Sunday, September 28, 2008

spoilt milk and sour finances

The news out of China is pretty awful - several kids have died from tainted milk, tens of thousands of others are suffering kidney damage, and who knows what the final toll of dead and sickened people will be.

It has occurred to me there are some similarities, and one big difference, between China's milk-gate and our ongoing Wall Street financial fiasco.

First, there were official assurances from the Chinese government that the situation was under control... and it wasn't all that many days ago that Hank Paulson was saying the same about our ongoing sub-prime problem, now a full fledged financial crisis (with a bailout deal on Capitol Hill?). Both the Chinese government and the de facto Bush Administration were lying, were wrong, or (more likely), both. (Although I think we can accept for once a Bush Administration (FDA) recommendation, to avoid ingesting Chinese milk products. If you can identify them.)

In China, farmers added a poisonous substance called melamine to their milk to make their milk look better, to make it look like it met minimum protein standards. In the US, financial wizards added poisonous subprime mortgages to securities with higher quality mortgages to make the securities look better, knowing that selling pure subprime mortgages would be difficult. As a result, in China good milk is being thrown away because nobody knows what is safe to buy. And in the US, probably-good mortgage securities were marked down dramatically because nobody knows what is safe to buy.

In China, a company (Sanlu) selling tainted baby formula lied and tried to hide the evidence that its products were unsafe, to avoid losing sales. In the United States, Countrywide Mortgage, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and frankly most of Wall Street lied about the quality of various mortgages and the securities they made out of them, hiding evidence that their products were unsafe and unsound, to avoid losing sales and commissions.

China's regulatory agency was inadequate and unable to control the safety of the milk supply. In the US, after twenty-plus years of Republican deregulation topped by Phil Gramm's magnum opus the 1999 Financial Modernization Act, Federal regulatory agencies were inadequate and unable to control the safety of the securities on offer on the market. And so was the market, by the way. So much for the invisible hand.

The big difference? In China it is highly likely that officials in the businesses involved, possibly individual farmers, and maybe even Communist Party officials, will be punished for their misdeeds. Those punishments could even include execution.

In the United States, Senator Gramm and others will continue to rake in big bucks for lobbying. People in charge of companies like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns and AIG and Merrill Lynch and Washington Mutual, and people at credit rating companies that said those shit-laced mortgage backed securities were AAA quality, and all the rest of them will keep their multi-million dollar severance packages and big bonuses and obscene salaries. And none of them will be executed. In fact, many of them will get other well-paid jobs.

I oppose capital punishment. But I could possibly be convinced in this instance that it might have a salutory effect.

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the "t" word flip flop flip

Did anybody else notice that twice on Friday night's debate, John McCain said the word "torture" in the context of our so-called war on terrorism?

So McCain, who opposed the Bush policy on torture before he supported it, now apparently opposes it again. Is that a flip flop flip?

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

stop dog whistle racism!

That's the name of a newish blog that is highlighting those subtle (and some not-so-subtle) racist hints, digs, and allegations so favored by the right wing noise machine and it's Republican Party subsidiary...

Check it out here if you want to see reports on things like Jonah Goldberg accusing the pro-Obama media of playing the race card, or stories like how the National Review made a link between the collapse of Washington Mutual and the fact that it touted its highly diverse workforce.

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the debate and palin update

So the debate looked pretty even. Over 90% of Dems liked Obama's performance, and the same for Repubs & McCain. Obama I think looked Presidential, and McCain didn't look crazy or unhinged.

But Sarah Palin looked just befuddled with Katie Couric. Check out what Jack Cafferty from CNN had to say about the interview. Conclusion? Palin ain't ready. Surprise!

But maybe you'd like to have a beer & mooseburger with Palin? Colbert King doesn't think so...

