August 2011


Good advice from Douthat:

Keller is absolutely right. The separation of church and state in the United States has never separated religion from politics, and the “private” beliefs of politicians have often had very public consequences. When candidates wear their religion on their sleeve, especially, the press has every right to ask how that faith relates to their political agenda.

But here are four points that journalists should always keep in mind when they ask and then write about religious beliefs that they themselves don’t share.

First, conservative Christianity is a large and complicated world, and like other such worlds — the realm of the secular intelligentsia very much included — it has various centers and various fringes, which overlap in complicated ways. Sometimes teasing out these connections tells us something meaningful and interesting. But it’s easy to succumb to a paranoid six-degrees-of-separation game, in which the most radical figure in a particular community is always the most important one, or the most extreme passage in a particular writer’s work always defines his real-world influence.

Second, journalists should avoid double standards. If you roll your eyes when conservatives trumpet Barack Obama’s links to Chicago socialists and academic radicals, you probably shouldn’t leap to the conclusion that Bachmann’s more outré law school influences prove she’s a budding Torquemada. If you didn’t spend the Jeremiah Wright controversy searching works of black liberation theology for inflammatory evidence of what Obama “really” believed, you probably shouldn’t obsess over the supposed links between Rick Perry and R. J. Rushdoony, the Christian Reconstructionist guru.

Third, journalists should resist the temptation to apply the language of conspiracy to groups and causes that they find unfamiliar or extreme. Republican politicians are often accused of using religious “code words” and “dog whistles,” for instance, when all they’re doing is employing the everyday language of an America that’s more biblically literate than the national press corps. Likewise, what often gets described as religious-right “infiltration” of government usually just amounts to conservative Christians’ using the normal mechanisms of democratic politics to oust politicians whom they disagree with, or to fight back against laws that they don’t like.

Finally, journalists should remember that Republican politicians have usually been far more adept at mobilizing their religious constituents than those constituents have been at claiming any sort of political “dominion.” George W. Bush rallied evangelical voters in 2004 with his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, and then dropped the gay marriage issue almost completely in his second term. Perry knows how to stroke the egos of Texas preachers, but he was listening to pharmaceutical lobbyists, not religious conservatives, when he signed an executive order mandating S.T.D. vaccinations for Texas teenagers.

This last point suggests the crucial error that the religious right’s liberal critics tend to make. They look at Christian conservatism and see a host of legitimately problematic tendencies: Manichaean rhetoric, grandiose ambitions, apocalyptic enthusiasms. But they don’t recognize these tendencies for what they often are: not signs of religious conservatism’s growing strength and looming triumph, but evidence of its persistent disappointments and defeats.

In what should be a repudiation of each Gubernatorial administration for twenty years, economists are publically calling into question the effectiveness of the primary industrial development strategy by Alabama Republicans and Democrats.  Their knee-jerk “jobs solution” is not getting much support from professional economists.

But many experts doubt whether tax cuts create jobs, particularly in a state that, by most measures, has the lowest tax burden in the nation.

“Taxes tend to be a relatively small component of the cost of doing business,” said David Brunori, a vice president at Tax Analysts, a Virginia-based nonprofit that provides tax news and analysis. “The real cost of doing business tends to be raw materials and labor. And that is really what drives business investment, assuming you have a market.” . . .

It’s not clear whether slashing taxes leads to paychecks. A 2010 paper prepared by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which studied state tax credits for investments in equipment and research and development, found a one-percent cut to corporate taxes would only increase Alabama’s economic output by a half-percentage point. A one-percent increase in investment tax credits for equipment would boost it three percent.

While GOP Bentley/Hubbard/Marsh/Canfield continue to preach the gospel of more-and-more tax-incentive packages, Democrats are equally to blame. As I wrote months ago, “These type of policies only create a race to the bottom. Another state will always be able to play the system and out-bid us through greater tax breaks, more immunity, less restrictions, more grants, and more corporate welfare. At what point do our policy-makers look out for the common good? Can they not see that we are being played.  At some point, we must stop begging to be abused, bullied, and exploited.”

All partisans are guilty of playing this game:

Bentley isn’t the first governor to tout tax packages for development; Gov. Bob Riley touted similar legislation during his eight years in office and supported Bentley’s 2010 bill. Govs. Jim Folsom Jr., Fob James and Don Siegelman all sold tax-break laden packages for big companies as job creators.

