe that gave Robert Gibbs Excedrin headaches number 349-357 during yesterday’s presser.

Now, there’s rumors of a temper tantrum in the presence of all the nation’s topic economists and financial regulators outlined here in the WSJ. It seems he’s not getting the Obama way on this one. The ladies in the room have taken exception to his granting Ben Bernanke (possibly later, this year, La-la Summers) all the fun and power. I guess being an independent regulator with an agency all to yourself just isn’t what it used to be; especially when you have scary lady parts and a huge brain.

Mr. Geithner told the regulators Friday that “enough is enough,” said one person familiar with the meeting. Mr. Geithner said regulators had been given a chance to air their concerns, but that it was time to stop, this person said.

Among those gathered in the Treasury conference room were Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair.

Friday’s roughly hourlong meeting was described as unusual, not only because of Mr. Geithner’s repeated use of obscenities, but because of the aggressive posture he took with officials from federal agencies generally considered independent of the White House. Mr. Geithner reminded attendees that the administration and Congress set policy, not the regulatory agencies.

Mr. Geithner, without singling out officials, raised concerns about regulators who questioned the wisdom of giving the Federal Reserve more power to oversee the financial system. Ms. Schapiro and Ms. Bair, among others, have argued that more authority should be shared among a council of regulators.

This current turf battle is only the latest move by a group within government possibly thwarting the Treasury’s plans to continue uploading tax dollars to the bonus class in the guise of saving the financial sector. If there’s still disagreement about this point, can you imagine what other things are going on in complete disarray behind the scenes? Who is really in charge of solving this overt act of sibling rivalry? Well, if you have figured out where the buck stops in this administration, you’re doing better than me. (Hint: these folks are ALL presidential appointments).

Read the rest of this entry »


When Will They Ever Learn?

The Blogging Econ heads are still news makers today as we have more and more reports of record profits at Goldman pigs-playing-poker1Sachs and examples of blatant corportist propaganda at CNBC. I learned yesterday that many folks are listening, it just isn’t necessarily the ones shaping and setting policy. We also see a completely unsustainable budget coming down the pipe per the Director of the CBO. Why is it that policy makers seem to want us in dire straights? Are their sources of campaign funds so sacred that they’re willing to bring down the U.S. economy? Where does a Cassandra start?

Matt Taibbi and Paul Krugman focus in on the GS profits. So, I’m all for making a decent rate of return, that’s necessary to keep a company in business and it’s required to attract capital to grow a market. However, record setting, extraordinary profits are symptoms of a market out-of-whack. In the most simplest of analysis it could mean there are minimally too few providers of a service which can also lead to some form of market manipulation, information hiding, or information asymmetry allowing them to reap extraordinary profits. I basically think we’re seeing GS game the market based on raiding underpriced AIG assets with a free source of capital. This means the profits are straight from taxpayer funding. No wonder these guys don’t want to pony up any equity to us based on profitability and want to dump TARP funds (with their compensation restrictions) as quickly as possible. How can Washington miss that they’re back at their same old games?

This is from Taibbi who basically lays it out. They’re taking our tax dollars and buying assets with tax dollar in government-selected subsidized fire sales, creating arbitrage profits (some through their own huge market shares now that much of their competition is gone) and churning themselves some nice bonuses. In music, that’s called riding the gravy train. It’s a no risk, no brainer, no lose situation. Why would that require bonuses? [You can mark my words on this. They looted (with government enabling) AIG and the next one up will be CIT.]

So what’s wrong with Goldman posting $3.44 billion in second-quarter profits, what’s wrong with the company so far earmarking $11.4 billion in compensation for its employees? What’s wrong is that this is not free-market earnings but an almost pure state subsidy.

Krugman, a microeconomist with specializations in trade theory, sees it too.

The American economy remains in dire straits, with one worker in six unemployed or underemployed. Yet Goldman Sachs just reported record quarterly profits — and it’s preparing to hand out huge bonuses, comparable to what it was paying before the crisis. What does this contrast tell us?

First, it tells us that Goldman is very good at what it does. Unfortunately, what it does is bad for America.

Second, it shows that Wall Street’s bad habits — above all, the system of compensation that helped cause the financial crisis — have not gone away.

Third, it shows that by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has done nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely.

Meanwhile, back in the Main Stream Media, also known as the Wall Street and K Street propaganda factory, CNBC has tired to rosy up Dr. Doom’s forecasts to enable its masters arbitrage profits. Roubini made it clear that his views on the economy have remained unchanged despite the attempts to make it look otherwise.

Nouriel Roubini, the economist whose dire forecasts earned him the nickname “Doctor Doom,” said after markets closed Thursday that earlier reports claiming he sees an end to the recession this year were “taken out of context.”

“It has been widely reported today that I have stated that the recession will be over ‘this year’ and that I have ‘improved’ my economic outlook,” Roubini said in a prepared statement. “Despite those reports … my views expressed today are no different than the views I have expressed previously. If anything my views were taken out of context.”

Several business news outlets, picking up on a report initially from Reuters, earlier Thursday cited Roubini as saying that the worst of the economic financial crisis may be over.

The New York University professor was quoted by Reuters as saying that the economy would emerge from the recession toward the end of 2009.

Reports of his comments helped trigger a late rally in the stock market.

Did you read that bit about triggering a late rally in the stock market? Pity the poor suckers that believed CNBC and of course, watch the deposits grow of the folks that placed the offsetting market transactions. And, let’s see, which market insiders would probably know that was BS? I don’t think you have to be Ms. Marple or an SEC investigator to figure that one out. It was just a simple mistake, wasn’t it?

Factors Explaining Future Federal Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (Percentage of GDP)
Factors Explaining Future Federal Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (Percentage of GDP)

Another thing that really has sugared my cookies is this report coming out of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) one of the few bastions of economic thought in the beltway that tries to look out for the real constituents of Washington D.C.. The Director of the CBO,Doug Elmendorf, had this to say to a Senate Committee followed by a post to his blog.

The current recession and policy responses have little effect on long-term projections of noninterest spending and revenues. But CBO estimates that in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the federal government will record its largest budget deficits as a share of GDP since shortly after World War II. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public will soar from 41 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to 60 percent at the end of fiscal year 2010. This higher debt results in permanently higher spending to pay interest on that debt. Federal interest payments already amount to more than 1 percent of GDP; unless current law changes, that share would rise to 2.5 percent by 2020.

There’s also his bottom line.

Under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path, because federal debt will continue to grow much faster than the economy over the long run. Although great uncertainty surrounds long-term fiscal projections, rising costs for health care and the aging of the population will cause federal spending to increase rapidly under any plausible scenario for current law. Unless revenues increase just as rapidly, the rise in spending will produce growing budget deficits. Large budget deficits would reduce national saving, leading to more borrowing from abroad and less domestic investment, which in turn would depress economic growth in the United States. Over time, accumulating debt would cause substantial harm to the economy.

Okay, am I just being a little too wonky here or are these three things perfectly clear to any one who has the audacity to be informed?

Norway, anyone?
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