Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paul Street's prescription for Electoral & Congressional Reform

"I support (We need) a Democracy Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to fundamentally overhaul American elections in ways that would permit third and fourth parties to become relevant political and policy players. Election reforms required include proportional representation, full public financing (all private money out of public elections), a significantly shortened election season, the end of paid campaign ads, a totally different debate structure, etc."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Paul Street's prescription for Electoral & Congressional Reform

To quote Paul Street:

I support a Democracy Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to fundamentally overhaul American elections in ways that would permit third and fourth parties to become relevant political and policy players. Election reforms required include proportional representation, full public financing (all private money out of public elections), a significantly shortened election season, the end of paid campaign ads, a totally different debate structure, etc.

From interview at corrente

Paul Street at zpace

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"shaggyct" of Huffpo commenters pool

"shaggyct" writes on the current economy:

Those who are obsessed with government spending can't see the forest for the trees. Government spending didn't get us into the mess we're in. Neither did high taxes, since we have one of the most generous tax regimes in the industrialized world. Not even the property crash is to blame, since we've had those before and survived, although it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Our problems are far deeper and more systemic than that, and if we are remain competitive in the 21st century, we have to think about our economy in entirely new ways, and rid ourselves of antiquated ideological notions that bear no relevance to a modern, highly competitive globalized economy.

First of all, we are no longer an agrarian society. Conservatives love to romanticize an imagined era of new frontier independence, but home schooling isn't going to get their kids far when they have to compete in the global workplace with an Indian counterpart who has two Masters degrees, speaks three languages, and since he isn't burdened with immense student debt like his American counterpart, he can afford to work for less. The high-paying jobs of the 21st century are knowledge-based, and can increasingly be performed by the best candidate anywhere on the planet.

In the past, we've been able to grow our way out of recession. This is why successive administrations, Republican and Democrat, have decided that deficits don't matter. Foreign investors and central banks have seen things the same way, which is why U.S. debt has generally been viewed as a sound investment regardless of our deficit. But this time, organic growth is not going to save us, especially since we're now a consumer based economy without consumers. And we certainly aren't going to grow our way out of it by slashing public sector spending, although both parties should aspire to reduce inefficient spending.

The overarching problem we have is that America is no longer competitive. Our workers are more expensive than their foreign counterparts and increasingly less qualified. We now rank 27th in the world in the percentage of students graduating with science and technology degrees, and 48th in the quality of mathematics and science education. Given that much of America's economic growth in the past fifty years has been directly attributable to our supremacy in science and technology, that should terrify everybody. Conservatives may like to think that rugged farmers and individualists built this country, but where would America be today had IBM, Microsoft, Google, HP, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing been founded in China rather than here? That scenario is becoming increasingly likely in this century, given that China has now surpassed us as the world's largest high-tech exporter.

While our public debate is consumed with trivia, ideological food-fights and social issues, the Chinese government is making enormous investments in biotechnology, infrastructure, medical research and alternative fuels, providing hundreds of billions of dollars in seed money to spawn the new industries of the 21st century. While we argue about tax cuts, our biggest corporations are making record profits. This allows them to hire more workers and expand, but this time they are doing it overseas. They are reinvesting in nations with superior telecommunication and transportation infrastructure, emerging economies with billions of new middle class consumers and ahighly skilled workers who can afford to work for less and still achieve a high standard of living. That is why we are not seeing any trickle-down effect in this country. Even if trickle-down ever worked in the past, it is an absurd notion in the 21st century.

The third problem we face is a collapse of economic mobility, which is the measure of how many children grow up to exceed their parents' economic standing. Other than the United Kingdom, America now has the lowest level of economic mobility in the industrialized world. It is no coincidence that the nations who rank highest in economic mobility, such as France, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have the most generous social safety nets, while the United States and United Kingdom have the highest concentration of wealth.

Before anybody screams "Class War", let me explain why wealth concentration is such a threat to capitalism itself, particularly in a consumer economy. It has been demonstrated conclusively that every dollar owned by somebody in the top 1% generates only $0.15 - $0.25 of economic activity (depending on which study you read), while every dollar owned by somebody in the bottom 20% generates $3-$4 of economic stimulus. And here is why. A middle class consumer spends a much larger proportion of their earnings on domestic goods and services. Much of this goes to small domestic businesses, who in turn can afford to hire more workers, grow their businesses and sometimes become the big corporations of the future. Meanwhile, a billionaire spends relatively little of their wealth on domestic goods and services. They may invest it, but typically in large corporations, who as I explained above, are increasingly expanding overseas in any case. That wealth is not trickling down to small businesses that aren't listed on the stock exchange.

In other words, wealth concentration stifles entrepreneurs, cripples small businesses and suffocates economic growth.

Somewhere in the past thirty years, we decided as a nation that we were going to transition from a manufacturing to a consumer based economy. Nearly all of the illusory economic growth since 1980 is the product of middle class consumer spending, which itself has only been made possible due to cheap credit, asset bubbles and consumer debt. But now the middle class has been stretched to breaking point by high cost of living, stratospheric student debt and healthcare premiums and outsourcing. Without a prosperous middle class, we cannot survive as a consumer based economy. And our middle class cannot be prosperous if economic mobility is being stifled by wealth concentration. Who in the middle class can afford to start a business today when they're struggling just to keep afloat?

So what is the answer? As I said at the beginning of this diatribe, we need to think in radical new ways if we are going to adjust to the new paradigm in which we find ourselves, and perhaps learn a lesson or two from those nations that are leaving us eating dust right now.

America is like a Windows operating system. The longer it keeps doing the same thing, the slower it gets, and eventually it will need to be rebooted.