Friday, September 26, 2008

what a day

Progress on the Wall Street Welfare Plan? Nope - Bush and McCain can't get House Republicans to support the Paulson deal...
And both Democrats and some Republicans say McCain's parachuting in HURT negotiations. "Now that we are on the verge of making a deal, John McCain airdrops himself in to help us make a deal."
Is it even a good plan? Some 200 academic economists - ie, people not paid by Wall Street - say NO, including people like Glenn Hubbard and Greg Mankiw who worked for the Bush Administration!
Adding to the general confusion, the country's largest savings & loan was going belly-up. They didn't even wait to Friday to do it, that's how bad Washington Mutual's situation had become. Kind of a bummer -Washington Mutual was a bank with real deposits, not just an over-leveraged investment bank like Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearn, or Merril Lynch. They went overboard on offering questionable mortgages - and end up being sold for pennies on the dollar to JP Morgan.
But none of this financial bad news is ultimately as bad as THIS news - greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere quicker than expected.

Maybe the question should be, will over-leveraged Miami Beach homeowners default on their mortgages BEFORE of AFTER the rising seas swallow them?

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

a strange day

McCain's unilateral suspension of his campaign and call for Obama to do the same is the equivalent of a terror alert (should be one any day now, I'd guess). I agree with those (including Republicans) who say Obama & McCain should stay away from the bailout negotiations - it's a big campaign photo-op, and it's not like McCain in particular has any relevant experience in finance. Unless you count his Keating Five experience, I mean. So what will he do, bring Phil Gramm along?

It really is a desperate stunt - "it's all about me, me, me!" says McCain, parachuting into Washington to help on something he understands no better than the reproductive habits of a Portuguese man-of-war. Don't we want a President who is a little bit more level-headed, and a President who is capable of focusing on more than one problem at a time?

Surely McCain's call to cancel Friday's debate - and to instead have it on Tuesday when Sarah Palin and Joe Biden are supposed to go at it - isn't influenced by Palin's lame interview with Katie Couric, where Palin had to say she'd get back to Katie because she couldn't think of anything McCain had ever done on financial issues?

In any case, I like how Harry Reid's spokesman read back a statement by McCain about how the candidates getting involved would NOT be helpful. McCain was against getting involved in the bailout negotiations before he was for it...

Obama should be careful in that White House meeting he got suckered into. The Dems are right to insist that Republicans vote for any bailout along with them, to avoid being tarred with a Bush-Pelosi plan.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

wall street quotable quotes

Some quotes from various people about the mooted Bush-Paulson-Bernanke Wall Street Bailout...

"While Wall Street banks get to sell their bad investments to the Treasury Department, homeowners will still be saddled with mortgages they cannot afford." - Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama.

"It does not make any sense; it will reward the banks first, who got us in the financial mess." Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming.

"Just because God created the world in seven days doesn't mean we have to pass this bill in seven days." - Representative Joe Barton of Texas.

"I'm very concerned that the express need to pass something now may prevent us from devising a plan that would actually work." - Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, again.

"We've tried to avoid propping up failed businesses on Main Street; we should not prop up failure, malfeasance and avarice on Wall Street." - Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado.

"This massive bailout is not a solution -- it is financial socialism, and it's un-American." - Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky.

"I think the taxpayers should expect no less than strict limits on what kind of executive compensation might be possible for those involved in these partially government-controlled enterprises." Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Oh, and all of those guys above are REPUBLICANS! Here are what various Democrats had to say on the same topic.

"I am not going to be stampeded into rubber-stamping this proposal." - Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey

"Where have I heard this before? 'The Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction, and they're ready to use them.' I'm in no rush to do this." - Representative Gene Taylor of Mississippi. (D-Miss.).

"It's their problem. It's their bill. And they're going to have to figure out if they can support it," - Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California.

"Speed is important, but I'm far more interested in whether or not we get this right." - Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

brinkmanship on the economy

Confusion on the Hill over the Paulson bailout plan. Republican Senator Richard Shelby - an ex-banker - has real concerns. So does Paul Krugman, who is concerned it would be better to simply inject capital, as in the savings & loan story back in the 1980s.

