The Aeration Zone: A liberal breath of fresh air

Contributors (otherwise known as "The Aerheads"):

Walldon in New Jersey ---- Marketingace in Pennsylvania ---- Simoneyezd in Ontario
ChiTom in Illinois -- KISSweb in Illinois -- HoundDog in Kansas City -- The Binger in Ohio

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Back to the old health non-care system

I'm not at all sure this is a good idea:

WASHINGTON – In a concession over his divisive health care overhaul, President Barack Obama offered Monday to let unhappy states design alternative plans as long as they fulfill the goals of his landmark law.


About half the states are suing to overturn Obama's health care law, targeting its unpopular requirement that most Americans carry health insurance or face fines from the IRS. Obama told the governors that if any of them have better ideas, they're welcome to propose it and see if it works.

First they would have to convince Washington that their approach covers at least as many state residents, provides equally affordable and comprehensive benefits, and would not increase the federal deficit.

There are lots of people who live in one state and work in another. For example, just take New York City, where a significant portion of the workers live in NJ or CT. To have the health care system operate on a state-based basis leaves out those who live one place and work another. This was always a problem with the old system. When I worked in NY and lived in NJ, the NY-based insurance company (Empire Blues, to be specific) said any provider in NJ was out-of-network, and care provided there was (for all practical purposes) not covered. When your kid is injured in a sports match, you can't really expect the school to rush him/her to a doctor out of state just because the insurance is out of state.

But, still worse, I'm sure that a bunch of Republican governors will set up plans that do nothing but gratify the rich and the insurers and bamboozle the Federal government into accepting them in lieu of the Federal plan. Then, we'll have an unworkable patchwork of coverage (or non-coverage) that no one understands.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is there something wrong with the brand?

Earlier today, I read a blog post somewhere complaining about the fact that many of the Sunday shows once again locked out the Democrats, preferring instead such Republican superstars as Jabba the Hut Christie, Forever the President John McCain, and the aspiring Forever President, Huckabee. The blogger complained about the so-called "liberal" media.

A commenter noted that the Sunday shows are ratings driven and, hence, for the same reason that Jerry Springer books nuts on his show rather than sane, sedate individuals is the reason the Sunday shows book Republicans. They just have more entertainment value.

It occurred to me that the commenter has a good point. People like Palin and Bachman get lots of press because they are so crazy. Other Republicans see this and conclude they too can get lots of press if they act equally crazy. The press obliges -- partly, yes, because the "liberal" media is actually owned and controlled by conservatives, but partly because it's just good business from a ratings point of view.

All of this raises at least two questions. First, why don't Democrats learn to be a bit more interesting, even if they have to sound a bit nutty to do so? I note that there was one Democrat who was interesting - Alan Grayson. But he lost in the last election, possibly because he sounded too crazy to his constituents. Which raises the second question. Why is it that the public seems happy to elect crazy Republicans (the crazier, the better) but won't elect crazy Democrats (or sane ones either)?

Is there something wrong with the brand?

Quotes of the day

"The proper study of mankind is man." (Alexander Pope, 1733)

"From which it may be inferred that the study of women is a waste of time." (Capt. Frederick Marryat, 1792-1848)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wisconsin public employees pay 100% for their pensions

Not what you've heard, right? According to all the reports, the Governor is asking them to "contribute more," suggesting that the state is kicking in part of the cost of the pensions. Wrong. It's hard to keep up with all the sheer nonsense coming from the Governor's office and its faithful regurgitation by the servile national press. Former New York Times financial reporter and tax expert David Kay Johnson points out that the public employees fund their own pensions entirely. The suggestions otherwise are pure right-wing propaganda:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Playing to win

Gaius Publius at Americablog writes:

I asked, "What if we played to win?" Now I'd like to ask, What would playing to win look like?

The meta answer is, it would look like it looks on a championship college football team (college teams, like political movements, are staffed with volunteers). Or, as new coach Brian Kelly of the up-and-seriously-coming Fighting Irish calls it, "the physical and mental toughness" to play the whole game hard.

What would that mean for Progressives? For starters, it would mean not apologizing when someone says we're not "nice". That's like apologizing for winning.

