Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is Obama a leader, or a follower?

This is from Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish:

Unlike many liberal blogs, I'm encouraged by the spending freeze and thrilled by the debt commission idea. But to my mind, none of this makes any sense unless Obama passes a core political test.

Does he have the courage to insist that healthcare reform is not dead? Does he use his clout to pressure the Senate to give the House some signs that the reconciliation strategy can work? Does he use every ounce of political capital to pass this bill, the cornerstone of his reform agenda, the failure of which will mean the end to any grappling with the health insurance crisis for another generation.

If he cannot do that, if he punts on this bill, or if he is passive and uncommitted, then those of us who placed hope in his leadership skills will have to acknowledge we hoped too much. The test of leadership is sometimes staying a course even when all the polls and pols have turned against it on a dime. There are times when a president should preside; but there are also times when he must lead.

I have one simple test: if the health bill dies from neglect and irresolution, Obama is no leader.

He is a follower. He cannot vote present on this one. He has majorities in both Houses and a landslide victory and he is unable to deliver on a core priority in his first year. That's a definition of a failed presidency and it is why the GOP - with nothing to offer the country - decided to make it his Waterloo. They knew and know how gutting this bill and killing reform and suffocating any serious change in this country is their way to a nihilist victory. And such a victory would not be a vindication of Republican policy right now. It would be a perfectly reasonable response to a Democratic party palpably incapable of governing and a president clearly unable to deliver.

If he cannot do this, he does not have the fortitude to be a successful president. And his weakness on this will be rightly interpreted as weakness everywhere else. That applies to foreign policy as well, with Netanyahu and Khamenei and Chavez and Sarkozy all watching to see what this guy is made of.

These are dark times as the forces of reaction and resistance redouble their efforts to prevent any reform on any issue. Obama was elected to break through that impasse. If he cannot deliver, he must cede to someone who can.

There were two major issues that defined the first year of Obama's presidency. The first issue was the economic stimulus plan. I'm not surprised that the plan passed, considering that the U.S. economy was sinking into a deep recession, and both Congress and the president had to do something to show the American people that they were trying to tackle the serious economic problems--irregardless of the GOP obstructionism, and Republican wet dreams of seeing this president fail. The second issue was health care. Health care was an issue that was brought up in the 2008 elections, and President Obama made it a centerpiece in his campaign agenda. But throughout the first year of his administration, I never really saw President Obama express any strong leadership in the health care debate. President Obama never really presented an agenda, or a bill, expressing what health care reform should be--it was almost like Congress had to draft health care reform through committee, and now we've got a health care reform bill that nobody likes. President Obama never used the bully pulpit to press the need for health care reform, to attack GOP obstructionism of health care reform, death panel fears, or rumors that "Obamacare" would take away grandma's Medicare. If anything, President Obama ceded the debate on health care to the Republicans, who were more than happy to bash Obama and the Democrats with a 2X4. Finally, I don't think I ever saw President Obama get mad. There are times when a president has to be calm, cool, and collected in making policy decisions. But there are also times when a president will have to use his own 2x4 to force congressmen, or opponents, to submit to his will. When was the last time you saw President Obama take Joe Lieberman to the back of the woodshed?

This is going to be the most important speech President Obama could ever make in his political career--this speech will determine whether Obama will become a one-term president. President Obama will have to come out and crack congressional skulls in order to pass his health care reform. President Obama needs to show this country that he is a leader, not a follower. If health care reform dies, then President Obama has become a failed leader. Republicans will become even more empowered in their obstructionism, sending this country further into the toilet for their crass greed of political power--I'm sorry, but the Republican Party does not believe in the good of the country. Independents will leave him. They bought the Obama campaign message of change. However, since President Obama could not deliver such change in his first year, then why should independents continue to support him? Finally, I think that Democrats will become disillusioned and angry. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is angry at President Obama for not being progressive or liberal enough on the health care bill. Moderate Democrats may become disillusioned because they hoping for a charismatic leader, but ended up voting an empty suit in the White House? Again, I'm looking at the Massachusetts and Oregon special elections, and I see a populist anger slowly growing against the way our current leaders are badly behaving in the government. President Obama has shown his own bad behavior in that he has failed in providing strong leadership to the country. If Obama doesn't turn this around quickly enough, then he is going to be more than just a mediocre one-term president. President Obama will become another failed leader.

