Friday, December 30, 2011

Getting More Bang for the Buck

The chart below, and it's from Moody's, a mainstream source, says what progressive economists have been saying all along. As the column on the right shows (It's that technical term called "bang for the buck"), progressive policy prescriptions are more effective than conservative ones. I do not know the methodological specifics, but the higher number indicates greater efficiency.

One example is "increased infrastructure spending," which has a score of 1.57. This was, and is, spending urged by progressives and by the Democratic Party in general. In comparison, conservatives, and certainly every Republican presidential candidate, argue for reduced corporate taxes (.32), that the Bush tax cuts should be permanent (.32), and that we should make dividend and capital gains tax cuts permanent (.37). It is not a coincidence that each of these items, despite demonstrated inefficiency, favor the rich. And wouldn't you know it, even a temporary increase in food stamps proves to be the single most efficient item on the entire list, a policy strongly supported by Democratic pols and strongly opposed by Republicans.

The chart does not say why the policies differ so much, and it certainly does not address why Republican pols ignore the evidence, but two observations are warranted.

The first of these is that from an economic perspective, policies that help the working and middle class are generally superior because it is they who prop up the economy, and that is because they work, pay taxes, and, very importantly, are the primary patrons of most businesses in America. They are the true job creators and they are the reason most businesses even exist. Most businesses will tell you that they don't need a tax break, or less regulation. What they need are more customers.

But this does not explain why Republicans so shamelessly shill for the rich, and why so many middle-class Republican voters are OK with this. The answers are mostly not found in economics, but in psychology. My premise is this: Educated progressives are in favor of evidence-based policies. Of course, some policies have not been effective, but those that are not get revised or abandoned. And don't get any ideas about how progressives keep flogging dead ideas like Keynesian stimulus packages; the chart above shows them to be effective. Progressives (mostly) follow the evidence, and base policies that they consider rational and empirically-grounded.

In contrast, true conservatives are not basing policies on economics (except perhaps the economics of personal enrichment), but on psychology. Issue after issue, conservatives are making moral arguments about what they think is right, not what is economically sound. Their positions are often less rational than they are visceral.  Call it the politics of personality. And do note that even ostensibly educated Republicans, such as the presidential candidates, cater to and sound like their conservative base: Their economic policy prescriptions are almost entirely lower taxes, lower regulations, and now that a Democratic is in the White House, lower spending. These are absurdly inadequate and inappropriate policies that are massively at odds with the evidence and expert opinion.

There is a growing body of literature on what motivates conservatives. I have touched on this previously, especially on the role of authoritarianism.  Here let me add two additional academic studies: one has been out for a few years, called The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, by Drew Westin. The other just came out: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, by Corey Robin.

Read, learn, and arm your brain.  Your nation depends on you to make rational decisions.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

American Justice II

A Merry Christmas for one guy, a lump of coal for the other.
This is from the Dec 21, 2011 edition of Midweek, in a syndicated column called Weird News, by Chuck Shepherd. I have reproduced it verbatim.
Criminal Justice?: Daniel Vilca, 26, was ordered to prison for the rest of his life (without possibility of parole) following his conviction in Naples, Fla., for having pornographic photos of children on his computer. He had no previous criminal record nor was there any evidence of contact with children. The judge computed the sentence by multiplying a five-year term by 545 photos police found...A week earlier, a judge in Dayton, Ohio, sentenced former CEO Michael Peppel, 44, for defrauding his shareholders by overstating revenue in a company that went on to lose $298 million and cost 1,300 employees their jobs. Sentencing guidelines recommended an eight- to 10-year term, but federal judge Sandra Beckwith ordered Peppel to jail for seven days.
Peppel also received a $5 million fine, the levying of which seems to be the preferred approach when the wealthy are convicted. More on his story here.

The United States has an overtly class-based system of justice. It is the poor, the powerless, and the disadvantaged who are prosecuted in the first place, face high conviction rates, and serve disproportionately long jail sentences.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"The Dumbest Idea in the World"

In a recent article in the online version of Forbes, Steve Denning writes intriguingly of the American corporate model and its penchant for short-term profit seeking. His views are something of a vindication for those, myself included, that have long felt the American management system is flawed. His basic premise is that in the mid 1970s US corporations began to shift their focus away from their products and processes, and towards catering to the short-term interests of investor.

Denning cites the work of Roger Martin in his new book, Fixing the Game. As Denning relates, 'Martin says that the trouble began in 1976 when finance professor Michael Jensen and Dean William Meckling of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester published a seemingly innocuous paper in the Journal of Financial Economics entitled “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure.'"

In short, Martin says US corporations began a fateful and undue focus on the interests of investors in the 1970s. And that means, generally, the short-term interests of individuals and firms that are less interested in what a company makes, or how it makes it, and more interested in making money off the company's stock, preferably sooner than later. As a result, managers, especially CEOs, are motivated to turn in quick, impressive results, measured primarily by quarterly earnings. 

CEO compensation has become tied to the stock price, not product quality, and that is because they too are focused on the short-term. Boosted earnings will please the investor class, and also line the CEOs' pockets through stock options. They have less incentive to focus on a company's long-term health, the way a founder would, and more on making sure their stock options pay out. The ability to quickly increase "shareholder value" is thus the holy grail by which investors judge management.

Accordingly, both Steve Denning and Roger Martin argue that corporate America's dogma regarding the importance of shareholder value, e;g. making the investor class rich, is proving ruinous. Martin specifically identifies US business schools as culprits in promoting the primacy of shareholder value. Denning reminds us that none other than Jack Welch, legendary former head of GE, said the concern over maximizing shareholder value was "the dumbest idea in the world."

Now let me take a moment to remind readers what most business writers don't often explicitly acknowledge: business in America, especially big business, is predominately Republican. More to the point, management at major US corporations is conservative, often deeply so. The American corporate model is, or has become, a conservative model; labor should be cheap, regulations should be minimal, taxes are always too high, and business should be free to move cash and assets around, including overseas, as it sees fit. This model implicitly says that the sum and substance of capitalism is the microeconomic interests of the corporation and the investors to which it is supposed to owe its greatest allegiance: that allegiance must prevail over the broader interests of country, citizens, and communities. As it turns out, that includes just about everyone in the world except the investor class and their subset, upper management. It is business economics for the chronically selfish and short-sighted.

In other words, the interests of the 1% must prevail over the 99%. Anything less is socialism and an invitation to stagnation and decline. Real patriots must give the 1% all they want or you will jeopardize civilization. And if you have not noticed how much further to the right the Republican party--starting notably with Ronald Reagan--has helped both corporations and the investor class reap ever higher portions of economic output, then you are not paying attention. 

So it is grimly satisfying to see some business thinkers and leaders, and not just those on the Left, questioning the efficacy of a model that obscenely enriches the few while it provides decreasing benefits for most. 

