I have come to bury Sen. Tom Coburn (R – OK). I mean “bury” metaphorically, not the literal type of burial that happens to about 5,000 Americans a year due to food-borne illness.

Sen. Coburn doesn’t mind if those deaths — and the 76 million related illnesses — continue in America, because an outmoded ideology blinds him to facts.

This is a valuable cautionary tale, because it explains how that ideology creates the pro-salmonella faction in Congress.

See, on the U.S. Senate floor 2 weeks ago, Sen. Coburn said only 10 or 20 Americans a year die from a food-borne illness. This means, to him, that the government doesn’t need the power to recall the tainted food that poisons us because “not once in our history have we had to force anyone to do a recall.” (Both of these things are, of course, 100 percent false.)

New food safety policies that Coburn opposes, which would make us all safer, could come up for a vote tonight. The potential cost of preventing these illnesses — about $300 million — is prohibitively expensive, Coburn says.

This story interests me not just because of the facts, but because of what it says about far-right ideology more broadly.  Left unchecked, this anti-everything viewpoint can blind a person to lifesaving benefits of even the simplest and most common-sense policies.

It’s not just that the Centers for Disease Control, a bit more expert in the subject than Coburn, say 72 million Americans get sick a year, and thousands die, due to food-borne illness. It’s the productivity cost.

A study by Georgetown University found that the annual cost of food-borne illness in the United States is about $152 billion per year. Here in North Carolina, the cost is $4.5 billion. If there were an operational definition of cost-effective public investment, food safety would be the one.

The bottom line is this: making sure food is safe benefits everyone. We can do so in a cost-effective manner that saves considerable dollars every year. This is a perfect example of how we can promote the general welfare through wise policy choices — and its far from the only example.

Instead of burying 5,000 Americans per year, can we instead bury the ideology that says government can’t stop corporations from selling us tainted food?


Often lost in the foreclosure discussion is just how rife the system is with fraud and abuse by large financial institutions. Because a personal story is sometimes needed to bring that to light, I suggest everyone read this shocking tale from Florida.

All she wanted was $50,000 from the equity in her house to help pay the bills while looking for a job in nursing. What Imogene Hall got was a brutal lesson in the sometimes shady ways of the mortgage industry …

A review of court records found evidence of misconduct at nearly every stage of Hall’s experience. Consider:

• Johnson Cuffy, a former mortgage broker now serving an 11-year prison sentence for grand theft, handled Hall’s refinancing in early 2006, using a strategy a state investigator described as “outright mortgage fraud.” He faces up to 30 more years in prison if convicted of 16 other mortgage fraud charges he’s facing.

• The title agent who signed the crucial deed transfers that Hall’s fraud claim rests on operated an unlicensed title company that stole more than $1.5 million from South Florida home buyers during closing proceedings between 2005 and 2007, according to Florida Supreme Court records.

• A man who listed his employer as a nonexistent Blockbuster Video store in New York somehow used Hall’s home as collateral to secure a $230,000 loan from subprime lender Argent Mortgage.

• Hall’s foreclosure was processed by the Florida Default Law Group, one of four Florida law firms being investigated by the state attorney general for using flawed documents to repossess homes from thousands of owners.

Absolutely read the entire harrowing thing.

While you’re at it, you might want to re-read Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece on the same issue, which includes the following quote:

Virtually every case of foreclosure in this country involves some form of screwed-up paperwork. “I would say it’s pretty close to 100 percent,” says Kowalski. An attorney for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid tells me that out of the hundreds of cases she has handled, fewer than five involved no phony paperwork. “The fraud is the norm,” she says.

I thought this was poetic exaggeration at first. After some time looking into it, I’m not so sure any more.

Next time anyone tells you that the foreclosure crisis is mostly people who got into homes they couldn’t afford, remember stories like this. Remember, the fraud might just be the norm.


What kind of wealth distribution do Americans think is fair? You might be surprised. Or you might not, if you’ve been paying attention to American ideals of fairness.

You might have missed “How Obama saved capitalism and lost the midterms,” by the great Timothy Egan. If you did miss it, don’t.