Not everything that involves the private sector is good, and not everything that involves the government is bad. The world is much more complicated than that. But the private sector is not going to bail us out this time, which leaves the government as the only entity with the muscle to get us moving again. We need to invest in education, infrastructure, R&D. We need to encourage and help people to start small businesses. We need to ensure that money is no barrier to students seeking a college education. We need to reform education, and begin by slashing the ridiculously long schoolbreaks that made sense in an 18th century agrarian society, but serve no purpose today. We need to invest in our biggest asset, our people, making sure that they are not at risk of losing their homes if they seek retraining.

Every day, I get accused on this forum by so-called conservatives of being a socialist. But capitalism was designed as a means to promote economic mobility, not as an end in itself. Our obsession with the means rather than the end is actually destroying everything that capitalism was intended to achieve, and that is why by advocating for emergency government investment in our future, I consider myself a bigger capitalist than any of those well-intentioned folks who attend Tea Party rallies and call me a Marxist.

We have a choice this year. A vote for the GOP is a vote for regressive policies that will set us back for decades while the world passes us by. The Democrats may not be perfect, but they certainly understand these big picture concepts far more than the small minded nihilists in the Republican Party whose ideological fervor is the biggest threat that capitalism has ever faced.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Interview with Michael Hirsh by Jonanthan Alter on his new book "Capital Offense"

Amazon.com Review

Michael Hirsh and Jonathan Alter: One-on-One

Jonathan Alter: Your book starts by tracing three decades of Washington history from the Reagan era on. Why is understanding that history so important?

Michael Hirsh: You can’t understand what happened on Wall Street without first understanding what happened in Washington. Things of this magnitude—the worst financial crash and economic downturn since the Great Depression—don’t just occur because of a subprime mortgage bubble and a bunch of crazy traders in New York. It is only comprehensible as story of an entire era, a zeitgeist that defined the post-Cold War period. That’s my story. It began as the Reagan Revolution of 1981, which launched a deregulation movement that unmoored much of the economy from government oversight and antitrust laws, creating the wild age of finance with which we've all grown up. The failure was huge, systemic and bipartisan. The Clinton administration was as much to blame as the second Bush administration. For nearly 25 years, the facts on the ground seemed to bear out the idea that markets may overreach and go up and down, but they are always smarter than governments. The deregulatory '80s were a boom time. The '90s were better. The end of the Cold War turbo-charged the whole process. Free-market absolutism went from being a mocked, maverick ideology—something identified in the '60s and '70s with Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley—to a kind of national secular religion. It seized control of the national agenda and shifted the axis of the entire economic debate sharply rightward, turning ordinary Republicans into small-government zealots and liberal Democrats into "Eisenhower Republicans" (that's what Bill Clinton mockingly called himself.) It was only because of this environment – this all-conquering ideology-- that Wall Street and its lobby got away with as much as it did. Remember, the instruments that became notorious after the subprime collapse—collaterized debt obligations or CDOs—didn’t come out of nowhere either. They were allowed to flourish and develop, grow ever more complex, for two decades. Despite regular market blowups – LTCM! Enron! – the only change that occurred was even more deregulation. CDOs were only the latest, “improved” version of a model long in the making, the process of turning dubious or bad assets into better-seeming securities while the adults on the playground—the regulators and central bankers--weren’t watching.

Alter: Larry Summers is the president’s chief economic advisor, yet you argue that his performance both before and since the beginning of the Obama administration make him the wrong choice for the job. Why?

Hirsh: Summers is a fascinating figure in this narrative. He is unquestionably one of the greatest economists of his generation, and he did some of the most path-breaking work on the fallacy of rational markets. After the 1987 stock market crash, for example, Summers wrote that it was impossible to believe any longer that prices moved in rational response to fundamentals. He even advocated a tax on financial transactions. Yet Summers later abandoned these positions in favor of Greenspan’s view that markets will take care of themselves. How could such a powerful intellect continue to believe and advocate this view, despite the plentiful accumulating evidence that the “efficient market hypothesis” did not hold up (including his own work)? Mainly because the near-religious attachment to free-market absolutism had become such a ruling principle that no single senior official in Washington dared to contradict—especially if he was politically ambitious. Not surprisingly, as vested as he was in creating the old system, Summers has taken a minimalist approach to changing it in the current administration, and he argued, for example, for a smaller stimulus than others did.

Alter: Why are people like Summers and Geithner—creatures of the old system—in charge while those who were most prescient and accurate, like Born or Stiglitz or Raghu Rajan, standing on the outside of Washington and looking in?

Hirsh: Barack Obama was slow in understanding just how deep and systemic the problem was. That’s one reason why it took him so long to see that Paul Volcker, for example, might have been right in calling for banks to be banned from proprietary trading. “He didn’t run for president to fix derivatives,” said Michael Greenberger, Brooksley Born’s former deputy at the CFTC. “When he brought in Summers, Geithner and Gensler he just thought he was getting the best of the best. I don’t think he understood that within the Democratic Party there was a great split over regulatory philosophy.”

Alter: In your book women are generally the heroines and men are generally the villains. Moreover the women are generally punished for being heroines and the men are generally rewarded for being villains. How can that be?

There’s a lot to this idea, although some of the heroes of my story are also men, such as the economist Joseph Stiglitz and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. And occasionally a woman, like Wendy Gramm, must take some of the blame for the failed financial system. But it is true that women are often the gutsiest and most prescient figures in this saga. Women like Brooksley Born and Sheila Bair. Wall Street may be the most macho place on the planet. Brooksley Born, the former chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who warned of the dangers of over-the-counter derivatives a decade ago, was seen by her male colleagues in Washington as an interloper—or a “lightweight wacko,” as they called her at the Fed. The free-market fervor of this era was so dominant, and so admired were its male champions like Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan, that it took a special kind of person to resist it. An individual of rare intellect, integrity and courage. Born was one of those unusual people. The thinking of the times was like a virus, and Born was one of those immune to it, to the idea that financial markets ought to be unregulated. And that had a lot to do with the sexism she had been battling her entire career. Fighting for derivatives regulation was, for her, just another way of breaking down the male monopoly.