The White House as usual insists Congress take it or else. But there is no reason for the Dems - and Congressional Republicans who share concerns - not to try to make this better (hope they read Krugman).

Then they can dare Bush to veto it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

enjoy your free perchlorate!

So what is more important in Bush's America - fuel for military rockets, or the health of pregnant women and their children?

Do you even have to ask?

So the EPA is going to knuckle under to pressure from the White House and the Pentagon and not set a standard for levels of something called perchlorate in our drinking water. So the Pentagon doesn't have to worry about stopping perchlorate from leaking from its rockets. Over 16 million Americans can expect to remain exposed to unsafe levels of this stuff.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

a couple of thoughts on the partial nationalization of the american financial system

Hey, how does it feel to own a share of a trillion-dollar fund owning mortgage-based securities? Pretty neat, eh?

Couple of thoughts. If a Democratic administration had done this, how many nano-seconds would it take for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing noise machine to scream "socialism"?

Colbert King, who was a banker (I didn't know that) writes about the geniuses who run (ran) companies like Lehman Brothers and AIG, "Show those high-flying financial types the door and make them jump without golden parachutes and fat pensions. Hard landings for them all."

He's right. Better yet, go back into recent years and confiscate their absurd, self-selected bonuses.

Steven Pearlstein, who calls the activities this week "Historic. Breathtaking. Revolutionary", writes "When we look back, we may find that this crisis, like Katrina, was a turning point in public perceptions and expectations of government -- about its competence in dealing with the inevitable crises that occur and its ability to take steps ahead of time to assure that the damage is limited and the most vulnerable are protected."

Interesting point. Will this help undermine in voters' minds belief in the mendacious Reagan-Gingrich-Bush/Rove mantra that "...government is the problem and that markets always know better than regulators and politicians"?

I hope so. Not to say the market is always wrong - of course it isn't, usually. But there are a lot of people, even on Wall Street, who wish they hadn't gotten all they wished for in Phil Gramm style financial deregulation now.

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the real reason mccain links obama to raines

The Washington Post in its ongoing series assesses the McCain campaign claim that former Fannie Mae chief Franklin Raines is a key economic adviser to Barack Obama. The Post points out this is a lie - somebody on Obama's campaign called Raines once to ask something about mortgages and securities.

But the Post delicately avoided the REAL reason McCain linked the disgraced Raines (who deserves a big part of the blame for the Fannie Mae problems, to be sure) to Obama.

Because Franklin Raines is black.

Yep. And we all know of course that all black Americans know each other and hang with each other and collude with each other, right*? Just like all American Jews do, and all American Asian-Americans, right? Wait for the McCain advertisement that links Obama to OJ Simpson and marrying and murdering white women. And the McCain advertisement that links Obama to Michael Jackson and creepy pedophilia. And the McCain piece that will link Obama to Barry Bonds, and will claim that Obama advocates mandatory steroid use for American teens.

It's a straight-out racist dog-whistle advertisement. The one phone call provides the flimsiest excuse but the color of Raines' skin is all the McCain maggots needed to make this link to scare the same kind of white voter who still believes that Obama is a Muslim AND that he agrees with everything that his CHRISTIAN ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright says at the pulpit.

And of course, John McCain, that once-honorable man whose REAL economic advisers Phil Gramm and Carly Fiorina have been responsible in part for the current economic turmoil and have acted dubiously in charge of corporations, approved of the ad.

*Except Clarence Thomas.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

still like the idea of privatizing social security? mccain does

Markets in disarray.  Steven Pearlstein writes, What we are witnessing is the greates destruction of financial wealth that the world has ever seen...

And it isn't over.  Despite John McCain thinking the fundamentals of the economy are strong, there are real problems.

And just imagine if Bush had had his way and Social Security had been privatized - placed into accounts run by Wall Street financial "experts."  And yet, John McCain still thinks privatizing Social Security would be a good idea.

