Friday, March 26, 2010

Greenspan Rewriting His Legacy—With Help Perhaps?

For more than two years, Republicans, including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, have been working overtime to buff up their legacy, usually with imagination and some departure from the facts. The latest p.r. effort is by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. Instead of offering a four or five page apology for his blunders, short-sightedness and his adherence to market voodoo, Greenspan offers a 66 page tome of excuses, might-have-beens and who-could-have-imagineds.

In the fall of 2008, Alan Greenspan was honest for a few minutes in a hearing before Congress. Let's remind ourselves what Greenspan said:
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” ...

At the time, Greenspan was clearly on the right track. He was beginning to recognize the colossal failure of a 28 year experiment in deregulation. But he waffled a little even then by saying he did not fully understand what happened. Hence, Greenspan now treats us to 66 pages of what is largely Republican nonsense. So much for the dismal science, at least according to the Ayn Rand/Milton Friedman crowd.

Fortunately, there are economists who not awed by Greenspan. Here's what James K. Galbraith writes in The Huffington Post (and just why aren't more of his views in places like The New York Times or The Washington Post? He certainly has more credibility that the conservative think tanks sponsored by Rupert Murdoch.):
In 66 pages [pdf], Mr. Greenspan fails to use the word "responsibility" even once. The word "blame" does not appear. The word "mistake" occurs once; financial firms made them. The word "failure" appears 14 times. None of them are self-referential. To have expected the phrase "mea culpa" would of course be asking too much.


The most telling omission in this paper is that the word "fraud" does not appear. But the world knows that the collapse of the financial system had, at its core, the largest financial fraud of all time. That fraud was in the origination, the rating, the underwriting and the issuance of credit default swaps against sub-prime mortgages issued largely by private originators and securitized by the largest banks.

The FBI knew this in 2004, when it warned in public of an "epidemic of mortgage fraud."

So, do we have financial reform yet? For all their jawboning and waving their arms and jumping up and down, we can expect no reform from Republicans any time soon. They might have seized the initiative during the Bush years since they had the votes but they chose, like the president, to sit on their hands and let the good times roll, as corrupt as they were with little oversight. At the end of the day, all Republican politicians are really interested in is lowering taxes for their rich clients, including the same people who created the crisis.

We might expect reform from the Democrats but that's not always a sure thing. It's not easy bucking the conservative economic bromides and myths of the last thirty years, particularly when Democrats aren't exactly as liberal as they once were—say back in the 1960s. Even many older Democrats have a hard time understanding that it makes no sense to tinker with failure by making minor changes in an economy that is still far more deregulated than it has any business being. Even under Republican presidents, it is possible to get businesses to follow the law, but only if the law exists in the first place and only if there is a degree of oversight reasonably free of political interference (and it would help to have a Supreme Court that doesn't so quickly genuflect to big corporations).

Paul Krugman is worried. It seems Barack Obama is not the only one who tries too hard to be bipartisan. Krugman writes on his blog:
So what does this have to do with financial reform? The pre-1980 system was, I’d argue, pretty robust. Bank regulators didn’t have to be all that smart, because the rules were simple — and besides, the large franchise value of banks, the fact that they faced limited competition and were almost guaranteed to be profitable, made bank executives unwilling to take big risks of killing the goose that laid golden eggs.

By contrast, the regulatory proposals now on the table ... rely on regulators identifying systemic risk and the actions to combat it. The Frank (House) bill is more [robust] than the Dodd (Senate) bill, in that it sets some firm, nondiscretionary limits on leverage and other stuff; there’s an awful lot of leaving things up to the judgment of the Fed and others in the Dodd proposal.

Others? Those others included any number of people appointed by Bush to make sure as little as possible was done to protect the American people from the predations of Wall Street and the mortgage brokers.

Between now and the fall elections, Obama and other Democrats need to do three things. First, stimulate the economy in a way that creates real jobs. Second, they need to cut Wall Street down to a manageable size that works for the American economy and not against. Third, make it absolutely clear to the American people that the bright Republican ideas of the last thirty years do not work, they are profoundly flawed and they are directly responsible for the meltdown and the high unemployment rate.

If Republicans return to office in their current mood, we are going to see more economic nonsense such as the privatization of social security, more bonuses for rich bankers by way of tax cuts and more loss of jobs overseas. These are not slogans or propaganda. They are on the Republican agenda.

