Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why say Yes to the party of No?

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
How does the Big Business-indentured Republican Party get away with expectations of a runaway election victory this November? If such a victory should occur in Congress and for many governorships and state legislatures, it will be due to a ten percent or so shift in voters who voted Democratic in 2008 and are expected to vote Republican this year or stay home in despair or disgust. The rest of the voters who do vote will still stay with their hereditary Republican or Democratic candidates.

So what is accounting for a possible ten percent shift? Let’s briefly review some of the Congressional Republicans’ voiced positions:

1. They want to do nothing about unfair Chinese trade practices that lure jobs away from our country though huge factory subsidies, and where workers are repressed and counterfeit products abound. Imagine, Republicans coddling a communist regime, luring the auto parts, electronic, solar and drug ingredients industries away from America, often in violation of the World Trade Organization rules. And, in turn, China is exporting to the U.S. impure food, faulty tires, toxic drywall, lead-tainted toys and medicines which are contaminated, defective or harmful. Don’t forget the dumping violations.

2. Republicans, led by Senator Richard Shelby and his banking friends, declared their adamant opposition to Professor Elizabeth Warren becoming head of the new consumer financial regulation agency. (To avoid a confrontation with them, President Obama made her a special assistant to organize this consumer watchdog.) Ms. Warren has a solid record of exposing and communicating clearly to families the tricks and traps of credit card companies, mortgage firms, and intermediaries that have taken so many billions of consumer dollars with impunity.

3. The Republicans led by their House leader, John Boehner (Rep. Ohio), a total toady of the gouging student loan companies, opposed the Democrats successful reform of this taxpayer boondoggle that guaranteed obscene profits and had the taxpayers absorb any student defaults. Boehner’s lobbying should upset millions of parents who had to foot the bill for so many years.

4. The Republicans are opposed to raising the federal minimum wage to what it was, adjusted for inflation, in 1968!! They opposed an adequate budget for health and safety enforcement by OSHA to diminish the 58,000 American workers who die every year from workplace toxics and trauma. They are now blocking protections for coal miners pending in the Senate after the Massey mine disaster.

5. Republicans oppose doing anything about “too big to fail” even after Wall Street’s reckless, avaricious collapse of the economy, costing 8 million jobs and trillions of lost pension and mutual fund dollars.
Moreover, they do not support genuine enforcement of the anti-trust laws which are supposed to break up monopolization efforts, monopolies or oligopolies like Monsanto (seeds) or the big five banks—bailed out by taxpayers and secure in their domination of well over 50 percent of all bank assets, deposits and the credit card business. This is by far the highest concentration of financial power in modern U.S. history. With few exceptions, the GOP want very few federal cops on the corporate crime beat.

6. Fighting for the last billionaire and multimillionaire, Republicans are blocking ending Bush’s tax cuts on incomes beyond $250,000 per year. Yes, Republicans want to reduce the deficit yet they want to end revenues of over 700 billion dollar over ten years of restored super-rich taxes. They are blocking renewal of the estate taxes after their expiration on Dec. 31, 2009 left no taxes this year on the estates of the super-rich. (Over 99 percent of estates were already exempt from the federal estate tax.)

7. No matter that Republicans caved to the health insurance companies getting over 30 million new covered customers, starting in 2014, they supported the industry’s blaming the federal government, no less, for this month’s latest sharp hike in insurance premiums by Aetna and others largely on the policies of individuals and small business. The Republicans did this after blocking the “public option” that would have given consumers both a choice and the benefit of some competition to the big insurance firms.

8. Have the Congressional Republicans ever challenged the bloated, wasteful, contractor-corrupt military budget that makes up half of the entire government’s discretionary budget?

Even the Congress’s own auditing agency—the Government Accountability Office (GAO) declares the Pentagon budget unauditable. Many Pentagon audits document the abuses of Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater and other firms in the deficit-driving, bloody Iraq and Afghanistan wars (both Republican espoused.) The Pentagon’s burgeoning budget, now nearing $800 billion a year, is deemed untouchable. (A few Republicans, like Charles Grassley and John McCain sometimes object to contracting abuses.)

9. President Obama wants a counter-recessionary public works program renovating airports, bridges, highways, rail and mass transit, drinking water and sewage treatment facilities and other infrastructures. Republicans sneer at this local job creation for much needed facilities.

10. Unlike any Republican Party since its creation in 1854, it has misused the filibuster threat, and any one of its Senators misuse the rules and block even going to a floor discussion or a nomination vote. The Party is earning its moniker as the Party of NO. Republicans have turned the U.S. Senate into America’s graveyard.

There is much more, but enough has been cited to ask again—how are Republicans seen by the polls as front runners in the upcoming election?

The answer my friends, is not in the stars. The answer is in the clueless and spineless Democrats, busily dialing for the same corporate campaign dollars.

