Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

Home of the This Is Not Normal podcast, Bill Scher columns and other liberal commentary

Month: October 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Surviving the Bust of the Cupcake Bubble

(bumped — for I am re-running this segment on today’s “Best Of The LiberalOasis Radio Show”)
The LiberalOasis blog is also home to the eclectic array of contributors to The LiberalOasis Radio Show. On this week’s show, contributor Tina McElmoyl discusses how to make a recession-busting cupcake. She offers further details below. — ed.
I came across an article foretelling the bust of the recent cupcake bubble. I say, don’t panic, people! You have the power to satiate your own sugar cravings. You have the power to make your own cupcakes.
If the cupcakeries that have popped up everywhere do begin to disappear, invite your friends over for a tasty treat made with your own two hands. I even have a recipe to recommend, so, I’ve done half the work for you! However, in return for this, I’m asking you to continue reading even after I tell you that they are vegan cupcakes.
There are lots of reasons to cut dairy and eggs out of your diet. But even if you don’t have a reason, you should still try these cupcakes by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. They are the best cupcakes I have ever tasted. Light, fluffy, chocolaty. You and your friends won’t even notice the missing ingredients. And, who knows, it might inspire you to change your thinking about what “has to be” in a baked good to be, well…good!
And, if you like your little cakes topped with a tower of creamy frosting you can try the recipe noted in the article linked above, or follow my tried and true icing. It has an unexpected ingredient – salt. The contrast of sweet and salty is one of my favorite taste sensations.
This topping is best done with a speedy mixer.
Ingredients:
1/4 cup nonhydrogenated shortening (I like Earth Balance brand)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup soy or other non-dairy milk
Directions:
Slice the shortening into smaller pieces and add to the mixer bowl.
Add the salt, vanilla and approximately 1/4 of the sugar. Mix at high speed, stopping occasionally to scrape the shortening with a spatula or spoon – it tends to get packed against the bowl.
Continue mixing until the sugar, vanilla, salt and shortening come together and begin to look fluffy. This will take several minutes.
Add the remaining sugar and soy milk in three different batches, letting each batch come fully together before adding more.
Top your fresh-baked cupcakes right away, or refrigerate for later. Or, grab a spoon and forget the cake!

Senator Reid has added the public option to the Senate version of the health care bill

Yay, there is much rejoicing. Unfortunately I’m not really sure what I’m rejoicing about. We’ve had all this nebulous terminology that is been bouncing around the airwaves. I don’t know what a public option is? I guess, more precisely, I don’t know what they mean by public option.
Let’s back up a little bit. Let’s look at one of the goals that I set out for healthcare reform (portability, cost-effective, efficient). In order to deliver cost-effective health care, we need to do something to control costs. One way to control costs eliminate health insurance altogether. This will save Americans billions of dollars which currently go to a 30% overhead that we see with private insurance. This would be the most progressive option. Democrats took this off the table before the discussion began. Therefore, as a fallback measure, the government would provide a plan that would compete with private plans for people who are not already covered. In my mind, this would include employees of small businesses who cannot currently afford health insurance. This is kind of a sticky point. Republicans don’t want small business to flock to the public option. Personally, I think that this would be great for small business. It would help lower their operating costs and allow them to spend more money investing in their employees and their business. The other thing, that many people on Capitol Hill are not talking about, is whether the public option will be able to negotiate pharmaceutical prices and prices for medical devices. Again, this is a sticking point for Republicans and blue dog Democrats. As far as I can tell, none of this is been clarified for Senator Harry Reid’s announcement.
A public option that is not allowed to negotiate drug prices in the prices for medical devices, will be a sinkhole for our taxpayer dollars. We might as well just give these companies money.

From DK:
Robert Gibbs provided the following statement on behalf of the White House in response to Reid’s announcement:

“The President congratulates Senator Reid and Chairmen Baucus and Dodd for their hard work on health insurance reform. Thanks to their efforts, we’re closer than we’ve ever been to solving this decades-old problem. And while much work remains, the President is pleased that at the progress that Congress has made. He’s also pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage, in this case with an allowance for states to opt out. As he said to Congress and the nation in September, he supports the public option because it has the potential to play an essential role in holding insurance companies accountable through choice and competition.”

Meanwhile, Greg Sargent highlights this statement from Reid’s presser.

“As we’ve gone through this process, I’ve concluded, with the support of the White House and Senators Baucus and Dodd, that the best way forward is to include a public option with an opt-out provision for states.”