But let's get specific. What would it mean to play the whole game hard?

(1) How about not whining about the Republican Supreme Court's implementation of Citizens United — and instead starting to use it until they start whining? How about rounding up a couple of committed left-wing billionaires (they must exist), and lobbing some of our big-money grenades over the electoral wall, until they start crying about the rules?

(2) And while we're waiting, how about recalling every Wisconsin Republican state legislator we can get our retributional hands on — there's already a move afoot to do that — and then not stoppinguntil they all drop to the floor.

Not stopping matters. Last I heard, the Wisconsin unions were asking for a seat at the table.

Wrong. We will get a "seat at the table" when the recall move starts making them scared. That's exactly when you "not stop." When they're gone from the legislature — that's when you've won. You stop when you've won.

And that's what playing to win looks like. You stop when you've won.

In my very humble opinion, of course.

In my humble opinion, I agree.

Nazi tactics still work

I seem to remember a common tactic used in countries the Nazis captured to stop sabotage by resistors was to threaten to publicly kill a certain number of innocent bystanders each day until the resistance stopped. Seems that Governor Walker has modified the tactic rendering it slightly less deadly but, perhaps, no less effective.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker warned Tuesday that state employees could start receiving layoff notices as early as next week if a bill eliminating most collective bargaining rights isn't passed soon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Professors go into hiding

Students with guns. The best grade goes to the fastest on the draw:

WASHINGTON – Texas is poised to approve a measure allowing college students and professors to carry guns on campus, an initiative with strong support in the state legislature that critics concede they probably can't stop.
If I were still teaching, I think I would want to set up a bullet proof shield between the lectern-blackboard side of the classroom and the students' side. On my side, I arm the place with several cannon, a battery of sub-machine guns, and whatever else I could find, all operated by a single switch at the lectern ... just in case. Office hours would be conducted by remote closed-circuit TV, so as to minimize the possibility of a student shooting me over a grade dispute, and all papers and exams would be submitted and returned by e-mail.

Come to think of it, I think I would conduct all classes over the internet, so as to avoid any contact whatsoever with the students. Indeed, even when lecturing over the internet, I would want to have my face smudged out and my voice altered (as they do when interviewing whistle blowers on TV-news) so as to eliminate any possibility of accidentally being recognized by one of my students while walking down the street.

Friday, February 18, 2011

John Boehner

I just received a telephone call from a young woman alleging to be calling on behalf of Speaker Boehner, asking me to call my Congressman to complain that Obama is about to shut down the government early next month, and to insist that he not do so.

Knowing the press, the Republicans may get away with framing this shut down as Obama's fault. It didn't work with Clinton, but Clinton knows how to frame the issues much better than Obama, and the press seems to far more in the Thuglicans' pocket than it was the last time.

A dream

From a dream (nightmare?) I had last night.


To: 14 Former Democrat Senators in the Senate of the State of Wisconsin
From: Governor Walker

I hereby decree that by willfully abandoning your posts in the Senate, your positions as Senators are hereby forfeit, beginning at the date when you were first sworn in to those positions and any and all remuneration you have received to date for your service as Senators must now be repaid to the State of Wisconsin. Any votes which you have cast in your role as Senators are hereby declared null and void.

Further, as Commander in Chief, I hereby declare that I shall appoint 14 persons of my own choosing to fill the positions you have voluntarily vacated, those persons to continue in those positions until the next elections.

Back Door Debt Reduction

From the DC Underground:

No one, but no one, truly believes the official "no inflation" statistics (resulting in no COLA for SS for at least 2 years).

In fact, a few years after the Boskin Commission slashed SS benefits by rigging CPI to understate inflation, Greg Mankiw, chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2001-2003, seeing no reason at the time to continue the charade, publicly admitted the truth everyone already knew: “The debate about the CPI was really a political debate about how, and by how much, to cut real entitlements.”

Since, by the time of Mankiw's admission, the Boskin Commission's (bi-partisan) dirty deed had already been safely accomplished, resulting in a CPI that critics estimate understates real inflation by at least 1% annually to as much as 7% annually, little did Mankiw know that, in 2011, Republicans (and their enablers) would have the audacity to try a repeat of the same scam attempt to RE-RIG the CPI that Americans already recognized as fraudulent.

