Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fallin voted `no' on bailout

The McCarville Report Online carries Oklahoma Congresswoman Mary Fallin's explanation of her vote against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill.

So maybe the sky isn't falling?

Maybe the failure of the Wall Street bailout wasn't such a bad thing?

Early Monday, when many progressives seemed to think that the proposed $700 Wall Street bailout would pass, here is some of what they were saying:

Former presidential candidate and Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, said that "The $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, is driven by fear not fact."

David Sirota wrote about the Top Five Reasons to Vote Against Wall Street's $700 Billion Bailout.
Though the deal negotiated between congressional leaders and the White House is better than what Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson originally proposed early last week, it remains an insulting atrocity, having omitted even basic aid to homeowners, bankruptcy reforms and any modicum of future financial industry regulation.
Really, Sirota had two main reasons for his opposition to the bailout. One was that many economists actually think it would make the situation worse, and the other was that there were better alternatives.

Michael Moore wrote that The Rich Are Staging a Coup This Morning.

The problem is, nobody truly knows what this "collapse" is all about. Even Treasury Secretary Paulson admitted he doesn't know the exact amount that is needed (he just picked the $700 billion number out of his head!). The head of the congressional budget office said he can't figure it out nor can he explain it to anyone.

And yet, they are screeching about how the end is near! Panic! Recession! The Great Depression! Y2K! Bird flu! Killer bees! We must pass the bailout bill today!! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Falling for whom? NOTHING in this "bailout" package will lower the price of the gas you have to put in your car to get to work. NOTHING in this bill will protect you from losing your home. NOTHING in this bill will give you health insurance.

Moore went on to argue that unpaid medical bills cause the greatest number of bankruptcies, and that if we had universal health care, the mortgage crisis may well never happened. He urged the public to ask Barack Obama to develop and promote a more progressive bailout plan. Moore also called on the public to join demonstrations against the bailout.

Meanwhile, Dean Baker wrote that Congress Endorses Conservative Nanny State.

Baker said that the plan was going to redistribute income upward, "taking money from the schoolteachers and cab drivers and giving it to incredibly rich Wall Street bankers, who are so incompetent that they drove their banks into the ground." While Baker believed the country to be in a worsening recession, he said that the bailout plan was of no use in getting us out of it.
The best argument that the bailout proponents had was that the failure to do the bailout could lead to a collapse of the financial system, leaving us unable to use credit cards or ATMs, or otherwise conduct normal financial transactions. This would indeed be scary, since it would imply a complete economic collapse. (I had actually accepted this line.)

However, on more careful thought, this is an idle threat. In the event the banking system really did freeze up, then the Fed would step in and take over the major banks. (It had contingency plans for such a takeover in the 80s, when the money center banks were saddled with billions of dollars of bad developing country debt.)

The banks would not be happy about a Fed takeover. The top executives would be out of a job, and the shareholders would likely lose their full investment. However, the rest of us would be able to carry on with our lives as we did before. After maybe a few hours of disruption, we would be able to cash checks and use credit cards and ATMs just as we did before the crisis.

So maybe the sky isn't falling after all? Maybe it would be worse if Congress comes back and passes the gol-durned thing after all?

Dave Linderoff writes about The Power of `No' and the Need to Keep the Pressure on Congress.

Maybe they're right.

Monday, September 29, 2008

NY Times reports: bailout fails, market tanks

Truthout has posted this New York Times account of the failure of the bailout and the resulting crash of American stock markets on Monday. As far as I can tell so far, mainstream news sources such as the Times have been treating this as catastrophic news. Many progressive commentators have a different perspective. (More in another post soon.)

The US House voted down the measure 205 in favor to 288 opposed. The bill was supported by 140 Democrats and 65 Republicans, while 133 Republicans and 95 Democrats voted "no." The Dow Jones average fell 777 points for the day.
Supporters of the bill had argued that it was necessary to avoid a collapse of the economic system, a calamity that would drag down not just Wall Street investment houses but possibly the savings and portfolios of millions of Americans. Moreover, supporters argued, a lingering crisis in America could choke off business and consumer loans to a degree that could prompt bank failures in Europe and slow down the global economy.

Opponents said the bill was cobbled together in too much haste and might amount to throwing good money from taxpayers after bad investments from Wall Street gamblers.

Immediately after the vote, many House members appeared stunned. Some Republicans blamed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, for a speech before the vote that disdained President Bush's economic policies, and did so, in the opinion of the speaker's critics, in too partisan a way.

California Democrat Maxine Waters said passage of the measure was crucial to keeping people in their homes and helping financial institutions survive. Both major party presidential hopefuls had also backed the bill.

But Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett said that no alternative to the Bush/Paulsen plan had ever been considered. Doggett argued that the plan had been modified very little, and gave sweeping powers to the same administration that allowed the crisis to develop.

Echidne on Sarah

So I've been out here searching the web for some news about the failure of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. What I found instead was this beautifully written post by ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES on Sarah Palin.

Apparently, even right-wing pundits are starting to criticize Palin as inexperienced and maybe not-too-bright. But Echidne points out that there's a double standard at work.

It's tempting to pull out a juicy block quote or two, but I'd rather encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself.

Oh, by the way, Echidne also has a great post about the failure of the bailout.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bailout vote scheduled for Monday a.m.

Here's the New York Times' report on the details of the bailout plan: Bailout Plan in Hand, House Braces for Tough Vote.

They have a link to the full text of the plan. It has grown to 110 pages from the 3 pages originally submitted as a proposal by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Common Dreams has reposted a McClatchy Newspapers report on the details of the bailout. From that article, here are the highlights of the bill:

-- $700 billion in a taxpayer rescue of Wall Street, with $250 billion available immediately, another $100 billion upon report to Congress and the final $350 billion available only upon action by Congress.

-- Money will be used to buy mortgage-backed securities and other troubled assets, taking them from investment banks, commercial banks, smaller community banks, pension plans and even local governments.

-- Government can use its power as the owner of the troubled mortgage bonds to facilitate modifications for the mortgages themselves.

-- Bipartisan oversight commission will monitor the program. If after five years there is a net loss to the taxpayers, president will have to submit legislative proposals to recoup funds from beneficiaries.

-- Democrats won new, unspecified restrictions on CEO pay and executive compensations for participating companies.

-- Republicans won language creating a parallel insurance program that companies can choose instead of giving up their bad assets.

-- Creation of warrants, which allows any windfall coming to participating companies to be shared with the government, thus the taxpayers.

-- Actions by Treasury will be posted online in real time.

--Judicial review of Treasury's actions.

According to the New York Times, Congress would actually have to vote to deny the final $350 in funding if the Treasury Secretary requested it, and this vote would be subject to a presidential veto.

I am less than inspired, and less than convinced that this bailout is necessary to save the US financial system. According to this article posted on Truthout, many actual economists are also skeptical about whether this rescue plan is needed and if it will work.

The New York Times says that it is still possible that the bailout plan will fail to pass Congress. I'm not sure what to think, but I think I might be relieved if the darned thing went down. I tried to start wading through the 110 pages of the bill, and on first glance it looked to me as if the reforms and regulations imposed on the plan were vague and difficult to enforce.

Furthermore, just Friday the Senate failed to pass a much more modest $56 billion economic stimulus bill. According to the Reuters news agency, this bill "would have extended unemployment benefits, increased food aid and funded new construction projects to create jobs."

It doesn't make sense to me that a bunch of rich white guys on Wall Street need help more than ordinary working people do.

