Friday, October 29, 2010

Reagan's Legacy

Republicans often are able to frame a message, create an image, or promote a meme better than Democrats. This helps explain the patently ridiculous idea that Obama is a communist, or that he hates America. Republican party leaders know such statements are false, but they are not interested in accuracy; they are interested in gaining power. It serves their purpose that significant numbers of Americans, especially impressionable folks who, chronically low on facts, have trouble evaluating the veracity of claims and evidence. (It also helps to explain why so few scientists are Republicans.)

The Republican masterpiece of mythbuilding would have to be Ronald Reagan, a man whose record, if properly evaluated, would correctly recategorize him as perhaps our most overrated President. There are, of course, many academicians who understand Reagan's record, his actions, and his legacy, which is just now coming home to roost with a vengeance. Not much of that has seeped through to the mainstream. And Democratic leaders, who often show an astounding ability to miss opportunities, have made little effort to put some perspective on what that man has done to America, especially the middle class.

That is beginning to change, in part because America's political economic crisis has become so apparent, and, I think, because the Internet has allowed those of us not part of the mainstream media to have a voice. As one of those voices, I intend to promote and develop a critical and empirically anchored analysis of Reagan's legacy, stripped of its myth. For now I want to direct you to an excellent post by Dave Johnson, who shares some of the major storylines of Reagan's eight years, presented in vivid, but depressing, charts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hawaii Polling

Once again I need to get out the door for some volunteer work with Hanabusa for Congress. Most polls show a close race, though I see a new one at Civil Beat that shows Hanabusa leading Djou by a very slim margin of 49.5 to 45.3 with a margin of error of =/- 3.9%.

Ok, that is pretty small, but it is big improvement from about a month ago when the Rothenberg Political Report said that a private Democratic poll showed Djou with a double-digit lead.

Even so, most Hawaii polls are showing a tight race. However, just as with the mainland, there is some evidence of a late-developing Democratic trend, as people finally catch up to the horror of teabaggers in government.

Gotta run

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Few Good Questions

Ralph Nader has a few questions he would like to ask of teabaggers. Good luck on that, Ralph. They are excellent questions, but try getting these people to answer moderately-detailed questions on policy, or to explain inconsistencies, or whatever. They can't and they won't. Teabaggin's all about visceral, feel good identity politics.  Not that some won't try, mind you. They are happy to talk, but they mostly want to attack, accuse, and smear, all while acting out their tribalist instincts; they don't want to be challenged.  This is true for the candidates by and large, but I think especially so for the fist-pumping, gun-toting, sign-waving crowds who have an awfully hard time getting their facts straight. There I go again, talking like a Democrat, fussing over facts and evidence.

Have you noticed how the teabagger signs (which you can easily google) are almost entirely directed against government, especially liberal government policies, such as health care reform, stimulus spending, unemployment benefits? Yeah, right, just the things that benefit the middle class. More to the point, notice the absence of any anger or venom directed at the real culprits; Wall Street, the bankers, the corporations that outsource, and all the other assorted motherfuckers that put the economy in the ditch and lined their pockets with our tax dollars? Not a word about how health insurance companies have been raising rates and denying coverage. They have almost nothing to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the monstrously expensive government contracts for the defense industry that has profited so greatly.

The teabaggers are, in the main, angry, but ill-informed. Check that, I am mincing words. I should say they don't know what the fuck they are talking about. They actually believe that President Obama has raised their taxes, just one example of how they get so much ass-backwards. And that is because their Republican handlers keep saying it. They are being played by the Republican Party which has fed them prime talking points that benefit the wealthy and powerful.

Can teabaggers really be this misinformed? Can they really not see whose jerking their chain?  Matt Taibbi thinks so. He wrote at length recently about the astonishing willingness of teabaggers to believe ridiculous horseshit.  Have an eye-opening read about your fellow Americans.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Myths vs Facts

Below is an excellent list of myths about President Obama that far too many people believe are true. For this you can thank the congenital liars in the Republican Party, a captured media, as well as an unfortunately large, pervasive swath of voter ignorance. The White House's inability to get its message out, especially in the face of the incessant right-wing noise machine, ain't helping.

The list, along with the links, was originally compiled by Dave Johnson at Campaign for America's Future. Many thanks to Dave for his excellent work.
 * * *
There are a number things the public "knows" as we head into the election that are just false. If people elect leaders based on false information, the things those leaders do in office will not be what the public expects or needs.