Again, Steve Denning provides an example. He writes:
The new bottom line of business is customer delight. If a firm isn’t delighting its customers, the prospects of its long-term survival in today’s highly competitive low-growth economy aren’t promising. Fortunately, as a result of almost three decades of research by Fred Reichheld and his colleagues at Bain, we have a robust methodology for measuring customer delight. It’s the Net Promoter Score discussed in the second edition of The Ultimate Question 2.0 published in September 2011.
The parameter they developed, the Net Promoter Score, basically attempts to quantify (crucial for numbers-obsessed business schools) how well companies are winning and keeping satisfied customers.

What a novel thought; actually pleasing the customer with an eye towards long-term loyalty. This is beginning to sound almost progressive; worry about your products, and how you treat customers and workers, and the stock price will follow suit. Your allegiance should be to those who build and buy your products and services.

It's enough to give Ayn Rand a fit.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How They See Us

On Monday, 12/12 I wrote of at least one Republican who has finally decided to buck the tide and speak out against his party's lurch to the right, one that is both ridiculous, because proponents are twisting themselves into logical and factual contradictions, and dangerous, because they are opening the door to a fascist state.  

The European press has noticed the sum and substance of the Republican presidential candidates, leaving it both dismayed and amused. As Der Spiegel laments:
It's horrifying because these eight so-called, would-be candidates are eagerly ruining not only their own reputations and that of their party, the party of Lincoln lore. Worse: They're ruining the reputation of the United States...They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They've shown such stark lack of knowledge -- political, economic, geographic, historical -- that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.
The December 16 edition of The Week (print version), in an article entitled "The GOP makes a virtue of ignorance," summarizes European views. In addition to Der Spiegel, it references Lorraine Millot, of the Paris Liberation, who observes that the only Republican candidate who is relatively well-versed in diplomacy, John Huntsman, is also completely out of contention. This is not a coincidence. The others "careen to extreme positions that include starting new wars and abandoning old allies." Herman Cain tried to make a virtue of his ignorance of foreign affairs, which apparently sat well with millions of Republican voters. It was charges of adultery, not laughable ignorance of the world, that ended his campaign.

Max Hastings, of the London Daily Mail, notes that throughout much of red state America, you are viewed suspiciously as an elitist if you show interest in science or the world beyond America. "Say what you want about British politics, no MP of any party would dare to offer themselves as town dogcatcher while knowing as little about the world as the Republican presidential candidates...The American political system has seldom, if ever, looked so inadequate."

Finally, Matthew Norman of the London Independent predicts that Mitt Romney will eventually win the nomination even if he is "the slimiest, phoniest opportunist to run for president since...well, ever." And that is because Newt Gingrich is so widely despised.

We'll see about whether Romney does in fact prevail. But it is too early to count out Gingrich, though even he seems to be peaking, pretty much on the same timeline as the rest of them. Republican primary voters are the reddest of the red, but even they seem discomfited by this crowd.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Some Republicans Have Had Enough

Below is a video of former Bush speechwriter David Frum in an interview with Howard Kurtz of CNN. Frum is one of a small number of Republican operatives who are speaking out against their party's nuttiness and increasingly harsh and nonsensical policy prescriptions.

I welcome Frum's lonely effort to steer his party back to (relative) sanity and away from its asinine dance on the ideological precipice. Thoughtful Republicans have every right to be sickened by the buffoons getting all the attention in the presidential debates.

In the video, other media sources are labeled as "liberal." Frum says that Fox provided a welcome counterweight to that. This is an ironic statement coming from someone who worked at the Wall Street Journal, the official rag of the 1%. And does this mean that Fox is indeed a counterpoint to a media Fox mouthpieces laughably call left-wing? I thought it was "fair and balanced."

Fox CEO Roger Ailes himself has said the network has recently made a course correction away from the far right. This was, he says, a tactical decision in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting early in the year when Ailes told his anchors and pundits to "tone it down".  Is this not the same criticism that progressives have been making about Fox for years? That it is not a real news organization, but a fear monger for low-info voters and a Republican cheerleader? Thanks for making our point, Roger.

The other networks are not truly liberal, not just because they have Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz at MSNBC. You do not get to claim a network is liberal just because it is less right-wing than Fox. The others, including MSNBC, are deeply mainstream and conventional.

I do not believe many viewers in America ever really see what the international community would consider leftist news commentary.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Corruption Unabated

Here's a reminder of the fallout from Bush's decision to invade Iraq. In addition to massive loss of life and a country with its infrastructure destroyed, Americans (with help from Iraqis) are now plundering funds that were meant for rebuilding Iraq. As the video below explains, there is widespread waste and systemic fraud with almost no accountability.

And not much coverage by our mainstream media.

Not that there wasn't a publicized effort to uncover the problems. The Commission on Wartime Contracting had issued several reports that recognize the multitude of issues. Among other things, the commission reported $30 to $60 billion lost through waste and fraud.

It closed down earlier this year because congress defunded it. And while its website does offer some downloadable data to the public, Congress has decided that some key findings should be hidden from public purview until 2031.

As author Michael O'Brien says in the video, congress is protecting the perps. Representatives and senators alike know that too many fat cats, in and around congress, will be implicated. So they cannot let the public know what really has been happening in Iraq and who benefited. They do what governments always do when they feel threatened: keep evidence from view and lie.

Twenty years on ice should take care of any statute of limitations.

The video is from RT America, and I highly recommend its Youtube channel.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

All the Money Rich Bankers Could Ever Want

I believe the desire to hold the Federal Reserve Bank accountable to the American people is a major issue that progressives and disaffected right-wing populists, e.g. tea-partiers, have in common. Many do not seem to be aware of this shared interest.

The following is from Alan Grayson, former congressman from Florida. I have reproduced it in its entirety. The original is here. Mr Grayson is campaigning to win back his seat in 2012.

        The Fed Bailouts: Money for Nothing
I think it’s fair to say that Congressman Ron Paul and I are the parents of the GAO’s audit of the Federal Reserve. And I say that knowing full well that Dr. Paul has somewhat complicated views regarding gay marriage.

Anyway, one of our love children is a massive 251-page GAO report technocratically entitled “Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Policies and Processes for Managing Emergency Assistance.” It is almost as weighty as that 13-lb. baby born in Germany last week, named Jihad. It also is the first independent audit of the Federal Reserve in the Fed’s 99-year history.

Feel free to take a look at it yourself, it’s right here. It documents Wall Street bailouts by the Fed that dwarf the $700 billion TARP, and everything else you’ve heard about.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’m dramatizing or amplifying what this GAO report says, so I’m just going to list some of my favorite parts, by page number.

Page 131 – The total lending for the Fed’s “broad-based emergency programs” was $16,115,000,000,000. That’s right, more than $16 trillion. The four largest recipients, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, received more than a trillion dollars each. The 5th largest recipient was Barclays PLC. The 8th was the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, PLC. The 9th was Deutsche Bank AG. The 10th was UBS AG. These four institutions each got between a quarter of a trillion and a trillion dollars. None of them is an American bank.

Pages 133 & 137 – Some of these “broad-based emergency program” loans were long-term, and some were short-term. But the “term-adjusted borrowing” was equivalent to a total of $1,139,000,000,000 more than one year. That’s more than $1 trillion out the door. Lending for these programs in fact peaked at more than $1 trillion.

