Monthly Archives: December 2011

Republican Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann proclaimed “there is a 180 degree difference between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street” during a campaign stop in San Francisco Thursday.

The Minnesota Congresswoman, who co-founded the Tea Party Caucus in Congress last year, told a crowd of businesspeople and retirees at the Commonwealth Club that the tea party favors liberty, while Occupy Wall Street supports more government intervention, which would “bankrupt” the country.

“The Tea Party picks up its trash after a demonstration,” she added.

Bachmann also declared her affection for Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, her distaste for the Postal Service, and willingness to take a strong line against the Iranian regime during a speech titled “The Revival of American Competitiveness.”

The Congresswoman, a strict social conservative, stayed away from any commentary on San Francisco’s liberal values and large gay community. Instead, she focused her opening remarks on the Bay Area’s tech industry saying San Francisco has “given much not only to this nation but for the world.”

Bachmann mentioned recently deceased Apple co-founder Steve Jobs at least five times in her speech, saying Americans should all aspire for the “Steve Jobs spirit” of innovation and focus. She then criticized the United States Postal Service for lacking Jobs’ focus on profit-making and declared that the private sector in general would do a better job than the government of delivering the mail.

She also accused the government of creating a “higher education bubble” by financing too many student loans.

In comments to reporters after the conclusion of her formal remarks, Bachmann argued that the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan should be forced to “reimbuse” America for the expenses incurred during the wars. Bachmann, who voted against U.S. military involvement in Libya, said she thought that involvement should end now that deposed leader Muammar Ghaddafi has reportedly been killed, but declared she was willing to use “absolutely everything” against Iran.

Bachmann is in town for at least two Bay Area fundraisers, a campaign spokesperson said, though she will not be meeting with any leaders of Silicon Valley tech firms during her visit.

Since June, when she polled second, behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Bachmann’s support as slipped, and her campaign has struggled to hold on to staffers and raise money. She told supporters earlier this month she would stay in the race through the New Hampshire in January.

When Bachmann visited the Bay Area last month, she optimistically declared at a fundraiser in San Rafael that “Marin County could go red.”

This time around, her local fundraising events are closed to the press

Source: The Bay Citizen (

Video by Queena Kim


I don’t know how accurate this is, but i’m sure it wouldn’t hurt President Obama’s chances.

via Newser

(NEWSER) – Robert Reich may have “absolutely no inside information,” but the former labor secretary is making an educated guess as to the 2012 Democratic ticket: It’ll be President Obama and Hillary Clinton, Reich writes on his blog. “Obama needs to stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base that’s been disillusioned with his cave-ins to regressive Republicans. Hillary Clinton on the ticket can do that,” he notes. Echoing Jonathan Alter, Reich suggests that Joe Biden would love to be secretary of state.

Putting Clinton on the ticket would also turn the focus away from the economy—a big plus, given the “better than even chance we’ll be back in a recession”—and put it on the administration’s successful foreign policy. An Obama-Clinton ticket would also combine Gallup’s “most admired” man and woman this year. On top of all that, Clinton would become the frontrunner for the Dems in 2016, which could help the party hold the presidency for 12 years, Reich notes.

via NPR

Congressional approval ratings are on the rocks, hovering in or near single digits for the first time since pollsters started measuring them. But just how bad is the current congressional stalemate?

Thomas Mann, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, is working on a book about Congress with a title that provides a succinct answer: It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

In modern history, Mann says, “there have been battles, delays, brinkmanship — but nothing quite like this.”

The book, written with co-author Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, is a follow-up to a 2006 book by the pair called The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.

Mann acknowledges there have been worse times for Congress, but he reaches back a very long way for a comparison.

“There were a few really bruising periods in American congressional history, not only the run-up to the Civil War, but also around the War of 1812,” he says.