Let's return to Greenspan for a moment. He endorsed John McCain during the 2008 election. McCain was erratic during the economic crisis. He had no idea what he was doing. So much for Greenspan's judgment. But the Countess of Wasilla, she of the $150,000 wardrobe, $100,000 speeches and $10,000 a plate dinners, is campaigning for McCain, buffing up his right wing creds. Does anyone believe that the Countess does anything for free? Like so many Republican leaders these days, she sees dollars signs for herself and not much for the American people. But she would like to lead. The Democrats already have somebody better, not just in the White House, but in both houses of Congress.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Republicans: Leading US to the 19th Century

These days Republicans in Washington aren't just conservative, they're outright reactionary. Now Republicans want to strip voters of some of their right by calling such a move a return to states rights. Eric Kleefeld of Talking Points Memo has the story:
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is calling for a strong re-assertion of states rights against Congress -- in the form of a Constitutional amendment to eliminate the direct popular election of Senators, and go back to the pre-17th Amendment setup of state legislatures appointing them.

It seems Republicans are launching a campaign to return to the late 19th century when the rich were filthy rich and pockets of the middle class found itself slipping into poverty and the really poor were living in slums in every corner of the land. One of the problems Republicans have with health care is that it's likely to ruin some cozy state monopolies that some insurers have thanks to their political friends. Keep in mind that history doesn't talk much about the late 19th century, a period dominated by Republicans and corruption as well as extremes of wealth and poverty (it got so bad that it took a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, to clean it up).

Ironic how much today's Republican leaders talk about free enterprise while rigging the game in smoke-filled back rooms. Uh, isn't that one of the reasons the 17th amendment was passed? To take the selection of senators out of smoke-filled back rooms and give the choice to the people?

Democrats aren't perfect. No one should pretend they are. But our country is in bad need of reform. With Democrats, our nation has a chance of moving forward. With today's Republican politicians, we have none. Proof? With the backing of many Republicans currently in Congress, our nation went backward under George W. Bush. We can't afford more Republican failures.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Republicans Still Pushing Social Security Privatization

For all the noise that Republicans make about the health care bill that just passed, the truth of the matter is that today's Republican leaders care far more about their rich friends than they do ordinary Americans. Oh sure, at election time Republicans like to drive around for a few minutes in an old pickup during a political rally. Of course a half hour after the rally, they go back to their Mercedes a few blocks away and head home. Then these Republicans get on the phone with their rich friends and ask what they can do for them before the bushels of money arrive.

The problem is that rich Republican donors are not only getting more conservative themselves but a pile of money now comes in from rich folks like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who multiply their effect by having their legions of listeners stuff envelopes with enough money for a politician to stay in business for years, in or out of office. Hey, look how much Sarah Palin is making these days now that she's no longer governor of Alaska.

Republican politicians on the airwaves are very good at stirring up fears and making lots of irrelevant noise, but they have swung so far to the right that they're now a bit fuzzy on reality. It's amazing that they're still trying to peddle social security privatization. In Hawaii, here's a story about Charles Djou, a GOP candidate:
...he said that President Bush had the right idea by addressing Social Security, and said the concept of voluntary personal accounts “deserves examination,” but wasn’t willing to say he supported a specific plan because he said that Democrats would take him out of context and attack him for wanting to destroy Social Security.

Uh, Republicans want to destroy social security but don't want Americans to think that's what they're doing. Gotta love that logic.

Paul Krugman is always worth reading since he easily and quickly cuts through a lot of Republican flim flam. Economists like Krugman deal in real numbers as opposed to fictional numbers written down on a cocktail napkin (this actually happened during the Reagan years). The word 'privatization' is a public relations nightmare and Republicans are doing their best to sell the same privatization idea while using language that's warm and fuzzy and fraudulent. Here's what Krugman says about Rep. Paul Ryan who likes attention and loves playing with numbers and words for the Republican cause:
...Ryan’s claim that diverting a substantial share of payroll taxes receipts into individual accounts does not constitute partial privatization of Social Security [has a bit of] history here.

Back when the Cato Institute first began pushing for individual Social Security accounts, it called its push, well, The Project on Social Security Privatization. As the Bush administration got ready to make its privatization push, however, it became clear that “privatization” polled badly. So the project was renamed The Project on Social Security Choice. And Republicans began bristling at any suggestions that they were proposing privatization, calling that a slander. Really.

Wait, it gets better. Cato engaged in Orwellian tactics — deleting the term “privatization” from older web posts and even from records of old conferences. But they were sloppy; there were traces of the true history throughout. I don’t know if they’re still continuing the practice.

In any case, Ryan’s attempt to deny that what his own movement used to call privatization is, in fact, privatization should settle the question of his sincerity.

Right wing politicians are always sincere, until they're caught making things up. But then there's another route when doing politics. Act confused. Former moderate Republican Chuck Grassley had this to say about social security privatization:
(Caller) LONA: Senator Grassley, I am a Democrat who has voted for you many times. I appreciate your service to our state. I want to know if you still support privatizing Social Security?