This country cannot afford to keep electing failed leaders into the White House.

GOP leaders tell House Republicans to behave

This is just very interesting. From Who Runs Gov, via Americablog:

House GOP leaders are urging fellow Republicans to control their tempers and avoid any repeat performances of Joe Wilson’s “you lie” outburst at tonight’s State of the Union speech.

House Republican leaders warned rank and file Republican members in a private meeting this morning to show the President “respect” during tonight’s speech, two sources familiar with the meeting tell me.

House GOP leader John Boehner, minority whip Eric Cantor, and leading House conservative Mike Pence all stood up and delivered that message to the closed-door House GOP caucus meeting today.

“All of them talked about how the President is a guest,” one senior House GOP aide who was there tells me.

Separately, Cantor did a round of local radio interviews in his home state of Virginia vowing that attendees would treat the President “respectfully.”

For his part, Wilson is promising to behave: “I am a gentleman.”

I wonder how many of these House Republicans will behave during President Obama's SOTU address tonight? Or will the Senate Republicans degenerate into bratty children tonight?

Update: Perhaps the Congressional Republicans will take a page out of this brilliantly funny SNL strip:

Oregon voters approve measures to tax the rich

I wrote this post on Oregon voters were considering a couple of measures to tax the rich a couple of days ago. Well, the votes are in. This is from the Oregon, via Americablog:

Oregon voters bucked decades of anti-tax and anti-Salem sentiment Tuesday, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to prevent further erosion of public schools and other state services.

The tax measures passed easily, with late returns showing a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio. Measure 66 raises taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, and Measure 67 sets higher minimum taxes on corporations and increases the tax rate on upper-level profits.

The results triggered waves of relief from educators and legislative leaders, who were facing an estimated $727 million shortfall in the current two-year budget if the measures failed.

"We're absolutely ecstatic," said Hanna Vandering, a physical education teacher from Beaverton and vice president of the statewide teachers union. "What Oregonians said today is they believe in public education and vital services."

The double-barreled victory is the first voter-approved statewide income tax increase since the 1930s. Other states, facing similar budget woes, are watching the outcome closely because Oregon, after all, is a state that capped property taxes and locked a surplus tax rebate program into the constitution.

I'm still thinking that the Oregon measures are the result of some serious populist anger against the established interests. I think these voters are getting angry over the unfairness, corruption, cronyism that is taking place between corporate interests, politicians, government, Wall Street, the ubber-rich--list your points here. It is a general, growing, anger at the direction this country is heading, and at how the voters feel like they're getting screwed on Main Street. And this anger is on both sides of the political spectrum--look at the Tea Party movement that could be threatening to push the Republican Party even further rightward. It is fascinating to watch.

Going back to the Americablog posting, there is an interesting political context link from MyDD's Jonathan Singer:

After the Beltway elite read the results of the special Senate election in Massachusetts last week as an indication of conservatism on the rise, Oregon voters clarified the message: It's not conservatism, but rather populism that is on the rise.


The message out of Oregon, like the message out of Massachusetts, is resonating: Voters are in a populist mood right now -- not an anti-government one, necessarily, but a populist one nevertheless. The progressive brand of populism that resonated with Oregonians this month is slightly different than the one that rang true in Massachusetts. Yet the message is just as clear.

The real question now is whether DC will listen, or if instead it will continue to cling to its common wisdom.