Alter: You believe in capitalism and free markets, and yet you argue that many of your characters let the country down by failing to understand where rigorous supervision was necessary. Why didn’t they strike a better balance?

Hirsh: They let their faith in Wall Street betray them. During the free-market era, people forgot that financial markets behave differently than normal markets in goods and services. They are more prone to manias and panics; the ordinary rules of economics don’t apply. Financial markets simply have to be more regulated. In some ways no one is more culpable in this than Robert Rubin. Rubin was a good man. He always had a big heart and a gentle manner: He was a liberal Democrat who, as a young trader at Goldman Sachs, used to show up at New York community meetings on the inner-city poor. Later on he opposed Bill Clinton’s “workfare” reform -- a much-criticized compromise with the GOP -- as too harsh. But he could not bring himself to lay a restraining hand on his former colleagues from Wall Street. Brooksley Born later told me she blamed Rubin more than Greenspan in the end. Because he knew better that markets were imperfect, yet he had neither the vision nor the courage to act. It was Rubin who had inspired his adoring underlings to compile ten principles—which they later presented to him in a frame—they called “the Rubin Doctrine of International Finance,” the first of which was, “the only certainty in life is that nothing is ever certain,” and the second of which was: “Markets are good, but they are not the solution to all problems.” In one of his last acts as Treasury secretary, Rubin presided over a report of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets that hesitantly proposed, as a “potential additional step,” the “direct regulation of derivatives dealers.” Rubin himself would later insist that he’d always wanted leverage to be reduced too. But Rubin never did anything about these worries. The “potential additional step” was never taken.

Alter: I’m very intrigued by your portrayal of Milton Friedman as the father of the era in many ways. How relevant are the personal histories of these major economic figures in changing the fate of the country?

Hirsh:Extremely relevant. Friedman was the proud son of immigrants who romanticized the struggle of his mother as a young girl in a Lower East Side sweatshop in the late 1890s, when New York was crowded with European Jews. Friedman described it as a great place for an immigrant “to get started” because there was “no red tape.” Friedman himself had started out wanting to be an insurance actuary. He was tiny, bespectacled and balding. He would have looked more at home in an anonymous office cubicle somewhere-- an obscure worker bee in the vast hive of American capitalism-- than on the world stage. But that was just the point of his personal story. It embodied the American Dream that was the mainspring of all his economic thinking. He was the Nobody from Nowhere who on pure merit, left unencumbered by government meddling, becomes Somebody. Alan Greenspan was a nerdy “math junkie,” as he described himself, who was “groping for a frame of reference” until he met the libertarian writer Ayn Rand, as she herself later recalled. He was, in other words, something of an empty vessel, and Rand gave Greenspan his passion for the morality of capitalism. Joe Stiglitz developed an opposite passion—a deep skepticism about markets—while growing up in one of the grittiest industrial cities in America, Gary, Indiana. Observing the poverty and cyclical layoffs in the steel industry as a small boy, he began to ask questions about why markets didn’t work well. It was no accident that Stiglitz became in some ways the John Maynard Keynes of his era (Keynes himself was shaped by his searing experience of the Depression). Like Keynes, who was ignored when he warned after World War I that the draconian peace imposed on Germany would lead to disaster, Stiglitz stood almost alone against the “Washington Consensus” lorded over by Rubin, Greenspan and Summers.

Alter: What does your book tell us about the economy of today? What do we need to do to recover?

Hirsh:We need to go a lot farther than President Obama has. The book explains how Obama missed a golden opportunity to remake Wall Street, the American economy, and the global economy. Obama was seen by many as the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After the 2008 election, Time magazine actually Photo shopped Obama’s face onto FDR’s in the famous Depression-era shot of Roosevelt grinning in his car, his cigarette holder tilted jauntily upward. But instead of “the New New Deal,” as Time called it, Obama faithfully channeled Larry Summers and Tim Geithner and their conservative approach to stimulus and reform. The president distracted himself with less pressing issues like health care and nuclear disarmament. He even flew to Oslo to get Chicago picked for the Olympics (he failed). Early on Obama’s Summers and Geithner argued down Christina Romer, the new chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisors, when her office suggested that the initial fiscal stimulus be as high as $1.2 trillion. They didn’t want to pile onto the deficit, or at least they didn’t want to face the political consequences of such an increase in government spending. With the recession still darkening the outlook, Summers and Geithner also didn’t want to tamper too much with what they still saw as the economy’s engine room, Wall Street. The president “explicitly decided not to break up all big financial institutions,” another top economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, told me. Heeding the advice of Summers and Geithner, Obama decided that the cause of the crisis “wasn’t primarily about size.” As a result, little faith was restored in the system—an essential ingredient to full recovery. Not enough jobs were created. Now Obama’s economic team is disintegrating and he’s paying for his lack of dramatic action. More and more it looks like Obama will face grim growth and unemployment numbers going into 2012 -- much less the 2010 election. Distracting himself with health care and other issues, Obama may have politically maneuvered himself out of the only major remedy that could bring unemployment down and growth up enough to assure his reelection: another giant fiscal stimulus.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Interesting comment to Frank Rich's Aug 28 column in NYT "The Billionaires Bankrolling The Tea Party"

Link to column

Link to comments page 1

Christopher Bollas
London, England
August 29th, 2010
9:20 am

Mr. Rich reminds us that the far right is bank rolled by the wealthy, recalls that FDR and JFK confronted extremist challenges to their policies, and laments Obama's apparent passivity in the face of an onslaught of right wing cant.