Pages 135 & 196 – Sixty percent of the $738 billion “Commercial Paper Funding Facility” went to the subsidiaries of foreign banks. 36% of the $71 billion Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility also went to subsidiaries of foreign banks.

Page 205 – Separate and apart from these “broad-based emergency program” loans were another $10,057,000,000,000 in “currency swaps.” In the “currency swaps,” the Fed handed dollars to foreign central banks, no strings attached, to fund bailouts in other countries. The Fed’s only “collateral” was a corresponding amount of foreign currency, which never left the Fed’s books (even to be deposited to earn interest), plus a promise to repay. But the Fed agreed to give back the foreign currency at the original exchange rate, even if the foreign currency appreciated in value during the period of the swap. These currency swaps and the “broad-based emergency program” loans, together, totaled more than $26 trillion. That’s almost $100,000 for every man, woman, and child in America. That’s an amount equal to more than seven years of federal spending -- on the military, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt, and everything else. And around twice American’s total GNP.

Page 201 – Here again, these “swaps” were of varying length, but on Dec. 4, 2008, there were $588,000,000,000 outstanding. That’s almost $2,000 for every American. All sent to foreign countries. That’s more than twenty times as much as our foreign aid budget.

Page 129 – In October 2008, the Fed gave $60,000,000,000 to the Swiss National Bank with the specific understanding that the money would be used to bail out UBS, a Swiss bank. Not an American bank. A Swiss bank.

Pages 3 & 4 – In addition to the “broad-based programs,” and in addition to the “currency swaps,” there have been hundreds of billions of dollars in Fed loans called “assistance to individual institutions.” This has included Bear Stearns, AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, and “some primary dealers.” The Fed decided unilaterally who received this “assistance,” and who didn’t.

Pages 101 & 173 – You may have heard somewhere that these were riskless transactions, where the Fed always had enough collateral to avoid losses. Not true. The “Maiden Lane I” bailout fund was in the hole for almost two years.

Page 4 – You also may have heard somewhere that all this money was paid back. Not true. The GAO lists five Fed bailout programs that still have amounts outstanding, including $909,000,000,000 (just under a trillion dollars) for the Fed’s Agency Mortgage-Backed Securities Purchase Program alone. That’s almost $3,000 for every American.

Page 126 – In contemporaneous documents, the Fed apparently did not even take a stab at explaining why it helped some banks (like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) and not others. After the fact, the Fed referred vaguely to “strains in the financial markets,” “transitional credit,” and the Fed’s all-time favorite rationale for everything it does, “increasing liquidity.”

81 different places in the GAO report – The Fed applied nothing even resembling a consistent policy toward valuing the assets that it acquired. Sometimes it asked its counterparty to take a “haircut” (discount), sometimes it didn’t. Having read the whole report, I see no rhyme or reason to those decisions, with billions upon billions of dollars at stake.

Page 2 – As massive as these enumerated Fed bailouts were, there were yet more. The GAO did not even endeavor to analyze the Fed’s discount window lending, or its single-tranche term repurchase agreements.

Pages 13 & 14 – And the Fed wasn’t the only one bailing out Wall Street, of course. On top of what the Fed did, there was the $700,000,000,000 TARP program authorized by Congress (which I voted against). The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) also provided a federal guarantee for $600,000,000,000 in bonds issued by Wall Street.

There is one thing that I’d like to add to this, which isn’t in the GAO’s report. All this is something new, very new. For the first 96 years of the Fed’s existence, the Fed’s primary market activities were to buy or sell U.S. Treasury bonds (to change the money supply), and to lend at the “discount window.” Neither of these activities permitted the Fed to play favorites. But the programs that the GAO audited are fundamentally different. They allowed the Fed to choose winners and losers.

So what does all this mean? Here are some short observations:

(1) In the case of TARP, at least The People’s representatives got a vote. In the case of the Fed’s bailouts, which were roughly 20 times as substantial, there was never any vote. Unelected functionaries, with all sorts of ties to Wall Street, handed out trillions of dollars to Wall Street. That’s now how a democracy should function, or even can function.

(2) The notion that this was all without risk, just because the Fed can keep printing money, is both laughable and cryable (if that were a word). Leaving aside the example of Germany’s hyperinflation in 1923, we have the more recent examples of Iceland (75% of GNP gone when the central bank took over three failed banks) and Ireland (100% of GNP gone when the central bank tried to rescue property firms).

(3) In the same way that American troops cannot act as police officers for the world, our central bank cannot act as piggy bank for the world. If the European Central Bank wants to bail out UBS, fine. But there is no reason why our money should be involved in that.

(4) For the Fed to pick and choose among aid recipients, and then pick and choose who takes a “haircut” and who doesn’t, is both corporate welfare and socialism. The Fed is a central bank, not a barber shop.

(5) The main, if not the sole, qualification for getting help from the Fed was to have lost huge amounts of money. The Fed bailouts rewarded failure, and penalized success. (If you don’t believe me, ask Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan.) The Fed helped the losers to squander and destroy even more capital.

(6) During all the time that the Fed was stuffing money into the pockets of failed banks, many Americans couldn’t borrow a dime for a home, a car, or anything else. If the Fed had extended $26 trillion in credit to the American people instead of Wall Street, would there be 24 million Americans today who can’t find a full-time job?

And here’s what bothers me most about all this: it can happen again. I’ve called the GAO report a bailout autopsy. But it’s an autopsy of the undead.


Alan Grayson

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Economists for Occupy Wall Street

A short video from economists who understand what #OWS is, and why it is protesting this country's unsustainable, rigged system.

Occupy Economics from Softbox on Vimeo.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How They Really Feel

This man's comments speaks volumes on the attitudes of the wealthy. His disdain for those with less money is palpable. He clearly is equating people's value with the size of their portfolio. Rich people are better.

And it is not just an arrogant attitude; he is also egregiously wrong,his intellectual honesty clearly compromised by his ideology. Notice that he claims to be subsidizing the 99% because he is making big bucks. It is especially ridiculous in light of the massive amounts of money our government has directed at the 1%, and especially the 0.1%, who operate under a self-serving delusion that everything they have is because of skill and hard work. Overlooked by this dickhead are the endless flows of government contracts and concessions to big Pharma, defense contractors and the like. Overlooked are the multi-million dollar giveaways by state and municipal governments as they compete to entice corporations to locate in their areas.

Richie Rich also ignores huge sums given to banks as part of their bailout, money bank executives then used to pay outsized bonuses. And just this week we read that those banks earned roughly $13 billion in interest directly the result of the sweetheart deal they received for tanking the US economy. Here is the gist of it, as related by AllGov:
Thanks to the Federal Reserve’s generous lending during the 2007-2009 financial crisis, banks that were teetering and at risk of collapsing wound up making billions of dollars in profits, according to Bloomberg Markets magazine.

After combing through 29,000 pages of Fed documents released to Bloomberg by court order, the publication determined that banks earned about $13 billion in income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates. These loans were made without informing the public or Congress of which institutions were borrowing heavily to stave off disaster.
Finally, have a look at the chart below. The corporations in these sectors are generally run by individuals who espouse rugged individualism, a can-do attitude, and the glories of a free market. They also almost always bitch about high taxes and government regulation. As you can see, they rarely pay their share of taxes, but they sure know how to pull in those tax subsidies- nearly $223 billion from 2008-2010.