The other answer is in the ten percent of the actual voters who need to seriously avail themselves of the facts and a modicum of thought. For if they don’t, they will continue to pay bills handed to them and their children by their ruling corporatists in Republican clothing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Since 'Unsafe At Any Speed'

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
Let’s celebrate some good news, before some qualifications are considered. Traffic fatalities in the U.S.A have dropped to a 60 year low. There were 33,808 deaths in 2009—a 9.7 percent decline from the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration (NHTSA). The reduction was across the board from passenger vehicles, light trucks, large trucks, motorcycles and pedestrians.

Since 1966 when the motor vehicle and highway safety laws were passed by Congress—led by Democrats but with significant Republican support—the fatality rate dropped from 5.49 percent (50,894 lives lost) to 1.13 percent in 2009 (33,808 lives lost.) This large live-saving reduction occurred while absolute vehicle miles traveled increased more than threefold in those intervening decades.

These sharp reductions in “accidents” did not happen by chance. They came about because the national highway safety mission was enacted into law.

The national policy to address a major public safety epidemic—started with the Congressional outrage following General Motors and its clumsy attempt to have private detectives try to “dig up dirt” on me before and after publication of my book “Unsafe at Any Speed” in November 1965.

Extensive Congressional hearings in the Senate and the House pulled together the overwhelming evidence that the auto companies were suppressing the use of long-available safety devices and selling style and horsepower over safety and fuel efficiency. Forty-four years ago in September 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the legislation and presented me with one of the pens at the White House ceremony.

The deliberate legislative process worked as it was supposed to work. The press and TV in Washington and Detroit covered the Auto Safety developments week after week in 1966 as a regular reporting beat instead of just an occasional feature. This kept the heat on any recalcitrance by members of Congress. The auto company executives had their say at hearings and proved unpersuasive.

NHTSA was established as an agency in the Department of Transportation with Dr. William Haddon, a very knowledgeable scholar and specialist in trauma prevention on the highway? NHTSA was given regulatory authority to establish mandatory safety standards, require vehicle defect recalls and research advanced prototype safety vehicles suitable for mass production.

Intelligent, experienced people went to work for NHTSA to tackle this fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. integrating vehicle, highway and driver inputs. Useful research and testing expanded rapidly along with motorist expectation levels for safer vehicles.

Far fewer people were losing their lives and incurring serious injuries due to greater seat-belt usage, better air bags, brakes and tires, stronger enforcement of drunk-driving laws, improvements in highway design right down to “hot spot” corrections at high-casualty locations.

More recently, the wider adoption of electronic stability controls and better collision avoidance capabilities augur even better safety on the roads.

Along the way since 1966, however, there were many missed opportunities, delays, suppression of needed upgrades of existing vehicle and tire standards, and avoidance of necessary recalls. Many lives have been lost and injuries inflicted as a result of such callousness.

Pressure came from the auto company lobbying operation and their friends in the White House and Congress, especially their powerful perennial defender, Democrat John Dingell from Michigan, who almost never saw a safety standard or fuel efficiency upgrade he liked. On the consumer side have been long-time advocates Joan Claybrook and Clarence Ditlow.

In the past decade, distracted drivers using cell phones and other electronic gadgets are involved in the loss of over 1000 lives a year. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood has made this growing peril a major cause.

With the rise in the number of motorcycles to 11 million, there has been a steady rise in motorcycle fatalities over the years. This is due in no small part to 30 states not having a mandatory helmet law. “Along with taxes and weather, there is the certainty that no mandatory helmet laws leave more motorcyclists dead on the highway,” says Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “It’s like having a cure for AIDS over twenty years and not applying it in certain states,” she added.

Safety laws have to be updated and strengthened from time to time. Currently a bill is moving through Congress, largely opposed by industry, to toughen the weak penalty provisions, strengthen some safeguards against newly discovered defects and increase the pitifully small budget in NHTSA for motor vehicle safety standards, recalls and research.

The current annual budget is about $150 million, which is less than three months worth of your tax dollars paying corporate contractors to guard the U.S. Embassy and its personnel in Baghdad, Iraq.

While the decline in highway casualties in 2009 can be attributed to a considerable degree to the recession, the record of highway safety regulation, bumps and all, certainly compares favorably with the anemic safety frameworks set up for other widespread technologies such as offshore drilling and spilling.