But unlike the days of FDR and JFK the extreme right has now become a legitimate part of the American political scene. When JFK confronted the John Birch Society he tuned in to deep American anxieties about far right thinking. Those anxieties do not appear to be around.

Instead non-extremist members of the electorate seem curiously detached from what should be anxiety provoking.

There are many ways to look at the current situation but if we think of the issue as, in part, a social-psychological one, then we could begin to analyze why moderates are not confronting extremists. But is this true, that moderates are silent? Is it true that Obama has failed to confront the right?

I don't think so. He has been criticized for doing so on daily television talk shows or in his own TV broadcasts. He has been criticized for not rising above right wing cant.

What does one do, however, if the real world is subjected to a semi-dramatic rendering, turning it into a daily soap opera? Fox News or MSNBC are unconcealed reality TV "shows" that regularly invite politicians of all stripes into almost ironic self degeneration. Serious issues are made into amusing topics with John Stewart and others--real legit comics--competing with the regular pundits for the presentation of serious thought.

How do we understand this curious remove from real confrontation into an altered consciousness, one that portrays conflict but in another world: in the amusing realm of reality TV? We may understand this as a form of dissociation, a typical action of an individual or a group that is inside a truamatizing situation that renders the self or the group helpless. As the American right has become more extreme, as it has become seemingly more mainstream, moderate citizens have felt increasingly helpless in the face of this mass psychology. That is not so surprising. Obama has certainly tried to confront the right but he has simply become part of the "show". That is, if he says anything he cannot remove himself from showtime, from the collective defense against dealing with the reality of our world.

Although there is a long standing paranoid tradition in American politics, and although paranoids and the paranoid processes do paralyze non psychotic people, one solution to the problem is to create a discourse that examines the psychology of trauma. That would mean looking at the far right not as simply a group of loonies, but of understanding why so many people would develop such extreme views about being, for example, "over regulated by government." Why is this such an attractive idea? Why does the far right gain such currency with the fiction that we are the victims of a left wing conspiracy that aims to take away our freedom and turn us into something like the walking dead?

Paranoids project. The very claims they make about Obama or the so-called left are the parts of their own personalities that are active. The fear of over-regulation is dominant because the more disinhibited the right becomes, the less responsible or self-regulating it becomes, the more it projects the need for regulation into others. In this case the left.

But why the loss of self regulation? Why give in to rather nutty ideas? If a large part of the American population feel helpless and live close to the poverty line--and we know millions of Americans live such lives--then one is less in charge of one's own fate. The members of the Tea Party I know are middle income to lower income individuals who are genuinely anxious about surviving and as their anxiety increases they become less and less able to control their own anxieties, they become more angry, they become more paranoid. The fear of being over regulated is an unconscious wish for such regulation to arrive. The hatred of those who are imagined to be "socialists" is unconscious hate directed at the part of the self's loss of self-regulation and unconscious hunger for mass regulation and provision.

At any moment in time, people who feel helpless will join up with the paranoid process in American politics and indeed prove a challenge to anyone who would want to restore people to saner processes of thought. To do so is not impossible. But it does ask of the moderate electorate what we might think of as a psychological mindedness that sees in the extremist an ordinary person who needs a different type of engagement than vilification. To help ourselves through the dilemmas posed by psychotic processes operating on a national scale, we are going to have to become more willing to look into human psychology to develop a different form of political engagement than "showtime."

Friday, July 09, 2010

COREXIT dispersant is banned in Europe for a reason

Interview on CNN 7/9/2010 (July 9) - @ 1440h CT

Rick Sanchez, CNN anchor interviews Susan Sanchez, marine toxicoligist:

SANCHEZ: Throughout this newscast here at RICK'S LIST we've done something unprecedented. We have been able to take you under water to do the very first live reports in the muck of the Gulf of Mexico, where the oil and the dispersant has combined to create a turbine effect. And this is the first time we've been able to actually experience this for you and file the reports as we were doing it.

But interestingly enough, someone I've been following now for the better part of a month is Susan Shaw. Susan Shaw is a marine toxicologist who you're about to hear from. She dove into the oily Gulf waters to see for herself what was going on under water. She was the first to do so.

And I read her columns, and I've been trying to get a hold of her. And every time we called her she was some place like Tokyo or Hong Kong or something, and we couldn't get a hold of her. So, finally, we got her, and what a perfect day to talk to her.

Because, Susan, I don't know if you know this, but we've had Philippe Cousteau and some of our people under water today showing us these murky waters that they say would normally be clear, but now they're not.

First of all, thank you for being with us.

Your impression of what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, beneath the surface?

SUSAN SHAW, MARINE TOXICOLOGIST: Well, when you go into the water, you realize quickly what's going on. The oil from the surface is breaking up into smaller pieces, globules, and this is a dispersed oil that contains the COREXIT. So it's a combination of COREXIT and oil. And I think what people don't realize is how toxic that dispersed oil really is.

The COREXIT contains solvents, petroleum solvents. The oil contains hydrocarbons. And the combination is lethal to many, many organisms under the water. But when I was there, I could see. It looks exactly like plankton.

Plankton gets all mixed up in it, and it kills plankton right away. But all the fish and animals that eat plankton, like the small fish, they're going after this dispersed oil and taking that in. So that's another layer where you have an immediate lethal effect on part of the food (INAUDIBLE). And that's what we've been concerned about all along.

SANCHEZ: So that's interesting. I hadn't heard that before. What you just explained to the viewers is that the animals that generally eat plankton, sometimes large animals -- whale sharks eat plankton, interestingly enough, or take it in.

SHAW: Whale sharks. Right.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And they -- because it looks like plankton, they're eating it, but actually what they're eating is a combination of oil and dispersants?