Singer calls it populism, which is probably a better term than my voter anger. Still, the message is clear--voters do not like what is going on in government. And they're willing to knock out Democrats or Republicans that are unwilling to listen to their demands.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Toyota tells dealers to stop selling eight model cars covered by recall

This is a huge blow for Toyota. From the Los Angeles Times:

Toyota Motor Corp. is temporarily halting sales and production of eight models, including the top-selling Camry and Corolla, that it has recalled because the accelerator pedal can stick and cause unwanted acceleration.

The automaker announced the recall of 2.3 million cars and trucks late last week. That came just months after Toyota launched its largest-ever recall -- 4.3 million vehicles -- because floor mats could trap the gas pedal and also cause sudden acceleration.

Today, Toyota informed its roughly 1,200 U.S. dealers to immediately halt sales of both new and used models of the affected vehicles: the 2009 to 2010 RAV4, 2009 to 2010 Corolla, 2009 to 2010 Matrix, 2005 to 2010 Avalon, 2010 Highlander, 2007 to 2010 Tundra and 2008 to 2010 Sequoia. It also is halting sales of certain 2007 to 2010 Camry sedans, depending on where those vehicles were manufactured.

Toyota also said it would stop production of those models on five assembly lines in the U.S. and Canada, effective Monday.

The automaker did not say how long it would freeze sales of those vehicles, which represent the majority of its sales, by volume, in the U.S.

"At this point, we don't know," Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said about a remedy for the problem. He said that Toyota had never before issued a "stop sale" order. "I'm not going to speculate on how long this will be in effect."

This has become a huge problem for Toyota--a recall of eight models produced over a span of 3-5 years, affecting over 6 million cars. I do not even think that Toyota really knows what the problem is with these cars regarding unexpected acceleration. What is more, both the recall and the halting of sales affects some of Toyota's best-selling models--including the Camry, the Corolla, the Tundra, and the Highlander--affecting Toyota's small car, truck, and SUV platforms. So far, Toyota is now taking the right steps now in both issuing the recall order and halting the sales of their vehicles. But apparently Toyota has been rather late in issuing such a recall, according to this ABC News story:

The major announcement comes just days after Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles to correct the sudden unexplained acceleration in some of its models, after ABC News informed the company that the latest in a long series of investigative reports on the issue was about to air.

Safety expert Sean Kane told ABC News that since last fall, when Toyota said it had solved the acceleration problem with proposed changes to gas pedals and a recall of 4.2 million cars with suspect floor mats, more than 60 new cases of runaway Toyotas have been reported.

In the most tragic incident, on the day after Christmas, four people died in Southlake, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, when a 2008 Toyota sped off the road, through a fence and landed upside down in a pond. The car's floor mats were found in the trunk of the car, where owners had been advised to put them as part of the recall.

"There's one thing that didn't cause the accident," said Southlake police spokesman Lt. Ben Brown.

Federal safety investigators have joined in the investigation, according to Lt. Brown.

Toyota had a reputation for producing safe, quality-made cars. This latest order to halt sales will probably severely tarnish Toyota's image as a quality car-maker, not to mention the losses Toyota will take in U.S. car sales market as a result of the halting of sales and production of these models. The longer this halting of sales and production of Toyota cars takes place, the greater the losses that Toyota will incur. And it is not just dollar amounts of lost sales, but also potentially long-term, loyal Toyota customers who will be shopping for other manufacturer's cars.

31 House Republicans support resolution honoring alleged felon James O'Keefe

Okay, now the James O'Keefe story is entering into the Twilight Zone. Now Media Matters is reporting that Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) has introduced a resolution praising O'Keefe for his investigation into the ACORN activities. Here is the text of the resolution:

Text of the House Resolution:

Whereas Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe III filmed investigatory videos uncovering the fraudulent and illegal practices of the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN);

Whereas the House of Representatives voted to completely defund ACORN on September 17, 2009;

Whereas these videos resulted in the potential annual savings of millions of taxpayer dollars to organizations that contract with ACORN;

Whereas Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe III have displayed exemplary actions as government watchdogs and young journalists uncovering wasteful government spending; and

Whereas Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe III are owed a debt of gratitude by the people of the United States:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives— (1) honors Hannah Giles and James O’ Keefe III for their work as investigative journalists; (2) commends Hannah Giles and James O’ Keefe III for bringing to light the fraudulent behavior of the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) and helping save millions of taxpayer dollars that otherwise would have funded ACORN; and (3) respectfully requests the Clerk of the House to transmit an enrolled copy of this resolution to Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe III.

