Turley On Torture With Rachel Maddow

April 30, 2009

There’s really no “wiggle room” on this issue, despite the way the Obama Administration tries to spin it on behalf of Bushco (trying to narrow the state secrets abuses is a good step, though).


A Growth Industry We Could Do Without

April 29, 2009

gambler-copyright4I have to admit that my curiosity was piqued by the following Letter to the Editor in the Murdoch Street Journal (from here)…

Michael Calhoun, the head of the Center for Responsible Lending, asserts (Letters, April 18) that payday loans should be capped at 36% APR and endorses H.R. 1214, The Payday Loan Reform Act of 2009, for imposing limits.

At that rate, a loan of $200 for one month would generate $6 in interest. If Mr. Calhoun and the bill’s sponsors really think one can run a payday business by charging such a rate, they should set up shop. It is not hard to do. Clients will flock to their outlets instead of the “predatory” lenders they criticize.

The payday loan market is highly competitive and provides a needed service primarily for low-income people. Just let those folks try getting an instant loan from Citibank for $200 for one month. If H.R. 1214 is enacted, it will be back to thugs serving the low-income borrower market. That’s a “reform”?

Prof. Roger Meiners
University of Texas-Arlington
Arlington, Texas

I read the original letter from Calhoun on H.R. 1214 referenced by Meiners (embedded in Meiners’ letter), which states the following…

While (H.R. 1214) includes provisions that sound good, experience in numerous states shows such steps do nothing to stop predatory payday practices. Nineteen states have tried to ban payday loan rollovers, to no effect. Payday lenders simply close out the loan and re-open it immediately, with the same cost to the borrower.

We support the 36% rate cap proposed in the Senate (S500) and the House (H.R. 1608), because it restores a common-sense protection and encourages responsible installment loans which provide true financial flexibility. More than 70% of Americans support an interest-rate cap of 36%, a generous rate by any calculation.

Besides, Meiners’ example above of the $200 loan only paying $6 in interest is ridiculous; as Calhoun explains in his letter…

Payday loans ensnare customers in a cycle of debt that on average results in a borrower paying $800 in interest and principal for a $300 loan.

Payday loans are secured with a customer’s check postdated to his or her next pay day. Payday lenders charge a hefty fee to hold the check until then, when the loan is due in full. But most customers in this bind can’t afford to repay the loan completely, so the lender cheerfully collects another fee and extends the loan to the next payday, over and over. The payday folks earn more than 90% of their fees from borrowers who take out five or more loans a year.

And as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! points out (here)…

In the early ’90s, there were fewer than 200 payday lending stores in the country. Today it’s a $40 billion industry with more than 22,000 stores. There are more payday lending stores than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. As more Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, the demand for payday loans is increasing.

And as far as H.R. 1214 goes, don’t expect it to provide the needed consumer relief, because, as noted here…

H.R. 1214 provides Congressional approval to payday loans at rates of 390 percent APR for two weeks or 780 percent APR for one week. The loan cap of fifteen cents per dollar loaned in HR 1214 authorizes lenders to charge $60 for a typical $400 loan, which is due in one pay cycle. This means that, for the typical borrower with nine loans per year, H.R. 1214 authorizes lenders to collect $540 in finance charges for a $400 loan taken out over an 18-week period.

The Associated Press recently put out a story about how the payday load industry has “deployed well-connected lobbyists and hefty sums of campaign cash to key lawmakers to save themselves.” The article says that the industry opposes the Payday Loan Reform Act of 2009, but this is probably just a convoluted ploy to align public opinion, which is against predatory lending, in favor of this weak bill.

And H.R. 1214 has been opposed by groups such as Consumers Union, ACORN, Americans for Fairness in Lending, etc.

The Open Congress post also tells us…

The Online Lenders Alliance, formed in 2005, nearly quintupled, to $480,000, its lobbying expenditures from 2007 and 2008. It contributed $108,400 to candidates in advance of the 2008 elections compared to about $2,000 in the 2006 contests. (Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Dem of Illinois, who heads the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit) was among the top House recipients, getting $4,600, while the top Senate recipient was Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., a Banking Committee member who got $6,900.