SHAW: That's right. They're going through the -- these animals go through the water column with their mouths wide open. They're indiscriminately eating what they think is plankton.

And with all of this dispersed oil in the plumes, that is exactly what they're eating, is dispersed oil. And the reason this is so toxic is because of these solvents that penetrate the skin of anything that's going through the dispersed oil, takes the oil into the cells, takes the oil into the organs very quickly. And this stuff is toxic to every organ system in the body. So we've been really concerned.

SANCHEZ: Let me just ask you the obvious question that a lot of our viewers want to know and a lot of people have been asking. Would it have been different or worse or better to not use the dispersant and then just let the oil go into the Gulf of Mexico, or at least as the dispersant broke it up enough to help?

SHAW: Well, this was a tradeoff that was discussed, you know, and they made their decision to save the wetlands, the marshes from the thick oil by dispersing it into the ocean, thinking that that was the least of evils. But actually, it isn't the least of evils. We're starting to see a lot of death out there.

I just got off of a shrimping boat. I was out in an area of the Gulf that is -- it's definitely oiled. And I heard what is dead out there is just amazing.

All of the shrimp have died. All of the oysters. All of the crabs. All of the small fish.

I was out there for hours on this boat. We saw barely any birds. This is an area that is so rich in life, and now there is so much death out there.

There's no fish. The birds are starving. SANCHEZ: We just talked to a coral specialist --

SHAW: It's really bad.

SANCHEZ: -- who, by the way -- we just talked to a coral specialist, Susan, a little while ago, Dr. Shaw, who told us that 75 percent of the coral he had found had died in that area as well.

SHAW: Right.

SANCHEZ: OK. Before I let you go, long-term view here? As a scientist, as an expert in this particular field, what do you believe will be the long-term effect of that which we're seeing now, which we can't yet understand perhaps?

SHAW: Well, I think we've lost a lot. We've lost generations of fish. We've lost pieces of this food web that'll never come back.

You know, it's going to take decades and decades. And I think the dispersant, the whole plan around the dispersants has made the situation far worse than if we just sucked up the oil with some technology that works that would have been far better.

But now we're going to look at long-term effects throughout the food web and people. And if we -- I can tell you what happens -- because I was in the oil -- to people. I don't know if we have the time --

SANCHEZ: Go ahead. Finish up. You've piqued my curiosity.

SHAW: OK. So I got a very fiery sore throat after being in the water. I had covered myself, all of my skin, so it wasn't skin contact, but the fumes. But I talked to shrimpers today who were throwing their nets into the water. It's about a month ago when they were using the more toxic COREXIT, the 9527.

The water from the nets splashed on his skin and he got a headache that lasted for three weeks. He had heart palpitations. He had muscle spasms and bleeding in the -- bleeding from the rectum.

And that's what that COREXIT does. It ruptures red blood cells, causes internal bleeding, and liver and kidney damage.

So this stuff is so toxic, combined, it's not the oil alone, the dispersant alone. It's the dispersed oil that still contains this stuff. It's very, very toxic. It goes right through skin.

SANCHEZ: Dr. Susan Shaw is a marine toxicologist who we've been wanting to get on for quite a while, because we knew she had some information to share with the rest of us about -- firsthand information about what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico.

I'm glad we finally had a chance to get you on, Dr. Shaw. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your time.

SHAW: Thank you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

If the oil gusher is unstoppable....

Here are three links that are suggesting this might very well be an uncontrollable spew, an extremely alarming development, if true with a difficult to manage future, to say the least. I heard someone from an ocean-loving non-profit on The Dylan Ratigan Show say that if it's now just a hole with no casing spewing from the sea floor, the only solution would be a low-level nuclear detonation to turn the cracked areas of the sea floor to glass.

Here are the relevant links -

Is the BP Gusher Unstoppable? Mother Jones_





Saturday, June 05, 2010

Against and For Temporay Receivership of BP by The Federal Government

Is It Political Lunacy for the President to Take Charge in the Gulf Or Political Lunacy for Him Not To? A Colloquy

Friday, June 4, 2010

I just came across this post from Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard whom I’ve never known to mince words.

I like Bob Reich and consider him a friend, but he is nuts. [She’s referring to my suggestion that the President put BP into temporary receivership.] There is a reason why the right, including Sarah Palin, is calling for Obama to “take charge” of the BP disaster, including fixing the leaking pipe. This is a problem that cannot be solved, and probably will not be for many months.

They want Obama to directly own it so they can reinforce their message that government does not work. Why should liberals, stupidly, be pushing for this? I cannot figure out what the left and many liberal pundits think they are doing in all this.
When a huge private corporation makes a mess and cannot fix it, it is sheer lunacy to take direct charge of that mess unless you can fix it right away.
Obama and the government can (a) hold BP accountable in criminal and financial terms; and (b) orchestrate the mitigation, restitution, and financial help for the regions affected. They are doing this and should be as visible as possible about steps in both areas. The last thing they should do is take charge of fixing the leak itself when they cannot.

My response:

I like Theda Skocpol and consider her a friend, but she’s got this one backwards. It’s not “political lunacy” for the president to take charge of this mess. It’s political lunacy for him not to.

Would Theda propose that if a military contractor accidentally fired off a missile, or the owner of a nuclear reactor accidentally allowed it to melt down, or a food processor accidentally sent off deadly bacteria into America’s food chain, that the President should not take control because he couldn’t “fix” these disasters right away? Or that he shouldn’t get involved because the political right might subsequently use his efforts to reinforce its message that the government doesn’t work?

What’s happening in the Gulf is the worst environmental disaster in American history. It defies common sense for the President to delegate most of its solution to the same corporation whose negligence in all likelihood created it.

