Friday, August 26, 2011

Day Of The Voting Dead: Perry Re-Elected Despite 'Dead Peasant' Insurance Scheme

By Manifesto Joe

People don't seem to recall what was happening five years ago in politics. That was so long ago! I'll refresh some memories. Il Doofus' approval ratings were sliding down to eventual record lows, he was about to lose control of Congress -- and in Texas, Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry was something less than popular.

The problem with Perry's opposition that year was that they couldn't unite behind one candidate. Goodhair was re-elected with only 39% of the vote, and his main opposition was split three ways -- Democrat Chris Bell got 29.8%, independent state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn got 18%, and country-Western singer and novelist Kinky Friedman got 12.6% (Kinky's a funny and engaging personality, but he flopped badly as a politician.)

Now let me really solicit memories, all the way back to late 2003. The Huffington Post has reminded everyone, including me, that Gov. Rick Perry's office was proposing to Swiss banking giant UBS a scheme in which UBS would buy life insurance policies on retired Texas teachers, cutting the state government in with revenue upon the deaths of said teachers. The survivors of the teachers would get nothing, and the elderly ex-teachers themselves would be offered something like $50 to $100 to sign the contract.

Here's a link to the Huffington Post article on the scheme. It's noteworthy that former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, author of some of the financial deregulation that half wrecked the U.S. and world economies, was by this time a vice president of UBS, and was reportedly in on the talks.

In this ghoulish scheme, UBS would essentially be gambling on the deaths of the retired teachers, with the state cut in on revenue from the deals. Corporations had long been using this as a tax break, since insurance premiums and death benefits are not taxed.

Walmart had already gone through horrid publicity over this practice, in which that company took out life insurance policies on its low-wage "associates." "Dead peasant insurance" was what some pundit dubbed it.

When news of this scheme hit Texas news media outlets in the coming months, it queered the deal. Teachers groups were predictably outraged. And, there seemed to be little question that the governor's office was the main force pushing the scheme. (It's also noteworthy that Perry's 23-year-old son went to work for UBS a few years later.)

But the voters didn't seem to remember any of this come 2006, nor did the news media. Knuckle-dragging zombies staggered to the polls and re-elected Perry, and they did it again in 2010.

Thankfully, the Huffington Post has raised this story from the dead. It's going to be important to keep reminding the public about this matter, and many others, as Goodhair lurches toward the possibility of the Republican presidential nomination next year.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hey, New Yorkers: Take The Hurricane Warning Seriously

By Manifesto Joe

I've been through four hurricanes and two tropical storms. Don't take any warnings about this sort of thing lightly.

The one I'm thinking of is when I was 14, and it wasn't expected to be that much. It gained strength spectacularly just off the Gulf Coast, and then came in. It was officially called a Category 3 hurricane after the fact. At the time, people measured the gusts at 160 mph, more like a Category 4. Later, the official measure was lower, but it was quite enough.

I never saw anything like it before, and I hope I never do again. Fortunately, we were riding the thing out in a very strong house, and we had boarded the place up as much as one does with a routine hurricane. Things were going down all around us. Power lines, garages, houses -- collapsing. The eye passed over us, so then there was a long lull in the middle -- a deathly calm.

Then the worst part came. The second "half" was more like two-thirds of the storm. It seemed like it would never end.

Then we spent about a week digging our way out of the ruins. No power (in August in South Texas), only the water we had drawn, food out of cans. A little help from the Red Cross and FEMA.

A direct hit on Manhattan would be a calamity. Take this seriously.

Correction: FEMA as we know it now didn't exist until the late 1970s. There was federal aid coming to the area then, but it had to have been under different auspices. We didn't lose our home, so of course we didn't ask for any.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Right-Wing Reign Of Error: How Kooks Like Bachmann Keep Getting It Wrong

By Manifesto Joe

Sometimes it happens because they're stupid -- and sometimes it happens because they're convinced that everybody else is stupid. Either way, the right wing in America can't be trusted for any kind of facts or history, recent or distant. Their inaccuracies are countless, but a few more recent ones stand out.

Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity

Boobs usually come in pairs, and on the right wing it's no exception. Herr Lardbaugh and Herr Hannity told their listeners earlier this month that President Obama inherited a U.S. unemployment rate of 5.6% and 5.7% (Hannity gave the lower figure.)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the accepted authority on this subject, put the U.S. unemployment rate at 7.8% in January 2009, the month that Obama took office. So, who's lying?

