Category: Politics

Why are scams more common on the Right than the Left?


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Since the tea party burst onto the political landscape in 2009, the conservative movement has been plagued by an explosion of PACs that critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them….A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million — 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses.

….[Democrats] have mostly avoided the problem, though they also benefit from the lack of tea party-style insurgency on their side. That could change if the 2016 Democratic presidential primary inflames deep ideological divisions within the party. But on the right, this industry appears only to be growing, according to conservatives who track it closely.

And this problem isn’t limited just to consultants who set up PACs to line their own pockets. Media Matters reports that right-wing outlets routinely tout—or rent their email lists to people touting—all manner of conspiracy theories and out-and-out frauds. Here’s an excerpt from Media Matters’ list:

Mike Huckabee sold out his fans to a quack doctor, conspiracy theorists, and financial fraudsters.
Subscribers to CNN analyst Newt Gingrich‘s email list have received supposed insider information about cancer “cures,” the Illuminati, “Obama’s ‘Secret Mistress,'” a “weird” Social Security “trick,” and Fort Knox being “empty.”
Five conservative outlets promoted a quack doc touting dubious Alzheimer’s disease cures.
Fox analyst Charles Payne was paid to push now worthless stocks.
Newsmax super PAC boondoggle.
Right-wing media helped “scam PACs” raise money from their readers.

…So here’s my question: why is this so much more common on the right than on the left? It would be nice to chalk it up to the superior intelligence of liberal audiences and call it a day, but that won’t wash. There’s just no evidence that liberals, in general, are either smarter or less susceptible to scams than conservatives.

One possibility is that a lot of this stuff is aimed at the elderly, and conservatives tend to skew older than liberals. And while that’s probably part of the answer, it’s hardly satisfying. There are plenty of elderly liberals, after all—certainly enough to make them worth targeting with the same kind of fraudulent appeals that infest the right.

Another possibility is that it’s basically a supply-side phenomenon. Maybe liberal outlets simply tend to be less ruthless, less willing to set up scam fundraising organizations than conservative outlets. In fact, that actually does seem to be the case. But again: why? Contrary to Vogel’s lead, this kind of thing has been a problem on the right for a long time. It definitely got worse when the tea party movement created a whole new pool of potential patsies, but it didn’t start in 2009. It’s been around for a while.

So then: why is this problem so much bigger on the right than on the left?…It’s got to be something institutional, or something inherent in the nature of American conservatism. But what?

Ken Vogel probably grew up in the age of solid-state communications – instead of vacuum tube-powered radios. He missed the generations of Americans who were told by radio preachers to “place your hands on the radio and feel the warmth of God reaching out to save you!”

Of course they were warm. You could burn yourself on those suckers if you reached inside the radio – or first couple generations of TV’s – and touched the tubes.

True Believers accept authority easier than any skeptic. While folks on the Left often get there because of skepticism learned from watching a corrupt establishment lie about damned near everything. The veneer of lies was more than evident in that classic Republican candidate debate when the moderator asked how many didn’t believe in evolution. A few – the preachers – threw their arms up right away. The rest dragged their arms up as they looked out at the audience of True Believers. They knew they had to join in or be rejected by the idjits.

And so it goes. Want to buy some underwear woven with copper wires to aid your virility?

Koch Bros biggest charity? The most backwards politicians in the country!

A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.

The massive financial goal was revealed to donors here Monday during an annual winter meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign…

The group — which is supported by hundreds of wealthy donors on the right, along with the Kochs — is still debating whether it will spend some of that money in the GOP primaries…GOP Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — along with Sen. Ted Cruz — discussed what they see as the economy’s weak spots at a forum Sunday night at the Freedom Partners conference.

Golly. Did they pretend to care about the weaknesses they refused to aid: crumbling infrastructure, mediocre education, low wages?

