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Big news on the labor front. Yesterday, port workers in Hong Kong ended a 40-day strike after winning a 9.8% pay increase. This came after an initial demand for a 20% increase, which was negotiated with  Hutchison Whampoa (who operates the ports), owned by richest man in Asia Li Ka-shing.

Talk about a group of workers who know how to negotiate (President Obama should take note) -- they stood up to a multi-billionaire and demanded a huge pay increase that they knew they couldn't get, so that the compromise would be right in line with their reasonable desired results.

The deal the dockworkers got in writing also included a provision that allows for bathroom breaks while on the clock.

While these concessions may seem like a small win for Hong Kong workers (considering their wages had been on a decline for years anyway), it's indicative of a growing trend in Hong Kong that is accepting a more regulated market that respects collective bargaining and the rights of multiple stakeholders, not just capitalist owners.

Back in 2010, Hong Kong workers had a landmark victory against usurious capitalists when they earned passage of legislation mandating a minimum wage, as well as numerous other pro-labor measures. At the time, "business activists" claimed this would cost Hong Kong working class thousands of jobs, but in a lesson that we can very much learn here in the US, reality played out much differently:

As seen above, after the minimum wage was passed and imposed, Hong Kong's unemployment rate has steadily declined and reached full employment (amidst a worldwide financial panic too). All the consultants and officials who claimed  in 2010 that this would destroy the markets were, well, downright wrong (and we have the benefit of hindsight to show us this).

Awareness of the plight of workers is growing in the Chinese territory,and the press as well as the general public are starting to understand the need to create a balance between workers rights/dignity and the fiduciary duty of capitalists to maximize shareholder wealth.

What's most interesting is that Hong Kong is often touted by the right-wing in the United States as a model of the free market. The conservative Heritage Foundation has named Hong Kong the freest economy in the world for the past two decades. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform held Hong Kong up as a shining example of the free market recently. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney even held a fundraiser in Hong Kong in the final stretch of his 2012 campaign. Milton Friedman also loved to use Hong Kong as the example of an ideal system.

It's a territory that has abnormally low income taxes (although wealthier individuals do face higher marginal rates), no sales/VAT, no capital gains taxes, and offers a generally friction business-incorporation process.

But the reality is that Hong Kong isn't much of a "free market" in the way many Republicans think the term means. In addition to the pro-labor reforms over the past two decades listed above, the basic characteristics of their economy show it's not some Republican utopia. Hong Kong is run by communist Chinese oligarchs and state-appointed leaders, despite being a Free Economic Zone. It has a hard peg of their currency to the United States dollar. And while there are few (or no) capital controls, they regularly intervene in the market in order to produce the exchange rate conducive to their public policy goals. It also has a robust public education system, with the government even funding limited spaces in its domestic universities and subsidy programs to study abroad (cry more, Rick Perry!).

Additionally, over 50% of Hong Kongers are provided public housing by the government. And finally, Hong Kong has a universal healthcare system (and Republicans thought Obamacare was Marxist!), through a two-tiered provision with a "...'no turn away policy', which ensures that nobody is denied adequate health treatment due to lack of means" (Hong Kong: Health for all). Studies have examined the Hong Kong welfare system and determined that the state is more involved than many appreciate or understand (Linda Wong, City University Hong Kong)

These facts clash greatly with the impression conservatives try to create of Hong Kong as the Valhalla of radical capitalism. But even though the conservative vision of the ideal "free market" in practice may differ greatly from their darling Hong Kong, one aspect which does fit is that it is decidedly un-democratic (in line with Republican worldview where moochers and takers are given little to no sympathy or assistance).

The faux ideals like the "Hong Kong free market" put forth by conservatives of how societies should be organized are like pipe dreams, merely delusions from reality; a smoke screen to avoid exposing their true underlying desire: for an outright plutocracy and oligarchy. Conservatives aren't shy about expressing how their views clash with democracy (Hayek's affinity for Pinochet as one example). As Margaret Thatcher famously said:

She agreed Chile to be an “economic miracle”, but lamented that Britain’s “democratic institutions and the need for a high degree of consent” made “some of the measures” taken “quite unacceptable”.
In the conservative "free market", funding a government jobs program that is the military is considered true capitalism. The Republican presidential ticket for 2012 ran a campaign that insisted on having military spending (subsidization of an entire industry) be a minimum of 4% of GDP. "Free market" ideas like this are why the single largest employer in the world is the US Defense Department (followed closely by our free-market buddies across the Pacific, the Chinese army).

This view of the free market essentially means freedom for the rich and those who protect the rich, but no democratic values that protect workers' rights to assemble and bargain collectively. Conservatives reject the establishment of democratic institutions owned by the public and operated for the public interest, while showing a willingness to lay out hundreds of billions annually in military subsidies that provide jobs within the public-private hybrid military-industrial complex. Their worldview necessitates that the wealthy property and capital owners are in fact given preferential societal treatment.

The right-wing "free market" meme is based on a false premise and is abused merely as a tool of rhetorical propaganda/newspeak, while nations like Hong Kong and Singapore are falsely held up as models that emulate their conservative economic ideals. Despite Hong Kong's rampant inequality and anti-democratic tendencies (which would actually be a necessary consequence of a continuation of neoliberal economics of the right-wing), in most other aspects it serves as a glorious counter-example that has implemented numerous "anti-free-market" programs that contradict principles within conservative doctrine.

Hong Kong offers an illusion of a free market that Republicans and their ilk like to use as a model, but the reality of the "unAmerican" HK system paints a much different picture. Its people have full universal healthcare, public education, public housing, and don't need to worry about basic necessities. Workers are beginning to demand rights and seek to expand further what was already an established welfare system (oh noes) that touted social equity in Hong Kong for decades (despite the rather undemocratic governance of the territory). Where this trend in the territory will go is something the capitalists and workers in Hong Kong will fight out.

But the real question for us is: when will American workers reclaim their government and un-rig the system to help rebuild the broken middle class? In a true free society that encompasses the modern usage of the term "democracy", collective bargaining through free assembly is in fact a free market phenomenon.

And in a society of laws that respects the interest of public integrity, all parties should negotiate in good faith that ensures a fair and equitable outcome to disputes. When will we finally say enough is enough, and mobilize to stand up and fight for what's right?