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: New Economy Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast Saturday at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show features Dave Johnson from OurFuture.org previewing Thursday’s upcoming Building The New Economy conference, addressing how we can bury the bubble economy and bring about a 21st century manufacturing base. Also, “Momtroversies” essayist Traci Olsen on mentally preparing for kindergarten, and Valley Advocate blogger Sarah Buttenwieser on her solution to deal with the onslaught of Halloween candy.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

The Week In Blog: Superfreaks Edition

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at Bloggingheads.tv featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing blog reaction to the NY-23 congressional race, Dems and health care, SuperFreakonomics and climate, and acrimony at the conservative Western CPAC conference. Watch it below.
http://static.bloggingheads.tv/maulik/offsite/offsite_flvplayer.swf

600 trillion reasons why we need more regulation of the financial markets

A year ago, we were all waiting for the other shoe to drop. The financial giant Bear Stearns had tanked. The stock market was jumping up and down like a Mexican jumping bean. The talking heads on the financial channels had no good news. They also had no good answers. It seemed clear that the one thing that was going to occur was the regulation of the financial markets. We were gonna do something about these cowboys who were taking enormous risks with our money.

I would like to think that I’m somewhat of a smart guy but I don’t get derivatives. Whether it is mortgage-backed derivatives or whatever, I’m not sure why it is legal to slice up debt and wrap it in other securities and call that a AAA bond rating. To me it is the reverse Osmond theory: one bad apple, if it’s big and stinky enough, does spoil the whole bunch. Derivatives, through some magical mechanism, help business manage risk. It seems to me that businesses were managing risk before derivatives were invented and seemed to do quite well at it.

I foolishly thought that there was very little warning when the financial meltdown hit. It was like a fast approaching meteor from out of the sky, I thought, but I was wrong. Years ago, in medicine, when gastrointestinal bleeding from the stomach was very common, physicians talked about a sentinel bleed, a small bleed before the patient really started bleeding. In the financial district, we had Long-Term Capital Management. This was our sentinel event. Back in the summer of 1998, Long-Term Capital Management was ground zero. The story is now very familiar. The executives who ran this hedge fund were thought of as the smartest people in the room. They were heavily invested in derivatives and in overseas markets. This was the go-go ’90s, so returns of 30 and 35% were not cause for alarm but cause for celebration. Everybody wanted to get in until the Russian market began to collapse. The credit markets froze up. Long-term Capital Management did not have enough assets to cover their debt. Because they were a hedge fund, they were basically unregulated. Because they dealt in derivatives, they were almost completely unregulated. Because of their ties to other financial institutions, it seemed that this relatively small company was going to bring down a financial sector. The company was hemorrhaging $500 million a day.
The Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin, called in 14 banks. They were supposed to shore up this dying hedge fund. Larry Summers, he was there. Alan Greenspan was there. Timothy Geithner was there. We’ve seen all these players before. Robert Rubin convinced 13 of the 14 banks to put up $3.65 billion. (This is almost exactly what Secretary Paulson did when Merrill Lynch was drowning in debt. He asked (told) Bank of America to bail out Merrill Lynch. I still want to know why Bear Sterns and Lehman were allowed to go belly up and Merrill wasn’t.)
So, here’s my question. After the meltdown in the summer of 1998, why didn’t Congress begin to regulate hedge funds and derivatives trading? I guess we can forgive Congress for their lack of foresight and vision (even though that’s what we pay them for). We had the financial geniuses that were telling members of Congress that the financial sector didn’t need any regulation. We had lobbyists, tons of them, telling Congressmen that regulation simply wasn’t needed. “The market would regulate itself.” Remember that? This must of been some version of the Jedi mind trick. Well, it is a decade later and it turns out that the market cannot regulate itself. We learned this lesson back in 1929 and we learned it again in 2008. Can Congress gather their strength and willpower to enact thoughtful regulation? Will Congress be steamrolled by financial gurus who really don’t know squat? To be honest, I don’t mind if a bunch of Wall Street executives go belly up every 10 years or so. I do mind if hard working Americans see their pensions go up in flames because of the shenanigans of these knuckleheads. These guys have created a $600 trillion unregulated market. Al Capone couldn’t have done any better.
Frontline has a GREAT documentary on this subject. Brooksley Born was a heroine. She tried to warn us.

Where did this divisiveness start?

American politics is always been a contact sport. Heck, even the founding fathers didn’t agree on many things and that’s what caused the original founding party to break up but what we’re seeing today is a little bit different. It started with Richard Nixon. He learned the art of divide and conquer. He used in California politics in the late 40s and again in the 60s. He used it to get elected to Congress in the early 50s. He was able to use the Vietnam war and patriotism to get elected president in 1968. So, I can think of no better expert to talk to than Rick Perlstein, author of the book, Nixonland. It was Nixon who taught Ronald Reagan. More correctly, Ronald Reagan learned from Richard Nixon.
Click here for interview!
Check out this vid:

I decided to post my interview with Rick Perlstein, again. It seems we needed the perspective after the elder former President Bush decided to personally attack Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. This wouldn’t be any big deal if the President wasn’t calling for civility not five minutes before attacking them. What I find most reprehensible is not that he questioned the reporting or their delivery of their commentaries or even their shows but instead it was a personal attack. “There are a couple of sick puppies.”
I think you’ll find this interview informative and enlightening. Enjoy!
For more go to my blog.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: My River Chronicles Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast Saturday at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show features Jessica DuLong, author of the new book, My River Chronicles: Rediscovering America on the Hudson, detailing her career journey from dotcommer to fireboat engineer, and what she learned about the potential of the American economy. Plus, my weekly analysis of the health care and climate bill debates.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

The Week In Blog: White House Friction Edition

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at Bloggingheads.tv featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing friction between the White House and some liberal bloggers, conservative blogger shock at the NFL resistance to Rush Limbaugh, sexist attacks against Meghan McCain and conservative attacks against Sen. Lindsey Graham for moving towards support of a carbon cap. Watch it below.
http://static.bloggingheads.tv/maulik/offsite/offsite_flvplayer.swf

Who are we?

