What ever Happened to “We” the People?

images (1)I am writing a post today as an outcropping of my professional pursuits, my status in life, and about the person I love who is mired deep in the kind of long term, blue-collar unemployment that didn’t used to exist in this country. I am underemployed at the moment because I don’t want to jump out of my sustainable life here to something that is risky and might not work out for me at my stage in life. I am trying to set up my end game and feel like I really can’t afford the risk of moving someplace for a job that may or may not pan out or some place where I basically suffer to exist.  I am in a state of perpetual hunker down because of this. It is stressful and eating into my investments which I am fortunate to have but are not inexhaustible. I will not talk about my friend’s situation because, of course, it is personal. But, I will say watching some one so beautiful struggle with self worth issues because this economy only works for a few and because our government persistently sticks to such an untrue narrative about our economy just keeps me on the edge of tears.  I am not an overly emotional person at all.  Living in the USA should not mean living in a state of risk avoidance, depression, poor shaming and poverty creation.

There are many things that I grew up with and assumed would be there when I grew up that I despair frequently at their loss and threatened existence. My kids,as you know, are doing fine. My father got his degrees on the GI Bill and saw to it that my sister and I were educated. As a result, my girls and I never even considered not going to university. Doctor Daughter is now a full-fledged OB-GYN in the process of getting board certified in Washington State where she will undoubtedly become very rich very quickly with her soon-to-be radiologist husband. Youngest daughter just took her GMAT and is headed for her MBA in the fall. She and her boyfriend of three years have very good jobs and make great money. But the deal is, that was the path set before us because our families can now chose further upward mobility through higher education and jobs in the right sectors.  We are all there. For my son-in-law, it is because his parents had access to immigration to the US and US public universities. For us, it was because my father who comes from a railroad worker and Oklahoma/Kansas dirt farmers could go to university.  That happened because my granddad had a great blue collar job that began with digging ditches for the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe and my dad’s access to the GI bill.  The real success stories of last century come from the many of us who got access to what we did because “we” the people invested in ourselves and each other. We also decided to jointly insure ourselves against personal and community disasters.  All of these accomplishments are under direct assault today and we are failing ourselves and each other in many ways.

There used to be an alternative path through good, stable, well-paying jobs that took training, skill, hard work and experience.  Original socioeconomic status wasn’t all that relevant.  That path has dried up.   The heart wrenching stories told in this NYT article about the crumbling city of Port Clinton, Ohio are typical of many midwestern, formally thriving industrial cities. The article contrasts the life of the author’s grandchildren and those of his blue collar classmates who went to school in the small town.  This narrative is one played out all over the country.  The conclusion is compelling.

The contrast with the egalitarian ethos and reality of the 1950s — the contrast between the upward mobility experienced by J and the bleak prospects of R — vividly captures Port Clinton’s transformation in the last half-century, much like that of the rest of the country. My research team has talked with dozens of R’s from Austin, Tex., to Duluth, Minn., and from Atlanta to Orange County, Calif.

The crumbling of the American dream is a purple problem, obscured by solely red or solely blue lenses. Its economic and cultural roots are entangled, a mixture of government, private sector, community and personal failings. But the deepest root is our radically shriveled sense of
“we.”
Everyone in my parents’ generation thought of J as one of “our kids,” but surprisingly few adults in Port Clinton today are even aware of R’s existence, and even fewer would likely think of her as “our kid.” Until we treat the millions of R’s across America as our own kids, we will pay a major economic price, and talk of the American dream will increasingly seem cynical historical fiction.

Yes. We have a “radically shriveled sense of we” these days and it is killing the economy for all but a few of us.  It is fueling racial resentment.  It is even leading to a zero sum game for the folks reaping the benefits right now even though they adamantly refuse to see that future. Much of the problem is because  The Pay is too Damn Low.  More and more of productivity gains and corporate income gains are going to a small number of passive investors and not to the people involved in producing the gains.  It is upending classical labor theory and actually invigorating the old ideas of Karl Marx as I have written before.  Please remember, I am not a Marxist but I and others see the coming fruition of many of his philosophical points on how capitalism would eventually self-destruct.   The New Deal did not bring about  radical change.  It brought about upward mobility and societal safety nets so we did not get radical change. Nothing fuels revolution like national despair.

The workers’ grievances are simple: low wages, few (if any) benefits, and little full-time work. In inflation-adjusted terms, the minimum wage, though higher than it was a decade ago, is still well below its 1968 peak (when it was worth about $10.70 an hour in today’s dollars), and it’s still poverty-level pay. To make matters worse, most fast-food and retail work is part time, and the weak job market has eroded what little bargaining power low-wage workers had: their earnings actually fell between 2009 and last year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

The situation is the result of a tectonic shift in the American economy. In 1960, the country’s biggest employer, General Motors, was also its most profitable company and one of its best-paying. It had high profit margins and real pricing power, even as it was paying its workers union wages. And it was not alone: firms like Ford, Standard Oil, and Bethlehem Steel employed huge numbers of well-paid workers while earning big profits. Today, the country’s biggest employers are retailers and fast-food chains, almost all of which have built their businesses on low pay—they’ve striven to keep wages down and unions out—and low prices.


The deal is that big businesses are making record level profits and the record-setting levels of the DJ industrial average show that we are not failing the largest businesses and the richest people in the country.  They do not need to be exempt from more taxation or responsibility from the moral hazard and the social costs they inflict on society.  The benefits of their existence do not trickle down on us.  What trickles down is their costs to society like those of the last financial crisis and that of oil spills, chemical company fires, and toxin produced illnesses.  A strong economy comes from jobs and middle income prosperity and spending.  Many private sector jobs are so bad they no longer do anything but sustain people in intense suffering.

One of the big reasons the U.S. economy is so lousy is the American companies are hoarding cash and “maximizing profits” instead of investing in their people and future projects.

This behavior is contributing to record income inequality in the country and starving the primary engine of U.S. economic growth–the vast American middle class–of purchasing power. (See charts below).

If average Americans don’t get paid living wages, they can’t spend much money buying products and services. And when average Americans can’t buy products and services, the companies that sell products and services to average Americans can’t grow. So the profit obsession of America’s big companies is, ironically, hurting their ability to accelerate revenue growth.

One obvious solution to this problem is to encourage companies to pay their people more — to share more of the vast wealth that they create with the people who create it.

The companies have record profit margins, so they can certainly afford to do this.