Discuss

The non-partisan Congressional Research Service came out with a report Thursday, May 2nd titled "President Obama’s First-Term U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Analysis and Comparison with Presidents Since Reagan."

In it, a comprehensive comparative analysis is conducted of judicial nominations under the past five presidents. The findings were mixed, but a general trend of unusually high obstruction was present among most of the datapoints.

A list of key facts from the report:
During the first terms of the five most recent Presidents (Reagan to Obama), the
30 confirmed Obama circuit court nominees were tied with 30 Clinton nominees
as the fewest number of circuit nominees confirmed. The percentage of circuit
nominees confirmed during President Obama’s first term, 71.4%, was the
second-lowest, while the percentage confirmed during G.W. Bush’s first term,
67.3%, was the lowest.

President Obama’s first term, compared with the first terms of Presidents Reagan
to G.W. Bush, had the second-fewest number of district court nominees
confirmed (143 compared with 130 for President Reagan) and the second-lowest
percentage of district court nominees confirmed (82.7% compared with 76.9%
for President G.H.W. Bush).

The average number of days elapsed from nomination to confirmation for circuit
court nominees confirmed during a President’s first term ranged from 45.5 days Nomination and Confirmation of U.S. Circuit and District Court Judges during President Reagan’s first term to 277 days during President G.W. Bush’s. For district court nominees, the average time between nomination to confirmation ranged from 34.7 days (Reagan) to 221.8 days (Obama).

The median number of days from nomination to confirmation for circuit court
nominees confirmed during a President’s first term ranged from 28 days
(Reagan) to 225.5 days (Obama). For district court nominees, the median time
elapsed ranged from a low, again, of 28 days (Reagan) to 215 days (Obama).

In these stats, the obstruction faced by President Obama in the area of judicial nominations is at least as bad as President George W. Bush, and in many metrics, worse than Bush.

The most telling part of the report to me was this:

President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).
And here is the talking point that needs to be pressed against the Republicans to force their hand and dislodge this stonewalling of Obama's nominees. In recent history, this is an unprecedented degree of obstruction causing more than half-a-year waiting time for judicial nominees.

Jonathan Berstein at the Washington Post delves deeper into describing the comparisons made in the CRS release:

But Obama, like Ronald Reagan, had a same-party Senate majority during his first term. He should have had among the best results over any recent president, all things being equal.

What changed when Obama took office, however, was the extension of the filibuster to cover every single nominee. Republicans didn’t always vote against cloture (or even demand cloture votes), but they did demand 60 votes for every nominee. That’s brand new. It’s true that Democrats filibustered selected judicial nominations during the George W. Bush presidency, but only at the circuit court level, and not every single one.

That meant that despite solid Democratic majorities and solid support from those Democrats, Obama’s judicial approval statistics are basically the worse of any of the recent presidents.

So while it was bad for Bush when he was facing Democratic Senate majorities -- the situation with Obama is different, as his party has a strong majority in the Senate, yet his statistics on nominees being obstructed are as bad or worse than Bush's.

This is yet more conclusive, non-partisan, objective data to support the argument of GOP obstruction (in this case, in the area of blocking judicial nominations).

As Wonkblog has reported, there have been more general filibusters (not just of judicial nominees) by the current Republican minority against the Democrats than ever before in the history of the Senate:

Let's just hope, when/if the tables are turned, that the Democrats don't forget the precedents being set by this disgraceful opposition Republican party.
Discuss
I haven't seen this story get much attention in the mainstream press, so I'd like to highlight it here alongside some Virginia GOP corruption that's also occurring.

Propublica broke the story of famed financial deregulator Phil Gramm's protégé Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who in January became (federal) House Finance Committeee Chairman, going on a weekend ski trip sponsored by Wall Street and other corporate interests, a mere six weeks after becoming Finance Chair, where he was raising money for his political action committee "Jobs, Economy, and Budget (JEB) Fund":

The congressman’s political action committee held the fundraiser at the St. Regis Deer Valley, the “Ritz-Carlton of ski resorts” known for its “white-glove service” and for its restaurant by superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Okay well this is kind of shady. The new House Chair using soft-money loopholes to raise unlimited funds through his political action committee by going to a high-class resort and inviting financial firms and big corporations to come contribute. Must be an isolated case from this fine upstanding congressman.
Donors working in various financial industries are Hensarling’s biggest supporters, giving him over $1 million in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The congressman’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
....or not...

But maybe the contributors weren't such bad actors after all and there is no conflict of interest?

Others donating to Hensarling’s JEB Fund around the time of the Utah ski weekend: Capital One; Credit Suisse; PricewaterhouseCoopers; MasterCard; UBS; US Bank; the National Association of Federal Credit Unions; Koch Industries, which is involved in sundry financial trading; the National Pawnbrokers Association; and payday lenders Cash America International and CheckSmart Financial. All either declined to comment or did not respond to requests.  
Hard to find a corrupt financial institution or interest that isn't on that short list.

And finally, here's the biggest problem of this entire story:

There’s no evidence the fundraiser broke any campaign finance rules. But a ski getaway with Hensarling, whose committee oversees both Wall Street and its regulators, is an invaluable opportunity for industry lobbyists.
These contributions, both direct and soft money, are totally legal, because it's almost impossible to prove that there's a "pay for play" intent in these actions. They're forced to disclose the contributions so that we can see clearly that there is a conflict of interest, but there's no laws that regulate these kinds of interactions at all to protect the public interest from corrupt shills.

But let's look at this issue right in the eye. Jeb Hensarling is a corrupt politician owned by corporate interests, with disproportionate contributions to his political career coming from the finance industry which he is supposed to be tasked with regulating as Chairman of the House Finance Committee.

How on earth is it legal for this man to go off on a ritzy ski-trip fundraiser with bankers, lobbyists, and corporate "legislative affairs" representative? Our ethics and corruption laws don't go anywhere near as far as they should in preventing lobbying revolving door (the two-year ban with exceptions is totally useless) or direct money influence and dark pools of soft money, where even disclosure is hard to manage properly given current transparency laws.

Yes, it's a free country and with Citizens United we've equated monetary contributions with speech, and thus all individuals and corporations may give money to whomever they choose, and without any limit in the case of soft money.

Yet how can we ignore the clear corrupting influence of this money on weak individuals like Rep. Hensarling? We already know he's well-funded by the industry, and his actions will show that he's on their side, but there's no way to prove that he received that money and performed duties in return, which is of course illegal. Thus he can continue to receive unlimited money to his third-party organizations and work on legislation in their interests all the while claiming that it's totally irrelevant and it's a free country so he can get money from whomever he wants...