The public deeply distrusts BP, with good reason. Its record to date has been cutting corners to make profits. Yes, BP’s expertise may be necessary now. But how can we believe BP is using all the resources at its disposal to stop the leak? (A petroleum engineer told me earlier this week that BP has some two dozen tankers in the Gulf that could be siphoning off the oil, and has shut down work on the second relief well in order to cannibalize parts from it for the primary kill effort.)

How can we trust that decisions BP continues to make – such as the use of toxic dispersants – properly weigh risks to the safety and health of Americans?

And as BP continues to pay out dividends to its shareholders, how can we trust it will have enough capital to pay all the costs of cleanup, not to mention the costs to businesses and individauls of the devastation it’s wrought?

For the President to stand apart from all this – to set up a commission to study how it happened and instruct the Justice Department to inquire into the possibility that civil and criminal fines may be appropriate – is both poliltically unwise and against the public’s interest. I fear Americans will come to see it as a dereliction of duty.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Robert Reich has the answers

  • Putting BP Under Temporary Receivership: Some Qs and As

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Q: Is this realistic?

    A: Not only realistic but it may become necessary — both operationally and politically. If the disaster continues to worsen, it’s untenable for a for-profit corporation to be in charge.

    Q: But why should we expect government to do any better job than BP?

    A: BP would still be at the job — and its expertise, equipment, and other assets would continue to be utilized. But the federal government would be in overall control of the operation — weighing public risks and benefits, deciding what resources are necessary, getting accurate information and disseminating it to the public.

    Q: Why should we trust the government?

    A: This isn’t an ideological contest about how little you trust a giant oil company versus the federal government. It’s a matter of accountability. BP’s primary responsibility is to its shareholders. And it will cut corners — as it has before — if that’s the best way to maximize the value of their shares. But only the government, through the President, is directly accountable to the American public, and responsible for protecting it.

    Q: Under what legal authority could the President take control of BP’s North American operations?

    A: Obama has implicit authority through laws and regulations dealing with offshore drilling, especially the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. By analogy, if a nuclear reactor were melting down, the President would use his regulatory authority over nuclear energy to take temporary control over the plant and the relevant parts of the corporation that ran it. President Truman seized the nation’s steel mills in 1952, arguing that the emergency of the Korean War necessitated it. (The Supreme Court ultimately blocked him but according to Justice Jackson, whose opinion was essentially the majority’s, that was because Truman had no statutory basis for the seizure, not even an implicit one. That isn’t the case here.)

    Q: But BP is a British corporation. How can the U.S. government take control?

    A: The nationality of a corporation’s shareholders has nothing to do with it. If it is operating within the jurisdiction of the United States and poses a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of Americans, a president would take control of its operations and assets in the United States.

    Q: Do you really think Obama would do this? Wouldn’t he prefer to stay away from this mess and keep the responsibility squarely on BP?

    A: He may not have much of a choice. If the disaster worsens and Obama doesn’t take control he risks inheriting the mantle of Katrina.

    Q: What will force his hand?

    A: The White House is already inching toward control. BP’s new admission that it can’t stop the leak until August has shocked a public already deeply distrustful of it. As new evidence emerges of the scale of the disaster, the pressure on the Administration to take full and open control will only grow. Last Saturday Energy Secretary Chu asked BP to cease its so-called “top kill” effort to stop up the gush because he and his team of scientists had concluded it was too risky. Now the White House has to decide whether BP’s continued use of highly toxic dispersants poses more of a threat to the public and the environment than a help. When do these decisions tip over into control? Any time now.

  • Closing the Hole in the Gulf: A Petroleum Engineer Responds

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    A petroleum engineer who’s worked in the oil industry tells me BP is doing the minimum to clean up the oil and everything it can to protect its bottom line. According to the engineer, here’s what BP should be doing right now to mitigate the damage. If the President were to put BP into temporary receivership, he’d have the power to get BP to:

    1. Stop releasing dispersants. So-called dispersants are toxic, and it’s crazy to add more poison to the Gulf. Dispersants do nothing to assist the environment in naturally cleaning the oil; their main use is PR. They reduce the number of ugly pictures of birds covered in pure black crude. Dispersants break the thick layer of crude into smaller globs, but that doesn’t help the Gulf and its wildlife. Most of the crude just mixes with the water to produce a goop that looks like chocolate ice cream but is highly poisonous.

    2. Mobilize every possible tanker to siphon up crude from as close to the leak points as possible. Oil industry leaders as John Hofmeister (president of Shell Oil from 2005 until 2008) have recommended this, but inexplicably neither BP nor the federal government are talking about even trying this idea. BP currently has only one spot where they have inserted a tube into a riser, or pipe, that is leaking oil from the sea floor. The company is gathering the crude oil and siphoning it up to a drill ship for storage.

    They should have at least a dozen collectors. BP has 24 tankers that are being used to make money for BP, not for clean-up duty. (President Obama should also use all necessary federal power — or money, and send BP the bill — to put as many tankers and refineries from other companies on the task.)

    Mile-long pipes could be dangled down into the crude spewing from the wellhead and at each breach in the riser pipe, and the tankers could pump the crude mixed with water back into the tankers. They could then separate the crude and water in the tanker, and pump the water out on the spot. This should continue until each tanker is full of oil. The crude should then be taken to a refinery for processing, as other tankers take their place. Submersibles can be used to monitor the uptake into the dangling pipes, moving them as needed to keep them picking up as much crude as possible.

    Even after some separation time in the tankers, the crude will be contaminated with water beyond the typical water contamination levels acceptable at refineries. This would drive up the price of gas in the short term. The president will need to go on TV and ask all Americans to cut their gasoline and energy usage in half, as an emergency response to the disaster in the Gulf, so that tankers and refineries can enact these far-from-perfect cleanup measures.