Source: Citizens for Tax Justice

That's some serious corporate welfare. And from their government-subsidized profits, they pay outsized compensation to people like the guy in the video. If corporate boards claim that their executives deserve their often huge compensation, then those corporations don't need and don't deserve government support.  If you cannot live without taxpayers like me subsidizing your bottom line, then your insistence on fat bonuses is even more morally obscene than it already is.

Or is this a problem only when the recipients are the 99%?

The implicit message: It's just good business, complete with tax write-offs, when rich guys are in on it, and it's socialism only when the poor receive it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Semi-Happy Thanksgiving

I would prefer to believe that everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, that they enjoyed a safe and sane feast with family and loved ones. The reality is that many did not.

I believe this is the official start of the holiday season, although every year it looks more like Halloween is. Either way we are now in the most frenzied period of consumption, the time of the year corporate America loves the best and depends upon the most.

In view of that it seems appropriate to recognize how unhappy many are. They've got good reasons. Here are just a few links, each with additional links and source material, that address the growing poverty in America. Read them and learn, but don't characterize the poor, sick, homeless, or unemployed as "unfortunate." Poverty in America is the direct result of reckless policies designed by and catering to ideologues and an avaricious oligarchy, not misfortune.

Extreme poverty is growing

The growth in the "near poor," just above poverty, startles US Census

Inequality is even worse than we thought

More than 1 in 5 of American children are poor

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Moyers on Plutonomy

Here is Bill Moyers taking a page from the late Edward R. Murrow when he says having a bias is not a bad thing as long as you don't try to hide it.

Their bias is my bias: Plutocracy and democracy don't mix. Moyers explains how we have now arrived at plutonomy and why it matters.

For teabaggers inclined to obsess over what our founding fathers and past patriots had to say about wealth inequality, I offer some insights.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Social Security's Biggest Defender

Here is the guy voters have been told to shun, ridicule, and oppose at every opportunity. Why? Because Senator Bernie Sanders is un-American, he hates your values, and he wants to enslave you in government-run welfare camps.

Right? I mean these are the kind of tight, reasoned arguments that true patriots like Sarah Palin make about Sanders. They must be true. After all, Sanders is the only avowed socialist in Congress and we all know what they want. If you have any doubts, Sarah will tell you, for a fee, all you need to know about socialism (and everything else).

Those who value facts over diatribe know that Senator Sanders is one of the few who consistently works for the rest of us. Listen to Sanders on social security in the video below. His is one of the few voices in Congress that pushes back against the asinine and palpably wrong argument that social security doesn't work, it is killing the budget, and must be cut. Republicans are leading the assault, but more than a few Dems are willing to give in instead of defending your interests.

Aggressive, moneyed interests in the Republican party; Weak, hand-wringing facilitators in the Democratic party. No wonder Sanders is an independent.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It'll Ruin Us, I Tell You

Yep, it is the most contemptible, onerous regulation you could possibly impose upon commerce. Just ask the business organizations quoted in the video below.

What is this horror? An August 30 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that requires businesses to display a single poster reminding their employees of their rights.

We can't have employees knowing what their rights are. Better get that black man out of the White House. More analysis at Crooks and Liars.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We Are The Many

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, is in town. Security is tight and Waikiki is cordoned off.  Among the festivities was a performance by Makana, a popular local musician, for the numerous leaders from Asia, including China and Japan, along with the US. President Obama was there. You can read more about how the APEC forum turned out here.

As our local newspaper explains, Makana gave an unexpected and gutsy performance in which he sang his new song, We Are the Many, while he shows off an Occupy with Aloha shirt. The video below shows him singing. You will see why it was bold. In my view it was also highly appropriate.

Was anyone offended? Tough shit. If any world leader was offended, it serves to demonstrate why Occupy Wall Street is necessary in the first place.

The second video is a better-quality, professionally recorded version of the same song. Good job, Makana.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pigs Fly

Jim Cramer gets a lot of things wrong, especially his stock picks, which are running roughly the same as a chimp and a dartboard. He has generally been a cheerleader for Republicans because Wall Street can buy them so easily. But even he has had enough of the small-minded buffoons at the last Republican debate.

Our problem, as Cramer says, is "unregulated, rapacious capitalism."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Greatest Speech, the Greatest Creed

Here is the most profound single speech I believe I have ever heard. Unfotunately, no America politician will ever give a speech like this one.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More on How People Are Fighting Back

Here is more on how people are fighting back against an unsustainable and deeply damaging banking system; not the one most of us grew up with, to be sure, but the one it has become. It was a good weekend, what with my beloved mother's birthday, Guy Fawkes Day (for which the BBC dutifully broadcast V for Vendetta), all in addition to #OWS efforts to encourage the 99% to move their money. 

Growing anecdotal information suggests that quite a few of us pulled accounts from the likes of Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo, and took their business to credit unions and community banks. 

The Credit Union Times reported 40,000+ new accounts on Saturday. Other branches around the country reported hundreds to thousands of new accounts.

For their part, mega-banks say they are pleased with the action, because it is cleaning out the small accounts, the ones with high margins and low profitability. A Motley Fool apologist admits to much, but still defends Wall Street banks:
What’s important is realizing there are injustices with bailouts, cronyism and money in politics. People should really be upset about them. But they should realize at the same time that the economic system we have in the United States, compared to the rest of the globe, has created more wealth for everybody than almost any other country on Earth.
Bullshit, the banking system we had until a few years ago did indeed, play a crucial role in America's development, but not the one we currently have. Apparently it is too much trouble for him to show even the dimmest awareness of the massive changes that have taken place.

America's small regional banks are (mostly) not the problem. It is the global banking giants that are undermining the middle class. Read some details on this from a British banking perspective at George Monbiot's excellent column called The 1% are the very best destroyers of wealth the world has ever seen. 

Reinstate Glass-Steagall

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why Cain Connects With Republicans

This is another reason why #OWS is fighting back: The country's socio-economic standing in the world continues to deteriorate. One measure of that can be seen in a widely disseminated story that America's poorest of the poor now represent 1 in 15 citizens, those who's income is 50% or less than the official poverty level. 

Let that sink in a bit. That is about 21 million people. They are not just unemployed, or down on the luck, or facing lean times, or whatever other cliche' gets bandied about. These are America's very poorest, and the number--and proportion-- are now higher than ever. As the original AP article states:
The ranks of America's poorest poor have climbed to a record high — 1 in 15 people — spread widely across metropolitan areas as the housing bust pushed many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and shriveled jobs and income 
New census data paint a stark portrait of the nation's haves and have-nots at a time when unemployment remains persistently high. It comes a week before the government releases first-ever economic data that will show more Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty. 
In all, the numbers underscore the breadth and scope by which the downturn has reached further into mainstream America.
And yet, some presidential candidates seem to think there is no connection between unemployment and the high crimes on Wall Street, Herman Cain for one. Cain, whom I view as the intellectual equivalent of a freak show at a second-rate carnival, argues instead that significant tax cuts for America's wealthiest are what is needed. This is at the core of his asinine 9-9-9 plan. Never mind that we have been cutting taxes on the wealthy for a generation; they are apparently not rich enough. Another round of tax cuts on the top 1% will somehow induce them to create jobs.