He has already come out against controls for Too Big To Fail and was a major figure in the blocking of progress with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

One can only assume with his power as Finance Committee Chair, he'll be hard at work for his "constituents" on Wall Street (even if he represents a small Texas district...).

This news also comes alongside other Southern Republicans behaving badly. In Virginia, GOP Governor Bob McDonnell is under investigation by the FBIafter allegations by a former chef of improprieties, involving a Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. Of course, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli decided to press charges against the chef (not political motivations at all!). Yet, Democrats are demanding his resignation now because Cuccinelli didn't disclose that he had over $10,000 in donations from the very corporation at the heart of the McDonnell scandal.

This is an epidemic in our country. As Bruce Bartlett (not the most liberal cat in the bunch) wrote recently:it's called plutocracy.

Bartlett cites a paper that EVERYONE should read from Northwestern that discusses the influence of money in politics with numerous references and is co-authored by Larry Bartels, a political scientist who has written about the growing inequality and money corruption in America. An excerpt from the conclusion:

Recently political scientists have characterized
contemporary America as an Unequal Democracy, where
an Unheavenly Chorus sings with unequal political voices;
as an arena ofWinner-Take-All Politics; even as an outright
(albeit circumscribed) Oligarchy.64

...

Our evidence indicates that the wealthy are much more
concerned than other Americans about budget deficits.
The wealthy are much more favorable toward cutting
social welfare programs, especially Social Security and
health care.

They are considerably less supportive of several jobs and income programs, including an abovepoverty-level minimum wage, a “decent” standard of living
for the unemployed, increasing the Earned Income Tax
Credit, and having the federal government “see to” —or
actually provide—jobs for those who cannot find them
in the private sector

The wealthy are significantly less favorable to increasing
government regulation of Wall Street firms, the health care
industry, small business, and especially big corporations.

So the study explores the views of the wealthy in a small sample, and finds an uncanny resemblance between the policies coming out of Washington and the personal beliefs of the wealthy power elite in the private sector.

This is getting very scary.

The linked study gives a nice background, but for more reading on this topic here are some important books: Lawrence Lessig's Republic Lost and One Way Forward and Larry Bartels' Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age and Obama & America's Political Failure. The common thread in this issue of modern corruption and conflicts of interest is the problem of money in politics. There are solutions, we the people don't have to stand by where this blatant corruption is in full swing.

Call it plutocracy, call it oligarchy -- hell, call it freedom of speech -- but whatever it is, it's not democracy, it's outright legal corruption. And while the GOP is particularly cozy with corporate interests, this is a problem on both sides of the aisle: Democrats are just as guilty of these corrupt tendencies to accept money and then act representing those money interests, but without any proof linking intent or motive to buy influence (where it becomes illegal). If we are a nation of laws, we need to protect public integrity and get money out of politics and hold our public officials to higher standards of accountability and remove conflicts of interest.

Discuss
Sorry Republicans, the Pope doesn't think spending is the problem or that we need cuts!
In his weekly address today, the Pope came out strongly against austerity and called for public spending to spur creation of jobs:
“I think of how many, and not just young people, are unemployed, many times due to a purely economic conception of society, which seeks selfish profit, beyond the parameters of social justice. I wish to extend an invitation to solidarity to everyone, and I would like to encourage those in public office to make every effort to give new impetus to employment.”
Strong words from the Pope, a mere human who I am not a fan of whatsoever, but who has undeniable influence over numerous people in the world, especially in the Americas and European periphery. Top austerity proponent Paul Ryan, for example, is a practicing Catholic, among other Republican "fiscal conservatives". Perhaps the conduit to their God on Earth telling Republicans that spending cut policies are the wrong way to go will be their break point? I'm not holding my breath for a change of heart, but they've already disregarded the academic debunking of austerity, so maybe if their God figure is telling them, they'll actually listen.

There's a lot to loathe about the Roman Catholic Church and the joke of a position the Pope represents (support of fascism, inaction/conspiracy to cover up child rape worldwide, stupid birth control and social policies), but this is an important speech from a man who has secular influence on public policymakers in areas hit hardest by destructive austerity (and in the US, at risk of facing more). Combined with the hail of evidence both academic/theoretical and policy/empirical, austerity is basically a dead ideology.

His speech today came amidst protests for May Day, or International Workers' Day, all around the world. The mobilization of workers on this special day has been particularly strong in the West, especially Madrid and Greece and other parts of Europe.

The tide is shifting, and in the eyes of many worldwide, now we've got God on our side in the fight against austerity. The Pope's speech and May Day protests today come on the heels of news of a flagship austerity study from two Harvard economists being debunked by a public university PhD student, delivering a blow to right-wingers across the West. Additionally, the IMF and Eurozone have been processing new data on the multipliers of the effects of public spending cuts (finding that austerity leads to HIGHER debt/gdp ratios -- talk about counterproductive). Finally, now we have "divine intervention" telling the last remaining austerity proponents in Europe and the US to cut the crap and end austerity measures and take action in the public sector to create jobs.

The state of the movement against austerity is good, much stronger than in the past couple years. We've tried the right-wing philosophy of "belt-tightening" and it has failed, making things worse. And now there is copious amounts of evidence against austerity in public experiments and academic research. It's time for a change of policy and understanding of macroeconomics in the North Atlantic.

More and more everyday people are breaking through the propaganda of the assorted Pete Peterson debt-fear-mongering austerity-lovers, and beginning to truly grasp that leaving people unemployed is more economically destructive than any imagined debt problems. Since 2008, in the United States we have lost about $4.5 trillion in national income due to insufficient demand just because of a lack of will to produce currency. Similarly, the human cost in Europe is in the trillions of euros.

Acknowledgement and realization of the problem is only the beginning. But now nations must seize their monetary sovereignty and regain control from transnational corporations which are breaking down national labor markets and exercising abnormal control over the political process. Europe is nearing a breaking point, but the United States can learn from their problems and not disingenuously cut public spending because of false analogeis to households. As Columbia Professor Dr. Jeffrey Sachs explains (paraphrasing): with extremely low inflation in advanced economies, coupled with high unemployment, it's inexcusable to avoid stronger fiscal and monetary stimulus to reach full employment and rectify rampant inequality.