    3. Restart work on the second pressure relief well. BP did start work on two relief wells as the government requested, but the second has been shut down to cannabalize parts from it for the primary well kill effort. The President must order BP to spend whatever money it takes to get another blow out preventer on site, to re-start work on the second pressure relief well. A recent blow-out off the coast of Australia required five pressure relief wells to successfully shut it down.

  • Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    Two Oil Drilling Experts Illuminate BP's Incompetence and Impotence on The Dylan Ratigan Show and offer some better solutions

    Arianna Huffington: Financial Reform: A Win for Wall Street, A Cold Shoulder for Main Street

    It's mission accomplished for financial reform.

    Unfortunately, it's more of a Bush 43 "mission accomplished" than an Apollo 13 "mission accomplished." That's because the financial reform bill passed by the Senate last week, like Bush's ship deck ceremony, is more notable for what it has left to still be done.

    The Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 will do no such thing. First, it doesn't do enough to rein in Wall Street. It doesn't end "too big to fail" banks, doesn't create a Glass-Steagall style firewall between commercial and investment banking, keeps taxpayers on the hook for future bailouts, and leaves open dangerous loopholes in the regulation of derivatives. And we can expect more loopholes to be inserted as the bill heads to conference committee. In D.C., crafting a bill without them would be like baking bread without yeast. Though you can't see them, they're what makes a Washington bill rise.

    There's a reason a longtime investment banker, speaking to the New York Times, said of his colleagues' reaction to the new bill, "If you talk to anyone privately, there's a sigh of relief."

    Don't expect a similar reaction on Main Street. Despite its name, this bill will not be restoring financial stability to the tens of millions of hardworking Americans whose lives have been turned upside down by the economic crisis.

    On nearly every front in the real economy -- from jobs to consumer spending to foreclosures -- we've made virtually no progress at all. While Washington and the media have been consumed with the titanic debate over this reform bill, talk of the actual suffering by actual people in the actual economy is virtually a taboo subject, at least judging by how rarely it makes the front pages or leads the TV news.

    But the data points are all around us. In a speech last week, Sandra Pianalto, president of the Cleveland Fed, surveyed the landscape and did not see a lot of financial stability, partly because of the huge loss of skills that is being suffered by the long-term unemployed. "Research... tells us that workers lose valuable skills during long spells of unemployment, and that some jobs simply don't return," she said. "Multiply this effect millions of times over, and it has the potential to dampen overall economic productivity for years."

    Her conclusion: "Many people are now just aiming for 'financial security' as their American dream." In other words, the core idea of the American Dream -- work hard and advance up the ladder -- has been gutted. Now the American Dream is to try to not fall, or do all you can to slow your rate of decline.

    And forget about having enough in the bank to give your kids a leg up on doing better than you've done. It's hard enough just to keep a job until you retire -- if that's even going to be an option. At a D.C. jobs fair for older workers this month, more than 3,000 job seekers showed up for the event, entitled "Promoting Yourself at 50+." Not surprising, given that the average jobless stint for those unemployed who are 55 and over was around 43 weeks, as of last month. (Quick note to struggling politicians out there: want a huge crowd at your campaign rally? Call it a "jobs fair," and you'll have lines of people around the corner.)

    Their children and grandchildren who are just graduating from college aren't faring any better. According to Business Week, the 1.6 million about to hit the job market with their expensive degrees will be confronting a youth unemployment rate of almost 20 percent -- the highest rate since the Labor Department started tracking youth unemployment in 1948.

    And, as Laura Bassett reported on HuffPost, many workers who have managed to hold onto their jobs are increasingly doing so only by accepting less pay and taking on a higher share of their health care costs. "My company didn't eliminate my job, they just eliminated my salary," wrote marketing director Mike Cheaure in an email. "I was back at work as a freelancer the next day working at 1/4 the pay and no benefits." The experience has made him very familiar with the new reality. "For us, the American Dream is gone," he said. "Now it's just getting by."

    Adding insult to injury, a growing number of working mothers are having to give up their jobs and rely on welfare because states are cutting back on child care services that allowed them to keep working. And kids across the country are scrambling to find something to do this summer as a number of states make deep cuts to summer school programs.

    And what about that recent surge in consumer spending that spawned talk of "green shoots" and "recovery?" Turns out, there was a surge in spending -- but almost exclusively by the rich. As the LA Times' Don Lee put it, the "little-noticed reality" behind the "encouraging numbers" was that "much of the new spending has come not from America's broad middle class but from a small slice of affluent people at the top." In fact, according to the Labor Department, the richest 20 percent of American households accounted for 40 percent of all spending.

    As the Washington Post reported last week, "lavish fringe benefits" are back at the top end of corporate America, including "country club dues, chauffeured drivers, personal financial planning services, home security systems and parking." Of the 29 biggest public companies that took taxpayer money, around one in three decided to funnel some of it to its chief executive. As the Post's Tomoeh Murakami Tse dryly put it: "Those raises contrast with the belt-tightening that many Americans have experienced during the recession." Nell Minow, co-founder of the Corporate Library, put it more directly: "Marie Antoinette could fit into this crowd without missing a beat."

    The latest news in consumer lending is similarly dismal -- especially among the banks that got the most help from taxpayers. According to the Treasury Department, from February to March, the largest banks cut lending by $9 billion -- yet more evidence of the schism between the two economies. Of course, the two economies aren't entirely separate -- the Wall Street economy is happy to accept massive transfusions of cash from the fading middle class.

    This isn't to say that there were no provisions that would help Main Street considered as part of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. There were plenty -- it's just that almost all of them were either voted down or taken out and never even put up for a vote. Even something as simple and sensible as putting a cap on credit card interest rates. Sheldon Whitehouse's amendment to do just that was voted down 60 to 35. So much for "financial stability." Though I suppose it depends on whose financial stability you care about -- the banks' or the taxpayers'.

