Archive for January, 2010

Alaska Melts While Its Senator Collects Energy Company Money

Posted in Politics on January 20, 2010 by lylede

It’s no great secret the state of Alaska is shrinking due to global warming. Large swaths of coastline and tundra are disappearing. The ocean keeps encroaching and entire communities watch as their way of life also slips away.

You’d think Alaskan Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski would want to do something about it. Actually she is – if you work for an energy company.

According to Ms. Murkowski’s Mischief, NY Times Editorial, 1-19-10 she wants to “block for one year any effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. This would prevent the administration from finalizing its new and much-needed standards for cars and light trucks and prevent it from regulating greenhouse gases from stationary sources.”

The editorial also notes she’s considering a “ ‘resolution of disapproval’ that would ask the Senate to overturn the E.P.A.’s recent ‘endangerment finding’ that carbon dioxide and other global warming gases threaten human health and the environment. This finding flowed from a 2007 Supreme Court decision and is an essential precondition to any regulation governing greenhouse gases. Rescinding the finding would repudiate years of work by America’s scientists and public health experts.”

If you look at whom Senator Murkowski’s top five campaign contributors are during the past five years you’ll see she’s disregarding the health and safety of her state to simply please her financial backers (and it sure would have been nice if the NY Times pointed this out.)

According to The Center for Responsive Politics Opensecrets.org she’s awash in money from energy and energy-related companies. Just click on the link above and check it out (and it’s shocking to see Exxon Mobil coming in at number five!)

It is imperative we get public and corporate money out of politics to save what’s left of our democracy (for more on this see Ban Political Advertising To Restore Our Democracy.) Senator Murkowski is par for the course and stuffed inside the pockets of her campaign contributors along with every other politician. And I don’t think you’ll find the words “campaign contribution” in our Constitution.

The NY Times editorial closes by noting how Democrats want to add some energy-related measures to the approved cap-and-trade plan to try and garner more support for the bill.

Senator Murkowski is ready with a plan of her own to try and derail it. “Knowing that the bill is not ripe, Ms. Murkowski may bring it up for a vote anyway as an amendment to the debt bill. Why? To shoot it down. The tactic would give us a “barometric reading” of where the Senate stands on cap-and-trade, one Murkowski staffer said recently. What it really gives us is a reading on how little the senator — or for that matter, her party — has to offer.”

And I can hear the pens in the hands of the energy company executives scrawling across their checkbooks as they pay off more politicians – while Alaska melts.

Arrogance Beyond Galling

Posted in Politics on January 20, 2010 by lylede

To get an idea of just how arrogant today’s titans of Wall Street are read Bankers Without a Clue, NY Times Op-Ed, 1-15-10.

The writer, Paul Krugman, points out two moments that “stood out” during the first day of testimony on Wednesday when investment banking big shots were questioned before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

“One was when Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase declared that a financial crisis is something that “happens every five to seven years. We shouldn’t be surprised.” In short, stuff happens, and that’s just part of life.”

Regarding this pathetic statement Krugman notes: “But the truth is that the United States managed to avoid major financial crises for half a century after the Pecora hearings were held (in the wake of the Great Depression) and Congress enacted major banking reforms. It was only after we forgot those lessons, and dismantled effective regulation, that our financial system went back to being dangerously unstable.”

And here’s the second gem: “Still, Mr. Dimon’s cluelessness paled beside that of Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein, who compared the financial crisis to a hurricane nobody could have predicted. Phil Angelides, the commission’s chairman, was not amused: The financial crisis, he declared, wasn’t an act of God; it resulted from “acts of men and women.”

Was Mr. Blankfein just inarticulate? No. He used the same metaphor in his prepared testimony in which he urged Congress not to push too hard for financial reform: “We should resist a response … that is solely designed around protecting us from the 100-year storm.” So this giant financial crisis was just a rare accident, a freak of nature, and we shouldn’t overreact.”

Krugman then points out how starting in the late 1970s deregulation and the greed is good ethos started to doom our economy. “There were ever-greater rewards — bonuses beyond the dreams of avarice — for bankers who could generate big short-term profits. And the way to raise those profits was to pile up ever more debt, both by pushing loans on the public and by taking on ever-higher leverage within the financial industry.”

I urge you to read Bankers Without a Clue. Just do it on an empty stomach.

The Environment and War on Terror: Eight Long, Lost Years

Posted in Politics on January 13, 2010 by lylede

I get more nauseous as I learn more information about the heinous Bush era. According to No More ‘Candy Store,’ NY Times 1-11-10, an editorial about energy development and protecting public land, “In the Bush years, it was all about the drilling. The administration aggressively leased out millions of acres of public land and issued more than 50,000 drilling permits, in many cases risking wildlife habitat and ignoring legally mandated environmental reviews.”

Please note that pathetically high number: 50,000.

We’ve known for decades we need to get off of oil and stop burning fossil fuels. Yet we let two whores for the oil industry named Bush and Cheney run the country for eight years and do absolutely nothing about advancing clean energy sources. On the contrary they set us back at least 50,000 times, and more.

It’s impossible to separate Bush and Cheney from big oil. Remember Cheney’s infamous closed-door, secret Energy Task Force meetings? The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out how “the records reveal that industry lobbyists not only played a pivotal role in developing the administration’s national energy strategy, they wrote much of it themselves. The administration sought the advice of polluting corporations early and often and then incorporated their recommendations into its policy, sometimes verbatim.” 

