Archive for May, 2009

Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day! Whether you are traveling, celebrating with friends and family, or just kicking back, be safe and remember what the holiday is all about.

And thank goodness we have a President who prioritizes care and opportunity for veterans and promises not to deploy our troops recklessly.

A full transcript of the President’s Memorial Day weekly address is below the fold.

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Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights

Thank goodness, in the next week or so we will finally see a Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights signed into law.

I have been waiting a long time to see legislation like this, and it’s finally cleared both the House and Senate. President Obama should sign it into law as soon as the differences are reconciled.

I’m particularly happy that the credit cardholders bill of rights includes strong protections for minors and for college students:

Students:
For college students that don’t have a co-signer, the max amount of credit extended will be limited to the greater of 20% of the student’s annual gross income or $500 dollars. The aggregate amount of credit extended from all of their credit cards will be limited to 30% of the student’s annual gross income (for the recently completed calendar year).
Creditors are prohibited from opening a credit card account for any college student who does not have any verifiable annual gross income or already maintains a credit card account with that creditor, or any of its affiliates.

Minors:
For consumers under 21 years old, the signature of a parent or another responsible adult who will take responsibility for the debt is required, or proof must be found that the under-21 consumer can repay the credit.
Creditors are prohibited from providing credit to consumers under age 18. (unless they are emancipated under state law, or the consumer’s parent or legal guardian is designated as the primary account holder).

These are sensible protections that will help to keep young adults from getting buried under a mountain of debt long before they have learned the skills to dig their way out.

I also think that credit card companies should not be allowed to solicit on public university campuses, but it will probably be a while before we see a law like that.

Predictably, bankers are already squealing about the forthcoming law. From the American Bankers Association:

Credit cards are a strong economic driver and are relied upon by consumers and small businesses to make payments and to bridge short-term financial gaps. The goal in the legislation should be to obtain the right balance: providing protections, while maintaining the important role of credit cards in providing loans to consumers and small businesses. Unfortunately, we believe the bill does not achieve that balance and will therefore cause an unnecessary decrease in credit availability.

Most importantly, this bill fundamentally changes the entire business model of credit cards by restricting the ability to price credit for risk. What has been a short-term revolving unsecured loan will now become a medium-term unsecured loan, which is significantly more risky. It is a fundamental rule of lending that an increase in risk means that less credit will be available and that the credit that is available will often have a higher interest rate. While the recent Federal Reserve rule also contained restrictions on pricing card credit for risk, this bill goes much further in this and other areas. We are concerned that the Senate bill will have a dramatic impact on the ability of consumers, students, and small businesses to obtain and use credit cards.

Translation: credit cards have been pushed by eager lenders into ridiculous realms of risk, and that’s good somehow?

The only people who will miss the credit card usury we have seen will be the lenders currently doing the screwing.

Thank You, Jesse Ventura!

It is not often that I agree with a Pro Wrestler on anything other than perhaps where to find the best bodyslams and taunts. However, I presently appreciate the strong stand Jesse “The Body” Ventura is taking against Bush Administration chickenhawks, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity and their slanderous remarks directed against our President.

Ventura came out strongly in support of the President on May 11th and again on May 18th. He asserted, “George Bush is the worst president in my lifetime!

Citizens of the United States were deceived hundreds of times since 2002 about “waterboarding.” Even so, arch-chickenhawk Mr. Dick Cheney has repeatedly denied the obvious truth that waterboarding is one of the oldest forms of torture. He has also failed to recall a conscience.

(template courtesy of Mr. Conservative)

Obama at Notre Dame: Time Out for Method

President Obama gave an amazing speech to the Notre Dame class of 2009 on Sunday.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTpB5_-X4vk (shown above)
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwcFJR1xnD4
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx7Ly3T2Ts0
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8gMKuGGdiU

(or read an AP transcript of Obama’s Notre Dame speech)

The Pro Life crowd was set to make a spectacle out of Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame, as though inviting someone to speak implies agreement on every issue. Throughout last week, one could smell the happiness of right-wing pundits in the air as they rubbed their hands together and said something like, “Aha! Now we’ve got you! We’ll show what a horrible pro choice monster you are and watch you squirm under the spotlight!”

But, as is usually the case when Obama’s critics attack his position on a divisive issue, the President was able to elevate the discussion:

Because when we … open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe — that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That’s when we begin to say, “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions.”

So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, let’s reduce unintended pregnancies. Let’s make adoption more available. Let’s provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.” Those are things we can do.

And the crowd went wild.

President Obama understands that real, meaningful debate cannot happen if two sides merely state their views and call the other side names. We cannot make caricatures of each other, he said. “Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words,” he said. President Obama is reminding us of the method of debate and discovery that will get us somewhere useful. Citing the Eisenhower civil rights commission, he reminded us that — even when we disagree passionately — we can find common ground on which to build.

By contrast, the method of choice for far-right pundits involves shouting at us while the planet burns because we can’t make any progress on the big problems before us (the economy, energy, health care, climate change, you name it). All that matters is that they’ve got THE TRUTH, and by golly they will hammer you with THE TRUTH until you also get THE TRUTH. When was the last time that you heard a Limbaugh or a Hannity or an O’Reilly change their mind when presented with new evidence? Or try to understand the reasoning and beliefs of the other side? Or see a way to make progress that satisfies all sides of an issue?

Thank goodness we have a President who can march directly into the debate of an issue as divisive as abortion and show us a better method for having the discussion.