In praise of feminist periodicals, especially _off our backs_

Just the other day, I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Feminist Peace Network, where I saw an announcement of the publication of the latest--and possibly the last--print edition of the feminist news journal off our backs. This special Women's Visions for Peace Issue looks as if it will be very good. And it's encouraging to learn that oob will survive on the World Wide Web--and possibly in print as well.

I bet that oob could still use some more donations, which is why I started writing this post.

But then I started thinking fondly about off our backs, and all of the years it's been around, and the different forms it's taken. If my memory serves me correctly, oob was founded in February 1970 as a monthly newspaper. It served as a place where many fine feminist disagreements were argued out in great detail, and a source of women's news from all around the globe. Sometime in the current decade, facing budget dfficulties, oob transformed itself into a semi-monthly magazine style publication.

In whatever form off our backs survives, I am completely in awe that they've managed to keep themselves going for more than 38 years.

Back during the 1970s and 1980s the United States had dozens, even hundreds, of small independent feminist periodicals. Most were produced without the benefit of computer equipment. They were hand-made by overworked and mostly unpaid women armed with typewriters, light tables, exacto knives and hand waxers.

I bet many people have no idea what a hand waxer is. I bet many people think it is something used by a cosmetologist to remove unsightly hair from the back of your hand. No, no, no. Back in the seventies and eighties we were all about loving our bodies the way they were instead of molding and torturing them into some different patriarchally approved shape or texture.

But I digress. A hand waxer was this little contraption that you used to apply hot wax to the back of your copy so that you could apply it to the layout sheet. (It was a mess. I don't have very good near vision, and I could never get anything straight.) Once you and your sister collective members had laboriously applied all of the copy and all of the graphics to your layout sheets, you would deliver it to the printer. In a day or two, you would go back and .pick up a bundle of newspapers. Some of these you would mail to subscribers, and some you would deliver to your local distribution points. Add in all of the writing and researching articles, trying to sell advertisements, and so forth, it was all a freaking lot of work.

Besides the feminist and lesbian-feminist newspapers and magazines, there was also a vibrant network of independent feminist bookstores. All of this was undermined and done in by a range of cultural and economic forces. There has been an ongoing right-wing backlash over the past 30 years. Large corporations have concentrated control over publishing and bookselling. The mainstreaming of gay culture undermined independent, radical lesbian, feminist, and gay voices.

And then, of course, there has been the rise of the Internet--which may give independent radical voices a chance of re-emerging..

Besides off our backs, I don't know how many survivors are left. Sojourner, once published in Boston, seems to have gone under in 2002. Sinister Wisdom is still with us. On the Issues survives, at least as a web site. There is also a website called feminist reprise that maintains an archive of second-wave feminist writings. And then, of course, we now have feminist blogs.

Here's to all of you, sisters, and to any of you out there that I don't know about or neglected to mention. Here's to all of us. And a very special thank you to oob for keeping on keeping on for all those years.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that not only did I myself once take part in a feminist newspaper collective, it is also true that back in a different lifetime I was also an occasional contributor to off our backs.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cynthia McKinney on the financial crisis

Thanks to Amy at feminist reprise: the blog for this post about Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney's proposed solution to the current financial crisis.

Whether or not bailout passes, women likely to lose

Not surprisingly, Women's eNews reports that Economists Fear Bailout Could Tighten Squeeze on Women.

If the bill does not pass, and the economy worsens, women will suffer most because they have less wealth than men and are more vulnerable in economic downturns, she said.

If Congress does clear the bill, its high cost will put a fiscal squeeze on government programs that aid low-income people, most of whom are women, she said.

The $700 billion plan would cost roughly $150 billion more than the war in Iraq has cost US taxpayers so far.

Walden Bello looks at the Big Picture

Friday evening I was struggling to make heads or tails out of the congressional controversy over the famous $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan.

That was when I came across Walden Bello's Wall Street Meltdown Primer on Common Dreams. (They picked it up from Foreign Policy in Focus.)

Bello argues that
The Wall Street meltdown is not only due to greed and to the lack of government regulation of a hyperactive sector. This collapse stems ultimately from the crisis of overproduction that has plagued global capitalism since the mid-1970s
Briefly, capitalism is very efficient at producing stuff at very low cost. But capitalism is also characterized by economic inequality--most people have little or no access to all that stuff. In order to make a profit, capitalists need buyers for their goods. `Overproduction' takes place when people can't buy all the stuff that the capitalists have made. Under these circumstances, capitalists turn to financial speculation to make a profit. This speculation has very little connection to the real economy. It leads to large profits--and large collapses, like the one Wall Street is experiencing now.

Bello's analysis of this situation is interesting, well-organized, and relatively short. I encourage you to read the entire post.

Friday, September 26, 2008

This looks like a mess

Once again, thanks to Truthout for a link to this article about the collapse of a compromise agreement for a rescue of the financial services industry. The compromise looks as if it included stiffer oversight and some help for homeowners. I don't know what the conservative Republicans were thinking, but it doesn't look good.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This is rather alarming

Truthout is carrying this Associated Press report that Pakistan and US Troops Exchange Fire.

We need some strings attached

This morning I called my elected representatives about the proposed $700 billion plan to deal with the Big Mess on Wall Street.

I think the plan ought to include help for ordinary homeowners. But because I live in the conservative state of Oklahoma, what I focused on was the lack of oversight in the Bush/Paulson plan. (Conservatives are all about being responsible and cautious, right?) My talking points were:

1) We need to have some serious oversight and the possibility of administrative and court review.

2) We need to follow the law on public contracts.

3) The public should get an equity stake in companies whose debt is being bought.

4) We need to re-regulate the financial services industry.

5) There needs to be a limit on executive compensation for any companies that are receiving government aid.

By the way, the best analysis I've seen of the government bailout plan is here.

New Zealand campaigns sidestep abortion

Thanks to the Center for the Advancement of Women for their link to this article from Women's eNews, about abortion rights and the New Zealand election campaign.

Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark trails National Party leader John Key in the polls. Neither Clark nor Key has commented on a judge's ruling that the country's abortion law "is being interpreted too liberally." Women's eNews reports that Jackie Edmond, head of New Zealand family planning, is glad that debate over the ruling isn't taking place in the heat of an election campaign.

The whole article is worth reading, and contains interesting information about women's political history in New Zealand.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Listen to the women

Three women with useful things to say about the current US financial crisis:
  1. Naomi Klein
  2. Nomi Prins
  3. Mimi Abramovitz
Read them.

Rwandan women voted in as majority in Parliment

Thanks to Feministing for this short, interesting post on women gaining a 56 percent majority in the Rwandan parliment.

We Need Labor's Leadership In This Crisis

Jonathan Tasini over on Working Life has written an excellent brief commentary on the current financial crisis.

Tasini is calling for an immediate meeting of every labor leader in the country. As minimum preconditions for a public bailout of Wall Street, he insists on

1. A repeal of the Bush tax cuts

2. Public ownership of the mortgage bundlers Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac

3. A "serious public, independent investigation," carried out by labor and other organizations, of how the political system, with the help of both parties, allowed the crisis to happen.

He also reprints Dean Baker's "Principles to Guide the Bailout."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Treasury bailout proposal incites opposition

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's proposal for a $700 billion bailout of firms involved in the mortgage crisis has instigated massive opposition. Here are a few examples of this:

According to Matt Renner on truthout:
Members of Congress point to a severe lack of oversight in the proposed Bush administration plan. Section eight of the draft bailout plan states: "Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency," essentially stripping Congress of its responsibility to oversee the how these tax dollars could be spent.

