Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Own Slap Against Corruption

Today, I took a hard stand against corruption. I'm lucky in that the rules by which I was operating allowed me to easily dismantle the attempt to steal public health funds for private gain.

As a federal employee, I am sometimes asked to sit on panels, reviewing applications for grants and cooperative agreements. There are strict rules governing this process, including confidentiality. This makes posting about my triumph today tricky because I have to be vague by law.

The cooperative agreement application I reviewed today was for a pot of money meant to combat a very real public health threat in a developing country. The "principal" of this application just happens to be a key player in the GOP. In fact, this asswipe was arrogant enough to highlight his political ties in his application. I suppose this GOP shill thought that subtlely hinting closeness with the White House would cow us into granting him/her the money. The application did not even pretend to be seriously combating the public health threat the money was meant to fight. It was obvious that the money would be used to make a business case for the applicant to "offer services" to this developing nation to build an internet infrastructure. The top outcome of this "project" was to produce "profitable business relationships".

I was enraged when I finished this application. The panels can make it difficult to grant someone money, but there are ways to bypass the recommendation of reveiw panels. As a result, I decided to put into writing, using quotations from the application itself, to make selection of this project nearly impossible to anyone looking at the situation. Luckily, everyone at the panel was as shocked as I was at how bad the application was, and just how bad it "smelled".

This GOP hack will not get the money he/she sought from the CDC. And while it's not much, I will sleep better tonight knowing that I have done my part to prevent another instance of a Bush crony enriching him or herself at the expense of the American people.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Surprise! The Rich Get Richer... We Get SCREWED

Normally, I wouldn't just cut/paste an article, but I think this story by the NY Times shows (with hard data) just how the average American has been screwed by the Bush Administration's policies. It goes beyond the subtle subversion of our Constitutional separation of powers or the far right social agenda. If you are not in the top 1% of this nation's economic relief, your wages are decreasing in a very real way, thanks to high energy prices and other factors mentioned in the article. But, unlike Sec. Paulson, I think it's VERY useful, and highly instructive to blame the political party that instituted the policies that brought about this problem...the GOP.

Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity

Published: August 28, 2006 (NY Times)

With the economy beginning to slow, the current expansion has a chance to become the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers.

That situation is adding to fears among Republicans that the economy will hurt vulnerable incumbents in this year’s midterm elections even though overall growth has been healthy for much of the last five years.

The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as “the golden era of profitability.”

Until the last year, stagnating wages were somewhat offset by the rising value of benefits, especially health insurance, which caused overall compensation for most Americans to continue increasing. Since last summer, however, the value of workers’ benefits has also failed to keep pace with inflation, according to government data.

At the very top of the income spectrum, many workers have continued to receive raises that outpace inflation, and the gains have been large enough to keep average income and consumer spending rising.

In a speech on Friday, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, did not specifically discuss wages, but he warned that the unequal distribution of the economy’s spoils could derail the trade liberalization of recent decades. Because recent economic changes “threaten the livelihoods of some workers and the profits of some firms,” Mr. Bernanke said, policy makers must try “to ensure that the benefits of global economic integration are sufficiently widely shared.”

Political analysts are divided over how much the wage trends will help Democrats this fall in their effort to take control of the House and, in a bigger stretch, the Senate. Some see parallels to watershed political years like 1980, 1992 and 1994, when wage growth fell behind inflation, party alignments shifted and dozens of incumbents were thrown out of office.

“It’s a dangerous time for any party to have control of the federal government — the presidency, the Senate and the House,” said Charles Cook, who publishes a nonpartisan political newsletter. “It all feeds into ‘it’s a time for a change’ sentiment. It’s a highly combustible mixture.”

But others say that war in Iraq and terrorism, not the economy, will dominate the campaign and that Democrats have yet to offer an economic vision that appeals to voters.

“National economic policies are more clearly in focus in presidential campaigns,” said Richard T. Curtin, director of the University of Michigan’s consumer surveys. “When you’re electing your local House members, you don’t debate that on those issues as much.”

Moreover, polls show that Americans are less dissatisfied with the economy than they were in the early 1980’s or early 90’s. Rising house and stock values have lifted the net worth of many families over the last few years, and interest rates remain fairly low.