October 2010 Top 30 Chart

Reporting: 13 different radio stations and Internet programs

1. Hooray for Earth – Momo EP
2. Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions
3. Endless Wave – City Walls EP
4. Ad Frank & the Fast Easy Women – Your Secrets Are Mine Now
5. Eli “Paperboy” Reed – Come and Get It
6. Pernice Brothers – Goodbye, Killer
7. uliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away
8. The Hush Now – Shiver Me Starships
9. Kingsley Flood – Dust Windows
10. New Collisions – The Optimist
11. Oranjuly – Oranjuly
12. Gene Dante & The Future Starlets – “The Love Letter Is Dead”
13. The Holey Moleys – Cheese is Christ EP
14. Mean Creek – “The Comedian”
15. John Shade – All You Love is Need
16. Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys – Steam Ship Killers
17. The Wandas – New Wave Blues
18. Hallelujah the Hills – Collective Psychosis Begone
19. The Weisstronauts – Weisstronauts In Memphis
20. Spirit Kid – Spirit Kid
21. Needy Visions – Needy Visions
22. The Acrobrats – Hair Trigger
23. Roz Raskin and the Rice Cakes – Feel Like Human
24. Bon Savants – “Tidal Wave”
25. Freezepop – Imaginary Friends
26. Kristen Hersh – Crooked
27. Kermit’s Finger – Grudge
28. Jenny Dee and the Deelinquents – Keeping Time
29. Ketman – Ketman A Go-Go
30. Taxpayer – Photo EP

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ayotte declared the winner ...

Kelly Ayotte has been declared the winner of the NH GOP primary by about 1,600 votes.

On deadline but I wanted to say one thing in a post this morning ...

It is good to see that here in New Hampshire, those political candidates that aired the most negative and in some cases, downright repulsive and borderline libel campaign advertising, went down to defeat last night. Every ... single ... one.
So, a note to future politicos: When big money consultants say that negative advertising works remember, they are correct: Negative campaigning works to help in your defeat ... at least here in the Granite State. Stay positive, stay focused, and tell the people what you're going to do.
I'll have more commentary later on today or tomorrow, hopefully, when we get more results from the Ayotte-Lamontangne race, that is currently too close to call. Ayotte reportedly has about a 1,000 vote lead as of 4 a.m. this morning, according to the Union Leader email blast. There may even be a recount in the works.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Late radio notice ...

I'll be on The Samantha Clemens Show around 10:40 a.m. this morning talking about the Frank vs. Brown debate, other primaries, burning Korans, 9-11, and whatever else comes up in 15 or 20 minutes. Tune in at 1510 AM in Boston or online at http://www.revolutionboston.com/

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Former NM guv considering prez run

Hmm, a relatively unknown Republican and former governor who wants to slash defense spending (as well as entitlements), legalize pot, legalize civil unions, and is thinking about making a run for president: ["Former NM gov is little known but has big ideas"].
Wow. Let's be completely honest - he won't be nominee. His chances are very slim. He'll get creamed in Iowa where religious conservatives rule the process. But in New Hampshire, he would get a fair hearing and might even have a shot at it.
Is it worth his time? After looking at the current crop of Republicans, indeed, it's definitely worth his time.

The full debate ...

Here's a link to the full Brown vs. Frank debate: ["Video: Barney Frank debates Rachel Brown"]. Note to self: Stop waving your hands around!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Moderating the Brown vs. Frank debate

I was invited to moderate the only Democrat debate between Rachel Brown and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank. It was a pretty interesting debate, which I will talk about at a later date. However, here is a news clip from the debate:



Here is the link to the WickedLocalNewton.com story: ["Frank meets LaRouche candidate Brown in only primary debate"].

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A couple of interesting posts about the economy ...

Two interesting posts about the economy in recent days.
First this, from the Atlantic via Yahoo: ["5 Doomsday Scenarios for the U.S. Economy"].
If the pessimists are right, things are going to get pretty crazy. I still don't understand why the government can't just take the houses over from the banks put people in them. Stop selling stuff to rich people at bottom dollar and start putting people in homes.
Then, there is this:
You, the American consumer, are reloading savings after a debt-fueled decade. But as any general will tell you, when an entire squad reloads at once, it leaves everybody vulnerable. It's the same with the economy.
Well, that's true. But that would make the case for lower taxes - not higher ones - so that whatever consumer spending there is out there doesn't become depressed. If anything, government should become less expensive, so it is less expensive to pay for, so taxes can be lowered so more people can spend money, etc. Expensive government doesn't do anything but take the money out of the private sector economy or create more debt.
Then, there is the European debt bomb:
In a flight to quality debt, the dollar appreciates. This hurts our exports even more. As the trade deficit gapes open and manufacturing's good run dead ends, the stock market plummets, taking household wealth down with it. Families looking to restore balance sheets cut back on spending, and the American producer loses the American consumer and the European buyer. Growth turns negative.
Ahhh, but not if there are American producers producing goods for American consumers. Exports hurting is not a problem if imports are hurting. That is the key. For decades, it has been "exports hurting, imports booming," and that's a good chunk of the reason we are in this mess. And, if you don't have anything in the stock market, you don't really have to worry about "household wealth" plummeting. Most folks, hello?, don't have any wealth. But, are we able to buy a little extra at the store each week for food, clothing, school supplies, etc.?

