Friday, March 27, 2009

Labor Laws Not Being Enforced

  Just in case you do not read the NYTimes, an article from the paper says that the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division is not doing its job as it is supposed to do. The agency is not enforcing the minimum wage laws as well as overtime laws and a few others. Like we should really be surprised at this?

   A few examples of non-action after complaints were filled by under-cover workers:

In one case, the division failed to investigate a complaint that under-age children in Modesto, Calif., were working during school hours at a meatpacking plant with dangerous machinery, the G.A.O., the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress, found.

When an undercover agent posing as a dishwasher called four times to complain about not being paid overtime for 19 weeks, the division’s office in Miami failed to return his calls for four months, and when it did, the report said, an official told him it would take 8 to 10 months to begin investigating his case.

The report pointed to a cavalier attitude by many Wage and Hour Division investigators, saying they often dropped cases when employers did not return calls and sometimes told complaining workers that they should file lawsuits, an often expensive and arduous process, especially for low-wage workers.

  This is our government at work folks! They won’t take the time to go after employers that are screwing their workers, but they’ll damned sure hand some of those same employers a fist full of “ bailout “ money. I guess that you and I are now “ owned “ by our employers.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Shot To The Republicans…

   …by way of DailyKos:

The End is Near (and Obama's to blame)

by Steven D
Thu Mar 26, 2009 at 05:52:44 AM PDT

No, this is not another story about the economy, AIG, Goldman Sachs or the stock market's daily ups and downs.  It is a diary about the power of the spoken word.  About what one little speech can accomplish, if the right person in the right place gives that speech.  It is about the end of an error era, one that nearly destroyed our Republic and all that it is supposed to stand for.  And it's also about the people who aren't very happy about that fact.  Follow me below the fold, and I promise all will be explained to your satisfaction.


Also posted at The Frog Pond

Update [2009-3-26 9:38:35 by Steven D]: Many, many thanks for putting this diary on the rec list.  I'm honored.  Steven D

Remember when Obama actually broadcast a message of respect to the Iranian people and communicated a desire to re-open diplomatic relations with their country and its government despite a mutual history of conflict and ill will that had built up between our two nations ever since the CIA helped overthrow Iran's legitimate government in the 1950's and install the Shah as a dictator?  Predictably, the neoconservatives proclaimed that Obama's speech was a sign of weakness, appeasement and capitulation to the greatest Islamofascist threat in the world.  That our President was as naive as Neville Chamberlain and his efforts at rapprochement were doomed to failure, and a hard line against Iran must be re-imposed.  That he was Jimmy Carter redux, only this time in blackface.  Why they even claimed Obama's speech showed he wasn't "manly" enough to deal with the hardliners in Iran, and that he would sell out American security if he went through with his diplomatic initiatives, even if that meant turning the US of A into the Muslim States of America.

Well, hold on to your hats, because if one simple speech elicited that sort of reaction, imagine the whirlwind of blithering vitriol and craptacular rhetoric from the neocon deadenders which this news story is likely to set off:

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Thursday it would attend a U.N. conference on the future of Afghanistan which was proposed by Tehran's old foe the United States. [...]

News of Iran's attendance is likely to be welcomed by the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama, who has offered a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement on a range of issues with the Islamic Republic.

In an overture toward Tehran, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this month Tehran would be invited to the conference to discuss Afghanistan, with which Iran shares a long border.[...]

"We believe that a regional solution should be found for the Afghanistan crisis," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted [Iran's Foreign Minister] Mottaki as saying during a visit to Brazil.

"Iran's goal in the region is to help peace, stability and calm which is necessary for the region's progress," he said. [...]

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties for three decades and are now embroiled in a dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs. Iran says it is for peaceful power purposes.

But the two foes share an interest in ensuring a stable Afghanistan, analysts say.

Poor neocons.  The end truly is nigh.  The end of unilateralism by the US in dealing with the world.  The end of the Bushco foreign policy of "Shoot first and worry about the collateral damage later."  The end of thinking American military might can solve all our problems if we just have a strong enough will to "stay the course" in the greater war against the evil doers in Iraqafganipakisaudijihadistan.

