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.