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Sunday, February 28, 2010

CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY

I saw a very interesting program tonight on CBS called Undercover Boss. The premise is that each week a business owner goes and works unannounced for a time with his labor force to examine how his or her employees are doing and to learn about and hopefully improve the operations of the company. This week's employer was the White Castle 400 plus store hamburger chain's CEO, David Rife (shown above, at left, while undercover).

Those of you not familiar with the White Castle chain probably live in the western or upper northeastern parts of the country. For, with the exception of a store near Sacramento, CA, and two near Los Angeles, White Castle restaurants are found almost exclusively in the midwest, middle south, and east. They do sell their hamburgers frozen in numerous supermarkets all across the country. The White Castle hamburger, nicknamed "slyder", is unique in its category. First, it is very small, measuring about 3 to 3 1/2 inches square when fully cooked, and very, very thin. It is steam-grilled rather than fried, comes with tiny onion bits and a pickle on top, and kind of melts into its bun casing, giving it an unusual texture and surprisingly good flavor. A single burger as of this writing and location, is priced at 64 cents. The chain also features french fries, onion rings or battered onion chips, a tiny cod fish sandwich, and various other unique items like battered chicken rings, battered whiefish "nibblers", mozzarella sticks, and battered clam strips (in season). Their batter is uncommonly good. White Castle also features the usual array of soft drinks, milk, and coffee, plus breakfast items, too.

Like most fast food operations, the pay for workers tends to be very low, and it is not unusual to find the work staff at each location made up of a mix of young, old, and minorities. But unlike most fast food corporations, White Castle is a privately, rather than publicly, held corporation that is family-owned, as it has been since its founding in Wichita, KS, back in 1921.

Maybe because of this, fourth-generation CEO David Rife decided to think outside the bun and go undercover to get an honest feel of how his employees do their jobs and what they go through in the process. In collusion with CBS, he portrayed himself as a laid-off equipment worker who came to White Castle for a change and to do something new. His undercover study took him to several of his stores, working both day and night shifts, in all capacities from grilling to prepping to drive-up window, and also to his company-owned bakery as well as their packing plant where they package product for supermarket sales across the country. In the process, he got a firsthand experience as to the difficulties and frustrations of each job, as well as a deep glimpse into the personal issues facing his coworker/employees.


This is in no sense an endorsement of White Castle, its products, or its business structure or practices. But I credit Mr. Rife for getting out and actually experiencing what the people who work for him and make his fortune possible truly go through in their service to him. He now knows the importance of their labor. Now, in reality, Mr. Rife may be a real son of a bitch to work for, and we already know from the wages he pays that he must throw quarters around like they were manhole covers. Someone may very well comment what deplorable working conditions the company had for them, or that Rife is a total phony and pulled this off as a PR gimmick to boost sales. I don't know. But he, unlike the overwhelming majority of corporate CEOs, actually went out, got into the nitty gritty, and got his hands dirty along with his workers. He now knows and understands them far better than he did previously. I am not naive enough to believe he will now turn around and hike all of their wages. But I do believe he will now appreciate the true value of those employees, and will understand more fully how the decisions he makes, miles and layers away from them in his boardroom, impact them. Instead of being a typical dead-ass corporate CEO, counting his profits and never giving a thought to the well-being or feelings of his employees, taking them for granted each and every day, he made a sincere attempt at exercising CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY. And that will be good for all.


This working among the workers activity Mr. Rife undertook should be a required undertaking for every single corporate CEO in the world! Perhaps then we would see more productive CEOs, (truly earning their outrageously high paychecks) able to make informed and intelligent decisions regarding their labor force and business policies!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SNIPPETS

It was revealed earlier this week that war criminal and former Vice President DICK Cheney had suffered his fifth heart attack. Stress being a major contributor to heart attacks, I am not surprised that Cheney has had another one. One can only imagine the stress this man must be under every waking moment. After all, he and his cohort George W. Bush are indirectly responsible for the 3,000 deaths which occurred on 9/11, having been briefed on August 6, 2001, that Osama Bin Laden was planning some type of attack involving airplanes on our soil, and both having done nothing about this warning. And imagine the paranoia which has raised his blood pressure and terrorized him each day since! Consider, too, the stress and pangs of suppressed guilt that must be shooting through Cheney's veins knowing that he lied to get us into an unnecessary Iraq war which has now cost the lives of 4,000 of our soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. The aggravation he has undergone recently with a captured would-be underwear bomber singing like a canary with mounds of actionable intelligence as a result of normal interrogation methods rather than Cheney's preferred and now wholly discredited torture methods must be extreme, too. But the coup de grace in terms of stress must have happened when he heard former colleagues Colin Powell and Gen. David Petraeus shoot down his flimsy lie that President Obama is endangering the country by mishandling our "war on terror." Cheney's heart attack was described as "mild." But we all know once it finally dawns on him how badly he misjudged and misran our battle against Islamic fundamentalist extremism, how seriously his torture program damaged our Constitution and world standing, and how much innocent blood is really on his hands, Cheney's entire circulatory system will explode.