Proving what McCain said earlier - that he doesn't really get economics.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008


AIG staggers and collapses and we the American taxpayers are in for $85 billion in loans.  That's $280 from every one of us.

Let's hope it works.  But Robert Samuelson makes a good point about how much the ongoing problems - Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG - are traceable to deregulation of the financial sector.  He didn't name names, but a big culprit was the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, the triumph and joy of Republican Senator and economics professor Phil Gramm.  If McCain is elected, please don't let Gramm near Treasury.


Friday, September 12, 2008

aren't we about due for another terror alert?

Of course we are. Any week now. After all, the Democrats I mean enemies are threatening Republican rule I mean the American way, right?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

a perfect metaphor for the republican way of government

This news out of Denver about the royalty-in-kind program of Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) enjoying cash, sex, and drugs provided by the kind folks of Big Oil is kind of funny.

But it is also a perfect metaphor for the Republican Party's approach to governing in the 21st century.

First, the scandal involves Big Oil. You know, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin's favorite industry. To realize that Big Oil is involved in corrupting American government is akin to realizing that Corn Flakes taste better with milk on them rather than vodka. It's pretty obvious. It's very Republican.

The MMS was a pilot program to make things easier for Big Oil. Okay, whether a good program or not, that's Republican.

The places these companies drill for oil and gas are federal lands; that's Republican.

Officials in charge "steered contracts to favored clients"? That's Republican.

A former big-wig in the MMS, Lucy Querques Denett, is married to Paul Denett, who is the procurement policy administrator at the Office of Management and the Budget in the White House. Cozy family relations? That's Republican.

And the two Denett's will NOT be charged by the Department of Justice for their crimes while lower-level non-political types are being charged? That's quintessentially Republican.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

lies, outrage, sexism - elections

Lies, lies, lies. Being checked, occasionally.

Palin is energizing women. Or at least the susceptible ones, who are apparently particularly impressed that "On the campaign trail, Palin has read the same remarks at each stop from notes or a teleprompter" and "has answered no questions, except from People magazine." Positively Lincolnesque! Hell, even Reagan took questions and varied his comments a little.

The McCainiacs are crying "sexism" because Obama referred to McCain's commitment to change as "putting lipstick on a pig." Ex-Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift(boat?) is boo-hooing that this must be referring to Palin. Never mind that Obama has used this phrase repeatedly on the campaign trail, and that Rumsfeld's press hack Torie Clarke used it in the title of a no-doubt scintillating book about something to do with spin. Funny, McCain didn't cry sexism when people asked him questions about defeating Hillary Clinton in this way: "How do we beat the bitch?"

GOP and Fox News policy: denigrating Democratic women with words like bitch is OK, they should be thick-skinned enough to take it. But Sarah not so plain and not very tall, thou shall not say anything bad about and will complain even when the Dems are NOT talking about her!


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

is it that easy to get rid of the head of government?

Thailand's been in a bit of a political mess these past few months. And now a Thai court has taken action, ruling that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej violated the Thai constitution and must resign - and his whole Cabinet has to go with him.

His offense? He hosted TV cooking shows while in office.

Somebody call the Food Network and see when they can get Dick Cheney on!

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Monday, September 08, 2008

snarking on mccain/palin

John McCain says he wants Democrats in his cabinet. This will be a necessity if he really wants some cabinet types to work for $1. After all, REPUBLICANS won't give it away!

And John McCain famously said he doesn't get economics. His ideas about tax cuts, and his suggestion to let Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac collapse PROVE the point.

On to everybody's favorite Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

First, McCain campaign chairman Rick Davis says the suddenly shy Sarah Barracuda won't do any interviews until the press shows "respect and deference" to her.

"Respect" is OK. But "deference"? In a free society with a free media, the LAST thing the press should show is deference. Respect, politeness, sure. But deference? That's for monarchies and Communist states. Not for America. In any case, she's going on ABC later this week. Let's see if Charlie Gibson defers to her or not.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is trying to squelch the investigation by the legislature of the sovereign state of Alaska into Palin's own troopergate - the firing of a senior state official because he refused to fire the trooper going thru a messy divorce with Palin's sister. And Palin - Sarah and Todd both - are lawyering up quick, while Alaskans who had said they would testify are now saying they won't...