Most Americans over the age of 20 can recall Roger Daughtry’s Daltry (lead singer for The Who) searing voice as he wailed, “Who are you?” Who Are You is also the theme music for the very popular drama CSI. As we look back over the first nine months of Barack Obama’s presidency, I think it is important for us, as Americans, to try to come to grips with who we are.

Thirty years ago, I think the answer was obvious. We were the good guys. We just elected a new president, Ronald Reagan. If we didn’t know that we were the good guys, he was more than happy to tell us. Those other guys, the Russians, they were the bad guys. We were honest, law-abiding citizens. More importantly, there was a collective America. Everyone seemed to want to share the responsibility of making America better. From the janitor pushing a broom to the CEO in an Armani suit, we were all working to make America better.

Something changed. The change probably started in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but it began to be really easily noticed in the late ’80s. We stopped working for us and began working for ourselves. This can best be seen by looking at our major corporations. Our major corporations throughout the ’60s and ’70s were good corporate citizens. It was unheard of at the time for a corporation to move its operation overseas and shut down plants here in the United States. That just wasn’t done. Corporations paid a fair wage. In return, Americans bought American products. Everyone profited.
annual wage growth, by group, 1973-2006 epi
click on image for larger version
Over the next 30 years, CEO wages skyrocketed. Corporate profits ballooned to unimaginable levels. The Dow Jones industrial averages doubled, tripled, quintupled and more in a short period of time (see chart below). The investment crowd made billions of dollars, yet wages stagnated (see chart above). Corporations moved overseas in search of cheaper labor and friendlier environmental laws. Small towns withered on the vine. Huge sections of large cities like Detroit, St. Louis and Baltimore became ghost towns. One income was not good enough to keep the family afloat. Now we needed two incomes. Even with two full-time working parents, household budgets are still strained.
djia 1976-2009

click on image for larger version, From Morningstar
After the economic collapse which started almost exactly a year ago, there is talk in Washington about new regulations. We also need to talk about who we are. How should our corporations act? Should they act in the best interest of their stockholders? Should these large corporations act in the best interests of America? Sometimes the two interests are not the same. Shouldn’t we expect corporations who hire hundreds of thousands of Americans to act in our best interest? We, as Americans, created an environment which made these corporations successful. Samantha Stevens, the beautifully seductive witch from Bewitched, did not twinkle her nose to get us into this predicament. Instead, hard-working Americans helped these corporations meet and exceed their goals. So, should we expect something in return… something more than just a job?
I expect good corporate citizenship. We all should expect good corporate citizenship. There’s a reason why General Motors, IBM, Dow Chemicals and other Fortune 500 companies did not arise in China, Mexico or Dubai. They arose here in the United States because we created an atmosphere that was friendly to business. Now we need Congress to restore some of the balance that was lost over the last 30 years. Corporations need to be taxed for sending things out of the country and having them processed and then transporting them back here for sale. These taxes need to make it prohibitively expensive to ship jobs out of the United States. Secondly, corporations are not people. Congress needs to pass a law stating that the rights of people should always usurp the rights of corporations (this would seem obvious but is, amazingly, hugely controversial in the Courts). Thirdly, Congress needs to pass health care reform that truly fixes the way healthcare is delivered in the United States. Finally, Congress needs to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. This makes it easier for people to unionize. If we can get Congress to do this once and for all, we then create jobs. We actually create better paying jobs and a better lifestyle for all of us. Only then can I answer the question of who we are. We are the same as we’ve always been, a country of the people, for the people and by the people.
More of my stuff can be found at Where is the Outrage. Thanks to Campaign for American’s Future for linking to this article. I appreciate it.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Noho Mayoral Debate Preview

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast Saturday at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show previews Tuesday’s Northampton, MA mayoral debate (for which I’ll serve as a panelist). Joining me to analyze what Mayor Mary Clare Higgins and Councilor Michael Bardsley need to accomplish is the host of the WHMP Morning News Chris Collins.
Even if you are not from Northampton, the mayor’s race is a very interesting story. It’s one of the only, if not the only, mayor’s race in history pitting two gay candidates against each other. Higgins is one of many long-time incumbents threatened in what appears to be a continuing national anti-incumbent wave. And the contested issues highlight the tensions liberal-leaning towns face trying to match long-range progressive vision with day-to-day governing.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

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