It will be interesting to see how congressional Republicans will conduct themselves in front of the C-SPAN cameras when they meet to discuss health care reform with President Obama tomorrow. Why? Because they don't want reform at all. They want to stall and eventually kill this legislation. Both that snide and mouthy House Minority "Leader" John Boehner and Senate Minority "Leader" Mitch McConnell are in no mood to compromise, and they instead want to rip up the existing, already-passed bills and start all over.But all they really want to do is attempt to weaken President Obama, the man they hate more than anything. First they're for transparency, then they're against having cameras present. First they're all for health care reform, then they're against it. These disgraceful saps, along with their conservative Republican buddies like Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, Pete Hoekstra, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, Richard Shelby, and all the rest of them, are attempting to stonewall our government to a grinding halt, simply to make the President look weak and ineffective so as to defeat him in two years. They have held up numerous judicial appointments without good reason; 290 bills await action but are languishing in an unneeded procedural-delay limbo, and they lie about and distort everything the President says or does. They hate government involvement in anything, so they are trying to strangle it to death for their own political advantage. In the process, these self-proclaimed "fiscal conservatives" are wasting everybody's time and millions of taxpayer dollars. Here's an idea: if these Republicans are truly against government waste, why don't they all just resign en masse and get the hell out? For if ever there was a perfect example of exorbitant government waste, it is surely today's totally unproductive congressional Republican caucus!

I saw CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the tube this morning, explaining why hospital costs are so out rageously high. We all know the score here:$25 packets of Kleenex, $800 biopsy needles, etc. Well, Dr. Gupta said something I found to be utterly unbelievable: that hospitals only get 4% of the amount they actually invoice for a product or service! His claim was that insurance companies and government negotiate away the rest and pay only about 4% of the amount invoiced. I found this figure to be rather suspicious, and I would love for any of you out there who may know the truth to lay it on me. Assuming for a moment that it IS true, then hospitals, just like doctors and technicians, are NOT the ones responsible for our ungodly high health care costs! Nope---sure, medical malpractice suits enter into the equation, but so do medical equipment manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and - yep, you guessed it - INSURANCE COMPANIES! So, once again, they can point all the fingers they want, but insurance company greed is STILL one of the most major causes of our unnecessarily high health care costs!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CPAC: CONSERVATIVE, PARANOID, AND CRAZY!

CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conferencee,or, more accurately, Conservative, Paranoid, And Crazy), just wound up its annual meeting of 10,000 deluded loud fanatics, egged on as usual by the most ignorant, pasranoid, dishonest, hateful, and intolerant members of today's far-right Republican Party. There was the usual bevy of mean-spirited speakers: Dick Cheney, the man who lied and manipulated us into war in Iraq for the benefit of his company Halliburton, smirking and smugly declaring Barack Obama to be a one-term President (to thunderous applause); his spiteful daughter Liz peddling her lies about Obama being soft on terrorism; the mindless and opportunistic Sarah Palin sucking up to fanatical teabaggers and urging them to support Republican candidates this fall; the obstructionist Jim DeMint, insanely insisting that "free markets and deregulation did not wreck our economy." And then there was master conspiracy theorist and dishonest Fox "News" commentator Glenn Beck, spinning his nonsense about "progressivism is a cancer in America" and that America is being gobbled up by socialism.

Michele Bachmann didn't disappoint, either, with her fictional lie about Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt "turning a manageable recession into the Great Depression," and obscure and unexplained references to "Obama's thought police and Obama's speech police." The insane invective this woman spews forth never ceases to amaze me. She loves to parade and portray herself as a solid, God-fearing Christian, yet she constantly comes up with irresponsible, distorted, and wildly exaggerated lies for her political rhetoric. What kind of utter nonsense did they teach you down there at Oral Roberts University, Bachmann? Or were you asleep, or daydreamingly gazing out the window the entire time your professors of history, economics, political science, and theology spoke? SPARE US, O CRAZY
WOMAN!

Numerous speakers, including House Minority "Leader" John Boehner, actively reached out to angry teabaggers in attendance, promising things will be different if only they will elect a Republican Congress this fall. But, of course, such claims are patent absurdity, as are the very foundation of arguments CPAC is based on.

For Republicans HATE government. Unless, of course, it is they who are in control of it. They constantly talk about reducing its size, but they never do. The federal government GREW in size under Presidents Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, all of whom proclaimed themselves to be bedrock conservatives. And Republicans only hate government when it attempts to regulate greedy big business interests or protect average citizens from corporate excesses. Their naive belief in free markets magically correcting themselves and turning a blind eye to the very real threat Wall Street and huge corporations pose to average, everyday, working and poor Americans who make up the overwhelming majority of our population is unforgivable. So, once in office, Republicans allow these business interests to further erode workers' standards of living, as well as reward them with huge tax breaks and subsidies - even lucrative, non-bid government contracts.And, as we have seen, the conservative Republicans now act as saboteurs, never shying away from an opportunity to stonewall or derail some woefully-needed pro-people initiatives like health care reform, economic stimulus, or environmental protection. All of which requires major investment by the federal government.

The teabagger and conservative Republican premise is a severely flawed one. To really get this country going again, what is needed is NOT "less" or "smaller" government, but a MORE EFFICIENT one. There is far too much duplicity and lack of inter-departmental cooperation to meet our needs. What is needed is NOT lower taxes, but FAIRER taxes. Our wealthiest elite pay far, FAR less in taxes than do those of comparable wealth in all other countries. Yet we have MUCH greater poverty than is found in other developed countries, and this is unjust and wholly unnecessary. What is needed is an INCREASE in top-scale income taxes and a REDUCTION in taxes for lower and middle incomes. Huge tax breaks for the wealthy have NOT resulted in largescale investment or the creation of millions of higher-paying jobs here, as had originally been promised. Instead, these tax breaks for the wealthy have only resulted in a lazy, unproductive, and speculative upper class of useless elites. Our country needs and deserves better than that! What is needed is NOT a belligerent and aggressive foreign policy which results in unnecessary and costly wars for plunder and profit, but diplomacy and interaction. In this country, government is NOT an oppressive or dictatorial force, nor will it ever be. It is THE PEOPLE, working together to solve problems and pool resources for the common good rather than greedily channeling every endeavor into something producing self-serving profit. To hate government, then, is to hate the people, and the very country itself. Such a premise is self-destructive and unhealthy, and benefits no one.