Oh, and as for Sarah Palin's reputation for alleged reform and all that, The Post reports that as mayor of Wasilla she hired a lobbyist name of Steven Silver with ties to that paragon of Republican lobbying, Jack Abramoff. All to get more FEDERAL money - aka, EARMARKS - for Wasilla, that town of rugged individualists who just want to be left alone.

Because Alaska - the land of the rugged individualist - gets $14,000 per year per citizen back from the Federal government, the biggest haul of any state. And they do this while giving oil royalties (over $1500/year) back to its pampered citizens. Needless to say, Palin has done nothing to change this situation since becoming Governor. She certainly hasn't suggested declining any of the largesse coming from cosmopolitan taxpayers in places like New York, San Francisco, Miami, or Chicago.

So, in one little Palin-sized package we get venality, hypocrisy, disdain for government coupled with avaricious reaching into the public till, and links to criminals and lobbyists.

Sarah Palin would make a GREAT Republican vice president!


Saturday, September 06, 2008

whole lotta blowin' goin' on

Gustav, then Hannah, then Ike & Josephine coming up. A busy hurricane season. The National Hurricane Center notes accurately that this isn't unusual - there have been hurricanes stacked up before.

But Nature has a study showing that strong hurricanes are growing stronger, due to climate change. It isn't difficult to comprehend. Hurricanes grow in power from being over warm waters. Water in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico are warmer in the late summer nowadays than it was 30 years ago. So, more firepower for the storms, hence stronger hurricanes.

Welcome to your new climate.


Friday, September 05, 2008


John McCain, ex-maverick. Just another attack-dog Republican who can say nothing positive. "Cut taxes!" "No abortion!" "I for one bow to my Christian Right overlords!"

Change is coming? From the REPUBLICANS? Yeah, right. As Tom Shales writes, "It's like staging a revolution against yourself -- saying that the Republicans have got to go so the Republicans can move in and clean up the mess."

McCain so badly wants to be President that he has drunk fully of the right-wing kool-aid, despite the poison it contains.

It would be sad if there weren't the danger that he and his right-wing nut-job running mate Sarah Palin might actually win.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

(bleep) you

From the San Francisco Chronicle, we have this wonderful passage aimed at the media from Renee Amore, who is a senior official in Pennsylvania's GOP: "As an African American woman, I understand racism and I understand sexism and you have a lot of things going on. Democrats will allow you to talk about Hillary Clinton in a very demeaning way, but we will not allow you" to do it to Palin. "As Republicans, we ain't going to take it, and we will get with you if you keep messing with us."

Oh this is fucking rich. From the party that routinely called Hillary Clinton a bitch. From the party that giggled and laughed as people made obscene jokes about the teenaged Chelsea Clinton being ugly, or about Hillary Clinton being a lesbian. From the party that was if anything even MORE brutal about Janet Reno - including jokes about Reno AND Hillary Clinton being lesbians. From the party that has also said very unflattering things about Nancy Pelosi. Now we get lectured by some GOP official from Pennsylvania about being DEMEANING to women?

A question for Renee Amore: did you EVER defend Hillary Clinton or Chelsea Clinton or Janet Reno or Nancy Pelosi against repugnant sexist attacks from your fellow Repugnicans?

I thought not. Shut up. Hypocrite.


giuliani and palin

So, two Republican frauds were the highlight of the convention Wednesday. Rudy Giuliani, who took terrorism so seriously that he build New York's emergency headquarters right by the World Trade Center so he could screw his mistress near his office, blathered on about how bad the Democrats are in a speech Tom Shales correctly described as "a boorish attack full of cheap shots." Including Giuliani's alleging that Barack Obama was attacking Sarah Palin for not being cosmopolitan enough. Which of course, Obama hasn't done. He's barely mentioned Palin's name, apart from congratulating her and expressing his disgust at attacks on her family.

