Saturday, April 30, 2011

Worthy of Contempt

There is a fair number of ideas, attitudes, or policies that I truly despise and consider worthy of contempt. Three prime examples that come to mind are wage theft, tax avoidance, and voter suppression. Obviously they are not on the same immoral level as, say, genocide, but they are all too common, tolerated, and even defended by our politicians, parties, and corporate leaders. And they are mostly ignored by a feckless media.

I have posted on wage theft before, and will do so again. I will address tax avoidance as well, in part because it is becoming increasingly prevalent. 

Voter suppression; where to start? How about the fact that over time and throughout the world it has been overwhelmingly a political weapon of conservatives, the overclass, the wealthy, monarchists, and other authoritarian-types. In the United States, voter suppression has been consistently utilized, sometimes with decisive results, by the same groups who bleat endlessly about the constitution, their love of democracy, and the sanctity of the rule of law.

Voter suppression isn't voter fraud. The latter is extremely rare though claims of voter fraud have become an increasingly common charge or scare tactic promoted by those who want to make the voting process more difficult, onerous, and discouraging than it already is.

And as it turns out, that means Republicans. This conclusion is unavoidable for one reason distilled into two words: massive evidence. Think about the various state efforts to tighten voting requirements, to require more personal identification, or limit voting hours and precincts.  How about "voter caging"? Republicans are behind them all.

Now I am not saying only Republicans will resort to dirty tricks, or use questionable methods to discredit an opponent. I am reminded of LBJ's rise to the US Senate where his operatives, under his direction, most likely did some creative ballot stuffing. And that was not just a hard-ball tactic; it was clearly illegal.

Voter suppression isn't even always illegal. And what is contemptible to one may be realistic tactics to another. So there is a gray area as to what is smart and tough, and what is unethical or crosses the legal line.

My real point is that regardless of how one feels about election season ethics, it has been conservatives, including Southern Dixiecrats of the past, and now almost always Republicans, who most consistently work to prevent high voter turnout and to restrict eligibility. This reflects sentiments entirely consistent with American conservatism. It was conservatives who opposed the right of women to vote, who implemented unconstitutional poll taxes, and for whom giving voting rights to former slaves was anathema. 

There has been much academic ink written on this phenomenon. The reasons why Republicans are more likely to indulge in voter suppression are well-documented and based on sound theoretical foundations. For those who would like to see how voter suppression relates to personality, especially an authoritarian personality, see the work of Professor Bob Altemeyer, especially his classic, The Authoritarians.

ThinkProgress recently posted From Poll Taxes to Voter ID Laws: A Short History of Conservative Voter Suppression
 Conservatives have said voter id laws are necessary to combat mass voter fraud. Yet according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Americans are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than commit voter fraud. And the Bush administration’s five-year national “war on voter fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions of illegal voting out of more than 196 million votes cast. Instead conservatives are employing an old tactic: using the specter of false voting to restrict the voting rights of minorities and the poor...
There is more at the link above. And while you are at, see the excellent investigative reporting by Greg Palast from last fall, where he explores the motives of Arizona's show-me-your-papers legislation espoused by Republicans; you know, the ones that bray endlessly on personal freedom and how they will get government off your back.

The backdrop, as Palast explains, is that Republicans were insisting there was serious voter fraud:
In 2008, working for Rolling Stone with civil rights attorney Bobby Kennedy, our team flew to Arizona to investigate what smelled like an electoral pogrom against Chicano voters ... directed by one Jan Brewer.

Brewer, then Secretary of State, had organized a racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush. Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer's command, no less than 100,000 voters, overwhelmingly Hispanics, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected.

That statistic caught my attention. Voting or registering to vote if you're not a citizen is a felony, a big-time jail-time crime. And arresting such criminal voters is easy: after all, they give their names and addresses.
So I asked Brewer's office, had she busted a single one of these thousands of allegedly illegal voters? Did she turn over even one name to the feds for prosecution?

No, not one.
 Good job, Greg. That is how investigative reporting is done.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

America's Problem is Low Taxes, Not Spending

It has quickly become a Republican talkling point that the US does not have a taxation problem; it has a spending problem. No need to raise taxes, they say. Just cut all that wasteful spending, and we will be all right. After all, teabaggers tell us we are Taxed Enough Already.

The reality is dramatically different. The chart below shows "general government expenditures as a percent of GDP". It is taken from the OECD "iLibrary" and can be found here. The bars represent each country's annual average for 2006-8. The blue bar is the average for all OECD countries combined.

The US is the seventh bar from the left, below the average and far below most of  Europe's most developed states. Note also that the gray diamonds hovering above each bar represent that govenment's average expenditure for 1995-97. They show that the spending percentage for the US was virtually unchanged for the subsequent decade.

The reality is that US government expenditures are a relatively modest percentage of GDP. Needless to say, US expenditures would be even lower were it not for our monstrously expensive industrial-military complex.