The three-day conference was held at a luxury resort perched on a rocky hillside near Palm Springs, Calif., with stunning views of the palm-tree-speckled desert floor below. The event drew 450 attendees, a record number, as well as the largest number of first-time contributors to the network…

Sens. Steve Daines, Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton, Thom Tillis, David Perdue and Cory Gardner were on hand to thank donors…

…Much of the weekend was spent looking ahead to 2016…

The network’s influence was underlined by the number of prospective 2016 contenders who flocked to Rancho Mirage to mingle with the deep-pocketed crowd. Scott Walker arrived Saturday from Iowa, after addressing conservative activists at a forum in Des Moines. That night, over an al fresco dinner of filet mignon, the Wisconsin governor thanked the Freedom Partners donors for their past support and touted his efforts to curb state spending.

Right. What conservative in his right mind would spend money on schoolteachers?

Started by Charles Koch in 2003 and originally hosted by Koch Industries, the twice-a-year donor seminars are now sponsored by Freedom Partners.

The network has evolved into a sophisticated political operation that mirrors those of the official parties. Along with its main political advocacy arm, Americans for Prosperity, the network finances groups such as Concerned Veterans for America, the Libre Initiative and Generation Opportunity. Last year, it added a super PAC to its arsenal, but most of the allied groups are nonprofits that do not disclose their donors.

Freedom, Republican-style. Stage-managed transparency, reporters banned from forums, about the only accurate reflection of American history were the organizational names crafted in the Madison Avenue tradition of hypocrisy and political correctness. After all, we were the first country to change the name of our War Department to the Department of Defense. While our government established over 750 military bases around the globe.

What might kill wind and solar power?

Stephen Chu at Sandia Labs

Questions to Stephen Chu, Nobel Prizewinner in Physics, former Secretary of Energy

During your time at the Department of Energy the deployment of renewable energy in the U.S. doubled. Is the fall in fossil-fuel prices killing the business case for renewables?

The decline in fossil-fuel prices does have some effect, but remember that 78 percent of the economies of the U.S. have state-mandated renewable portfolio standards. They require that a specified fraction of electricity must come from renewable energy. For example, in California the goal is 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Right now renewable electricity is roughly 13 percent of total electricity generated in the U.S. Half is hydropower and the other half is mostly wind energy, with some solar, biomass and geothermal. Renewable energy costs have come down significantly. Even if natural gas, which is the cheapest form of electricity generation today, stays at $4 per million Btus [British thermal units], wind without subsidy is almost as inexpensive.

Electrical generation in the sunnier parts of the U.S. is also approaching equality with a new natural gas power plant. The cost of wind and solar is anticipated to decline for at least a decade or two. Perhaps in a decade, renewables will be competitive with any new form of energy in many parts of the U.S.

What do you think is the biggest energy problem today?

It’s a combination of things. As renewable energy and electrical storage become less expensive, one has to design the grid system to take full advantage of lower-cost energy.

As renewable energy becomes an increasingly larger fraction of the total energy, the cost of standby electricity and storage becomes part of the cost of renewables. Sometimes the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine…

…We can’t really abandon fossil fuels before the first half of this century because they are needed for backup power. We need to invent a method to transform very inexpensive electricity into cost-competitive liquid hydrocarbon fuels that can be shipped by tanker and stored around the world. After that we can begin to wean ourselves from fossil and fission nuclear energy.

You’ve straddled politics and science. At times this doesn’t seem to work. What’s going wrong?

Sometimes you can have sets of well-informed people who will have different opinions on how to deal with X, Y or Z. That’s where politics should come in.

…It makes no sense to say, “Unless science can prove unequivocally that very bad things will happen, we can continue on our present course.”

Science cannot predict who will get lung cancer if they smoke. With a half a century of hindsight we now know that the risk is 25 times greater than for nonsmokers.

Prudent risk management does not use uncertainty as an excuse for inaction, and fire and health insurance make sense. We need leaders who are scientifically well-informed and willing act in the long-term best interests of their countries.

Whatever the sum of our nation’s ignorance plus stupidity, the fact remains over half of our political choice is in the hands of fools who reject science, realistic decision-making, anything other than short-term profits for the smallest ownership class of American capitalism. Even the Chamber of Commerce – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuels industries – doesn’t advocate the range of self-destructive, cloud cuckoo-land policies propping up the Republican Party and their obedient little brothers among Blue Dog Democrats.

Science and economy-based analysis of markets and needs offers no lang-range threat to diversified alternative energy production. The opposite is true. What threatens all of our society is the politics of ignorance coupled with the politics of stupid.