However, this change won't be easy. Germany is still representing the inertia against the anti-austerity push, and steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that austerity won't work in the Eurozone. State-side, Republicans will be running the House until 2014, and probably until 2016, and they're fixated on spending cuts and refuse to take action to reduce inequality.  But we're getting more and more hope in the battle, and eventually, something's got to give.

I will close with these words from Vatican Radio that were quite touching:

A society that “does not pay a just wage”, that “does not give work” to people; a society that “that only looks to its balance books, that only seeks profit” is unjust and goes against God. It is work - not power, not money, not culture – that gives men and women a sense of dignity. By stripping them of work, society strips them of their God given dignity.
This is one day where I can say, as an atheist, that I agree with the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church's stance!

Happy May Day!

Discuss
Note: I'm neither Christian nor black. Polls show black America as a whole are in fact basically in line with the general population on the issue of marriage equality,but sit well below Democrats as a whole (who blacks vote 90%+ for), so there is an obvious break in the issue of marriage equality, which has been the subject of much discourse.

As someone who used to vote Republican and even voted against gay marriage equality in my state five years ago, I feel an obligation to undo my stupidity of the past (I took the "anti-gay -> separate but equal (civil unions) -> full equality" path on the issue).

That's why, while I normally don't care much for social issues and focus a lot more on economic issues in both my research and casual reading, I do speak out against those who are against marriage equality (or who are outright homophobic). It's probably more from a sense of guilt than true passion or purpose. I can't help but think about my current and past gay friends that I disrespected with my vote against gay marriage in Florida in 2008, and I feel extreme shame from making such a horrible mistake.

Typically I'd mock as unserious and distracting the kind of news that came out from an NBA player Jason Collins (who I really had no clue even existed) that he's gay. But then I saw the response from a Chris Broussard at ESPN. This is representative of what I've seen from a lot of black America -- using the Bible and Christianity to say, seemingly against their own will, that God forbids homosexuality and gay marriage is an abomination as delineated by their religion, and that's that!

Here's a small sample of the Twitter garbage on the hashtag #IStandWithChris. Your typical southern Christian bigots, but a lot of blacks who were using Christ and God's word to justify their brand of intolerance.

It really made me sick to my stomach on Twitter seeing the outburst of support from the religious right as well as many blacks. In fact, the first thing I thought about was this touching speech by Pastor Phil Snider of Missouri.  In it, he makes a passionate case against gay marriage, using a speech from a half-century ago that was used to justify legislation against interracial marriage. Pastor Snider merely replaced all the references to interracial marriage with gay marriage!

And it's a point that demands more thought. This is part of a greater theme of right-wing Christianity to fundamentally and literally interpret the Bible on matters that they see personally fit, but to ignore the "crazier" stuff.

What much of black America seems to forget is that in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Bible was used regularly to justify slavery, segregation, and broad racist vitriol in the United States. And now much of the community is turning around and using the same exact "reasoning" (if you can even call it that) to promote bigotry against gays, which was what was used against their people last century!

Here's a list of biblical verses that have been used to promote slavery, against the very ancestors of the black people using the bible to support anti-gay public policy:

Titus 2:9-10
New International Version (NIV)
9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
Boy that's odd, and from the New Testament as well. So slaves should obey their master, and doing so makes God happy and serves god...okay then. Ah, must be a bad translation, right? Or, maybe it was just from one weird book?
Ephesians 6:5-6
New International Version (NIV)
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.
Well damn, so being a good slave to your earthly master is equivalent to serving Christ? Now it's becoming difficult to interpret these verses as really anything but outright plutocratic propaganda.
1 Timothy 6:1
New International Version (NIV)
6 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.
Okay now this is just getting repetitive. Three different verses from three different books in the New Testament of the Bible, all with the same message: slavery is okay, and slaves must obey their masters as it pleases Christ.

And for good measure, in case slavery wasn't hitting home enough for blacks in America, the women out there also have cause for concern using the bible as justification for anything:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says
The above verses are mere samples of the voluminous anti-female, anti-gay, anti-freedom message the Bible sends to those who choose to interpret literally many passages. And I've only covered the New Testament! The Old Testament is considered way too easy of a target, due to its truly arcane references. But for a bit of an outline on the pro-slavery references there, check out this link.

For me, going to college and befriending gays and having gay work colleagues really broke the ice and "demystified" gays in America for me. Before then, I deferred the issue to the church (as I was growing out of my evangelical phase) or the status quo, and didn't give it much more thought. But the Bible can be used to justify any and all forms of bigotry (racial, religious, gender, sexual, national), and has indeed done so. Instead, I appeal to everyone to use their human instinct, the good that lies within us all, to understand this issue from the point of view of homosexuals who merely want equal rights under the law as our enlightened founding fathers outlined (but failed to implement many score later).

In this spirit, the passage black America should be citing that would be more appropriate is "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31). One must always look at these issues from the point of view of the oppressed, of the underdog, to get perspective on the bigger picture of what's at stake. Blacks should not fall into the trap of religious bigotry that many whites did which used the bible to oppress blacks. It is the height of sad, pathetic irony that many blacks are using the same exact tactics to push for oppression of others.

But more importantly, Christians of all colors in America shouldn't make the mistake of letting bigots hijack their beloved book and preach a selective interpretation that ignores certain literal crazy things, but embraces the bigoted aspects. Think about the issue from the view of homosexuals, don't cop out by pointing to the Bible and insisting it's the word of God, while ignoring the obvious human angle.

Discuss

Two months ago, I wrote about Moody's downgrading the UK's AAA debt rating and suggested:

...this decision will not have any impact on the UK's bond markets or financial security.

Instead, this is yet another example of irrelevant ratings agencies trying to save face by disingenuously downgrading the perception of credit quality of monetary sovereigns like the UK.

Britons have nothing to fear from this news of a downgrade of their national debt, save for the misguided austerity policies of their elected officials.
...

If anything, they should instead take it as a sign of positive things to come!

And of course, since that downgrade, UK Gilt 10-year debt has gone from over 2.00% to about 1.60% -- 40 basis points lower in the yield, reflecting higher demand for British debt, and more investor confidence in the UK's credibility since the Moody's downgrade.
Amusingly enough, Egan-Jones also downgraded the UK's credit rating last month, which has of course corresponded with a continued decline in the yields and higher prices on the debt -- further exposing just how inept and incompetent these ratings agencies are. The market reactions to these downgrades has been to shrug and to pile on more demand for the debt!