But, unfortunately, over the past three decades, what began as a healthy and necessary effort to make our companies more efficient after the malaise of the 1970s has evolved into a warped consensus that the only value that companies should create is financial value (cash) and that the only thing managers and owners should ever worry about it making more of it.

This view is an insult to anyone who has ever dreamed of having a job that is about more than money.

People take risks when they feel they have adequate safety nets to do so.  We are ripping apart the nets that let people try new things and move to do things.  We are losing opportunities to educate and advance our society and our people.

As Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me, “The best friend that low-wage workers have is a strong economy and a tight job market.” It isn’t enough to make bad jobs better. We need to create better jobs.

That simple statement and the politics of right now have led Robert Reich to suggest that some policy makers actually want high unemployment to suppress wages and keep the profits trickling up to big investors.   All the while, these same politicians fuel racial resentment.  They tell formerly well-off white blue collar workers that it is immigration and and reverse racism in civil rights legislation that has hurt their livelihoods.  Meanwhile, the media keeps up the false narrative that it’s the defict, it’s social security, and it’s medicare that is hurting us.  Putting money into the group of people most likely to spend it is the way to drive the American Economy.  We economists have known that for years.  Hoarding money at the top and refusing to use the governments power to tax and spend is bad economic policy. Our fiscal policy is killing the American Dream instead of driving it.

tumblr_madbelHBtf1rubozqo1_500There are other examples besides our labor market.  Health insurance is just one more market where “we” the people can do right by each other and can actually improve outcomes.  I want to point you to the irascible Andrew Sullivan who uses Hayek–the economic god of the libertarian cult–to explain why social insurance –like Social Security and Medicare–actually stops freeloading off the economy rather than encouraging it.  In this situation, he explains why Obamacare actually forces us to take personal responsibility.  It is a argument from a different perspective on why “we” the people have to act on economic principals to preserve our society and way of life.  In this essay, he criticizes the right wing radical group Freedomworks.  The groupis trying to get 20somethings to burn their Obamacare cards which is in itself pretty crazy because the cards are nonexistent.  Actually, what this does is wreck the risk pool for all of us.  But, here is an argument for the leverage of government on a market that has failed so many people from another vantage point.

It is not being independent; it’s being potentially dependent on others while giving nothing in return. And insurance is an inherently collective endeavor. That’s how it works. It’s one area where going it alone makes very little sense. And, of course, the bigger the insurance pool, the lower the premiums. This is not socialism. It’s a simple insurance principle, used by free countries for centuries. It certainly passed muster with Friedrich Hayek, a man you would think would be an influence on the Tea Party’s political program. I’ve cited this before but it’s worth citing again:

Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong … Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make the provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.

That’s from The Road To Serfdom, one book of the libertarian and conservative Bible. And it’s common sense. It’s leveraging a simple principle – pooling risk – and extending it as far as possible to guard against the “common hazards of life.” There is nothing leftist or socialist about it. And it demands that each of us be personally responsible for the costs our own encounters with illness or accident impose upon our neighbors, rich and poor, young and old. If FreedomWorks were consistent, it would encourage twentysomethings to “burn their Obamacare card” while simultaneously pledging never to seek medical care under any circumstances. That would be coherent, if bonkers. What’s incoherent is claiming that refusing to contribute to a system you nonetheless intend to use is anything but a scam.

In fact, what FreedomWorks is encouraging is the real socialism. It’s using the 1986 law to force hard-working Americans to pay for free-loaders’ care.

The deal is that when labor markets or social insurance markets or health insurance markets fail a group of us, they fail and cost all of us one way or another.  The cost us through increased crime, mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, family instability.  People losing homes costs us.  When houses go on the market at fire sale prices, it drags down the home prices of every one in the neighborhood.  When wages are low, people don’t spend money at the the local businesses who cannot afford to hire more people or order inventory.  Children raised with poor educational opportunities in crime ridden areas most likely become problems that cost us dearly in our incarceration nation.  We fully know that there are places where the government can act and change the momentum. Yet,  our government fails us.  The government of  “we” the people is not using the known and available tools to correct things.  It is, in fact, actively undermining economic health.  Economists known that deficit reduction is impeding the economy yet that is not the conventional wisdom floating around the beltway. Pundits and Policy makers are either being deliberately ignorant or lying.

Hardly a day goes by when either government analysts or the macroeconomists and financial forecasters who advise investors and businesses do not report on the latest signs of economic growth — in housing, consumer spending, business investment. And then they add that things would be better but for the fiscal policy out of Washington. Tax increases and especially spending cuts, these critics say, take money from an economy that still needs some stimulus now, and is getting it only through the expansionary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.

“Fiscal tightening is hurting,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors, wrote to clients recently. The investment bank Jefferies wrote of “ongoing fiscal mismanagement” in its midyear report on Tuesday, and noted that while the recovery and expansion would be four years old next month, reduced government spending “has detracted from growth in five of past seven quarters.”

We know that insurance is by definition a collective effort because of its pooling of risk.  Its goal is risk mitigation and therefore, cost reduction.  Yet, here we go down the path of bringing down the government for an effort to reign in the dysfunctional health insurance industry.  Not only are some policymakers willing to blow up our social insurance programs, they are doing so at the high risk of blowing up the entire economy when so many folks are still suffering from the last blowup and their inability to do something to stop the suffering.   This kind’ve foolishness really needs to come to an end.  There is nothing to be gained by any of us for this type of incessant nonsense.   Many policymakers and their pundit enablers are putting themselves and their friends’ interests above that of the country’s and that of “we” the people.  It is hurting many of us including a huge number of children whose lives look pretty bleak at the moment.  Spend some time reading the narratives of folks in that top story that these guys poor-shame daily and then think of the possible programs that would actually put the cost of market failure back on the companies and people that caused it to start out with.  It would also put people back to work. Then, start to wonder if our country can ever look like it did when it was truly the land of opportunity instead of the land of “we” the few, powerful, and rich.  It is a very American ideal to think we could have a country where every one can find a well-paying job and join together to pay to insure against and provide for the risk of disasters.


Tuesday: Something’s Gotta Give!

greta garbo reading

Good Morning!!

I’ve finally reached a point of such frustration with politics, with the do-nothing Congress, and the mostly unserious media, that I wonder if the bottleneck of corruption, incompetence, and stupidity in Washington DC will ever be broken.

Congress–particularly the Senate–is populated mostly with old, rich white men who work about two days a week at most and take so many vacations that it’s hard to keep track of when they’re actually on the job. When the rest of us have a day off, they get a week. And for major holidays like Christmas, they take a month. It’s sickening.