Constituents have been blowing up the phone lines on Capitol Hill, calling House of Representatives members, Republicans and Democrats, objecting to the no-strings-attached bailout, and the representatives have responded. Democrats are currently crafting various proposals to help prop up Wall Street firms which have gotten themselves into trouble, but without simply throwing away taxpayer money and without letting CEOs of the affected firms off the hook with fat retirement packages.

Dean Baker, also on truthout, writes about the weaknesses in the Bush/Paulson plan, and what conditions for a bailout should be.

Echidne of the Snakes reports on some better proposals for a bailout--but worries that "One part of me thinks that the draft had those totally unacceptable bits about no laws allowed for the very reason that people would get up in arms about them and then any compromise would seem like a victory, while in reality the industry and its cronies got exactly what they wanted. The Republicans play that game a lot."

Truthdig has a post by Washington Post columnist Marie Cocco argues that amid so much socialism for the wealthy, it is no longer possible to argue against decent government programs that benefit average people. "If we can socialize the banking industry, why can’t we socialize the health insurance industry?," she asks.

Not only that, but this salon.com post I found on Common Dreams shows that significant opposition to the bailout plan is coming from the right.

Unlike Echidne, I am cautiously optimistic that something good will come out of this. If you'd like to help something good happen, you might contact your elected representatives.

In case you would like to find out what all this fuss is about, you can view Paulson's original proposal below.

Thanks to the US PIRG Consumer Blog for this link to the text of the original proposal. Ed Mierzwinski, who posted this blog entry, noted that he wasn't able to find this text on the US Treasury web site. I couldn't find it there either, although this Google search brought up many places where it was posted online.

I've quoted the entire text of the initial proposal below:

Section 1. Short Title.
This Act may be cited as ____________________.
Sec. 2. Purchases of Mortgage-Related Assets.
(a) Authority to Purchase.--The Secretary is authorized to purchase, and to make and fund commitments to purchase, on such terms and conditions as determined by the Secretary, mortgage-related assets from any financial institution having its headquarters in the United States.
(b) Necessary Actions.--The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including, without limitation:
(1) appointing such employees as may be required to carry out the authorities in this Act and defining their duties;
(2) entering into contracts, including contracts for services authorized by section 3109 of title 5, United States Code, without regard to any other provision of law regarding public contracts;
(3) designating financial institutions as financial agents of the Government, and they shall perform all such reasonable duties related to this Act as financial agents of the Government as may be required of them;
(4) establishing vehicles that are authorized, subject to supervision by the Secretary, to purchase mortgage-related assets and issue obligations; and
(5) issuing such regulations and other guidance as may be necessary or appropriate to define terms or carry out the authorities of this Act.
Sec. 3. Considerations.
In exercising the authorities granted in this Act, the Secretary shall take into consideration means for--
(1) providing stability or preventing disruption to the financial markets or banking system; and (2) protecting the taxpayer.
Sec. 4. Reports to Congress.
Within three months of the first exercise of the authority granted in section 2(a), and semiannually thereafter, the Secretary shall report to the Committees on the Budget, Financial Services, and Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Committees on the Budget, Finance, and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate with respect to the authorities exercised under this Act and the considerations required by section 3.
Sec. 5. Rights; Management; Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets.
(a) Exercise of Rights.--The Secretary may, at any time, exercise any rights received in connection with mortgage-related assets purchased under this Act.
(b) Management of Mortgage-Related Assets.--The Secretary shall have authority to manage mortgage-related assets purchased under this Act, including revenues and portfolio risks therefrom.
(c) Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets.--The Secretary may, at any time, upon terms and conditions and at prices determined by the Secretary, sell, or enter into securities loans, repurchase transactions or other financial transactions in regard to, any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act.
(d) Application of Sunset to Mortgage-Related Assets.--The authority of the Secretary to hold any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act before the termination date in section 9, or to purchase or fund the purchase of a mortgage-related asset under a commitment entered into before the termination date in section 9, is not subject to the provisions of section 9.
Sec. 6. Maximum Amount of Authorized Purchases.
The Secretary’s authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time
Sec. 7. Funding.
For the purpose of the authorities granted in this Act, and for the costs of administering those authorities, the Secretary may use the proceeds of the sale of any securities issued under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, and the purposes for which securities may be issued under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, are extended to include actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses. Any funds expended for actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses, shall be deemed appropriated at the time of such expenditure.
Sec. 8. Review.
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency
Sec. 9. Termination of Authority
The authorities under this Act, with the exception of authorities granted in sections 2(b)(5), 5 and 7, shall terminate two years from the date of enactment of this Act.
Sec. 10. Increase in Statutory Limit on the Public Debt.
Subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting in lieu thereof $11,315,000,000,000.
Sec. 11. Credit Reform.
The costs of purchases of mortgage-related assets made under section 2(a) of this Act shall be determined as provided under the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990, as applicable.
Sec. 12. Definitions.
For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:
(1) Mortgage-Related Assets.--The term “mortgage-related assets” means residential or commercial mortgages and any securities, obligations, or other instruments that are based on or related to such mortgages, that in each case was originated or issued on or before September 17, 2008.
(2) Secretary.--The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Treasury.
(3) United States.--The term “United States” means the States, territories, and possessions of the United States and the District of Columbia.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ms. Foundation for Women on the current crisis

Thanks to Common Dreams for this link to this Ms. Foundation for Women news release:

On the Unfolding Economic Crisis and Its Disproportionate Impact on Nation’s Most Vulnerable Women and Families

Dow Jones drops 372 points Monday

Anxious Investors Push Dow Down 372 Points, according to the New York Times.
Stocks fell sharply and oil prices suddenly spiked on Monday as investors anxiously waited for Washington lawmakers to hash out the details of the biggest government bailout in history — a politically fraught process that will create a new slate of winners and losers on Wall Street.
Also, the dollar lost value against the euro, and investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley turned themselves into traditional bank holding companies. (This opened them to regulation by the Federal Reserve and allowed them to accept cash deposits from the public. If anyone is fools enough to deposit cash with them.)

Stocks prices dropped for Bank of America, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and Wachovia.

An evil and dangerous blank check--first impressions

Since I started this blog post Sunday evening, lots of stuff has happened, so this information is already somewhat outdated. But I still think these links are worth following:

ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES has this analysis of the blank check that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wants Congress to write to bail out the nincompoops on Wall Street. One of her previous posts has more details.

One of the best explanations of this I've seen comes from a guest blogger on happening here.

Paul Krugman says no deal. (Thanks to JOTMAN for the link.)

William Greider of Tbe Nation describes Paulson's proposal as "a historic swindle." Truthout also had this New York Times account of the $700 billion bailout.

Avi Zenilman reports that many economists are against the bailout.

Senator Bernie Sanders says that The Middle Class Must Not Be Forced to Bail Out Wall Street Greed

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Everything you would have wanted to know about the Glass Steagall Act, but didn't know that you needed to ask

Recently there's been a big mess on Wall Street. The federal government has rushed in to rescue financiers from their own massive bad judgment. An even bigger bailout plan is on its way to Congress

Supposedly, these bailouts are necessary to keep the larger economy from collapsing. When I listen to NPR or read news on the web, I hear and see frightened and baffled commentators comparing the situation to the Great Depression of the 1930s. No one seems to know what will happen next.

During the New Deal, it seemed obvious that the stock market crash and depression had been largely caused by the greed and stupidity of banks and financiers. The result was legislation regulating banks and stock traders.

During the right wing backlash of the past 30 years, many of those regulations have been abolished or undermined. Once again we seem poised on the brink of a catastrophe brought about by the worst excesses of unregulated capitalism. It seems clear that all this deregulation was less than a brilliant idea.