In effect, Herman Cain is telling us that there really is no banking problem in this country. Those mobs at #OWS are just lazy and disaffected; they just want to blame others for their own problems. You just aren't working hard enough, that's all.

Holy freakin' shit. Cain, you cannot be serious. Are you saying the big banks have not created a crisis? Not only is this a miserable misreading of America's deep economic difficulties, you want us to think that simply getting a job, never mind their scarcity, somehow fixes an entrenched banking issue, just makes it all go away. Or maybe we just need to keep working because the banks have not really created a crisis anyway, so don't worry about it. Is that it?

Herman Cain's position on complex politico-economic issues is what we so often find in conservative ideologues; it comes down to simplistic moralizing about what he considers to be other people's personal shortcomings, their defective characters, their basic immorality. His economic policies make no sense, and his bravado intertwined with appalling ignorance may be galling for some of us, but that is beside the point for most Republican primary voters. Cain is demonstrating a punitive, stern, father figure sense of morality. And that is what most Republicans instinctively look for in their candidates.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fight Back, With a Message

Here is a way to make your voice heard. It isn't new, but I like it. Send them a message --and make them pay for it.

Not sure about the wooden shingle; you can probably find some free cardboard lying around.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blowing Up the Economy

Here's Rachel Maddow giving an excellent overview of how Wall Street blew up the economy. This is the corrupt casino mentality that now dominates our lives. It is what happens when wealth is dramatically concentrated in the hands of so few that they literally don't know how to put it all to productive use. 

It doesn't help that many of those same people are America's most rapacious and reckless, the ones that want you to think they are creating wealth and should only be envied. Perhaps you have heard that investment bankers show personality characteristics very similar to psychopaths. And no, it is not the occasional rogue trader.

And who protects these guys? Who refused to investigate years of fraud? Who denounces Occupy Wall Street as unAmerican practitioners of class warfare, but has shown remarkable indifference to Wall Street's trillion dollar scams?

Who were Elliot Spitzer's mortal enemies, the ones who gleefully rejoiced when he was brought down?

Those are not rhetorical questions. You know the answer.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Conservatives Get Their Way

At the heart of America's often shallow debate about political economy, policy, and the direction this country should take, is the cluster of variables surrounding taxes, regulation, economic policy, and the proper role of government. The basic conservative argument is that taxes are too high, regulation is too onerous and counterproductive, and business is too hobbled by misguided bureaucrats. 

The Republican prescription has been simple, persuasive for some, and amazingly consistent for a generation: cut taxes and everything good will happen. It is the elixir, the panacea, the cure-all for all that ails you. And if tax cuts are not enough (they are always a prerequisite), then just cut back on all that wasteful spending, which for conservatives means the welfare state and other transfers that go from deserving producers to the undeserving takers. 

To hear Republicans tell it, America is near comatose because of high taxes, radical unions ("big labor," as they say with a straight face), and more recently, government spending, not on defense of course, but on character-destroying entitlements such as social security, medicare, welfare, public education, and infrastructure boondoggles. 

Millions of Americans believe this argument; teabaggers in particular have been convinced that they are "taxed enough already" and that Democrats are transferring massive amounts of money "we don't have" to undeserving liberals who vote Democrat for that precise reason. Joshua Holland has an excellent article the title of which precisely captures what has become a real problem for the reality-based community: Thanks to Decades of Conservative Spin, Americans Are Hopelessly Confused About Taxes, Spending and the Deficit

As Holland states:
A good number of Americans are hopelessly confused about taxes, deficits and the debt. And it's no mystery why – conservatives have spent 30 years divorcing the taxes we pay from the services they finance. They've bent themselves into intellectual pretzels arguing that cutting taxes – on the wealthy – leads to more revenues in the coffers. They've invented narratives about taxes driving “producers” to sunnier climes, killing jobs by the bushel, and relentlessly spun the wholly false notion that we're facing “runaway spending” and are “taxed to death.”
Holland implicates the mainstream media for its failure to critically assess and challenge what has been Republican class warfare disguised as common sense. It is a narrative that has proved persuasive to people who do not often hear, and don't want to hear, analyses that challenge that narrative.

My immediate purpose is not to resolve ideological differences or to prove the efficacy of certain policy preferences. In this occasional series; let's call it "Conservatives Get Their Way," I want to show that regardless of how else you or I might feel about it, the inescapable conclusion is that on economic policy and legislation, including taxation, conservatives, the right-wing, the Republican party, and most assuredly, corporate America, have gotten most of what they have wanted on the policies, legislation, and legal opinions that overwhelmingly benefit them.

It is not a matter of conservatives wanting to move away from what they consider to be harmful, liberal policies. The reality is that Republicans, with the help of some Democrats, have undercut what they hate, and have already turned over power to wealthy oligarchs. The conservative charge that liberals, socialists, Democrats, dirty fucking hippies, a black President, "teh gays," and all the rest are destroying America, is demonstrably false. We do not have "Big Labor", high taxes, or profit-killing regulations, a large and expensive public sector, high social spending, or job-killing environmental regulations. In fact, we lag other industrialized nations on each of these points; our taxes are among the lowest, as is union membership and pubic sector spending.

So where does the US lead? Corporate profits and executive compensation. And of course, we do spend a pantload on defense, precisely what most conservatives and nearly all Republican politicians demand. 

The evidence more clearly shows that corporate America, the Republican party, and the conservative policies and legislation they say we need, but have already enacted, are undermining America's economic strength, its political institutions, and its social fabric. In other words, America's right wing not only has got its arguments mostly backwards, it is precisely the conservative policies they claim we need that have created the current mess, one that has been in the making for 35 plus years.

Conservatives get their way and they have the results one would expect; massive inequality, an unending gravy train for our bloated defense industry, executive compensation that has reached obscene levels, is largely detached from job performance (golden parachutes anyone?), and is loaded with money-saving perks denied to the rest of us. 

They succeeded in largely gutting private pension systems for workers, outsourced much of our manufacturing base to cheap labor countries, hobbled unions, have enjoyed significant productivity increases but have not shared those increases with their employees, and have beat back nearly all efforts to hold them accountable on the environment, tax loopholes, and regulations.

Much of this is vividly on display on Wall Street, where the perpetrators of massive fraud and malfeasance have managed to beat back essentially all efforts to hold them accountable and to rein in their ridiculously irresponsible behavior. 

Any no, it is not because Congress can't do anything; progressive Dems favor and vote for legislation that would return us to more stable and equitable times, legislation that we once had in place, such as Glass-Steagal.

It is because nearly all Republicans, joined by a few Blue Dog Democrats, have voted for the legislation that is so overwhelming favorable to the overclass.

It isn't Congress; it is Republicans in Congress.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tax Loafers? Maybe Not

Conservative media continues to repeat the infantile and laughably incomplete argument that roughly half of Americans don't pay taxes, the implication of which is that rich guys are bearing the burden and that millions of Americans are loafing off the hard work of others.