The Republican House spends its two days a week mostly taking votes to repeal or defund Obamacare or finding new ways to wage war on women’s individual freedom and autonomy. The rest of their time is spent trying to take food out of the mouths of poor children by cutting food stamps and other safety net programs. Then there are the states where Republican governors and legislatures are waging all-out war on women and pretty much anyone who isn’t in the top 1%.

Meanwhile, our roads and bridges are falling down all over the country. Can you imagine how many jobs the government could create by helping to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure? Not only that, but baby boomers like me could be put back to work helping in the schools. The government could create a WPA for the growing ranks of seniors instead of attacking us for collecting the Social Security and Medicare we’ve paid into for our entire lives!

Will the logjam ever break? Will we ever see the slightest focus on jobs and economic equality for the vast majority of Americans?

Back in 2000, after the Supreme Court designated George W. Bush as president, I despaired and ignored politics for awhile. But after 9/11 and the lies that dragged us into two wars that ended up being longer and more pointless than the war of my youth–Vietnam–I began to follow politics closely again. I felt it was my responsibility as a citizen to pay attention to what was being done in our name. And I did.

I had gone back to college in 1993 and got into using computers again. In 1997, I started graduate school, and got my first PC and immediately got my cable company to hook it up to the internet. I joined internet mailing lists where I could discuss issues that interested me.

Around 2003, I heard about “weblogs,” and I set out to find some that discussed politics. Every day I read and commented at Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and dozens of other liberal blogs. Most of you know the rest. In 2008, I was driven off DK after I failed to drink the Obot Koolaid. I wrote for a small blog for a couple of years and then finally Dakinkat and I joined up here at Sky Dancing, along with Mona and JJ.

I’m here and I want to keep on writing here. I love learning about new subjects when I research news stories. But Goddammit, I want something new to happen. I want our government to be functional and have positive effects on my life and the lives of other ordinary people.

Back in 2008 I pretty much shut off the TV and focused on getting my news on the internet. But for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been escaping into detective novels and watching old movies on the tube. It’s difficult to find things blog about when the news is the same every day–the war on women and working people and Congress refusing to lift a finger to improve the economic situation for the vast majority of Americans.

As you know, lately I’ve become fascinated by the case of Edward Snowden and his leaks about NSA spying. Previously, I had focused on the bombings that took place in Boston and that had led me to do a lot of research on Russia, where the accused bombers’ roots were. So when Snowden ended up in Russia, I had a little bit of background on the place.

When the NSA leaks first broke, I thought it was possible we might get some real movement on the issue of domestic spying, but once Snowden revealed himself the story became mostly about him and his mouthpiece Glenn Greenwald.

Now the Snowden story has also settled into a holding pattern. The Russians are enjoying playing with their new toy and sticking it to the Obama administration, and Greenwald isn’t even writing about leaks anymore. He just writes long, angry lectures about how Democrats and liberals are the root of all evil.

Speaking of libertarians, have you noticed the Ayn Rand crowd is taking over and brainwashing a lot of so-called “progressives?” Last week there was an effort to pass an amendment that would have prevented NSA from collecting any telephone metadata. Instead of having an intelligent discussion about how to carefully regulate electronic surveillance, we would have simply ended it–and gone back to where we were before 9/11 in terms of identifying terrorist threats.

That bill was named after an Ayn Rand worshipping wingnut from Michigan named Justin Amash whose goal is to remove all power from the Federal government except the power to control women’s bodies! Did you know that Amash wants to ban abortions as of three days after conception? This reactionary who is being called “the next Ron Paul” was actually named “Truthdigger of the week.” Are you kidding me?

Have we finally reached the point where the “progressives” of 2008 are joining with the anti-statist libertarians? Sorry, but I’m not down with that. I believe in government, and I believe we need a strong Federal government. I think the states have too much power over people’s lives right now. I think we need a national equal rights amendment to end the constant ridiculous efforts to control the lives of women and LGBT people!

Now I’ve ranted away much of the space for this post, and I haven’t really given you any news. I’m going to post a few links, and I will put up another post a little later on. And If you have any suggestions for how I can deal with my Political Affective Disorder, I’ll be very grateful to receive them.

President Obama has been trying to put some focus on economics, and will make his fourth speech on the topic today. A few links:

The Windsor Star– Analysis: Obama tries to shift focus to economy, faces withering Republican opposition

WSJ– Obama Economic Proposals Face Long Odds in Congress

Dean Baker– Cruel Arithmetic and President Obama’s Big Speech

The Hill– Obama to propose ‘grand bargain’ on jobs, corporate tax rates

Other News

Fox News– 8 injured, including 4 critically, after dozens of explosions rock central Florida propane plant

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker– Waiting for the Bradley Manning Verdict

Vanity Fair– Anthony Weiner’s Cringe-y New Sexts Reveal Request for “Daily Shoe Update”

USA Today– San Diego mayor wants taxpayers to foot legal bills

So…….. What’s new with you today? Are you frustrated, depressed, or perhaps inspired? What issues are you focusing on today? Please let me know in the comment thread.


Bring on the Real Economists

I really loved the line in Obama’s acceptance speech on the Republican’s apple vinegar cure-all for everything that ails you.  Take two tax cuts, throw out a few regulations, and call us in the morning!  Here’s a great read.  The NYT book review looks at the new books of Nobel prize winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.  These out spoken economists speak truth to power.  I just wish the current powers-that-be would listen.

…Washington is stuck in neutral. Worse than neutral; it is in reverse. As the last elements of the 2009 stimulus phase out, the initial flood of federal aid has slowed to a trickle. If no agreement is reached before early next year, the trickle will become a huge backward flow, as President Obama’s payroll tax cut and all the Bush tax cuts expire while automatic spending cuts agreed to in previous legislative sessions kick in. Already, Republican leaders are threatening to replay last year’s standoff over the debt ceiling. Meanwhile, state and local governments—prohibited from running sustained deficits, increasingly dominated by anti-spending forces—continue to cut aid to those out of work and slash programs that invest in the nation’s future while laying off teachers and other public workers. Without those layoffs, the current unemployment rate would probably be around 7 percent.

Against this backdrop, no book could be more timely than Paul Krugman’s End This Depression Now! Since the crisis began, Krugman has argued with consistency and increasing frustration that the United States has become caught not in a normal recession, but in a “liquidity trap.” Since interest rates are already at rock bottom, normal measures, such as easy credit, won’t work, and expanded government expenditures must play a central part in boosting anemic demand. Otherwise, the efforts of private citizens to pay down debts laid bare by the financial crisis will continue to hold the economy back.