As I wrote about in the other diary, these ratings agencies are corrupt and lack the ability to competently rate monetary sovereigns' debt, as well as other forms of debt as we saw in the Financial Crisis of 2007-8, as quoted from the FCIC:

"The three credit rating agencies were key enablers of the financial meltdown. The mortgage-related securities at the heart of the crisis could not have been marketed and sold without their seal of approval. Investors relied on them, often blindly. In some cases, they were obligated to use them, or regulatory capital standards were hinged on them. This crisis could not have happened without the rating agencies."
We're just now seeing some progress in the courts against these corrupt ratings agencies, as evidenced by S&P being taken to court for their role in the crisis.

Additionally, Egan-Jones in particular has been fingered for fraud ("misrepresenting the firm's actual experience") and has been banned for 18 months in the United States from rating credit of the government or Asset-Backed Securities. So when the news came out last Friday that Egan-Jones has decided to downgrade German debt, I couldn't help but just laugh.

Now, while Germany is not a monetary sovereign and thus is held to a different set of conditions that determine their creditworthiness, they are easily, by far, the most credible Eurozone member of the bunch. Thus, this action by Egan-Jones to downgrade German sovereign debt is a futile attempt at establishing credibility in an industry where there is none left.

The track record of these ratings agencies is getting so amusingly bad that countries ought to be begging for a downgrade to get a lower yield on their debt! The market clearly doesn't care about these discredited firms and their debunked methodology, especially for sovereign debt.

Back at home, Dodd-Frank has established a number of rules to govern ratings agencies. The question is whether sufficient enforcement of the rules will put these corrupt organizations in their place. Until then, when a ratings agency downgrades a monetary sovereign (note: this excludes the €-zone nations), take it as a signal to buy!

Discuss
The figure above illustrates how a Microsoft Excel coding error and other methodological fails led Harvard economists Reinhart (former Bear Stearns vice president) and Rogoff to grossly mis-state the effects of higher debt/gdp levels causing low growth in a seminal paper by the two. The very study which has led the GOP to claim there's empirical proofthat high debt kills jobs and growth, has been exposed as a poorly-run analysis with mis-coded data. Recall, the Romney camp was trumpeting the R&R study so much that the researchers had to come out and chastise them for politicizing their work and even mis-stating it! Oh how the mighty have fallen.
REVENGE OF CLIPPY against REPUBLICAN PSEUDOSCIENCE!!
REVENGE OF CLIPPY against REPUBLICAN PSEUDOSCIENCE
This is huge...absolutely humongous news. As Joe Biden would say, this is a BFD. Michael Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute has come out with a nice lay-person review of University of Massachussettes professors Herndon Ash and Pollen's recently published paper which has quite significantly debunked the Reinhart-Rogoff 2010 study that claimed that if a country builds up above 90% Debt/GDP, that it causes the economy to contract rapidly. It found that the growth was under-stated by R-R by over two percentage points.

The causative claim made by R-R had been disputed back in 2010 by Progressive economists like Dean Baker, Paul Krugman, and the aforementioned Mike Konczal well before his new review came out.  It never sat right with many economists that there was a causative relationship between having higher debt that caused low growth. Instead, it made more sense that when an economy faces a financial crisis, we have to pile on some debt temporarily to spend out way out of the hole. But the problem was that Reinhart and Rogoff didn't make their data public for a full two years after they had released the study, which made it impossible to verify any of their work.

They finally gave in months ago, and the data was given to Herndon et al, and Konczal was able to get it analyzed and publish the review which "broke" this story and confirmed what many of us had suspected ever since R&R came out with their study -- not only is their conclusion of a sharp drop in growth after a 90% debt/gdp level being reached wrong, but they have not proven any causative link at all, even with the revised figures!

For some background: the gist of this story is that two Harvard academics, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, wrote what has become the seminal paper justifying austerity policies. The reason it gained prominence is that they analyzed the Debt/GDP ratio of numerous countries and determined, as Krugman points out here with extreme skepticism (he has doubted the study's results from day one), that at the 90% level countries experience a sharp drop in growth and a debt crisis. This immediately led American policymakers to use the study as a reference to say the debt is causing unemployment and low growth.

Also, European policymakers who were already inclined to cut spending to get their way, became further emboldened to continue disastrous austerity against the people in the name of adjusting their debt/gdp level to foster growth, all while insisting their policies had academic approval thanks to the Harvard duo.

It took years for the Troika (ECB, IMF, EC) to finally admit that they underestimated the contractionary effects of austerity.

So, back to the present, we have this UMass study that highlights numerous issues with the Reinhart & Rogoff study, including, shockingly, the revelation that there was an Excel coding error in their data! Other than the coding error, Justin Fox at Harvard Business Review describes the extent to which methodological shadiness such as unusual weighting of country-data as well as selective exclusions of periods for certain countries skewed the results in favor of the narrative Reinhart and Rogoff were pushing (that debt/gdp above 90% causes a marked slowdown growth). Imagine that, the study that gives right-wingers in Europe and the US academic and intellectual cover to justify wildly anti-social policies, has essentially been DEBUNKED!

This story has blown up in academic circles and even the mainstream. R&R have responded to the critique in an incredibly dishonest way ("yea so we got the data wrong but our conclusion is still right" -- wtf?). Dean Baker destroyed their pathetic response in his own analysis.  Krugman is similarly showing very little sympathy for them.

But I wanted to highlight a few quotes and a "wall of shame" of Republicans and pro-austerity sadists who have been citing Reinhart and Rogoff to justify anti-social policies in the United States:

1. Paul Ryan (REPUBLICAN)

“Economists who have studied sovereign debt tell us that letting total debt rise above 90 percent of GDP creates a drag on economic growth and intensifies the risk of a debt-fueled economic crisis.”

— House Budget Committee Chairman and former Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

2. Timothy Geithner (technically DEMOCRAT -- but honorary neo-liberal corporatist Republican in practice)

“It’s an excellent study, although in some ways what you’ve summarized understates the risks.”

— Former US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner

3. Doug Holtz-Eakin (REPUBLICAN)

“The debt hurts the economy already. The canonical work of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff and its successors carry a clear message: countries that have gross government debt in excess of 90% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are in the debt danger zone. Entering the zone means slower economic growth.”