There is a lot to this Republican morality play, except maybe for facts. I will set aside the political psychology of conservative morality for the moment, except to say that it drives all conservative attitudes; not facts, not empiricism, not logic.

The federal income tax burden may be low for many of us, but payroll taxes disproportionately hit the working poor and the middle class. The tax-free argument really falls apart when we include all taxes. Republicans either don't notice, or hope you don't notice, these numerous other taxes; they are much more regressive, and they hit lower income people much harder. These include sales taxes, especially those on food and other basic needs, and indirect or semi-hidden taxes, such as those on phone bills, or those with a tax already built into the price, such as gasoline.

Here is David Leonhart of the New York Times, explaining why the conservative spin is so misleading:
The reason is that poor families generally pay more in payroll taxes than they receive through benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit. It’s not just poor families for whom the payroll tax is a big deal, either. About three-quarters of all American households pay more in payroll taxes, which go toward Medicare and Social Security, than in income taxes.

Focusing on the statistical middle class — the middle 20 percent of households, as ranked by income — underlines this point. Households in this group made $35,400 to $52,100 in 2006, the last year for which the Congressional Budget Office has released data. That would describe a household with one full-time worker earning about $17 to $25 an hour. Such hourly pay is typical for firefighters, preschool teachers, computer support specialists, farmers, members of the clergy, mail carriers, secretaries and truck drivers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Taking into account both taxes and tax credits, the average household in this group paid a total income tax rate of just 3 percent. A good number of people, in fact, paid no net income taxes. They are among the alleged free riders.

But the picture starts to change when you look not just at income taxes but at all taxes. This average household would have paid 0.8 percent of its income in corporate taxes (through the stocks it owned), 0.9 percent in gas and other federal excise taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. Add these up, and the family’s total federal tax rate was 14.2 percent.

If anything, the government numbers I’m using here exaggerate how much of the tax burden falls on the wealthy. These numbers fail to account for the income that is hidden from tax collectors — a practice, research shows, that is more common among affluent families. “Because higher-income people are understating their income,” Joel Slemrod, a tax scholar at the University of Michigan, says, “We’ve been overstating their average tax rates.”

State and local taxes, meanwhile, may actually be regressive. That is, middle-class and poor families may face higher tax rates than the wealthy. As Kim Rueben of the Tax Policy Center notes, state and local income taxes and property taxes are less progressive than federal taxes, while sales taxes end up being regressive. The typical family pays a lot of state and local taxes, too — almost half as much as in federal taxes.

There is no question that the wealthy pay a higher overall tax rate than any other group. That is an American tradition. But there is also no question that their tax rates have fallen more than any other group’s over the last three decades. The only reason they are paying more taxes than in the past is that their pretax incomes have risen so rapidly — which hardly seems a great rationale for a further tax cut.
I have slightly edited the original due to length. Go here to read the whole article.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gallows Humor

In solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, I share with you a few timely and appropriate funnies. They would be funnier if they were not so true.

This last one is my favorite. I recall the John Maynard Keynes quote: "Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Our Corrupt and Fraudulent Economy

Here's Dylan Ratigan from a while back, just in case you missed it the first time. Ratigan's anger is what Occupy Wall Street is all about.

I share that anger and disgust. The only thing unusual about his critique is that it aired on mainstream television.

Hat tip to Angel Guerrero for refreshing my memory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street is Angry

This country once had a stable financial system. It was the direct result of the New Deal. The crash of '29 had been created by greed, lax rules, and government institutions unequipped and ideologically unprepared to tame capitalism's most rapacious players.

Enter FDR and the New Deal. With it Americans enjoyed roughly 50 years of prosperity and a largely stable banking system. The good 'ol days, as conservatives seem to pine. And there was good reason why we look fondly at what seems to have been our economic heyday. What conservatives forget is that we had far less income inequality, higher taxes, greater union membership, lower consumer, state and federal debt. We had a trade surplus, a much larger manufacturing base, and little outsourcing. And we did not have job-killing free trade agreements, such as NAFTA!

Underlying all of this was a rigid set of banking rules that, among other things, kept commercial banks out of the stock market and enforced prudent capitalization requirements. Upon assuming office, President Reagan immediately worked to overturn regulations and help Wall Street's rise to dominance, a rise that continues today despite Obama's half-hearted and ineffectual efforts to reprioritize Main Street.

Banks quickly capitalized on the changes Reagan set in motion; systemic banking failure began within a few years. Those failures have been with us in regular intervals ever since, all the while wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of those who created the economic chaos in the first place.

Here is Elizabeth Warren explaining the process.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street's Message

Leave town for a week and look what happens. Our corporatist media is finally paying some attention to Occupy Wall Street. Not that it is offering many insights. The prevailing characteristics seem to be that protesters are malevolent malcontents, dirty fucking hippies, and anarchists, all in a stew of disorganized resentment. In particular, the claim is that the OWS protesters do not have a coherent message.

No coherent message? Really? Anyone who cannot immediately grasp the significance of the protest is likely to be uninformed teabaggers, fearful of all that they don't understand, or class warriors, like the Republican presidential candidates, Romney and Cain in particular.

How obtuse, or ideologically rigid, do you have to be to not see that America's wealthy corporatist media is determined to delegitimize citizens who have decided to fight back against Wall Street's recklessness?

Here is Alan Grayson taking the small amount of time needed to explain to dickhead PJ O'Rourke what the Occupy Wall Street protests are all about.

The privileged class is letting its fear show. Nice to see we got their attention.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bread and Circus

Hey sports fans. Some wonder why I am so indifferent to pro sports these days. Classmates will recall that I was a typical American school kid; I loved pro sports. Once I went to college, my interests.. uh... diversified. More recently I had a rekindled interest in college football, though that too is waning. I realize more than ever that money and power dominate and corrupt what is supposed to be an amateur enterprise. Not on my dime; not if I can help it.

We have become more like Rome than we realize. It is bad enough that modern sports are a diversion that help keep our public discourse so inane and uninformed.

It's actually much worse. Here is an interview of sports writer Dave Zirin. The essential problem, as he points out, is that wealthy owners get the public to pay for their arenas and stadiums. Massive tax breaks are usually involved. The owners are enjoying outsized profits precisely because they get taxpayers to underwrite their business. To cap it off, the owners use their profits to fund right-wing, anti-government agendas. They want you to think they are self-made captains of capitalism. They don't say much about the millions of tax dollars they pocket.

Hypocrisy anyone?  Dave Zirin's most recent book, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, tells the whole story.

I still want the Pac-12 to do well. Anyone but the SEC.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Republican Platform

So how many of these early warning signs do you recognize? Twenty-first century America sounds a lot like 1920s Italy. And if its similarity to Republican talking points doesn't unnerve you, you may be part of the problem. Read more on pre-fascist America
from Naomi Wolf, here, here, or watch her video here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Our illiberal Media

Have you been following the action on Wall Street? You know, the protests by a couple of thousand of people near the stock exchange, complete with handcuffing, mace, and arrests? What? You haven't heard of Occupy Wall Street?