It turns out that the AVERAGE jobless rate for 2008 was 5.8% -- all 12 months combined into an average. Even if Herr Lardbaugh and Herr Hannity were using that figure, they STILL got it wrong. (The easiest job in the world has got to be that of Herr Lardbaugh's fact-checker.)

Here's a link to New York magazine's story on the subject.

Bachmann's unbelievable string of gaffes

In the previous case, I think we've got a couple of smart asses who are putting bogus numbers over on the rubes. In the case of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., I fear that we've got the proto-rube. This person is under serious consideration to be the Republican nominee for president of the U.S. Yet, she's shockingly stupid, too much so to even be respected as a member of the U.S. House.

First, she kicks off her presidential campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, which she mistakenly calls the birthplace of John Wayne. It was actually a residence of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

More recently, she wished Elvis a happy birthday on the 34th anniversary of his death.

And, on a right-wing radio talk show Thursday, Bachmann said that Americans are fearful of the rise of the Soviet Union. Here's a link to a story on that interview.

Bachmann is, of course, no newcomer to the reign of right-wing error. Here's a link to my earlier post about the congresswoman blaming something she called the "Hoot-Smalley Tariff" on FDR. (It was actually the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, passed in 1930 and signed by President Herbert Hoover.)

I understand that Bachmann is blaming all her recent gaffes on her strenuous speaking schedule. But, that's one good reason to have a rather long and grueling campaign trail for the presidency -- at the very least, it gives the public a chance to vet the contenders and see what they perform like under pressure.

But what worries me is that Americans had plenty of time to size up both Ronald "Mr. Magoo" Reagan and George W. "Il Doofus" Bush. The standards have clearly been lowered enough that Bachmann may get a complete pass on all this, and more to come.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Another Texas Two-Step: Governor Goodhair Declares, Michael Burgess Scares

By Manifesto Joe

As of this writing, Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry still hadn't given the South Carolina speech that is said to be the one that will make his bid for the presidency official. I'm presuming that he will do just that.

Goodhair keeps indicating that he wants to go national with The Texas Way. That's great -- if you're already rich. Texas has a pretty decent Third World economy. I would advise y'all in the rest of the U.S. to try to stick with the First World formula. The Third World path has definite limitations.

Sure, there have been plenty of jobs created in Texas during the nearly 11 years Goodhair has been governor -- low-wage, service-sector jobs, mostly. The state has become a veritable magnet for illegal immigrant labor. It's been estimated that if you got rid of all the workers who are here illegally, about a third of the restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area would have to close. Seems like everybody in the Anglo culture here has a few anecdotes about things like, approaching somebody in a restaurant or supermarket only to be told, "No habla Ingles."

(Fortunately, "Donde esta el bano?" was a common tourista question I remembered from Spanish class.)

Creation of such crummy jobs is about all Texas can point to for recent bragging rights. During Goodhair's time in office (he's the state's longest-serving governor, unfortunately), basics such as education, health care, per capita income and infrastructure of all kinds have suffered. The state ranks relatively low in any rankings of such sectors. ("Thank God for Mississippi!" one school official is reported to have said.)

Our public universities, led by the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems, are BIG, like everything in Texas. They are also notoriously mediocre. Even New York City's public college system, designed mainly for disadvantaged students, is considered at least marginally better than what the state government supports here.

Goodhair should know about academic mediocrity -- he's a graduate of A&M's College Station flagship, and he even did some time on academic probation while he was there.

Then there's his beef with the federal government. He has hinted strongly at secession, yet he whines when he doesn't immediately get federal money, like when wildfires burned up a lot of ranches and rural subdivisions.

Among other things, the state's debt has approximately doubled in a decade, and the $25 billion shortfall that the Legislature "dealt with" during this biennial session was by far the largest in Texas history.

Hey, but we still have no state income tax! Instead, we have very high sales taxes and user fees. And the property taxes can be pretty steep, thanks to all those medical bills the taxpayers have to cover so that our charity hospitals and clinics can treat the millions of uninsured people.

Don't get the idea that I hate Texas -- hell, I'm a native South Texan, and there is much in this culture that I know I would miss if I relocated to some politically sane place like Vermont. I have my own recipe for the best chili con carne in the world, and there's nothing like a big platter of sizzling fajitas, prepared by someone who really knows how. Shiner Bock gets my vote as one of the best beers around, and the wines of West Texas are getting better all the time. I'm indifferent to the Dallas Cowboys, but I have to admit to feeling a little pride when the Texas Rangers made it to the World Series for the first time in franchise history last fall.