Here are eight of the biggest myths that are out there:

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
Reality: Bush's last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama's first budget reduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.
Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the "stimulus" was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

3) President Obama bailed out the banks.
Reality: While many people conflate the "stimulus" with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be "non-reviewable by any court or any agency.") The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

4) The stimulus didn't work.
Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.
Reality: A business hires the right number of employees to meet demand. Having extra cash does not cause a business to hire, but a business that has a demand for what it does will find the money to hire. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.
Reality: The health care reform reduces government deficits by $138 billion.

7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is "going broke," people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.
Reality: Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit (compare that to the military budget!) Life expectancy is only longer because fewer babies die; people who reach 65 live about the same number of years as they used to.

8) Government spending takes money out of the economy.
Reality: Government is We, the People and the money it spends is on We, the People. Many people do not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, ports, courts, schools and other things that are the soil in which business thrives. Many people think that all government spending is on "welfare" and "foreign aid" when that is only a small part of the government's budget.

TARP Has Worked Out Well

Turns out the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, has done rather well for the government. People will always debate whether TARP was truly necessary in the first place. Detractors from across the political spectrum will always claim it did not have the desired effect. But one of the biggest gripes about TARP, an argument especially dear to the American Right, was that it was going to add greatly to the national debt. Stop the bailout, they foamed.

Turns out it won't. BusinessWeek, no liberal hotbed, reports that taxpayers are enjoying an 8.2% return on their investment, a far higher return than on 30-year Treasury bonds. And you thought that Marxist from Kenya was just giving the money away. You know, 'cause he wants to destroy America. 

Public perception has yet to catch up with reality. And in this nutty election season, the disconnect is especially wide. The Democratic Party's inability to get its message, and its accomplishments, across to the public is frustrating. Many have emotionally innoculated themselves against reason and evidence, especially those who insist on having their feel-good pout. They are not going to let little things like facts get in the way.

I'm looking at you, teabaggers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reich: Fed Creating a New Bubble

I am off to volunteer some time to Hanabusa for Congress. But before I go, just a quick reference to a recent post by Robert Reich, where he argues that the Fed's decision to pump more money into the economy, and thus keep interest rates low, and therefore spur on the economy, will be ineffective. He gives a variety of reasons, but the upshot is that there is no productive place for the money to go. Banks could lend, and that was the original idea, but they are supposed to be following stricter standards, yes? So no loans for you, bub.

It needs to go to higher wages, but as obvious as that may seem, no one in power wants to push the idea, certainly not corporations, Republicans, or the investor class. And government mechanisms to make that happen are utterly inchoate. Compare that with the speed with which TARP was enacted, or tax breaks for hedge fund managers.

So, as Reich reminds us, the money ends up in the stock market, which helps explain why the Dow has gone up so much recently, despite poor economic indicators. The investor class is in the process of creating a new financial bubble.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tax Breaks for Billionnaires

Matt Taibbi over at Rolling Stone notes how, once again, a remarkably unfair, asinine, and unjustifable piece of legislation has sailed through Congress with nary a public comment; no Republican obstructionism, no outraged Dems, and damn little debate. You didn't hear about it on the teevee? You probably won't either.
Once again, hedge funds, and a few others, such as venture capitalists and real estate partnerships, have bought themselves some fat tax breaks. One enabler is Democrat Charles Schumer, who went to bat to ensure that hedge fund managers pay a lower rate than their secretaries. This is nothing new for Chuck; he has fought for the same creampuff tax treatment that ensures that society's richest get the most favorable rates that money can buy.

Senator Schumer is often on the right side on many issues, but his vote on this is a significant contributor to growing inequality in the US. Schumer represents Wall Street, not metaphorically, but literally. I guess he has constituents to worry about, like all politicians.

Who am I kidding? It's their money he wants, and he sure as hell gets it too. Have a look here to see who lines his pockets.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Weekend Linkage II

Chris Hedges, as always, is able to encapsulate the core issues confronting us. He reaches back into time to show that the forces arrayed against democracy never really go away. Read "How Democracy Dies: Lessons From A Master."

Here is a little something that many will find depressing, or perhaps perversely amusing. Working America has a jobtracker feature in which you supply a zip code, and it tells you which companies in that area are exporting jobs abroad, have warned of layoffs, or are in violation of various federal labor/health/safety laws. Very revealing.

The video below is one more reason Bill O'Reilly is an asshole. After watching a McDonald's ad in France, he compares gays to Al Qaeda. I guess he just can't get comfortable with people who are different than himself.