Even more insane, Olson's resolution has picked up support by 31 House Republicans. Media Matters has the names of these supporters:

Todd Akin [R-MO2]
Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD6]
Joe Barton [R-TX6]
Rob Bishop [R-UT1]
Jo Bonner [R-AL1]
John Boozman [R-AR3]
Paul Broun [R-GA10]
Henry Brown [R-SC1]
John Campbell [R-CA48]
John Carter [R-TX31]
Howard Coble [R-NC6]
Tom Cole [R-OK4]
Michael Conaway [R-TX11]
John Culberson [R-TX7]
Mary Fallin [R-OK5]
Trent Franks [R-AZ2]
Louis Gohmert [R-TX1]
Kay Granger [R-TX12]
Ralph Hall [R-TX4]
Jim Jordan [R-OH4]
Steve King [R-IA5]
John Kline [R-MN2]
Doug Lamborn [R-CO5]
Blaine Luetkemeyer [R-MO9]
Daniel Lungren [R-CA3]
Kenny Marchant [R-TX24]
Joseph Pitts [R-PA16]
Bill Posey [R-FL15]
Phil Roe [R-TN1]
Jean Schmidt [R-OH2]
John Shadegg [R-AZ3]

According to, the resolution was introduced on October 7, 2009, and is currently sitting in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. So obviously this resolution was introduced well before O'Keefe got busted today on the wiretapping charges. And I'm certainly guessing that the Democratic leadership are more than happy to toss this resolution into the committee trash can. This makes me wonder--will Olson and his GOP cosponsors continue to support this resolution, now that O'Keefe has been arrested on felony charges? This resolution is certainly making Olson and his 31 Republican cosponsors looking really stupid now.

Talking Points Memo now has the federal affidavit detailing the charges against O'Keefe.

Anti-Acorn filmmaker arrested for bugging Senator Mary Landrieu’s office

This is! From the

Federal authorities have arrested four men on felony charges for attempting to infiltrate Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office, including one filmmaker who targeted the community group ACORN last year in undercover videos.

Among those arrested was 25-year-old James O’Keefe, the conservative filmmaker, along with Joseph Basel, Robert Flanagan and Stan Dai, all 24. They were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses and attempting to gain access to the Democrat’s office by posing as telephone repairmen, according to a copy of an FBI affidavit unsealed Tuesday.

The complaint said that Flanagan and Basel each entered the premises, wearing light green fluorescent vests, denim paints and blue work shirts, tool belts and hard-hats. They informed a member of Landrieu’s staff that they were telephone repairmen and requested access to the main telephone at the reception desk.

At that point, the two men allegedly attempted to manipulate telephones and accessed the telephone closet, saying they needed to work on the entire system. The men, who said they left their credentials in their vehicles, were arrested by the U.S. Marshal’s Service soon afterward.

According to the FBI, the four men could each face up to 10 years and a fine of $250,000 if they are convicted.

O’Keefe made waves last year when he posed as a pimp and taped ACORN employees discussing a prostitution ring, embarrassing the group and forcing many of its supporters to spurn its ties with it.

Do I see shades of Watergate rearing its head again?

I'll admit that the ACORN controversy became big news story for the conservative media, and bloggers. My thinking here is that O'Keefe got a little cocky with his successful "gotcha journalism" against ACORN, that he thought he could get away with wiretapping Landrieu's Senate office. What was O'Keefe thinking he could get from bugging Landrieu's office? Any publishing of taped phone conversations would still get O'Keefe arrested on wiretapping charges. Or was O'Keefe hoping to gather dirt on Landrieu to give to other GOP operatives intent on politically taking Landrieu out? O'Keefe was stupid for attempting to break the law for political gain, and he should be prosecuted to the fullest intent. Then again, I also have to wonder how many other GOP or conservative political operatives are also breaking the law for political gain?