We continue to see Republicans blame the current Democratic administration for an economy they wrecked and a lackluster recovery that they actively work to prevent from becoming betterToday’s job report is not what it should or could be.  But, it’s not what the Republicans make it out to be either.  History shows us that the Democrats have been the job creators.

In the eighteen months from the beginning of 2008 through the middle of 2009, a period fully shaped by the Bush economic program to which Republicans now want to return, (but before the Obama stimulus had a chance to take effect), approximately 7.5 million jobs were lost.

Over the most recent 18 months of the Obama administration, approximately 2.8 million jobs have been added.

That means that the average monthly job loss during the “difficult situation” before Obama’s policies took effect was 417,000. Over the last year-and-a-half, the average monthly job gain has been 155,000.

If Rep. Ryan and Gov. Romney see that as making a bad situation worse, it should tell us something about their “vision.”

Joseph Stiglitz has been focused on the huge income gap created by policies that funnel money to the highest income earners.  His concern is of the US as a Banana Republic.

We may be the richest nation in the world, but poverty is higher and social mobility between generations lower than in other rich nations. In other respects, our model is bloated: we release far more carbon dioxide and use far more water on a per capita basis; and we spend far more on health care, while leaving tens of millions uninsured and achieving health outcomes that are mediocre at best.

The reason, according to Stiglitz, is that the vaunted American market is broken. And the reason for that, he argues, is that our economy is being overwhelmed by politically engineered market advantages—special deals that Stiglitz labels with a term familiar to economists: “rent-seeking.” By this, he means economic returns above normal market levels that are derived from favorable political treatment. In the most powerful parts of The Price of Inequality, Stiglitz chronicles the blatant tax and spending giveaways to big agriculture, big energy, and countless other sectors. Yet he also pointedly argues that much of the rent-seeking that plagues our economy takes a more subtle form, also familiar to economists: “negative externalities,” or costs that economic producers impose on society for which they don’t pay.

The spectacular profits of the energy industry, for example, rely heavily on the failure of regulation to incorporate fully the social and economic costs associated with environmental degradation, including climate change. Similarly, the increasingly aggressive activities of Wall Street—whether in the marketing of unsound mortgages, the use of excessive leverage, or the irresponsible use of derivatives—create huge risks for the economy as a whole. Yet these risks are largely not taken into account in the prices paid in financial markets. Without effective regulation, the costs are borne by all of us—most acutely by the struggling millions who have been pushed out of jobs.

Weeding out these and other forms of rent-seeking would thus promote both efficiency and equity, and Stiglitz provides a broad list of reform ideas, ranging from strict regulation of financial markets to more effective anti-trust laws. Yet he is most passionate about the need for political reform. Either those at the top will realize that things must change, or, he suggests, the kinds of popular revolts sweeping Middle Eastern nations will come to the United States.

Bill Clinton indicated that we have a choice of visions in this election.   He’s also right that the economy does better under Democrats.

Clinton has some intriguing facts on his side. Aside from a rounding error, his historical numbers are accurate (figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the tally under Democrats since 1961 rounds to 41 million, not 42 million). I crunched the numbers a few different ways to see if Clinton was cherry-picking the best numbers. His figures measure job gains from the month a president took office until the month he left. Since it takes a year or so for any president’s policies to go into effect, I also measured job gains from one year after each president took office till one year after he left. Here’s the score by that measure: Democrats: 38 million new jobs, Republicans, 27 million.

Clinton only mentioned private-sector jobs, so I pulled the data for all jobs, including government. Again, the Dems have a big edge, accounting for 48 million new jobs, compared with 31 million for Republicans. If you push the boundaries out one year for each president, the gap narrows to 44 million new jobs under Democrats, and 34 million under Republicans.

Other measures also show that the economy performs better under Democratic presidents. Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist for S&P Capital IQ, conducted an analysis recently showing that GDP, stock prices, and corporate earnings have all increased more under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.

The S&P 500 stock index, for example, has risen 12.1 percent per year under Democratic presidents since 1900, and just 5.1 percent under Republicans. Since 1949, GDP has grown 4.2 percent per year under Democrats and 2.6 percent per year under Republicans. The same trend extends to corporate profits, which have grown 10.5 percent under Dems and 8.9 percent under Republicans.

The irony is obvious, since Republicans are considered the business-friendly party, while “tax and spend” Democrats are regarded as redistributionists eager to transfer wealth from those who have it to those who don’t.

We need to hold the Republicans responsible for all the evil they have done recently.  I’m rejecting them all up and down the ticket this fall because I want a healthy economy and they never really deliver that.


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

I lived in the Quarter for five years.  I now live about 1 mile from it. I gigged there even after I moved so I know a lot of the clubs, a lot of the people, and a lot of the characters.  I could tell you about the Chicken Man, Ruthie the Duck Girl, and a number of French Quarter eccentrics.  I’ve lent a lot of gowns and girlie stuff to guys in my day.  I love the Quarter.  However, whenever we do a celebration there’s always a presence of religious folks dragging crosses, shouting hateful things through megaphones, and carrying really nasty placards.  You get to know them too even though you’re glad when they go home and crawl under their rocks.  I used to live in a back house but many of my friends had big ol’ wrought iron-laced balconies.  My friend Georgia and I used to like to water her plants on the days they drug their ugly in front of our homes on Royal.  So, I just loved reading this.  Here’s one of them–Rev. Grant Storms– who has been a big damper our big celebration of the Gay community of the South; Southern Decadence. Try to just let the irony and the hypocrisy flow all over you.

The Rev. Grant Storms, the former “Christian patriot” pastor whose marches against homosexuality at New Orleans’ Southern Decadence festival briefly put him in the national spotlight, was convicted of obscenity Wednesday, for exposing himself while masturbating at Lafreniere Park last year. In his confession, he described public masturbation as “a thrill,” but authorities debunked suspicions that he was a pedophile.

Storms, 55, who lives in Metairie, declined to comment after the conviction. Judge Ross LaDart of the 24th Judicial District Court, who presided over the daylong trial because Storms waived a jury, did not even break to deliberate. He promptly found Storms guilty of the single count of obscenity. He sentenced Storms to three years of probation, citing no evidence of a criminal history.

