Thursday, February 23, 2012

Facts Keep Getting in the Way

Man I love it when Rachel Maddow sets bloviating liars like Karl Rove straight. He, along with the presidential candidates still standing keep trying to find something new to pin on Obama. Now he's getting blamed for high gas prices. It is an old tactic used to score points with low-information voters because apparently many of them really do support candidates who promise the holy grail of American consumerism; cheap gas and lots of it. 

In the video below we have Rove, on Fox News, of course, claiming the President is anti-oil, laughably mischaracterizing the role of the US Export-Import Bank, and essentially trying to plant the seed in the viewer's head that Obama is so nefarious that for reasons that elude thinking people, he, the President, would want energy prices to go up in a recovering economy and an election year. Newt Gingrich is shown making similar charges. Gee, I had no idea that Obama is so ingeniously treacherous.

Rachel Maddow brilliantly points out the idiocy of these charges through the ample use of her favorite weapon, facts. Watch as she shows how domestic oil production has been going up every year since Obama took office. She is referencing an article from that socialist rag, the Houston Chronicle, that says in part:
The United States' rapidly declining crude oil supply has made a stunning about-face, shredding federal oil projections and putting energy independence in sight of some analyst forecasts.
After declining to levels not seen since the 1940s, U.S. crude production began rising again in 2009. Drilling rigs have rushed into the nation's oil fields, suggesting a surge in domestic crude is on the horizon.
The number of rigs in U.S. oil fields has more than quad­rupled in the past three years to 1,272, according to the Baker Hughes rig count. Including those in natural gas fields, the United States now has more rigs at work than the entire rest of the world.
"It's staggering," said Marshall Adkins, who directs energy research for the financial services firm Raymond James. "If we continue growing anywhere near that pace and keep squeezing demand out of the system, that puts you in a world where we are not importing oil in 10 years."
Rove does have one redeeming quality; his first name is pretty cool. He even manages to spell it right.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Romney Loved His Bailout

Mitt Romney wants to tell us he is just loaded with business experience, just the kind needed to run the country, 'cause don't you know, representing the diverse interests of the American people is incredibly similar to being chief vulture at Bain Capital. Only his huge ideological blind spot has kept him from realizing that the plunder and pillage known as private equity is not exactly endearing him to voters.

And about that one term as governor of Massachusetts? He has been running from that too. He wouldn't be if he were going after moderates or independents, but these are Republican primaries, so he wants the Republican base, the right wing of the right wing party, to forget what he said and did as governor, such as signing the Massachusetts health care insurance reform law, which provided near universal health care for citizens of that state.
Now there is one more item, one that I expected to come up sooner; his role as chief executive of the 2002 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee. Frankly I expected Romney to toot his horn a bit more on this. Isn't it a feather in his cap? More evidence of his organizational and leadership skills?

Maybe not, though I am not sure Romney is sufficiently self-aware to realize the ideological impasse any Republican would face once it was realized just how Romney financed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

As the video below reveals, the 2002 Winter Olympics were not only frightfully expensive, much of the money came from taxpayers. And for me, the issue is not, in and of itself, that tax dollars were spent, though the amount, and what it bought certainly matter. The essential hypocrisy of Mitt Romney is his claim that the private sector does most everything better, that he has the requisite private sector chops--and rugged free market individualism to go with it-- and his increasing strident rant against the legitimacy of government. We must get government out of the way, he says, for this will unleash the private sector. 

Recall the 1984 games in Los Angeles, where the private sector played a major role, and the credit that was given to Peter Ueberroth for his ability to raise money from private donors. Instead, Romney lobbied the federal government, one then largely controlled by Republicans, for huge amounts of cash--from taxpayers-- to foot what proved to be a record-breaking tab. He gleefully boasts of it in the video, even while he chides others when they rely on government.