And Alabama is not alone in offering credits: Business Week reported in July 2009 that states gave out $50 billion in tax incentives to companies during the prior year in an attempt to fight the recession.

“I think what is driving that is the politics and the need to do something, and the need to look like you’re doing something,” Brunori said.

For all that, both Brunori and Burtless weren’t certain how much lower Alabama taxes could go. Neither bill establishes a limit on the state revenue that can be reduced under the credits, and no one is certain how much state revenue would be lost from credit claims.

I’m just kind of surprised Alabama has the tax resources to give up so many tax resources this way,” Burtless said. “That’s kind of an expensive program to do.”

“Doing something” sometimes is more damaging than not.  But our politicians cannot stop being extorted engaging in multi-state bidding wars .

Alabama Development Office director Greg Canfield argues that tax credits are a necessity in Alabama’s cutthroat competition with other states over business and jobs.

Tax credits are not the only tool employed by the state. Bentley last spring recommended a nearly $5 million, 20 percent increase in money for workforce development through the Industrial Training Institute. The Legislature ultimately approved a raise of $2.5 million.

When Alabama is in competition for new investment in the state, we are in competition with other states,” he said. “Other states have a toolbox of taxes they use every day against us.”

Who’s throat is being cut? The working people and small businesses of Alabama. These multi-state corporations lodged state governments against each other so that small-businesses and working families get stuck with the entire tax obligation to fund all the services of the State.  When the publicly financed “honeymoon” is over, there’s nothing to keep the business from flirting with other potential suitors and starting the cycle all over again. Listen to some of these accounts from these bidding wars:

  • PENNSYLVANIA: “The earliest example of this type of economic incentive was the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s offer of $86 million in incentives to build a Volkswagon factory in 1976. The factory was supposed to produce about 20,000 new jobs, but actually employed only 6,000 people before it shut down 10 years later.”
  • KENTUCKY: “The race to grab federal funding for an advanced battery manufacturing plant may get more expensive for Kentucky taxpayers. State officials are trying to find additional incentives to bolster their chances against Michigan in a cut-throat competition for $2 billion in federal stimulus dollars to help fund proposed lithium-ion battery plants. Kentucky pledged on Monday to invest about $200 million in a $600 million advanced car battery plant proposed for Hardin County by a non-profit consortium of more than 50 companies.”
  • GEORGIA: “State government incentives offered to lure technology company NCR to Georgia are worth at least $96 million, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis. That is $36 million more than the state estimated when the deal was announced last week. The $96 million tally does not include another part of the incentive package, a state grant.”

Why must we play this game. Can we not call a cease-fire? After all, do these incentive packages even work?

The Corporation for Economic Development found:

most economists and policy analysts agree that incentives are not good development policy. In using them to attract businesses, cities and states: (1) waste scarce public dollars without creating net new jobs in the vast majority of cases; (2) subsidize the shareholders of these companies for the economic actions they would have taken anyway; (3) foster unfair competition by helping some firms and industries and not others; and (4) divert the attention of policymakers from other issues that could lead to additional job creation and a better business climate.

As Federal Reserve economist Arthur Rolnick noted:

Unfettered competition among private businesses has generally proven to be a very successful economic system … And experience has shown that Smith was right. Those countries that have relied on a market-oriented economy have outperformed (based on virtually all measures of success) those countries that have relied on a central planning strategy.

But what is true of individuals acting in their own interest is not necessarily true of state governments acting on behalf of their local citizens. Competition among governments based on their general tax-and-spend policies leads to a better outcome for the overall economy. However, when that competition takes the form of preferential financial treatment for specific companies, the overall economy is made worse off. Such competition results in a misallocation of resources and, in particular, too few public goods.

I am not suggesting the State sit idly by. I agree with the argument by Elaine Krewer:

while I don’t mean to oversimplify the issue, I can’t help but wonder why some people who would consider it wasteful pork to spend, say, $100 million on a public works program would not bat an eye at the same amount being given to a private company in the name of job creation.