Teabaggers and conservative Republicans alike love to point fingers of blame for our nation's problems, but they never offer any pragmatic policy ideas or real solutions. Their aim is to bring the current government down so they can sweep into power and magically cure all our many ills. But this is not civilized governance. Rather, it is treasonous, self-centered subversion. As such, until teabaggers and conservative Republicans become part of a real solution, THEY THEMSELVES are the problem!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

OUR ECONOMIC SERFDOM

I thank my friend Paul Bolin for having turned me on to this brilliant piece which originally appeared at www.counterpunch.org. It is hard to believe, but this writer once served in the REAGAN White House. It is reassuring to have conservatives see the error of their ways...

I have taken the liberty of putting what I believe to be key phrases in the article below in bold.



RULE BY OLIGARCHS
A COUNTRY OF SERFS

By Paul Craig Roberts

The media has headlined good economic news: fourth quarter GDP growth of 5.7 percent ("the recession is over"), Jan. retail sales up, productivity up in 4th quarter, the dollar is gaining strength. Is any of it true? What does it mean?

The 5.7 percent growth figure is a guesstimate made in advance of the release of the U.S. trade deficit statistic. It assumed that the U.S. trade deficit would show an improvement. When the trade deficit was released a few days later, it showed a deterioration, knocking the 5.7 percent growth figure down to 4.6 percent. Much of the remaining GDP growth consists of inventory accumulation.

More than a fourth of the reported gain in Jan. retail sales is due to higher gasoline and food prices. Questionable seasonal adjustments account for the rest.

Productivity was up, because labor costs fell 4.4 percent in the fourth quarter, the fourth successive decline. Initial claims for jobless benefits rose. Productivity increases that do not translate into wage gains cannot drive the consumer economy.

Housing is still under pressure, and commercial real estate is about to become a big problem.

The dollar’s gains are not due to inherent strengths. The dollar is gaining because government deficits in Greece and other EU countries are causing the dollar carry trade to unwind. America’s low interest rates made it profitable for investors and speculators to borrow dollars and use them to buy overseas bonds paying higher interest, such as Greek, Spanish and Portuguese bonds denominated in euros. The deficit troubles in these countries have caused investors and speculators to sell the bonds and convert the euros back into dollars in order to pay off their dollar loans. This unwinding temporarily raises the demand for dollars and boosts the dollar’s exchange value.

The problems of the American economy are too great to be reached by traditional policies. Large numbers of middle class American jobs have been moved offshore: manufacturing, industrial and professional service jobs. When the jobs are moved offshore, consumer incomes and U.S. GDP go with them. So many jobs have been moved abroad that there has been no growth in U.S. real incomes in the 21st century, except for the incomes of the super rich who collect multi-million dollar bonuses for moving U.S. jobs offshore.

Without growth in consumer incomes, the economy can go nowhere. Washington policymakers substituted debt growth for income growth. Instead of growing richer, consumers grew more indebted. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan accomplished this with his low interest rate policy, which drove up housing prices, producing home equity that consumers could tap and spend by refinancing their homes.

Unable to maintain their accustomed living standards with income alone, Americans spent their equity in their homes and ran up credit card debts, maxing out credit cards in anticipation that rising asset prices would cover the debts. When the bubble burst, the debts strangled consumer demand, and the economy died.

As I write about the economic hardships created for Americans by Wall Street and corporate greed and by indifferent and bribed political representatives, I get many letters from former middle class families who are being driven into penury. Here is one recently arrived:

"Thank you for your continued truthful commentary on the 'New Economy.' My husband and I could be it's poster children. Nine years ago when we married, we were both working good paying, secure jobs in the semiconductor manufacturing sector. Our combined income topped $100,000 a year. We were living the dream. Then the nightmare began. I lost my job in the great tech bubble of 2003, and decided to leave the labor force to care for our infant son. Fine, we tightened the belt. Then we started getting squeezed. Expenses rose, we downsized, yet my husband's job stagnated. After several years of no pay raises, he finally lost his job a year and a half ago. But he didn't just lose a job, he lost a career. The semiconductor industry is virtually gone here in Arizona. Three months later, my husband, with a technical degree and 20-plus years of solid work experience, received one job offer for an entry level corrections officer. He had to take it, at an almost 40 percent reduction in pay. Bankruptcy followed when our savings were depleted. We lost our house, a car, and any assets we had left. His salary last year, less than $40,000, to support a family of four. A year and a half later, we are still struggling to get by. I can't find a job that would cover the cost of daycare. We are stuck. Every jump in gas and food prices hits us hard. Without help from my family, we wouldn't have made it. So, I could tell you just how that 'New Economy' has worked for us, but I'd really rather not use that kind of language."

Policymakers who are banking on stimulus programs are thinking in terms of an economy that no longer exists. Post-war U.S. recessions and recoveries followed Federal Reserve policy. When the economy heated up and inflation became a problem, the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates and reduce the growth of money and credit. Sales would fall. Inventories would build up. Companies would lay off workers.

Inflation cooled, and unemployment became the problem. Then the Federal Reserve would reverse course. Interest rates would fall, and money and credit would expand. As the jobs were still there, the work force would be called back, and the process would continue.

It is a different situation today. Layoffs result from the jobs being moved offshore and from corporations replacing their domestic work forces with foreigners brought in on H-1B, L-1 and other work visas. The U.S. labor force is being separated from the incomes associated with the goods and services that it consumes. With the rise of offshoring, layoffs are not only due to restrictive monetary policy and inventory buildup. They are also the result of the substitution of cheaper foreign labor for U.S. labor by American corporations. Americans cannot be called back to work to jobs that have been moved abroad. In the New Economy, layoffs can continue despite low interest rates and government stimulus programs.