In other words, the US is not spending nearly as much on non-military items as some politicians would have you believe. Our overall spending levels are relatively low, and entitlement spending that directly benefits families is even lower. The US does not have a tax and spend issue. Our national debt is burgeoning because we keep reducing taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.

The chart below shows spending for families as a percent of GDP for the US and four other OECD members. This represents the socialistic spending and entitlements Republicans say is out of control and must be cut. Background and additional charts can be seen here.

Finally, have a look at the next chart. It comes from the same place as the first one. It also encompasses the same time frame. The one below measures taxes as a percent of GDP. The US is the fourth bar from the left, putting us even further down the OECD list.

To summarize, the US is not a tax and spend socialist nightmare. Government spending is comparatively low; spending on entitlements, welfare and the like is proportionately even lower. Teabaggers and others who buy into Congressman Paul Ryan's asinine spending bill, the one that guts Medicare and lowers taxes on the rich even more, are full of some serious shit.

Read Robert Reich, who details why we must raise taxes on the rich.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why the Rich Vote Republican

On March 23, I posted an article on the results of wage suppression and the shift in wealth from Main Street to Wall Street. Here is another revealing graph. Not sure you can see it well, but the vertical green line indicates the beginning of the Reagan Presidency. The blue line represents the average income in real terms, of the bottom 99% of all Americans; the pink line indicates the top 1%.

The effects of FDR's New Deal, beginning in 1935, vividly show how the American middle class was created.  The graph also shows how that same middle class has been squeezed in recent decades as conservative policies, such as outsourcing, hostility to unions, financial deregulation, an indifference to deindustrialization and other feckless trade policies, have dramatically stunted average income for the bottom 99% (a trend that began before Reagan) and have boosted average incomes for the top 1%, primarily through tax cuts, just as dramatically.

If you are the least bit willing to give your brain a chance, you must surely realize that Republicans are pushing policies to further undermine the middle class and shift ever more wealth to the very top.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blaming the Victim

Do you remember when teachers, public employees, Planned Parenthood, NPR and PBS crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401Ks, took trillions in TARP money, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and paid no taxes? 

Me Neither.

Pass it on...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Signs Our Health Care System is Broken

Here are a few signs we have a shitty health care system. Read them and consider why citizens in other industrialized countries have no desire to adopt our system.

1. Spam e-mail for Canadian drugs. We are all besieged with email offering low-cost pharmaceuticals from the land of Molson. Ever thought why? Many reasons, one of which is that our own government has guaranteed profits for the domestic drug industry. The Bush administration made it illegal for medicare to negotiate for discounts, or to obtain cheaper Canadian or other foreign-made drugs. (Just another Bush travesty Obama has embraced).

So now we get a steady stream of offers, of questionable legality, from abroad because they know we are getting ripped off.

2. Fundraisers to pay medical bills. This time it is grandpa's hip; next time it will be your co-worker'sw emphysema. Please give what you can. For millions of Americans getting sick without insurance puts a life at risk and a family ever closer to bankruptcy. This shit happens because our health care system lets it happen. Yeah, yeah, I know; much of this is supposed to end with health care reform. We'll see.

3. Medical tourism. Yet another growing industry, as Americans desperately seek medical care, even of questionable quality, because of prohibitive US prices. High quality care in industrialized nations is often cheaper, even after airfare and hotels, than the domestic stuff.

A hat tip to Southern Beale. See her post here for a more extensive purview. She is absolutely correct when she says: "Too many people are getting far too rich off of our current system. American healthcare no longer serves the majority of its customers. Which is precisely why nothing will change without a huge fight."

Yup, health care is a profit center in America. It does not serve citizens very well, but it enriches the health care industry, the investor class, and politicians willing to obstruct real reform.

And that is why we are unable to change it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Does Ideological Purity Make You Stupid?

If you are Milton Friedman, it does.

This is too good, in a nauseating, face-palm, sort of way, to pass up.

Hat tip to the Frankfactor, which I heartily recommend.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Maher Calls For Class War

Maybe we are seeing a little momentum from the American majority? Here is Bill Maher again. He makes too much of Charlie Sheen, as so many do, but his essential point is worth repeating.  When will the middle class realize the overclass does not give a shit about others or this country, and will keep taking from us as long as we keep letting them. Sheen is nothing but bread and circus writ modern.

Push back, hard, to the point where they shit their pants because they realize they have gone too far. It's the only thing that will get their attention.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Price of Tax Cuts

Just so we're clear on who and what are the prime contributors to our federal budget deficit. It sure as hell is not the welfare queens,unemployment benefits, or social security (which is paid in advance anyway). We had balanced budgets when marginal tax rates were substantially higher. We could have them again if we raised the marginal tax rate, not to uncharted territory, but only back to previous levels.

It would also help if we could reel in defense spending and the 2.5 wars we are waging. But higher taxes on those manifestly able to pay, and a scaled back military-industrial gravy train are anathema to the overclass.

They blame you for the problems they created, and now they want to punish you. It's called class warfare.