Archive | November, 2011

Albany Santa

30 Nov

New readers may not be aware that I oftentimes post editorial cartoons done by an extremely talented artist/commentator living in the Adirondacks named Mark Wilson.  His pen name is “Marquil”, and his work can be found at his website, EmpireWire. I think that his art and editorial content rival anything you’ll find in any paper, anywhere. 

I don’t post all of his submissions, because some of them don’t really have any WNY relevance, but I hope you enjoy them and give him some love. I think they’re excellent. 

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Congressional Republicans Poised to Raise Middle Class Taxes

30 Nov

We know the drill – our sovereign debt is about to be downgraded because (a) the Congress couldn’t get it together to pass a budget that includes both a reduction in public spending and a repeal of the Bush/Obama tax cuts for the richest earners, so they punted to a so-called “Supercommittee” to do it; and (b) predictably, the Supercommittee was unable to reach an agreement because a tax hike for the wealthy was out of the question for almost all Republicans, and some Democrats.

So, now with our malaise economy of high unemployment, uncertainty, and a crisis of demand in the market, the federal government refuses to increase revenues by asking the wealthy to pay more, and is instead seeking contraction of the government’s involvement in the economy. To say this is backwards would be an understatement.

Many fingers have been pointed in recent weeks at Republicans’ obeisance to a pledge most of them signed with Grover Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform“. As ATR describes it,

…candidates and incumbents solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases. While ATR has the role of promoting and monitoring the Pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is actually made to a candidate’s constituents, who are entitled to know where candidates stand before sending them to the capitol. Since the Pledge is a prerequisite for many voters, it is considered binding as long as an individual holds the office for which he or she signed the Pledge.

Yet, the Republicans have pledged themselves into a corner.

Part of the Obama stimulus package included a payroll tax holiday for wage-earners. Social Security payroll taxes are paid equally by the employee and his employer at 6.2%. The tax holiday reduced the employee’s share to 4.2%, and the Social Security trust fund took no hit whatsoever.  A vote to extend the tax holiday is scheduled for later this week, and all indications are that Congressional Republicans are going to vote against it.

For a $50,000 earner, [the tax holiday] meant paying $1,000 a year less in payroll taxes. It was agreed in that law that the holiday would cost the Social Security Trust Fund nothing—the depleted revenue would be replaced out of the general treasury. So the holiday adds to the general deficit but does not affect the trust fund.

This is part of the Republican jobs and economic program, which basically amounts to “prevent anything Obama might do to help the economy, so one of our party’s questionable fringe candidates wins the White House in 2012.”  All it’s missing is a catchy acronym.

And if the no-tax-hike-pledge-taking Republicans vote against a renewal of the payroll tax holiday, thus effectively raising taxes on wage-earners. The party that supported President Bush’s gimmicky $300 rebate checks now recommends a plan that may plunge us deeper in an economic hole, all in the hopes that Obama would get the blame.

Two economists at the Economic Policy Institute say ending the holiday would reduce GDP by $128 billion and cost 972,000 jobs in 2012. The EPI is a liberal outfit, but Mark Zandi of Moody’s, who advised John McCain in 2008, agrees that raising the payroll tax back to where it was could cause another recession.

And besides those macroeconomic concerns, there is the simple question of money in people’s pockets as they try to tough out the economy. A thousand dollars to a $50,000 earner, or $1,500 to a $75,000 earner, isn’t nothing.

The Democrats? They want to further lower the earner’s share to a full half – 3.1%, and they also want the reduction to apply to employers at the same 50% rate, in the hopes that more money in the pockets of consumers will spur economic activity, and that more money in the employers’ coffers might spur further hiring.  For $255 billion, you target the real job creators directly. How will they pay for that?