There is only thing Romney perhaps can boast, as he does in the video, and that is his lobbying skills at getting the federal government to give him huge amounts of money. He showed you can get a lot of things done if you can talk friends in Washington to pay for it. The Salt Lake City games were a success, but Romney is now reluctant to acknowledge that it was because the federal government bailed him out to the tune of $1.3 billion.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Have You Got a Better One?"

Mitt Romney has a habit of stepping in it, what with his lines about banks being people, how he likes to fire people, and how he too is unemployed.  He was even caught pointing to his blue jeans trying to prove he is a regular guy. I mean, shit, he actually pointed at them as if he should somehow get points or something, as if it made a damn bit of difference. And he does this with a remarkable lack of self awareness, not realizing how phony he looks. This is the guy who is insisting that he was a "severely conservative governor." This is a laughable contention that conservatives can see right through (like the rest of us).

But there is one revealing moment that has been largely overlooked. He was on the deeply conservative Laura Ingraham radio show recently where he continued to make the claim that Obama made the recession worse. He has repeated some variation of this shtick at numerous venues; Obama may not have caused the recession, but he made it worse.

Ingraham asked how effective is it to keep ragging about Obama's handling of the economy when most indicators show the economy improving.

Romney's response? You need to hear it for yourself. In the video below Rachel Maddow has two face-palm moments. The first, at about the 3:40 mark, shows Romney insisting that things are worse, and then claiming he didn't say it. It is reminiscent of John McCain's campaign statement that he never claimed he was a maverick. Say what?

And then at about the 8:35 mark, Maddow plays the audio from the Ingraham show. After some blunt questioning from Ingraham about the economy, Romney first says, "Of course it's getting better." Not only is this a contradiction of his earlier claims about making things worse, it is an indirect admission that once again, Republican policies blew up the economy and once a Democratic President was charged with cleaning up the mess.

Ingraham then points out the obvious when she says Obama inherited a major recession, enacted various policies, and we are now seeing job growth, but wonders why Romney says to vote against Obama anyway. "Isn't that a hard argument to make?," she says,

Romney's response: "Have you got a better one, Laura?"

Damn, Mitt, that's some pretty weak sauce. But thanks for making the case for the President. Obama has said the economy is turning around. Glad to see you agree.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Little Sally's Epiphany

On Dec. 22 I posted an article about the doctrine of maximizing shareholder value, what former GE CEO Jack Welch called "the dumbest idea in the world." I shared the views of Steve Denning at Forbes who discussed the contradictions, to use a Marxist term, of management's blind allegiance to improving the net worth of shareholders. Denning, in turn, featured a new book by Roger Martin.

Martin has another article on this called "Little Sally Learns About the Toxicity of Shareholder Value Maximization." In it, Martin makes the case that corporations committed to maximizing shareholder value have perverse expectations of employees. Why would management expect, Martin says, employees to be motivated by a corporate culture that cares most about making mostly rich people richer, people the employees do not even know?

Martin's recognition of the basic psychology of employee motivation should sound familiar to the longstanding view, often held by progressives, that American corporate culture is short-sighted and less committed to improving its products than their bottom line. Recall that General Motors' management of yesteryear boasted that GM was not in the business of making cars, but of making money. GM's subtle indifference to product quality and innovation weighed heavily on it for a generation and nearly destroyed it. Its future remains uncertain.

There are, in fact, two separate arguments at play here; One is the Denning-Roger idea that management is inappropriately concentrating on short-term profits and boosting share price, practices which are systematically distorting management decisions. The other is that focusing on the interests of the investor class, the one percent, creates a bias against workers, community, and ultimately the corporation itself. It is a model best suited to maximizing wealth for a few; it does that very well.

The result is that US corporate culture has the deeply held tendency to treat employees as a mere input, an irritating expense that must be reduced, the abstract L for Labor in the cold computations of economists. It is this second argument which explains why, in the US more than, say, Germany or Sweden, the middle class is squeezed, why jobs are scare, but the investor class is richer than ever. It is the triumph of corporate profits as the centerpiece of American political economy, economics as if people didn't matter.