For starters, instead of giving into the extortion, a better strategy to promote economic growth may be encouraging local businesses rather than recruiting large outside firms. Alabama should employing its purchasing power to build a market for Alabama businesses (see here, here), meeting our local needs, locally (see here, here),  rebuilding wealth-producing assets in the working people (see here, here ), empowering community anchor institutions, developing local energy production, and developing resilience in our communities and food supply.

Food variety extinction exposes the US to great risk from natural phenomenon and human negligence, wantonness, or mal-intention. If the US has an existential national threat, it is our food insecurity from an overly centralized and highly concentrated food supply.

When you consider how much the American diet consists of corn products, the loss of one-third of the corn crop would be catastrophic. In addition to actual corn, for instance, most beef is derived from corn-fed cattle. Foods like ketchup, salad dressing, Coke, cookies and chips all contain corn, usually high fructose corn syrup. As discussed here:

“There are some 45,000 items in the average American supermarket, and more than a quarter of them contain corn,” Pollan reports. Indeed, corn and its array of byproducts have so successfully colonized the U.S. diet — and so dominate the diets of the animals consumed here — that Americans have ripped the title of “the corn people” from Mexico, where corn was originally domesticated and remains a staple. Because of corn’s rare carbon signature, Pollan writes, it’s possible to discern from flesh or hair samples how much corn contributes to the formation of human bodies. “When you look at the isotope ratios, [U.S. residents] are corn chips with legs,” a biologist tells him.

This unbalanced diet is dangerous enough; however, when you combine it with an utter lack of diversity in seed-variety, we face a precipitous calamity. Accordingly, a report from Popular Science should cause our legislators and policy-makers to take prompt action to change course.

Some consumers may have a problem with genetically modified food crops, but in at least one case described in an Iowa State University researcher’s paper there’s one customer that’s happy to consume Monsanto’s GM corn: rootworms, the very pest the corn is modified to thwart. According to the paper, western corn rootworms in at least four northeast Iowa corn fields have developed a resistance to the natural pesticide in corn seed produced by Monsanto, marking the first time a major Midwest pest has developed a resistance to GM crops.

That could spell all kinds of trouble for food crops, farmers, Monsanto, and pretty much everyone who isn’t a western corn rootworm.

Why should this be worrisome anymore than any other agricultural pests?

The seed was so successful that it’s estimated that roughly a third of U.S. corn now carries the gene. Which means one-third of U.S. corn could potentially be susceptible to rootworm again if the resistance that has reared its head in Iowa is indicative of a larger problem.

The good news is that the same rootworms that are resistant to Monsanto’s special sauce are susceptible to a competitor’s similar-but-different GM toxin. But if rootworms can develop a resistance to one strain of GM toxin, it stands to reason that–if farming practices remain unchanged–that it could eventually become resistant to others.

Imagine the impact on farmers, consumers, the economy, the poor and food prices if one-third of the corn crop was wiped out.

As I have argued before,  the preservation of our independence and national security rests in our ability to revitalize family farming and increase diversity within our agriculture. A monopoly by commercial agribusinesses, bio-genetic corporations and corporate farms endangers our food to accidental and intentional contamination.  With greater diversity and decentralization, exposure to root-worms or other dangers would be exponentially more limited, localized and capable of management.

Fed. Chairman Bernanke, Pres. Bush, and Sec. Paulsen, architects of the bailouts

According to reports:

The first-ever audit of the US Federal Reserve has revealed 16 trillion dollars in secret bank bailouts and has raised more questions about the quasi-private agency’s opaque operations.

“This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else,” US Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said in a statement.

The majority of loans were issues by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY).

“From late 2007 through mid-2010, Reserve Banks provided more than a trillion dollars … in emergency loans to the financial sector to address strains in credit markets and to avert failures of individual institutions believed to be a threat to the stability of the financial system,” the audit report states.

“The scale and nature of this assistance amounted to an unprecedented expansion of the Federal Reserve System’s traditional role as lender-of-last-resort to depository institutions,” according to the report.

$16 trillion? $16 trillion!?! And that is over and above the trillions in other TARP monies.

Crony Corporatism and picking winners? Check!

Some of the financial institutions secretly receiving loans were meanwhile claiming in their public reports to have ample cash reserves, Bloomberg noted.

The Federal Reserve has neither explained how they legally justified several of the emergency loans, nor how they decided to provide assistance to certain firms but not others.