In a recent post, I linked to an article by Nomi Prins that called for re-regulation of financial institutions. Prins is no mere liberal ranter. According the biography on her web site, "Before becoming a journalist, Nomi worked on Wall Street as a managing director at Goldman Sachs, and running the international analytics group at Bear Stearns in London."

Prins has a particular piece of re-regulation in mind. As she explains in another post for Mother Jones, Prins wants to bring back something like the Glass Steagall Act.

Okay, here's where it gets just a little bit complicated. But bear with me, and I'm going to explain the Glass Steagall Act. The more of this stuff we ordinary people understand, the less chance the experts on Wall Street and in Washington have to take advantage of us.

First off, there were actually two Glass Steagall acts. According to Wikipedia, "Both bills were sponsored by Democratic Senator Carter Glass of Lynchburg, Virginia, a former Secretary of the Treasury, and Democratic Congressman Henry B. Steagall of Alabama, Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency."

The first bill was passed in 1932, while Herbert Hoover was still president. It took the country off the gold standard and increased the ability of the Federal Reserve to influence the money supply.

The second bill, the Banking Act of 1933, is what most commentators are referring to when they talk about the Glass Steagall Act.

The act had a number of important provisions. It established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation on a temporary basis, and enabled it to regulate and insure bank deposits. It included something called Regulation Q, which allowed the Federal Reserve to regulate the interest rates that banks could pay. (We still have the FDIC. Regulation Q perished in 1980.)

But the heart of the Glass Steagall Act was its required separation of investment banking and commercial banking. Nomi Prins offers a good explanation:
Decisively, the Act forced institutions within the banking community to pick a side. You want to deal with the population at large, take their deposits, give them a safe place for their savings, and make reasonable loans for which you are as responsible as the borrowers? Terrific. As a commercial bank in 1933, the newly established Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) backed your depositors and the federal government regulated you.
Alternately, as an investment bank at the time you could raise capital through speculative investors at home or overseas. But you wouldn't get federal backing, and you couldn't use the citizenry's capital to fund your trading activities.
That simple Glass-Steagall separation not only kept consumer and speculative capital from intertwining within the same institution, it made it possible to understand the activities of all financial organizations. Transparency was not perfect, but it was more easily accomplished.
We lost this provision of Glass Steagall back during the Clinton Administration, through the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA).

Given the size of the current crisis, common sense seems to call for requiring more transparency from our financial institutions, and yes, subjecting them to stricter regulation.

A large part of the mess seems to have derived from the widespread sale of complicated, unregulated securities such as collaterialized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps.

And according to Wikipedia, the repeal of Glass Steagall
enabled commercial lenders such as Citigroup, the largest U.S. bank by assets, to underwrite and trade instruments such as mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations and establish so-called structured investment vehicles, or SIVs, that bought those securities. Citigroup played a major part in the repeal.

So you might think there would be universal support for bringing back Glass Steagall.

Not so.

For instance, NPR's Adam Davidson, insists that academic studies have proven that combined investment banks and commercial banks are actually more stable than banks that separate those two functions.

And Megan McArdle at atlantic.com insists that "Off [sic] all the most bizarre statements running around about this crisis, the most bizarre is the shockingly common belief on the left that this can somehow be traced back to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act, which "repealed" Glass-Steagall."

I dunno. I think Nomi Prins's analysis in this AlterNet piece seems perfectly reasonable:
The Fed wants to avoid another huge failure in Merrill Lynch by pushing it under the rug of Bank of America. That is bad policy. Bank of America cannot possibly have a clue about the extent of Merrill's potential losses. This commercial bank taking over a speculative giant is much more dangerous than Lehman Brothers tanking. The Fed was within all of its rights and sanity to say no to Lehman's plea for a bailout. But it won't be able to do the same thing with Bank of America, which, unlike Lehman or Bear, is responsible for the accounts of millions of customers -- real people with real money on the line.
The speculative nature of the industry, in which commercial and investment banks can borrow beyond their abilities to repay, is a threat to national economic security. It requires a serious exit strategy.
There is no easy answer, but there is only one solution -- and it lies polar opposite to the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch merger logic. The only real way to stabilize the financial industry is to take it apart, quantify and separate its risks, and begin again. We can do this. FDR did it. The market is larger now, and more global. That is not an excuse for inaction; it belies a screaming need for useful action and meaningful regulation. Period.
Other commentators have suggested other approaches besides re-inventing Glass Steagall.

Writing for the New York Times, William R.Gruver suggests a consolidation of federal financial regulatory agencies--and a limit on which investors are allowed to buy the most complicated securities.

Dean Baker calls for a limit on executive compensation and a financial transactions tax.

Whatever combination of solutions we use, I think Prins is correct that we have a right to meaningful regulation of financial markets as a minimum price for these taxpayer bailouts.

JOTMAN: Marriott in Pakistan bombed

JOTMAN has some useful observations on the situation in Pakistan.

He quotes someone named Thomas at the website Global Moderation to the effect that the US government may be trying to kill Bin Laden just before the November election.

The only poll to worry about is the one on Nov. 4

Joshua Holland over on AlterNet often has sensible things to say, and here he does again:

Why the Polls Drive Us Crazy (and Shouldn't)

And just as a friendly reminder, remember that the deadline to register to vote in Oklahoma is coming up Oct.10.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shortages: 85% Of Gas Stations In Nashville, TN Are Without Gas Right Now

Thanks to The Consumerist for this news item.

I've heard national news reports that Hurricane Ike won't have long-term effects on gas prices. Here in Oklahoma City, gas lots of places is down to about $3.30/gallon at lots of places. But in Tennessee, at least folks are hurting.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Diamond & Kashyap on Recent Financial Upheavals

This post on the Freakonomics blog provides some interesting details about the current mess on Wall Street.

Thanks to The Consumerist for the link.

Message to Wall Street: the problem is poverty

NPR reports that the US stock market rallied strongly late Thursday amid rumors that the federal government might create an agency similar to the Resolution Trust Corporation that helped the country get through the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.

But is a continuing series of bailouts of greedy and stupid Wall Street firms the best way to get out of our current economic situation? Sally Kohn, writing on Common Dreams, points out that Exploiting Poverty Caused the Financial Crisis.
The sub-prime crisis is the result of good people getting bad loans. Loans that triple or quadruple in interest rates, riddled with small print, are unbearable by most homeowners. But they are particularly unsustainable for low-income families working two or three jobs to make ends meet. Still, lenders scammed hardworking families with the promise of owning homes they really couldn't afford. And then greedy Wall Street managers, looking for a new way to squeeze a buck from an already bursting-at-the-seams economy, bundled up these bad loans into worse securities, sold them off, and tried to gain a profit as our national economy lost its shirt.
We could have averted the current financial crisis by creating affordable housing and good jobs, strengthening public education and providing health care and child care for all families, to help hardworking Americans thrive in the middle class instead of being pushed into poverty. We could have averted this crisis if we really cared about all families owning their own homes and created nationwide programs including affordable loans. (Even subsidized loans in the first place would have cost taxpayers less than what we're now spending bailing out Wall Street.) We could have averted this crisis if we put the needs of the majority of American families ahead of the needs of a small minority of greedy investors.
Now, 8,000 American families a day face foreclosure. But instead of prioritizing poor and even middle class families who are increasingly struggling, our government is spending billions and billions to bail out the Wall Street firms that created this crisis. Instead, we should be spending our taxpayer money to help the families who were taken advantage of in the "anything goes" unregulated financial system that years of misguided never-really-did-trickle-down economic policy created. These families need the government to help re-adjust their mortgages and cover bridge payments to avoid foreclosure.
There is also the troubling possibility that the US government's own finances could be dragged down by the bailouts. Here's how the NPR story finishes:
Economist Sun Won Sohn of California State University at Fullerton told NPR that the U.S. can raise the money it needs to pay for the bailouts, but the bigger issue is one of perception. The U.S. financial system seems overextended, and that is causing foreign investors to pull their money out of the country.
"The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury have always been the rock of Gibraltar," he said. "Now we're seeing that people are beginning to wonder, is it really as strong as we thought it was?"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Please help us, they're falling

The BBC reports that the Dow Jones average fell more than 4 percent Wednesday in the wake of the US Federal Reserve's loan to giant insurer American International Group the previous evening. Apparently, investors lack confidence that the aid will solve the underlying economic problems.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan put another 1.5 trillion yen into money markets. Tokyo's Nikkei had dropped 3.1 percent, and the South Korean stock market dropped 3 percent in trading early Thursday morning. The Hong Kong Market had dropped 4 percent.