These are two different lines of argument, from different sources, politics, and traditions, that have dovetailed into a single unavoidable conclusion. I can only hope that we finally see a few inchoate signs that free market economists, free traders, and other purveyors of casino capitalism are beginning to realize the intellectual poverty of their ideology and the aching unsustainability of the American corporate model they have created and upon which they feed.

I leave you with an illustrative dialogue Roger Martin shared about Little Sally.

Sally: Daddy, my teacher asks me to listen carefully in class and do my homework every night. What does your boss ask you to do?

Daddy: He wants me to help him maximize shareholder value?

Sally: Huh? What does that mean?

Daddy: It means increasing our stock price to the highest we can make it go.

Sally: Why?

Daddy: Because that will make the shareholders happy.

Sally: Well who are these shareholders anyway?

Daddy: They are people who buy shares in our company.

Sally: What are they like? Do you know them?

Daddy: Actually we don't really know who they are. Every three months, we get a list of them but they buy and sell so often, the list changes routinely. And even the list we get is for organizations like mutual fund companies and pension funds that invest money on behalf of shareholders and aren't the actual shareholders.

Sally: This is getting a bit confusing. Are they at least nice people; these mutual funds and pension funds?

Daddy: It would be hard to describe them as terribly nice. They are really demanding and if we don't increase the stock price for them, they get pretty upset and sell our stock.

Sally: That isn't very nice. When they do that, do they sell to nicer people?

Daddy: No, typically they sell to people about like them - pretty impatient.

Sally: This sounds pretty weird. If you do get the share price to rise and the shareholders are happy rather than upset, do they do nice things for the company?

Daddy: Not really, Sally. What happens is that they then insist on us getting the share price to rise some more still. Or sometimes they sell their shares because the price has risen enough for them.

Sally: Whew. I must have this wrong but let me check. You go to work every day trying to increase your company's share price for people that you don't know, who don't act nicely at all, and if they are unhappy just sell their shares to some other people who you don't know either and are also not very nice. And if you succeed, they don't do anything for you other than put more pressure on you or sell because they are happy. They seem to sell whether they are happy or upset. That can't be much fun. Why do you do it Daddy? Why don't you try to do something a bit more fun?

Daddy: Well Sally, I know that it sounds kind of weird, but that is our capitalist system. It is our duty to maximize shareholder value, even if it is pretty unfulfilling and unpleasant. And I try to do the best job I can to help our CEO do that. And Sally, if I do a really good job helping my CEO, when he retires, he might appoint me CEO.

Sally: I love you Daddy and because of that I kind of hope that he doesn't make you CEO!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Socialism

On this day, Super Bowl Sunday, we will once again witness the gawdy mixture of sports, excess, patriotism, and military pride. The US military and the National Football League are two institutions in America that are deeply socialist in their structure: They are successful for that reason.

Take the US military: Everyone from a fresh recruit to the Joint Chiefs of Staff is on the public payroll; housing, food, travel benefits, a retirement plan. And they all have a government-provided and regulated health care I suspect few are willing to abandon for the capriciousness of the profits-first private sector. Moreover, the military is chock-a -block with regulations, rules, requirements, and a thick code of behavior.

It is worth noting that the US military is a dominating force in the world because the US government wanted it to be, not because the markets made it happen. Military preeminence is this nation's industrial policy and power, complete with the world's most sophisticated weapons. Our defense industry is number one because our government put resources into it and fostered private sector support. 

At the same time, most observers will happily tell you the US military is full of courageous, dedicated, devoted, proud, and hypercompetitive men and women. All this and modest pay as well.

This is a combination that free market advocates say cannot exist. Any institution so encumbered will surely stifle innovation, resourcefulness, and personal responsibility.