To the extent that monetary and fiscal policy can stimulate U.S. consumer demand, much of the demand flows to the goods and services that are produced offshore for U.S. markets. China, for example, benefits from the stimulation of U.S. consumer demand. The rise in China’s GDP is financed by a rise in the U.S. public debt burden.

Another barrier to the success of stimulus programs is the high debt levels of Americans. The banks are being criticized for a failure to lend, but much of the problem is that there are no consumers to whom to lend. Most Americans already have more debt than they can handle.

Hapless Americans, unrepresented and betrayed, are in store for a greater crisis to come. President Bush’s war deficits were financed by America’s trade deficit. China, Japan, and OPEC, with whom the U.S. runs trade deficits, used their trade surpluses to purchase U.S. Treasury debt, thus financing the U.S. government budget deficit.

The problem now is that the U.S. budget deficits have suddenly grown immensely from wars, bankster bailouts, jobs stimulus programs, and lower tax revenues as a result of the serious recession. Budget deficits are now three times the size of the trade deficit. Thus, the surpluses of China, Japan, and OPEC are insufficient to take the newly issued U.S. government debt off the market.

If the Treasury’s bonds can’t be sold to investors, pension funds, banks, and foreign governments, the Federal Reserve will have to purchase them by creating new money. When the rest of the world realizes the inflationary implications, the US dollar will lose its reserve currency role. When that happens Americans will experience a large economic shock as their living standards take another big hit.

America is on its way to becoming a country of serfs ruled by oligarchs.



Paul Craig Roberts was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com
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Now that's what I call thorough and factual relevant analysis! It would certainly seem that the time to end our overseas military misadventures, and begin to tax our wealthy the way the rest of the world taxes their wealthy (instead of rewarding them for doing nothing like Bush has done) is now in order, moreso than ever!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ADDENDUM ON: PAWLENTY FOR PRESIDENT? A 2012 PRIMER

At the very bottom below, in bold italic, is an addendum from today on the post immediately below which I made last Sunday, February 14. Politicians should never be taken by what they say, but only by what they do. Wait until you read what Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has now done to the people of Minnesota...

I've warned you about this guy before, Republican Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and now I'm warning you again. He is sneakily but continually maneuvering himself behind the scenes to obtain the Republican nomination for President in 2012. Like most Republicans, the guy is short-sighted and wholly self-serving. He is also as deceitful as Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, albeit smoother and less confrontational. But he is arrogant, sneaky, and untrustworthy, and a political chameleon as well. At various times of his choosing, he has portrayed himself as a moderate as well as a conservative. He molds himself to fit his needs of the moment. You'll be seeing a lot more of this guy over the next couple of years as he'll try to sneak his way into the White House. But believe me, my friends: you will NOT want him in the White House!

Below is a descriptive piece on Pawlenty which just appeared in the OpEd section of today's Minneapolis Star Tribune by staff writer Nick Coleman. It sums up the devious and medicre Tim Pawlenty rather well. (Just so you understand some of the localspeak: "DFL" refers to the Democratic Farmer Laborer Party, Minnesota's version of the Democratic Party).


Nick Coleman: The state of the state? A stepping stone
Pawlenty flirts with far-right fringe as he tilts toward the Oval Office.
By NICK COLEMAN, Star Tribune

Last update: February 13, 2010 - 5:31 PM
Featured comment


In his eighth and final State of the State address, Tim Pawlenty said he hopes not to put us through one of those endless and agonizing Minnesota "long goodbyes."

No need to worry, governor. We thought you were already long gone.

Pawlenty's State of the State address had an absent-minded and lackluster tone, which is understandable since it wasn't the most important speech he will give this month. Pawlenty, who spends more time on the road than Danica Patrick, has far more riding on a speech he will deliver this week to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. In that hotbed of right-wing activists Pawlenty will try to gain traction for his tilt at the White House windmill by appealing to folks who get passionate about the gold standard and government attempts to crack down on garlic supplements.

I'm not kidding: The John Birch Society, one of many fringe groups that will have a presence at CPAC, may be known for its pro-gun, anti-immigration efforts, but these days the Birchers are ticked off about a "freedom-destroying" effort in Congress to regulate the sale and use of untested health supplements. Saw palmetto tablet, anyone? The bill's author is that liberal kook John McCain, whom Pawlenty followed like a puppy in 2008 in the hopes of getting a vice-presidential rub on his head.

Two years later, Pawlenty has traveled far to the right of his erstwhile role model, and hopes to draw the spotlight at a conference where he will have to compete with deep thinkers Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Minnesota's own Michele Bachmann.

It won't be Pawlenty's first visit to CPAC. He delivered a coming-out speech last year, giving a humble-pie, aw-shucks, G-droppin' "I'm a bedrock guy from the Heartland" summary of the Conservative Catechism: "It all starts with acknowledging that God is our Creator and it is from God that we receive our values and our principles."

But Pawlenty's White House ambitions started earlier than most Minnesotans know, and coincided with his early disenchantment with being governor, a job that has become increasingly difficult as DFLers expanded their control of the Legislature while, at the same time, Pawlenty abandoned bipartisanship in favor of getting himself on the national radar.