Another good post about the economy is this one, specifically targeting Paul Krugman and how he is wrong on so many levels: ["New Job Opportunity - Spitting at the Moon"].
Regular readers know I'm not the biggest fan of Krugman's (or Keysnesian economics either). Anyone who says, 'Yeah, undocumented workers depress American worker wages but that's OK,' paraphrasing, is a complete idiot. I don't completely agree with Mike either, but I like some of the things in this post, especially when it comes to debt and stimulus spending. Spit at the Moon, indeed.
Mike's key points to propping up the economy? Creating "genuine demand":
What will get the economy humming is better tax policy, scrapping Davis-Bacon, dumping public union workers wherever possible, slashing defense spending, and letting home prices bottom.
Real demand for housing will step up as soon as there are bargains. Instead we have policies to prop up home prices.
Almost exactly correct. Better tax policy is badly needed. Millionaires are getting away with murder while regular folks get creamed. That's always been the case. Better tax policy doesn't mean tweaking what we have, arguing over divisive tax cuts expiring or not, it means just that: Better tax policy. Period. Let's actually have a discussion about scrapping the existing code, simplifying it, and replacing it.
Dumping public union workers wherever possible and the Davis-Bacon Act. Well, I don't completely agree with that but I do agree with some of it. First, let's deal with the pension debt explosion. Scrap the current system and put all government employees on Social Security like the rest of us. Figure out how much SSI money is owed to the system for these employees and pay into that system while slowly refunding pension money back to the employees, so they can get their money back. Second, some tasks and jobs municipal and state government performs should not be paid the prevailing wage (hence Davis-Bacon). Cops should not be making $40 an hour, with a four hour minimum, to drink coffee and stare into holes when flaggers can do that for $10 an hour. Earnings for government workers should reflect a community's ability to pay. That means that in a town where people make $30,000 on average, neither the town manager nor the school superintendent should be making five or six times that (obviously, more affluent towns can decide if they want to pay more or not). Education expenses are a huge problem, noted by the recent federal jobs grant program which was approved to save teaching jobs while not asking the question, Should kindergarten teachers really be making $94,000 a year? There is also the issue of contracts and whether or not teacher pay should be based on the education level a teacher attains or performance of the individual teacher and the results of student achievement (which sometimes has nothing to do with the teacher's actions at all). All very complicated and not easy to fix but right-sizing municipal employee costs needs to happen (especially when considering what property taxes are these days).
The big one on this list though is defense spending. It just doesn't need to be cut, it needs to be slashed down to 20 or 30 percent of what it is now. Stop going into all these foreign countries and killing people for no reason while creating enemies for a thousand years. Enough already, we have debt to pay down and people to feed with that money.
On the home price front, again, correct. Similar to letting the banks collapse after the financial crisis, like any other business, the government should not be propping up home prices in the hopes of creating another boom and creating more construction jobs. Again, retail sales are 70 percent of the economy. The housing sector is a tiny one. And yet, everything is being shoveled at the housing sector. If we want people in homes, the prices of homes and property taxes, needs to drop (like I said before, about right-sizing property taxes). Yes, it's cheaper to buy than to rent sometimes, until you add on the $400, $500, $1,000 per month property tax bill.
There is an article in TIME Magazine this week called "The case against home ownership" which is very interesting. I'm only halfway through it and even if the evidence is overwhelming, I will never agree with what they are saying. But the data is pretty shocking and it should make us all think about jobs and the economy and whether we come together as a nation to try and fix things or continue to yell at each other because we are registered Republicans or registered Democrats or because of our preconceived notions of what should be done.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Is Ayotte cruising to victory?

It looks like it: ["Hampshire GOP Primary Survey (9/1/10)"].
Inside the poll, there is this:
Among all Republican voters, Kelly Ayotte leads Ovide Lamontagne by 16 points, 37% to 21%. Among independent voters, Kelly Ayotte has a 2 point lead on Bill Binnie, 26% to 24%, and Ovide Lamontagne is a close third with 21%.
In other words, the whole "Ayotte isn't conservative enough for Republicans" memo is totally out the window. She is cleaning Ovide's clock, by 16 points.
Interestingly, indie voters, who tend to trend a bit more liberal than Republicans up here, are virtually split evenly among the top three candidates. Ayotte even leads among "fiscal conservatives." Wow.
Unless some bomb is dropped during the next 10 days, Kelly Ayotte is probably going to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. And if she wins, it's going to be a bloodbath match against Paul Hodes, with indie Chris Booth and Libertarian Ken Blevens, along for the ride.