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The high cost of low prices

The full documentary. Some of what you learn will shock you:

Chris Hayes

MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes is consistently the best news show on U.S. television. He’s the closest thing we have to an honest broker, and I actually enjoy watching his show.

His was the only show I saw actually discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict. You know, as if Palestinians were people, too.

Of course, on the other hand…

Foaming the runway

I can’t believe the administration – especially Tim Geithner – is still trying to excuse their ineptitude on the housing crisis. I mean, we’ve read the books from administration insiders like Sheila Bair and Neal Barofsky since they’ve left, and they complain about the same thing: Tim Geithner’s fixation on helping the banks instead at the expense of homeowners, and Obama’s acquiescence to Geithner’s choice. Until it’s acknowledged that this was the wrong decision, I don’t have much faith in the ones they’re going to make now:

One year and one month before President Obama won reelection, he invited seven of the world’s top economists into a private meeting in the Oval Office for their advice on what do to fix an ailing economy. “I’m not asking you to consider the political feasibility of things,” he told them in the previously unreported meeting.


There was a former Federal Reserve vice chairman, a Nobel laureate, one of the world’s foremost experts on financial crises and the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund , among others. Nearly to a tee, they said Obama should introduce a much bigger plan to forgive part of the mortgage debt owed by millions of homeowners underwater on their properties.

Obama was reserved in response, but Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner interjected that he didn’t think anything of such ambition was possible. “How do we get this done through Congress?” he asked. “What could we actually do that we haven’t done?”


The meeting highlighted what today is the biggest disagreement between some of the world’s top economists and the Obama administration. The economists say the president could have significantly accelerated the slow economic recovery if he had better addressed the overhang of mortgage debt left burdening Americans when housing prices collapsed. Obama’s advisers say that they did all they could on the housing front and that other factors better explain why the recovery has been slow.


The question is relevant because though Obama won a victory earlier this month, the vast majority of voters still say the economy is weak and not getting better. Policymakers in Washington are now focused on another type of debt — the public debt owed by all taxpayers — but the slow economic recovery, which depresses tax revenue, makes that problem harder to solve.


[...] “Housing was the neglected piece. They have the kind of attitude that they don’t believe this is a good value for the money, this is politically unpopular, and there’s not much we can do,” said Alan Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman consulted frequently by the White House. “There were obvious things to do that academics and others started pointing out back in 2008. That could have shortened the recovery time.”


Obama’s economic advisers dispute that notion. Geithner said the administration chose the best of the feasible options to deal with the housing crisis.


“We knew the hit to wealth would be damaging. We knew the level of debt had the potential to restrain the strength of recovery,” Geithner said in an interview. “The only issue was, what could you do about it? What were the feasible options available?”

Walmart workers on strike

I’m happy that workers are standing up:

A year and a half after retail workers announced the founding of a new Walmart employee group, five months after guest workers struck a Walmart seafood supplier, and seven weeks after the country’s first multi-store Walmart strikes, the Black Friday strike has begun.


Walmart stores opened at 8 PM, drawing additional ire from employees required to come into work on Thanksgiving earlier than ever. But workers’ protests got off to an early start too. Around 7:30 PM EST, 30 workers from three Miami stores went on strike, joining 100-plus supporters for one of several nighttime rallies across the country. “It’s been so long that I’ve been working for people that had no respect for me,” Miami striker Elaine Rozier told The Nation. “They retaliated against me, and they always treated me like crap. And I’m so happy that this is history, that my grandkids can learn from this to stand up for themselves.” In the past, said Rozier, “I always used to sit back and not say anything…I’m proud of myself tonight.”

Earthquake

Yes, I really did feel an earthquake late last night. Funny thing is, people from NJ were talking about it on Twitter several minutes before I felt that now-familiar rumbling through my office chair:

Not grand

Not a bargain!