David Schultz, law professor and political observer from Hamline University, recalls Pawlenty's out-of-the-blue demand in 2003 -- late in the first year of his first term -- that Minnesota revive its ancient death penalty after the murder of Dru Sjodin by a sex offender his administration had released. It was the start of Pawlentyism: Talk big and carry a small stick by proposing laws that have no chance of approval in Minnesota but will get you a guest shot on Sean Hannity. "He was looking for an agenda for himself, not for the state," Schultz says. "He throws out this extreme conservative stuff -- Bible-banging, anti-tax, anti-government conservative -- and takes a stand to try to get to the right of other Republican candidates."

It may be working for him. It hasn't worked for Minnesota.

"There is no (presidential) candidacy for Pawlenty if he doesn't move hard right," says Larry Jacobs, head of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. The activists who control the process in both parties are far more extreme than the public at large, Jacobs says. "The governor has become more conservative than any previous governor," says Jacobs. "And more effective than any previous Republican politician in rising onto the short list for his party's nomination."

The Republican governor who most compares with Pawlenty in terms of the national attention he received was Harold Stassen (another lawyer from South St. Paul), who was elected governor during the Depression, resigned to help fight World War II and helped establish the United Nations. That's where the comparison ends: Pawlenty's raw ambition has led him to play footsie with extreme right-wing forces who want to abolish the U.N.

A gifted politician who never won a majority but led Minnesota through a difficult decade of change and challenge, Pawlenty's legacy remains to be decided by historians. But there is little to brag about. And judging from his speeches this month, he remains devoted to sound bites, not substance.

"The only thing he can say he did is that he didn't directly raise taxes," says Schultz, who believes Pawlenty would not have won again had he chosen to run for a third term. "So that old Ronald Reagan line comes into play: 'Is the state better off now than it was eight years ago?' Unless your sole barometer is to say we have less taxes, the answer from most people is probably no."

Good luck and goodbye, governor. Wherever you are.

Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He can be reached at nickcoleman@gmail.com.

------------------------------------
Tim Pawlenty is a typically unoriginal "tax cuts [for the wealthy] will solve all problems" economic and social conservative Republican. Like most in his party, he does not undersatand, nor does he want to, the wants and needs of average everyday working Americans. His only "vision" is seeing himself as President. Somehow, at this point in our history, that's not quite good enough. Pawlenty has neglected the needs of his own state and put his quest for President far in front of them. In the best George W. Bush tradition, he is irresponsibly coasting his last year in office and leaving a myriad of problems for his successor to deal with. His old-fashioned, 1920s-style approach to economics may please the far-right conservatives of his exclusive little Republican party, but they are disastrous prescriptions for this country today and going forward, as the Great Depression of 1929 and the Great Recession of 2007 have abundantly proven.

But keep your eye on this snake-in-the-grass. He'll be rising high in Republican Party circles. As evidenced by their fascination with Sarah Palin and Michael Steele, they love medicre, ineffectual "leaders" of this sort.

But they, and all of us, deserve far, far better!

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Pawlenty just yesterday submitted his proposed state budget to the Minnesota Legislature. It is an absolute disaster. A typically regressive conservative Republican budget, it thoroughly screws the poor while giving tax breaks to corporations and business. It also screws local governments who rely on state aid for police, fire, and snow plow operation. The net effect, if adopted, will be layoffs in state and local government, as well as noticeable cutbacks in needed government services and an exclusion of nearly 40,000 needy Minnesotans from receiving state aid for health care. Call THAT aspect a Pawlenty Death Panel, folks.

Pawlenty's proposal would cut $347 million from health and human services, with cuts in programs for the SICK, MENTALLY ILL, JOBLESS, and DISABLED. He also proposes $47 million in cuts which target HIGHER EDUCATION. Also $191 million from state government, and $250 million from aid to cities.

Like the rest of the country, Minnesota currently faces a severe budget shortfall caused by the reckless conservative Republican economics of much of the past 30 years. This shortfall has prompted Pawlenty to make these cuts. But at the same time, he proposes $118 million in tax cuts for small business in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 as well as a $10 million corporate tax cut for this year which will swell to $150 million in the following years. That these cuts will further reduce state coffers drastiscally for his successor and will lead to huge increases in local and property taxes for Minnesota's citizens AFTER HE LEAVES OFFICE HERE obviously has little effect on the uncaring and self-centered Pawlenty, who apparently fantasizes that he'll be sitting happily in the White House by then.


RECKLESS, IRRESPONSIBLE, OVERLY AMBITIOUS AND COLD-HEARTED POLITICIANS LIKE TIM PAWLENTY DO NOT BELONG IN THE WHITE HOUSE. TAKE HEED, VOTERS!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

PAWLENTY FOR PRESIDENT? A 2012 PRIMER

I've warned you about this guy before, Republican Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and now I'm warning you again. He is sneakily but continually maneuvering himself behind the scenes to obtain the Republican nomination for President in 2012. Like most Republicans, the guy is short-sighted and wholly self-serving. He is also as deceitful as Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, albeit smoother and less confrontational. But he is arrogant, sneaky, and untrustworthy, and a political chameleon as well. At various times of his choosing, he has portrayed himself as a moderate as well as a conservative. He molds himself to fit his needs of the moment. You'll be seeing a lot more of this guy over the next couple of years as he'll try to sneak his way into the White House. But believe me, my friends: you will NOT want him in the White House!

Below is a descriptive piece on Pawlenty which just appeared in the OpEd section of today's Minneapolis Star Tribune by staff writer Nick Coleman. It sums up the devious and medicre Tim Pawlenty rather well. (Just so you understand some of the localspeak: "DFL" refers to the Democratic Farmer Laborer Party, Minnesota's version of the Democratic Party).


