Sunday, November 25, 2012

Carly Fiorina -- a 40 year low

Carly Fiorina was on Meet the Press today, where she was introduced as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. It would not have been polite to introduce her as former advisor to losing presidential candidate John McCain, who had her ass handed to her when she ran against Barbara Boxer for the U.S. Senate.

Much kinder to boost her bona fides by referring to her storied career in business. In doing so, if we are to continue in the spirit of generosity, let us overlook the fact that during her tenure, HP stock lost half its value and then she was shit-canned by the HP’s Board of Directors. She was given $20 million dollars to walk away and never bother them again, though a restraining order would have been cheaper. Anyway, it must have been money well spent, because the share value of the company jumped on news of her departure. Be that as it may, she’s still a reliable spokesperson for the failed policies various described as trickle-down or supply side economics.

That anyone would try at this late date to defend these policies and be able to maintain a straight face is not a testament to the validity of these ideas, but rather to the shamelessness of the kleptocratic class.

I found one thing she said to be of particular interest. “Small business formation is at a forty year low,” said Ms. Fiorina. Now, I have no idea if this is true of false, except for the fact that it was uttered by a woman who has been thoroughly discredited so many times before. Let’s assume it is true. The question is why is small business formation stalled?

Ms. Fiorina suggested that the reason is that the tax-code is too complex. That’s nonsense, of course. If you want to start a niche boutique, or dress factory employing 5 or 6 cutters and sewers, and a salesperson or two, there’s not too much to know about the tax code that can’t be learned by purchasing Quickbooks. This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t have an accountant. But if you think that the reason you are having trouble competing with Walmart is that they have a better grasp of the tax code, then you shouldn’t be in business anyway.

The reason that small business formation is at a 40 year low (if it is) is that big corporations have consolidated power under the laissez-faire economic policies of the previous administration, and the recession which these policies caused has paralyzed our abilities to deal with this problem. One of the longest lasting legacies of the Bush years will be the reactionary Supreme Court which gave us the Citizens United decision.

I am assuming that everyone who reads this knows about how Walmart moves into neighborhoods, and undercuts the competition, putting them out of business. It then purchases in quantities from suppliers that are so significant that the suppliers can’t survive without Walmart’s business. Next step: demand price breaks from suppliers to the point that the only way they can avoid going out of business is to turn to Chinese manufacturers. Goodbye, more American jobs.

Along the way, Walmart pays its workers coolie wages. You could stop right there and say that’s immoral, and you would be right. It is indefensible to pay people for working full-time for you and leave them unable to provide for their basic needs. It’s just unconscionable. In a by-gone era, Unions would have protected our fellow workers and preserved the dignity of labor. Walmart, and the candidates it supports are on the forefront of the “let's kill unions movement.” But it’s worse than that.

The workers, who labor for the Walton family but can’t provide for their own, must turn to local governments and charities to keep the wolf from the door. Who pays for that? Of course, it is not the people who get paid $20 million dollars to leave their jobs, or the Walton family who own more than the bottom 40% of Americans combined. No, it’s the folks who would like to start a mom-and-pop grocery or a small business, but can’t because local taxes are too high. It’s the former factory workers who are now out of work because their jobs are being done in China.

And there’s another reason that our would-be small business owners can’t open their doors. There are no customers in their communities. Why? It’s because a Walmart worker or an unemployed factory worker can’t afford a new dress. That’s not justice.

By the way, I was just kidding when I said I didn’t know if Carly Fiorini was lying when she told us that business formation was at a 40 year low. Of course, I know, and so do you. Remember, that last March, John Boehner said, that business formation was at a 30 year low? Well, that wasn’t true either. The very highly regarded Kauffman Index shows that, despite a drop from 2010, U.S. startup activity remains above pre-Great Recession levels. The Index shows that 0.32 percent of American adults created a business per month in 2011, the last year for which figures are available. This is a 5.9 percent drop from 2010, but still among the highest levels of entrepreneurship over the past 16 years. As Casey Stengel was fond of saying, “You could look it up.”

“ ... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Foreign Aid -- Your tax dollars at work

The Iron Dome is a missile defense system that has been 90% successful in intercepting and destroying Palestinian rockets coming from Gaza, directed at Israeli civilian population centers. It distinguishes between those rockets that are heading for residential areas and those that would fall harmlessly in forests and elsewhere. It was developed with Israeli technology heavily subsidized by American foreign aid.

Was the American foreign aid well spent?

If not for Iron Dome, Israel would have sustained numerous civilian casualties from the thousand or so rockets launched by Hamas terrorists. Under such circumstances, Israel would have been compelled to invade Gaza.

Where would Egypt stand if Israel had invaded Gaza? Evidence is mounting that President Mohamed Mosni, of the Muslim Brotherhood, would offer more than rhetorical support to the Hamas government in Gaza. Note, Egypt is the second largest recipient of American foreign aid. Turkey, a member of NATO, is siding with Egypt against Israel because it still has not received an apology for Israel’s actions when blockade runners on the MV Mavi Marmara attacked Israeli commandos in 2010.

Meanwhile, with Israel engaged in a ground war in Gaza, Iran could proceed with its nuclear ambitions unchecked. If it gets a nuclear bomb, the Saudis and the Jordanians will surely want them too. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a terrifying thought but the threat of loose nukes raises the stakes exponentially.

Syria is already a catastrophe and the war is spilling into Israel. For now, Israel can protect herself from attacks from the Golan Heights. But what if she were involved in a ground war with the Gazans backed by Egypt?

What would America’s course be in the nightmare described above? NATO unraveling, American foreign aid recipients using military force against Israel, nuclear Iran, an arms race in the mid-East, and Israel facing a threat from the North and the potential for nuclear bombs falling into the hands of Hamas terrorists: it’s not a pretty picture. America’s commitment to Israel is supposedly inviolate, and the credibility of the United States depends upon standing by Israel. Beyond that, if Israel is not defended by the United States, the entire Middle East will be taken over by Islamists, including Jordan where the Monarchy is enduring mass public protests even as I write these words.

Think about it next time you hear someone complain about the United States giving foreign aid to Israel.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why was General Petraeus outed?

On Friday, General David Petraeus resigned his position as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. His stated reason was that he had been discovered having an affair, and that his conduct was unbecoming to one who occupied his station.

He was hailed as one of the great generals of our generation, and a man who demonstrated how honorable he was by owning up to his misconduct. As for the actual misconduct – which involved betraying one of the heroines of returning veterans – the networks had the usual amount of hand-wringing about why powerful men cheat on their wives risking their life’s work and reputation to do so. Interspersed with this pabulum were frequent reminders that the FBI had accidentally stumbled on this, security was not compromised and that no actual laws were broken. (Never mind that Uniform Code of Military Justice, Articles 133 and 134 authorize court martial for consensual affairs.)

I am not qualified to comment on his military career, and even less qualified to cast the first stone regarding his personal life. However, there is a story here to be told and it is passing under the radar.

The right-wing infotainment industry is promoting the idea that there must be a conspiracy here because this story was not revealed before the election. Further, they would like us to believe that the demise of Gen. Petraeus is related to the ginned up controversy regarding Benghazi, which the geniuses are calling “Obama’s Watergate.” They speculate that the resignation was necessary to silence the general who was expected to testify in congress next week. They insinuate that the general had been unduly cozy with the Romney campaign and that his humiliation and demise was payback. They point out that not everyone who has an affair is drummed out of the corps.

As Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Robinson pointed out, General Petraeus was the head of a spy agency, and that makes the story of his affair like a spy novel. Further, there are no coincidences in spy novels. Just the fact that the President didn’t learn of the matter until after the election is enough fodder for plenty of conspiracy theories.

Here’s what we know so far. Members of Congress are shocked that they were not informed earlier about the investigation of General Petraeus. Crazy, no? Imagine! A man who was not suspected of any criminal conduct who was only tangentially connected to an investigation was not exposed for having an affair to the members of Congress. Hardly the stuff of outrage unless, of course, you are a right-wing conspiracy nut in the employ of Fox infotainment buffoons.