Sarah Palin delivered a nasty little speech pretty decently. Is she Reagan? No. But she was competent and not obviously blown away by the bright lights and TV cameras; she passed the Dan Quayle test but now faces the rest of the election season with all the questions about her trooper issues and all that. Her speech was every bit as nasty as you would expect from a Republican vice presidential nominee, full of the usual lies and allegations about the Democrats and Barack Obama. Karl Rove and, I hope in hell, Lee Atwater are smiling. Her lies and misrepresentations didn't bother me much. After all, Palin is a Republican so that is expected. But spending so much time blathering while her family passed around her Down Syndrome baby on national TV was pretty damn disturbing.

Is this the Republican platform? That being held prisoner for 5.5 years and having a baby with a very unfortunate condition qualify you for the Presidency? I thought the GOP didn't like the victim card?


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

sarah barracuda

More more more about our moose-hunting governor turned VP nominee Sarah Palin...
First, this New York Times article is interesting. Palin's entire political career has been based on fighting the culture wars. Her first electoral victory in 1996 to become mayor of the burgeoning metropolis of Wasilla, Alaska, was won by emphasizing her opposition to abortion and her opponent's inadequate commitment to Christianity. Not exactly the usual topics for a local election in small-town Alaska.

And now Palin is cramming before her turn at the Republican convention. And she has essentially completely avoided the media. Or more accurately, McCain's handlers have kept the media away from Palin. Not ready for prime time? Or just that the Republicans only have a little bit of time to try to fill this attractive but empty vessel before her big national TV debut in Minneapolis.

And finally, Thomas Friedman gets one right when he notes that the selection of Palin demonstrates once and for all that if you give a shit about the environment - which is important to humans because all that word means is, "where we live and breath and grow food" - you don't have a choice. McCain says he wants to limit emissions. Palin doesn't believe human activity is behind climate change. McCain opposes (for the moment) drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve. Palin's raring to go. And her "opposition" to oil companies is really just arguing about how large Alaska's slice of the money will be.

And a correction. If the Republicans are to be believed, Palin wasn't a member of the Alaska Independence Party. But her husband was. And Palin still gave a warm and fuzzy speech to them when they met in Wasilla...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Treason is such an ugly word. It isn't one to be used lightly.

But if Joe Biden had been a member of a party dedicated to the independence of the State of Delaware, wouldn't Fox News and the rest of the Republican noise machine be screaming "treason!" at the top of their right-wing lungs?

Of course they would. Yet they don't seem to as concerned by the fact that Alaska governor and (presumably) GOP nominee for the vice presidency Sarah Palin was in fact a member of the Alaska Independence Party before becoming a Repug.

The Alaska Independence Party wants a referendum on Alaska's status, with "independence" presumably its preferred choice since it isn't known as the Alaska Referendum Party. Palin belonged to it in the mid-1990s.

That is much more important to me than her decision to run despite having an infant with special needs (that's for the Palin family). Her oldest daughter Bristol's pregnancy is only relevant to the extent that Palin is opposed to sex education, condoms, birth control and the lot - Bristol Palin is a symbol of the failure of that approach, but does NOT deserve to have her situation dragged into the limelight.

But a nominee for the second-highest office in the land once belonging to a lunatic fringe party that advocates independence? That is news.

Because after all, we once fought a war over what you could call, SECESSION.


Monday, September 01, 2008

happy labor day

Here's hoping you have a good Labor Day. And think about how John McCain and the Bush-McCain-DeLay Republican Party are consistently passing tax cuts and other breaks for the rich and well-connected, while leaving the other 98% of us to pay for their parties with higher taxes (payroll taxes don't go down when income taxes do, and are incredibly regressive) and with fewer services.

America is a country for all of us, not for the rich aristocrats.

Vote Barack Obama. Vote Democratic.