A Gallup poll published earlier this month found that just 11 percent of Americans approve of Congress’ performance. A whopping 86 percent gave a thumbs-down. That’s the lowest rating since Gallup started taking the public pulse on this issue in 1974. A similar poll conducted by The Associated Press registered a 12 percent approval rating, and a CBS/New York Times poll in October placed Congress’ approval rating at 9 percent.

Lawmakers are acutely aware of the failing grades they’re getting from the pundits and the public alike. After punting two months down the field on the payroll tax cut, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) clearly registered his disgust.

“Washington needs to stop adding confusion and more uncertainty to people’s lives,” he said.

Mann isn’t the only one dusting off the history books for an analog to the current impasse.

“I think you’d have to go back to the 1850s to find a period of congressional dysfunction like the one we’re in today,” says Daniel Feller, a professor of U.S. history at the University of Tennessee.

Feller, who specializes in the Jacksonian, Antebellum and Civil War periods, points specifically to 1849-1860 when Congress sometimes struggled for months to even elect a speaker of the House.

Other periods of governmental deadlock include Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction presidency, Woodrow Wilson’s conflict with Congress over the League of Nations and the fights between President Truman and the “do-nothing” 80th Congress in 1947-48.

“None of those involved the level of conflict within Congress itself that we see today,” Feller says.

In the pantheon of also-rans for least effective Congresses, Mann would add a contentious period circa 1910 when long-serving Republican House Speaker Joseph Cannon was ousted from his post mostly by renegades in his own party. There were also bruising fights over the Depression-era New Deal.

In fact, Mann points out that despite its pejorative “do-nothing” moniker, the Truman-era Congress actually did manage to pass one historic package of legislation — the Marshall Plan, which threw an economic lifeline to a Europe devastated by World War II.

“There have been plenty of times when the rhetorical heat has been high, sometimes higher than now,” Feller says. “What’s most amazing today is not fiery words, but the inability to do necessary business.”

If today’s Congress really is the least effective since before the Civil War, “it’s disappointing, but not surprising,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia says.

And the stalemate occurs at a time when America can afford only “the smallest margin for error,” he says.

“For most of my lifetime growing up, America was so far ahead of every other country — economically, educationally on infrastructure,” he says. “But those leads don’t exist any more.”

Warner says he’s looked for the people who say they approve of Congress’ performance.

“I go out and I ask people, ‘Are you part of the 9 percent that thinks we’re doing a good job?'” he says. “And I have yet to find anyone who will raise their hand.”

But Warner believes the tide is beginning to turn and that “more cooperation” is on some lawmakers’ lists of New Year’s resolutions.

“I am actually going into the next year more optimistic,” he said. “I know this problem isn’t going away. It’s going to require both sides being willing to take on both revenue and entitlements. I think there’s a growing recognition of that. And I’m going to hang in there.”

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In 2006, Gilberto Kassab, mayor of São Paulo, Brazil, passed the “Clean City Law.” Citing growing concerns about rampant pollution in his city, Kassab decided enough was enough. But this was no ordinary piece of pollution legislation. Rather than going after car emissions or litterbugs, Kassab went after the billboards. Yes, you read that right: Kassab wanted to crack down on “visual pollution.”

Saying that visual pollution was as burdensome as air and noise pollution, Kassab banned every billboard, poster, and bus ad in São Paulo with the Clean City Law. Even business signage had to go. Within months, city authorities had removed tens of thousands of ads both big and small—much to the dismay of business owners, who said the ban would surely ruin them.

Five years later, have all the businesses in São Paulo gone under? Hardly. In fact, most citizens and some advertising entities report being quite pleased with the now billboard-less city. A survey this year found that a 70 percent of residents say the Clean City Law has been “beneficial.” “São Paulo’s a very vertical city,” Vinicius Galvao, a journalist, said in an interview with NPR. “That makes it very frenetic. You couldn’t even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because they were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria.”