Many Japanese companies have assets insured by AIG, and they also lack confidence that the Fed's $85 billion loan to AIG will solve its problems.

Trading on the Russian stock exchange was suspended on Wednesday because of a steep drop in stock prices.

Over on AlterNet, Nomi Prins argues that the continuing stock market collapse demonstrates the need to re-regulate runaway financial institutions. (It's a great article, and well worth reading.) On truthdig, Amy Goodman points out why such re-regulation might prove difficult to accomplish:
The meltdown is a bipartisan affair. Presidential contenders John McCain and Barack Obama each have received millions of dollars from these very companies that are collapsing and are receiving the corporate welfare. President Clinton and his treasury secretary, Robert Rubin (now an Obama economic adviser), presided over the repeal in 1999 of the Glass-Steagall Act, passed after the 1929 start of the Great Depression to curb speculation that caused that calamity. The repeal was pushed through by former Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, one of McCain’s former top advisers. Politicians are too dependent on Wall Street to do anything. The people who vote for them, and whose taxes are being handed over to these failed financiers, need to show their outrage and demand that their leaders truly put “country first” and bring about “change.”

A gender nonconformity survey

Thanks to Feministing for this link to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force survey on transgender discrimination.

Anyone who knows me very well at all knows that I have very complicated ideas and feelings about gender issues. But I certainly agree with transgender activists that enforced gender conformity is a Bad Thing.

I haven't had chance to take the survey or to look at it in depth, but it seems to be interesting and important.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Economic update

Here's an update to yesterday's post.

I was listening to the radio when I got home from work last night, and just heard an NPR report that the Federal Reserve has just announced an $85 billion loan to save insurer American International Group. Why did the feds decide to bail out AIG and not Lehman Brothers? Your guess is as good as mine.

Meanwhile, NPR also reports that US stock markets made a partial recovery from yesterday's slump after the Fed kept something called the federal funds rate at 2 percent. This is the rate that banks charge each other for overnight loans.

Also, the Associated Press reported that "Barclays says it will acquire Lehman Brothers' North American investment banking and capital markets businesses for $250 million in cash."

All this economic uncertainty is apparently causing oil prices to drop. Less economic growth equals less demand for oil which equals lower prices. At the same time, the BBC reports that the US federal deficit is likely to go up to $438 billion in 2009--and that doesn't include the cost of rescuing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

This complicated stuff has a lot to do with the well being of ordinary people. Dean Baker offers a good explanation of how we got into this mess--and some ways that we can get out of it.
With the demise of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, IndyMac, Bear Stearns and now Lehman Brothers, we’ve been treated to the failure of more major financial firms than during any year since the Great Depression. The sight of rich bankers getting the boot might be lots of fun if it were just a spectator sport. Unfortunately, we are in the game with these clowns.

As a result of their incompetence, irresponsibility and greed, the housing bubble was allowed to grow to dangerous proportions. Its collapse threw the economy into recession, putting millions of people out of work and lowering the wages of those who still have their jobs. The plunge in house prices has destroyed much of the life savings for tens of millions of people nearing retirement.

Meanwhile, the bankers who messed up and destroyed the companies who hired them are still multimillionaires. Most of them are still in their old jobs getting multimillion-dollar pay packages. This is a sector that badly cries out for reform and there is no better time than now to put it into place.

Baker says that the public has a right to expect substantial reforms in return for the federal bailout. Baker calls for a cut in executive pay, and also for a financial transactions tax to help rein in speculation.

The entire post (which I found via truthout) is fairly short, easy to understand, and well worth reading. Baker gives a more complete explanation of the financial transaction tax here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ukraine government collapses over Georgia war

Common Dreams posted this interesting article from TimesOnlineUK about the situation in Ukraine. Apparently the effects of the war in Georgia are spreading.

Lehman Bros. fails, stock market falls, US faces major economic uncertainty

As the BBC put it, "Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest US investment bank, has filed for bankruptcy protection, dealing a blow to the fragile global financial system" after losing billions of dollars in the US mortgage market.

In the recent past, the Federal Reserve has offered financial backing to prop up other struggling financial institutions. In March, the Fed offered a $30 billion loan to help JP Morgan take over Bear Stearns. Just last week it intervened to save Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because of their crucial role in the mortgage market. This time, the Fed refused to offer financial incentives to potential buyers of Lehman Brothers.

Maybe this is a good thing. Like so many other financial institutions, Lehman Brothers got itself into trouble by making spectacularly bad investments. By letting the company fail, the Fed sent the word to other investment bankers that they can't expect the taxpayers to protect them from their own stupid mistakes.

On the other hand, there are also large risks to allowing Lehman Brothers to fail. Economist Paul Krugman explains:
Like many financial institutions, Lehman has a huge balance sheet - it owes vast sums, and is owed vast sums in return. Trying to liquidate that balance sheet quickly could lead to panic across the financial system. That's why government officials and private bankers have spent the weekend huddled at the New York Fed, trying to put together a deal that would save Lehman, or at least let it fail more slowly.
Meanwhile, Bank of America purchased another troubled investment bank, Merrill Lynch.

The New York Times reports that the US stock market suffered its worse one-day drop since the terrorist attacks back in 2001. The BBC reports that following stock market drops in the US and Europe, stocks in Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan fell by five to six percent.

I think that Krugman's New York Times piece (via truthout) gives the best description of the underlying situation. It's short and well worth checking out.

Basically, "depository banks"--banks that physically take money from depositors and lend it out to borrowers--are now much less important to the economy than is something called the "shadow banking system." Our current banking regulations and deposit insurance system weren't designed to protect "non-depository" banks like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.

As Krugman puts it:
The real answer to the current problem would, of course, have been to take preventive action before we reached this point. Even leaving aside the obvious need to regulate the shadow banking system - if institutions need to be rescued like banks, they should be regulated like banks - why were we so unprepared for this latest shock? When Bear went under, many people talked about the need for a mechanism for "orderly liquidation" of failing investment banks. Well, that was six months ago. Where's the mechanism?

And so here we are, with Mr. Paulson apparently feeling that playing Russian roulette with the U.S. financial system was his best option. Yikes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Latoya on Sarah and Condoleeza

Over at Feministe, there's a writer called Latoya who is one of the most interesting voices in the blogosphere. Sunday evening I was hanging out down at Sauced trying to get started on a complicated post about Sarah Palin and the separation of church and state, when I happened to come across Latoya's latest post, which compares Sarah Palin and Condoleeza Rice.

Latoya starts by citing several of the latest feminist blog entries on Palin, and noting that they take one of two points of view. One viewpoint attacks Palin because her positions are completely opposed to everything feminism has stood for as a movement. The other viewpoint says that feminists should support Palin because she is a strong woman who demonstrates what feminism has done to advance opportunities for women.