… with a 3.5 percent surtax on dollars earned over $1 million per year. In other words, if someone earns $1.3 million a year, she will pay the extra 3.5 percent only on the last $300,000 in earnings; that is, an extra $10,500 a year (bear in mind that this person takes home, after taxes, around $30,000 every two weeks). So it certainly raises the taxes of the very wealthiest. But it gives more money back to middle-class people, and it stimulates the economy, perhaps to the tune of 50,000 jobs a month, maybe even more.

The Republicans would have supported something like this if it was their idea, but now it’s the Democrats’ plan and must be blocked reflexively. Interestingly, they’re likely to grudgingly demand a continuation of the status quo, in which case they’re asking that the deficit be further enlarged.

Decisions, decisions.

What should President Obama do? Take it to the people.

Obama should give an Oval Office speech Wednesday night and say: “If you are an employee and make less than $1 million, or if you are an employer of any size, I am trying to give you a tax cut. If you are an employee who makes more than $1 million a year, you should write and thank your Republican senator, because the Republicans are blocking me and helping you.”

The proof couldn’t be more stark. The national Republican Party isn’t the party of low taxes. It’s the party of the superwealthy and the social warriors.

The Morning Grumpy – November 30th

30 Nov

News for you to read during your morning grumpy…

1. As you undoubtedly wake up to news reports of the LAPD beating the ever-loving shit out of the peaceful protesters at Occupy Los Angeles, you might STILL be wondering what all those Occupiers are protesting. The Sunlight Foundation has another piece of the puzzle for you to consider

On Sunday, Bloomberg News reported on an estimated $13 billion worth of income that banks gained by taking advantage of the Federal Reserve’s below-market interest rates, which were sometimes as low as 0.01 percent.

The six banks that benefited the most from this “subsidy” – Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo – reaped a combined $4.8 billion of estimated extra income from the below-market loans.

All six have also averaged at least $2.7 million in lobbying a year for the period 2008-2010. And all six have averaged at least $2 million in campaign contributions for the last two electoral cycles. Four of the six banks rank among the top 100 political contributor organizations for the last two cycles.

I don’t want to speak for the whole of the 99%, but I’ll go out on a limb and say we’re collectively pissed off that we live in a plutocracy. Right, Bill Moyers?

2. Analysis of the latest census data has been trickling out and this most recent work caught my eye. An interactive map at the NY Times gives insight into American poverty rates sorted by county.

Between 2007, the year the recession began, and 2010, the poverty rate rose by a statistically significant amount in nearly a quarter of counties (722 of 3,142) across the country.

Let’s compare Erie County with Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, you know, where your friends moved to find work.

Erie County

  • Poverty Percentage,  All Ages: 14.3%
  • Poverty Percentage , Under Age 18: 20.9%
  • Poverty Percentage, Ages 5-17: 18.3%
  • Median Household Income: $46,773

Mecklenburg County

  • Poverty Percentage,  All Ages: 15.6%
  • Poverty Percentage , Under Age 18: 21.3%
  • Poverty Percentage, Ages 5-17: 19.6%
  • Median Household Income: $52,363

Maybe the grass isn’t so greener in North Carolina…well, it probably is if you’re a white collar, mid-career professional.

3. I’d love to see a mashup of the census poverty rates and mortgage data.

At the end of the third quarter, 10.7 million homeowners owed more on their mortgages than their home is worth.

Those homeowners may continue to pay their note, but those who suffer a shock like job loss or illness are at a high risk of foreclosure because they are unable to downsize by selling.

Forty-five percent of borrowers have less than 20 percent equity in their homes, and almost 70 percent of those mortgages carry interest rates above 5 percent, while the current average rate for a 30-year loan is closer to 4 percent.

Yeah, shit is fucked up and bullshit.

4. Which is why Robert Reich says that America needs to restore its basic bargain.

For most of the last century, the basic bargain at the heart of the American economy was that employers paid their workers enough to buy what American employers were selling.

That basic bargain created a virtuous cycle of higher living standards, more jobs, and better wages.

