HYPOCRISY

I guess you’ve heard by now that Tom DeLay did not object to pulling the plug on his own father after an accident left him severely brain damaged – even though he had left no written instructions. And it’s by now old news that George Bush signed the Texas law that routinely pulls the plug on patients in Terri Schiavo’s condition even if their families unanimously object (unless they can pay).

(You probably also saw that the House Ethics subcommittee has been revamped to avert any further investigations of Tom DeLay – only a Republican can trigger such investigations, and the ones who might have have been replaced with DeLay loyalists. ABC’s Nightline covered this Thursday.)

How can the Republican leadership focus so much attention on Terri Schiavo yet be so indifferent to the suffering of so many sensate human beings? How can they make tax cuts for the wealthy their top priority and then claim to follow the Bible?

Last thought: If I and most others are wrong and Terri IS aware of what’s going on around her, imagine the hell it must be. Desperately bored, desperate for someone to scratch her itch or turn on the TV (or turn it off) . . . desperate for people either to find a way for her to communicate, ala Helen Keller, or to end the hell she is in. On the TV show ’24’ a few weeks ago they kept the Secretary of Defense’s son in sensory deprivation for just a few hours – a few hours! – and it was the worst torture. Imagine 15 years of it! All because she never put her wishes on paper. More likely, of course, she is aware of nothing, has none of the thoughts or memories that were Terri, and in that sense, tragically, left the world 15 years ago. By all accounts, she was a wonderful woman. Whatever side of this one is on, it is impossible not to feel awful for all involved.

PRISON

Ever wonder why New York’s draconian ‘Rockefeller drug laws’ never get changed, even though they wreck lives and cost New York taxpayers a fortune?

Here may be one clue, from an op-ed by Andrew Cuomo. He says that sending all those non-violent offenders upstate and throwing away the key . . .

. . . works out nicely for New York’s Republican Party. Why? Because the population figures that determine Senate and Assembly districts include prison inmates. It’s simply not in the Republicans’ political interests to support measures that would let those locked up under the old drug laws go free.

According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative, nearly 44,000 prisoners — mainly from downstate and mainly minorities — are incarcerated in small, upstate communities and are counted as “residents” of the communities in which they are imprisoned. Their presence in a prison adds to a legislator’s constituents — even though, as prisoners, they can’t vote.

This is politically powerful for the Republican Party. There are four upstate Senate districts that qualify as districts only because they include a large prison population — and all four are represented by Republicans. The Democrats would have to take just four more seats for the Republicans to lose their majority.

The leading defenders of the Rockefeller-era drug laws are upstate Republican Sens. Dale Volker and Michael Nozzolio, heads of the committees on codes and crime, respectively. The prisons in their two districts account for more than 17 percent of all the prisoners in the state. It may not be fair to say Volker and Nozzolio actually “represent” the inmates who make their districts viable. Sen. Volker told another newspaper that the cows in his district would be more likely to vote for him than the prisoners. State population statistics show that, without the inmates, Volker’s district is one of the four that would have to be redrawn.

THE VIEW FROM MORGAN STANLEY

Morgan Stanley’s Stephen Roach opines, in part:

The US Federal Reserve is behind the curve and scrambling to catch up. Inflation risks seem to be mounting at precisely the moment when America’s current-account deficit is out of control. Higher real interest rates are the only answer for these twin macro problems. For an unbalanced world that has become a levered play on low real interest rates, the long-awaited test could finally be at hand.

Note the term ‘real’ interest rates. If rates are 3% when inflation is also 3%, the real rate is zero. Roach highlights the Fed’s challenge: Yes, it has been raising rates. But inflation has also been rising. So in actuality, it has only been raising real rates very slightly (and, he says, will need to do more).

One could argue (he argues) that the Fed ‘needs to be shooting for a nominal funds target of around 5.75% – or more than double the current reading.’ And that the Fed might need to get there sooner rather than later.

If so, it likely halts real estate appreciation or causes a correction. And imagine what that does to the engine that’s been fueling so much consumer spending: borrowing ever more against ‘ever more valuable homes.’ (Except they are the same homes they always were, so their greater value is disputable, while the added debt is not.)

Roach is not certain the Fed will bite the bullet. If not, and rates don’t rise fairly swiftly, he believes the dollar will fall fairly sharply instead (wait till you see the price of oil then!).

It didn’t have to be this way [Roach writes]. The big mistake, in my view, came when the Fed condoned the equity bubble in the late 1990s. It has been playing post-bubble defense ever since, fostering an unusually low real interest rate climate that has led to one bubble after another. And that has given rise to the real monster – the asset-dependent American consumer and a co-dependent global economy that can’t live without excess US consumption. The real test was always the exit strategy.

☞ The other big mistake was undoing the sensible balance Clinton/Gore had reached in the tax burden – down from the crazy 90% top bracket under Eisenhower and nearly as crazy 70% all the way from Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter to Reagan . . . but slashed to 28% when Reagan left office, which went too far and led to huge deficits. Clinton put it back up to 39.6%, which was just about right: the rich kept getting richer faster, after-tax, than everyone else (as is our due), but the nation’s finances came into better balance and there was room to raise the Earned Income Tax Credit and put 100,000 cops on the street and extend health care coverage to more kids and modernize the military Bush would go on to use in Afghanistan and Iraq.

CARROT ALERT

Kim Ness: ‘Be careful with the carrots. I love ’em, and the baby ones make them so easy to eat. But last year I found that I had become ORANGE (not tan, not nicely bronzed, but orange). Since August I haven’t eaten a carrot, except for random slices or shreds from a packaged salad – and I’m still orange. Apparently the stuff that makes carrots (and me) orange is stored in fat, and so it is harder to get rid of than stuff that is water-based.’

☞ Not to make light of your problem, but there is a red-state-blue-state joke in here someplace. I am going to lay off the beets.

Michael Fang: ‘My aunt was so obsessed with her children getting the nutrition in carrots that she made and fed them carrot dumplings. The next day my nephew was orange.’

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