OK, that’s it for the serious stuff today. Now, for some frivolity. I could use some. Couldn’t you?

Bloom County (and Opus and Outland) author Berkeley Breathed gives a candid, hilarious interview to Ain’t It Cool News. Be sure to watch the YouTube clip of Calvin & Hobbes’ Bill Watterson’s snarky comics about Breathed.

Rock has “‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy”; rap music has other transcription errors.


Mark Zandi is the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. Agree with him or disagree — and I’ve done both on occasion — he’s worth listening to on economic indicators.

The man in question just finished speaking to the 18th Annual State Fiscal Policy Conference in Washington, DC. We live-tweeted his remarks over at the @ncjustice Twitter feed, so you can check that out if you’re so inclined.

If you prefer your summaries in more than 140 characters, though, here’s a quick take that includes Zandi’s five reasons for economic optimism.

To begin, let’s acknowledge that Zandi is more optimistic than most economists. The consensus view is that unemployment will remain unacceptably high for a decade, while Zandi thinks things will pick up in a year or so and we’ll fully recover in more like five years.

The next few months will be “uncomfortable” for recovery, he says, but Americans should expect 4.5 percent growth in 2012. Why?

Reason #1 for optimism: The Federal Reserve’s fiscal policy actions. Zandi thinks “they get it,” and are going to be aggressive in preserving the recovery. While there is still a chance of a double-dip recession, Zandi says it’s one in three or less.

Reason #2 for optimism: Businesses, especially big and medium-sized businesses, are “very profitable” now. Current business profit growth is 40 percent this year. “That’s about as good as it gets,” Zandi says.

As profits surge, jobs should follow. For now, we’re seeing layoffs stop, but hiring should pick up within nine months or so, Zandi says. Credit constraints on small business could limit this, he cautioned, which is why it’s important to offer assistance to small businesses.

Reason #3 for Optimism: We’re righting the wrongs that got us into this mess, including financial reform to fix bad loans, says Zandi. Lack of oversight allowed big banks to perform casino-style gambling with our economy. We’re not done fixing this problem, but we’ve taken steps.

Another part of this: Household debt has fallen by $1 trillion since peaking two years ago. To give you perspective, that’s 6-7 percent of total household liabilities. People are getting out of debt, which means they will be able to both spend more and save more.

Combine this diminished debt with record-low interest rates and you find that American household liabilities are shrinking. Net debt burdens a year from now will be “near record lows” if current trends continue, Zandi predicted.

Credit conditions are also improving because delinquent loans are “plunging” in 2010, he said. With fewer people defaulting, lending to small business will recover, which will create jobs.

Reason No. 4 for optimism: housing inventories have peaked. This is a bit more complex than the others, but the upshot is that our housing crisis may finally have hit bottom.

Reason #5 for optimism: The recovering economy means state tax revenues will revive in 2011. This will ease the budget stresses in places like North Carolina. Nationally, the revenue growth forecast is 4.8 percent — in North Carolina, Zandi projects as much as 6 percent growth, which is slightly above average.

If these projections are right, revenue growth should only improve in 2012. It won’t be enough to solve our state budget gaps by itself — but it won’t hurt.

I’ll close with a few remarks by Zandi that also obviate some doom and gloom. Our economy is still the wealthiest on the planet, he said, and better business profits, which are happening, constitute the “elixir we need.”

Just ask international bond investors. They still have confidence in US, so they’re buying even at with interest on bonds at historically low rates.

Long-term, we’ll need more export growth — “Judging by my 16 year old daughter’s consumption habits, we need a lot more Lady Gagas,” said Zandi, in the best line of the day — but there are signs of real hope.

This is already much longer than I planned. Let me close with the key takeaway:

By this time next year, we will be “in a better place,” Zandi said, and this time two years from now “a measurably better place.” I think we can all get behind that.


There has long been a broad national consensus — even among Republican presidents — that providing a strong social safety net is both a moral obligation and good for all of us.

Now, some shortsighted people on the far right want to break the consensus. They’re the ones outside of the mainstream. And my new column for NC Policy Watch talks about what happened the last time we listened to them in America.