Get it? Corporate profits are up right now largely because pay is down and companies aren’t hiring. But this is a losing game even for corporations over the long term. Without enough American consumers, their profitable days are numbered.

Or, we could give more tax cuts to corporations and millionaires and hope for the best.

5. The middle class continues to be squeezed. The average cost of tuition, room, and board at a 4 year public university was $15014 per year in 2009-10, up from $8653 in 2000-01 . Personal health care expenditures were $2066 per household in 2000, in 2010 they were $3157 per household. Wage Stagnation for the bottom 50%, incidentally the people whom rising costs hurt the most.

6. Did you know the GOP runs a clown college? Neither did I, but it appears to be pretty fantastic.

Fact Of The Day: It takes nearly 450,000 servers using 20 megawatts of power at a monthly cost of $2MM (higher without local subsidies) to power the Google platform.

Quote Of The Day: “You without me is like Harold Melvin without the Blue Notes, you’ll never go platinum!” – Snoop Dogg

Song Of The Day: “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (Featuring Teddy Pendergrass)

Europe on the Brink

30 Nov

The collapse of the eurozone would likely have a very negative affect on our economy, but would devastate Europe. The euro’s survival depends on large part on Germany, the EU’s largest economy. While founding members like Germany and France are quick to blame rapid expansion of the EU into developing countries of the former Eastern Bloc, but Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski gave a speech to the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Berlin, basically imploring – and demanding – that Germany get off its ass and save the eurozone.

Excerpts of Sikorski’s blockbuster speech are summarized in this Financial Times op-ed (registration required).

To the always-Euroskeptic United Kingdom, Sikorski had this to say:

A critical issue is whether Britain, such an important member of the EU, can support reform. The eurozone’s collapse would hugely harm Britain’s economy. The UK’s total sovereign, corporate and household debt exceeds 400 per cent of gross domestic product. Can London be sure markets will always favour it? We would prefer Britain in, but if it can’t join, please allow us to forge ahead. And please start explaining to the British public that European decisions are not Brussels’ diktats but results of agreements in which you freely participate.

The two euro zone economies with the largest growth over the past four years have been Poland and Slovakia – relative EU newbies who are often blamed by the founding economies for being the root of all eco-social evil.

The EU has always been a sort of quasi-government – not even rising to the level of a confederation, its union has always been more about economics than politics. Sikorski believes it’s time to strengthen the EU into a “fiscal federation”.

What, as Poland’s foreign minister, do I regard as the biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland in the last week of November 2011? It is not terrorism, and it is certainly not German tanks. It is not even Russian missiles, which President Dmitry Medvedev has just threatened to deploy on the EU’s border. The biggest threat to the security of Poland would be the collapse of the eurozone.

I demand of Germany that, for its own sake and for ours, it help the eurozone survive and prosper. Nobody else can do it. I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say this, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear its inactivity. You have become Europe’s indispensable nation. You may not fail to lead: not dominate, but to lead in reform.

It’s created quite a stir throughout EU, which boasts 500 million residents and represents 20% of global GDP.

AV Photo Daily 11/30/11

30 Nov

Buffalo Fire

Buffalo Fire by Flickr user Kevin Brautlacht.

Want your photo to appear here? Just join the AV Photo Daily Flickr group, and add your images.

Wanamaker’s One Sunset

30 Nov

Former Buffalo economic development czar Timothy Wanamaker returned to town yesterday to be convicted by Federal Judge Arcara for charging $30,000 in personal expenses to his BERC credit card. Wanamaker left Buffalo in 2008 to fail as city manager in Inglewood, CA.

Wanamaker has yet to be sentenced, but the Buffalo News alludes to the possibility that Wanamaker’s plea deal is part of a larger, ongoing investigation into mismanagement and embezzlement of HUD funds at City Hall.

Stealing economic development money from a struggling city – it doesn’t get much lower than that. One wonders why CitiStat didn’t pick up all of it, and one wonders how cooperative and informative Mr. Wanamaker will be with federal investigators between now and his March sentencing.