You aren't alone, and that is the way our corporate media wants it. The video below will give you an idea of how corporate domination of American media plays out. The point here is not whether you agree with the protesters, or think Wall Street is, or isn't, at the heart of America's economic pain. The point is that almost no mainstream media outlet is willing to cover, even critically, the mini-occupation, the arrests, the shouting. The foreign press is covering it, as are alternative news sites on the Internet. Our major networks will get to it, but they will be slow and shallow; the more revealing the story, the slower and shallower the coverage will be.

How can you not cover protests in the streets, Wall Street? And as Keith Olberman notes, if this were a crowd of teabaggers bitchin' about taxes or Obama's birth certificate, the coverage would have been wall-to-wall. This is what media do in banana republics, or the old Soviet Union.

You see what they want you to see.

Speaking of Wall Street, if you get a chance, get a copy of Inside Job.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

She'll Do More Good As Senator Anyway

Elizabeth Warren is running for Scott Brown's senate seat in Massachusetts. You may recall that Warren was the favorite to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a position she did not get because President Obama caved in to Republican demands. Instead, she was appointed as a special adviser, where she reports directly to Timothy Geithner, a man who is a big part of the problem, and does not want to see or hear her.

For those keeping score at home, Warren is seeking the seat held for decades by the Lion of the Senate. No-name Brown lucked into his temporary job when State Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had all the advantages, instead ran an inept and listless campaign that disgusted many democratic stalwarts and independents alike.

So, yeah, Warren for Senate, 2012. Chances are good this will turn out better than if she had been buried in that bureau with a man like Geithner always ready to block reform.

I might add that people like Warren are advocating what we had in this country in the past. It is not some dangerous and untested territory to want to protect consumer interests or to hold financial firms accountable for their behavior. We had higher tax rates, lower debt, stronger growth-and far more equality-before we began the long slide towards reduced taxes on the wealthy, the gutting of regulations, and the growing dominance of a financial sector that is beholden to no one.

If you want to know how Warren thinks, and in the process learn a lot about the mess the American middle class is in, read this book.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Have Unions Done For Us?

I don't imagine that many have seen this video, but it should at least give pause for thought about this country's ridiculous and staggeringly ill-informed assault on American labor. It started with Republicans, of course; they have hated working Americans for generations. But the real problem is that too few Democrats seem prepared to fight for what made this country great.

Nor can we depend on our feckless media to remind us of what we once had and why we had it. Without a more vigorous media, voters remain confused, uninterested, and susceptable to manipulative framing that has reached absurd levels. 

Ignorant shits who can't tell you what GDP stands for, or how many Senators are in their state have convinced themselves they know what this country needs. They have lapped up right wing crap about how "big labor" is strangling the economy. They don't hear, and don't bother to read about, how high union membership coincided and contributed to middle class stability, at a time when we had a much greater manufacturing sector as well as a trade surplus.

All of this happened while the US was a creditor nation, consumers had far less debt, did not rely on two or more jobs to make ends meet, and were able to save far more. Nor did our government depend on our trading partners' dollar surpluses to buy our debt. And it all happened when marginal tax rates were far higher than today.

Now look at the graphs below. You can see that most of America has not done well economically in the last 30+ years, not considering overall growth. This is why we have a stagnant economy; wages are too low, which has led to weak demand. Does it look like the tax burden, regulations, or labor unions have held back the rich? Does it look like they need more tax breaks?

FDR's New Deal created the middle class. Son, if you don't know that, you need to set about reading some American economic history. You do know what FDR stands for, yes?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Politics as Personality

There is an interesting new study on the personality of Teabaggers called Cultures of the Tea Party, written by Andrew Perrin of University of North Carolina, Steven Tepper of Vanderbilt University, and others. It's posted at TPM (that's Talking Point Memo, not Tea Party Movement).  It is basically a personality inventory of persons who identify with the so-called Tea Party.

The study identifies four primary cultural dispositions: authoritarianism, ontological insecurity (fear of change), nativism, and libertarianism. None of these strike me as dispositions I would personally want to have; they are sub-clinical conditions that most of us would want to address or suppress.

Libertarianism, you might say, is different. Isn't it all about freedom, rugged individualism, and equality in a free, unregulated market, where we are all unfailingly rational in our pursuit of maximum utility?  Isn't that just the stuff the Founding Fathers wanted?

That's what true believers would say. Many respondents, and especially teabaggers, have some idea what libertarianism means. I don't believe they have actually thought about it that much, but they like the idea of libertarianism, at least the version preached on Fox News and talk radio. As with many other philosophical concepts whittled down to talking points, proponents embrace it without necessarily understanding it. They identify with the concept of libertarianism, but not necessarily with nativism or fear of change, two traits that many of us have not thought much about, and may not feel comfortable acknowledging.

The authors' definition of libertarianism is questionable. In their survey they asked respondents whether they favored more rules restricting personal expression, such as public dress codes, content (censorship) on TV and the Internet. Tea Partiers scored a bit higher than average on this.

Is that really getting at libertarianism? Are questions about personal expression and Internet censorship acceptable proxies for libertarian ideas of free markets and free enterprise? High scorers would as likely be progressives as Ayn Rand acolytes.

Nativism focused on attitudes on immigration and immigrants. Negative or anti-immigrant scores indicated high levels of nativism. Now that's got teabagger written all over it.

Ontological insecurity measured attitudes towards social and cultural change. Previous studies on right-wing attitudes have shown hostility to change and preference for tradition, so no surprise here, either.

This leaves us with authoritarianism, what I believe is the most important of the four cultural dispositions, in part because of its troubling implications. The authors measured authoritarianism by attitudes towards child-rearing. The study replicated previous studies which show that authoritarian parents demand high levels of obedience from children, and are less willing to allow them to decide, and think for, themselves. Authoritarians show a strong "father knows best" attitude.

The authors did not elaborate much on the implications of their findings except to argue that the Tea Party Movement cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the significance of the four cultural dispositions, especially in the way they coalesce. However, one can see why teabaggers are so intolerant of outsiders and why they like to see themselves as the "real America," not those blue state big city elitists who vote for communists  Democrats. It has less do with an understanding of policy and more to do with personality.

Nice study, but by far the single best source on authoritarian personality has been Bob Altemeyer. But there are others that are getting some deserved airtime, including George Lakoff, and Karen Stenner.

Altemeyer has repeatedly found that authoritarian personalities have high levels of ethnocentrism, high levels of submission to "legitimate" authority, and high preference for what one could call tribalism, an us-vs-them world view that is intolerant of those outside of their experience. That includes different skin color, religion, creed, and sexual orientation. I'll say right here that Altemeyer makes clear that authoritarianism really means right-wing authoritarianism, or RWA. While not all conservatives are authoritarians, those with right-wing sentiments will generally show elevated authoritarian traits. And those who score high on authoritarianism are invariably right wing. Left-wing authoritarianism is practically a oxymoron.

RWA's also show a marked preference for absolute or simplistic interpretations of complex events. They often accuse others of ethical or moral relativism.