— Doug Holtz-Eakin, Chairman of the American Action Forum.

4. Pete Peterson et al (REPUBLICAN)

And finally, the man behind the major push for austerity in the US behind his front organizations Fix The Debt, and support of Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Pete Peterson Institute:

But you know [Kenneth] Rogoff and [Carmen] Reinhart—I’ve talked to them, and they say [debt crises] are sudden, they’re sharp, they’re very substantial. The risk is simply too big. At some point, if we lurch form crisis to crisis, then confidence will decline on our economy in general.

--- Pete Peterson, Billionaire Sadist

For more on just how influential Pete Peterson has been in trying to bring disastrous European austerity to the United States, check out SourceWatch's wiki on him. It's hard to find a single debt-fear-mongering Republican who hasn't cited and praised Reinhart and Rogoff and Pete Peterson as the Gospel to promote austerity.

So there you have it, a nice little Wall of Shame for the Republicans and neoliberals in the US that have been using Reinhart and Rogoff's debunked study for years to promote austerity and "THE DEBT IS GOING TO KILL OUR CHILDRENZ" and "OMG DEBT IS KILLING JOBS". What are the chances that Republicans will change their tone and come around to the need for a stimulus? As Jared Bernstein writes:

Let’s see what happens next, which could, as Matt Yglesias suggests, be nothing.  It’s not like facts are driving this debate.
A little addendum: AEI and Heritage are two right-wing think-tanks that have used Reinhart and Rogoff's study ad nauseum to support all kinds of anti-debt, anti-stimulus policies.  For example, Vincent Reinhart, who is Carmen Reinhart's husband, is a "fellow" at AEI. And as mentioned earlier, Carmen Reinhart is a former chief and vice president of Bear Stearns. And Rogoff has been openly defended and cited at Heritage and had quite a controversial ride as chief at the IMF.

And of course, AEI and Heritage are corporate funded. I'm not suggesting a conspiracy theory, but it's worth noting these connections between the researchers behind the "canonical study" that justified Austerity and spending cuts and debt-fear-mongering and right-wing think-tanks and corporations.

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Star Tribune cartoonist Steve Sack depicting one aspect of Obama's corruption
Last week, the Senate and House passed a secret, barely-debated bill to limit the scope and effectiveness of the STOCK Act that was passed last year to limit corruption and promote transparency of public officials' financial activity. The purpose of the STOCK Act, which stands for STOP TRADING ON CONGRESSIONAL KNOWLEDGE, is described by the Center of Responsive Politics:
The STOCK Act, which was passed by Congress a year ago, requires online posting of the personal financial disclosure statements that lawmakers and congressional candidates, the president and vice president, members of the cabinet and high-ranking congressional and executive branch staff file each year. The data is supposed to be made available in machine readable format that is to be ready to download this October.
And at the time of its passage, Obama had this to say:
"It's a good first step," he said after passage. "And in the months ahead, Congress should do even more to help fight the destructive influence of money in politics and rebuild the trust between Washington and the American people."
Watchdog groups had hailed the passage of the bill last year, as it had wide bi-partisan support and satisfied the public need for added transparency. However, just months after the 2012 election, Congress furtively stripped the bill of major powers:
Both chambers of Congress quickly — and near silently — approved the repeal legislation at the end of last week by unanimous consent, just before heading home to their districts.

...

The Senate advanced the bill Thursday by unanimous consent, without debate or even briefly describing what it would do. The House signed off on the bill Friday using the same approach.

And, unfortunately, yesterday, President Obama completed this rope-a-dope deception by signing this new bill, which stripped key provisions from the STOCK Act and rolled back a lot of the progress that the original bill made in promoting transparency and open government. The bill was signed without any cameras or fanfare, which is in stark contrast to the very public signing of the actual STOCK Act. It seems President Obama was glad to parade around the signing of the pro-transparency bill, but was not so open about his reversal of the most important parts of it a year later! Open Secrets describes the key provisions stripped out of the bill and labels this action "A reversal of the STOCK Act":
The elements of the STOCK Act that were removed include:

    Creation of searchable, sortable disclosure of the information contained in reports even for Congress, the president, vice president, the president’s cabinet and congressional candidates.

    Required electronic filing for Congress, the president, vice president, the president’s cabinet and congressional candidates, as well as high-level executive and congressional branch employees. Even images of the staffers' filings will not be available for viewing on the web.

The original bill was praised for providing transparency of records to be searchable online, applying to staffers, high-level employees. And this reversal signed yesterday by President Obama will make it even harder to hold public officials accountable and give them less requirements for disclosure.

So the very bill that Obama last year claimed was "a good first step" and suggested that "we should do even more in the months ahead", has now been totally revised and stripped of the most important aspects which promote transparency in the new bill that he has just signed yesterday. Instead of doing more to increase transparency, Congress and President Obama have rolled back the very provisions of the bill which helped promote an open government, in a decidedly non-transparent manner (unanimous voice consent, closed-signing by the president).

This is in a current federal governance environment where revolving door corruption is absolutely rampant, in both Congressional staffs and the executive branch organizations and the President's cabinet. President Obama has only used his veto power twice, the most sparse use of the power since President Garfield. It's a shame he decided to wait until after being re-elected to roll back these key anti-corruption, pro-transparency measures, rather than using his veto power to stand up for the principles that he was elected on by the people.

If you're too frustrated to read yet another story of Obama's outright hypocrisy and the continuing corruption of Congress by money interests, RT has produced a segment discussing the details of this latest shameful bill.

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Obama's official budget has been released in full today. For a more general overview of the budget items you can check out the breakdown from The Hill.

Not much has changed in my outlook since the trial balloon came out on Friday.

But I thought I would check the budget for any details regarding Chained CPI. I held out hope that perhaps there was a mechanism to permanently protect those dependent upon Social Security, disability, etc. from the change (essentially a back-door to means-testing).

I was mortified to see the actual part of the budget dealing with Chained CPI...