But we ought to face it -- Texas is a good place mainly for those lucky enough to be born rich. If you live in a gated community and can afford to send your kids to private schools and colleges, you don't notice it much when a lot of the basics begin to fall apart. Well, maybe when you fail to miss a big pothole in the road while driving that swell new Lexus to the country club, one notices then.

Rick Perry thinks Texas should be a model for the rest of the nation. Il Doofus -- not coincidentally Perry's predecessor as governor -- just about halfway took the U.S. to that very place during eight years in office. If the American people are stupid enough to want someone to really finish the job, then Goodhair's their man. He's been one of the lousiest governors we ever had, and it would be fitting for him to be the Republicans' successor to Il Doofus, who in Texas started the job that Perry has pretty well finished here.

I just hope the rest of the country is wise enough not to do what Texans have done.

Step Two: Burgess wants to impeach Obama so that the latter's agenda can be stopped

Yep, that's what U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville (Dallas area), told a Tea Party gathering in Keller, Texas, a few days ago. I don't remember him elaborating as to exactly what the charges would be, but he did say that it would be a great way to save the republic, or something like that, by bringing President Obama's agenda to a grinding halt.

Reporters tried to get Burgess to follow up on this. At first he responded awkwardly, then his office suddenly stopped taking any phone calls on the subject. He's been silent ever since.

Here's a link to a UPI report on the subject.

You may recall that Burgess was one of the "lawmakers" in Congress who wanted to block government regulation that would require light bulbs to be more energy-efficient. Here's a link to my post on that.

The voters in Texas sure know how to pick 'em.

A stock response from Republicans would be to point out that there were Democrats who wanted to bring articles of impeachment against Il Doofus. I honestly wish that could have happened. In that case, during the 2002-03 run-up to the Iraq invasion, we had a president who was pretty clearly lying to us about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He got the U.S. into a war that, so far, has cost nearly $800 billion and nearly 1.5 million Iraqi lives. War crimes charges on the international scale might have been good, too.

Unfortunately, Il Doofus didn't leave quite enough evidence to bring impeachment charges. As always, he left open the possibility that he was merely ignorant and foolish.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Republicans In Denial That Clinton Surplus Was Real

By Manifesto Joe

Who were the last two U.S. presidents to deliver balanced federal budgets? Answer: The last one was Bill Clinton. Before him, you have to go all the way back to fiscal 1968-69 -- that one was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Yep, it was those "tax-and-spend" Democrats who did this. During the years in between, and since, we've seen what happens when government spends, but doesn't adequately tax. The debt piles up, like it did under Ronald Reagan and Il Doofus.

The Republican talking point about this is that the Clinton surplus is supposed to have been solely the result of the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, which created a spike in income tax revenues because of overvalued Internet stocks. The bubble certainly helped Clinton, but saying that it was the only reason for the increased revenue is denial of history.

Here's a link to an article on the subject at Even when the accounting excludes the Social Security surplus, Clinton delivered two balanced budgets, including one with an $86.4 billion surplus (with Social Security included, that would be $236.2 billion).

The article states:

The Clinton years showed the effects of a large tax increase that Clinton pushed through in his first year, and that Republicans incorrectly claim is the "largest tax increase in history." It fell almost exclusively on upper-income taxpayers. Clinton’s fiscal 1994 budget also contained some spending restraints. An equally if not more powerful influence was the booming economy and huge gains in the stock markets, the so-called dot-com bubble, which brought in hundreds of millions in unanticipated tax revenue from taxes on capital gains and rising salaries.

So yes, the dot-com bubble was a big factor. But it's like poet Charles Bukowski said about luck -- that counts, too.

Notable here is that the Clinton economic plan, which the House passed in 1993 by a single vote, raised the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6%. I was a middle-income taxpayer during those years, and the effect of the Clinton plan on my taxes was almost nil. Rich people were, for a change, forced to pay something closer to their fair share for the upkeep of society.

Since President Obama has had a struggling economy to deal with since Day One (thanks so much, Il Doofus) letting tax rates return to the Clinton-era levels wouldn't come even very close to balancing the current budget. Obama has been a hard-luck SOB who inherited the biggest mess anyone has faced since FDR. And unlike FDR, he didn't have a 3-to-1 majority in the Congress, and fickle voters cost him a majority in the House last year.

Now, of course, he's being kicked around from two directions -- from the right, by lunatics who can't decide whether he's a socialist or a Nazi, and from the left, by those who would rather have had him fight losing battles for the public health-care option and for a more genuine compromise on the debt-ceiling issue. It's not hard to understand Obama's critics on the left, but if he'd done what they apparently wanted him to do, we'd have no health-care changes coming at all, and the economy would REALLY be in ruins.