Could alien life be already here on Earth?

This is from MSNBC News:

LONDON - For the past 50 years, scientists have scoured the skies for radio signals from beyond our planet, hoping for some sign of extraterrestrial life. But one physicist says there's no reason alien life couldn't already be lurking among us — or maybe even in us.

Paul Davies, an award-winning Arizona State University physicist known for his popular science writing said Tuesday that life may have developed on Earth not once but several times.

Davies said the variant life forms — most likely tiny microbes — could still be hanging around "right under our noses — or even in our noses."

"How do we know all life on Earth descended from a single origin?" he told a conference at London's prestigious Royal Society, which serves as Britain's academy of sciences. "We've just scratched the surface of the microbial world."

The idea that alien micro-organisms could be hiding out here on Earth has been discussed for a while, according to Jill Tarter, the director of the U.S. SETI project, which listens for signals from civilizations based around distant stars.

She said several of the scientists involved in the project were interested in pursuing the notion, which Davies earlier laid out in a 2007 article published in Scientific American in which he asked: "Are aliens among us?"

Of course the aliens are among us. You just have to look here;

I'll admit that I was first going with the 1956 movie trailer, but I think I like the 1978 trailer even better. Both are great science fiction movies.

Schwarzenegger wants to send California prisoners to Mexico

This is from Raw Story:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested California could ease its crowded prison system by sending thousands of undocumented inmates to specially built jails in Mexico.

Speaking to reporters at the Sacramento Press Club, Schwarzenegger said California could ease its strained finances by a billion dollars if 20,000 illegal immigrants currently held in the state were housed across the border.

"I think that we can do so much better in the prison system alone if we can go and take, inmates for instance, the 20,000 inmates that are illegal immigrants that are here and get them to Mexico," Schwarzenegger said.

"Think about it -- if California gives Mexico the money. Not 'Hey, you take care of them, these are your citizens'. No. Not at all.

"We pay them to build the prison down in Mexico. And then we have those undocumented immigrants down there in prison. It would half the costs to build the prison and run the prison. We could save a billion dollars right there that could go into higher education."

It is an interesting idea, but I seriously doubt it will ever work. First, I'm guessing that the Governator would want to contract with private firms to build and run these prisons in Mexico. Why is it, when I think of this proposal, my mind goes back to the corruption, waste, fraud, and shoddy workmanship that Haliburton, KBR, and other firms engaged in with the Iraq reconstruction money--financed by American taxpayers? Something tells me we'd see the same thing with private firms building and running these Mexican prisons. In fact, I'd also guess that the private firms would demand more money from California taxpayers to build more Mexican prisons to house more inmates, and perhaps even cut corners just to increase their own profit margins?

A second problem I have with this idea is Mexico itself. There is still a high level of corruption in Mexico--especially political and drug-related corruption. And the Governator wants to build prisons in Mexico? I don't know how much this corruption will affect such a prison program--especially if such corruption influences private firms' construction and maintaining of these Mexican prison facilities, or even if the corruption extends down to a prisoner's ability to bribe the guards to be released from such a prison. Finally, how would Sacramento be able to regulate these facilities that are run by private companies in a foreign country? I'm sorry, but the more I think about this, the more I believe the Governator is proposing a scam to screw the California taxpayer into this boondoggle of a wealth transfer to a privatized prison interest.

New poll reveals 23 percent Americans spend too much time online

Excuse me while I check out the latest OMG from Yahoo. In the meantime, you can ponder this revealing Rasmussen poll:

Americans increasingly live in a world of cell phones, laptops, Blackberries, desk computers and more, all wirelessly linked to the Internet, and now automakers even plan front-seat computers in some cars.