In fact, a better question is why Congress was notified at all? People at all levels of government have had affairs and not lost their jobs over it. Remember, nobody alleges that General Petraeus violated any law. He was just a name on a report of an investigation by the agency once headed by J. Edgar Hoover, he of pristine private behavior.

Indeed, the fact that Congress was notified at all is rather remarkable. If one accepts the premise that there are no coincidences in spy novels, especially when sex is involved, the fact that Congress was advised that General Petraeus was cozy with his biographer is the hanging thread that begs to be pulled so that we can see what unravels.

And let’s take a look at the way Congress was notified.  The Washington Post reports that:
An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the Virginia congressman first heard about CIA Director David Petraeus’ extramarital affair on Saturday, Oct. 27, from an FBI source he didn’t know.

Communications director Rory Cooper told The Associated Press Monday that Cantor notified the FBI’s chief of staff of the conversation, but did not tell anyone else because he did not know whether the information from an unknown source was credible.
So, as for keeping this story from the electorate for fear that it would derail the President’s re-election campaign we can be fairly certain that if there had been such a conspiracy, the point man would not have been the Republican Majority Leader, and that if he were, he wouldn’t have kept the story under his hat for 9 days, until the election passed.

Far more likely is that someone with a political agenda leaked the story to the leader of the House Republicans. Nearly half of the country wanted the President to lose the election, and it is not unlikely that there is at least one agent in the FBI who is in that group. For his part, Leader Cantor couldn’t see how this story would hurt the President so he filed it away for use later, if needed.

Okay, so far. But that just begs the question, why did the story come out after the election? It’s a good question, and I am open to any reasonable explanation.

The most commonly given answer is that as a philanderer, David Petraeus was vulnerable to blackmail. This is not a reasonable explanation, because if he was going to be exposed, he could have grabbed a microphone, stated that he is taking a 28 day leave of absence to deal with problems in his marriage, and been back on the job within a month, with no vulnerability.

As I have said, the folks a Faux News are pushing the line that Petraeus was canned because his testimony at a hearing about Benghazi would hurt the President. The problem with this theory is that the news of the General’s conduct unbecoming an officer passed out of the usually secure FBI to the Republican power elite, and only then to the wider public. If anyone was trying to silence the Director of Central Intelligence, it was Eric Cantor. But why?

A current Republican talking point is that the mainstream media is suppressing a story that Navy SEALs requested help in defending the consulate in Benghazi, that their requests were denied, and that this failure is condemnable if not indictable.

General Petraeus has emphatically denied that he or anyone else at the CIA refused assistance to the former Navy SEALs on the night of Sep. 11. A week and a half ago, Petraeus went to Tripoli and conducted a personal inquiry into the Benghazi attack, NBC News reported.

On November 2nd, Reuters reported that:
CIA officials on the ground in Libya dispatched security forces to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi within 25 minutes and made other key decisions about how to respond to the waves of attacks on U.S. installations on September 11, a senior American intelligence official said yesterday.

Officials in Washington monitored events through message traffic and a hovering U.S. military drone but did not interfere with or reject requests for help from officials in the line of fire, the official said.

The information emerged as officials made available a timeline chronicling the U.S. response to the Benghazi attacks in which Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other American officials died. The material appears to refute claims by critics that officials in Washington delayed sending help to the besieged personnel.
Those are the facts, but they run counter to a favorite right-wing narrative, viz., that the heroes were denied assistance, and if it wasn’t Petraeus who held up the help,then it must have been the President.

If Petreaus were to testify next week about Benghazi, he would likely confirm that this right wing story line is as wrong as their predictions of a Romney landslide. Furthermore, it is nearly certain that he will testify, probably in closed session, since his resignation doesn’t make him immune to a subpoena.

But now, when he exonerates the President, he will be a man who despite all his accomplishments will be remembered for being a cheat, while married to the daughter of the Superintendent of West Point. Cui bono? (To whose benefit?)

It is a most remarkable coincidence that the leader of the obstructionist Republicans in the House of Representatives was the first one outside of the FBI to know of General Patraeus’ infidelity, even before the National Security Council of the President, himself.

But there are no coincidences in spy novels. Or in life.

Pay attention, and,

“… tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”