But, I digress -- back to Clinton and his budgets. The basic lesson here is that all governments, any governments, must have adequate revenue in order to function. In 30 years, the U.S. economy has doubled in output, but wages and salaries for ordinary workers have stagnated. It's the superrich who have reaped the benefits (and they didn't even use a gun). And their tax burden has been dramatically reduced.

Bill Clinton wasn't my ideal as a president (nor is Obama). I reluctantly voted for Clinton twice. I opposed NAFTA, which he and Al Gore delivered up for our Corporate Masters. Clinton also signed off on deregulation of financial markets that proved disastrous, and that even he now admits was a mistake. And, I'd say the jury remains out on what Molly Ivins always called "welfare deform," which Clinton also signed.

But in politics, one often has to hold one's nose and take what one can get, and in the 1990s that was Clinton. Warts and all, I'd rather have him in charge than Il Doofus or Reagan, any day.

Letting tax rates revert to Clinton-era levels would just be a start. Right now, with conditions as they are, balancing the budget would require closing a lot of loopholes, plus a top marginal rate of, say, 49%. I think we've seen, judging from the long-term record of supply-side policy, that such a move would have little negative impact on job creation.

But the reality is that the Tea Party has great power in the House of Representatives, and the economy remains in the tank. Putting Obama over for a second term is far from certain. If we emerge in 2013 with a Republican president and both houses of Congress under that party's control, prepare for the worst. We'll likely see deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare -- and yet there will still be huge deficits, for years to come.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Rick 'Governor Goodhair' Perry No Doubt Learned How To Pray In College

By Manifesto Joe

Rick "Governor Goodhair" Perry seemed to win a lot of brownie points with the Religious Right for his Saturday prayer fest in Houston. Some 30,000 people attended, it was estimated. He looks like a likely candidate for president, and he doubtlessly won over a lot of Tea Party support by instigating this event.

Recently, we the voters have also gotten a chance to look at his college transcript, that of an animal husbandry major at Texas A&M who graduated with a 2.3 GPA. Here's a link to it, courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Goodhair made a C in U.S. history, and a D in principles of economics. I suspect that, between hits of No Doz, he learned how to pray right before his economics final. Apparently God didn't deign to help him too much in organic chemistry -- he flunked a second course in it.

Here's from a contemporary student:

"A&M wasn't exactly Harvard on the Brazos River," recalled a Perry classmate in an interview with The Huffington Post. "This was not the brightest guy around. We always kind of laughed. He was always kind of a joke."

And this guy may want to be president?

I realize that people can grow a lot during half a lifetime. FDR reportedly wasn't a great student, and Truman never went to college. LBJ went to what was then Southwest Texas State Teacher's College, now Texas State University. Where I'm from, that was always known as a great party college that often turned out good schoolteachers. Eisenhower ranked low in his graduating class at West Point, and Il Doofus is said to have gotten through Yale largely on "gentleman's C's." Reagan famously told Barbara Walters in an interview that "I never knew anything above C's," and his alma mater was Eureka College in Illinois.

Personally, I would rather have someone for president who at least bothered to read most of the textbooks. Whatever their shortcomings were and are, I get the impression that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton at least managed to do that.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Screw Deal: Debt-Ceiling Pact Yet Another Hosing Of Americans

By Manifesto Joe

The American people have taken so many hosings over the past 30 years, it's gotten to where most folks don't know they are having it done to them, let alone who's on the spraying end of the hose. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who held her nose and voted for the deal to raise the federal government's debt ceiling, commented that not one cent of this "compromise" was coming from the wealthiest Americans. (That's a pretty strong hint about who's on the spraying end.)

Call it The Screw Deal, Part III. Since there aren't very many specifics, the effects of Part III won't be known for a couple of years. Rest assured that if a Republican -- any Republican -- wins the White House next November, and Republicans also win control of the Senate and retain control of the House of Representatives, this will be perhaps the biggest hosing of them all.

This deal leaves the door open for meat-ax cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Will somebody please tell me exactly what role the elderly, the poor and the sick played in getting the U.S. mired in two foreign wars that the rich paid not one cent in extra tax to finance?

For those among us who understand what's happening, this has been a lot like sitting at a train crossing in your car, waiting for a very, very long train to finally pass. The caboose just never seems to arrive, after scores of cars have slowly passed.

Reagan and the first Screw Deal

During the protracted "debate" about the debt-ceiling deal, there was a lot in the Mainstream Media about the alleged wit and wisdom of Ronald Reagan, and how neither party seemed to be remembering moves from the Gipper's playbook. Au contraire -- the Republicans have been following that playbook for 30 years, and with astonishing success at the polls.

