Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Archive for April, 2011

Honduran dictatorship, day 479

Posted by Charles II on April 30, 2011

Some cognitive dissonance from Maria Otero of State:

Today, I’d like to share with you three ways that the Obama Administration is promoting human rights around the world:

First, we are elevating human rights through increased engagement with Muslim communities worldwide;
Second, we are bolstering human rights with unprecedented support for civil society around the world, including vulnerable or marginalized groups such as women, LGBT individuals, disabled persons, and religious minorities;
And third, we are reengaging on important human rights issues in the multilateral system.

Women in Honduras are raising their voices in the name of freedom of speech, and protecting the place of human rights defenders in society.

In countries from Uganda to Honduras, men and women are subjected to horrific violence, persecution, and threats simply because of who they are or who they love.

In Honduras, the United States worked closely with the Justice Ministry to establish a special office devoted to investigating the unsolved murders of over 30 LGBT people.

Now, Honduras is a place where violence against journalists, small farmers, teachers, and dissidents of all kinds is at extraordinary levels. Yes, there is a lot of violence against LGBT folk and against women. But State seems to have a kind of moral macular degeneration that allows it to see a tiny cone within a broad field of vision.

Speaking of violence, Adrienne has covered several examples.
Director of Radio Uno Survives Assassination Attempt
Facussé threatens human rights activists, beheads peasants
Oscar Alvarez’s extermination campaign continues (260 young people killed in 3 months)
Honduran Teachers Get Shock Treatment (this links to a must-see Jesse Freeston report)

Even this is a bare catalog.

And the looting continues.

Brother John, as always has great photographs. I particularly recommend these.

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Posted in Honduras, Latin America | 1 Comment »

Another for the annals of right-wing dishonesty

Posted by Charles II on April 30, 2011

CTJ:

Douglas Bruce, author of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), has been arrested for tax evasion. The indictment alleges that Bruce filed a false Colorado personal income tax return for 2005 and failed to file returns for 2006 and 2007 even though he had earnings during those years from his job as an El Paso county commissioner and had thousands of dollars of interest income.

The most serious charge could land Bruce in prison for up to six years and cost him fines up to $500,000.

TABOR has been widely documented as gutting Colorado’s ability to adequately fund public services.

Public services like prosecution and jailing of tax cheats?

Posted in Republicans acting badly, taxes | Comments Off on Another for the annals of right-wing dishonesty

The next bubble

Posted by Charles II on April 30, 2011

Via Doug at Eschaton, an article by Frederick Kaufmann on commodity inflation:

It took the brilliant minds of Goldman Sachs to realize the simple truth that nothing is more valuable than our daily bread. And where there’s value, there’s money to be made. In 1991, Goldman bankers, led by their prescient president Gary Cohn, came up with a new kind of investment product, a derivative that tracked 24 raw materials, from precious metals and energy to coffee, cocoa, cattle, corn, hogs, soy, and wheat. They weighted the investment value of each element, blended and commingled the parts into sums, then reduced what had been a complicated collection of real things into a mathematical formula that could be expressed as a single manifestation, to be known henceforth as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI).
….
in 1999, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission deregulated futures markets. All of a sudden, bankers could take as large a position in grains as they liked, an opportunity that had, since the Great Depression, only been available to those who actually had something to do with the production of our food.

The structure of the GSCI paid no heed to the centuries-old buy-sell/sell-buy patterns. This newfangled derivative product was “long only,” which meant the product was constructed to buy commodities, and only buy.

This imbalance undermined the innate structure of the commodities markets, requiring bankers to buy and keep buying — no matter what the price.

The result of Wall Street’s venture into grain and feed and livestock has been a shock to the global food production and delivery system. Not only does the world’s food supply have to contend with constricted supply and increased demand for real grain, but investment bankers have engineered an artificial upward pull on the price of grain futures. The result: Imaginary wheat dominates the price of real wheat, as speculators (traditionally one-fifth of the market) now outnumber bona-fide hedgers four-to-one.

I don’t think the article is entirely accurate. Food costs should be rising as Asian incomes rise. The rise in food prices encourages the conservation and efficient utilization of farm land and potentially gives small farmers a chance to make a living, though Kaufmann counters that attendant volatility in input (oil and fertilizer) prices means that the farmers aren’t making money. More on that in a moment.