Nick Coleman: The state of the state? A stepping stone
Pawlenty flirts with far-right fringe as he tilts toward the Oval Office.
By NICK COLEMAN, Star Tribune

Last update: February 13, 2010 - 5:31 PM
Featured comment


In his eighth and final State of the State address, Tim Pawlenty said he hopes not to put us through one of those endless and agonizing Minnesota "long goodbyes."

No need to worry, governor. We thought you were already long gone.

Pawlenty's State of the State address had an absent-minded and lackluster tone, which is understandable since it wasn't the most important speech he will give this month. Pawlenty, who spends more time on the road than Danica Patrick, has far more riding on a speech he will deliver this week to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. In that hotbed of right-wing activists Pawlenty will try to gain traction for his tilt at the White House windmill by appealing to folks who get passionate about the gold standard and government attempts to crack down on garlic supplements.

I'm not kidding: The John Birch Society, one of many fringe groups that will have a presence at CPAC, may be known for its pro-gun, anti-immigration efforts, but these days the Birchers are ticked off about a "freedom-destroying" effort in Congress to regulate the sale and use of untested health supplements. Saw palmetto tablet, anyone? The bill's author is that liberal kook John McCain, whom Pawlenty followed like a puppy in 2008 in the hopes of getting a vice-presidential rub on his head.

Two years later, Pawlenty has traveled far to the right of his erstwhile role model, and hopes to draw the spotlight at a conference where he will have to compete with deep thinkers Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Minnesota's own Michele Bachmann.

It won't be Pawlenty's first visit to CPAC. He delivered a coming-out speech last year, giving a humble-pie, aw-shucks, G-droppin' "I'm a bedrock guy from the Heartland" summary of the Conservative Catechism: "It all starts with acknowledging that God is our Creator and it is from God that we receive our values and our principles."

But Pawlenty's White House ambitions started earlier than most Minnesotans know, and coincided with his early disenchantment with being governor, a job that has become increasingly difficult as DFLers expanded their control of the Legislature while, at the same time, Pawlenty abandoned bipartisanship in favor of getting himself on the national radar.

David Schultz, law professor and political observer from Hamline University, recalls Pawlenty's out-of-the-blue demand in 2003 -- late in the first year of his first term -- that Minnesota revive its ancient death penalty after the murder of Dru Sjodin by a sex offender his administration had released. It was the start of Pawlentyism: Talk big and carry a small stick by proposing laws that have no chance of approval in Minnesota but will get you a guest shot on Sean Hannity. "He was looking for an agenda for himself, not for the state," Schultz says. "He throws out this extreme conservative stuff -- Bible-banging, anti-tax, anti-government conservative -- and takes a stand to try to get to the right of other Republican candidates."

It may be working for him. It hasn't worked for Minnesota.

"There is no (presidential) candidacy for Pawlenty if he doesn't move hard right," says Larry Jacobs, head of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. The activists who control the process in both parties are far more extreme than the public at large, Jacobs says. "The governor has become more conservative than any previous governor," says Jacobs. "And more effective than any previous Republican politician in rising onto the short list for his party's nomination."

The Republican governor who most compares with Pawlenty in terms of the national attention he received was Harold Stassen (another lawyer from South St. Paul), who was elected governor during the Depression, resigned to help fight World War II and helped establish the United Nations. That's where the comparison ends: Pawlenty's raw ambition has led him to play footsie with extreme right-wing forces who want to abolish the U.N.

A gifted politician who never won a majority but led Minnesota through a difficult decade of change and challenge, Pawlenty's legacy remains to be decided by historians. But there is little to brag about. And judging from his speeches this month, he remains devoted to sound bites, not substance.

"The only thing he can say he did is that he didn't directly raise taxes," says Schultz, who believes Pawlenty would not have won again had he chosen to run for a third term. "So that old Ronald Reagan line comes into play: 'Is the state better off now than it was eight years ago?' Unless your sole barometer is to say we have less taxes, the answer from most people is probably no."

Good luck and goodbye, governor. Wherever you are.

Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He can be reached at nickcoleman@gmail.com.

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Tim Pawlenty is a typically unoriginal "tax cuts [for the wealthy] will solve all problems" economic and social conservative Republican. Like most in his party, he does not undersatand, nor does he want to, the wants and needs of average everyday working Americans. His only "vision" is seeing himself as President. Somehow, at this point in our history, that's not quite good enough. Pawlenty has neglected the needs of his own state and put his quest for President far in front of them. In the best George W. Bush tradition, he is irresponsibly coasting his last year in office and leaving a myriad of problems for his successor to deal with. His old-fashioned, 1920s-style approach to economics may please the far-right conservatives of his exclusive little Republican party, but they are disastrous prescriptions for this country today and going forward, as the Great Depression of 1929 and the Great Recession of 2007 have abundantly proven.

But keep your eye on this snake-in-the-grass. He'll be rising high in Republican Party circles. As evidenced by their fascination with Sarah Palin and Michael Steele, they love medicre, ineffectual "leaders" of this sort.

But they, and all of us, deserve far, far better!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A FESTIVAL OF FANATICAL RAGE

There is a huge amount of anger, dissatisfaction, and fear out in the country these days. Much of it is justified. But a large amount of it is misdirected and unjustified. That has become increasingly apparent with the rise of the socially and economically ultra-conservative Tea Party movement which started this summer and culminated this past weekend in a convention in Nashville, TN.

Like fire-and-brimstone preachers of yesteryear, various speakers and participants aggressively voiced their discontent at the current state of the country. But much of what they had to say was hateful, ignorant, irrational, and actually destructive to American values.