As an African American woman, Latoya doesn't see Palin as representing every woman. She says, "Palin doesn’t represent anything close to the womanhood I know." In order to put Palin in context, Latoya compares Palin's relationship to women's issues with Condoleeza Rice's relationship to racial issues.

One reason I found this analysis interesting is that I thought Rice would have been a logical choice for McCain's running mate. She's brilliant and has demonstrated executive experience. More than that, however, I think Latoya gets right to the heart of what the controversy over Palin is all about:

You can hate someone’s policies and still defend them from ad hominem arguments. I hate when people say that Condoleezza Rice is a sellout and that she isn’t black. That’s a ridiculous assertion to make. However, that does not make Condoleezza Rice a civil rights leader just because she is black and in a position of power.

I hate when people say Sarah Palin is not a woman, or she is a tool of the patriarchy, or any of the other non policy related attacks I’ve seen leveled at her from all kinds of places. But that doesn’t mean you need to start sipping the “this is a victory for women” kool aid. It isn’t. Sarah Palin does not magically become a champion for all women, everywhere, just because she happens to be a woman in a position of power.

In this election, people need to understand to vote with their interests, not the symbolic interpretation they may hold of a certain person.

Listen to the words people speak.

Watch the actions that they take.

But don’t let your own ideas on who that person should be mask who they really are.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Register to vote NOW! Oklahoma deadline Oct. 10!

Okay, if you think the upcoming election isn't important, or if you have some carefully thought out reason why you are going to stay away from the polls, I'm not going to argue with you. Otherwise, it's time to get up off your butt and make sure you are registered to vote. Or, stay seated if you prefer, and click through some of the links below.

According to the OKLAHOMA STATE ELECTION BOARD, Friday, Oct. 10 is the last day to register to vote if you want to vote in the Nov. 4 general election. You can download a registration form, or request one to be sent to you through the mail.

Lists of Oklahoma statewide candidates and ballot measures are available, as is information about how to find your county elections board and polling place.

For more information, you can look here, or you can contact

Oklahoma State Election Board
PO Box 53156
Oklahoma City, OK 73152
(405) 521-2391

Saturday, September 13, 2008

In case there's anyone reading this blog

It's possible that it will be a few days before I post again. I'm getting over a head cold and playing with some ideas for my next novel. After all, soon it will be November and time for National Novel Writing Month.

I have an idea for at least one long post that I'd like to write later this weekend. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Things I didn't know when I worked for PetSmart....

My old job stocking the shelves in the cat food department got me interested in the ingredients in pet food. I read the labels, did a little bit of research, tried to share information with my customers.

I wish I'd had this post (courtesy of AlterNet) to share with my customers.

Post author Jill Richardson interviews Marion Nestle, author of the book Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine. This book examines the pet food crisis of 2007--in which numerous pets died from eating contaminated pet food ingredients--and what it tells us about the safety of the human and pet food supply today.

JR: What was the top reason that allowed the pet food problems to reach the magnitude they did? Was it preventable?
MN: The number one reason is that nobody was paying any attention to food ingredients imported from China. After that, the reasons multiply. Pet food companies had no idea where their ingredients came from. The manufacture of pet foods is complicated, so it is centralized in a few manufacturing facilities that make many different brands. The food supply for pets is so tightly linked to the food supplies for people and farm animals that the food supplies cannot be separated; what affects one, affects all. The FDA has lost so much funding over the last 10 years or so that it can't do its job. And China is an important trading partner as well as an exporter of cheap goods. This is a hugely complicated, interconnected story that I thought was well worth telling.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What's cooking in Thailand?

On Tuesday night I found the news on JOTMAN. Thai Prime Minister Samek Sundaravej was forced to resign by Thailand's Constitutional Court.

As I reported at the beginning of this month, demonstrators have been trying to force Samek's resignation on the grounds that he was corrupt.

Now we in the United States have also seen some of our citizens call for the impeachment of our own president, George W. Bush. Given that I've always thought that Bush's behavior was sort of business-as-usual for the US empire, I've never been real big on impeaching him. The real problem is lots bigger than ol' W. But there's no denying the seriousness of the charges. We're talking things like starting the disastrous Iraq War on false pretenses, warrantless surveillance of US citizens, or dismissing US attorneys for political reasons. And the list goes on.

So what, may you wonder, were the grounds on which the Thai Constitutional Court ordered Prime Minister Samek to resign?

Um, it seems that the court thought he violated a provision of the Thai Constitution that forbids someone from accepting private employment while serving as Prime Minister. According to JOTMAN, Samek appeared on a few episodes of a cooking show on Thai television.

For more details, here's a link to a New York Times post that I found courtesy of JOTMAN. It has lots of background information, and seems to have other interesting links.

Because Samek's PPP party seems intent on re-nominating Samek to the post of prime minister, this ruling is unlikely to end the current Thai controvery, the Times reported.

I have an idea. Given that the anti-Samek protesters think that Thailand has too much democracy, maybe they'd like to have George W. for their prime minister? Maybe we could arrange some kind of a trade?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Alaska Independence Party

I first saw this over on JOTMAN, and thought it deserved more discussion than I though it was getting. But apparently, the story about Sarah Palin and her association with the Alaska Independence Party has gotten a lot more play than I've realized. A Google search on sarah palin alaska independence party brings up quite a list of results.

Palin never belonged to AKIP, according to a New York Times blog linked by JOTMAN. But Lynette Clark, AKIP chairwoman, said that Palin attended their convention in 1994 and 2006, and sent a videotaped message in 2008. A link to that message is here.

Talk to Action reports that
the AIP is the Alaska affiliate of the Constitution Party, founded by Howard Phillips, and has been the political home to leading theocratic Christian Reconstructionism such as John Lofton, Otto Scott, Joe Morecraft and movement founder R.J. Rushdoony himself. It has also been the party of some of the most militant anti-abortion activists in the U.S. such as Matthew Trewhella and Ralph Ovadal of Missionaries to the Preborn and for many years Randall Terry -- until he decided to run (unsuccessfully) in a primary challenge to an incumbent Republican State Senator Jim King (who had stood up to the Religious Right during the Terri Schiavo episode.) More recently perennial GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes unsuccessfully sought the Constitution Party nomination. Currently the third largest political party in the U.S. in terms of membership, it is usually on the ballot in about 35 states.
The Detroit Free Press offers a "primer on Sarah Palin" that addresses other questions and controversies surrounding the GOP VP candidate.

It looks like Sarah Palin is Alaska's answer to Sally Kern--except, as a friend of mine put it, "she's got more power than Sally Kern ever dreamed of having."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Who are Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and why is the federal government bailing them out?

The BBC provides a short description of the federal bailout of these two corporations. Not only is it short, it's easy to understand. I recommend that you read it.

My comment: What's happening now is being described by many news outlets as a "takeover," and it's not. Fannie Mae was actually a federal agency from its founding in 1938 until 1968. And it seems to me that the job of buying mortgages from lenders and selling them to investors--thus keeping the mortgage market stable--is one that should be done by the government and not by private corporations. But it doesn't look as if we're going back to that yet.

Addressing breast cancer inequities

Our Bodies Our Blog offers a fascinating but disturbing report on the differences in death rates from breast cancer between black and white women.
According to the California Breast Cancer Research Program, in 1980 breast cancer mortality rates were equal for both African American and Caucasian women. By 1990, however, African American women had a 16 percent higher mortality rate than white women, and by 2004 this difference had increased to 36 percent.
(Um, gee, wasn't that the year that Ronald Reagan was elected US president? Do you think that maybe the country has changed since then? And maybe those changes weren't for the better?)