LaDart also ordered Storms to be evaluated, apparently psychologically. The judge noted that in Storms’ confession, he admitted that Feb. 25, 2011, the day he was arrested, was the third time that week that he masturbated in Lafreniere Park.

“Lafreniere Park is a public place,” LaDart said in announcing the verdict. “Lafreniere Park is a place that was chosen by this defendant to engage in a history of masturbation.”

Storms declined to testify. His attorneys, Brett Emmanuel and Donald Cashio, did not overtly deny their client masturbated in the park but argued he never exposed his penis. The exposure was a necessary element of the obscenity charge.

In his confession, Storms told Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kevin Balser he had taken a break from his grass cutting business to sip a beer in the park, where he said he became “horny.” He said he put his hands into his underwear, but he never exposed himself.

Oh, my.

So, one of the big questions that came out of watching the republican primary debate was how can people be so cruel?  Why would they clap at the thought of some one dying or boo a gay soldier.  Here’s an explanation from  Josh Holland at Alternet.  He explains the conservative psyche and how ordinary people can embrace Paul Ryan.

Earlier this year, Democratic operatives looking for the best way to define Mitt Romney discovered something interesting about Paul Ryan’s budget. The New York Times reported that when the details of his proposals were run past focus groups, they found that the plan is so cruel that voters simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”

In addition to phasing out the Earned Income Tax Credit that keeps millions of American families above the poverty line and cutting funding for children’s healthcare in half, Jonathan Cohn described the “America that Paul Ryan envisions” like this:

Many millions of working-age Americans would lose health insurance. Senior citizens would anguish over whether to pay their rent or their medical bills, in a way they haven’t since the 1960s. Government would be so starved of resources that, by 2050, it wouldn’t have enough money for core functions like food inspections and highway maintenance.

Ryan’s “roadmap” may be the least serious budget plan ever to emerge in Washington, but it is reflective of how far to the right the GOP has moved in recent years. According to a recent study of public attitudes conducted by the Pew Research Center, in 1987, 62 percent of Republicans said “the government should take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” but that number has now dropped to just 40 percent ( PDF). That attitude was on display during a GOP primary debate last fall when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul what fate should befall a healthy person without health insurance who finds himself suddenly facing a catastrophic illness. “Congressman,” Blitzer pressed after Paul sidestepped the question, “are you saying that society should just let him die?” Before Paul had a chance to respond, the audience erupted in cheers , with some shouting, “yeah!”

Well, stimulus has worn off and the Republican war on jobs and the economy–to blame on Obama–is showing as jobs and consumer confidence start heading down.

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits climbed last week to a one-month high, showing scant progress in the labor market that’s left Americans more pessimistic about the economy.

Jobless claims rose by 4,000 for a second week to reach 372,000 in the period ended Aug. 18, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Consumer confidence dropped last week to the lowest level since January, according to the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index.

Companies are keeping payrolls lean as a weaker global economy and lack of clarity on U.S. tax policy next year cloud the demand outlook, one reason the Federal Reserve may be closer to further monetary stimulus. Residential real estate is a source of strength for the expansion, according to a report that showed new-home sales matched a two-year high in July.

“The economy is growing, but it’s still moderate growth, and the labor market is still weak,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “We’re also getting better numbers in terms of building activity. That’s certainly adding to growth and offsetting some of the weakness we’re seeing from the consumer.”

The Party of No and Stupidity is basically playing political games with American lives and with the American economy.  There’s a huge story about it at Time Magazine this week based on the Michael Grunwald book.

TIME just published “The Party of No,” an article adapted from my new book, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. It reveals some of my reporting on the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) where they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular president-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.” The excerpt includes a special bonus nugget of Mitt Romney dissing the Tea Party.

But as we say in the sales world: There’s more! I’m going to be blogging some of the news and larger themes from the book here at time.com, and I’ll kick it off with more scenes from the early days of the Republican Strategy of No. Read on to hear what Joe Biden’s sources in the Senate GOP were telling him, some candid pillow talk between a Republican staffer and an Obama aide, and a top Republican admitting his party didn’t want to “play.” I’ll start with a scene I consider a turning point in the Obama era, when the new president came to the Hill to extend his hand and the GOP spurned it.

Every one here should know that I was an avid Hillary supporter once I decided she was far superior to any one running for president in 2008.  I was pretty flabbergasted when a lot of people suggested that racism played a role in the primary process. The Republican Party has been race-baiting since Richard Nixon adopted “the Southern Strategy”.  From the Bush Willy Horton ads, to the Reagan myth ofwelfare queens driving cadillacs, to the latest Romney strategy of suggesting Obama will gut the welfare program of work incentives, the Republicans have been courting the racist southern vote.  I’ve since decided that race was a bigger factor than my “give’em them benefit of the doubt” philosophy embraced.  I think we have to frame this election in terms of race because of the obvious framing of the President as “not American”, “foreign”, “dog-eating”, Muslim, Kenyan, etc.  I can’t even believe how I see white men complaining about how racist every one is treating them.  The deal is that you cannot complain about being down and out when you’re the group in power of all the major institutions in the country.  Please read this article ‘The Fear of a Black President”by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  We’ve been talking a lot about how Republicans could care less about the plight of women.  They could care even less about the plight of racial minorities in this country.  Coates juxtaposes Obama against the Trayvon Martin killing and all the other thing that remind us that we still have a long way to go with the vision that all of us are created equal.

By virtue of his background—the son of a black man and a white woman, someone who grew up in multiethnic communities around the world—Obama has enjoyed a distinctive vantage point on race relations in America. Beyond that, he has displayed enviable dexterity at navigating between black and white America, and at finding a language that speaks to a critical mass in both communities. He emerged into national view at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, with a speech heralding a nation uncolored by old prejudices and shameful history. There was no talk of the effects of racism. Instead Obama stressed the power of parenting, and condemned those who would say that a black child carrying a book was “acting white.” He cast himself as the child of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and asserted, “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” When, as a senator, he was asked if the response to Hurricane Katrina evidenced racism, Obama responded by calling the “ineptitude” of the response “color-blind.”

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others. Black America ever lives under that skeptical eye. Hence the old admonishments to be “twice as good.” Hence the need for a special “talk” administered to black boys about how to be extra careful when relating to the police. And hence Barack Obama’s insisting that there was no racial component to Katrina’s effects; that name-calling among children somehow has the same import as one of the oldest guiding principles of American policy—white supremacy. The election of an African American to our highest political office was alleged to demonstrate a triumph of integration. But when President Obama addressed the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, he demonstrated integration’s great limitation—that acceptance depends not just on being twice as good but on being half as black. And even then, full acceptance is still withheld. The larger effects of this withholding constrict Obama’s presidential potential in areas affected tangentially—or seemingly not at all—by race. Meanwhile, across the country, the community in which Obama is rooted sees this fraudulent equality, and quietly seethes.