But, to the extent that Mankiw did not foresee a repeat of the CPI-rigging scam, he clearly underestimated the charms to politicians of dishonest accounting manipulation of CPI....... what Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institute eloquently labeled "the ‘immaculate conception‘ version of deficit reduction in which spending is cut without Congress taking the blame.”

Do Republicans (and their co-conspirators) have no shame?

The compounding of an artificially low Consumer Price Index have ALREADY reduced payments to social security recipients by about half (according to John Williams, author of the newsletter Shadow Government Statistics).

Yet they are now back for the rest of the benefits Americans have funded (building a $2.2 trillion surplus with which Republicans have funded wars and tax cuts to the rich) with a lifetime of sweaty payroll tax contributions.

Because Republicans are ADDICTED to the raiding of payroll taxes from the SS Trust Fund to fund the deficits created by wars, corporate welfare, and unsustainable tax cuts to the uber-rich, they do not want to EVER honor the $2.2 trillion in Treasury bonds representing the decades of loans from the SSTF to the Treasury. Republicans have even pushed to PAY CHINESE BONDS before those of Social Security.

Because they want to continue to have payroll taxes subsidize income tax cuts for the rich, Republicans reject any approach which would address the fact that billionaires pay a LOWER combined federal marginal tax rate than the middle class. Republicans reject, for just one example, eliminating the exemption of income over $106,800 from FICA taxes, which, by itself, would more than guarantee continued solvency, while (partially) rectifying our regressive tax system which favors billionaires with lower combined marginal tax rates than the middle class.

Instead, Republicans, and their enablers, are so intent to continue raiding payroll taxes that they propose cuts that are much, much greater than the 22% cut in 2037 (rising to 25% by 2084) that the Social Security Trustees say would achieve continued solvency IF NOTHING IS CHANGED BEFORE 2037.

Just the rigging of the CPI by itself, for example, (even if one accepts their ridiculously low estimates of the magnitude of suppression of CPI (0.3% per year) this will achieve, will compound to slash SS payments by 8% by 2037 and 24.4% by 2084. If one uses a more realistic estimate of 1.5% suppression per year (which is a low estimate of the suppressive effects achieved by the Boskin Commission) the compounded effect will result in a cut of 47% in Social Security by 2037. (But, moreover, will begin now, and will continue to compound forever).

The method the enemies of Social Security are now peddling, however, "Chained CPI", because it DE-COUPLES CPI from comparing apples to apples, has a much, much greater suppressive potential, and because it will depend on the somewhat arbitrary criteria which will need to be determined to implement the "substitution effect" "Chained CPI", if adopted, will be an infinitely powerful and flexible tool for artificially suppressing official CPI statistics.

This is how "Chained CPI" re-defines reality:

Suppose, over a given time period, prices rise 100%. And suppose that you, and others, have been purchasing rib eye for $5/lb, and rib-eye rises to $10/lb. Because of this inflation, you switch from rib-eye to hot dogs, which formerly were $2/lb, but rose to $4/lb. Now, you might be tempted to assume that the CPI has risen by100%, since that is what individual items rose. But "chained CPI", by allowing for a "substitution effect", says, in effect, that "Hot dogs are the new rib-eye", and that your meat expense actually went down from $5/lb rib-eye to $4/lb hot dogs, and that therefore there has "not been 100% inflation", but has been "20% deflation".

Will Republicans succeed in repeating a scam on working Americans? Is it possible without the active collaboration of Democrats?

In 1997, as the Boskin Commission's fraudulent rigging of CPI was on the verge of implementation, The Atlantic published an eerily prescient "How to Re-Write Economic History" which illustrates the profound attraction that cooking the books has for politicians:
“Given the questionable intellectual foundations of the Boskin Commission's findings, the commission's high standing in Washington requires explanation. Both Democrats and Republicans have been keen to see its recommendations adopted, because they provide a potentially uncontroversial way to achieve deficit reduction. Raising taxes is unpopular, and little discretionary government spending is left to be cut. Restating the CPI as a measure of cost-of-living inflation offers an easy way to lower Social Security payments through reduced COLAs and raise tax revenues through reduced exemptions. The hope is that the CPI can be presented as an apolitical and boring technical issue that voters won't notice.