Blackwater Enters Stealth Mode

Via the design blog Brand New, the notorious mercenary company Blackwater is changing their image:

Xe (pronounced “zee”) is the new Blackwater. And, all of the Blackwater subsidiaries are getting the makeover treatment too:

The Blackwater name has being expunged from all of its business units: Blackwater Airships (which offers surveillance services for intelligence gathering) has become Guardian Flight Systems. Blackwater Target Systems (the unit that develops and builds targets) is now being called GSD Manufacturing, and Blackwater Lodge and Training Center has been named the U.S. Training Center.

There are appropriate roles for private industry to work with government, but, as we learned from the Nisoor Square shooting in 2007, providing military personnel is not one of them.

This Blackwater rebranding suggests that they are trying to distance themselves from the cowboy foreign policy of GW Bush as well as from their own mistakes. Changing the name of a mistake… well, it’s still a mistake. Perhaps also they are trying to fade into the background of our national awareness so that they can re-emerge later without objection. It’s our duty to keep an eye on these accountable-to-no-one private armies and keep them away from our military and our military interests.

Private mercenary companies simply shouldn’t be allowed to exist. Blackwater in particular is approaching the scary point of being “too big to fail” (they even have their own air force, for crying out loud), which, if wall street is any sort of harbinger, is a sure recipe for catastrophe. I don’t want to live in an age of corporate war, where businesses have greater powers to make war than nations. We’re a long way from that terrible place, but the Blackwaters of the world — or whatever they want to call themselves — exist to drag us there.

The Texas GOP Split

Currently, the Texas Republican Party seems to be a 50/50 split between the crazies and the not-crazies.

A recent Rasmussen poll (and I only care what Rasmussen — the most Republican-leaning polling group out there — has to say because the poll is about Republicans) shows Perry gaining among likely Republican Primary voters after he made his infamous secession remark on April 15.

A Reseach 2000 poll puts it in perspective:

Yes, half of Texas Republicans think that Gov. Perry’s suggestion to secede was spot-on and that we would be better off for it.

Ugh.

Here’s how the rest of the USA is going to view Texas if we’re not careful:

Meanwhile, I sincerely hope that the Texas Democratic Party will have more to offer as a candidate for governor than Kinky…

Let’s Talk Voter ID Bill

I haven’t had a post about pending voter ID bills at the TX legislature, and it’s about time I did, since a voter ID bill made it out of TX House committee yesterday.

I’m not in favor of the voter ID bill, though I can understand and appreciate the desire to protect the vote. I just believe it’s already protected.

Voter fraud is something we can already detect and prosecute. The fact is that it doesn’t happen often and it’s prosecuted even less often. Some on the right would have us believe that there is an epidemic of voter fraud in Texas. There isn’t. Attorney General Abbott spent millions searching for voter fraud and basically came up empty.

Most people currently vote with either their voter registration card (which you have to identify yourself to obtain) or their driver’s license.

My biggest concern is that, unless DPS or some state agency plans to offer free photo IDs to all, we will bring back a de facto poll tax. Few things in this world irritate me as much as the idea of having to pay to vote.

My second biggest concern is that — even with a free state-issued ID — it creates a hassle for registered voters who want to vote. Moreover, it creates the biggest hassle for the people who can least afford to deal with it. Some legislators are trying to introduce a delay in the time a voter ID bill would take effect in order to educate voters. Efforts like that are well-intentioned, but they don’t remove the hassle.

It’ll be a bumpy ride in the legislature for the next few weeks, and it’s anyone’s guess whether a voter ID bill will make it through the legislature this session.

Oh, and the Texas Democratic Party put up a neat online game that explains the Party’s objections to the bill pretty clearly:

www.txdemocrats.org/page/content/twister

Back Again

After a 24-hour blip, the LubbockOnline.com version of Lubbock Left is back.

To clear the air: the blog was taken down for editorial rather than technical reasons. However, the A-J editor and I had a good discussion yesterday, and cooler heads prevailed. No feelings were hurt, and I’m not one to hold any sort of grudge for one instance of lost temper. I am grateful to LubbockOnline.com for co-hosting my blog, and I hope they get a useful boost in traffic from the folks reading it.

Thanks to all my readers who expressed concern. And don’t worry: I won’t be self-censoring or pulling any punches.

I’m happy to answer questions in the comments, and I’ll get a new post up ASAP.

A Note to my LubbockOnline.com readers

The LubbockOnline.com version of this blog is down and is currently displaying the following message:

This user has elected to delete their account and the content is no longer available.

This is an issue that will hopefully be resolved by the end of the day today. You are not missing any content other than the ongoing conversations in the blog comments, for which I apologize.

The Worst Editorial

When it comes to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Editorial Board, sometimes I agree and sometimes I disagree. However, Friday’s A-J editorial is without question the worst editorial I can recall.

The argument for torture is a losing argument at whatever level of detail you care to examine it.

At a conceptual level, it’s simple. Torture is morally wrong. Torture is illegal — not just in the US but all over the world and in agreements between nations. Torture is a criminal act.

This is not even a debate we should be having in modern society — the belief that torture is wrong should be assumed as a pre-condition of being “civilized.”

The nuances plied by the right in their argument for torture don’t stand up to scrutiny either.

“We torture because it’s effective.” No, it isn’t effective. We get more and better results through other methods.

“We torture because it gets results.” (1) Yeah, right. (2) If there are good results, they could be had by other means. (3) It’s not worth becoming bad guys to get what we want. “The ends justify the means” does not exactly embody high moral fiber.

“”We only torture terrorists.” Well gee, with no due process at Gitmo or anywhere “enemy combatants” are held, how can we be sure that we got the right guys, much less that they are evil men?

“The atmosphere of the time made it ok.” Try that one in a court of law or with your family.

I don’t mean to be stuck on this awful subject, but I was so infuriated when I saw my hometown newspaper endorse acts of evil that I had to write something.

A-J Editorial Board, you ought to fire yourselves over this one.


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