But polls show that Americans disapprove of President Bush’s handling of the economy by wide margins and that anxiety about the future is growing. Earlier this month, the University of Michigan reported that consumer confidence had fallen sharply in recent months, with people’s expectations for the future now as downbeat as they were in 1992 and 1993, when the job market had not yet recovered from a recession.

“Some people who aren’t partisans say, ‘Yes, the economy’s pretty good, so why are people so agitated and anxious?’ ” said Frank Luntz, a Republican campaign consultant. “The answer is they don’t feel it in their weekly paychecks.”

But Mr. Luntz predicted that the economic mood would not do significant damage to Republicans this fall because voters blamed corporate America, not the government, for their problems.

Economists offer various reasons for the stagnation of wages. Although the economy continues to add jobs, global trade, immigration, layoffs and technology — as well as the insecurity caused by them — appear to have eroded workers’ bargaining power.

Trade unions are much weaker than they once were, while the buying power of the minimum wage is at a 50-year low. And health care is far more expensive than it was a decade ago, causing companies to spend more on benefits at the expense of wages.

Together, these forces have caused a growing share of the economy to go to companies instead of workers’ paychecks. In the first quarter of 2006, wages and salaries represented 45 percent of gross domestic product, down from almost 50 percent in the first quarter of 2001 and a record 53.6 percent in the first quarter of 1970, according to the Commerce Department. Each percentage point now equals about $132 billion.

Total employee compensation — wages plus benefits — has fared a little better. Its share was briefly lower than its current level of 56.1 percent in the mid-1990’s and otherwise has not been so low since 1966.

Over the last year, the value of employee benefits has risen only 3.4 percent, while inflation has exceeded 4 percent, according to the Labor Department.

In Europe and Japan, the profit share of economic output is also at or near record levels, noted Larry Hatheway, chief economist for UBS Investment Bank, who said that this highlighted the pressures of globalization on wages. Many Americans, be they apparel workers or software programmers, are facing more competition from China and India.

In another recent report on the boom in profits, economists at Goldman Sachs wrote, “The most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor’s share of national income.” Low interest rates and the moderate cost of capital goods, like computers, have also played a role, though economists note that an economic slowdown could hurt profits in coming months.

For most of the last century, wages and productivity — the key measure of the economy’s efficiency — have risen together, increasing rapidly through the 1950’s and 60’s and far more slowly in the 1970’s and 80’s.

But in recent years, the productivity gains have continued while the pay increases have not kept up. Worker productivity rose 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, while total compensation for the median worker rose 7.2 percent, according to Labor Department statistics analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. Benefits accounted for most of the increase.
“If I had to sum it up,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the institute, “it comes down to bargaining power and the lack of ability of many in the work force to claim their fair share of growth.”

Nominal wages have accelerated in the last year, but the spike in oil costs has eaten up the gains. Now the job market appears to be weakening, after a protracted series of interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve.

Unless these trends reverse, the current expansion may lack even an extended period of modest wage growth like one that occurred in the mid-1980’s.

The most recent recession ended in late 2001. Hourly wages continued to rise in 2002 and peaked in early 2003, largely on the lingering strength of the 1990’s boom.

Average family income, adjusted for inflation, has continued to advance at a good clip, a fact Mr. Bush has cited when speaking about the economy. But these gains are a result mainly of increases at the top of the income spectrum that pull up the overall numbers. Even for workers at the 90th percentile of earners — making about $80,000 a year — inflation has outpaced their pay increases over the last three years, according to the Labor Department.

“There are two economies out there,” Mr. Cook, the political analyst, said. “One has been just white hot, going great guns. Those are the people who have benefited from globalization, technology, greater productivity and higher corporate earnings.

“And then there’s the working stiffs,’’ he added, “who just don’t feel like they’re getting ahead despite the fact that they’re working very hard. And there are a lot more people in that group than the other group.”

In 2004, the top 1 percent of earners — a group that includes many chief executives — received 11.2 percent of all wage income, up from 8.7 percent a decade earlier and less than 6 percent three decades ago, according to Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, economists who analyzed the tax data.

With the midterm campaign expected to heat up after Labor Day, Democrats are saying that they will help workers by making health care more affordable and lifting the minimum wage. Democrats have criticized Republicans for passing tax cuts mainly benefiting high-income families at a time when most families are failing to keep up.

