The SCOTUS: Fascism Defined

In another bit of “news analysis” that will surprise no one other than a FoxNews viewer (who won’t believe it anyway), the NYT’s almost-resident legal expert, Jeffrey Rosen, Prof of Law at Georgetown Univ, writes that – hold onto your hat – the Bush Supreme Court is very friendly to business interests.

Lately, however, the affinities between the court and the chamber, a lavishly financed business-advocacy organization, seem to be more than just architectural. The Supreme Court term that ended last June was, by all measures, exceptionally good for American business. The chamber’s litigation center filed briefs in 15 cases and its side won in 13 of them — the highest percentage of victories in the center’s 30-year history. The current term, which ends this summer, has also been shaping up nicely for business interests.

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Though the current Supreme Court has a well-earned reputation for divisiveness, it has been surprisingly united in cases affecting business interests. Of the 30 business cases last term, 22 were decided unanimously, or with only one or two dissenting votes.

Now there’s a shocker.

One of the key definitions of a fascist govt is one in which the corporate agenda is conflated with the national political and judicial agendas until it’s all but impossible to separate them. We seem to have reached that point, don’t we?

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…and Who They’ve Decided to Help (2)

El Presidente‘s new “stimulus package” and the Democratic roll-over version of same is theoretically meant to stimulate the economy by giving money to people who really need it and will spend it on basic necessities to keep the economy humming. These are the people who haven’t seen a raise in 25 years or have been out of work, yes? Well, no, not exactly.

On Jan. 24, House leaders and the White House announced a preliminary deal that included stipends for all workers and breaks for business, but no money for extended unemployment or food-stamp assistance and no mention of permanent tax changes.

So who’s getting this bail out besides the banks? Guess what George W Bush’s idea of a “needy” consumer who deserves aid might be. Yup, you guessed it: the near-rich.

Elizabeth and Ben Kilgore are back in the real estate market. All it took was a little-publicized section of the economic stimulus package President Bush signed into law last week that lowered the borrowing cost of buying a more expensive home.

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[I]f the limit on loans backed by a government-backed housing finance entity like Fannie Mae is raised from $417,000 to the full $729,750 she has been hearing about, Ms. Kilgore said, “we will be able to get a 30-year fixed mortgage for less than what we’re paying now plus our homeowner’s dues.”

Mr George “Silver-Spoon” Bush is less concerned with the people about to lose their homes (he’s offered virtually nothing to help them) than he is with making sure the well-off don’t have to scrimp and that they get a good deal on that Big New McMansion they’ve got their eye on. God forbid they should get stuck with a (yecch!) condo. *shudder*

Three years ago, when they bought their first home, they resigned themselves to buying a condominium because it meant taking out a mortgage they knew they could manage.

“This will push us into a price range that’s now financially possible,” said Ms. Kilgore, a real estate agent in Marin County.

Yay! The Kilgores are now Republican for life. Screw the rest of the country. THEY GOT THEIRS! Eyes on the prize, people.

The temporary change in the loan limits is not about to revive the housing market on its own. But in some of the higher-priced regions of the country that have been hit hardest by the flagging real estate market, it could make a big difference. For if anything is going to breathe new life into the local housing economy in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington and Boston, it is home buyers emboldened by the prospect of larger loans at lower interest rates.

(emphasis added)

There you go. Things are so bad the upscale markets are starting to weaken, and what does Silver Spoon key on? Hint: NOT the people on marginal incomes who got royally reamed by real estate scam artists and the banks who expected to make fortunes on their predatory practices. No sir. No relief for them. And no relief for housing markets in areas where they’re imploding because wages are low (the South, for instance). No no. We’re only concerned about the “flagging real estate market” in “higher-priced regions”.

Priorities, people. Priorities.

Daniel Billett, a mortgage broker in Seattle, where homes in the downtown area sell for a median price of around $400,000, said that he, like dozens of people he knows, is poised to refinance an existing jumbo loan at a lower interest rate.