Where businesses are concerned, it turns out some advertisers are actually thankful for the ban, as it’s forced them to reevaluate and improve. “Companies had to find their own ways to promote products and brands on the streets,” Lalai Luna, co-founder of ad agency Remix,told the Financial Times last year. “São Paulo started having a lot more guerilla marketing [unconventional strategies, such as public stunts and viral campaigns] and it gave a lot of power to online and social media campaigns as a new way to interact with people.”

Anna Freitag, the marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard Brazil, said her company had never considered how inefficient billboards and the like were until they were illegal. “A billboard is media on the road,” she told the FT. “In rational purchases it means less effectiveness… as people are involved in so many things that it makes it difficult to execute the call to action.”

If you’re thinking São Paulo’s ad ban isn’t replicable in your city because it’s some South American backwater, think again. São Paulo is the largest metropolis in the Southern Hemisphere,  and, with about 12 million residents, the 7th-most-populous city in the world. Big cities don’t need to plaster ads everywhere to exist—though you’d never know it looking at Times Square—and even if they did, Kassab and his supporters haven’t banned all advertising. All they’ve asked is for companies to stop cramming commercials down people’s throats while simultaneously ruining their city’s beauty.

Estimates say some Americans now look at upwards of 4,000 ads per day. When is enough enough?


by Tim Ferholz

I didn’t get any mail today, or the day before. I’m not the only one lacking in pen pals: From 2006 to 2010, mail volume declined by 20 percent, and it’s going to keep dropping. We’re doing a lot more of our correspondence online these days, and that decline in business is putting the U.S. Postal Service—a government enterprise that would rank 29th on the Fortune 500 if it were a business—in an increasingly precarious spot, forcing us to figure out how to keep mail service solvent.

To start eliminating the USPS’s billion dollar deficits, most plans focus on cuts: ending Saturday delivery, cutting more jobs, and renegotiating employee contracts to cut wages and benefits. Some of that is probably necessary, or will be, as physical mail continues its decline, but this isn’t the economic time to cut tens of thousands of jobs. Instead, why not look at this from a business perspective and find a new way to make money? Let’s keep the Postal Service alive by having it offer a public option for banking.

Postal banking has a proud tradition abroad—France, Italy and Germany all have successful postal banks, and England is debating postal banking as a possible response to its own postal woes. We’ve even had the practice before in the United States: Between 1911 and 1966, the USPS accepted savings deposits, peaking at 1947 with 4 million depositors vouchsafing some $3.4 billion.

The USPS Bank wouldn’t be involved in complex transactions; instead, it’d provide basic checking and savings functionality. Traditionally, postal banks attempted to get low-income and unbanked people into the financial system, and they could play that role today, when roughly 9 million Americans don’t have a bank account and 21 million rely largely on fringe financial services like usurious check cashers rather than traditional financial institutions. Giving low-income people access to a safe banking system will firm up their economic futures.

As an enterprise, the USPS is uniquely positioned to rectify this problem: It has a lot of a branches around the country, a lot of data about where people are, and already has a successful business processing money orders. It’s also one of the most trusted institutions in America at a time when people do not have much trust for banks.

Just like a public option for health insurance, a public option for banking would likely have beneficial competitive effects, offering a low-risk financial services baseline as an alternative to more fully featured or risky private banks. While those private banks (and conservatives skeptical of government intervention in the market) probably won’t like USPS entering the banking space, perhaps they could be persuaded by the argument that such a move would require serious deregulation.

It’s worth noting that a large number of critics have pointed out that the USPS’s fiscal crisis is somewhat self-imposed: In 2006, Congress gave USPS 10 years to save up for 75 years of health benefit payments, an unusually short window of time. Absent that provision, the USPS would likely be running a surplus, and so a block of congressmen are fighting to overturn it.

But the financial pressure on the USPS isn’t going to disappear in the future, and adding a retail finance business could help life its bottom line while providing a much-needed boost to economic development and a fairer banking system.

Photo courtesy of USPS