But a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 23% of adults think they personally spend too much time using the Internet, computers and mobile communications devices.

Seventy-one percent (71%) disagree and believe the amount of time they spend this way is appropriate. Seventy-five percent (75%), however, believe young children spend too much time on computers and other electronic equipment.

In a survey last August, 51% of adults said they use the Internet every day or nearly every day. Another 14% said they are online several times a week. Six percent (6%) said they are on the Internet once a week or less, while 28% rarely or never go online.

President Obama proposes spending freeze

I saw this story last night after I was finished tweaking the new blog template. Now it is time to comment on it. From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.

The officials said the proposal would be a major component both of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday and of the budget he will send to Congress on Monday for the fiscal year that begins in October.

The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.

But it would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit: The estimated $250 billion in savings over 10 years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.

First, I don't know any details on this spending freeze, except that it is going to be a small savings cut from your basic budget programs. The cuts are not going to take place in defense or the entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. And the entitlement programs are certainly some of the fastest growing parts of the federal budget, now sitting at around $3.5 trillion.

So what the heck is this spending freeze? I'm starting to think that this spending freeze is nothing more than a political gimmick, possibly raised by the Obama administration to reassure Americans who are worried about increased deficits. I found this interesting NY Times tidbit of information:

“A lot of our caucus won’t like it but I don’t think we have any choice,” said an adviser to Congressional Democratic leaders, who would only speak on condition of anonymity about internal party deliberations. “After Massachusetts and all the polls about independents’ abandoning us for being fiscally irresponsible, we can’t afford to be spending more than Obama.”

Ever since President Obama started asking Congress for money to fund his economic stimulus program and continue bailing out the banks, the congressional Republicans have suddenly discovered the evils of deficit spending and our huge debt--which is rather hypocritically ironic, considering how those same congressional Republicans were so eerily silent while Republican President George W. Bush was charging up the nation's credit card like a drunken sailor (Not that the Democrats were any better). I think the GOP's bashing of the Obama administration's "fiscal irresponsibility" is probably promoting enough fear in Americans on the budget mess. Toss in the Massachusetts election results, and the Democrats may be worrying that they're pushing too much big government programs and too much deficit spending on an American electorate that is worried where the country is heading. Hence, President Obama's new spending freeze.

We'll learn more details on this freeze during President Obama's State of the Union speech tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tishman Speyer Properties surrenders 11,227-apartment complex to creditors

The Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town complex in 2006. From Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

This is from The New York Times:

The owners of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the iconic middle-class housing complexes overlooking the East River in Manhattan, have decided to turn over the properties to creditors, officials said Monday morning.

The decision by Tishman Speyer Properties and BlackRock Realty comes four years after the $5.4 billion purchase of the complexes’ 110 buildings and 11,227 apartments in what was the most expensive real estate deal of its kind in American history.

The surrender of the properties, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, ends a tortured real estate saga that saw the partnership make expensive improvements to the complex and then try to rent the apartments at higher market rates in a real estate boom. But a real estate downturn and the city’s strong rent protections hindered those efforts, leaving the buyers scrambling to make payments on loans due for the properties, which have been a comfortable harbor for the city’s middle class since they opened in the late 1940s.


This month, the partnership headed by Tishman Speyer defaulted on $3 billion in debt on the properties, and in the last few days secondary lenders have been calling to replace the partnership.

I am just amazed at how this huge property deal went belly up by Tishman Speyer. I've read plenty of news stories of Americans losing their homes to foreclosure due to job losses, speculation, or even just buying too much housing than they could afford. But with the souring economy potentially forcing New Yorkers out of the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper complex, Tishman couldn't afford the overpriced payments when they purchased the complex at the height of the real estate boom. This story is just another example of how the over-speculation and frenzied spending during the real estate bubble is still wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy after the bubble exploded. Now the creditors have an 11,227-apartment complex that is well below the original $5.4 billion purchase value--the Wall Street Journal reports that the complex is now valued at around $1.8 billion. What is more, a number of big investors, including the California Public Employee's Retirement System, the Church of England, the Government of Singapore Investment Corp., and the Hartford Financial Services Group, that bought into this property are about to see much of their investment stake being wiped out.