“Revising the CPI would get the Republicans off the hook of deficit reduction, while simultaneously advancing the interests of business. This, however, would occur at the expense of working Americans and the elderly. Revising the CPI would get the Democrats off the same hook, but at the cost of another shameful desertion of the constituencies they claim to represent.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

President's 2/15 New Conference

I was surprised I wasn’t disappointed with the President’s even handed tone at today’s press conference. Maybe I haven’t shaken off that full of love from Valentine’s Day, but I can’t say that for the President. He was full of it, love I mean.

To the substance of his exchanges with the Press, he was definite on the more controllable parameters. For example, on the domestic policy front, his focus on the budget was short term, i.e. getting expenditures and tax revenues in balance by 2015. He reasoned that eliminating ineffective programs, i.e., 2400 programs in education down to 1100, sustaining levels that had been raised is not a cut, i.e. Pell grants, and, asking sacrifices he can get, i.e. freeze Federal salaries. He correctly recognized that resolution on longer run issues, i.e. Medicare, Social Security, depended on uncontrollable parameters indeterminate until the middle of the decade depending on how the bi-partisan relationship panned out. The President exuded bi-partisanship, but he camped on his key principles, i.e. that the budget supported his three pillars-Innovation, Education, and Insfrastructure, and his belief that Social Security was manageable (citing an O’Neill-Reagan type fix as doable) thus preventing critics from demeaning his leadership or exuding the hostility toward the Republicans that they richly deserve.

On the foreign policy front, he made a convincing case that the U.S. posture on Egypt was “about right,” i.e. calling for the people to have a government that responds to their needs 2 weeks prior to the change in government, then noting, the succeeding military government to date has been convincing in their commitment to that principle, that U.S. allies have supported the U.S. and no anti-American sentiment has come out of Egypt to date. He was careful to distinguish Iran from Egypt pointing out that Iran engages in practices of violence and repression if its people where the U.S. and Egypt revile them.

Unsurprisingly, the Press did not touch on the key risk in all this, i.e. destabilized government that hikes oil prices so the President did not have an opportunity to point out that key oil supplier Saudi Arabia is politically stable, and, the choke points in oil shipping like the Suez Canal and Sumed pipeline, only affect about 2% of global oil supply, hence would have little affect oil prices

I was left unsatisfied with the President paucity of criticism of the Republicans so perhaps my Valentine love wore off during his speech, but for projecting an image of reasoned and in control leader, he gets a pretty good grade albeit more for positioning for the 2010 presidential election, but also on policy matters.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


In the 2/12/11 issue of NYT, Frank Rich reminds us of the “Scott free” condition perpetrated by the Obama Administration for the Wall Street architects of the Great Recession. As Rich relates it, the Madoff trail is being blazed by Irving H. Picard, the bankruptcy trustee pursuing loss claims for Madoff’s victims by pursuing hundreds of lawsuits to retrieve fictitious “profits” from the lucky coterie of Madoff investors who cashed out before his arrest. Now Picard has raised the stakes with suits that include JPMorgan, the Madoff banker.

JPMorgan is the sole big bank that survived the economic crisis with its balance sheet, image and chief executive, Jamie Dimon, more or less unscathed. Dimon, as a Times Magazine cover put it in December, is “America’s Least-Hated Banker,” an unpretentious guy (and lifelong Democrat) whose self-professed mantra is “do the right thing.”

Picard’s litigation asserts that JPMorgan saw red flags about Madoff’s legitimacy yet never bothered to notify either the authorities or its own Madoff-invested customers as long as there was money the bank could scoop off the craps table. In one internal JPMorgan e-mail cited in the lawsuit — dated June 2007, some 18 months before Madoff’s arrest — a Chase investment officer told colleagues that he had heard of “a well-known cloud” over Madoff, including speculation that he was “part of a Ponzi scheme.” And yet, according to Picard’s brief, Madoff could freely cycle billions of dollars of his clients’ money through Chase accounts until the end — even as the bank itself was busily dumping $241 million of its $276 million in Madoff investments.