 

Need a Job? Erie County is Hiring

30 Nov

Obviously, this is from a press release. First house-cleaning in many years, what with the first incoming Democratic County Executive since 1988.

POLONCARZ TEAM ANNOUNCES IT IS ACCEPTING RESUMES FOR POSITIONS

County Executive-elect Poloncarz Encourages Those Interested in Serving Erie County in his Administration to Submit Resumes Online

ERIE COUNTY, NY—Today, Erie County Executive-elect Mark C. Poloncarz announced the launch of his transition team’s new website at http://www2.erie.gov/transition.   At the website, Erie County residents can find the latest news from the Poloncarz Transition Team, as well as the list of available positions and how people can submit an application for a position.

Over the next month, the transition team will look to fill approximately 70 positions within the incoming Poloncarz administration ranging from department heads to other policymaking, administrative and managerial confidential staff positions. The transition team strongly encourages anyone interested in serving Erie County to submit an application electronically. The transition team’s executive committee, chaired by businessman Michael Joseph will review cover letters and resumes and make recommendations to the County Executive-elect.  A list of the available positions, job specifications and qualifications and the process for applying for a position in the administration can be found at http://www2.erie.gov/transition/index.php?q=applying-job.

Poloncarz stated, “I will rely on the expertise and unique viewpoints that each of my transition team members bring to the table to help me recruit an administration representative of all of Erie County.  I encourage anyone who is interested in serving our community as part of my new administration to visit the transition website and submit their resume as soon as possible.”

Transition Chairman Michael Joseph added, “The executive committee strongly encourages Erie County residents to go to the transition website, review the available positions and their qualifications and to apply online. We are accepting applications and seeking highly qualified and diverse candidates to serve County Executive-elect Poloncarz in his administration.”

 

The Participation Trophy

29 Nov

The Buffalo News’ Colin Dabkowski weighs in on the ongoing debate over whether we should criticize good people’s good efforts when they fail to live up to expectations.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/colindabkowski/status/141639995155955712″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/colindabkowski/status/141643531306545152″%5D

The Nooner – The Best of Patrice O’Neal

29 Nov

If you’re a fan of comedy, today is a sad day.

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that stand-up comedian Patrice O’Neal has died from complications of a stroke he suffered last month. The 41 year old comic was a true original and well known for his outrageous takes on race, sexuality, and politics. He was a staple on the Opie & Anthony radio show and one of my favorite comics because he didn’t just do “bits”, he knew how to tell a story, which was why he was so great on O&A.

As a small tribute, I thought I’d share some of his best standup bits and stories from Opie & Anthony.

NOTE: These are all absolutely filthy, filled to the brim with bad language and non-PC material. Treat it accordingly if you’re at work.

1. Wesley Snipes Goes To Jail

2. How To Tell How Pretty A White Woman Is

3. Typical White Guy Crimes

4. Ladies, tips on how to keep your man happy

5. The Rest Stop Incident

 

Prioritizing the Bailouts

29 Nov

Anyone remember Rick Santelli? He became famous for a day or two when he assailed the Obama stimulus for “rewarding bad behavior” because it included money for mortgage relief.

While many tea party types cheered Santelli’s rant for exposing the Indonesio-Kenyan socialist usurper President Obama for the Leninist Hitlerite he is, as it turns out, Obama’s mortgage relief plan would spend $85 billion to help keep beleaguered Americans who were upside-down on their mortgages in their homes.

Yet as of early 2009, the federal government committed $7.77 trillion to bail out the banksters, Santelli made no noise whatsoever about rewarding their bad behavior.

This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? Raise their hand.

Outrageous outrage! That’s what Santelli says in his infamous rant. Yet he and the traders whooping it up with him have dummied up when it comes to almost $8 trillion to bail out the “loser” banks.  Despicable people for despicable times.