Many of these people feel great uncertainty about this country's future. They see our government as wasteful, too big, inefficient, and attempting to exert too much control over our businesses and personal lives. These are legitimate concerns to a degree, but certainly not to the degree this crowd is concerned with. Government IS big, and it IS wasteful. Especially the roughly 219 congressional Republicans who have been doing nothing productive for needy citizens over the past year and have instead filibustered, stonewalled, and blocked legislation while still collecting their hefty $174,000 salaries and benefit packages at our expense. Nice work if you can get it: sit around and waste time and still get paid nicely for it. But aside from that, government bureaus and agencies DO have areas of logjam and overlap, and this does need to be corrected. Government has also ventured into business affairs to an unprecedented degree this past year. But I maintain this "intrusion" was overdue, done responsibly, and wholly justified. For our government took the unprecedented step of bailing out our largest banks and two of our largest automakers with billions of taxpayer dollars. This intervention was wholly necessary and saved our economy from total collapse. There are loud voices in this movement which proclaim that President Obama is a socialist or a communist and that he and his Democratic Party have implemented socialism into our government and economy. That is patent nonsense. After years and years of deregulatory moves pressed for and implemented by conservative Republicans and peaking during the preceding Bush-Cheney years, our financial markets got way off track and descended into a practice of speculation which caused our severe recession. This practice also brought about the rip-off of $4 per gallon gasoline we all suffered through in 2008. Had Obama and his party not used the government to clean house and make some much-needed regulatory changes, we would have slipped into a second Great Depression for certain. Yes, Obama demanded the resignation of the CEO of General Motors. So what? It was a good and necessary move which, along with bailout money, helped save the company! At no point has the President put all of the banking or automotive industries' executives and employees on the public payroll or attempted to micro-manage their individual affairs. Instead, like any good investor, the President invested OUR cash in these enterprises and simply demanded a return on that investment. That's CAPITALISM, tea-partiers, NOT socialism. So this claim of his being a socialist agenda is thoroughly inaccurate and insane. As for the oft-voiced Tea Party complaint that Obama is burying us in debt, that taxes should be cut across the board, and that government spending must be slashed NOW, that is a dangerously impractical demand at this time. In 1937, after 4 years of increased government spending on jobs and public improvements during the Great Depression, liberal then-President FDR heeded conservative Republican advice and cut government spending on these social programs. The effect was instantaneous and disastrous. The economy slid backward for two years and only began to climb again when government-funded arms programs for warring European nations started. YOU CANNOT REDUCE GOVERNMENT SPENDING ON JOBS AND SOCIAL PROGRAMS IN THE MIDDLE OF A SEVERE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN. AT TIMES LIKE THAT (NOW), GOVERNMENT SPENDING MUST INCREASE!


I feel sorry for some of the Tea Party enthusiasts I have seen. A large number of them are good, average, everyday citizens who have never before become involved in any type of political activity. The pity I feel for them is that they have been moved to demonstrate because of clever manipulation and fear by truly sinister forces in today's far right ultra-conservative Republican Party. This is no longer the party of Eisenhower's, Nixon's, or Reagan's era. Today's GOP came to fruition in 1994, with Newt Gingrich's gimmicky "Contract ON America" (sic). It is uncompromising, unyielding, and dedicated to total control of all branches of our government. It is obsessed with gaining and maintaining this control by any means necessary. Everything it does is done strictly for its own perceived political gain. It can and does lie, cheat, and steal in its pursuit of power. It lies to get us into an unnecessary war for profit and plunder (Iraq). It steals elections (2000 and, arguably, 2004). It manufactures blatant lies about political opponents (John Kerry's THREE Purple Hearts having been unwarranted; President Obama is "different" because he was raised for a time outside this country, had a Muslim father [making him immediately suspect] and an "odd" Arabic middle name of Hussein [reinforcing that suspect aura]; therefore the President's agenda is radical, dangerous, and, well, "socialist." That is why we see posters of Obama with communist hammer and sickle, and other posters comparing him to Hitler. This campaign of lies was abundant last summer during the GOP-backed-and-encouraged town hall shoutdowns of Democratic congresspersons regarding health care reform, where many innocent seniors were scared into believing that the President had "death panels" which would spell out their doom, that grandma would be "thrown under the bus" if government-run health care were enacted, and on and on and on. The President has been under steady, constant assault on all aspects of his presidency since day one. He has been accused of "palling around with terrorists" and his very handling of national security and foreign policy matters has been repeatedly characterized as weak and ineffectual. Those of us in the know, of course, have seen that exactly the opposite has been the case. The example of the "underwear bomber" sits as a perfect example. Using proven FBI interrogation methods instead of Bush-Cheney era torture techniques, this current would-be prisoner has yielded an unprecedented amount of actionable intelligence. But the liz and Dick Cheneys, Kit Bonds, and Mitch McConnells of the GOP still publicly lie in trying to cultivate this false image of Obama being weak on national security and terrorism. It is, plain and simple, treasonous fostering of insurrection fostered by repeated lies. To the under and badly informed, is it any wonder that they are terrified and honestly believe that the President's policies are not working and are harmful to the nation?