Post author Brenda Salgado observes that while research into such topics as differences in access to health care and genetics are important, there are also deeper causes of these inequities.
As we seek to identify genes that may be predictive of disease, we may unknowingly turn our attention from talking about other issues like income, racism, access to healthy foods and neighborhood pollution. Like breast cancer mortality, these issues are not distributed equitably in our society, and there is already clear evidence that these factors affect multiple health outcomes.

Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress issued a report called “Geneticizing Disease: Implications for Racial Health Disparities.” The authors tell the cautionary tale of BiDil, the first race-specific medication targeted at African Americans, and the ethical, research and funding controversies surrounding its approval. They also make the case that placing all our emphasis on medicating disease once it has arisen will come at the cost of preventing disease from occurring in the first place.

We need to make sure our policymakers think more broadly than genetics research and health “disparities.” Resources also must focus on addressing the social injustices that lead to health inequities and on improving the social conditions of everyone in society.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mexican Supreme Court upholds Mexico City abortion rights law

Over at RH Reality Check, blogger Laura Villa reports that the Mexican Supreme Court recently upheld a Mexico City law that allows pregnant women to choose abortion through the 12th week of pregnancy. Villa writes:
When I was born 27 years ago, it was into a city were women died because there was no access to legal and safe abortions. For nearly a decade I've worked to ensure that young women have access to sexual health information and services. In a country where most abortions are illegal, and those that aren't are nearly impossible to obtain, being able to control your own sexual health and prevent pregnancy takes on even greater meaning. It can save your life.

Villa reports that the Mexico City district legislative assembly passed this law in April 2007. Less than a month later, the law was challenged by a representative of the national human rights commission. Villa's post was published Sept. 5. She reports that the Court upheld the law the previous Thursday.
This is a big and much needed step. When society criminalizes women for making decisions about their reproductive lives, the consequences are immeasurable - it has an effect not just on them, but on their children, their families and their communities. The citizens of Mexico have decided to open a sincere, fearless and fruitful discussion about abortion in order to overcome such negative consequences.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Update on the situation in Thailand

JOTMAN quotes the Bangkok Post as saying:
The government on Thursday approved an up-or-down national vote of confidence with a referendum that will ask every voting citizen the question: Do you want the government to continue in office?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Canadian elections likely in October

Look's like they're going to have an election up in Canada, too. Over at BlogHer, sassymonkey reports that elections are likely in mid-October. Their electoral system is much different from ours in the US. sassymonkey provides a helpful description of how the Canadian system works.

At telegraph.co.uk, you can read more details about the issues at stake in the upcoming Canadian election. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party has only 127 seats in the 308 seat House of Commons. This minority government has been in power since January 2006.

Stephane Dion, the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, has focused his campaign on a "Green Shift" to fight global warming. The Telegraph says that "the slowing economy has replaced the environment as the main issue in the election."

Journalism Professor David Nayman of Ryerson University in Toronto is quoted as saying, "The real reason for calling the election is the economy is weak and they want to strike now while they feel a majority is within their grasp."

According to the Telegraph, the Conservatives are also facing opposition from the New Democrats, the Greens, and the French separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Andrew Heard of the political science department at Simon Fraser University has a Canadian Elections web site with detailed information on many topics, including this page on Women & Elections.

McKinney/Clemente make New Mexico ballot

Amy at feminist reprise
announces that Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, the Green Party candidates for president and vice president, have been placed on the New Mexico ballot for the November election.
You’ll be able to vote McKinney/Clemente too if you live in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, Washington DC and West Virginia, and they’ll be write-in candidates in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas and Wyoming. The Green Party is working on ballot access in Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, Wisconsin and Virginia.
But not in Oklahoma.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hutchinson on Palin

The Hutchinson Political Report has this to say about Sarah Palin:
The probes into Palin’s record on diversity and civil rights have almost exclusively focused on her views on gay rights, gay marriage, and equal pay. These are crucial civil rights issues. But so is racial diversity and civil rights. The on-line site On the Issues gives a comprehensive look at the positions of elected officials on the major issues based on their statements, speeches, campaign materials and policy position papers. Palin has taken no position on immigration, affirmative action, job and housing discrimination, school re-segregation, police-minority community relations, and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
As Hutchinson observes:
During her tenure as Alaska governor, Palin didn’t have to say or do much about civil rights. She does now. And we shouldn’t have to wait for her to get to the White House before she does. That’s too great a risk for the country.

The ontheissues.org profile of Palin can be found here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What might the wars in Georgia and Afghanistan have in common?

Back in August, Russia invaded the neighboring country of Georgia in support of the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were seeking independence from Georgia. Today on truthout, I found this article by Michael T. Klare, which offered the best analysis of that situation that I've seen so far.

As I read Klare's essay, however, I had the eerie feeling that I'd read this same analysis years ago, right after the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001. It's not just that both the war in Georgia and the war in Afghanistan are both wars over oil. Both appear to have connections to efforts by the US and Western oil companies to transport the oil and gas of a particular isolated region to Western markets.

Klare argues that the Georgian war was part of a larger geopolitical conflict between the United States and Russia over the considerable oil and natural gas reserves of the Caspian Sea Region. The major oil producers in this area are the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, major Western oil companies such as BP, Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil rushed into the region in an effort to exploit these resources.

They had one major obstacle to overcome. The Caspian Sea is landlocked, and all the existing oil and gas pipelines passed through Russia. According to Klare:
What, then, to do? Looking at the Caspian chessboard in the mid-1990s, President Bill Clinton conceived the striking notion of converting the newly independent, energy-poor Republic of Georgia into an "energy corridor" for the export of Caspian basin oil and gas to the West, thereby bypassing Russia altogether. An initial, "early-oil" pipeline was built to carry petroleum from newly-developed fields in Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian Sea to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast, where it was loaded onto tankers for delivery to international markets. This would be followed by a far more audacious scheme: the construction of the 1,000-mile BTC pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to Tbilisi in Georgia and then on to Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. Again, the idea was to exclude Russia - which had, in the intervening years, been transformed into a struggling, increasingly impoverished former superpower - from the Caspian Sea energy rush.
Klare adds that Clinton understood there were serious risks involved in this course of action. For one thing, Clinton's "energy corridor" passed through several conflict zones, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia. To help counteract this risk, Clinton provided substantial military and economic aid to Georgia.

Klare reports that when Vladimir Putin became Russian president at the end of 1999, he made the decision to reassert Russia's control over the region's energy resources. He re-nationalized many of the oil companies that his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, had privatized. In December 2007, Putin also signed an agreement with the leaders of Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan "to supply 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year" through a new pipeline that would connect with Russia's existing supply system to Europe.
Meanwhile, Putin moved to undermine international confidence in Georgia as a reliable future corridor for energy delivery. This became a strategic priority for Moscow because the European Union announced plans to build a $10 billion natural-gas pipeline from the Caspian, dubbed "Nabucco" after the opera by Verdi. It would run from Turkey to Austria, while linking up to an expanded South Caucasus gas pipeline that now extends from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Erzurum in Turkey. The Nabucco pipeline was intended as a dramatic move to reduce Europe's reliance on Russian natural gas - and so has enjoyed strong support from the Bush administration.