“It’s the politics, stupid”

Bailout?

In 2014, the world economy remained stuck in the same rut that it has been in since emerging from the 2008 global financial crisis. Despite seemingly strong government action in Europe and the United States, both economies suffered deep and prolonged downturns. The gap between where they are and where they most likely would have been had the crisis not erupted is huge…

In 1992, Bill Clinton based his successful campaign for the US presidency on a simple slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid.” From today’s perspective, things then do not seem so bad; the typical American household’s income is now lower. But we can take inspiration from Clinton’s effort. The malaise afflicting today’s global economy might be best reflected in two simple slogans: “It’s the politics, stupid” and “Demand, demand, demand.”

The near-global stagnation witnessed in 2014 is man-made. It is the result of politics and policies in several major economies – politics and policies that choked off demand. In the absence of demand, investment and jobs will fail to materialize. It is that simple…

Much of the growth deceleration in emerging and developing countries reflects China’s slowdown. China is now the world’s largest economy (in terms of purchasing power parity), and it has long been the main contributor to global growth. But China’s remarkable success has bred its own problems, which should be addressed sooner rather than later.

The Chinese economy’s shift from quantity to quality is welcome – almost necessary. And, though President Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption may cause economic growth to slow further, as paralysis grips public contracting, there is no reason for Xi to let up. On the contrary, other forces undermining trust in his government – widespread environmental problems, high and rising levels of inequality, and private-sector fraud – need to be addressed with equal vigor.

In short, the world should not expect China to shore up global aggregate demand in 2015. If anything, there will be an even bigger hole to fill…

The problem is that low interest rates will not motivate firms to invest if there is no demand for their products. Nor will low rates inspire individuals to borrow to consume if they are anxious about their future (which they should be). What monetary policy can do is create asset-price bubbles. It might even prop up the price of government bonds in Europe, thereby forestalling a sovereign-debt crisis. But it is important to be clear: the likelihood that loose monetary policies will restore global prosperity is nil.

This brings us back to politics and policies. Demand is what the world needs most. The private sector – even with the generous support of monetary authorities – will not supply it. But fiscal policy can. We have an ample choice of public investments that would yield high returns – far higher than the real cost of capital – and that would strengthen the balance sheets of the countries undertaking them.

The big problem facing the world in 2015 is not economic. We know how to escape our current malaise. The problem is our stupid politics.

You can see why Republicans blocked Joe Stiglitz from placement on a panel advising the SEC. They have spent every waking minute in Congress – apart from their War on Women – concentrating on pleasing Wall Street. When Stiglitz was told of his appointment being blocked, his response was “I think they may not have felt comfortable with somebody who was not in one way or another owned by the industry.” More politics of stupid by the Party of Stupid.

There hasn’t been an economist of note, conservative or liberal, who doesn’t identify the laggard rate of economic improvement as rooted in reactionary cowardice. Today’s Republican Party fits that definition as perfectly as any elitist club in the world.

U.S. Attorney nails NY State “3 men in a room” culture – with an indictment


Two of the “3 men in a room” — NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver

One day after charging one of New York’s leading lawmakers with exploiting his office to obtain millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York delivered a stinging condemnation of the culture of corruption in Albany and said the system was set up to breed misdeeds.

The prosecutor, Preet Bharara, speaking at the New York Law School on Friday, castigated how deal-making has long been done in Albany — by “three men in a room” (the governor, the State Assembly speaker and the State Senate majority leader), who work in secret and without accountability to decide most vital issues.

For decades, state government has essentially been controlled by the three leaders. When they emerge from their private meetings, issues are usually settled, with no cause for public debate.

Mr. Bharara said this structure could lead to the kind of corruption outlined in the criminal complaint unveiled on Thursday against Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has been the Assembly speaker for two decades.

If the charges are proved true, he said, then “at least one of the proverbial three men in a room is compromised.”

If that is the case, he said, “then how can we trust that anything that gets decided in Albany is on the level?”

By concentrating power in the hands of so few, he said, good people are discouraged from running for office because they know they will have little influence on important matters…

…Mr. Bharara compared the culture in Albany to Wall Street, where he has aggressively pursued insider trading prosecutions.