Dimon appeared on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, titled “The Next Shock, Are We Better Prepared?” and complained not for the first time — or the 10th — about what he considers unfair treatment by the press and the Obama administration. He’s just sick, he said, of the “constant refrain” of “bankers, bankers, bankers.” His arrogance compelled even the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, no socialist, to speak up and chastise American banks for repeatedly defying “simple common sense” over the last decade.

Indeed. If the Picard charges about the Madoff-JPMorgan nexus weren’t enough, last week a Dimon underling had to publicly apologize before Congress to military families for the bank’s financial abuse of Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the same period. JPMorgan overcharged at least 4,500 soldiers on their mortgages and illegally foreclosed on 18 of them. Many of these victims have been battling JPMorgan for years to get it to obey the law. Let us not forget that this is the one big bank that was considered Wall Street’s model citizen.

As for the question posed to Dimon’s Davos panel, the answer is No, for the most part, we’re not better prepared for the next shock. It’s not even clear we want to be prepared. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was ridiculously under-supported by Congress — it had less than one-sixth the budget of the musical “Spider-Man” to shed light on years of opaque financial maneuvers by huge, lawyered-up institutions. Even its worthy final report’s release was drowned out, as bad luck would have it, by the uprising in Egypt. Now the new conservative attack dog of the House, Darrell Issa, is gearing up an inquiry of the financial crisis inquiry. His only conceivable purpose is to ward off any future attempts to pursue the still unanswered questions about the meltdown.

The commission’s report, full of fascinating detail, received mixed reviews. One critic, Yves Smith, of the financial blog Naked Capitalism, chastised it for not digging into how the financial industry profited obscenely (and in her view, fraudulently) by deliberately creating “toxic instruments” like subprime-mortgage-backed securities just to bet against them. Michael Lewis, author of “The Big Short,” was far more favorable about the report but scarcely less fatalistic. “I feel like we’re living in a house built on sand because we didn’t reform the system,” Noting that banks have returned to huge profits while helping themselves to zero interest loans, Lewis concluded that “we still have “socialism for capitalists, and capitalism for everybody else.”

But it’s not just financial reform that has fallen short. We still don’t have cops to catch those who break the law. Which brings us back full circle to Madoff. Not the least of his cautionary tale’s subplots was the one starring Harry Markopolos, a private financial investigator and whistle-blower who repeatedly contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission for nearly a decade with evidence of Madoff’s fraud — only to be ignored.

Markopolos was lionized on “60 Minutes” and published a book, “No One Would Listen,” dramatizing his lonely crusade. And where is the S.E.C. today? Caught in the federal budget freeze — and bracing for further cuts by the antigovernment, antiregulatory Republican House — the agency can’t hire the employees needed to enforce existing security laws, let alone new ones created by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul. It must use archaic technology to chase high-tech trading systems that operate “at the speed of light,” as Mary Schapiro, the S.E.C. chairwoman, put it. The agency’s new whistle-blower office — created precisely to welcome informants like Markopolos — has been put on hold.

Determined as Picard, our accidental Pecora, may be, the fact remains that the time couldn’t be riper for the next Madoff, whether in a strip mall or in the elite gambling dens of Wall Street, to get in the game.

May I add especially while the Obama Administration is still looking the other way.

Obama budget cuts

I really don't get this Obama guy. The last thing this country needs right now is budget cuts. It needs economic stimulus. But, here's Obama, going half way to meet the Republicans before they even begin to negotiate. That means, of course, that this is where we start negotiating from. God knows where we'll end up, but it isn't going to be pretty. I'm quite sure we're going to lose most of NPR and PBS. We're probably going to lose most of our public schools -- the criminal who now runs Florida has already said he'll close them all in that state. The governor of Wisconsin is going to have the National Guard teaching in them, which is the same as closing them. Here in New Jersey, Jabba the Hut Christie is doing his best to close them all.

Of course, there will be nothing available for the poor and unemployed, while the economy will probably sink even further. Luckily I'm not poor. But, even those of us who are not poor may have to resort to our Second Amendment rights to secure our property if the underclass keeps growing. And, it won't be a pretty scene if I have to resort to gun slinging since I can't hit the broad side of a barn from 15 feet.