    Or how about payday lending -- the largely unregulated advances on a paycheck that can carry rates in the triple digits? In Missouri, for example, rates can top 600 percent. Yes, you read that right. Not exactly a recipe for "financial stability." North Carolina's Kay Hagan offered an amendment that would have clamped down on the $40 billion industry. It was killed without a vote because of Republican objections.

    Objections that were, no doubt, the end product of the mother of all lobbying campaigns by every sector of the financial industry. Of course, the line between Senator, staffer and lobbyist is pretty blurry these days. A joint report released by SEIU, the Campaign for America's Future, and the Public Accountability Initiative found that the finance industry has 70 former members of Congress and 940 former federal employees on its lobbying payroll. This includes 33 chiefs of staff, 54 staffers of the House Financial Services Committee and Senate Banking Committee (or of a current member of those committees), and 28 legislative directors. Five of Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd's former staffers are now working as banking lobbyists, as are eight former staffers for Banking Committee powerhouses Richard Shelby and Chuck Schumer.

    And the revolving door spins both ways. As Arthur Delaney reported on HuffPost, 18 percent of current House Financial Services committee staffers used to work on K Street. All told, the financial industry has spent nearly $600 million on lobbying since the collapse of Bear Stearns in March of 2008 -- almost a million dollars a day.

    A lot of money, sure, but if what you care about is the financial stability of the banks, it was money well spent. Take, for instance, the Merkley-Levin amendment that would have forced big banks to get rid of their speculative proprietary trading activities, a version of the Volcker rule. And you can take it, because the Senate won't be using it -- the amendment never even made it to a vote. This wasn't because it wouldn't have passed. On the contrary, since debate began on this issue, anger from those mired in the real economy has reached enough lawmakers that the amendment had a real shot. Which is why, as Simon Johnson put it, "the big banks were forced into overdrive to stop it."

    Another reform completely left out of the bill was any reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This despite the fact that in just the last quarter Freddie -- one half of what the New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson calls "the elephant in the bailout" -- reported a loss of $6.7 billion.

    Serious delinquencies on Freddie's single-family conventional loan portfolio are at 4.13 percent, up from 2.41 percent for the same period last year. And the number of foreclosed units Freddie controls stands at nearly 54,000, up from 29,145 at the end of March 2009.

    "I don't understand why people are not talking about it," says Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "It seems to me the most fundamental question is, have they on an ongoing basis been paying too much for loans even since they went into conservatorship?"

    And why would they do that? It's part of what Baker calls a "backdoor bailout" of the banks. In other words, an under-the-radar way to continue shoveling money from struggling taxpayers over to the richest Americans.

    We've been told time and time again over the last two years that right after Washington deals with what's on its plate, "jobs is next." Well, it's been "next" for quite some time now, but it never seems to come to the floor. And now that a financial reform bill has passed, the talk on the Hill is that climate control or immigration will be tackled next. Or that members will just go off for the summer and campaign, flush with all the donations many of them just pocketed from the banks in this latest effort.

    I often have a nightmare -- a common sort -- in which I'm stuck in a forest and I can't find my way out. I have a friend whose version is that her feet are stuck to the ground and she can't move. Not a bad description of our leaders' approach to the massive suffering that's going on across America.

    A recent study by Duha Tore Altindag and Naci H. Mocan for the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the effects of unemployment can have troubling implications for a political system. The authors studied data from 130,000 people in 69 countries. Their conclusion: "We find that personal joblessness experience translates into negative opinions about the effectiveness of democracy."

    No shock there. But it should frighten anyone genuinely concerned about our stability, financial and otherwise.



    60 minutes report worth watching again

    This details the errors especially with the gasket that no one is bringing up still:

    Watch CBS News Videos Online

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Dr. Reece Halter on the ecological devestation of the BP OIL DISASTER

    Dr. Reece Halter, conservation biologist at Calf. Lutheran U. talks to Ed Schultz about the soon-to-be ecological devastation of the oil-and-chemcial toxic brew flooding the Gulf now:

    He's interviewed from @ 9:28 to the end of this clip:

    He's mad as hell, and that's entirely appropriate!

    Reece Halter's blog

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    Big Brother Luntz

    From Paul Krugman's column "Punks and Plutocrats" - NYT - 032810 -

    "Back in January, Frank Luntz, the G.O.P. strategist, circulated a memo on how to oppose financial reform. His key idea was that Republicans should claim that up is down — that reform legislation is a “big bank bailout bill,” rather than a set of restrictions on the banks."

    Do slimeballs like Luntz have a trace of integrity left? If "evil" is consciously lying to promote theft, then Luntz fully fits the bill.

    The last paragraph is great and a concise summary:

    "So it’s the punks versus the plutocrats — those who want to rein in runaway banks, and bankers who want the freedom to put the economy at risk, freedom enhanced by the knowledge that taxpayers will bail them out in a crisis. Whatever they say, the fact is that people like Mr. Shelby are on the side of the plutocrats; the American people should be on the side of the punks, who are trying to protect their interests."

    Right-on, Paul Krugman!!

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Comment I found at The Nation website

    Some years back, Honda had a choice between building a plant in the United States or Canada. They settled on Canada, because their government-run health plan would save them money. While the drug companies and the health care industry will make a lot of money out of healthcare "reform," it will drive up costs for other business interests.

    The economies of "developed" Western nations are supported by the disposable incomes of ordinary workers. Since the purpose of "free trade" and "neoliberal economics" is to drive down wages, they are destroying their market and their wealth.

    The economic elites are very stupid, and will destroy themselves along with the world's economy!

    Pervis James Casey

    Riverside, CA