Talk about a real estate disaster here.

Oregon voters consider taxing the rich

I'm not sure what to say about this Los Angeles Times story:

In mail-in voting that ends today, Oregon is considering measures to raise taxes on households earning $250,000 or more and on individuals earning at least $125,000, as well as hike corporate taxes. About 39,000 of the state's 1.5 million taxpayers would be subject to the higher tax, and some big companies could see their annual bills go from $10 to $100,000.

The success or failure of Measures 66 and 67 will be a concrete test -- one of the few in the country this year -- of how willing voters are to accept tax increases targeted at those theoretically best equipped to pay them.

The LA Times article reports that polls are showing both measures are ahead, although the gap is tightening. A New York Times article reveals that the referendums could raise around $727 million in tax and fee increases. What is more, the Oregon legislature "has essentially already spent the $727 million in projected revenue by incorporating the anticipated tax increases into the current budget. If the measures fail, lawmakers will have to make new cuts or find another way to raise revenue." The Oregon legislature is betting that the tax measures will pass, and are staking it with more IOUs.

Then again, are we seeing an upsurge in populist anger against big corporations, the ubber-rich, or even the political establishment? For the past couple years of this recession, we've seen the government spend billions bailing out the big banks with taxpayer money. At the same time, the same bank CEOs were collecting huge multi-million bonuses as their banks were going down the toilet and were collecting TARP taxpayer money to keep the banks afloat since they were "too big to fail." While the bank CEOs were collecting their multi-million bonuses, ordinary Americans were losing jobs as the unemployment rate spiked to over 10 percent. It is not hard to imagine how this populist anger can explode during this election year--look at the special election in Massachusetts. The more I've read on that election, the more I'm thinking Republican Scott Brown's upset win over Democrat Martha Coakley is really another sign of voter anger against...whatever? List what you're angry about--be it the Obama administration, health care, the economy, jobs, bank bailouts, bank CEO bonuses, Republican obstructionism. The list can go on. What is important for this 2010 election is that any politician that can tap into this voter anger, can possibly ride it to victory. I think that the voters are angry at the direction that this country is heading to. But this is simply not an anger directed against President Obama or the Democrats, but possibly also against the Republicans and corporate interests. It is a fluid anger that can be tough to pin down. If the situation in this country doesn't change in the next several months, that anger will flare up. The 2010 election is certainly off to an interesting start.

GOP up to dirty tricks with "census" mailers

This is from The Politico:

Officials of both parties are sharply criticizing a fundraising mailing from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele they say could be confused with official correspondence regarding this year’s census.

The fundraising letter comes in the form of a “survey,” a frequently used device for partisan fundraising, but this one has a twist: Calling itself the “Congressional District Census,” the letter comes in an envelope starkly printed with the words, “DO NOT DESTROY OFFICIAL DOCUMENT” and describes itself, on the outside of the envelope, as a “census document.”

“Strengthening our party for the 2010 elections is going to take a massive grass-roots effort all across America,” Steele writes in a letter that blends official-sounding language, partisan calls to arms, and requests for between $25 and $500. “That is why I have authorized a census to be conducted for every congressional district in the country.”

The mailing is a Republican Party standby, a source of contributions — and occasional complaints — for more than a decade. But the latest round comes in a year when the actual United States census is getting under way, and officials say they’re worried that the GOP will sow confusion. News outlets in Wyoming, New York, Tennessee, and Minnesota have printed complaints about the mailers, with the director of the Census Bureau's regional office in Kansas City, Dennis Johnson, criticizing the letter in the Pioneer Press.

"My biggest concern is that it might be confusing to some residents who get this and then get the real one in a couple of months," Johnson said.