Without an ennobling and constructive set of tasks and a reality-based discourse, the political goal of bipartisanship in Washington is not “grand” at all. A critical problem with the reflexive impulse to bipartisanship is that the two political parties currently are better representatives of two or more segments of economically-privileged opinion rather than of the American people as a whole. It is true that people pull the lever, for the most part, for one or the other major party but real, effective choice is very limited in a “first past the post” electoral system. And, you know as well as anyone, that once you and other lawmakers reach office, the relative power of the voter diminishes even further and the power of wealthy special interests increases exponentially. The current Democratic and Republican Parties are able to compete with each other for attention and “stir up enough dust” to temporarily distract many voters from the essential distance between the concerns of official Washington and Main Street. The mainstream media outlets have been collaborating in creating the appearance of differences between the two Parties but as you have admitted on more than one occasion you share a lot of common positions with your now vanquished opponent, Mitt Romney.


Also, apparently, you are very much attracted to the notion of sacrifice and “shared sacrifice” which also might be meaningfully linked to the notion of national grandeur and greatness: one sacrifices for others to make the nation, the group or the team greater and better. You know, you are probably right that in some areas more public-spiritedness and sacrifice of individual wants and needs may be desirable. Yet you have chosen to praise and seek to impose sacrifice on others in an area where, for ordinary people, for the most part, sacrifice is gratuitous and damaging.


You and your advisors are diverting people’s natural impulses to help other people to a false and actually a counter-productive goal, reducing the budget deficit. It would be far better that Americans would, for instance, sacrifice trips in fuel inefficient vehicles, until such time that they have workable low- and zero-emissions options, than to pay more income taxes to reduce a budget deficit. Or that some Americans choose careers that are not the most remunerative but serve public needs, like teaching school, social work and sustainable agriculture, and yet can get adequately rewarded for their work. These are real individual and group sacrifices for the good of the country not phantom sacrifices for a false ideal.


The notion that it is awe-inspiring or grand to unite the two major political parties around the narrow interests of Wall Street is to make a mockery of the idea of a grand sweep or arc of American history. Or to invoke individual sacrifice and people’s desire to help to address the phantom issue of the public debt is, as you will see below, an outrageous misappropriation of people’s desire to help others. It’s a travesty of grandeur and of greatness, the grandeur and greatness you aspire to as President.

News Corp

What goes up must come down, and it looks like it’s time for News International to fall hard on its ass. Does the U.S. DoJ have the drive to hit them when they’re down? I doubt it. Like the law professor quoted here, I’d guess that we’ll see a settlement that will still leave the Murdoch empire in an influential position:

The new round of criminal charges brought in the UK against former senior News International editors has once again raised the prospect that Rupert Murdoch’s New York-based parent company may be prosecuted under US anti-bribery laws, and complicates the rehabilitation of his son James as a possible successor to lead the global media empire.


The charges brought against Rebekah Brooks, who ran Murdoch’s newspaper holdings in Britain, Andy Coulson, former editor of the now defunct News of the World, and two other former News International employees exposes the parent News Corporation to possible action under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The FCPA exists to prosecute US-domiciled companies for acts of bribery and corruption that they might commit abroad.


An official of the British ministry of defence, Bettina Jordan Barber, also faces trial for allegedly receiving £100,000 from Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers for information that led to a series of published stories. The allegation that money passed hands clearly falls within the legal remit of the FCPA.


Mike Koehler, professor of law at Southern Illinois school of law and author of the blog fcaprofessor.com, said the charges “would be hard for the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to ignore. We have been hearing allegations for a year and a half now, now we clearly have charges against high ranking officials at a foreign subsidiary,” he said.


[...] News Corp has largely shrugged off the scandal in the US, where its shares have risen over 34% in the last year. At News Corp’s recent annual shareholder meeting in October, Murdoch comfortably saw off attempts to appoint an independent chairman to the company. James Murdoch has recently been tipped to head Fox Networks, the News Corp television division that includes its flagship Fox channel, home to The Simpsons and American Idol.


But the new charges will increase pressure on the company. Koehler said US authorities would be looking to see how high up the chain of command the bribery scandal reached. “The question will be what did James know and when did he know it,” he said. Ultimately he predicted News Corp would reach a settlement with the Justice Department rather than go to trial, but he said that News Corp faced some uncomfortable investigations in the coming months.

Babette’s feast

The theme: Food as sacrament. Hope you’re all having a sumptuous feast.

Thanksgiving song

Mary Chapin Carpenter:

Simple gifts

Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma:

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