An embedded article in the Open Congress post from Mike Lillis of The Washington Independent tells us that Gutierrez was once a vocal opponent of the payday loan industry. Too bad he and the other individuals involved with this bill have apparently been bought off in order not to “kill the golden goose,” thus perpetuating a business that does nothing but take advantage of those who can least afford it.

Oh, and by the way, I came across this on Roger Meiners, the author of today’s Journal letter (sounds like a smorgasbord of the typical right-wing policy groups – would I have expected any less from the Journal?).


An Inky/WaPo “Good Government” (Sort Of) Screed

April 28, 2009

hiattI have to admit that this was a rather curious editorial from the Inquirer today written by Fred Hiatt (pictured) of the Washington Post, in which he sneaks in a dig at the federal government and “how little many Americans expect of (it),” as well as the fact that approximately 600,000 government jobs will need to be filled in the next four years, according to Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service…

The opportunity lies not only in the huge number of looming vacancies, but also in two factors driving young people to consider government jobs: excitement about President Obama, and the fact that nobody but the government is hiring. The federal government, old (one-quarter of the workforce is younger than 40, compared with half in the private sector) and often lumbering, has a chance to become younger, nimbler, and more talented.

I’ll be honest with you – I don’t like Fred Hiatt for reasons that have nothing to do with staffing levels of our government (though the dig I highlighted certainly doesn’t work in his favor).

I don’t like Fred Hiatt because he’s nothing but a Bush (and Iraq War) apologist (and a pretty damn plain McCain booster, all of which is noted here; hey, if he supported McCain and he were a UPS driver, plumber, or anything else not involving media manipulation, that would have been fine – the problem is that he’s the editorial page editor of The Washington Post, and he advanced his opinions for himself pretty clearly).

In his column quoting what Stier has to say (Hiatt probably should have just let Stier do the honors instead), both individuals leave it up to Obama to re-energize government, which is a worthy goal (just add it to the multitude of other messes left to our current president by Number 43).

However, the following should be pointed out from here…

(Hiatt’s column) has some serious problems, among them, skipping over the fact that the Obama administration has begun to shape its response to the federal workforce crisis. Hiatt only quotes Max Stier (a frequent source of mine), who condemns the administration’s actions to this point. Hiatt doesn’t appear to have spoken to anyone in the Obama administration, and he does not mention Michelle Obama’s visit to the Office of Personnel Management, the president’s challenge to federal employees to come up with ways to improve government, or the fact that Obama’s OPM Director John Berry, is in place, along with almost his entire leadership team, much earlier than his predecessors.

It should also be noted that, when it comes to funding government agencies, the Obama Administration is operating under a resolution that holds funding for most departments to ’08 levels, as noted here, which definitely impacts hiring.

That didn’t reduce government expenditures under Dubya, however – far from it; this 2004 post, showing that federal spending increased at its fastest rate in 30 years, projected that Dubya wouldn’t veto legislation, though he did that frequently after the Dems took over Congress in 2006.

So what have the agencies done in response to utilize their experienced workforce as effectively as possible? As noted from here…

Officials from (HUD, SSA and USAID)…told us that they have difficulty attracting qualified staff with specialized skills. To address these challenges, the three agencies rely on older workers in different ways. USAID brings back its knowledgeable and skilled retirees as contractors to fill short-term job assignments and to help train and develop the agency’s growing number of newly hired staff. SSA uses complex statistical models to project potential retirements in mission critical occupations and uses these data to develop recruitment efforts targeted at a broad pool of candidates, including older workers. While all three agencies rely on older workers to pass down knowledge and skills to junior staff, HUD officials told us this is the primary way they involve older workers, due in part to the agency’s focus on recruiting entry-level staff.

…the federal government has historically enjoyed relatively high retention rates, with 40 percent or more of federal employees remaining in the workforce for at least 5 years after becoming eligible (for retirement).

As noted above, it would have been nice if Hiatt had bothered to talk to someone from the Obama Administration before he wrote this. He is right, though, to point out that the government always benefits from an influx of new talent, as much as that talent can be absorbed given existing staffing and budgetary constraints. However, given this story (somehow, though, I don’t think the scenario has changed since it was written, expect maybe to get worse), I think Hiatt ought to pay more attention to the “graying” of his own business first (and just try referring to your colleagues as “often lumbering,” Fred – I dare you).