It is against this backdrop that the recent events in Georgia unfolded.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili apparently thought that his country's new importance to the US would allow him to recapture the two breakaway regions. Some elements of the Bush Administration may have encouraged him in this fantasy. Meanwhile, Putin may have encouraged rebel leaders in those areas to provoke the Georgians with border attacks. When the Georgians attacked South Ossetia and Abkhazia on August 7th, they gave Putin
...what he long craved - a seemingly legitimate excuse to invade Georgia and demonstrate the complete vulnerability of Clinton's (and now Bush's) vaunted energy corridor. Today, the Georgian army is in shambles, the BTC and South Caucasus gas pipelines are within range of Russian firepower, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia have declared their independence, quickly receiving Russian recognition.
As the US prepared to invade Afghanistan in 2001, supposedly as retaliation for the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC that September, I remembered progressive news sources reporting that the real motivation for the war had much to do with protecting the route for a proposed oil pipeline from Central Asia. A bit of searching the Common Dreams archive showed that my memory served me correctly--and that the pipeline was meant to transport oil from the Caspian basin.

Perhaps you are tempted to dismiss this as merely a conspiracy theory that was circulating along with many others at that time. But as recently as June, the Toronto Sun reported that
Afghanistan just signed a major deal to launch a long-planned, 1,680-km pipeline project expected to cost $8 billion. If completed, the Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India pipeline (TAPI) will export gas and later oil from the Caspian basin to Pakistan's coast where tankers will transport it to the West.
The Sun specifically ties this pipeline to the conduct of the US war in Afghanistan:
The 9/11 attacks, about which the Taliban knew nothing, supplied the pretext to invade Afghanistan. The initial U.S. operation had the legitimate objective of wiping out Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida. But after its 300 members fled to Pakistan, the U.S. stayed on, built bases -- which just happened to be adjacent to the planned pipeline route -- and installed former Unocal "consultant" Hamid Karzai as leader.

Washington disguised its energy geopolitics by claiming the Afghan occupation was to fight "Islamic terrorism," liberate women, build schools and promote democracy. Ironically, the Soviets made exactly the same claims when they occupied Afghanistan from 1979-1989. The Iraq cover story was weapons of mass destruction and democracy.

Work will begin on the TAPI once Taliban forces are cleared from the pipeline route by U.S., Canadian and NATO forces. As American analyst Kevin Phillips writes, the U.S. military and its allies have become an "energy protection force."

Meanwhile, today the BBC reported that the US has offered $1 billion to the Georgians to help rebuild in the aftermath of the Russian attack.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

More on the situation in Thailand

Directly below you will see a summary of information on the situation in Thailand from mainstream sources.

Here are two other things worth checking out:

A blog called JOTMAN has a long post here, with a wide variety of sources, and links to videos taken on the scene. The post says that it is continuously updated. This looks really interesting and informative, but it is starting to get past my dinnertime, and I don't have the brain cells left to summarize it. Just look at the darned thing, okay?

Then, I also found this fascinating paper on Militarization and Terrorism and counter – terrorism measures in Thailand: Feminists and women human rights defenders.

Among many interesting points, author Virada Somswasdi says that:

In contemporary Thailand, whilst some feminists oppose militarization, a good number of women’s rights activists (however, categorization of feminists and women’s rights activists needs a debate.) are swayed by the hatred of the former corruptible civilian prime minister and impatience in the judicial and democratic process to prosecute him and his cronies, thus give support to the 2006 military coup d’etat, and indeed militarization and patriarchy.

Okay. Time for me to leave the beautiful Belle Isle Public Library and go home to my cat and my dinner.

What is going on in Thailand?

Anti-government demonstrators seem bent on bringing down the government of Thailand, either directly or by provoking the military to intervene and overthrow the prime minister. The progressive and feminist web sources I usually read all seem to be silent on the situation. (Everyone seems to be focusing on Hurricane Gustav, Sarah Palin, and the Republican National Convention.) For what it's worth, here is what I've been able to piece together from mainstream sources.

The Financial Times of London condemns the demonstrations:

Less than a year since elections restored democratic rule after a military coup in 2006, Thailand has plunged into fresh instability. The worst violence seen in Bangkok for 16 years leaves Samak Sundaravej, the Thai prime minister, with few options. Clashes between anti-government protesters and supporters of the administration have left one dead and dozens injured. With air and rail services badly affected, tourism suffering and public sector unions threatening a national strike for Wednesday, the imposition of emergency rule in the capital on Tuesday was inevitable and justified.

The protests began a week ago when supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy occupied and barricaded Government House. The PAD accuses Mr Samak’s People Power Party of being a front for Thaksin Shinawatra, exiled former prime minister, and of buying votes in last December’s election. It says it wants to clean up the electoral system.

If so, it is going the wrong way about it. The PAD is subverting parliament by provoking a bloody confrontation with the government designed to bring about its collapse and the intervention of the army.

According to the Associated Press:

Democracy in Thailand has a history of fragility, with the military staging 18 coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Samak's faceoff with anti-government protesters is only the latest conflict in two years of political tumult.

The group behind the anti-Samak protests, the People's Alliance for Democracy, formed in 2006 to demand the resignation of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, eventually paving the way for the bloodless coup that ousted him. Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, recently fled to Britain to escape corruption charges.

Many of the same allegations behind the uprising against Thaksin — corruption, stifling the media and the ruling party's buying votes from the rural poor with cash and other benefits — dominate the protests against Samak, who led Thaksin's allies to victory in last December's election.
According to economist.com:

Another coup, by some or other bit of the armed forces, is possible. So far General Anupong is backing Mr Samak, who shrewdly built bridges with the army chief. The general strengthened his grip in a recent shuffle of senior soldiers. But the PAD’s backers include several hardline generals who are determined to topple the prime minister.

Within hours of the state of emergency being declared, the country’s Election Commission threw fuel on the flames, saying that it would ask the courts to disband the PPP for alleged vote fraud in the general election last December. The PPP became the vehicle for supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister deposed in the 2006 coup, after courts dissolved his original party. The PPP won by far the most seats in the election, since when it has governed in a six-party coalition with a strong majority. The election suggests that Mr Thaksin and his allies remain popular, despite many allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

Pro-Thaksin protesters are likely to be further enraged by the Election Commission’s ruling. As they see it, a Bangkok-based royalist clique, ranging from the PAD’s leadership to elements of the armed forces, the bureaucracy, the courts and palace officials, is conspiring to overthrow democracy to protect its privileges.

There may be some merit in this argument. The Associated Press points out that the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) actually has undemocratic aims:

Despite its name, the alliance — a mix of royalists, wealthy and middle-class urban residents, and union activists — argues Western-style democracy doesn't work for Thailand. It says the ballot box gives too much weight to the impoverished rural majority, who the alliance says are susceptible to vote buying that breeds corruption. It wants most lawmakers appointed rather than elected.

The Financial Times give more details about PAD's demands:

The opposition group may have miscalculated. Its proposals for a parliament with 70 per cent of its members appointed and 30 per cent elected are less a recipe for democratic reform and more a throwback to authoritarian rule. They have not won broad public support and newspapers have criticised the group’s actions. The Election Commission’s decision to recommend the Supreme Court disband the PPP for election fraud could fuel suspicions that a Bangkok elite, including elements of the army, bureaucracy, court and palace officials, is conspiring to stifle the country’s fragile democracy.

Truthdig - A/V Booth - Amy Goodman, ‘Democracy Now!’ Producers Arrested at RNC

Courtesy of Truthdig, here's an update to Sunday's post about violations of civil liberties at this summer's political conventions.

According to the “Democracy Now!” Web site, producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar were arrested Monday afternoon “while they carried out their journalistic duties in covering street demonstrations at the Republican National Convention,” and host Amy Goodman was arrested for “defending her colleagues and the freedom of the press.”
You can find the Democracy Now web site here.

Over at feminist blogs, The Goddess has posted more information
about police misbehavior in St. Paul.