You stay classy, Bill.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Teabaggers are Noisy But Out of Step with America

The media has a lemming-like quality about it when it comes to covering events. It is easier to stoke a meme, and ignore opposing evidence, than to engage in real journalism. The infatuation with the teabaggers, at least as an inexpensive story with which to pummel viewers, is instructive. It seems safe, others are covering it too, and, besides, good journalistic research is expensive. The networks are all profit-oriented, so growing their bottom line is the real objective.

Obviously there are overt political agendas as well. So it is inevitable that teabaggers are going to get coverage and credibility. What does not get aired much is the research that shows how out of touch teabaggers are with most of America.

Right, just the opposite of what FoxNews wants you to believe. Two studies have emerged that show that most Americans support government programs, and would like to see support continue, increase, or in some cases, redirected, but not eliminated. Project Voter has released an extensive survey that reveals not only starkly differing views on attitudes towards government, but also how unrepresentative teabaggers are in social and demographic terms.

The Washington Post has also just published a survey that reaches similar conclusions. The study, done in conjunction with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, does reveal that many Americans are conflicted about government, but want it to help solve problems more effectively.

Inconsistent positions on policy are quite common with self-described teabaggers. The Republican or conservative bravado appeals to the identity of many of them. But asked to delineate specific policy preferences, and not just platitudes, and they suddenly take on positions more like mainstream liberals. Now that is enough to make their heads explode. There are complex reasons why this is so, and it is well-documented by political scientists and psychologists who study political identity and behavior. For some background on this, replete with more surveys, see Paul Rosenberg's revealing piece on how he came to understand the centrality of identity politics for conservatives here.

Points to the WaPo for the study, but I'm guessing others will mostly ignore it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Only Teabaggers Will Be Surprised

It seems so long ago. Congress was fighting over health care reform. Republicans, well-paid by the health care lobby, dutifully trotted out their inane talking points.  Sarah Palin, appealing as she does to low-information voters, insisted health care reform would bring us death panels. And teabaggers once again had their facts wrong as they loudly proclaimed the US had the best health care system in the world. 

It is not news to the rest of us that any number of studies demonstrate otherwise. The most recent has just been released, and it makes clear that inadequate and deeply inequitable access to health care in the US is driving down life expectancy. An abstract, a PDF summary, and an explanation of the methodology, can be found here. Additional overview is at the Independent

Here's to the teabagger rallying cry; "Bring back pre-existing conditions. Vote Republican."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Get Out and Vote

You say you may not vote this time around? That's just what the shits in this video want to hear. Your choice should be obvious.

Friday, October 8, 2010

This is Not Getting Enough Attention

Robert Reich, Cal-Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, has sounded what should be democracy's alarm bell. Corporate America is dominating the electoral process as never before. The big recent change was the Supreme Court's loathsome decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.

Much has been said about that decision, how it curiously equates corporations, including multi-billion dollar conglomerates, with persons, and thus able to spend unlimited amounts of money to, in effect, buy elections. However, Reich reminds us that the other kicker in all this is that groups that receive much of this funding do not have to say where they got it (as opposed to money that goes directly to politicians, who do have to reveal sources). In the process we are looking increasingly like a stereotypic banana republic where powerful elites and their rich cronies dominate the entire election process.

Be sure to read Reich's entire article, but I want to stress a few points he makes. One is that elections are becoming more opaque. As Reich says, "...only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed." To compound the problem, there is every indication that foreign money is pouring into campaign coffers. Yes, it is illegal, but it is now harder to prove than ever before. (And it Republicans take control of Congress, what are the chances they will investigate that?)

Senate Democrats recently attempted to pass a bill that would compel disclosure. As has so often been the case, every Republican in the Senate voted against it. Corporate money is pouring into Republican coffers, so it is no surprise that the GOP responds so predictably to its benefactors. Reich notes that less than 10 years ago, campaign disclosure was supported by a large majority of senate Republicans.

It is not at all certain what citizens can do about this, especially the growing number of poor and unemployed. Reich says, "Right now we're headed for a perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top, a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy, and a public in the aftershock of the Great Recession becoming increasingly angry and cynical about government. The three are obviously related."

Indeed they are.  Reich offers eight ways citizens can fight back, but this is an uphill slog that does not bode well for democracy, for the middle class, or for America. We are headed for oligarchy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shameless Ideologue

You might have seen this. Sharron Angle hopes you haven't, and with the 24 hour-news-cycle mentality of our media, it will probably disappear soon. The story is clear enough; Nevada Senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, who denounces so much of our government, and has said some very nutty things, has government-run health insurance. This, of course, is the woman who thinks the recently enacted health care bill is hideous socialism. She qualifies for it through her husband, who is a retired civil servant, one of them gubmint bureaucrats. Double socialist.