“As soon as the loan limits are implemented and lenders are accepting applications. I’ll be the first in line,” said Mr. Billett, whose company, Response Mortgage Services, has been receiving a steady stream of inquiries from clients in recent weeks. “I’m going to save hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of dollars every month on my current jumbo loan, by switching to a conventional loan.”

That’s who Silver Spoon cares about. Not you. Are we clear?

Stealing the ’08 Election: Rove and Reconstruction After Katrina

Evidence has come to light over the past month that the so-called “incompetence” of the Federal response to Katrina is anything but. It has been a calculated effort led by Karl Rove to turn Louisiana from a Democratic state into a Republican state by destroying New Orleans, but it may backfire.

Two weeks ago the WaPo reported that roughly a quarter of a million people are suing the Federal government for damages, claiming that the Army Corps of Engineers screwed up the building of the levees, dams, in fact the whole New Orleans water delivery system.

Ever since the floodwaters receded, the idea that the U.S. government was to blame for the Katrina catastrophe has possessed and angered its victims.

A legion of lawn signs, posted in front of many wrecked homes, wagged a finger at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for the flood works: “Hold the Corps accountable!”

Turns out it was more than mere talk. After a massive deadline filing rush recently that is still being sorted through, the United States is facing legal claims from more than 250,000 people here demanding compensation because, they allege, the Corps negligently designed the waterworks that permeate the city.

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[O]fficials said the damage claimed against the Corps exceeds $278 billion, an amount that dwarfs even the estimated $125 billion that the federal government has put up for Gulf Coast hurricane recovery.

Win or lose, the volume of claims is a measure of the prevalent sense in this city that the United States created the disaster and that, worse, it has failed to make up for it in disaster aid.

“This was the largest catastrophe in the history of the United States, and people want justice,” said Joseph M. Bruno, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys handling the case in federal court.

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Minimum Wage Deal Cut in Senate

The Senate has just passed the minimum wage bill which will go to the president as part of the supplemental package funding the war in Iraq. The bill, worked out in Conference Committee mainly by the Democratic majority, will cut the $$$12Bil$$$ in corporate tax breaks originally demanded by Senate Republicans under a threat of filibuster to a still-extortionate $$$4.8Bil$$$.

An improvement of sorts, I suppose.

Though the Senate initially approved tax cuts worth about $12 billion over five years, House negotiators wanted less than $2 billion. The final figure, $4.84 billion, includes several provisions, including giving expanded tax breaks to restaurants and other small businesses that hire disabled veterans and residents of poor neighborhoods as well as allowing small businesses to write off a greater portion of their investments for tax purposes.

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After Katrina: What the Democrats Are Up Against

In his recent press conference, memorable for a series of hypocritical and borderline-false statements, King George the Clueless berated the Democratic Congress for stuffing his supplemental war funding bill with what he called “pork”. Some $1.2B of that “pork” was headed for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the majority of it targeted for housing construction and redevelopment. It was the first housing appropriation of any significance in the 12 years since the Republicans took over the House, and the first to directly address the devastation to housing when Katrina hit.

During the 12 years that Republicans ran the House, their leaders didn’t pay much attention to affordable-housing activists. Despite soaring rents and complaints of a deepening affordability crisis, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) told his conference that he didn’t want to see housing bills on the floor. He thought housing programs were unreformed welfare….

But now that Democrats took over the House in November, their leaders are affordable-housing activists. Liberals Barney Frank (Mass.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.) run the two panels overseeing housing policy after agitating for years, without success, for increased government rent assistance. They came to office promising to pass the first major housing legislation since the early 1990s.

Last month, the House passed their bill, a measure to address the housing shortages that have festered on the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. After the storm wiped out 82,000 rental units in New Orleans, DeLay blocked a housing bill from Richard H. Baker (R-La.) because, sources said, the majority leader did not consider Baker a “team player.” But Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), now speaker of the House, campaigned on Katrina inaction — a prime example, she told audiences last fall, of the “do-nothing Congress” — and vowed a fast reversal. The resulting Democratic bill includes several bold precedents, including a “right to return” for all displaced hurricane victims and “one-for-one replacement” for all demolished public housing units.