Pity the fools, I say.  It has to be difficult seeing all your dreams of endless wars and crusades going up in the thin smoke of reality.  For the reality is that we cannot win a "War on Terror" and we never could.  And we certainly couldn't do it alone, though God knows Bush tried (and yes, a million people died).  Now the sane people we elected last Fall have to clean up the mess that resulted from eight years of allowing sociopaths complete domination and control of our government. 

It's a good sign that Iran is responding to Obama's overtures and agreeing to participate in this conference regarding the security of its neighbor, Afghanistan.  After all, the Iranians want a stable and de-radicalized Afghanistan as much, if not more, than we do.  I don't want to make too much of it, but it is a good first step.  We should ignore the rhetoric coming out of the mouths of Iran's leaders.  It is their actions that matter most.  This action tells me that they are open to engaging the United States diplomatically.  It won't be easy.  There will doubtless be missteps, disagreements, and mistrust along the way.  But it beats the alternative.

To quote that famous conservative icon, defiant war leader, and "defender of western civilization" of whom the right is so fond, Winston Churchill:

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.

He said that (or something similar) on June 26, 1954 at the White House, during the height of the Cold War, when fear of Communist states like the Soviet Union which actually had nuclear weapons (those infamous weapons of mass destruction you've heard about) and large military forces that threatened our national security and the national security of our allies, ran rampant in our country and folks like Joseph McCarthy and General Curtis LeMay were the leaders of the "Let's get them before they get us first" war party.  If those words made sense back then, how much more do they make sense now?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Barack Obama: More Of The Same?

  So. it would seem that our President, whom many of us worked our asses off to get elected, has turned into the “Washington Insider “ that he supposedly had contempt for.

  I still am not able to keep up with things in the manner to which I am accustomed, but, someone in Qatar has been watching with their eyes wide open.

Watching America

By Ahmad fall bin adain
Translated By Mohammad Alsmadi
17 March 2009

Edited by Louis Standish

Qatar - Al-Arab - Original Article (Arabic)
On the evening of Obama`s inauguration, I was at a press conference in Johannesburg and was surprised by one of my colleagues who asked “What are your plans for Obama’s inauguration?” I understood the question, to which I replied sarcastically: “We will cover the inauguration from our office in Washington.” But my colleague added, “I mean the coverage of the people’s reaction here and their celebration of this man’s election.”
South Africa and the larger black continent lost control when Barack Obama was elected. On the streets of Johannesburg, t-shirts were sold bearing his image appearing side-by-side with Mandela (in spite of the difference in legacy of struggle and the human dimension). Large screens were set on that day to display the inauguration ceremony, where writers and politicians compared his inaugural speech with Nelson Mandela's speech in 1994 after the fall of the apartheid regime.
So why is the world considering Barck Obama’s election a great victory?
I think this is due to three main factors:
• Power and impact of the picture: the televised image from the United States, where media, public relations, Hollywood and polish played a major role in creating a magic image of a tan-faced man coming from the ground, changing the world and bringing peace. For two years, the television captured an image of him in the best suits with his wife, whom the media portrayed as legendary, on his right-hand side. This appearance connected everybody watching TV, in one way or another, to this magical personage, similar to a Hollywood star.
• The magic of words: on his long road to the White House, Obama appeared as a great speaker and a professional writer using the powerful gloss of certain English language phrases and slogans to fascinate the minds and hearts of the millions who gathered around the world to watch their TVs. The language magically worked in strong and balanced communities were words are influential. With the help of bright slogans and rhetorical phrases, Obama took everything and gave nothing back. With “change,” he was able to shift the balance of power to his side, but the world didn’t ask itself what kind of “change” Obama meant. It’s the language maze.
• The world wants a hero: it seems that mankind today, after being demoralized by economic interests, where the rich are eating the bread of the poor by the power of law and convention, had a desire for any hero who could help to stop the tears, hunger and suffering on earth. This tendency pushed people to create a mythological figure from Obama as a man who would have a positive effect on the entire world.
But a careful overview of the mood of the big leaders that brought Obama to power demonstrates that nothing will change. Obama is a man who was led to the throne by major companies to carry out their interests. Otherwise why would Lockheed Martin, a defense company, contribute over ten million dollars to his campaign? Is it to bring peace, or to start new wars where their weapons will find buyers?
A preliminary overview of Obama’s administration proves that this man is another cold U.S. president, although he said in his inaugural speech that the time had come to get rid “of the false promises that for too long have strangled our politics.” However, he caved in when he made the first non-traditional appointment, that being Charles Freeman. The “New York Times” also determined on March 14th of this year that Obama’s dealing with Guantanamo in legal terms is symbolic only - to set imaginary boundaries between his policies and those of the Bush administration.
But it seems that the Obama phenomenon is deflating. It seems that humanity has become so shallow that we are living in a world made of pictures, in which we are shouting for the legendary hero and then exiting the movie hall when we discover that we are pursuing smoke and seeing dust on water.