We see a similar result with professional sports. The NFL, for example, exemplifies bounded competition: a highly circumscribed set of rules and regulations which define and control every aspect of the game. That set of rules and regs is exactly why the game works; they are designed to enhance competition because they do not allow a richer or better situated team to dominate the game. And they minimize cheating, which bothers Americans more in sports than it does in Wall Street and government. Players, union members all, compete fiercely within the confines of the rules, and abide by a thick rulebook that regulates every aspect of play.

Again this contradicts the free market doctrine that insists regulations are inherently burdensome and constrict creativity, competition, and glorious individualism. With no sense of irony, sports fans glibly cheer on their favorite franchises that make clear they win through team effort and pound out selfishness, arrogance, and self-centered individualists more concerned about their stats and their image. There is no I in team, as they say. And no, it is not because of high pay; the pattern fits all sports, including high school, college, and amateur players with no real prospects for riches.
I see that Bill Maher got my memo. In the video below Maher also notes the socialist structure of the NFL, what he calls the irritable bowl syndrome  He does stress different points, however. Watch it and note how the socialized structure of the NFL provides such different results than does major league baseball.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Newt's Hilarious Hypocrisy

It's a little early to say how the Republican primaries are going to play out, but it is evident that the two frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, are seriously damaged goods. Gingrich has been a known factor for many years. That helps explain why he is reviled by many in his own party. Romney has scored a major victory in Florida and has retained his front-runner status. His biggest advantage is that candidates like Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul are the only alternatives. And they are more than all but the most disaffected Republicans can stomach.

Still, Gingrich speaks in ways that have visceral appeal to many conservatives. He is reactionary rage personified, at least compared to the clueless Romney. And Gingrich knows how to tap that rage. Below is Mark Karlin's take on how Gingrich is operating; what's inside his head as well as the heads of people who actually think he should be president.
The brazen hypocrisy of the GOP on sexual, religious and family matters has been a consistent source of bewilderment for BuzzFlash since the site was founded in May of 2000. In fact, BuzzFlash (now a part of Truthout) began largely in reaction to the dissemination of a disingenuous, Republican, demagogic, political hypocrisy that is inexplicable on any rational level - and we've covered about every psychological theory that tries to explain how people who hold themselves out to be godly can be full of such hate, bitterness, greed and gross double standards. 
In fact, during the last South Carolina debate, Newt Gingrich - who has made the alleged collapse of America's "moral values" one of his trademark "red meat" appeals - deflected questions about his Lothario, adulterer, callous "family values" behavior by attacking the press. Gingrich knows that lacerating the supposed "liberal media" rouses the Tea Party faction of the GOP like splashing a bowl of blood on a vampire. 
Gingrich claimed to be "appalled" by the "destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media." He called a panelist question about charges that he wanted an "open marriage" with his second wife (who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the time), while he was having a multiyear affair with his eventual third wife, as "close to despicable as anything I [Gingrich] can imagine." 
Jon Stewart is feeling BuzzFlash's pain now - one that is particularly acute when watching the GOP presidential debates. In fact, after playing a segment on the "Daily Show" about Gingrich's "indignation" over questions about his egregious, immoral family values, Stewart's brain appeared ready to explode as he listed just some of the audacious hypocrisies in which the former House speaker has engaged. 
Recently, I recall seeing a clip of Newt in high dudgeon denouncing the alleged secular godlessness and lack of morality in Europe - and he vowed that he would not let the US sink into such degeneracy. Gingrich is the ultimate con man, saying whatever needs to be said to arouse the ember of the dark side of fundamentalist faith. He creates a fantasy world of demons who are supposedly set out to destroy "divinely" bestowed "American exceptionalism," when he himself has spent more time playing "Sympathy for the Devil" in his life than following the Ten Commandments. 
And, most significantly, as Jon Stewart has come to learn, Gingrich is filled with such confident cunning - such calculated lying - that he can make those who engage in reason want to jump out the nearest window in dismay. 
He is a master magician of the dark arts. That much you can say for him.
The video to which Karlin refers is below. What Karlin says in words, Jon Stewart brilliantly captures in just a few minutes on The Daily Show.