So actually appropriating the money you promised so glibly while you posed for a photo-op in Jackson Square after the storm passed is your idea of “pork”, Mr President? It was easy to make promises you knew Tom DeLay was going to kill, wasn’t it? But Tommy is back killing bugs and fending off corruption and fraud charges while comparing himself to Christ (link via Digby). Now that Nancy Pelosi is Speaker and the bill has actually passed, it’s “pork”? But…it was your idea, Your Majesty. Remember?

Fine words backed up by…nothing. And now that the Democrats have done the work for you, you won’t sign it? Are you going to veto these, too?

Democratic leaders say the Katrina bill — which has yet to come up for a vote in the Senate — is just a beginning. They hope to create a huge affordable-housing trust fund, restrict predatory lending, expand rent subsidies and tax credits for low-income housing, and push the federal government back into apartment construction.

“It’s night and day,” said Michael Kane, an affordable-housing advocate in Boston. “The atmosphere has totally changed.”

Housing has been a major problem for a decade, not just in New Orleans but all over the country. Rents have shot through the stratosphere while wages have remained stagnant for 20 years, the affordable housing market has shrunk beyond belief, the subprime mortgage market is imploding due to high-risk mortgage practices loaded with small-print clauses, tricks, and hidden charges (that’s deregulation for you), and you installed a HUD Sec who thinks it’s his job not to do his job. Marvelous.

Meanwhile, the crisis deepens.

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Sheila Holt-Orsted’s Crusade: Cancer, Racism and the Class War

There are times and places when the lines of culture, politics, science, and social conventions come crashing together, when the attitudes we’ve been ignoring and the problems we’ve refused to address converge to create a snapshot reality of where we are and where we’ve been. Call it Ground Zero-Prime.

In Dickson County, Tennessee, Sheila Holt-Orsted is living right smack dab in the middle of Ground Zero-Prime. In her family, and what happened to them, four of the major cultural strains of the past half-century collide: racism, the Class War, denial of environmental neglect, and pandering to corporate greed at the expense of public health and safety.

Sheila had breast cancer. Her father died of prostate and bone cancers. Her sister has had a form of colon cancer. And there’s more.

Three of Holt-Orsted’s cousins have had cancer. Her aunt next door has had cancer. Her aunt across the street has had chemotherapy for a bone disease. Her uncle died of Hodgkin’s disease. Her daughter, 12-year-old Jasmine, has a speech defect.

Why all this in one family? You’re recognizing the pattern, aren’t you? And you’re already suspecting that they lived near a toxic waste site. Well, you’re right – and wrong. It was toxic, alright, but it wasn’t supposed to be. The source of the cancers was a landfill – the County dump.

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Minimum Wage Bill Tied to Iraq Funding (2 Updates)

Nancy Pelosi gets more interesting by the minute. Refusing to sit still for a threatened Republican filibuster of the minimum wage bill because the House cut $$$7Billion in corporate tax breaks out of the Senate version, she has come up with a whole new tactic: she’s tying it to the war appropriations package.

House leaders have added legislation raising the federal minimum wage to an emergency spending bill for the Iraq war. They hope to break a logjam with the Senate over the wage bill, a top Democratic priority that was once seen on Capitol Hill as a relatively easy compromise.

House leaders also hope the addition of the wage provisions will induce House liberals to vote for the $105 billion war package, which authorizes funds for Iraq while setting a timeline for withdrawal that would require combat operations to end by August 2008.

House Democrats unveiled the plan yesterday but did not release a draft of the legislation, saying that details were being worked out. According to Democratic aides, the proposal would increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 over two years and grant $1.3 billion in tax breaks for restaurants and other affected businesses.

Those provisions have already passed the House. The Senate also approved the wage increase, but added $8.3 billion in business tax breaks to placate Republicans in that chamber. House leaders oppose such a large tax package and hope to force a smaller one through the Senate by tying the minimum-wage increase to the Iraq bill.

The Republics, of course, have been furious because she wouldn’t let them turn a bill to raise the minimum wage for ordinary workers into a huge barrel of corporate pork. Continue reading