The more the teabaggers talk, the more they sound like a parody. No wonder she runs from the media. Her handlers must realize by now she sounds like a moron. 

Talk is cheap, hypocrite.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kudlow's Hypocrisy

Larry Kudlow, the prickly CNBC commentator who never met a tax rate he didn't think should be lowered, or a regulation that should not be abolished, thinks a recent picture of President Obama embracing his long-time friend, Rahm Emanuel, (during a good-by ceremony) is over the line and shows weakness. Goodness knows how Republicans hate weakness. The pic, along with Kudlow's entire comments, are at Kudlow & Co. and at Andrew Breitbart's asinine website. Breitbart? Now there is a trustworthy and dignified guy. Just the place for millionaires to air their grievances. I'm not linking to either one, but here is the pic. You can visit Jason Linkins at HuffPo here for additional comments and his link to Breitbart.

Pretty routine, especially amongst long-time friends, no? Not for Kudlow, who declares: "I think the hug lacked dignity. It did not send a message of American power and forcefulness ... Why not just a dignified, stand-up, serious handshake? That's what Reagan would have done. A strong handshake shows friendship, respect, and even affection. But a big fat hug seems to go over the line."

I guess it's a little too touchy-feeling for the hard right Wall Street apologist. His attitude reminds me of the classic line in "The Ruling Class," when Peter O'Toole's mentally ill character declared, "The strong must manipulate the weak, it is the first law of the universe."
And while Kudlow obviously still gets boners over Reagan, (the same guy who cut and ran in Lebanon) the telling story here is why authoritarians open their mouth without realizing that people like myself can so effortlessly throw their arguments back at them. They don't have to show they are right, which is why they often ignore data (and why wonkish types are usually Dems); they only have to feel they are right, which is all the time. If Kudlow was not such an ideologue, he would realize there are numerous pics online that reveal his hypocrisy. Take a gander at these. Did they bother Kudlow then? Come on, Larry, explain to us why Republican Presidents act so undignified.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why Don't Corporations Demand a Public Option?

I have often wondered why corporations have not supported a public option for health care or preferably a single payer plan. Our auto makers have longed complained about costly health care as a major reason for their relatively high overhead compared to foreign competitors.  And one of the reasons GM and Chysler were willing to build factories in Canada was government run health care.

One would think corporations would love to get out from under any costly program; after all, they have a long history of privatizing benefits and socializing costs. Why would health insurance be any different?

The Institute for Southern Studies (ISS) has offered some tentative possibilities.  One of these is that executives are reluctant to ruffle business relations for fear of encouraging expropriators. As David Himmelstein, one of the founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, says, "If you can take away someone else's business--the insurance companies' business--you can take away mine."

Moreover, says the ISS, corporations prefer some level of insecurity for their workers. The knowledge that coverage can be lost leads to a more compliant work force.

The problem with these hypotheses is that they don't explain why there is not a more heated public debate, not on the merits of health care reform, but on how non-insurance corporations would benefit from a government role and why they don't make the case. Certain executives may not want single payer for whatever reason, but why are they not at least compelled to defend their decision? Why have Democrats who support health care reform not made a better case to corporate America? Never mind the humanitarian or fairness arguments; most corporations don't give a shit about that. They do care about saving money. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Djou Flunks

The nonpartisan Coalition for a Prosperous America has released a congressional scorecard on how members of the House of Representatives vote on international trade. The CPA gives its results and an explanation of the methodology. You can see how your representative did here.

The CPA does not favor ideologically-laden free trade, so it certainly is not the must-have-cheap-labor Chamber of Commerce. Rather, the CPA supports trade that works for Americans, meaning the US must endeavor to develop a more coherent foreign trade policy.

Two results stand out for me. The first is that Democrats, as a group, score better than Republicans. The latter show a strong preference to give corporations what they want, such as freedom to outsource production. Dems are starting to recognize what our trading partners have always known; work for policies that promote our industrial base, and to hell with the free-trade gospel.  Unfortunately, the institutional barriers to meaningful change are enormous.

I also see that my Representative, Republican Charles Djou, received not only an F on the CPA scorecard, but a complete zero. Way to go, Charles. Looks like you are still Boehner's Hawaiian BFF.

Hawaii's other Representative, Mazie Hirono, scored an A. Thanks, Mazie. Come November Hawaii will have a chance to vote for two Representatives that take working families seriously. Mazie Hirono, and Colleen Hanabusa. A vote for Colleen will help send Djou packing.

Don't get too comfortable, Chuck.