Republicans counter that the tax cuts passed during Mr. Bush’s first term helped lifted the economy out of recession. Unless the cuts are extended, a move many Democrats oppose, the economy will suffer, and so will wages, Republicans say.

But in a sign that Republicans may be growing concerned about the public’s mood, the new Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., adopted a somewhat different tone from Mr. Bush in his first major speech, delivered early this month.

“Many aren’t seeing significant increases in their take-home pay,” Mr. Paulson said. “Their increases in wages are being eaten up by high energy prices and rising health care costs, among others.”

At the same time, he said that the Bush administration was not responsible for the situation, pointing out that inequality had been increasing for many years. “It is neither fair nor useful,” Mr. Paulson said, “to blame any political party.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Poor, Sad Ruthie

In today's AJC, there was a headline that caught my eye: Tech students endured threats in free speech crusade. Reading the article, I was reminded of a lawsuit that had been filed by a couple of College Republicans who felt their constitutional right to bash minorities, gays, and other "undesirables" was threatened by Georgia Tech's speech code. This code was meant to suppress intolerant or offensive behavior.

Ruth Malhotra and Orit Skylar filed the suit, and if I remember correctly, it was funded by an ultra conservative legal group like Southeastern Legal Foundation or Heritage. These facts make me automatically hostile to whatever claim they made, but these two do have a point.
The politically correct speech codes of the 1980s and 1990s probably have gone too far. People should be free of harrassment and intimidation in school, and making people aware of the affect of language is a benefit of having these "speech codes". What bothers me is telling people what they can and cannot say. Many people are boors and will say just many offensive things about a variety of groups. I'm pretty sure that Ruth Malhotra falls in this category. She's a right wing GOP nutjob who's opposed to any form of affirmative action, gay rights, women's rights (ironic how women have always fought women's rights throughout time...every group has its sellouts I guess), etc. You name the progressive issue, and I'm sure Ruthie is against it.

From the coverage of the lawsuit, I remember that Ruthie was especially incensed about female empowerment (via the Vagina Monologues), abortion rights, gay rights (and really, anything that said being gay was OK and not a choice you could "undo"), and affirmative action. One thing that got her in trouble at Georgia Tech was having a "diversity bake sale" where people were charged different prices depending on their gender and race. While clever, that stunt was a false analogy. The 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate in a publicly offered "good" based on race, gender, national origin, etc. It would have been more appropriate for her to have some kind of raffle for a highly desirous prize and give extra entries automatically to people based on race, gender, etc.

So Ruthie and her pal in the Georgia Tech GOP, Orit Skylar, sued. Tech has now backed off its speech codes, which is probably a good thing. The nice thing about free speech is that while Ruthie can spew her bile, we can speak the truth to counteract. Hopefully, she can be held up for shame and ridicule for her right wing views. Already during the last school year, Ruthie had to endure death threats, maiming threats, and a Twinky shoved in her mailbox (she's Indian, so someone was saying she's yellow on the outside and white on the inside). She's now "nervous" about coming back to campus.

Poor, poor Ruthie! Allow this white homosexual who believes in everything she despises to shed a tear. Poor Ruthie exercised her rights of free speech, and others did too. Now, I don't advocate violence or threats of violence, but ridicule is fair game. She didn't deserve death threats or threats of having acid thrown on her, but she did deserve to be heavily mocked and ridiculed.

She's literally fighting for her right to belittle people, attack women's rights, attack gays, and whatever other right wing agenda item she wants to advocate. One thing the right wing likes to do is say that progressives are hypocrites because we are "intolerant of intolerance". Well, DUH! Society has to have a standard, and if you can't be respectful of others different from you, we shouldn't tolerate that behavior or attitude. We should ridicule you even while you spew your hateful speech on the street corner. The First Amendment is a two way street.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Run-Off Results

The Run-off was pretty good overall. I'm only sad that my friend Allen Thornell did not win his race for State House.

LT. GOV: Jim Martin (62.4%)
SEC. OF STATE: Gail Buckner (55.2%)
CONGRESS, DIST 4: Hank Johnson (58.8%)
STATE HOUSE 58: Robbin Shipp (53.5%)
STATE HOUSE 59: Margaret Kaiser (53.5%)
DEKALB SOLICITOR GEN.: Robert James (56%)

Of course, I couldn't vote in the 4th District race or the State House 58 or 59 races. Otherwise, my choices all won. I was thrilled that Jim Martin not only beat but PULVERIZED his Smurfiness, Greg Hecht. The way Greg ran his smear campaign against Jim was shameful, and I'm glad that the Democratic party voters came out and said in a loud voice they would not tolerate that kind of behavior.