“Reconciling” Repug Health Care Hijinks

April 27, 2009

party-of-no-jsh021809dapc
I thought this was an interesting little item in the CNN “analysis” from Dana Bash about the first 100 days of the Obama Administration…

Democrats last week, at the behest of Obama’s team, decided to use a rule that ultimately will prevent Republicans from waging a filibuster against the overhaul of health care. At the end of the day, if they can hold their own members in line, Democrats won’t have to make concessions to Republicans to pass health care legislation.

I believe what Bash is talking about here is “reconciliation,” a Senate process designed to prevent filibusters when voting on legislation (there’s probably more to it than that, but the explanation is good enough for now).

I think the following needs to be pointed out also (from here)…

Despite their decision to arm themselves with a partisan weapon to move health reform through the Senate with a simple majority, senior Democrats continue to insist they will pull the trigger only if their hands are forced.

This week, the House and Senate will debate – and probably pass – a $3.5 trillion budget that will include reconciliation provisions that will enable Democrats to pass their health reform legislation with just 51 votes, not the 60 usually needed to pass major bills in the upper chamber.

And (as noted here)…

The reconciliation instruction specifies a date. That date, according to one congressional staffer, is October 15. (The original House reconciliation instruction had a late September deadline.)

In other words, the House and Senate each have until that day to pass health care legislation.

If they haven’t, then both houses will consider health care under the reconciliation process, which is relevant primarily for the way it affects the Senate. There will be a limit on the time of debate. Republicans won’t be able to filibuster it.

So at least the Dems are giving the Repugs a “sporting chance” here, trying to avoid reconciliation until the final quarter of the year if it’s necessary, and given the track record of the minority party, I’d be shocked if that doesn’t turn out to be the case.

And as noted here from Media Matters, the Repugs certainly weren’t shy about using reconciliation when they were in charge, particularly for the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (which resulted in about a trillion dollars of tax cuts, contributing mightily to our “race to the bottom” of government debt helping to trigger our economic downturn) the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, and the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005. Media Matters also tells us here that Bash is one of the corporate media journos who continues to let the lie propagate that Obama’s “income tax proposals would increase taxes on a large percentage of small businesses.”

Oh, and by the way, here is another “golden moment” from Dana Bash courtesy of last year’s presidential campaign (think, “Drill, Baby, Drill”).

Update: Yep, I think this is a good reason for reconciliation, all right.

Update 4/28/09: Good point from Media Matters here…


At Long Last, A “Savior” For The GOP?

April 24, 2009

missamericaHey listen, if these characters can rally around Joe The Plumber, then they can certainly do so on behalf of this person (from here)…

Miss California may have lost her shot at becoming Miss USA after expressing her opposition to same-sex marriage, but she’s nevertheless emerged as a star.

After getting booed by the beauty pageant crowd and berated by one of the contest judges on Sunday, Carrie Prejean is suddenly a conservative sensation, a poster girl for the right who has bloggers, talk show hosts and Republican pols singing her praises.

See, when Prejean was asked about whether or not she supports gay marriage, she said…

“We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman,” she responded during the televised event. “No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised.”

Her response wasn’t exactly what (“openly gay” blogger Perez) Hilton — or the crowd — was expecting. Prejean ultimately finished as the first runner-up in the competition to Miss North Carolina, who drew a less combustible question about taxpayer bailouts. In an interview the next day with “Today” show host Matt Lauer, Prejean said she knew she wasn’t going to win the moment she answered.

Hilton later said in a video on his blog that Prejean’s answer did not sink her chances of winning, though his disdain for her was unmistakable.

“She lost not because she doesn’t believe in gay marriage. Miss California lost because she is a dumb [expletive].”

The reaction among conservatives, who embraced Prejean as a martyr for the cause, was equally strong.

I suppose there are better news stories out there that I could comment on, but to me, this is a case study in how right-wing umbrage becomes easy fodder for our corporate media (and the quotes around “openly gay” on Perez Hilton come from me, partly because I wanted to note how silly it is to point that out – don’t recall reading too many news stories pointing out when someone is “openly straight”).