Obama’s first term has coincided with a strategy of massive resistance on the part of his Republican opposition in the House, and a record number of filibuster threats in the Senate. It would be nice if this were merely a reaction to Obama’s politics or his policies—if this resistance truly were, as it is generally described, merely one more sign of our growing “polarization” as a nation. But the greatest abiding challenge to Obama’s national political standing has always rested on the existential fact that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin. As a candidate, Barack Obama understood this.

“The thing is, a black man can’t be president in America, given the racial aversion and history that’s still out there,” Cornell Belcher, a pollster for Obama, told the journalist Gwen Ifill after the 2008 election. “However, an extraordinary, gifted, and talented young man who happens to be black can be president.”

Another outstanding essay in The Nation was written by Melissa  Harris-Perry who still can’t believe that Romney chose Ryan. She can’t believe what this says about Romney’s complete embrace of the right wing and its view and treatment of women.

Nowhere is this more apparent, or more important, than in Ryan’s record on reproductive rights. Romney may have flippantly suggested that he would eliminate Planned Parenthood, but Ryan has worked consistently to restrict women’s access to healthcare. It’s not just his fifty-nine votes to block or limit reproductive rights that are of concern; it’s the absolutist nature of his positions. He rejects rape and incest as mitigating circumstances for abortion. He won’t even consider the possibility that women’s moral autonomy or constitutional rights are sufficient reasons for access.

Ryan is one of sixty-four Congressional co-sponsors of HR 212, a “personhood” bill that gives legal rights to fertilized eggs. Last November a similar measure was soundly defeated by 57 percent of voters in that liberal bastion, Mississippi. (Mississippi!) Ryan co-sponsored a bill too extreme for a state that has only one abortion clinic, a state whose policies have effectively made it impossible for most doctors to perform—or for most women to access—an abortion. It may be time to update the title of Nina Simone’s iconic song from “Mississippi Goddam” to “Paul Ryan Goddam.” Ryan’s role in HR 212 isn’t just the symbolic co-sponsorship of a bill with little likelihood of passage. He explicitly articulated his case for personhood in a 2010 Heritage Foundation article, in which he parrots the familiar conservative case that America’s failure to recognize fetuses as persons is the same as our nation’s historical failure to recognize the humanity of enslaved black people. Therefore, Roe v. Wade is the twentieth-century equivalent of the 1857 Dred Scott decision.

With Ryan and women’s health, there is no middle ground; there is only his moral judgment. And despite his avowed libertarianism on economic issues, on women’s health and rights Ryan is willing to use the full force of government to limit the freedom of dissenting citizens to exercise their opposing judgments.

The Republican Party’s vision of the future is to move the country back to where we would practically have to fight the civil war all over again.  We also would have to fight for rights for women and recognition of the humanity of the GLBT community.  Oh, wait, since the Tea Party took over Congress, we’re having to do that every day.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Saturday Morning Reads

Good Morning!

This is going be short and sweet because it’s been a long week for me. Yesterday the Washington Post published a highly cited story about Mitt Romney as a “pioneer” in the outsourcing of American jobs.

During the nearly 15 years that Romney was actively involved in running Bain, a private equity firm that he founded, it owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas call centers and factories making computer components, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

While economists debate whether the massive outsourcing of American jobs over the last generation was inevitable, Romney in recent months has lamented the toll it’s taken on the U.S. economy. He has repeatedly pledged he would protect American employment by getting tough on China.

“They’ve been able to put American businesses out of business and kill American jobs,” he told workers at a Toledo fence factory in February. “If I’m president of the United States, that’s going to end.”

Really? I strongly suggest you read this story–it’s long and detailed with plenty of specific examples of Romney’s involvement in shipping jobs overseas.

In his speech to Latino officeholders this afternoon, President Obama used the WaPo article to hammer Romney. In comparison to Romney’s appearance before the group yesterday, Obama received a much more enthusiastic reception with more and longer applause.

Meanwhile one of Mitt Romney’s campaign co-chairs undercut the candidate’s campaign of confuse and befuddle and came right out and told the truth to the Daily Telegraph: Mitt Romney ‘likely to scrap Barack Obama’s immigration order’

Ray Walser, the co-chairman of Mr Romney’s Latin American Working Group, also said Mr Obama’s administration had been “fairly tough” on measures to counter illegal migration and that unlawful crossings of the Mexican border had declined, appearing to contradict the Republican candidate’s own comments on the subject.

Mr Romney has repeatedly declined to say what, if elected president in November, he would do about Mr Obama’s move to offer work permits to law-abiding undocumented migrants aged 30 or under.

The Romney campaign later claimed that Walser has no knowledge of the campaign’s policy decisions. The why is he co-chair of the Latin America working group? Looks like Romney is having some surrogate trouble now.

The LA Times interviewed Stephen Mansfield, the author of a new book “The Mormonizing of America” in order to get Mansfield’s take on Romney and his religion.

Q) …[H]ow do you think Romney’s faith has shaped his politics and the way he might lead?

A) I think that there’s no question it’s shaped what you might call his worldview or his system of ethics, what he believes about the Constitution, what he believes about abortion, what he believes about American history — I think all that grows organically out of his Mormonism. I think that his leadership is a product of his training and his gifts, but he does lead out of a sense of it being part of him qualifying, being found worthy, him passing the test of this life — that’s standard Mormon theology.

Q) We are said to be living in this “Mormon Moment,” but a new Gallup poll shows that American attitudes about Mormons haven’t really changed for decades. Nearly one in five Americans say they won’t vote for a Mormon for president. How big a barrier is that to Romney and would a Romney presidency be a game-changer in terms of Mormon acceptance?

….

Q) Would Romney be better off talking about it?

A) If I was king of his campaign, I’d have folks out there talking about it for the campaign, unofficially, but I’d keep the candidate away from it. I’m not sure I’d want Romney talking about temple garments and gods on other planets and Joseph Smith. But I wouldn’t mind having an articulate representative in the field, defending Mr. Romney’s Mormonism in the campaign. And if I don’t see that happen after the convention, I’m going to wonder how much they’re aware in Romney headquarters how much this is an issue in the culture.