Former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) both spoke at this Tea Party event, and both did their best to perpetrate the big conservative Republican lie about the President being weak and his agenda being out of touch with and dangerous to everyday people. In Tancredo's case, he appealed to paranoidal nativist instincts by repeating the utterly ridiculous GOP "Birther" claim that Obama was not even born in this country and is therefore unqualified for the office he holds. Tancredo also made the equally preposterous and racist claim that Obama gained office on the strength of votes from "people who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English." He then called for the implementation of a literacy test for elections, even though such tests were banned by the Voting Rights Act of 1964 in response to old literacy tests having been used to keep blacks from voting in the South. The fact that Sarah Palin even was asked to address the convention at all is a great example of how dishonest and lacking in credibility these conservatives have become. For Sarah Palin has little in common with fiscally-responsible, cash-strapped average ordinary Americans, even though she loves to portray herself as one. First of all, she and her family live high off the hog up in Alaska, not modestly. Secondly, 3000 newly-released pages of emails during her governorship reveal her attempt to disguise the installation and use of a tanning bed as something to be paid for with state funds, and her attempt to have the state pay for her daughter Willow's flight to be present at a bill-signing. Hardly the actions of a concerned, fiscally-responsible public servant. Realistically, the actions of a deceitful, hypocritical, self-obsessed, vain publicity-seeker whose only real agenda is herself. In short, as a supposed spokesperson for this movement, Sarah Palin is an out and out fraud.

Yes, while this weekend's Tea Party convention was designed to appear as though it were of, for, and by ordinary fed-up and concerned citizens, it was actually a for-profit event staged by and for the benefit of corrupt, corporate America and the equally corrupt, corporate, conservative Republican Party. Tea Party Nation, a for-profit venture, was the main instigator, with help from Tea Party Patriots, who has ties to ultra-conservative former Republican congressman Dick Armey's huge advertising/lobbying group Freedom Works. Rather than a gathering of legitimate, concerned citizens, this was a festival of fanatical rage: hate for the President, hate for immigrants, hate for liberals and progressives, and hate for our government itself. But this is a seriously misdirected rage. Instead of hating the President and our government, which are both attempting to provide jobs, market safeguards, fairer taxation, and needed benefits and services for our population, these Tea Party enthusiasts should rightfully be turning their rage and action toward the ultra-conservative Republican Party and its corporate backers who are using and manipulating the tea partiers like a two-bit whore, for the benefit of the GOP and concentrated capital alone. It is our job as progressives to expose this sordid and cynical Republican effort for what it is: a gigantic hoax. For these Republicans and corporatists, through employing obstructionism and stirring up anti-government groups like the Tea Party movement with unfounded lies, are destroying our democracy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

REAL HEROES AND REAL ZEROES

I watched with great interest yesterday the lead-in for MSNBC's The Ed Show. Host Ed Schultz was broadcasting live from a hall in Connecticut that was holding a free health care clinic for the uninsured. He was visibly strongly touched and affected by what he saw there: unemployed and working Americans from all walks of life who, due to circumstances or pre-existing conditions, had no health insurance. He related the story of one woman who had lost a high-paying administrative job two years ago but had no insurance and had been delaying seeing a doctor. She had developed a lump on her neck and had lost 40 pounds in the past month. Not good! Hopefully, this visit to MSNBC's free clinic will not have been too late for her, although her condition as described does sound worrisome...

This free health care clinic, one of 3 or 4 organized by MSNBC and paid for by viewer donations to that network prompted by network commentators Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow and held in different states, has proven to be a boon for many. I consider this to be activist journalism at its finest. For anybody can see a terrible situation and merely report on it, but for someone to initiate action to publicize the situation and to bring aid to those in true need really goes the extra mile in my book. Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, and all who contributed either funds or time to aid this effort are all heroes.

Mr. Schultz interviewed a number of health care professionals who had volunteered their time to treat the needy for this one day event. One indicated that she had attended all of these MSNBC free clinics, but had not seen one member of Congress at any of them. NOT ONE. No Joe LIEberman, the guy who campaigned in 2006 on expanding Medicare to include those from ages 50-64, but then reversed his stance once it looked like that could become a reality, and the same guy who has accepted millions in campaign contributions over the years from the health insurance industry; no Chris Dodd either, nor any of Connecticut's House members. At the free clinic held a few months back in Arkansas, there was no visit from either Blanche Lincoln or Mark Pryor, nor any of that state's House members. At the one held in Louisiana, Mary Landrieux didn't bother to drop in, nor did the philandering David Vitter (perhaps he was busy with other activities while the free clinic was going on). This aloof lack of support for the needs of their own constituents is inexcusable. The entire congressional delegations of these states, Democrat AND Republican, should be thoroughly ashamed. They are ALL zeroes! Interestingly enough, the only political figure to attend the Connecticut clinic was LIEberman's last opponent, progressive Ned Lamont. That makes him a hero.

The impassioned plea Ed Schultz gave for universal health care coverage, and the genuine anguish on his face as he relayed the stories of those attending the clinic was something to behold. The highlight came when he lashed out at Joe LIEberman and called him a "coward" for having abandoned his principles, campaign pledges, and responsibility in turning face to appease his corporate campaign donors from the health insurance industry.

There are a number of real heroes in this campaign to get universal health care delivered to our citizens. Among them are the MSNBC crew, and those Representatives and Senators who sponsored health care reform legislation or voted for it. The Ron Wydens, Barbara Boxers, Al Frankens, Bernie Sanderses, Anthony Wieners, Al Graysons, Dennis Kuciniches of our goverbnment.

There are also a large number of real zeroes on this issue: those who have opposed, stalled, lied about, or tried to kill health care reform altogether. These include the entire Republican congressional caucus. These are the types of time-and-money-wasting congresspersons I advocated invoicing in my last post. They also include Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ben Nelson, Joe LIEberman, Blanche Lincoln, Ann Coulter, and the rest of the Fox "News" crew.

The heroes, of course, have supported and acted in favor of getting needed health care to everybody, regardless of race, gender, age, health, employment, or income status. They have seen through the insanity and injustice of having huge insurance company middlemen stand between a patient and his or her doctor and hospital; paying for those services, but charging loan shark rates for doing so, and excluding millions of people to maximize profit.

Ed Schultz is a hero, too, and I salute him for his passion and advocacy.