The main problem is the lack of Congressional oversight, and the way the Fed seemed to pick winners who would be protected at any cost,” Randall Wray, professor of economics at University of Missouri-Kansas City, told IPS.

“If such lending is not illegal, it should be. Our nation really did go through a liquidity crisis – a run on the short-term liabilities of financial institutions. There is only one way to stop a run: lend reserves without limit to all qualifying institutions. The Fed bumbled around before it finally sort of did that,” Wray said.

“But then it turned to phase two, which was to try to resolve problems of insolvency by increasing Uncle Sam’s stake in the banksters’ fiasco. That never should have been done. You close down fraudsters, period. The Fed and FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Commission) should have gone into the biggest banks immediately, replaced all top management, and should have started to resolve them,” Wray said.

Congressional oversight? Does anyone think Congress would have done anything differently if they had more oversight? They would have rubber-stamped these loans as well. Remember the logic of Congressmen like Mike Rogers from Alabama:

Now, over and above the other insane spending, corporate welfare, and tax-cuts, Mike Rogers voted for the most radical initiative of my lifetime: a trillion-dollar Wall Street bailout. A week before this, no one ever mentioned such, but Congress approved the bill a week after its proposal. He tacitly approved the buyout of Bear Stearns in March ($29 billion),  nationalization of an insurance conglomerate, AIG ($85 billion), and repossession of Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae ($200 billion).

The Congressman defends that “the Great Depression was the hard lesson of inaction.” On the contrary, following the excesses of the Roaring 20′s, then-president Hoover engaged in an aggressive “intervention” of artificial prices, credit expansion, propping up of weak firms, and increased governmental spending. Rogers’ and Hoover’s policies and rhetoric are eerily similar. Hoover said “we might have done nothing. . . .Instead we . . .put into action. . . the most gigantic program of economic defense and counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic . . .” Hoover’s actions, not inaction, caused a necessary correction to spiral the economy into the Great Depression.  Congressman Rogers should reconsider the lessons learned from Herbert Hoover.

Conflicts of Interest and self-dealing? Check!

The GAO also found existing Federal Reserve policies do not prevent significant conflicts of interest. For example, “the FRBNY’s existing restrictions on its employees’ financial interests did not specifically prohibit investments in certain non-bank institutions that received emergency assistance,” the report stated.

The GAO report noted on Sep. 19, 2008, William Dudley, who is now the President of the FRBNY, was granted a waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric, while at the same time the Federal Reserve granted bailout funds to the same two companies.

And we question why we have a zombie economy today. As I wrote in 2008:

Congress deformed not just authentic prosperity in the near future but for the next fifty years. The market will be plagued with higher unemployment, rising costs of goods: long-term stagflation.In addition, Congress has directed us toward domination by a few huge universal banks and a small number of gigantic corporations, all of them “too big to fail,” under the careful tutelage of a governmental Leviathon dominated by these same cartels.

Does Congress not recognize this vote penalizes prudence, care and thrift and encourages further greed, seduction, waste, and ruin by the palaces of crony capitalism? Or does it agree with John Maynard Keynes, the father of this type economics, when he stated: “in the long run, we are all dead.”

While intentions to protect Main Street are good, Congress has failed to be the defender for the little people: small businesses, family farms, and local communities. Instead it has only transferred wealth from low- and middle-classes to pockets of those who know how to work the system: corporate fat-cats, Wall Street executives , and D.C. bureaucrats.

Rick Perry has soared past Romney and Bachmann in the past few weeks in polls. It was inevitable that the Perry and Reomney would begin lobbing political grenades at each other. Each have “huge” problems with the Tea Party wing of the GOP electorate.

Will Romney’s “ObamneyCare” prove fatal?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry chastised Mitt Romney’s health care plan Thursday, but said he believes the former governor of Massachusetts is beginning to see the light.

“I think Mitt is finally recognizing that the Massachusetts health care plan that he passed is a huge problem for him,” he told conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham in an interview.

And the 2012 GOP contender attempted to lump Romney in with health care reform passed last year by a Democratic-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Obama, a potentially toxic tie-in for conservative voters.

“I think Obamacare, which was modeled after the Massachusetts plan, was an absolute debacle.” Perry said, in an ongoing effort to topple Romney’s GOP frontrunner status.