In some ways, I'm not surprised that the GOP is sending out this "census" survey just before the main U.S. Census survey is mailed out. It is certainly a deceptive campaign that apparently does not violate the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act. The Politico reports that post office officials responded to a letter written by Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) and Rep. William Lacy Clay (Mo.) complaining about this Republican census survey. The GOP survey does not include any reference to the U.S. Census Bureau, any symbols or trademarks by the U.S. government, and that the letterhead states that the mailing was commissioned by the Republican Party, and signed by GOP chairman Michael Steele.

But the real kicker is this quote from a Republican operative:

"Of course, duping people is the point. ... That's one of the reasons why it works so well,” said one Republican operative familiar with the program, who said it’s among the RNC’s most lucrative fundraising initiatives. “They will likely mail millions this year [with] incredible targeting.”

It is all about duping ignorant Americans into sending money to the Republican Party. And since it apparently works so well, the GOP will continue using fundraising campaign.

Update: Americablog has a copy of this GOP "census." I can easily see that this is a GOP fundraising gimmick. Then again, I wonder just how many Americans will end up falling for this crap?

Oh Well Reboot

No, you are not seeing things here--talking to the five people who probably read this blog now. When I started this blog about five years ago, I thought I would write solely on news, economic, and political issues. And I've written quite a bit on the issues of the day. But last year, I just got burnt out on writing about politics and trying to report on every single political issue and story that came up day in and day out. Some of the issues were especially complex, health care as a huge example, that I felt like I didn't have the time to research or think about--much less originally comment on. For that, it was time to step away from Oh Well, and focus on other things. That is not to say that I never lost my interest in news and politics.

For even as I stepped away from Oh Well, I was still thinking of tweaking the site into something more than just a news and politics blog. I have other items that I wondered how to publish--essays from political science and economics classes, short sarcastic stories, and even some photo work that has accumulated on my computer hard drives. For a while, I did have a separate website that I published some of my essays on, but they were never incorporated with my blog as a single portfolio of my work. That was always in the back of my mind. So with a new year, I thought it was time to come back and reboot Oh Well into something new--a combined blog and portfolio of written and photography work that I've accumulated over the years. That is what you're looking at right now.

To start off, the Home page will be my blog. I'll certainly be back writing about news and politics, now that we're in an election year and there has been some fascinating dynamics taking place--especially with the Massachusetts U.S. Senate special election, where GOP state senator Scott Brown trounced Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) for Ted Kennedy's seat. More on that later. I will also be adding more page links of my portfolio. The Essays page will have links to a number of SJSU political science and economic essays that I've written. Some of these essays are over ten years old, but I think they are interesting in showing some of my thinking on political and economic thought. The Fun Essays and Stories link are just that--links to fun essays and stories that I've written, but have never published. I still have a couple of other items to add, but I'll need to go through my files to find them. The Photography page will show some photo work that I've done. For the moment, I've included a link to a photo blog showcasing some work for a Photoshop class that I've taken at West Valley College last fall. But I've got some other photo stuff I want to include--old black-and-white photojournalism work for the West Valley College Norseman, abortion protest photos when Operation Rescue came to San Jose, UCSF bike racing photography, and possibly some newer stuff. Of course, I'm working old school here with 35mm manual focus Canon equipment. But it still works. The Links page will show all my blog links. I'm thinking I want to clean up my front page, and remove a number of the web and blog links that I rarely used. But I do not want to completely delete the links. Instead, I'm going to simplify and clean the links to my front page, showing only the most common links that I regularly go to. The full set of links will be found in the Links page. I'll also probably remove some of the junk, advertising, feeds, and other stuff to be placed on the Links Page--I'm still working on that aspect. I'm definitely getting rid of all the advertising on my blog--I never made any money from Google AdSense, or ads. And I probably never will. So I'm going to simplify the page.

I hope you enjoy this new reboot of Oh Well. I'm still in the process of tweaking my site. If you have any comments, please post them.