Rather than trying to work for a greater good, he said, many people focused on where the line is between legal and illegal, and then steered as close as possible to that border without crossing over.

Such a mentality, he said, is a recipe for trouble…

He urged voters to get angry, to demand change. “My hope is that in bringing the case,” he said, “there will be reform.”

“That almost happened with the Moreland Commission,” Mr. Bharara said, referring to the anticorruption panel established by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that was looking at lawmakers’ behavior when the governor shut it down…

And that governor, Andrew Cuomo was one of those “3 men in a room”. Which just may have provided his reason for shutting down the commission investigating New York State corruption.

I doubt he counted on Preet Bharara getting a court order requiring everything from the Moreland Commission to be turned over to the US Attorney — much less carrying the investigation through to the indictment of the man who has been State Assembly speaker for more than 20 years, Sheldon Silver.

A really big poll about Progressive Proposals

After 1,000,000 votes were cast in the Big Ideas Project, the Progressive Change Institute ran a national poll to see whether these ideas are popular with voters.

The short answer? Yes, they are!


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583 (38.9%) of those interviewed identified themselves as Democrats, 382 (25.5%) as Independents, and 507 (33.8%) as Republicans.

Voters were asked to rate proposals on a scale of zero to ten where zero means they strongly oppose the idea and ten means strong support for the idea and a desire to see it become law. Zero to four represents opposition for a proposal. Five is neutral. Six to ten is supportive.

I love that the reality of modern communications snuck in and 25% of interviews were conducted via cell phoned.

Military-Industrial welfare state: Pentagon says drone armada billion$ unjustified

Reaper

The Pentagon’s internal watchdog has questioned the air force’s need for 46 armed Reaper drones, and suggested the flying service is wasting $8.8 billion on superfluous aircraft.

As purchases of General Atomics’s MQ-9 Reaper ballooned from 60 aircraft in 2007 to the current 401, air force officials did not justify the need for an expanding drone fleet…

During that time, costs for purchasing one of the signature counter-terrorism weapons of Barack Obama’s presidency increased by 934%, from $1.1 billion to more than $11.4 billion, according to a declassified September report by the Pentagon inspector general. Purchasing costs are a fraction of what the drones cost to operate and maintain over their time in service: in 2012, the Pentagon estimated the total costs for them at $76.8 billion…

Responding to heavy demand for additional aerial intelligence from troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the former defense secretary Leon Panetta in 2011 ordered the air force to buy sufficient drones to perform 65 combat air patrols, missions that require up to four aircraft to observe a target for nearly 24 hours.

But the air force’s air combat command “did not conduct and maintain consistent, complete and verifiable analyses for determining the necessary MQ-9 procurement quantity”, the inspector general found. Combing through insufficient or incorrect air force analyses, Pentagon investigators found that the officials “could not provide the underlying support for aircraft quantity determinations” and sidestepped a bureaucratic process for determining needed capabilities…

Pentagon inspectors found that the air force’s inability to justify its continuing Reaper purchases risks wasting $2.5 billion for 13 mission-ready drones; $2.1 billion for 11 training drones; $958 million for five test drones; $766 million for four air national guard drones; and $1.7 billion for nine attrition-reserve drones.

The per-cost waste of the questionable drone purchases works out to roughly $192 million for each of the 46 Reapers the inspector general was unable to justify buying.

We all know what Congress’ response will be to this critical finding by the Inspector General. They – Republicans and Democrats alike – will double the purchase.

Keeping the military-industrial complex fat and happy is one of the primary requirements of holding federal elected office.

Republican “patriots” block US steel for Keystone XL pipeline


Stacks of steel pipe for Keystone XL Pipeline

Senate Republicans blocked two attempts to amend legislation forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would have required the project be built with domestically produced steel and that the oil be used in the U.S

Republicans made circumventing President Barack Obama’s review of the Keystone project their first major legislative effort since taking control of both the House and Senate this month. The Republican-backed bill the Senate is considering would let TransCanada Corp. (TRP) build the $8 billion pipeline.

The Republican-led Senate voted to table the no-export amendment offered by Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a 57-42 vote, effectively killing the measure.