SENATOR GRASSLEY: I was never in favor of privatizing Social Security, but I was in favor of giving people a choice. People could, uh, could, uh, under what we are talking about, although it never got into a bill, so I can’t, you can’t, you can’t tell me, you aren’t telling me, I mean I just want to say generically that I introduced a bill to do any of this stuff that I am telling you, but we were trying to negotiate in 2005 where people could stay in traditional Medicare, not Medicare, Social Security as it has always been, continue down that road, or they could take 1 percentage point, 2 percentage points of the taxes they pay in and they could have the government put that in a separate account for them, say like the federal employees do with their 401ks, for example. But the federal government would manage it. When you use the word privatize, it means that we would not have the government running Social Security and we wouldn’t have Social Security, I have never been for that.

Got that? But it still sounds like a giveaway to stockbrokers on Wall Street. If privatization had been passed by Republicans in 2005, America would have lost its shirt in 2008.

The more I read about today's Republican leaders, the more obvious it is that Americans need to send more Democrats to Washington. Republicans need to reform their party, push out the lunatic right and start advocating real solutions. Until then, the Republican Party is not fit to lead.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

America Enters the 21st Century at Last: Health Care Passes

I have a pre-existing condition but it's always been my firm belief that it's really nobody's business. Unfortunately, because I tried to get insurance on my own a few years back, the insurance industry knows more about my health than most of my friends and colleagues. That offends the hell of my me. These days I worry a lot more about big business than I do my government (that is, when it's not overly controlled by business interests and cronies, which happens every time the Republicans get elected).

For many reasons, I have not devoted as much time to the health care debate as I would have liked. For one reason, our nation faces some bigger issues that can't wait much longer such as jobs, revitalizing our economy, energy and climate change. But health care reform has passed and I rejoice. Despite the obstruction, the spin, the foot dragging, the lies, the stunts, the name calling and the 1001 shameful acts of the Grand Ostrich Party and its ridiculous leadership, America is moving forward again and we have a health bill.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has it right: the only thing everybody is going to remember ten years from now is that health care reform finally passed in March of 2010. Here's a bit of what he says:
Then the debate dragged on over many months. The pace slowed in the early summer. Then there was the town hall Crazy (tm) of August. And from there we know the rest -- the ugliness, close calls, the shuddering collapse of morale after January 19th. But the truth is, nothing matters but the final result. No one remembers the politicking in advance of Medicare or Social Security or really anything else. There's either a reform law or there's not. That's why, even though it's still a momentous event in political circles, the 1994 run at Health Care Reform might as well never have happened.

Even over the last two days you've seen a shifting of perspective as all the drama and angst of recent months recedes before the reality of final passage. There's no denying this is certainly the biggest and by almost any definition the first major social legislation in the United States in almost five decades. (Congress passed Medicare in 1965.)

Today, when David Frum wrote that this was turning out to be the GOP's Waterloo...

I don't know if this is the Republican Party's Waterloo or not. They have nothing to offer these days but games and tricks and lies and tons of money from their corporate friends. I still have Republican friends and I shake my head that they can't see what their leadership has become. They cannot accept that Bush and his cronies almost destroyed the economy out of sheer stupidity and greed. For twenty years, elected Republicans have been swinging further and further to the right. That is a fact. The obvious clue are the number of Republicans in the leadership who felt Reagan didn't go far enough. Some feel that Bush did not go far enough. A ridiculous few are sorry Dick Cheney wasn't president.

I root for Obama because if he fails, we're in for rough times. Even if Democrats remain in power in Congress, Republicans are hoping the Supreme Court can cause trouble. The Supreme Court has already shown its willingness to believe that corporations are more important than people.

Corporations are fictions designed to limit liability. There's nothing wrong with that in theory, as long as corporations act in the public interest. But the latest economic crisis that began in 2007 was a direct result of corporations who could care less about the public interest. They lied and bullied their way to wealth and many of them are unrepentant.

Any person who thinks the Republican Party is going to tackle the people who got bonus money is a fool. Republicanism has always been the same as big business. In recent years, they have incorporated and manipulated people on the far right while laughing all the way to the bank. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were two of them.

The United States does not need more corporatism and it does not need more from the American Taliban. We certainly did not and do not need an unholy alliance between the two.

What we need is to stop making excuses. Our economy has slipped. We have made mistakes. Now we have done this from time to time in the past. One of our great strengths is recognizing when we have made mistakes, correcting those mistakes and moving on again. We are in danger of losing that capacity to move forward. If we are not careful, we could start falling rather swiftly if we don't grab reality by the horns, with both hands, with our eyes open and our minds clear.

There's still work to do.

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