Those following at home can turn to page 46 to see this "comprehensive" breakdown:

USING A MORE ACCURATE MEASURE OF INFLATION
In the interest of achieving a bipartisan deficit reduction agreement, beginning in 2015 the Budget would change the measure of inflation used by the Federal Government for most programs and for the Internal Revenue Code from the standard Consumer Price Index (CPI) to the alternative, more accurate chained CPI, which grows slightly more slowly. Unlike the standard CPI, the chained CPI fully accounts for a consumer’s
ability to substitute between goods in response to changes in relative prices and also adjusts for small sample bias. Most economists agree that the chained CPI provides a more accurate measure of the average change in the cost of living than the standard CPI.
Okay let's stop there. Dean Baker has swiftly debunked the accuracy of Chained CPI-U for use in seniors' benefits (as they have a totally different basket of consumption).

Additionally, we know that most economists DO NOT agree that the Chained CPI provides a "more accurate measure." The IGM Forum, which conducts regular surveys of top economists to get an idea of what economists generally have a consensus on and what is more controversial, has already addressed this issue:

So 37% of economists are uncertain, 32% agree, 5% "strongly agree."

Even if you combine the agreements, there's a dead-heat between "uncertain" and "agree" at 37%.

How in the world does Obama think that Chained CPI is "accepted by most economists as being more accurate" when a fairly right-wing (IGM is conducted at the University of Chicago!) survey of economists reveals a torn opinion on whether it is actually more accurate or that the current CPI overpays benefits?

So the premise of Obama's argument is torn apart.

The next item I'd like to address regarding Chained CPI is this part:

The President has made clear that any such change in approach should protect the most vulnerable. For that reason, the Budget includes protections for the very elderly and others who  rely on Social Security for long periods of time, and only applies the change to non-means tested benefit programs.
No details, no specifics, no outline of just how the vulnerable will be protected.

In Romneyesque fashion, Obama wants us to merely trust him that those vulnerable and elderly will be protected, without providing the nitty-gritty details for us to examine and confirm that those protections will be adequate.

In the end, this budget falls short of alleviating the concerns I have had about the cuts to Social Security in particular, the Chained CPI.

There's a proven-faulty logic being used to push it ("most economists agree" -- nice try...), and there's no details on how the vulnerable will be protected. This is absolutely unacceptable.

While the budget does give us the Buffett Rule (30% minimum tax on $1M+ incomes) and a tax deduction cap on the wealthy, and carried interest loophole gone along with some corporate welfare, cutting Social Security is a deal-breaker that makes the budget on its whole very unfavorable to the middle class and the needy in society.

For those who have not yet signed Dr. Robert Reich's petition to Obama to refuse to institute Chained CPI, please do so now.

We must send the message to President Obama that we will not sell our seniors or veterans or the vulnerable in society short.

Oh and in case anyone was wondering about that SEC head Mary Schapiro that ran off to the "Promontory Financial Group" and claimed she wasn't "part of the revolving door", William Cohan (at Bloomberg!) has gone into detail about how that's a total scam and the Obama revolving door is worse than ever.

It's becoming harder and harder to find any good news or policy from this president.

Discuss
With all the commotion caused by Obama's trial-balloon of his budget plan to be released next week, my attention has been focused mostly on economic issues.

But there's another story, which may go unnoticed by many, that I'd like to call attention to, because it's something that's important to me and my past.

Yesterday, federal judge Edward Korman struck down an Obama administration action which banned over-the-counter Plan B contraception for young women under the age of 17. This meant that, if you were 17 or over, you could get emergency contraception over the counter, but if you were under 17, you needed a prescription. But after Judge Korman's ruling, this policy is history, and women of all ages must have full over-the-counter access to emergency contraception, to the chagrin of the Obama administration.

The previous Obama administration action came from the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who nullified a multi-year FDA study which showed that Plan B emergency contraception is safe for women of all ages and should be over-the-counter.

Luckily, Judge Korman wasn't having any of that. He wrote a harsh take-down of the Obama administration, as the Washington Post put it:

On Friday, Korman called that move “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.” Sebelius’ actions, he said, were “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent.”
Basically, the judge was chastising Obama for using political and ideological bitterness to interfere in a scientific study by the FDA.

And in case there was any doubt that Obama was behind this ridiculous limitation on access to emergency contraception for young women:

Obama stands by Sebelius’s decision, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday.
“He believes it was the right, commonsense approach to this issue,” Carney said. “His position has not changed.”
You read that correctly: He believed it was right.

This whole case actually traces its roots back to the Bush administration, which used similar tactics to limit Plan B access to just women 18+.

So the same judge Korman back in 2009 ordered the FDA to reconsider its political decision under Bush to reject Plan B access to young women under 18. The FDA studied it and came to the conclusion that it was safe. And then the Obama Administration nullified that study, which has been taken to court, and now Judge Korman has put the whole issue to rest.

A hectic, twisted timeline, but in the end, the right thing has happened: despite the opposition of the Obama administration, women of all ages will now have access to this safe emergency contraception, without having to jump through hoops of prescriptions and parental notifications.

Now for the personal part. About 10 years ago I myself was in an uncomfortable spot that required my girlfriend at the time and I to need Plan B.  Under Bush, this wasn't possible over the counter. Instead, thanks to her college-age sister, we were able to do what was necessary for two 16-year-olds who made a stupid mistake to do.

But even under Obama, with policies that his spokesman has just said he supported and still supports, to limit emergency contraception over the counter to women 17 and over, my then-girlfriend and I would have still been in a bind where we would have had to use some "loophole" to get access to the medication needed.....until now.

It's only thanks to Judge Korman that Obama's strange paternalist policies are not being inflicted on young people in similar situations around the world today.

So it all worked out in the end, our little American system of checks and balances. The people have won. Freedom has prevailed for young men and women around the country.

Discuss
For those who don't understand what Chained CPI is, Robert Reich has put out a (beautifully timed) video and article on what it is, why it sucks, and how it's JUST A CUT IN SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS (first 10 years is over $100 BILLION cut from payments to retirees) and we MUST NOT ACCEPT IT. See updates below on how to get involved to stop this insanity NOW before it gets out of hand. The White House put this story out as a trial balloon to see our reaction, LETS SHOW THEM HOW WE FEEL ABOUT THIS.

Next week, President Obama will be unveiling his big budget plan for 2013-14, but in a likely White House trial balloon, the New York Times has a preview with some details:

In a significant shift in fiscal strategy, Mr. Obama on Wednesday will send a budget plan to Capitol Hill that departs from the usual presidential wish list that Republicans typically declare dead on arrival. Instead it will embody the final compromise offer that he made to Speaker John A. Boehner late last year, before Mr. Boehner abandoned negotiations in opposition to the president’s demand for higher taxes from wealthy individuals and some corporations.
The tl;dr of this plan is:

- $600 billion in new tax revenues (mostly from a 28% tax deduction cap).