  More of the same? I would agree with the author that Obama is nothing new. I also would add that he is just a newer,recycled version of those politicians from the past who has been made up to be more 21st century.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Latest On Salmonella

  Been a while since I have been able to update this info, sorry.


As of 9PM EDT, Wednesday, January 22, 2009, 491 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium have been reported from 43 states

Among the persons with confirmed, reported dates available, illnesses began between September 14, 2008 and January 8, 2009. Patients range in age from <1 to 98 years; 48% are female. Among persons with available information, 22% reported being hospitalized. Infection may have contributed to seven deaths.

The investigation is ongoing, and exposures to peanut butter and other peanut butter-containing products are being examined.

To date, 15 clusters of infections in five states have been reported in schools and other institutions, such as long-term care facilities and hospitals. Among 14 clusters for which we have detailed information, King Nut is the only brand of peanut butter used in those facilities.

  So this is long from over folks, even though the infections have been slowing down.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

AIG Insulting The Taxpayers…

  and it ain’t pretty. In case you missed this one, AIG is now suing the federal government to get some $306 million back that the company has paid in taxes! Can you believe this shit?

From the NYT:

While the American International Group comes under fire from Congress over executive bonuses, it is quietly fighting the federal government for the return of $306 million in tax payments, some related to deals that were conducted through offshore tax havens.
A.I.G. sued the government last month in a bid to force it to return the payments, which stemmed in large part from its use of aggressive tax deals, some involving entities controlled by the company's financial products unit in the Cayman Islands, Ireland, the Dutch Antilles and other offshore havens.
A.I.G. is effectively suing its majority owner, the government, which has an 80 percent stake and has poured nearly $200 billion into the insurer in a bid to avert its collapse and avoid troubling the global financial markets. The company is in effect asking for even more money, in the form of tax refunds. The suit also suggests that A.I.G. is spending taxpayer money to pursue its case, something it is legally entitled to do. Its initial claim was denied by the Internal Revenue Service last year.
The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 27 in Federal District Court in Manhattan, details, among other things, certain tax-related dealings of the financial products unit, the once high-flying division that has been singled out for its role in A.I.G.'s financial crisis last fall. Other deals involved A.I.G. offshore entities whose function centers on executive compensation and include C. V. Starr & Company, a closely held concern controlled by Maurice R. Greenberg, A.I.G.'s former chairman, and the Starr International Company, a privately held enterprise incorporated in Panama, and commonly known as SICO.
The lawsuit contends in part that the federal government owes A.I.G. nearly $62 million in foreign tax credits related to eight foreign entities, with names like Lumagrove, Laperouse and Foppingadreef, that were set up or controlled by financial products, often through a unit known as Pinestead Holdings.
United States tax law allows American companies to claim a credit for any taxes paid to a foreign government. But the I.R.S. denied A.I.G.'s refund claims in 2008, saying that it had improperly calculated the credits. The I.R.S. has identified so-called foreign tax-credit generators as an area of abuse that it is increasingly monitoring.
The remainder of A.I.G.'s claim, for $244 million, concerns net operating loss carry-backs, capital loss carry-backs, a general refund claim and claims for refunds of other tax-related payments that A.I.G. says it made to the I.R.S. but are now owed back. The claim also covers $119 million in penalties and interest that A.I.G. says it is due back from the government.
In part, A.I.G. says it overpaid its federal income taxes after a 2004 accounting scandal that caused it to restate its financial records. A.I.G. says in part that it is entitled to a refund of $33 million that SICO paid in 1997 as compensation to employees, which it now says should be characterized as a deductible expense.
A.I.G.'s lawyers in the case, at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, referred calls to the company. Asked about the lawsuit, Mark Herr, an A.I.G. spokesman, said Thursday that "A.I.G. is taking this action to ensure that it is not required to pay more than its fair share of taxes."