Reagan presided over the first Screw Deal in phases during 1981-86. The first year, he got tax cuts passed that dramatically reduced the burden on his rich friends and the big corporations. Oh, well, he did toss a bone to everyone. Here's a quick summary of the Kemp-Roth tax cuts from Wikipedia:

Included in the act was an across-the-board decrease in the marginal income tax rates in the U.S. by 23% over three years, with the top rate falling from 70% to 50% and the bottom rate dropping from 14% to 11%. This act slashed estate taxes and trimmed taxes paid by business corporations by $150 billion over a five year period.

Then, the very next year, the supply-siders had to pull back from some of their initial commitments with what has been described as the biggest tax increase in U.S. history. Still, the deficits started, and they were at record levels for that time.

In 1983, Reagan signed off on an increase in Social Security payroll taxes. Now, it was nice in a sense that this action has kept the system going in the 28 years since. But please note that Social Security taxes are regressive -- they are cut off and maxed out after a certain level of income. It is a burden that is largely borne by middle-income people.

Then, in 1986, Reagan presided over tax "reform" that, while plugging a few loopholes, also cut the top tax rate all the way down to 28%. The Screw Deal, Part I, was complete.

The years of Bush the First and Bill Clinton slowed and mitigated some of The Screw Deal's effects, with tax increases passed under both. In particular, the Clinton economic plan that barely passed in 1993 raised the marginal tax rate back up to 39.6%, and those record deficits started shrinking until they had turned into record surpluses by the time Clinton left office.

(Of course, Republicans can't let Clinton have credit for anything, so they now say that the Internet "bubble" of the late 1990s worked heavily in Clinton's favor, and perhaps it did. But he delivered the first balanced budget the country had seen in 30 years, and that's a fact they can't reasonably deny.)

Il Doofus and the second Screw Deal

In 2001, the first year of his stolen presidency, Il Doofus got a tax cut passed that once more lowered the top rates for his rich friends. Oh, and again, he tossed everybody a bone, with those $300 rebates and such. Wow.

By the very next year, Il Doofus was responding to the 9/11 attacks like a true bozo, by moving toward an invasion of Iraq to depose of one of Al-Qaida's worst enemies, Saddam Hussein. No tax increase was proposed to help pay for this needless bloodbath. I think what Doofus & Co. thought was that an Iraq conquest was going to be easy. So far, it has cost nearly $800 billion.

What we kept hearing, starting with Reagan and then throughout the Il Doofus administration, was that keeping taxes lower on rich people and big corporations was supposed to stimulate employment through the resulting investment. Somehow, this proposition doesn't appear to work in practice. If it did, we should now be literally awash in swell new jobs for our 9%-plus unemployed. Hey, I'm still waiting for my "trickle-down" from the first time. (Always felt more like "tinkle-down" to me.)

So now, after eight long years of Il Doofus, Barack Obama inherits two unpaid-for foreign wars, a tax system in which two-thirds of U.S. corporations pay zero income tax, and record deficits. Republicans are blaming him, with MSM stooges like CNN's Don Lemon sitting there like burros while these fools say Obama has been spending money insanely for two-and-a-half years. (Lemon failed to point out to a Republican talking head that Obama inherited from Il Doofus the first budget he presided over. The job of journalists is to present the public with facts, not just to sit and allow specious rhetoric to go unchallenged.)

Exactly how much is Obama to blame for The Screw Deal, Part III?

It's easy to understand the frustration with Obama that's coming from the far left -- well, what there is of "the far left." It looks like millions of people turned out in 2008 to vote for a guy they thought would be Dennis Kucinich. Instead, he turned out to be a Bill Clinton-style Republicrat. (I hate to break it to y'all -- but that's exactly why Clinton became president, and why Kucinich didn't and never will.)

I'll argue once more that Obama has simply done what was politically necessary. He believes that it's often wiser to compromise today and thereby live politically to fight another day. He couldn't afford to just dig in and preside over a debt default, because then, House Speaker Orange Julius & Co. would blame him, and it likely would have stuck.

And, like him or not, Obama appears to be the only thing standing between Americans and those meat-ax cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I don't like the fact that he left the door open for such cuts -- but I don't think that, privately, he likes being the guy who signed off on that deal.

A lot will hinge on what happens next year. I'm not particularly happy with Obama, either, but when one considers the likelihood of a Congress with both houses controlled by Republicans in 2013 -- well, it looks like he's what we've got. And he can't do anything without votes.

Stay tuned.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.