At The Daily Beast, here’s an interesting article by Daniel Klaidman on the Holder Witchhunt over “Fast and Furious.” Klaidman said that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa demanded a “scap” from the Justice Department as a last ditch effort to avoid going nuclear with a contempt citation.

for Issa, a partisan warrior who has called Holder a “liar” and the Obama administration one of “the most corrupt” in history, there was always the risk of overreach. When he started to go down the road toward a contempt citation, the House Republican leadership began to show signs of nervousness. Some thought Issa needed to leave himself an escape route. In recent weeks he and his staff began negotiating with DOJ, looking for a way to head off the looming confrontation.

During a phone call last week with a senior Justice official, Issa’s chief investigative counsel, Stephen Castor, broached a possible settlement. As the conversation began, according to two sources familiar with the conversation, Castor asked the official where things stood on “accountability.” By that, Castor meant would any heads roll at Justice. Castor mentioned Lanny Breuer, the head of the department’s Criminal Division, whom Republicans had been gunning for because of his knowledge of gun-walking techniques that had been used during the Bush administration. (Their theory was that Breuer should have taken aggressive steps to ensure that such measures were not repeated in future operations.) According to these sources, Castor said that if Breuer resigned, they could head off the looming constitutional clash.

But the Justice official, Steven Reich, an associate deputy attorney general involved in the Fast and Furious negotiations with Congress, rejected the offer, calling it a “non-starter.”

Still, Castor’s gambit was seen by DOJ officials as evidence that Issa was more interested in drawing blood than getting to the truth.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party managed to get some embarrassing video of Senator Scott Brown making a very strange remark about being in “secret meetings with kings and queens and prime ministers.”

The comments on WTKK-FM were roundly mocked by Democrats. Brown, in making them, was pushing back against critics who say his campaign has not been focused on serious issues, pointing out that he ran a radio ad about military base closings. He also said he was working on substantive issues on a daily basis, some that involve royalty.

“Each and every day that I’ve been a United States senator, I’ve been discussing issues, meeting on issues, in secret meetings and with kings and queens and prime ministers and business leaders and military leaders, talking, voting, working on issues every single day,” he said on the Jim Braude and Margery Eagan [talk radio] Show.

At first his campaign said he “misspoke,” but The Boston Globe learned that Brown had made similar statements at least five times.

That’s got to be at least as weird as thinking you have Native American blood because your parents told you so. It probably won’t get as much play as the attacks on Elizabeth Warren though.

In Philadelphia, yesterday Monsignor William Lynn became the first member of the Catholic clergy to be convicted for covering up child sexual abuse by priests.

A Philadelphia priest was convicted Friday (June 22) of one count of child endangerment, becoming the first cleric in the Catholic Church’s long-running clergy abuse scandal to be tried and found guilty of shielding molesters.

Monsignor William Lynn, 61, was acquitted of conspiracy and a second endangerment charge after a three-month trial that had seemed on the verge of a hung jury two days earlier….

The jurors said they were deadlocked on attempted rape and endangerment charges against Lynn’s codefendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan.

Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina declared a mistrial on the Brennan charges, which means prosecutors could decide to try him again.

Lynn, who was head of priest personnel in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for 12 years, was charged with recommending that Brennan and another priest, Edward Avery, be allowed to live or work in parishes in the 1990s despite indications that they might abuse children.

Avery pleaded guilty before the trial to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999 and is serving 2-1/2 to 5 years in state prison.

Finally, if you haven’t read the NYT series on Chris Christie and New Jersey’s privatized halfway houses from hell, be sure to check it out. Looks like Christie won’t be getting that VP nod after all.

Have a great Saturday, and please share what you’re reading and blogging about today.


Mitt Romney Says We Don’t Need More Firemen, Policemen, or Teachers

This afternoon Mitt Romney was in Council Bluffs, Iowa mocking President Obama for saying at a press conference earlier today that the private sector of the U.S. economy of the U.S. economy:

“The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government”

Of course, he shouldn’t have said it that way, but it actually is true that employment in the private sector has improved greatly, and overall unemployment wouldn’t be that bad except for cutbacks in state and local government workers. Here’s the private vs. public employment data, via TPM.

After Republicans crowed loudly about Obama’s “gaffe,” he “clarified” his remarks. Frankly, I would have preferred that he or a staffer had simply shown the above chart and explained what it means.

Here’s what Romney said at his campaign appearance in Council Bluffs, Iowa this afternoon:

“he wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

How could that be the “message of Wisconsin?” Scott Walker exempted police and firefighters from laws banning collective bargaining? Walker at least understood that Americans want people to show up if their homes catch fire. People also want someone to protect them from crime. And certainly most people want teachers to help educate their children.

Romney claims Obama is “out of touch,” but how out of touch do you have to be not to understand the importance to communities of firefighters, police and teachers? Does Romney think these people are not Americans? What exactly is he proposing: that groups of people band together and raise funds to pay for these services outside of government?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! I’ve got a mixed bag of reads for you this morning, so I hope there will be something her to interest you.

Did you see the piece in The New York Times on Obama’s “secret kill list?” Very creepy. The article makes it clear that President Obama is actively engaged in decisions about which “terrorists” to target with drone attacks.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

At Slate, William Saletan breaks down the problems with the Times story and explains why the supposedly strict rules for choosing which people to target are really pretty meaningless.

To understand the Times story, you have to go back to a speech given last month by John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. Brennan argued that the administration was waging drone warfare scrupulously. He described a rigorous vetting process. The Times report, quoting some officials and paraphrasing others, largely matches Brennan’s account. But on two key points, it undermines his story. The first point is target selection. Brennan asserted:

The president expects us to address all of the tough questions. … Is this individual a significant threat to U.S. interests? … Our commitment to upholding the ethics and efficacy of this counterterrorism tool continues even after we decide to pursue a specific terrorist in this way. For example, we only authorize a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing. This is a very high bar. … Our intelligence community has multiple ways to determine, with a high degree of confidence, that the individual being targeted is indeed the al-Qaida terrorist we are seeking.

The rules sound strict. But reread the fourth sentence: “We only authorize a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing.” The phrase “against a specific individual” hides the loophole. Many drone strikes don’t target a specific individual. To these strikes, none of the vetting rules apply.

At Salon, Jefferson Morley explores the death of one little girl who was “collateral damage” in one of Obama’s drone strikes in Pakistan in 2010.