Altemeyer stresses that authoritarian behavior reflects genuine personality traits, and not policy preferences. This helps explain the constant moralizing of authoritarians, and why many of their policy preferences seem so incoherent and contradictory to the rest of us. As George Lakoff has argued, the authoritarians moral sense is fundamentally different than others and has given rise to fundamentally different political views. 

I am just scratching the surface on this; there is so much more already in the literature and I'm guessing more to come. That's cool, but I know that most people do not read academic literature. The problem is that the implications of the role of RWA are anything but academic. They are pervasive and troubling. 

I'll explain why in future posts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Red State Mythology

Here's Rick Perry, trying to claim that abstinence is an effective means of adolescent birth control. Not only is there no evidence that abstinence programs work, he looks fairly stupid trying to claim there is. His handlers must wince when they see performances like this.

Meanwhile, Red State mythology suffers another bitch slap from reality. Conservatives, Republicans, teabaggers, Bible-belters and the rest love to claim that middle America is the real America; god-fearing, family-first types who honor traditions such as marriage and the wedding vows they swore to uphold. 

I can hear it now: "No gay marriage here, fella. Real 'merkins don't like that filth. If you want to see how weak socialistic liberals want to destroy 'Merkin culture, go to California or Massachusetts. But we take marriage seriously around here."

Apparently not, Teabags; here's a list of the ten states with the highest divorce rate. Leading the pack is Oklahoma, followed by Arkansas, Alaska, Alabama, Kentucky, Nevada, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arizona.

Nevada is arguably purple, but the other states are bright red, the pride and joy of conservative America.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Separated at Birth?

Labor Day Blues

Labor Day seems like a good time to share this interesting link. It is called What it does is compare living standards from around the world. There are different ways to do it, but the most obvious, and most eye-opening for internationally-challenged Americans, is to compare the US with similar industrialized countries. Take Germany for example.

According to the site, Germans, on average,
    consume 50% less oil (!),
    use 47% less electricity,
    make 26% less money
    are 83% less likely to have AIDS,
    spend 48% less on health care, and
    live one year longer

To be sure, some of the stats can be misleading; the risk of AIDS in the US is not evenly distributed. And though the US continues to show high per capita income, that fact completely masks the reality of extreme income inequality experienced in the US. Outsized incomes on Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and in entertainment are the only reason average income in the US remains high.

Some trends consistently pop up when you compare the US with other industrialized countries; the US has much higher health care costs, terrible figures on child mortality, uses far more energy than most, and has a much higher class divide.  

But hey, those Labor Day parades. Makes you so proud to wave Old Glory and to see all those politicans who have done so much for labor, especially those Republicans, marching and waving and such.

They must really support working families. What more proof could you want?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Thousand Cuts

Capitalists on Wall Street don't give a shit about you. Republicans don't give a shit either. Democrats don't know what they care about.

It takes a Socialist from Vermont to speak for the middle class.

Monday, August 29, 2011

US as Third World

On August 25 I had a post on Wall Street and how it bought and captured the institutions originally meant to ensure the public was served. I wrote then, and I say here again, the outsized role of the financial sector and the obscene, short-sighted, and shameless priorities of a reckless investor class, complete with unprecedented lack of accountability and legal liability, are at the heart of America's economic difficulties.

Corporate America's dominance of media and public discourse gloss over the fact that said financial dominance was what conservatives wanted; it was they that pushed through legislation favorable to the wealthy, investors (wealthy or not), and corporations. Conservatives, especially the wealthy variety, have gotten most of what they have wanted; lower taxes, fewer regulations, free movement of capital, lucrative defense contracts, and more.

Crap about how progressive agendas have hurt America are the imaginary domain of the ignorant. Union membership is now at negligible levels, far below similar countries. Labor unions have been weak for the last 30-odd years and getting weaker, just what  conservatives wanted.

New Deal legislation had made banking relatively safe and stable for generations. It was conservatives who said barriers between banking and finance were dated and holding us back. So Republicans in Congress overturned Glass-Steagall. Conservatives got what they wanted. Casino capitalism almost immediately ensued; financial meltdown soon followed. They wanted taxpayers to bail out the banks, and without any meaningful reform to prevent further catastrophes or undeserved enrichment. They got that too.

Wages for most workers have been flat for decades, precisely what conservatives have wanted. The US was a wage leader before Reagan; since then, wages for most have been flat. Conservative policy has been to suppress wages however possible. Conservatives got what they wanted.

The list goes on and on; our nation's richest and most powerful get what they want; favorable legislation, weak regulation, accommodating regulators, court rulings, and a compliant press. This should all be obvious to anyone who pays attention and doesn't walk on their knuckles. But reality struggles for attention in the face of a conservative noise machine that continually distracts voters.

Conservatives have also favored free trade, the mantra, the religion, the chiseled-in-stone gospel of laissez faire economics. It is front and center in the pantheon of conservative political economy, right up there with free markets. And here again, conservatives get what they want.

Conservatives, including Republican party operatives, rarely miss a chance to pimp free trade doctrine. American media usually goes along with Republican talking points. Even if one does find articles that dutifully report massive deficits, and even outsourcing, there are few coherent and visible efforts that explain the ramifications in detail and dare to analyze free trade as class warfare or why a lack of industrial policy is destroying us.

To get just an inkling of how international trade is playing out for the US, have a look at the figures below (Data are from Alan Tonelson's America's Increasingly Third World Trade Profile).

Below are the top ten US trade SURPLUS manufacturing categories for Jan.-June, 2011
(billions of current U.S. dollars)

Waste & scrap materials:  +$15.53
Spacial classification provisions:  +$11.44
Plastics & resins:  +$10.19
Soybeans:  +$8.81
Non-anthracite coal and petroleum gases:  +$7.18
Corn:  +$6.67
Wheat:  +$6.45
Cotton:  +$6.39
Misc. basic organic chemicals:  +$3.87
Non-poultry meat:  +$3.85

Next are the top ten US trade DEFICIT manufacturing categories for Jan.-June, 2011
(billions of current U.S. dollars)

Crude oil & gas:  --$121.13
Autos & light trucks:  --$37.82
Petroleum refinery products:  --$27.62
Computers:  --$22.50
Broadcast & wireless communication. equip.:  --$22.35
Goods returned to Canada & reimported:  --$21.47
Audio & video equipment:  --$15.80
Pharmaceuticals:  --$13.38
Telecommunications hardware:  --$12.72
Computer parts:  --$12.67

Notice a pattern? The US has become a big supplier of scrap and raw materials. Although the data do not show it, this is a substantial reversal of a few decades ago, when the US had a trade surplus in a variety of manufactures, especially high-end, high-tech goods.

Now look at the sectors with the biggest trade deficits. Except for oil, they are all manufactured goods that not long ago were among America's biggest contributors to what we once had, a trade surplus.

There is much to address here. My intention in future posts is to further explore issues in international trade and to demonstrate that America's free-trade ideology and the policies and practices that have resulted, are primarily in the interests of the overclass, have shaped corporate America to serve the interests of that overclass, but are damaging for the country as a whole.

Don't let conservatives tell you the US has a trade deficit because our taxes are too high, wages are too high, unions are too powerful, or regulations are too onerous.

They are wrong on every point.