  Only can crap like this happen in the United States! I say lynch the bastards and save the taxpayers a few dollars.

Does Geithner Know What He’s Doing?

  A few people seem to think that maybe he does and that maybe his plan is already working, to some extent.


Geithner's plans may be already working

by rweba
Sun Mar 22, 2009

In the last few days I have seen a lot of negative reaction to the President's economic policies. Some people are asserting almost as a FACT that these policies will not work. Well I think it is wrong to present OPINIONS as FACTS, because the reality is no one knows for sure what plan is going to work. Geithner and Summers and Romer are all experienced economists and smart people, they put together a plan that is politically feasible and that they think is the best option right now. Obviously not everyone agrees, but I have not seen any evidence that the alternatives are guaranteed to work (or politically feasible).

I think there are a few different reasons for the dissatisfaction:

(1) Everyone is on edge because of the economy so there is a certain base line pessimism.

(2) Some people don't seem to have confidence in Summers or Geithner. I believe this is unjustified. Geithner's first really major initiative is only going to be unveilled next week. The results won't be seen for a while (probably six months or so). So this is like losing faith in a quarter back before he even plays his first game. Summers hasn't even been in the news. No scandals, no news, yet some people seem absolutely convinced that he is a failure and must go. Huh?

(3) It sounds like there are a lot of people who are economic radicals/economic populists who want Obama to announce some kind of whole sale over haul of the entire economic system, especially if such an overhaul targets the wealthy/CEOs. Problem: I don't think there is any clear picture of exactly what such an overhaul would involve. It is even less clear picture of how such a program would work politically.

An additional problem with the "doom and gloom" perspective is that the state of the economy is to a large degree a self fulfilling prophecy. If everyone believes that we are doomed, and acts as if we're doomed - then yes indeed we'll be doomed. But if people are optimistic about their future, they'll go out and make plans, banks will lend credit to people, stores will have good sales and things will get better for everyone. So the problem with spreading a "sky is falling" meme is that we may be literally shooting our economy in the face. And that could hurt real families and make people lose their jobs.

With that said, here is some recent good news on the economy that indicates the economy may be improving.

(1)  A surprising 22% surge in February housing starts to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units.

(2) A back-to-back jump in retail sales ex autos, in both January and February.

(3) A return to profitability at several major banks, including Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan.

(4) A doubling in the obscure but important Baltic Dry Index, a key indicator of global trade flows.

(5) An upwardly sloping yield curve, which Fed research suggests all but ensures a rebound by year-end. (link)

(6) A Housing Affordability Index that has hit an all-time high.

(7) A two-month improvement in wholesale used-car prices, measured by the Manheim Index. (link)

(8) A rise in Monster’s Employment Index in February, suggesting a turn in the job market may be around the corner.

(9) A sharp increase in the money supply, as measured by M2 and M1. Weekly M2 growth has averaged 10.1% year-over-year since the start of 2009, while M1 has grown at a 14.6% rate. link

(10) A two-month rally in the Index of Leading Indicators.

(11) Airline traffic is better than expected.(link)

(12) Consumer confidence is ticking up. (link)

SOURCES: source1source2source3

MORE: blog1 blog2

And you could probably find a lot more stuff out there.

My point is, it seems there are SOME reasons to be optimistic. I am not saying a recovery has definitely started, but I wouldn't be surprised if unemployment started dropping by the fourth quarter (of course it might take longer). And not to say the doom and gloom perspective is COMPLETELY wrong, but it's also good to have another perspective. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

And I do think to a certain extent people are responding to Obama's announced policies. They know that there is a 870 billion stimulus bill that was passed with record speed. They know that they are getting a tax cut starting April 1. They know that they are getting help on their mortgages. And they know that the government (and the entire G-20) have got the financial systems back and are not going to allow a financial sector meltdown. Basically they see that they are some smart people who are on the ball and more than prepared to act boldy to stave off disaster. And this is what gives people CONFIDENCE that everything is going to be all right in the end. And this is the sense in which I mean Geithner's plans may be already working.