And by the way, I really don’t have an issue with what Prejean said, particularly when you realize that she probably would have been burned in effigy if she’d come out in support of gay marriage, or even civil unions in all likelihood. The last I checked, someone in this country could still voice a contrary opinion without fear of reprisal (something even Bushco could not take away – “smooth move” by Hilton to “feed the beast”).

Yep, you’d better not mess around with Miss America as far as the “God and guns” crowd is concerned; this story from 1999 tells us about the furor that erupted when the pageant tried to allow divorced women and those who’d undergone abortions to enter (and why is that anyone else’s business, exactly?), and this tells us how the myth of bra-burning women originated from the protest of the 1968 contest.

At least the pageants in this country have nothing on the history of the Miss World contest; as noted here, the 2003 pageant in Nigeria led to bloody riots in which 250 people died (think Muslim fundamentalism, OK?).

But back in this country, I have to admit that, if someone does emerge as the leader of a Repug party that someday decides to re-enter the mainstream of our political life, Prejean would be as good a choice as anyone. At least she would already have experience flourishing in an environment where preening behavior, grandstanding, and celebration of triviality is the norm (and besides, you really wouldn’t want to see Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner in a swimsuit instead of her, would you?).


Yep, We Tortured. Now, What Do We Do?

April 23, 2009

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz kind of played “both sides of the fence” during the prior election, claiming to help Florida Dems but only to a point, but she deserves credit here for helping to publicize the findings of the Levin Commission, which documented the stupendously obvious fact that Bushco authorized torture (and to help impeach Jay Bybee, click here).


“Gassy” Goldberg’s Earth Day EPA Assault

April 22, 2009

earth_cc_gwAs I searched online to come up with posting material related to the 39th commemoration of Earth Day today, I came across the following choice item from the “Doughy Pantload” himself, in which he tells us…

One of the most important events of our lifetimes may have just transpired. A federal agency has decided that it has the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe.

Nominally, the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement last Friday only applies to new-car emissions. But pretty much everyone agrees that the ruling opens the door to regulating, well, everything.

According to the EPA, greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide — the gas you exhale — as well as methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. It is literally impossible to imagine a significant economic or human activity that does not involve the production of one of these gases. Don’t think just of the gas and electricity bills. Cow flatulence is a serious concern of the EPA’s already. What next? Perhaps an EPA mandarin will pick up a copy of “The Greenpeace Guide to Environmentally Friendly Sex” and go after the root causes of global warming.

(And by the way, concerning the EPA and “cow flatulence,” I believe this is noteworthy information.)

Continuing…

Two years ago, the Supreme Court — the least democratic branch of our formal government — decided in Massachusetts v. EPA that the agency could regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. With this judicial green light, the EPA has launched its power grab over all that burns, breathes, burps, flies, drives and passes gas.

…Democrats are delighted by the EPA decision because it allows them to have their preferred policy — carbon regulation — without actually having to vote for it.

Either way, it doesn’t sound like these folks take their oaths of office very seriously.

Well, I’m sure “pretty much everyone” agrees on the following concerning the Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court ruling (as noted here)…

The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency determined in 2003, first, that the EPA lacked authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs), second, that even if the EPA did have such authority the EPA declined to regulate carbon dioxide and other GHGs.

And the individual in charge of the EPA at this time was Christine Todd Whitman, succeeded by Michael Leavitt in August 2003 (the petitioners filing suit in response to the EPA’s ruling included twelve states, several cities and territories, and a coalition of environmental groups – the Court’s 2007 ruling was that the Bushco EPA did indeed have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, though they refused to do so, with Leavitt’s successor at EPA, Stephen Johnson, fighting the efforts of 17 states to do what the EPA would not until 1/20/09).

Based on this, then, I suppose Goldberg could pass for an expert on flatulence, at least of the pundit variety for sure. And it’s also important to note that, even under the foul, fetid Bushco reign and for all time before and since, the EPA, as a government agency, has been “charged to protect the environment and human health.”

Talk about not taking an oath of office very seriously (from ’01 to’09 anyway)…


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