I think the main problem of this kind of commodity speculation is the usual one: margin buying. According to Ravi Batra (on Thom Hartmann today), they’re back to putting down 5% of the purchase price. This, of course, creates incentives for traders to walk away when trades go bad. On a day to day basis, volatility is greatly increased. Over longer periods of time, the chance of booms and busts is increased, and with it, an increased chance of a disastrous farm depression.

And there’s a second key point that Kaufmann makes:

The higher the cost of corn, soy, rice, and wheat, the more the grain producing-nations of the world should cooperate in order to ensure that panicked (and generally poorer) grain-importing nations do not spark ever more dramatic contagions of food inflation and political upheaval. Instead, nervous countries have responded instead with me-first policies, from export bans to grain hoarding to neo-mercantilist land grabs in Africa.

Now, there’s an interesting point about input prices. Oil, nitrogen, and potash are one set of inputs to improve productivity. But there are other approaches, such as humic and fulvic acid, which are a significant source of potassium. Nitrogen can be fixed by microorganisms. If the price of food rises in a sustained way, farmers will find ways to work around the conventional inputs. Just as the rise in oil prices encourages green energy, it encourages green agriculture. This is the invisible hand at its best. We just have to keep the poor of the world alive long enough for that to happen. And we should tax and regulate the %$#@ out of speculators to make sure they don’t blow up the agriculture markets the same way they blew up the housing market.

Posted in farming, stock market | 1 Comment »

“Tax-Cutter” Pawlenty Raised Taxes for 90% of Minnesotans

Posted by Phoenix Woman on April 30, 2011

The Cons tried to deny it, but to no avail — Tim Pawlenty raised taxes for nine out of ten Minnesotans:

Between 2002, the year before Pawlenty took office, and 2008, the wealthiest Minnesotans – the top 10 percent – saw their effective state and local sales tax rate decline slightly. Meanwhile, lower earners generally saw their rates increase slightly.

And Pawlenty’s policies played a role in that shift. For example, he supported cuts to Local Government Aid, which prompted some local governments to raise property taxes for many Minnesotans. That increase largely hit middle-and-lower income earners, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue. A new cigarette fee backed by Pawlenty also changed effective tax rates.

But something else happened during Pawlenty’s time in office: The richest Minnesotans got richer, in part due to unusually high capital gains income. So, while taxes may have increased for everyone in the state, in terms of percent of income, those changes were less dramatic for the state’s wealthiest.

The rich got richer, the rest of us got shafted, and Pawlenty never did actually “fix” the deficit he’d played a key role in creating back when he ran the Minnesota House in the late 1990s. Funny how that works.

Posted in 'starving the beast', (Rich) Taxpayers League, Minnesota, taxes, Tea Party, Tim Pawlenty | Comments Off on “Tax-Cutter” Pawlenty Raised Taxes for 90% of Minnesotans

Friday Cat Blogging

Posted by MEC on April 29, 2011

Posted in Alexander the Great, Friday Cat Blogging | 7 Comments »

Managing not to name names…

Posted by Charles II on April 28, 2011

There are some stories that make me want to pistol whip the reporter. Nicholas Confessore of the NYT reports that there is enormous waste in the NY State budget:

  • A million square feet of office space standing vacant while state agencies were signing leases as recently as December!
  • Millions spent to operate 850 toll free numbers, some of which have not been dialed in months!
  • Servers are at half capacity, but divisions that need servers buy them!
  • There’s no inventory for real estate!
  • They buy prisoners kosher hot dogs!
  • Many other lurid but meaningless details!
  • Well, ok. Wasting money is bad. But as we parse through the story, we discover that the grand total of this alleged waste is…1% of the state budget. Most businesses would be thrilled to discover that that is the extent of their waste.

    The story provides no context for a lot of the lurid details. For example, is Confessore proposing that Jewish (and Muslim) prisoners be forced to eat pork as part of their punishment? Are the numbers that haven’t been dialed in months, numbers where people can report financial fraud and could therefore save millions at the cost of thousands? How many square feet of office space is there? These are facts that one shouldn’t have to pistol whip reporters to get them to include them in their stories.

    The only unambiguously serious point that I found in Confessore’s article is that data centers which are supposed to provide redundancy are located within a few miles of one another, meaning that a disaster could threaten the integrity of NY State’s data. That’s worth worrying about.

    And, as we parse through the story, we discover that no context is provided for exactly who was in charge during the past years, when all this vast amount (1%) of waste developed. From 1995-2006, the governor was Republican George Pataki. Elliott Spitzer was in charge for slightly over a year when he was forced out for the specious reason that he had used the services of a prostitute, something that one can bet that half the men in the legislature have done as well. This put the inept David Paterson in charge for slightly over 2 years.