Will “DREAMer” Gov. Rick Perry’s “open-borders” record be more toxic than healthcare?

The Romney campaign also plans to use immigration to drive a wedge between Perry and his conservative base, by highlighting Perry’s opposition to a border fence and legislation he signed in 2001 allowing the children of illegal immigrants to attend Texas colleges and universities at in-state tuition. Without mentioning Perry by name, Romney pointed out at a town hall here in Dover that he vetoed similar legislation as governor of Massachusetts, declaring, “If you say, guess what, if you come here illegally, your kids will get [in-state tuition], that draws more people here illegally.” Romney strategists believe the immigration issue will be devastating for Perry with Tea Party Republicans across the country — and especially in important primary states like Arizona.

I expect Romney to be the victor of this battle.  If Romney wins, perhaps Riley still has a chance to get that VP nod. Yipee! (BTW, Did you notice that Mike Rogers and Kay Ivey, staunch Rileyites, are the co-chairs of the Alabama for Romney campaign; the Riley camp seems to be rejecting Perry, the other southern governor.)

It appears that while the Anti-Immigration Bill was the center-piece of the GOP’s agenda in 2011, cracking down on poor, welfare-recipients will highlight the next session. As Mike “Machiavelli” Hubbard plans:

One bill being considered in the upcoming session requires drug tests for welfare recipients.

“Steve (McMillan, R-Gulf Shores) and I will be called everything in the book,” Hubbard said. “We’ll be called Nazis. There’s no telling what they’ll call us, but why should you take your hard-earned money and send it to Montgomery for us to distribute out to someone who doesn’t work and it’s easier for them to get a paycheck than to work and they go out and buy drugs with it?”

Like HB56 copied injected crack into the Arizona Anti-Immigration Bill, this drug-screening the poor is another copycat legislation from Florida.

I found this bit of off-scene political theater intriguing:

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, introduced a similar bill in the Alabama Legislature shortly before the end of its spring session on June 9. It was too late in the session for the bill to go anywhere. Beason said it’s uncertain if he will sponsor the bill in the 2012 session or someone else will do it, but he expects it to be an issue that will draw attention.

Beason can make sure that happens because he serves as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which recommends which bills the Senate considers each day.

“I’m sure a number of liberal groups will cry foul, but it makes common sense,” he said.

What would make Scott Beason not want the limelight here? Has Scott Beason become too politically toxic to sponsor GOP-centerpiece legislation. Last term, he actually had his name affixed to the Alabama Anti-Immigration Bill. (I have yet to find another piece of legislation with a legislator’s name on it from 2011) Now, he may not even sponsor what will certainly be the GOP’s main talking point? Has he he lost “majority-of-one” status?

From the Discovery News article: Peruvian Desert once a Breadbasket:

Throughout human history unsustainable agricultural practices have turned fragile ecosystems into wastelands and left people starving. During the Dust Bowl, American farmers learned the consequences of removing the deep rooted grasses from the Great Plains when the soil blew away in tremendous dust storms. Icelandic shepherds learned that the sheep rearing practices their ancestors used on the European mainland destroyed the thin soils of their island and left them with starving herds and little to eat.

The ancient inhabitants of what is now Peru also learned the unhappy consequences of farming in a delicate ecosystem. The Ica Valley, near the coast of southern Peru and the famous Nazca lines, is now a barren desert, but was once a fertile floodplain, anchored by the roots of the huarango tree.

People were able to raise a variety of crops there for several centuries. But intensive agriculture in pre-conquest times led to ecosystem collapse. The history of the land was recently reconstructed by bioarcheologist David Beresford-Jones of the University of Cambridge by looking at plant remains left in ancient garbage heaps.

Beresford-Jones and a team of archeologists studied plant remains associated with settlement sites spanning roughly 750 B.C. to 1000 A.D. They observed the change as the valley inhabitants went from eating mostly gathered foods, to a period of intense agriculture, then back again to surviving on what they could eke out of nature’s diminished bounty.

The farmers inadvertently crossed an ecological threshold and the changes became irreversible,” says Dr. David Beresford-Jones of the University of Cambridge.

. . .In less than two thousand years, the people went full circle and ended up eating what their ancestors had, but without the huarango forests. To this day, the land is barren, with only the ghostly outlines of irrigation canals to suggest that the land once supported an agrarian society.

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