Click here to see some of the task force documents (courtesy of the NRDC.) This one shows how an executive with the American Petroleum Institute (API) suggested wording “for a presidential order giving special consideration to oil companies. In May 2001, President Bush indeed issued an executive order much like API’s proposal.”

If you don’t trust the NRDC read Smog and Mirrors: The Cheney Energy Task Force and Higher Prices at the Pump – A Report by Congressman George Miller, Co-Chair, Democratic Policy Committee, April 26, 2004. This is truly stomach-churning stuff.

The NY Times’ No More ‘Candy Store’ also sadly notes: “The bureau, (Interior Secretary Ken Salazar) declared bluntly, would no longer be a “candy store” for an oil and gas industry that (mixing his metaphors) had been allowed to act like “kings of the world” during the Bush years.”

Lovely. What could be worse? A politician glowing in adoration before a huge crowd chanting “drill baby, drill?” Oh wait, that actually happened at the last Republican National Convention!

As for the War on Terror we lost seven years in the aftermath of 9-11 while Bush and Cheney were busy profiting off of Iraqi oil and military-industrial-complex contracts instead of hunting down and killing the bastards who attacked us.

It’s absolutely criminal we haven’t captured or killed Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri and former Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

And to pay for the unnecessary invasion of Iraq Bush and our idiotic government bankrupted America by borrowing trillions of dollars from China.

Today plenty of people are rightfully angry over the Wall Street bailouts but it will truly be a miracle if our Iraq war debt to China is paid off in 50 years.

We were also recently rattled by the Christmas Day airliner-bombing attempt and if America is attacked again during the next three years many people will blame President Obama. Just keep in mind 2002 through 2008 were years won by al-Qaeda as they regrouped and recruited while Bush and Cheney were busy doling out Iraq war contracts to friends like Halliburton and Blackwater.

Ben Bernanke – Bubble Buster?

Posted in Politics on January 7, 2010 by lylede

I’m not too encouraged by statements from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke when it comes to fixing our economy and ensuring speculative bubbles don’t wreak havoc like they recently did.

In Fed Missed This Bubble. Will it See a New One? NY Times, 1-5-10, Bernanke is quoted from 2005, when he was a Bush administration official, as saying a housing bubble was “a pretty unlikely possibility.” Two years later, after becoming the Fed chairman, the Times article notes he said that Fed officials “do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy.”

And this guy is running the Federal Reserve?

The Times piece points out how houses had become overvalued. Of course they did. With the sensible Glass-Steagall law no longer on the books investment banks were allowed to treat mortgages like any other security. Wall Street bet on these new mortgage-backed securities big-time, with disastrous results.

In some areas, according to the Times article, “buyers were spending twice as much on their monthly mortgage payment as they would have spent renting a similar house, without even considering the down payment.”

Plenty of people, including journalists, government officials and economists, knew about this problem. Yet the government did nothing, until it was too late. And to get a better understanding of how speculative bubbles are created, and who benefits from them, see Inside The Great American Bubble Machine by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, 7-2-09.

In Bernanke warns about creating new bubbles, msnbc.com, 1-4-10, “Bernanke said the lesson learned from the crisis isn’t that regulation is ineffective but that regulation “must be better and smarter.”

Note to Washington, DC: put Glass-Steagall back on the books! Passed in the wake of the Great Depression this Act forced banks to separate their commercial and consumer activities.

For an excellent account of why this law was needed see The Value of ‘Other People’s Money’ NY Times 2-6-09. This Op-Ed piece, written by Melvin I. Urofsky, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, notes how Progressive-era reformer and Supreme Court Judge Brandeis “described a dangerous combination of avarice, lack of accountability and poor oversight in (his book) ‘Other People’s Money, and How the Bankers Use It,’ one of the best-known exposés of the Progressive era.”

The book was published in 1914. Professor Urofsky writes that Brandeis “believed that it was one thing for an individual to put up capital in risky ventures, playing to win but prepared for failure. But he saw the bankers of his time dodging failure by manipulating the marketplace at the expense of smaller entrepreneurs and consumers.”

Sound familiar? According to some great radio reporting from NPR (go to This American Life and listen to The Giant Pool of Money) stockbrokers were calling up mortgage brokers and saying, “do you have any more fixed rate?” meaning do you have any more fixed rate mortgages we can buy from you. The mortgage brokers, who were getting a second commission on this sale to Wall Street, were happy to oblige.

The lending banks certainly didn’t care about this transaction because they no longer held on to the loan for the duration of its term. They held on to it for a few months before it was sold to Wall Street.

None of this was allowed during the 66 years Glass-Steagall was on the books. And America certainly didn’t become a socialist country because of this law. On the contrary, we thrived.

Regarding regulation and going back to the lessons of 1914 Professor Urofsky points out “For Brandeis, regulation was not supposed to be a restraint on innovation or the entrepreneurial spirit, but rather a check on unbridled greed. He believed in a free market, but one in which the government enforced rules of fair competition so that the most talented could succeed. Clear rules would help ensure that business was conducted fairly and openly.”

We certainly need clear, strong rules if we’re going to fix our economy. As for Glass-Steagall’s fate, Wall Street didn’t like it so the financial industry spent $350 million on a bribery (oops, I mean “lobbying”) campaign to get it repealed (for more on this see How $350 Million Destroyed Our Economy, cosmicpoaching.com, 2-23-09.)

Congress tossed out Glass-Steagall in 1999. If our legislators had any guts and want to do something for the good of the country, as opposed to for only their campaign contributors, a new Glass-Steagall should be enacted immediately.