Republicans also blocked consideration of an amendment to require the steel used to build the pipeline be produced in the U.S. Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said half of the materials would come from outside the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Republican half of the usual 2-party TweedleDee and TweedleDumb competition has already started – with GOP mouthpieces lying about their concern over mediocre wages for American workers, underemployment. All issues exacerbated by Republican policies for decades. Absurd.

Congressional supporters of the project don’t have enough votes to override a threatened Obama veto of the legislation to short-circuit the review.

Supporters say the project will create jobs and improve U.S. energy security. Critics say it’s a risk to the climate and a threat to farmland and water resources in the states the pipeline would cross.

The kindest provable estimate of permanent jobs running the pipeline comes from the State Department. 50 jobs.

Robert Shiller asks — What good are economists?

robert-shiller

Since the global financial crisis and recession of 2007-2009, criticism of the economics profession has intensified. The failure of all but a few professional economists to forecast the episode – the aftereffects of which still linger – has led many to question whether the economics profession contributes anything significant to society. If they were unable to foresee something so important to people’s wellbeing, what good are they?

Indeed, economists failed to forecast most of the major crises in the last century, including the severe 1920-21 slump, the 1980-82 back-to-back recessions, and the worst of them all, the Great Depression after the 1929 stock-market crash. In searching news archives for the year before the start of these recessions, I found virtually no warning from economists of a severe crisis ahead. Instead, newspapers emphasized the views of business executives or politicians, who tended to be very optimistic.

The closest thing to a real warning came before the 1980-82 downturn. In 1979, Federal Reserve Chair Paul A. Volcker told the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress that the United States faced “unpleasant economic circumstances,” and had a “need for hard decisions, for restraint, and even for sacrifice.” The likelihood that the Fed would have to take drastic steps to curb galloping inflation, together with the effects of the 1979 oil crisis, made a serious recession quite likely.

Nonetheless, whenever a crisis loomed in the last century, the broad consensus among economists was that it did not. As far as I can find, almost no one in the profession – not even luminaries like John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, or Irving Fisher – made public statements anticipating the Great Depression…

We do not blame physicians for failing to predict all of our illnesses. Our maladies are largely random, and even if our doctors cannot tell us which ones we will have in the next year, or eliminate all of our suffering when we have them, we are happy for the help that they can provide. Likewise, most economists devote their efforts to issues far removed from establishing a consensus outlook for the stock market or the unemployment rate. And we should be grateful that they do…

…The economics profession has produced an enormous amount of extremely valuable work, characterized by a serious effort to provide genuine evidence. Yes, most economists fail to predict financial crises – just as doctors fail to predict disease. But, like doctors, they have made life manifestly better for everyone.

I wonder if Robert Shiller will turn this wee essay into a work of research and exposition. He is damned good at both. But, then, that’s part of the how and why he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The whole article is available if you click the link up above.

Poisonally, I agree with him. He is, after all, a fine modern economist. He’s not supposed to be a civil engineer.

FBI sent MLK this letter to try to convince him to kill himself.

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech before huge crowds on the National Mall in August 1963, the FBI took notice.

“We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security,” FBI domestic intelligence chief William Sullivan wrote in a memo two days later. A massive surveillance operation on King was quickly approved, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover became increasingly fixated on proving that King had Communist ties, and discrediting him generally.

The surveillance failed to show that King was a Communist, but it did result in many tapes of extramarital sexual liaisons by King. So, the next year, Sullivan sent the following unsigned letter to King’s home. An unredacted version of it was only recently unearthed by Yale historian Beverly Gage, and published in the New York Times in November:


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RTFA for all the racist and reactionary crap involved in this FBI project. Understand one thing – one thing the nicely-nicely journalists who published this in the NY Times and at Vox.com online will not say.

The miserable lowlife pricks who think like this have infected our government since before we won our independence. They have occasionally been shut down. They never left. Preserving creeps like this, saving them to get their taxpayer-funded pension, is part of what Good Old Boys Clubs are for. They’ve learned not to be as public about their racism, they don’t even use code words like the smarmy bigots in the Tea Party.

But, they’re still here. They still get their chances at character assassination every time someone decides security is a higher priority than democracy and transparency.