I sincerely hope that this is not the end of Allen Thornell's electoral career. He ran a great campaign, raised a ton of money, and came close to winning in a majority black district. The fact remains though that he did not win solely because of his skin color, and that's a shame. His opponent ran solely on the fact that she was black, and it worked. I predict, though, that if she doesn't change her tune, the rapidly gentrifying district will dump her in 2008. The days of making class and race appeals and winning on that argument alone seem to be dwindling.

Hopefully they will be gone for good before long.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ding, Dong, Fuhrer McKinney's Gone!

Cynthia McKinney, the racist anti-Semitic Congresswoman from DeKalb County (GA-4th), has been soundly defeated. Let's hear it for the voters! Hip, hip! HOORAY!

Hank Johnson creamed Cynthia with 58.8% of the vote, or 41,148 votes to her 28,832 votes. She was crushed in the Gwinnett and Rockdale portions of the district, and she even lost DeKalb by nearly 9,000 votes. But, classy woman that Cynthia is, she didn't go down quietly.

First, her website listing weird complaints about the voting machines and how her name wasn't listed, people getting the wrong ballot (and not getting the right one until they complained...imagine that! Poll workers who aren't psychic...must be a conspiracy), and people saying they tried to vote for Cynthia but their ballot said they voted Hank after the "Cast Ballot" button was pushed. On that last point, it's impossible. The second you cast your ballot, you are taken back to the welcome screen. There is no"summary" after you cast your ballot. The Secretary of State's office checked into complaints and found no basis for them. I suppose Cynthia is saying that Diebold had the machines count all HER votes as being cast for Hank and all of Hank's for her. Please.

When she "conceded", Cynthia went on a rant about the President and stolen elections, and then tried to sink Pink's song "Mr. President". Her supporters went buck wild when she lost too. The police had to be called because members of her "gang" decided to literally beat on the press, chasing 11 Alive cameramen to their van and threatening them until the police came. You can see the video of the incident here.

Now, Cynthia is saying that she got beat because of the GOP crossed over into her primary. First, Cynthia thinks just about any white person who doesn't support her must be a Republican. Second, there aren't that many Republicans in DeKalb to make the kind of difference that Cynthia would need to win. She can't face the notion that her own reckless behavior has led to her defeat. Black, white, old, and young were all TIRED of being embarrassed by her behavior. It became crystal clear that she was ineffective and a pariah. Even if she "spoke truth to power", she's such a loony-tunes that it made no difference.

Finally, Cynthia's people are blaming ... the J-E-W-S! Yes, the old anti-Semite comes out when the times are tough. One of her people said to a cable crew, You wanna know what led to the loss? Israel. The Zionists. You. put on your yarmulke and celebrate." Guess all that Islamist money that came her way was for naught.

Cynthia McKinney's gone. I say, "GOOD RIDDANCE."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Turnout! Turnout! Turnout!

For a political junkie like myself, not voting is abhorrent. I once voted absentee in an election over the phone FROM AFRICA so that I wouldn't miss the chance to cast my vote. So folks who can't be bothered or find voting too confusing don't make any sense to me. Unfortunately, a lot of these people would vote my way if they bothered to vote at all.

How do we reach them? In today's Washington Post, there was an article about a rift between Dean and Congressional leaders over the state of the turnout machine for November. It's a midterm election, so turnout will be lower than it is during a presidential election year. According to the WP:

The RNC runs a strategy known in political circles as the 72-hour program. It focuses on using phone calls, polling data and personal visits to identify would-be GOP voters and their top issues early in the cycle. The information is then fed into a database, allowing party leaders to flood them with pro-Republican messages through e-mail, regular mail and local volunteers. On Election Day, they receive a phone call or a visit to remind them to vote.

My question is: If the GOP system works so well, why aren't Democrats using it? Why aren't we using it in Georgia? Well, for Georgia, the first answer is lack of money. The party is flat broke. I know we have voter lists, but I have heard of no one making a database like the one the GOPers have. Why is that?