- $1.2 trillion in new net spending cut measures (translation: macro-austerity-lite) (including Chained CPI--which is a significant regressive cut to seniors' retirement benefits, and cuts to Medicare, and needed Pentagon cuts)

By now I don't think anyone is surprised by Obama's right-wing self-negotiating style. This is his modus operandi, as anyone who followed the debt ceiling (v1.0 and 2.0) and fiscal cliff negotiations can recall.

This comes after months of his battle cry that "we need a balanced approach" to deficit reduction (never mind the fact that we DONT need to reduce the deficit with any spending cuts, just taxes to reduce inequality and pro-growth stimulus would fix that).

Is it really balanced to be proposing twice as much in austerity spending cuts as tax increases on corporations and the wealthy (who receive overwhelming preferential tax treatment in the current framework)? And why is Obama's plan, in response to Ryan's insane House plan, opening up with cutting Social Security as a starting point? This is the same thing he tried in 2012. What happened to the art of negotiation?  

And why no mention of the Buffett rule? Why no end to carried interest? Why not an overhaul of corporate welfare reform that this country desperately needs to reduce inequality? Why not end these tax expenditures that benefit the wealthy and perpetuate the inequality plaguing this country? Here's a reminder of what's been going on in our country, inequality-wise, and what is perpetuating it (bad tax policy, not "super awesome smart rich people" and "lazy low-middle class workers):

Sure, the Republican opposition can always be blamed for anything and everything. But this story gave me pause, and I wondered, what if Romney got elected? Would Romney, facing a sizeable Democratic majority in the Senate, have offered up something better than this?

The argument is that Obama can't force the opposition to accept any of his plans, and that he needs their cooperation to get any legislation passed.

Fair enough, then, well, how would this be any different than if Romney was in office? He'd have to negotiate with Democrats. And we know the Democrats bent over for Bush multiple times, including for his pro-plutocrat tax cuts and the unfunded wars, which together created the deficits we're now so desperate to reduce.

But the way Obama's plan has turned out, it seems like progressives could have gotten a better deal if Romney was in office and we let Reid play obstructionist and try and force a balanced compromise (as ironic and cynical as it may seem). (NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF MITT ROMNEY SHOULD BE PRESIDENT).

It's developments like this truly unbalanced Obama plan which favors known, failed austerity cuts over inequality-reducing tax increases on the wealthy (not a real form of austerity) which make me just wonder if it even matters who we elected last year.

Obama can't even get basic judicial appointments through, let alone a budget that rejects the misery of austerity that is ongoing in Europe.

While the GOP obviously bears the brunt of the responsibility here, I voted for Obama for his promises not to touch Social Security and to oppose austerity, to reduce inequality and provide opportunities to rebuild the middle class.

But I also voted for his leadership. I didn't vote for him to compromise time after time, negotiate with himself, and end up with a plan that essentially Republicans would have organically produced had Obama not been in office at all.

This is a repeat of Obamacare, which was a reproduction of the Heritage Foundation's corporate giveaway, and Dodd-Frank, which was a weak, coddling set of regulations written by the banks that is still incomplete with vague enforcement mechanisms. Except that was when the Democrats actually had the House and the Senate in addition to the presidency.

So can we really blame Republican opposition, when the Democrats produced bad legislation in 2009-2010 when they had a supermajority across the board?

That may be the excuse they use now, but recent history is showing us that in reality, these are the true colors of the Democratic Party -- outright pandering to the wealthy and corporations, which only further perpetuates the devolution into the modern American oligarchy.

And I'll leave you with this blast from the past by Joe Biden, the king of empty promises:

"I’m glad you all are not talking about doing anything with Social Security,” Mr. Biden responded: “Hey, by the way, let’s talk about Social Security. Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.
Flat...out...guarantee...you...
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Oh Mr. Breuer you did us so wrong. And you did the right thing when Max Smith at PBS busted you for your incompetence (collusion?) and you bowed out...and then we all said, "hey, I wonder what he's gonna do next?"

My old civics teacher used to always tell me, "read the papers on Saturday morning, because nobody reads them, and you'll find the juiciest stuff there."

Well, in the internet age with 24-hour news cycles, it's a bit more complicated that. But what better time to drop some ugly news from government officials and agencies than Easter? I always pay extra close attention during holidays and "busy days" to the kinds of news that the mainstream doesn't like to report.

Sure enough, there was an Easter Egg to be found over by the revolving door between DC/Wall Street.

Months ago, our friend Timmy Geithner decided to join the Council on Foreign Relations after leaving the Department of Treasury, signalling a desire to remain in public service perhaps in the future (as CFR is considered just a "think tank" and in the public interest).

But old Lanny Breuer (the guy Frontline busted in an exposé on lack of action against Wall Street criminals) at the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice has no such plans to do so.

Instead, Breuer has decided to join the Corporate Criminal Defense Team at prestigious Wall Street (among other international hotspots) law firm Covington & Burling (the same firm Eric Holder was part of). He'll be earning approximately $4 million a year, far exceeding his meager public servant salary as a protector of Wall Street at the DoJ. I guess he built up a pretty high demand after he padded his resumé with a painfully underpaid public service job.

Thanks to the timing of this press release (a coincidence, of course), this news has gone unreported even at the most left-leaning of blogs and new sites.

The announcement comes as Jack Lew, former Citi banker, has just been confirmed to head the Department of Treasury, and Mary Joe White, white collar criminal defender of JP Morgan, is up for confirmation as the Head of SEC, who JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon called "a perfect choice" for the position.

Thus, Obama has learned nothing from his blunders and continues to nominate the same old crooks to key economic advisory, policy, and enforcement positions. While this is consistent with his questionable personnel decisions ever since he's entered office, the American people's interests will not be well-served with more bankers and Wall Street lawyers in powerful positions in the Executive branch. It's one thing to have someone who understands the system with some light experience early in a career, but not someone dancing back and forth through the revolving door.

But hey, who cares about economic injustice and revolving-door corruption when there's gay marriage, abortions, and guns to talk about, right? We must not let the American oligarchs confuse the priorities we should have about regulating Wall Street, stopping corruption, and fighting inequality.

Discuss
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