    Furthermore–and this is a key point– the landlord for much of New York’s governmental real estate is Carl Paladino, a reactionary Tea Party figure whose crony insider relationships with Republicans in Albany enriched him at taxpayer expense. Not that one can blame the Republicans entirely for Paladino– he was a Democrat until it became inconvenient.

    The state senate was Republican for many years until 2009. The Assembly has been more evenly divided, but Republicans had control for many, many of the relevant years.

    So, you’ll get no argument from me that both parties have been derelict in oversight, but it strikes me that one cannot understand the story of inefficiency without naming some names, most of which would be Republican. I would not call 1% inefficiency a big story, but in times of tight budgets, it’s the kind of thing that raises resentments. Cuomo, I would say, is–with Confessore’s assistance– grandstanding, but maybe reforms will keep a few more widows and orphans off the streets. But for the life of me I cannot understand how the NY Times can write a story about “waste, fraud, and abuse” without naming the names of people who could have done something, and didn’t.

    As the story is written, it simply feeds into the atmosphere of Neroism that afflicts our national scene. It is an abuse of the power of the media.

    Posted in 'starving the beast', abuse of power, media, Media machine | 1 Comment »

    The Fight of the Century

    Posted by Charles II on April 28, 2011

    via Ritholtz.

    Alas, it does not provide a real conclusion nor get into the real issues. Instead, it’s mostly a grudge match as airbrushed by the losers. But the music is catchy and the visuals amusing. So let us amuse ourselves to death.

    Posted in economy | Comments Off on The Fight of the Century

    Support the Fourth Amendment

    Posted by Charles II on April 28, 2011

    From Cornell Law:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Thomas Tamm, who acted to defend the Fourth Amendment, had his home invaded with agents with drawn weapons, had his phone tapped and his e-mail read, and was subjected to investigation for four years, at which time the government concluded that he had behaved entirely legally in telling the New York Times of criminal–i.e., illegal– wiretaps by the Bush Administration. The Holder Justice Department, rather than drop the harassment promptly and with an apology–and recompense– waited over a year and has issued neither an apology nor helped Tamm with his enormous legal bills.

    Support the Fourth Amendment. Help Thomas Tamm:

    [Edit, 5/2/11Thomas Tamm Legal Defense Fund
    Bank of Georgetown
    5236 44th Street
    Washington, DC 20015

    I understand that this account has been closed. I am seeking updated information].

    Posted in BushCo malfeasance, Department of Injustice, heroes, NSA eavesdropping | 2 Comments »

    Send Robert Erickson to Netroots Nation 11!

    Posted by Phoenix Woman on April 28, 2011

    All you have to do is to vote for him here: http://www.democracyforamerica.com/netroots_nation_scholarships/1358-robert-erickson

    Who is Robert Erickson? He’s the guy that, in between pranking Tea Party gatherings, came up with the most visually memorable political action in Minnesota last year — the penny dump that kept Tom Emmer out of the Governor’s Mansion.

    What is Netroots Nation 11? It’s the 2011 gathering of progressive activists from all over America — and from much of the rest of the world as well — and it’s being held in Minneapolis this year. Or, as the folks behind Netroots Nation say:

    Netroots Nation amplifies progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate. Through our annual convention and a series of regional salons held throughout the year, we strengthen our community, inspire action and serve as an incubator for ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change in the public sphere.

    Why Robert Erickson should go: See above.

    Why you should go: You might bump into Al Gore, or hear from Nancy Pelosi, You will get to see and hear Russ Feingold, learn about how the right-wingers “work the refs” of the media to spin things their way (and how we can fight back), find out how progressives rallied in Wisconsin, and why the nuts-and-bolts of politics matter. All this in a four-day weekend.

    Hell, you might even see me. Though I’d never tell.

    (Crossposted to Renaissance Post.)

    Posted in Minnesota | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    The laaaaand of the free..

    Posted by Charles II on April 27, 2011

    In Alan West’s district, radio talk show personality Nicole Sandler was arrested and subjected to some pretty hard treatment for “trespassing” on her congressman’s town hall meeting. You can listen to her description here.

    If we ever have a chance to reform America, it would be nice to create a justice system where people are genuinely treated as innocent until proven guilty. Sandler’s experience in jail was not at all atypical, and it is very, very wrong.

    Posted in media, Republicans as cancer | Comments Off on The laaaaand of the free..

     
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