I'm proud to say that when I was a young kid in camp, I did win one of those NRA shooting designations with a 22 rifle -- Pre Junior Sub-Marksman, 17th Class -- or something like that. The first (and only) time I tried to fire a twelve gauge, however, I flew backward further and faster than the pellets flew forward.

Proposal for South Carolina to have its own currency

From Talking Points Memo:

Picking up on the ancestral tradition, South Carolinians have spent much of the last two years asserting various forms of independence from the federal government and attempting to block different federal laws. Now a state senator from the Palmetto State has decided it's time for South Carolina to create its own currency.

I thought they already had one -- the Confederate Dollar.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Free at last! Allah akbar.

Hopefully, that's not premature, but Hosni Mubarak is gone.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Change we can believe in

This post by Juan Cole is well worth reading:

It is no secret that President Barack Obama has been in some regards a profound disappointment to the American Left, and his erratic and often disgraceful performance on the Egypt crisis exemplifies his faults in this regard. He just seems to lack empathy with the little people and is unwilling to buck the rich and powerful, even though they all opposed his run for the presidency. As Iran’s speaker of the house put it, the Obama administration, faced with a choice of supporting the youth revolution or the camels unleashed on it, has chosen the camels. It makes a person think there should be rule that no one can run for the presidency who didn’t have a proper father figure in his or her life (Bill Clinton, W., Obama), since apparently once they get into office they start thinking the billionaires are their long-lost parent, whom they have to bend over backward to please.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Does the Muslim Brotherhood = Saddam Hussein = Ayatollah Khomeini?

The go-to guy on matters from the Muslim world is Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He addresses the current scare-mongering about the Muslim Brotherhood taking over the uprising -- too early to call it the Egyptian Revolution? -- with some real analysis of what the MB is in Egypt and 2011, and how important it is within the range of Egyptian society today.

Bottom line: Egypt today is a lot different from Iran in 1979, with different economic forces at work and a more established secular middle class -- with "secular" having its own meaning that may include piety within the Muslim context -- while the Muslim Brotherhood is not al-Qaeda.

Cole, of course, is too rational for the Neo-Conservatives, and gets attacked a lot. But the Neo-Conservatives said Saddam had nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and were crowing up a storm when Bush strutted around in his jump-suit under the "Mission Accomplished" banner. Cole said we should listen to the inspectors about whether Saddam had WMDs or not, and said invading Iraq would be a mistake for many reasons that would undermine real American interests. You be the judge whether you should pay attention to Juan Cole or John "Handlebar" Bolton.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The solution

Mike Huckabee has solved the Israel/Palestine problem:

You have to know the euphemisms and lingo of the Israel-Palestine issue to get what he's saying. But Mike Huckabee seems to be saying that solution to the conflict is for the Palestinians to leavewhat's now called the "West Bank" and have "the Arabs" find them a piece of land from the "vast amounts of territory that are in the hands of Muslims, in the hands of Arabs."

In other words, expulsion or what's sometimes euphemistically called "transfer". (From Talking Points Memo)

This sounds a bit like the solution to the "Negro problem" that was widely endorsed by many of my parents friends when I was a young child -- forcibly round them all up and send them back to Africa.

Sell out

The Obama sell out to the Confederacy and it's Republican confederates continues:

WASHINGTON – Democrats plan to hold their 2012 nominating convention in Charlotte, N.C., selecting to fete President Barack Obama in a newly competitive presidential battleground in the conservative-leaning South.

The more hostile they become, the more he rewards them. He's dissing states that he might actually be able to win, such as Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota. Just like he keeps dissing his base.

You're infringing my personal freedoms

A Republican in Georgia's House of Representatives has introduced a bill to eliminate driver's licenses, arguing that the documents are an unnecessary infringement on personal freedom

I think we should extend this logic and do away with requirements for air pilots' licenses, physicians' certifications, lawyers' membership in the Bar, etc., etc. They all infringe MY PERSONAL FREEDOMS to do whatever the f#%k I please.