Around midnight on May 21, 2010, a girl named Fatima was killed when a succession of U.S.-made Hellfire missiles, each of them five-feet long and traveling at close to 1,000 miles per hour, smashed a compound of houses in a mountain village of Mohammed Khel in North Waziristan along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Wounded in the explosions, which killed a half dozen men, Fatima and two other children were taken to a nearby hospital, where they died a few hours later.

Behram Noor, a Pakistani journalist, went to the hospital and took a picture of Fatima shortly before her death. Then, he went back to the scene of the explosions looking for evidence that might show who was responsible for the attack. In the rubble, he found a mechanism from a U.S.-made Hellfire missile and gave it to Reprieve, a British organization opposed to capital punishment, which shared photographs of the material with Salon. Reprieve executive director Clive Stafford Smith alluded to the missile fragments in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times last fall. They have also been displayed in England.

“Forensically, it is important to show how the crime of murder happened (which is what it is here),” said Stafford Smith in an email. “One almost always uses the murder weapon in a case. But perhaps more important, I think this physical proof — this missile killed this child — is important to have people take it seriously.”

Tuna that is contaminated with Fukushima radiation has shown up in California.

Bluefin tuna contaminated with radiation believed to be from Fukushima Daiichi turned up off the coast of California just five months after the Japanese nuclear plant suffered meltdown last March, US scientists said.

Tiny amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134 were detected in 15 bluefin caught near San Diego in August last year, according to a study published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The levels were 10 times higher than those found in tuna in the same area in previous years but still well below those that the Japanese and US governments consider a risk to health. Japan recently introduced a new safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram in food.

The timing of the discovery suggests that the fish, a prized but dangerously overfished delicacy in Japan, had carried the radioactive materials across the Pacific Ocean faster than those conveyed by wind or water.

There’s a new smartphone for those in Japan who want to know if they are in a “radiation hotspot.”

Mobile phone operator Softbank Corp said on Tuesday it would soon begin selling smartphones with radiation detectors, tapping into concerns that atomic hotspots remain along Japan’s eastern coast more than a year after the Fukushima crisis….

The smartphone in the company’s “Pantone” series will come in eight bright colors and include customized IC chips made by Sharp Corp that measure radiation levels in microsieverts per hour.

The phone, which goes on sale this summer, can also keep track of each location a user tests for radiation levels.

And get this– NASA says that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan “disturbed the upper atmosphere.”

The massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Fukushima, Japan, last year wreaked havoc in the skies above as well, disturbing electrons in the upper atmosphere, NASA reported.

The waves of energy from the quake and tsunami that were so destructive on the ground reached into the ionosphere, a part of the upper atmosphere that stretches from about 50 to 500 miles (80 to 805 km) above Earth’s surface.

Greg Sargent discusses the surreal double-standard that Romney is using to compare his record in Massachusetts with Obama’s record as President.

You really couldn’t make this one up if you tried.

The Romney campaign is out with a new press release blasting Obama for presiding over a “net” loss in jobs. As I’ve been saying far too often, this metric is bogus, because it factors in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs the economy was hemorrhaging when Obama took office, before his policies took effect.

But this time, there’s an intriguing new twist in the Romney campaign’s argument.

In the same release attacking Obama over “net” job loss, the Romney camp also defends Romney’s jobs record as Governor of Massachusetts by pointing out … that Romney inherited a state economy that was losing jobs when he took office.

Seriously.

Check it out.

At Alternet, Steven Rosenfeld lists “five reasons the ‘Geezer Empire’ of Billionaire Republicans Are Showering Romney With Cash.” I’m can’t really excerpt this one. You need to go read the article for yourself.

The British supreme court found that Julian Assange must be extradited to Sweden, but in a surprise reversal, Assange has been given 14 days to “consider a challenge to the judgment.”

Julian Assange’s fight against extradition to Sweden may stagger on to a second round at the supreme court after he was granted permission to submit fresh arguments.

Despite losing by a majority of five to two, his lawyers have been given 14 days to consider whether to challenge a central point of the judgment on the correct interpretation of international treaties.

The highly unusual legal development came after the supreme court justices decided that a public prosecutor was a “judicial authority” and that therefore Assange’s arrest warrant had been lawfully issued.

Assange, who is wanted in connection with accusations of sexual assault and rape in Sweden, was not in court; there was no legal requirement for him to be present. According to his solicitor, Gareth Peirce, he was stuck in central London traffic and never made it to the court in Westminster. Assange denies the accusations.

At The Daily Beast, Malcolm Jones discusses how American culture has changed such that Bob Dylan has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jones points out that very few folk or rock musicians have been so honored. Certainly, Dylan is a “game changer”:

You don’t have to like or admire Dylan to admit that he was a game changer. He made folk music hip. He made rock lyrics literate or, put another way, he made his audience pay attention to lyrics because he made them mean something. He blew a hole in the notion that radio hits have to clock in at less than three minutes. He proved that you can stand on a stage with just a guitar and not much of a voice and hold people’s attention for, oh, about five decades. By the way you can read affordable guitar reviews at topsevenreview.com if you want. He wrote songs in his 20s that he can still sing today without a trace of embarrassment.

Dylan was distinctly an outsider, and there he remained for quite a while. It’s juvenile fun watching old press conferences when reporters did finally come calling later in the decade. The questions are so dorky. But what you realize is that the national press at that time had almost no one in its ranks that we would recognize as music writers. Most of the reporters sent to interview Dylan were 40-somethings in suits who treated him like Chubby Checker, just another flash in the pan phenom to be indulged. Instead, they found a musician who was the smartest man in any room, and someone who was more than happy to make fun of them (“You walk into the room, with your pencil in your hand …”).

The point is, in the mid-60s there really was an establishment and an anti-establishment (to be upgraded to a counterculture in a couple of years), and no one doubted which side of the line Dylan stood on. Back then, there were bitter fights over high culture and low, insiders and outsiders, and who got to say who was who. In 1965, the Pulitzer board refused to give a prize to Duke Ellington.

Over the years, all of that has more or less collapsed in on itself. Pulp fiction writers are in the American canon. Brian Wilson is understood to be a great American artist and not merely a great pop songwriter. The times did change, and Dylan was in the thick of making it happen.

But perhaps most telling is that Dylan is an old man now; his age is the one thing he has in common with others who have received the medal, but Jones says:

It’s cheap and easy to say that Dylan is now a member of the establishment. It’s also wrong, because there is no longer an establishment as we once knew it. And Dylan and his music had everything to do with that.

Interesting. So I’ll end with this:

What are you reading and blogging about today?